This is everything I have to tell you about love: nothing.
This is everything I’ve learned about marriage: nothing.
Only that the world out there is complicated, and there are beasts in the night, and delight and pain, and the only thing that makes it okay, sometimes, is to reach out a hand in the darkness and find another hand to squeeze, and not to be alone.
It’s not the kisses, or never just the kisses: it’s what they mean. Somebody’s got your back. Somebody knows your worst self and somehow doesn’t want to rescue you or send for the army to rescue them.
It’s not two broken halves becoming one. It’s the light from a distant lighthouse bringing you both safely home because home is wherever you are both together.
So this is everything I have to tell you about love and marriage: nothing, like a book without pages or a forest without trees.
Because there are things you cannot know before you experience them. Because no study can prepare you for the joys or the trials. Because nobody else’s love, nobody else’s marriage, is like yours, and it’s a road you can only learn by walking it, a dance you cannot be taught, a song that did not exist before you began, together, to sing.
And because in the darkness you will reach out a hand, not knowing for certain if someone else is even there. And your hands will meet, and then neither of you will ever need to be alone again.
It’s seven degrees in the artic tundra that is Cincinnati, Ohio right now. I long…and I mean…long for my southern Louisiana sunshine and warmth in the winter time here. The cold makes me want curl up under my blankets in my own personal radiating ball of warmth and not move. I get tired at 5:00 p.m. and would prefer to sleep the cold away like a bear in hibernation. That is why what I just did…was the thing I didn’t want to do most in world right now…
I went for a walk…in the dark cold night.
Why this insanity, you might ask?
Well, I’ve learned that transformation and living a disciplined healthy life comes with “doing the thing you don’t want to do.” Having a healthy body is essential for my emotional health, and that means moving it…even when it’s cold. So that is what I did…I went for a walk to Krogers…then I walked to the library to return books, which for me…is a big success. My name is notorius in the annuls of the library history for having a significant amount of late fees. I would like to say this is because I just can’t part with a good book (which I do have trouble parting with) but the honest truth is….
I am a HUGE procrastinator.
I won’t go into the reasons as to why, that psychological babble would take us down the rabbit hole and back again, with us all feeling satisfied by the intellectual stimulation of it all, but still scratching our heads going, “huh?”.
I have found a solution though….it called…
Yes…brilliant…I know, isn’t it? I say that with a laugh. It’s true, very simple stuff. You start. But it’s not just starting…I also start doing the thing I don’t want to more then anything else that day. Like walking outside when it’s below 10 degrees. I’m genius at not doing things by simply replacing them with other seemingly important tasks that must be done…like writing a blog post, or reading a book, or finishing off a story, or hmmmm…rearranging my writing desk. However, bills…must be paid…and excel spreadsheets on benefit elections must be audited (yuk), and if I want to be the best leader around, I’ve got to get the job done…even when it’s distasteful…and looks like math.
This “starting business” all began 30 days ago when I began getting myself out of bed at 5:30 a.m. I am NOT a morning person; however, when one wants to change ones life, one must take massive action. It is well documented that successful people get up before anyone else, so I figured…I wouldn’t sleep in any more…I would get out of bed write in my journal and read my books, plan my tasks for the day. I would start my morning without rushing around like a crazy lady chasing chickens. This was pretty much the past 10 years of my morning routine…enough was enough. Eventually, I mastered it…disciplined myself to the darkness and half closed eyes, and cold wood floors on my feet, and the quiet.
The quiet…is what I fell in love with…the absolute silence of the start of the day…the beauty of beginning.
So…I decided to take getting up in the morning to the next level. Attack those things that held me back in life…procrastination.
What I found, that like getting up early, doing the thing I didn’t want to do most in the world gave me confidence and actually reduced anxiety. Bonus…a nice shot of confidence. The kind that high fived me as I walked through the door this evening with a “heck yeah! Badass” You just froze your ass off walking out side…and survived! You rule! Now treat yourself to some tea, and warm socks and Neil Gaiman’s American Gods”
So, what you can start today?
Go do it! And reap the rewards of “Doing the thing you don’t want to do.”
The appreciation of your community, tribe and family that you are a person they can trust to get stuff done.
This is a hard phrase for people. More Joy…Less Pain. I immediately think of a line from one of my favorite movies, The Princess Bride, “Life is pain your highness, anyone that tells you otherwise is selling you something.”
Yes…life is pain. Pain is inevitable, in everything, even good things can have pain. As soon as we accept pain as natural, we can learn to work with it. Remember we are co-creators here with the Great Artist, consider pain a form of paint, color with it. Use it instead of letting it use you. Collude with it, ask it, “What do you want? What are you trying to tell me? Ask God to carry the pain with you.
Pain is an indicator for us to do…something…anything a call to action. Action towards positive outcome. Seek treatment, write the letter, have the difficult conversation, build a new life out of the ashes of the one you burned up in a decade of bad decisions. Act, move, use your pain as the catalyst to wake yourself up! Don’t waste your pain, it’s wasted time. Alchemize it into something beautiful, a piece of music, a story, a painting, a song.
Then…run after joy, stubbornly seek your own happiness. That’s right, get moxified (yes…I just made that word up) and take your pain with you as you seek your own joy. Just because pain is natural doesn’t mean we need to have it stick around longer then it needs to.
To give you an example of what this looks like, I was having a painful moment the other night. It was a song that just dropped me to my knees on the carpet with hot tears. I laid down on my back and prayed, “God…please just be here with me and help carry this pain with me.” The tears continued a bit longer as I let them wash the sad thoughts on to my cheeks, then something in me said, “Go for a walk.” Which I did.
I pulled my wellingtons on and wrapped my down coat around me and off I went into the darkness. The wind chilled my ears but in a few minutes, I looked around at the gently falling snow, felt the peace of quiet and the simple solace of wind rustling the oak leaves, and spent time smiling in wonderment at my neighbor June Bug’s balanced rock features- a work of zen art. Just like that joy in the middle of hot tears, a frosty night and a zen rock garden. Emotions…that’s how they work…they are the clouds in the sky, they float by and you have more control over your state then you think.
You can wallow in the sadness, or you can take action, and go for a walk. Choice is yours. Be stubborn…seek joy.
Snow reminds me of being a little girl, when I lived in Mt. Lookout. I think I was 3 or almost four. It is one of my earliest memories, walking down to Mt. Lookout square in the snow to get ice cream at UDF with my father. I remember very clearly the huge snowflakes in the lamplight and holding my fathers hand and how I thought snow and ice cream seemed to go together, yet it was funny to be getting ice cream when it was cold. Snow represents for me wonderment and miracles. Every snowflake, different, each one a unique crystalline creation, sweet on the tongue like ice cream.
Softly the snow fell on my cheeks as I walked by lamplight down the street alone this Christmas Eve. I was reflecting on this year in my life. One of the most difficult years and most fulfilling years I have had thus far. Difficult because I learned love in the absence of the person that I had hoped to spend my life loving. Sometimes, learning to love comes in the absence of it, in the dark places. Hope is always in the dark, always where you least expect to find it. Much like how love came into this world, in the form of a child born among animals and placed in a manager, in a dark place, where no one expected him to be.
I had to come face to face with the fullness of what I had become, which wasn’t who I truly was. This was an excruciating process. It took me to places that I did not want to see, and when I did, I was filled with shame. Years of bad behavior, selfishness, dishonesty and fear. I lived a false life, and I had to take responsibility for that. Years from running from who I was. There were times I was very much Scrooge with my heart, and while I had a million reasons as to why this was, it really didn’t matter, because…when you decide you want to live differently, you must fully accept that you authored your story thus far. It is not my ex husbands fault, my father’s lack of emotionality, the numerous men who hurt me, the girls that made fun of me, the people that rejected me. No…these were obstacles to be overcome, not excuses for not being the loving creation that I was made to be.
It was a fulfilling year because I found the love I thought I lost in my relationship with my God. In learning to develop a relationship with him, the Greatest Artist I’ve ever met (as I like to refer to him), I have begun the journey home…to myself. I embraced my mission and purpose, to serve, and become the best version of myself, the woman that God created me to be: writer, whimsical, warm, wise, kind and is an artist in cahoots with love. Sure…there were always bits of this in me; in fact, I think some people fell in love with me because they saw that. But I had not learned to live it. Really live as I am, bring it consistently to my life and those I love. Be real.
“James, was three years old…when they came back down, Mom came to pick him up. The teacher asked to speak with him…we had a baby Jesus doll…when it came to James he held the baby Jesus for a long time, he looked up and said, “And to think they killed him.” Christmas is the beginning of our story, we are the people of hope…towards Jesus overcoming death. You have a new beginning, you have a new story of hope to begin”
-Dr. Alan Hunt
Dr. Hunt was speaking about hope, what struck me was the phrase, “And to think they killed him”. How often have we killed hope? How often have we looked into the dark abyss of fear or pain and despaired and turned away, thus killing hope? Hope, the Christ within us. This Christ who came in the world to teach us how to live, to teach us what God is like, to teach us how to love each other. When we choose not to love like this.
I have learned though, that hope, and love and possibility cannot die as much as we try to kill it. This is the promise of Christ and the truth of love. Love is who we are, hope is who we are, and God is a lover. A lover of us and the messes we sometimes become.
“The thing about Christmas is God could have made it a lot easier on himself, but he chose not to. He chose not to because he’s not a minimalist. He didn’t say what’s the least I can do to bring about some salvation. He’s a lover. God’s a lover. And the lover never asks what’s the least I can do. That’s not the question of lover. The lover always asks what’s the most I can do.”-Matthew Kelly
Lovers always ask, what can I do for you? How can I open myself up to you. I had played small my whole life. I was stingy and had given only pieces of myself, and in this, I got only pieces back. I was the author…of my own heartbreak and the heartbreak of another person. As soon as I had come to accept the truth of this, then I could forgive myself, as God had already forgiven me. That’s how it works…this forgiveness thing. It starts with the truth. Taking responsibility for my contributions, not anyone else’s, mine. This was the greatest gift I gave to myself this year. This does not mean that I am a bad person, or should wallow in my short falls or failures, it means…I get to do better now and grow. When you know better, you do better. Simple concept, hard for most of us to get. Probably, because while we think we are going to “do better” you can’t until you actually take responsibility for your actions and behavior.
This year, I fell in love with “The Greatest Artist I’ve Ever Met”. For me, this was essential to learn how to love. It was through developing a relationship with him, reading his words, speaking to him in the quiet of my heart, and looking for him in everything that surrounds me, and asking him to shoulder my pain with me, to be present with me in my dark moments that I have learned how to love others.
I’m not perfect yet at this of course, but I strive each day to do better then I did the day before.
But…it’s snowing…on Christmas Eve…
The promise of snow for me is miracles. Christmas is the promise of hope. The hope that we all can be transformed by love. The love of God.