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Battling Expectation

26 Sep

Ladies, we’re complicated. Have you noticed how much social math you have to calculate in your head before you approach a gaggle of women you don’t know extremely well? Okay…that one could just be me. But, really. Most of us are black belts in making things more difficult than they need to be. Relationships are by far the best example.

In the beginning, we’re suspicious. If a man offers us a simple kindness we hypothesize on the probably that he will later rape and kill us. If he flirts, we think he’s just trying to get close to us so he can hook up with our best friend. Then if the poor schmuck gets past the initial defenses, we move on to even greater concerns. When he comes over with a wrinkled shirt, we’re worried he doesn’t take himself seriously enough to succeed. If we go a month without planning a date that isn’t dinner and a movie, we’re worried we’ve lost all the romance. It continues pretty much forever.

We’re just different and there’s a reason. In my capstone class for my BFA, we often had a lot of tangential conversations that didn’t really deal directly with anything we were writing. We talked about ideas at large and psychology most often. One night our instructor came in and asked us all when we last felt like we were in physical danger. Every woman in the room mentioned a time within the last month and every man gave an example from childhood. Slowly the vast difference in gender instinct began to sink in for all of us and there were head-slapping moments as we all realized why we had such difficulty understanding each other.

The truth is, we women can’t help the way we conjure hypothetical doom out of teeny, tiny “signs.” It’s part of our base instinct to sense even the smallest amount of danger because whether we like to think so or not, we’re vulnerable. (Vulnerable–not weak or fragile and in need of protecting.) Men, on the other hand, don’t have a lot of worry. They think mostly about what’s happening right now–the fastest way to do things, the best new things to have, the simplest ways to make things better. The more you let this sink in, the more you realize that most of the problems in your relationships stem from these fundamental gaps. We can’t  truly get rid of them but we can fight them and build bridges to get across.

One of the best “bridges” you can build is direct communication. Women have lots of needs that men just don’t get because, once again, we think about broad and distant concerns while men are more preoccupied with the immediate things like what’s for dinner. Furthermore, we tend to draw our desires from what we see around us and for whatever reason, this doesn’t happen as often to men. For example, when I watch a Jane Austen movie adaptation, I always think how nice it would be to have a well-worded and meaningful love letter from Hubs. And the little hairy monster inside starts to think, “uh, why hasn’t he done that in the last two or three years?” Then I would commence to worrying about the love isn’t “new” anymore. Will could watch the very same movie, be slightly amused, but have no such desire. It’s amazing…and it’s also a trap.

Expectations are horrible little things that become enormous, hairy, and fanged problems when we don’t recognize them and squash them with a large shoe. They can make us wonder why our significant other never sends us cute texts anymore or why we never get flowers. In our minds, these needs and expectations should be obvious…like how the colors on his latest outfit didn’t exactly match. 😉 To men, these things are absolutely invisible. So you know what needs to happen? In order to avoid being greatly disappointed in and depressed by your relationship, you should just ask for what you’d like.

“Hey, babe. I need you to buy me flowers. Sometime in the next week.” Or maybe, “I’m having a bad day. Could we watch a girlie flick and cuddle? Also, I could use some hot tea.” Sometimes it’s okay to ask for things when you’re bothered by not having them. “Everyone I know is getting new shoes. We need to save for some so I can stop being sad about it.”

And I’m betting there are some of you reading that and thinking it sucks all the romance out of the relationship. So let’s take a moment to talk about what romance is (or isn’t).

First, romance is not being upset when your partner isn’t living up to what’s in your head and then never saying about it. It’s not even nice to hold that over your SO’s head. No one is a mind reader. It’s also not romantic to feel deeply disappointed by a gift that didn’t really hit the mark and the wonder if your partner even knows you.

You know what’s infinitely better? When you accept that your SO loves you and wants to do things for you that make you feel loved and special but that he just needs direction. If you really need to be surprised, you can give him/her a range of things to do for you and let them choose. I think we, as women, need to redefine romance to something that assures our happiness instead of something that depends on men assuming things they would never figure out on their own. It’s harmful to both people when we do that.

What do you think? Do you just say what you need or do you wait for surprises? What works for you?





Notes from a New Husband

17 Aug

Hi, readers! Remember when I said Hubs was going to write a guest post for us? Well, it’s late…but with good reason. Last week he got some heavy news and we’ve both been mourning in our own ways while also making the most of our time together before he leaves for Vegas next weekend. We’ve had a lot of things to pray over lately and now feels like a good time to say thank you to everyone who has lifted us up in the past year and upheld the promise you made to us on our wedding day. There are definitely days when we get by on grace and we probably have a lot of prayers to thank for that.

So! Now here’s Will’s notes on being a new husband…

I am going to bring you my perspective on what it’s like to be a new husband.  It has been the biggest change I have ever gone through (to include 7 months in Iraq.)  The change is by far the most rewarding one you will make in your life.  It is definitely not easy, or for someone who gets bored with others. Marriage is a true test of everything you are.  It will test your sense of humor, your ability to adapt and overcome all petty things, your ability to cherish the little moments that have changed your life over the past few years, etc.

Something that’s been hard for me to deal with is always having someone around.  It’s hard to transition from one day having no one there when you get home from work to being greeted as you come in the door.  I am not saying it is a bad thing, words cannot describe how incredible a smile and a warm embrace can be when you have had a horrible day.  Some may say that I would be crazy to have an issue with that, but I need to be alone sometimes. Time apart is just as important as time together.  I usually take a short trip to the grocery store.  Driving is one of the ways that I can be relaxed while alone.

(Editor’s note: I totally sympathize with Hubs on this. I like my alone time and the poor man almost never gets any. He’s a good man to only require five or ten minutes away from me because I need lots of time to mull things over and I prefer that time to be in my bed with a good book. Don’t be discouraged or feel like a terrible spouse if you just want to lock your significant other in the basement for an hour. It’s absolutely normal and you have to learn that it’s okay to ask for what you need, even if what you need is for your SO to be far away.)

On the other hand, I like the thought of missing someone while I’m at work.  My wife and I never saw each other except on the weekends before, so it is definitely a step in the right direction.  In the past going to work was just going to work.  Now it’s a race to get home everyday so I can get the hug and kiss I was always missing before.

Talk about your financial plans before getting married and make sure it’s fully in place before the wedding.  I would recommend that you go into the marriage with your finances fully joined. Money’s a big deal and there are reasons for that. It will cause you to do strange things.  Never leave your significant other stranded without any way to access money.  Trust me, it turns out bad.  Also be sensible with your money, never live beyond your means. (We’ve learned that this means looking at how much you have to spare in your life. Never spend more than that amount because you’ll have a real tough time paying it back, no matter what creditors tell you. The best way to build credit is to choose a few regular bills that you can pay off easily on a routine schedule like gym memberships, gas expenses, etc. and only use your credit card for those things or absolutely emergencies.) Also, for couples filing taxes as newlyweds, file joint spouse. (Big bucks!!!)  Put anything you can into savings, there is never any telling what will happen and you need to be prepared. Trust me, it sucks to go without.  Enough with the money, I’m being a Debbie-Downer.

Honestly, the little things are what get you through the bad times.  It’s that picking up something special on the way home (for Brytani, its Hersheys or a Cinnabon).  Find something that she enjoys and take a few minutes out of your day to get it for her.  It goes a long way. (Well, specifically, it helps to renew those tender and generous feelings of love. If you get too much into a habit of only thinking of each other when you’re together, your relationship becomes routine and monotonous. We’ve both learned that both of us feel better when we do little nice things for each other. Even if it’s planning a nice meal on a hard day.)

Marriage is an amazing thing, but nothing amazing ever comes without a fight (or compromise). (But don’t fear the fights. Don’t retreat from the compromise. They’re healthy when you have each other’s good in mind.)

Guys, just remember this rhyme— HAPPY WIFE, HAPPY LIFE  🙂

(Ladies, that works in reverse too. Don’t let men fool you.)

Divying Up the Chores

9 Aug

It’s one of the first orders of business when figuring out how to live with another person and it’s always a tough job. You can’t decide how to approach the conversation of telling someone else what you think their chores should be because that seems so harsh. And then what do you do when the other person doesn’t hold up their end of the deal? There’s another awkward confrontation. “Uh, remember that deal we made where you do the laundry? Yeeeah, doesn’t look like you’ve been doing that.” Since I’ve now been living with someone (lovely who is never, ever an issue ;)) for almost ten months, I have a small amount of insight on how to take the sting away from sharing chores.

Remember that in my situation, I’m home for a good 75% of the week so in our case, I do around 80% of the chores. In most people’s lives, this isn’t the case but I think there may still be someone who can draw wisdom from my suggestions.

Amount of chores per person should be based somehow on how long each of you are home. As I just illustrated, if one of you spends more time than the other in the house, that person should naturally do more. I don’t mean that if someone is constantly going out with friends or partying that they shouldn’t spend anytime helping out around the house, though. I mean that your portion of the chores should depend on the time that you’re not working.

If your roommate/partner likes a certain chore more than you do, let him/her handle it. That’s one less thing to worry about. You may have someone who doesn’t like to do anything, though and I’ll get to that in a bit.

If you have something that you like done in a way that is uniquely and precisely your style, it’s polite to take that as your job. Because assigning dish-washing to your friend and then fussing at her for leaving a tiny particle of cheese on the bottom of the plate is a bit rude. Also under this category, don’t criticize anyone who is genuinely trying to help out. It can cause a lot of insecurity to look at the other person’s work and say, “but you just did it all wrong.” Then what’s the point of them even doing it? If you really must, offer suggestions…but nicely. Otherwise, deal with the little imperfections and realize that they’re better than no help at all.

When you get to the things that neither of you like to do, make sure you have an equal number of chores that make you frown.  That’s what sharing is all about. Some people can never be made happy no matter how fair you are, though, and it’s important to show that you’re both sucking it up. At least if they’re going to be cry-babies, they can’t cry about you being so unfair.

Try to steer clear of alternating days/weeks. It’s confusing but if you really must, then you must.

Now that you’ve set up your lists and schedules, let me share my method for handling chores that aren’t being done.

1. I try to wait a little while and see if the accumulation of things triggers the other person’s memory. Like if my partner is supposed to help with the laundry, I see if letting all the baskets fill up makes it easier to remember. However, this could become a negative kind of avoiding and if you’re not careful, could become passive aggressive. So…

2. The moment that it starts to actually annoy you, have a sit-down with the other person. Or just give a little suggestion. “Hey, it would really help out if you could do the dishes tonight. We’re running out of clean cups.” If it’s consistent, then a come-to-Jesus meeting might be necessary. Just don’t let it go on bugging you because life’s too short not to share what’s getting under your skin with the person you care about. You always want to give a friend a chance to improve.

3. I think this is especially important if you’re in a relationship/marriage with the person you’re living with: never do it for him/her. Mainly because it will make you mad and will sprout a tiny hang nail that will never really get plucked until one day you explode like, “I always have to clean the tub out for you! Why don’t you love me?!” My rule is, if it would upset me to do it, I don’t. I don’t martyr myself like that, ever. Now, if I feel like doing something nice for hubs, I certainly do but that’s different.

Well, I hope this experience comes in handy for you. Hubs is going to join in later this week with a little guest post on advice for new husbands (and maybe even for some of us ladies on how to handle them). I’m so happy I could just pinch his cheek. 😀

New York, I Love You

27 Jun

Have you heard the news? This weekend, New York became the sixth(ish) state in the US to legalize same-sex marriage. To show solidarity and share in the excitement, I’m going to do the bravest thing I’ve ever done: I’m telling you today that I am a true Christian supporting same-sex marriage.

Up until today, there were only a few people who truly knew my secret and yet, I’ve never wanted it to be a secret. I don’t know a single other Christian who agrees with me, not even my husband, and that’s made it hard for me to nurture my feelings on the subject. In fact, my family and my friends are all pretty set on viewing same-sex marriage as a threat to God’s plan for the family and yet I’ve never bought that idea. I don’t fall into the category of converting everyone to the way I feel (on any matter) so instead I co-exist pretty peacefully with people of opposite beliefs. I’ve sat silently through dozens of homophobic conversations for the sake of hearing other people out so I don’t intend to make a war of this. I just can’t stop myself from hurting for all the couples being denied one of the most basic of all civil rights.

I don’t consider marriage a Christian or even a religious rite. From the time of its creation, marriage has been the legal means by which two people join and share their assets. In the past (way back there in centuries), marriage was one of the only ways to ensure your household brought in food, money, and children to carry on your name. Often a man needed a woman to help with farming or running the household and providing offspring while women needed men for financial and physical security. Marriage was never considered a sacrament until the 12th century and has only been recognized as such by the Catholic church. To this day, Protestant denominations consider marriage blessed by Christ but since he did not participate in it or create it as something new (like communion or baptism), it is not considered an integral part of our  faith.

With this being the case, for most of us Christians, marriage remains a legal process, consecrated by God but not ours to own. We see marriage as a reflection of the covenant between God and the Hebrews, as our Jewish cousins passed onto us,  but even that transaction is contractual. It is binding in a soulful way but still lays out a set of rules and promises. This is exactly what legal marriage and civil unions stipulate as well. So is marriage only marriage when it is a religious ceremony? What about the mixed-gender marriages between atheists? Are they not legally married? Our government says they are. In other words, since it doesn’t seem that the government defines marriage by religious rite, why do so many Christians object to it on grounds of our faith? It seems to me that we have no right to impose scripture on a body that is not ruled by it. We are one nation under God, as every nation is ultimately, but our constitution dictates that the government should be unbiased. We’ve fought for decades to raise our government above race, gender, religion, and beliefs to enforce fair and equal legislation for all but in this one area, we continue to hinder it for the sake of what Christianity has labeled “an attack on the family.”

However, it scares me that government should have the power to say who can be married and who cannot. If we have agreed that marriage is above all a civil right, don’t you agree that taking it away from certain people puts every marriage in danger? Let me show you what I mean. In the 60’s, a famous court case was fought over a Virginia law that outlawed marriage between white and non-white people. In defiance of this law, a white man and an African-American woman married in DC but were seized from their home upon their return to Virgina. They were forced to leave their state forever or be imprisoned. Over the course of almost a decade, judges used scriptural evidence to show that God didn’t intend races to mix while still other churches took action to support inter-racial marriage. Finally, in 1967, the US Supreme Court ruled in Loving v. Virginia against all legislation restricting marriage on the basis of race. What makes me anxious about the current struggle for same-sex marriage is the past. When we give government the power to discriminate against any, we give it the power to discriminate against all. If I say now that that two women shouldn’t enjoy marriage because of their gender, someone else could come along and say that my husband and I shouldn’t be married because he was raised Baptist and I was Pentecostal or because he votes Republican and I vote Democratic (usually).

I agree that marriage and the family are under attack, but not by same-sex marriage. I would say that it’s under attack from the inside– from divorce rates and ugly custody battles and from marriages that maybe shouldn’t have happened or were forced by some societal pressure. I know that it’s under attack from the very people who are allowed to participate in it. Every time I watch a movie, a romantic comedy or drama, there seems to be some negative message about marriage. The media is beginning to sell the idea that all marriage is old-fashioned or doomed. If there’s a married couple in a movie, they’re always cheating or separating or going through a life crisis where they don’t know if they want to be with their partner. Marriage, from the media’s perspective, is all brokenness and tragedy and often I turn off a movie more worried for my own than I’ve ever been before. “What if I meet some clever, sexy man on a beach somewhere and wonder if my husband was the right choice?” (Don’t worry, I think Hubs is both clever and sexy.) But that’s what’s happening to marriage in reality, isn’t it? The truth is finally seeping into our escapism. Marriage is actually on the decline and divorce is on the rise. Common-law marriages and co-habitation are growing while married couples are shrinking. In Europe, if you get married you’re in a teeny-tiny minority because most European countries have legalized civil unions that grant all the rights of marriage. It’s not because same-sex couples have arrived on the scene. It’s because people are afraid of marriage. They’ve seen their parents, their siblings, their neighbors and teachers make a mess of their marriages and they say, “that can’t be right.” Just think, how many divorces, separations, or break-ups do you hear about as opposed to weddings or big anniversaries? In my life, the ugly and the depressing way outnumber the lasting and happy relationships.

So, honestly? Letting same-sex couples get married may be the best defense of marriage and the family we can now muster. I know I could learn a lot from these couples about overcoming hard times and tossing out traditional gender roles. What more do they know but just aren’t allowed or supposed to teach me? I say, if anyone is up for the challenge, let them be wed! If they’re brave enough to try, give them the chance to help fix the problem we’ve made of marriage because I remember what it was like when I would tell people “I’m getting married next month,” and all they could do was frown and say, “good luck with that,” or even, “you’ll live to regret it.” We don’t celebrate marriages enough in our society anymore. I want there to be a day when everyone rejoices at weddings instead of taking bets over how long it will last. Don’t you?

The First Year and Keeping Love New

27 Apr

“Good-bye!” Said Gandalf to Thorin. “And good-bye to you all, good-bye! Straight through the forest is your way now. Don’t stray off the track! — If you do, it is a thousand to one you will never find it again and never get out of Mirkwood; and then I don’t suppose I, or any one else, will ever see you again.”

“Do we really have to go through?” groaned the hobbit.

“Yes, you do!” said the wizard, “if you want to get to the other side. You must either go through or give up your quest. And I am not going to allow you to back out now, Mr. Baggins. I am ashamed of you for even thinking of it…” he laughed.

I thought it too long since I’ve used a reference from The Hobbit. In this chapter, the stalwart heroes are trudging through Mirkwood, a dark, lifeless forest whose only creek runs black with waters so sweet as to make you forsake your real journey. Before entering the forest, they were stocked with rations and given the advice, “never stray from the path.” To do so, you see, would have them strung up and poisoned by giant spiders. Hobbits and dwarves make a perfect serving size for them. Unfortunately for the adventurers, they aren’t told about the spiders and the probability of being eaten if they step from the track when they have completely exhausted their rations, they are tricked by fiendish wood elves who draw them towards their campfire feast. It’s a great chapter, but let’s move along.

Lately I’ve decided that the Mirkwood experience is one that nearly all newlyweds have to struggle through in the first year of their marriage. You may have heard that the first year is one of the hardest and that’s no lie, though it’s probably not totally true for absolutely everyone. A lot of people have a “honeymoon phase” that I’m not sure we ever had…maybe for a couple weeks, maybe. For the most part we just got steamrolled by life and we’re still trying to inflate our flattened selves. That said, things are still wonderful between us. It’s not easy. It’s damn hard, in fact. We have fights about things that have nothing to do with us and then we have to come back and sort out just why we’re so hurt. What outside source has us frustrated again? There’s not much romance in swallowing your pride and saying, “I screwed up,” but you do it a lot in the first months and at some point, it gets easier not to keep score. You take and give grace at rates of exchange that would amaze our US economists until you just say one day, “put it on my tab.”And if you have an amazing relationship, that’s just a joke.

Truthfully, in our shared life, we’re probably going to come across a lot of Mirkwoods and we may even find ourselves questioning our path like Bilbo saying, “do we really have to go through this? Can’t we just go around?” But as Gandalf wisely points out, going around is the same as giving up. There are lots of things to learn in the dark, when you’re hungry and scared and you have no idea when you’re going to come out the other side. You see people feasting just steps away from your path but you have to remind yourself that straying will have you caught in a web, waiting to be a spider’s lunch. You learn to have faith–impossible faith–that even when you are starving and exhausted, you are as much a wife in the dark as you are in the sunshine with a full stomach. If you can know that, you can get through. If can tell yourself that you are everything you need to be, even when you feel just the opposite, you can do anything.

With all the un-romance that swarms a couple in the first year, let me share something that has to happen: Keeping the love new. One of the most common things that happens to couples in the first year, and every year after, is the discovery of just how monotonous marriage can be. Really, it’s not something to write home about every single day. As you grow accustomed to each other’s schedules, you fall into a routine of only seeing each other for a few hours a day, maybe more, maybe less, and really only being together for a couple days a week. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, making quality time happen is a must in a happy relationship. You have to learn to appreciate each other as much as you can every day and in every little moment you have together, even apart. So! Here are some budget-friendly activities that may help bring back the butterflies:

Do something a little irresponsible together: Maybe not with money, but with food or time or something less important. Maybe you stay up a little later than usual to play a video game or you make brownies together. Maybe you get  a little drunk one night and chase each other around the house. Make some time to forget your worries.

Try something new for both of you: Try a new card game or a new restaurant. If you found an awesome coffee shop during the week, introduce your partner to it. You could go for a walk in the park on a Saturday morning or play HORSE on the basketball courts. Killing time in a new way is still quality time.

Make a new recipe together: Mix up your weekly meals and try a new dish. Maybe take your partner shopping with you and just wing it or plan ahead and bring home the goods. Good food is great for inspiring love.

Volunteer: Hubs and I actually started volunteering together at the Humane Society and I think we both appreciate each other a little more after working together. Having an overflow of your love in the community is good for everyone.

Now go forth and prosper. And remember, don’t stray from the path.

Oh! But before I go, yesterday’s guest post was an awesome success. With twenty-three views, it was the third most popular post in the history of the blog. Which I’m going to assume means you like to have a fresh voice and not that you’re absolutely bored with me, haha. That said, I’m going to be needing some more. Send ’em in! Pretty please?

The (Very Happy) Reluctant Housewife

18 Apr

When I tried to think about what I was going to write this week, I couldn’t move my brain beyond this topic. I just have to talk about it because with our economy being the way it is, many women are finding themselves in my position. (Although, interestingly, unemployment rates are higher among men than women because of their participation in fields like construction and manufacturing that have been hit very hard by the recession.) Or maybe not my position exactly but experiencing similar feelings. Maybe some of my readers want a job and just can’t find one, or maybe they have one that they’re wildly overqualified for and can’t seem to move up, or maybe someone is exactly like me–moved (somewhat unwillingly) to an area where you have little to no prospects. And you know what? None of us deserve to feel disappointed in ourselves or made to feel like we’ve disappointed others.

When I met Will, I absolutely refused to date him or to even emotionally invest in him because of his military commitment. I had plans that didn’t involve being moved at the whim of Uncle Sam and so I revolted for over a year until finally I gave in. I had this funny idea that I didn’t have anyone else in my life who appreciated my passions more than he did or anyone who could understood and cherish my desires more than him. So I told myself that I could go my whole life chasing every dream but I would feel alone and empty without his kind of love to come home to. I didn’t need him to have the same interests or to dream the same dreams, I just wanted a person who would go the distance with me and truly be there, happily, through thick and thin. I wanted him because I saw him as the type of person who wouldn’t judge me or even care if I was at the top of my game or at the bottom of the barrel. I think I made the right decision but it came with a ton of sacrifice.

I was the only one of the two of us–the only person of anyone I knew, actually– who had a very set five-year plan based on what I was good at. I wanted to finish college, go into the Peace Corps for two years, come back and move to one of four cities (NYC, Boston, San Fran, or Portland) to pursue some entry-level job in publishing, preferably something editorial. When I was ready, I would start a manuscript for a book and go to grad school for my MFA. There I would be able to finish my book, graduate, and either continue moving up in publishing or move on to teaching creative writing in a university, also continuing to write. That was how I saw the rest of my life going, really. That was my definition of “success.” To marry a man who doesn’t have any idea of what he wants and then to live by the direction of his job came with so much anxiety, I can’t even tell you how many times I broke down into tearful, throw-upy fits. The night before our wedding, I cried for hours because I was so scared of having my life in his hands.

So, needless to say, being home nearly 24/7 has been very rough on me in every way imaginable. I’ve had to completely re-define my aspirations as well as what success means to me because otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed every morning. A lot of things from my five-year plan have been moved to a hold list that I don’t know if we’ll ever get to. I’ve changed my goals to include another, possibly temporary, career field that would allow me to find employment nearly anywhere that we’re asked to move and for the moment, my planning abilities only apply to the end of the week because I never really know when Hubs could get orders and have to leave the next day. It gives me anxiety attacks when I think about when I’ll ever get to do something that I want to do but I endure it because I have a great man as my partner and I’m trusting that there will be a time when he pays me back for my extreme patience.

But what prompts me spilling my guts about all this? I’ve had a series of disgusting moments when people have attempted to judge me as a “housewife” or worse, as a disappointment because of my unemployment.

First, I do not have anything against the term housewife or the people who go by that occupation but I want to make a stand right now for myself and all the other unemployed ladies who have been mistakenly labeled as one. I do not want to be a housewife and therefore, I am not one. I am a struggling artist but not a housewife. I actually want to work but cannot because of my commitment to school and the restrictions that come with living in a tiny town. Also, I don’t like the condescending tone I’ve perceived when called this. I do not sit around all day watching tv (although I spend an embarrassing amount of time playing video games) and neither do real housewives. I know it’s hard to imagine the life of someone who is home-bound but you should probably check your tone before you ask someone what they do all day.

Next, I realize that there are a lot of people who associate getting a degree with trying to get a high-paying job, but this is not the case for everyone and unfortunately, it’s not going that way for a lot of people who had that goal. Most of the people I know who have recently graduated from undergrad studies do not have a job in their associated fields. Many of them have secretarial or administrative jobs and many are also unemployed. I don’t think anyone should be made to feel bad for their employment status, especially when it’s known that they’re trying to work. Some people are really lucky to graduate from a highly-demanded, career-oriented degree field but others of us just went to school to be better at the things we love. Though a BFA does have a lot of qualities that should be appealing to any employer, I’m happy in the fact that I’m very good at the thing I’m most passionate about. I do not feel entitled to a great job because of my education and I certainly have a lot of humility when putting myself up for consideration, as I feel anyone should. Furthermore, I’m very proud of myself for being a first generation college student and being one of only three people in my entire family who has four-year degree. No matter what, I don’t feel like I can be judged by anyone who hasn’t gone through all the schooling I have because it does take so much motivation to complete any degree. Universities do not make it as easy as it should be for students and I worked very hard to graduate on time and not to push my parents’ deadline or budget for me. If anyone still feels disappointed in me, I can honestly say it’s without cause because I’m actually pretty happy where I am in my life and I start every day with peace and contentment in knowing that I’m doing all I can to please myself and God. Sorry if that isn’t good enough in some way but I’ve worked and sacrificed enough that the happiness I feel is reward enough for me right now.

Till next time, be nice to your local unemployed ladies and housewives or I’ll be waiting around the corner to cut your throat. 😉

The Way We Reach

22 Mar

On Saturday, I said I would first write to you about what it’s like to be a military wife because my husband is supposed to be leaving soon for a long, humanitarian-type mission. He may or may not miss my birthday tomorrow and we probably won’t know for sure until a few hours before he has to go. Truthfully, though, in the face of all that’s going on in the world with the crisis in Japan and Libya and elsewhere, it’s not such a bittersweet thing as I thought it would be for me. I’m hugely relieved that the military has chosen to use my husband to do some good this time and if this is the way that I can give to people half a world away who are suffering, Hubs can miss my birthday all they want.

It’s true that I pout a lot because of his occupation. In fact, before I met him, I’d promised myself that I wouldn’t marry (and therefore wouldn’t date) a military man. I knew exactly what that was about because of my dad’s involvement in the Air Force and had long decided that I was not the type of woman who waited around for a man to come back from one thing or another, crying periodically and making care packages all the time. (I’m still not very good at being that sentimental.) Still, I fell in love with Hubs and no matter how much I hated his day job, I knew he was the only person in my life who would go the distance with me. If there’s one thing I’m thankful for, it’s that I’m blessed with the ability to be certain of a good thing and to stand by it absolutely. And you know what? I don’t like what it does to us sometimes, but I’m grateful for my husband’s service and what he does for our country because every now and then, he does get to help people.

And now I’m going to step away from the discussion of our relationship because there is something bigger to address. In light of the work Hubs is about to do, I want to talk about why I think people suffer.

I’m not a person who thinks that there is a black and white reason for every little thing that happens, and I find it especially hard to say that to a person who is suffering. “God has a plan,” is a tough thing to handle when that plan apparently involves so much loss. Even Darwin couldn’t fully embrace religion because of how much needless pain and death there was in the world. He devoted much of his studies to finding reasons for all the devastating parasites and deaths of infant animals because in spite of his scientific reasoning, he just couldn’t work out why his oldest daughter had to die. No one, no matter how intelligent or clever or wise, can tell you why things happen the way that they do but the last thing that this girl ever says is that God meant it that way. I’m sure that he does work all things for our good…at some point…but I don’t think that’s a very comforting thought when you’re hurting.

Some people say we are hurt so we can grow stronger which is probably a little true in a round-about way. Being hurt makes us vulnerable. It strips us of things we’ve built to protect ourselves and to hide ourselves. It makes us face the things we don’t like and forces bravery and perseverance in a way that could be said to make us stronger. In truth, I think it  just makes us more in tune with who we really are–weaker or stronger is a bit subjective. In some cases, though, hurt makes people fill up with things instead of being deconstructed. Sometimes they are covered with fear and anger and that grief can take them away from themselves for a very long time. People can build impenetrable walls around themselves.

For me, there’s one story in scripture that I think explains a large part of why people experience suffering and it’s probably not the one you think. Everyone assumes the story of Original Sin is the end-all-be-all explanation of the human condition but if that were true, the answer to our problems would be to develop severe trust issues in our relationships, right? “Where’d you get that apple? Take a bite? Why? What’d you do to it? Did you buy it with the credit card? I thought we agreed not to use that anymore.” Although a pretty bit of poetry, it’s not as helpful as people make it out to be.

There’s another Genesis story that gets attention for all the wrong reasons, in my opinion. It’s the Tower of Babel in chapter eleven.

In this story, all the humans on earth are traveling and living together (because this story comes shortly after the Noah tale, this version of history has very few surviving cultures), speaking the same language and generally getting along. Then one day they decide it’s time to build a lasting home and they start constructing a city. After the city is done, they get really bored and start building an enormous tower that touches the sky. I don’t know if this is exaggeration but if it’s not, the first skyscraper is somewhere in Mesopotamia, probably Iraq if you want to get specific.They specifically say that they want to build this civilization so that they don’t have to be separated and can live together in harmony.

Anyway, then God comes around one day and sees the tower and says to his imaginary friends (Christians would say he’s speaking to the other members of the Trinity but this is essentially a Jewish story and they would probably say he was speaking to the Sons of God who are angel-type figures) “6. Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing will be withheld from them. 7. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.”

So he does and as the story goes, this is why one culture doesn’t understand every other and why we no longer live together as one nation. Now, the story is often explained away as an example of human pride and God’s judgment. However, though there’s a tiny sliver of evidence to support this (when people begin building the tower they say, “let us make a name for ourselves”), I think it robs the story of greater significance and also makes God look a little petty. “Oh, yeah? You want to build a tower and act all high and mighty? I’ve got something for you. See if you can get any work done now.”It doesn’t line up.

I had to pray a long time over this bit of scripture because it really is easy to make bad assumptions of God’s character from this story. One day, for no real reason, I started to imagine all the suffering that this separation has stirred into being. I imagined all the wars that have begun because one culture couldn’t get along with another and how much could be accomplished if we just understood each other again and began to build something together–a city where we all could live. Then I thought about this passage and tried to work out why God would do this, if not retribution for our pride. What were we to learn from this?

When I look at the scripture, I see God’s action as issuing a challenge. He says, “Okay, you’re all getting along when you understand each other and it’s easy enough now to act like you don’t need me, but now I’m not going to hold back. I will scatter and confuse you and then we’ll see if you can still build things together.”  And their answer was, “they ceased building the city.” Now, even this looks a little petty on God’s part but if you’re willing, you can a faithful step further and think there must be some good in this.

My answer is this: People have to search for each other now. We have to put time and effort into understanding each other and we have to reach across boundaries and make compromises to live in peace. It doesn’t sound altogether better than having that relationship by default but in a way, I think we are rewarded with appreciation for the things we have in common now that we are so different. If God really meant to punish humanity’s pride, this would be the perfect way to humble us not only to him but to each other.

But how does this apply to suffering? I want you imagine that this story is a metaphor. I want you to see yourself as your own nation, with your own language and your own barriers that need crossing. Now I want you to imagine that you are hurting–someone you love has been taken away and you’re desperately trying to tell someone that you need them but you’re stuck in the ruins of a city that no one is building anymore. One day, someone comes along as his own nation with his own language and sees you there, hurting and alone. He tries to speak to you and you don’t understand each other but you know he’s trying to comfort you and little bits of your barrier and the ruins around you start to fall away. Then another person joins him and the three of you are confused together but you know they’re both trying to comfort you and in doing so, they’re comforting each other too. Then one day, you start to learn each other’s words and they get a message through, “we love you.” And all your barriers are destroyed. You’ve got bricks on the ground all around the three of you and you all decide that you should make something new together to mark the occasion and to help you remember each other’s words. So you start a new city because you have something in common–you found out that you all hurt together and that was the one thing everyone could understand. You reached for each other and you worked until you accomplished something together.

Everyone has barriers and towers that need to come down. Everyone needs to escape from the ruins in their life. Pain is the most visible signal flare because everyone recognizes it and everyone knows how much it sucks. No one, even your worst enemy from high school (well, maybe), wants to see you hurt and if you can let someone in, or if you can be the person who reaches across the boundary, you can have a breakthrough. You can see walls come down and you can simultaneously help build the city where we all live together.

This, I think, is ultimately the legacy of the Tower of Babel story. We were meant to learn how to need each other and in so doing, find that we need a God who holds us together–who sees our pain and made others who know what it feels like, who sends those people (or tries to, because I don’t think everyone listens) to be vulnerable right alongside of us, who teaches us to truly love each other more than ourselves.

Anyway, that’s my opinion of the good that can come from suffering and I can’t think of any metaphor more appropriate for the work my husband is about to do–going to a different country to help them in their time of need. Good luck, sweetums. And good luck to all you other ambassadors of healing, even if you’re helping right where you work or live or go to school. I hope we’re all trying to build a city.