Day 40: Twenty Years Later

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If you have made it this far in the “40 Day Challenge: 20th Anniversary Edition,” you discovered that I made it only a little over half-way before the previous edition kicked in.

There’s a reason for that. Though I didn’t originally intend to drop the ball, at a certain point I realized that I had to choose between getting the series done by Easter … and or take one for the team and admit that I didn’t have the bandwidth to do both this and everything else.

While perseverance is an important part of marital success, I’ve also found that finishing something just to say that you’ve finished it is not always a good thing. Whether it’s a trashy novel or a frost-bitten half-pint of Ben and Jerry’s, there are times when it’s really, truly okay NOT to persevere.

In twenty years of marriage, I’ve discovered that our capacities — whether physical, mental, or financial — change, and often shrink. At sixty-four, my husband’s energy stores quickly become depleted when he attempts to work several twenty-hour days in succession. I’ve found my sense of humor grows equally in short supply when attempting to be everywhere and do everything at once.

For both of us, when we try to be and do too much, one of the first things that suffers is our relationship. He becomes loquacious, I become irritable. We retreat to opposite ends of the house, instead of meeting in the middle (after the kids and my mother turn in) for a cuddle. And don’t even get me started on what this does to the sex life.

Middle age is a time of transition, a time to dig deep in the storehouse of wisdom that we’ve acquired over time and with experience. So, in closing, I’d like to offer this one last “Prayer of Abandonment: Twenty-Year Edition.”

My darling,

Let us continue to abandon ourselves, come what may,

not knowing what the future holds, but confident in the One who does.

Let us be ready for inevitable change, and lingering struggles.

Let us say “I do” to each other, over and over and over again.

I offer you all that I am, and all that I have,

to claim or ignore or appropriate, as needed.

Let the love that we have continue to grow,

and to reflect in some small way the Perfection

to which we try to surrender ourselves, body and soul,

until at last we see the Glory.

 St. Charles de Foucauld, pray for us.

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Day 3: Acceptance

40 day challenge 20th

Welcome to the third day of the challenge!

Did you remember to start the day with the Prayer of Abandonment”? If not, go ahead . . . I’ll wait.

Starting today, we will take up the “heart” of the challenge by focusing each day on a quality or charism that is essential to a happy marriage. You’ll find that (more or less) I’ve arranged them in alphabetical order. (If you think I’ve missed any, go ahead and shout it out in the comments!)

Today’s theme is “acceptance.”  (We got a bit of a head start yesterday, but it’s such an important part of marriage I don’t think a little review will hurt!)

Watching my mother decline — particularly mentally, as her dementia intensifies — I’ve often made the mistake that many caregivers struggle with, arguing with her when her version of reality doesn’t align with mine. This is particularly hard when her version causes her great anguish or fear. But as I’ve turned to others who have been where we are now, they all say the same thing: When you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. This means being gentle and empathetic as you guide them to whatever it is you need them to do.

We all need to be understood, to feel as though someone really “gets” what we are going through. This, too, is a form of acceptance. Even when we hate the choices our loved one makes, and are forced to bear the consequences as well, being able to put ourselves in the shoes of that other person can make all the difference in our ability to love.

Think about your husband, and all he is and does for you. What can you do to practice the gift of acceptance?

Teresa-21

Are you enjoying this Lenten series? Please support the effort if possible by picking up a copy of Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta. Thank you!

St. Benedict’s Rule of Love

kissesOne of the great blessings of living in South Bend, Indiana is the terrific group of women I’ve met at the St. Joseph Parish, through their once-a-month “Prayer on the Porch.” Most of these women have young children at home AND a full-time job, and so I look forward to these Thursday evening meetings every month. Bonding over a glass of wine and some form of chocolate, I feel like I’ve found my “tribe.” We don’t always get together between meetings, but it feels good to connect.

At our meeting last night, our leader was telling us about Seven Principles for Marking Marriage Work by Dr. John Gottman, who talks about the “love maps” that each of us needs to create and continually update as we explore the intimately connected relationship of marriage. No matter where you are in your relationship, or how you experience conflict (as bashing heads or stoic stonewalling or something in between), the key to conflict resolution really does boil down to cultivating one of the key virtues of Christian living: humility, the perfect antidote to pride, the “prince” of all vices.

Although he was writing to his brothers, rather than married couples, St. Benedict’s teaching on the “twelve degrees of humility,” of the steps that lead to the conversion of the human heart, is applicable whether that turning is toward God . . . or toward another human being. They include:

  • Possessing the fear of God, as a means to living intentionally, with priorities straight.
  • Seeking God’s will above all. How many conflicts would dissolve instantly with five simple words: “Let’s try it your way”?
  • Embracing the liberating gift of obedience, rooting out small compromises and practicing restraint.
  • Accepting hardships, seeing each sacrifice as an opportunity to die a little more to vanity each day.
  • Actively seek reconciliation, to forgive and be forgiven.
  • Practice contentment. Exercise patient endurance, suspend judgment and wait for clarity.
  • Model openness. Use some of the energy reserved to protect ourselves to reach out.
  • Refrain from insisting on one’s own way. Stubbornness is pride’s ugly sister.
  • Refrain from giving unsolicited advice. Take up instead the quest for self-knowledge, stripping away our personal illusions in pursuit of the real.
  • Do not be driven by passions. Feelings are fleeting. Truth is not.
  • Practice gentle living. The refusal to compete in a way that makes our self-worth depend on someone else’s failure.
  • Be genuine in your dealings with God and others. Seek God through the pursuit of stillness, stripping away the constant and meaningless noise around us. In this way we gain a useful perspective of who we are, and how we fit in God’s plan.

Which of these presents the greatest challenge to you?

31 Days of De-Stressed Living, Day 15: Kiss Me!

ballroom image“Mom! I need my love banks filled!”

The declaration is never entirely unexpected; I can usually read the symptoms: Grumpy, Snarky, Snippy, and all the other objectionable little dwarves take up residence, and the only thing that will drive them out of my kids is a systematic foot massage with corresponding breaks for butterfly kisses, “face tracing,” back rubs, and silly songs.

The truth is, the kids aren’t the only ones with love banks in need of filling. The dwarves come to visit when the adults in our house don’t get the recommended dosage of TLC. When we first met, my husband and I belonged to the University of Michigan Ballroom Dance Club. Every Sunday night he would twirl me around the dance floor in waltz, salsa, West Coast Swing, or cha-cha.

That was fifteen years ago. Swing Girl is pretty much all swung out . . . so is Swing Guy. But Flirt Girl is alive and well, and sometimes what her “love banks” need most is … “Kiss me!”

Not wining and dining. Not a chick flick marathon. Nothing strenuous. Just a cuddle and a twirl. And, yes, That Kiss.

My favorite kind of de-stressing.

#lovebanks

 

“What Dreams May Come”: when feelings are bigger than life

what dreams may comeOne of my favorite “Hollywood” treatments of the afterlife is What Dreams May Come, with Robin Williams and Cuba Gooding. Williams plays a doctor, his wife an artist. When their two children are killed in a car accident, he and his wife are barely able to come to terms with their death before another tragedy occurs that separates the two of them. The rest of the movie, reminiscent of Ghost, is about love that transcends even death.

Years ago, I had an author friend Charlie Shedd. I would sit on the glider on the back porch with him and he would regale me with stories of his Martha, how even after she died he would catch a memory of her that was so strong, it was like she was still there, coming out of the bathroom in her favorite robe, or sitting on the glider in her natty yellow sweater. I never knew Martha, but somehow when he described her to me, it was as if I’d known her all my life.

Today on Facebook, I came across countless wedding pictures of couples celebrating their anniversaries — ten years, fifteen, twenty or more. Each looks so young and vibrant, so hopeful. Each a moment frozen in time, before “real life” sets in — for better or worse.

And as I looked at those pictures, and again as I watch this movie, I am reminded of one of the greatest gifts of marriage; how in the boat of family life, one is the anchor, the other the sails. And when that boat is rocked by waves of uncertainty, they provide for each other that safe haven.

This is the self-gift of marriage; not simply the unbridled joy, but the unbridled pain as well.

The Confession (The Love Project, Day 34)

confessionalToday I was editing an essay by Father Mike Schmitz about what it’s like to hear confession. He observed that hearing confessions is one of his favorite parts of being a priest because he gets to witness people returning to God, to receive and respond to his love for them.

He has a point. Not long before I was married, I remember driving out to an old country parish. The church had seen better days. The floorboards were noticeably lighter than the pews, from so much foot traffic. A wisened old priest slowly made his way into the middle compartment of the ancient old confessional.

There was no one else in the sanctuary, which was just fine with me. I figured I was going to in there for a while. I was fairly inexperienced as confessions went, and I figured that — since I was getting married — this would be the time when I “cleared the slate” on some old business. A good deal of it wasn’t, technically speaking, sinful. More like “baggage” – the accumulated baggage of close to two decades of single adulthood. Heartache. Brokenness. Regret. Anxiety. I’m not sure how long I was there, getting it all off my chest. But when i stopped speaking . . . there was silence on the other side of the screen. Nervously I waited. Had I shocked the elderly priest? Or had he falled asleep?

As it turns out, neither. “Oh, my daughter,” he began. With a voice full of gentle compassion, he reminded me of the Father who had never left me alone, who had seen my struggle and wept with me in my pain.

Then he blessed me, and sent me off to begin my new life with Craig. There were still plenty of bags to unpack, but the messiest ones were in the hands of God.

Today’s Love in Action: Do you have any relational regrets that you cannot seem to let go of? A clean slate is only a confession away!

A Husband’s Love (The Love Project, Day 27)

“So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, yet they seemed to him like a few days because of his love for her.”

Genesis 29:20

This week I’ve been reflecting on “love” passages in Scripture. In this Old Testament love story, two sisters vie for the affections of an ambitious young suitor. One, Leah, has “dull eyes” — is not as physically attractive as her younger sister, Rachel, whose bright eyes drew Jacob like fireflies to a porchlight. And yet, by the end of the story it is Leah who produces one son after another. There was more to her than met the eye.

Jacob labored fourteen years to get his heart’s desire . . . And in time, his heart expanded to include the woman who remained faithful, no matter what.

Today’s Love in Action: rachelleahDo you ever feel your husband’s affections are divided? Not with another person, perhaps — maybe it’s his work, his family, his church obligations. Have his eyes “dulled” over the years? What does Leah’s story say to you?