Puzzled by your own life’s detours? This lady has a gift for you.
Young women make plans. Older women do, too. But we know that even if the plans we made as young women mostly played out, the path from here to there took some twists. Even more, we know that sometimes life’s detours gave us a better view than we ever imagined. Teresa unwrapped a surprising gift in midlife – and she’ll share it with you.
Peace and Quiet in a Small Minnesota Town
Follow her gaze, and you’ll feel your stress melt away. Leaves on the trees fluttering in a gentle breeze. Frogs croak in the tall grass rimming the nearby pond. Her napping dog sighs and snores, the model of contentment.
It wasn’t always like this. There were days, even years when Teresa’s path looked like it was descending into hell instead of anything resembling this idyllic scene. When we first met, this destination wasn’t even a dream yet.
A lifetime ago, I’d written a book and created a course for moms who wanted to stay home and get paid to write. To test out whether my strategy would work as well for others as it had for me, I posted on WAHM.com, an old-school bulletin board. I offered the course free. Despite that price tag, the responses to my offer ranged from silence to downright ugliness. However, Teresa jumped in with both feet. She says I taught her everything she needed to get going and build a business that fed her family for years.
But running a successful business doesn’t mean life suddenly turns sunny every day. It doesn’t undo the damage we sustained beforehand. And it certainly doesn’t mean we suddenly know how to love ourselves – or others.
“This is who I am, with all my flaws, faults, weirdness, and crazy path. And it’s okay.”
Here’s the story of how this 58-year-old gave herself – and everyone around her – the best gift ever.
Tell Me What You Want, What You Really, Really Want
Teresa says one part of my book really shook her. It was the part where I talked about being bold enough to ask for what you want from your business… and your life.
Honestly, answering, “What do you want?” is pretty tough for many people. I’ve seen people paralyzed by pondering that question. Ask a kid, and you’ll get an answer immediately. Ask an adult, and they’re likely to go into a tailspin. We want a list of available options to choose from so we can answer.
Of course, it’s a lot easier to rattle off all the things we don’t want.
That’s not a bad thing. It just takes a little thoughtful reverse engineering to turn a “don’t want” list into a more resourceful line of thought.
But that’s not what many people do. They recite the list of what they don’t want, noting where life’s detours have left them hurt, dissatisfied, and feeling like a burned pile of ashes.
Teresa used that question to create a beautiful life. Not an uncomplicated one, but one that echoes her favorite advice: “It all works out.”
No Stranger to Tragedy and Pain
Teresa’s early childhood looked like any random family in the 1960’s and ’70’s. Remember those days? You’d go outside to play. Mom might even lock the door behind you, and you wouldn’t come home until the street lights came on. She and her five siblings fought, played, and loved each other. Nobody had any hint that everything was about to change.
When she turned nine, her family was in a car accident that killed her mom, a brother, and a sister. Teresa, her dad, and one sister spent a long time recovering in the hospital. After leaving the hospital, it seemed like everyone expected her to just go on with her life.
This was 1972. Counseling wasn’t really a thing.
Her family was Catholic. The response she most often got in her grief was, “Well, it’s God’s will.” Can you imagine anything more horrible you could tell a child in this situation? “Half your family got killed because God wanted it that way.”
Deep in his grief and desperate to take care of his surviving children, Teresa’s dad remarried quickly. His new wife instantly became the stepmom to four grieving children. They moved frequently. They did their best to right a life that had turned upside down. Where Teresa’s mom had been all cookies and ice cream, her stepmom was strict – a caretaker who did her best but who found herself in a story gone off the rails.
They also adopted an unspoken rule: “Don’t talk to Dad about it.”
With today’s broader understanding of how humans work, you might be thinking that’s a great way to raise a whole family of alcoholics. And you’d be right.
The Troubled Years You’d Expect
Teresa says her teenage years were a nightmare, at least from the perspective of a parent. She partied and ran around with boys, grasping at what looked like happiness like her life depended on it.
She got pregnant with her first child. Her landlord sexually abused Teresa, disintegrating any fragile feelings of trust she’d managed to salvage. Teresa began to drink heavily after her daughter was born.
Eleven years later, she had her second daughter and got sober. She’d hired a babysitter to care for her girls while she worked. It turned out that her babysitter’s husband was a pastor. Old-fashioned, wearing homemade dresses, and baking bread from scratch, this woman brought a sense of comfort and safety, a throwback to the distant past. Teresa went through a born-again Christian experience, which set the foundation for her life from then on. She went to Alcoholics Anonymous. She went to church. Life was good.
Eventually, a man came along who swept her off her feet. They married, and Teresa thought maybe life’s detours had come to an end. Perhaps she’d finally found what she always wanted.
“This is my first wife’s grave.”
Standing in the cemetery on her wedding night, Teresa realized she’d made a horrible mistake. Her groom had just revealed a secret – that in a fit of PTSD-induced rage, he’d shot and killed his first wife. She was wife #5, and she soon discovered that her husband was an abuser on a mission to isolate her from everyone she loved.
“I married a crazy person,” Teresa says. The marriage lasted a total of six months, from the wedding day to divorce. During those six months, Teresa and her girls survived constant abuse and gaslighting. Her husband even managed to have Teresa’s youngest committed to a mental hospital while she was a second-grader… over Christmas vacation.
Breaking free from him was both terrifying and absolutely critical. Teresa began putting the pieces of her life together again.
And then her daughter got pregnant at 16. Teresa was a 35-year-old grandmother. An unexpected blessing, but Teresa loved her grandbaby beyond imagination. “There’s something about a grandchild that’s so different from your own child. This child was my whole world,” she says.
And Now for Something Completely Different
Fast-forward to 2009. Teresa had moved to Minnesota and become active in her church. She even acted in a play her church produced, cast as the wife of a man she’d come to have feelings for. Al was nothing like anyone Teresa had ever dated. He’s a wonderfully kind man, short of stature but tall in character. Not classically handsome, and certainly not the bad boy she’d typically found attractive, Al was just a sweet and devout guy. Knowing he was traditional and a bit old-fashioned, Teresa waited for him to make the first move, which wasn’t easy. But eventually, they married.
If you’re waiting for Al to turn into Mr. Hyde, you’ve been paying attention. Relax. It doesn’t happen!
However, more of life’s detours were in store. Soon after their wedding, Al needed surgery. Then Teresa had a bad pap smear that led to a hysterectomy and a mountain of medical bills – all within four months of their wedding. She also has fibromyalgia, and her body went crazy after the surgery. Where she’d once been energetic and engaged, she became listless and drained. Her social life evaporated.
Not long afterward, one of her grandchildren came out as transgender. While this revelation could shake a family anywhere, living where they do, “this was not okay.” Teresa felt confused, distressed, lost.
Her daughter had been reluctant to talk about it. She’d worried that Teresa and Al would beat them over the head with the Bible. However, her grandchild was more than ready.
Just Love Her. Just Love Them. Just Love Him.
Teresa prayed and prayed. “God, how do I do this?” God’s answer was clear. “Just love her.”
As time went on and Teresa started to adjust to this twist, the message changed. “Just love them,” she heard. And then finally, it changed again to, “Just love him.”
One day as Teresa scrolled through Facebook, she saw that her grandchild had a new profile picture and a new name. That’s when it became really real.
“Ask me whatever you want. Say whatever you want to say,” her grandchild told her. Teresa marveled at how well her grandchild was handling it all. “Watching this kid deal with the time it took for his loved ones to get onboard was astonishing,” she says.
A year later, though, as many transgender people do, her grandson was really struggling. He’d dropped out of school and was suicidal. He started going to Teresa’s house during the day to do his schoolwork online. They spent a lot of time together. Teresa’s one goal was to let him know she was on his side no matter what.
Unconditional Love Wins, Even Along Life’s Detours
Some might struggle to reconcile living as an evangelical Christian with fully embracing a trans person. But for Teresa, there was no way she’d have anything but love and compassion for her grandchild.
She stopped going to church, which caused some challenges in her marriage. After all, their shared faith was the foundation of their marriage, which was changing for Teresa. She battled a lingering sense of fear that this plot twist would wreck her whole life.
Al had a hard time with it all at first. Teresa describes him as a rule follower, not a rebellious person in any way. “But every single day, he prays in the morning for our family, marriage, and all the grandkids,” she says.
When Kameron turned 18, he went to court to change his name and gender on his driver’s license. He didn’t go alone. Instead, he sat surrounded by his family as witnesses. Al and Teresa united to support him. Teresa says, “From the day Kam’s name change became official, Al’s never used the birth name again. This guy can be a rule follower – it works for him. But he can also accept the fact that I’m not, and we can be okay. That’s when I started having more peace again.”
Teresa puts it beautifully:
“It’s not about tolerance. I’m not about to just tolerate this kid. I love him with my whole heart.”
Life’s Detours Make for Unimaginable Beauty
It was a rough go for a long time for Teresa. Looking back, life was certainly not the smooth ride any child might expect. Even the past decade had some of the toughest times she’d seen. In battling health and financial challenges and emotional upheaval, Teresa went through a debilitating depression that isolated her. She’d found it too hard to focus on her writing, and she felt like she’d destroyed her career.
But her story of life’s detours is one of resilience. She says:
“Even when your dreams don’t pan out the way you plan, misery is a choice. Even when circumstances are tough – and that can make clinical depression worse – it’s up to you to take care of yourself and say, “You know what? Look around. I have a beautiful home, a beautiful yard and trees and a pond I can see, and my family and grandkids.
It all works out. You hit that place where it’s all okay. Even along life’s detours, the trees are just as green. Don’t stop looking for what you really want until you find it. No matter what it is.”