Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Better Marriage

This weekend, Clint and I attended our first ever marriage retreat. Funny to think that after 17 years of marriage, this is our first, but there you have it. It was sponsored by our church, and we weren't sure what to expect; in fact, I had to do a bit of dragging and guilting to get him to go. There are so many things he likes to do on weekends, things like hauling firewood and playing with his new lathe bits and (ahem) cleaning the basement. That last is one thing he really, really loves to do. It warms my heart, actually, to see how eagerly he volunteers weekend after weekend to clean the basement. Sometimes, I just have to tell him no, but then the next weekend he commences his begging anew. So then I give in and let him clean it.

Okay, truthfully, the retreat was surprisingly funny and inspirational, even though right now, we're doing what we usually do in the evenings: I'm blogging or reading and he's watching a movie on his computer. But still, there have been moments of wonder--and a few small steps forward in our relationship because of it. Here are some tidbits of wisdom to ponder:

1. In case you didn't already realize it, I will tell you firmly again that women's brains and
men's brains are fundamentally different. They want different things, they speak different languages, and they operate on different settings. Both husband and wife need to realize and recognize these differences.
2. Women need to understand that their husbands, especially after a day's work, want nothing more than to do nothing. They can happily do nothing for hours. If we ask them to do something and give them an option, they will say no. Of course they do not want to do something; they want to do nothing.
3. Men need to understand that their wives don't want huge, extravagant declarations and expressions of love on major holidays. What they really want is frequent, simple acts of kindness. These small acts take just a little time--leaving the husband more time to do nothing when he's finished--and can have tremendous reward.
4. Men should also understand that their wives need and want to talk to them--and to feel like they are being listened to, not just heard. Wives do not air their grievances because they want their husbands to solve them; they just need to air them.
5. Women should understand that their husbands want--more than anything else--for their wives to apreciate them and support their dreams. When your husband shares his dreams with you, you should support him and encourage him, not tell him all the many reasons those dreams can't or won't come true. If your husband isn't sharing his dreams with you, that's a bad sign. It means you've shot him down so many times, he has given up on sharing what is most important to him with you.

It was an inspirational and moving retreat as well because so many of the participants--over one-half, maybe three-quarters?--had been married for more than 50 years. At first, I wondered what they were even doing there. Shouldn't they be teaching us?

But as I sat and talked with them (and thanks,, for this great photo!), I realized that inspiration and learning go hand in hand. They may have come to learn something new, for sure. But I think they also came to remember why they got married in the first place, to remember all the joys and struggles they've had, and to remember with others how integral God is in a marriage that lasts. For me, their presence was blessing and inspiration. I don't cry often, but as I listened to Art and Marian (and others) talk about all they have experienced in their many years of marriage, I sensed a love that, precisely because of those joys and struggles, has become strong as stone. They truly are, as Scripture says, no longer two but one flesh. As Clint and I traveled home afterward and talked about what we'd learned, we took one more step toward that oneness that transcends the physical and the emotional levels we have already attained--and moved toward the spiritual, the divine wholeness of marital union. I am so blessed to have been his wife for 17 years already, and I cannot wait to see what God has in store for us in the next 17, and the 17 after that as well.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Tough Love

Today was a first in many ways. Not the first time I've had all three kids out of sorts with me; that happens quite regularly, at least every Saturday when I pull out the list of housecleaning chores they need to help me with. Not the first time I've had to speak sternly with them; they're kids, after all, and prone to mischief as much as any others. And not the first time I've had to take the first two to task for school-related issues.
But this afternoon was the first time I've fought two battles in which I felt like I had the losing side, and I know I should not have.

Let me backtrack a bit, and break it down from the theoretical to the real.
It all started yesterday afternoon. Lauren caught me as I was paying bills (one of my least favorite things to do) (and to make it worse, just before she came to talk to me, I encountered two serious errors in my reckonings...ugh), and she had that look on her face that, for a parent, hints at trouble to come. She opened with a wheedle and it nothing much improved after that opener. Maybe I was angry about the bills and thus in a bad frame of mind for her request anyway, but when she asked for permission to skip school tomorrow, I snapped a negative and refused, really, to listen to her reasoning.
She tried to tell me it was a half day, that they probably wouldn't do anything important in class, that we had let her stay home the half-day before Thanksgiving. I told her no again.
Today, she came home from school with the news that she had talked to all of her teachers, and they had confirmed that they truly weren't doing anything in school tomorrow; they gave her tomorrow's work too. She asked again to stay home, this time clearly prepared for more serious verbal battle.
Again, I told her no, explaining that since we let her skip school the last time, I have felt guilty, that we had made the wrong choice, that it was not her place to judge whether a school day would or would not be productive, but that as a student going to school was her job, and she had to go.
She told me she likes to argue; I told her I hate to argue.

Then I got a phone call from Jonah's teacher. He and another student turned in reading homework that was exactly the same. She wanted me to talk to him and find out what happened. At first, he didn't admit to anything. Then he told me that he had finished his homework, set it to the side, and the other student began to copy it. I asked Jonah if the other student asked to copy it, and he said no. Then I asked him if he had known the student was copying it, and he said yes.
He didn't believe me when I told him that letting someone copy his paper is cheating too. There was a lot of silence from Jonah; that's how he processes his anger or frustration or sorrow. He doesn't show any emotion at all, just shuts down.

So now, Jonah still won't really talk to me, and I'm not sure he believes that he did wrong. Lauren will be going to school tomorrow, but I don't feel confident that she buys my reasoning. I'm worried that she's unconvinced that attending class is important, whether she thinks it is or not, whether she likes the teacher or not.
I know I did the right thing, so I'm not sure why I still feel doubtful about this whole enterprise.