The Weekend’s Low -and High- Points

October 20, 2008

His scream pierced the night. “Mommy! Mommy! My mommy!” Before I could move my heavy form off the mattress, Gruff was up and out our door. I heard Smooch’s voice louder – hitching sobs and cries for me. Gruff soothed and whispered and patted, but Smooch only got more upset.

“That’s enough.” Tired and frustrated at not being able to comfort our son, Gruff’s voice got a wee bit sharper. “Smooch, that’s enough.”

My mama-heart clenched to hear the refrain that -it seems in my memory- was lobbed at me so often in my childhood. My parents meant well, they meant only the best. Looking back on it, I think they were often overwhelmed by the ferocity of my storms of emotion. I was generally a happy, pleasant kid; but when I felt something, I felt it. Big, loud, unrestrained tears and long, wistful sighs and elaborate huffs and stomps. Those were my canvas, my oils. I wanted the whole world to know how I FELT. I think my parents were trying, in their way, to teach me the art of restraint – of discretion – of knowing how, and when, and where it was appropriate and safe to vent my feelings. But as a kid, I didn’t see it that way. I felt that my emotions were inconveniencing them (they probably were) and that they just wanted me to go away and come back when I could ‘behave’ (they probably did) – and, more importantly, I felt that their attempt to add a little temperance to my tempers was a rejection of ME.

Whew, did you hear all that? Don’t I sound well-balanced, to be able to reflect on all of that so clearly? It took my marriage nearly imploding and subsequent therapy to reach those realizations. Our therapist helped me to see that the pattern I learned (or assumed) as a kid – that my feelings needed to be bottled, and filtered, and made potable before being aired, or else I might be rejected – had become very unhealthy for me as an adult.

But back to Saturday night.

I joined my husband in our boy’s room, and I scooped his long body from his bed. He’s a toucher, my little guy – he seeks out skin contact nearly all day. It’s his thing, his love language, his coping comfort. He stretched his little arms as far around me as he could and started rubbing and patting my back as I patted his, and slowly his sobs quieted down. It was a long night, though. His tears flared up again and again as we tried to figure out what had upset him so, what would help him fall back to sleep. My emotions (and hormones) were close to the surface, and I cried a bit myself. Finally, around 2:00, we were all ready for bed again. Smooch had been able to tell us that he wanted to come to our bed, and we finally settled him down on his mattress on our floor – a compromise, since Mama’s ever-expanding girth makes it hard for me to get comfortable just sharing with Gruff, much less if we added a squirmy two year old to the bed.

As I laid there in the dark, quiet surrounding me once more, I wondered: am I really ready to add another babe to this mix? I want to be ready – I deeply love this little girl-child inside me, and I can’t wait to see her face to face. But there were moments, facing my son’s tears, upset with my husband, and wrestling with my own childhood ghosts, that I felt utterly incapable of the family I already have. How then can I handle one more human being, one who needs me completely and desperately and wholly?

I know I’m not the only expectant mom to worry and wonder. I read Mrs. Chicken’s blog while she was expecting Shaggy, and I loved the way she wrote about both the joy and the anxiety of bringing home the second baby. I know that we’ll find our way, as she is finding hers, and that somehow I will make room in our lives for Doodlebug. That I’ll manage, as millions of mothers before me can testify, to handle the new needs of our bigger family.

And my first step toward managing? On Sunday evening, fueled by a whole day’s worth of coffee and rest and food and time together, I approached Gruff about his words to Smooch. We talked about our expectations of our oldest – who is really not so very old, at 33 months – and how we can handle another outburst like that one. I talked about my need to be supported, even comforted and consoled, when I become emotional in the face of Smooch’s upsets. I talked about my childhood, and not wanting to communicate the same undercurrent to our kids. And then I listened – to his feelings and fears, and bless his heart!, to his apology. We ended our conversation in that best of ways, by meandering around a hundred unrelated topics, laughing and giggling, reminiscing, and cuddling.

It makes me believe that we will be ready, in 12-or-so weeks, when she joins us in the outside world.

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What do you do with a man like this?

July 23, 2008

Bless his heart. He just doesn’t get it.

Last night, I was sick.as.a.dog. (Again. I know, it’s like, just get over it. You’re pregnant; puke happens. But I was so blessed with Smooch’s pregnancy in this regard and I’m feeling rather irked with Doodlebug at the moment. Gimme a break, kid!) Gruff was very sweet about it – he fetched me water, and milk, and Tums, and when all of those failed and I upchucked anyway, a nice cool wet washcloth. Sweet guy.

A few hours later, Doodle started bopping around and I realized it was the strongest of the flutters I’d felt so far. “Hey, babe, I wonder if you can feel this yet….” He absentmindedly flopped his hand over on my belly, eyes still fixed on the laptop (where he was finishing a PowerPoint presentation for work. About shock and how to identify and treat it, in case you were wondering.) and sort of muttered that he didn’t. I repositioned his hand to where I’d actually pointed (this is why glancing over at your wife can be useful occasionally) and he said, “Oh. Yeah. I can feel movement – but I’m not sure what it is.” I laughed and told him it was a bit early to be identifying arms versus feet versus heads at this point, and then I got all ooey-gooey on him. “Awww, can you believe it? You just felt the baby for the first time! That is so sweet!” I waited for him to respond… and this is what I got:

“Yeah. It’s great. Now, I have to finish this.”

*stunned, hurt, angry silence from the other side of the bed*

“What? Don’t get mad – I’m WORKING and I have to finish this. I can feel your belly later.”

*again with the hurt and anger*

Dude, for real? I know his presentation was due this morning and he was “in the zone” and wanted to finish. I’ve felt that before, and I know it’s irritating when something pulls you away from your work. But for pete’s sake – this is one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments. You only feel your child move for the first time… the first time. Can’t we take a minute and celebrate that? Say a little prayer over this baby, thanking God for his or her health and asking for a continuing peaceful pregnancy? Daydream a little bit about what this child might look like? Something? I feel like Dr. Evil — “Throw me a frickin’ bone here!”

I told this story to a friend on the phone this morning, and she said (with a smile in her voice, but still…) “Okay, you’re going to have to start telling me some good stories about Gruff, because he’s starting to drift over toward My List.” She was joking, the way friends do, when they take up your side of things – but it made me think. The fact is that Gruff DID do this particular thing – and a few other particular things, to which my close friends and bloggy buddies are privy – but maybe I shouldn’t share the stories that cast him in a negative light. Overall, I don’t think I’m one of those women who is always complaining about men in general, her man in specific, or male-bashing at any opportunity. But I do sometimes choose to vent, here or in person, about my husband.

On one hand, I feel like it gives me a sounding board – a chance to feel heard, a chance to feel like I’m not being outrageous to expect (X, Y, Z) from Gruff, a chance to reality-check that other husbands do or don’t do (X, Y, Z). On the other hand, I wonder if I ought to stop comparing, stop having expectations, and stop venting altogether. I don’t know. What do you do, especially if you have a man like this in your life?


A Post Worth Coming Back For

July 15, 2008

 

I’m trying to remember a lesson I thought I learned a long time ago: I choose the hard stuff.

 

In the fall of 2001, Gruff (then my fiancé) was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Two surgeries followed in the next whirlwind month, and as he recovered in hospital after the last surgery we made a decision. All those plans for the April wedding – the sage green bridesmaids dresses, the dogwood sprays we’d carry, the delicate springy flowers I would use to decorate the church – were gone. Instead, we would marry in December; the new date was just six weeks away. Amidst the new flurry of  rearranging and downsizing the plans, and the rollercoaster of Gruff’s physical recovery and appointments and meetings with the oncologists, I had a conversation with my dad.

 

“I love him. I need to be married to him, even if it’s only for a little while. I’d marry him in his hospital bed if I had to.”

 

“He’ll be sick. Chemo will be hard.”

 

“I know. But I need to be the one who takes care of him. Even if it’s hard. It should be me.”

 

But I didn’t really know – I couldn’t. I was just twenty-one years old (and barely that. I had my birthday, then started my first “real job”, then graduated from college, and then got married – all at two week intervals at the end of that year.) and I had no idea what chemotherapy would really be like.

 

One evening, midway through his treatments, my husband stood at the sink of our tiny bathroom in our postage-stamp one-bedroom apartment. Hands braced on the countertop, his shoulders shook, and he looked fragile for the first time since I’d met him. His head was newly bald – we had shaved it when his hair began to fall out in alarming clumps – and he was so pale. I crept in behind him, put my hand on his back, tried to comfort him.

 

And suddenly, he collapsed toward me. I think I let out a little scream – I was so scared. He caught himself, braced against me, and I helped him walk the few short steps across the hall to our bedroom. I tucked him in to our bed – my double bed from my parent’s home, which seemed so big to me as a teenager, now too small for my 6’3” husband – and fetched a glass of water, a pill. He was asleep before I knew it, and I hovered at the doorway listening to his breath in the dim light of dusk.

 

Then I ran to our sofa and dialed my parent’s phone number through my tears. I’m sure I scared them, calling with that voice – sobs and hitched breaths – but I told them about what had just happened, how scared I was. What would I do if he had passed out? My young heart was trying so hard to be grown up, but faced with the very real mortality of the man I loved, I just wanted to hear my dad’s voice.

 

“You chose this, hon,” he said. “You told me that day – you wanted it to be you who took care of him. You knew this was the hard part. You are strong enough. You love him enough. You chose this.”

 

Through the years, I have clung to that conversation. My dad’s voice rings in my ears now when something painful, or difficult, or challenging comes my way. I choose the hard part.

 

Today, I lay curled awkwardly on a toddler bed, my body molded around a sweaty, sniffling toddler. When we got home from our playgroup this afternoon, Smooch had a rough time with his nap. He got out of bed over and over, throwing himself on the floor and peering under the crack in the door, calling my name. I tried to stay calm, send him back to his bed, leave the room again, and pray he’d sleep – but after the third go-round I realized he was becoming hysterical. His little body was shaking, his voice was trembling, his head was covered in sweaty curls. I held him in my arms, and I heard my father’s voice.

 

We climbed into his bed together, and within moments he was fast asleep. His breath still caught in his throat, those trembly sighs that follow a long hard cry. My inner type-A wanted to hop right up and go DO something – but I resisted. Lately, we’ve been working at cross-purposes, my little Smooch and I. Two-and-a-half has been hard. He needs more independence, more control… and I’m pregnant, hormonal, and tired, so I haven’t always met those needs very gracefully. There have been potty progresses and potty battles. There have been the first aggressive incidents with little friends. These are normal things, but they are the hard parts of this age. As I tried to bend my knees a little, finding a more comfortable way to spoon my son in his little bed, I realized that I am simply re-learning this lesson.

 

The biggest part of love, I think, is choosing to be there for the hard stuff. You don’t pass it off to someone else. You don’t let the other person bear the load alone. Whether it’s your lover or your child, you come alongside them – you throw your lot in with them – you hear their hurts, feel their pain, share their fears. It sometimes pierces your heart, it sometimes seems insane. When you come out on the other side, though, it is always worth it.

 

So I stayed in that toddler bed until his breathing was still and calm. Easing my gravid belly off of the little frame, I felt a peace unfold deep inside me.


Twirly Thoughts

April 16, 2008

My thoughts are all twirled up right now, and I don’t know if I can write anything nearly as eloquent and well-thought-out as Coralie did yesterday, but I’m going to try to express myself and just see what happens.

The first part of this dialogue is here – my reflections on a lesson learned at church on Sunday.

Coralie responded in a comment, and my reply to that comment turned into a new post here.

Then Coralie opened up the conversation over at her blog – you can find her post here.

Now that you’re all caught up, it’s my turn again.

I want to start by looking at this idea:

We can tell them all day long that men are to lead and women are to submit, but if they see something different, the words will be meaningless. Nowhere in scripture are we permitted to sin, by stepping out of what the Lord has called us to do, in order for another “good” to be achieved.

While I am able to agree with that -wholeheartedly, in fact!- on paper, I struggle with the real-life meaning & impact of that in this situation. How, exactly, does a woman “submit” to a complete lack of leadership? I do not exaggerate when I say that Gruff would just as soon stay home on a Sunday morning or go out for donuts as he would, make the effort to get up and get us all out the door for church & Sunday School. I do not see prayer, Scripture study, praise music, or any of the other ‘outward expressions of an inner faith’ happening in my home if I simply stop doing all of those things and wait for him to begin them.

Right now, with a 2 year old, I’m sure I could do that — just literally stop it all and “step back” for a year and wait to see what God & Gruff will do. But my question and my worry (and yes, my fear, even though I know that I’m not SUPPOSED to be fearful) is that if there is no eagerness on Gruff’s part, and it falls by the wayside, then in a year what do I have? A husband who is still not interested in becoming a spiritual leader — and a 3.5 year old who’s gotten so out of the routine that now church is a strange new experience. Not only does that vision leave me feeling angry and frustrated, but it scares me.

Nagging only has 2 results: a. total shut down, or b. angry refusal. One of the best ways to NOT get what we want from our husbands is to pester them about it. If leading the family spiritually feels like cleaning his room as a boy every man will run from it.

I think this is the one TINY aspect I’m getting right. After several years of back-and-forth: me nagging for a while, him feeling pressured and refusing, me backing off, him taking small steps, rinse and repeat… we’re at a phase that I’d call “respectful compliance.” He is respectful of my need & desire to be in church, to find a Sunday School class we like, to keep Smooch attending his toddler class. He doesn’t leap out of bed on Sunday mornings with much get-up-and-go, but he does it. I’m respectful of his …what to call it?… lack of fervor, and I don’t press him to do Bible study with me in the evenings, or to dissect the sermon and have a big theological discussion on the way home. I go about my business – I do my own Bible study (okay, as I mentioned earlier, I *occasionally* keep up with my own Bible study), I sing songs and say prayers with Smooch, and I did institute prayer at meals.

I am SURE that there are some parts of your counsel that I need to accept and act on.

You may want to make a commitment to the Lord that you’re going to step back for a year. Commit to take that year to pray for your husband and to pray for yourself, and for your relationship as spouses and parents.

This is the part I’m not sure about:

You will give more glory to the Lord by being obedient through submission than by stepping in and doing tasks the Lord hasn’t asked you to do.

because I do feel that I’m responsible to raise my child with a love for the things of God. If I stop doing anything spiritual in my home because I’m waiting for my husband to do it — yes, he is absolutely going to be held accountable to God for what he doesn’t do in raising his son — but ultimately, so am I. To sit by and let years pass without church, without hearing God’s Word, without talking about His providence and goodness? Doesn’t it seem that that would do more harm?

I think what we’re looking at is ALMOST akin to the struggle of a wife married to an unbeliever. (I’m not saying that Gruff doesn’t believe. But to be brutally honest, he’s not living in a growing, fruit-bearing way right now.) If you are the only adult believer in your home, the task of teaching your children does fall primarily to you. You aren’t exempt from submission; you carry the burden of following the admonition in 1 Peter:

1Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, 2when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. 3Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes.

but in such a case, I think that the submission belongs in all the other realms of your family life. For how would you submit spiritually to someone who isn’t on the same spiritual path?

Maybe this is what you were trying to get at when you said you didn’t know exactly what submission would look like for every diverse individual couple — is it? Then again, maybe I’m still just offering up justification and rationalization for doing things the way I’ve figured them out in my head.

****
I’m sure Coralie & I aren’t the only ones with thoughts on this subject. Care to jump in? I’d love to hear your comments, or read your own posts (if, like me and Coralie, you find that you just get too long-winded to make it a little comment!).

 


Havin’ more church up in this here blog.

April 15, 2008

I intended to change the subject this morning & write about my mother, but a comment on my last post got my wheels turning again. I started writing a reply comment, but it quickly became long and rambling – in other words, it deserved a post of its own. So here we are.

Coralie said:

This comment may not be what you want to hear, but I’m going to say it any way.

I think you should be letting Gruff take the lead on all of this. God made him your head, and at the end of things, Gruff is going to have to answer for how well he did with that position.

I heard a wise woman say we don’t submit to our husbands because they are worthy of it, we submit because God calls us to, and HE is worthy of it.

Just my (unasked for) 2 cents.

For everyone’s future reference, I’m okay with comments I didn’t necessarily “want” to hear — sometimes those are the most needed, right?

I know in my heart that you’re right. But the thing I question is this: in the absence of godly leadership from our husbands, are we not still responsible to the principles we know & the promptings we feel? Ideally, sure, my husband would take charge, take the lead, make a decision about our church home… but in reality, his radar is not tuned in right now. We have very different faith backgrounds – he is a much ‘younger’ Christian and he has struggled over the last year and a half, especially. My big struggle is the tug-of-war over leading simply because I have more ‘knowledge’ and more ‘experience’ and frankly, more motivation and interest in doing so… versus stepping back in the hope and prayer that he will step forward to lead. The issues I face in stepping back? Things go stagnant. Nothing happens.

As a for instance, take praying over meals — how many times over the years I’ve initiated it (asking him to say the blessing!), then stopped after a few days to see if he would continue it, only to have it fizzle out. Right now we’re keeping it up, mainly -I think- because Smooch is old enough to get into it, and Gruff thinks it’s cute when he reaches out his hands toward us and bows his head…. a little child shall lead them, eh?

Just now, typing that last paragraph, I realize that it’s very possible that God is going to use just that – our little boy, the innocence of a child, the natural interest and inclination of kids to learn about the things of God – to pull Gruff closer to Him.

But in the meantime, I circle back to my earlier question. Am I not still responsible to the principles I know & the promptings I feel? I believe that I’m asked to give back of my income to the Lord’s work; I believe that I’m asked to join with a fellowship of believers; I believe that I’m asked to raise my child in the ‘fear and admonition of the Lord.’ In a household where one parent is ambivalent about the whole thing, can the other parent fill in that gap and take that lead anyway? Which is the greater need – that need for perfect submission, or that need for setting a godly example for a child? (And I do realize that I’ve got another year or so before Smooch really begins to understand and remember what he sees us doing – thank God that our kids come to us as tiny little guys so that we get a “grace period” for figuring things out, right?)


We’re havin’ church, y’all.

April 14, 2008

We have been attending a nearby church for the last several months, but we haven’t joined yet. In fact, our membership is still officially at our old church in Florida (you know, the community we left back in May of 2006). I like this new church — they are a biggish church (it’s no Willow Creek or anything, but it is big enough to have two satellite campuses in other areas, and three associate pastors who help run those campuses) so there is an amazing variety of activities being offered every week. This church does a lot of outreach – and it’s real, practical, helpful stuff that makes an impact on the community – and it has a wonderful children’s ministry. Truly, the teacher in the Toddler Room is an angel.

So why haven’t we joined? Mainly because I’m sick and tired of leading the way when it comes to our faith life. I haven’t done the work (not that it’s a big deal – basically checking off a box on our weekly connections card and then meeting with the pastor), so it hasn’t been done. And it doesn’t seem to bother Gruff. He has never mentioned it once, on his own, without me initiating the conversation.

The problem with the situation is that I’ve allowed it to set the tone for my personal walk. I feel like I’m “off the hook,” so to speak, with no Sunday School class to prepare for, no ladies’ Bible Study to read for, no group of friends and mentors to be accountable to. (And I know, the dangling prepositions in that sentence are giving my high school grammar teacher a heart attack right now.) My quiet times have slipped off into an “every once in a while” slump, and I’ve let Gruff win the battle on whether we can afford to give to the church (I say yes, he says no).  I’ve started to feel cut off from that deep part of myself – that spiritual wellspring that gives the rest of life so much more meaning – and I’m realizing that it’s not a good thing at all.

This past Sunday, we tried (another) new adult Sunday School class. We’re still the youngest in the room, but maybe only by 8-10 years this time. (That week when we found our way into the room of all the 90-year-olds? That was funny. One old dude actually fell asleep mid-lesson! Not exactly the class “for us.”) The group was nice, talkative, and everyone seemed bright & interesting. They’re doing a video series right now, so we watched a DVD clip and then broke into small groups to discuss some Bible passages, then got back into the big group to discuss as a whole. Gruff and I and one other guy made up a small group – and the other guy was an FBI agent. How cool is that? I’ve never met an FBI agent in my entire life. But that’s really off the subject… As for the class, Gruff mentioned afterward that it was cool to be in a room with so many young guys. He’s right; this is the first Sunday School class we’ve ever been in that lacked a large, distinct majority of women. He liked the discussion and volunteered (!) the fact that he’d like to go back to this class. So maybe that’s a little something.

The sermon yesterday was, apparently, a direct letter to me from God. I’m not sure why all those other people were there this week, but I know why I was – I needed to hear this. It was a familiar topic (prayer) and a fairly familiar take on the subject (God’s answers to our prayers can be yes, no, or not yet). The Scripture that was used was new to me, at least in this light.

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’ ”
And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” Luke 18:1-8

Our pastor pointed out that this is NOT an allegory – we are not the widow, and God is not the judge. Jesus points out the contrast at the end of the passage, when he reminds his disciples that the judge didn’t care a whit about that woman’s well-being, whereas God is intimately concerned with the lives of His people. Then he went on to say that he finds the most important part of this passage to be Jesus’ final question: When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? –That is, will he find faith that can withstand the times when God’s answer is “not yet”, when God’s answer is “no”? Can we hold on to our faith when we pray for healing, but God answers the prayer by restoring our loved one to a perfect body – in Heaven – not to a healed one on earth with us? Can we hold on to our faith when we pray for a situation in which the free will of another person creates pain and suffering for us, when God does not force that other person to do what is right — just as He does not force us to love him?

At the conclusion of the sermon, we sang Great Is Thy Faithfulness – a hymn with great personal meaning to me. This particular lyric:

Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow

is a line that ran through my head repeatedly for days after my second miscarriage. It brought me such a sense of peace and assurance and calm – and only after weeks of hearing it in my head could I identify the song from which it came.

During the pastor’s message, I kept hearing a refrain in my head… those prayers I’ve been praying lately? For ease of our financial burden, for a quick conception and a healthy pregnancy? God may be answering both — with a not yet. And just as He asked me to trust him three years ago, when my heart was breaking with the worry that I’d never have a child, He may be asking me to trust him again now. He isn’t promising me that I’ll get what I pray for – only promising that He will give me strength for my todays and hope for my tomorrows.

Maybe that’s all I need.

And maybe, if God is sending direct letters to me, care of this particular pastor & church, I should get over my stubborn self and just join already!

 


Do you haiku?

February 12, 2008

Normally, I don’t. But My Mommy’s Place is rounding up the Haiku Buckaroos again, and I thought I’d play along. (If you feel like 5-7-5ing along with me, you have until Friday the 15th.) There are a few categories (Most Inspiring, Funniest, Most Disgusting, Scariest, and Most Erotic), and at first I didn’t think I’d have anything to contribute along those lines.

However.

Last night, Gruff came home from the hospital a very.sick.man. Is there anything more disgusting that the sound of a grown man vomiting? I didn’t think so. Until the evening wore on. Oh, dear interwebs. There are moments that I really resent that “in sickness and in health” clause. Know what I’m saying? Let me share the haiku that was inspired by last night.

Changing dirty sheets
and a pile of soiled undies –
but they’re not the child’s.

If that’s not “Most Disgusting,” I don’t want to read what is. I’m off to go wash my hands for the eight hundreth time.