In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, self-actualization comes dead last. There is no time for navel gazing when your feet are bleeding and you woke up covered in frogs.Read More
Lately, each time I've thought about writing a post to get going on Relationship Refinery, I quickly feel like it's futile and almost superficial in the midst of the global events going on. So I didn’t write; I just did a lot of angry texting and fight-picking on Facebook. You may have noticed.
Then, I quit. All of it. Social media, TV, caffeine, sugar, arguing, blaming, and all that. The numbness went away. I began to feel again, to think about things other than politics again. That was a nice week... (baby steps)
During that week, I watched Jim: The James Foley Story for the third time to bring me back to myself.
Jim the film is… well, it’s something I will flatten if I write too much about. It needs to be seen to fully get the picture of who Jim (James Foley) was. But let’s just say the film made me think about Jesus, a lot.
In short(ish), James was a somewhat accidental conflict-photojournalist who first was captured in Libya as he documented their uprising. He was released after 45 days, and to his family’s dismay but ultimate understanding, he went back to document the horrific scenes of Aleppo, Syria.
He was captured by ISIS/ISIL, which at the time was an unknown force-- not even the U.S. government (seemingly) knew about, much less suspected, this group. He was held in the worst conditions imaginable with another journalist for about a year, before being transferred to yet another prison where 16 journalists from other Western countries were being held.
After another year, most of the other journalists were released, while James was taken to the top of a hill, made to read an anti-American script condemning his family and country, and then beheaded on camera in one of the most viral stories of all time.
The documentary was made by his family and does a remarkable job at making the story an uplifting portrait of James, amid the most somber and heartbreaking circumstances. The things I have learned from his example I fear can’t be captured here, but they are by far the most profound things I have picked up from something I watched on TV, and that’s because they helped me better understand Christ and His example.
Here is a person who is in the worst place imaginable, with the least amount of hope and the most amount of uncertainty. The other prisoners talked about how during the torture sessions, they would have much rather taken physical torture than the mental torture of never knowing what was in store for them. James, a devout Catholic, really wanted to pray. In order to do so, he converted to Islam so that even though he wasn’t able to verbally pray to Jesus, he could kneel five times a day to pray to Allah and hope his prayers were being heard.
One of the other prisoners described it this way,
“Religion is like language. It's the love that matters. So even though James prayed to Allah, he needed that. He needed that connection to his God, and he also needed that connection to his mother and family.”
In these dark, dark days, James thought about beautiful things and was known to always be at peace. On Christmas day, as the men sat in a circle telling each other something they liked about the others, one of the prisoners said to James, “You are pure good. There is no evil in you.” He then went on to say that that Christmas, being with James, was the best of his life.
Can you imagine? You’re a prisoner in a literal death chamber, experiencing the best holiday of your life because you’re sharing it with someone who brings light into your heart.
Amid these conditions, Jim was described by every prisoner as a steadying force, unselfish and honest. That although every one of them at some point had “cheated” with food, hoarded food, snuck food without sharing, Jim never did. Jim took the worst of the beatings because he would request the most of the guards- always petitioning for more food for the group.
At one point another prisoner and James had endured excruciating physical torture for hours. The other prisoner, Daniel, was in the corner crying from what he called the worst pain of his life. James, somehow not in tears, reached out to comfort Daniel in the midst of his own suffering.
One of the most powerful examples of his selflessness was when Daniel was about to be released. He thought it would happen any day now, yet James had no word whatsoever that he himself would be released anytime soon. After six days of thinking he would get out that day, Daniel was in the depths of despair because it hadn’t happened and was terrified of what would happen if he didn’t get out. Jim went to his side, put his arm around him, and told him it would be ok. He said, “Daniel, you are going to get out. It’s going to be ok. You will go home.”
He then went to the other side of the room and sat quietly. 15 minutes later, the guards came to release Daniel.
The fellow captives were so certain of Jim’s goodness through and through, that one of them said that he is positive that even while Jim was kneeling before the terrorist, about to be murdered, there’s no doubt that Jim was admiring the view of the sunset as he passed.
Another ex-prisoner remarked, “He died as a free man. I ended up being released; he ended up free.”
My little brother and I watched this film together and afterward he wondered aloud how he himself could make that kind of an impact. Go to Libya? Syria? Zambia? Become a conflict journalist?
We talked about how, even within the best of intentions, that focus can end up being one of the Adversary’s tools used to keep us locked inside ourselves. You can’t do anything if you can’t go abroad. You can’t do anything if you can’t reach the masses. Or change a law. Or unseat a president. Or feed the hungry millions. Or have some big fancy job making a lot of fancy money.
Every time I watch James’ story, I feel immense sadness for his family. But I can’t help but feel their pride as well, particularly his parents’. To have a child die is a tragedy unmatched.
But when I think of how remarkable it would be to discover that my son was known, in the darkest, most hopeless place, to be a person of integrity, unfailing charity, optimism and humility... I can’t help but believe that their joy in that knowledge has gotten them through many dark days.
Nothing would put my heart at more ease than knowing that Charity, the pure love of Christ, was my child’s legacy.
His parents said that they came to know their son through the people in his life, after he had passed, as they met his friends and former fellow captives for the memorial service. People like him don’t go around talking about how they are saving the world one good vibe at a time, so other people have to do it for them.
When I say the film makes me think of Jesus a lot, it’s because I’m given a visual of perhaps how our Savior might have conducted Himself had He been in similar circumstances: serving the poorest and most war-torn among us, giving up all material possessions, remaining faithful and connected to God throughout it all, and always, always being there to comfort another in pain despite His own, likely worse, pain.
That’s why I watch it despite the sadness. It reminds me that if all I do in this life is look outside myself every possible moment, wherever I am, even if no one but a few people in a prison cell will see it, it will be the best use of my life.
Recently I was visiting my aunt and uncle in California with my two toddlers who were out of sorts from a month of travel. My three-year-old had imprinted on this basketball and needed to play with it at all times. He had taken it outside where it was raining, then brought it in and was distraught that it was wet.
Of course my simply toweling off the ball wasn’t good enough for him, and he kept screaming. Since I found this to be unreasonable (“I want it dryyyyyyy”), I was bracing myself for a long tantrum and not giving into his lunacy. My aunt, who was minutes away from needing to leave for church, patiently came over and said, “We could go dry it with my blow dryer. Would you want to do that?”
As I watched her blow dry my son’s wet basketball, a sort of preposterous thing, with a smile on her face as if it were the most normal thing in the world--all while my son’s tears streamed down his face and he calmed down-- I had the thought, this is what the pure love of Christ looks like. I was surprised, because there were a dozen other things she had done that week that might have looked more obviously that way.
But this encompassed the spirit of Charity in such a lovely way that I couldn't miss it. Charity is discerning, but when it has to choose, it errs on the side of looking at something as “helping” rather than “enabling”. It doesn’t ask questions like, “But if I give in this time, then won’t he keep asking for other ridiculous things?” or “Yes he’s sad, but it will be good for him to not get his way.”
It says, “You know what? What would it hurt to help him feel happy? I have the power to comfort him, it’s not hurting him or me, so I’m going to try.” It’s not concerned with spoiling, or only helping those who help themselves, or forcing lessons onto a person. It’s just about giving when we can, and trusting it will all even out somehow.
"There is no such thing as a self-made man. We are made up of thousands of others. Everyone who has ever done a kind deed for us, or spoken one word of encouragement to us, has entered into the makeup of our character and of our thoughts, as well as our successes." -George Matthew Adams
So I’ll write. Because relationships--typically one-by-one and not by the masses-- are how we make the difference, and I need an endless stream of reminders to push me outside of my default stay-in-my-bubble-and-keep-things-medium mode.
I mean, literally as I write this, I just snapped at my husband for looking at me while I'm eating a messy bagel. As I write this thing about being just a tiny bit less selfish and a tiny bit more kind, I'm snarky over perhaps the dumbest thing ever.
I need these reminders more than everyone.
I'm easily prone to overwhelm, so my purpose for this site is to provide a place to remind us that there is much refining to be done without total overhaul. Push ourselves without pushing our own buttons. (Just made that up, clearly. Will someone please think of something catchy for this idea... I'm too overwhelmed.)
Refinement: it isn’t everything at once; it’s something at many times. (Better?)
It's thinking of your spouse or your mother or your neighbor in need even one time when you’d normally be thinking of yourself, and then actually doing something with the thought.
It’s looking at the towel on the floor and making the decision to be happy there is a person in your life to put the towel on the floor, rather than throwing said towel in said person’s face.
With God, it’s kneeling to pray just one of the times you would rather do it curled up in bed, or just praying a little, maybe during a commercial break, when you would rather not pray at all.
With yourself, it’s literally patting yourself on the back (I’m serious, get your hand and put it on your back) after you do that 15 minute workout or make a $5 donation to that GoFundMe page, when you had the strong desire to stay home or keep scrolling.
It’s after a week of tiny things like this, suddenly thinking, see? Little by little, I can do this. I can be better than I ever thought possible. So little has changed this week, but my hope has become brighter than it has been in years.
That’s what’s amazing about refinement. It’s not about the literal amount of change made in a given area; those are drops in the bucket of endless things you could be doing.
It’s about showing up and showing God you haven’t quit. You haven’t thrown in the towel (or thrown the towel), even when your desired outcome (of the election, the marital disagreement, the promotion or the kid’s birthday party) didn’t occur.
Give Him an inch, and He will give a yard.
That’s why I’m here. I’m going to keep showing up to this site, to put on screen things that matter to me, even though my voice is small and far from revolutionary.
If I can help someone think a little more about their spouse’s point-of-view, who in turn is more compassionate to a colleague in need, who is then more motivated to listen to their child with a little more patience, who then goes to school and befriends a lonely kid… then it's a ripple worth making.
There are no sandblasters here, only little chisels and scraps of sandpaper chipping away the calluses we’ve developed from staying in our same ruts, climbing the same mountains, pushing away the same calls to someplace higher. Little by little we can soften up, and ultimately, shine.
“Oh my… you should see Clayton run!!!” This text from Jon exhilarated me from out of the gray, 21 degree abyss outside my anxiety-inducingly cluttered apartment which I couldn't get myself to clean because...winter.
My boy had been winding up like a little toy for the past week, each day becoming a little more bouncy, a little more loud-spoken, a lot more restless. A kid who religiously took a two hour nap and had always slept 13 hours at night had started to play instead of sleep in his bed each afternoon, and was awake at 4 am every morning. This wasn’t going to work.
650 square feet had officially become too small for his little long legs. The legs on which he stood as a baby and would not bend to sit down.
I remember showing him one day, thinking maybe he just didn’t know how to sit,
“Hey look! You can relaaaax. See how nice? There’s the movie, and you can just sit in front of it. Like a lazy person. Isn’t it fun?” To which he instantly responded by jumping up to resume standing.
To play, he would pick up an object, any object, and run from one side of the apartment to the other, over and over, until I captured him mid-lap and took him outside to sprint.
This could be classic codependence, but it's my truth so hush your judgements: There’s an area inside me where I carry a sort of monitor for each child’s feelings. It’s like I have my feelings, frustrations, desires, and sense of equilibrium.
Then I have his. It's not a mind thing; it’s a gut thing. This monitor keeps track of tension and balance of his inner self. It’s as if when each day passes that he is unable to run until he is out of breath, a marker is raised on the monitor’s gauge.
If he’s gotten less sleep for a few days, a marker goes up. If he hasn’t had any time alone with either parent in awhile, up. Over time, I feel the unrest that he’s having and it makes perfect sense to me why he’s grumpy or hyper.
I feel the need to resolve that for him as if it were my own unrest and I don’t feel settled until I do. I can still feel happy myself, but there’s a mini alarm going off inside that’s saying
WARNING: CLAYTON NEEDS OUT! CLAYTON NEEDS OUT!
So that day when Jon took them to the enormous indoor playground that would only exist in the bitter Northeast and sent me that text, my heart soared. I could see Buddy’s little body shoot out of Jon’s arms like a rocket, bolting to the scooters and bouncy castles and laughing his freedom laugh. The unforced, impossible to contain elation that comes from exclusively living in the moment, something only a child can possess.
“They are soooooo happy”
In picturing it, I felt the incessant alarm turn off. Like the steam switch had been opened on a boiling pot. I could almost feel his energy burning off of him, propelling him forward, giving him that happy exhaustion that a full day of play and smiles does.
Living the City Life can be hard, especially when the city is cold and the apartment small. I write this from a one-bedroom apartment where we started with one baby and added another, where baby #1 resided in a Porta Crib in a nook in the kitchen and baby #2 stayed in our room.
The kids have graduated to sleeping in the bedroom, and Jon and I move our mattress out each night to sleep in the living room.
We eat meals, do projects, watch movies, and play Play-Doh from a tiny table in the corner of the living room, store our huge double stroller in the entryway, and host overnight guests on our fold-down couch surrounded by toy bins.
Whenever we want to go somewhere, we take our little parade a half block away to the car where they know to stay on the sidewalk while we get loaded up.
“Stay on the sidewalk” often means sprint up and down sidewalk, bumping into stranger’s legs while those strangers, unfamiliar with children in large quantities, sometimes look on with more than a hint of worry.
But mostly they smile and tap the kids on the head, saying things like, “Those were the days,” or my favorite, from a homeless gentleman watching Clayton run, “The future is safe.”
Our ground-level back window faces the entrance to the dumpsters, so to take the garbage out we send one of us (Jon) outside and the kids and I throw out bags to him to avoid multiple trips.
The kids look forward to watching the garbage trucks come, and to watching dad appear out the window. Sometimes we pass children through that window for efficiency in car loading, and talk about fast escape in case of fire!
Since we live across the street from Campus, our walkways and stairs are immediately shoveled and salted, and sometimes our street is blocked because a Supreme Court justice or the President are visiting the school.
Clayton learned to walk by stumbling, then walking, then running through the common areas of Harvard Law School, one of very few underaged voices heard in that building.
Living so close to the school is what keeps our rent high and our apartment small, but it’s also what allowed Jon to be home for breakfast, lunch, and dinner throughout the grueling law schooling process.
It’s what has allowed us to make friends with fellow students who are too lazy to trek very far to come visit (just kidding, Millennials), and given us access to an array of people in stages of life different from ours.
It has given us the chance to stop by all kinds of holiday celebrations, marches, peaceful protests, sit-ins, and birthday parties and baby showers happening across the street, spontaneous ventures we stumbled upon while walking through on our way to CVS or Shake Shack.
Life feels very colorful, very random, and often requires creativity to get what used to be basic life done. The image that comes to mind while trying to organize a closet or fold laundry or put together a new piece of furniture, is one of those little puzzles where only one space is open and you have to move all the other pieces one at a time into the free spot temporarily until you can maneuver them into their correct spot.
To think that some people in Texas live life with ROOMS THAT ARE EMPTY ALWAYS is actually hard for my brain to imagine right now. How would you ever have a disorganized closet??
We keep very little stuff- like, very little. For two kids we have two bins of toys. For two adults’ clothes we have two single door closets. Every time we leave for the summer and take just a couple of suitcases full of stuff, I decide I’m going to get rid of everything we left at home because obviously I didn’t need it if I went without it all summer. Then winter comes...
I’m not going to go into all of the “but on the other hand, we are closer together because of our closeness in proximity.” Sometimes that is true, other times it’s not. But what is true is that we chose this life.
We want it this way. We are so, so lucky to get to want it rather than it being how it HAS to be. Because let’s face it, choosing to go without (which we rarely feel like we are doing) is a lot different than having to go without.
Choice is always, always something for which to carry immense gratitude.
Because of this choosing, I have a few words of support and encouragement for anyone struggling through tight quarters with little ones and not so little spouses.
Listen: When you are feeling like your baby’s nursery isn’t decorated beautifully, and you worry that somehow she will be deprived of the ideal amount of stimulation that will get her to that key milestone early enough to get her into that Ivy League college,
or give you both the opportunity to bond in the sweet reverie of a white nursing glider under soft recessed lighting,
or that there’s simply NO WAY she can sleep well without a mobile and twinkly stars on the walls…
Just do this: picture my son in a Porta Crib in the corner or a five foot wide galley kitchen, lodged between the pantry and the back door, facing the dishwasher, with a box fan on the counter for white noise and a sheet acting as a curtain between his “room” and the living room.
Then know that he has slept soundly there for 2 years, going to bed at 5pm.We didn’t cook past that time, and I think it was good for our figures. He is well-adjusted by all medical accounts, and he's progressing normally in every way, or so they tell us.
When you find yourself worrying about your bare walls, or your “lacking” table settings, think about my apartment I’ve lovingly labeled 'Dorm Room/Church Nursery Chic'.
Anything and everything that I allow into the living space serves a purpose- a functional, childproof purpose, and photos on the wall and table cloths on the table don’t fit that description.
If I’m already spending several moments a day blocking baseballs from hitting my head or chipping cereal off the chairs, I don’t have the time to waste repairing shattered picture frames or doing extra laundry.
Playtime is learning time for kids, and rest time is savor time for parents. When I rest from tasks that will only reappear immediately after I do them, that’s when my joy in my children has room to re-blossom.
When I look at the babies instead of at the things I’m trying to keep them from destroying, I remember why I’m here, on this floor, playing this "game".
When I put my mind on the tower we are building instead of on the moment they will go to sleep, I get to cash in early on all the investments I’m making in them. They notice; I notice.
My children nor my marriage are in perfect form at all times. Well, maybe perfect, because 'perfect' means complete, and they are complete- always.
But they aren’t always tidy, well-behaved, happy, and scream-free (my kids nor my marriage). But they are doing fine; we have everything we need, and pretty much everything we want.
Anything that we don’t have that we do want, wouldn’t be found in a bigger apartment or more stuff or a nursery for the baby. So please let me put your heart at ease: it’s going to be okay.
Delete Pinterest and Instagram for a week, and you’ll see just how amazing your messy, puked on couch feels then when your partner and your tiny ones pile on top of you at the end of a rough day.
Remember what it’s like to see them “soooooo happy” and remember that stressed-out you has a hard time creating that, seeing that, and worst of all, feeling that.
I can promise that the tasks that take up a huge part of our Mom days can only assist minorly in creating that feeling inside.
Trying to stick with the minimum in low-yield areas and the maximum in intangible, unrepeatable areas is my constant aim and struggle.
The minimum to keep the house uncluttered and peaceful (which in my experience is most easily done not in the house, but in the store or on Amazon. If I never buy the stuff in the first place, I never have to make decisions about whether I’ll spend my time taking care of my stuff and space or whether I’ll be with my kids and my husband).
The minimum to keep our bodies healthy and well fed (unless prepping and cooking food brings me great joy, which sometimes it does).
The minimum to create beauty and cleanliness that allows me to walk into my home and feel peace and comfort, photogenic or otherwise.
The minimum dollars spent to provide safety, warmth, and space for each member, without adding more stress with increased rent or mortgage.
When I look back on things, I only remember their general vibe. I don’t remember how long I procrastinated emptying the Diaper Genie or how many three-course meals I prepared, or likely didn’t prepare. I just get a sense, a feeling, of what that time in my life was like.
I sense whether I was worried a lot about what others were thinking of me, or whether I was often stressed about the state of the home (spoiler alert- my house usually looks the same whether I’m hyper-vigilant or relaxed, but the comfort of the home is deeply affected by which one I am).
Whether my marriage was creating synergy or tension, and whether I was stopping to soak in* my children.
*Sidenote: “soak in” is not code for how many art projects I did with them or outings I was planning and taking and on and on. My kids are 1 and 2 years old. To keep my wild ambitions and mom-guilt in check, “soak in” has to mean for me, to just be with them.
In Shonda Rhimes' book she talked about her decision to “always say yes” when one of her children asks her to play with them. She says that although that sounds impossible to both working moms and otherwise, she defended it by explaining that most of the time, a child will be more than happy with even 15 minutes of purely focused play. No phone, no hopping up to do “just this one thing”, no wiping the snot from their nose (I added that). I have found this to be true.
Just see them. They are almost grown. Be here now.
But just as importantly, be you now. There is no waiting for another time or place where you can fully thrive; such a place doesn’t exist anymore than this place does.
Create a space within your tiny space, figuratively or literally, and crawl into it and create. Search. Read. When it’s too small for even that, get out. Connect. Serve. Breathe.
No place is too small for that.
I didn’t take my native culture to New York with me. I had always been dead-set on marrying later, having children later, and having them because I wanted them, not because of any social, religious, or cultural pressure. That’s how I went into it, but nothing could have prepared me for the depth of feeling I would develop for the children I lived with, loved, and nurtured over the next few years. It was as close to motherhood as I would come for almost a decade.Read More
A few days had passed since our Thanksgiving feast. My husband came into the kitchen to tell me it was time. We gathered next to George’s bedside, Jon and his siblings surrounding their father. My son, Clayton, was sitting on my lap quietly observing the sudden swirl of activity and tears. As George was given a departing blessing, sending him peacefully to the other side, his pulse weakened and finally stopped. Amid the sounds of sobs and sniffles, a light and happy sound broke through- Clayton was laughing. A welcomed, surprising sound brought tearful smiles to an unlikely moment. One of Jon’s brothers looked to the baby and asked, “Did grandpa tickle you on the way out?” adding welcomed levity to the otherwise heartbreaking situation.
In the moments that followed, I thought back to my last few encounters with George. His son’s wedding a month before, and his elation at finally seeing his last single son marry a wonderful woman. During that same week, he and I sat alone in the kitchen as I told him about a compliment someone at church had paid him, wanting us to pass it along. He humbly nodded as I recounted the story, expressed gratitude, and then expanded on his love for his religion and his Savior. He had endured to the very end, and his future was as bright as his faith.
My mind wandered back to almost a year earlier, the many days of me, in my post-baby-delivery state, living in his home, being a mess of emotions and fluctuating moods. Him, every single day and every single run-in, greeting me with a smile, asking how I was doing with every bit as much sincerity as he had the last time I saw him not an hour earlier.
Although I almost always turned down his offers to help or make me dinner, he never stopped asking. It would have been much easier for someone with severe arthritis and a failing heart to shout rather than make the trek down the stairs to ask, he never did. He always came to me like a tried-and-true gentleman.
I thought of last year’s Christmas season, where he had offered to organize the local care center’s Secret Santa tree- which included cutting out paper stars and writing the desired gifts on them. When many stars were left without Santas, he purchased the gifts and brought them home to wrap. He knew each person by name and trudged through the Christmas rush to numerous stores to get the perfect items for each person. I offered to help him cut out the ornaments and wrap the gifts, as his hands weren’t exactly nimble after years of arthritis.
My heart was so touched seeing that he was actually planning to cut out each one, and was genuinely surprised and supremely grateful that I would be willing to help. He had been prepared to take care of the these all-but-forgotten people's Christmas wishes, even knowing it would take him all day on his own.
A few months after that Christmas, he would go into the hospital to find that he needed a 6X bypass on his heart due to many blockages and failed stints. Upon discovering this, I looked back on the time leading up to it and realized what pain he must have been enduring. It made his small acts of kindness that much more humbling to remember.
To me, the light I felt surrounding George is the same one I feel surrounding my baby boy. It's purity of heart and soul. It softens me, disarms me, sometimes against my will. That’s why I felt it especially fitting when Clayton responded with lightness and smiles during a time when darkness and gloom could have prevailed.
Even in his death, there was light. It was as if George’s feelings of being relieved of the pains that his mortal body had given him for decades were communicated through the mouth of a babe. All is well, I am free.
Dozens of times a day, Clayton will come toddling into the room, make eye contact with his dad or me, and smile and laugh as if he hadn’t seen us in weeks. It might have been 10 seconds. George’s greetings, to a tired new mom who often couldn’t bring herself to respond in kind, were just as warm.
In many tributes given of George following his death, it has been often said that he made people feel as if he had waited his whole life to meet them. Just like a child, so free with love.
Perhaps the example of George that I treasure the most, is his extraordinary love of being a father. I benefit every day from being married to a man who saw first-hand how raising children brings the greatest of life’s joys. That joy was written across George’s face every time he sat quietly and watched his seven fully grown, yet rowdy as ever, children laugh with and enjoy each other.
I hope to never forget his soft chuckles as he fell miles behind in a board game, having no concern whatsoever for winning. He was just happy to be there to play, and usually, to watch one of his kids win.
Several of his children spoke of times growing up where they would walk by their dad’s office and notice him kneeling or speaking, and they would eavesdrop as he poured out his heart to God on their behalf. How could a child not feel loved by their father, knowing his deepest desire from God was their welfare?
I think often of a beautiful sentiment expressed in the eulogy given at George’s funeral by one of his sons. He quoted a line from the movie, Oz, the Great and Powerful.
Oz has reached the end of the journey and saved the day. Glinda the Good Witch says to him,
“For the record, I knew you had it in you all along.”
Oz replies, “Greatness?
Glinda: “No. Better than that. Goodness.”
He went on to say that George was not a great man. He was better than that, he was good.
There is much ado surrounding the flashy, prominent, status-laden men of society. Many of them are considered great, but few of them are good.
Another one of George’s sons sat with him months prior to his death, both of them knowing the end was approaching. The son explained how even in the midst of this knowledge, George changed little in his life. I’ve thought of this a lot these past few weeks, wondering what it would take to get me to that point. How many, if they knew they had only months to live, would feel totally at peace continuing to live life the exact same way, day-to-day? Only the pure in heart, only the good.
As I watch my son grow, I can’t help but feel goodness grow in me. His purity carries with it the goodness I saw and felt from George, as only a child could do. I see the goodness in my husband as he strives to carry on this legacy, to promote goodness in the world, beginning with working hard at loving his wife and son.
While in the hospital after open heart surgery, George was heavily sedated but a little coherent. After visiting one day, Jon said “I love you” and went to leave. George responded, “I love you. Who is it?” Of course, he didn’t need to know who said it before responding with love.
Good fathers are a rare and diminishing breed. The more I see of this world, the more I am filled with gratitude for having been given one of my own, one who taught me to marry a man who knows what a real father looks like.
If kindness is the essence of greatness, then one can only be truly great if one is also good.
“Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better… But because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”
Until we meet again, rest in peace Grandpa George.
How Did I Get Here?
I think about this question a lot. These days, I’m thinking of it in terms of geography and the finale of an almost-two-year-long trek to a new city. Other times, however, it’s more, “How did I EVER get here?” in terms of marriage, motherhood, and approaching 30. Weren't we 19 barely three years ago?
I had always hoped to someday be where I am now. It didn’t matter when, I just wanted to get here sometime. Maybe that’s why it’s still somewhat strange to sit still and realize that I’m finally here. This is it, as they say. But it’s not really it, as in the end of the end, the top of the top. It’s just one it. But rather than looking to all of the other its I hope to reach in life, sometimes it's good for me to reflect on how I got to the current here.
When I was a teenager in a relatively small town, my older sister got married young and became a mother. The goal. A few years later, she was unhappy. I was at the local college, not sure what I wanted to study, and quickly losing my personally prized status as a straight-A student. I didn’t really care about school anymore. I wasn't sure what I wanted to study, and I was getting restless being back in school so soon. In addition, as someone who went on few dates in high school and had never had a boyfriend, my job at the grocery store near campus boosted my visibility and the dating opportunities came.
My sister warned me not to get married young. Some friends of mine were prepping to take the plunge. I got it in my head that if I didn’t leave for awhile, at the rate I was going I would end up married at 20, living in my hometown, someday resenting my poor husband for my lack of life experiences on my own. Or so my 19-year-old-“sky is falling”-self reasoned, so I left. Thus began the gypsy lifestyle that persisted for the next ten years.
About five years into it I was tired of wandering, realizing that there is something to be said for consistency in some form or another.
I wanted to be somewhere I could invest my time (relationship-wise), not just spend it. When I asked him what he liked most about being married, my dad said, “One time my dad gave me his credit card when I went on a road trip up the coast of California. It was a sad trip. There were gorgeous sunsets, beautiful scenery, and I could spend whatever I wanted, but I was alone. Being married is all about being able to point to the sunset and say, ‘Now isn’t that beautiful?’”
Living for myself was growing tiresome, and not being able to share my adventures began to take the fun out of them.
Dating provides so many opportunities to see, do, and try fun, new, incredible things. But when I began to look back on many of my favorite memories, I realized many were had with people I would never see again. They got married, or once I was in a relationship, a close friendship with them would be inappropriate. Those memories had to be locked away to some degree, whereas marriage is about keeping shared memories front and center, relishing them, continually polishing them to keep the fire alive.
Being alone with oneself is a wonderful thing. I have great memories of solo road trips, solitary reflective moments, creative projects where I lost track of time for hours. I still seek these times. I don’t regret any time on my own, nor am I saying marriage is the only way to invest in a long term relationship (friends, family, coworkers, those we serve…). I know I handle marriage better than I would have due to the things I learned about myself in those years. But I reached a point where, for me, sharing my whole life was my greatest desire.
There is a difference between feeling lonely and feeling desperate. Loneliness is a normal human emotion. Desperation often comes from a sense of unworthiness. Too often it's assumed that if you actively seek marriage, then you must be desperate. There is also a difference between feeling lonely for company and feeling like you want a home of your own. Somewhere to stay, somewhere to build. My parent’s home was a constant hub, a place where I felt belonging and love. But it wasn’t mine to build; it wasn’t where I could stay and grow.
So, I worked at dating. I got very deliberate, and put my partners through the wringer. I created a lot of social discomfort by skipping small talk and cutting to the chase on second and third dates (sometimes sooner). I narrowed down the enormous list that was unconsciously floating around in my head and chose THE three things I needed in a man. If he had those, I stayed (barring any red flags, obviously). No allowing the list to grow as time went on. If I found the three things waning, I left. No hanging on for lack of anything better to do.
I quit using dating as my entire social life and something fun to do on Friday night, and began using it for what it was designed to be: a way to select a life partner. Sometimes this approach worked, sometimes I had to scale it back. But I figured that the type of guy who would want to be with me forever would probably be able to handle my unconventional ways.
Years later, I was finally able to choose Jon. It was no whirlwind, and it didn't just happen. He was the type of man I had set my sights on, sifted through the masses for. He met the three criteria (and plenty of the ones I thought I had to let go of years before), as well as the final criteria of liking me back. We both had qualities others had turned away from. We both had many shortcomings. But we had the same end-goal and the same vision of what it would take to reach it.
We didn’t date long, but we packed in a good two years' worth of discussion, arguments, and discoveries in our short courtship. By this time in our lives, we had both laser-focused on the types of things we needed in a mate, so we cut right to finding out if we were a match (or at least I did).
It wasn’t easy though; as a recovering serial dater who had always kept my distance emotionally, I would actually vomit on our dates from the anxiety of knowing this one was real. Jon jokes that it was the sight of his face that did it; but I know it was because I was having to open my heart for real. This is what I had been seeking, I knew it was right, but I also knew deep down I had to then give of myself and leave the life I was used to.
Sometimes we think we want something so badly, but when faced with the reality that our lives will actually change in a huge way, the discomfort in that is much scarier than missing out on what we stand to gain, so we remain stuck. I knew I had to reveal the deepest parts of myself to someone who deserved it, and that freaked me out. How he managed to stick around through all of that, I’ll never know.
In the darker times of my single life when things weren’t working out how I hoped, I had this recurring image that I would visualize of my future husband, our children, and me sitting in a living room in front of a fireplace. In that image I would realize, This is why. This is why I had to go through those difficult times, because this is where I was heading.
This scene has played out many times in my current life. Although, it’s not in a perfect living room with a perfect fireplace in it. Many times it’s on the go as we run from here to there trying to get our “real life” set up. Sometimes it’s in a 600-square-foot apartment feeling my first baby kick, knowing we will move three times by the time he’s one year old but wanting him all the same. Sometimes it's when my son laughs because he has barf all over his face. Most times it doesn’t feel like a rush of satisfaction, or “my heart bursting” like the common Instagram caption goes. It just feels so natural, more natural than anything, because it's exactly where I belong today.
When starting this blog I wondered if I should talk about things like this. Gush about family life. The feelings I had while single, reading others’ such accounts, are still so real to me. The mixed emotions of joy for my friends, longing for it for myself, twinges of envy, ache with the fear it might be a long way off, frustration, excitement, and many others. The struggle of singlehood, however inconsistent it was, isn't something I’ll soon forget.
Some saw me as having gotten married young, so I don’t know anything about the real struggle. Some Married's saw me as old and offered me the well-meaning but useless encouragements of “Keep your head up, he’s out there!" Or my favorite, "When the time is right, you’ll find each other! Work on being the one, and then you’ll find the one". However, the most annoying thing married people did was pity me. Just because I seek marriage, doesn’t mean I am perpetually bummed when I don't have it. Single life can be a great, full life. Married life can be terrible. It's all what you make it.
Good-intentioned married people interrogated me left and right, trying to diagnose me or figure out what more I could do to fix my singleness. My “ability to commit” was examined, and once even my sexual-orientation was questioned due to the number of seemingly "perfect" matches I let go. Only the two people in a relationship can know how perfect, or imperfect, the pairing is.
In short, people can be ridiculous. I don’t want to be one of those married folks, so I am going with what is real to me. I’m choosing not to pity. I’m choosing to believe that married or single, we are all in charge of our own happiness and contentment. I trust that you, dear reader, are strong enough to handle a few adorable baby photos and the occasional husband-brag.
So how did I get “here”, in the literal sense? Here is all over the West Coast where we are visiting family on our way to Massachusetts. Jon is going to attend Harvard Law, and the babe and I are going to explore Cambridge and enjoy being in one place for awhile. By the time we get there, Clayton will have visited 12 states and 8 major cities in his little life. We are ready for a rest.
As unconventional as it is, and as trying as it can be, the joy I have experienced in my new family life has been as exquisite as any pain felt in waiting for it. It's been a wild ride, but I am happy to finally be here.