Sunday, February 9, 2014

Love Through It

Let me tell you something about my husband. He is exceptional.

This morning I woke up feeling frustrated. Insecure. Disappointed. And my first fallen instinct was to let my husband feel the effects. In my attitude and demeanor, he was undeservedly on the receiving end of my weak mental state.

This man beside me works daily to support our family, spending his hours at a job that doesn't make nearly enough use of his great skills and talents. He is unwavering in his dedication to raising his sons in uprightness. He apologizes when he is in the wrong, and talks through mistakes to move a step forward by them rather than letting them push him backward. He will push through any discomfort or pain to accomplish what is necessary, and usually a good stretch farther than necessary. He is relentless in ensuring I smile and laugh enough each day.

And when I give him scowls instead of smiles, selfish words instead of generous ones, he loves me through it.

He loves me through it.

I pray every wife is able to say that of her husband, and vice versa. We must love each other through it. All of it.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Still New - Day 1, National Week of Marriage

I sometimes forget I'm a newlywed. Caught up in new motherhood, my awareness of the newness of my marriage fades. Then a moment comes along that catches me by surprise and immerses me in it once again.

My husband and I have been married for 1 year and 4 months. That still qualifies as newlywed, right? I certainly believe it does. We are still learning. That is what I have to remind myself so often as I attempt to balance all sides of this life we are living together. Learning to love, learning to live as one. Learning to rejoice and to forgive. Learning to fight and to make up. Well, maybe we have the making up part down fairly well. Learning to laugh at ourselves and with each other. Learning to challenge and accept. Learning to wait and to work.

With each passing month, I gain a deeper appreciation for how our strengths and weaknesses offset each other. Matt does not make me whole. No, only my Lord does that and I will wound my marriage every time I try to fit my husband in that role instead of Christ. But Matt does complement me, and I him. Together we are stronger, wiser, better.

Love is amazing. It is awesome. I mean that in the true sense of the word, not the trite way we usually toss it around. Awesome - filling me with awe when I contemplate the way it can build a person up to more than they ever thought they could be. Or how it can inflict pain, even unintentionally, when it is sacrificed for the sake of self interest. The power in the nature of authentic love is massive. Every day people sell themselves short with their conceptions of what they should gain or feel or experience in the name of so-called love. And God just keeps giving us more chances. More days. Each one an opportunity to let the truth dawn on us that real love is possible. It is available. We are capable of it and we were created to receive it.

Real love. Another phrase we can't simply assume we understand. God is love. All human love is a share in the life of God. If something has no place in God, who is all truth, all beauty, all goodness, then it is not real love. There is no standard lower than that which should be applied to love.

Real love manifests itself in endless forms. Faithfulness - from our very thoughts to our outright actions, not merely avoiding unfaithfulness but dedicating yourself to falling more in love with your spouse by noticing the good, complimenting the beautiful, encouraging the potential in the other. Self-sacrifice - in the daily grind of taking care of the home, working long hours to support your family, putting the other first in even the smallest ways so you will be well practiced when the time comes to put them first in a big way. Joy - celebrating the presence of the other in your life, praising God for them, thinking each day of a reason to be thankful for them rather than taking them for granted. Affection - touch with intentionality, kiss with purpose instead of absentmindedly, learn each other's bodies and desires as lovers, small caresses and deep intimacy. Forgiveness - always forgiveness. Without hesitation, every day we have together, forgive. No grudge, no 'holding out' will make you or your marriage better. Fight respectfully and forgive generously. Prayer - lift your spouse and your marriage up to God. Let Him tend to it, guide it, form it, The two of you are never alone in this relationship.

I love my husband. As a new wife, I am still learning how to really love my husband.

Monday, December 16, 2013

After Twelve Weeks

The last time I posted, I was pregnant. Pregnant and proclaiming that I was back to the blogging world. Ha. I am now the happy mama of a 2 1/2 month old boy. Timothy Michael was born on September 27th after a blessedly simple labor. He came home with us on my 32nd birthday and I have enjoyed almost 12 weeks of glorious time with him.

A friend reminded me, shortly after Timothy was born, of a blog post I'd written a few years ago. It was when Matt and I were first getting serious and I was adapting to being involved in (my stepson) Nethanial's life. I shared how, compared to my closest friends and plenty of other girls I knew, my desire to be a parent was weak. I didn't have a strong urge or longing for it. I feared it wouldn't come naturally, that I wouldn't be able to do it wholeheartedly as it should be done. I couldn't help smiling to myself when she brought that up. God be praised, I can honestly say that nothing has felt more natural to me than being Timothy's mom. Nothing. Being Matt's wife is an extremely close second but otherwise, I can't think of anything that didn't feel forced or awkward or unsuited to me in at least one way or aspect.
Twelve weeks of cuddling, rocking, diapering, breastfeeding, learning, laundry, dishes, house cleaning, cooking, singing to sleep, cooing, marveling, and praying. Praying I'll do it right. Praying it all doesn't go too fast for me to handle.
But it has gone too fast. I return to work this Thursday. Only part time; 3 days a week instead of 5, for which I'm so thankful. For the last few weeks, it is everyone's first question: "When do you have to go back to work?" Usually followed by "who will be watching him?" and "are you ready?" Day after day, I answer each of them with a calm manner and as much of a smile as I can manage. Then I sneak to another room or get in the car or hang up the phone, and I cry. I cry and I hug my boy. I cry and I talk to him. I cry and I snuggle him to my chest and feed him. I give myself a few precious minutes to stare at him and caress him without thinking about the laundry to be folded or the dinner to be planned.
I've never had my heart broken. Not truly. I had one boyfriend before Matt, and that was a simple junior high/high school relationship. Matt and I never broke up along the way, despite some extremely difficult times. I have not lost one of my parents or a sibling or a best friend. I've been disappointed, wounded, hurt, yes, but never has my heart been broken. I don't know if I'll be able to say the same come Thursday.
Mothers have been doing this for years, many of them for far more hours per week than what I'll be doing. It's necessary. There's no way around it. I've found a great situation for him as far as care while I'm at work. There is every logical reason for it all to be fine. I am so far from being unique in this necessity and difficulty. Even my pain over it feels shameful at times as I know so many women have gone through it (and survived it) before me. Unfortunately, that doesn't make it any less gut-wrenching.
With each day that brings me closer to leaving him in someone else's care, I feel a desperate, unanswerable need to apologize to him. To explain and reassure. There's no release from it as there's no way to actually do this. All I'll be able to do is count the hours until I bring him home, wrap him in my arms and tell him I love him.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Enduring Faith

Today, my friend came home. For the last three years he has been serving a prison sentence, unjustly in many people's opinion - including mine.  This man... well, I could spend this entire post summing up the goodness of this man and the effect he had on me during our time of closer friendship. But that isn't the purpose of this post. The purpose is to honor the way, during the last three years, he lived the Scripture, "Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer" (Romans 12:12).

I didn't get an opportunity to visit Pete while he was in prison. I sent a handful of letters and cards and occasionally received a reply. The tone of those replies, the statements he made, added to the stories and descriptions I heard from his family and friends who did visit him, came as no surprise to me. They were true to Pete's character. True to the young man I knew better years ago; true to the man I have always assumed he has continued to be since then. No, they did not surprise me, but that's not to say they didn't move me.

Smack dab in the middle of his doctorate studies, ongoing cancer research at his job, and plenty of other endeavors and activities, Pete was punished for circumstances outside his control. He had reason to despair. He had reason to wallow and slip into depression. He had reason for anger. Yet, beyond a reasonable level of righteous anger, he indulged in none of these things. I'm not saying he didn't have to struggle against them. I don't know if there were days when they tried to sneak into his heart and fill him with discouraged resignation. I do know that he did not allow them to take over.

Throughout the three years, Pete remained a man of hope. He remained a man of patience. He remained, above all, a man of faith. We are exhorted again and again in Scripture to endure trials and tribulations with the attitude of Christ. We are called upon to take up our crosses and carry them in the path of our Lord. In the Gospels, Jesus does not assure us that we will see justice prevail this side of Heaven. He does not promise to relieve from our lives the suffering that comes our way. Throughout the rest of the New Testament, the Apostles reinforce these realities of life in Christ.

We are assured instead that there will be crosses and trials. We are told flat out that "in the world [we] will have trouble" (John 16:33). The promised reward is only received in full when this life has finished. The justice is meted out according to God's terms and timing, not ours. The relief from the suffering is not guaranteed until Paradise.

So many of us know these truths. We've heard them, read them, attempted to be accepting of them. In the moment though - the moment of darkness and pain - do we hold fast to them? There is no easiness in this aspect of the Christian life. It is why the stories of the martyrs and saints are such effective buoys of inspiration. We need to know it's possible. We need to celebrate the lives of those who emanate the attitude of Christ as they carry their crosses. In them we gain encouragement to do likewise.

This is what Pete gives to those who know him. Whether he ever realized it or not, each day that Pete chose faith, hope, and charity in his attitude, thoughts, and actions during the last three years, he allowed Christ to make use of him. He became an extension of the example set by Christ for us all.

Pete isn't a superhero. He's not something other than what we are. Which means, we are all capable of acting in God's grace to live with the attitude of Christ. In every circumstance - joy and suffering - from the most ordinary to the most extreme. By the Spirit of Christ, we are transformed. Let us live transformed lives. Let us honor those among us doing so right now.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Add To the Beauty

Recently, my favorite band released their latest album. It took until last week before I was able to pick up a copy of "Inland" by Jars of Clay, but the disc (yes, I bought the actual CD) has been on repeat in my minivan since then. Superb new music, especially by artists I've long enjoyed, is like comfort food - stimulating in its newness yet soothing in its familiarity.

My husband and I are both passionate about our favorite music. However, we could hardly be further from each other on the spectrum of musical taste. To be blunt, we do not enjoy each other's preferred music. I know he doesn't like the large majority of what I have playing in my car and he knows likewise about me. I think the reason it's not a source of real conflict is that we both respect the passion in each other. He knows what it feels like to have true favorites, to really get excited about new music from those artists, and so he can respect that I treasure that experience, too. And vice versa. In fact, his value of the experience is probably even greater than mine as he makes his own music as well. Which gives me even more reason to respect his desire to listen to his favorite songs. Of course, if we shared a car, I can't guarantee the peace would endure!

I think it's rather incredible, the range of artistic tastes you can find in the minds and hearts of people. Just within one family or one circle of friends, the variety of preferences can be quite wide. It makes sense of course, when God has created individuals in every generation with such a vast range of talents and artistic capablities. Why fill our world with such people and not also filll the world with folks to celebrate and experience the art that pours forth from them.

That's the thought, now that I've wandered up to it in this meandering reflection, that encourages me. There can be such fear in pursuing an art, in using your talents and acting on your passions. It's intimidating. It's unsettling. And it is all too easy to talk yourself out of trying. How wonderful then to be built up by this truth: that God not only pours a share of His own beauty into us, but also places us in a world filled with people desiring to experience that beauty in its multitude of forms!

Think of the art that has added to your life. The music, the books, the paintings, the architecture, the speeches - think what you have gained from them! Think what would be lacking if those artists had not endeavored to be co-creators sharing in the the work of the Creator, the Divine Artist!

It's easy, of course, to say this about the greats. The Bachs and the Monets and the Dostoeveskys. But you? Me? Oh, I don't know... the hesitation sets in as soon as the comparisons start. Then I remember my favorite band. A few midwestern boys who encountered each other at college and bonded over a mutual appreciation of Toad the Wet Sproket. One saw another wearing that band's t-shirt and offered up a "Dude... Toad...," and the rest is history. Think of your favorite band, or author, or any manner of artist. They had a beginning; a beginning without guarantees of what would come after.

You do not know to what extent you can add to the beauty of the lives being lived on this earth - both while you're here and after you're gone. But just like we need to be generous with our love, and trust God will use that offering for the good of any who receive it, we ought to be generous with the art He has placed in us.

Honor Him by refusing to leave it in a mere state of potential. Honor yourself by believing that someone, somewhere, at sometime will be better for encountering your art. Honor your brothers and sisters of this world by offering to them a taste of God's beauty - which in all truth, is the only beauty all of us are searching for from birth to death. What a privilege that we can pour it into the waiting spaces of each other's worlds.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Waiting

The scent of warm pear bread - cinnamon and sweetness - hangs in the air of my kitchen. There are dishes to wash and a floor to sweep but they can wait. There is a to-do list beside this computer, its uncrossed items lifting off the page to remind me there is still much to be done. However, much can wait. Even as I assess whether these are real contractions I'm experiencing or simply more Braxton Hicks after a long, tiring day, I am pulled toward quiet thoughts. There simply haven't been enough of them lately. They are stolen, pushed aside, stepped over, or buried under heaps of mental activity. They wait. They wait for me.

Do yours do likewise? Are the edges of your mind lined with subtle, patient, quiet thoughts? Wallflowers in the spinning ballroom of your head. Do they wait for you to sit out a dance?

Mine wait. Patiently, perseveringly, but not permanently. Eventually, they do go. They slip regretfully out the door like the party guest who will not intrude upon others' conversations but could've been the highlight of the evening if anyone had taken a moment to look them in the eye and invite them into their circle.

During weeks of tiredness, my body longing for sleep by seven p.m yet not finding it until much later and then only intermittently, my brain is aching for energy. I get caught up in despondent reflections of 'I used to write,' and 'I used to teach,' and so on. Not that they last long. They are overrun by the joy I have at what my life has become. Wife, stepmother, and now mother. I feel my child turn over inside me and I imagine holding him in my arms. How can such regrets withstand it? The negativity is polished away by my blessed reality and what remains is only the root of the regrets. That I do still long to be a writer, a teacher, a thinker! That those should be woven into marriage and motherhood for as many days as I'm given. It's the figuring out how that is the challenge. Challenge does not equal impossibility though. In fact, a challenge must be possible to achieve or it is merely nonsense and nothing else.

Yes, this is a genuine challenge. One that I will take up each day - sometimes setting it back down after only a moment and a sigh, certainly, but other times engaging it with strength and wit and success. It's my belief that the engagement must begin with quiet thoughts: the ones waiting on me, eager but calm, ready to pull me deeper into truth, beauty, and holiness. Anything good must begin there.

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Look of Trust

Depending on the day, saying I trust in God can land anywhere on the spectrum of easy to difficult. In the best mindset though (note: not necessarily the best circumstances, but the best mindset), aware of God's promises, of His nature, and of all the ways He's cared for me in the past, I can readily say that I trust in God.

Trust in God for what? "I trust in God" is truly an unfinished statement. For what? With what?

Added to these questions is the wondering, "what does that look like?" When trust is real, when it accomplishes what it ought in my heart and mind, what does that look like? Surely a life lived with trust in God has some noticeable differences from a life lived without.

Today is as good a day as any for me to think through these questions as the trusting is landing somwhere near the more difficult-but-extremely-necessary end of the spectrum.

A couple nights ago, I started reading the Psalms to my son (via my belly). I thought about how all the books and folks say that baby in the womb can sense and react to the way Mom is feeling, especially when it comes to stress, anger, distress, fear, etc. It struck me that, because it doesn't cause concern health-wise, it's not talked about so much from the opposite angle. Does consistent peacefulness, a restful mind, a gentle spirit do as much good for the developing child as the opposite does harm? I like to think the answer to that is yes.

The words I read to my unborn son spoke frequently of trust, strength, peace, provision - all coming from the Lord. And that's really what it comes down to, doesn't it? That's where the difference lies. A life lived in trust in God means I look to Him for what I need. I trust Him with the worries plaguing me. I trust Him with the potential joy or sorrow that could come of a relationship or experience. I trust Him with the ones I love and whom I wish I could save from every harm. I trust Him with my hopes. I trust Him with my self!

The peace of mind, the needs of each day, the strength and wisdom in each circumstance; I don't look to anything or anyone before God. He may provide through other things and other people, but I look to Him first and above all. And when He provides by whatever means He chooses, I remember and am certain that the answers came from Him, not anywhere else. I don't get chained down by worry and fear because a need placed in God's hands means it is in His hands. In His care. A pretty notion? No, a powerful notion. If I can encourage my children not to worry or be afraid because they can rest assured that their mother and father are caring for them, how much more can a life changing example be set by the fact that I live in deliberate assurance that I am in God's care!

A life lived in trust in God does look different. There is a steadiness to it, an unshakeable character that breeds confidence, peace, and endurance through the thickest and thinnest of life's days. It shapes reactions, choices, words, and thoughts. The look of trust is the look that I pray will mark my features as a wife and mother.

To thee, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in thee I trust, let me not be put to shame. (Psalm 25:1-2a)
Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering. (Psalm 26:1)
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

On The Way

"What is on the way?" you may be wondering. A baby! Well on his way, actually! A few months into our marriage, Matt and I were thrilled to discover we were expecting a child. Timothy Michael is due October 4th and I'm having trouble believing how quickly that day is approaching. I can hardly wait to hold my son in my arms. To touch his skin, hear his voice, stroke his hair, kiss his nose. He is in constant motion lately, a thrilling sensation of flips and kicks and stretches.

I've had a healthy, ordinary-in-the-best-way pregnancy. Predictable symptoms, expected progressions, and no scares. About the biggest complaints as this third trimester gets underway are hatred for humidity and a longing to be able to sleep on my back once in a while. And a wistful pining for a chilled glass of moscato, I suppose.

In the 10 months since I became a wife, I have frequently thought about getting back to blogging. Of course, it was usually a passing thought in between "what should I make for dinner" and "maybe I can get these last boxes unpacked this week." (They're still not unpacked.) Then came pregnancy and instead of there being one or two things I could more sensibly do instead of blogging, there were three or four or more.

Oh, silly me. Falling into that age old trap of practically every writer who ever lived. There are always things to do instead of write! Always! My first book didn't get written because I had nothing else to do. It was written because I chose to write it. All my prior blog posts weren't written out of boredom. They were written because I needed to transfer the words from my brain to the world.

So, I hope you've missed me. I'm back. Giant belly blocking the keyboard and all.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

In Everything, Give Thanks

Early evening sunbeams pouring through the clouds, landing on the lush green tree tops and full corn fields. It's a scene I've seen a thousand times through the car window, a photo I've taken at least a dozen times. Why does it still take my breath away? Why does it not yet seem "generic," as one person called it? I can only call it grace. I can only attribute it to the Lord forming my eyes and heart over time to see the uniqueness of that particular view. He knew before I was formed that I would be a person benefitted by appreciating such scenes. He knew I would need to be built up by glimpses of beauty on ordinary days.

Last week I began reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, and this week I became a copycat. Immediately moved by the author's dawning realization of the value of giving thanks, day in and day out, I chose to take the dare she laid out on the pages. I am writing down in a small notebook the moments that produce thanksgiving. What I quickly understood is that I tend to reserve my offerings of thanks to the times when I come to pray - on the occasional mornings when I take a few minutes to pray and read Scripture, in the evenings as I lay in bed at the close of another day, and especially at Mass, my knees on the kneeler, my forehead resting on my folded fingers. The challenge I am taking up is to give thanks all day long... to maintain a riveted awareness of all there is to be thankful for in my life.

For the first time ever I feel like maybe what St. Paul describes could actually be possible: "Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)," I've been able to explain all I want what those verses mean but I can't claim to have had success at living them. Setting my standard at "pray daily," I measure myself in a lesser manner. But as St. Francis de Sales pointed out, "You learn to speak by speaking, to study by studying, to run by running, to work by working; and just so, you learn to love by loving. All those who think to learn in any other way deceive themselves." And so, we learn to pray without ceasing by praying without ceasing. We learn to give thanks in everything by giving thanks in everything.

If God allows me to see/hear/touch/encounter something beautiful, something meaningful, something joy-giving, something that makes me smile or laugh or sigh happily, then He has given me reason to give thanks. If in an experience of difficulty or negativity, He keeps my perspective in check, or causes me to exercise compassion, understanding, or patience, then He has given me reason to give thanks. Perhaps eventually I'll be able to see that God never isn't allowing those things to happen, only I didn't always recognize or accept them.

Ribbons on gifts
Dark red raspberries bobbing in a carafe of cotton candy pink lemonade
The softness of warm kisses
Cold orange juice
Waves from the neighbors as I leave for work
The scratch of pen on paper
Baby pictures on coworkers' desks
Morning thunder
Patience in traffic

Thankfulness gives rise to joy. Do we not all crave a greater well of joy in our lives?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Unexamined Life

Most have heard that age old Socrates quote, "An unexamined life is not worth living." For many months now I have lived that unexamined life. Caught up in the whirlwind of discovering love and now planning a wedding, I inadvertently slipped into a new mode of operation. The reflection and contemplation that characterized my previous days was discarded in a subconcious assurance that I'd reached what I'd been aiming for with all that internal effort. It felt as though now I was in the era of action, rather than thought. That I'd built up toward all this and now I could simply do it. Reflection seemed the proper accompaniment to waiting. I was done waiting. Sadly, I now realize I was also done reflecting. It has produced havoc, this forsaking of examination. Damage. Each struggle I'm facing right now - in my heart with God, in my relationship with my fiance, in so much more - no matter which path of excuses I take it inevitably rounds a bend to reach this truth.

So what now? The contemplative version of myself seems but a distant acquaintance, one that cannot be brought back to intimacy in a mere moment. Yet I can take a step toward her. Right now. And in the next hour. And in the next morning. And in the next night. That first step to regain her presence took me to the Scriptures, thankfully.

I found myself in 1 Corinthians 13. Talk about age old statements, right? Love is patient and kind... not jealous or rude or arrogant or insisting on its own way. Hits me in the gut as I recall it again. St. Paul was naming off what I'd become in certain aspects of my love relationships! A point by point list of how I'd chosen to be in my words, actions and thoughts.

Then, by the Holy Spirit's help, I stumbled upon this devotional blog post: That Holy Spirit, He knows what He's doing. The author presents a perspective on "choice points," those moment by moment choices we make that seem insignificant but in reality affect our lives and those in our lives to a great degree. I have a serious tendency to focus everywhere but the moment I'm currently dwelling inside and so lack awareness of the immediate effects wrought by my words and actions. This choice points lens has the potential to change my daily vision.

As it has in the past I've no doubt that this blog of mine can be useful in the quest for reflection and awareness. I don't know if I have any readers left, absent as I've been. If I do though, I thank you and I welcome your input.