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The arduous journey to decision

A young friend of mine is dating a fellow who wants to be a Catholic priest. They have a curious quandary: Catholic priests take a vow of celibacy.* This couple is of marriageable age, and both are serious-minded. They are not playing around. They like each other. A lot. They simply (or not so simply) do not know yet where their paths will lead.

For the most part, my friend says, her family and friends no longer express the anger they once did over her colossal waste of time; the anger has given way to a confused type of support as they fear the heartache she courts. She sees her relationship as neither a waste nor guaranteed heartache. For her, he’s worth the risk.

I know another story kinda like that.

on front of greeting card: a flower called "brown-eyed susan"

Rob gave me this card early in our dating career, playfully listing several points of contention in our relationship.

Once upon a time, there was this girl who caught this fellow’s eye. Truth be told, he’d caught her’s, too. Smitten at first sight(s), they traded a few phone calls, one lunch date, and he snagged an invitation to her birthday party (she worried throughout that he’d find her charming friends more intriguing than she) before she flew 3,000 miles away for two weeks of Christmas vacation with her family.

In the Land Before Twitter, in a time before texts, the two writers spent hours at their computers plugged into the east and west coasts, composing voluminous, casually clever emails exchanging tidbits about themselves. He was careful to highlight the cute blonde toddler-niece sitting on his lap while he typed. She made sure to mention a love of hiking and the outdoors.

She wondered if his first-born son was required to have the name “Charles,” as this royal appellation graces both his and his father’s birth certificates.

He said he’d like to find a wife before choosing his son’s name.

flower card insideAnd so it went until about a week after her return.

Because as it turned out, writers though they both were, they also were quite different.

***

I do not know my young friend’s story well enough yet to know how alike or disparate are she and her priest hopeful. Personality differences are not the point of comparison between stories. The comparison is the slow twisting path of decision. So back to our story…

***

Whether out of concern for various differences between them (could they really be an “effective team“?) or in the pure and honest effort to understand her own calling (likely a bit of both), she wondered aloud to her beau if she were meant to be single. Was she called, instead, to a life of solitude and service and writing…something she’d wondered more than once in the past decade? Would a husband distract her too much from other things she’s meant to accomplish? Should she toss all plans to the wind and move to Kansas to care for an aging grandmother?

He, in turn, wondered aloud why he was dating someone who maybe should be single or wanted to move to Kansas. But the truth was, he believed it not one bit (or at least held out reasonable hope that she liked him too much to stay that course) — and so he continued his pursuit.

***

Reasonable hope is the key in both stories. That, and enough fondness and honesty to walk the journey, respecting the process. In both stories, one party wrestles with desires and callings at odds with each other, while the other party watches and waits.

To outsiders, this is patently unfair to the one who waits. “Figure out what you want, and then date if you’re going to!” they like to demand. “Just dump him/her,” they advise the other. I understand. I’ve wanted to give similar advice to one or more of my own friends — now that I’ve safely navigated the process and am happily settled in marriage myself.

Thankfully, before saying something stupid to my agonizing friends, I remember my own story. I remember the angst of being told to stop keeping the poor boy waiting, to not be a perfectionist. The truth was, my guy had as many questions as I did — he was just smart enough to not talk about them, and let people pity his role and admire his stamina. The night before he proposed, we wrestled together with “What is love, anyway?” Really and truly; what is it? And how does one make such a momentous decision as marriage when you have no intention of allowing a back door exit once the vows are spoken?

As I walked my path, wrestling with my doubts and desires, Rob knew how very much I was drawn to him. And he knew why I hesitated. He always had the option to walk away. He always decided I was worth the wait. While he waited, I worked hard to reach a conclusion. At the same time, Rob was honest and pushed for what he needed — and I respected and responded to this, as well.

We both held the hope that our paths would lead us, together, to the altar. Yet we had to be honest with ourselves, each other, and the process each step of the way. Part of that honesty was a willingness to let go, if that is what wisdom revealed. And part of that honesty was continually risking another step forward.

My story is not the same as my young friend’s. But it is similar enough for me to be willing to walk the journey with her, listening…trying to truly listen…and encourage her that God is good on His promise to give wisdom to those who ask. But the wisdom in the situation is for her and her fella; not for me.

*For the record, Catholic.com states that “priestly celibacy is not an unchangeable dogma but a disciplinary rule.”

Nehemiah Notes has been helpful to me through the years, in various points of my journey. Here are two of those Notes:

 
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Posted by on June 14, 2013 in all about love, dating, Uncategorized

 

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Shadow stories of faithfulness

David Petraeus sits at desk

By US Army/Spc. Eric Bartelt (http://images.recordonline.com/) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The news this week is full of David Petraeus — his heroic leadership, his mentoring, his downfall. On November 12, NPR’s Talk of the Nationfocused on the good of this man, while playing fair and mentioning that not everyone in the military loved him. The show ended with a scathing call from a military wife asking the question, “If he did this, what else did he do?”

I’d like to think the best of a sad situation. Time will tell, hopefully truthfully, if he betrayed more than his marriage.

But here’s the thing: I get it.

Beautiful, intelligent, athletic, accomplished woman. A man with incredible authority. Common interests. Mutual respect. Mutual attraction.

Maybe I’m over-simplifying; maybe Paula Broadwell, Petraeus, or anyone close to the situation would say I don’t get it at all, and they’re probably right. This is not a blog post about them, actually, or on the causes or evils of extra-marital affairs.

This post is about the shadow stories. Because as I listened to the NPR report, I wondered about the men and women who do not stop at saying “no” once, twice, a dozen times. They say it again and again, to themselves, to their imaginations, to the very real people offering them a taste of a dream.

This is my salute to all the men who, time after time, turn a blind eye and deaf ear to the siren. My tribute to the women who choose not to encourage the intimate interest of another woman’s husband…or of any man other than her husband, if a husband she has. If it need be said, yes; the roles also reverse — women are not the only tempters.

man, woman, and child on walk in vineyard. Words on photo: Perseverance produces character; and character, hope.
Perseverance = Incredibly difficult, gut-wrenching, teeth-gritting, harder-than-you-ever-imagined, self-sacrificing determination to do what is necessary for the goal you set out to reach. Bummer, right?

Stories of temptation that end in triumph stay in the shadows, silent reminders of our frailty. Perhaps your spouse knows, or maybe the trusted friend who helped you keep your promise. Could be you are the only witness to the trembling strength it took to walk away, the only audience outside of the Almighty to hear the frantic, “Oh God. Help,” you pleaded more than once.

We don’t share these stories, perhaps, because we’re ashamed. We’re afraid of what we contemplated and of how susceptible we’ve turned out to be. We don’t want to hurt our spouses, or give them reason for insecurity or doubt.

Such a confession would demand incredible courage from the one tempted, as well as from the one not-quite-betrayed. Frankly, I don’t know if I could survive hearing Rob admit that he’s sorely tempted to go to another woman’s bed. Yet I know I want my love for personal security to submit to the good of us — which would mean rallying my heart to recognize the strength demanded of my husband to confess, and join him in his determination to see our marriage, our partnership, survive and flourish.

Sometimes we don’t know the strength and courage we possess until it is demanded…but I’m lying if I say I want to know if I have that particular form of courage.

And what about you? you ask. Are you susceptible? You bet — and I asked Rob at 11pm, in the midst of writing this post, “Do you want to know? Should I tell you if…?”

He thought for a while. Then he reminded me of one time I told him about…. “I told you about him?” I asked. More honest than I realized. Honest — and scared. Scared enough to be honest (and then, apparently, forget). Yet the question was not easy for him to answer. Finally he said, “Yes; tell me if it is an ongoing attraction.”

Stories of failure and betrayal are common now; stories of forgiveness, less so. Yet the stories of faithfulness are happening every day. If this is you, and no one in your life has the knowledge to say to you, “Well done,” let me be the first. For the only nod allotted to these shadow stories of determination and perseverance rooted in a promise are generally left at a short, seemingly simple yet deeply complex answer to the question asked of couples on their 40th, 50th, 75th anniversaries:

“What is the secret to your successful marriage?”

“It takes a lot of hard work.”

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2012 in all about love, husband, Uncategorized

 

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I asked God for a husband…

I asked God for a husband who would be a spiritual leader
(frankly, “lead” meant “feed” — be my in-house pastor, always certain of God’s ways)

God gave me a husband who seeks Him with honest questions rather than easy answers,
that the legs of my faith would continue to grow strong — rather than weak from disuse.

I asked God for a man who would be ready to move at a moment’s notice,
following God into new adventures wherever He might lead.

God gave me a man with roots deep and strong, and a commitment to serve his community,
that I also could learn to let Christ’s light shine through me into the world around us.

I asked God for a husband with charisma
whom people would admire [read: “idolize”] and naturally follow.

God gave me a husband who is willing to admire others,
that I could grow into my own person and not always be in his shadow.

I asked for a man who knew the right things to say
in business, speaking from a stage, and in love.

God gave me a man whose honesty can make him fumble
whom I never have to question if his smooth words cover lies.

I never thought to ask God for a man who would not yell at me in anger
whose very quietness would force me to temper my own forceful language.

It never occurred to me to request a husband whose strength in logic would sometimes frustrate me,
but which I’d learn to appreciate for grounding my faith and alleviating fear.

I did not know the inestimable value of a husband who may not know what I need before I ask —
but who is humble and faithful to follow through when he understands.

I asked for the man I thought my world (my Christian world) admired,
whom I thought I needed in order to achieve the purposes God had for me.

God gave me a man who is teaching me what is worth admiring,
whom God is using to make me more like the daughter He wants me to be.

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2011 in husband, Uncategorized

 

Got the fairy tale after all

"marriage means commitment. Of course, so does insanity.

My mom recently unearthed my first published book. My only published book.

Self-published in the fourth grade, the papers are hand-stitched together. Khaki-checkered tacky paper cleverly binds the cardboard cover.

The story is a fairy tale that begins with a distraught, ill-treated girl who is intercepted by two fairies, transformed into a pixie-sized person, and meets her prince charming of similar size. They fall in love immediately, are married, and 10 handwritten pages later live happily ever after.

cover photo of The Blue Fairy Book

The Blue Fairy Book, by Andrew Lang

I was well-primed for fairy tales. By the fourth grade I’d soaked in every tale of fairies my elementary school library offered. Starting with Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Japanese fairy tale collections, I worked my way to the assorted colors of Andrew Lang‘s collection: The Blue Fairy Book, The Green Fairy Book, and so forth.

When I graduated from fairy tales to Anne of Green Gables, Gilbert replaced my desire for Prince Charming. Perhaps especially because he didn’t wear tights.

And now you see where this blog post is going. No, not a critique of male hosiery. A critique of the business of falling in love.

Truth in advertising

For two whole weeks after first meeting Rob, I was fairly certain I’d found “my Gilbert.” Rob sagely calls this the “You have two legs? I have two legs!” stage.

But the rose-colored eyesight that by most accounts lasts at least until the wedding quickly faded for me. Though very charming and handsome enough for any prince of mine, I wasn’t so sure we were a good fit. I had pictured a rather different man for myself. I had pictured a different feeling for myself.

What I heard from friends in love – “I just knew he was the one” and “This is what I’ve waited for” – did not match my awareness that Rob isn’t perfect. That we weren’t perfect together. That I had no doubt he would disappoint and hurt me in marriage. That I couldn’t possibly be everything he’d hoped for.

Though he was a good man and filled most of my waking thoughts, I could not reconcile what people described to me as love with the reality of my experience. I wanted the fairy tale everyone else seemed to have.

Thank God for grandmas. Or anyone willing to speak honestly about tough stuff.

Grandpa and Grandma were farmers on the Kansas plains. They had nine children and lots of work.

“There were times I’m sure I would have divorced Grandpa, if I’d known how,” Grandma told me one day, exasperated at my drawn-out dating stint with Rob. I’d never heard her say a word against Grandpa. They had the perfect marriage we all aspired to.

“I’d be at the stove making supper, and Grandpa would come in from the field. All I wanted was for him to come up behind me, wrap his arms around me and tell me he loved me. But he just walked past me and sat down to read.”

Their marriage was not a failure, nor a sham.  The truth of their good marriage still stood. Grandma made it plain she loved Grandpa deeply. And she made her point: There’s heartache in good marriages.

I had needed someone to admit that; to give a real example of imperfection in the midst of something really good.

The truth about fairy tales

Fairy tales, I realized, are absolute agony. If there’s a beautiful girl, there’s bound to be a witch or wicked stepmother. If there’s a prince, he’s particularly incapable of catching up to a girl running with only one shoe (Cinderella), or finding a girl somewhere out in the woods (Snow White).

Fairy tales always have a hero, a heroine, and obstacles to overcome. No obstacles, no fairy tale.

Neither Rob nor I wanted to walk away from each other; that much we knew. So we began working at the obstacles:

  • our logical, process-oriented personalities that move kinda slow on big decisions (but of course don’t move slowly at the same time).
  • our personalities that are polar-opposites in every other way.
  • one person expressive; the other…not.
  • one person explosive; the other, not.
  • coming to grips with our different dreams, and sorting through how we will make room for each other.

And the happily-ever-after part?

Well, the “happily” usually does come “after.” After the work. After the apology. After the forgiveness. Sometimes, it’s all about a good night’s sleep.

All of those “afters” happen over and over again, with the “happily” steadily growing along the way…sometimes taking a dive, sometimes taking longer than other times to regain the growth pace.

Yes, there’s heartache in marriage. No, perfection does not exist. But I’d make the same choice all over again. Fairy tales aren’t about perfection. They’re about perseverance. Persevering for something worth far more than the momentary trouble.

I’ve got my fairy tale — and I’m stickin’ to it.

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2011 in all about love, Uncategorized

 

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“Mary, Mary so contrary…” – Learning to not be negative

I’m working on not correcting everything Rob says.

Last month we were in Seward, Alaska, for a sightseeing tour on a catamaran. Stormy weather shortened our Resurrection Bay tour from six to three hours, giving us extra time to see the town.

We walked the length of Seward four times. In the rain. We saw wildlife in the Alaska SeaLife Center that we didn’t have the luck to see in the bay, popped in and out of touristy gift shops searching for stocking stuffers, shared a mocha, and admired the salmon fighting their way up the river running through town.

Fifteen minutes before boarding the train back to Anchorage, we sat in Terry’s Fish & Chips, ordering our dinner to go.

“I think we saw what there is to see in Seward,” Rob said.

“Well, we didn’t get out to that waterfall, or take the hike the ranger mentioned,” I said. “So there is more. But I’m content.”

With an inward sigh, I amended, “Sorry. I could have simply said, ‘I’m content.'”

Rob smiled and said nothing.

It’s healthy to feel free to voice my disagreement. But here’s my current hypothesis:

  • Rob spoke in a generality.
  • I spoke in specifics.
  • Both can be right.
  • And it may get just a little tiresome for Rob when I, by default, correct his generalizations.

Ten minutes later, we walked to the train. Wood-slat planters filled with flowers marked the entrance to the depot.

“They color-coordinated,” Rob said, motioning from the flowers to the train.

The train was blue and yellow (generally speaking). The flowers were a cheery yellow—and decidedly purple. Purple lupin lobelia. The kind that is nearly iridescent purple in its glowing intensity.

“Oh, um-hm,” I said.

Because generally-speaking, Rob was right. Purple and blue are side-by-side in the color spectrum. Specifically, the colors did not match the train, and I would not have said it was color-coordinated. But did that matter enough for me to “correct” him? I held my tongue and eased my toes into the pool of generalities.

Note: When I ran this hypothesis by Rob, he gave a “hmpf”…disagreeing with my rather sweeping generality of our communication styles (he is specific sometimes, after all…) and proceeded to correct me on the specific flower type…which is noted in the text above.

 

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I needed to know my husband loves me

I needed to know my husband loves me. I needed to know he wants me. The key words were “pursue” and “obvious.”

This was part of the same conversation when Rob asked for mulligans. I was asking for affection. Lots of it. 

It topped my list for our “next month rules” back in April, as we looked down the barrel of our third month loaded with fertility drug intervention.

Yes, I know you love me, I told him. I know you think I’m beautiful…or at least you did when we married. Do you still? You haven’t said so recently…and you don’t kiss me “just because” anymore….

You could see his frustration mount.

Yes, I agreed with him, you do wash the dishes—and I’m so glad. Yes, you kiss me hello and goodbye.

But I need you to kiss me passionately for no reason, and tell me how pretty I am; desire me until I’m pushing you away…. I don’t want to feel like I’m doing the chasing.

Please, I desperately need to know you want me. Because this is what I need when I’m tired and sad and frustrated for weeks and months on end by circumstances outside my control.

We agreed to our rules—though “pursue until you’re rejected” didn’t sound entirely rewarding to Rob—wrote them down, and taped them up on our bathroom mirror.  (“You’ll remember to take these down when you show off the new paint job, right?” Rob asked.)

For the record: The point about affection was actually worded, “Give Kim lots of lovin’.” And the other rules are, at this point, private…other than the mulligans, of course.

It was frustrating and hurtful to have to express these needs to my husband. It felt like begging. But one of my friends has a good deal of wisdom in her own personal reminder when her husband does not see her needs: “He’s not a woman!” Gotta give them a break on that one, I guess.

I won’t bore you with details of Rob’s pursuit, but I will say I was grateful that, despite not fully understanding why I “need more,” once he committed to this, he followed through. Sometimes it was humorous in his overstatement (picture Pepe le Pew pursuing that poor cat). But whether serious or funny, I knew he did it because he wanted to convince me he not only loves me, but still finds me irresistible.

So let’s be realistic—the month was not without its bumps.

On a Friday early in the month, a high-ranking coworker was markedly, and remarkably, rude to me in a public setting. From this meeting I went to a doctor’s appointment where I laid in a humiliating position while the doctor crossly told me to “relax!” while she caused me pain.

Rob was there. He made the admirable effort to move from feeling powerless to doing all in his power to comfort me as I sobbed that this is not supposed to be part of getting pregnant.

Saturday night, I was still aching emotionally. Aching and…wiped out.

Rob settled into bed, content and oblivious. This didn’t help. Not when I needed extra cuddling and sympathetic words. So now add “frustrated” to my emotions list. I knew I had a choice: Get mad, or believe he loves me and help him enter my pain. I chose the latter.

May I tell you something?

I feel very sad. Very lonely.

Rob was stymied, and now frustrated as well. Had he not made breakfast for me? Had he not done other loving things? 

I promise I’m not criticizing you. I’m just saying that, at this moment, I feel very sad & lonely.

Rob pulled me to him, held me, and said nothing more.

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2008 in communication in marriage, infertility

 

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My husband wants mulligans from me

“You want what?” I asked.

We were sitting on our living room couch. It was the end of a long day, at the end of a long week, at the end of two long months, contemplating another difficult month ahead.

I’d just told Rob how he could make my life easier. Now, being the supportive wife sort, I’d asked how I could do the same.

“I’d like you to give me mulligans,” Rob said.

Was a mulligan related to a hobbit?

“A mulligan is a retake.” 

We’d watched The Legend of Baggar Vance a few nights earlier. The golfer “took a mulligan” when he knocked the ball so far off the course that there was no way to redeem it.

Rob wanted grace when he completely missed the mark with me.

Being the supportive wife sort, I told Rob he didn’t even know how often I gave him mulligans, but I’d be happy to let him know each time from now on.

***

We were just finishing a difficult two months of infertility intervention. I’d been on a low level of fertility drug both months. The drug is essentially more hormones, to convince my body to work a bit harder. Month two, the doctor also prescribed progesterone to help keep the baby, should I get pregnant. 

Two months with a great many more hormones than normal in my body, in addition to the tension of raised hopes and expectations. Oh, and let’s throw in a stressful fulltime job.

We did not get pregnant.

I was worn down by my internal battles, tired of the external battles. I’d done my best to contain emotions; Rob had done his best on mop-up duty for those that spilled over, or bracing himself for those aimed right at him.

And so here we sat, looking at month three. Should we move forward in pursuit of a baby, or take a break?

What was best for our marriage?

We decided to create ground rules for infertility engagement. That’s where the mulligan came in.

***

I can’t say I appreciated Rob’s request, nor saw (much) need for it.

Did he realize how often I gave him grace? Did he know how many times I bit back my words and gave him another chance? I wish I could say I solemnly nodded and said, “I can see your point.” But I believe the best I did that evening, after expressing my ire about my unseen and unappreciated grace-giving, was to mutter “OK.”

I was not graceful in learning to give mulligans over the next several weeks.

Take 1:  I have a vague memory of bracing myself against the kitchen counter in the midst of an offense and saying through gritted teeth, “Mulligan. Mulligan. I’m giving you a mulligan right now.” I’m not sure that qualified.

Take 4:  With friends in our backseat, we drove through the countryside to an antique store destination. I suggested it was in one town; Rob headed toward another town. After discovering his error and following a circuitous route, we ended up at the town I had suggested. I didn’t mention the detour until we were driving home.

“Did you notice?” I asked.

“What?”

“I gave you a mulligan,” I said, rather pleased with myself.

“Yes, you did. Good job.” And he patted my knee.

Take <?>:  One day I knew I had arrived at that place that allows both for true grace (not rubbing Rob’s face in his mistakes as I point out that I am overlooking them) and acknowledgement of that grace (which encourages me in my pursuit of liberal mulliganism). Not that I stay in that place, mind you—but all triumphs must be celebrated.

I no longer remember the offense, nor do I remember my exact response. All I recall is Rob assuming the golfer’s stance with his invisible putter, and gently knocking the non-existent ball into an imaginary hole. I’d given him a mulligan, and his salute of appreciation was my reward.

Way to go, I thought. Way to go.

 
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Posted by on July 15, 2008 in grace, infertility, marriage conflict

 

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