Archives for May 2014

The DIY marriage

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Every other year, a high-end group of interior designers in NJ seek out a local mansion in need of remodeling. They find homes in disrepair, many of them impossible to sell in their current state, and they offer design services to fix them up. After many months of work, they charge the public an entrance fee to show what can be done with an unlimited budget and some serious talent. Most of the homes are unoccupied at the time, allowing for complete access to every crumbling wall and rotting ceiling. Each designer is given a specific space and free rein to repair and dream and embellish to their heart’s content.The current owner of this year’s Mansion in May lived in the home while many of the rooms crumbled around him. However, he decided to move out while the designers worked hard to refurbish it. He stepped away from the mess, trusting the vision of others to fix it for him.

My husband is a fan of the fixer-upper. He fancies himself a jack of all trades, capable of running electrical wire, repairing plumbing, and creating any woodworking project you can imagine. This is every woman’s fantasy, until she finds herself losing sleep to the incessant slamming of a jack-hammer in the basement at midnight. This predilection for home improvement is both a blessing and a curse. M recently installed new lighting in our living room, which somehow resulted in a need to re-route the bathroom plumbing and the inevitable creation of a gigantic hole in my ceiling. I long for the day when one of his projects does not require a car-size length of sheet rock or produce dust so thick it kills my vacuum cleaner stone cold dead. Like the owner of this year’s remodeled mansion, I want the option to move out during the heavy work. All that noise and dust and chaos–sometimes it appears easier to live with things in disrepair than to go through the trouble and expense of fixing them up right.

This week, we’re celebrating eighteen years of home improvements together. Over half of my life, I’ve walked with this man by my side, cursing and cleaning up his messes, cheering and celebrating every job well done. Our marriage is the biggest diy project we’ve undertaken. Through the years, we have experienced seasons when it would’ve been easier to easier to throw up our hands or turn a blind eye to the parts of our relationship that fall into disrepair. This life we build together is a work in progress, one that requires we stay on the premises during the repair and design process. It requires a vision, a dreaming together of what can be, while living through the hard work of tearing down and rebuilding the things in need of fixing. At times, we’ve needed to strip this love back to its foundation, back to fresh starts and new beginnings again and again and again.

Eighteen year on, our life has taken on the shape of something imperfectly beautiful. When it feels as if we’ve reached the limit of our resources, with a little digging and rooting around, I find there is always more to give. There is no way to out-spend, out-love, or out-dream each other in a marriage.  There is no moving out from the deep soul work required or the daily re-building. We cannot circumvent our mess. There is no turning over the challenging areas to a third party to fix them up and make them look new again. There is only this tenacious grip on a shared vision, and our unwavering willingness to embrace the hard work that accompanies it.

Try-hard days

picket fence via kimberlyanncoyle.com

I measure the success of a holiday weekend by the number of pages I manage to squeeze in reading during daylight hours. My husband measures the success of a holiday weekend by the number of man hours he can squeeze out of every human being living in our house. Enter Memorial Day weekend 2014, also known as the weekend I considered going to marriage counseling. I didn’t read a single page, not one, but I now have dirt under my fingernails and sunburnt shoulders that prove I’m worth keeping around. Gone are the days when a sunburn meant hours of lazing about in the sun with a good book. These are obviously the days before my husband came along. Now sunburn means hours of sweaty work, while the sun ages my face another ten years. Does it get any more glamorous?

On weekends, holidays, even on summer vacations, I feel guilty when I relax. Do you feel this pervading sense of guilt too? When my kids (jokingly?) suggest that I stay home and watch tv while they attend school, I bristle at this absurd suggestion. God forbid there should be a day that I don’t produce something, anything, that makes me feel as if I’ve earned the right to claim a little space in this world. This is what Emily Freeman calls the try-hard life, and sometimes I feel like a slave to it.

I spent a lot of time in a church culture with a heavy emphasis on works-based faith. Works-based faith says we can somehow earn our way into God’s grace by performing well, by working our way to salvation. There is merit in this, of course, as we know faith without works is dead. But this idea has somehow carried over into my everyday, stay at home, mother/wife life. I can’t tell you how hard I try to simply keep it all straight, to keep this clock ticking in the right direction, to keep order and peace and the shopping and the floors and the stupid family calendar all moving clockwise. Counting down the time. Tick, tick, tick.

When the ticking gets too loud, when I can’t hear my own voice or the sound of the wind in the trees or the gentle turn of a page in a book, it becomes a count down to my own internal combustion. It has taken me many years to understand this, and still, I forget to put systems into place that allow for my own head and heart space. I forget this too, is part of living with intention. To stay healthy and true to the way I’m created, I need to dedicated time without “works”. I need a day of book pages and sunshine and pleasant conversation. This for me is true faith. It is believing I am enough, without the calendar or the lists or the keeping it all straight. The world and my family will not end if I say no to the try-hard days, and yes to moments that build in me a belief in simple grace.

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Do you struggle with this too? Are you living in the try-hard days, or is does doing more and being more build your faith?

When you want to remember

open gate via kimberlyanncoyle.com

“I don’t want to make something that will kill me, kill the actor, kill the public,” he continues. “I don’t want you to forget yourself for two hours seeing a picture. I want you to remember yourself seeing the picture, but not remember your problems. I want you to remember your life and the beautiful human beings you are. That is what I am trying to do.” ~Alejandro Jodorowsky

Jodorowsky doesn’t make airy-fairy, feel good art. He’s gritty and weird and his following is more cult than pop culture. But the man understands the purpose of art, even if most of us don’t totally get his version of it.

I watched a made-for-tv movie on Netflix while running yesterday, and I finished it in bed last night. It was of the sentimental variety, the kind of fluff I usually avoid because it adds no nutritional value whatsoever to my soul diet. But, after a rough couple of weeks I’d like to forget, I clicked play. It left me feeling empty–hungrier still for the two hours of my life I’ll never get back. I’m as guilty as the next person of using movies or books, or any kind of cheap art, to close off the whirlwind of busyness swirling around in my everyday life. In light of Jodorwosky’s words, yesterday felt like a new low.

I want to surrender my time to the kind of art that matters, the art that helps me remember life itself is one big blank canvas. I don’t need an escape, I need a path that leads me deeper into the mystery and pain and beauty that is my life today. We need something outside of ourselves to help draw us back in, back to the child we used to be, back to our biggest fears and our wildest dreams. Art should not only bring us back, but it should give us strength to stand with our feet firmly planted in today. Through words, canvas visions, bodies in motion, and unrestrained melody, art should give us the courage to call today exactly what it is–it is ours. This day belongs to us and it is gritty and sad and raw. It is lovely and funny and happily weird. Today is good.If we walk the path the artist draws, it takes us further in, helping us see that tomorrow is pregnant with potential too.

Let’s stop using our soul time to numb, cover up, or forget. Let’s spend ourselves on the art that helps us remember.

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What art have you seen, read, or heard recently that brought you face to face with yourself? What did it help you remember?

To all the hardy women

mothers day flowers via kimberlyanncoyle.com

Over the past few days, I have re-evaluated my claim that I have a high tolerance for pain. I re-evaluated my inability to empathize with sick kin-folk (namely, my hubs) unless I experience the same illness, re-evaluated what it would be like to live with a chronic illness, and my views on how I approach life in general.

In a fit of craziness after my trip to the Urgent Care for a raging case of strep throat, I stopped by the store and bought a host of bizarre food items, including white bread and bacon. My sister-in-law emailed me to say it’s a good thing our health-nut Mother-in-law didn’t know about it, because strep or no strep, she would attempt an intervention. True, but I know when I can finally swallow that bacon, it will totally be worth it.

I also created an elaborate overnight pill taking scheme which left me with several pills still sitting on the bedside table by morning. I feel fairly certain I was supposed to take them. I’m so confused, and I’m not sure if I’m over or under medicating. More troubling than potential liver damage, is the fact that my house is a wreck, and I’ve accomplished absolutely nothing for four days.

I finally passed the point where I repeatedly wished for death, when I got up for the fourth time to take medication last night. I sat in the bathroom at one a.m., and I thought of all the mothers across the ages who suffered without access to pain medicine or antibiotics. We come from a hardy stock of women, don’t we? Somewhere along the way, the hardiness wore off, at least with me.

While I lay down and out on the sofa, I couldn’t shake this nagging sense of guilt. As if I really should be up and bustling about the house, or at the very least yelling at someone to do it for me. Without much of a voice and no strength to follow through, I watched the mess pile up in every room. Socks, books, slim yogurt tube wrappers, and drinking glasses that mysteriously multiplied in the dark.

It’s amazing what a few days on a sofa will teach you. One, the dog smells weird up close. Two, the kids truly would turn into hoarders and crazy pack-ratty people without my influence. Three, my husband is a champ at playing both mom and dad. And four, the next time he thinks he’s dying from strep-throat, don’t hide in the bathroom and count to five before coming to check on him.

Most importantly, I remembered how many women suffer from chronic or life-threatening illnesses, or care for someone who does. They are heroes, giants among us mere mortals. If you find yourself on the end of a big question mark with regard to your health, if you sit up and face the day and do what you can in spite of how you feel without an ounce of guilt, if you take your medication and walk around in a haze and still manage to live with empathy and a quiet will to pursue life, can I applaud you, today? I tip my hat to you, friend.

Here’s to the hardy women, the women who allow us to stand on their shoulders as they bear the weight of the sighing world.

Unexpected storms

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Last week, an unexpected storm blew through our ‘hood. One minute, the skies threatened with their rolling gray. The next, my husband turned to me and said, “I hope my car windows are up.” And in the short time it took him to give another cursory glance at the sky and retrieve his car keys, the sky split open like a violently ripped seam.

I won’t lie. There was screaming on the part of some of the women-folk in this house when the water poured in through the closed window frames and locked doors. We couldn’t see a foot past our windows, while the water rushed by with reckless abandon. There was screaming and awe and rushing about with pots and pans while the power of this wild thing beat its way through the cracks of our home.

It left as quickly as it came, and we discovered in short order that M’s windows were indeed rolled up, but the upstairs windows were wide open, unexpectedly giving our bathroom floor a thorough cleaning. The girls rushed around with beach towels to sop everything up, and I glanced outside. I saw nothing. I did a double-take. The spot where I usually stood at the window to watch the kids as they played on our backyard equipment, revealed absolutely nothing.

The wild thing picked up our enormous swing set and flung it across the lawn into a thousand splintered pieces. We found the trampoline hundreds of yards away, folded like cockeyed umbrella, sitting in a water-logged ditch. All of this damage in a matter of minutes.

As my kid, the one who learns the hard way, deals with some of the fallout of their decisions, I see how wild a thing one bad choice can be. I see how it destroys the relationships in its path, how it splinters trust into a thousand pieces. How one minute you’re sipping your cup of tea, and the next an email with damaging news about your kid can cause every difficult emotion to pour through the cracks of your parenting façade. I’m learning not to own all of my kids’ choices, Lord knows I’ve made enough horrible ones of my own, but to put it simply–it hurts.

But through the pain, we find healing as we work. We pull out the beach towels. We mop up the mess. We make our amends. We relinquish our attempt to control the wild things that shot us straight through, and trust that with enough consistency and prayer and consequences, the storm won’t have the final say.

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Are you facing a significant storm in your relationships today? Can I offer you a tiny sliver of hope? The storm will pass. You will be left with some work. May you find healing in this too. If you want to share, I’d love to pray for you.