Facing Reality Honestly

Recently I was asked if I would speak during Yom Kippur services about “facing reality honestly” and how it relates to my journey over the last few years.  Sometimes when people get up to speak about a topic like this one, they talk about how lucky they are to have their friends and family – and I am lucky! I am truly blessed to have loving parents, stepparents, grandparents, siblings, close friends, a wonderful partner with a new extended family – each and every one of them has supported me throughout the good times in my life and especially during the bumps in the road. I realize that I am extremely fortunate to have all these wonderful people to support me and I don’t take that for granted.

But I also want to focus on my experience going through a really, really difficult time, learning and growing from that experience and realizing that without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today, which is a person who is fulfilled, happy and forever grateful for not only what she has – but who she has in her life.

Some of you know me or might be familiar with my experience over the last 4 years. I was married to Luis and we have two amazing children together, Alana and Jonah. In 2013 our marriage came to an end. Like all divorces, it was very difficult. It was hard on us, our kids, our parents, our extended family and even our friends.

When we split up, we made a promise to each other that we would always put our kids first. For many people, that is easier said than done. But we tried and continue to try extremely hard to make that happen. As a result, even though we both made and continue to make some mistakes, we have learned, for the most part, (hey, no one is perfect!) to put those mistakes aside, forgive each other and move forward.

Luis and I support each other. Many people are extremely puzzled and some are even uncomfortable with this fact – Luis and I are friends. We have a great relationship. “What? That’s so weird!” we have heard many people say. Yes, I know it’s not that common. But if both of you are willing to do this, it does come a little easier. Both people really need to make a conscious effort to put their own feelings aside sometimes and take action to do what is right.

As Luis was helping me gather my thoughts on what to speak about, he put it perfectly when he said “we know how we act is priceless to our kids.” We put behind any hurt, anger or distress we caused each other. We knew that holding onto negative feelings would not only hurt our kids, but it would hurt us as individuals. We didn’t want that. We wanted to take an extremely difficult decision, grow from that, and become better, stronger people. Sometimes it isn’t easy, but putting your kids first and sacrificing some of your emotions so that they don’t see divorce as such a negative process is one of our greatest achievements. Despite the difficulties, we work well together.

Here is what you get after a divorce when you each do your very best to push past the hard, depressing, upsetting and exhausting phase of splitting up. You get an ex-husband who has become your friend. You get an ex-husband who still will be there for you if you need it.

You also get his fiancé, who you love dearly and thank G-d he has chosen someone amazing who treats your children well, doesn’t ever try to take your place but someone who creates a loving role as a soon to be stepmom. You also get an adorable new “niece” Olivia, who is a bundle of joy.

Even better, you get two seemingly well-adjusted children, Alana and Jonah, who both talk openly and honestly about their thoughts and feelings – and even though there are things about the divorce that are not fun for them, they have more people who love them and more people who they love in their lives now.

And, after really learning about who I am, and what I want and need, I was ready to have a new relationship. What I got is an amazing partner for me. Someone who challenges and supports me, and despite our different religious backgrounds, he shows interest, curiosity, and support of Judaism. The reality is that I am trying my best to blend my new family while not making anyone feel like they are abandoning their beliefs – and sometimes, it is not easy. Darin and I, along with many interfaith couples, still have some hurdles to figure out, but we work together at always trying to find solutions we both feel comfortable with.

I grew up Reform, raised by my parents Nancy and Bill, who divorced when I was 12 — and I cannot say this enough: they have set such a good example for me and my sister by staying friendly after their split – that’s why I honestly believe we have turned out relatively normal! Luis was more Conservative-Orthodox when we met and we knew we needed to meet in the middle, so we found our compromise and joined a Conservative synagogue.

However, after our divorce, I felt that I had lost some of my sense of Jewish community. Sure, I had the monthly Shabbat chavurah that I started in 2011, but I wasn’t feeling as big of a part of a community anymore. Divorce can do that to you. You lose your sense of place and belonging sometimes and it is hard to find your way back.

Fast forward to the High Holidays, where the majority of my family, ex-husband included, sat together. We are all working together, finding a balance and all of us continue to support one another.

When I think about my journey of how I got here, I think of this: If you can carry kindness, respect, and good nature even in the most difficult situations in life, things will move in a better direction. I’m where I am today because of the path I chose to take – facing reality, trying to find the positive in any situation, and appreciating all that I have in my life.