when love is built on countless failures

Sometimes, when your love has endured through terrible things, you are amazed to find that you could ever bicker over something as trivial as pancakes.

But suddenly, there you are irrationally irritated, both of you. And off you go to the bedroom to “discuss” in loud whispers behind closed doors, leaving the kids in buttery, syrupy wonderment.

Soon a “you always” and a “you never” and a “you are” invade the conversation and someone just needs to end it, because it’s heading to absurdity, so when a boy knocks to ask about chores, you do. No resolution, just full stop.

But the mood is set. And so, she scrubs the shower with the guilty determination of Lady Macbeth, and he cuts down every offensive overgrown shock of grass, and the boys snap-to without complaint because none of them wants that directed at them, and it’s not til much later that you realize the why of it.

The why? She had too much coffee — maybe — before eating anything of substance, consumed by a story and a wish to see the world again. He started the day too early, to watch a soccer game with his boy who is spending a season on the sidelines, broken, and as much as they love to watch together it’s not the same as watching him, and disappointment permeates as his team loses just the very minute she is pouring the pancakes. And so, a simple, “Is this egg for me?” receives a sharp “I just made them. They’re not for anyone in particular.” And he wonders aloud at her rather than quietly conversing in vague metaphors.  Things must be sorted out, hashed out, resolved — now.

But the why remains dormant as the flurry of words takes on tone and expectation and below the flurry lies an unseen, unsaid ache.

These troublesome talking overs and unders and not hearing, knowing, loving perfectly, these are bits of rock and weed that surface no matter how many rocks, weeds you sift from your soil. No matter how well you till your garden, no matter how many rocks have been removed. Remnants of a curse. By the sweat of your brow. Two who are one and yet not — and at times it feels like the ground is opening between you.

But knocking has pulled you away from the abyss. And the work is gift. Here is something that can be made right. Soap scum is no mystery, grass does not ask to be understood.

And yet, there is romance. Even in a Saturday morning spat. Because your love has weathered so much more than pancakes and eggs. Rocks, weeds and thorns are momentary light afflictions, and you will laugh soon — later, over lunch — surprised how sometimes a game and a book can stir sensitive souls. And you know your longing for perfect understanding, perfect peace is merely deep desire to re-enter The Garden where she was once bone of your bones and flesh of your flesh, she, once so perfectly known he had no need for words.

We have laughter. And we have smart, sharp children who interrupt the absurd and are beautiful and daily reminders that our faults, our many grievous faults, can somehow be redeemed and blessed. And we know the silly, selfish spats will come again because we are not in The Garden. We are he and she in imperfection. And she drives the car til the tank is empty, and he breaks a sweat when it dips below half. And he likes to be there early, and she wishes people still determined time by the sun. She’ll snap, he’ll be too lenient, she’ll spend too much, he’ll punish the wrong kid, she’ll be needlessly strict because he suddenly seems to have no boundaries, she’ll swear, and he may even put a hole in the wall. Or she will.

And the truth, the romance, is that we are always learning to make allowance for each other’s faults…and it is glorious to overlook them. 

“No long-term marriage is made easily, and there have been times when I’ve been so angry or so hurt that I thought my love would never recover. And then, in the midst of near despair, something has happened beneath the surface. A bright little flashing fish of hope has flicked silver fins and the water is bright and suddenly I am returned to a state of love again — til next time. I’ve learned that there will always be a next time, and that I will submerge in darkness and misery, but that I won’t stay submerged. And each time something has been learned under the waters; something has been gained; and a new kind of love has grown. The best I can ask for is that this love, which has been built on countless failures, will continue to grow. I can say no more than that this is mystery, and gift, and that somehow or other, through grace, our failures can be redeemed and blessed.”

Madeleine L’Engle
The Irrational Season

Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense. Proverbs 19:11

Make allowance for each other’s faults… Colossians 3:13a

Life should be celebrated. And that includes birthdays.

This past week, I reached an age I’ve been dreading.

No, it’s not 50. But I’ve spent months avoiding thinking about this birthday, so there was quite a bit of angst in the days leading up.

I made good use of my pensive reflectiveness and wrote some thoughts about getting older.

I jotted them down on scraps of paper, spoke them into my voice recorder as I drove, wrote them in my journal, voxed (Voxer is an awesome smartphone app) them to my sister and even got so far as to write a few drafts of thoughts here.

Some thoughts were complaints, really. About catching my reflection in the mirror and not recognizing myself. About memory and the lack of it. About sleep and aches and wrinkles.

Some thoughts were mournful and full of regrets and should haves. I questioned all my life choices, my mothering, my relationships, my work…

My mother was the one who put my lament to words. I like to call and thank her on my birthday, you know, on account of all the work she did to bring me into the world. It’s as much a celebration for her as it is for me.

Neither one of us enjoys math, so I just tell her right out how old I am now so she doesn’t have to do any calculating. “Ah,” she says. “You’re closer to XX than XX now.”

Precisely…

People who are better with words than numbers just round things up or down…

and that is why I have been feeling so sorry for myself. We’re past rounding down now.

I know every one of you who has passed the 50 year line is saying, “Forty-something? You’re still a baby!” Which is exactly what I want you to say. It makes me feel better. Please keep saying it.

And math is also responsible for this new habit I have of noting whose parent I could be. NCAA basketball player? I could be his mom! The guy giving the presentation at work? I could be his mom! The new PE teacher? I could be her mom! But wait, you don’t do math, you say.  Well, it’s easy. I just laid awake one night and divided my age in half (which every second grader could do with my age), realized that’s how old I was when I got married, used that number as a convenient dividing line, and now anyone who is younger than that is officially my offspring. It’s not exact.

Story problems…

My sons are actually good at math and are not into rounding down, especially if it involves skipping past another rounding point. They are into exact. Some years ago now, when they were in the habit of  asking how old are you? how old is dad? how old is grandma? how old is that guy?, I told them I was 32.

The boy who was in second grade at the time was immediately suspicious. He said, I thought you were 38 last year and refused to comply with my request to default to “32” moving forward.  He was right. Good memory, that one.

They have learned, however, so this year when they asked and I said, “As far as you’re concerned I’m 39,” they didn’t object. If they did any math, they did it in their heads — and kept the answer to themselves.

But then as my birthday approached, heartbreak and pain and loss touched people around me and across the world, and I snapped out of my mourning for myself. Mourning is for loss and I have gained. I am blessed, so very, very blessed to have lived this many years. And life should always be celebrated.

The processing the passing of time is necessary for growth. Reflecting on the bad and good, remembering God’s grace, mercy and His deep love.

“Teach us to number our days,” said Moses, “that we may present to you a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12) 

The problem is we get stuck counting — I get stuck there — counting yesteryear’s messes and failures. I let them weigh on me and press doubt into my calling. I let them silence me.

This year, rather than resist time, I will try to embrace it. I will keep asking God for a heart of wisdom and keep leaning on my sisters and mothers and grandmothers ahead of me.  I’ll own my years, because I have always believed that experience — both good and bad — has value and the wisdom that comes with age has inestimable worth. I will not stop believing that now, even if it scares me.

And I will number my days.

They are 16,790.

I’ll let you do the math…

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