Friday, November 25, 2016

second and third and fourth and fifth chances

I'm about to get sappy about my spouse here, which doesn't happen often, but here goes. The reason it doesn't happen often is because for more time than either of us would like to admit, we have vaguely remembered loving each other, been constantly reminded of our deep commitment to our four, beloved children, yet treated each other more like enemies than friends, much less husband or wife.

It's the classic love story. It's the classic dissolution of love story. A mostly good woman married a mostly good man, and a mostly good man married a mostly good woman. Years passed, mostly good, happy years, but of course years with disagreements and arguments because we are humans. More years passed, and they had babies. The mama turned her focus to the babies, and the dada turned his focus to the job. They got into ruts.Communication faltered. Talk about money dwindled and led to arguments. Resentments grew and grew faster and bigger than Pinocchio's nose. She got bitter about all the travel, which he seemed to choose over her. He got bitter over her laser pointed focus on the babies, which she seemed to choose over him. Is it more complicated than that? Of course. Is it that simple? Actually, yes.

We all have our own story. Jim and I have been married over 19 years. It seems utterly impossible that it's been so long. It seems utterly impossible to remember a time that it wasn't "Jim and DeNae." A friend from church who has been married even longer than that recently told me that anyone married as long as we have who mostly likes their spouse have seen a counselor or gone on marriage retreats or done other things to help their marriage. Good marriages do not happen on their own. Even when mostly good men marry mostly good women, and mostly good women marry mostly good men. They need work. It's easy to get married and stay married because divorce is messy and expensive and who wants to enter the dating scene again, but that is no one's goal when they say I do. No one wants to wake up in 30 years sitting across the table from someone they vaguely remember loving, but have absolutely nothing to say to now.

Yesterday I sat around the Thanksgiving table with my husband, our four kiddos, my mom and her husband, and my friend from high school. When asked what I was thankful for, it was easy to choose. Through tears and lots of awkward pauses, I said something along the lines of, "I am thankful for second and third and fourth and fifth chances at getting relationships right. I am thankful that my husband and I didn't give up on each other. I am thankful for the four awesome kids we have as a result of that. I am thankful for family and friends that hurt for the world and then work for the world."

Jim and I have been clinging to the rocky ledge of a thing called marriage for a long time. There have been times it seemed that leaving would be easier than fighting for our marriage and staying, but we just kept clinging, fingers slipping, strength faltering. A few weekends ago we attended a weekend long marriage retreat that brought many things to light, reminded us of our commitment to each other, and reminded us that we are actually gifts to each other. Well, that felt like a newsflash to us! We decided maybe it was time to start acting like it. We also decided that we can't go back and fix 20 years of disagreements and hurt, but we can start here and move forward. So that's what we're doing. And it's really, really good. There are times it's also really, really hard.

I'm not going to run off and start my book on how to have a successful marriage. Not a chance. Instead, I'm going to write this, hopefully as an encouragement to those who are in the trenches of looking at their spouse with more venom than love, more anger than compassion. And I'm going to ask you to remind me, someday down the road when I've got more venom and anger than love and compassion, that I am his gift and he is mine.

I have always said that being a wife is the hardest thing in my life. I'm naturally selfish and I don't like to fold laundry and I don't care if it sits in random piles all over our bedroom and I get tired of having the same arguments over and over so I get sarcastic and use my words as caustic weapons. Trying to fight the natural tendencies of all of that to be a kind and loving wife just doesn't come easily to me. But I'm trying harder than ever before because I want to wake up in 20 years and love the man I'm sitting across the table from. I want to give my children the greatest gift I could ever, ever give them, which is the gift of seeing a loving and functional husband and wife relationship so they have a better chance at having one themselves.

Today I'm thankful for the second and third and four and fifth chance to do just that. I know I'll need many more chances in the future. Thankfully I married a guy who won't give up on me. I'll happily return the favor.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

moving forward

It's Thursday. Two days since I dropped off my ballot, well researched and varied among Democrats and Republicans, male and female. But the top was clearly marked for Hillary Rodham Clinton. I believed and still believe that she was the best candidate on the ballot. One day since I found out that our President-elect is a man named Donald Trump.

In that day, I have cried and screamed. I have taken my no-bra, smelly teeth, pajama wearing self and my pajama wearing toddler to the grocery store for doughnuts because I couldn't think about feeding the small humans breakfast and because deep-fried, sugary carbs seemed like as good an idea as anything. I have seen the first waves of racism, anti-Semitism, and hatred float across my computer screen like a horrifying dream. I have talked with my kids many, many times.

In that day, I gave myself time to be sad. I gave myself time to eat doughnuts and sit in my dirty pajamas and read books under warm blankets with my kiddos, cry and laugh and rant.

In that day, I spent too much time staring at a computer screen. I've read the article that says we're all going to hell in a handbasket, then another that says it won't be so bad, another that says we're royally screwed, another that says to pause, breathe, and give it time. I've tried to deliver thoughtful responses to ridiculously tricky situations and horribly racist statements, and sometimes I succeeded and sometimes I failed. When I realized that I really failed, I went back to delete my response and let the person know I had more time to reflect and realized it wasn't helpful or constructive. I'm still learning and growing. Aren't we all?

That day is over. Yesterday was the time to be sad; today is the time to rally. Today the kids and I bake bread for our church to sell at the Alternative Gift Fair benefiting many local non-profit organizations. We write thank you notes to a family friend who gave them candy for Halloween. We read books and build with magna-blocks and study Latin and trace maps.

I'm not sure what's ahead. There is uncertainty, and even more uncertainty than usual with a changing of the President considering our President-elect has no public service for us to base our best guesses on. In spite of national and international uncertainties, I am certain that when I look at this houseful of beautiful, intelligent, kind, flawed, loving kids, I have hope. How could I not? I am certain that the person residing in the White House doesn't change who we are and what we stand for and how we love.

I wake up clinging to the good of people and I go to sleep clinging to the same darn thing. Some days it leaves my knuckles white, all of that clinging. I wake up clinging to belief in the power of God and the love of Jesus and I go to sleep clinging to the same darn things. Some days the nails chip and break, what with all of that clinging.

I have to believe that most people want what is best for our country; we just believe there are different ways to get there. I have to believe that we have more commonalities than differences. I have to believe that more people will stand up, loudly, proudly, and vocally, when we see injustices against any of our brothers and sisters. I have to believe that love and light will win.

So where do we go from here? Where do I go from here? The kids and I have talked about the increased need to stand alongside those who are being mistreated. We've talked about volunteering our time. We've talked about being the peace and love that this world so badly needs. Then we argued about who had to clean up the Lego's in the family room, but we're not shooting for perfection here, people. Because we live in an unincorporated town, there is no traditional local government. That makes my quest to get more involved in local politics trickier, but not impossible by any stretch of the imagination. There are still refugees to support and hurting kids to love and struggling families to lift up. Meals to pack, hugs to share, money to donate, time to volunteer. More time to listen and seek understanding in our beautiful and terrible world. (quote by the brilliant Frederick Buechner.)
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At this point it's just babbling. I just needed to put words on "paper." I just needed a reference point, a before, for what's to come for our family and country and world. I cling to hope. I do a lot of clinging these days. Whether you're cheering the outcome or lamenting the future or some in between hopeful hand wringing, we're all clinging to something. May we cling, celebrate, and lament together. May we all believe we are Stronger Together, even if we didn't vote for the woman behind the slogan.

Peace for the journey,