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.

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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

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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:

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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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Life’s Ebb and Flow, God’s Timing?

I’m almost 59. And that’s one year from 60. He’s nearly 64.

In many ways I don’t feel that old. Yes, my knees ache after intense hiking and climbing (today it’s 29 flights and over 4 miles). I have an autoimmune disease, which is thankfully under control at the moment.  That changes in an instant. I think I still have a young heart and great sense of adventure. I don’t think I’ve seen or done it all, much less enough. There’s so much more to experience and learn in this life.

And there’s so much I’m not prepared to give up.

Five years ago I set about trying to improve things in my life. I lost weight and tried to manage my heath and fitness better. I owned up to my husband of 20 years specifically what I needed to remain in a fulfilling, loving and happy marriage (it pretty much boiled down to just wanting to feel pursued and desired). We had both spent many sad years expecting each other to read minds. Along the way I also learned that so much of the change I wanted had to do with me.

But at that time (and even today) it was still undeniable we each had very different sexual appetites and needs. I craved intimacy more often, and desired intense Image result for sexual difficulties in a relationshipexperiences; he was ok with gentle, sedate, and less frequent sex. He worked hard, was devoted to our kids, and generally exhausted. He was starting to have issues with ED (which in addition to creating a physical issue, also messes with your mind and ego), and after many discussions he acquiesced to trying the little blue pill. We tried to find a happy medium to match our differing sexual desires, after many years of mismatched sexuality and misunderstandings. His lack of aggressive pursuit (or avoidance) made me feel unloved and undesired. My frustrations came out to him as disrespect (and anger).

We talked. And we talked. We read. I wrote. We tried to bridge the gap between our low-need and high-need. We discussed what made us feel loved and satisfied and frisky. We tried new things. Sometimes it felt great, sometimes it felt contrived or forced. Each time he defaulted to old ways, I became upset and felt that the needs and preferences I expressed were just not important to him. I didn’t want to complain– but gradually over the past year, I felt we were slipping back to a time where there was little or no pleasure for me, and our connection was getting lost again.

Passion was gone. Tender and secure love is our reality now. And those aren’t bad things to have, I remind myself. Many have far less.

Image result for low testosteroneDoes sex and passion have an expiration date? Do we just grow out of it? (For our ages, we have “normal” hormone levels (aka, lower).  Replacing hormones/testosterone carries unwelcome risks, so we choose to follow a healthy lifestyle that can optimize testosterone; we’re beginning to try Essential Oils in the bedroom).  We have found ourselves back where we sort of began– two very different needs going unmet. Our sex now is basically “connection sex.” It is loving, the closeness and touching is welcome and appreciated; but it’s not thrilling or intensely pleasurable for me, and therefore less and less something I look forward to. I’m unable to orgasm with him (it always has been a rare occurrence), yet can experience multiple and intense orgasms “alone.” I know what feels good to me; he doesn’t seem to, and apparently I’ve failed to relate it to him in a way that makes sense.  While his physical needs are being met, I’m sure my disconnect, due to lack of pleasure pleasure, leaves him feeling emotionally void. Because I want to avoid disappointment, my desires for my husband at times seem dwindled to next to nothing.

I still love him. He is my world. However no amount of discussion, mental build up, guidance, artificial lubricant, or sex toys changes this loss of desire. It’s not because I don’t like sex; but because I know it won’t be much more than connecting, and seldom results in him conferring pleasure. Sometimes it feels like a “must do” akin to brushing my teeth– and I hate that feeling. Although I realize that age plays a part in decreasing libido and erotic responses, my husband, whom I love, does not evoke these in me, nor does he seem interested.

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And while I promised (myself and him) during our renewal never to say “no” to him, it is getting harder and harder to say “yes” to physical union that feels mechanical, even forced. I despise that there are times I feel like I want to shut my eyes and have it over with fast, for the sheer frustration, betrayal of not achieving pleasure.

And it’s a bit frustrating not to know how to fix this. To feel there is no fix…

I considered what God thinks about this. Clearly He was not excluding “old people” from sex (OT Sarah and Abraham conceived Isaac at 90 and 100; NT Mary’s cousin Elizabeth gave birth to John the Baptist at an “advanced age,” possibly 88). God admonishes men “to rejoice in the wife of your youth.”

‭‭One-flesh union does not seem to have an expiration date according to God’s word. God Related imagecould have given either of these couples a child at an earlier age; yet besides showing that God is capable of doing anything, I also believe he shows us there’s no “sell by” date on sexuality between a husband and wife.

Changes in sexuality as we age is not a topic often discussed openly. I’ve heard well-meaning couples on both side of this issue: enjoying sex immensely, getting experimental, and intensifying love and closeness as they age; or resigned that sex a thing of the past, and you are simply happy for each other’s company.

It just makes me sad to “acquiesce” to the latter.

There’s so much I’m not prepared to give up.

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Diamonds from the Ashes

I’ve not done a great job on taking my own advice of late.  I’ve been in a blah mood, and not so nice to hubby.  I’ve not been practicing my loving thoughts and attitudes.  Yeah, maybe a little bitchy.  Sometimes I revert to those dire thoughts of whether we really Image result for missing passion in a relationshipshould be together.  I stop feeling pursued or special.  Passion had started taking a nose-dive for us.  There is a tendency to get lazy about intentionality in expressions of love, passion, and intimacy.  This often feels like a reversion to a time when we were merely co-existing under the same roof as virtual roommates–and it puts me into a panic.  The panic makes me not very nice.

For some reason, for all of the good we’ve had, February was not an easy month relationally.  And thank God we did communicate when my bad mood grew toxic.  Just wish we could communicate before I’m in crisis mode.

We are barely a year into the new chapter of our lives, the one where suddenly the demands and busy-ness of life has come to a screeching halt.  We are “retired,” at a fairly young age (and happy to be out of the stresses of the “rat race”).  We make our own schedules.  We try to remain gainfully involved in activities and causes outside ourselves.  But it’s still A LOT of time together, a state we’ve never before experienced.

If absence makes the heart grow fonder, what does proximity do?

Another chapter we started not to long ago is Image result for absence makes the heart grow fonder butmending and reviving our marriage.  About five years ago, we were headed towards a messy ending.  By the grace of God, we pulled our marriage out the fire, and have been dusting off the ashes in search of those diamonds ever since.

Some days are definite diamonds.  We both work on being the love that we promised to be in a covenant relationship. We count our hundreds of blessings in this life.

Some days are coal and dust.  The old nature and habits creep in: the laziness, the “take-for-granted,” the impatience, the little annoyances, the mean spirited sarcasm; and threaten to sabotage marital happiness.

In the day-to-day, we are learning how to work this and establish routines that keep us fruitfully occupied.  We each have separate exercise plans; he’s taking adult learning classes; I’m volunteering with a local church and also tutoring.  We both read, but he out-reads me 10 to 1.  I write: I out-write him 10 to 1.  We do local hikes, kayaking, events, tours, and museums; occasional movies and dinner out.  We’ve never been big TV people, but have taken to watching some of the mini-series we missed when life was so busy.  I’ve attempted to draw up a chore chart to share the wealth of keeping our small place clean; asked if he could be “in charge” of cooking one meal a week.   We don’t have many friends in our new locale, but as this is my old town, I do get to occasionally meet up with old friends. And we enjoy entertaining friends who visit.  We are learning to be alone together when we need to be.

When we “retired” (I prefer to call it “reinventing ourselves” and “the next chapter”) a friend “mentioned the three Ps for retirement:  A Plan, a Passion, and a Purpose.  To be successfully retired, you need these things.  It can’t all be serendipity.  And it can’t be 24/7 getting into each other’s way.
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Our current passion is world travel, and we plan to do that for at least the next decade while we have our relative good health, mobility, and funds. We have a substantial bucket list, and although we’ve done all 50 states and 40+ countries, there’s so much more to see!  The up side is that we see the big beautiful world, and experience other cultures, foods, sights and languages.  There’s a lot of joy in this, and the memories that result. The down side is that travel can be stressful, AND it puts you in close proximity to one another for extended periods of time.

Both of us traveled successfully as singles, and I recall many times watching that sunset alone, or seeing that amazing castle or painting or mountaintop, wishing there was someone to share the awe and beauty with me.  Yet both of us have slightly different approaches to travel, and this can at times work at cross purposes.  It is my “talent” that I can find good deals, and SJ is happy to leave this to me (especially since my Image result for missing passion in a relationshipcleanliness and comfort requirements are a bit more stringent than his; he doesn’t cock an eyebrow at a flea-bag hotel).  I also happen to be a little better at navigation.  SJ is better at reading the history guides and finding the best spots to tour. He can walk serendipitously for hours on end; I need a plan, and periodic and enjoyable coffee breaks at lovely cafes. We try really hard to compliment each other’s travel styles, but don’t always succeed. Sometimes we get quite annoyed with each other.  Sometimes I bemoan his reluctance to lead or be decisive.  Instead of the back and forth, “where do you want to go… what do you want to do…” I just cut it off and make the decision, take the lead.  And then I get really tired of always making the decisions.  I’ve actually requested him to take a day to make all the decisions for us. I promise to not be Image result for traveling as a couplepicky about the decisions he makes.

So this is the fatal flaw in our “plan.” If we get annoyed in close proximity, travel together is a tricky pursuit.  If I want a husband-leader, it won’t happen as we follow our passion of travel.  And given that we’ve boarded an airplane six times in 2017 by mid-February; and will have traveled half way across the globe by the end of this month, we have lots of opportunities to get on each other’s nerves.  And can I just say, I truly would love it to not be this way?

I’d love to be walking into countless gorgeous sunsets over turquoise and cerulean waters, hand in hand and so totally in love and blown away by God’s creations.  Enjoying the exotic tastes and smells and people of distant places.Image result for travel sunset hand in hand

We are about to leave for nearly a month of travel.  Two weeks is planned out for us with a larger group, so I’m guessing that will go well as it won’t just be only us two.  Then follows another 12 days together.

I am praying to find the peace and joy of this passion of travel, with him at my side.  To be grateful that we have this awesome opportunity.  To be grateful for him, for us, for our love.

To be love.

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Be the Leader She Needs

We possibly can agree upon the characteristics of good leadership:Related image

  • Authoritative
  • Capable
  • Decisive
  • Logical Planner
  • Ability to motivate
  • Clear statements of intentions
  • Consideration of needs and interests
  • Listening skills
  • Trustworthy (evokes trust)
  • Fair
  • Delegates (i.e., uses the strengths of others to help complete tasks/accomplish goals)

I’m sure there may be other characteristics, but I believe these to be some of the key traits.  I tried to think about how a commander of a platoon leads, how a CEO in a major company leads, how a coordinator of a volunteer activity guides others, how a teacher in a classroom leads and motivates, how a mother manages her children, how a wife manages the home front, especially if your title is SAHM.

And, of course, the leader-husband.

Does this animal exist any more?

Chances are, there is some area in your life in which you lead.  You are good at something, and others look to you for inspiration, guidance. and direction.

For some of us ladies who put on many leadership hats, we can struggle to allow others to lead, even husbands.  I didn’t used to be good at it, but I’m improving.  It has a lot to do with patience and not always having my way.

Image result for husband leading wifeThere is no question that I feel a sense of security and well-being when my husband is leading strongly and confidently, and when he’s making decisions for our family.  I often have had to remind him in the past 4-5 years of our renewal that I crave his “commands” versus his “queries.”  His decisive actions versus his hesitation.  His confidence versus his insecurity. I have taken my control freak down a few notches to try to nourish his control mode.  But sometimes it’s just a reflex, something in my muscle memory.

We started off in this marriage as two very capable leaders who had many years under our belts in the workforce and in other life endeavors.  We both knew how to take care of business, and how to take care of ourselves.  We both had traveled the globe independently, and always found our way home in one piece. Before meeting SJ, there certainly were things I didn’t care to do, the things I chauvinistically term as “guy things.”  Not to say women shouldn’t do such things as car repairs, oil changes, yard work, carpentry, plumbing and electrical (and bug killing).  I had a very skilled and handy father. It seemed there was nothing he couldn’t fix or build.  I knew the names and uses of most tools, nails, screws and fasteners in a tool box, owned my own power drill, and actually enjoy assembling most basic things, such as IKEA furniture.  Dad was a perfectionist.  Things lined up.  Nails were driven straight.  Edges were flush.  Engine oil didn’t gush over. You did it RIGHT.

SJ knew his way around a tool box, and could take care of the basics. He was doing just fine when I met him at 37.  He diligently made sure car and home maintenance were hired out and taken care of. He never shirked from hard work, or rolling up his sleeves to get a job done, like the lawn, but handyman stuff wasn’t fun for him. Unlike my Dad, he preferred to spend his spare time with his kids rather than a home repair project.

After building one of our first bookshelves together, I saw his style was more chill than mine.  If he struggled to turn a screw all the way in to be flush, he was OK leaving it part way out. Things weren’t always lined up. From my perfectionist background, it frustrated me. Either you back out and figure out why it’s not lining up; or you just get the right tools or muscle power needed and drive that sucker in all the way.  I knew the strength and integrity of the finished piece depended on this, not just aesthetics.

So yes, we both came to marriage with lots of preconceived notions on how to do things, “the right way” (aka, “our way”).  And many of them were vastly different.  Once when I purchased office furniture for my new work space, he helpfully started to assemble a piece when I was out of town.  I controlled my angst, took a deep breath, and diplomatically told him that if he didn’t mind, I’d prefer and enjoy doing it ALL myself, and thank you very much for wanting to help.

The problem with being able to do many things well is that there may be few ways in which you can be led.  A leader could just say, “what’s the point?”  or, “My way will never measure up to her standards, why even try?”  Or, just make the assumption, “she doesn’t want my leadership.” It’s no big secret that I am a strong-willed woman. Seeking a man confident enough to lead me.

Image result for leadershipWe have always tried to be a team, but even a team needs a captain. I entrust the financial stuff to him because he’s really good at it, his little CPA brain actually enjoys adding up columns and balancing checkbooks, and tracking investments.  I love that I can trust him to do all this.  He leaves most household stuff and cooking to me.  Chances are if a light bulb or battery needs replacing, I’ll be doing it. We try to plan travel and outings together, or take turns.  I tend to have the better sense of direction and ability to use navigation tools.

It was the outing just the other day that got me thinking about leadership.  Since it was a beautiful spring-like day, he suggested visiting an arboretum in our area.  I was game, I loved the idea.  He’s the one who’d done all the reading up on it.  Given it was his suggestion, and his “expertise,” I was ready to sit back and happily follow his leadership and have a lovely outing together in nature with my man.

As we make our way out the door, I said, “So, you’re driving and I’ll navigate?”

“Uhm no, you can drive.”

“Oh.  Do you have the directions (as much as I LOVE to drive, I also struggle to follow his way of giving directions)?

“No,” he blithely responds.

At this point the ire begins to rise within me.  It’s not new, it’s achingly familiar.  I know Related imagethat I need to take control, I need to lead, because he hasn’t planned this or thought it through beyond the initial suggestion.  And this always irks me.  I take a deep breath, and pull out my phone to plug in the coordinates, semi-memorize them (Siri’s not talking these days over my car’s bluetooth, another navigational frustration), muttering something probably sarcastic, like, “Sheesh, you’d think if you suggested a plan you’d know how to get there… Oh, I’ll just do it all…

And from there on out, I knew I was in charge, I was the leader.  And I was disappointed.  He has taught me over the years that I always need to know where I’m going, I have to have a map, and I’m responsible.  I can’t rely on him.  He won’t take charge and lead even after announcing the plan–even though I really would have loved him to be in charge, to lead. 

When he belatedly whipped out his own phone and tried to give me directions, I just told him I already knew the way I planned to take.

At least at the arboretum I let him decide where we’d hike, and I tried to enjoy the good.

Yet through all of this, I mused (fumed) about leadership, or lack of it. I find myself often disappointed in his abdication of his leader role.  That I pretty much have to tell him in no uncertain terms, repeatedly, “I want you to be in charge of this, to make the decisions, to lead me.” He’ll rarely take the lead in day-to-day stuff concerning US unless I beg him.

I often play a little secret game.  If we’re out and about walking or running errands, I linger back and hesitate, waiting for him to choose the route, or make the moves or suggestions (I know it’ll never be a decisive, “we are doing xyz,” but rather “Do you want to do x, y, or z?”). I bury my thoughts and opinions, hoping he’ll just lead by default.  So what if he’s chosen the least direct route?  So what if I that restaurant isn’t my favorite?  I’ll silently follow!

And I still feel his indecisiveness.

He’ll sometimes say it’s because he’s afraid he won’t do things to my satisfaction. I might not like his plan.  Ouch.  I may have once seemed hard to please, but this is not the new me.  I go out of my way to compliment every lead he takes, to express my appreciation and confidence and trust.  And, I feel like this is a handy excuse, a cop out, and frankly it comes off a little wimpy.

I remind myself again of all those things he leads in so well, the money management, the bills.  We have food, shelter, clothing, fun, travel, and want for nothing due to his superior leadership in these areas.  I try hard not to take these things for granted.  And when he does lead, I also trust that he keeps me advised and in the loop, and that he welcomes my input.  He knows I am not shy about offering my opinion; but he also knows that I can surrender when he confidently tells me this is what is needed.  He doesn’t have a despotic bone in his body and I never fear he’d be unfair. I suppose I need to keep reminding him of this; I just hate asking him to lead.

But it also reminded me that one thing a good leader-husband can do is to be intuitive Related imageabout how your wife needs to be led. She’s probably telling you, are you listening?  Are you being lazy?  Are you making excuses?  Are you wimping out?  Can you occasionally take charge and plan something from A to Zed, confident that you are doing your best job and that no one is perfect, no plan is perfect (nor should anyone expect perfect)?  Can you just try?  I promise to follow!

Please be the leader I need. 

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