The Hard Love Stories

I love a dewy, feel-good, happily ever after Hallmark romance.

I love the “meet cute” over video rentals (long gone), e-mails, car accidents, and spilled coffee.  I soak in the formulaic “circumstances” that nearly break apart the adorable 20-something couple before they laugh over the misunderstanding, and the movie fades as they kiss off into the sunset.

But I know, ever more now than ever, it only happens in the movies.

I’ve seen some gut-wrenching love stories wrestle with realities lately.   The porn addiction.  The relapsed alcoholic.  The cancer diagnosis.  The loss of a child.  The affair.  The job loss and bankruptcy.  The family scandal turning brother against brother.

I have watched up close my friends beg God to release them from a marriage that is in the darkest of places.  To escape the hardest of the hard.  The unfathomable.  Those parts left vague in the wedding vows promising for better and worse.

It doesn’t make an entertaining story filmmakers want to shoot.  Reality, without the farcical injected drama of today’s television shows, is hard to stare at in the face.  In fact, the colleague you pass at work would never tell you about what’s going on.  The person in the pew next to you would never show you the pain.  Even friends out to celebrate a birthday together won’t make mention of the horror.

It’s whispered in the cavern of a car to a soul-friend on the way to carpool or in a bathroom after everyone has gone to bed.  It’s shared in bits and pieces because it hurts too much to say it all at once.  At times, sobs choke the words from coming out.  Other times, the voice is devoid of any feeling at all.

I love him so much, but I can’t trust him.  I want to leave.

I have loved her with all I have, but this, well I can’t bear it.

But it is still a love story.  And bear it they do.  Stay, they decide against all logic.  They fight and claw and cry and beg and scream and, most of all, they hope.  They hope they can survive.  They hope they can rebuild.  They hope and pray and long for a miracle.

I’ve seen the miracle.  I’ve seen those dedicated faithful friends grit their teeth and strengthen their grip and spend their mornings on bended knee believing their relationship can survive even this.  I’ve watched their inner circle come around them to do whatever needs to be done: laundry, accountability, restoration, bringing meals, showing forgiveness, mercy, picking up kids, recommending doctors…  They checked judgment at the door and sat down to hold a hand.

If you are in one of these marriages struggling to make it through to the other side, you are not alone.  Others have gone through the battle and bear the scars even after making it through.  I’ve had girlfriends battle everything from sexual addiction to infertility to alcoholism to great loss.  Their marriages survive.  Their marriages end up stronger in the place it was broken.  Their marriages light the path for others still in the darkness.  They are the survivors living to tell you that God can make it better and restore you to love each other even more than you did when you innocently took those vows.

Hang in there.  Say a prayer and take a step away from packing your bags.  Dare to hope.  This can be restored.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61)

Put your hope in the Lord,
    for with the Lord is unfailing love
    and with him is full redemption. (Psalm 130)

Insider Love

I was completely done.  Splitting headache.  Flippy stomach from the stress of the day.  Bone tired.  I came home feeling guilty that I didn’t have an ounce left to give.  Almost every other day, I rally and turn into the mommy interested in kids days and ready for robust dinner conversation.  But when I arrived to not one but two children having emotional meltdowns, it was all I could not to meltdown in front of them right there.

Have you ever just had one of those days where every ounce of strength was gone?

In swoops my husband.  At 6:45 I (essentially) announced I was going to bed.  Moments later there was harmony in the house.  I could hear him in the other room get the fireplace going and engage them in a rousing puzzle.

After play time, he had them packed off to brush teeth and put on pajamas.  I walked in and kissed him and thanked him profusely even though there weren’t the right words to express how he saved me.

I turned around and announced to the kids, “I sure love your daddy!”  The baby replied emphatically, “Well, we can seeeeeeee that!”

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Oh that’s what I want.  My heart did back flips.  I so want my kids to see what insider love looks like.  It’s not movie love with sweeping scores and jets that fly you off to parts unknown.  It’s a love that jumps in when the other person doesn’t have a reserve and saves the day.

When I received a big award this week, love looked like us cracking open a $10 bottle of champagne to toast the recognition while the kids jumped around eating ice cream sundaes.

It is not perfect love.  It is love that fights and has hurt feelings and missteps.  But it is love.  A crazy deep trusting confident love.  And I’m so incredibly thankful, inexpressible grateful, to have the opportunity to know it.

Eight Years – The Good Working Year

I got a call yesterday in between a conference call and a speaking engagement at the Offshore Technology Conference.  I had this little window of time, about 10 minutes to run down to the building cafeteria and grab a sandwich before heading out, and I didn’t recognize the phone number.  I answered on the third ring.

“Mrs. Vincent, we have your son here.  He’s fine.  He fell at school today.  He bumped his head and busted his knee, but his arm, well he’s guarding his arm and can’t seem to raise his hand up to put an ice pack on his head.”

It didn’t take me but a nanosecond to want to have him x-rayed since an incident of brotherly pushing on Sunday also resulted in his arm hurting.  I called my nanny who was a few minutes from the school, and she ran my little man to the Texas Children’s ER for x-rays (since the pediatrician’s office doesn’t have them).  Then I called my incredibly hubby to see if he could do an emergency carpool pick up and run the other little one to an allergy appointment since our nanny would be hung up at the ER waiting on a doctor to read the x-rays.  I proceeded to rush out the door with all the papers I would need for the next two days of work meetings and simultaneously beat myself up for my first miss of an ER visit (not our first ER visit mind you, not with three four year olds, but I’d always been there to take them).

I loved the six year anniversary summary of each of our marriage years in a convenient tag line.

If I had to capture Year Eight, then it would be the Year of Opportunity and Exhaustion.  (I think our seven year anniversary was harder than others.  And oh five years, five years we were on a second honeymoon when I wrote that post. What fun seeing those pictures from New Orleans.)

I have loved this past year.  Both Bray and I have been good to one another.  We may have been a little less good to ourselves.  We’ve worked harder than ever in our careers and harder than ever with our family.  (We’re staring down this Friday night trying to figure out how he’ll see little bit’s ballet recital when he’s supposed to be coaching the boys tee ball practice.)

Henry Ford once said, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”

Well said, Mr. Ford.  That counts our year eight as a success.

This was the coming together:

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This was the keeping together:

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This is the working together:

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(And yes, his wrist is broken…sigh.  And no, we’re not smiling because of it, that’s from the fall…)

I think it takes some time to figure out the working together.  I’m actually sure it takes a lifetime but by year eight at least you’re starting to get the hang of it.

It’s not perfect, but it is a partnership.

It’s not glamorous, but it is a gift.

It’s not exotic, but it is extraordinary.

And I’m grateful for this man who captured my heart, and for another year which I’ll mark down as a success.

Black Friday

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I’ve never been a fan of Valentine’s Day.

For various reasons.

When I was younger, and less secure, I hated it more for the fact that it highlighted my singleness.  I didn’t date anyone on Valentine’s Day until I was 29.  I wore black every single Valentine’s Day as a silent expression of protest.  (I have a flair for the dramatic.)

But funnily, even after I had a “Valentine,” I never liked the holiday.  It felt like an over-commercialized, over-priced, over-forced, over-done way to pressure people into doing something one day of the year they probably never do any other time.

So Bray and I don’t go out on Valentine’s Day.  Even before we had kids I remember making a meal at home.  We don’t buy presents or flowers.  We swap a card, but we do that year round.  Now, for the kids, especially at this young age, I enjoy it.  We say I love you every day, but it’s nice to get them a stuffed frog with a heart and some red candies just for fun.  Plus, they learn to value each child in their classroom as a friend as they walk around and give everyone a card.  At this age, it has this feel of friendship and belonging, and I’m softening on that aspect of the Valentines hoopla.

But on the romantic side, ole St. Valentine has a tendency to make women feel lonely or disappointed or sad.  That’s why I don’t go in for the big bouquets of red roses and heart balloons.

However, this Valentine’s week, I realized it had been a month or more since Bray and I had a date (we try to go out once a month), so we made plans to see a movie (before Valentine’s Day – we wouldn’t brave the crowds on the 14th!).   V-day gave us an excuse to head out for a few hours and pretend we were just a couple instead of parents of three wonderful, but boundary-testing, four year olds.

As we were sitting in the theatre watching Monuments Men, I received a reminder about what love really looks like.  Matt Damon plays one solider in a rag-tag group of soldiers in Europe during World War II trying to save the world’s greatest art from being decimated during Germany’s retreat.  Eventually, he partnered with a French woman to find where the Germans stashed some of the finest French works.  He was married with two kids back at home.  Halfway through the film, he visits her apartment to get all of her notes on the missing pieces.  After they have dinner, she looks at him and invites him to stay, saying “It’s Paris, no?”

He had a lot of reasons to say yes.  He’d been away from home a long time.  That meant a long time with no sex.  He was a handsome man in his prime.  He was in Paris.  No one would know.  And the propositioning woman was lovely and French.

But he said no.  I love that he didn’t jump up and say no like he’d been offended.  He looked at her.  You could tell he considered the proposition.  He was tempted.  Heck, he’d agreed to come to her apartment!  It’s just he said no despite all that.  He said no because he had a wife at home to whom he had promised to stay faithful.  He never promised not to be tempted.  He’d just promised to look the temptation in the eye, pause, wonder, but still say no.

We did not go to a Valentine’s mushy romantic movie.  We went a movie about art and World War II.  But in that moment, it had a big Valentine’s Day message.

That’s what love is really about.  It’s not about overdone floral arrangements.  It’s not about overpriced four course dinners over candlelight.  It’s about the action instead of the expressions.  The decision instead of the displays.

Marriage Image

That title is not a typo.

It’s not supposed to say mirror image and my keen editorial eye just missed it.

It is supposed to say Marriage Image.

I don’t write a lot about marriage here.  The reality is my husband is not a blogger.  Heck, he didn’t even marry a blogger.  His wife just turned into a blogger four years and three kids after he’d already said “I do.”  And he’s super private.  So after a few ill-fated, not preapproved, marriage posts, I learned my lesson.

So I got this one cleared first.

Let me say two things:

  • I am madly crazy nuts in love with my husband who I think is insanely handsome and bright and wise and patient and trustworthy and faithful and good.
  • Our marriage is hard sometimes.

Sometimes, it’s hard because of me.  Sometimes, it’s hard because of him.  Sometimes, it’s hard because we’re both so dang stubborn.

I feel strongly that I should be respectful of my husband.  So in those hard times, I don’t attack his character.  But I do have three girlfriends that I can talk to about the yucky stuff.  The fights.  The struggles.  The pain.

I learned something this week though about the way I could get into trouble if I’m not careful.

I have friends that are in good marriages.  Like overall their marriages just don’t seem to hit very many rough spots and they have a ton in common with their spouse and things generally go pretty smoothly.  I also have friends that are in brutal marriages.  Like marriages where the spouse is affirmatively denying they’ve ever loved their wife and I’m astonished that they’ve managed to hang in there and keep praying.  And of course I have friends with marriages like mine that have really amazing months and then really hard ones.

It is easy sometimes to fall into a pattern of commiserating:  Oh, you’re struggling so much and your husband was unkind, I totally know how that goes and boy do I feel your pain.

We find ourselves Marriage Imaging.

But what if it’s not true?  Not that it’s not true EVER, but that it’s not true at that time.  Marriage Imaging can do two things.  One, it does a disservice to your marriage if it’s going through a good patch by maligning it.  Two, it makes you start seeing the negative instead of the positive in your marriage.

Now I am ALL about girlfriends sharing their struggle.  I think it is critical that we have friends pray each other through the rough patches.  If I hadn’t had Godly women praying for me in the spring, I don’t know what I would have done.  But I think it’s also important not to diminish the work that God is doing in a marriage becoming strong or healing or solid.

I found myself in that dilemma.  And I caught myself.  Instead of responding with marriage image to a message, I stayed silent.  Then I responded with a prayer.  “I am so sorry to hear this news.  It is heartbreaking.  Can I pray for you right now?” And then I left a prayer as part of my message asking for God to intervene on the marriage’s behalf.

That did two totally DIFFERENT things than had I responded in kind with a “marriage image.”  One, my girlfriend got something she needed way more than my commiseration which never helps anything.  She got someone asking God for help.  Much more useful!  Two, it helped me realize how good God has been in this current season of my marriage and focused me on thanking God for what I have today.  Not what I had in that hard month half a year ago or what I might have a year from now.  But how completely in love I am without any glimmer of frustration or anger this week in my marriage.

So I’m going to work on avoiding marriage imaging, and pray with my friends in their marriage struggles, and express my unbridled thankfulness to God and to my spouse when we’re in a solid place.