Go Ahead & Have a Happy Marriage

 

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I read another article yesterday stating that marriage isn’t about your happiness. It’s not a new idea – lots of people have floated that idea before. Maybe I’m not a reliable source, since I ended my first marriage, but I just can’t buy these words from Debra Fileta:

Marriage is not about your happiness, it’s not even about you. It’s about love—which is something we choose to give time and time again. It’s about sacrifice, serving, giving, forgiving—and then doing it all over again.

No wonder we choose divorce over commitment. Because often, we’re choosing “personal happiness” over real commitment, over real love.

In my first marriage, I lived by the creed that my happiness was unimportant, that self-sacrifice was the way to a successful marriage, to the point that even when he told me that he was an atheist without involving me in the previous year-long process, I simply accepted it without examining how it made me feel. I was so accustomed to putting my own feelings on the back burner that any negativity I felt was simply shoved away to keep the peace. I thought that this kind of sacrificial service was a more “real” version of love. Because real love didn’t care about emotions, it was better not to bother with emotions at all.

These articles point to a world that eschews commitment and make the assumption that personal happiness is the culprit. While emotions are not always accurate, they are still true, and personal happiness is a good tool for determining the overall health of a relationship.

In my previous marriage, I spent the better part of a decade finding personal happiness in relationships outside of my marriage, because there wasn’t much happiness to be found inside. I spent nearly all of my time online with people that I had met through writing, or with friends I had made through parenting or church groups. I instinctively knew that happiness mattered to me, and I found it where I could.
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When we tell people that happiness is unimportant, we ignore one of the best tools to gauge the health of a marriage.

The truth is, those relationships that were outside of my marriage weren’t always rosy. Even in the years when Rich and I were friends, we had difficult patches. Times when we didn’t communicate well, times when we just weren’t very happy. But because there weren’t limits on how our emotions gauged the overall temperature of our friendship, we could use that to adjust the areas where we were unhappy, and strengthen the friendship. This was true of all of my outside relationships. I was able to use happiness not as the measure of whether a relationship was worth keeping, but rather as a way to determine the health of that relationship. And yes, relationships that left me consistently unhappy needed stronger evaluation, and sometimes they needed to be left.

In the article quoted above, the author writes, “They tell us to do what feels right, and not to tolerate anything less. They fool us to thinking that love is about doing what makes us happy. And the second we feel less than happy, they encourage us to bail, to abandon ship and to stop investing.”

I don’t know who the mythical “they” are as mentioned here, but I don’t think that there are many who would agree that the first time we feel unhappy, we should abandon any relationship, let alone a marriage. Most adults recognize that any commitment will have periods of disillusionment and disappointment, neither of which are hallmarks of happiness. Most people understand that generosity is a key to any strong connection. Most recognize that there are times when the needs of others come before our own. Marriage takes work, and work isn’t always happy. However, work that is always unhappy indicates that there are larger problems. Ignoring emotions can lead to ignoring deeper problems, and ignoring deeper problems can lead to the breakdown of a marriage.

Self-sacrifice is essential in doses. It reminds us that we are part of something bigger and helps us to grow as people. Non-stop sacrifice, on the other hand, leaves you depleted. It leaves you worn-out and small.

You only have so much self to go around, and when there is no you, there can be no we.

My marriage isn’t only about my happiness. I do, however, want to have a strong marriage, and if my happiness is a tool to show me areas where our marriage is weak, then by God, I’ll go ahead and have a happy marriage.

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Intentional Marriage

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Yesterday Rich and I took advantage of the holiday to enjoy an evening off. We went to a matinee of Don’t Breathe and then went to a local Japanese Steak House for some teppanyaki. Nothing extraordinary, just a few hours spent together enjoying one another’s company.

I didn’t think much about date nights in my first marriage. In fact, I would have said that they weren’t an essential part of a strong marriage. And I don’t entirely disagree with my “then” self. When kids are young and you’re lucky if you can sit down on the toilet without a child knocking on the door, or even just barging in, finding an opportunity for you and your spouse to get out of the house can be daunting. We had four kids in just under five years, so date nights were a luxury that we could rarely afford.

In those early years, however, we still tried to be intentional about spending time together. We had a regular Sunday night ritual that we rarely missed – hoagies and Fox’s Sunday night animation line up. It wasn’t anything special, but it was a point every week when we would reconnect and remember that we were an “us” in addition to the other hats we wore.

And then it fell to the side. We stopped being intentional about our time together and allowed other things to take priority over it. It didn’t seem like a big deal. After all, it was just a sandwich in front of the TV. Nothing special about that. Besides, we were fine. We didn’t examine our relationship, so we didn’t see the cracks that were forming.

I don’t know if you can ever really pinpoint the beginning of the end of a marriage, and I don’t know if it’s even wise to try. But the lack of intentionality in my first marriage certainly contributed to its demise. Loneliness in my marriage led me to find friendship outside, and eventually one of those friendships developed into something more.

September was when I left my first marriage, so it’s the month when I tend to think about the state of my current relationship the most. (As an aside, a recent study showed that divorce filings peak in March and August. So maybe September is a good time for all of us who are marriage to evaluate those relationships.) When I’m assessing my marriage now, one of the key factors that I look at is intentionality.

  • Are we looking for opportunities to serve one another?
  • Is our relationship characterized by kindness?
  • Are we honest with one another?
  • Are we willing to admit when things aren’t going well and commit to fixing them?
  • Are we asking for what we need from the other person and listening when they tell us what they need?

Some of these are easier for me than others. I still struggle with saying, “It’s fine,” when it’s not fine. I struggle with deciding if I need to be honest about every feeling I have exactly when I have it, or if that might be damaging (honesty really is good pretty much always, I’m finding). I’m still relearning what it means to be in a healthy marriage, after nearly a decade in an unhealthy one.

But I am committed. I’m committed to our marriage. I’m committed to honesty. I’m committed to kindness. I’m committed to service. I’m committed to intentionality.

 

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When Fear Threatens Safety

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Back to school. Hard to miss with pictures of kids littering our Facebook walls and aisles of the big box stores filled with pencils, binders, and glue sticks.

Oh yes, and of course the return of fear of transgender kids in bathrooms.

On Sunday night, just as school was about to start for many students in the country, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor blocked the order from the justice department saying that all students should be allowed to use the bathrooms of their chosen identity.

For parents everywhere, the first days of school are filled with lots of emotions. Make sure the kids have all of the supplies that they need. New lunch boxes, new backpacks, new shoes. Then the quick run out to the store to pick up the things that you forgot about. Fill out all of the forms, finding the kids’ social security cards because who can remember that many numbers, and wondering why can’t they keep this stuff on file so you don’t have to fill out the same thing every year?

You schedule a coffee date with another friend because it’s the first morning you’ve had free since June. You clean the living room and look at it sparkle for hours because there is no one there to mess it up. You catch up on laundry. You finally binge Orange is the New Black because there are no little people around who might be corrupted by prison boobs.

Of course, there are fears that accompany first days as well. Will my child like their teachers? Will their teachers like them? Will they be able to make friends? All questions that boil down to the ultimate question, Will my child be safe?

When we start to talk about the issue of bathrooms and transgender individuals, the issue of safety is often one that is quickly raised. While I do not believe that plays into the decisions of law-makers or talking heads regarding most anti-transgender bathroom bills, it would be both naive and dismissive to assume that safety doesn’t cross the mind of parents of cis-gendered kids. When politicians and pundits expatiate on the the dangerous “man in a dress” coming to rape your child, fears naturally arise.

But fear is not always based on truth. In fact, it is often not based on truth.

There have been long-standing fears about integration in schools. From black students being escorted by federal troops to a high school in Arkansas in 1957, to white parents opposing busing of black students to primarily white schools in 2014, we have seen fear play a role in the discussion of desegregating schools. Yet the evidence shows that integrating schools benefits both black and white children.

There have been fears about the mainstreaming of students with disabilities. Children with special needs often received no education at all before 1975, but we now see that there are benefits to all when special needs children are included in neurotypical class settings.

The problem is, when we hold onto our fears, we stigmatize the people who are on the outside. Black children are assumed to be a threat to white students, to they are called thugs. Autistic children are assumed to be a drain on resources for neurotypical children, so they are isolated. Fear causes us to believe the worst about people, which often causes people to believe the worst about themselves.

Nearly 46% of transgender students attempt suicide. When students are denied access to the bathrooms of their expressed gender, those rates rise to over 60%. They can result in urinary tract infections, dehydration, and kidney problems from avoiding the bathroom. People who already feel discomfort with their bodies have additional shame piled on, simply for needing to pee in school.

Ultimately, there have been zero attacks by transgender students on cisgender students in bathrooms. Zero.

Our emotions absolutely have value. Teaching our children caution in public spaces is wise. But these laws do nothing to save cisgender children, and at the same time, they significantly increase the risk to transgender children.

All parents ask themselves in one way or another if their child will be safe at school. No matter our situation, we all want our kids to be free from danger. But we need to ask ourselves if our fears are justified, and if they are causing harm to other children as well. Parenting is hard no matter what. Let’s work together to keep all of our children protected by not allowing our fears to threaten the safety of others.

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Back-To-School Blessing for LGBTQ Students

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Lord, today I pray for the LGBTQ kids headed back to school.

May each of these children know that you are with them. May they feel your love surrounding them as they go about their days. May they encounter students, teachers, and administrators who will treat them with respect and dignity. May they express themselves without despair or shame.

Lord, let the LGBTQ children learn the curriculum that will help them become more well-rounded adults, but also learn of the kindness and compassion of those with whom they interact.

Help them to encounter more fairness than bigotry,
more courage than fear,
more love than hate.

In the halls,
let them feel protected.

In their classes,
let them feel understood.

In their activities,
let them feel accepted.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers.

Amen.

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Not Too Late

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It was Saturday morning, our third day together in North Carolina. The sun was shining, a  reprieve from the rain that had been plaguing the weekend. Some of us were there for Wild Goose, some there simply to visit with the friends who we rarely get to see. We came from all across the country – Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Florida, West Virginia, California. There were screens there, but for much of the time, they were abandoned as we enjoyed simply being in one another’s company.

We finished our breakfast together. Most of our time at the house had been filled with laughter. Lots of hugs and arms slung around shoulders as we enjoyed the few days we could spend in person. But as the morning moved on, the house began to take on a more somber tone. It was time to mourn a lost baby.

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I know from my research for Embracing Grief that ceremonies are an important part of the mourning process. They allow us to have a tangible way to remember the person we lost. They allow us a chance to grieve with our community. They allow us to share our pain with those who love us. They are a touchstone we can remember during seasons of agony.

Yet we had never had any service for Elliott following his death. No moment 13600088_1040163062766364_10120031812342635_n.jpgto officially celebrate his life or mark his passing. We were not a part of a church family when he died, and when the one year anniversary of his death passed, we were reeling from being asked to leave the church we had found. Our family was scattered, and reactions to my pregnancy and to his death left us feeling a bit hesitant in the best way to include them. Our children, who may have benefited from a ceremony closer to his death, seemed reluctant to unearth that pain again.

I had memorialized Elliott numerous times in my writing. For a long time, I thought that was going to be the way he was remembered by a larger community. Snapshots of his folded hands or tiny feet. Words on a screen. Not ashes scattered on the wind, but pixels into cyberspace.

When I realized that a number of friends who had seen us through so many of the difficulties of the previous year would be gathering together, the idea of something real and concrete13669148_1040163392766331_6633926226252494440_n began to percolate. I asked Rich if we could talk to our friends, see if they would join us in this moment. He agreed. And then I waited to ask.

It felt like it was too late. Who waits more than two years to have a memorial service for their baby? Who puts that off and then asks internet friends to be the ones to share that intimate moment? I was embarrassed to ask. Ashamed that I had waited. Worried that it would be a huge imposition to ask people who were planning presentations or using it as an opportunity to relax to sacrifice their time to mourn with us. Afraid that they would feel obligated to say yes, even if they would rather not bother.

How often do we ignore help because of fear? How often do we say that the moment to grieve has passed? How often do we tamp our own feelings because we assume that they won’t matter to others? How often do we allow shame to tell us that it’s too late to pursue wholeness? 

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We stood in the yard, a tiny group of writers and artists and friends. We sang a hymn together. Rich and I read letters to Elliott. One friend captured pictures. Another led us in prayer.

It was simple. It was brief. It was healing.

It wasn’t too late.

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Photos courtesy of Matthew Paul Turner

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Voting with a Pro-Life Ethic

 

 

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In the 2012 election, Focus on the Family put out a brochure encouraging people to vote their consciences. The same year, the AFA put out their Action Christian Voter Guide, called “the most distinctive and comprehensive presentation of information on candidates available for values voters at one location.”

In the 2008 election, the Family Research Council released a voter guide geared toward values voters. Focus on the Family released a “letter from the future” detailing the ways that Christianity would suffer if voters didn’t follow their consciences.

From 1990-2000, the Christian Coalition, led by Pat Robertson, produced voter guides distributed to churches that were allegedly non-partisan, but which eventually were found to violate laws governing non-profits, leading them to lose their their tax exempt status in 1999. Their guides were all about telling people to vote their consciences.

For my entire adult life, the standard line from Christian conservatives has been for people to vote their conscience. Always decrying the accusations of partisanship, but strictly about voting for the candidate who lined up with what they believed were Christian values about abortion, marriage equality, and inexplicably to me at least, gun rights and tax breaks. Vote your conscience has been in every election I’ve seen since I was old enough to vote in 1992, always amped up every four years when it’s time to elect a president. The subtext has always been that Christians should vote Republican, but it has been a standard line.

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I watched last week’s Republican National Convention through the lens of late night talk show hosts and my Twitter and Facebook feeds. I did the same this week for much of the Democratic National Convention. I did watch Michelle Obama’s powerful speech, as well as the uplifting words from Senator Cory Booker, but for the most part political rah-rah’ing isn’t my idea of a good time. Catching up with America Ninja Warrior on Hulu after an evening hunting for Pokémon is far more my speed. Anger and dissension just wear me out.

There was a lot to take in at the RNC, but the one that rattled around in my mind the most was when Senator Ted Cruz was booed off of the stage after he did not endorse Donald Trump, but rather said to the crowd, “Stand, and speak, and vote your conscience, vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom and to be faithful to the Constitution.” This was met with roars of disapproval from the crowd in attendance.

I do understand that part of the job of the convention is to rally around the party’s nominee. To come together and present a united front, and the lack of an official, strong endorsement from a prime time speaker is surprising (though the speech was available to the RNC ahead of time). So I can see that some at the convention would be upset that a speaker would neglect that aspect. But barring the lack of an endorsement, the content of Cruz’s speech was lifted straight from the Republican platform. Close the borders. Beware of ISIS. States’ rights. Gun rights. Small government.

I may disagree with most of the policies presented in Cruz’s speech, but there is nothing in them that should cause a group of Republicans to boo. Only the mention that they should vote their conscience incited that reaction. Only the idea that voting your conscience might not lead you to vote in the way that stays within party lines.

The truth is, I’m a single issue voter. When I vote my conscience, it looks like one thing.

Voting for a candidate with a strong pro-life ethic. Which has, for most of my adult life, looked like voting for a Democrat rather than a Republican.

Yes, in the area of abortion, the Democrats often fail. Often to prove the value of the woman who is pregnant, the value of the life inside of her is devalued. Too often we see life only if it is desired – if not, it becomes an embryo, fetal tissue, a parasite. Abortion is a complex issue, but when we speak of a potential human without respect, we cheapen the cry of equality.

But a pro-life ethic has to mean more than just where a candidate stands on abortion (though Donald Trump’s stand on abortion is fairly unclear).

A pro-life ethic must respect women. Donald Trump’s views of women are abhorrent. If you’re unable to see women as people deserving even a modicum of respect, you can’t be pro-life.

A pro-life ethic must listen to the voices of black men and women. The chants of All Lives Matter when confronted with the assertion that Black Lives Matter must end. Of course all lives matter. But black men and women matter as well, and much of our country’s history has belied that. Even Michelle Obama’s statement that she lives in a  home built by slaves was met with a statement from a conservative source saying, Sure, they were slaves, but it wasn’t that bad. A pro-life ethic can affirm that all lives matter while also saying that yes, black lives matter. Not with comments about “black on black crime” or “more white people are in jail” or “just listen to the police.” Just shut up and listen. And then see how we can begin to change the system to make things more equal for our black brothers and sisters.

A pro-life ethic must respect those with disabilities. Donald Trump has openly mocked a journalist with disabilities. I mother several children on the autism spectrum. My heart would be broken if a public leader were to deride them publicly. We cannot offer lip service to a pro-life ethic while sitting by while the Republican nominee has shown contempt in his actions for those with disabilities.

A pro-life ethic must encourage adoption. One of the ways that we encourage a pro-life ethic is to encourage people to adopt. The GOP platform reaffirms opposition to gay and lesbian couples adopting. My friend Sean and his husband have adopted two gorgeous boys (Sean has written about it in his best-selling book, Which One of You is the Mother?). They adopted children who were older. Children from difficult birth families. They adopted them, they love them, they parent them. Children who, if left in foster care, would have had a 45% chance of ending up homeless. Children who, if left in foster care, would have had a 75% chance of ending up in prison. Children who, because of their adoption by a gay couple, now have the chance to experience family.

A pro-life ethic must look at the ways life is cut short beyond abortion. Yes, I’m talking about guns. I am not a gun owner, so I tend to speak very little on this issue, because I don’t really know very much about gun laws or the way that guns even work. But when one party blocks even research about gun violence, it is difficult for me to see that as caring about life. When one group covers their ears, refusing to even have a conversation about ways we can make life safer in a world with guns, I cannot call that group pro-life.

A pro-life ethic must see people, even our enemies, as people first. During his campaign, Donald Trump advocated war crimes when he suggested that the United States not only hunt down terrorists, but also “take out their families.” He has lumped all Muslims into the category of radical, calling for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States. Donald Trump has challenged the idea that our enemies are people. If an unborn child is a person, surely even those who seek to do us harm is are people as well.

In November, I will be voting my conscience, and it will be based on a pro-life ethic.

I hope you will do the same.

 

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Pokémon Go and How We Engage with the Culture

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My dog looking over his shoulder at a Drowzee in our neighborhood.

I caught at Metapod and an Ekans this morning while I was walking the dog. And grabbed a couple of Poké Balls and a potion at the stop by our house. So it was a pretty good time around the neighborhood.

Last night, I helped a mom and her 3 or 4 year old son figure out how to collect items at stops. The dog licked this little boy while the mom and I talked about how far they had walked and what kind of little monsters they had collected so far. They left while my dog was still sniffing around the stop sign, and I heard the little boy say, “Back to the adventures!”

The other night our kids set a lure outside the stop closest to our house. A couple of heavily tatted guys stopped by, one who was apparently excited to catch a Meowth there. They chatted until time ran out on the lure and then they moved on.

I’m sure the creators of Pokémon Go expected it to do well – those pocket monsters have been around for a long time – but I don’t know if they expected to become this kind of a phenomenon. Not everyone I know with a cell phone is playing, but a lot of people are playing.

It’s stupid, I know. Trends usually are. A few years ago, we all went apeshit over a frustrating game with a square bird that didn’t know how to fly worth a damn. Or rubber bands that were in the shapes of things. Or plastic shoes that gave you horrible blisters and ruined your feet. But I’ve done all of them (Except Silly Bandz. I had enough of those in middle school when they were just circles and we called them Jelly Bracelets. I had some really cool glowing ones back then that were almost as important to me as my sticker book and jeans jacket.).

Maybe I just like the distraction. God knows things are pretty gross right now. Black men are being shot and killed by people sworn to protect and serve. Trans people are the target of witch hunts. Gay night clubs are being shot up. Snipers hiding out, picking off police officers who are helping to keep peace. Terrorists are driving trucks into crowds killing dozens of people. Distraction from the madness seems pretty sweet, to be honest.

I see the need to engage with culture in meaningful ways. I can’t be a person of faith in this world and remain silent during times of tragedy. I can’t ignore the fear and anger and pain that grips the hearts of so many. I can’t and I won’t.

I also won’t ignore the parts of the culture that bring joy and happiness. Yes, I will devote time to listening to the activists of Black Lives Matter about the ways that we can address systemic racism. I will listen to what my LGBTQ friends say about the violence happening to their community. I will weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn.

And sometimes, in the middle of that, I will rejoice with those who caught a Meowth.

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