And now that we’ve entered 2020, I’m encountering more and more gifts in this review process.
Having done broader Examens of the last year, I’m seeing that my ‘reads’ of people are often incorrect. In other words, I am oblivious to what others are really thinking. I assume that all is well when in fact others have opinions – strong likes and dislikes – of which I am unaware – or worse yet, that I’m choosing to ignore. Sometimes at the peril of my relationship with them.
But rather than go ‘deep’ here and tell you a serious story, I’ll give you a fairly lighthearted example from my marriage and you can extrapolate for your own life, however much that might be helpful.
Recently, our vacuum cleaner broke. It was a Sears canister-style model we had for about 8 years – a sleek blue, with a retractable cord, internal bags I replaced when full, and a cool orange indicator light on the handle that told me when the carpet was really dirty (and it was – all the time!!). I liked it, despite the fact that the cord stopped winding and I had to use a wrench to keep it extended; despite the fact that I was constantly buying bags; and despite the fact that the contraption was HEAVY and unwieldy with its 2 segments.
When the motor finally quit my husband practically leapt for joy.
“THANK GOD!! I HATE that thing,” he said with no shortage of enthusiasm.
I was shocked. And taken aback.
I had picked it out myself and didn’t realize the depth of his dislike.
The truth was, I guess somewhere in the recesses of my mind I knew he didn’t like it. I just didn’t really care. His feelings on the matter weren’t important enough to me. And when the truth came out, I had to accept my culpability.
He pointed out that the dead vacuum was quite large and always lying around, just waiting to trip someone.
We got a light, upright model. One he picked out and that I agreed was a great choice.
And when it arrived, he stood it up in the middle of the family room. Then he looked over at me and said,
“If you ever miss the old one, you can just do this.”
Then he lay it on its side so that it became an awkward obstacle in the middle of the room, stepped over it, and walked away.
I laughed until my sides hurt.
We are never too old to have a ‘learning’ moment, and this was one for me.
Too often, we assume we know what’s best and we don’t take others into account.
So – here are a few questions for the new year and each day as you walk through it, one by one:
Where was grace shown to me today?
Where did another person (or people) accommodate me? Tolerate me? And did I truly consider that person’s wishes?
Do I try to see situations from others’ points of view? Do I ask directly for their insights?
Do I modify my behavior after hearing what people I care about tell me?
Can I smile and laugh when there’s a disconnect, instead of letting it blow up into a bigger problem?
Thank goodness I didn’t wreck the car when I saw them…I was staring so much.
They were three men walking in a line like ducks toward the school, one following another, on the sidewalk opposite me as I pulled out of a parking spot on a one-way street in historic downtown Annapolis.
They were slowed by the bumpy terrain – a place where bricks placed in a herringbone pattern are made uneven by centuries of wear and large roots of trees busting through at sporadic intervals.
Or maybe it was the men’s daughters who shortened their steps.
Tucked behind each dad, sheltered from passing cars and just barely in view, was a little girl holding her father’s left hand. In his right hand, each dad carried a tiny backpack.
And that last precious little girl? Oh – she was engulfed in story, her left arm waving around as she kept her face toward her dad’s, looking up for his responses. And he was nodding and smiling – fully focused, fully present to whatever it was she was telling him.
Three men. Three daughters. So beautiful.
I still remember being small and holding my dad’s big hand. It was warm and soft. And I knew I was safe when I was with him.
And I still remember what it was like to have help from others when I was vulnerable. Friends hauled my backpack for me in high school on more than one occasion when I sprained my ankles.
Perhaps your experiences are similar.
The truth is, we’re all still children at heart. We want two hands to be there for us. One to hold, and one to carry our stuff.
Hours after seeing the fathers and daughters, a dear friend of mine called and shared some concerns with me about one of her children.
In the beginning of our friendship, she used to apologize for taking up my time, but now we have an understanding. Our relationship has matured and we know – we are here to help carry one another’s burdens. We are here to hold each other’s hands.
I tell her my fears and she tells me hers. She admits her mistakes and I reassure her that I’ve made them, too.
We metaphorically link arms, and while one of us protects the other from the world’s traffic, the one who’s feeling vulnerable and small waves her other arm about and tells her story for as long as it takes.
We walk together over the uneven path.
As you’ve probably witnessed, the world consistently fails to appreciate the finer points of real, lasting, and genuine adult relationships. They are tender, sacred domains where vulnerability, weakness, and heart-to-heart sharing is not mocked and scorned, but cherished.
Only in admitting to one another that we are not perfect can we find communion.
Real love means letting down our guard with someone we trust, and offering to guard one another in return.
Our hearts are made for Love.
We crave it.
We want it in its purest form – born in perfection from the place where it is, was, and always will be – safe and eternally trustworthy, from beginning to end.
And to get more of it, we must give it away.
The next time you feel frail, weakened, or exposed – will you turn to a loyal friend – and better still, your Father in heaven – and say, ‘Show me where I can lay down this heavy load?’
And when someone comes to you with a backpack of worry, regret, or just fatigue from too much responsibility, will you help him or her carry it for awhile, while holding out your tender hands, offering your strength and protection?
Yes, we can do this. We can travel the jagged landscape of life, making one another’s burdens lighter with the love of God working through our hands.
Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)
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
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
This post was first published in October 2015. It is making a new appearance in celebration of this blog’s 5-year anniversary. Click here to learn more about me and Like the Dewfall.
I disappointed my daughter today. There was no way I couldn’t have. But this was a very big day, and even when the head understands the facts, the heart sometimes doesn’t.
I had never been on one of her field trips because, as a stay-at-home mom, my full-time job required full-time care of her younger brother. But he just started Kindergarten. So my schedule had freed up. Finally.
Three weeks ago I sent in a form volunteering to be a 4th grade chaperone on today’s day-long class trip to the colonial port of London Town, and I was one of six parents chosen to attend. My daughter was as excited as I’ve ever seen her.
Every single day I heard: “Mom, I can’t wait until…” “Mom, it’s going to be so much fun!” “Mom, you’re finally coming!” “Mom, I’m researching colonial hairstyles so I can do my hair.”
But trouble began to rear its head yesterday when the Kindergartner came home with a stomach ache and a low fever. A fever one day means no school the next. I didn’t panic, but this was not good. Not good at all.
My husband had a huge presentation this morning, so even as I lined up a daytime sitter for my son (no small feat), I prepared my daughter for the possibility that I couldn’t go if her brother’s illness got worse.
She hid her face behind a pillow, giant tears rolling out of her big blue eyes, red blotches of grief creeping up her fair face, and she wailed, “Why?!!! Sick now? Tomorrow??!! Of ALL Days?!!”
Today came and my son woke up with a rash and a higher fever.
I called and told the sitter to come just for the morning – that I would make a cameo appearance at the field trip site for one hour. And then I made a strategic early-morning strike on the doctor’s office and pharmacy to confirm my own motherly diagnosis and then do battle via antibiotics on my son’s attacker: scarlet fever – a form of strep.
Despite the fact that I had told her the plan, my daughter was thrilled when I got to London Town, and crestfallen and angry when I left exactly one hour later. I made the most of it: I took photos of her role-playing a slave in colonial garb, watched her make corn cakes with her hands, and laughed with her when we both saw our first wild groundhog wandering the settlement.
But as I was driving home, I couldn’t get her embittered eyes out of my mind. She was still just so disappointed.
What could I tell her? What could I say to help her through this experience? After all, the day didn’t go the way I’d wanted it to, either.
I stopped at the supermarket and bought her some mums, then left them in her room with a long note in which I made the following points:
Today was tough for both of us, and like you, I am angry, sad and disappointed. But we both love your brother, and in an imperfect world, people get sick. It’s not anyone’s fault.
Even though I would have liked to stay with you all day, I am grateful for the time I did have with you, and for your inquisitiveness. You asked thoughtful questions about the role you were playing, and the house we were touring. I am grateful for the chance to watch your graceful hands learn to prepare food, and for hearing your laughter with your friends. Your teacher also said I can come on another trip.
Even though it didn’t go the way we’d planned, I had a good day, and I hope in time you’ll remember it fondly too.
I know there is an ache in your heart and I couldn’t fill it. But by thinking of the things that you are thankful to God for, you will find that the Lord can heal that ache with joy. When we are grateful, it’s hard to hold on to anger and disappointment.
I love you.
Like children, we have much to learn. And we grow in spiritual maturity a little bit at a time. Today, I was reminded that gratitude must be cultivated. It is a slow process but can yield rich rewards.
Thank you God for giving me an opportunity to re-learn this lesson today, and for showing me how to share a grateful heart with my daughter.
This was my very first post. It appeared on October 3, 2014. I’m reposting it in celebration of my blog’s 5th Anniversary. Thank you to everyone who has supported me on this journey.
Three deaths over the last month have left me tired…..and sad. My beloved great aunt……a dear friend’s niece who took her own life… and my stepsister – who passed after nearly 4 weeks in the ICU fighting to recover from extremely rare childbirth complications. It’s my stepsister’s passing that brings me most often to my knees. I cry out to the Lord on behalf of her third child, a now 1-month old baby boy who will never know his mother.
They say there is a cycle of grief. It has various stages. And I’m watching devastated people go through it now. But in the midst of all this anguish, I have been blessed to remain thankful and aware of God’s infinite goodness. I have also been given new opportunities to serve Him, and follow Him more closely – sometimes in ways that push me beyond old boundaries. I posted a prayer for my stepsister on Facebook. And soon, the family requested more. It seemed the Lord wanted to use me. It made me both nervous and strangely excited – not because people appreciated my writing, but because I had stumbled upon a way to really serve. And I learned – when there are people hurting, perhaps then more than ever, the Lord wants me step out of my safety zone and walk in new terrain, keeping my eyes on Him.
About 10 days ago, I saw the invitation from Myquillin Smith to take the 31-Day Challenge and write in October. I could hear the whisper that always leads me to good places — “Try this” — and felt that tinge – of joy. And as I sat down to write tonight, I remembered a verse I taped to the front page of one of my journals four years ago when I first intended to write in earnest – but never really did.
A bruised reed he will not break,
a smoldering wick he will not quench….
— Matthew 12:20
The Word is full, so full, of promises. And for myself and so many people I love, I am holding on to this one right now. Whether we are writing or just trying to get on with living day by day, the terrain in my world seems new and tough. We are bruised and bent over, trampled and beaten down, hardly like flames alight. But when I fix my gaze on Him, when I ready myself through surrendering prayer, I am given all the strength I need.
Lord, help us. Thank you for the confidence you’ve given me – the knowledge that you alone are fully trustworthy, and that you are my only true help – my Savior. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
My son’s Eagle Scout Court of
Honor had been Saturday night, and I was sending an email to the entire Troop –
Scouts, leaders, parents, etc. – to thank them.
To thank them for helping our family prepare for this great celebration. For attending it in such force. And then for disassembling every piece of it and putting items away into cartons, closets, and cars with orderly and cheerful precision – without bending cherished photographs or neglecting to sweep up the last crumbs of crushed Doritos on the carpeted floor.
The event was so much more than the sum of its material parts, of course. But I was unable to say precisely why.
Just hours before, I had let the ceremony’s
prayers roll over me….
God, we thank you for the opportunity to come together …. Today is a celebration of a journey…full of challenges, friendship, struggles…. Little by little, month by month, and year by year, he was faithful and we celebrate his faith, commitment, and hard work.
With everyone in attendance, my husband and I recognized our son’s perseverance and efforts, the many merit badges he earned, his final large-scale community service project, and especially the character traits and leadership skills he’d developed along the way.
For more than 100 years, the Boy
Scouts of America has been molding boys into young men, and our son is no
exception. We are in awe of what he’s accomplished by the tender age of 16.
But my pride wasn’t the point, either.
What was bursting at my seams? Why
had it been so difficult to keep conversations light and airy on Saturday
I wrote my email Monday morning, attaching some additional words of thanks from my son, my husband, and me that had appeared in the program that was handed out to guests.
From my son (in part):
…I am honored that you have elected to spend your time here at my Eagle Court of Honor. You have each influenced me for the better in one way or another, and for that I am forever grateful.
And from my husband and me, to the
….The thousands of hours you volunteer for these kids can never be repaid, and we are so grateful for your devotion…
I hit ‘send’ and resumed my daily
Later, a dear friend and Troop
chair wrote back to me:
“Through His people, He gives back to His extra special Matthews family! We love you all so very much!”
I could barely see through my tears to respond.
I understood then – and not for the first time in my life – what had actually happened.
It was evidence of the timeless miracle of faith – that when we walk toward God believing in His goodness, the outpouring of His love will be more than our arms and hearts and minds can hold.
I live (and have for some time) in expectant hope that God’s promises to me, my children, and you are true now and forever. His love for us is perpetually strong and faithful (Psalm 117), even when we are unaware of His presence in our lives.
God’s grace was present throughout my son’s journey in Scouting. In every Board of Review, camping trip, merit badge assignment, Scoutmaster’s Minute wrap-up at the end of every Wednesday night meeting – God was there in all of it, working through His good people who day-by-day live out virtues that please His heart. Virtues including kindness, obedience, trustworthiness, helpfulness, thriftiness,
When the Spirit of God is present and moving, there is indescribable joy.
The Boy Scouts welcome Scouts of many faiths. Scouts are encouraged to
be reverent in their own faith tradition and to be respectful of the beliefs of
But the fact is – few organizations welcome the reverence of God at
Few groups pray together.
Even fewer which shape the character of young people suggest that honoring
God is important, much less provide regularly scheduled meeting time to do it.
Those that do are places of special strength and character.
And – I would submit – of peace. And love.
Praise the Lord, all you nations!Give glory, all you peoples!
The Lord’s love for us is strong;the Lord is faithful forever.Hallelujah! (Psalm 117)
Are you choosing what’s significant over what’s short-lived?
Alright. It’s a loaded question. And I bet you’re caught for a second – not sure if you want to read on.
Hear me out.
I spent a good portion of the last week in Des Moines with 6,000 of my sisters from the P.E.O. International Sisterhood celebrating the 150th anniversary of our founding. We hail from across the U.S. and Canada and every year give out millions in grants, scholarships, and low-interest loans to women pursuing higher education. We also have our own college – Cottey College in Nevada, Missouri – which we’ve owned outright and supported since 1927. Formed in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, in 1869 by seven bright young ladies at a time when women’s education was hardly a foregone conclusion, we have never forgotten to be grateful to God for opportunity. We are drawn together by the core values and virtues to which we adhere: faith, love, purity, justice and truth. Check us out at www.peointernational.org.
Officers are chosen from among our sisterhood of 258,000, and Friday evening, I was standing with one of Iowa’s past state presidents who had been charged with the enormous responsibility of bringing so many women together for 4 days of meetings and parties. Though she had done a brilliant, brilliant job – she was, of course, exhausted – and still considering all the ways that each day could have gone better.
No matter how much goes right (and there was an overwhelming preponderance of excellency here), you will always catch wind of every little thing that doesn’t.
So I encouraged her.
“Look around,” I said. “Just look at all these women enjoying one another and making meaningful connections. Real connections. That’s what matters. You did this. Well done.”
I wanted to elevate the reality of the situation for her, because too often we lose the significant as we chase the ephemeral.
If you are like me…
you’ve got a to-do list a mile long
you haven’t called your best friend this week
you haven’t connected with that new friend you promised you would
but your phone is almost never beyond arm’s reach
somehow, you have found time to look at Facebook or Instagram…and you think you know what’s going on in acquaintances’ lives….and that matters to you….
Consistently, we are choosing the short-lived over the significant.
Where are our priorities?
Four days of deep, eye-to-eye contact with women I love from all over the country – some I know very well, some I would give anything to know better – reminded me that THIS IS WHERE IT’S AT.
Working on a long-term vision together.
Revisiting our ideals.
Or just sharing the day-to-day aches and pains.
Breathing new life into one another.
A quick text or a “your kids are so cute” comment on social media is no substitute for longer, substantive, and yes – face-to-face conversations.
We do not intimately know one another until we sit in the same space, hear the tremor in one another’s voices, watch and clasp each other’s hands, and see the crinkles at the corners of our eyes as we speak – or don’t speak – of love, woe, and everything in between.
We use the excuse that we are busy and can’t “get it together.”
We wear it like a badge of honor.
But c’mon. We know better.
We know small efforts yield big results.
So let’s just start.
Let’s get together. For coffee. For conversation. For the sake of love. And life. Women’s education and a sisterhood that endures. The future of the planet. Some other lofty goal that God has put on your heart.