Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Straight Talk about Marriage

Someone recently commented on my blog bio that states, "I have a successful marriage of 16 years."  Why not, they wondered, write something like "I've been happily married for 16 years."  Let me state for the record that it was intentional.

Anyone who has been married long enough to get sick, lose a job, have a child, or buy a house knows this:  Marriage is not a constant state of bliss.  Instead, it is a way of life, a choice, an opportunity to be the best person I can be in both blissful moments and extremely challenging ones.  Moreover, it shows me - from time to time -- at my best, most noble self and frankly, occasionally at my worst.  I believe it was Judith Viorst who brilliantly said, "The advantage of marriage is that, when you fall out of love with him or he falls out of love with you, it keeps you together until you maybe you fall in again.Aint that the truth?

Sometimes the challenges come from the little things. I let the laundry pile up -- or worse left it strewn across the floor -- or he didn't pay the bills.  These everyday challenges are opportunities to step it up, to be the bigger person, or -- conversely -- to learn to speak our minds.  We all have our things we can overlook:  I can overlook unpaid bills but phone calls not returned activate my mind.  He can overlook any kind of mess in the house, but he needs my full attention for at least a few minutes every day. That's how he knows I care.

I think the real test is when the challenges are bigger.  I was really ill the first year of our marriage; it tested our relationship.  When my dear sister in law became suddenly ill and then passed away two weeks later, it challenged us in ways I had not thought possible.  We did not weather that storm so well;  I have always heard that death either unites or separates;  in fact I believe that loss untied us in some ways. 

As we unraveled as a couple, we bound ourselves to other things; we both threw ourselves into our work, we sought solace in other places.  In the end, it led to acts of infidelity.  This, I understand, is not entirely uncommon.  In the end, though, the thread that unravels can also be the tie that binds.  We remembered, miraculously, our love for each other; we reminded ourselves of the commitment we'd made to our family and friends when we married.  Perhaps most importantly, we each made a choice to keep our word, which at the end of the day, is the most valuable thing we have.

Marriage is not all work, but it's not all play either.  I am saying this as much to remind myself as for you, dear reader.  It is a commitment and an act of faith; it takes "faithing into." In my next post I will talk more about what that "faithing into" looks like for us.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Sickly Case of the Shoulds

Have you ever noticed that sneaky little thought, "That's not how it -- or she or we -- "should be."  This person "should" be nicer.  Government officials "shouldn't be" corrupt.  Life "shouldn't be" hard or unfair or short.  This is such an insidious and destructive way of thinking because it is so alluring.

I was raised with a clear moral code.  Some things are wrong and we all need to do what's right.  I live by that code today.  Having that clear sense of right and wrong as a kid kept me away from drugs and other trouble;  it promoted in me a work ethic that has mostly served me . . .  and sometimes made it challenging for me to stop and enjoy where all that hard work has gotten me.

That same code also leads to a sometimes severe case of the "shoulds and should nots."  Obviously people shouldn't commit murder.  Of course tax fraud is wrong.  It's also clearly wrong for someone to cut me off in traffic, lie to me or pick on my kids.  Right? 

The problem is, it doesn't stop there.  People should serve the community.  They should love their kids.  They should go to church.  Ah, this is where it starts to get fuzzy.

Girls should dress a certain way.  Young people should be respectful.  You should know how I want to be treated and treat me that way.

It's an insidious and cunning soul stealer.  Somehow that "should" starts out disguised as a noble and clear-cut notion and morphs into me being -- well -- God.  Then it starts to eat away and rot out my joy.  Suddenly, I'm so caught up in judgment, I can't see the person anymore.  People become "they."  And everything suddenly becomes about "them versus us."  It's destructive.

What if I really don't have to judge?  What if I consider the possibilities?  What if I take that clear moral code and use it to be a truly transformational force in the world? 

I know it sounds a little "pie in the sky" but here is what I'm talking about.  I can -- as the roadsigns in Texas plead -- "drive friendly."  I can leave home in plenty of time to allow people to get in front of me if they want to.  Instead of judging the person next to me in the waiting room or the grocery store line, I can be the friendly face they've been needing all day.  If I am really serious about making a difference, I can work to make changes in my community or in other systems I see as unfair.  I can shift that energy into a engine of conversion.

Perhaps most importantly, I can notice when the "should" creeps into my head and take a minute to ponder what it is doing there.  What about the situation threatens or scares me and how much of what I'm thinking is actually true?

We're all prone to a sickly case of the "shoulds" now and then.  The good news is, we can stop that joy rotting disease with a few deep breaths and stave off the brain transplant!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Water Wheel

This weekend I "stirred" the contents of the house again.  Dear hubby hauled a crib to the attic and a bed down; I hauled a crib and other stuff to the fire victims.  I built the bed and rearranged the little kids' room.  Now I am sorting through a Mount Vesuvius of toys. I'm actually afraid if I don't tame this growing beast, it's gonna blow.  A week ago I did this whole routine with clothes;  it seems like all the little kids suddenly shot up and outgrew everything.

I don't mind this routine of shuffling, sorting and purging.  It's quite satisfying, really.  What hangs me up, however, is that every time, I think, "This time, I finally have it all in order."  Then a week later, I'm doing the same thing with some other set of someone's somethings.  I thought last weekend, "It never ends."

Bingo.  The reality of life in a household of seven is that a constant cycle of stuff coming and going is essential.  I'm now seeing it as a wheel, like a water wheel.  With every revolution, some water comes off and goes back into the pool and some new water is scooped up.  Maybe if I'm not always hoping I'm finished, I'll be able to fully commit to the process of evolution.

It's just like my spiritual work, isn't it?  Sometimes I get so wrapped up in getting the job done, I actually start to  think I'm "finished."  But seriously, can I ever be "finished" noticing what trips me up?  Can I be "done" refining my goals, deepening my faith or feeding my relationships?  Of course not, it's a ridiculous thought even if it does float around -- unnoticed -- from time to time in my subconscious.

I am bringing that image of the water wheel into my spiritual life.  My spiritual "work" is constantly changing and yet it bears some striking similarities to work I have done in the past.  With every revolution of the big wheel I am scooping up a fresh outlook, a new opportunity while letting go of that which is not essential.  It is truly a constant and ongoing process of purging and refining and-- in recognizing its ongoing-ness -- I am able to release the demand that every step be the perfect one. 

All spiritual work is "good" work.  It is all contributing to the process of me becoming more and more the woman I was created to be. Sometimes I can afford to take my eyes off the prize and focus them on enjoying the journey.