I’m sure you’re all waiting on baited breath for the ultimate secret unveiled...the recipe for a perfect marriage. Yes, it’s quite the claim! “Perfect” is definitely an elusive little bugger! Right?? Perfect and marriage...they sort of go together like oil and water or socks with sandals in SoCal (past 1990). In other words, they just...don't. Since “perfect” is truly an unattainable pursuit, let’s maybe downgrade the target to “fulfilling”, “gratifying” or dare I tinker with “amazing”?? Oh, yes, this wheeling, dealing sort of girl will tinker!
As we all know (for some more than others) marriage is quite the puzzle. All us married folk have ridden the waves of lust, infatuation and passionate love all the way to the altar. And I know it may be unpopular to mention, but at some point we’ve likely felt that marriage was the ultimate unfair exchange; trading passion and excitement for a lifetime commitment. At some point, maybe around the second year, maybe it was 5 years, 10 or 20, one question lingered, “Is this it?”.
Now for all you who have NEVER heard your heart whisper those words or if you’re completely unwilling to admit it, I guess I’m not talking to you. Please carry on in bliss, because whatever recipe you currently have is working well enough for you, and if it’s not broken, there’s no need to try to fix it. But for the rest us, disillusionment has come a knocking (at some point). So...now what??
Throughout my nearly 12 years of marriage, disillusionment has ebbed and flowed. I entered my marriage gripping tightly to an untrue premise: “time heals all wounds”. With each passing week, month and year, I waited expectantly and then anxiously for my healing to come. But what I hadn’t been told (or maybe mature enough to understand) was that time only heals the wounds you work on. So, I married my amazing husband, truly the love of my life, while still nursing old wounds and time was doing me zero favors. In flooded disillusionment and fear.
I wondered if I’d made the wrong choice, not because my husband wasn’t right for me or because he wasn’t wonderful. It also certainly wasn’t because I didn’t love him. But after all the excitement of the wedding and the newness of our marriage dissipated, there I was...left with no distractions from myself. All the hurt from my past bubbled right back to where it had been all those years before. I wondered if I’d always feel broken and more than that, I wondered if I’d ever feel true joy and contentment in my marriage. There are only a few people who know this part of my life (now...quite a few more). But I don’t speak of it often because it was a really dark season for me and a really dark season for my marriage. Even though I’m years beyond all the hurt I felt and the hurt I caused my husband, rehashing stories like this requires either a dear friend plus a glass of wine or a considerable amount of purposefulness. Purposefulness is what I come with today. I share in hopes that my story might bring a sliver of hope, or even better, a degree of freedom to someone...anyone, who might be in crisis.
After quite A LOT of counseling and prayer and even more counseling and prayer, I felt the weight of my burdens begin to gradually (piece by piece) lift off of me. Healing was an intentional process, not the result of an instantaneous, supernatural touch, like I desperately wanted it to be.
So, I eventually got healed up (to a large degree), but that didn’t magically modify our trajectory or automatically shift us on to a bliss-filled path. We’d been focused on brokenness and healing (my healing), for so long that survival mode had become our norm. We’d forgotten how to be anything lighter. We’d forgotten how to be fun and we’d forgotten how to be in love. That was when that string of scandalous questions began to wander through my thoughts...the ones that so many of us have thought but are too ashamed to admit: “Is this it? Is this all there is? Will the rest of my married life feel this way?”
I thank God EVERYDAY that what I insisted upon was, ‘Ohhhh, Hell NO!’ I did not sign up for a lifetime of commitment and companionship at the expense of desire, passion, excitement and true connection! I understand that with time, love changes shape but I’m truly skeptical of the satisfaction level of couples who parcel out the passion, energetic love, chemistry and flirtatious fun portion of a relationship for the “early stage”, leaving only the “mature love” with commitment, kid taxiing, bill paying, companionship, habitual sex and eventually (heaven forbid) ass wiping and stocking the bathroom to the gills with Depends.
I wanted to feel vitality and life pumping through my marriage. I’m not an emotion junkie, but when it comes to love, I want to feel it! Or else what are we doing here??...we’re just friends, or roommates, or co-parents, but not “in love”.
Then finally a very pivotal conversation happened. I remember us (Adam and I) taking a long drive. It was just the two of us. So, no interrupting little voices, trickling up from the backseat to derail or frustrate the heck out of our conversation. We agreed we weren’t satisfied with the status of us; with our “status quo”. We decided to fight for each other and with all our might, fight to be better than “good”. Because on a bad day, simply “good(ish)” or “good enough” can quickly and easily deteriorate into “not good”. But if we’re aiming for amazing with every hug and every kiss and every goodbye and hello, the valleys and dips don’t seem to go quite as deep or last as long. And those valleys don’t feel quite so cold and lonely either. With that intention, slowly, over time, “amazing” just might become the new normal. And for us, amazing started to happen.
Because why have mediocre when you can have amazing?? That’s what I say!
So, at nearly 12 years in, is every day amazing?? No, but many days are and I’m sooo in love! I’m desperately, passionately, maybe excessively in love with my husband. But, I’ve struggled through many years of marriage (maybe the whole first half) feeling utterly convinced that the marriage I have today, was impossible. My marriage is living proof that change is possible!
(Commitment + Family) - Passion = Marriage, is not the equation for a fulfilling marriage. Reject that equation!! You deserve more!
So, would I say I have the recipe for a perfect marriage?? No, but one thing I offer is this: aim for amazing. Aim for amazing and see what happens. It won't likely happen overnight (it didn’t for me), but when it does, you’ll never regret aiming high.
Ohhh Facebook...you dirty, sneaky thing! You’ve weaseled your way back into my life, again! How in the name of God’s good greenish-brown earth did I allow you the space back into my thoughts, the room on my phone, the time in my life?? I know better, right?! I mean honestly, I SOOOO know better! I'm smarter than this (at least I want to be), but somehow I fall for your twisted manipulations and devious snares over and over again...year after year!
I let you nestle in. I even encouraged you to get all warm and cozy with that little app of yours...the one that I installed on my phone. It's so absurd that it's silly, because I learned long, long ago that you were never going to be the loving, faithful friend I wanted you to be, but it's like a reoccurring case of amnesia; I somehow forget how unhappy I feel with you in my life. And like a high school boyfriend, I've broken up and gotten back to together with you more times than I can count, but still I drag myself back; believing with each rekindling that I’ll be stronger than before, more healed up, more easy-breezy, content with myself and way less insecure...basically above all that envy B.S!
But, surprise of all surprises, turns out I’m not! I'm very much NOT above the B.S.
‘Confident me’, woke up this morning feeling unusually cheerful. I cuddled with my two littlest girls for about five seconds before growing tired of getting poked in the face, then swung my legs over the edge of the bed, grabbed my phone and...instantly checked in with you (Facebook). And then there I was, suddenly gripping the peaks of comparison, traversing those ridges like a sherpa. Whyyyy!!
Almost instantly, all that delight I woke up with...my delight in this uncharacteristically warm and sunny April day, ripe with possibilities, my abundance of time with my sweet and beautiful kids and the unimaginable gift of having a husband who cherishes me… all that delight, so quickly drained from me as if I’d sprung a leak.
It could have been that story I breezed over about the secret shame of the "poor" middle class in America...I'm a member of the middle class (I think) and sometimes I feel shame. Or maybe it was the random string of pics from that friend of a friend (whom I've never actually met) but at a gazzillion weeks pregnant, she still looks beyond gorgeous in a bikini on some Hawaiian beach. It also could have been that massively long winded birthday benediction posted about that life transforming day in history; the day that 's0-and-so' entered the world. It could have been any number of things really.
Truth be told Facebook, maybe you bear some of the blame, because after all you do sort of suck, but whether it was that one bad news article, those brazenly perfect pictures or the blubbery birthday message, today the issue was mine. I should have had my battle gear on...but I didn't. I laid down my sword. Honestly I haven't even seen it in a few days. I think I've mostly been using it as a paper weight. My shield...who knows where that was...it was nowhere near me and I think I tossed my helmet on the floor last night. It probably landed not far from yesterday's socks.
In the end, that oh so familiar (Facebook) ache, served as a tremendously valuable reminder to me that I can't lay down my armor, jump into a battle field and expect a bunch of pleasantries. The bombardment of meaningless noise that elbows its way into my thoughts and assaults my identity is constant. So, who am I beneath the roar of the world?? This morning...I definitely waffled a bit on that one, but had I geared up I would have remembered a few things. I would have remembered that I'm happy being me and I kind of like who I am, but even more important than that...I'm loved, I'm wanted, I'm chosen, I'm original, I'm whole, I'm blessed, I'm forgiven and I'm free! None of those statements are mere fountains of empty possitivity but a proclamation of God's unchanging truth (for each of us).
So, Facebook, I sort of wish I could break up with you, but without you I wouldn't keep up with my friends from out of the country or those sweet relatives in other states who might as well be living in another country except that you, Facebook, keep us close(ish)...and then of course there's that whole blogging thing. The irony of it all isn't lost on me. But next time I'll be stronger, not because I'm above the B.S. but because I know I'm not. And knowing my weakness helps me to keep truth extra close so I can be truly strong.
(photo courtesy of http://www.thelocalq.com/blogs/searchlights/2012/04)
We’re better together! We all feel it. It’s truth. The problem is that even though we feel it tugging at us and calling to us, isolating is easier. So, we bury truth and deny truth. We change and manipulate truth to suit our circumstances; what feels most convenient…or what feels most safe.
We have these goofy phrases (clichés, really). We’re all taught them from infancy and we recite them like scriptures; ‘it takes a village’ or ‘no man (woman) left behind’, ‘friends don’t let friends…’ and of course the well loved and much used, ‘no man is an island’. We know all these little verses so well that they feel rather lame and silly. We excuse them and undervalue the truth they carry, because the truth is wrapped in cliché. But truth is still truth regardless of its wrapping.
I understand all the island and village stuff but I’ve struggled most of my life to honor the truth I’ve known. ‘Cause it’s scary to leave my island. And sometimes my anxieties get stirred up when colonists come round to scope out my village, mulling over whether or not they might want to settle. I sometimes long to curl up into a ball, knees tight against my chest and circle the wagons. I know that developing true, deep human connection isn’t entirely analogous to the wild, Wild West, but I couldn’t resist the temptation to use some early-American cowboy metaphors.
When we first moved to the Northwest, a year and a half ago, those early ‘getting to know you’ conversations with potential friends made me feel like a divorcée, fresh on the cold, cold Northwest market after decades of shelter and safety. I was terrified in the beginning; scared of being unwanted; worried I’d be rejected…‘naked and afraid’.
But now, all these months later, I have friends! These Northwesterners! They’ve weaseled their way into my heart. OK, if we’re being honest, all my buddies are transplants (I have a sneaking suspicion that no one here is really truly originally from the NW), but we all found each other here anyway. We met, and I let them in (little by little). I let them close and slowly I’ve allowed them to see my imperfections, and they’ve let me see theirs too. We didn’t open our robes to each other all at once like dirty flashers, but as trust grew and hearts grew, vulnerability took over.
Last week I was hanging with a precious friend and she was commenting on how she thought I was ‘such a good mom’. She was sincere and genuine and sweet but in my heart I couldn’t accept her praise because I’ve seen my ugliness in a way she never has…in a way no one has. She’s never witnessed me losing my brains with my four crazies. Yes, I’ve confessed my mom sins to her, because that’s what friends do, but my frazzled moments and unholy shrieks have happened in private; behind closed doors, in the sanctuary of my own home. I’ve only had 4 short, little witnesses plus a husband (non-working hours).
But then it occurred to me why my most ‘unholy’ moments have happened. Yes, my kids were driving me crazy because they were maybe acting crazy, but it was also because I was alone. If I hadn’t been trying to be lord of my own private island; trying to do life and motherhood in isolation, I might have had more patience, been able to maintain a shred of composure and maybe held onto my sense of humor. But alone (without a commiserator to roll my eyes with)…I’m freer in a way. I feel safe enough to unravel and maybe come apart at the seams a little…because who’s there to judge me…or strengthen me, encourage me or give me some time alone?? No one. So maybe I felt safe enough to lose my mind and let some ugliness flow out, but what about my kids…I bet they don’t feel quite as safe in those moments.
Occasional break downs are inevitable. Everyone falls apart sometimes. None of us are perfect. We all try for perfection, miss what we’ve aimed for and then punish ourselves for our humanness. Even in community, crazy can still happen. It’s just a little less customary because in the village there’s support and accountability and this makes us healthier more whole versions of ourselves.
But even though we may fail, reaching for goodness and righteousness is a worthy and valuable pursuit! I’ve come to this conclusion; I believe the makings of a good person are the same as the makings of a good mom: a truly good mom/person isn’t perfect but one who loves big, acknowledges her errors, apologizes humbly and learns from her mistakes (sometimes over and over and over again); plus community! Because we’re better together!
Spring break: that holiday week that sprints by at lightning speed. The kids sleep in a little and then watch cartoons till mid or late morning. All the worries of teachers’ expectations, homework and schedules go into the garbage (for a time).
This Spring break week started out lazy, lovely and carefree, but then my son Christian got sick. Who gets sick during Spring break?? Isn't there a law against that? Either way, ‘sick’ is definitely NOT supposed to happen during spring break!
I live for these breaks in my ‘mom’ routine; the repetitiveness of each day and the stress of school; the schedule and the rushing, the homework and all the pressure from my kids’ overachieving school.
**side vent: I definitely was NOT required to learn to read in kindergarten. I didn’t do fractions until nearly the end of elementary school and neither algebra nor geometry existed until middle school. In spite of all that, somehow I grew up to become a well(ish) adjusted, intelligent adult with a college degree. These days, little kindergartners are being required to read proficiently plus add and subtract. Just last year those little guys were playing in the dirt and finger painting and that was considered leaning. My poor Sofia…so-much-pressure! Oh how I love school holidays!
So, when sickness shamefully skulked its way into our home this week, I found myself wandering though the stages of grief (some of them). Seriously! I grieved but just a bit out of order. I started out angry because I’m always a little angry (it’s a personal problem), then, of course, came the denial. After that I went back to anger (a few times), but I skipped right over the bargaining stage altogether. I think maybe I felt a touch of depression, but I never quite made it all the way to acceptance, because this morning I woke up to my man-sized son feeling well! Not 100% well, but very much improved.
Christian feeling better means that this Smith family will be able to do Spring break right! Starting tonight, we’ll be gallivanting off to one of my very favorite places in the whole U.S.; Whidbey Island. Whidbey’s this enchanted place. It’s a magically, beautiful island, not tropical like I used to imagine all islands to be, but forested with evergreens. On all sides of the island, the lush, dense, dark green forest grows nearly to the water’s edge. Bald eagles nest in the tress and orcas swim off shore. It’s just majestic!
And the towns…they’re so charming! No one would ever blame them for being tacky or uncultured because they’re out in the middle of nowhere, but somehow they're not! They have quaint, historic main streets with cheery updated store fronts. There are wineries, bakeries, coffee shops and book stores. There are elegant restaurants that serve the loveliest clams swimming (well…more drowning) in delectable sauces. I eat and swoon and then wake to an urge to lick every last drip from the bottom of the serving bowl. (I wouldn't actually lick the bowl (in public) because that would be awkward. I just kind of wish I could.)
The most wonderful part of it all; we’re going to stay in a beach “house” for 3 whole nights! We found this place online. It’s RIGHT ON THE WATER! We’ll be fishing and digging for clams from the front yard of this place. I use the word "house" loosely because from the pictures, it seriously looks like a shack! It has some charm but it’s clearly rustic. Even if it ends up being a total dive, it’ll be an amazing time!
You see, I’m actually good with shacks. I spent nearly every weekend of my childhood, plus much of my adulthood at my family’s shack/cabin (literally!) in Lake Arrowhead (CA). It was, and still is, old and rickety but I loved it there. Every one of those visits is now a precious and priceless memory for me. Many of my family’s escapades were actually hair-raising adventures. Some weekends were relaxing, but my family didn’t really major in relaxation. My hope is that this weekend will be a mix of adventure and leisure.
My very first stay on the Whidbey included 4 generations. Adam’s grandparents rented an actual house (on the water) for the whole family to share for a week. It was so long ago that we didn’t have Sofia or Nyla yet. We were parents to only 2 kids and our family looked entirely different. I have an amazing photograph of Christian running through sprinklers in his underwear; not a care in the world.
On a different day we walked through an outdoor market where one of the booths had unusual looking live chickens for kids to pet. I hadn’t believed that a chicken could look exotic until that very moment. Christian was completely enamored by those birds. He was probably around 3 years old and his hair was still white-blonde. It stuck up in odd places because he didn’t want us to style it (he still doesn’t). I have a picture of Christian next to this crazy looking chicken and it was like Christian had found his hair double.
For me, that island is where beautiful memories are born. Us Smith’s, we’re off to make some good ones!
We’ve all heard the expression, “the road of life”. For me, it always generates one image; a desolate, long, straight road stretching into the sunset, with one solitary traveler (a walker), plodding along down the middle. For some reason, the road looks exactly like a stretch of highway in Death Valley (minus the blistering heat). There are no visual obstructions; no trees or boulders and no significant dips or rises in altitude. Aside from the occasional cheerful cluster of Poppies, it’s an empty, flat, open path with matching terrain.
Why my imaginary “road of life” looks so irritatingly tranquil is beyond me. It lacks even a glimmer of realism. My real-life road has seldom felt straight or level. I’ve had seasons where my clear path has diminished and faded, but still faintly existed. Other times it’s completely disappeared for stretches, forcing me down on my hands and knees to feel my way through wilderness. Real life is filled with ruggedness; mountains, valleys, meadows and deserts…and ohhh the hidden obstacles!
Parts of life we can prepare for (sort of), but wouldn’t it be nice if it were possible to be equipped for all of it?? I came across an intriguing article the other day. I was lured in by the tantalizing title, “Don’t Go Into Marriage If You Haven’t Done These Things”. Of course I had to read it! I was dying to know all the ways this expert would assess my pre-wedding (lack of) preparedness.
Since I’m such a generous girl, I will share these lovely little nuggets of wisdom. As you read, try to keep your eye balls in reading stance. Rolling them might be tempting, but work against the urge. Here’s the list…Readyeeee, GO!
1. Get your heart broken.
2. Experiment with online dating.
3. Learn from your mistakes.
4. Fall in love more than once.
5. Come up with a definitive list of what you won’t compromise on in a relationship.
6. Learn to trust others.
7. Learn not to make being married your sole identity.
8. Spend time alone.
9. Get to know all the facts.
10. Live with someone that is not a member of your family.
11. Spend some time on your career.
12. Spend time around kids.
13. Figure out why you want to get married.
14. Learn to fight fairly.
15. Learn to love people as they are.
16. Learn to DIY.
17. Meet your future spouse’s friends.
18. Meet your future spouse’s family.
19. Get to know yourself.
20. Learn to apologize sincerely.
That list makes my head spin and leaves me feeling a bit speechless…OK, maybe not truly speechless, because here is where I plan to begin my pontificating.
What a full-bodied list! In spite of both the crushing length of this inventory and the absurdity of some of these requirements, I have a genuine soft spot for this author. Who wouldn’t want to be as thorough as thoroughly possible for that leap into ‘all things shared’? That being said, I am convinced this writer is very, VERY single.
Preparation is a good thing! But marriage preparation…that’s practically an oxymoron! Falling in love and planning a life with Mr. or Mrs. Right is beyond exciting. But there’s a little known side affect to love/engagement. It temporarily damages a person’s hearing. All voices of wisdom fragment into indiscernible static noise. Even the guy/gal leading the marriage counseling class magically morphs into the teacher from Charlie Brown. Bride and groom retain only, “wha, wha, wha wha…blah, blah blah”. And then that engaged couple marry.
And marriage is incredible! But even the best, most mentally and emotionally stable and prepared individuals encounter the "OSWHID moment" (Oh sh**, what have I done!?). All the pre-wedding chain dating, self-help reading, string of loves and heartbreaks, alone time, career building and babysitting will not prevent that moment of doubt or future trouble. Sadly, there is no marriage struggle vaccine.
I walked the aisle while I was practically still in my mama’s womb. Just shy of 23 years old, I was a BABY!! I had definitely not accomplished most of this list. I still lived with my parents. I certainly didn’t know who I was. I hadn’t cyber-dated, I hadn’t loved a plethora of men/boys, but I had babysat the heck out of my neighborhood. I wouldn’t say the kid component has added any value to my marriage. It didn't reduce my selfishness, my pride or stubbornness any…and in my most honest moments I've feared that I might have been a better babysitter than I am mom…but that’s another blog post for a different day.
It would be magnificent if my imagined “road of life” could be each of our realities. I’d love it if there were a single uncluttered, straight, wide path directing each of us to our supreme destiny. And each milestone could wait patiently for our approach, clearly labeled and dressed in 80’s neon; making them unmistakable. Then maybe 100 paces or so before contact, Mr. or Mrs. Milestone could gently toss a handbook listing the steps that must be accomplished in order to graduate into the realm of “prepared”. After graduation, change is joyfully welcomed with open arms; because we're READY for it! All the pieces fit nicely together. There are no lose ends or huge threatening question marks…and NO tattered hearts. But that's not real life.
Learning to walk securely and confidently, in tandem is tricky. It takes practice to find a rhythm together. Enrolling in three-legged race 101 can be helpful, but understanding how to make it work requires actual real life application. It’s never very graceful at first. Sometimes it’s not graceful until the very end and for some, it's not ever graceful. There’s tripping and stumbling, repositioning (over and over) before finding a comfortable pace and synchronization.
Marriage pinches and squeezes a person; not so much like a bear hug (well, sometimes like that), but also like a vice-grip. The squeezing tends to make unlovely things squish out of a person…things we don't realize are inside of us (selfishness, greed, pride, self-righteousness, judgment, and a whole lot of unrealistic expectations). It’s the unique pressure of marriage; of being forced to communicate honestly, vulnerably and sensitively (lovingly), choosing to not just listen but also truly hear another person, and choosing to evaluate the (inward) unloveliness and change it, that makes a person marriage worthy. Marriage requires a fight. Sometimes a spouse can feel a lot like an enemy but that's only a diversion. The true fight is two for one: two people fighting side by side, for one another.
Marriage is a BIG, big thing! Striving for a touch of preparation is good and wise. But when you’re sure you’ve found that one person; the one you can’t imagine taking another step in life without…jump in! Be ALL in and fight!
Writer and fellow traveler on the road of life.