“All the Days of My Life” – a guest post by my husband, Chris

“All the Days of My Life” – a guest post by my husband, Chris

Today – May 23, 2018 – my husband Chris and I celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. About a month ago, I asked my beloved if he’d like to write something about marriage for my blog to mark this occasion, and I was delighted when he said yes. The final product is a gift that exceeded all of my hopes and expectations, and I am both humbled and overjoyed to be sharing it with you.

 

All the days of my life

In our first week of dating, attending an inaugural ball for President Clinton’s second inauguration. January 1997.

The first 7,304

It never occurred to me that marrying Gretchen was a choice.  Truly, it was no more a decision than it was whether to draw another breath.  I suppose I could have put it off, but then I’d eventually pass out and start again.  Breathing that is.  But you get the point.

We were engaged ten months after our first date and wed six months later. It didn’t seem fast because marrying her was the most natural thing I have ever done.  I had also been brought up to believe that’s how it should be. Blessed to be born into a family overrun with happy marriages, my mother used say that “you just know it when you know it.”  It was a uniquely unsatisfying, irretrievably irrational and absolutely accurate piece of wisdom, and I never doubted.

I gave little real thought to how “just knowing it” would feel.  But when I fell in love with Gretchen, I remember having a sense of peace that I hadn’t known before.  It was the kind of serenity that comes when you flow effortlessly in the stream of life.  I recall thinking calmly to myself,

“So this is her. The love of my life.  I knew she’d be smart.  Glad she’s pretty. Figured she’d be blonde.”

And I exhaled, as if I had been holding a small measure of my breath for the better part of 24 years.

Of course we did have some difficulties which were also learning experiences.  To this day, our biggest fight came as newlyweds setting up our first apartment.  The Great Spice Rack Dispute will live on in family lore for decades to come.  Well it should as a tale rife with lessons about life.

The facts of the matter, as stipulated by the parties, are these: Gretchen wanted the spice rack concealed in a cabinet so the kitchen wouldn’t look messy.  I preferred the spices visible and within arm’s reach.  Needless to say, it’s a miracle our marriage survived.

I recollect nothing of what was said but I remember it being explosive, at least by our standards.  I think I even left the condo that night, coming back a little later.  After all, my magnificent dog, Crash, was still there.

When the dust settled, we spoke about what had happened.  It turns out that Gretchen was actually not arguing about the spice rack’s precise location. Instead, I learned that she had a lifetime of plans and ideas about how to create a home; that these notions were an extension of her identity; that our disagreement seemingly threatened our very being as well as endangering all manner of critically important, authentically valid, truly emotional and deeply-held thoughts about herself, me and our new life together.

And for my part, I was arguing about where to put the spice rack.

May 23, 1998.

An important lesson to this day, I understand that the real cause of most conflicts usually has little to do with the ostensible terms of the debate.  That is, it’s easy to confuse the symptom with the illness and growth in our marriage has usually come from focusing on underlying issues.

That said, we have developed a few everyday strategies to avoid unnecessary flare-ups.  These include:

  1. No discussing anything after 10pm. Not the kids, not tomorrow’s schedule, not rainbows, not unicorns.  No matter how seemingly innocuous, a late day conversation is about 500 times more likely to end poorly and/or stupidly.
  2. No mind reading. And no demands for telepathy.  We try not to conjure up each other’s thoughts and if we want something, we need to say it.
  3. Always assume the best intentions. We want the best for each other.  Our frustrations are usually borne of a lack of understanding rather than an absence of love.
  4. No quinoa. Ever.  I’ve forgiven Gretchen for knowingly eating Grape Nuts, but there’s a limit.  Quinoa is bad for a marriage, your soul and for America.

Most importantly, over the years we’ve found that approximately 99.3% of our issues are not between us as a couple, but within us as individuals.  Gretchen brings out my better qualities, but she doesn’t rid me of my flaws.  I still bring me into every situation.

That’s one of the many reasons spiritual growth has become part of our life together.  We don’t always approach it in the same way, nor do we have to.  For instance, Gretchen is a Catholic convert.  Her kind can be found singing during Mass and probably sitting upfront being all attentive and holy.  On the other hand, I was raised Philadelphia Irish Catholic, so my brand of religion involves telling jokes during funerals.

Such superficialities aside, we both care deeply about growing personally and growing as a couple.  Early on, especially when we were finding our own way, we stepped on each other a few times.   But we have accepted that our spiritual paths run alongside each other, each meandering at its own pace, sometimes crossing, sometimes in parallel, always moving the same direction. And that works for us.

When reflecting on marriage, it’s easy to dwell on the bumps in the road.  I think doing so misses the joy in it all. After all, perfection is a fine thought, but it means that there is no further growth, no greater joy, nothing more to be revealed. I’m in no hurry.

The fact is that our problems are really just challenges, and our challenges are really just worries. The worries, trifles.  Job stress, busy schedules, not enough time for all the people we care about.  Each and every one just a reflection of some wonderful blessing in our lives.

I often need to remind myself of that great truth and to bask in profound gratitude for having been given such a beautiful, intelligent, loving woman with whom I can greet life.  Gretchen is my greatest blessing.

When we married, I promised to love and honor Gretchen all the days of my life. Great days do adorn our past, but the best lay yet ahead.  And as each has passed over the last twenty years, I remain forever overwhelmed.

Kids Driving You Nuts? Make ‘Em Laugh.

Kids Driving You Nuts? Make ‘Em Laugh.

Can you make your kids laugh?

Allow me to rephrase.

Do you make your kids laugh?

I am not widely considered to be a funny person, but I have found that making my kids laugh is one of the most underrated joys of parenthood.

It also happens to be the perfect antidote for my own bad moods.

We’re a little more than halfway through spring break and the kids are very PRESENT. With me 24-7. And I’m an introvert. I REALLY like my time alone.

You can see the potential for conflict here.

But lately, I’ve been reminded of a delightful truth: grace can even take the form of humor.

When I’m my most cranky and selfish – the moments when I want to go hide in a long bath, read my novel, and paint my toenails over and over again – those are the times when I find that humor helps the most.

And how does a non-funny woman become a comic for her kids?

I do something out of character.

A case in point: I have been known to dab for laughs.

I know, I know – it’s a 2015 move. (I think?) It’s not au courant. Cam Newton and the rest of the cool people have moved on. But that’s why it’s funny.

Do things your kids think you don’t know about in an untimely fashion (and out of the sight of their friends) and they’ll think you’re hilarious.

A few weeks back, it was just me and my two boys at dinner. The conversation was not award-winning and my mood could generally be described as testy, so to counter its effects I did the unthinkable – I dropped my fork and punctuated a sentence with a dab.

Four eyebrows were raised.

“Mom?!” they asked incredulously as I went back to eating.

“What’s up with you?!” I asked them, dropped the fork again, and jerked my arms back toward the ceiling.

They started to choke in fits of giggles. So I kept it up, telling them about something (I don’t even remember what), and ending each sentence with the trademark move.

Milk and water were snorted and tomato sauce spilled on the floor.

Silliness won the day.

And grace won too.

Like so many adults, I get caught up in my thoughts rather than allow myself to just move freely from one moment to the next, embracing the possible spark of joy that each moment holds.

I spend so much time considering the past or ruminating on the future that I miss the NOW.

So this spring break, I’m trying to allow humor to work its magic, because the joy I give to others bounces back and rejuvenates me.

My youngest is whining and says he’s bored, and man, I hate it when he does that. I tackle him as he walks by me, pin him to the floor, and tickle him until he shrieks in laughter.

My tween daughter is making a private Musically video to “Firework” AGAIN, and so I act it out with her, throwing myself in front of her iPad camera like I’m Katy Perry gone psycho.

Tired of the same-old, tired of yourself, and tired of your own foul mood?

Mix it up and and do something I’m sure you’ve done at some point before.

Surprise the ones you love with a move that’s hilariously out of (your) character. It’s a gesture of spiritual generosity you’re not likely to regret.

$250 for Christmas Joy!?!??

$250 for Christmas Joy!?!??
Photo by Mike Arney on Unsplash

On the radio yesterday, a DJ reported survey results. People said they would pay $250 to find Christmas joy – the kind they knew when they were kids. (Apparently, most people surveyed would also be willing to fork over $145 to have someone else wrap their gifts.) Now, I know many people hate gift-wrapping, but $250 for Christmas joy!?!?? Craziness.

I once knew a Jewish man who had tremendous Christmas spirit. When his three sons were very young, they had a devout faith in Santa Claus. They knew all about Santa’s generosity and good cheer, so naturally, they wondered if he would stop at their home come Christmas Eve.

To honor their own holiday traditions – while also sharing the spirit of the season – the man and his wife hatched plan. On Christmas Eve, the family did a little art project, and then the joyful father climbed out a window and onto his roof. As the little boys stood watching in their pajamas, their dad placed a decorated poster next to the chimney. It said:

Dear Santa,

Just a reminder: We are Jewish. You don’t need to stop here tonight. We wish you a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

Love, The Jacobs Family

Friends, this is the Christmas spirit. And it cost virtually nothing but time and love.

It demonstrates the largest Truth of season: It is NOT about us.

It IS about caring for others and spreading joy because we see that we ourselves have been loved.

But maybe you don’t feel joyful. Maybe you think you have nothing to celebrate because you’ve had a rough year or you’re not with the people you think make your holidays complete.

If that’s the case, try these three steps – now or starting tomorrow – to reignite your Christmas or holiday mojo.

1) Close your eyes and begin a mental gratitude statement. If you believe in a higher power – talk to that power. If not, imagine all of the people closest to your heart standing in front of you.

Express thanks for as many things as you can think of, starting with the immediate and going from there. “Thank you for the fact that I’m breathing. Thank you for my beating heart. Thank you for my hands and feet and brain and muscles and my capacity to feel the ground beneath me.”

Move out into your surroundings, the people in your life, counting each thing consciously and with the understanding that even the trials you face are building character in you. Be grateful for this. Be thankful for what you have learned. Don’t stop your list until you simply cannot go on anymore.

2) Get out of your head. Think of a holiday song you enjoy and sing it out loud. Whisper if you must, but verbalize the cheerfulness you’re starting to feel.

3) Decide that you will give every person you meet today a free gift: your smile. Look each one in the eye – especially the annoying, angry, impatient, or rude ones – and smile, with good intentions. Imagine the individual as he or she might have looked as a child. See each person’s vulnerability and humanness. Pray or simply ponder the following over them: Grant this person peace and comfort.

Why do I recommend these steps?

Because gratitude, hope, and generous actions yield joy.

And true Hope is not wishful thinking, but instead it is the firm expectation that something good will occur based on a pattern of goodness that is now present and has come before.

Hope is open to everyone.

Joy can be yours.

I pray you will find both – free and overflowing – this holiday season.

The Cherub Choir Sings “Happy Birthday”

The Cherub Choir Sings “Happy Birthday”
Photo by Stephanie McCabe on UnSplash.com

Twice this week my kids got to plan and carry out one of their favorite feats – calling up a relative to sing “Happy Birthday” to them.

It has become a ritual. Just before the ‘birthday boy’ or ‘girl’ answers the phone (or voicemail picks up), the kids prepare. My oldest son (13) stands at attention, ready to corral the other two, should they fail to fall into line. My daughter (10) fixes her hair, throws her shoulders back, and clears her throat as if readying for an operetta. And my youngest son (6) wriggle-jig-hops like a monkey-frog creature who is simply too jazzed to hold all 42 pounds of himself still for a split-second.

Can’t you just feel the excitement!!??!

Children and birthdays. They go together like pizza and soda-pop.

A birthday is generally a bit livelier and more joyful when kids help you celebrate it, even in a small way – as through a phone call.

Why is that?

Let’s not pretend that kids are perfect. Let’s not say that they aren’t selfish (because all humans are). And let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that this birthday singing business isn’t (for the older ones anyway) at least in part about performance. Because the truth is, children have egos that grow bigger over time, just like their bodies. They will ultimately become like us – grown-ups who have to figure out how to handle that conundrum.

But I will suggest this: Kids don’t look at other people through jaded eyes. They simply see people. One person. Another person. Another person… and so on. And kids rejoice at every opportunity to celebrate.

People + celebration opportunities.

Put these things together and what do you get? Many reasons to sing. For there are people everywhere. And each one has a birthday.

Our hearts soften when we sing “Happy Birthday” with good intentions. Have you noticed? Even in the quiet confines of our minds. Even when we sing to someone who doesn’t hear us.

Try it.

Try singing silently to the person who cuts you off in traffic. Sing to the scowling clerk behind the counter. Sing to the pushy colleague who is always rubbing you the wrong way. Sing to the irritating family member who is standing on your last nerve.

Sing. Sing a happy song. See if your soul doesn’t rejoice just a tiny bit, in a monkey-frog wriggle-jig-hop kind of way.

Day 29 – Write it on Your Heart

I got out the hearts today. The wooden hearts. We started writing on these at Thanksgiving a couple years ago, when I hoped it would become an annual tradition. Every person in our home for the holiday writes on one side of the heart what he or she is thankful for this year, and on the other, their name and the date. Over time, we’ll have a record of gratitude that can be arranged in a vase, or tossed in a bowl to be sifted through and remembered.

One of my very best friends gave me this ‘hearts’ idea, and I liked it because it’s similar to writing thank-notes or making gratitude lists.  And I like to write thank-you notes. Seriously. Some people find them tedious but I don’t. In fact, I’ve found that the old adage “you can’t hold a positive and negative thought in your head at the same time” is true, because when I’m feeling a bit down or having an “off” day, the best remedy for me is to write a thank-you note to someone, for any good reason I can think of.  And if I can’t think of anyone, I can always build on my gratitude list to God, starting right where I am.

I read (and re-read) an amazing book this year called One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.  In it, she takes counting blessings to a whole new level.  How?  First, she unravels the word eucharisteo, the original Greek word used in the Gospel of Luke to describe Jesus giving thanks at the Last Supper. Eucharisteo means thanksgiving, and within it is the Greek word charis, meaning grace, and its derivative chara, meaning joy.  So, there is a correlation between giving thanks to God for the gifts of His grace that we see all around us (even the tiniest things!), and experiencing joy. The miracle is that this works even when we think there is nothing to be thankful for.

This year has been a difficult one for my family.  We’ve lost several family members, and we miss them this Thanksgiving. But when we had to say goodbye to each of them, I began my daily prayers with litanies of thanks for all the things I could think of about each person, and it pulled my focus off my sadness, and onto them, where they are now, in God’s light.

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