Archive for May, 2011

Tonight will be my last night working at Macy’s.  I started the job last summer and didn’t know the significance of it at the time.  I get paid through the summer from my teaching job and I have usually taken summers off.  I’m not motivated by money, and most of the time, I’m not one of those people who works too many hours and doesn’t spend time with his family.

My wife and I haven’t been good with money management for most of our marriage and we used to get ourselves into a lot of debt and then try to figure out a way to get ourselves out.  I have worked as many as three jobs at a time before, and my wife has taken on extra jobs many times, as well. 

It’s one thing to work extra hours or take a second job because you’re saving for a vacation, or trying to get your mortgage paid down.  There’s a built in motivation in that you are looking forward to the end result of your work. It’s quite another to do it because it’s the only way you can keep the creditors off your backs.  In those cases, it’s usually just drudgery and there isn’t necessarily an end in sight.

Here’s the dynamic in all this that I didn’t really understand.  A woman values and needs security from her man.  Financial security is a big part of that, but here’s the important part.  It’s her perception of security that’s important, not the man’s.  If she doesn’t feel secure, she’s not secure.  It’s as simple as that. 

Several times during our marriage, my wife would go out and get a second job because, in her mind, we needed the money.  In my mind, we didn’t.  Of course, as I’ve stated openly and repeatedly in this blog, I tended to be lazy and not deal with problems.  I would look at our finances and say, “No big deal. We’ll be fine.”  My wife would look at them and say, “We need more money to pay the bills.”  She would start going through the classifieds looking for a part-time job, and I would let her.

It wasn’t until quite a while after I got the job at Macy’s this past summer that I found out that my wife carried a great deal of resentment over the fact that she had sometimes worked a second job while I hadn’t.  I didn’t even realize that getting this job was an act of restoration, but she told me later that it meant a great deal to her that I was the one taking that step.  She repeated the affirmation of how much she appreciated the fact that I was willing to take on the extra work several times and it made me very glad that I had done it.

The original plan was that I would work there through the summer, but when school started, I would either quit or finish up soon after.  When school did start and we were back together, I used the fact that she was proud of me and the reality that the separation had messed up our finances to motivate me took stick it out for a while.  It became, “I’ll stay until Thanksgiving,” and then, “I’ll stay through the holidays,” and so on it went.  We used the extra money to pay for travel on the restoration tour, and it really did make some things possible that wouldn’t have been otherwise. 

At the same time, there was the fact that we didn’t really need the money, and more and more, my wife just wanted me home.  I wanted to make sure I stayed long enough to do the things we wanted to do, but not so long that it became a negative aspect of our relationship.  In the end, I decided that with school ending, and this being the summer of restoration, it was time to move on.  We have big plans for this summer culminating on August 6, and we are going to spend the summer together.  It’s time to restore the time we lost last year, and that won’t happen while I’m at work.

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I can’t emphasize enough how much the support of a few friends means when you’re going through a tough time.  It’s not so much what they do, but more the knowing that they are there.  Knowing that you’re not alone, and you don’t have to face it by yourself can get a person through some of the longest days and darkest nights.  I don’t know what I would have done last summer, had there not been several people who stood by me. 

I’m a teacher, so I didn’t have work to keep me occupied. This was a two-edged sword.  On the one hand, it gave me lots of time to read, pray, attend my therapy sessions, and be there to show love to my wife as much as she would let me.  On the other, there were many long hours of unscheduled time where I had to fight the loneliness and pain that threatened to overwhelm me and pull me under.

The pattern of me staying with my wife on the weekends, then being sent home to my apartment on Mondays or Tuesdays continued, and it never got any easier.  We would have a great time for two or three days, then she would tell me good-bye again.  I desperately wanted her to say or do something to give me hope at those times, but she didn’t, and it always seemed like everything that had just taken place hadn’t mattered.  I respected her boundaries, but also took advantage of every opportunity that presented itself. 

Sometimes she would call during the week and ask me if I could give her a ride, or help her with something.  I always did, and I tried to not expect anything in return.  I wanted her to see me as someone who was able to give without taking.  I figured that any positive interaction between us could only serve as a building block to repairing our relationship, so I tried to be very careful not to push.  I failed at times, of course, and did push her to talk about things she didn’t want to, or deal with my pain, which only pushed her away.

Many times, when I would return to my apartment with no assurance of anything in regards to our future, I would seek God’s comfort through prayer, but also that human aspect of a friend who would listen and be there in whatever way I needed.  There were a small number of such people, and they may not think they did much, but their willingness to give me advice, come over and sit with me, listen to me vent and cry, and spend time with me made an immeasurable difference. 

My primary source of strength was God, and I spent a great deal of time crying out to Him, reading the Bible, and listening to His voice.  More than at any other time in my life, He was real to me in tangible ways.  I would read verses and I knew that they carried a message for me.  My thoughts would be all out of whack and He would help me to see things in perspective and get a grip.  Beyond that, He spoke to me, clearly and unmistakably during this time of need.  Hebrews 11:6 says, “Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.”  I was seeking Him more sincerely than I had for a long time, and probably ever.

He was proving Himself true, and showing me that He was deeply interested in what I was going through.  I understood that my wife had the same free will that we all do and that nobody, including God Himself, was going to force her to love me against her will.  I also was greatly encouraged by the knowledge that the creator of all things wanted our marriage to work out, and was helping me on my end.  If you’re reading this and you have a difficult situation in your life, draw close to God and spend time with some true friends who will support you and lead you in the right direction.  They are truly worth more than gold.

Yesterday’s post was very difficult to write.  Jesus said that people would recognize His followers by one characteristic.  It wasn’t how often they went to church, how much money they gave, or how much they read their Bible.  It also wasn’t that they didn’t curse or drink or fool around.  Very often, christians define themselves by what they do or don’t do.  Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35

Someone once said, “Love is giving someone the power to destroy you, but trusting them not to.”  My wife and I ended up pushing that one to the limit before we figured things out.  You see, when you think someone loves you, and you want them to love you back, it hurts infinitely more when they hurt you and let you down.  The pain my wife and I caused each other was deeper than any that anyone else could have caused because of the relationship that we had with each other.  The disappointment that we felt when people from our church let us down in our time of need was minute compared to the way we failed each other.  Even so, it was much more significant than it would have been, had we not known what it was to be loved by them previously.

There were a handful of people who remained true friends.  One in particular was a guy named Joe, who had moved to the area at almost the same time we had.  We had become friends right away, but then had a falling out during the time that I was wandering.  We had pretty well patched things up by the time my marriage fell all the way apart, and he was a true rock for me throughout.  We called each other almost daily, and he would pray with me, come over when I couldn’t bear to be alone, and offer encouragement any time, day or night.

Joe has a daughter who was and is a true miracle child.  She was born so prematurely that she weighed less than 2 pounds.  She went to special schools most of her life, but she was always loved and prayed for.  Her development continued over the years to the point that she attended a large public high school for her senior year, where she earned a student of the month award and graduated as a member of the National Honor Society. 

When we received her graduation announcement and party invitation, we had every intention of going.  When we saw that the party was being held at our former church, my wife balked.  Going to the party meant not only facing people that we weren’t sure how to respond to, it would also mean returning to the place that held such bitter memories.  I told her that I stood by her whatever she decided and that we could celebrate with Joe’s family privately instead. 

Love has a way of building people up, giving them courage, and making them strong.  From within the safe covering of my unconditional love, my wife soon announced that she was willing to go after all.  She only asked that I stay by her side and not let her get cornered or put in a difficult situation, which was the very thing I was eager to do.  We were going to celebrate Joe’s daughter and her accomplishment; everything else was secondary. 

Last Spring, we left that church broken and disgraced.  Almost exactly a year later, we returned as a completely different couple.  It was definitely awkward being there, but enough healing has taken place apart from the church that we were able to put aside that part of the past.  I couldn’t have been more proud of the beautiful lady by my side. 

A few days later, Joe told me over the phone that my wife had never looked better.  He said she had a glow about her and she looked like she was free of some huge burdens.  He was right.  She and I both still have some healing and the final phases of the restoration to go through, but we’ve reached that point where it shows on the outside.  Just like when the new siding, paint, shutters, etc. draw people’s eyes to a house that’s undergoing restoration, so the effects of everything that’s taking place inside our marriage can now be unmistakably seen on the outside.

Our move from Kansas to Missouri was a pretty amazing story of faith, adventure, and starting over.  We were floundering helplessly in Dodge City.  My parents had retired to Springfield, MO, and were getting older and starting to see their health deteriorate.  They kept encouraging us to relocate to that part of the country, so in the Summer of 2005, we did. 

I called a school district who was advertising a teaching position in a small town I’d never heard of, while I was teaching summer school in Dodge City.  I set up an interview over the phone, and we drove up over the fourth of July weekend.  Before I even went to the interview, we scoured the classified ads for rental houses and signed a one year lease on a home in the country.  Fortunately, I got the job.  Unfortunately, the place we rented was the ill-fated tornado house.

What still remained was to find a church.  I was afraid it would be a long drawn-out process, but it was exactly the opposite.  We decided to try a church in the town closest to our new house of the same denomination we were used to attending.  That first Sunday, we knew we were home.

When the tornado hit, we learned what a true church family was. It was people from the church who cleared trees off the road until after midnight to reach us at what was left of our house.  It was people from the church who gave us a temporary place to stay.  It was people from the church who came out and helped us find and salvage possessions, clean up the mess, and move into the rental we found a few days later.  These were people we had only known for few months, yet they treated us as one of their own.

Fast forward a few years.  Same church name and building, but a very different church.  Many of the leading families had left, and the attendees changed almost from week to week.  I was stumbling and falling, but no one seemed to notice or pay it any mind.   My wife became more and more withdrawn over time, but no one reached out to try to find out what was wrong.  More than once, we put in prayer requests indicating that we were having marriage problems.  I’m not sure if anyone prayed, but I know that no one from the leadership ever offered us any help.

We’ll never know for sure, but we believe that if there had been a support system there, if people had cared and gotten involved, things may not have gone so far, and so much damage might not have been done.  As it was, they not only didn’t reach out, but in many cases they pulled away from us.  My wife felt completely abandoned and alone.  People who we thought were true friends just disappeared once we went public with our problems.  The phone didn’t ring, and when we did still attend church, people avoided and ignored us.

After my wife quit going to church altogether, and once she had moved out, I took it upon myself to go to the pastor and tell him what was going on.  He pretty much told me to put on a smile, come back to church and everything would be ok.  I still attended a few more times, but it was awkward and painful to realize that people now knew what was happening and still did nothing to help. 

My purpose in writing this is in no way to bash any particular church or people.  It is simply to say that this should never have happened.  When that church was healthy, I don’t think it would have.  I don’t know what changed, or why, but there was no longer a family for us to be part of.  Where we should have felt loved and encouraged, we felt abandoned and rejected.  What should have been part of the solution became an aggravating factor in the problem.  My wife had already been hurt and angry with me.  All of this compounded her hurt and anger to include many people from the church and God Himself. 

God was not to blame, but at the time, she couldn’t separate Him from His people.  She lost her way when she lost hope in the people and the institution that should have been a refuge and strength for her.  It’s not their fault that either of us fell, but we wouldn’t have fallen as far had someone been there to catch us, or, better yet, pull us back from the edge before we went over.

Life is full of contradictions, but sometimes it’s in the apparent paradox that truth is found.  Whoever wants to save his life will lose it.  The more you give away, the more you’ll have.  If you hold too tightly, you’ll lose control.

Shortly before we separated, I showed my wife a classified ad for a job at Dillard’s.  She applied and was hired.  I was just trying to help her out, as we were both looking for Summer employment.  It turned out that they hired her full-time, and the job paid enough that she could afford to move out and make it without me.  I had unwittingly helped give her the means to leave me.

It wasn’t long after this that we talked about her feelings of inadequacy and how, during our marriage, she hadn’t ever had the opportunity to find out what she could or couldn’t do.  Now, one of the things that she wanted to accomplish through our separation was to prove to herself that she could do things on her own and take care of things without anyone else. 

Relationships are complicated undertakings, full of pitfalls that couples often don’t see coming.  As I stated earlier, I had never intended for her to feel this way, nor had I realized that she did.  I had always believed in her and had confidence in her, but she didn’t know this.  My reason for trying to take on all the responsibilities was so that she wouldn’t have to.   The unexpected result was that she felt worthless and like I didn’t trust her to be able to do anything. 

I had no intention of supplying her with resources to make a life without me when the job at Dillard’s came up, but once we reached the point where the separation was decided upon, I consciously decided to work with her in becoming independent.  It was one of those moments of disequilibrium, when your rational mind says, “This doesn’t make sense,” and your heart says, “This is what love would do.”  Her moving out was the last thing on earth that I wanted, but it was going to happen regardless.  My choices were to fight her, and probably never get her back, or love her unconditionally, and leave the door open for a possible reconciliation. 

I supported her as she got utilities in only her name for the new apartment, even though I hoped that I would be living there soon.  I didn’t argue when she took my name off the joint checking account at her bank.  I withdrew half of the emergency fund from my bank and gave it to her.  These things were painful, and the practical side of me kept wondering if all this was really necessary.  My heart told me that it was, so I kept listening to the things my wife was telling me about what she believed she needed, and I kept pushing down the urge to discount what she was going through.

Love is about hard choices sometimes.  It’s about putting yourself aside and giving up your rights for another.  The Bible says, “Love does not demand its own way.” (1 Corinthians 13:5)  I struggled with giving up control.  A part of me believed that I could demand of her that she just stop all this and that I could strong-arm her into submitting to my authority as her husband.  It was tempting to try, but deep down inside, I knew it wasn’t right, and it wasn’t really what I wanted.

Things hadn’t been right or healthy for a long time, and what I really wanted in the deepest part of me was for both of us to find that place where, with healthy hearts, we found each other again.  There was a song called “Start Again” by the group “Red” that was out at this time.  Every time I heard it, my heart would break, but it also gave me hope that it was possible. We had loved each other once with a beautiful love and I couldn’t give up on the hope that the roots were still there and that love could grow and bloom again.

Wanting desperately to give your love to someone who isn’t returning it and won’t receive most of it is a perilous place to find yourself.  My wife wanted to be pursued, yes, but by a strong and capable man, not a weak, pathetic one.  There’s a fine line between lavishing love on the object of your affection and driving her away by crawling around at her feet.  I knew it was important that I navigate those waters correctly during our separation, which was why it was absolutely critical for me to get myself healthy. 

I spent a lot of time feeling pathetic and sorry for myself, but I did my best to keep this hidden while I worked on getting myself right and overcoming the obstacles in the path of our reconciliation.  I realized that my wife needed me to be someone who had something to bring to her, not someone who constantly needed something from her.  She needed a man, not a puppy, and I resolved to put aside my pain and be the man she needed before someone else took on that role.

After my wife got her first tattoo, I began to think about getting one.  My initial idea was to get the same design she got, but smaller, and in a different place.  My reasoning was that it would mean that I belonged to her; that we were bound to each other.  I also realized (thank God) that it would be exactly the type of weak, desperate move that would be more likely to make her despise me than feel drawn to me.  It would have been a permanent statement that I didn’t have enough self-worth to be my own man.

I kept the thought of a “tat” for myself on the back-burner, since I didn’t really have any idea what to get.  I figured that until it would really mean something, I wouldn’t pursue it.  Meanwhile, I was devouring books, websites, scriptures, and anything else I could find about love and romance.  I read and re-read the Song of Solomon, the Old Testament book that parallels married love with God’s love.  It really spoke to me, and one verse stood out in particular. 

Chapter six and verse three says, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” That became my verse, and I held onto it fiercely.  In chapter 8 and verse 6, it says, “Place me…like a seal on your arm, for love is as strong as death.”  That sounded like a tattoo to me, despite the cheesy and highly questionable images of guys putting their girlfriends’ names in tattoos as a way of staking a claim, or showing off their “catch.”  I was determined not to do that, so I needed to figure out how to make this work.  The answer came in the most unlikely of places.

I had an app on my phone of love poems and quotes that I can hardly believe I am admitting to reading.  One day, I read the words, “Don’t put my name in a heart because a heart can be broken.  Put it in a circle because a circle goes on forever,” and just like that, I had it!  I sat down and sketched a circle with Song of Solomon 6:3 going all the way around it and my wife’s name in the middle. 

I shared the idea with our oldest daughter and a few close friends and they unanimously loved it.  I decided not to share it with my wife, though.  I figured that if we got back together, I would have it done, but until things were worked out between us, I wasn’t going to tell her.  I also felt that it was missing something, but couldn’t figure out what else it needed.  Eventually, when we got back together, my wife helped me decide on two interlaced wedding rings inside the circle with the nickname that I had made up for her. 

My permanent seal of love

Now she teases me that I’m stuck with her because I have that on my arm.  That’s kind of the idea, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

There is one major difference between auto restoration and restoring older homes.  When a car is being restored, it’s all about original parts.  The focus is on replacing worn out and damaged parts and making the finished product exactly like the original.  No changes, no artistic license.

It reminds me of an experience I had in Spain, during a luncheon sponsored by a winery.  We were served a traditional soup, but it had been made differently than it normally was.  Our host became quite upset and had an animated conversation with the waiter about why it hadn’t been made in the traditional way.  The people of southern Spain value tradition and are resistant to change.

I was all about change at this point in my life and my marriage.  Mostly, I needed to change myself.  I was going through the process of allowing myself to be changed by God, and also learning to change with the help of my therapist and others who I opened up to and accepted counsel from.  I was listening, and that was key. 

I had never realized that my wife felt smothered and controlled.  It was a case of an unintended consequence.  I always wanted to do things for her and help her, but I was unintentionally sending the message that I didn’t think she was capable or competent.  We also had an issue regarding something she wanted that I hadn’t thought was very important.  She had talked off and on for years about wanting a tattoo, and I had always told her that I didn’t like them and didn’t want her to get one. 

She had understood me to be forbidding her and now she was intent on getting one.  It was an opportunity for me to show her that things were different, and that I would love and accept her and allow her to make her own choices.  We looked at designs and chose a tatoo artist together.  I sat with her and held her hand through the entire application.  The tatoo artist never suspected that we were separated, and I hoped and prayed that my wife was receiving at least a little bit of the love that I was desperately trying to show her.

Sometimes, the restoration of a house involves making some changes.  There is a certain amount of updating that is not only acceptable, but often necessary.  A house that was originally built with no bathrooms and little or no electricity probably shouldn’t be restored to be exactly like it originally was.  So it was with our marriage. 

I was sharing the story of the vision with a colleague and friend one day and he made a most astute observation.  He said that it sounded like the original “house” was never entirely adequate.  He pointed out that it not only needed to be restored, it probably needed to be added on to.  He hit the nail right on the head.  Even though our marriage started out as a beautiful thing, there were aspects of it that had never been healthy.  The curb appeal was amazing, but underneath, it hadn’t been built right.

Not fighting my wife over her tatoo, but accepting it and being part of it was a tangible act that showed a change in the way I responded to her.  The tattoo itself was also something tangible that showed that her life was changing.  She had told our oldest daughter that if it was going to work out between us, I would have to love all of her.  If I couldn’t accept all of who she was, we couldn’t get back together.  What a person wears, the way they style their hair, or what they put on their skin isn’t who they are.  It’s just self-expression.  True love sees the person beneath the skin and listens to the heart.