Using Marriage

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Eighteen years ago today, I was a young bride walking down the aisle to promise before God and everyone that I would “be true” to the man I’d fallen in love with “until death.”

Like most people, Ted and I can’t believe how the years since that day have flown.  How that day seems as though it were both a lifetime ago and only yesterday.

This got me to thinking about  what I would say to someone if they asked  what our “secret” is to staying married.  (For the record, no one has asked, but isn’t that why I blog?)

The first thought that came to mind is that I could point to two shining examples among many in our families.  This 18th year of marriage for us is bookmarked neatly between two other anniversary milestones in our families:  my parents’ 45th and his parent’s’ upcoming 50th.  Through our parents (and grandparents–Ted and I were dating at my grandparents’ 60th anniversary!), both of us have witnessed great examples of  how to struggle through the difficult times, suffer through the painful times, and celebrate the joyful times–always together.

I also always liked the answer I saw on a Dr. Phil episode once.  (Eye roll.  I know.  Dr. Phil).  Still, I thought it was a good answer.  He said a woman who’d been married 60 years was asked what her secret was, she said, “I guess we never fell out of love at the same time.”  I think there’s truth to that, too.  Even if it’s a little depressing to think about.

Most recently though, I’ve come across an answer I like best as it best fits Ted and I.  It was a story about how in the Orthodox faith there is first a civil ceremony that is celebrated in the public arena for all to see, and it’s followed by a second sacramental ceremony.

You do not have to do the second ceremony.

But in order to celebrate it, you have to make a choice to enter into it.

The article said that the second ceremony is the celebration of the choice to have that marriage, which is already a marriage, “crowned by the wisdom, glory and meaning of the cross of Christ.”

Now, as a Catholic, I could argue that because our wedding took place in a Catholic church, where marriage is taught as and considered a sacrament, that Ted and I made that choice and had the public and the sacramental marriages combined into one.  And it wouldn’t be entirely untrue.  But, if I’m really honest, the truth for me is that I wasn’t thinking about any of that back then.  I was thinking about how much I liked wearing my white dress, how neat my manicure turned out, and how fun our reception was going to be.

I wasn’t thinking about sacraments  (or even God for that matter), much at all.

But, I believe that somewhere in our eighteen years, we’ve both made the decision to enter into that second ceremony.

Through the years we have “washed each other’s feet” in service to one another.  (Not literally.  I don’t do feet.  But you get the gist).  We have celebrated the “eucharist” of marriage by taking, blessing, breaking and giving parts of ourselves to each other in ways that only two people who have trust, and faith and love for God, for each other, and for themselves can do.  And we have taken parts of ourselves that we’ve  loved and we’ve witnessed their painful “crucifixion”.  We have struggled, and suffered and let parts of us die for the betterment of the other.  For the betterment of the two of us over the one.  And while one was suffering an inner crucifixion, the other of us has stood by as witness, holding on to faith, standing by in hope, and letting go in love, trusting the process for the other, willing them on to endure the pain to witness the healing and joys of a “resurrection,” a new life, on the other side.

For me, the answer to staying married is to be willing to go “all the way.”  Now, to any 20-year-old that expression has a very shallow meaning and can be complete in a five-minute interlude on the wedding night (or in many cases before).

But, for me, our only “secret” to a lasting marriage is that each of us, in our own way, and in our own time, has made the choice to use our marriage and enter the Mystery.

Marriage as the Mystery of the Cross.

Marriage as the Mystery of Christ.

Marriage as the Mystery of Love that is God.

Marriage as a daily choice.

It may not be what you were looking for.  It may not sound romantic.

But, after 18 years, that’s the only “secret” I have to offer.

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When God is Silent

I’ve been uneasy lately.

This time of year is always difficult for me, and I can never put my finger on why that is exactly. I think it’s a combination of nostalgia for all the days and years gone by as the kids grow so quickly, mixed with excitement for the wide-open calendar of summer and all the various activities we’ll likely fill those days with.

It’s also a time of year where, very often for me, God goes silent.

Or I get too busy to hear.

Or both.

Today, I felt there was only one solution.  I took a walk along  Baxter’s and my favorite trails this morning for the first time since my solo memorial walk after his death.  It was muggy, warm and overcast, as we are expected to get rain later today.  But God has been silent around here, and so I went off looking for him in the places that I used to hear him best–nature.  Immediately as my feet took to walking, I heard the call of the birds, I saw wildflowers blooming, and I thought of all the miles Bax and I covered along those trails as I huffed and puffed my way through the hills and valleys.

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Before Baxter, I was never really one for the great outdoors.  I was content to slide my thermostat from the warmth of 68 degrees for the winter to the refreshingly cool 72 degrees of summer.  It wasn’t until I had Bax that I suddenly had a reason to be outside every single day, even if only for a moment sometimes.   Because let’s face it, with a dog, getting outside is necessary.  This morning, it was time to admit to myself that I’d been avoiding walks ever since his death.  Without Baxter (or at least without having another dog) the walks seemed pointless somehow.  And I suppose there was at least a small part of me that felt like I’d be betraying him if I walked his favorite trails without him.  Still, God had fallen silent and it had reached a point that I knew I’d need to get back out into nature in order to hear him again.

It didn’t take long.

As I felt the warm breeze on my face, I was reminded of the fiery, windy, breath-filled Spirit of God of Pentecost (which we celebrated this past weekend).  As I stepped into the shade under the canopy of trees on the hills, I was reminded of St. Catherine’s meditation, and I thought about my life and how the Tree of Me must look.  As the sun beat down on me in the wide-open blacktop as I passed over the parking lot, I remembered that this is still  the same sun– so many thousands of years later– that shined for Noah after the flood, working with the sky to make a rainbow of God’s promise that the world would never be destroyed.  (This took my thoughts to animals going in two by two, of course, and I was reminded again of Bax.)  I suddenly realized, though, that while I missed my walking partner terribly, I was happy to have my feet moving again.  The whole process this morning seemed to be nature’s way of saying that things must change.  Life is moving on, and I can either go with it, or resist it, but it’s moving on all the same.

It’s an easy decision.

I’m going with it.

And as I heard the birds calling to each other in the treetops, and watched the squirrels hurried movements up and down the trees, I remembered that while I can get caught up in my head with all kinds of to-do lists and nostalgia and plans for the future, the truth is,  life is always only happening right now.

Yours and mine.

And I took a deep breath.

And I felt the silence.

And I breathed in nature’s perfume.

And I remembered I AM.

My Blog Posts…They are a-Changin’

Oh, boy. Looks like I fell off the blogging wagon again.

*sigh*

I apologize.

I gotta tell you, this blogging thing? It ain’t for sissies.

I must confess that after a year of blogging, taking the time to write is still sometimes harder than I think it should be.  But that being said,  last Lent when I suddenly got a wild hair to blog every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I thought my ability to do that would last forever!

Still, alas, here we are,  a full week gone by without an entry.  (And I still have no real idea what to say.)  But the bigger issue is that I’m finding I don’t really want to make the time right now to do it.  Blog, I mean.

But please know this:  it’s not because of you.

It’s because the kids’ school years are winding down, and their activities are winding up, and I find myself twisting in the wind trying to hold on to every moment between now and their final day before celebrating their summer freedom, and lamenting that another year has come and gone so quickly.  You know, just like I do every year.

SO, on that note, I want to say that I am realizing I can’t keep up the pace of a thrice-a-week blog right now.  (Or I just don’t want to.)  Either way, I’m only committing to one post a week for a while.

I hope you understand.

And because I like to try not to leave my readers hanging (but mostly because I need to have a commitment in order to fill it) let’s say from this point forward to look for my blog on Mondays and I’ll let you know if that doesn’t work for me down the road, OK?

Whew!  Glad to have that cleared up!

In other news, I have to tell you what I was so excited to come across last weekend.  It’s one of the BEST things about moving out here to good ol’ PA.  It’s a massive book sale held once a year at our local college campus.  And for the past two years I have totally SCORED at this sale!

I have such a good time there, that I just walk in and march my little ol’ self up to the religion section, and I start throwing books in my bag.  I hardly have to even think about it…you know why?  Because the books are DIRT CHEAP!  (And by dirt cheap I mean if it’s $3.00, I may just put it back!)

Here are the great books that will keep me company this year, from the sale:

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They cost me a whopping $29.50.

I know!  (Try not to be jealous.)

Anyway, I get so excited about all I find there that I seldom realize how different my “favorite” selections are from those of my younger years.   I’m no longer among the people clamoring for the best sellers.  (In fact, it’s likely I’ve not even heard of them!)  Which may just explain why I’ve been asked on a few occasions  (usually by someone while I’m waiting at the doctor’s office) if I’m reading the book for a class.  (I guess they mean as in college?)  (If so, I’m certain they must think I’m back in school…not in it for the first time!)  Anyway, it’s happened enough times that I’m not as surprised by the inquiry as much now, and I just usually laugh and say, “Nope.  I’m just a big nerd.”  Which usually makes them laugh and we can both just move on from the awkwardness of the moment.

Since that is my “normal” experience,  I was tickled by the response of the older gentleman running the register (OK, it’s really just a calculator) at the book sale as I was checking out at last weekend’s book fair.   He’d either read them and loved them, or really wanted to read them, it seemed.   I couldn’t help but smile at his comments as he was ringing up my tab.   He marveled over and over at what great books I had found.   (Clearly he was a kindred spirit and not just “blowing smoke” as he’d not seemed nearly as fascinated with the previous person’s finding of Raising Cats and Household Handyman.)  No.  He seemed genuinely astonished at all my finds as he put the last book in the bag for me.   I think  it was in an effort to try to understand his and my “reading connection” that made him ask, “Are you in school?”  I chuckled a little but his question caught me a bit off guard.  He’d asked it differently than I’d been asked before, not just in his wording, but also in his tone.  He really seemed like he wanted to know.  (Any past inquiries had all been veiled ways of saying, “That book looks so boring you must be reading it for a class.”)  I was just as curious and impressed as he that we had these books in common.  So how should I answer?

I thought for a moment and flashed him my biggest smile.

“Well…just the School of Life,” I said.

And he smiled then, too.  Understanding, it seemed.

“Ahh…the School of Life, ” he said, “I like that.  The School of Life.”

It wasn’t until I walked away, still thinking about that moment, that I realized the Absolute Truth in my response.

Random Quotes from the Book I’m Reading Now

In an effort to follow through on my one word for 2013 of “Simplify,” I’m reading another book by one of my favorite spiritual authors, Richard Rohr, called Simplicity:  The Freedom of Letting Go.

The title alone is telling, but in classic Rohr style, his words bring not only a sense of peace, but also unrest.  Often at the same time.

From my reading this weekend, here are some of the thoughts he shares that stood out to me and had me either screaming with a resounding “YES!” or thinking, “Oh, boy.  I’d not thought of it like that before.”  In either case, his words resonated with me, on a very  deep level, and have given me much to think about as I continue to try to simplify not just from the standpoint of trying to simplify my life more by going “without,”  but also by taking a good look and “cleaning house” on my life from “within.”

From Richard Rohr’s Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go:

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  • First you agree to give yourself, and then you will understand it, not the other way around.
  • Don’t be afraid!  Fear comes from a need to control.  And we are not in control anyway.
  • When Jesus healed the sick people, he always said:  “Your faith has made you whole.”  He never said, “Your correct doctrine, your orthodoxy, your dogmatism have healed you.”
  • That is the problem of the soul.  I have to do my work and leave the judgment to God.
  • Jesus is a person and at the same time a process.  Jesus is the Son of God, but at the same time he is “the Way.”  He’s the goal, but he’s also the means, and the means is always the way of the cross.
  • The way of the cross looks like a way of failure.
  • The way inward demands that you build bridges with your own soul.  But anyone who builds a bridge always runs the danger of being trampled from both sides, of being misunderstood by both sides.

And finally, I will close with my personal favorite:

  • We become like the God we adore.

Happy Monday, all!

Making the Grade

A few weeks ago in my bible study group, we read and reflected on the story of the rich young man in the gospel of Matthew.

If you’re not familiar with this story, I’ll warn you now, it can be unsettling.  Especially for those of you who are, like me, all caught up in our First World problems.

The story goes like this:

Now someone approached [Jesus] and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?”  He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good.  If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”  He asked him, “Which ones?” And Jesus replied, “ ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother’; and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

I, too, have many possessions.

I may not have as many as my neighbor.  Or some of my friends.  Or Oprah.  But I have many.  Clearly, more than I need. (Otherwise why would I have missed blogging last week to have a garage sale?)

So, it’s easy to think that there’s no hope for anyone who has many possessions.  But when my group was reading this story in my bible study class, another story came to my mind that I thought had a similar message.  It’s a story about my brother, who is a college professor (having grown up with him and his antics, I have to stifle laughter when I say “brother” and “professor” in the same breath, but it’s true!)   And he’s a professor who has earned his job through a lot of sacrifice, hard work, and discipline.  He’s a professor of graphic design at a distinguished art school and he’s passionate about his work and his teaching. He’s worked long hard hours to hone the skills he both uses and teaches.  And like any great teacher, he is also always learning.

For some reason, as I read the story of the rich young man, I remembered this story my brother told me during one of his first years of teaching.  It was about a young girl who’d come up to him with a question about the grade she’d received on her project.  As my brother began to critique her work and explain to her the ways in which she would need to improve her skills in future projects, she interrupted him with a loud sigh and said (carrying with her a certain attitude and air of having lived a life full of only getting what she wants),  “Just tell me what I need to do to get an A!”

My brother looked at her and smiled and said, “Unless you change your attitude, you already can’t get higher than a B.”

My brother’s message to his student, and Jesus’ message to the young man, I think, are one in the same: change your heart.  To be an artist you need to be willing to take on the heart of an artist.  That means going to the tender, rawest parts of yourself, and offering them up in the form of art to others.  It also means exposing yourself to others’ criticism.  You must also keep in mind that your work and who you are not necessarily one in the same, but that you will not discover the artist in you  unless you make yourself vulnerable to criticism.

In a similar way, as Christians, we are called to take on the heart of Jesus.  This means allowing our own hearts to change.  We must examine  how we feel about ourselves, observe our actions, and examine our possessions.   And we must allow God to critique them all.

Just like the girl in my brother’s story, I think it’s easy for us to want to know what we have to do to get the Christian equivalent of an A: eternal life in heaven.  And in the essence of the question posed by the girl and the rich young man is the truth of what we’re really asking:  what’s the minimum I have to do to get the best grade possible?  Or, what’s the minimum amount I need to change in order for me to get into heaven?  In both stories, the teacher is quick to point out that to become what we’re trying to become, we need to do more than just follow a rubric, we need to be willing to give up everything we believe about who we are, and what we are capable of.   And for the artist, it is in that most vulnerable state of deep inner offering, that her best works are created.

And for the Christian?

For the Christian, it is in that most vulnerable state of emptiness and void– detached from all earthly things– that we are finally able to discover the eternal Being that lives within us all.

Something’s Gotta Give

May day!  May day!

Yes, it is the first of May.  And my introductory shout is both a celebration of that long-lost holiday of putting out flowers on doorsteps for others, and also that call of desperation we hear from captains of the air and sea when they are in trouble, and their ship or their plane is out of control.

Today I feel both a reason to celebrate, and a need to get my “ship” back in control.

The most obvious celebration in our household today is for my middle son, who turns 11.  Eleven!  As usual, my mind screams where did the time go?  It seems like only a few years at most that my husband and I were celebrating both the blessing and the bewilderment of having a second  healthy boy (11 pounds and 6 ounces of healthiness to be exact!) Still, celebrating him and the young man he’s rapidly growing up to be is so much to celebrate!

Then, there’s my call for help.  It’s to get me out of my own mess.  I keep reminding myself these are really and truly only problems faced by people privileged enough to live in First World countries like the good ol’ US of A.  So, please know that as I complain, I am also grateful.

The last month or two for me has been a ton of ridiculousness of volunteer activities and the like.  Not to mention anything that can go wrong seemed to go wrong for my husband at work, which meant later than usual nights for him as well.  It all ended last weekend in a big hurrah when I decided (only about a week beforehand) that being part of our neighborhood garage sale was also something I should do.

That makes perfect sense when you’re already exhausted from too much chauffeuring of kids to lessons and activities, volunteer commitments at their schools, and not disappointing the tens of people who look forward to my thrice-a-week blog.

Yes, when better to do a garage sale?  Oh, and a lemonade and bake sale put on by the neighborhood kids, along with my kids.  At my house.

Of course, I should do that, too!

So, Friday was a flurry of activity here trying to set up and price items for Saturday’s sale.  (No time for blogging that day).  Saturday morning the doorbell rang at ten to eight with the neighborhood kids raring to go. (Not entirely unrelated to my whole theme of the post today, their sale was *mostly* for charity–they each kept $5–and they ended up raising over $50 for Autism Speaks, so their story, too had a great ending!)

Anyhoo, then there was me, bleary-eyed and staring through the steam on my mug of hot green tea as I opened the garage door and the car loads of bargain shoppers swooped in.  And,  while most of the whole sale is a blur, I do remember this:  I remember having to use the calculator for a woman who was buying $6.70 worth of clothes and miscellany because she gave me a $10 bill.

I know.

(I know.)

As I slowly punched the numbers in she blurted out, “$3.30My change is $3.30!”

Yes, I know monkeys can do math better than I do.  But, my question is, can they do it on about four hours of sleep and with so many distractions going on around them?  My garage was full of people milling about and every other second one of the kids was asking me a question!   Anyway, luckily for me,  at the moment she told me what her change should be, my calculator simultaneously concurred.

And that’s when I realized I had no dimes or nickels for change.  (I’d planned on only pricing things in quarters, but obviously changed my plan without consulting my brain).

Lovely.

Anyway, it all worked out.  I told the lady to take the two 10 cent items for free.  She quietly thanked me and then, very kindly went to her car and returned with a dollar and 20 cents worth of dimes to not only pay for the two 10 cent items, but to also provide me with future dimes for change.

What is my point, you wonder?

I have no idea.  (I’m still really tired and it’s now Wednesday).

Which kind of is my point.  I had reached a point where nothing much was making sense at all anymore.  Why was I doing all this volunteering?  Why was I adding more things to do to an already overworked brain and body?  Why was I continuing to say yes to things, even though the most obvious answer should have been to say no?

I’m still not entirely certain, but I do know this:  no matter how hard we try to do everything and then some, we all have a breaking point. And at that point something’s gotta give. And, unfortunately, in my life, that usually means my husband and my kids have to put up with a tired, cranky wife and mother.

Sound familiar?

I wish I had a better answer.  All I know for sure is that along with my kids and husband, I suffered for taking on so much.  I didn’t want to be grumpy.  I didn’t want to be so tired.  And I didn’t want to be doing anything on the weekend besides enjoying my family (which I was not at all able to do because of all my “yeses” to other things).

So, when Monday came, I worked all day on some of the other volunteer things I’d committed to doing, and as I was able to cross more and more off my list,  I started to feel a sense of peace.  (Even though I had to sacrifice the blog again to get them done).  I started prioritizing and making a punch list.  Tackling one thing at a time.  And bit by bit my load has lightened.  And I have found stillness and peace and quiet again.

And yesterday, there in the stillness at the bottom of all of it, was God.  Waiting.  Holding it all up with me (or for me).  Reminding me that every decision I make impacts others.

Every decision.

It’s how I’ve come to understand what Catholics call “original sin.”  Our decisions have a ripple effect: on ourselves, on God, and on others, even  through the generations.

It’s a tough row to hoe, knowing this.

Still.

There is hope!  And my hope comes from knowing this:  that the ripple effect is also true of our good deeds, when we follow the promptings of the Spirit.  I remember having a conversation with my priest at my last parish in Wisconsin, and he told me that following the Spirit is like throwing stones into a pond.  We let the Spirit carry out our work like ripples on the water…and sometimes?  Sometimes, they touch something and bounce back to us!

And that’s why I have hope.  Because, while I know that my crabbiness and crankiness has a ripple effect, I believe that my good deeds do, too.  Otherwise, why would the lady who was only minutes earlier yelling at me about her change (and hinting–not so subtly– at my idiocy) return with not only payment for items I’d offered her for free, but also with change to spare?

It’s the miracle of mercy.

And it is why I have hope that when my earthly life is over, those who have known me will  remember me not for the stained and blotted effects of my thoughtless,  hurried and sometimes cruel choices, but rather that they will feel their hearts flooded by the loving and heartfelt goodness that comes from the light of the Spirit within me.

Because it shines in us all!

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”  John 1:5