Archive for February, 2012

Last Saturday, Ceecee and I were sharing a picnic in Forest Park in St. Louis.  It was a bit chilly, but we had blankets and an adventurous spirit, so we gave it a go.  We also had some really good stuff from Trader Joe’s and Global Foods, a specialty food store in one of the burbs, so we were looking forward to this picnic.

We found a spot by the water before the sun went down and began to unpack the picnic basket.  I had mentioned other such picnics we had shared over the years and we reminisced a bit over these.  I was telling her about these pictures that I often look at where it was a sunny day and she was lying there smiling.  Interestingly enough, that picnic was during our separation.

The very first time we visited St. Louis, we sat in the same park and shared a bottle of wine (probably illegal, I realize) and a European style lunch of fruit, bread, and cheese on the grass not far from the art museum.  Since Forest Park is larger than New York City’s Central Park, we have shared similar experiences in many different locations and don’t even remember where they were or how to get to them now.  There’s something very romantic about spreading a blanket and pulling a cork and sharing an intimate meal of finger foods and vino.

So back to us being separated.  Even when things were at their worst, St. Louis was the one thing we never let go of.  We still went once a month, and for that one day, it was almost as if we were still Brian And Ceecee.  We still had fun, and we still had picnics.

This past weekend, Ceecee said something about it being too bad we didn’t have cookies for the ride home.  She was referring to a special memory we share of buying a box of specialty cookies at Vitale’s Bakery on The Hill.  As we drove home, we opened the box to sample the different flavors.  By the time we got home, we had eaten the entire box.  Although we are normally too health conscious to do something like that, it was completely spontaneous and we laughed and shared and enjoyed every bit of that experience.

When she mentioned it, I immediately had the thought,” I wonder if that was before, during, or after our separation.”  For a time, shortly after we had gotten back together, I obsessed over time frames and what was happening when.  I’m not sure why I thought that mattered, but I was always trying to place events and memories in context of where our relationship had been at the time.

Almost as quickly as I had the thought, another took its place.  I told Ceecee what I had been thinking and then said, “I realized that it doesn’t matter.  It’s just always been us.”  She agreed, “A good memory is a good memory.”

The challenge is to apply that to everything.  It doesn’t matter how or when or why certain things happened.  What matters is to celebrate the good and let go of the rest.  Treasure the memories we want to keep, because they will be part of our legacy, and part of what makes our marriage ours and ours alone.

In my last post, I mentioned a house we restored in Western Kansas.  It was while living in and working on that house that I learned the meaning of the expression, “blood, sweat, and tears.”  I put all three into that house as the project progressed.

When my marriage began to unravel, it was very similar to the experience of restoring houses like that.  Things had gotten bad and it didn’t really matter how or why.  What mattered is what needed to be done about it.

It doesn’t take both people working to restore a marriage, however.  Most people assume that if one person isn’t willing to work, the relationship can’t be fixed.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

If there was ever love there, it can be rebuilt.  Either person can do this.  Sure it’s easier if both people work together, but that’s rarely going to be the case.  When a marriage reaches that point, generally either someone wants out or has already left.  That person is probably not going to be working.

If the other, the one who wants the marriage, will do the work, it will still get done.  It will take longer and be more difficult, but it will still get done.  It’s not so much a question of if it will work, but of how long it will take and what it will require.  I wish everyone who has found him or herself staring at divorce would realize this.

When Ceecee decided to give up on me and move on, I was the only one there to do the work.  I had to learn on the fly and I had to get busy.  No excuses, no “what if’s”, I had to get to work and be diligent about it.

I worked and worked, day after day, week after week, month after month.  Most of that time, it didn’t seem like it was doing any good.  There was little, if any response from Ceecee.  I just kept working, because I believed I could rebuild the love.  I was committed to seeing it through and idealistic enough to believe that it could be done.

When you work on a house like the one we bought in Kansas, it’s much the same way.  You work and work and labor and labor and sometimes it doesn’t seem like it’s ever going to be worth it.  It seems like it was a mistake to ever buy the house and it seems like it will never get finished or amount to anything.  All the work doesn’t seem to yield results.

At times, it seems like it’s destined to fail.  There are setbacks and failures.  You cut into something you shouldn’t have cut into.  You try to move a wall that you shouldn’t be moving.  You discover problems that you never anticipated.

So it was with our marriage.  I was working and building to be sure, but there were setbacks.  I said things I shouldn’t have said.  I opened up things that I shouldn’t have dug around in.  I got selfish at times and lost focus.

Then it comes together all of a sudden.  You finish the drywall and put on paint.  You refinish the hardwood floors and suddenly it looks like a whole new place.  The woodwork gets done, the colors take shape, decor comes into focus, and as if it happened all at once, a beautiful home rises from the sawdust and scraps.

It was literally two weeks from the last time my wife told me that she didn’t love me until she called asking me to move back in with her.  There had been months of building leading up to those two weeks.  At any time, I could have given up.  I could have concluded that it was a mistake or it wasn’t worth it.  I could have wasted my opportunity.

If I had, I wouldn’t be writing this blog, loving the most wonderful woman I’ve ever known, and trying to communicate to others that this is how it works.  But it is how it works.  Love is something you make.  You build it by putting yourself aside and giving all you have to the one you’re committed to.

If there was ever love there to start with, it can be rebuilt.  It takes time.  It takes committment.  It takes sacrifice.  But it’s worth it.  It’s always worth it.  It’s so much more than worth it.

When my wife presented her paper titled, “Learning To Be a Serial Killer” at a psychology conference, it was standing room only.  She was attempting to prove that serial murder was not, in fact, a result of an uncontrollable urge that one is born with or attributable to psychosis.  Her premise, which she argued in support of, was that serial killers learn to become killers in much the same way any other behavior is learned.

While she may have wanted to use that kind of learning on me at times during our marriage, thankfully killing was something she never developed an affinity for.

Unfortunately, just as many mistakenly assume that serial killers were born that way, can’t help themselves, have some defect in their brain, or buy into any other of a plethora of explanations, so are many equally clueless about marriage.  When couples have problems, many are quick to say they “married the wrong person,” they just “weren’t right for each other,” or the classic “it didn’t work out.”

Conversely, when a couple is happy or successful, the opinions swing the opposite way.  They “found their soul mate,” they “are so lucky,” yada, yada.  People are generally either jealous and believe that couple has something they wish for, but just haven’t found, or they are happy for them, but fail to understand that anyone can have the same thing if they are willing to work for it and learn what it takes to get it.

People look at our marriage now and don’t have a clue what it took to get to where we are.  We’re not just two people who are happy because we won the dating lottery by happening to meet and marry “the right one.”  We sure haven’t had it easy and we are most definitely not “lucky” to have what we have.  Blessed, fortunate, and grateful, yes.  Luck, however, has nothing to do with it.

To keep this at its simplest, we have what we have because of two words: work and learning.  It has taken a huge amount of work.  That’s mainly my fault and I’ll talk more about that later, but if we weren’t willing to do the work, we wouldn’t have what we have.  At the same time, if we hadn’t learned how real love works, all of my/our efforts might well have been in vain.

When we bought a large house in a small town in Western Kansas, it was in bad shape.  We could tell it had been a grand old home at one time, but years of neglect allowed us to buy it for a ridiculously low price.  Here’s the point, though.  The people who lived in it could have taken care of it and not let it get run down.  Even when it was run down, they could have gotten to work and fixed and restored it for themselves.  Instead they sold it “as is” and walked away from it.

So many people do the same thing with their marriages.  That’s the path I was once traveling.  My marriage was essentially that house in the Winter of 2009.  I was slowly moving toward putting up the proverbial “for sale” sign and letting my marriage go because I thought it had become nearly worthless.  I wasn’t willing to do the work and I didn’t know what to do anyway.

I could have kept my marriage from ever becoming that run down though.  I could have applied myself all along to learning about love and how to treat a woman.  Even when I had allowed the years to get the best of us, I could have gotten to work at any point and avoided so much grief and heartache.

The lesson from the house was that even though we were willing to do the work, we had a lot to learn.  It was by far the biggest project we had undertaken and was full of unexpected surprises.  We did a lot of learning on the fly and had to bring in help from time to time.  The work without the learning wouldn’t have been enough.  The learning without doing the work wouldn’t have mattered either.

As we did the work and began making that house beautiful and showy again, it wasn’t luck that caused it to come together.  When we could proudly entertain guests and enjoy the finished product, it was absolutely not because we were “so lucky” or because that house was “the right one.”  So it is with love.  It’s a learned behavior that takes work.  Either one by itself isn’t enough, but the two together can result in a “killer” love story.

One of the things that made this year’s Valentine’s Day so special (even though we said we weren’t going to make a big deal out of it this year) was the way we’ve improved at speaking the languages of love.  I’m referring to the series of books by Gary Chapman which started with “The Five Love Languages,” and expanded from there.

In “The Five Love Languages,” Dr. Chapman identifies five categories through which people give and receive love.  He believes that individuals have a primary love language, much like we have a native language that we speak.  In many relationships, the two lovers have different primary love languages which leads to break-downs in being able to communicate the love that they truly do have for each other.

The five languages of love, according to Dr. Chapman are:  physical touch, acts of service, gifts, words of affirmation, and quality time.  Mine has pretty much always been words of affirmation with quality time as my secondary language.  Ceecee’s used to be gifts, but now is in close competition with physical touch.

I care very little about receiving gifts and Ceecee has never been one for words.  Understandably, that led to some problems earlier in our marriage.  When she would buy something for me, she meant to show love, but I didn’t understand that, because I wanted words and time from her.  When I would write her love letters, I meant to show love, but she didn’t get the message.

When we got back together, we realized that love couldn’t be on our terms.  If we were going to love properly, we needed to give what the other needed, not what we would have wanted for ourselves or what we were comfortable with.  Although it wasn’t natural for Ceecee to speak my love language, she chose to learn to do so.  Even though gifts don’t mean nearly as much to me, I realized that my love for Ceecee has to drive me to meet her needs, even if I don’t always understand them.

This year, during the snow day, I realized that part of what made it so beautiful was that I used all five love languages with Ceecee.  Of course I gave her gifts for Valentine’s Day.  I gave her physical touch with a full-body massage.  We spent quality time together.  I cooked a special dinner for her and pampered her (acts of service) and I gave her many affirming words by writing them on cards and by saying them to her.

The next day, she printed off a love letter that she had written to me.  It was full of affirmation and words of love and committment.  While it’s not a natural tendency for her to do something like this, she knows that it means a great deal to me.  The truth is, there’s nothing she could have bought in any store at any price that would have meant as much to me as the words in that letter.

Inasmuch as Ceecee and I both intended to have a low-key Valentine’s Day this year, a well-timed snow day and our generally fun and romantic marriage kicked in and changed that plan yesterday. 

Last year, Valentine’s Day was on a Monday and we took the 13th to spend as our day just as a practical matter.  This year, we weren’t planning on doing much, so we figured Tuesday evening would be it.  I was planning to cook a seafood dinner (at Ceecee’s request – like last year’s), and we were going to maybe exchange small gifts.

Then the snowstorm moved in and we got the call Monday morning that there was no school.  So there we were with a whole day, and the day before Valentine’s Day no less.  I had already bought most everything, and we have a cool grocery store a block from our downtown loft, so it was no problem to pick up anything else we needed.

Obviously, we decided to expand our celebration.  Mimosas and brunch are always a great start and we watched the snow fall while watching Les Miserables, one of our favorite movies.  Then there was a full body massage, lunch, a walk to the Bistro Market for a local brew, more relaxing, and I started cooking. 

I had bought some small, silly party favors and a box of “Tangled” valentines and I kept leaving things for her to find around the house.  I also had a gift or two to give her and a Hoops and Yoyo card.  We ate our seafood dinner, cuddled on the couch and watched “Shall We Dance?” A chick flick, no doubt, and we both cried at the scene where he comes up the escalator with the rose, even though we’ve seen it multiple times. 

It was a beautiful day, without diamonds or store-bought extravagance.  The extravagance is in our hearts, and we love freely and lavishly.  On the one hand, Valentine’s Day isn’t that big a deal now because we celebrate our love everyday.  On the other hand, if we get a free day and a chance to celebrate it more purposefully than usual, I’ll take that every time!

Les Miserables is undeniably one of the great stories of our time and today I was considering the juxtaposition of its message with a recent conversation I had.  The more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t help but be inspired to write.

I couldn’t help wondering why honor is so absent from our society today, especially among men.  Who sold us a bill of goods that said “Live for yourself.  Look out for number one.  Get what you can.”  That’s the way to live life?  I couldn’t disagree more.

I’ll never forget a story I heard as a teen in which a woman was sharing how she and her husband had reconciled after he had had an affair.  She described the pain she felt, lying next to him in bed at night and thinking about what he had done.  She told how she knew she could have left him and been justified in doing so.

But then she said that God showed her that while divorcing him would have been permissible, it wouldn’t have been the most honorable thing.  She chose to stay.  She chose to face her fears, her uncertainty, her pain, and she chose to take the risk for something higher than her feelings, her needs, or what she wanted.

In Les Miserables, the story is a picture of the law and grace, judgement and mercy.  The Bible tells us that mercy triumphs over judgement.  Main character Jean Valjean receives both mercy (not getting what he deserves) and grace (getting what he doesn’t deserve) and goes on to become a giver of both.  Time and again, he has the opportunity to set honor aside and do what would be best for him, but he won’t.  He lives by a different standard, because he was ransomed and redeemed and he is bound by a higher law.

It’s a powerful story of self-sacrifice.  Of living for others rather than self.  And I can’t help but wonder.  Where are all the men today who would risk it all to give of themselves, rather than taking?  Where are the men who would put honor above their pride, and would use what they’ve been given to be what someone else needs?  Where are the heroes?

There’s something more meaningful than success.  There’s something more powerful than winning.  There’s something stronger than justification.

That something is love.  Not the “love” of the pop culture variety.  Not the “if it makes me feel good, if it meets my needs, if it makes me happy, if I’m being fulfilled, etc. etc. gag me please.  Not that selfish, me, me, me attitude that has nothing to do with love.

Real love gives. Real love sacrifices.  Real love doesn’t take.  Real love says others are more important than me and true success is when I can give myself away without asking for anything in return purely for another person’s benefit.

The stories of great love and sacrifice throughout the ages ring true because they get at the heart of what life is really all about and way down inside, no matter how much we bury it or deny it, we know it.

So the choice is, run from it or embrace it.  What will you do with what you’ve been given?

Where are the heroes?

This one’s extremely personal, but if I didn’t want everyone to read it, I wouldn’t be posting it on The Restoration Tour.  It’s also getting close to Valentine’s Day and that’s a stressor for some of you, so let me jump in and share some thoughts.

Last year’s Valentine’s Day was pretty over the top by normal standards, but since it was the year of the restoration tour, it was destined to be an all out celebration of romance and love.  (For more on that, see the posts “Lucky February 13” and “Lucky February 13, part 2,” dated July 22 and 23, 2011)  This year, it will be a lower budget, slimmed down celebration, but love will still be front and center, and the romance will be all about knowing my wife’s heart.

We’ve learned that giving doesn’t just mean buying something, and that gifts don’t always come from stores.  They come from really knowing the other person and intentionally doing what would mean the most.  That can involve using any of the Five Love Languages (see Gary Chapman’s excellent book for more on that), and it mostly means caring enough to pick up on the little clues and following through on what your true love wants and needs.

If you’re not creative, just go online and search “Valentine’s Day ideas” and you’ll be amazed at how much great stuff you’ll find.  Then tailor the ideas that appeal to you according to your level of comfort and what would really mean something to the one you love.  Make them personal, make them genuine, and don’t be afraid to have fun.

Below is the text of the “Official Notice” I wrote to Ceecee last year.  I got up during the night and left it to look as though it had been slipped under our door.  The idea came from the web.*  I just wrote my own words.

OFFICIAL NOTICE

You are herby notified of the following action:

In the matter of the marriage of C(full name omitted) and B(full name omitted)

To wit:  That by virtue of your indescribable beauty, wonderful spirit and personality, and pure and precious heart, that I (hereinafter referred to as your loving husband) am bound to you in love forever

And whereas you have stolen my heart by the ways you look at me

And whereas you have entrapped my heart with the way you treat me

And whereas you have captured my heart with the words you say to me

And whereas you have entwined my heart with cords of love by your touch

And whereas you have set my heart on fire with your kiss

And whereas you have brought joy to my soul with your smile

And whereas you have fulfilled my longings. satisfied my soul, and made my dreams come true

And whereas you have made me laugh more freely, love more deeply, feel more fully, and be more alive than any person ever could

I hereby serve this official notice upon you that I will love you with all that I am, body, soul, and spirit, from this day forward, and will make it my life’s goal to have the same effect on your heart and soul and life that you have had on mine, and to be the man who will demonstrate the meaning of love to you always.

Subscribed and sworn before you on this 14th day of February, 2011

My commission never expires

Signature omitted

* I think the idea for the official notice came from Michael Webb, but even if it didn’t, his website www.theromantic.com is a great place to get ebooks, sign up for tips via email, and get plenty of great ideas, not only for Valentine’s Day, but for a lifetime of love.