Tag: Love

24Apr

Weathered

Joining up with Seth and Amber for this week’s Marriage Letters: Enduring Loss Together. I always feel self-conscious writing about my marriage in such a public space, but reading others’ heartfelt efforts to prioritize their marriages reminds me that we were never meant to live out our most important relationships in seclusion. Honesty leading to encouragement—this is community, yes? Here’s my contribution to it:

~~~

Dear husband,

Today is a wild, wooly kind of day—rain flung sideways by the handful and winds to rival those which flattened our tent in the Highlands two summers ago. I remember the girls chasing sheep on Glenbrittle Beach that same evening and the absurdity of lumpy farm animals dashing along the waves like William Wallace’s ghost was after them. Of course, come to think of it, he might have been. The storm which roared up that night seemed to have intention in its fury, and we only lasted until first light—dim and rain-lashed as it may have been—before abandoning our plans for the week and fleeing toward the nearest source of hot breakfast.

We’ve had to be flexible in our life together, you and I. Every version of normality we’ve tried constructing for ourselves over the years has ended up as an unfinished roadside attraction, and rained-out camping trips are the least of the sudden losses we’ve had to navigate. We’ve lost jobs, friendships, relatives, and pay-outs. We’ve watched the sure path of our future disappear in an afternoon. Even this morning, unforeseen circumstances came down swift and heavy, and we’re left with a blueprint of rubble, rehearsing again how to let our plans go and move past them together.

I hold that last phrase dear though because of all that’s implied in doing this again, together. We have our own history of upheaval and, though it all, each other’s hand held tightly. Simply knowing that we’re on the same team when the sky falls down turns my anxiety outward, away from me, away from us, and eventually just away. Having you as my teammate, especially when everything else seems to be slipping through my grasp, is one of the greatest gifts of my life. And when the ghosts are placated and the storms settled and the uncompleted plans put to rest, I love you all the more for what we have weathered together.

Bethany

So glad to see the sun again

~~~

Previous letters here, here, and here. And if you’re the married sort, would you consider filling out Seth Haines’s marriage survey? I’m anticipating some good insights to come from it.

13Mar

Religulove

When we enrolled Natalie in first grade last September, we opted out of religion class. Even though we share some fundamental beliefs with the Roman Catholic Church, we weren’t comfortable with her learning doctrine as an academic subject. Frankly, I find it incredibly dangerous when any religion is painted in the same black and white lines as grammar or algebra—right versus wrong, subject to a grade—and I’d like to think that we would have opted out of the class even if it had taught our exact beliefs. (Sunday School is a whole ‘nother ball of wax, but it’s easier to discuss what the girls learn there without having to discredit the entire academic system.)

I was at peace with our decision until we picked Natalie up after her first Friday at school. She was as cheerful as ever, happily recounting how she had gotten to go out in the hallway during religion hour and watch the other teachers have their coffee. I was… less cheerful. Bit by bit, Dan and I uncovered that Natalie was the only child in the entire elementary school in the entire course of its history to opt out of religion class, and the teachers didn’t know what to do with her other than send her out of the room. My heart thudded straight down onto our granite tiles.

I know all too well what it is to be the odd child out… the only kid at the grocery mid-morning, the only girl in our homeschool group wearing a jumper, the only teen not pledging for True Love Waits. I remember the icy sense of exposure and the sharp loneliness, and I’ve never, ever, evereverever wanted to subject my daughters to them. However, that’s exactly what I found myself doing that Friday, wielding religious principles that banished my six-year-old to the hallway.

I hurt all over for her, but Natalie was clearly not bothered by skipping class, so Dan and I didn’t push the issue. Instead, we talked to the teachers and arranged for her to join the other first-grade class while hers was doing religion. Some of the other parents overheard us, and the next Friday, Natalie was joined by a little boy. For all the countercultural drama we were putting her through, at least she was no longer alone.

The subject of religion class hasn’t really come up in the months since, but this morning, the little boy’s mother caught up with me after school drop-off. “Guess what I found!” she chirped, taking my arm as if this were the seventy millionth instead of the very first time we’d talked. (I immediately wanted to kick myself for not introducing myself sooner. Or, you know, at all.) “Looking through my son’s workbook, I found a little note he had written during religion hour: ‘Dear Natalie, you are beautiful!’” We laughed together, and I felt a little like crying and a little like skipping all at once. She asked about our church (evangelical), and I asked about theirs (Muslim), and it didn’t matter a single bit that some members of both our religions dedicate energy to hating each other. Our faiths didn’t affect our ability to be friends.

And yes, I know I’m realizing things all the time on this blog that are probably common sense to most people and it’s got to be irritating by now, but I realized in those three minutes of conversation that this is the lesson we’re teaching Natalie with our lives here. She and her classmates might not attend the same church, but our families’ homes are open to each other. We share meals and swap recipes and give each other’s children rides, and if I hadn’t been bracing myself so hard against alienation, I might have noticed sooner that there was no need. Our differences don’t prevent us from loving each other well. Our separate journeys with God don’t make us enemies. That this is even possible makes my soul giddy with hope, and I find myself grateful in a way I couldn’t have imagined last September that my daughter gets a front-row seat.

7Mar

Dormitory Night

When he’s away, I clean the kitchen at 10 p.m. The house sleeps around me while I sop up crumbs and shuttle coffee cups into the dishwasher, but my martyr act falters when I remember that shining counter tops have only ever been for myself. He would tell me to go to bed, so I do… once every accessible surface smells like lemon.

When he’s away, I make a nest of our bed, my bare toes wriggling puppy-joy under the covers, and settle in with late night guitars and peppermint tea. (More than one longing glance goes to the Chimay stash, but that’s ours, and some unwritten pacts are not to be broken.) I can never decide whether I relax best by reading or by writing, so I waltz between the two as minutes slip by in the lamplight.

When he’s away, I tell myself that this will be the time I take advantage of his absence—transform overnight into a monk and spin productivity out of the silent pre-dawn—but it never feels like an advantage at midnight when his side of the bed is still cold and I can’t remember how to sleep alone. I wait until the lowness of the hours makes my head spin. It’s the feeling of oxygen deprival, of dormitory nights.

When he’s away, I tuck a pillow under the covers where his chest would be and keep this contour of us, together warm until he’s home.

~~~

Those of you whose significant other travels frequently, how do you adjust in his or her absence?

 

6Mar

Loved Dizzy

New days don’t feel quite so new when I wake up muffled in allergies, my head packed with fiberglass wool. This blog entry probably couldn’t get any further from profound, but life right now involves gouging my eyes out on an hourly basis, and one of my aims for this year is to present myself as accurately as possible, so here you go:

Self-portrait with allergiesYou’re welcome.

In fact, I sounded like nothing so much as a hyperventilating goose last night on the phone with Rain, but that’s the thing about soul sisters—they don’t care if you sound (or look!) like a barnyard death scene or if your thoughts trip at the back of your throat and send your conversation skittering in a thousand directions. When you speak the same heart-language, conventional ones aren’t really all that essential… and this is how I see God the most clearly.

Have you heard of the 5 Love Languages theory which suggests that each person senses love primarily through one of five ways: affirming words, quality time, gifts, service, or touch? I can easily pinpoint the love-receptors of many of my friends and family, but my own falls outside the standard categories. I feel the most loved when I’m the most understood, when others can see my heart between the lines or untangle my intentions from their emotional trappings. I realize that this is a tall order for my dear ones, impossibly tall, because what I’m really asking for is intuition, and how can a kinship of heartbeats and brainwaves be engineered?

Yet impossibility has a way of coaxing miracles into the open, and the sweetest mystery of my life is that I do know love. I am heard and understood and loved dizzy by precious people all over the world, and it’s why I continue to write, to reach for the goodness that you all see in me. It’s also what stirs the embers of my relationship with the divine. I can’t attribute this meeting of souls to coincidence, and I can’t compartmentalize the life that flows between these other growing, glowing beings and myself. My heart has always recognized its kin.

So to each and every one of you who sees through the itching insulation, who hears through the honking, who understands through the far-strewn words, thank you. You are my own personal proof of light and Life, and it’s not just the spiky green pollen leaving me dizzy this morning; it’s realizing that you’ll read this and know exactly what I mean.

Soul sisters
 Selves-portrait by Rain, who always leaves me brimful

5Mar

Comeback

Over the weekend, a great galactic second hand shifted. The earth and sun paused to wink at each other just like they did one morning seven years ago,  and a not-so-little girl woke up to a sea of balloons.

I am tired, core tired. Between the grocery runs and party prep and Hello Kitty cake pops (making fondant is the culinary equivalent of a triathlon, I’ve discovered), keeping up with the old birthday traditions and latching onto new ones, ongoing dramas of who to invite and the tears of partied out guests and a parade of sugar-strewn days, this birthday business is a lot for one introvert mama to handle.

It’s such a good kind of tired though, this depletion from wholehearted love. I haven’t often had time for Natalie over the last year, so this weekend was a comeback of sorts—extravagant, unhurried hours poured entirely into celebrating her—and the gift of it was for us both.

7th birthday girl

Happy 7th, my girl.
Goodness, do I love you. 

28Feb

The Bramble Squad

Joining Seth and Amber again for Marriage Letters: I Knew You Loved Me When. It’s a tender topic for me this week, so please read gently.

~~~

Dear husband,

You’re probably not expecting another marriage post this week given our stalemate conversations over the past few days, and honestly, I wasn’t planning to write this either. Our decade together has been one long series of transitions, yes, but this, learning how to share an office as two dream-chasing freelancers, is a big one. It remaps our individual orbits, and the gravity of being so near each other so much of the time pulls issues out from under the tide-pools. We knew it would be like this, but we’re still taken by surprise when conversations take a nosedive into territory neither of us particularly wants to visit. When we’re down there, neck-deep in brambles, it’s hard to see what we’re doing as progress.

But do you remember all those hours we used to talk perched on the dryers at our university laundromat, and how one evening, you looked at me across the low rumble and I knew? You caught it in my eyes too, weeks later across a tiny restaurant booth, and I didn’t need to say anything. We loved each other, and we knew it.

Yesterday, when you walked in with bits of sky still reflected in your eyes, and I was head to toe in flour rolling gnocchi as a peace offering, we knew it again. Everything shifts when love is the perspective, doesn’t it? With one look, we remember that we’re teammates on the bramble-clearing squad and that this hard work is all part of landscaping our future. We love each other still, and knowing it helps us sweep the stalemate off the board and plop down on it to continue our conversation.

The dryers might have been comfier, but I’d rather be here, now.

Bethany

~~~

Previous letters here and here.

20Feb

Light Bulb

A difficult-to-replace light bulb in our dining room burned out this morning just as I was sitting down to teach an English lesson, and the day never really recovered its glow. Between heavy-handed clouds and a tricky relational situation, the hours slumped by with my mind sticking increasingly to the soles of my feet. Some days are just downers.

But you know, every time I catch myself brushing off a bad day as no more than a 24-hour inconvenience, gratefulness swoops the air from my lungs.

Nearly three years ago, I wrote the following journal entry:

I found a pocket of calm today, but it doesn’t suit me. It’s the kind of calm that comes from heartsickness rather than peace, and I can tell I’m not fooling anyone. I’m in a low place right now. Really staggeringly low. Last night in bed, I told Dan, “I can’t find my heart anymore,” then my eyes clamped shut. He whispered, “I miss you,” before falling asleep, and I lay awake most of the night feeling heavier than I thought was possible.

I see strange shadows inside my eyelids these days, as if everything familiar has become frightening. Writing requires me to rip words out of dental cavities, one at a time, and I don’t have the pain tolerance to finish what I manage to start. Smiling takes even more effort. I feel horribly alone, but I still crave loneliness. The freedom to hide. Not having to fake sanity for my family’s sake or to force insanity so someone will help me. I want a respite from the world’s problems, starting with my own brain. 

At least I put on makeup today in honor of Natalie’s birthday. That’s something.

Alzheimer’s runs in the female line of my family, and I’m bracing myself for the day when memories begin to trickle through my fingers, but no matter how many years I live or how many senses I lose over the course of them, I will never forget what it felt like to wake up suffocating, morning after pitch black morning. I will never forget the way depression tortured my mind into believing it wasn’t depression at all, only some mental inadequacy. I will never forget how bad days back then teetered on the serrations of a knife.

Today wasn’t one of those days, and for that, every inch of my muscle memory breathes gratitude. Today, a light bulb burned out, and the weather glowered, and I had a few frustrating conversations… but I had some great conversations too. I sat on my husband’s lap at the dinner table and grinned kisses to the delight of our children (and eternal embarrassment of our teenage house guest). I read stories with the girls and chased them shrieking around the house for tickle wars, and I tucked them well-loved into bed. I accomplished things that I’m proud of—you better believe that cleaning the kitchen is up there—and laughed often.

 Not a bad day

Bad day? I think not.

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