Tag Archives: hope

A Very Transparent Prayer

I prayed to you this morning, Father. I pray it seems these days constantly, but my mind is also distracted by some of the shadows of my past, and I find myself frustrated with this – entirely exhausted and quite breathless – because I yearn for peace and rest. I yearn for it, like I hope with each breathe not to feel the weight of anxiety against my chest, pulling the air from my lungs as I try with everything I have to keep it in. I have come to you with these concerns now, God, and I have hope that You will get me through this day.

Most of the time in my life I try and have the control. I keep it like a hundred dollar bill in my pocket, unwilling to relinquish this currency for Your will, but I hold it to use for myself – I know this is not sound, and not prudent, but I struggle. I don’t want to struggle like this anymore, but my nature goes against what I know to be better for me – You are better for me, and yet I hold on to the illusion that I can do this apart from You.

Why must this be so hard? To know You – to trust that You have a will for me that is better than my own – I suffer under the weight of the lie that I am strong enough, but then when night falls, and I lay in this bed alone, I know that it is holding me back every single moment I don’t lay all my concerns before You.

I’ve been reading Your Word, and in this time of solitude, I have felt You come beside me and ask me to trust. I give it all it seems I have, but then feel so ashamed because I know I am fooling myself. I have never given it all of me, because I have never trusted all of You. That is my greatest regret, and one I hope, with every new day, to rectify, but then again I fail, and again I am ashamed.

I do not know what to do with my shame, but I am being obedient now, I am writing this – to You – and it is here that I lay it down. In these words, my fingers against these keys, I am here, now, Lord… Help me be who I am destined to be.

The greatest struggle I have faced since being here, in this time alone, is one pain I have held for many years, God. The pain of losing a love I held so dear, and losing my mother, all in one short span of time. It is here where I question Your will, and perhaps it is here that explains why I have such a hard time trusting that. Because I do not understand it, God. I do not understand why You allowed this to happen. Why You allowed her to hand down her generational sin upon my heart, and his, and then instead of heal us, You took her away.

I was left with nothing, and I didn’t know how to turn to You, wholeheartedly, because I was so broken. That break – that pain – has stayed with me, Father, and it is the single biggest pain I have ever known, and I am still angry that You thought I could handle this. What did you expect from me? How did You see this playing out? Did You know that it would be all these years – did You see that it would break me and yet You gave it to me anyway? Was I not a faithful child, Lord, when I was young? Did I not call out to You, and want to know You, and share that knowing with the world?

I strayed as a youth, You know this, but did my wayward heart deserve, then, such a burden? To the world, it is simple – I should let it go, and I should have done that a long, long time ago. I have nobody to help me with this, nobody to understand it. And when I have come to You to lay it down, I have never felt like it was taken from me. I have never felt like You wanted me to give this up – because it remains. If I have asked You, and cried out in the night in this pain, then why have You not listened?

When she was dying, were You there? When she breathed her last breathe, did You hold her? She strayed, God, she strayed so far that she gave her pain over to me, and You allowed this. Was she too far gone for You to have intervened, for You to have spared me, her, and him from that – did I deserve this somehow? Did she? Did he? She never got the chance to make it right, and instead of allow me to have that reconciliation, You took her. Or was it not You, but sin, that befell my mother? If it was that, please don’t tell me, because I think if I knew it wasn’t You, I don’t know how I would handle that against You supposing to be a loving God. How is that for truth?

I long for the kind of rest that is not hindered by this pain. But in the years since that time, I have not once known what that feels like. I have not once awoke to a new day and felt the absence of this pain. There has been immense joy, and happiness, and You have blessed me in other ways, yet this darkness in my soul remains, and as much as I’ve asked You to release me from it, even in the midst of all the joy that I have known, here yet it remains. Why, God?

Is it that I have not done a good enough job? Do my thoughts, and deeds, and actions, and heart fail so greatly that I must still bear the weight of such pain in everything I try to do? Is this Your will for me? To learn to cope with it, and find joy, even when I hurt? If so, please, I am not sure I am strong enough to handle that for the rest of my life. My children don’t deserve less of me because I have less to give. My husband doesn’t deserve less of me because I have no more fight left in me, since all my strength goes to just making it through…

I bear this pain without anyone’s understanding, and in the face of that, I risk every single time I speak of this to appear whiny, and needlessly so – how can they have empathy for me when they do not understand? Worse, when they don’t approve that I should even deal with this anymore? A grand part of my shame comes from how I’ve experienced, time and time again, well-meaning others remarking at how strange it seems that I still deal with this pain. To them, I am a fool. To them, it looks so simple.

But You, the knower of my heart and keeper of my soul, You know what I carry, and yet even You have allowed this. I am disappointed and saddened by this, and I feel I need to tell You that.

I am going to spend this day being obedient to You. That is why I sat to write this. That is why I prayed this morning for You to take the anxiety from my chest, and to help me breathe easier. I just inhaled and it fully filled my lungs and escaped my lips with no hint of that pressure and fear that has come most breathes this week. Perhaps in this very act of writing, for some reason, You’re actually listening and maybe this day won’t be another anxious, fearful episode in a long line of the same.

I want different, God. I want something more than this. More than carrying something that I have tried to lay before You but have found no rest from. I want to go an entire day praising You, God, not questioning You. You want me this way, don’t You? If that’s what You want, then help me! I have obviously shown that I cannot do this apart from You. I don’t have that control. I don’t possess the strength, and You know this. So, please, God. Take this from me. If even for just this day.

Marriage Sucks (…)

There is nothing quite like marriage to put a mirror to your face to show you exactly how bad you suck.

We choose a mate and then pledge our lives to that person, through the good and the bad, in sickness and in health, until death do you part. I am sure so many marriages fail (my own included) because we cannot really know what that means, what that looks like, until we say, “I do”. The weight of the commitment, if one is taking it seriously, is heavy – and with all big endeavors and noble goals, there are beautiful attributes here and there are things marriage brings that make life, occasionally, very difficult. For the sake and purpose of this article, I will be discussing the hard times, and what one must do in order to make this marriage thing work.

We enter into this arrangement with hope and faith. We, if we chose wisely, decide that we’ve found someone worthy of the work. We find laughter, companionship, and trust. We find someone with whom life is easier, and we are convinced this is the person that we are supposed to be with… forever. That is what marriage entails, after all, it’s in the vows. But what about when the ease of the honeymoon fades and things get real? When you become the you you were but didn’t want them to see? When you forget to brush your teeth and the dishes are rotting in the sink and the kids argue but you’re too tired to even raise an eyebrow…

Worse, when they see that the worst traits about you are not only visible, but at times they’re all they can see. When you show your lazy side, your messy side, your impatience and petty annoyances and bad mood.

Marriage stops you and says, “Gee, what do we have here?” Because he hasn’t been touching her shoulder as he walked past, like he used to do, and she starts ragging on him because his MMA binge-fest has taken up the television for seven too many hours – but she said she liked MMA when they started dating. It throws a wrench in the gears of all we said we could handle, and the things that were once just traits we thought we could live with become the things that begin to drive a wedge between us.

It happens to the best couples – these moments, and I think a lot of our arguments, and struggles, and problems are similar if we examine what is at the root of our strife (not counting physical or emotional abuse, of course)…

It is, when we enter into marriage, we are making another person our other half. There when we wake up. There when we go to sleep. There for the stinky bathrooms after someone takes a bean-induced shit and didn’t turn on the fan. There for the morning breathe… There for the bitterness at the same fight you had last week rearing its ugly head again. There for the money problems because one person used the credit card and one wants to start saving. There for the struggle with sex when he wants more of it but she says she is just not in the mood.

There are a thousand things between two people that make marriage hard. But I think the absolute hardest part about this agreement, this arrangement, is having to face YOURSELF in the eyes, heart, and thoughts of your partner.

I can’t escape me when I see myself through his eyes. Through his hurts when my tone was needlessly vicious. Through his impatience when he has tried for so long to give me space but I keep pushing his buttons… So on and so forth. He, through his constant interaction with me in this house, and within the framework of our life, forces me to see my part in any issues between us.

Many marriages fail because we are unwilling or for some reason unable to stop and see what WE do to contribute to the difficulty.

After all, it is not an easy feat to see my part, through his interactions with me, and his reactions to me, and then want to do anything about it other than blame him. It is easier to do that – easier to say he’s the problem – because otherwise who am I left with?

The symptoms happen – these are the fights we have. The money. Sex. Quality time. Expectations unmet. Priorities shoved aside because someone changes their mind. These are symptoms of two people trying to share a life together. Not one marriage is immune, but it does have a purpose: I could so easily, and I have many times, simply chose to get angry at John for the special ways he mirrors my own negative behavior back to me. I chose to lash out, blame him, and make things worse.

Because the alternative is admit I am doing something wrong.

He forces me, by being here day in and day out, to stop and assess that I am 50% of this marriage. Therefore, most of the time I am responsible for something happening between us.

It is my pride that tries to convince me otherwise, and we all know how well that unites a couple. There are few things more detrimental to a marriage than pride, or refusing to acknowledge and work on things because you won’t admit you’ve done anything wrong.

The thing is, what I am left with, once I see myself through his eyes, is the choice. A hard one. One I fail at answering to correctly too often to admit. . .

Do I change, because I don’t like what I see? Or…

The “or” I’ve answered, twice. Two failed marriages – two opportunities to change wherein I failed to do anything real about my part. Granted there was a lot of grey matter to those experiences, but the ultimate reality is that I made the wrong choice, one way or another, at that time.

I don’t want to keep answering this wrong and ultimately see demise of the one relationship I’ve pledged to keep strong. To keep center to my life, under God, before any other priority, hope, or petty excuse. I don’t want to realize that I could have changed, could have bettered myself, and could have worked harder when all I’ve got left is resentment and pain.

I want to preserve what is good. What is decent. What brings me immense satisfaction, intimacy, and happiness. I want to see, when I look at my husband, the best version of myself, and the best version of him.

Not that we won’t struggle. That we won’t have pain, and times of stress, and money trouble, and silly annoyances that we bicker about. These things are a given. I feel the same tension mount with my own children, and I birthed them so it would seem no relationship is immune to such things.

Right now, I see some of the worst in myself when I look at him. I see that I am quick to anger and slow to forgiveness. I see that I refuse to acknowledge where I lack but instead just point out where he does. I see that I easily allow my past to dictate who I am today, and how quickly I quip, “this is just who I am, get used to it!”

Was I this version of me when he met me? When we fell in love? At times, I am sure, yes, but I tried harder. I gave more. I silenced the voices that screamed at me that I will fail at this, too, and instead I put my best foot forward, and he fell in love with the part of me that is mostly good. He pledged his life to me, in sickness and in health, until death do we part, knowing that I had ugliness, and pettiness, and baggage – but he didn’t see it then like he sees it now.

He sees that part of me now more often than he sees the good he fell in love with, and that right there, is when I have a choice to make.

I could seek for my own selfish gain. Whether that be pride bolstering my ego when I won’t admit I have done wrong, or when I withhold intimacy because I am tired – or just say I am tired. When I spend frivolously and don’t mind the budget. When I pick him apart, whether in my thoughts or aloud, and bring pain to his heart because I refuse to look at him and see anything good.

Because when I am being nasty, when I am cold, when I am bitter and easily frustrated, what else would I see when I look at him? A reflection of myself – and that is a hard truth, and one I can easily ignore and blame on him instead.

I don’t want that, not for us. Not for anyone.

The thing is, there is so much good worth preserving, but it gets lost in the mess of everyday life. And that is when I see the worst of me the most – when I really have no excuse!

I think marriage puts a mirror to the worst of our selves and forces us to stop and think, “What could I do better?” But it is how we answer that that either makes or breaks a relationship.

How many times have we answered it wrong? Because we took the vows, for better or for worse, but we didn’t really mean it, because to make such a commitment we must face where we lack. How much we suck. And we must choose, with that knowledge, to either change and bring happiness to the marriage, or fight it with pride as our ammunition, and watch our sparks eventually catch flame with an inferno of resentment that we cannot put out.

It must come from truly wanting happiness for John, sometimes at the expense of my own. It must come from knowing he is a person, with the same feelings, the same thought patterns, the same insecurities, and therefore I must not look at him as less-than me just because he pisses me off. After all, wasn’t I at that alter, too, making those same commitments – putting my best foot forward in faith? If I can dissolve into this worser version of myself, and so can he, don’t we owe it to each other to forgive these things and work harder to keep things peaceful, and content between us?

I ask forgiveness from him, and I try harder, because I know how easily a marriage can dissolve, and how hard it is to repair it once things go too far. But it is SO hard sometimes. To silence my pride, and to realize I see the worst in myself and I must either change that – do my part – or risk so much good at the expense of a man I love’s very deep trust and faith in us.

Marriage is hard.

Relationships force us to stop and realize we have work to do. That there are things that will always bother us about the person we chose – and things that bother us about ourselves that only amplify a thousand times in the face of someone we love’s disappointed glance.

We start marriage with so much hope, and then we break it down, little by little. But it doesn’t have to be lost. Commitment is the very reason to fight harder – to honor what we pledged when we were trying our best, swearing before God and our families that we will always try, always give, always nurture, and always work hard to ensure our love endures.

I want to wake up tomorrow and try harder. Because I care about his happiness more than my own pride. Because I swore to him I would not give up, and I don’t intend to, even when it’s hard and I am forced to examine how much I suck. I know he is pushing for the same thing, and I am grateful he can look at me and see the person he married, even when it is hard, even when he doesn’t like me very much…

Because it’s worth it. Push forward. Give in. Ease up. And when you see the worst of yourself in someone else’s eyes, use that as fire to do better. Give more. Try harder. Marriage requires this, and though it can be so hard, the reward of that kind of intimacy and history shared with your partner will be one of life’s greatest treasures.

Visions for Johanna

Occasionally, life throws a moment in time so beautiful you know even before it vanishes that this is something to remember. Nuances become vivid details that accompany the façade of a memory; nothing escapes from the photograph in your mind – time passes far beyond the moment, yes, but leaves nothing behind and carries it within the heart, by a song that was playing then or a smell from a shirt collar as a stranger waft by… By way not of conscious thought or material mementos, where I find myself tonight is in the framework of a life so long ago lived that though I recall it well, I converse with my memory still, trying to convince myself these recollections were indeed real. Can a heart, so willfully trying to move past a memory, ever fully embrace the present if a beautiful memory returns so easily?

The bus route made a straight line down 4th Plain, stopping frequently, but managing to make decent time consistently; he narrowed each stop down to seconds after a week of riding and knew from pick-up to drop-off it was typically only 7 minutes. On this morning, however, each mere second seemed to pass a thousand times slower – Come on… come onhurry up! He thought to himself as one foot began to writhe up and down frantically, sending his knee into noticeable unrest. Mumbling under his breath he paid no mind to the woman across the row who had been staring at him since he got on, “She’s going to be gone if you do not hurry up!”

9:36am, November 6th 2003

Johanna roused from sleep and quickly wondered the time. Unsure of the layout of the room, she peeked around for a clock, satisfied that it was still early enough to stay in bed. Resting her head back on the pillow, she curled her arms up underneath the soft cotton to support her head and smiled to herself, pleased with the way the night had gone. I love him. Surprised by the thought but only briefly, something about it felt natural and easy, as if nothing need forcing but the pause of time to make this day go on forever. She did not care that her hair was a wreck or that she needed to shower. She did not care that her roommates would wonder why she never came home, or that her mother would soon be calling in need of a morning pep-talk. Johanna had one thing racing through her mind, on her skin, and in her heart.

He skipped off the bus on the corner of Falk and 4th, unsure if his feet could run as fast as his heart needed them to go. He had no clue whether she would still be there, but hoped, like all young lovers do, that fate would step in and deal him a delicious treat. A half a block moves swiftly under determined feet – he arrived on his front porch step, straightened himself up, caught breath, and quietly unlocked the deadbolt, turning his head over his shoulder with a twinkle in his eye, “her car is still here…

She heard the keys hit the round table in the kitchen, perked up instantly, and felt her entire body radiate with anticipation. Quickly, she manipulated her body to appear most appealing, now quite self-conscious that she hadn’t brushed her teeth or made up her face. Before dwelling too much, she caught a glimpse of him through the cracked bedroom door. He unzipped his Carhart jacket, removed his beanie, and momentarily disappeared from sight before appearing in the doorway, opening it slowly apparently trying not to disturb his guest.

“You’re awake?” He said, softly, smiling, once his wide-eyed gaze found her brown eyes peering from a glowing face atop the pillow.

“You’re home?” She replied, unsure why a full-time machinist would be home before 10 on a weekday.

“My boss let me go early – we do not have any chain due until Monday – I told him there was a girl at my house and he let me leave.” As he spoke, he began to untie his steel-toed boots, never removing his gaze from hers. He pulled his shirt over his head and unbelted his jeans, leaving only underwear on. Without a word, he pulled the blanket aside and curled up close to the girl he had met only weeks before. She turned her face up from the pillow, barely able to control the huge smile on her face from swallowing her whole, and then reached a hand up to cup his face close to hers.

“I am so glad you came home. I do not have to work until 3 – how about we just stay in bed?” Johanna felt his head shake in agreement and noticed the sensation of his face tense up against hers and it did not take her long to realize he was smiling.

1:07pm

Hours of conversation and enough kissing to dehydrate them both, and it was evident to both Dylan and Johanna that this was something special. Each took turns sharing stories of youth and the misery of adolescence. He told her all about his childhood with a hardworking mother and mentioned the father he never met; she recalled tree forts, bb-gun wars, and fishing trips with siblings. He teased her for not yet acquiring a taste for coffee, and she told him how much she would love to have a garden where they could grow all their own food. They talked and kissed, and kissed and talked, and even spent hours that were only mere minutes just staring at one another, completely in awe that the other actually existed.

Johanna whispered into his ear after staring into his blue eyes, “I have a secret…” she teased, waiting for his reaction.

“I love you, Johanna.” As if he had never said those words to another soul on earth, he let each letter escape his lips like a chick tentatively breaks free from his hard shell. As he whispered those 4 words, his cheeks flushed and his lips swelled up, almost like tears were the next thing to come flowing out of him…

“I love you too, Dylan.” She ingested his words – the raw, engaging emotion of them – and no longer secret, nevermore, said at last yet so quickly that she, indeed, loved him, too.

Dylan pulled her in close, completely breathing her so deep inside of his heart that in that moment he knew this would be something to remember for a lifetime. Johanna melted into his embrace, surrendering for the first time in her life to real love.

2:30pm

“I have to go now, Dylan, I have to go!” She laughed at his insistence to skip work entirely, careless that she was wearing the same clothes as the day before. She had used his toothbrush, combed her blonde hair, and then had to will herself to walk down the two porch steps to the gravel driveway. She held his hand as he escorted her to her old gray Nissan, poured her belongings onto the backseat, and finally turned around to steal another kiss before driving away without him.

He first kissed her forehead, gently, tenderly, and then she felt his hand ease up behind her head while one thumb slid beneath her chin; he used his hand to turn her face up towards his and then kissed her deeply. For the first time in Johanna’s life, she felt completely safe and sure in the arms of a man. For the first time in his life, he believed in fate and destiny and thanked the cosmos for aligning the stars so perfectly the night they met.

Pulling back, sure then she would already be late for work, she looked up into Dylan’s eyes and said, confidently but with as much honey as she could muster, “Dylan, I have to go… I… I love you.”

“Don’t go… Stay with me?” He whimpered back, beckoning her not with persistence but with the simple truth between them that nothing in life was going to make sense from that moment forward unless they were together. Johanna brushed his wayward hair off his forehead, sighed at the handsome man before her, pulled back and managed to get her car door opened and then sat in the driver’s seat. She closed the door but rolled down the window…

I am coming over after work, right?” She urged him to say yes, knowing they had not once talked about what would happen between them from this day on. Johanna was sure of one thing – they loved each other; it was imperfectly serendipitous, organic and heartfelt, and it did not require planning but instead the absolute surrender to passion and fate.

Sighing heavily, Dylan shook his head in agreement, not wanting to see her car back out of his driveway. He relished the idea of having someone to love, but cursed the afternoon for leaving him without her.

Memories.

I have met many new dawns since that day. My lips kissed other lovers, tasted bitter endings,and felt the harsh sting of trial after trial. I realize life changes, people change, and perhaps have grown rather cynical about everlasting love in general – based solely off the speculation that most people are decent until faulted otherwise; all do falter, eventually, so why love now like I loved then? Risk. Risk with little reward.

So I thought… But that is a chapter for another day.

Where Dylan and Johanna wrote history is in the innocence of it all.

That is why these memories stick, though I find ample frustration that, indeed, I do remember it so well. From oranges and freezer pops to falling in the shower. From the first “I love you” of my life to the sweetest afternoons of gardening one can imagine. It was beautiful, and I remember.

Life, for me, is a complex array of emotions countered by thoughts wrapped up in one big hope that it will all be meaningful, at once or occasionally, sometime in my life. I choose not to erase these moments but to engrave them ever-deeply in my soul, so that I remember what it was to love greatly, and to have greatness in love again.

The present is beautiful in itself these days, though quite different than anything I ever imagined. But then, for Johanna and Dylan, their love story did not go anything like they hoped that day they spent in bed. Then again, is that not life for all of us? I just happen to write about it is all…