Oh to be Alone

A few months ago, while waiting in a long line, I found myself listening to a conversation in a public place. There was mild irritation between a husband and wife who were disagreeing over a minor issue concerning a child. A mom, who wasn’t acquainted with the couple, commented to the wife that she was so glad she no longer had to endure arguing. She and her husband were divorced and she was happy to make decisions for her child alone, without friction. In my mind a lightbulb instantly went off and I knew this was something to ponder. Oh to be alone.

In the last six months I’ve had many thoughts about togetherness and aloneness and their results. My husband and I lived weekdays apart for about one and a half years. He’d taken a job in another state and I stayed home to take care of necessary things, such as our daughter’s wedding and helping out with our first grandchild. I was surprised and a bit concerned to find how relatively easily we adapted to living alone week after week. Sure, we’d look forward to our times together. But in between we learned to adjust quite well to an independent self-serving routine. Even sleeping alone had it’s advantages. Let’s just say that for me, it was a much quieter, restful sleep. Acclimating again to the sound of snoring wasn’t easy.

Soon after I moved to Columbia, my husband and I drove to Lowe’s to purchase a clothes dryer. We were turning into the parking lot and I rolled my eyes at the unorthodox, roundabout way he maneuvered into the spot. I said to him, tongue-in-cheek, “Tom, if you would just do everything exactly like I do things, and you’d say things exactly like I say them, you’d never bug me and we’d get along perfectly.” We laughed, and I acknowledged to myself that this was my Achilles’ heel in a nutshell. Selfishness. There is in all of us a natural impulse to do things our own way. We’re aware of these tendencies in all human relationships, but none more than marriage.

Occasionally married couples live apart for a season because of  jobs or when a spouse is deployed. Understandable. Just recently I was chatting with a girlfriend about a mutual friend. The husband and wife were living separately while the husband was employed in a different city. My girlfriend said, “You know, I can really see how that could be easier”. I thought, ” Of course!”  It’s easier to be alone—you have only yourself to consider.

Sometimes I wonder why people want to get married in the first place.  I mostly wanted a man to love me and make me happy. I was a follower of Christ and I’d read Scripture and books about marriage. I knew a lot, I thought. But what part of my plan would make his life better? Do we go into that very important relationship thinking, “Now I get to really serve another person up close. I finally get to wash someone elses’ dirty underwear and clean up the messes someone leaves in the kitchen.” I may even occasionally need to hold my tongue or change the way I squeeze the tube or load the dishwasher! What’s needed in a particular moment might be affirmation and a loving touch, even if I don’t feel like it.

Some people live alone in different geographical areas due to work or other responsibilities. Others live alone even while under the same roof. I worry about them all. I truly believe that a marriage’s default is separation. None of us really need to work at focusing on ourselves; we have to work to keep our marriage covenant the priority. I’m afraid couples don’t know how easily they can lose what was once the Most Important Thing. Marriage isn’t an organism that magically keeps two people together. It’s an organism that requires its parts to work in a coordinated fashion to keep it going.

While nothing has revealed to me my self-focus and self-preservation like marriage, absolutely nothing has brought me more purpose and joy. Our marriage hasn’t been perfect in every way, but it has gotten better and better over the years as we have gotten better at surrendering to Jesus and putting each other first.  The covenant of unending and unmerited love for another person. The adapting to the other in a way to actually change the person I am, and grow the person that he is. It’s just one of the most beautiful, meaningful arrangements divinely appointed to humans.

When asked his secret of love, being married fifty-four years to the same
person, he said, “Ruth and I are happily incompatible.”
Billy Graham

How to be Strong

How to be Strong

I was feeling weak and vulnerable. Awake most of the night, I was anxious about house-buying decisions and transitions; then dragging around in a fog early the next morning,

When I showed up to take care of Eliza, Mary and John read my expression. Sharing with them briefly through my tears, and hearing their responses eased the pain.

I began to see some things differently in the light of day. I recalled the times I wish I’d asked for support; when I swallowed hard and acted strong and together. It wasn’t arrogance that caused me to appear unruffled and unemotional. I believed my stalwart demeanor was expected and even required. Everyone has challenges and no one wants to hear me complain about mine, I thought. I was self-conscious about my labored droning on and wasting someone’s time.

I never set out to be the strong one.

When I was a single mom of two young kids I pushed my emotions down deep inside. It was my responsibility as the care-giving parent to keep it together. I was worried that my son could be harmed by my debilitating emotional pain. I was the sole provider, working two jobs at times. I wanted to show him what I knew to be true: that God is a good Father and He would see us through.

My daughter with autism was ultra-sensitive to other’s emotions, and reflected what she perceived. I was extra vigilant when around her (and still am!) as her expressiveness could be very difficult to corral and manage.

Recalling my childhood I don’t remember ever talking about feelings. The unspoken message was to be quiet and good. We knew our parents loved us unconditionally, but it wasn’t exactly in vogue to share feelings.

Once while walking with my friend Cynthia, I casually mentioned how hard it had been staying up all hours of the night with Dawn who couldn’t get to sleep. It was an ongoing problem for years. It became routine; Tom and I would take turns staying up to keep her calm and try to coax her down to bed, sometimes not getting her to sleep until daybreak. It was horrible! Cynthia stopped abruptly and said she’d always wondered why I’d never complained about raising my special daughter. She didn’t know how I’d kept it together.

Another clue that I was holding it all inside.

I remember a pastor discussing what it’s like to have a broken heart. Without warning, I broke down in a way that I’d never done in the past and haven’t since. I hurt so deeply inside and couldn’t quit crying. Every memory demanded my attention. That very day I’d had such  difficulty managing Dawn’s behavior so I could attend church. I cried so much that morning, experiencing such pain but ended up feeling freer somehow.

When my sweet mom passed away a few years back, so many griefs from the past seemed to tag along right beside the recent grief and loss. I promptly felt the pain of an earlier divorce, of raising a cognitively disabled child who needed constant attention and raising a son without his father. As I looked back, I actually felt sorry for that girl who endured so much pain and wished it could have been different for her.

Evidence of storing the pain away.

Recently, days apart, I bumped into two acquaintances from church. In each case, when I asked, “How are you doing?” each indicated that she was doing terribly. One began to cry. I felt grateful for honest answers! I really cared. I like to pray specifically for folks. The Lord used them as examples for me. I realized that there are people with whom it’s okay to cry and talk about my distress.

I still haven’t figured all this out but I want to be better at being honest. To not stuff emotions until a meltdown occurs. But to look at things in my life and take risks to share my burdens with others. I’m glad to do that for friends and I know there are folks who’d do the same for me!

I’ve begun to see true strength in a different light. I’m strongest when I’m transparent and honest with others and allow them inside my pain. To let some light in.

Bear one anothers burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2

Be happy with those who are happy and weep with those who weep. Romans 12:16

 

 

 

 

Juxtapositions

Juxtapositions

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Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how weird life is and the unbelievable contrasts that appear almost daily. Social media might be the best example to bear this out. Where all the latest best and worst news appears.

Several days ago, alongside close friends, I enjoyed a delightful breakfast on a pier overlooking the water at Wrightsville Beach. One of those perfect days, sunny and breezy and not too hot. At the same exact time, a well loved lady from our church lay in a hospital bed, in a coma, with little expectation for recovery. She had suddenly, unexpectedly taken ill, while fully enjoying life with her friends. The news sent shock waves through our community. Somehow it seemed wrong that I was enjoying the beautiful day with friends.

I remember many years ago when a beloved family member went missing. I clearly recall, running errands, noticing all the people scurrying around, as if nothing had happened. My heart was so distressed and I couldn’t understand how life seemed to be going on as normal.

Several months ago I was meeting with some ladies from a large local retirement community. They had asked me to consult with them as to how to utilize spaces and floor plans in some new apartments they were designing. There would be an open house in which I’d present- and more exciting were the potential contacts and business I would make.

As I was driving away from the meeting, my phone rang and it was my husband. It was raining and storming heavily and I asked if I could return his call. His tone was serious; “No, we need to talk.” As I pulled over to park, he told me that he was packing up his office after deciding to resign from the position he’d held for 13 years. It was so surreal; I couldn’t believe it was really happening. One day earlier he was a full time employee and now he was in job search mode.

Two days later one of our sons found himself out of work and it was likewise a shock. He’d help build the company and it seemed to be thriving.

Ten days after that, our younger son and wife were on their way to celebrate family birthdays when a young driver crossed 2 lanes of traffic to hit them and render their car unfit to drive.

That night after the accident we celebrated my birthday and Ben’s. I opened a gift only to find a Grandma book! It didn’t even register with me at first that this was our announcement- we were about to be grandparents for the first time! Juxtapositions.

I checked my phone after an organizing job, awhile back. There it was; a sandwich of contrasts; a sweet encouraging message from a friend, devastating news from another friend telling me that the baby they’d longed for and prayed for was not to be theirs, and then an audio of our first grandchild’s heartbeat!

I think about this a lot. How life is just crammed full of happy surprises and heartaches. The bright happy colors and dark morose ones you’d find in a hand woven tapestry. How do we clearly  see the design of the bright colors? They show up as they contrast with the dark. When do we  truly revel in a sunny, clear, sky blue day? After many rainy dark days. On the rare occasions that I’m sick, I’ve always noticed that after I recover from whatever cold or virus I happen to have had, all of a sudden I am so very grateful for good health!

JUXTAPOSITIONS. When I think about my life, I truly don’t think I would have known joy and gratitude without the pain. Heartaches, devastating life situations that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. In retrospect I know that the cumulative years of difficulty were changing my heart and my perspective. Without the ugly stuff I wouldn’t have recognized the beautiful. God is the Designer of my todays and tomorrows. The juxtapositions give me heightened awareness and keep me humble.

“Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15

“Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight. Extend to them all the care, kindness and understanding you can muster, and do it with no thought of any reward. Your life will never be the same again.”  Og Mandino