Posted in celebration, Emotions, God, health, joy, love, marriage, travel

Ciao Italia! (Due cose che ho imparato)

“In Italy, they add work and life onto food and wine.”  (Robin Leach)

I spent the past 10(ish) days in Italy (with a one-day jaunt to Switzerland) with my wonderful husband.  It was our 25th anniversary trip 18 months late (somehow we couldn’t stop Sarah from getting married, Josh from needing surgery, Jared from graduating college, and Rachel having high school and no license yet so that we could take our trip on time).

We had two days in Rome, one day in Pisa with Daniella, Josh’s girlfriend, two+ days in Cinque Terre (the Five Lands) on the west coast, two days in Milan (part of which was our day in Switzerland) with our good friends and missionaries, and then two days in Venice.  It was a whirlwind.

We found out that in order to get by as an English speaker, you basically need 5 words:  ciao (hello and goodbye), grazie (thank you)prego (you are welcome, please come, after you, have a seat)allora (total filler word, like “um”, “well”) and toilette? (I’ll let you figure that one out all on your own).  We became pretty good at fudging our way through and made it home in one piece with our passports and luggage.  Of course, I am up at 3 am writing this blog post because it’s full-blown day-time there.  I should already be finished with breakfast and have logged about 5,000 steps!

If you haven’t looked it up yet on Google Translate, “due cose che ho imparato” (the subtitle above) means “two things I learned.”  Amid all the incredible eating of pasta, pizza and gelati (I had it for 10 straight days and sometimes even twice.  It was my goal!), touring breath-taking architecture and landscapes, endless shopping in fantastic local boutiques, and traveling on boats, trains and planes, my mind kept meandering to two central “take-aways” from the trip, having nothing to do with any of the above.

1.  I took myself with me.  I would love to tell you that it was 10 completely magical days, that I was immediately changed into an always thankful, patient, kind, loving and joyful human, but the truth is, I brought my real self (the broken and the beautiful) along with me.  There were times where my eyes and heart leapt with the adventure of it all and I was filled with sheer gratitude and awe, but there were other times where I immediately lost patience over train schedules and people cutting in line.  There were times where Allen and I were like two young honeymooners, selfless and in love, but there were other times where we were unkind and hurtful to each other.  It hit home once again that it’s not the quick-fix, external circumstances that heal us in the internal places of our hearts, but the slow and sometimes day-to-day inner work we do in cooperation with a God who is in it with us for the long-haul.  Phew!

2.  I didn’t belong.  Not being able to fully communicate (to understand and be understood) was the first clue to realizing this was not my place and these were not my people.  I felt lost and confused and at times, didn’t seem to even know how to get the help I needed.  Cars and trucks (albeit miniature-sized) darting in and out of pedestrians without many traffic laws, militia standing on street corners with machine guns, currency that looked like monopoly money, and strange food (okay, I got you there…it felt like New Jersey with the pizza, pasta and ice cream shops on every corner) assured me that I was “no longer in Kansas” as the saying goes.  I was drawn into the adventure, the “otherness,” and am truly grateful.  I was changed a bit.  My eyes were opened a little more.  It was really fun and I needed that.  However, being with Allen (my person) was the best part of the whole trip.  And now I know why.   Deep within me, my soul aches for belonging, community, understanding, being understood, my place and my people.  This is most often where healing and the journey towards wholeness takes place, within the belonging to a kind and gracious God and a loving community of others.  My biggest “inner reaction” surprise of the whole trip was when we were standing in line waiting for our passports to be checked upon our return to Newark and the agent said, “Welcome home!”  I could feel my heart let out a sigh.  I belong here.  (A huge shout-out to those of you who are on this life journey with me!  I have missed you!)

Italy was a dream-come true and a big check mark on our bucket list!  And the travel bug has been tickled in my soul!  I am already making plans for a family trip to Alaska.  But today, on a mundane Monday morning, it’s really really okay for me to say Caio Italia and HELLO LONG HILL!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Emotions, Family, love, marriage, wtf

Make A Marriage Great Again (Part Three of Ten)

Everybody’s got a dark side
Do you love me?
Can you love mine?
Nobody’s a picture perfect
But we’re worth it
You know that we’re worth it
Will you love me?
Even with my dark side?

(Kelly Clarkson)

We had a fight this weekend.  It was over boundaries and adult children.  And no, the next WTF (refer to joke in first MAMGA post) is not the word fight (sorry to disappoint…we will get to that F), but the word fallibility.  Back to our fight.  It was mostly about how we don’t believe the other person is doing a good job in these areas (and certainly not doing what we would do).  Remember, Allen is kind and gracious. I am sarcastic and discerning. Allen is a hard-worker, quiet and reserved. I am quick-witted and loud. He is methodical and analytical. I am passionate and decisive. Allen is a supporter and a peacemaker. I am a leader and aggressive.  Now just imagine (if you dare) how we might approach everything just a tad (ha-ha) differently and we strongly wish the other person would change and think and do what we think and do.

After a day of shutting down, processing by ourselves, apologizing, going to counseling, and then processing together, we came to the same conclusion we always come to:  we both want the other to accept us for our complete selves, flaws and all, even if change never comes.

As in many marriages, we started off seeing only the good in each other.  Believe it or not, we actually kept that up for about 10 years.  It meant a lot of hiding and dodging and pretending, and I must say it felt kind of good.  No hard talks.  No hard work.  We strived to believe the best.  After all, who wouldn’t want a kind, gracious, hard-working, supportive, peace-making husband.  I was sure for a long time that I did, or at least should.  And believe it or not, many times  I would ask Allen, “Isn’t there something that you don’t like about me?  What ways do I drive you crazy?”  And he would return with the answer, “Can’t really think of anything off-hand.”

Until it all “hit the fan.”  About 10 years into our marriage, and with help from some friends, Allen took a huge risk and shared some of his “not-so-perfect” stuff with me.   I would love to tell you that I returned his risk with the reward of kindness, understanding and grace.  Not so much.  His reward was judgment and anger.  After all, I liked my perfect, cookie-cutter world, where we were “godly” people and had a picture-perfect marriage and family.  It was really easy to live there.

Over the next months, things began to slowly change in my heart.  Allen’s risk effected me.  I was free to explore the “dark side” of my own life, the ways I was hiding and pretending, the parts of me that are fallible.  And you know what happened?  For the first time in our marriage I felt safe and free to share those things with him.  If he wasn’t perfect, then I didn’t have to be either.  What a relief!

(For you curious folks, I will share one example that might seem silly.  When Allen was at work and my littles were down for a nap, I would sneak and watch “Days of our Lives,” a soap opera I believed a Christian wife and mother should not do.   You might even be chuckling, and on the surface, it seems trite and “no big deal,” but it reveals the deeper hiding and lack of safety that permeated our lives and our marriage.)  

This was the beginning of a very different marriage (we say we have the tale of two marriages), one where transparency and authenticity came to the forefront, and hiding was over (or mostly over).  I would love to say it went swimmingly and that now, it is all easy sailing.  But that “ain’t the truth,” as they say.

Without the hiding came truth (sometimes hard-to-bear truth), and hard work, long examinations of ourselves, counseling and not-very-easy talks, which continue to this day.  We began to believe what we now know beyond a shadow of a doubt:  real intimacy can’t happen without knowing each other’s deepest selves (fallibility, or dark sides, and all) and loving and accepting those deepest selves.  This came along with another truth:  this is something worth fighting for.  It will bring healing and wholeness to places only God and His unconditional love can reach.

It’s been a full-of-hard-work, wonderful, tough, worth-it 16+ years since this “AHA” moment in our marriage.  And as you read at the beginning, the fighting continues, both with each other and FOR each other.  We continue to face the battle for grace, mercy, acceptance, kindness, and unconditional love, both for ourselves and for each other.  It’s tough going many days.

I watched Scott Harrison (the charity:water guy) on Sunday after my last post.  He said something in his message about the fight for clean water, but it struck me in a completely different way:  “Don’t be afraid of the work that has no end.”  There are days when I want go back to the pretending and hiding marriage where it’s easier and less complicated, where the work does have an end or seem to.  But as I know in the deepest part of me, the best thing in my life is that I am fully known (super risky STEP ONE) and fully loved (super hard STEP TWO) by another.  This reveals the very heart of God to me, something my soul craves and is designed to know.  This work has no end, but it’s worth every ounce of effort we put into it.  Allen and I are determined not to leave but to love.   We reminded each other of that very thing last night (and I promise, we weren’t in a good place at the time).  That changes everything.

There’s a place that I know
It’s not pretty there and few have ever gone
If I show it to you now
Will it make you run away?

Or will you stay
Even if it hurts
Even if I try to push you out

Will you return?
And remind me who I really am,
Please remind me who I really am.

(Kelly Clarkson)

***Watch the video of the song before you sign off by clicking HERE***

Share, comment, sign up for my email list and all that good stuff.  Would be honored if you did so.

Next Friday:  FINANCES…yikes!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Family, love, marriage, wtf

Make a Marriage Great Again (Part Two of Ten)

Nothing is more noble, nothing more venerable, than fidelity.  (Cicero)

Disturbing statistics:  22% of men and 14% of women admit to having an affair during their marriage.  Even more disturbing statistics: 74% of men and 68% of women say they would have an affair if they knew they would never get caught. (www.statisticbrain.com)

This past weekend, our friends’ son was married to a beautiful girl.  As with most weddings, there were flowers, dresses, food and promises of love and faithfulness until death. There were also the fun things, like the silly song that the bride’s family sang to the groom called “Lukey Pukey” (don’t ask) and the square dancing in the barn (Allen and I had left feet, six feet, or just a lack of dancing ability – we did get our 10,000 steps for which we were thankful – see FitBit post).

We were reminded again and again that day about the second WTF (see last week’s post on this to get the inside joke) in our series of F words – FIDELITY.

This very word is designed to evoke trust (probably why there is a huge bank who has the name).  With it comes the ideas of loyalty, faithfulness, allegiance and support.

For many of us, the first thing that comes to mind with the word fidelity in marriage is the sexual relationship (the “forsake all others” part).

When Allen and I meet with engaged couples, we ask them, no matter whether or not they are currently sexually active, to give each other the “gift of sexual integrity” during the mentoring process.  It is basically a sexual fast for the four to six months we explore all aspects of their relationship before the big day.  For many, this is a no-brainer. They understand the deeper reasons behind this request:

  • building of trust
  • providing a basic litmus test of self-control and patience
  • exploring spiritual and emotional aspects of the relationship without the physical
  • entering a sexual fast (much like a food fast) to provide an environment where God can work at some deeper levels

For others, this is very difficult, and with good reason.  In a society that has expectations of sleeping together as proof or the natural result of love, it may come as an odd request. At this point, we ask them to take a step of trust in us, in the mentoring process and in the Creator of marriage.  We can tell you this for sure: we have never seen it backfire in our eight years of meeting with over 80 couples.  We have seen relationships heal and thrive.

Allen and I were blessed, albeit for the wrong reasons of following the rules, to wait until marriage for the fulfillment of our physical union. We had no idea then what an incredible gift this was to each other.  A huge benefit for me over these 26+ years is that I have never worried that Allen might have an affair.  His self-control, ability to wait and integrity provided a place of complete trust for me.  I am extremely thankful.  It’s one area of our relationship that I feel safe.  I believe he does as well.

Our hearts were designed for fidelity (loyalty, faithfulness, allegiance and support).  Not just physically.  That is just the area that seems to be highlighted when this subject comes up.  When we marry, we want to be chosen never to be unchosen.   Marriage provides a unique backdrop for true intimacy in every area of our lives: spiritual, emotional, mental and physical.  It is the only human place to be fully-known and fully-loved, and as the Bible says, “naked and unashamed.”

Fidelity is the framework for this intimacy.  This safety net offers a place where we can fully reveal ourselves (become fully-known) to another.  The fulfilled promise of loving and not leaving (“until death do us part”) is huge.  This brings with it the second part of intimacy, being fully-loved.  Each is a requirement of the other and makes a never-ending circle of knowing and loving.

I know some of you are thinking, “But we haven’t been faithful to each other.”  (And maybe even “you have no idea because you guys made all the right decisions,” yada, yada, yada.)  Remember how I said I felt safe in that one area.  That’s true.  But we have not had complete fidelity (loyalty, faithfulness, allegiance and support) with each other.  We are humans.  We have revealed dark sides of ourselves only to be met with a lack of understanding, blame, shame, yelling (okay, I yell), shutting down and bailing out (maybe not the D (ivorce) word, but there are many ways to practice infidelity).  We are still practicing (because we are not there yet by any stretch) what we preach.

Fidelity is hard work.  It’s big and small, long-term and in-the-moment choices to know and be known, to love and be loved.  But it is worth it!

Just now, Allen called and said, “Who are we to share this message?  We certainly don’t have our act together.  It’s hard for us.”  We then paused and reminded each other that even though the struggle is very real for us, we are working really hard because we believe this and the message still deserves to get both in here (to us) and out there (to you)!  Marriage matters!  We matter!  You matter!  Fidelity matters!

Semper Fidelis!

A week break and then number three:  FALLIBILITY

 

 

 

Posted in Family, marriage, wtf

Make A Marriage Great Again (Part One of Ten)

Marriage is the opportunity to inherit an additional dysfunctional family, just in case the one you have wasn’t enough!  (Pinterest)

I was going to call this post “WTF (Part One)” but shied away from the controversy.  I figured the hinted reference to our commander-in-chief might be less contentious than the allusion to a curse word.  You have both to think about now and I might just have your attention.  (I hope you know this is all in fun and to put a smile on your face.)

Back to WTF.  My husband and I have been marriage mentors for many years and have met with countless couples who are getting or newly married.  We love it, not only because we love the people who we come to know, but also because it’s been so good for our own marriage.

We have discovered, mostly because of making our own mistakes, walking through the mentoring curriculum ourselves and getting very wise counsel from a professional, ten F’s (hence the reference, WTF), that couples need to navigate to have the marriage they long for, where they are fully known and fully loved.

The first “F” is FAMILY:  Family of Origin (FOO) and Future Family (FF).

We all have a FOO, and they are all completely different.   There are as many types of families as there are people.  Our FOOs create expectations of what we believe is normal, even right.  It’s no wonder that our FOOs collide when we come together to create an FF.

When we first meet our partner’s FOO, we probably have two things in mind:  I hope they like me.  They look pretty good/or not (in other words, “how good will my partner look in 25 years?”).  As we get to know them a little better, we might have two other things in mind:   We are not doing THAT (fill in the blank) when we have a family.  I am not spending all of the holidays with her side.  (and other such kind thoughts)

Most husbands and wives fall into patterns of behavior and thought from their FOOs.  After all, we believe them to be what’s normal and our expectations follow suit.  Even in the healthiest of families, however, many couples find certain aspects of their FOO that they don’t want to repeat.

When Allen and I married more than 26 years ago, we had absolutely no clue about this.  We were young and in love and thought it would just magically play out.  Then we began to live together.  I grew up in a family that was loud, emotional and nothing was “off limits” in our conversations.  We talked about the taboo things:  religion, politics, you-name-it.  We talked about them passionately.

Allen, on the other hand grew up in a “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all” FOO.   Controversial topics were never spoken of.  To this day, Allen’s mom does not know who his dad voted for in any election (maybe that’s why they get along so well).  I’m sure you can picture our first argument and even our argument just yesterday.  Esther:  loud, passionate, emotional.  Allen:  quiet, reserved and logical.  Perfect for each other (insert snarky tone of voice).

This isn’t something that is our faults.  It’s just what’s true.  And what’s true will set you free (the book of John).  As we slowly and carefully unravel what we have brought to the marriage with us from our FOOs (without the damaging partners of blame and shame), we will begin to experience the grace and love we so desperately want and need, providing the way for our FF.

Allen and I are still navigating this, sometimes more carefully than others.   We continue to see patterns from our FOOs that have an effect on our F (which for us, isn’t so future anymore).  We keep working hard with wise counsel to see ourselves and each other more clearly, and give understanding and compassion.  I wish we were perfect at it.  We are not.  But one thing we are:  we are passionate about doing whatever it takes to be fully known and fully loved, FOO issues and all.

We have now produced a FOO for our children, just like many of you.  Others of you are at the beginning of your FF like our daughter Sarah (who just wrote an amazing post on new marriage).  No matter where you are on your journey, it’s never too late or too soon to take a look back and uncover what you might have brought into your F or your FF from your FOO.  The good news is that some of the things might just be wonderful.  After all, the best gift your partner received from your FOO is YOU!

NEXT FRIDAY:  FIDELITY

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