Happy day

Today is a happy day. This is our 32nd anniversary. Not a particularly noteworthy number; but though the number itself isn’t special, this year had its own markers that make it unique in our shared history.

The past year took us through big events: Jack’s birth, Alex’s divorce and move, our nephew’s wedding; trips with family, trips to family, family coming to us. We’ve cycled through months of work and weeks of RV time; we celebrated holidays and slug days, weathered stress and counted joys. As we continue to redefine this time in our lives…empty nest, part-time workers, full-time adventurers, finding our joint and separate passions, I learn all over again. The lessons of life, always the same, but presented with new context each time, can be summed up in a few words:

True love isn’t found. It’s built.

Think the best of each other, especially of those you say you love. Assume the good and doubt the bad. ~ Jeffrey R. Holland

Being happy doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. It means that you’ve decided to look beyond the imperfections.

Talking about our problems is our greatest addiction. Break the habit. Talk about your joys. ~ Rita Schiano

Pride is concerned with who is right; humility is concerned with what is right. ~ Ezra T. Benson

There isn’t enough room in your mind for both worry and faith. You must decide which one will live there.

Once in a while, right in the middle of ordinary life, love gives us a fairy tale.

Our fairy tale is an unlikely one. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if the story is comedy or drama, or if it will end happily ever after. But there is something that keeps us connected, keeps us together. I like to think we’ve weathered enough storms that the future will be all sunshine. That’s unlikely to be true. Life has a way of mixing it up, good and bad all together, sometimes so intertwined that you can’t be sure where one ends and the other begins. But in the thick of it, I know I will look at him, and he will look at me. And we know, we two, what that look means. We know, without words, even without touch, what is passing between us.

So number 32…nothing really remarkable. Except that we made it. And with each passing year, this relationship, with its joys, flaws, sorrows, routines and surprises, grows more rooted in my heart. And through it, I learn, all over again, the lessons of life.

Happy anniversary to my one and only: R.

Nomads on the road

R & S

Just the facts, ma’am: audible answers to unspoken questions

My husband and I have very different communication styles. I’ve posted about this before. It is an ongoing thorny issue. He tends to approach conversation like a quiz: here’s the question; provide the corresponding answer and you get a star on your chart. I tend to wander a bit in my conversation. Often, when I answer a question he poses, I’m really answering the next question that I assume will follow the one he just asked. Because often, I know where the conversation is going. (Example: He asks about something we’ve planned for later this week. But my answer is about how those plans have shifted to next week, because I know that change impacts the information he’s seeking.) But he’s not ready for the second answer…he’s looking for the answer to his first question. And sometimes I get it wrong…sometimes I don’t know where he’s going, and answering a second, unasked question takes us in a completely different direction. Not that he’s in charge of all conversation in the house. But obviously, the person who poses a question has the right to an answer before the other person takes off on a tangent.

Are you confused yet?

Is this a Mars/Venus phenomena? Is this a personality type difference? He works in clinical healthcare, and spends his work hours seeking information. He’s programmed by career to look for the straightforward response…yes; no; something definite. I’m programmed, apparently, to a more round-about style of conversing. I’m not intentionally with-holding answers…just arriving at them in a very different fashion.

A few months ago we began writing out questions and answers when we were dealing with some personal issues. That helped, and seemed to be a way for us to break this conversation cycle that we so often repeat. But with the busy summer and hectic schedules, we let that technique slide. Last night we got into another one of those verbal spirals…it wasn’t so much the information that was the issue; it was the way we shared our thoughts. He feels dis-respected when I leap ahead of him in conversation. I feel edited by his need to have “just the facts.” Does he have a finite number of words he can hear from me? I have sometimes accused him of having a private script in mind, and I often go “off-script” because I’m not inside his head, reading my next assigned line. That’s unfair to him…I know he isn’t deliberately setting me up. But sometimes it feels that way.

That’s part of the issue…when we go down this path, the words quickly become unimportant. It is the feelings that rise to the surface and take control.

After long years of wrestling with this, we at least know to stop the escalation. Usually we give some quiet and space to each other. This morning, I’m going back to the writing tool. When I answer a question in writing, it forces me to slow down, to be deliberate in my response. My thought processes move quickly, sometimes too quickly to respond in the best way. At the risk of sounding sexist, based on personal observation, I think this character trait is more common to women than to men. But probably it is also a trait of personality style. Regardless, it causes friction in my relationship. And here’s the really thorny issue…on good days, I can hear the criticism that I am racing ahead with my answers. That I need to slow down and be fully present in the conversation as it happens instead of moving to where I perceive we are heading.

On a bad day, I feel personally affronted. Why can’t he just accept me for who I am? Why do I need to be edited, changed, filtered…(insert your own word here)?

But then I have to ask myself, honestly…how does this help? What is the point of the exchange? Do I have such a need for self-expression that I can’t alter my style to be more effective? Is this style so ingrained in me that I can’t change the way I speak?

Filtering through the lens of “how does this help?” always helps. Always makes me step back and see the bigger picture. The picture I want to see is one of effective communication. I want to be mature. I choose to change, even if the change is a struggle and one I’ve attempted, off and on, for many years. The reality that change is difficult and slow in coming doesn’t alter the reality that it is needed.

I wish I had a magic wand to wave when we get into these cycles. You would think by now we would be experts at talking to each other. We’ve practiced for nearly 32 years. But no, what we’re experts at is pushing each other’s buttons.

And so, back to the writing tool. I don’t expect to use this for every question/answer exchange we have…not possible! But it is a visible and physical reminder to me to slow my words, and so I’ll try to write, as I can, to work on this behavior again. As the wise say, you cannot change someone else, you can only change yourself. And with that acknowledgement comes acceptance. This is not about either of us being perfect or being right. It is about me becoming a better version of myself…more deliberate, intentional, and focused in my responses.

So here’s my call to action: am I alone in this? Does this happen to anyone else out there? Is my instinct that this is a bigger issue for women correct? And last, if you have any wisdom to share on this subject, please do!

I saw this on Pinterest recently…aahh, someone gets me!

My mind at work...

My mind at work…

Learning to write, learning to hear

Rob and I are learning a new skill. At 31+ years of marriage, we are learning a new way to communicate. For all the good that we’ve shared, we’ve had an ongoing struggle with communication. The problem is not one of talking, it is one of hearing. He speaks, and I hear through my filters. That is to say, I don’t hear him; I interpret him. And sometimes he thinks he’s been clear and honest, but he hasn’t said the words that really speak the truth to me.

You can imagine the difficulties this has produced. Sometimes the problems are comical, sometimes frightening. This isn’t about the everyday speech of “pass the pepper.” Of course not. Even I can understand those words. This is about the thorny conversations of life. The what do I need, what do I want, what do I believe, what do I see…the ones that are full of individual angst and opinion. The ones that perhaps can only come after many years of togetherness.

In the very beginning of our relationship it was easy. We were young, we were focused, we had direction, we knew. You know so much when you’re young.

During the child-years, it was busy. We were on a roll, we were in harness, we were co-workers, co-habitaters, co-parents, co, co, co…we largely co-existed. There were a lot of good times, amazing experiences. It was fast and furious. Where did the 25 years of child rearing go? Gone in a blur of schedules, busyness, keeping milk in the house, getting to work, to school, to youth group, to church, to shopping, to appointments, to family, to vacation…wonderful years, but exhausting.

And now, after a few years of empty nest, we struggle. We are different people than the bright 20 year olds who made a life commitment. We are parents and grandparents, but we’re not in the daily trenches of those roles. We are post-career…we are not retired, but work is not all-consuming at this stage of life. In fact, that is one of the hallmarks of this phase. We are working less, making less, but enjoying more. We have margin. We have time, in the off-work blocks of life, to slow down, to talk again, to learn, to grow.

If all this sounds like we are self-absorbed, I would say no…I don’t think so. In fact, we’ve spent most of our adult lives being other-absorbed. And even now, life demands that we pay attention to work, to other relationships, to the needs of life. This is not about staring endlessly into the mirror, or into each other’s eyes.

It is about circling back. About seeing that we long neglected the primary relationship of our lives. We took care of pieces of it. But the real sharing, the real joining…that was largely neglected. I don’t think we’re alone in this. Isn’t that actually the common thread through most American marriages (I won’t pretend to speak for the whole of the married world here…just reflecting on the information I read regarding US marriages.) We come together, we create a life, perhaps we create children. But it’s hard to keep all the balls in the air. It is hard to be intentional and focused on the other adult in the equation with the never-ending need of everything else pulsing day-in, day-out.

As we’ve navigated the past years and challenges of our empty-nest adventure, we have learned some things. We’ve learned to feel comfortable again with a two-some, instead of the four-some we were for many years. We’ve acquired and practiced new skills for our new time in life. And we’ve made mistakes, a lot of mistakes. We’ve learned almost as much from doing it wrong as we have from getting it right. And maybe the mis-steps have been the ones that have waked us up, helped us to see that our relationship has had all it can take of being taken for granted. We’ve used up that credit in the trenches of child-rearing, career-building, and cruise-control.

So recently, after yet another ah-ha moment…a moment when we realized we had talked but not communicated…Rob picked up a notebook and wrote out, by hand, the words he wanted to say. A funny thing happened. I watched him write, and I waited to see what he was writing. Then I read the words, and gave him my response. He responded by writing, again. And I sat and waited, and read, again. And after a few rounds of this, we understood each other; we had communicated.

I’ve had varying degrees of success with writing therapy in the past. In some ways, it is very useful…you can collect your thoughts, express just what you want to say, and be sure you’ve chosen the best words. Or you can write to vent, and sometimes, after you’ve written out your frustrations, you don’t need to share them anymore. The drawback to the way I’ve experienced this in the past is that my writing was via email or texts. And the big ah-ha I’ve experienced with those forms of communication is:

  1. You can never know the time and circumstances that impact when an email or text is read; timing, mood, and context can color someone’s ability to hear your written words as you intended them to come across. You can’t put tone of voice in an email or text. Even punctuation can be misunderstood.
  2. The writer isn’t present to clarify or correct any misunderstanding…there’s no ability to see each other’s face, to be in the moment, so any misunderstanding could percolate for a while before it can be corrected, if it ever is.

Are we crazy? Is there anyone else out there who needs to find a way to break it down? To find a way to understand and absorb what the other person needs to say? Maybe we are outside the norm. I don’t know…having no other experience, I can’t assess that, other than through my impressions from what I read and hear. But something is amiss out there in marriage-land. Something is causing marriages to fail and homes to break apart. And the trend toward divorce at an older age is rising…this gets to the heart of the problem:  The Gray Divorces, Wall Street Journal

This is not a criticism of those who have been down this path. One of the realities of my own experience is a growing humility…I struggle with my own life and spouse…I am hardly in position to tell others where they got it wrong.

But I am able to share something we stumbled on that seems to help. Maybe it is the process of slowing the speech between us. Maybe the magic is in the ability to go back and read the words again, to let them sink in. I can’t say that I know exactly what is working. I just know that something is. We’ve had breakthroughs before, and certainly we’ve grown through our verbal conversation. But writing it down, even if the writing is largely on Rob’s part, and I am still largely speaking my words, seems to be making a difference.

I plan to stay with this grand experiment at life-long partnership. I plan to make it better, not merely co-exist. And so, between the work, the travel, the family, the friends, the errands, the mail, the stuff of everyday life that has to be tended, I plan to prioritize my partner. He deserves that place in my life. I promised it to him, years ago. For much of our lives, we’ve not kept that promise…we’ve run off infusions of togetherness, snatched on vacation, or hot-tub conversations on the weekend, or the big-emotion moments of life. But now, I see that we’re in a stretch…not the final stretch, I hope!…but a place that allows us to live differently. We don’t have to wait for alone time to talk about the big things of life…we have it every day. And we need to learn each other again, well beyond the selves we think we know so well…we need to learn how we’ve changed, and who we’ve become in this fifth decade of our lives.

So when the mood strikes for a deeper conversation…when the topic is something beyond, “what’s for dinner?”…we’ll talk. He’ll do some writing, I’ll do some reading, and respond; and we’ll hear each other. We’ll really hear each other.

Going to a wedding

So, we have a family wedding coming up in a few weeks. First, a disclaimer…I’m absolutely delighted for the bride and groom. Happy to be attending, and really, I’m very supportive of everyone involved!

But…

I’ve been in pre-wedding mode for weeks now. Never mind that the spotlight is on the bride. What am I going to wear? And do I have time to diet away my ever-present five ten seven pounds that tend to show up in the least desirable places? Wonder if I could do it in an intense weekend of air and water? (You know, that’s the diet plan heavy on the air, light on the water.) I’m not worried about healthy…this qualifies as an emergency diet…just going for effect here. I always think I’m going to start this process well in advance, but as time dwindles down, I begin to make bargains with myself…I’ll workout EVERY day. I promise. I’ll skip ALL desserts. I promise. I’ll eat ONLY protein, no carbs. Well, there’s obviously a pattern here. Probably should have started this last year. Clearly, I need a personal trainer who will stand over me and take the chocolate from my hand. Who says it’s easy to lose five ten seven pounds? Hardest thing in the world if you ask me! It’s stressing me quite a bit already, as you might imagine. But I figure…I can accomplish a lot with two weeks of being strict with myself. Right now I’m in pre-diet mode. Contemplating it. Thinking about it. Looking at my favorite Pinterest food pins to sort of get it out of my system. Because once I start down the path of air and water, (no chocolate!) I have to maintain it pretty much throughout the event. You don’t want to have a premature launch when you’re facing that kind of commitment.

So…

Here’s the likely picture of the big day. Riley is the flower girl (Stephanie’s hoping that isn’t a mistake…you know two-year-olds…could be a lovely showing, or a meltdown that would frighten the Huns). That means Stephanie will be focused on Riley, and that leaves me with Jack. (Matt is staying in Seattle, happily sadly not getting to attend the out-of-state event. I think he’s just pleased that he’s not going to be flying with a toddler and an infant, but maybe I’m misjudging.) Rob prefers to do his bonding with kids once they can walk, so I’m guessing I’ll be holding the baby, and he’ll be standing just far enough away to miss any potential splatter impact. That’s ok with me…if I position Jack just right, I may not have to worry about that pesky dieting. Regardless, I can see it now. I should choose a dress that goes well with baby formula. I already know I’ll be wearing it at some point.

Well…

Rob says the main thing is to witness the event, smile for the photos, and deliver the gift…I think I can do all that without a problem. Got the gift, and I’ll be smiling. Now I just need to find a dress…hmmm…shoes…jewelry….jacket? Wedding’s in March. Purse? Appointment for hair cut…Good thing I’ve got a few weeks yet. Or maybe I’ll just go shopping for an oversized baby blanket and Jack and I’ll wear the same thing. That’s the plan…a soft baby blue for the two of us. Nothing like babies and weddings, huh?

Uh oh…

Now this is a sobering thought…may need to reconsider my dieting plan…this would be just my luck!

When we lose twenty pounds… we may be losing the twenty best pounds we have!  We may be losing the pounds that contain our genius, our humanity, our love and honesty.  ~Woody Allen

Healing on a beach

We came down to Mexico last week…an escape from late winter in SE Alaska, and a chance to see the sun and feel the warmth of a breeze instead of the buffeting of the wind. We had no plans, as usual. Most of our vacation escapes are low key…reading, resting, just being. We don’t need a lot of entertainment. We need time with no structure. IMG_0005

We vary our days between sitting by the pool, walking the beach, sleeping in and reading or catching up with on-line chores. Rob is studying for his upcoming boards test. I work on projects…designing a business card, writing a proposal. Nothing earth-shaking.

Somewhere in the resting, the recovery, we share. We talk a bit about what we’re reading, how we’re growing. We do this in our “normal” life too…of course we do. We connect on quiet Saturdays, or Sunday afternoons. But there’s something about the slow pace of a vacation week. Or maybe it’s the rhythmic presence of the ocean. Things begin to come out. We soften, open up. We become vulnerable.

We have been healing for a while now. I know the date we broke apart. It was September 12, 2010. That was the day we separated, in heart, although not quite at that moment in body. That came a little later that fall, at the end of October. What a time of awakening that was! It was a time like no other in my life, an experience that became precious to me: for the insight, for the honesty, for the truth that came out of it. IMG_0007

The funny thing is, I couldn’t tell you the exact date we came back together. It was in May of 2011. But the date isn’t branded on my heart. We just returned…to each other, to the relationship, to trying. We’re still trying.

The whys and hows aren’t important now, and anyway, wouldn’t be important to anyone but we two…I don’t need to share every detail. But I will share this: it was worth it. Every moment, every hurt, every loss. Because out of it, I grew, and he grew. We became better and stronger. As people and as a couple. It was a hard-fought battle, and to tell the truth, there are times we’re still fighting it. Maybe we always will be.

But this is my pearl of great price: I have wisdom now that came from that time of suffering. It isn’t wisdom of pride, it is wisdom of humility. I don’t have it all sorted out, neatly packaged, nicely arranged. I do my best, I make mistakes, and I forgive. And that’s all. That has been enormously freeing….just that, to know that I’m doing the best I can, and to let go of everything else. I’ve taken down my defenses. I’m standing with my hands open, my heart bare. It feels good to give, and to be open, regardless of what comes. To just do the right thing.

Just when I think I’ve come to the end of the reconciling experience…that we’re neatly put back together, that I’ve gotten my growth out of this…something else appears. It isn’t necessarily about the relationship itself, but it is as if, once I faced myself and those issues honestly, whole new worlds began to open up. Sometimes I’m inspired, and sometimes I’m so humbled.

I began this blog in the midst of heartache, at a time when I needed to stake a claim to the good of life, and to the positive. I needed to say “I will not be poisoned by bitterness.” The joy of reaching out, finding others, discovering – it has been a significant part of the healing process for me. As is my style, the next post may be some light-hearted thing…a funny cartoon, or a recipe. I’m not someone given to the depths. But now and then, just now and then, I have to acknowledge: I’ve been down, and I’ve been out. And I’m so grateful to have come through, to have found grace and peace and joy. And even now, I know, there are no guarantees. But there is hope. If there is one message I have to share, it is this: don’t give up on anyone or anything. Don’t write the end of the story before it writes itself. It may surprise you. I would never have believed, on September 12, 2010, that I would write these words today. Life is good, not perfect. Love is wonderful, not perfect. Nothing is perfect. But it’s all good.

“Yes, I decided, a man can truly change. The events of the past year have taught me much about myself, and a few universal truths. I learned, for instance, that while wounds can be inflicted easily upon those we love, it’s often much more difficult to heal them. Yet the process of healing those wounds provided the richest experience of my life, leading me to believe that while I’ve often overestimated what I could accomplish in a day, I had underestimated what I could do in a year. But most of all, I learned that it’s possible for two people to fall in love all over again, even when there’s been a lifetime of disappointment between them.” Nicholas Sparks, The Wedding

“I am not what I ought to be. I am not what I want to be. I am not what I hope to be. But still, I am not what I used to be. And by the grace of God, I am what I am.” John Newton

The Dream, reblogged from 4 Little Fergusons

I stumbled across this post today and had to share it. I know the value of being broken. It changed my life, made me grateful in new ways, opened my eyes, brought me joy and peace that I couldn’t understand before I experienced the scars. Read the whole thing. Read the other posts in this section. Even if you can’t fully relate, I hope this will touch you, speak to you, whoever you are, wherever you are. It is hard to see in the moment, but brokeness adds value. Blessings! ~ Sheila

4 little Fergusons

Just tuning in? Please start at the Original Post that begins this Series on “Surviving Infidelity”.  It will all make a lot more sense if you do:Shattered Hearts, Broken Promises. 

For those of you all caught up, this is post 2 for today, please go back and read the first post, “Hearing from the Lord”.

 I’d like to share a dream our mentor had.  He has been praying for us faithfully during his late night prayer time.  I am telling you, this man has been invaluable to our healing process, sharing things he hears during that time that are straight from the Lord, meant to soothe our broken hearts.  Personal things that would only make sense to us.  Man, I love that!

This was sent to us via email on July 15th, 5 short days after the secret comes out:

THE DREAM

horses

So, I’m not really a ‘horse’ person, but this dream…

View original post 874 more words

Home again, home again!

I blew in this morning in a gale. My flight was delayed, the wind and rain were ferocious, and I felt like I was wet through by the time I got unloaded. After a week in baby-land, it’s back to reality, work, and home…home being Rob, not a geographic location.

I talked to Stephanie tonight, and heard the sounds of two-week-old baby Jack sleeping near the phone…the little sighs and noises…I could feel his tiny body stretch and wiggle, just like I have for the past week. I miss him already. I miss his newborn softness, his fresh-from-heaven look. I miss his scent.

But the reality is, I’m not cut out to do the solo act. I had a divided heart last week…part of me glad to be with this new little being, and part of me sad to have left Rob behind working (work camp, we call it). Clinics do not shut down because a new baby arrives.

We’ll be down again the end of this month, and I’m looking forward to that. I’m really looking forward to that. We’ll go together, and we’ll experience together. And because we’ll be together, even though we’ll be far from our address in SE Alaska, I’ll be home. Home is where the heart is, and I’ll admit, pieces of mine are somewhat scattered through time zones and states. But the biggest piece of it is with Rob. Just as it should be. It is good to be home.

Baby Jack

Take back your life

A friend of mine is in trouble. Her marriage is in ruins, and she is in the midst of a dysfunctional divorce process. She’s uprooted, disheartened, lost. And I can only begin to imagine the effort it costs her to get out of bed each day and get her kids going.

I’m sad for her, and I’m at a loss. This has been going on for almost two years, and the path seems to be a downward spiral. She can’t seem to break free, to reset.

I know something about sadness, and life not working out the way I thought it would. I don’t have visible tragedy in my life;  I have the drip, drip, drip of missed opportunities, lost dreams, or no dream at all…just a kind of wandering in the wilderness, wondering, even as the externals of life look pretty and orderly: “is this all there is?”

My husband and I have had it all, and at times we’ve known that, and celebrated it. And we’ve had it all, and at times, thrown it away with both hands…couldn’t grasp the goodness that was in front of us for looking at what was wrong. That’s an easy trap to fall into, one that I think most people are guilty of sliding into on a regular basis. Isn’t that what movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life” are all about? The reminder that with all the negatives, life is still pretty sweet…well, we know it. But how hard it is to live that reality day by day! No matter how often I re-learn that lesson, I find it waiting around the corner again. And each time, I have to internalize it like it’s new knowledge. Some things take an eternity, apparently, to really sink in.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. I think this is one of the most common failings of modern life, modern Americans. Maybe people in general… I don’t know…is this just a common human trait?

This morning I was thinking about my friend. She doesn’t have a job, because bringing in her own income impacts the settlement she is able to get from the divorce. She’s depressed, understandably so. She’s lost in regret for the past, and regret for the future. She’s mourning the loss of life as she knew it, and life as her kids knew it.

No one can change any of that, and what’s done is done. No going back. But I want to tell her there is still an option to go forward. I’m not sure she can hear this. But this is what I want to say to her:

Get up! I know you’ve been paralyzed by everything that’s happened. But you can’t live in that state. You have to begin. Begin today, this morning. Set the smallest of goals, and mark it off your list. Then set another. Keep setting them until you’re really moving. It doesn’t matter what the goal is. What matters is that you see what you do as accomplishment, movement, and an act of will…your will. Energy and accomplishment produce more energy and accomplishment.

Look for a job. I know that may be against the advice of attorneys, but having your own income is liberating, and will give you renewed self respect. What if you eventually don’t need alimony? What if you could stand on your own? How sweet that would be! Going back to the work force when you’ve been a stay-at-home-mom for many years is challenging and intimidating…and invigorating. It will bring new people, new experiences, new thoughts to your life. It will broaden your horizons. It will give you a goal, and foster ambition. And it will give you money in your account.

Start a gratitude journal. This may seem like salt in the wound, to even suggest this. But I believe so strongly in the power of attitude and the healing that a thankful heart can experience…I don’t think a wounded soul can move forward without this step. Yes, life is unfair. Yes, life is hard. But we don’t complain when we are “unfairly” gifted. We just accept it as a natural thing, that we should be healthy, have food, have a roof, have healthy kids. Open your eyes, open your heart!

Finally…and again, this may seem like salt in the wound…I would suggest connecting with a women’s shelter…volunteer for an hour or two, or more, each week. This is not about building one person up by looking down on the misfortune of others…this is about recognizing that we all have something to give, even when it seems we have very little. And giving is the best cure for our own heartaches. Yes, there is a need to receive, and to cocoon, and to lick our own wounds. But that works better when we’re also giving, reaching out, making ourselves go beyond the comfort zone.

My route to work in Ketchikan takes me past a women’s safe house. When I’m distressed, I often think about the women who seek haven there. My problems become much more manageable when I recognize: no one beat me up, or threatened my kids, or blew money for this month’s bills. Does that mean I don’t have legitimate issues? No. And certainly my friend has sorrows that are real, and wounds that will take years to heal. But I’m reminded that things could be worse. You have to begin somewhere. I choose to begin with acknowledging: even when I’m struggling, I have people in my life, things in my life, that bless me. I have a place to start. And so does she…she just can’t see it yet.

I want to infuse my friend with determination, and to say: don’t let this sorrow, the end of your marriage, and the way you’ve been treated, don’t let it rob you of what you can do for yourself, for your children. Starting over is hard, and I understand the paralysis that comes with depression. So get help for depression if you need that. But act! Move! Get up! Do it for your kids, if not for yourself. One of these days, you’ll realize you are doing it for yourself as well, and you’ll all benefit in the end.

Even as I write this, there’s a little voice inside my head that says it’s never as easy as it reads. No. But what’s the alternative? She’s already lost two years of her life, and her kids’ lives, to turmoil and anger and sadness. How much more will she give? Eventually, it is counterproductive to mourn. It becomes a way of life; but not a healthy way to live. I’ve learned this for myself, and I know how hard it is to make that shift in thinking. I’ve done it. My circumstances were different, but in their own way, no less debilitating. But I don’t know how to jump start someone else. Sending her a to-do list, or a book to read, or listening to her, or suggesting that she see a doctor and go on anti-depressants…are these just band aids? I can’t put my hands around what she most needs. I’m at a loss for her. I keep coming back to the same thing. She has to reach down inside herself and want to take her life back. She has to want control enough that she pushes through the barriers. She has to want it. Others around her have wanted it for her. We’ve been sad, and seen the legitimate distress of her life. But now it’s down to her. Really, rock bottom, down to her will, and her strength.

I  choose to live by choice, not by chance; to make changes, not excuses; to be motivated, not manipulated; to be useful, not used; to excel, not compete. I choose self-esteem, not self-pity.  I choose to listen to my inner voice, not the random opinion of others.

 

Sister by heart

This is a double duty post. Today I’m wishing my sister-in-law…well, I should just drop the “in-law” part…a wonderful happy birthday. JeannaLynn is my sister, a sister by the gift of marriage, and a sister of my heart.

And that brings me to the second thing I want to share with her: gratitude. Not for the first time, but for the first time in a public way, I have to thank her for saving my marriage last year. That sounds dramatic, and I am not a drama queen. But that is the truth. A few others who knew we were in distress were helpful, loving, concerned. But it was JeannaLynn who stepped in and did the thing I could not do for myself. She rescued me, and us. And I am forever grateful.

How do you thank someone who does that for you?

You thank them from a depth of gratitude you didn’t know you possessed. You thank them privately. You thank them publicly. You thank them with a humble heart.

All of these things I feel, and all of them I want to share.

The details are not important, and in any case, they are a private matter. The rescue, and the outcome, are the important points of my story. But it isn’t even my story, in particular, that is important. The important thing is acknowledging that this woman is making a difference. She, along with her husband, is counseling, ministering, saving, and bringing relief to couples who have found themselves on the brink: the brink of despair, the brink of divorce.

She speaks as one who knows. JeannaLynn had her own struggles with her marriage. She has known the depths. She’s done the hard work to change her own story, and she understands what it takes to maintain the victory. It is hard-won, and all the clichés that you regularly hear apply: you can’t take it for granted; you have to work at it every day; no relationship is immune from the toll of stress and life challenges.

JeannaLynn is a nurse, and for many years has focused on the area of obstetrics. For several years now she has taught childbirth classes at a local hospital, combining the roles of caregiver, mentor, teacher, and surrogate parent to the women who attend her sessions.

A few years ago, she decided to become a Life Coach, and she’s completed the coursework and testing to become a certified provider of coaching services. That dovetailed nicely with the work that has become her passion. Married to a minister, over the years JeannaLynn and Richard, her husband, had developed a marriage counseling ministry, working with church members who were in crisis in their relationships. A couple of years ago, they decided to do counseling full-time, and the rest, as they say, is history.

JeannaLynn and Richard work as a team, and they have been so effective in their ministry that they have a growing list of clients whose lives have been forever changed, and changed for the better, by their efforts. They step into lives and listen, teach coping skills, teach respect and value and honor. They are friends to marriages, not taking sides, but supporting both spouses in moments of turmoil. They share their story, acknowledging that relationships take tremendous energy, commitment, and focus. They also encourage couples to find the fun again, to prioritize each other, to understand that it is not easy to stay together. But it can be so rewarding, beyond belief.

In our situation, it was our unique relationship with JeannaLynn that made our progress possible. She knew us, knew our story, and was able, without taking sides or expressing judgment, to encourage, instruct, and be with us through the refining fire. She physically came to our house and spent several days, patiently listening, passionately lobbying us to see the big picture, to see each other with different eyes, to be true to ourselves, and to recognize that we could do that and hold on to the good that was between us.

We allowed her in. But she was willing to come in, and she did it with grace and honesty, with courage and respect.

Last year we were lost, and she helped us to find each other.

On the surface, we don’t look very different. But when you’ve been lost, and now you’re found, you sing in your heart. You appreciate differently. The smallest things are joys again. Old is new, and what was hard is soft.

Once I took a lot for granted. Now I take nothing for granted. I am humbled to think that I have another chance at happiness, and another chance to get it right. And for all the work that I have put into this renewal, and for all that Rob has done, I know who is at the heart of this opportunity. Thank you, JeannaLynn, from the bottom of my heart. And may this birthday be the beginning of another year of blessings, impact, and excitement as you witness the daily miracles of lives changed and hearts rescued.

JeannaLynn and Richard can be contacted at WGHJ

First kiss of the day

When my kids were little, baby and toddler stages, I kissed them frequently. One morning, picking up Alex, I said, “First kiss of the day!” as I was getting my first soft snuggle from his baby cheek. I knew it was only the first of many kisses I would give during the day, and it became a frequent phrase in my thought. Sometimes I even voiced it out loud. Mostly, it was a way of marking a brief moment, recognizing that for that day, I had the ability to scoop up my little ones and hold them close.

But things change. I rarely get to kiss them now. Distance makes that impossible. They’re all grown up, and the time of easy, daily interaction has passed.

Not long ago, I walked by the sofa where Rob was sitting and impulsively bent down and kissed him. I thought, “First kiss of the day!” Of course, I don’t have the constant interaction with him that I had with my little ones all those years ago. Most days, we are busy with work, errands, to dos. Most days we don’t have, or take, the time to just sit with each other. But I thought, in that flash of insight, why don’t I mark the moments with him? The big ones are easy to see, and we do mark those. But the little ones, the day after day ones, those slip by so easily. Mostly because we see each other as two busy adults. We know children are growing fast, and one day won’t be within easy reach for a kiss or hug throughout the day. But adults? I think even in good marriages, we just take it for granted, too often.

So my new thing…I’m going to mark the little moments more often. I’m going to try to really see the person drinking coffee with me, running errands with me. I’m going to practice saying, once again, “First kiss of the day!”