Hard Stories: Being Selfish

I was torn.  Little bit kept wavering on whether she’d stay at the main house or the bayou house, and the baby was wailing because of an injured ankle.  I started the car, it was already late because we had so many fireworks to pop, and tried to load the boys.

Little bit said she would stay with her grandparents, and the remaining four of us set off across the pasture.  The car parked at the back door with me still in a quandary over whether to stay with the boys or go back to the main house.

I got the baby settled in a chair with a wash cloth and icepack and decided to head back.  The boys were tearful and asked me to stay.  I said I’d come back if little bit was still dressed.

I drove back across the pasture with my headlights full of bugs in the dark night and lugged my bag into the main house.  Little bit was happy as a clam in her p.j.s “making her beauty” with grandmother, her pink blanket already settled in between her grandparents pillows.

She brushed her teeth and told me she would stay in their room.  I decided to stay put, and I washed my face and laid down in the guest room, alone.

And cried.

I didn’t stay where I was most needed mainly because I was angry at my husband.  As the night had worn on, we had a silly argument, and I could tell he was angry at how I responded.  I started the fireworks with the kids before he came out, and we didn’t interact for the rest of the evening.  I wasn’t particularly interested in staying with him.

Had we been home, we’d have gone to sleep in the same room, maybe angry, but we’d have slept in the same bed.  Yet here I had an out.  Another house and a paper thin excuse that the one child with two adults might need me specifically.

The baby with the injury and the eldest with his pleading, and even my husband who had taken my bags to the other house earlier, were the ones who really wanted me with them.  And I left for selfish reasons.

I had also had three glasses of wine over the course of the evening, and I can make foolish decisions when my brain is fuzzy instead of fueled with the clarity of action my faith requires me to take.

I had also shared a story with my mother-in-law about the first time I saw my father after the divorce, quite sometime as the case was and in less than ideal circumstances, and I had never spoken the story out loud before, not even to my husband.  I somehow managed to feel the wounds fresh on my heart all these years later.

I can still be selfish.  I can still be foolish.  I can still be wounded.

It was not an irreparable action.  Yet those selfish, foolish, wounded-fueled decisions in marriage and parenting can add up if you don’t watch it.  It becomes all too easy to write off the instance as “a one-off” and not ask for forgiveness and determine to do better the next time.  Then those costly one-offs add up to more distance and more damage.

There is hope.  In the midst of the I can be’s… (add your own laundry list of less-than adjectives).

I can do all this through Christ who gives me strengthPhil. 4:13

So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.  And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.  Romans 11:5-6

He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ JesusPhil. 1:6

There is grace for a new day.  So I can be forgiven.  I can start anew.  I can do it better.  I can be selfless, and wise, and healed.

 

This week is about the hard stories.  The ones I’m not particularly happy to share.  But if we don’t start talking about the hard stories, how we will find our way to the other side?

Another Good Year – Number Nine

I’ve tag-lined my anniversaries. 

Last year was the Good Working Year. 

This year was a continuation of the same.  In the best and most wondrous way. 

After hitting rough patches in the past, I don’t for one moment take the gift of another good year for granted.  As friends have experienced distance and separation and even death in their relationships, I feel the enormity of having another good year.  Each year takes work.  Each year we have fights.  Each year requires compromise.  But I think we compromise better.  I think we love better.  I think we recognize our mistakes better.

Just this week, I made some “outraged” remarks in response to a certain future set of his travel plans.  It was completely unnecessary (and inappropriate).  I left the table, put the kids in bed, and went to bed myself.  When Bray came to bed, I felt God clearly nudging me to apologize for my bad behavior.  I do apologize, but some apologies are harder than others and this was one. 

I laid there debating whether to apologize and finally realized I’d be letting God and Bray both down if I didn’t resolve this before he fell asleep.  I apologized for the way I had reacted, and then the next morning I apologized to his dad who had witnessed the whole thing.  That was NO fun.  But five years ago, I’m pretty sure I would never have apologized.  Heck, I might not have even recognized how wrong I was. 

Hanging in there through the tears and triumphs teaches us how to spot our own relationship weaknesses.  Sticking it out through the best and worst of times makes you a better person.  That single moment taught me how to take responsibility when I’m out of line whether it’s in marriage or parenting or friendship. 

We’ve been together now for eleven and a half years. 

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We’ve seen pink lines on pregnancy tests after years of struggling. 

We’ve learned how to be a team better than ever because that’s how we have to make it work with two full time careers and three preschoolers.  

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Since the day he proposed, I have never once questioned my yes was the best yes I’ve ever given to a question. It doesn’t mean we haven’t struggled.  But I have never doubted that Bray is specifically who God selected to make my life fuller and saner and happier and zanier and unpredictable-er!

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I am so grateful to have another year to learn how to live well with the love of my life. 

Pretty Girl, The Marriage Miss

 

“Hey guys,” he jovially tossed back to the group he boarded with, “at least I get to sit next to a pretty girl.”

A man about my age smiled down at me, and dropped into the seat next to me on our plane bound for the East Coast.

I suppose some part of me should have been bothered, but once you turn 40 you don’t hear the term “pretty girl” tossed around much, so I just took it as a nice remark by one of those men who flirt as a pastime.

He started with the makings of small talk, but I’m not much one for conversation on airplanes, so his chattered slowed as I stuck my nose in a book.

He took up a laughing, irreverent, conversation with a colleague seated behind him, and they casually mentioned their wives as they talked about all their travel.

I wondered, does he call his wife a pretty girl?  Does he come home after another week away and say, hey beautiful, I sure have missed my pretty girl?

Maybe he does.

But maybe, probably, he doesn’t.

I can say that because I don’t.  I mean, of course my husband would think I was crazy if I called him pretty girl, but I sure have been traveling a lot lately, and I don’t walk in the door giving him my best megawatt smile and offering an enthusiastic connection.

The kids tackle me, as well they should, and I offer a passing kiss and assessment of the level of my exhaustion.  Never mind that he’s been on the hook the past month with a demanding full time job and playing parent and a half while I complain about loud hotels and rush to take a shower.

On the road it’s all first impressions or client satisfaction, but at home it’s survival and business and barely a thanks for saving my neck this week.

I’ve shared a little about this here before, but boy, when will I get better about this?

If our husband is at the top of our priority list (if not, that should be taken up FIRST), then why do we treat him like an enemy on the days he’s our strongest ally?

How can we start to change this underbelly phenomenon?  I’ve been thinking a lot about it now that I’m a week away from celebrating another wedding anniversary…  Here’s what I suggest for the next seven straight days:

1.  Kiss like you are still dating the second you or he walk in the door after work.  I mean really kiss your man.  Think about when he asked you to marry him.  Remember how you kissed him after you said yes?  Do that.  If your kids are standing right there, all the better.  Your kids need to see you still kissing like you love each other.

2.  Don’t unload.  You may need to tell him that you got a bad review or your girlfriend wouldn’t talk to you, but do NOT lead with that story.  Wait until after dinner at least.  If it was an all around hard day, then respond to the “How did your day go?” question with, Well it just got A LOT better handsome!

3.  Say thank you.  My house is a serious partnership.  From school lunches to paying bills, he is on the hook for a huge chunk of our family responsibilities.  But because he’s done it for so long, I forget to let him know how much it means to me.  Start saying thanks again.  Maybe your household isn’t quite as equally divided.  But your husband did something to help this week.  He changed the bathroom light out or took out the pail of stinky diapers or had the hard conversation with your teenager or fixed your tire.  Let him know how much you appreciate him.

These are not revolutionary ideas.  I’m sure a hundred people have written books about these concepts.  But sometimes we just need to remember that our marriages are gathering dust, and it’s time we shined them up so they can be the featured award for a change.

Try it for seven days straight.  Start a new pattern.  Make this the most important thing you do this week.  He is worth it.  Your marriage deserves the attention.

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.