On Marriage

I’m in a phase of updating and organizing and pitching out and cleaning. This afternoon I was going through some files on my computer in a folder titled “Journal.” The “Husband Moments” document caught me eye, so I opened it and read some conversations that Brian and I had exchanged years ago.

***

December 31, 2005

Brian and I were in the car together running several errands. We were quiet. My mind wandered as I contemplated love, life, marriage, divorce. Eventually we parked at the next stop on our list.

Walking into the department store, I asked with no pretenses attached, “Brian, have you ever thought about leaving me?”

His immediate reply, “Leaving you where?”

***

March 1, 2008

Driving home from the dessert-house in a progressive dinner organized by a church group, I reflected on an earlier conversation with another woman about wives submitting to husbands.

After a few moments of silence in the car, I asked, “Brian, do I submit enough?”

“Submit what?” was his reflex.

***

And they say that men and women approach relationships differently. Pshaw.

Perspective

Yesterday afternoon I went to the doctor to find answers for the back spasms that I’ve been having. The first episode was in late September, here and gone in a painful, scary night. The spasms didn’t rear their ugly face again until early November, but again they were over within a night. The past week or two though, the spasms, or at least an aching and discomfort, have been nearly constant. On Saturday night it was painful to the point of inducing vomiting.

During the doctor’s examination yesterday, we discussed what might have caused this recurrence with such intensity. Among a number of possible culprits, the doc asked me if I have been stressed.

For the two seconds that I said, “Uhhhhh,” the last three months of my life zipped through my head. My grandmother’s death. The October grant deadline, the intense two-week deadline for part one of my comprehensive exams, and the general chaos of graduate student life that keeps me straddling the edge of sanity. My brother’s November house fire. Tough conversations about travel expectations to visit family, especially around the busy holiday season. The busy holiday season. My step-dad’s admittance to the ICU with numbers in his blood report skyrocketed to levels that bodies don’t survive. Crying with my mom as we discuss end-of-life decisions for this husband, this father of ours.

“Uhhhhh, yeah. I think so.”

***
Saturday night around 3 a.m. I thought Brian was asleep. I was tossing and turning in bed, frustrated that no position worked comfortably and feeling hopelessly miserable with the aching and throbbing. I swung my arm behind me and gripped mid-back where the pain was the worst. Moments later a hand touched me in that same spot.

“What are you doing?”

“Nothing.”

“What are you doing?!”

“I just felt like I was supposed to be praying for your back right now.”

I burst into hot tears, “It hurts so much!” Brian prayed. He put a hot cloth on my back. He held my hair as I threw up. He made me a bubble bath at which we laughed as the bubbles seeped over the edge of the tub. He coaxed me to sleep after 4 a.m. even though he had to be up in less than two hours. I tried to apologize over and over for the inconvenience, but he never let me.

***

What would we do without the strength and support of our loved ones during our stressful, weak times in life? I feel the touch of their hands on me, praying for me, lifting me, easing the weight of my burden. Sure, when the doctor asked me if I have been stressed all of these events from this fall flooded into my mind, but the woes from the past three months have rarely been in the forefront of my thinking. It’s the blessings that I see. I see the fortitude and devotion of family and friends. I see love and joy that surpasses understanding. I see the eternal perspective in my soul that tells me that a house, a job, suffering, life on this Earth,…these are all temporary. There is so much more for which to hope and to live.

Yes, I am so richly blessed.

A Promised Land

Last night, Brian and I boarded a massive, double-decker jet and flew halfway around the world to Israel.

This tiny scrap of land about the size of New Jersey is celebrating its 60th birthday as a new nation this year.  Ever since its rebirth, Israel has been a political and religious battleground.  Enemies within the country fight for territory.  Middle Eastern neighbors surrounding Israel would be pleased to remove this country from the map.  In fact, the battling over this land began long before 1948.  Disputes trace back to the Biblical accounts of Genesis and continue through the Old and New Testaments.  So much attention given to a land whose size pales in comparison to the countries around it.  It has hardly known a time of quiet and stillness.  Yet, amidst the wars and the invasions and the changes of power, over two millennia ago a baby was born in Bethlehem who forever changed the face of this Holy Land.  He was Jesus, the Prince of Peace.  Such a good and perfect gift in Jesus arriving in such a tumultuous place.

This vacation, although I have brief moments of concern for plummeting myself into a contentious part of the world, I am mostly just thrilled to celebrate the life that offers peace and hope to a struggling world and to examine the events of Jesus’ time where they actually occurred.  As we left the Tel Aviv airport earlier this evening and boarded our bus for the 2-hour drive to Tiberias, Lon Solomon prayed, among other things, that we would have a life-defining experience on this trip.  You know, if we are following hard after Jesus, I’m wondering if it’s even possible not to have a life-defining experience.

Bill Shakespeare Would Be Proud

My grandparents used to take my mom and uncle to Nelson Ledges in the fall when they were young.  My mom carried on that tradition with my brothers and me, every fall if possible.  We typically started our day in the picnic area, enjoyed a lunch together, and tossed around a football or frisbee in the open field for a bit.  Afterward, we all hit the outhouses and then walked across the street from the picnic area to the ledges.  Degree of hiking difficulty here is determined by the group.  Hikers could casually stroll above or around the ledges, or could opt for more demanding descents, climbs, and crevasses through which to crawl.  We usually elected for anything that would challenge us or that looked like it had not been explored before.  If I made it through the Devil’s Icebox without losing my footing – which meant drenching my foot in the cold, orange, mineral-deposited water – then the day was a success.

November ’07 we introduced the state park to the next generation’s boys – four of my nephews.  This month’s masthead is a photo of Brian and the three youngest nephews heading in to the hiking area.

My brother, Tod, explained this sign best as “where your pee would go if you #1’d right here.”

It is customary for our family to stand on this balcony and recite, “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?…”  Thanks to Brady, it looks like licking the balcony may become a new tradition as well.

Being silly, I had captioned the photo of Tod, Cliff, and me as “Siblings in love” in a family album.  When my mom was showing the album to my nephews, she asked if they knew what ‘siblings’ were?  Evan, seven years old at the time, said, “Yeah.”  “What are siblings?”  He explained matter-of-factly, “People in love.”

At the end of the day, my mom rode home with Tod and his two boys.  Nate, five years old then, must have been observant of the chatting and laughing that my mom and I did throughout the day, and then saw the hug and kiss we exchanged as I headed back home to Pennsylvania.  In the car he asked, “Granny Joanney, how do you know Aunt Michelle so well?”

Must be all those trips to Nelson Ledges.

Details, Details

My friend’s water broke last night, another friend is going to the doctor today and may get induced, and about a dozen other friends and family members have due dates set for late 2008/early 2009.  With all of the birthing around me, especially the one(s) this week, I’ve begun to wonder what kind of phone chains will be established to deliver news of the deliveries.  This thought immediately took me to last November.

At that time, Brian and I had the same cell phone model.  Of all days, OF ALL DAYS for Brian to grab my cell phone and take it to work with him, it happened to be the day that a dear friend, Christie, went into labor.  I was given the high honor of relaying her news to some other friends, and now my phone was in the hands of…A MAN!  Not just any man…MY HUSBAND (you’ll see what I mean by this in a minute)!

On my way to work I took Brian’s cell phone and did two things: 1) called my friend’s husband, Mark, and left a voicemail saying that the best way to get a hold of me was via Brian’s cell, and 2) called Brian and told him to call me as soon as he heard any baby news (in case Mark didn’t get the voicemail).

Later that day I received a phone call from the proud father.  He said that he sent a text to my cell phone first, but then got my message to call me on Brian’s phone.  Christie had done wonderfully during labor and the baby boy was healthy and beautiful.  Awww, a boy!  I had waited nine months to find that out.  I was so ecstatic for them.  Immediately after Mark and I got off the phone, I carried out my duties as phone chain messenger.  There was so much excitement in the air that it wasn’t until hours later that I realized there could have been a real kink in the chain —  Brian understood the importance of relaying any messages right away, why didn’t he contact me as soon as he had received the text from Mark?

So I called him to find out…

Brian: Hello?

Me: Hey.

Brian: Hey.

Me: I heard that Mark texted you. Why didn’t you call me?

Brian: Oh yeah. They had their baby. It’s a girl!

Me: A GIRL?! No it’s not! It’s a boy!

Brian: Wait a second. [Checks text message.] Oh yeah. It’s a boy.

The Entertainer

A couple weeks ago, my husband barreled down the stairs and across the living room, stumbled over the over-sized ottoman, and then collapsed onto our over-sized chair. Brian is both coordinated and athletic, but occasionally around the house he carries himself with this sort of lazy, bulky gait. Sometimes it manifests as sort of a limp, sometimes it’s more like a clumsy sedated state of being.

One time in particular, his stumbling sedated state culminated into one of my all-time favorite bloopers. It was late at night and Brian had fallen asleep on the big chair. I gingerly woke him and told him to go upstairs to bed. Usually when I wake him up his first response is to rhetorically mutter “Wuh, wuh?” This time was no different. After the “wuh, wuh?” he scooted across the chair and ottoman, stood up, took one step forward, and then collapsed to the ground. Nothing had impeded his step other than his own motoric malfunction. He had rolled into a fetal position by the time his entire body hit the carpet, like a caterpillar would do if you poked at it or a person getting beat up would do to protect their gut from a kick. Unphased, Brian stood back up and walked off heavily to bed. He has no recollection of this event, but sometimes, when the world around me is quiet, I visualize this incident and laugh out loud.

Actually, it just happened. Someone just passing by my office stopped and asked why I was laughing: “Are you watching a video online or something?” No, no I’m not, but this is the amusement that I get from replaying this memory. The closest I can come to demonstrating the randomness and sweet innocence of Brian’s fall is this video, only imagine it in human form.

So like I was saying, a couple weeks ago Brian barrels into the living room and says, “You know what you haven’t asked me yet?”

Me: “What?”

Brian: “What I want for my birthday.”

Brian, whether it’s your childlike eagerness for a birthday, or the way you use onomatopoeia, or the fact that you said “true dat” today, or your gait when you’re being silly…that goofiness (intentional or not) that typically is only fully unleashed within the comfort of our home, I love that part of you. The rest of you is not so bad either. Today I celebrate all of those parts that have me so in love with you. Happy Birthday!

Better and Worse

Last month my husband and I celebrated our ninth wedding anniversary. When I sat down an hour before our dinner date to write out a card for him, I had wished that I would have written the note a couple days earlier when I was in more of an appreciative, lovey dovey mood rather than the funk that I was in at that moment. This predicament inspired me to reflect on love, marriage, funks, and how the three interact.

I’m pretty sure when I stood in that white dress nine years ago, hand in hand with my husband-to-be and promising to take him for better or for worse, that I naively thought the ‘better’ and the ‘worse’ had to do with external factors. Like there was some conglomeration of worsts through which I had to be sure I could promise to love Brian before I committed to marriage – I will still love and cherish you if you lose your job, if our house burns down, if your leg is amputated by a chain saw during a freak Christmas tree cutting accident… I don’t know if I really considered the internal or personal aspects of ‘better or worse’.

Of course I figured marriage would bring moments of frustration and bickering over petty things like chores or directions or flatulence. I suspected that there would be conflict when we couldn’t agree or were just out of sync for whatever reason. Beyond these seemingly trivial issues, at the age of 22 I couldn’t have predicted all of the physical, emotional, and spiritual highs and lows that I would experience as an adult, wife, graduate student, female, human. When we made this vow though, we promised to love each other even when the other person is at their worst. When I am aggressively impatient, my spouse vowed to love me. When I am depressed and lethargic, my spouse vowed to love me. When my focus is off track, Brian vowed to love me. When I have shamefully messed up, which I have, he promised to love me, which he has.

Brian is so good at it. Other women may be able to say the same thing about their husbands, but for me, I have never seen such a wonderful earthly example of unconditional love. When I feel like I am at my ultimate worst, he makes good on his promise to love, honor, and cherish me.

This past weekend we attended a wedding at our church and the pastor said to the couple, “God brought you together to do what you could never do alone.” It is so true for so many reasons that I am a stronger, better person married to this amazing man. Both individually and as a couple we have been able to accomplish things that we couldn’t have accomplished alone. I know that this is founded in the freedom of the vow to be committed for better or worse – this vow that Brian and I have made to each other…and that God has made to us.