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

the reluctant hostess: guest post at (in)courage

I love to have guests, but I’m not much of an inviter.

Even when my heart is willing, acute self-consciousness creeps in and overwhelms my good intentions.

My nearsighted housekeeping, worn out furniture, fear of saying the wrong thing, and decidedly awkward inability to carry on a casual conversation stops me if I even have a minute to think about being a hostess.

I want to invite, I really do. I know how loved I feel when I’m invited. I watch friends do it with ease and grace and admire them for their ability to fold people into their lives.

But I’m not wired that way . . .

Read the rest of my post today on (in)courage.

idylls of the cat, or, a brief study of self-centeredness

I am compelled to write about my cats. Because it’s been that sort of day . . . well, month.

This apparent allergy to spring has dragged on for weeks and weeks — through some of the most amazing April weather we’ve had in all the 12 years I’ve lived here. [Insert sad face w/tear.]

One of my co-workers pointed out to me that I am a lot better on rainy days. And it is, unfortunately, true.

I even prayed for rain on my birthday.

What California-girl-living-in-Washington-who’s-never-quite-gotten-used-to-the-gray/coldness-of-spring-here actually prays for rain on her birthday?!?

However, good has come from this season of sneezing:

1. The discovery of Oil of Oregano. Which is, in a word, magic.

2. I am less likely to impulsively consider and buy a field. [A personal goal since college. See Proverbs 31:16]

That last point is important because the decrepit mini-farm short-sale down the road has been calling my name for months, much to Dave’s dismay. Which could be why, in addition to allergies, we’re getting the FULL dose of country living these days, complete with septic and well issues. God could very well be on Dave’s side on this one.

I can’t complain, because at least we have water. AND we aren’t likely to get typhoid since we don’t actually grow food in our yard [read: drain field]. Which is a good thing.

So anyway, as we look for a new dwelling place, I am now hyper-aware of the side of country life about which Eva Gabor so disparagingly sang-spake. Sadly. Because I idyllize country life. Yes. I am aware that is not a word. But idyllic is. And that is what the country is to me: Wordsworth, daisies, sunshine, chickens, apple trees, cows someone-other-than-me takes care of, and drafty houses. And cats.

idyll

Ah yes, back to the cats.

So, I have been at home quite a lot more than usual (because of sick), and I have noticed that cats are particularly self-centered. 

All they do, all day long, when they are not taking 7 hour naps, is cry to be fed. Or cry to be let out. Or in. Actually, only one of them cries. The other just stares at me until I do what she wants. She’s powerful, that one.

Also, both of them like my side of the bed. Which is fine, because really, it’s another sort of idyllism (again, made up word, but oddly appropriate) . . .

I sit in bed and drink a cup of coffee and read early in the morning and a cat cozies up to my toes. Or to the book in my hands. Depending on his/her mood.

But the cats can’t be on the bed together. Or anywhere really.

They actually hate each other. Well, she hates him. Her own offspring. 

Yesterday, we had a moment I was sure would end in me losing copious amounts of blood. She jumped onto the bed precisely where he had settled quite a lot closer to my face than my feet . . .

Ah, well. We survived. But it was yet another example of their innate self-centeredness. They have not a thought for each other and not a thought for me.

I’m convinced they bite and devour each other when we are out.

Well, at least she does. He’s a big fluffy oaf of a cat. I don’t think he hates her at all. Or maybe he’s smarter than he looks? That mama cat can be an angry little thing. So protective of her territory.

Is she afraid the oaf-cat is going to take her place?

And him? Does he think if he stops crying for a second I might forget he wants out?

[Insert Dave comment: Why do we even have these cats?]

Sometimes, I think that’s the thing. It’s a base instinct: If I don’t fight for my space, if I don’t yell loud enough and long enough, someone else is going to get what’s mine.

But then, cats are allowed to be self-centered. It’s their job.

Mine is to do their bidding . . .

. . . and be mom and wife and daughter and sister and friend and . . .

To love and be loved.

To give space.

To not demand my own way.

To let God do the making sure I get what’s mine. (To be honest, I’m not even sure I really know what “mine” is.)

Because self-centered can’t coexist with genuine love.

* * * * *

Sometimes, there are reasons for self-centeredness.

Painful reasons.

The picture of love can be as idyllic as a country house or reading a book in bed with a cat.

But that is for another post.

Also, cats return your love by cuteness. And that is why we tolerate their selfishness.



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of pride and pompousness, part one

“Nothing is more deceitful,” said Darcy, “than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast.”
– Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

* * * * *

The cat and I found a bit of sunshine this morning. I, to trim an overgrown bush, which is bent on blocking my porch swing view of the trampoline, she to watch me wear out my arms.

We have learned, the two of us, to bask in sun while it is sun. Already, the spotlight has made its way across our patch of woods and shade covers all but a sliver of the sparkling grass.

Perhaps I am avoiding the house. It is all at sixes and sevens — a phrase for which, out of curiosity, I have now had to consult the OED . . . or rather, the Wikipedia, as it appears there is an annual subscription rate of $295 for the Oxford English Dictionary.

And so, Wikipedia must suffice this morning for the meaning of the phrase, which is derived, roughly, from: a French dice game (6 & 7 being unlucky). Chaucer. Shakespeare. Gilbert & Sullivan. Which is pretty much the evolutionary path of all English words.

I suppose I am in an especially English mood this morning. Sipping tea because I’ve had far too much coffee. Imagining petticoats pant legs six inches deep in mud if I follow my flight of fancy down to the beach (which smells particularly of sulfur this morning). Wishing I had housemaids to right my messy house. Counting hours til I see my daughter in Whitworth University’s Pride and Prejudice. . . . and pondering one’s opinion of oneself

* * * * *

I wish I knew classical Greek. Really knew it. Lexicon skills only take you so far. Because I think there is a depth of poetry to the Love Chapter, and I am only skimming the surface.

Saul of the New Testament was a Jewish scholar. A Pharisee. Memorizer of the entire Torah. Expert in the Law of Moses. But God chose him, Luke says in the Acts of the Apostles. Chose Saul specifically to take the story of Jesus — whose followers he had persecuted to death — to the Greeks.

I read somewhere that the church at Corinth, to whom St. Paul wrote love is had become competitive. They bragged about their gifts and knowledge and enlightenedness. Exalting self — just like their city’s vain goddess, Aphrodite, the goddess of love. The worship of Aphrodite makes you realize why the Christ followers in Corinth needed a full, detailed explanation of love . . .

Which brings me back to Greek. St. Paul used a word here that most of us read in our Bibles as brag or boast. But this particular Greek word is used no where else in the New Testament, not even in any of St. Paul’s other epistles. It’s a word used by Greek philosophers and historians of gods and goddesses — translated into the English language (making the usual trek through Chaucer and Shakespeare) originally as vaunteth:

  1. a self display, employing rhetorical embellishments in extolling one’s self excessively

Vaunteth puts on a parade of self. 

In vaunt, I see the actions and words of the king of the humble brag — Mr. Collins (Pride & Prejudice), the pompous and stupid Mr. Eliot (Persuasion), the name-dropping Mrs. Elton (Emma), the preposterously selfish Fanny Dashwood (Sense & Sensibility), the vain and aristocratic Aunt Norris (Mansfield Park). Ridiculous, boastful caricatures.

I would like to leave boasting in an arrogant Aphrodite’s court and in the pages of Austen. I know vaunteth doesn’t belong in real life love.

Oh, but it’s there.

“Boasting is often a sign of my deep insecurity and need for others to validate me with their approval.”**

Maybe, sometimes, we pat ourselves on the back because no one else ever does. Maybe we were starved of praise by parents, teachers, coaches who didn’t want it to go to your head. Maybe we flaunt our accomplishments or beauty or talent or possessions because it’s the only way we’ve ever received attention. And maybe, sometimes, we’re entirely unaware that by inflating ourselves, we’ve eclipsed someone we love.

* * * * *

I’ve paraded myself with my own lips. More times than I care to confess . . .
Maybe love does not boast means you don’t need to prove how much you deserve love . . . because you are secure in the love of a God who loved even the formerly murderous St. Paul. You are loved because you are the beloved.

I think it’s lovely that don’t boast comes right after don’t envy. Love doesn’t try to make people jealous.

Sometimes, in this day of posting words everywhere, our boasts and milder “humble brags” are in our friends’ faces all the time. Things we used to keep to ourselves so quickly typed and out there . . . Sometimes, just asking ourselves why we are saying it stops the me parade.

Sometimes, though, we’re too sensitive, taking outbursts of joy as vaunting. I know I have. And I have to ask myself if I am envious because I’m competing, comparing gifts, discontent . . .

And I have to stop myself from getting up and taking a turn — my turn — about the room so that my figure may be seen to the best advantage.

* * * * *

** Dr. Ralph Wilson, Jesus Walk