Jul 072014
 
Our Messy, Beautiful Summer Week 3: Marriage

A guest post by Cindy Brandt

c-americaThis is the story of how our thirteenth anniversary screwed me over.

Week 1

A week before the actual anniversary, my seven-year-old son got ill with the flu. For six days he burned with a high fever along with a string of severe symptoms: vomiting, violent coughing, both restlessness and lethargy. By the end of the week, my husband and I were both ragged with worry and physical fatigue. We postponed any celebrations until the next weekend.

Week 2

We made plans for a terrific date: the movie, Captain America, followed by a fancy steak dinner.

On Monday, I woke up with a horrendous sore throat, having caught the bug presumably shared by dear son the week prior.

By Wednesday, I could barely speak as my voice gradually turned into a croak with intermittent missing syllables lost to my infected vocal chords.

Thursday, our childcare plans for the terrific date fell through. Instead of reasonably considering alternative options, J and I decided to spontaneously combust into an all-out rage fight. Issues discussed include:

  • Why we don’t understand each other.
  • Why we are so selfish.
  • Why the political instability in Taiwan shapes the futures of our college students.

None of which really had anything to do with why we started fighting in the first place. And remember, I was croaking my way through this fight – with missing syllables. When marital experts advise clear communication, I’m sure they assume COMPLETE SYLLABLES.

J suggests we postpone our terrific date. Why, I had to know. Well, because we just shouted and stomped and said nasty things to each other and who in their right mind is in the mood to celebrate a wedding anniversary after that? But…but, I argue, if we don’t go on this date, it signals a breach in the foundation of our marital covenant, our children will experience trauma, and the world as we know it will come to an end. Because this is the way my mind works: no Captain America = End of the world.

We’re not going, he says.

Week 3

Instead of gradually recovering from the common cold which typically lasts 7-10 days, my 8-day cold virus decides to go ahead and creep up into my eyes, giving me a double eye infection. What the what?! Apparently, this is a thing: respiratory viruses don’t just wreak havoc on the respiratory system but can affect vision. Also, now I’m hacking up a lung. Physically, I’m not doing so well. Maritally, things are looking up. We are back to speaking soft, kind words to each other, but it’s still slightly awkward. Emotions are tender; the sting of accusations hurled in the state of anger and confusion are taking time to heal. Our hugs feel a bit manufactured and our routine interactions take on an extra layer of vulnerability, slowly rebuilding trust with every gesture.

J suggests, for a third week in a row, we go out to lunch to celebrate our anniversary. I don’t say no, but I’m tempted to. I am tired of forcing a celebration. I’m tired of pretending to be happy when things are awkward and unsure. Just like the way my infected eyes are glazed over and hidden behind my heavy, prescriptive glasses, I feel shielded and incapable of connecting my true self with this man I am committed to. I feel drained of energy to lift the veil of misunderstanding, mistrust, and mishandled emotions which hang precariously between us.

But I showed up. Like a warrior, I carried on. I didn’t put on a nice dress because I didn’t feel beautiful. I changed out of my sweats and put on black slacks. I briefly combed over the hideous tangles in my hair, checked my infected eyes which were still puffy and red behind my glasses, sighed audibly over the hot mess I was, and just showed up.

The restaurant was beautiful, the meal extravagant, but the date was not magical. There was no grand, romantic gesture, no sparks of rekindled passion. It was just us, two people who have been together for thirteen years, exchanging information regarding our mundane daily lives. At one point, I started getting excited to share something important when a baby in the next booth started high-pitch crying. And kept crying, with varying intensity, for the duration of our lunch.

Somewhere between the entree and the dessert, between bout 4 and 16 of baby crying episodes, it occured to me how much of a metaphor our botched anniversary celebration is for our marriage and for life. We wanted this terrific date in a perfect world where there is no sickness, plans for childcare don’t foil, our emotions are always held in check and our brains are 100% in sync, and where Captain America is the answer to all of our life’s problems. We long for magical experiences where every plan is executed with precision, every category is defined and checked, every emotion neat and contained. But life is not a Hollywood movie, and we are not superheroes. Life is messy and we are oh-so-ordinary – frail to disease, dependent on other imperfect people. We make mistakes and wound those we love.

And just about the time this realization dawns on me, I also began to understand the value of our non-magical date. This is plainly how we keep our marital vows: we make the choice, again and again, to come together despite our imperfections. Despite the puffy eyes, the tired soul, the interruptive baby; despite awkward hugs, tense conversations, missed assumptions, we show up anyway. We make each other laugh a little and roll our eyes at each other’s stupid jokes–with every decision to be present together, we are proclaiming our marriage vows all over again. Each moment we share, no matter how mundane, is a sacred covenant. This is how we live our messy, beautiful life.

It’s not wrong to want or expect magic in marriage and in life. But if every moment is magical then nothing can delight. We must learn to find our joy in the mess and never, ever give up meeting together. When we can find beauty in the margins, then, all of a sudden, life feels full and worth showing up for every day.

*********************************

Cindy Brandt puts words about faith, culture, social justice, and life together on www.cindywords.com. She serves on the board of One Day’s Wages, an organization working to put justice for the poor in the hands of the ordinary. You can find her on Facebook and see her life on the tropical island of Taiwan on Instagram.

This post is part of Momastery’s Our Messy, Beautiful Summer series.

Our Messy, Beautiful Summer



Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
Join the Momastery on-line community on Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest


Jul 062014
 

Masterpiece

Your body is not your masterpiece – your life is.

It is suggested to us a million times a day that our BODIES are PROJECTS. They aren’t. Our lives are. Our spirituality is. Our relationships are. Our work is.

Stop spending all day obsessing, cursing, perfecting your body like it’s all you’ve got to offer the world. Your body is not your art, it’s your paintbrush. Whether your paintbrush is a tall paintbrush or a thin paintbrush or a stocky paintbrush or a scratched up paintbrush is completely irrelevant. What is relevant is that YOU HAVE A PAINTBRUSH which can be used to transfer your insides onto the canvas of your life- where others can see it and be inspired and comforted by it.

Your body is not your offering. It’s just a really amazing instrument which you can use to create your offering each day. Don’t curse your paintbrush. Don’t sit in a corner wishing you had a different paintbrush. You’re wasting time. You’ve got the one you got. Be grateful, because without it you’d have nothing with which to paint your life’s work. Your life’s work is the love you give and receive- and your body is the instrument you use to accept and offer love on your soul’s behalf. It’s a system.

We are encouraged to obsess over our instrument’s SHAPE  - but our body’s shape has no effect on it’s ability to accept and offer love for us. Just none.  Maybe we continue to obsess because  as long we keep wringing our hands about our paintbrush shape, we don’t have to get to work painting our lives. Stop fretting. The truth is that all paintbrush shapes work just fine -and anybody who tells you different is trying to sell you something. Don’t buy. Just paint.

No wait- first, stop what you are doing and say THANK YOU to your body – right now. Say THANK YOU to your eyes for taking in the beauty of sunsets and storms and children blowing out birthday candles and say THANK YOU to your hands for writing love letters and opening doors and stirring soup and waving to strangers and say THANK YOU to your legs for walking you from danger to safety and climbing so many mountains for you.

Then pick  up your instrument and start painting this day beautiful and bold and wild and free and YOU.

Love,

G



Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
Join the Momastery on-line community on Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest


Jul 032014
 

Begin Again

Originally posted February 13, 2013

I wrote this 16 months ago, in the middle of the implosion of my marriage. As I read it today, I felt so proud of this woman I was, this brave woman who kept breathing and showing up. It is so important to stop and look back on your past self and feel awed by her. And- when you are in the middle of the fire- it’s important to stop and consider your future self- who will look back on this difficult time from a safer, fuller place- and who will be awed by your mighty courage. For gathering it all up and using it to get her from there to here.

*******************************************

This morning feels like starting over, in every brutal and beautiful way.

So after I got the kids off to school, I sat at my kitchen table thinking about other times I’ve started something new. And I looked back at the first post I ever wrote for this blog.

Do you remember, years ago, when folks were writing “25 Things About Me” lists and posting them on Facebook? When I saw that people were doing that, I decided to write my own list. So without really reading anyone else’s lists, I wrote mine during Chase’s nap time and I posted it.

And THEN I read my friend’s lists. And I thought, OH. CRAP.

Because, for example, here was MY #5 –  5. I am a recovering alcoholic and bulimic. 7 years sober…so in many ways I’m actually 7 years old. Sometimes I miss excess booze and food, in the same indescribable way you can miss someone who abused you and repeatedly left you for dead.

And here was my best friend’s #5 – 5. My favorite game is Bunco!

And so I panicked because I realized pretty quickly that I’d done it wrong. That we weren’t supposed to get that personal. And so I tried to delete my list but  I couldn’t. It was already OUT THERE.  So I turned off my computer and vowed to never, ever turn it on again for the rest of my whole entire life.

But of course that night, with one eye open and trembling hands, I did check Facebook. And I saw that my inbox was full.  Full of messages from friends and acquaintances thanking me for putting it all out there. I read people’s stories that they’d written and sent to me well into the night, until my eyes started crossing from exhaustion, actually.

And that night I decided to start writing. I decided that maybe it was something the world needed that I could actually do.

And here we are.

So anyway, I thought today might be the PERFECT day to review and update my “25 Things About Me.”  My old 2008 answers are in bold and my new 2013 answers are in italics.

Thanks for hanging with a sister, friends.

Love,
G

1. I believe in grace because I share my home with proof of its existence.

Still true, but I’ve learned that I share the whole world with proof of grace’s existence. The older I get, the more deeply I understand that every-damn-body is my family. Exhausting, but comforting. 

2. We got rid of our TV service a few months ago. The quiet is strange, but nice.

What the hell was I thinking? I have come to understand that there are things that are bad for me that I love. And no one can make me stop these things because no one is the boss of me. These things include Twizzlers, Diet Coke, chocolate, and trash TV. I know that I should not ingest these things, but at thirty six, I have finally agreed to just be how I am instead of trying, constantly, to be how I should be. About TV- I love it. I LOVE you, TV.  I get lonely, and TV makes me feel less so. And after a long day of thinking and living, I’m so tired. And I need a numbing tool. HGTV, Bravo. . . numbing tools. No thinking required. At the end of the day,  even sitcoms are too hard for me. From the hours of 8:30- 9:30 what I really need is something that requires nothing of me. My TV will be taken from me again out of my cold, dead hands.

3. I have no idea how I survived the first three years of my life without my sister. It seems as impossible as living without lungs.

I can’t even address this one right now. These days, she’s breathing for me.

4. I published a book a while back, and I want to write a second, more personal one. But I’m having trouble getting started, because I’m afraid everything I write will be wrong, or self-serving, or immature.

I did it. I wrote my book. I don’t know if my book is right, but I know it’s not wrong. It’s probably a little self-serving and a little immature.  But it’s also others-serving and mature. Like each and every person –  it’s a lot of things at once. I’m okay with that. I don’t want my book to be perfect, I just want it to be true and hopeful. Like me.

5. I am a recovering alcoholic and bulimic. 7 years sober…so in many ways I’m actually 7 years old. Sometimes I miss excess booze and food, in the same indescribable way you can miss someone who abused you and repeatedly left you for dead.

Eleven years sober. And I don’t miss booze anymore. Actually, maybe a little. Never mind. I still do. 

Food- I’m still healing. Bulimia raises its crazy head every year or so. I panic, screw up, and then start over. It’s okay. I’m okay.

6. I am afraid of my temper like it’s some other person over whom I have no control.

Hm. I’d like to talk more about this anger issue this year. I’m wondering if what I thought was anger might have really been anxiety. Or are they the same thing? Maybe unresolved anger turns into anxiety? I don’t know. I spent some time on a serious anti- anxiety med this year and it was heaven. But then when I went off of it, it was hell. Marianne Williamson says that in all of history, now is not the time for we women to medicate our feelings away. That we are anxious and depressed for a reason, and we need to make changes in our world instead of numbing ourselves. I get that, but I don’t know. I’ve gotta believe that some of what I experience is chemical and not just circumstantial.

 I’m still on an anti-depressant…I’ve tried to live without it and my life doesn’t work. The whole world turns into a Vegas casino…I feel inundated by visual and audio stimulation and I’m just…jumpy and anxious and then really angry. It’s no good. I’m no good. So this one- not sure. I know they say that All You Need Is Love, but I don’t know. I’m pretty sure I need Love and Lexapro.

7. I believe strongly in downsizing, in simplicity. The people I respect most in the world are those who quietly choose to live with less so that others might have more. Unfortunately, I conveniently forget this daily as I drive to the mall to buy more crap. One of my most frequent and fervent prayers is that one day what I do and want will match what I respect and believe.

Um…I don’t know about this one. I agree ideologically but in real life….Well, today I’m heading to IKEA to buy some colorful crap. Crappy times call for a major lowering of one’s self- expectations.

8. I have never, ever, said the word f-a-r-t out loud.

I have. My kids say it so often now that the fart word has lost the power it had on me for the first thirty five years of my life.

Fart.

9. I am an insomniac, and a caffeine/sugar addict, and refuse to admit that they could be related.

I sleep now. I sleep. Without sleeping drugs, for the first time in my life. It’s a miracle to me, actually. I’m still a sugar addict.

10. I am a crappy Christian, which I’m pretty sure is the only honest kind. Nonetheless, I’m deeply in love with Jesus, and I think he’s wild about my crazy self too.

Yup.

11. I would finally rather be kind than cool. But both is the dream.

I’m not sure I care about being cool anymore. I think warm is better. I’m there. I’m warm. Every day I work on keeping a soft heart while developing tough skin. Hard.

12. Craig is the only human being who could have healed me. We are opposites in many ways, but we want and love the exact same things. I have chosen never to stop falling in love with him, and I’m more grateful that he has made the same choice than for anything else. I am also comforted by the fact that he is contractually obligated to love me, and that without me, he could never, ever find his shoes.

Shit. Well, no matter what happens, I consider my marriage a raving success. We’re both in better places, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually than we were when we married. Our marriage made the world a better place, because we made three interesting children who I believe will make a difference – who already do, actually. Plus, during the past few months I have learned to forgive like I’ve never had to before, to Warrior On like I’ve never had to before, and I’ve learned what it feels like to offer another human being amazing grace. I’ve received it before, but never offered it. I have now. What an experience.

13. I want to like animals, but I really don’t. At all.

I love animals with every inch of my being. My dogs broke my heart open in this area. We moved to Florida this year because of my health, and I haven’t made any friends yet who live within twenty miles of my new house. So my dogs keep me company. They love me, they snuggle me, they stay with me when I’m sick and they don’t give a damn whether I write well or look good or say the right things. They just need me to show up. I love them. I just breathe them in.

14. I don’t know how to do anything in moderation. Or how to keep an even keel. I am either very high or very low.

My medication is helping a little with this, but I also think I’ll always be high and low. Usually in the same day – sometimes the same moment. Chase calls this happy/sad state of being feeling “sappy.” I’m sappy. It’s okay. A girl can be a little loopy and still move mountains. These days I’m working within my personality instead of constantly fighting against it.

15. I want to do big things for God, like adopting an orphan, but have trouble even doing little things for God, like not being a jerk.

These days, not being a jerk requires every bit of energy a sister has. Not being a jerk IS a big thing.

16. I love classrooms and children. I run a preschool where my students and I practice being patient and kind.

No more teaching for me, but it’s funny – now the whole world seems like a place to practice being patient and kind. And this blog. I feel like this blog is my classroom now. It gives me opportunities every day to be patient and open-minded and listen for the love and pain behind folks’ words.

17. I can’t listen to the first few notes of Amazing Grace without feeling like the wind’s been knocked out of me.

Still love Amazing Grace, but I’m more of a Mumford and Sons girl these days. Every song of theirs feels like a prayer. It’s almost too much for me sometimes . . .listening to them is like looking straight into the sun. It hurts it’s so bright.

18. I want more children, but most days I don’t have enough energy for the three I already have. I think I might want more babies just because I love naming them.

I do NOT want any more children.  GOOD CALL ON THAT ONE, GOD. Naming lasts nine months. Bedtime lasts for-freaking-ever.

19. I am way too confrontational. I’m working hard on offering grace to people, and ridding myself of the belief that everyone should get what he deserves, except for me.

My ego is shrinking and my compassion is growing. This is proof that the past five years have been years well spent. I believe that everyone, everyone deserves grace. It’s all or nothing, grace. Scandalous. 

20. Some mornings Craig and I meet for coffee at the kitchen table before the kids are up, and read the Bible and talk about Jesus. This is my favorite way to start a day.

Confusing to me, this one. I’ll save it for another day.

21. Years ago Craig and I vowed never to brag about ourselves or our kids to anyone other than grandparents. Keeping this promise is harder than it should be. I often find myself thinking about how amazing I am for being so humble, so there you have it.

I honestly can’t even imagine caring about this. I still don’t brag about my kids, but it seems silly to take a “stand” on it. Also, the more “stands” I take, the more life eventually slaps me upside the head and reminds me to stop taking stands and just be kind.

22. Craig thinks I torment myself and others with my tendency to analyze (judge) everyone and everything. To that I say, whatever.

I am learning to let folks be who they are. But I still have a hard time understanding unkindness for unkindness’ sake.

23. I don’t handle criticism well.

I dealt with more criticism this past year than I did in the thirty-six years preceding it, which is saying a lot, since I grew up with Bubba.  I still don’t handle criticism well, meaning that I haven’t yet learned how to keep it from hurting and throwing me into a dirty, bottomless well of self-doubt.

24. I am unable and unwilling to sustain relationships with people who talk but don’t really listen, or with people who boast. I always break up with them, regardless of gender. Again, working on #19.

I’m not sure of this one. I don’t really have a social life anymore. Kids/work/health. That’s about it. It’s okay, I know life is about seasons. I’ll let you know how I’m doing with this one as soon as I spend some real life time with real life people again.

25. I was never truly happy a full day in my life before I met Craig, and since I met him I don’t think I’ve spent a full day unhappy. I find this both pathetic and perfect.

Well, this is no longer true. I’ve spent plenty of days unhappy during the past six months. But I am happy for the girl who wrote this list five years ago. Number 25 makes me smile for her. It’s good to have and remember peaceful seasons in life, because those memories are promises that those seasons will come again. I don’t know if I believe in all happy or all sad anymore. I’m sappy. In more ways than one.

26. NEW ONE FOR 2013!

Life is hard. Not because I am doing it wrong, just because it’s hard. But I know, deep down, that it’s all a gift. Every excruciating experience – each is an invitation to walk deeper into truth, into life. And that’s what’s happening to me today. I’m growing – I can feel it. And I am going to be okay – not because of any decisions I make or don’t make, but because of the grace of God. There is no door I can open that God won’t be standing behind, waiting to usher me through.

Monkees – I am still and I know.

We are all going to be okay. We’ll get through this, and whatever else that comes our way.  Together.

I am not afraid. I was born to do this. –  Joan of Arc



Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
Join the Momastery on-line community on Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest