(Crazy) Courage. No Matter What.

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I have friends getting married this weekend. Theirs is a powerful love story, and I’ve been churning the question of what makes it so.

What makes a love story one you can’t forget?

It’s common to think that an element of tragedy is what makes a love story unforgettable. This is somewhat true. But the first word that came to my mind was, “Courage.”

Courage is what makes a love story unforgettable. Courage means your heart has a goal, and nothing else can matter more than that. It’s more like crazy courage.

Mark Twain said it best when he said courage is not the absence of fear. It is mastery over fear. It is feeling terrified and still knowing what your soul tells you is your destiny and not turning off that message.

No matter what.

No matter if the love you have for your soul mate threatens to demolish everything else you think you know.

No matter if you could lose a job, or friends, or the acceptance of family.

No matter if no one wants to help you.

No matter.

When two people join their lives, for better or worse, for this thing or that thing, it is courageous. This world can sling some terrible challenges at us.

And no one has to get married anymore. It is a choice, a choice to make a very public commitment to be the very best version of yourself you know how to be because the person you love deserves no less.

And you both feel that way, it’s not that you are more perfect than you were before you were married. Not at all. We may be less perfect the minute we say we are going to try this hard.

Except maybe not.

Except though we may not be perfect in that moment, we will have hundreds of thousands of opportunities to be something better than perfect.

We will have the chance to be courageous. Over and over again.

Courage is asking for forgiveness.

Courage is granting forgiveness.

Courage is going to work so you can come home. It’s having a child together. It’s being willing to fail. It’s growing old with someone. It’s setting off into the Great Unknown, also known as tomorrow, holding your love’s hand and not letting go. Ever.

Nancy and Jane, what you have been denied up until this year could arguably be termed a tragedy. But that is so not the end of the story. The best love stories don’t end. A new phase of your story is just beginning.

Thank you for letting me tag along.

I love you.

Welcome to Married Life. We’ve been waiting for you.

For the Love of Marriage by Lisa Lewis Smith

The writer's parents on their wedding day

My parents just celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary.  They have provided a good and sound model for my brothers and me.  A large part of the success of their marriage and our family closeness should be attributed to Lewisburg, and to our time at Smithover and the Greenbrier River.  Our numerous canoe trips,  picnics, and family car travels (during  which we put millions of miles under our belts) all knit us together. My parents devoted their time and energy to the meaningful things in life, and showed their children the true value of family and making memories for a lifetime.

The writer's parents, Thanksgiving 2011 in Lewisburg.

 

Lewisburg represents the simple life for me.  It represents not having to show anyone up and investing in the important things:  breathing fresh air, admiring sunsets with your children, soaking up starlit evenings, eating with pleasure and gratitude.  It represents committing to living life to the fullest, and to falling in love with as much as you possibly can.

Our wedding in late August of 2004 took place on this land that my dad always referred to as “sacred.”  That evening, all the things that were precious to me growing up merged together into one memorable occasion:  family, food, and music in the great outdoors.  The moon was full.  The stars were bright. Cousins Fred, Lew, and Will picked away at some of my favorite tunes.  My childhood was over, but my values for life were set.

Lewisburg and Smithover became a special place for me early on.

The magnificent fields, woods, and waters were the vital playgrounds of my youth.

It is a place that continues to transform me, continues to teach peace and harmony, and continues to bring calmness during restless times.

It is my sanctuary.

Through this exceptional place, I have learned how to take great pleasure in the fundamentals of a meaningful life.

I am forever grateful.

The writer and her husband on their wedding day in Lewisburg, West Virginia

Get Engaged. Stay Engaged.

As I re-read yesterday’s post about marriage, divorce, and “peeling the onion,” I noticed that the three coping mechanisms I listed of wine, napping, and long walks all had a strong shared theme.

They each represent a method of disengagement.

They represent other things too, such as time for reflection and in the heat of argument they can be effective tools for putting some cooling off space between two people who are not communicating well.  But despite their constructive values, they do each represent a certain degree of withdrawal versus engagement.

When I saw that pattern, it got my attention.

It made me think about what we do at a purely animal-level and what we are capable of doing when we try harder.  My friend Rick Wilson has a spectacular blog focused on social justice.  A recent post (click here) featured a quote on this issue of the human higher calling  from one of my favorite writers, Wendell Berry:

Rats and roaches live by competition under the laws of supply and demand; it is the privilege of human beings to live under the laws of justice and mercy.

How often in our relationships do we react like rats and roaches?  In other words, do we blindly accept the biology of fight or flight, and do we use it to rationalize why we aren’t rising to a higher calling with those we love?  I know I have.  Not in a particularly articulate manner, mind you, but upon review I would say I’ve had more than my fair share of moments where I reacted more like a rat than like the best reflection of God that I could be.

I will still take a walk around the block, breathing deeply and sometimes muttering in frustration.  And I will still have a glass or two of wine and stare into the fireplace and imagine I’m actually at the Algonquin Roundtable instead of in an unresolved conflict at home.  I will still take a nap.  Why?  Well, sometimes just because I am really weary.  (Kevin Costner to Tim Robbins in Bull Durham:  “Women don’t get woolly, Meat.  They get weary.  Women get WEARY!”)

Which by the way is some of the best napping ever since Superman Husband installed a surprise replacement ceiling fan for Mothers’ Day that makes the sweetest white noise……….

But I try now to see these activities for what they are.  They are a break in the journey, a rest break if you will.  They are not places of eternal refuge.  They are places for very short time-outs to reconnect with the woman I want to be for myself and my family.

Whir whir whir whir…soft air.  Steady breathing.  Whir whir whir whir…..it is not a gathering storm.  It is not even the fan.  

It is the breath of God.

Image credit:  G2Art

One Layer at a Time

“I’m not dating anyone,” my friend wrote.  “Right now I’m traveling and doing things on my own.”

Mostly, I’m peeling the onion.”

In that one phrase, I’m peeling the onion, he catapulted me several years into the past, to the strange and dark days of life after divorce.  There wasn’t much to do but peel layers and cry.

The end of a marriage is both a uniquely intense, poignant event and a very long process.  It starts before anyone files papers, and it goes on for a long time after a judge decides the legal relationship is dissolved.  Building and sustaining a healthy, long-term relationship means being willing to work on yourself, not just before marriage but all of the time.

All of the time.

It’s maddening to hear,”Marriage is hard work.”  What does that even mean?  I’ve never found it helpful because it could mean anything and nothing.  It’s usually said by people who have been married long enough to know what it takes but who also don’t really want to talk about it.  If you actually tell someone what you mean when you say, “Marriage is hard work,” you will need to reveal every human weakness you’ve brought to the table, and not many people want to sign up for that.

It’s a shame, though, because it would help to know that successfully married people aren’t necessarily people who are better than you are as a human being.  They may just have a higher tolerance for vulnerability and humility than you do.  Which, come to think of it, may in fact mean they are better people.

Whittling it down to a specific definition, I’ve learned it means we are crazy to try to bring ourselves to a life with another person if we aren’t willing to work every day to better know, understand, and share ourselves.  This is a cycle of vulnerability and strength requiring endurance, humility, and complete devotion to purpose.

For me it has also required wine, naps, and the occasional long walk.

The first time I was married I was very young.  That is no excuse for failure, as there are lots of people who marry in their early twenties and have spectacular success as spouses for decades.  I was not one of those people, and I suspect that one of the many reasons is I thought I knew a lot of things that I simply didn’t actually know.  I remember acting with complete conviction on multiple occasions when in hindsight I was just repeating ideas because someone else had told me they were true.  I don’t need to reinvent the wheel, but I say now with confidence that I can’t put someone else’s tires on my marriage vehicle.

They look wrong and the ride is wobbly.

My husband and I have been through some very difficult times, both before and after we were married to each other.  One of the things we know is that it’s never just about waiting for the other person to pull their act together — this is our act.

We pull it apart individually, and we pull it together as a team.

One layer at a time.

Blue Glasses, Annoying Radio Preacher Men, and the Occasional “A-ha”

I just rolled back into town yesterday after 4 glorious days in North Carolina studying various topics in ethics. The trip down and back is a simple one when the weather is nice, but traveling alone I usually need at least some radio to pass the time.

Enter the Annoying Radio Preacher Men.

Without satellite radio, there are extensive swaths of road in the South where you just can’t find anything but guys on the air telling you what God wants, expressing their great confidence in my “nature” as a woman, and inevitably trying to sell something for actual cash money.  I try to just get a station where the voices are semi-calm and not screeching about fornication and the sulfuric fires of hell.

I don’t know who these men were, but one of them seemed to be the show’s host who was interviewing another guy who had a book about marriage he wanted to promote.  I lingered on the station when I heard the promoter say, “Men, we get on the crazy cycle because we don’t accept our wives for their true nature.  She sees the world through pink glasses.  We see the world through blue glasses.  She can’t see what you see.”

This was just weird enough that I had to stick with it.  Plus, I LOVE it when radio preacher men who clearly are misogynistic share their extensive wisdom about “the nature” of women.  I cracked my neck, took a deep drink of Diet Dr. Pepper, and settled back to be enlightened.

True to tradition, there was a tremendous amount of clueless stereotyped garbage about men, women, and marriage that I despise.  I can tolerate it because I see the increasing desperation of these voices to gain an audience and to justify their belief systems to themselves.  It’s on the way out for sure, but that is why it can be so entertaining.  It’s like listening to old tapes of Abbott and Costello.  And yet it was not all completely without value for me.  There was one bit in this routine that grabbed my attention and will hold it for some time.

According to the promoter, there is a sizable study out there in which hundreds of men were asked this question:  If you had to choose, would you rather a) be considered inept and inadequate by everyone, or b) be alone and unloved?

Over 80% of the men questioned chose option B.  When I did my own informal research on this, I got the same results.  I also noted that the men I asked answered with absolutely no hesitation and utter confidence.  Better to be alone and unloved than to be considered incompetent.

The promoter used this point to talk about conflict in a marriage, and how the deep commitment to and need for respect can influence a man’s behavior.  Though there was no corresponding study there was an assumption that the reverse of these priorities is true for women and I unscientifically have to agree.  I see it all the time and have my whole life.  Not every woman reflects this of course (thus my dislike for these kinds of pronouncements), but I can see evidence that many women will suffer disrespect and allegations of incompetence rather than risk the threat of being alone and unloved.

Again, all of this is quite sweeping and in no way takes into account that each person is unique, each person is not married or even interested in that, each person is not carved out of some imaginary heterosexual blue or pink stone that God grabs from his quarry and chisels into humanity in his spare time.  I rebuke all of that as untrue and quite ridiculous. But it’s difficult to dismiss the information that may be relevant here to many people negotiating long-term relationships where these gender-specific hierarchies of need may be playing out.

I clicked off the program after hearing my “a-ha” take away point.  Men struggle to show love when they feel disrespected.  Women struggle to show respect when they feel unloved.

Whoopi Goldberg used to wear purple glasses.  I say we all get our hands on some of those.  (Whoopi would have a field day with my radio preacher men……..)

Image credit:  U2 Station

Call and Answer

On an icy night this week I pulled into my driveway, exhausted, with an angry toddler in the backseat.  My child was what my brother-in-law calls “strippin’ mad” — that state of fury where very young children just start tearing off their clothes, throwing things, and running.

As I sat in the front seat trying to compose my own tumultuous mind, what to my wondering eyes should appear but the shape of my husband hurrying down the sidewalk to help.  I almost wept with relief.

He quickly opened the back seat and said, “Don’t worry, I’ve got her.”  “OK,” I said, “But be careful, she doesn’t have any shoes on.  You can’t put her down.”  He gave me a curious look and said, “I see.  It’s fine.  Come in the house.”

I gathered my last-minute shopping bags, purse, diaper bag, and what was left of my sanity and struggled out of the car and up the snowy walk behind my family.

It was then that I saw the footprints.

Merry Christmas to all, and may each of you find and offer selfless love, this season and throughout the year.

The BEST Places, please!

So in my post-election weariness (please….please…no more………), I decided to look for something else on CNN.  Imagine my joy at finding mass graves, child abduction, and aircraft disasters.  It almost makes one long for politics.

But yet!  Here was something decent, The 10 Worst Places to Flirt.  Not bad, not bad.  But too easy I think.  What about the BEST places?   I think those of us married types with young children need to focus on the best places, as the world of “keepin’ it fresh for ya” as my husband says can try to close in on us like shrink-wrap daily.  For example, on my list right now one of the worst places would be in the bathroom with the Elmo potty seat.  I’m just sayin’.

Here’s what I have — and the floor is open, do tell, the people are starving for some good news!

  1. While cooking – sauces are a nice touch.
  2. While doing yard work — I have heretofore mentioned my admiration for his carrying of heavy equipment.
  3. While passing in a tight hallway.
  4. When calling to check on what anyone needs….from the store or otherwise.
  5. When walking in the snow.
  6. When running in the rain.
  7. In front of your kid (literally and figuratively over his or her head).
  8. During a nearly unbearable social event when you need to remember you’re going home together.
  9. In church.
  10. Right after you pull up the covers.

I have a friend who talks about the idea of  “catch a buzz and connect” when she needs time with her husband.  You can catch that buzz with a bottle of wine, or you can just catch it by shutting out the rest of the world and being together.  Sometimes we just burn old cardboard boxes in a homemade fire pit and listen to the crickets in the vast forest behind our house.

However you get it done, enjoy.  Love is good and life is short.