I’ve moved

I’m blogging over on my author website now, and I hope you’ll join me.

I haven’t been consistent for quite some time (understatement). But I have a plan to start posting at least once a week, on Saturday mornings. I’ll continue to write about life in general, marriage, family, and so on — but my main focus will be the craft of writing and the struggles and joys of the journey.

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Giving Ourselves Away

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a friend from church whose family recently took in three foster children (a sibling group, ages 2, 6, and 10). She and her husband are one year away from sending their youngest child off to college. Their oldest three are all either finishing college or already out in the working world. Her husband is just a year or two away from retirement.

She shared with me the day-to-day struggles of caring for a toddler at her age, and dealing with the six-year-old calling her “Mommy” from the first day they met, and the palpable anger of the ten-year-old boy when he doesn’t get his way. She said she ends each day completely exhausted. Looking into her weary eyes, I believed it.

Then she said, “You know, we were really looking forward to our retirement years, and they’re so close now. We talked about how we would travel, and relax, and spend time together. And sometimes I feel like we’ve sacrificed our lives for these kids.”

She paused, leaned back in her chair with a smile, and said, “But that’s what it’s all about: giving ourselves away. What’s our life for, if not that?”

The Packer Game Incident

My wife says I never listen to her. At least I think that’s what she said.

There it was, gleaming at me from the glossy pages of a catalog: the perfect slogan t-shirt, with its cheeky grasp of the truth. I reached for my purse, intending to pull out my Visa. My husband, Pete, and I don’t have a ton of arguments—mostly because he’s so nice—but his lack of listening skills has been the source of many of them.

I got as far as my wallet, then stopped and tossed the catalog in the trash. I knew that even the humorous tone of the t-shirt wouldn’t soften the truth of the statement and any chuckle he got out of it would just be masking a wound. I realized that if I did buy the shirt, I wouldn’t be going for a laugh. I’d be going for a “Gotcha!”

Less than one year into our marriage, we had the mother of all our later non-listening incidents. Pete is a huge Cheesehead and Packer Backer (that’s “Green Bay Packer fan,” for the uninitiated). One Monday evening in November, we sat at the dinner table with the tv on and clearly visible in the living room. The Packers were playing the Bears. At Lambeau Field. If that means nothing to you, well, back then it meant nothing to me either.

As we ate our dinner and Pete looked past me to the flickering image of Brett Favre’s green-clad torso, I began to share the details of yet another horrible day at the office. At first Pete tore his eyes from the television at regular intervals, nodding and mmm-hmmming at the appropriate moments.

But then it was first and goal—both at Lambeau Field and at our dinner table. I’d just gotten to the climax of my story, in which a troublesome coworker had scolded and humiliated me in front of several others. As I dabbed my tears with a napkin, I glanced at Pete. He was mid-nod with his head turned toward me. But his eyes were cast to the side, riveted on the image of an airborne football headed straight for the end zone.

Clenching my jaw, I decided to conduct a little test. Beginning a new sentence, I stopped halfway through to see if he’d notice. Instead, he pumped a fist in the air and roared, “Yyyessss!” To Brett Favre and Sterling Sharpe—not to me.

I rose from my place at the table—oozing grace and dignity—and stomped between Pete and the television to the bedroom. There I flopped, sobbing, onto the bed. And waited. I was sure he’d tear himself from the game and follow me, devastated at the hurt he’d caused his precious young bride.

I kept waiting. I waited at least twenty minutes.

By then, it was halftime at Lambeau Field. In our living room, Pete snapped out of his football-induced fog and noticed something: His wife was gone.

Despite his profuse and sincere apologies, it’s taken 12 years for me to find this story funny. Before I saw the humor, I carried it in my back pocket, whipping it out whenever I needed help winning an argument. Pete would swear I hadn’t told him something—perhaps that I’d invited 12 people for supper. Into my back pocket I’d reach: Oh, really? Who was the likely culprit, considering our history? Clearly, it was more plausible that I had told him, but he hadn’t been listening. Didn’t he recall The Packer Game Incident?

Over the years, I’ve come to understand that intentionally wounding Pete because of his failings does nothing to inspire him to listen to me more, or to fix things between us. Actually, my actions and attitudes regarding the problem have been far more poisonous to our relationship than his, infecting it with a spirit of unforgiveness.

I wish I could say that Pete has learned to listen to me all the time. He hasn’t. But I know he tries, and I know it grieves him when he fails. I wish I could say that I’ve learned to quit being angry and manipulative. I haven’t. Apparently we’re both flawed.

But there are some things we’ve learned: to laugh at the little things; to forgive the big things; and, believe it or not, I’ve learned to love football. Which means I don’t want him talking to me outside commercials and half-time either!

Though I didn’t buy the t-shirt, I did tell Pete about it. He got a good laugh and then thanked me, profusely, for resisting the urge to buy it.

Originally published in Marriage Partnership Magazine/Kyria.com. Copyright © 2007 by the author or Christianity Today International/Marriage Partnership magazine.

Living the Life

Yesterday I was in my all-too-usual state of barely suppressed frustration.  I was thinking of all the tasks on my to-do list, and how most of those tasks will only need to be redone in a matter of hours, days, or a week at most.  Dishes, laundry, bill-paying, cleaning the floor that looks streaky and attracts footprints the instant it’s dry.  Not to mention the tongue-marks that our puppy leaves, since apparently the floor is quite tasty.

Minor annoyance at life’s tediousness isn’t an enormous problem.  But too often, I find myself letting it balloon into frustration at life in general.  That’s when I start grumbling to myself — audibly if I’m alone.  And I wind up cranky, snappish, and not much fun to be around.

But yesterday, my normal progression of thoughts was interrupted somehow.  I don’t know why, but just before I got to the point of frowning and huffing, I remembered something.

When I was four years old, a bright, shiny dream took shape in my imagination and became a persistent, life-long goal.  That goal stayed with me all through school, college, early marriage, early motherhood, and even to this day.  That goal was to be a published writer.

So the thought that stood me upright yesterday, letting the steam mop do the huffing for me for a minute, was that I have reached that goal.  Five times over.  My name isn’t on the binding of any library books.  And that would be some kind of wonderful, to be sure.  But on five separate occasions in the past two years, editors have found my words to be worth paying for–worth printing and sharing with their readers.

Not only that, but I am living in a quiet, beautiful rural area–another dream I have nurtured for years, along with my husband.  Everybody in my little family likes one another at least 90% of the time.  I get to hang out with teenagers a couple of times a week, which is its own special sort of crazy, surprising joy.  And I’ve recently been dubbed the Editor of the Pikes Peak Writer NewsMag, which is as fun for me as playing video games is for my sweet husband and our girls.  (Yes, I really am that odd.)

I have an expandable file folder that I use in my Creative Writing Class, helping me organize assignments and notes for my lesson plans.  I customized it a bit with favorite quotes, and the one that I wrote on the front, with thick black permanent Sharpie, is by Henry David Thoreau.  It reads, “Live the life you’ve imagined.”

Even when I’m mopping, fluffing and folding, or filling a sink with hot soapy water for the second or third time in one day, I can remind myself that those tasks do not define my life.  They’re a small, necessary part of it, but they’re more like the salt and pepper, not the meat.  The core of my life, thanks be to God, is what I always imagined it ought to be.

I resolve to be grateful for the dreams I’m already living.  And then, to keep on dreaming.

Things I’ve Learned from Living in the Country…

…which you’d think would have been obvious before.

1. If you live on a dirt road in a particularly windy geographical area, you will be dusting much more often. Much, much more often. Particularly in warm weather, when the windows are open.

2. Goats are great for eating weeds. But they don’t know the difference between weeds and grass. And shrubs. And flowers. And the lower branches of pine trees.

3. If you live in the forest, you might not want to wrap your house in wood. The woodpeckers get confused. Which explains the large holes in the side of our house, where a smaller bird has recently moved in, nest, eggs, and all. And birds do not sleep all night long. Which means we don’t sleep all night long, since the interior wall opposite the exterior hole is in our master bedroom.

4. Dandelions are lovely. It’s a lot easier to adopt this mindset than to try to eradicate the happy little buggers from two acres of land. It helps to recite George Washington Carver’s famous quote: “A weed is a flower growing in the wrong place.”  It also helps that I have an endless supply of bouquets, presented by grubby little hands nearly every afternoon.

5. People think it’s really fun to drive as fast as possible on country roads. If you are one of these people, it might interest you to learn that all that dirt you’re kicking up has to land somewhere. (See #1.)

6. I love it, I love it, I love it. Dirt, dandelions, confused wildlife and all.

So Far This Morning …

I woke to a misty sky and snow-covered ground, though it was in the 60s just yesterday.

Once the sun had made its way through the haze, brightening the trees and tinting our dirt road yellow, the snow began to melt and disappear.

Before it had gone completely, more snow was falling.

The sun eventually turned the snow to rain, but the cold air fought back and turned the rain to sleet.

And now, as I write this, the sun has pushed back once again, and even the rain drops are fading.

I’ve only been up for three hours.

It’s intriguing to me that I can so thoroughly enjoy — even be thrilled by — the unpredictability of the weather here at the foot of the mountains. And yet I cannot seem to handle the slightest surprise in my daily routine.

Perhaps I should begin to look at my circumstances as snow, rain, sun, and sleet. Maybe then I’d enjoy the ride.

The Man Has Figured Me Out

I have this horrible paradox in my personality:  I love surprises and hate it when they’re blown.  But I also compulsively try to figure things out, even when I have next to no information to work with.

Many times over our almost sixteen years together (that counts dating), Pete has said seemingly benign things about gifts he’s gotten for me, or surprises he was planning.  Without fail, though half of me wants desperately to leave the thing alone, my overactive little mind has worked the puzzle until the secret is no longer a secret and the element of surprise is obliterated.

But this Christmas, everything is different.

First of all, he apparently got my present more than two weeks ago.  I hadn’t even found one for him yet.  That’s remarkable from the guy who bought his brother’s birthday gift (a t-shirt) about two hours before we lit the candles on the cake.

More importantly, he has been astonishingly, admirably, stubbornly mum.  All I have heard from him, after the initial admission that my gift has been purchased, is the mumbled sentence fragment, “Don’t know.”

“Where is it?”

“Don’t know.”

“Is it in your car?”

“Don’t know.”

“Have you wrapped it yet?”

Head shake.

“Is it a weird shape or something?  Is that why you haven’t wrapped it?  Are you having trouble finding a box or a bag for it?”

“Don’t know.”

The man will not even look at me during the mumblings because he knows that I can interpret the tiniest smile or twinkle in his eyes.

Frustration has never been so much fun.