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!
Beyond music and lyrics, all albums (even the amazing ones) have one thing in common; they all have that one ugly song. I know, I know, it’s not very nice of me or refined to label art as “ugly”. The truth about art is that it’s entirely subjective and therefore can't be objectively ugly. But, I have a sneaking suspicion that if a group of strangers huddled in a dark room to discuss this issue (maybe in hushed tones), they’d all agree on the “ugly song theory”: that every album has an ugly song quota that must be met…and it’s one.
I have the Bethel CD, “You Make Me Brave”. I’ve had it for a while and it’s sooo good; one of my absolute favorites (at least for right now…until I find my next favorite album). This CD lives in my car. It’s where I listen to it ALL the time. My kids no longer enjoy it and Christian (my nearly 10 year old son) begs for “anything but Brave!”. But I’m unmoved (90ish% of the time), because I just love this album, plus I’m in charge; It’s my car and I’m in the driver’s seat…Gosh Darn it!
Side note: I had a thought the other day in relation to my kids not loving the same music I do. It dawned on me that it’s entirely possible that I’m completely and utterly out of touch. I’ve rejected all of their irritating accusations that I’m “old”. I’ve jumped up on chairs and made stirring speeches about my youthfulness and “cool” factor. Through most of my 20’s my heart and mind were convinced I was still 17. Now in my 30’s, I’m clinging to 28! But I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve become that parent who plays her music while her kids roll their eyes and think to themselves, “We’re being subjected to mom’s old fart music”. Anyway, back to my album, “You Make Me Brave”…
For months and months I’ve known definitively which song was the ugly one of the bunch. The tone is very gloomy; it sounds flat with all minor notes plus the lyrics are whiny and pathetic. Each line, needier and more dismal than the last, “What can I do for you, what can I bring to you, what kind of song would you like me to sing. Cause I’ll dance a dance for you, pour out my love for you, what can I do for you beautiful king? Cause I can’t thank you enough…”
Each time I heard it I felt lowly and icky, like I’d just subjected myself to a sermon on the value of self deprecation. But since I LOVE Bethel music, I tried extra hard to appreciate it. I really, really tried but I just couldn’t get there. My next and more realistic goal became just enduring it. By the second minute of that song, it might as well have been finger nails on printer paper (am I only weirdo who feels disturbed by that??); it made all those bitty hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention. Eventually I just started skipping over it.
Then about a month ago, on a very average day, I missed my cue. That spot where I would have normally jumped to the next song; it jogged right past me. I probably chatted with my kids or did a little scolding (some front seat yelling), and as I turned my attention back to my music, a song I’d never heard before was playing. The tune was nice but the words…they were everything. The world stopped turning for just a minute…the noise of the highway; the passing cars, the road and motherhood all hung in suspended animation. All I could hear was God singing to me. He sang, “You don’t have to do a thing. Simply be with me and let those things go. They can wait another minute. Wait, this moment is so sweet. Please stay here with me and love on me a little longer. Cause I’m in love with you…”
As I skipped back to hear the song a second time I discovered something hugely unexpected. The ugly song wasn’t all I thought it was. If I’d just forced myself to endure the icky, lowly bits for 3 or so minutes I would have heard the second half of the song; the part where God responds to the sad, self deprecated sniveling…with his peace.
The layers of symbolism are so fantastically profound! I’ve sung my own ugly song (similar words, different tune) thousands of times. I think we all do. We sing our lowly, miserable songs in our most beautiful voices. Praise and adoration gush heavily; as we bow ourselves as (emotionally) low as we can; face in the dirt; ogling our muck and filth and then we choke on our shame. On and on and on we sing our flat, minor notes because God is so big and we are so little, because God is so pure and we are so icky. We feel so unworthy and undeserving to have received so much in exchange for so little. It doesn’t feel right or fair. God’s kindness is very, very hard to accept.
God just listens and waits. When we’re done singing his response is ALWAYS the same, “You don’t have to do a thing. Simply be with me and let those things go. They can wait another minute. Wait, this moment is so sweet. Please stay here with me and love on me a little longer. Cause I’m in love with you…”
For ALL families, one thing is certain in life; car rides are a mixed bag of possibilities! Some drives are only good for losing one's composure (and faculties) over and over (for miles and miles of endless stretches of blacktop). Other drives are 100% laughter and silliness. Then, once in a while, the car ride is truly exceptional. I’m certain that in those extraordinary moments that God himself peals back the roof of my mini-van (the one I swore I’d never EVER drive) just to sit in our midst and listen to our babies’ sweet voices.
These exquisite moments are pure, divine beauty; amazing tiny slices of heaven. Depth and inspiration burst from by back seats in a way that seems hilariously impossible. After all, these divine thoughts spill from children who, just minutes before, were beating each other with Barbie, Ken and light sabers. But these kids…they surprise me, over and over again.
This morning my daughter’s spiritual curiosity didn’t wander into typical kid territory. She didn’t ask where animals and insects go when they die, and she wasn’t stressed about whether God would remember to duplicate her most precious blankie for her heavenly bedroom. Instead she was interested in dredging much deeper, more fashion minded waters. The reflective topic of the morning…(drum roll, please)...what does God wear??
This daughter of mine (my Mia), she’s profound and soulful but still very much your run of the mill, 8 year old girl. She notices clothing and prides herself on having her own distinctive style. Her unique look is alarmingly similar to every other kid in the world, but she’d never accept that as truth. My girly-girl loves playing with makeup, painting her nails and can artfully configure and reconfigure her hair half a dozen different ways within just as many minutes. Naturally, she ponders God’s wardrobe.
When I try to visualize God, it ends up sounding a lot like a certain ‘mouse and cookie’ story from my childhood. It goes a little like this: when I begin imagining God and what he might wear, it makes me think about Jesus. Thinking about Jesus reminds me of each and every one of my Sunday school classrooms where a stoic, angelic and slightly feminine-looking, circa 1970’s Jesus always hung on one of the walls. Those Jesus paintings always had a yellowish hue, (somehow the 70’s were yellower than other decades), but gold tones aside, Jesus’ white(ish) robe and a blue sash were unmistakable.
Mia must have seen one of those classic depictions, because my little darling was sure that God wears a white robe and blue sash, plus leather sandals (of course). And maybe it’s true; maybe God wears white and blue for all of eternity. But I’m not entirely willing to believe that. Conceding to that belief would mean accepting that God; the creator ALL (the universe and all its inhabitants plus its infinite number of colors and textures), would choose to live ETERNITY in a 2 colored toga. I don’t know…I have a hard time accepting that.
I’d like to suggest another possibility; one where God would rather spend eternity wearing billions upon billions of different outfits. He wears it ALL not because he’s preoccupied with his wardrobe but because he’s preoccupied with each of us. So, he purposefully chooses his attire based on our many distinct cultures, beliefs ethnicities and styles. For some of us, God chooses to wear that customary white robe and blue sash because it’s what makes us feel most comfortable. But for others maybe he sports jeans and Rainbows (leather surf sandals) and carries a surf board. Maybe he wears a tuxedo, a Yamaka, a kilt or loin cloth. I think God wears all of it…just for us.
As I chatted with Mia about what God might wear, I couldn’t help but think of that one "prayer scene" from the movie “Talladega Nights”. This film is hysterical, but I can’t exactly endorse it because it’s also a bit gritty, but there’s one brilliant (clean) scene where a family discusses the way each of them imagine Jesus. Embedded among all the hilarity, a pure and beautiful truth exists: God ALWAYS meets us exactly where we’re at. He doesn’t require us to look a certain way nor is he confined to the first century version of himself. He just wants to be with us. HE is Immanuel, which literally means, God with us!
We’re a Netflix family. We don’t have cable or satellite; we haven’t for years. Honestly, we don’t even miss it. Netflix mostly satisfies us. We’ll get hooked on a captivating series and when we’ve watched all of its episodes, we weep like a dear old friend just died (we don’t truly weep…just whimper).
There’s always a mourning period; maybe we wear a little extra black and don some ashes, but eventually (a day or two later) we dry our tears and prepare ourselves to step back into the wilds of Netflix.
Our options always feel a bit malnourished in the beginning. We start thinking that maybe Netflix needs a little CPR; some life pumped back in. We begin rhetorically asking anyone in earshot if there’ll ever be another friend quite as lovely as our recently deceased. But after a bit of scrounging we unearth our next great love…the one to sweep us up, away from the worries of work or dishes and those inevitable parenting fouls from earlier in the day.
For us grown-ups, agreeing on a show requires a bit of compromise and a touch of bartering. We love being shoulder to shoulder, enjoying ONE show in unison. So, obviously this means NO soaked and mushy, dripping with romance type stuff. Those all get voted down real quick and sent directly to the guillotine along with any wild testosterone loaded options. So, for the love of Netflix, what does this leave us with??? Well, travel-cooking shows, of course! Yes, I agree, not the most obvious choice, but this week it worked for us.
Last night, we found just the right show; “I’ll Have What Phil’s Having”. We can’t hoard all the glory for discovering this gem…my in-laws may have suggested it. They also find relationship harmony at the intersection of food and travel. The first episode was utterly endearing! The concept isn’t anything original. It’s been done at least a hundred times before, a dozen different ways: a man travels the world, tasting local cuisine…but this show was entirely different.
Phil (the globetrotter and fare taster) has a face that is beyond animated. Like a small child, his expressions lay each and every one of his thoughts and emotions bare for all to see; for all to know. But there’s never a hint of judgment or snobbishness, just sweet, precious warmth and delight in the food and the people he encounters. It’s enchanting.
Episode 1 took Phil (and us) to Tokyo. He ate pounds of sushi (naturally) along with countless other yummy-looking dishes. But, sooo many beautiful sushi creations! They made our mouths water. Those pools of soy sauce mixed with wasabi. I started to drown in my own saliva (as I am now), imagining myself biting into a fresh piece of sushi dripping in that flavorful sauce.
Now lean in close, for I have something somber to share: I have NOT always been a sushi lover…oh no, I actually started out as more of a sushi hater. Over the past 15 years, my sushi evolution has been emotional, embarrassing, at times excessively comical but also VERY redemptive. I haven’t always realized it, but my (sushi) journey has been about sooo much more than just learning to love sushi. All of it makes my present and sincere love for this dish all the more significant. So, to any of you sushi disdainers, let this be your reason to hope. Saying “never” doesn’t make it so. Change is ALWAYS possible, for I am the LEAST likely sushi lover!
When I think back on my early sushi eating days, I can’t help but giggle. Well, it starts as a giggle, but then it grows till I’m doubled over in silent convulsions; tears streaming down my cheeks.
The following is my sushi story. It’s ALL true. Together we’ll laugh, we may cry (probably we won’t), and then we’ll laugh some more. Here it is: Many, many years ago, in a land far, far away (California) I went on a sushi date. No, it wasn’t with my sweet Adam. This historic date was pre-Adam. Being married for nearly 12 years makes thinking back on pre-Adam days feel like summoning a distant memory out of a dark and heavy haze. It seems like nearly all my memories are Adam…except this one!
This guy loved sushi so of course, he took me on a sushi date. He expected that I’d instantly love it the way he did. He likely never considered that the opposite might be possible. In my family, raw meat was a no-no; a breeding ground for bacteria and intestinal cramping! Naturally my first sight of sushi completely disgusted me (on the inside). On the outside, I smiled and acted agreeable.
I was TERRIFIED! The pieces, which are meant to be taken in a single bite, are HUGE! There’s something that should be said at this point…I have an infant-sized mouth. Stuffed full, my 8 pound, 6 ounce, little baby-mouth holds maybe one full tablespoon of food. I always marvel when I see others taking multiple bites of anything before pausing to chew. I’m absolutely NOT capable of such ambitiousness. So, sushi bites were a legitimate struggle! Each piece filled my mouth completely; from right up against the inside of my teeth, all the way back to my hangy-ball (a very technical term for that “ball-thing” that hangs from the deepest part of a person’s throat). And if having a small mouth didn’t complicate things enough, I’m also “gifted” with VERY excellent gag reflexes; a winning combo for a girl attempting to eat big, GIANT bites of food that already repulse her! Cue the gagging!
The textures were another problem for me…the bites were all soft, smooth and slippery, the way I imagine eating slugs might feel. There I sat, surrounded by happy people, but I was turning green, working against my body’s heaves. My annoyed date watched from across the table as I choked over each bite, pretending miserably to enjoy myself. In the end, we left the restaurant with him very, VERY pissed to have dropped 50 bucks watching me (virtually) throw up in my own mouth for an hour.
Yes, my date was an immature ass and that night I felt embarrassed and rejected. Like I said before, I laugh (hard) now, but it took a long time for that memory to lighten into doubled-over tears of hysteria. As I look back, I’m convinced God had HIS hands all over that night and my gag reflexes. Maybe my gagging was the physical manifestation of our incompatibility. My sushi-hating, a nail (one of many) in the coffin of that relationship.
Now for the redemption portion of my sushi saga:
Years later I met my extraordinary Adam. As irony would have it, he not just LOVES sushi, he’s lived in Japan. I was (of course) 100% intimidated by all of Adam’s international exposure and culinary knowledge. I was the girl who secretly LOVED American cheese as a kid. What in the world did I know about truly lovely food?? Honestly…not a whole lot! But pretty soon we were eating French, Vietnamese, Thai and…Japanese food (sushi) together.
He never resented me for my stellar gag reflexes. Our sushi dates were always filled with silliness. He’d laugh as I gagged, then after forcing my bite down, we’d laugh together. He made me feel brave. With Adam, I never felt ashamed of being me (gags and all). Maybe even more meaningful, he never made me feel unworthy of the money he spent on our dates; always a gentleman. Just like falling in love with Adam, falling in love with sushi felt natural.
I never imagined that I'd EVER say this, but some days I actually crave sushi! I stand before you today a reformed woman; a 100% recovered sushi gag-aholic. When I think of sushi, I’m reminded of two very valuable things: 1. impossible hurdles aren’t ever as impossible as they appear, and 2. all things are redeemable (even if the thing is only the size of piece of sushi).
I talk about parenthood a lot because it’s where my life is right now. I’m in the thick of it EVERY DAY. I don’t mean to play the same old tune…again, but there’s something about this assignment we (parents) have, to raise our monkeys into decent, well adjusted human adults, that I struggle with. I guess I struggle with many things, but one major aspect is the lack of a handbook.
Parenting is crazy hard! Even though I’m nearly 10 years in, some days I still feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. There's always this little temptation inside me to search for the 'holy grail' of parenting; the one glorious nugget of wisdom to end all my parenting woes.
After I became a mom, the self doubt set in immediately. I had this blob of a kid. He slept and slept and slept and then he’d wake for 5 minutes and fall back into a coma. Of course, I know now that this is what newborns do; but back then, I was clueless and bored to tears. There was no set pattern or schedule for his wake or sleep time. I felt really disorganized and so tired and dirty. Having just had a baby, I also had a gut that hung over the top of sweats and it really depressed me. I felt the opposite of cute...and super jiggley. I knew I needed to get a handle on my life and I did what any new mama seeking a little sanity might…I looked for a handbook.
At that time (10 years ago) that book, “On Being Baby Wise” was REALLY popular. Moms everywhere were raving about it. They bragged about their incredible sleep-filled nights and productive days. These moms would roll their strollers around, all blanketed over and their babies would nod off on queue (at the stroke of the perfect o’clock). It was as if those mamas had slipped their babies a Baby Wise mickey. I wanted in on that! (Let’s be clear here, I didn’t want in on any baby-drugging technique; I just wanted my baby to sleep at regular intervals and during the night.) It didn’t seem like too much to want. I desperately longed for a solid night of sleep. A lone tear of joy might have rolled down my cheek over a four hour block.
My sleep deprivation prevented me from accomplishing the most low-level tasks. I missed smelling clean…I missed showers. I missed feeling attractive. I’d gaze at old wedding photos, trying to convince myself that I could still clean up nicely. I wanted to put on more make up than my skin had ever seen and style my hair big! What I especially missed was feeling productive. So, I thought, “I’m a big girl! I can do this!! I can read a book and follow its directions. I’m going to become “Baby Wise”!” For a few weeks I worked that schedule; determined to reclaim…me.
After a few weeks of scheduling the life out of us, I still had an unscheduled, TERRIBLE night sleeping baby. I remember one morning trying to soothe us both in the rocking chair, sobbing along with my little son. That was just one of many melt downs. But that one...it's especially memorable because there, in the midst of my discouragement, I came to understand one VERY important thing: NO ONE HAS A HANDBOOK FOR PARENTING! There’s no magic elixir and even the “handbooks” aren’t really handbooks! They will always work for some, but not for all. And for the people they works for, there won't be success 100% of the time. Life just isn’t that tidy.
One might assume that my realization blessed me with mountains of grace for myself. I stopped all that nasty self-talk and just took deep “mindful”, cleansing breaths while chanting, “one foot in front of the other”. Sadly, not so. Instead I trudged along until my next major unraveling and then clawed around for a cure; a fix all. It was only a few weeks ago that this “handbook” revelation finally became truth in my heart.
I was having a conversation with a fellow mama. For my discouragement she offered some saintly advice, but it felt like a punch in the gut. I greatly admire this mama’s strategies and wisdom, but her suggestion felt unrealistic and impossible for me. I started resented myself for not being her. After a full week of inner scolding, I started to see that I’d set aside my handbook epiphany; wanting to trade clarity and wisdom for a regimen or a magic fix.
Although that conversation stung, the result was very valuable. If the advice I’d been given had been more manageable and less saintly, I wouldn’t have had to wrestle with it so. I wouldn’t have wrestled with myself. I needed to restore (for myself) the value of my job as a mother, with me in the equation. I’d forgotten the significance of carefully sifting ALL coaching and instruction. It's important for parenting and ALL aspects of life. My new motto: Hold on to the appropriate pieces and discard the rest! Maybe my greatest lesson was remembering that my job is to be the best mom I can be, NOT the best mom anyone else can be. Since I’m human, my impact on the world and on my kids will never be perfect, but if in my pursuit of great parenting (or anything else), I reject the person God made me to be, I fail!
And let's not forget, there are NO handbooks!
Each day, life carries us in countless directions. Out into the wild world we go, traveling our various paths. We rush from thing to thing; each objective flowing into the next. The day is filled to overflowing, but still we squeeze in little detours; those tiny tasks that just don’t fit anywhere nicely, but still need to get done. We rush and rush and pray it all falls into place and then we rush some more. As the day winds down and the hurried pace begins to slow, we drag ourselves home and surrender the remainder of our lists to tomorrow. We haul our weary bodies back to that place where all paths intersect: the dinner table.
The dinner table is a commanding piece of furniture. It’s unlike any kitchen table that has ever existed. Many homes have a kitchen and dining table that are actually one and the same, but I believe that the name of the table changes with its function. Kitchen tables are for breakfast and maybe lunch. They’re used for tiny pauses in the day; breaks for nourishment and a very minimum amount of human interaction. Kitchen table chit-chat consists of, “Please pass the sugar”, “Pass the jam” or “Pass the newspaper”. Kitchen tables are quiet places for waking up slowly and thinking ones own thoughts. Having kids makes waking up slowly a lot harder, but even they (kids) understand and pardon the grunts and emaciated conversation of a kitchen table.
Dining tables are the one place in a home where the expectation is community and the goal is connection. It’s a place for conversation, camaraderie and laughter and it’s where a person’s sense of belonging is established. Whether single or married, massively dysfunctional or just moderately; all of us wish for that Norman Rockwell style dining table experience…maybe not for EVERY night, but definitely every now and then.
I am guilty of wanting that image of family closeness. I have a kitchen table that operates the way it’s meant to. I also have a lovely old dining table. We’ve sanded it, painted and stained it. It’s all geared up and ready for monumental mealtime moments. But sadly, I have maladjusted children. I have very sweet, smart, creative and loving kids, who, once seated at a dinner table, mystically deteriorate into bundles of hot air with an intention to annoy. Some nights, just the sight of the dining table makes us grownups feel twitchy.
Just as utter despair was beginning to set in; sure that we’d never experience a lovely family meal, the impossible happened! Last week we had the most amazing family dinner. The food wasn’t anything elegant. We feasted on beirute sandwiches (a Brazilian Smith family classic), but the mood was different. It was special. The kids were loving and sweet. They weren’t competitive or irritable like usual. They enjoyed each other and we enjoyed them!
Half way through the meal, our 2 year old began belting out a string of words that didn’t make much sense. After some careful listening and a little questioning we decoded her little song. The words were, “God raps in style!” She sang with passion and pumped her fist into the air. We were all captivated by the randomness and charm of her tune. And I’m pretty sure that if God were to rap, He would absolutely rap in style.
I’m still filled with love and delight over that family dinner. I’m uncertain when, or if, we’ll be capable of duplicating the beauty of that night, but I finally have hope. I have hope that maybe Normal Rockwell wasn’t painting an entirely unattainable, unrealistic dining experience. I'm confident that it didn’t always look quite as lovely as that painting might lead us to assume, but occasionally it did. And I can be OK with “occasionally”.
Writer and fellow traveler on the road of life.