Writing “Dilemma”

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It’s been a while since I posted. I’ve been experiencing a rare writing dilemma.

It’s a good dilemma, but a tricky one.

Image result for writer's muse goodMy muse has kicked back in, with a vengeance.  It is both exciting, and a little bit scary at the same time.  Scary because sometimes I feel I have no control over it. It just sort of grabs me by the hand and whisks me off at break-neck speed.

Deep breath here.

So, quick update from A Submitted Wife.

Hubby has had his nose in about 3 to 4 different Christian books on marriage.  He’s been in study mode.  He has invited me to join him.  I’ve been in study mode in the past, and sort of felt burned by it.  Lots of investment, and little return over the long run.  Lots of good knowledge, but poor follow through.  Hope, followed by disappointment.

Le sigh.

But, I will try again.  I love him.  We are worth fighting for.  Defeat is not an option.  We have re-instituted weekly talk times, right now centered around the book/study Love and Respect.  I’m finding this to be an annoyingly incipient book.  The so-called Pastor who wrote it and leads retreats on it has exactly the correct idea and “formula,” for arresting what he calls the “Crazy Cycle” between spouses… but he really lost me with anecdotes about forgetting his wife’s birthday, and leaving his wet towels on the bed/floor even after knowing this is something that annoys her (and which every normal-functioning  human being can remedy quite easily), and then suggesting she still can respect him. Perhaps that’s his goal, to prove that it could be worse, Virginia.  But we decided to muddle through the accompanying workbooks, since we bought them after all; and just use them as a general guide for our weekly talks.  I don’t mean to denigrate this book right out of chapter one, and maybe my views will change.  I’ll let you know.

Hubby has completed three books in full (have I mentioned he’s a rabid bibliophile?).  He really has good things to say about The Meaning of Marriage (Keller) which I’ll read next.  So the news on the marriage/relationship front is that we are committed to trying and I am really working on not protecting my heart for fear of disappointment.

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Now, on to my “writing dilemma.”  I attempt to keep up with 3 different blogs: one on travel, another on education, and this one.  This one gets most of my attention; God seems to have placed in my heart to relate the good, bad, ugly, and beautiful of imperfect marriage, and share a hopeful story.   I’ve been long overdue on writing up posts for the travel blog; there is a ton of raw material ready to be crafted into posts, and I’ve managed to churn out two in the past couple of weeks.  Education blog gets the least attention, but as it does occasionally bring me clients, I need to tend to that one more.

Then there’s my novels.  Did you know I’m a “published author?” Over more than three decades I have worked on an epic novel, which I eventually broke into a 5-book series, and e-published on Kindle.  It was hard to let go of this baby, it sort of grew up with me. Editing and revising and polishing were my real bugaboos. In the end though,  I think it’s pretty good, no, REALLY good, but I’m lost on the marketing side to this process (I know, I need an agent).  It’s had a handful of readers, but I know it’s not everyone’s genre.  It’s even hard to describe the genre: a “Fifty Shades with a brain,” meets “search for traditional Christian marriage, with romance Image result for writer's museand pinches of international intrigue laced in.”  LOL, it’s a novel that wanted to be everything, but in the end, if you get to Book 5, there is a redemption story.  If you read FSOG, I promise my books are far superior; if you hated FSOG “because that kind of stuff is sick” or you have moral issues with explicit writing about non-vanilla love, I’m not your author. I published under a pen name because I’m not sure I want the world that knows me, to know I wrote what some might think of as “smut” (but let me know if you’d be interested; I can private email you links, the books are ridiculously cheap, and it’d be a good beach read).

I knew I had to cut the apron strings on that first novel series (Book Five just was uploaded about two months ago), before I could begin writing something new.  I’d have ideas, I’d jot them into my iPhone notes.  But nothing new was seriously motivating me.

Then a week ago I started to develop a character.  My writing process is pretty bad for someone who is an educator and has taught the “proper” writing process of outlines, characters, story arch, etc.  I claim I’m the “Hemingway brand” of writer, where “the story was writing itself and I was having a hard time keeping up with it”  (please note that I in no way compare myself to the great Hemingway).  Sometimes I’m just excited to find out where this story will go,  where it will take me, as my readers may one day be. I balk at coming up with instant and formulaic endings, and really tight structure.  Sometimes I have to immerse myself into my characters and my story before I can decide how it might end.

Image result for writer's museThis new story has taken hold of me and taken over my life.  I eat, drink, breath this story.  There’s rarely a time when it’s not on my mind.  I wake up with it and fall asleep with it (if I can fall asleep– there have been many a past-midnight session in the past week).  I can’t clear my head in yoga because the story won’t leave my mind.  I’m having to constantly write notes when I’m not in reach of my keyboard.  In a little less than a week’s time, I’ve written 41 pages of manuscript; copy and pasted countless pages of research; I’ve created a pretty comprehensive outline, and notes, something quite unlike me.  There is actually a direction for this writing, but it’s like drinking at a fire hose right now because I can’t keep up with it.  It’s a living, breathing thing that’s taken up residence inside me.

A thrilling and daunting feeling, all at once.  The control this has over me is at times frightening.

I’ve explained it to my husband, and I’ve asked for forgiveness in advance.  I’ve told him that I do not mean to ignore him, but I’ve just got to ride this muse while it’s here.  He’s been very understanding.  But I know pretty soon I will need to come up with a writing schedule.

Related imageI’m also about to take off on a fabulous girls’ weekend, where there will be EIGHT of us hanging out at a beach house for 4 lovely days.  En route, I get to have two lovely days with one of the besties.  These gatherings are just amazing, and I love them.  To miss one is agony. To not be “present” is inconceivable.

But now I feel like, “how can I put my writing on hold for nearly six full days??”  There’s no way to take it with me, I couldn’t possibly face a choice between the call of my muse, and my life-long friends.

The dilemma of writing.  Dry periods, periods when it feels forced and fake; periods whenImage result for writer's muse good it feels authentic and true (“all you have to do is write one true sentence.  Write the truest sentence that you know.”  Another Hemingway truism.)

So, I’m excited.

That is all.

The book is calling me.

 

 

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Be Completely Humble and Gentle…

Image result for forgivenessI’m a bit more active on the blogging in this season for several reasons: 1) to see how things progress in this difficult time; 2) to check in with my sanity; 3) and hopefully, to show some progress out of the dark valley.

First, it took me a full three days to finally be able to talk, without anger (and I mean FULL days of being constantly in each other’s presence in very small areas– like 2,000 miles in the car, hotel rooms, and around our kids). There still was plenty of sadness, dare I say it, depression… and lots of prayers… but I could finally talk without being angry and nasty, while still being honest.

Having wallowed through some pretty dire and depressing thoughts over the past few days, I was reduced to groans to God of, “I don’t know what to do… tell me.”

Oh yeah, He told me.  He kept giving me a verse I know well, one I used to teach students:

Be completely humble and gentle.  Be patient, bearing with one another in love.

Ack!  God, that’s NOT the verse I want right now!  I want something like, “Shame on the husband who makes his wife sad…” (there IS such a verse, isn’t there? The closest I can find is “May all who gloat over my distress be put to shame and confusion; may all who exalt themselves over me be clothed with shame and distress.”)  But yeah, he’s not gloating or exalting; he’s sad too…

I also listened to a TED talk podcast I’ve kept open on my browser for MONTHS.  It was Related imageabout The Power of Vulnerability, and it was spot on (more on this later).

Yesterday SJ coaxed me to go to church (we are away from “home” so we often just take a mini vacation from Sunday worship, often watching the stream from our home church). I wanted to say no, but reasoned that it couldn’t hurt me.  I still felt so distant from him, as ironically the verses from 1 Corinthians 7 were read and preached on (the ones about husbands and wives fulfilling their marital duties and yielding their bodies to each other).  Although most of the sermon focused in on the “ministry” or state of being single, I found myself actually quietly scoffing at Paul’s words, as I put as much of a distance in the pew between my spouse and I as I dare.  I think the apostle Paul is amazing, but in so many ways he does get under my skin (in good and bad ways).  I know that he really wasn’t a total chauvinist, yet I still can’t read some of his epistles without bristling a little. However, what he says is always convicting, and he has quite a bit to say about marriage, husbands and wives.

On the way home SJ asked me to “forgive him.” It just came out so… so… insincerely, to my ears.  Not “I acknowledge this behavior wasn’t right; do you forgive me for doing x, and I want to improve,” but sort of like a statement that expects a blanket absolution for “whatever the hell makes her mad,” and move on with a clear conscience.

Well of course as a Christian I am supposed to forgive.  And as a person who doesn’t want to be poisoned by unforgiveness, I know the need to forgive, if for nothing more than my own soul.  But I couldn’t say a word in response to his statement.  I did feel guilty that it seemed mean of me… but he didn’t actually seem to want an “answer” per se.  And of course, that made me angry again– to feel guilty for not responding with unconditional forgiveness.  Feeling guilty that what I wanted to say is “No! I don’t forgive you any more. Related image I’m out of forgiveness, you’ve used it all up!”

After another day of keeping quietly to ourselves, I realized what bugged me.  Wanting to fix things, and actually committing to fixing things, are two different things. Seeking forgiveness means I put the bad behavior/actions/sin behind me, and commit to actively changing.  To not do THAT again.

Later in the day, he also wanted me to watch our home church sermon.  Sheez, God is persistent.  The sermon series is about relationships and this one addressed the “need” for (healthy) conflict in marriages (versus sweeping things under the rug).

I prayed as I tried once again to find sleep last night, not daring to take another dose of Ambien (although I learned it would take 200 of these pills to actually overdose).

By this morning I had really had enough of the silence and impasse and inability to sleep.  I asked if he wanted to talk.  He readily agreed.

As an aside, he’s continuing to read the marriage books.  He has articulated that he’s starting to see that he may have married with the wrong expectations (to “acquire” a smart, interesting, and attractive wife, who would make him feel happy and complete, to assuage loneliness, and to not be that pathetic old single guy); and that he perhaps has guarded his heart (because of previous hurts).  These thoughts are breakthroughs, but not at all surprising to me.

I tried hard to stick to the “I feel… when you…” statements.  The number one for me is that I would feel loved to know he is there to defend me, to support me, and to show he expects respect towards his wife, his woman.  Since he doesn’t do this with our kids (I invoke the Biblical mandates about honor to parents), I don’t even trust him to do this at large, and this feels like such a betrayal.  He cares much more about his own need to not be embroiled in unpleasantness, or God forbid, that someone won’t like him.  That does not feel loving to me, nor protective.  I don’t ask him to endorse anything unreasonable, just that blanket expectation that he could firmly and with conviction say, “You can’t speak so disrespectfully to your mother, my wife.  It’s OK for you to disagree, but do so with honor and respect.”  I don’t particularly want my kids to honor me solely out of a sense of duty (as I’ve had to with my Dad); I most certainly prefer that they honor me out of love and devotion.

We both have things to work on.  It made my heart cheer a little to hear him say that he Image result for vulnerabilityis realizing that “Our marriage is supposed to glorify God;” and “I need to do and give without expectation of return.”

Amen.

I feel exactly the same way, but oh, it’s so, so, so hard to carry that off in a one-sided way. Because if you both don’t buy into this, it doesn’t really work.  We need to just keep praying and giving it to God.

I cried a lot.  I admitted to some really, really dark and dire thoughts.  These shocked him and made him a little upset (not my intention, I told him I wasn’t saying anything for purposes of manipulation or blackmail, just that I’ve even  been shocked to feel myself so hopeless). I reiterated my commitment to also read the books and renew the respect he needs (he pointed out a few moments where he felt disrespected, and I obviously have a lot of work on perceiving this better).

With our conversation, thoughts aired, and some of the pressing weight of this sadness relieved, I went out to run some errands and feel semi-normal.  By the time I returned home, I realized something in my heart.  Oooooo, I struggled so much to say it though!  What if… what if… I can’t risk my heart being trampled…

Image result for vulnerabilityAnd I went for it…

“Vulnerable.  I’m going to be vulnerable…” I muttered as I walked towards him.

“Huh?” he asked in confusion.

“I hate feeling apart from you,” I said.  Whoa.  That is hard to say.

He hugged me, and agreed.  He told me, “I’ve got you.”

Good answer.

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Weary

My amazing BFFL describes it as the mountains and valleys.  And she’s reconciled that inImage result for mountains and valleys her marriage.  She just keeps looking forward to those mountain moments.

Marriage isn’t smooth sailing for many people.  It certainly isn’t for us.

Most of us want to have those Facebook-perfect lives, and we want to portray the image of having it all together.  Frankly, I love believing in the fairy tale of it all, the happily-ever-after.  But maybe it’s this fantasy that bites me in the butt every time… the hope that things will be OK.  Reality sucks.

Some of the time things are good for us.  I want to say that this is the case most of the time, because in the whole scheme of things we have a pretty charmed life with few major problems.  There are no life-threatening illnesses, no kids on drugs or in prison, no horrendous family problems, no massive debt or money problems.  We have minor health issues, our kids are now all college graduates in various stages of getting their lives established, and we have yet to figure out what we want our future to look like and where we want to spend it… if we want to spend it together as a “we.”

Yet these valleys in our relationship seem capable of going to new and darker lows each time.  Sometimes it’s the same old issue again and again.  I lose hope. I want to give up.  I don’t see a way beyond it.  I suppose that sometimes I need to ask myself if “it’s me;” am I having unreasonable “bi-polar” reactions when things are bad?  Why is it so difficult to dredge up that positive that I spoke of in my last post?

Here’s the thing: I wrote previously about how marriage is hard work.  In that post I wrote (comparing our REALLY difficult years to the present): “The difference is, we acknowledge we don’t have all the answers and we don’t know everything.  We may be a bit wiser in our “old age,” but every new challenge or situation can torpedo us unlike any before, and throw us into a major tailspin.  Thing is, we have discovered some things that help us from descending into an irrecoverable flame-out.”

I’m trying to recall just what things we discovered to head off that flame-out.

We’re trying to pray more.

img_0301The recurring theme over and over for me is whether we both really want to do that hard work required by marriage.  It exhausts me.  And I have persistently felt like it’s too hard for him.  He will make promises to me to “step up” in this marriage, but he can’t sustain the efforts.  There is a tease of what he is capable of being as a husband, leader, lover, and best friend… and then it just fades away again.  Part of it is because he’s human and imperfect, just like me.  Part of it may be because I’m a lot to handle.  But I can’t escape the feeling that it’s just because it’s too hard for him.

I’m sure he thinks similar things… “She can’t sustain the things I need in a wife, help-meet, lover and best friend…” 

This dance is so hard.  The moment one of us isn’t living up, the other begins to falter, and it’s a vicious cycle, a whirling vortex,  that’s hard to pull out of.

…And it’s the weariness of trying, and having it go bad over and over.

So, some people will say, “Why do you stay if you aren’t happy?  Surely there are ways to be happier…”  Five years ago I was really buying into that theory.  I felt like anything would be better than staying in a miserable, sexless, and morose marriage.  Miraculously we fixed a few things.  We didn’t stay sexless.  We tried to be happier by being more patient and respectful (what he needs).  He attempted to be more loving and romantic (what I need).  It kinda sorta worked for a while.  You get a glimpse of the person you fell in love with, and the marriage that you always wanted.

And then it slips away.  Sometimes so gradually you don’t notice (except maybe when imagethree or four weeks slip by and there is no sex).  Sometimes it is represented in the moment your offspring treats you like shit, and your spouse does absolutely nothing to show his loyalty or support of his wife, maybe even throws you under the bus a little (a common issue our entire life together).  It’s so demoralizing.  It’s like getting shot in the heart again just as the previous wound is scabbing over.

Is that the way it’s supposed to be?

The “fix” began 5 years ago only because I was convincingly ready to leave, to chuck it all.  He had a choice, to give it up or try harder.  He chose the latter– but temporarily.  I also had to step up and try harder too.  I don’t know who starts flailing first… but of course I think it’s him.   I don’t want the threat of me leaving to be what causes him to work harder.  I sure as hell wouldn’t like that threat.

So you sit here and ask yourself– what IS good about us?  Will we ever find another person to even remotely care about the imperfect people we are?  Will we ever find someone we can trust as much… what, not to be totally disloyal?  Can we continue to survive the emotional disloyalty we seem to default to?  Will we ever find another who takes marriage vows seriously enough not to be gone at the first glimmer of inconvenience, sickness, or discord?

Can we survive the valleys and live off the mountain moments, however few and far between they become?

 

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I Have a Problem, Therefore I Matter

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There’s something about the aging process that seems to bring out the very negative in many people.  And it’s not without reason that many older folks feel negative.  The bloom of youth is gone and never to return; health is tenuous and our bodies cease to function optimally; the regrets of all the things you didn’t get to do when you could’ve; the regrets of all the things you didn’t have; the sadness of losing friends, family, spouses; the disappointment in offspring; the general sadness of life and in the world.  And of course, the loneliness.

Each time hubby and I have to deal with our sole surviving parents, we are presented with this reality.  Aging often is not a pleasant or fun prospect.  Along with it, there are so many things we can  regret later in life.  The key is to take a lesson and to the extent possible, avoid having so many regrets.

I’m always so inspired by positive people, and especially those who have endured great sadness and loss.  They don’t allow the circumstances of life steal their joy. I know that I want to be like that.

Image result for problemsOne key characteristic I’ve noticed about sad/depressed/negative people is the inherent belief that to “matter” you need to have a problem.  Sometimes the more problems you have, the more important you feel.  People with seemingly problem-free lives, aka, a positive outlook, seem to not be as… significant? “Luckier?”

Another characteristic I see with negative and sad people is lack of forgiveness: towards others; towards the hand dealt you in life; towards God.  Inability to forgive is indeed a poison.

I grew up with a Dad who worked hard, took life seriously, and didn’t seem to have a lot of fun.  He was often critical and grumpy, prone to a mean temper and regrettable actions/words.  The fruit of the spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control) were mostly absent from his personality. Forgiveness especially did not come easily for him.  Self-care and relaxation were viewed as selfish.  Even when he was attempting recreation like golf or fishing, there always were problems or anxieties involved in these happy pursuits.  There wasn’t a sense of relaxation.  I often recall how angry he’d be over a golf game and wonder why he even wanted to play.  When the time came for me to play golf, I recall thinking that while this can be a challenging and humbling sport, it usually involved incredibly beautiful outdoor scenery, and good company.  It never truly bothered me that I could rarely par a hole or that my handicap was huge.  Dad set high standards for himself and others, and he often struggled to forgive or extend patience and grace.

Mother-in-law thrives on negativity and controversy.  It’s amplified now that she’s in a senior living facility, and especially since her husband of 50+ years passed, but it was always there for as long as I’ve known her.  While she was the best mom and grandmom she knew how to be, and had many fine qualities, kind words are few and far between Image result for negativity vs positivityfor her. Regrets and grudges are many.  She will tell you stories of hardships growing up; she will tell you of people (including close family) for whom she still bears bitter animosity.  She will tell you of the horrible “old ladies” (she’s in her 90s) who flirt with the few older men, sit in “her spot” in the dining room, or who don’t share her passions for football. She bears grudges.  She complains a lot. She argues her political views without any thought that there could be another point of view.  When we visit, rather than feeling happy, she uses the opportunity to complain even more bitterly.  She is one of the most mobile and self-sufficient 92 year olds I know; she has few health issues; she lives in a nice place where all her needs are provided, including social.  She is blessed with two wonderful and caring children who make sure she’s well cared for; 5 happy, accomplished and successful grandchildren who keep in close touch; and 2 great-grandchildren.  Her son is patient and kind, but it even wears at his good nature to face her complaints and negativity.

One thing we notice about both of our elderly parents is that they do very little in service for others, or even to take notice of the needs of others.  What a lonely existence to be concerned only with yourself!  I get that it takes effort to get your aching old joints up out of bed in the morning, and go off to do something that may have no direct benefit to you.  It is much easier to dwell on your problems and the negatives, but oh so much more destructive.

I personally acknowledge that over my life time (and every now and then) I’ve bought into the belief that to “matter,” to seem important, I had to have a huge problem or problems in my life.  For some reason I didn’t feel vital unless I was battling something or someone.  And of course, I had to believe that MY problems where far worse than anyone else’s.

Image result for aging gracefullyWhenever I’m in full pursuit of my true purpose on earth (to love God), I am happier.  Problems don’t matter as much.  I more clearly see the many, many blessings I have.  I can more clearly see how the negatives of my past were either used by God in a positive way; or perhaps were important in testing me and refining me to become a better person.  No discipline is pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.  

I also see that getting out of my selfish little complaints, and trying to devote myself to the needs of others, I can more clearly see the blessings that have been given to me.  Very few of us can claim not to have problems or difficulties.  And very few of us can claim to not have some blessings.  The trick is, to not allow the challenges to overshadow the joy and the blessings; to not become identified by our inevitable problems; and to not continue to be defined by the negatives of the past. A favorite quote sums this up:

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.

I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live.  I rejoice in life for its own sake.  Life is no “brief candle” for me.  It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.

George Bernard Shaw

I ask myself today, and I encourage you to ask it of yourself, how are you living the privilege of your life, being used for a mighty purpose, with little concern for how you “deserve” to be made happy?

This is a question I need to ask daily.

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Why Is Communication in Marriage so Hard?

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We’ve made it through another few days.  I suppose that’s something.  I need to be grateful for that.

He has been diligently reading away, marriage books.  Love and Respect (The Love She Most Desires); The Respect He Most Needs); The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God.  We heard a quote this week that made us both smile.  “I’m an introvert.  My best friends are authors.”  This applies to SJ.  He is studious.  He loves to read.  He gains insights from books.  Books (authors) speak to him in ways others don’t.  He is also very disciplined when he chooses to be, which is most of the time.
Image result for depressedI, on the other hand, have been dragging myself up out of the abyss.  The one of
hopelessness, despair, frustration, and distrust.  Wearing yoga pants, no make up, not caring if I took a shower today.  Barely dragging myself to yoga or errands. I don’t trust myself, I don’t want to trust him.  But I know I can trust God, so that’s something. I’m not always thrilled to think this may be a time of pruning or purifying by fire in my life.   When I’m in this kind of despair/funk, I don’t talk or engage too much because I fear that I’ll speak angry or mean words and thoughts.  I still do despite my self-imposed silence.  I guess it’s safe to say I can be a wallower.

SJ’s approach was logical and proactive.  Mine was steeped in feelings, volatile emotions,Image result for depressed and irrationality.  I even sort of resented him a little for being so logical and proactive.  There’s a verse in scripture that says, “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. ” (Romans 8:27-28)

Yep, for a normally articulate person, I become that wordless groans person. Thank God His Spirit is fluent in that language.

So the gratitude statement is this:  he seems willing to try to improve things.  Again.  And maybe that’s just what I need to expect.  We will try again, and again.  We may never get it perfect, but we try to get it the best we can.  And I can choose hurt or hope.  That seems a no-brainer.

Sunday we reinstated weekly “communication time,” long overdue.  I talked more in that hour (plus) than I had in the previous week. I actually asked him to talk first so that I didn’t co-opt the entire communication time.  I practiced my listening skills.  I begged his indulgence for me to have a notebook to jot down things he said that I wanted to respond to (otherwise I’m impatiently interrupting for fear I’ll lose my thought; or I get distracted from listening further as I try to retain the thought).  He has new insights from his readings, acknowledged and apologized for not getting it right, and that he would try to do better (corrected with a quote from that esteemed philosopher, Yoda, “Do, or do not. There is no try.”).  I apologized for being a basket case, and not having my heart in the right place to take constructive action to Image result for communication marriage hardwork on this.  I know he’s been anxious to have me join him in these readings.  My stubborn heart keeps telling me it’s pointless (I don’t tell him this; I tell him that my heart isn’t in the “right place”).  We discuss how the next several weeks involve travel, family events, and busy-ness, and I asked his indulgence for me to start up on the reading when we were back in town and have more time to focus on us.

Lest anyone think I’m a total wastoid, I am devoting time to daily devotions and re-reading The Purpose Driven Life.  I’m getting my head around that truth of “what on earth am I here for?”  Well, life not about me, it’s about God, and my relationship with Him.  I struggle with this, even as a Christian who understands the necessity of “God first.”  If I don’t seek God first, if I don’t place my trust in Him and his purposes for me, then I’m going to be persistently disappointed.  And I really, really do trust that God wants the best for me, He wants this marriage to work, He wants us to find joy with each other, He does not want us to end in divorce or bitterness.Image result for communication marriage hard

Weekly communication time.  Sounds so very simple but we mess this one up constantly.  It is so crucial.  Even for a couple of retirees who don’t have the pressures of a M-F, 9-5 work schedule, we totally fail on keeping this one commitment.  When things started to go better, we seem to mutually and silently agree we don’t need to hold a communication session.  And before we know it, we are out of the habit and sliding down that inevitable slippery slope of misunderstandings and frustration and distancing.  Couples who go to counseling commit to a regular appointment; those who take care of their health commit to a regular exercise schedule.  Why can’t we commit to a weekly time to Image result for communication marriage hardtake care of our relationship?

So we’re talking.  It’s possibly the start of the re- re- renewal.

Gotta have hope.  The alternative isn’t an option.

How do you commit to regular communications with your spouse?

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Marriage to Glorify God

 

I’ll start this out with a hallelujah for church.

I know that sounds weird, but at midnight last night, I was feeling pretty depressed and hopeless.  Apathetic about my life.  Negative.

Church this morning made me look at things in a different way.

Yes, just for me (LOL), God sent a sermon on marriage and relationships.

Image result for marriage glorifies godActually our church is doing a sermon series on relationships, and I’m sure it could be said that everyone thought the sermon was for them.  Who doesn’t have some sort of relationship?  And all relationships have something.  Something to deal with.

Bottom line, as Christians, we are to love one another. We are to do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  We are, like Christ, to empty ourselves.

True love puts off self-interest.

It’s the 1 Corinthians 13 definition, which is the definition of selflessness.

Nothing I don’t already know.

BUT GOD… IT IS SO HARD!!!  God, I know what I’m supposed to do.  I just don’t have that kind of strength. Image result for I can do all things through christ marriage

 I KNOW you don’t have that strength on your own… but you CAN do all things through me. 

Bleh.  I need the instruction manual.  The blow-by-blow.  TELL me how to do this??

Love. Just love.

What??  But he…

Love.  Just love.  It’s simple.  I didn’t say it was easy, but it’s pretty simple.  Just go back and
read the instruction manual… 1 Corinthians 13; Colossians 3… well, just read that whole chapter. There are lots of other places in my manual.  Just keep reading.  Keep praying.  And stop with the expectations.  I’ve got a plan, and it is awesome. Trust me.

 I’m hurt.  I don’t want to hurt anymore.  I just don’t want to risk more hurt..

 What did I do for you?  I risked it all, I gave it all.  Just love.  Trust me. 

 Alright… so love.  I’m supposed to die to myself, and put others before me.  Isn’t that what I’ve been trying to do?  I’m supposed to have patience and forbearance… How long?  What’s the difference between that and just stuffing down all these hurts?

 It’s because I first loved you. 

 I know, Lord.  But at this point, it feels so fake to affirm him and say nice things.  It feels so fImage result for marriage glorifies godake for him to suddenly be affectionate.

 Why are you here on earth? (Come on, you’ve been reading The Purpose Driven Life… think hard!)

 To glorify you, God.

 How can you do that in your current circumstances?

 Through my marriage. So hard, Lord…

 Just do it. I know it’s not easy, but you’ve got to trust me, it’s the only way.  I’ve got your back.

 Image result for I can do all things through christ marriage

 

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Apathy

I love world rhythms, I love international cultures.  Today I was around these things, and the joy I normally feel did not bubble up in me.  And the irony made me really sad.

How does this happen?Image result for apathy marriage

Where does apathy come from?

How does it infect every aspect of one’s life?

Where does passion go?

Did I just use it all up? Maybe that’s it.  I used to be one of the most passionate people I knew: passionate about my life, passionate about my friendships, passionate about my family, my interests… and oh yes, passionate about love and sex.

And now– it just feels like a huge vacuum has sucked the passion completely out of me.  Is it completely gone?  Or is just temporarily missing?  Will this pass?  Will it get swept under the rug?

A year ago I really thought we’d successfully cracked the code, we’d figured out how to be happily married.

Image result for apathy marriageNow I’m wondering what the hell I was thinking?  I was certainly delusional.  We can’t do “happily married.”  We can barely do dysfunctionally married.   We marginally co-exist.  Ironically, 4 years ago it was “let’s get them all in college before we end this, so as not to rock their words.” Now it’s “we’ve got graduations, a wedding, and launching them into careers– don’t want to rock their world now.”  Or sadly, “It could be worse…”

I don’t want to quit.  I don’t want to live apart, I don’t want to feel so distant.  (These are the things I tell myself…) Yet right now I feel powerless to “be” anything else…to try… to hope.

Powerless to feel hopeful.

“Resigned” is not a state with which I’m familiar.

But here I am: resigned to just make the best of it, but to not risk anything.  No feelings,Image result for walking away from love no passion, no love.  I seek no tenderness, no touch, no caresses– the girl for whom physical touch and closeness is was the number one love language.  At the moment these touches burn like acid, because they feel contrived and insincere.  Last ditch efforts, “I’ll temporarily do something so she won’t walk away.”  And my rejection feels like an invasion of the body snatchers.  This isn’t me.

It’s like someone who keeps edging you to the cliff… nudging you so close… then at the last moment grabbing you before you careen off, before you’re lost.  You’re temporarily restored to flat ground, only to begin that scrabbling feeling again of losing your footing as you get pushed and edged towards the cliff.  You begin to wonder when he is no longer going to grab for you.  Sadly, I honestly don’t think he deliberately pushes me away… yet I don’t know how after all this time he doesn’t recognize that he does nonetheless.

The hardest part for me, is here he is, once again, acting like he wants to tryOnce again.  There have been too many “once agains” for my heart.  My heart just doesn’t want to hope, doesn’t want to trust.  And my heart hurts for him too… I have to perhaps accept this is probably the best he can do, these actions of desperation.  They can’t be sustained, I know this too well.

I pray that I can change to be patient and accept whatever.  I pray to find the courage to just love him on his terms.  And, I pray that he can change and know how to love me.  But that last prayer is silly.

A week ago he asked if we could do this marriage study.  I told him I needed some time, my heart wasn’t in the right place.  My heart is still not getting in the right place.  My Related imageheart sort of just feels dead.  I’m so done, but I don’t want to feel this way.  And I am desperately drumming up some motivation to try.  To ignore the act of desperation it most likely is.

I fake kindness and patience.  I fake the smiles and cooperative attitude.  I realize it probably comes out as thinly veiled tolerance.  The fight is out of me, even the desire to fight for us; that scares the shit out of me.  I’ve always been a fighter. I am praying for answers.  What do I want?   Certainly not this passionless existence.  God made something from nothing.  Can He do that again?  Can I do that?

Are there diamonds to be found in these ashes?

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I’ve been walking away so slowly for so many years… and I’m starting to see that you really don’t want to come after me.  You won’t run after me.  You won’t fight for me.  It’s just not an investment you can make.  I’m not worth it to you.

(When I withdraw, he reads… and I’m sorry he has to read this; I know he’ll hate hearing it, and he’ll be mad I’m not counting the blessings).

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Sex, Marriage, and the 10-90

Image result for do not withhold from your spouse bible verse

I have a tough time rolling with the punches, the ups and downs of life.  When there are downs, my world seems dark and hopeless, and I temporarily forget to think about all of the positives and good things.

My marriage has been through some interesting and tortuous paths. It’s been one of the most challenging occupations of my life.  And I feel like we still are so far from getting this right.  Sometimes I despair that we will never get it right.  Which, sort of is what life is… do we every truly “get it right?”  Don’t we just keep trying?

We have fun… but not really.

We respect each other… but not always.

We talk… but not well.

We have similar values… but extremely different wants.

We say we love each other… but we’re not living that, or showing that.

We’re grateful for all of our blessings… but still feel incomplete.

We don’t say mean things to each other… but we do by action or inaction.

We’ve heard a sermon series on relationships and marriage.  Lots of reminders, lots of facts on marrieds (citing heavily from a 2016 TIME article I’ve mentioned before).  Statistically people who have remained married more than a few decades report that their marriage is the best thing in their life.  There are all sorts of career, emotional, mental and health benefits to being married, with most actually accruing to the males. The pastor was pointing out the “one-flesh” intention of marriage, God’s intentions and Image result for do not deprive your spouse bible versedesign for marriage, and the inadvisability to have multiple sex partners.

The concept of becoming “one flesh” or “united” in marriage is the crucial glue for a relationship between a man and a woman. It was suggested that when creating Adam, God acknowledged a “design deficiency” in that HIS creation was not complete, it was not enough; man needed woman. Further, statistically happy couples are those who have sex weekly.  Those who have it monthly or even less, are unhappy.  Which goes back to another saying that has hit home for me:

Sex is ten percent of a good relationship, and ninety percent of a bad one.

Another blogger has written very eloquently on this topic. I’m not sure if the above is his original saying, but this is what he does say, very well:

“Without showing and expressing love in a way their partner can understand, the space between couples grows too great for intimacy to bridge. That makes it increasingly difficult to rekindle the sexual spark that helps keep a healthy relationship going during difficult times. Even though every other thing couples do together is more important and more necessary to shared survival than sex, none of those things are as intimate. That intimacy and the understanding that comes with it is why sex is ten percent of a good relationship, and ninety percent of a bad one.”

This is exactly where we are.  And for some reason my attempts to explain this to him don’t seem to get through.

There are times where I realize that being married is better than the alternative, at least in my case (and we both probably believe this).  I had many lonely years in my 20s.  It was depressing to think perhaps I’d never have a special someone in my life to share things with and grow old together.  I dreamed of love, passion, romance and “completing each other.”  I waited until 34 to finally meet someone who seemed like a good partner, and who was willing to choose me.   He is a GOOD guy.  And of course when we first meet our partners, we are starry-eyed, hopeful, maybe even a bit delusional.  A certain amount of tarnish is to be expected.

Recently we found ourselves heading into our retirement years, empty nest years, “us” years, with renewed commitment and hopes for a better future together.  The REALLY bad times supposedly were water under the bridge, we made new commitments to try harder to make our marriage better.  We worked on being the spouse we needed to be for the other, stepping up and learning to speak the other’s love language.  It seemed to be better, for a while.  We were pretty happy and hopeful for the future.

Image result for do not withhold from your spouse bible verseIn the past several months I feel like an invisible landslide has hit us, and I am scrabbling not to lose my footing as this happy path erodes.  We are steadily moving back to “roommate mode” or as the blogger aptly says, “business partnership.”  Affection is almost gone again.  Intimacy and passion are not even a thought (first on his part, and increasingly on my part).  He’s clearly unhappy.  I’m unhappy.  Efforts to communicate haven’t helped.  In such an environment, the next things to go are respect, patience, and kindness.  The blogger confirms this:

“However, if a couple does not have a healthy sex life, intimacy lurks beneath the surface of their entire relationship. Like an act of infidelity it demands an apology while begging forgiveness. Arguments spiral out of control as unmet needs ignite otherwise meaningless disagreements.”

As we head into this stomach-flipping major descent on our marital roller coaster ride, things begin to seem dark and hopeless for me.  It’s all I can do to tick off the positives, of which there are many.  Yet I understand a little better my hopelessness.  Despite “all of the good things” that might convince me to remain in a marriage, it’s that little thing Image result for do not give the devil a footholdcalled sex that seems to negate all the good.

If someone were to ask me what the best thing in my life was, my immediate answer would not be “my marriage.”  It’s up there… but not the best. 

And right now, all I can do is just pray and hope for some answers, control my responses of hurt and anger, and try not to detach too much.

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My Purpose?

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Finding one’s purpose seems like a “no-brainer,” but it can be elusive.  Sometimes the tyranny of the here and now “define” your purpose:  “I’ve got to do well in my career; I’ve got to take care of my kids and raise them well;”  “I need to care for a sick family member; I need to earn a lot of money so I can have the things I want…. Or perhaps earn enough money to live decently without debt hounding me.”

When the book first came out in the early 2000s, everyone at my church flocked to buy The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren.  It became a number one best seller, and not just in Christian markets.  I had the privilege of actually seeing Rick Warren a few times in his early years at Saddleback Church; and the friend who attended there would send me almost all of his messages, on cassette tape (now I’m dating myself!).  I like Rick Warren, I think he says it directly and honestly, and I think he’s a down-to-earth guy who faces struggles, fears, devastating life events, and joys, just as we all do.  He just has a very good handle on where God is in all this, and he has the gift to relay that.

And now I am rereading The Purpose Driven Life.

The opening line of the book:

Image result for it's not about you

And, the basic premise of the book is that God has put us all here for a purpose, HIS purpose.  And we need to find out what that is.  Easier said than done!

Here I am at the end of my fifth decade of life, still searching for my purpose for this part of my life.  And I think we can have multiple purposes, which correspond to different stages and circumstances of our lives, however our one, overarching purpose is to glorify God and do His Will.  I’ve had a few ideas about Image result for purpose driven life quoteswhat God’s purpose for me is/was.  Sometimes I was misguided.  Sometimes I feel I got it right.  Many times it’s a no-brainer.

Clearly if God gives us children, then our purpose is to love them, care for them, and raise them to be good people.  As a Christian, we are to teach them about God.  For some time now I have had some uneasiness that I didn’t fulfill that purpose perfectly, because the early results are mixed.  Our 20-something kids are awesome, we are proud of them (most of the time) and love them completely.  But they aren’t always choosing paths we would have expected or find good for them.  One of my kids is sold out for the Lord, and deliriously happy (and 10 years ago this is what I LEAST expected from this child).  The other kids are in stages of pulling away from their faith, hence I look at myself and ask, “what did I do wrong?”  I failed at this purpose to raise kids who love and obey God…

Sure, I am human and I know I made mistakes.  I wasn’t a perfect parent.  But I did the best I could.  I completed my purpose of raising children in the admonition of the Lord, to know about God and his love.  My purpose was to guide them that way in the best way I could.  My purpose is to continue being an example of God’s love.  What they now do with it is up to them, and up to God.

Image result for purpose driven life quotesMy purpose in marriage?  I’ve fumbled that one a LONG time.  I’ve gone through seasons where it was about what I got out of it.   I want to feel loved.  I want to be romanced.  I want more sex.  I want to feel adored.  I began to believe that if it was all sacrifice and no fun, surely this isn’t right?  I often wondered if marriage had been the right thing for me.  We certainly have had our trials over the years.  But when I started getting the purpose of marriage as a God-honoring institution, and also as a way to further the Kingdom of God, I got outside my selfish “It’s about me” attitudes, and saw improvements.

I’m still working on getting this one right.  Oh, the flesh is weak!

For years now, I’ve looked back on my life, have been in some great studies where I’ve been able to really see God’s amazing presence over the timeline of my life (even through the darkest moments and greatest pains, the desert moments where God seems so far), and have realized that he’s used ALL things to his purposes, which are GOOD.  I know he’s not finished with me yet, so much more to learn.  For this brief time I have on earth, which is only the prelude to what I have to look forward to in eternity, how can I live out God’s purpose for me to it’s fullest?

I love to write.  I love to talk.  I love to help people.  I have a heart for loving marriages and families, and how to make these better.  What purpose could God have for me in all that?Image result for purpose driven life quotes

God sent me the answer recently by getting me involved in a woman-to-woman mentoring program.  Great!  I have been ready to impart all of my great life knowledge to help a younger woman.  And God laughed a little. God still is challenging my own heart through this.  It’s not simple and it’s not easy.  God just keeps reminding me that he’ll work through me in this relationship, if I let him, and I continue to keep my sights on HIS purpose. And sometimes it means I just need to shut the heck up, listen, learn more, and pray.

Meanwhile, I’m here blogging.  I had two huge posts sitting ready to publish, written when things were not going well for SJ and I.  I was upset, despairing, and angry.  Writing helps me release those poisoning emotions. Publishing that writing though is not helpful.  Things still are not in a great place for us right now, but I’m grateful that we are talking and working through issues, and we are trying to extend grace to each other.  I have so much to learn about controlling my anger, which comes from disappointment.  It is toxic, and so unhelpful to my marriage.  It’s hard, but I have to keep reminding me, “It’s not about me.”

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So I’m here.  Writing.  Sharing.  Waiting for that someone or someones who just need encouragement, hope, or just a patient ear.  Perhaps wisdom from the mistakes I’ve overcome.

And maybe, to help us find our real purpose.

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Needing– and NOT Needing– Him

It’s nine o’clock in the morning and I’ve already been up for over 4 hours.Image result for strong woman needs strong man

It’s partly the jet lag that just won’t resolve.

And it’s partly because I drove him to the airport very early.

I’m starting to write with a thousand ideas and emotions crashing through my brain: not a good place to start.  So this is a bit of a vomit.

There’s also a chores list that I just don’t want to face right now (writing is always a good delaying tactic for me).

SJ and I just spent the last month on a fabulous trip together, a trip of a lifetime.  We saw amazing stunning, and memorable things.  We were physically challenged each day.  My pain levels from RA stayed at bay, for which I’m so grateful; other parts of my body, knees in particular, weren’t as cooperative with the hundreds of steps and 5-6 miles of hiking each day.  It was a poignant reminder that I’m “wearing out” in some regards.

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With the splendor of travel comes the closeness that chokes.  We both really need time apart, and it came a the right place.

Over the course of a 25 day trip, we were intimate exactly onceOne time in over 3 weeks. IMG_1438 And somehow, it’s grown to 2 weeks since that last encounter. Granted, the days on our trip were long and arduous, and the nights short. I have been telling myself that since he has ED issues, the ball is in his court to tell me when he takes his little blue; and if he doesn’t tell me, then that’s a signal of disinterest.  Sex has become a cognizant choice for us, not an impulse or desire.  In spite of this, we both sought to get along, to be kind, to extend grace to one another. Good roommates, something we learned well in the first 20 years.

As always, I planned the itinerary: booked the flights, lodging, cars.  I also voted myself the tour guide and designated driver, given I believe I’m better equipped (more years) to drive a standard gear through narrow, ancient streets, and to read foreign signs in an IMG_2207alphabet not too similar to ours.  He navigated, and made some tour choices from the guidebook. I believe that I am appropriately aggressive in foreign/cultural settings where being a polite, deferential, and orderly American doesn’t fly.  He still can’t shake that polite, deferential, and orderly mode.  His “halo mode,” I’d think.  Often times we had the buffer of other people accompanying us, thus forcing us into best behavior.  And, well, all of that type-A behavior turns me into somewhat of a megalomaniac.  No doubt a wee bit insufferable. There was no outward antagonism between us, but just a subtle distancing as the days passed.

All along the way, SJ was tending to the important, necessary, and often boring stuff of life.  The bills were paid.  College kids accounts were replenished with the monthly allowances.  When it was time to pay, he opened his wallet.  At any given point in time I was not completely aware of how much money I actually had on me, much less local currency. I just relied on him to take care of us in this way.  Upon return to home, he reviewed and paid the credit card bills, the utilities, completed the tax forms, deposited into my household/personal fund, and asked me to review the first two for verification purposes.  Stalwart, responsible, dependable SJ. For me it’s a little like being a kid and having a Dad take care of me. I plan and cook our meals, and try to keep things tidy (his tidy and my tidy = two different things). SJ also is diligent in recording the limited TV entertainment in which we indulge, and he suggests what we might watch.

Upon return I hit the ground running.  Groceries, healthier eating plan, volunteering at an all-day church event.  We both clearly needed to get back into a routine that gave us our “own space.”

Ironically, even together I sensed the presence of space, even distance.

Image result for type a womanYesterday he suggested we have intimate time.  Something in his tone made me feel like he was suggesting this out of a sense of duty, and I said so.  It almost derailed us, so we quickly tucked it aside and both did our best to connect.  I did express that we probably needed a communication about this– and used the “buzz word” that he hadn’t made me feel very “pursued” lately.  His response was that he hadn’t felt much patience and interest from me, and no doubt we both had things to work on.

As an aside, I am feeling the affects of aging with a scattered brain.  Each time I walk out the door, I do my little check list: keys, phone, sunglasses, purse… and anything else I needed for my outing that day.  Inevitably I will forget something.  In the back of my mind, I know that SJ is there, just in case I don’t “adult” well.

This morning as we walked out the door for the airport and I did my check list, my parting words were:

“I’ve got to be a big girl for the next few days, and make sure I have everything I need, I Image result for big girl quoteswon’t have you to take care of me…”

His non-verbal “Pfffffft….” and eye-roll was unnerving and irksome.  Given that it was 5:45 am, and that he was still telling me that I didn’t have to drive him to the airport, he could get a cab…  I just let his response go.  As I strategically cut off the cursed taxi that was playing aggression games with me at the departure terminal, I heard him suck in his breath.

“Sorry,” I muttered my apology. He ABHORS my aggressive driving.  It seemed he couldn’t get out of the car fast enough.

The reality is, sure, I can “adult” all by myself. I’m smart and capable.  I can take care of business.  I can figure things out.  I need no one.  That certainly is the message he seems to get from me, loud and clear.  I don’t necessarily feel that’s what I intend to say, but as always my lack of patience drives me to be aggressive and just take the reigns.  Remaining calm and patient in the face of his ponderous style paradoxically makes me nuts.

Related imageI do need him.  For MUCH more than his wallet.  He does many, many things better than me, and I know he will take care of me, of all of us. I willingly defer to his taking on all things financial, I know he’s great at this. I seldom question his instincts or decisions.  I suppose that’s also pretty convenient, but it is nonetheless unadulterated trust.   I think back and know with certainty over the course of our trip, that I expressed thanks and gratitude to him for enabling us to have such a great adventure.   Maybe not enough.

But above all, I choose to need him.  IT IS A CHOICE.

He’s often times told me that he married me because I am the smartest women he’s ever known.  While I’m humbled by his praise,  I’m not so falsely humble as to say he’s completely wrong.  I am not perfect, I’m not submissive, nor kowtowing by nature.  That wouldn’t be the girl he chose.  I can be very strong willed and opinionated, and driven.  But I am smart.  I am capable.

And yet I still choose to need him.  I love being taken care of, to be taken by the hand, to be led.  I love when I make him happy.  I guess I need to do a better job of letting him know that, and showing gratitude that he is there for me– if not always in the ways I think I need.

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