Pig Crossings, Pirate Ships & Other Phallic Symbols…

15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them…

~Matthew 7

Red Flags…

I read a story once about a train wreck in Norfolk Va which occurred in 1905.  The train was approaching a draw bridge which had been washed out by rains and although a red flag was set out to signal the engineer to stop, the flag itself had faded, through continuous use in the sun, to the point where its color had become indistinguishable from white.  In fact, my understanding is that at this time the traditional flags used to communicate with train engineers were red for stop, green for caution and white for go.  The problem is that in time both red flags and green flags fade to white.

I heard a joke once about a guy from the city speeding down a country road who finds himself approaching a farm woman trying to drive a steak with a red flag on it on the side of the road approaching a turn.  When she sees him she begins waiving her arms excitedly and yells “Pig! Pig”! Thinking that there is no way he’s going to let this small town nobody insult him like that, the man purposely speeds up as he passes her into the turn.  His fancy sports car corners the turn at the high speed as it was designed to but then runs into the farmer’s pigs crossing the road.

In the 1988 movie “RainMan” Dustin Hoffman portrays an autistic individual named Ray.  In one particular scene Ray becomes confused while crossing at an intersection when midway through the sign that had instructed him to walk begins blinking red and displaying “don’t walk”.  He stops in the middle of the crosswalk, blocking angry motorists from proceeding, until his brother is able to help him to the side of the road.  Although meant in humor, the overtone of the scene demonstrates the consequence and potential danger of interpreting warning signs in too literal of a manner.

The stories surfaces all kinds of imagery for me.  Imagery about red flags and what they actually mean.  When they should actually be used.  What happens when we don’t recognize them.  What happens when we think we know better and what happens when they’re left out too long.  After the first bout I had with my wife’s mental illness when we were dating,  I can remember reading anything that I could get my hands on regarding supporting loved ones who were struggling with depression, bipolar affect disorder, borderline personality disorder or otherwise mentally ill.  Invariably, the advice offered in each centered around learning to together identify the “red flags” for that individual.  I sat down and listed one out.  I’ve memorized it over the years – refined it.

Medication: I’m sure most have heard this before, but often, when a person with mental illness is on their medication, they feel so good that they begin to believe that they don’t need their medication and when they’re off it, they feel so bad that they don’t believe that the medication can help.  I’ve seen this cycle dozens of times in the past few years with respect to my wife and not only from her perspective.  This trick works on me too.  When my wife is on medication for a while and doing well, I begin to think; “well, maybe she’s better now.  Maybe she doesn’t need it anymore”.  I stop advocating for her to take her meds and then see, time and time again, why she needed too.

Sleep:  My wife can sleep now!  Of course, it doesn’t help that I’m the exact opposite.  I’ll sleep on average maybe five –six hours a night in good times and in bad times just a few hours here and there each night.  My wife, even in good times, likes her rest.  “How do you think I stay this beautiful”? she’ll joke, but honestly, the woman will sleep 10-11 hours at night and then think nothing about taking a 2-3 hour nap during the day – and that’s when things are normal.  During times of bad depression, I’ve seen her spend three consecutive days in the bed.  I once had to literally pick her up out of the bed after three day to get her to go to work.

Creativity:  My wife is a very creative person.  She studied art in school, generally loves things like quilting, decorates the most beautiful cakes, will just take a stick and a pocket knife and whittle a walking stick that folks would probably pay good money for.  When things are good, her appetite for these things is ferocious, when things are bad they fall by the wayside.  I’ve seen her chuck dozens of her walking sticks into the campfire.  She’ll put up all her quilting stuff leaving several projects unfinished.  The joy of baking and decorating cakes becomes drudgery to her.  Not being very creative myself, I’m not really sure that I understand this transition, but I think it has to do with her not wanting to feel pride in anything that comes out of her.  One thing I am certain of is that when my wife leaves herself no creative outlet, it’s time to start wondering what’s not being let out.

Church: When things are good, you’d think my wife was married to a preacher.  She’s involved, supportive to other members of the church, want’s the boys to be involved in youth functions etc. When things are bad it’s like pulling teeth to get her to go.  Excuse after excuse as to why she doesn’t want to go.  People who the week before she loved, now are medaling and phony, everything that’s said during the sermon is nonsense… I’m certain that this is indicative of something going on at the higher level of her faith, but in terms of what is tangibly observable, this is one of the first things I see.

Language:  My real wife uses expressions like “you’re a stupid head” when she’s angry.  I’ve seen her speak kindly in the face of abject disdain.  She’s a master of the “kill-em with kindness” technique.  In general her speech is thoughtful, gentle and positive.  When things are bad though, I can tell by her words sometimes before her action that they are.  More and more profanity  begins to creep into her vocabulary, the things she talks about are less and less positive, her words become more and more hopeless.

Work: I’ve seen my wife go from loving her job to hating it, and everyone associated with it in the course of only a few days.  When things are good she has an excellent work ethic, she’s dedicated to being good at whatever she does, is honest and dedicated to helping others.  When things are bad she becomes more and more dissatisfied with her job, begins to talk more and more about what she should be entitled to and becomes more and more critical of her superiors and coworkers.  She’ll use the slightest excuse to leave a job or make sudden drastic career choices without any notification.

Social: We’ll go through periods of months where it seems like several times a week we’re having people over the house for BBQ or just to hang out by the fire and/or visit other couples/families and then suddenly there will be long periods where she just doesn’t want to go anywhere, do anything or see anyone.

Money:  Even when times are bad, my wife is really not a spender.  She doesn’t go on big depression inspired shopping sprees (what that people call it “retail therapy”) What I do notice is a few things, she suddenly becomes extremely interested or disinterested in the family finances – how much money we have, how much this costs or that costs etc.  She also will tend to hoard cash.  Now I am particularly sensitive to this since most of that cash used to go to the purchase of drugs, but I think it extends even beyond that.  The last time she said that she was leaving and then changed her mind and decided to stay, she confessed that she had collected over $400 cash which she had been carrying around.  She had told me that she just wanted to put it aside to make sure that we could pay some bills, but she otherwise has no interest in our family’s finances.  I think she does it so that she will have funds to access should she decide to start using again, or run away or what have you.  I believe that, subconsciously, she’ll bank rolling her next break down.  Not know how or when the money is to be used, but still assuring that she will have access to it when needed.

Time: When trips to the dump (only 4 miles away) begin to take five hours, something’s not good.  It doesn’t always mean she’s off having an affair, but something is off.

Facial expression:  It infuriates my wife that I can tell from her face what’s going on inside her head, despite what she is telling me.  I’m extremely good at this and know when she is not telling me the truth about what’s going on inside her.  She insists that it’s my imagination, but I have been able to do this successfully and with a fairly good accuracy for a very long time.  I don’t always know what’s going on inside her, but I always know when what she is saying is not matching her expressions.  When I see that they are often different, I can usually be pretty sure there’s something not right.

Anger:  When things are not right with her, Ill see my wife fly off the handle and show a disproportionate amount of anger at the simplest, most seemingly benign things.  It’s as if the anger is already there and welling up to the point where she can hide it any longer, she’s hard pressed to find an excuse for it and will pounce on the first thing that comes along on which she feels as if she might justify unleashing it.

Contempt:  not just for me (although there is plenty of that too) but for about anything that she might perceive would dictate to her what she should do or how she would behave.  Contempt for the police man who just pulled her over because she ran a stop sign.  Contempt for the preacher because he would say that something she wanted to do was sinful.  Contempt for folks in our church for living their lives a certain way.  When my wife is not doing well she is literally dripping with contempt and distain for anything and anybody that may reminder her that she’s going astray.

Those are the major players, save one which I going to talk about next.  The truth is that it was difficult for me to even write that list because the signs tend to blur together to me now.  I’m not so sure anymore what is the actual observance of a red flag or what is my intuition anymore.  I’ve been doing this for such a long time that it’s become something of an instinctive reaction.  Like Pavlov’s dog no longer needing to identify the actual presence of food.  This process has become so automated to me that sometimes I just know something is wrong, but don’t even know why.  For me, it has always been something proactive that I felt that I could do.  I look for these warning signs and they will give me some indication of what to expect next.  The allow me to feel, at least a little, that I have some sort of control over this entirely uncontrollable and unpredictable cycles, which associate themselves with my wife’s condition.  They exist, I think, as much if not more for me than they do for her, because frankly by the time we get to seeing the warning signs that process has already begun and I’m still not sure how to stop in.  There is a flaw, therefor, inherent to me using them – they have value to me.  I’m vested in what they are telling me and the’re interpretation will always be made through my very unbiased eyes.  Like these photos (below), my reaction to them is a function of not only what they try to tell me but how I receive them, my mood and view of the world at the time that I see them.  On our dirt road on the way home from work one day, I stopped and took this picture:

it was a cold grey winter day and I was on my way home from a particularly difficult day of work.  I looked at the now bare cotton field and felt my soul just sink.  “How drab” I though, “How dead and depressing”.  Two day’s later, on my way home from my men’s bible study group, my spirits were higher.  I stopped to look at the same field and took the following picture:

Same cotton field, same camera (phone) same photographer (me) only now my frame of mind was more positive.  I found the bible study uplifting, the weather, though still winter, still cool, still dormant, was beginning to reveal hints to encourage the hope of spring to come.  The air was cool, but the sun felt warm on my elbow perched out my truck window.  The field seemed not so much dead now as sleeping, resting, preparing itself for the crop to come.  I felt my soul rise, in response to the exact same baron cotton field and once again fill with hope.  Same field.  Same sign.  Different meaning.  The difference was me.

The last red flag I wanted to talk about is music.

Music Soothes the Savage Beast?…

Music:  This is a big one.  When my wife is in a bad place, she’ll listen to the same few songs over and over.  Johnny Cash hurt, Papa Roach Last Resort, Lincoln Park, Numb are on the short list:

Johnny Cash, Hurt

I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel

I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real

The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything

What have I become
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know
Goes away in the end

Papa Roach, Last Resort

Cut my life into pieces
I’ve reached my last resort
Suffocation
No breathing
Don’t give a fuck if I cut my arm bleeding
Do you even care if I die bleeding
Would it be wrong
Would it be right
If I took my life tonight
Chances are that I might
Mutilation out of sight
And I’m contemplating suicide

Linkin Park, Numb

I’m tired of being what you want me to be Feeling so faithless,

 lost under the surfaceI don’t know what you’re expecting of me

Put under the pressure of walking in your shoes

[Caught in the undertow, just caught in the undertow]

Every step that I take is another mistake to you

[Caught in the undertow, just caught in the undertow]

I’ve become so numb, I can’t feel you there Become so tired, so much more aware I’m becoming this,

all I want to do Is be more like me, and be less like you

Can’t you see that you’re smothering me Holding too tightly, afraid to lose control

but there are probably others which she has learned to not reveal to me.  There is a certain anger and hopelessness to the type of music my wife listens to when she’s not doing well.  It’s not just the lyrics, there is a message conveyed by the heavy angry tone of the music itself.  Frankly, it scares me! Beyond the actual songs she listens to there is the sense of angry defiant entitlement with which she does it that I actually find more concerning.  I’ve written about this elsewhere; what does the type of music we listen to say about how we see ourselves?  Do we use music to justify our feelings or allow music to dictate our feelings?  Do I like country music because I identify with the guy who loves beer and his truck and his dog and wife is cheating on him or am I the guy who loves beer and his truck and his dog and wife had an affair because I like country music?

The issue presented itself again this weekend, which is why I’ve decided to write about it now.  When my wife first came home from the hospital we discussed, at the therapist’s recommendation, the things we saw as red flags.  At that time my wife begrudgingly agreed that her music was clearly one of them.  We together went through her iPad and delegated the songs which she identified as being negative in that way and we also had a discussion about what type of music we say as being appropriate to listen to when the boys were present.  Although she agreed to all of this, there have been several times in the past few months where she would make comments about how I made her take all her music away and how she was only allowed to listen to my music now etc.

Each time she said something like this, I stopped and we had the conversation again.  “You told me that that music was a red flag”, I would say and she would agree, probably just to end the conversation.  She continuously just said that she was no longer interested in music.  Well a week or two ago I told her that I didn’t want for her to resent me for not liking the same music as she did and I asked her if she wanted to put some music that she liked back on her iPod.  My only conditions were that she remained mindful of the music which she played in front of the boys and to understand that if she listened to the same song about cutting yourself over and over again that I was probably going to suspect that something was up.  She agreed and went through the computer choosing songs she wanted on her phone.

We were at the neighbors how Sunday afternoon/evening for their daughter’s birthday party.  Probably our best friends and with children about the same age as ours, we will often go over there or they will come to our house to eat supper, hang out by the fire and have a couple beers together.  The party had ended and most of the guests had gone home but we stayed later, our kids playing together inside and then falling asleep there, having a few drinks by the fire.  They have this radio that you can plug your phone into in order to listen to the music stored on it and we were using that as we talked.  My wife decided she wanted to play some of her music.

Now this was fine with me.  I made a joke to my neighbor about being sorry for what she was about to make him listen to, but I really did want to not be a jerk about her music.  I wanted to show that we had come to the point where I trusted her enough to not automatically assume that the music she was playing necessarily meant that she was using drugs again or having another affair.  I really didn’t think it was a big deal.

When she put the music on it was such a blatant contrast to mine that the neighbor said something like “what in the world kinda music is this” and we got to talking about our musical tastes.  He, like me and like most of the folks around here has simple tastes in music.  Songs about beer and dogs and fishing and girlfriends is what we like and don’t really have any bother for other kinds of music.  His wife grew up in the city and had a taste for that club, boom, boom, boom, kind of music and my wife likes her skinny little millionaire musician, screaming at me about all the angst in his life music.

It began as lighthearted, but got a little ugly fast.  I said something like “I just don’t understand how anyone can enjoy listening to this stuff”.  To which my wife said something like “I’m just so sick of country music.  Why is it that the only thing that people listen to around here is country music”?  I said “uhm, because we live in the country”.  I saw rage wash across her face!  “I haven’t always lived in the Fucking Country”! she snapped and sternly chopped the air in front of her with the back of her hand facing me.  “You haven’t always been a fucking hick”!

Well actually I have, but I wasn’t fixin to argue that point with her just then.  I grew up poor in the country.  I was good in school and that took me places.  When I met my wife, I had just gotten a job with one of my degrees on a military base and had to wear a tie and Sunday shoes to work each day.  Maybe she though I was someone else, but I felt about as out of place there as anyone could be. I never fit in with my John Deer ball cap and suit jacket and never knew how to remedy that.  To my friends back home I’d become this fancy engineer at the DoD and to folks at the DoD I would always be this simple hick from the woods.  I didn’t fit anywhere.

What concerned me is how quickly and how angry she’d become over a simple disagreement.  Now we had been drinking, so I wasn’t going to snap back.  I knew it could get out of control fast, but I felt that like a stab in my gut.  Why would she get so angry just because I didn’t like her music?  There must be something else behind this.  This must be a red flag.  I just sort of looked away for a couple of minutes and pretended not to notice her momentary loss of control.  She, I could sense, was initially disappointed that I didn’t react back with anger, but realized that her anger really wasn’t warranted and tried to proceed as if it didn’t happen.

So the question I face, and still haven’t answered as I write this, is what does all this mean?  Where did that all come from?  Have I been somehow doing my wife a disservice by remaining vigilant about these “red flags” or is this an attempt of her’s to bully me into thinking that they are meaningless so that I can no longer see what is going on with her?  Is this white flag really a white flag or is it one that has faded to white from red or green?  Does this need to be a red flag or has the time come to put this one away?  Is it just keeping us standing in the middle of the intersection holding up traffic?

It occurs to me that someone in my situation has to be particularly careful regarding the difference between using these things to judge and using them to exercise good judgment.  I could easily fall into the justification of disguising punishment and unwillingness to forgive as being indicated by “red flags” – well it meant this before so now you better listen to my kind of music.  This doesn’t mean however that I can simply ignore possible warning signs.  Not when it comes to the safety of my wife and the boys.   I simply don’t have the luxury of saying “well I’m not going to judge you for smelling like pot when you come in from driving our boys in town”.  This is not to mention my own risk of being played to be a fool again, but even Sigmund Freud said that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.  It’s a thin line to walk and I believe that I need a divine guidance to do so.  Still I’m not sure how.

I don’t see where the term “red flag” is used anywhere in the bible.  There’s plenty about warnings.  In fact if you take the term “red flag” to mean a warning, you might think of the entire bible as one giant red flag.  Still though, I had a hard time applying biblical truths to my particular situation.  When  warnings should be headed and when they become obstacles to our faith and growth.  In Luke there is the story of Lazarus and the rich man:

Luke 16 (NIV)

The Rich Man and Lazarus

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Here clearly we are being told to look for and heed warnings which are given to us.  The consequence of not doing so seems pretty severe!  But then in Matthew there’s this:

Matthew 14 (NIV)
Jesus Walks on the Water

22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

29 “Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

Now Peter was a fisherman.  He probably knew all about red flags.  He knew exactly what the wind and the high waves meant.  We put flags on the beach today to indicate the same.  It was clear to him that his situation was precarious.  Only by ignoring those signs though, by putting his faith in Jesus and not what he thought he knew about the dangers of this world was he able to actually walk on water.  For a short time anyway and then as soon as he remembered them again he sank into the very dangers they red flags were to warn him about.

What the heck!  Do we heed to the warnings of these red flags or don’t we? Are we supposed to trust our own internal warning mechanisms or aren’t we?  To what extent should I rely on my own God given sense to say “Hey! I’ve been to this rodeo before”?  God please!  Tell me what to think.  Tell me how to use this judgment which you have given me!  Tell me how to protect my family and myself and still forgive this woman who would have destroyed all of it!  Thing is; I believe he already has:

Matthew 7(NIV)

True and False Prophets

15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

That it isn’t it – you will know them by their fruit? When you think about it; fruit doesn’t grow overnight.  It doesn’t all of a sudden appear because the tree gets angry or has a few drinks or is having a bad day.  Fruit is the product of a season’s worth of growth for any tree and even if it is damaged beyond being eatable from weather or injury, in any particular season, if the tree is capable of producing good fruit, it will do so again the following year.  In fact, I don’t have any control at all about the type or quality of the fruit of any tree in my orchard produces.  I can’t say to an apple tree “listen, if you don’t give me an orange this year…”.  I can’t tell a sapling “listen, bushel of apples this year or else”.  I can’t say to a crab tree “listen, the apples you gave me last year were bitter. This year how about some yellow delicious”?  The fruit is a function of what that tree is, not of what I want it to be.  I have nothing to do with it, but I am a fool if year after year I keep going to a crab apple tree expecting something sweet!  Neither can a tree hide it’s fruit, not for any significant about of time anyway.  Likewise, if my wife is still cheating, still using, still playing me for a fool; sooner or later those fruits will become apparent to me.  I don’t have to worry about what every little sign might mean, because at some point I will know her by her fruit.

Pirates Oh My!…

I’ve read some about the origins of the expression “red flag”.  It would seem that the color red being used to indicate danger dates back to the times of the ancient Greeks.  The term has roots in locomotion history and avionics and American military history, but the first use of the term that I can see is from the days of the British armada; travel and commerce on the high seas and pirates!  Now we all have a certain image in our minds when it comes to pirate flags – black, skull and cross bones etc., but did you know that it is likely that the original pirate flags were red?

While most pirate flags are usually associated with the color black (a color associated with death) it is thought that the earliest were red (indicating that the ship would fight to the death, with no quarter given or expected.).  In fact, it is likely that the common nickname “Jolly Roger” used for pirate flags is a English perversion of the French term ”joli rouge”, meaning “pretty red”.  Now this was all very interesting to me, because, although I never really read it in the history, it means that there was at least a period during that transition where you didn’t if a pirate ship was expected to designate itself with a red flag or not.  There are a number of other countries with red flags, but I can’t think of many with black.  Therefore, for some time, before pirate flags were all black, one might see a red flag in the distance and before approaching close enough to actually see the insignia on the flag, but only to the point where you could note the flag’s color, there was no way to tell for certain if you were looking at a pirate ship or a ship from Switzerland.  You could only see the red.

Now I put myself in that lookout’s place; alone, high up in the crow’s nest, been  up all night and the sun now just rising.  Maybe the captain was a little extra liberal with the crew’s rum ration last night.  Now, half way between dark and light I look out along the horizon and see something.  Is it a bird or a flag?  It’s a flag.  What color is it?  It’s so hard to tell in this ever-changing sunlight of dawn. “Oh Crap! It’s red”! Now what?  It’s probably you’re but either way right.  You can let it go and if it’s actually a pirate ship that gets close enough to attack – that’s on you, but if you sound the alarm and your shipmates end up firing on Switzerland – that’s probably not gonna look good on a resume either!  Your eyesight is not what it used to be and contact lenses are still a couple centuries from being invented…

Point is that it’s not a simple decision.  A red flag doesn’t necessarily mean that something is wrong.  It means that something may be wrong.  It means that in this situation, things fit that there may be something wrong again, but it doesn’t mean fire you cannons.  I believe that is what, in its origins, the sight of a red flag meant; wake up!  Pay attention!  Do your job!  You cannot simply ignore every red flag you see, nor can you fire upon each!  It’s simply a sign that means now pay attention.  Likewise I cannot go through my life oblivious to what has happened in the past and the dangers that certain signs I learned then might mean now, but I also can’t tie my guts up in knots every time my wife wants to listen to a song I don’t like.

My judgment will always be flawed.  It would always have been flawed before the affair so I’m not blaming it on that.  It’s flawed because I’m human,  because I don’t know nearly as much as I think I do, because my own pride and anger and weaknesses will always represent a cloud around it. A cloud which will always prevent me from actually seeing the insignia on the flags I see until long after I can see their color. That’s why I need a buddy in the crow’s nest with me.  It’s why I need good friends now, why I need to write here.  It’s why I need to pray; because any other person’s eyesight might be just as faulted, just as limited as my own, but God’s eyesight is infinite.

God Bless.

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There’s Dog Poop on My Bicycle Seat…

Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out, and quarreling and abuse will cease.

~ Proverbs 22:10

Bully…

What does the word “bully” actually mean?  I think for many it conjures imagery such as the Rockwell paintings above – big, stupid kid, who doesn’t know any other means of achieving his goals by any other means, and who himself is likely not even aware of what those goals may be.  We sort of romanticize it.  Tell ourselves it’s something we’ve all had to go through, dismiss it as part of growing up – a sort of rite of passage.  “You just have to stand up to a bully”! we say, “and then they’ll back down, because they’re actually cowards at heart”.  I think we tend to forget how terrifying that act usually is or that it doesn’t always, despite what Hollywood might have us believe, turn out like that.  To a fifth grader, I think we might as well say “you need to stand in front of that charging bull, and then it’ll back down”!  Well ok, but what if you’re wrong?

I also think that maybe the rolls of “bully” and “victim” are not so clearly defined as we might have been led to believe from all those after school specials.  I, and I think probably most if we’re honest, can remember times of both being bullied as well as being bullies ourselves – sometimes in the same day.  I can remember once in school getting pushed down during recess, my cap flying off and then kicked around the playground by the same boy who pushed me down.  I remember the shame I felt, the embarrassment.  I can remember thinking how inadequate I must have been to be the one he chose to pick on, to be the only one of my classmates who was somehow incapable of preventing this from happening to himself.  Why couldn’t I stand up for myself?  Was I just a coward? A loser?  What was wrong with me?  I felt so worthless.  I can also remember, later that day, the younger boy down the street running home crying because I pretended to want to play with him and then wiped dog poop on his bicycle seat.  The truth is that I felt terrible as I did it, but my own need to feel more in control outweighed my desire to be kind to that boy.  I’ll never forget the sound of his crying as  he was pushing his bicycle back home.  Just wanting to get to Mama.  Just wanting to be safe.  Just wanting to be someplace where he knew what to expect and not be squelched by the world around him.  I could hear it for a long time after I could no longer see him.  “There’s dog poop on my bicycle seat”, between sobs, “Do-o-o-g Po-o-o-op on my bi-i-i-cycl-l-l-lle se-e-e-at”! as he disappeared down that dirt road.  I can hear it in my mind like it was happening right now outside and I believe that memory will haunt me forever, because I know one day I will have to stand before the most holy of Gods and explain to him why I wiped dog poop on that boy’s bicycle seat and I don’t know what I’m going to tell him.  I the course of an afternoon I went from knowing exactly how it felt to be abused like that, devalued, the shame and embarrassment, to being the one who would inflect that on another.  Why?  For real bullies it’s the same process, but lifelong.

So when I sit here and write that I think my wife is a bully, it’s not without the understanding that I think to a certain extent we all are.  To a certain extent we all have exploited other’s weaknesses in order to avoid looking at our own.  To a certain extent we all have made ourselves feel better by making someone else feel worse.  To a certain extent we all have made ourselves feel as if we’re more in control than we actually are by exploiting (and abusing) some sort of differential in ability, power or needs.  For the purpose of what I am writing here, let’s just say a bully is anyone who habitually needs to push another down (physically, emotionally, mentally etc.) for the sole purpose of maintaining some sense of being in control over their world or the avoidance of the recognition of one or more of their own inadequacies.  When bulling becomes a lifelong behavior, I think the bully, at some point, stops feeling bad for the kid with dog poop on his bicycle seat.  I’d like to spend some time today, thinking and writing about what a bully looks like, how were taught to deal with bullies and the biblical response to being bullied.

The Anatomy of a Bully…

Bullies are Broken:

First and foremost, I think it should point out that the all bullies are in somewhat broken themselves.  I likely would have no cause to pick on that boy from down the street were it not for my own feelings of being inadequate.  It’s true, I think, that bullies are all at heart scared of something.  Scared of their own sense of not having control, scared of what may be wrong with themselves, scared of being bullied or picked on or judged if they aren’t bullies.  I can literally see the process of this decision take place each time my wife decides to bully.  “Do I actually want to take a look at myself? Consider the things that he says are hurting him?  Weigh whether or not my actions are contributing to the problem?”  Then, I can see that fear wash over her face.  The consideration of the things she’d actually have to bring to conscience in order to do so.  Instinct kicks in and out comes the anger.

“Why do you always have to talk about things”, “There’s nothing wrong with me except you’re picking on me”, “Why do you have to analyze everything”?, “Honestly, you’re just so pathetic”…Eyes rolling, hands waving, head shaking – I’ve seen it a thousand times!  I’ve seen it when we first started dating and she would blow me off to spend an afternoon with her ex-husband, I’ve seen it when we were first married and didn’t get her way about this or that, I’ve seen it during the affair when her behavior became so inexcusable that it was beyond defense and I see it now when the idea of working on this issue or that issue seems so insurmountable to her that she just would rather bark me away.

As I have said, bullies are broken, and my wife is no exception.  She’s been through it now – father committed suicide while she was in a tent with him when she was two and she was not found until the next morning,  placed into foster care as a young girl, sexually abused by a Jehovah Witness elder from her kingdom hall when she was nine, first husband died of cancer when she was twenty, shunned by her parents because she was kicked out of that church for smoking a cigarette – probably my wife needs to start her own blog and I could never do justice to the trials which she has endured  before meeting me, here.  The reason I mention these things is that I know that where my wife is concerned, we’re talking about a lifetime of being shown how little control she has.  Her life has been a parade of event after horrific event demonstrating to her, her complete lack of control.  At some point, I think she learned that by bulling, she could regain that control.

Bullies have a Power differential Which They Lear to Exploit…

Bullies need a way to Bully.  You don’t see many girl scouts pushing around varsity football players – not physically anyway.  A bully needs something; their size, strength, intelligence, indifference etc – on which they may rely to intimidate others.  For my wife this has always been her indifference to our marriage.  For a long time before the affair, I’ve know that our relationship has more value to me than it does my wife.  At times she has gone out of her way to make this painfully apparent.  She uses that.  Hold’s it ransom.  Dangles it in front of me, as if to say “remember, you need me more than I need you”!  Of course the bullies real weapon is fear.  It is only through the fear of them hitting you, making you look stupid, leaving you etc. that they are able to leverage what they want.

This is a technique that she can see herself using, when she’s not angry, we can talk about it, she can see how hurtful it is and she expresses genuine remorse, but the next time she needs to, she doesn’t hesitate to rely again on this strategy.  She knows, that I will never leave and she knows that it’s my worst fear that she will.  She’s been able to leverage that knowledge to control just about any situation.

Have trouble with rules…

In general, I think that this is a fair statement.  If a bully didn’t have trouble with the rules associated with earning money, they wouldn’t need to take mine.  Bullies don’t like rules, they think that the rules should not apply to them or the secretly think that because of their own inadequacies, they are somehow incapable of following the rules as they exits.

My wife grew up as a Jehovah Witness.  I could write another blog about what I think of this religion, so I will not attempt to do so here, suffice to say – they got and ass of rules!  Rules about who you can hang out with, how you can dress, what you watch on tv, serving your country, saving your own life, how to treat people who are not Jehovah Witness.  You name it, they got a rule for it.  Unlike, what I consider to be Christian, Jehovah Witnesses think that their salvation is tied up in their good works – they have to earn their way to heaven by being good.  For them it’s not about their faith, it’s about their works.  The cultural effect that this has on people of that faith is to exact such a stringent standard of behavior that no one could ever hope to achieve it.  The strange thing is that rather than admitting that to one and other, they shift the focus from what actually going on with them, to what it looks like is going on with them.

They watch what they want to watch on tv and then lie to everyone else about what the watch.  They drink what they want to drink, smoke what they want to smoke, eat how they want to eat, put what they want to on their iPods, pray, act, think how they want to, but learn how to make it look like they’re living a devoted Jehovah Witness’ life.  The truly sad thing is that they all believe that the others are.  That they’re the only ones incapable of doing so.  That their faults, their weaknesses, their imperfections are unique unto them.

I see that conditioning even now in our relationship.  Something will come up that we need to talk about, an issue, a problem that I’m having, a result of the affair, and instead of looking at it, admitting guilt or seeing an area needing improvement, her automatic reaction will be to feign anger or indigence.

It’s your fault…

Bullies have a need to feel that the people they are bulling deserve to be bullied, at least while their bulling them.  “Little Runt”, I thought as I was smearing dog poop on his bicycle seat “this will teach him”!  Regardless of if the actual hatred they feel for the person they are bulling comes from prejudice or their own insecurity or fear they need the person that they are picking on to be worse.  Toward that end they are quick to belittle, undermine, denigrate or discredit their subjects.  They have a compulsive need to criticize them, refuse to give them value in any way and are extremely adept at creating conflict.

When I first started keeping this journal, I shared some of the entries with my wife – big mistake!  She called them my “stupid little pathetic writings, so that people would feel sorry for me” .  She collects my failures, shortcomings and mistakes like coins that she can take out, sometimes months or even years, later, in order to justify a decision to not respect me.  One time I shushed her in church because the people in front of us kept turning around and looking at her and one of our boys talking during the sermon – two years later in therapy she brought that up as the reason that I was overbearing and oppressive.  “He doesn’t believe that woman should be allowed to speak in church”, “I told her that woman should be silent and let the men make all the decisions” you name it – honestly, I just didn’t want my family to be a distraction during the service.

I’ve also seen this happen during the course of a conversation.  I’ll say something and she will restate it in a completely misconstrued and deaminizing way.  I’ll object to the way she restated it and she’ll do so again and a slightly less deaminizing way, round and round we’ll go, not talking about the issue at hand, until we can compromise on the most deaminizing interpretation that I’ll let her get away with.  In the pocket it goes for later, but the anger that her original representation rendered remains for the rest of the conversation.

Learn not to care…

Real bullies learn not to care about the folks they bully.  Whereas most people will have some experience bulling, I think human nature is such that we feel sorry for what we’ve done soon after if not during the attempt to bully.  The bully pros are able to do so without regret, without hesitation, without affect.  I’ve seen my wife say and do the most hateful things with a completely blank look in her eyes.  Like an angry snake striking without thought to the damage it will do, instinctive, fear driven and automatic.

Needs to not be thought of as a bully…

Another thing I’ve noticed is that for whatever reason, it’s important to bullies to not be thought of as bullies.  They will go out of their ways using lies, deception, rumor, to create a false reality that justify their behavior to others.  It’s amazing to me the extent to which my wife was willing to go to falsely malign my character to others in order to create a situation where the affair, the drugs, leaving me or just not caring would be more seemingly palpable to others.  To this day I still will hear of rumors and lies about me not letting her spend any money, me being gay so I didn’t want to make love to her, me beating her, me spending all the family’s money on liquor, etc.

I think bullies, contrary to what folks might think are extremely socially adept.  They are experts at reading folks and becoming what they think is expected of them.  They can anticipate what folks want to hear and give it to them in a charming and docile way, thus diverting any sense that they may in fact be bulling someone.  Clearly there is spiritually something very wrong or just plain absent, but they learn to parrot Christian behavior, scripture and conviction.  And the most insidious thing is that they can do all of this in such an evasive way – never giving straight answers or allowing themselves to speak in specifics,  that it completely alleviates them of any accountability – oh I never actually said…

Standing in Front of the Bull…

I remember texting those words to my wife that day that her affair was exposed.  My heart filled with fear as I tapped the “Send” button.  Fear of what her response might be, what action she might take as a result of this.  Fear of what was to happen next.  Fear for what would happen to our boys and me.  I also felt as if I was acting impulsively, despite the fact that I had now spent a considerable amount of time thinking about this, praying, speaking to other men in the church, our therapist.  I felt as if I was writing her something completely unrehearsed, considered or calculated.  It terrified me.

It shouldn’t have, I thought, I mean Christians and Bullies is a no brainer right?  Turn the other cheek and all that.  It felt as if there were to great opposing forces pulling me in opposite directions.  I wanted terribly for my wife to be better, become a loving wife and mother again and didn’t think that could happen if I challenged her, but then at the same time, I couldn’t continue to enable this behavior that was destroying my family’s lives.  I just didn’t know if I was doing the right thing.

Not too long ago, I was sitting out  early one morning with our older boy, waiting for the school bus to make it’s way down our dirt road.  He had been having trouble with another boy on the bus and the word bully had been thrown around.  Waiting for the bus in the early morning light, he said that he was going to “smack that kid in the face” if he gave him any trouble that morning.  No brainer right?  I talked about Jesus telling us to turn the other cheek:

Matthew 5 (ESV)

38“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

 and that how as Christians we’re called to demonstrate the love of Jesus to those who hate us:

Matthew 5 (ESV)

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers,what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

 Having talked about these things, I sat back and silently congratulated myself on my response.  “There you go”, I thought “that’s an easy one for a Christian Dad”.  He was so lucky, I thought, to have a guy like me around to answer his questions.  What if he instead was raised by someone who didn’t know anything about the bible.

“Can I ask a question”? he asked.

“Sure, anything”, I said my confidence growing by the minute.  Surly no question could possibly refute this lock clad piece of theology I had presented.

“Did Jesus love his enemies”? He asked meekly.

“He sure did.  That’s kind of the whole point”! said I.

“Well, isn’t the devil Jesus’ enemy”?

“Uh-Oh”! I thought.  That ship sank fast as he asked the question I knew was coming:

“Does Jesus love the devil”?

“Maybe we better ask the preacher”.

Despite thinking that I was doing and saying the right thing that morning, I’m not so sure I was.  When I spoke those words to my son, I could see a look of hopelessness was over his face.  He was asking to be saved and I was basically giving him some kind of biblicaly watered down version of  “hey if it doesn’t kill ya, it’ll make you stronger”.    He looked physically small to me.  His sense of self disgust and self hatred perceptible.  He looked the way I felt the afternoon I sent that text message.  I thought I was counseling him to discipline himself.  That challenging this boy was the easy way out and that he needed to use the opportunity to learn tolerance and self control.  The truth is that he didn’t, at least not from a biblical perspective.

Later that evening, I sat down and actually searched for the scripture that I was pretending to know about that morning.  I searched for the Christian response to bullying and read quite a number of different views regarding the same.  I really wanted an answer to his question.  I read the scripture which I have already presented above from Matthew.  I read in Leviticus 19:18 (ESV):

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

and in 2 Timothy 1:7 (ESV):

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

and in Romans 12: 19-20 (ESV):

 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”

and in John 3:15 (ESV):

Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

and in Matthew 5:11 (ESV):

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

 and Deuteronomy 31:6 (ESV)

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.

 and on and on and on – forgive, let it go, be the better person, turn the other cheek, peace, love…  OK, that must be all just take it and shut up right?

Now I read this:

John 18: 19-23(ESV)

19 The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. 20 Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.” 22 When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?”

 Uhm… What? Are you serious?  You’re killing me Jesus!  Do you remember all the love your enemies and turn your other cheek stuff?  You just told us!  Now you get smacked and you didn’t turn the other cheek!  You tore into the guy!  You stood up for yourself!  What’s the deal?

I returned to the list of relevant scripture and found the following which I didn’t really understand why was included in the list:

Proverbs 13:12 (ESV)

Hope differed makes the heart sick, but hope fulfilled is a tree of life.

I think I miss a lot from Proverbs as the concepts are usually so short and come at you rapid fire just one after another after another.  I think I often find myself just reading to get to the end.  I get a little overwhelmed by the sheer amount of lessons presented so close together and get that “drinking from the fire hose” feeling.  This is one that I’ll never forget.  That’s such a powerful little word isn’t it – “hope”.  I think I tend to forget how important it is.  I tend to get bogged down in the get to work, make a paycheck, keep the boys fed, my wife safe etc. that I forget sometimes to hope and what an amazing gift it is.  Hope, probably one of God’s greatest gifts to us on earth, but what does it have to do bullies?

So what does hope have to do with the plight of those who are bullied?  If it wasn’t for google I’m not sure I’d find anything in the bible.  I Googled  “bible and hope” – 265 million results! It would appear that the bible has a thing or two to say about hope.  I read a couple and then came across this:

2 Corinthians 4(ESV)

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

I like that – for this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison!  Now that’s hopeful!  I thought again of the previous verse; Hope differed makes the heart sick, but hope fulfilled is a tree of life.  Makes the heart sick.  That’s it.  That’s really what it feels like to be bullied.  That’s what I felt like that day on the playground.  That’s how I made the little boy down the street feel when I put the dog poop on his bicycle seat.  That’s how I feel when my wife becomes a bully.  It’s about hope and letting someone else take it away.  I hope that my wife loves me.  I hoped to be popular at school.  The little boy down the street hoped to be my friend.  It’s what the bully really can’t stand, because it’s not something that they can just beat out of you.  You have to choose to give up your hope.  Bullies bully because they themselves have no hope and they can’t stand the idea that anyone else does, in particular someone weaker, less intelligent, less popular or less emotionally tough then they are.  It’s unfathomable to them that this person should be permitted hope when they themselves have none.  The bullying is really just a manifestation of that perceived unfairness.

But now here’s the trick; we choose the things about which we hope.  Not the bully, not our parents, not even God really, we do.  And bullies can’t take that away from us unless we permit them.  There is no power differential on this level.  I hope about what I choose to and it doesn’t matter if I do it with my nose bloodied lying on the ground or hiding under a table or walking home with dog poop on your bicycle seat – It’s my hope!  You can’t have it!  You can’t beat it out of me!  If I don’t want you too, you can never take it away!  And that’s really it isn’t it? The way to deal with being bullied is to remember that.  To remember that it really doesn’t matter if you’re able to “give that bully a taste of his own medicine” or not because he can never win, never have what he really wants, so long as we have hope.  I think the best thing we can do for a bully is to show them how to hope.

So back to Jesus getting smacked by the centurion.

22 When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?

What’s going on here.  I’m no preacher, but I’ve read the bible enough now to know that there’s not really stuff in there that doesn’t need to be.  When Jesus draws in the dirt, there’s a reason for him drawing in the dirt.  When he touches someone he doesn’t need to, there’s a reason for him touching them so I assume that if Jesus stands up for himself here, there’s a reason for him standing up for himself and that I just don’t see it yet. One thing’s for sure; Jesus sure didn’t loose any hope over it.  That is if Jesus even needs to hope.  He knows all things, is all things and can do all things so I’m not really sure what a guy like that has to hope for.  Maybe he hopes for us.  Oh, hey now!  There’s something!  He hopes for us!  Jesus doesn’t have to fuss at this man for smacking him!  He doesn’t need to stand up for himself or keep himself safe.  He’s Jesus.  He could call down 10,000 angels or preform a miracle right there if he wanted and get himself right out of that.  I recon, if he wanted, he could have made some funny fart noises with his hand in his armpit and poof – that guy has a giant frog head or something.  (I think that’s what I would have done) Like I said – He’s Jesus! He doesn’t have to stand up to this guy.  Here’s what I think; Jesus wasn’t standing up for himself, he was standing up for me!  He was standing up for y’all, he was standing up for that little boy down the street with dog poop on his bicycle seat, for all of us.  He was protecting our hope.

And that’s key.  The difference between standing up to what is wrong and retaliation is that one is done in a way that preserves hope and one is not. One comes from a place of love and one from a place of anger.  Now Jesus took a lot during his time on earth, he was essentially bullied from the day his ministry began, time and time again – like water off a duck, but when it came to loving us and loving God he didn’t take crud off of anyone!  Now that’s bad ass!  That’s how I want to be.  I want to love like that, live like that and forgive like that.

Learning to Trust the Stove…

                No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.

~Hebrews 12:11

OK, several things have happened now in the past few days, since posting my previous, somewhat abridged, albeit largely Budweiser inspired but still somewhat accurate, though not completely formed realization.  First and foremost, I realized that I probably owe it to my readership (all three of you strong now) to provide a little more detail regarding what the heck I was talking about.  Secondly, I realized that I needed to spend some time thinking about what the heck I was talking about (probably not in that order), Third, I had an email conversation with another writer that got me to thinking about the difference between being a victim and being a fool, the difference between forgiving and forgetting and the difference between forgiving and enabling.  With her permission I should like to somehow incorporate parts of that conversation into this post and maybe even try to figure out how to link to her blog from here.

The fourth thing on this list, which was actually the first of all of these to happen, was that I decided that night that I would like to increase the amount of feedback that I was getting here.  Understand, that I’m still a relatively immature Christian and my thinking was that I needed to sort of keep myself in check, I needed gage the reaction to what I was doing here from the response of a more diverse set of readers, Christians/Non-Christians & and Christians at various places in their walk, Guys/Galls, People who think I should forgive and forget and people who think I should not let the door hit me on the way out, people that I’ve really just met and people who I haven’t seen in a while, some local and some very long distance, all might be able to offer me insight as to whether what I’m doing here is of value. I thought also that insodoing, I could make myself more accountable and committed to writing here.    Writing this stuff for me is not particularly fun.  I don’t particularly look forward to it – anymore than I look forward to having a cavity drilled.  I know that I need to do it and in the end I always feel better for doing so and see that it actually wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated, but it’s exhausting;  thinking about those times,  to a certain extent reliving them, deciding what needs to be looked at, researching relevant scripture, and organizing some kind of remotely coherent point and only then sitting down to a blank screen…so I find excuses not to write.  I’m actually reminded of the Mark Twain quote; “I hate writing, but love having written”.  I thought that inviting some people that I know to read this might remind me that it’s something that I need to do.  Motivate me to sit my butt down and do it by knowing that there may be someone out there waiting for me to do so.   I also really need y’all to keep me accountable as I know the temptation to turn this into a pity party for myself will continuously present itself.

I actually did pray about this.  I often pray while I’m drinking – probably something I have to look at in another post.  Then, I opened Facebook and scrolled through my friends list, considering each person in my list and just sort of leaving myself open to hearing  “yes, this one” or “no, not that one”.    I can’t say why I choose some and not others.  I can promise that there was no ulterior motive for any.  No “this person, really needs to hear what I am saying”, and no “I really want this person to know what happened to me”, I am only aware of the “yes, this one” and “no, not that one”s.  I can tell you that everyone who I did write to is someone that I respect and greatly value the opinion of.

Now whether any of these decisions were more God led or more Anheuser-Bush led, I cannot presently tell you, but there done and hopefully here some of you are.  If you’re one of the folks that I’ve contacted in the last day or two then first of all welcome and thank you for taking the time to come here.  I really don’t know what I’m doing here so there really are no rules that you need be aware of.  Just take off your shoes and make yourselves at home.  I think there’s some leftover chicken in the fridge and grab you a beer if you want one.  I’m not sure what I’m really asking from any of you other than to just follow your hearts here.  Read the whole blog or just a bit that you feel led to, Comment or don’t comment, email or don’t email, tell me if you think I’m being an ass!  Tell me I need to learn how to spell check.  If you think that it was a mistake that I asked you to come here than no worry, just close your browser and forget I ever asked – absolutely no hard feelings.  I don’t know.  No rules, just try y’all to remember what my original intent here is – that is not to punish my wife and not to feel sorry for myself, but rather straighten out these daemons in my head and put something up which might be used as a tool one day to help someone who finds themselves in my shoes, frantically Goggling for answers.  If you’re someone who is local or currently active in my life, I know that I can trust y’all to not turn this blog into our little church’s or our little towns next “Day’s of Our Lives – Redneck Edition”.

Choosing to be the victim…

I remember one time our therapist asking me why I continued to choose to be a victim.  She didn’t mean it in the sense of “why do you choose not to leave”, but rather was asking why I choose to hold on to the hurt, the suspicion, the mistrust… Why did I choose to stay in a place where I was continuously scared?  Why couldn’t I forgive?   Well, I think she forgot that she had asked me that, or maybe it was meant to be rhetorical, because she never did ask me for my answer.  It was at the end of a session that she told me to think about it and she didn’t ask me about it during the next several sessions and then not to long after that she decided that it would be more beneficial for my wife to start coming to therapy by herself.  Anyone else ever get fired by their therapist?  Doesn’t do wonders for your self-esteem!

Anyway, I did spend quite a bit of time considering that question.  I knew almost instantly the reason in my heart, but could never find the words in my head, until Tuesday.  Sitting in my chair after a few beers, I started thinking about her question again and all what it said about me that I still couldn’t put the answer into words.  Why do I continue to remain a victim?  What do I get out of it?  Is it that I enjoy the attention?  No, I hate the attention!  I’m embarrassed of what it says about me, what it says about me as a Christian, as a man.  I can’t stand the looks I get in town, at church, at the bank, at the grocery store, at work.  Wondering who knows how much, wondering if people are feeling sorry for me, wondering if they think I’m a fool for staying, for trusting her again, for letting it happen in the first place.  It sucks!  I remember once being told that in any group of people, if everyone wrote down their worst problem on a piece of paper and put it on a table and then went through all the papers one by one, having to choose one to be their new worst problem, they likely would all choose their own piece of paper.  That being because we were used to dealing with our own worst problems, the familiarity made us more comfortable with them – “it hasn’t killed me yet”.  I used to believe that, until this all happened, but now I can only think of a handful of problems that I wouldn’t trade this one for.  OK, maybe more than a handful, but I can think of plenty that I would.  This simply isn’t a matter of wanting the attention like some kid who prominently displays their new cast in school thinking it will help their popularity through some kind of sympathy factor.

Do I do it to punish my wife?  Again, I don’t think so.  I love her.  I want her to get better.  I want us to get better!  I can see what the affect that the affect this has had on me has on her has been. (yeah, that’s a complete sentence! Read it again!) Hurt that I’m hurt, angry that I can’t get over it (talk about that later) wanting desperately to move on.  I want that for her.  I feel it inside myself and want so badly to give it to her.  I want to be the person who was big enough to forgive this, but I’m just not there yet.  Something still hold me back.

It has been suggested that the fact that I choose to remain a victim allows me to in some way to manipulate the things that happen now.  That by doing so, I remain in control.  I decide when to forgive.  I decide when to let go.  I decide how she will prove herself to me.  Well maybe true to a certain extent, but still, if I had the choice between maintaining that control (or sense of control) or having a happy marriage, I know that it wouldn’t take but a second to choose the former.  Plus, the fact is that there really is no control.  It’s a false sense of control.  I know, because I was good.  At the end, when I had become pretty sure that something was going on, I put stuff on her phone, I constantly asked where she was, spent my lunches meeting with her… I thought I had a pretty tight handle on where she was and what she was doing – she still found little 15 minutes here between dropping off the baby at daycare and going to work and half an hours there, between actually getting off of work and when she would tell me she got off of work to meet him in the woods or his work or his home or heaven knows where else.  There is no control.  If someone wants to play you for the fool then they’re going to and it doesn’t matter how “in control” you thing you are.  The trick is to get them to not want to play you for a fool not preventing them from doing it, and when you think about it, isn’t  it really not the actual being played a fool that hurts, but rather  their decision to do so that does?

So then what’s my deal?  What do I get by staying this way?  What am I afraid of losing?  I clearly am miserable remaining a victim, so why not just chose to stop being a victim?  What would I risk losing by letting it go?  I don’t know why I had never thought of doing so before, but I just decided to imagine my life without the entitlement of thinking of myself as a victim.  How would I see things without the sadness, without the anxiety, without the mis-trust?  If I simply went back to thinking and feeling exactly the way I did before all this happened?

I felt a pang in my gut and when I stopped to consider why it seemed obvious – she’ll just go back to making a fool of me again.  How could I trust that she just won’t go back to making me a fool again?  I done burnt my hand on that hot stove once already!  How then can I be asked to ever use the stove again without being wary of it being hot?

Suddenly the answer seemed so clear and easily articulable;  I see remaining as a victim as the only preferable option to returning to be a fool!

What insight!  What self-discovery! What a profoundly deep and yet eloquently simple solution!  I must tell the world!  I grabbed my phone and proudly posted my revelation to the blog.

What Nonsense!

The next morning, now on captain Maxwell house’s boat rather than captain Budweiser’s , I began thinking about something else my therapist talked about once; Jesus always asked folks if they wanted to be healed.

Mark 10

Jesus Heals Blind Bartimaeus

 46 Then they reached Jericho, and as Jesus and his disciples left town, a large crowd followed him. A blind beggar named Bartimaeus (son of Timaeus) was sitting beside the road. 47 When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus of Nazareth was nearby, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

 48 “Be quiet!” many of the people yelled at him.

   But he only shouted louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

 49 When Jesus heard him, he stopped and said, “Tell him to come here.”

   So they called the blind man. “Cheer up,” they said. “Come on, he’s calling you!” 50 Bartimaeus threw aside his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus.

 51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked.

   “My rabbi,” the blind man said, “I want to see!”

 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go, for your faith has healed you.” Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus down the road.

Why does Jesus ask this guy if he wants to be healed?  Shouldn’t we think the answer to that is obvious?  Well Ya!  Of, course I want to be healed!  Of course Bartimeaus wants to see!  Of course I want to stop agonizing over all this! But wait, do we really?  That guy has probably never stopped to consider what it would be like to not be blind.  He never really had that option before.  He probably has no marketable job skill aside from begging.  To return his sight, would be to take away his excuses.  Now there is no reason for him not to be a productive member of society.  Now there is no reason for him to rely on begging and the compassion of others to survive.  But how?  How will he now support himself?  How will he now survive? Scary stuff!  What happens if he fails?  At least before he had something to pin it on – give me a break, I’m blind!  Of course I’m a failure!  Now, if he fails, he has no one to blame but himself.  Maybe, it wasn’t so bad being blind.  Clever guy that Jesus was!

Why then do I continue my role as a victim?  There is something, on some level, that is of more value to me by continuing to play that role than by giving it up, letting go and moving on.  Do I actually want to be better?  Well it’s the stove and the getting burned and the worry that it’s going to happen again… Horseshit!  Just because you burn yourself on the stove, doesn’t mean that you just stop feeding yourself or stop cooking the food that you do.  It means that, unless you’re and idiot, you learn to look at the knobs to see if the stove is on before you touch it.  It’s not about learning to trust the stove; it’s about learning to trust yourself and God.  It’s about figuring out where things went wrong in the past and taking measures that they don’t do so again.  Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting, it doesn’t mean putting yourself in the same danger’s way again and again and expect different results, it doesn’t mean showing your support of the thing that hurt you or enabling it to continue to do so.  It’s about having the courage to use the stove after you were burnt by it.  It’s about realizing your own mistakes in how you had approached it and accepting that unless you change your behavior, the stove is just as likely as before to burn you.  It’s not about blaming the stove.  It’s about accepting that maybe, at least in part that you got hurt because you were being careless or just had no idea what you were doing, had too much confidence in yourself or were placing your trust in the wrong place.

I thought I knew how to use the stove.  I thought I knew what it meant to be a Christian head of household, a husband and a father.  I read my bible.  People thought of me as being a good Christian.  I didn’t cuss at work, rarely missed church, did some witnessing on line and once in a while in person – I must know what I’m doing right?  No!  Because when I start to think like that, where is my trust?  In God or in myself?  I wasn’t asking God how I was doing in my marriage or in my parenthood or in my Christian walk.  I was trying to gauge a heavenly measure with an earthly ruler.  Of course my marriage will be alright, I have God on my side!  It just doesn’t work like that, because the truth is that I’m not entitled to have a wonderful marriage, just because I read my bible.  I’m not entitled to even have a stove and if I do by His grace then I’m not entitled to trust in my own ability to keep myself safe when using it.  I need to trust in His will to keep me safe and if it should be his will that I get burnt, then I need to trust in His plan that it is necessary.

A New Friend…

It was at this point that I noticed that I had received and email.

I didn’t want to put as a comment post. And I think you may need an unbiased friend so if you need someone to talk to more privately about things feel free to email back.

😀

I didn’t know who had written in.  I didn’t know if it was someone I knew or just someone who had read the blog.  I wrote back and asked some questions.  I’ll spare y’all the next 8 or 9 emails, during which time we both agreed that I’m a jackass, but suffice it to say that I finally realized it was from another person whose own anonymous blog I have been following.  A person that I had only known as Iowa (she had posted a map of Iowa on her blog once).  Iowa’s been posting for the exact opposite reason that I am – that is, she’s trying to figure out the things about herself which lead to some of her own behaviors which she neither likes nor really understands.  One of those being her inability to remain faithful in a relationship.  We wrote back and forth a couple times that morning.  Here I’m trying to tease out the part of the conversation that I thought was pertinent to the topic of this post:

Iowa -> me

So you asked … do I know you, can I ask why you’re so interested? No not in person but I believe we have been following each other’s blogs. Maybe I should have labeled myself Iowa and you would have recognized me better And you sounded when you first commented that we could be each other’s sounding board but now I am wondering if I assumed too much. So I am not so much as interested as your post sounded like you might be searching for some answers or hurting either way I thought I would offer a hand to talk things through.

Are you a Christian? I do consider myself a Christian but I am hopelessly flawed.

Have a similar story? I think we have opposite stories but with similar personality. With us both being helpers per that “test”

Me -> Iowa

Oh! Hey Iowa! Yeah we can be sounding boards – I kinda thought we already were.

Sure, Im hurting, but I think I got it. Time will tell – next week I’m fixin to write about my own suicide attempt. That’s gonna taste like shit! It think what I haven’t been very clear about is that this all happened about a 8 months ago, so there’s some time between me and it now. Some of this stuff I wrote at the time & some of this stuff I write from memory. So if I seem a little bi-polar, that’s why.

Anyway, youre my first follower, so for sure I don’t want to piss you off. I’m just in a mood tonight, wife has had a toothache all week & it’s hard for me to tell the difference between her being miserable about that & miserable about not wanting to be with me like before.

Hope I didn’t scare you away for good.

Me -> Iowa

All Christians are flawed Iowa. Question is do they embrace their flaws or want to get rid of them.

Iowa-> Me

Nah I’m still here obviously a misunderstanding on my part I should have signed it different and not been so sensitive 😀 so no worries.

Trust is difficult. And it sounds like you got to get to where you can take what she says at face value. I was curious how much time had lapsed. It sounded like a few months but I wasn’t sure.

I went to therapy once and I learned a valuable lesson as I myself have issues with depression and a high amount of paranoia (I use to take meds but they made me more twitchy which oddly was more irritating then going around paranoid!) anyway my point is I was suicidal almost daily because I was so worried and paranoid about what I said and how people took and all the negative things I was sure people were thinking of me. A therpist put things into perspective — is the personaly normally snarky and judgemental or hateful etc or is my mind creating an atmosphere that is unhealthy and fueling my mental issue. And so now I often have to filter how I see things and instead of finding hidden meaning I either need to ask and accept people I care about will be honest and upfront with me, realize I don’t care even if they are being hateful, or be realistic and realize it is my mind not reality.

I know in your situtation it is harder but I suggest you take how she has been the last eight months and her attitude and love towards you and think about her unhappiness now… does it seem exactly like before…. is it at face value and just simply your mind being sensitive and it really is just from the pain or the suckiness of feeling cruddy… or does it even matter right now if you are being a fool you love her and your going to make it ok.

Anyway for what it is worth that is my initial thoughts. i hope it helps. Your family unit has value and I know you are trying hard to make it work. That is very noble and I read your posts and I know you want it to work.

Me -> Iowa

I get what you’re saying, but it’s not a night and day thing.  If it were I think I’d be over it by now.  I haven’t gotten to this part yet in the blog, but probably two dozen times in the last eight months, since she’s been home from the hospital, she’s told me that she doesn’t love me anymore, she’s done trying and she want’s me to leave/she’s leaving.  The last time it was because I thought she was being a little impulsive for wanting to up and leave to NJ (750 miles) when we had $19 in the bank, because she got a phone call from up north that her grandma was sick.  I start to trust then that monster comes back – it cut’s me at the stump then it seems like everyone is blaming me for not being able to regain trust.

you know if it were just a thing that happened and she apologized and changed that would be one thing, but the whole ” just get over it” non-sense is horseshit!

I’m gonna guess you’re a Catholic right?

Iowa -> Me

No not catholic at all BUT I was raised on a heavy dose of guilt and worry though. It has taken years for me to not be so worrisome and I guess my guilt is funny because I do something I should but I don’t.  Anyway not about me right now

Your right the just get over it is horseshit but the not getting over it isn’t working either right? I am advocating face value. How much more are you willing to take before the single miserableness is better than the married miserableness? I’m not trying to be harsh or overstep any bounds just food for thought.

Iowa -> Me

Ok read your last email too fast … anyway your right its bullshit people make trust issues your problem and unrealistic to think anyone can snap fingers and all forgotten. Don’t let people put that shit on you

Just my last thoughts for the night

Me -> Iowa

Respecting the “how much are you willing to take”?: Well, shit Iowa, why don’t you cut right to it! 🙂  What you have to remember is my faith.  That for me, it’s not about me or my feelings – it’s about what God want’s for me.  Now I think I know you well enough now to realize that you will read that and roll your eyes a little.  But what you have to understand is that sometimes the “why” is just my faith.  It’s hard to explain, but I know that when this little blond haired two year old sits on my lap and laughs and looks at his Mama and smiles, that there is no amount of shit that I will not eat to keep him a Mama and a Papa.

Iowa->me

And yes i did roll my eyes as I grew up going to church and was a church secretary even (best job ever but couldn’t keep it due to low pay and part time) and I clearly know it says adulltry is a viable reason in the eyes of God to divorce. I also completely know the feeling of wanting your family in tact. And I beleive I read on your blog with your age and being your third marriage it makes it easier to decide to stay. But you ask where is the line between victim and fool. It might just lie in how the children preceive relationships and how match misery a person can take. How many more years of being told your not love is acceptable.

Now I feel harsh saying the above and I it may sound like I am trying to talk you into leaving. I am not. I know how hurtful being told you are not loved is. When my husband and I were separated for 8 months. We had the ok where did we go wrong talks and he for six months informed me he never really loved me and thought after one child he would start then after another then the third. But it just never happened. Wow that is a lot of years to think your loved and really fucked up to keep having children in a marriage where you didn’t love the person. Why? And he had an emotional affair for months before the split. If she had lived where we did I am sure it would have been something else. Now I took this well as I figure this is a by product of our passionless marriage and some weird teen age fantasy (he had a crush on her in hs and she told him she cared for him the day she moved away so he has held this what if for years… he told me the story from the beginning of our relationship) and hell karma. But to have him say he never loved me cut me in two. It hurt so bad and made me realize I really am what I feared all those years I was despondant and suicidal. I called the suicide hot line to stop myself from doing anything stupid. he then decided (when she started making it obvious she wouldn’t leave her husband for him) to maybe try and work it out. I let him know I was done trying to get his attention in negative ways and putting his feelings and wants before mine. And he would have to give up his relationship with her… at the tail end of a great converstation of reconciliation he says to me that he realized… he would rather take a chance on uncertainty and nothing with her then a lifetime of what if with me. Wow. I myself realized that I spent my twenties and thirties (being 34 then) being in a relationship and trying to be good and negative in it for a man who was never going to pay attention and care. I could have years ago maybe found my own soul mate instead of hoping the person I married would miraculously turn into my fairy tale.

Wow too much thought for in the morning. I am not sure how much of this is babbling and something valuable. I know I could share more but I’ll stop there. Ultimately who is to know or judge when someone else should get out.

Me -> Iowa

hey Iowa,

Thanks for taking you’re morning to reply.  I think what maybe I have to be more clear about on the blog is that I kind of knew what I was signing up for.  I knew, shortly after meeting my wife, that she had problems with mental illness, a horrible past filled with horrible memories and some very destructive, life long learned, behaviors that I would be up against.  For whatever reason, I chose to love her anyway.  Now maybe to a certain extent I’ve not clearly represented my wife’s commitment to our marriage over the last year – it’s actually not all bad.  It’s cyclical, you know?  We’ll go days, weeks, months with no problem whatsoever.  During these times she’s loving, thoughtful, devoted, attentive – she really is the wife that I’ve always prayed for, but then something happens, and it can be the littlest thing, and I can see some switch go off in her head – Old XXXX’s back, the hate, the anger, the selfishness… It’s one of the things she’s working on in therapy and I do see progress, but still, every once and a while just out of no where, or no where that I can see, it’s back.

Hence my somewhat abridged, Budweiser inspired, post last night.  I see her progress.  I see her effort.  I’d like so badly to reward that with trust, but it’s nearly impossible for me to do so as even if I can see a 99% improvement, it’s hard to trust when you’re waiting for that other 1% foot to drop.  It becomes a spiral – I can’t trust because she’s sneaky and secretive and defensive and she’s sneaky and secretive and defensive because I can’t trust.  A spiral that we’re working very hard to break, but even still, will still on occasion fall back into.

Iowa, check this out:

Ephesians 5 (NIV):

Wives and Husbands

22Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— 30for we are members of his body. 31“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

What’s notably missing is “wives love your husband”!  In fact I’m aware of no place in the bible (and believe me I’ve looked) where wives are instructed to do so.  They’re instructed to respect their husbands, submit to them, but God doesn’t mandate that a wife love her husband – it’s her choice as to if she will do so.  It’s a continuation of the parallel to Jesus’ marriage to the church.  He loves us unconditionally, but we have a choice to accept that love or not.  We have a choice to reciprocate.  It’s the provision of that unwavering love that eventually lead us to choose to love him.  How much have I tested it?  How many times in my life have I turned away?  Given it up or rejected it over the tiniest little things?  How can I fault my wife for being the same as me?  That is for not being perfect, because none of us are.  You see if it were all one way or the other, my choice would be easy – stay and forgive or leave, and your right, in the biblical legal sense, I am no longer bound to staying, but what I keep feeling written to my heart is that this may be my purpose, my assignment, my mission if you will – that is to love this woman in a way that makes it clear to her that she is in fact lovable and insodoing also see how much she is loved by God.  Now I’m not so arrogant as to think it’s something that I can do myself.  I think of myself rather like a tool that He will use to accomplish this.  The same way that was done for me – that He loved me at the times when I was completely unlovable, is from where my love for Him came?  How can I not follow that example?

Hey, would you mind if I reposed some of this stuff on my blog at some point?  Of course, I’d take our names and stuff away, but it’s something I’d like to flesh out more for myself.

Also, do you want me to link to your blog (if I can figure out how) at some point?  Or are you trying to keep your number of readers managed?

Iowa -> Me

No I don’t mind on either reposing its good stuff or linking I’m trying for once to have a place and not manipulate or worry about the outcome and that is the blog sometimes I want to spin myself better but i try not too

I find it fascinating that passage doesn’t talk of loving your husband I wonder though if it isn’t tied to something more to the time period written and arranged marriages

Hope your day is going well take care

I’m very grateful today, for my new friend Iowa.  I think she keeps me real and focused.  Talking to her is like talking to my wife, without all the anger and resentment and blame – it also doesn’t hurt that she lives in Iowa and is therefore far less likely to be able to kill me in my sleep.  I’d like to ask anyone reading this to pray for her on her walk.

Iowa’s blog is here:  http://socialworkerangela.wordpress.com/  if anyone would like to look at it.

Back to Bartimeaus…

So how much do me and this Bartimeaus have in common anyway?  Me in my chair, drinking beer, feeling sorry for myself and him outside the temple, begging for money, feeling sorry for himself.  I don’t know.  Seems pretty similar, but there is a notable difference.  In his suffering, Bartimeaus cried out to Jesus.  He shouted for him!  When folks told him to hush up, he shouted even louder.  I just sit in my chair and make excuses about why I deserve to have another beer.  When he is asked by Jesus, what he wants, he tells him, “I want to be healed” – that’s it, no hesitation.  Me? “Maybe after another beer”! He knows that things are likely to be rough after that, he wants to be better anyway.  He chose to be healed over whatever fear he may have had regarding being healed.  He chose to trust in Jesus then to remain safe, in his comfort zone, continuing to blame the stove for his injuries and expecting the world to take care of him.  I think I can learn a lot from Bartimeaus, I think I still have a lot to learn period, but that’s enough for today…

Thanks y’all for sticking with me.

The “Lord Why Me?”s…

~But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.

~Psalm 3(NIV)

Being Heartbroken Together…

My wife came out of our bedroom and sat in front of the fire crying silently and I knew instantly what had happened.  This was the second time since the affair that it had.  All the same signs had been there; the cramping, the spotting, the back pain, the weight loss.  She was having another miscarriage.  I went to her and sort of half hugged/half rubbed her back and said “It’ll be ok Baby”, which she tolerated, but I could tell was not comforting to her.  She remained still for only a few seconds then shifted herself so that I would no longer do so.  She had miscarried again and was upset, but nowhere near as upset after the first miscarriage.  She was much less further on this time – only a week or two since her positive pregnancy test.  The first one, two months before was nearly a full trimester when it happened and required her to get a subsequent DNC to remove the remains.

My thoughts drifted back to that day, that night really.  Asking one of the woman from church to watch the boys, waiting in the Emergency Room, then test after test, then waiting, for what seemed like forever waiting for something to happen.  I think we both really knew what had happened; the bloods tests of this hormone was too low, they couldn’t find a heartbeat for the baby, couldn’t see a baby with the ultrasound.  Despite all this we sat together but didn’t say a word to each other. We just sort of sat there praying that we were wrong, but waiting for someone there to summon the courage to come tell us the truth.  “My Baby’s gone, Isn’t it”? I can remember my wife asking one of the nurses.  The nurse looked as if she was going to cry and made some excuse to leave the room quickly. When we left the emergency room that night/morning it was nearly dawn. We still really didn’t have a definitive answer.  We had a lot of “oh that’s not a good sign, but it doesn’t mean for sure”s but no one came out and said “I’m sorry the baby’s gone”.  They left that to the OBGYN who we were to go see the next day.

I can still remember the hour long ride from the hospital.  Silence, but not unbearable silence.  My wife held my hand most of the way and was giving me the most loving looks.  It has always been that way and even as I write this I don’t know why.  That is that when things are good for my wife, her love for me seems to be hit or miss, at some of these times she can be the most loving, thoughtful, gentile individual and at others I think she confuses that stability for strength and pushes me away just to prove that she can stand on her own.  I never did understand it and I don’t think I ever will.  The one thing that I could always rely on is that when things are really bad for her, when she’s really hurting, someone close dies, or something bad like this happens she loves me like her life depended on it.  I had known this by then.  Had seen it many times and knew not to trust it or at least not to fool myself into thinking that it was permanent.

It was cyclical; when things were bad she clung to me like a drowning woman to a life preserver but then slowly as they improved her words became less kind, her actions less thoughtful, her anger came more quickly, until suddenly she was done, leaving, wanted to be on her own, answerable to no one.  I had seen it many times both before and after the affair and even during the course of this pregnancy.  I think that I may represent stability to her.  Safety.  But that safe is not necessarily exciting.  I remember only days after her coming home from the hospital, driving out to the beach and sitting there talking.  She had said something like the affair was all about “perverse pleasure” and those words have haunted me ever since.  I want to be a perverse pleasure! But I’m not so sure that you can be a perverse pleasure and at the same time be a good Papa, a good husband, a good provider and protector… I’m not so sure that you can be safe and exciting at the same time.  Now before y’all start talking about candle wax and whip cream and stuff – that’s not what I mean.  What I  mean is that to someone who is mentally ill, sometimes the addiction is the danger, the excitement of doing something you know is wrong or unhealthy, the throw caution to the wind and just live your life attitude, the stuff you’re supposed to give up when you grow up and become Mamas and Papas!  I just don’t know if you can satisfactorily replicate that kind of “danger high” and still keep yourself and your family safe and even if you could, like any other addiction, the appetite would grow and grow until you couldn’t.

The pregnancy had proven to be difficult to both of us.  She had just stopped taking her medication and I was just getting used to mine.  We were really still adjusting to post affair realities and probably neither was in the right place to bring a new baby into this world.  I was drinking more than ever and prone to fits of anger.  Lashing out, saying the most hateful and hurtful things almost seemed beyond my control and not just with her, I lost my temper so easily with the boys and would find myself screaming at them profanely or grabbing one by the ear and wondering how I let it get that far so fast.  She would still wrestle with these cycles wanting me, wanting our family, wanting a baby one week and then wanting none of it the next.  One night hysterical she screamed at me that she didn’t want this baby and was going to punch herself in the stomach until it died.

Still, one day there were two lines on the stick instead of one and I took it to mean that it was God’s will.  We hadn’t expressly been trying to get pregnant, but weren’t expressly trying not to either.  We used contraception in a way that really did leave things in God’s hands.  Some nights, during the most fertile periods of her cycle we would use it and other nights, including sever on the fringe of that fertility period, we did not.  Each month it was neither a surprise that she was or was not pregnant.  It really could have gone either way.  Let me be clear, and I’m perfectly willing to accept any and all criticism for this; I have always, both before and after the affair and both before and after the miscarriages, thought that another baby would be a blessing to this family.  I know that flies in the face of logic.  I know that a baby doesn’t make an unhappy marriage suddenly happy.  I know they eat a lot and cost about $.50 a pee.  I know. I know. I know.  Still in my heart and in prayer, I know that it is something that I hope would/will happen.  Be nice!

Now, the sun was rising as I pulled down our dirt road, returning from the hospital.  I helped my wife inside and put her to bed and then had to go get the boys from the woman who was watching them.  I got our older boy on the school bus and dropped our younger one off at the neighbors and went to work.  I wanted to take off, but I just didn’t have the time.  I had used up almost four weeks of personal leave between her hospitalization and my own, I was still playing catch  up and just didn’t have any available time to take off.

I can only remember that day feeling numb.  Completely numb.  Not devastate, not depressed, not anxious, not tired, just numb.  I have written before about this “automatic emergency mode” that I seem to enter when things are really bad.  During these times I kind of just know what to do, say the right things and feel a confidence and a strength that I can only assume comes from God.  It’s almost as if I appreciate the dramas as they are happening because I don’t have to worry when they will come.  Here it is, right in my lap and I’m surviving, I’m doing alright, maybe not perfect, but I’m still alive and that says something.  Almost like a parent who instinctively jumps in front of a moving train to push their little on out of the way.  It’s not really heroic as much as it is instinctive.  Only later do you stop and think; “Wow, I could have been another bug on that thing’s windshield”!  For my wife I think it’s the opposite, that is that it is during these times that she needs others them most, but for myself I know that it’s the time that I may rely the most on myself.

Well as we sat there by the fire that morning (that was a flashback within a flashback, if y’all didn’t catch it) I said, almost from habit and yes pretty stupidly, “what’s the matter Baby”?

“This is the worst day of my life” she replied, which really didn’t make sense to me.  This didn’t seem as severe as the first miscarriage two months before.  She was far less far along and wouldn’t have to have a DNC this time.  The previous time she had to carry the pregnancy an additional week before there was an available appointment to have it done.  That week must have been horrible for her I thought, but it wasn’t the case this time.

To be honest neither of those two days I thought, were even close to the worst day of my life, not even the worst day of the previous year, not even in the top five.  It had been a hell of a year now!  My Grandmother, who raised me, had passed and I couldn’t afford to go to the funeral.  Both of my parents had heart attacks and subsequently lost their business, My brother had a brain tumor, my wife’s affair and horrible addiction and the effect it had on this family, her subsequent suicide attempt and my own suicide attempt and now our second miscarriage. I don’t know, it may sound horrible, but although this was terrible, it was at least something that was terrible for both of us, at least something that we were going through together.  It wasn’t the same “my side/her side” alone feeling like during the affair.  We were a couple, a couple experiencing something awful, but still a couple – that was comforting to me. It just seemed to me that there were far stronger candidates for that dubious designation.

It stung me a little that she had said that “this is the worst day of my life” because I felt as if it undermined all the pain that I had been through during the previous few months, but I knew it would be selfish for me to fuss about it just then, so I just said “Baby, we got through this before.  We’ll do it again”.

“Last time was different”, she blurted quickly and started crying more forcefully.

“What do you mean”? I asked.

She talked more to me that morning that she had since coming home from the hospital.  She told me about her anger, her confusion, her ups and downs about loving me.  That she would get these feelings, just a twinge at first and then it would go away, then stronger, becoming a whisper, then a voice, then a scream, then a fantasy of not being with me.  That during some of these times she had prayed that the first baby would be taken away so that she wouldn’t be trapped there.  That she thought that it was because of this and because of all the drugs she was on during the affair that she believed she lost the last baby.  The guilt she had been harboring because of that.  That this time was different.  She wanted this baby.  She was trying to do right by it and was happy about the pregnancy.  She was heartbroken that it was gone, because she thought that she had been given a second chance.

She went to bed early that night and I was left alone with my thoughts.  I considered each of the items on that list.  Each of the tragedies that I had experienced, my family had experienced in the last year and I got myself to wondering about the “Why me” of it all.  I was drinking some, but not tore up.  I just sat there, alone in my chair, sipping a bud light and thinking that if I knew someone else who’d had a tougher year that I had, I’d like to buy them a beer.  The other thing that was foremost on my mind is this cycle my wife had described that swung from feeling love for me to fanaticizing about leaving me.

I wanted to talk about both the “Why me”? and the issue of my wife sometimes thinking that she didn’t love me.

Can You See Me Now, God?…

I read one time about a woman whose bible study group was reading in Malachi:

Malachi 3:3 (NASB)

3“He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness.

in order to clarify the passage, she visited a silversmith in order to learn about the process of purifying silver. She learned from the silversmith that in order to purify the precious metal, it was necessary for him to place the silver in a crucible and hold it up to a hot flame to remove the impurities. The work, he said, was tedious and required his constant attention, because if the silver was left in the flame for even a moment too long, it would be ruined irreversibly. When the woman asked him how did he know when the silver was purified and could be removed from the flame, he said; “Oh that’s easy – it’s pure when I can see my reflection in it”

Isn’t that an awesome story? I don’t know to whom it should be attributed or even if it really happened, but there’s wisdom there which I see as being applicable to this discussion and that is that God always heals us – just not always in the way we expect or want him to. It may not seem like it while he’s holding our crucible over the fire, correcting our impurities and waiting to see his reflection in us, but might the trials we each endure in this life; the physical and mental illnesses, the financial problems, familial problems, lost jobs, cheating spouses, stubbed toes, or anything that makes us say ‘why me’ or ‘why not me’, really just be his way of healing us? Healing what’s really wrong with us? What he knows needs healing?

Thank you God for the trials in my life. For the strengthening and purification that results from it. For the opportunity to trust in you and to know that your way is much higher than my ways. Thank you for loving me enough to see that I am challenged when I need to be challenged and comforted when I need to be comforted. Thank you for not always letting me have my own way. For seeing through what I think I need and providing me what I actually need. Thank you Father for loving me that much. I ask only that you do what is necessary to me so that you may see your reflection in my crucible and I trust in your methods for doing so. Purify me Lord, that I may become what you might will of me. Amen.

Love – Checking the Contract…

Hearing my wife describe that cycle stung me, but not as terribly as you might think.  I had recognized this cycle for a while by then, I had just never heard her herself put it to words.  Hearing her do so was almost a relief.  At least she recognized it.  At least she was willing to hold it and look at – own it.  This is probably the first necessary step on her part toward our reconciliation, because I had realized by then that it wasn’t going to be a flash in the dark for her.  There was not going to be any great “Ah Ha”! moment.  God wasn’t going to open of a “love” fire hose inside of her and suddenly she would be head over heels for me.  It was to be a process, a struggle. For her love for me to mean anything it had to be a free choice and a choice made without influence.

Here’s a little something I just recently realized:

Ephesians 5 (NIV):

Wives and Husbands

22Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26to make her holy, cleansingb her by the washing with water through the word, 27and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— 30for we are members of his body. 31“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”c 32This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

What’s notably missing is “wives love your husband”!  In fact I’m aware of no place in the bible (and believe me I’ve looked.  I also checked the marriage certificate) where wives are instructed to do so.  They’re instructed to respect their husbands, submit to them, but God doesn’t mandate that a wife love her husband – it’s her choice as to if she will do so.  It’s a continuation of the parallel to Jesus’ marriage to the church.  He loves us unconditionally, but we have a choice to accept that love or not.  We have a choice to reciprocate.  It’s the provision of that unwavering love that eventually lead us to choose to love him.  How much have I tested it?  How many times in my life have I turned away?  Given it up or rejected it over the tiniest little things?  How can I fault my wife for being the same as me?  That is for not being perfect, because none of us are.

You see if it were all one way or the other, she loved me completely or loathed me all the time, my choice would be easy – stay and forgive or leave, and I know that, in the biblical legal sense, I am no longer bound to staying, but what I keep feeling written to my heart is that this may be my purpose, my assignment, my mission if you will – that is to love this woman in a way that makes it clear to her that she is in fact lovable and in doing so also see how much she is loved by God and if I’m truly blessed love me in return.  Now I’m not so arrogant as to think it’s something that I can do myself.  I think of myself rather like a tool that He will use to accomplish this.  The same way that was done for me – that He loved me at the times when I was completely unlovable, is from where my love for Him came?  How can I not follow that example?  How can I stop loving this woman, who clearly needs to be loved so badly?  I simply cannot and will not do so and if that makes me week, so be it, if it makes me a fool, so be it, but I simply cannot ever see their not being love in my heart for her.

Y’all want to see the love of a real man in my opinion; check out Joseph of Nazzarath:

Matthew 1(ESV)

The Birth of Jesus Christ

18 Now the birth of uJesus Christ5 took place in this way. vWhen his mother Mary had been betrothed6 to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child wfrom the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling xto put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, yan angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and zyou shall call his name Jesus, afor he will save his people from their sins.” 22 bAll this took place cto fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 d“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,

and they shall call his name eImmanuel”

(which means, God fwith us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And ghe called his name Jesus.

Luke 2 (ESV)

            In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

“Betrothed” – not the prettiest of words is it?  It really doesn’t seem very romantic at all – and it wasn’t.  In the Hebrew bible the word is Erusin (אירוסין).  In the modern day sense “erusin” means engagement, but in the times of Joseph and Mary it meant something very different.  In those days erusin was the first of two phases of a marriage (the second being nissuin).  It carried with it all of the laws associated with marriage (e.g. adultery punishable by death), usually lasted about a year during which time the couple was not to unite sexually and ended when the husband took the wife home and the marriage was consummated in the sexual union.

Betrothal was usually the result of a decision made by the parents of the bride and groom.  It was sometimes such that the groom was allowed to choose a bride and have his parents intervene on his behalf and is thought that the betrothal was sometimes effected simply by purchasing the girl from her father, a decision which did not require the woman’s consent nor did it allow her the option to refuse, by paying a “mohar” or price paid for her.

Now Matthew doesn’t tell us if Mary was bought, or chosen, or simple arranged by her parents to marry Joseph, but what’s clear is that this was not some Hollywood story of two people falling madly in love with each other.  She must not have love Joseph, at least not at first, how could she?  She was never given a chance to.  She was betrothed to him and didn’t have a choice and it was during this time of betrothal that Mary became pregnant with Jesus.

Can you imagine how Joseph must have felt when he realized that Mary was pregnant – I can.  If you think your town is gossipy try Nazareth!  Walking around town, traveling to Bethlehem, her all big fat and pregnant.  Can you just hear the whispers, feel the sideways looks?  Wondering who is thinking what about you.  I know exactly how that feels.  He had the option to get out.  He could have divorced her but because he was a man of God he followed God’s instruction to remain with her, support her and to love her.

Please Lord, give me that kind of strength.  Let me love as Joseph did.  The strength to put aside my pride and my embarrassment and my expectations about what it should mean to love someone and follow only your instruction to me.

Indeed, it think that must have been the only way to get your wife to love you in those days; to let her see that you were lovable, and maybe today is not so different from back then, maybe it’s why God doesn’t explicitly instruct our wives to love us, maybe we need to earn it!  Show them that we’re lovable first, show them that they are loved first.  Maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to work.  And maybe all that’s happened to me in the last year is God’s way of picking on me and maybe it’s him holding me to the fire, waiting to see his reflection in me.  I don’t know, but it comes about close to making sense to me.

God Bless.

A Little Walk in the Sunshine…

But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him

~John 11:10

It was recently pointed out to me by someone that I may appear to have been dwelling a bit on the negative here.  That it’s nearly impossible to see why I choose to stay in a marriage that causes me so much pain and while I tried to explain that much of what I’ve been writing is historical and intended to give the reader a foundation of understanding to my situation as well as a baseline against which my progress may be made, it occurs to me that they are probably right.  I do need to look at this stuff, challenge it, get it’s poison out of me, but I also need to remember why I’m doing it, what’s right about us, what’s changed and what I’m fighting for.   Thank you the old heave ho for giving me something to think about.

The following is a list that I compiled shortly after my wife and I began therapy.  It was one of my assignments.  It was meant to be something for me to go back to, when I really began to dwell on the negative, in order to remind myself what has gotten better.  I’d like to share it with y’all.

1. Tries to text during the day.
2. Hasn’t hurt herself.
3. Hasn’t used drugs.
4. Gets up in the morning for coffee.
5. Wants to hold me when I have bad dreams.
6. Worries if I eat.
7. Wants to go to church.
8. Likes to spend time with the Judy’s.
9. Facebook’s nice things.
10. Has lunch with me.
11. Goes to women’s circle.
12. Being respectful of my work.
13. Is accountable for money.
14. Is accountable for time.
15. Asks my opinion.
16. Sleeps with me.
17. Prays with me.
18. Doesn’t find excuses not to be home.
19. Tries to tell me how she feels.
20. Wears her wedding rings.
21. Holds my hand in public.
22. Calls when she will be late.
23. Trying at marriage counselor.
24. Getting rid of the Teddy bear dog.
25. Wants to get rid of jeep.
26. Mindful of the music she listens to.
27. Takes her medicine.
28. Wants another baby.
29. Put property in both our names.
30. Talks to me.
31. Listened to me.
32. Picked a tree for me.
33. Wants to have company.
34. Started the “dream of me” again.
35. Is making Christian lady friends.
36. Tells me when something is wrong.
37. Wants me to feel like this is my home.
38. Talks about the bills.
39. Talks about projects.
40. Doesn’t act entitled.
41. Doesn’t complain about my truck.
42. Wants to watch tv with me.
43. Says she loves me first.
44. Doesn’t play semantic games.
45. Admits when she’s wrong.
46. Wants to go to celebrate recovery.
47. Wants to make me egg sandwiches.
48. does the dishes sometimes.
49. Feeds the chickens sometimes.
50. Spends time with the boys.
51. Worries about the boys diet.
52. Disciplines the boys sometimes.
53. Doesn’t berate me in front of others anymore.
54. Picks the boys up from daycare.
55. Rededicated herself.
56. Understand when I am angry.
57. Understands when I am hurt.
58. Wants to live simple.
59. Wants to stay home with the boys.
60. Laughs at my jokes.
61. Makes supper sometimes.
62. Doesn’t speed anymore.
63. Doesn’t text and drive anymore.
64. Let me put the bible on her phone.
65. Let’s me check her phone.
66. Told me how to check #s on her phone.
67. Worries if I have cigarettes.
68. Does groceries.
69. Showed me the hiding place in her car.
70. Unlocks my car door.
71. Uses the TomTom.
72. Yells at the dog for licking me.
73. Makes sure I have a towel.
74. Tries to tell the truth.
75. Home when she sais shell be home.
76. Wants to get a tattoo.
77. Takes turns getting baby a bottle.
78. Gets my kind of pizza.
79. Doesn’t criticize as much.
80. Made chicken and dumplings.
81. Made birthday cake.
82. Doesn’t kick/hit me anymore in bed.
83. Doesn’t slap Baby as much.
84. Brought me lunch.
85. Worries that I’m depressed.
86. Doesn’t criticize me for not doing house/yard work.
87. Doesnt speed away from me in morning.
88. Wants to bake.
89. Honest about money from baking.
90. Wants to know if I saw text/facebook.
91. Cares about my Mama.
92. Prays for others.
93. Is letting go of her Mama’s creeps.
94. Takes baths with me.
95. Wants to make love.
96. Emails me.
97. Is disappointed when I don’t have a signal.
98. Knows where I was born.
99. Wants to go to beach as a family.
100. Saved hair from Baby’s first haircut.
101. Tells me about her past.
102. Offers me some of her drink.
103. Touches my face.
104. Is upset that I flinch when she touches me.
105. Fells bad when I have bad dreams.
106. Asks what’s wrong.
107. Tries to understand my work.
108. Tries to remember my old dreams.
109. Bought me a candy bar.
110. Leaves doors open.
111.  Wants me to feel good about making love.
112. Doesn’t cuss anymore.
113. Wants an economic car again.
114. Buys fruit.
115. Told Crustal to not have an affair.
116. Doesn’t always wear black.
117. Is happy sometimes.
118. Wants to be happy more.
119. Talks about the future.
120. Tries to be in the word.
121. Wants to make me lunch sometimes.
122. Doesn’t look for things to blame me for.
123. Remembers what I say.
124. Chooses words to not be hurtful.
125. Said that I’m hardworking.
126. Doesn’t make jokes at my expense.
127. Thinks ahead about money.
128. Doesn’t roll her eyes.
129. Wants me to build stuff.
130. Wants me to fix stuff.
131. Picks flowers.
132. Tries to be country.
133. Knows the difference between flat slab and valley gutter.
134. Says that thing about the peanut.
135. Takes advil for her headaches.
136. Is grateful for good days.
137. Doesn’t keep track of bad days.
138. Doesn’t keep score.
139. Doesn’t exaggerate.
140. Hugs people at church.
141. Doesn’t use that carwash.
142. Stays awake for me.
143. Admits when she’s craby.
144. Wants muck boots.
145. Doesn’t ditch her phone.
146. Doesn’t get angry about me checking on her.
147. Doesn’t talk about me as temporary.
148. Doesn’t scowl so much.
149. Keeps promises.
150. Is careful about negative people.
151. Defends me to me.
152. Eats so I will eat.
153. Worries if I have coffee.
154. Thinks about money for basket at church.
155. Is encouraging.
156. Is humble.
157. Listens to the birds.
158. Smells flowers.
159. Thinks of nice things to say.
160. Sits in the sun.
161. Cares about the dogs.
162. Wants someone for me to talk too.
163. Accepts responsibility.
164. Makes exceptions for my schedule.
165. Came to camp work day with headache.
166. Steals my mannerisms.
167. Cares about the houses appearance again.
168. Happy socks.
169. Asked me to paint her toenails.
170. Gave me a backrub.
171. Looks for advice.
172. Plays with Baby.
173. Wants to see this list.
174. Knows that easy things are hard for me.
175. Accepts that I’m analytical.
176. Wants me to be the head sometimes.
177. Tries to be angry when she knows she should be.
178. Sees that I love her unconditionally.
179. Wants to stop stopping loving me.
180. Doesn’t run out anymore.
181. Understands that I have shortcomings.
182. Doesn’t judge me for being a hick.
183. Doesn’t judge my appearance.
184. Says thank you.
185. Makes Our boy take his Meds.
186. Let me change her facebook picture.
187. Called Dannette.
188. Offered to help jeff and I with fence.
189. Things take as long as expected.
190. Plays footsie.
191. Sits on my lap.
192. Told me that she saw that guy
193. Asked for forgiveness.
194. Said it was the biggest regret of her life.
195. Gets a little jealous.
196. Lets me have some blanket.
197. Lets me have a good pillow.
198. Wanted me to get good shave cream.
199. Wanted to change Bayb’s sheets.
200. Likes days when I’m done early.
201. Saves chicken treats.
202. Gets the eggs.
203. Doesn’t bully.
204. Wears her seatbelt.
205. Cries when she needs to.
206. Does things she doesn’t feel like because she knows she should.
207. Doesn’t use the chopped wood in the fire pit.
208. Asked about people I work with.
209. Texts me when she knows I can’t get it.
210. Said Jesus would like the flowers.
211. Wants to cook for us.
212. Asks what I want for dinner.
213. Doesn’t spend hours in Momy Our boy time.
214. Wants to wash my work vest.
215. Saved the feather.
216. Saved the letter.
217. Put up her first husband’s knife.
218. Doesn’t compare me to Chris.
219. Doesn’t compare me to her ex-husband.
220. Wants me to go to men’s group.
221. Wants me to go to Celebrate Recovery.
222. Counts Our boy’s Meds.
223. Doesn’t throw butts on front yard.
224. Bought butter pecan ice cream.
225. Doesn’t look for excuses to not be home.
226. Doesn’t want to travel alone.
227. Cleaned the chick butts.
228. Asks me how she looks.
229. Says she’s making herself pretty so I’m proud.
230. Feels bad about my birthday.
231. Knows my pant size.
232. Says I make pretty roads.
233. Kissed me at the pig.
233. Mailed our taxes.
234. Wants that thing out her arm.
235. Knows where my hard places are.
236. Tossed the blanket.
237. Got rid of necklace.
238. Kept my picture in hospital.
239. Jokes about me opening her bra.
240. Picks my clothes for church.
241. Says sorry when she’s wrong.
242. Starting to show that it’s important that I think she loves me.
243. Doesn’t leave the baby crying in crib.
244. Changes behaviors that bother me.
245. Shows love when she’s angry
246. Sooner to listen when she’s angry.
247. Tells me about time off she earns.
248. Tells me about extra money.
249. Says God bless you.
250. Hugs me when I’m stinky.
251. Gives me tastes of her cakes.
252. Tells Baby to give me a kiss.
253. Tells Our boy to hug and kiss me goodnight.
254. Gives me gum before church.
255. Loves on me when she sees I’m hurting.
256. Wants to meet for kisses.
257. Notices cuts and scrapes.
258. Knows what’s going on at school.
259. Knows what’s going on at daycare.
260. Is happy about the chicks.
261.  Prays for me to have peace of mind.
262.  Caries her bible.
263. Quotes country songs to me.
264. Warms me when I’m cold.
265. Tries to save gas.
266. Talks about God on facebook.
267. Comes to me when I come home.
268. Sings/hums
269. Make sure she eats.
270. Asked me to forgive her.
271. Says she will always regret what she done.
272. Wants to quit smoking.
273. Said she sew my vest.
274. Calls me from work.
275. Prays by herself.
276. Tells me God hears me.
277. Gets the lighthouse thing.
278. Wants me to not be depressed.
279. Sends me pictures.
280. Said that she would move.
281. Wants to find ways to make me feel good in bed.
282. Goes to church without me.
283. Gets angry when I’m mistreated at work.
284. Called me every break in the hospital.
285. Wants to take Our boy to birthday party.
286. Wants to cut grass.
287. Doesn’t minimize my feelings.
288. Looks happy.
289. Comes to my job.
290. Jealous of Soup.
291. Wants to learn how to show love.
292. Wants to learn how to stop bullying.
293. Told me about truck on road.
294. Told me when that guy came to bank.
295. Wants me to light her cigarettes.
296. Stays hairy.
297. Butt kisses.
298. Says good morning.
299. Asks about asphalt.
300. Wants to have lunch.
301. Told me about lottery ticket.
302. Isn’t angry at me for not doing dishes.
303. Tells the truth even when it’s hard.
304. Talks about him negatively.
305. Thinks of me when listening to music.
306. Makes love and wants to talk.
307. Tells people I prayed for them.
308.  Doesn’t read as much.
309. Let me have angry country music playlist.
310. Tells me what’s at the dump.
311. Buttons her blouse.
312. Says she wants horses.
313. Wanted to buy kiddie pool.
314. Laughs about what’s in my pockets.
315. Said it was a good idea about the slide.
316. Wears my underwear.
317. Understands that I don’t like to leave my truck.
318. Keeps trying when I don’t respond right away.
319. Can be demure.
320. Picks her fights.
321. Appreciated the lilies.
322. Likes when I send funny emails.
323. Holds my hand in the car.
324. Likes when I remember shakesphere.
325. Kisses me at stop lights.
326. Talks about making love during the day.
327. Wants to live for God.
328. Understands Jesus’ sacrifice.
329. Seems excited to make love.
330. Paid the daycare bill.
331. Asks what I want for dinner.
332. Holds my hand at Mrs Kayie’s.
333. Doesn’t go to sleep as soon as we go to bed.
334. Doesn’t nap as much.
335. Answers questions at bible study.
336. Stays away from places she used to meet him.
337. Does more than just what therapist  says.
338. Ignores bad advice.
339. Is relaxed.
340. Not so moody.
341. Tells me when she feels moody.
342. Eats with me even if not hungry.
343. Notices I lost weight.
344. Can respond positively to me being negative.
345. Told me about his truck.
346. Doesn’t hoard change.
347 Took the toothbrush out her purse.
348. Says that he disgusts her now.
349. Wants to hate what is evil.
350. Hold onto what is good.
351. Says that I am beautiful.
352. Says that I love her like no one else ever has.
353. Doesn’t talk ghetto.
354. Wants me to wear shorts.
355. Days my coffee mug is cool.
356. Wants me to take my shirt off in bed.
357. Didn’t use cutting against me.
358. Didn’t use drinking against me.
359. Didn’t pick just the boys.
360. Doesn’t want hair dye.
361. Knows I think she’s beautiful.
362. Can see how much I love her.
363. Understands that my anger comes from hurt.
364. Smokes with me.
365. Hugs me randomly.
366. Looks at me during worship.
367. Wants to be a good person.
368. Wants people to see her as a good person.
369. Wants to look at herself in the mirror.
370. Doesn’t think she knows it all.
371. Doesn’t accuse me of thinking I know it all.
372. Tries to see me in positive light.
373. Doesn’t talk about guy stuff that I’m not good at.
374. Doesn’t drink.
375. Doesn’t pretend things are ok.
376. Doesn’t rationalize.
377. Wants me to trust her.
378. Understands that I’ve lost trust in her.
379. Let’s me be hurt.
380. Cares that I am hurt.
381. Likes that I play ball with Our boy.
382. Understands that I don’t want to work nights.
383. Wants to be accountable.
384. Admits when she wasn’t accountable.
385. Doesn’t look for fights.
386. Wants a relationship wit God.
387. Sees how important God is in our relationship.
388. Gets my shave cream.
389. Doesn’t pretend not to hear me.
390. Shares the coffee.
391. Shares cigarettes.
392 wants me to quit smoking.
393. Worries when i cough.
394. Wants me to live.
395. Is sad if I talk about dying.
396. Gets chicken treats.
397. Is proud of me.
397. Tells me about her stories.
398. Tells me about her dreams.
399. I’m a good guy in her dreams.
400. Chinease food.
401. Would let me buy stuff.
402. Doesn’t fuss about apps.
403. Doesn’t fuss about iTunes.
404. Doesn’t fuss about double standard.
405. Trusts me.
406. Tells me I’m a good father.
407. Wants me to pick a show.
408. Asks about spending money.
409. Generous at church with money.
410. Sees all the good people around her.
411. Loves the old ladies at church.
412. Didn’t want to change churches.
413. Washed my phone cloth.
414. Make my coffee to go.
415.Wanted to defend me.
416. Want Our boy to be happy.
417. Says that I have been good fir Our boy.
418. Saves treats for animals.
419. Trusts my judgement with boys.
420. Prays for my Mama.
421. Calls my Mama Mom.
422. Wants to go to mother daughter dinner.
423. Doesn’t expect me to do things.
424. Shares jokes with me.
425. Teaches me Spanish.
426. Sits with me.
427. Knows I need her time too.


Life Comes at You Fast! Sometimes You Just Gotta Roll with it…

I shall not die, but live, and tell of the works of the Lord

~Psalm 118:17(NAS)


Another Monday…

My mind went over and over the events of that day as well as the past few weeks since my wife had come home from the hospital. “How did I end up here”, I can remember thinking, “today started off as such a normal day”!?  I considered the large, ancient angel oak under which I had parked my truck.  This was my tree.  My wife and I had picked it together.  It was meant to be a place of hope – a symbol of our new commitment to each other and to our family.  We had chosen it only days after she had returned from her hospitalization.  The tree was not 200 yards from another, very much like it, in which my wife attempted to take her own life not two months before.  That tree was her first husband’s tree.  It bears a hand carved wooden plaque in his honor.  Testifying to their young love which was brutally taken away far too soon by the cancer.  I’d grown to hate that tree.  Not because of the plaque or the reminder of my wife’s first husband or what it represented to her, but because of what it had come to represent to me.  I had come to accept that when you marry someone who had survived a deceased spouse, that it wasn’t really realistic to expect that the one they lost would not always continue to be a part of that person’s life.  This was now the second time, however, that my wife tried to take her own life while sitting in that tree, since we moved here.  I don’t know how many other times before I knew her, but I knew that this tree, no matter where she was living at the time and as much as from 800 miles away, is where she would run to when she wanted to end it all.

I opened another beer and tried to imagine what those times were like for them – my wife and her first husband.  They had lived on the same property as we do now.  A farm owned by my wife’s grandfather.  Shortly before they were married, they moved there in order to escape the judgment of her parents and others from her Jehovah Witness Kingdom Hall community.  My wife’s first husband was not a Jehovah Witness (as neither am I) and their marriage (as is ours) was greatly judged by that community (to the point where my wife is now considered to be “disfellowshipped” by that religion).  They lived, only for about two or three months, in an airstream camper that was parked right under that tree.

Another beer and I thought about all the stories she told me – many good, many bad.  The love the felt for each other, the pain she felt from his abuse.  He was sick and addicted to using drugs.  She would tell me about times when he would drag her around by her hair, smashing her things, abandoning her there in the middle of the woods with no transportation or food or money or heat, but also tell me about times fondly remembered about sitting in that tree about shooting cans set up around the property with an old .22 they had there with them. What had always impressed me though, and probably always made me a little envious, was the absolute sense of love and devotion with which she thought of him.  Now that may very well have simply been a function of respect for her dead husband, or a youthful infatuation which was never given the chance to be exposed to reality or maybe he was her one true love and the loss of him had permanently rendered her incapable of loving like that ever again.   What had been apparent to me for a long time, even before the affair, was that she was either unwilling to, incapable of or just plain not loving me that unconditionally.  She had demonstrated this to me time and time again and it was hard to not compare my treatment to his.  That he could be so abusive, negligent, insensitive and that she would still, even now some fifteen years later, find herself forgiving him, defending him even longing for him. This, as contrasted to her constant running away, suicide attempts, telling me she didn’t love me anymore or just plain leaving, even now since the affair, when it came to even the simplest of problems or disagreements in our relationship.  In my mind at least, this always spoke volumes about her true feelings for me.  I mean Shoot! Even a dog knows the difference between being kicked and tripped over.

I opened another beer and felt the cool puff of trapped carbonation inside escape across my lips.  I didn’t think “how many does this make”, I thought “how many do I have left?  How long can I make this last”?  This had become a property of me now in the past two months where it never had been before – drinking alone in my truck, parked the woods, listening to music and just generally trying to get a hold of the pain and anxiety that took hold of me daily now.  It had always been just two or three and I justified it to myself by saying “well it’s not like I’m out on the highway, I’m a couple of hundred yards down a dirt road from the house”.  I usually just wanted some time to myself, to unwind, recoup, and think about things.  Get the craziness of work out of my head before going back to the house and beginning to deal with the craziness of home, but tonight was different and I knew it.  I didn’t want it to be controlled.  I wanted to be out of control or at least the one who didn’t have to maintain the control – another beer.

I thought of our last few sessions with the marriage counselor since she had been home.  The first session after she came home from the hospital was the one where we set up the ground rules for continuing our marriage.  She was not to see him again, not to lie to me, stop using illegal drugs, not injure herself and work to increase her accountability with respect to how and where she was spending money and time.  These were terms to which she gladly agreed to at the time.  Shortly after that session, my wife came to me and told me that she wanted another baby.  The previous year, she had a piece of plastic implanted in her arm that prevented her from doing so.  I always hated it, before because it had made her menstrual cycle wacky, her mood unstable and I just didn’t trust that it was healthy for her, but now that it had become apparent why she wanted that form of permanent birth control, I hated it even more.  It sickened me to look at the bump it made in her arm.

The next several sessions with the therapist were spent mostly talking about the impracticality of us having another baby.  Now, I know from experience that having a baby does not make a unhappy marriage suddenly become happy and I did spend a great deal of time thinking about and praying about this.  We couldn’t afford it.  Both of us had been through an emotional shit storm in the previous few months and were both likely incapable of caring for another baby on our own if we had to do so.  The additional stress a new baby would put on us now with midnight feedings and diaper changes.  There was really no good reason that I could think of to bring another baby into this world right now.  Still I wanted one, more than anything.

If y’all ever need to stop a Christian therapist dead in her tracks all you have to say is “I felt led to do so”! Whether or not it’s true, a Christian counselor is not going to try to argue with God.  In this case however, it was true; I had prayed at length about it and did feel as though it was something that God was leading us to do.  She had the plastic thing removed from her arm and stopped taking her medication.  We were trying to have a baby and we didn’t care who thought it was a bad idea.

One more empty beer can tossed into the pile I was creating on the ground outside the passenger window of my truck; it was probably about a half of case now.  Another one opened and I began to think about the events of that day.  The only thing irregular about the way the day began was that I had to take an hour off of work, shortly after arriving, to run across town to the doctor’s office.  My wife was also going to be there as she needed to have a pregnancy test done. “Just about an hour or so” I told the boss and I should be back on the job.  There was a meeting scheduled later that day and I could see him get nervous when I asked to leave that I wouldn’t be back in time.

When I got to the doctor’s office my wife was also just getting out of her car.  We walked in together, signed in and waited our turns to be called to the back.  The reason for my visit was that the doctor had recently prescribed medication to me, psychiatric medication, and wanted to do a blood test and talk to me about how I was feeling.  The therapist had told me to ask her for something for depression and something for anxiety, but when I went to the medical doctor’s office to do so a few weeks prior, she had told me that her feeling was that I wasn’t depressed, I was angry.  She put me on a drug called Celexa, which she said would help with managing my anger and impulse control.  I hated it!  It was like being trapped inside myself.  All the fear, all the hurt, all the anxiety still there, it just took away anyway that I had previously let it out. Did you ever wake up before the rest of your body does?  You’re aware that you were asleep and even where you are but just can move your arms or legs and can’t open your eyes? It was vaguely like that.  I didn’t tell her any of this, because she had seemed so sure that it was what I needed the visit before and because frankly, I just really didn’t believe that any kind of medication was going to be able to take that turmoil away.  I do remember however thinking that it was odd that on my previous visit she at first didn’t know who I was (I had to reintroduce myself as XXXX’s husband) but then subsequently told me that she had a feeling about my anger issues since the first time she’d met me.

Well, I had finished my blood work and my wife had finished her pregnancy test and the doctor brought us into the examination room together.  She began to speak to us by saying that she had called our therapist and they had agreed that I needed to be talked to.  I believe my wife could see was about to transpire, because she stood up, said that she needed to go back to work and immediately left the room.  When she did the doctor told me that my wife had come to her a month ago asking for a prescription for birth control and begged her not to tell me.  That I was forcing her to have another baby and she just didn’t want one.  She said that it was my wife that had been telling her that I couldn’t control my anger and that I was out of control and abusive.  The woman started screaming at me profanely.  Now albeit, I work in construction, I was sitting there with a bright orange safety vest on, it’s likely that she thought that she was communicating with me in a language she thought was necessary for me to comprehend or respect, but I’m gonna tell y’all what – she lit me up good!  “Why in the hell would you think it’s a good idea to have another baby now?”, “So you’re wife had an affair, fucking get over it!”, “ you probably can’t even take care of the kids you have now, much less another one” – for a while now!  Maybe 15 or 20 minutes!

You know the funny thing is that I remember being strangely calm as I left the doctor’s office.   Now maybe it was still being under the effects of that medication or that I was just still pretty shocked at the doctor’s treatment of me, but I don’t even think that I had put it together at that point that this all meant that my wife was still lying to me.  I walked next door to the pharmacy to fill my prescription and it wasn’t until I had returned to my truck that I noticed that my wife hadn’t returned to work but rather was waiting in my truck crying.  She had the prescription for the birth control pills in her hand and told me that she had gotten it the month before, but never did go to fill it.  That she had decided that she wasn’t sure that she wanted another baby and didn’t know how to tell me.  That she kept going back and forth about the decision.

“When did you get it”? I asked.

“Last month when I told you that I came to get an STD test” she answered.

“So you never did get the test”? I asked .  We had talked about her getting one when she had admitted to having unprotected sex with the guy she was cheating on me with and subsequently finding out that she was not the only one with whom he had cheated.

“No” she said, looking down.

Now, I could feel the anger well up inside me.  I was slowly putting it together the web of lies that must have been involved over the last month or so leading up to today.  She had been telling me one thing and then telling our therapist, our doctor, our friends and who knows who else, something exactly opposite.  Something designed to make me look culpable and that would excuse her secretive and dishonest behavior.  It was the same person as during the affair.  “Baby, you’re still lying to me” I said, now visibly troubled.

“I was afraid to tell you” she said.

“Afraid to tell me is still lying.  Everyone is afraid to tell what they’re lying about.  It’s why people lie”! I said somewhat sternly.

Now I could see the change, from remorse to anger and indignantcy.  “Well if you’re not even going to listen to me, then I don’t know why I’m even trying to talk to you”!  She got out of the truck, told me that she had called off from work and was going home and walked away with a disgusted look on her face.  I went back to the office, attended my meeting and told the boss that my wife was not doing well and needed to take the rest of the day off.  On the way home I stopped and bought a case of beer.

I walked into the house to be met with by my wife rolling her eyes and saying “Really, did you have to call out of work too”?   We were scheduled for an appointment with our therapist later that afternoon/evening, but had a few hours before having to go.  I wanted to talk.  To fix it.  To be made to believe that I wasn’t a fool for trusting her again.  For letting her come back to the house.  If she was lying about this then what else was she lying about.  Drugs, affairs, hurting herself?  I became more and more upset, drank more and more beer and she became more and more angry.  She walked off, slamming our bedroom door behind her.  I sat there for a little while in my chair – for about a beer or two, hoping that she would come back out.  When she didn’t I started to think that if I was tougher, got more angry, maybe if I was the one that walked of for once that maybe she would snap out of it.  Maybe she would see how much she really cared for me and come around.  Maybe it’s what she needed, what she respected.  It’s what her first husband did and she never failed to defend him, stay with him, love him.  I snuck out the back door, put the beer in the cooler, the cooler in the bed of my truck and drove off into the woods.

It wasn’t easy getting my truck to where my tree was in the woods.  There is some fairly think brush on either side of it and the fact that I was about a six pack into the case that I had bought on the way home did not make navigating through it any easier.  When I finally was able to get to it, I put the truck in park, grabbed a hand full of beers out the cooler, switched on the radio, sat in the passenger seat and started to drink.  I thought that when she saw that I wasn’t waiting for me in the living room she’d come looking form me – she didn’t.  I thought when it was time for us to go to therapy she’d call or text – she went alone.  I thought that she would finally see how hurtful it was to just up and leave when things got bad – she didn’t seem to care.  I sat and I waited and I drank, but no one ever came.

I got out of the truck, peed, grabbed a few more beers and got back in.  I was now properly drunk and knew that I didn’t have much more time before falling asleep.  It was dark now.  I could see the moon, just entering it’s last quarter, hang in the spring air through the branches of  this great old tree.  It was well past the time for our appointment.  I can remember thinking “she’s just never going to love me the way I want her to”.  I looked down at the two pill bottles I had in my hands.  One was a bottle of Xanax that I had just filled at the pharmacy and the other a bottle of Percocet which was prescribed by the dentist for my wife.  She had given it to me as way of being accountable when she needed dental work a few days before and I had been carrying it around in my pocket for days.  I opened the bottle of Percocet and swallowed the whole of its contents.  I waited for a while to see if I could feel the effect.  Then I opened the botlle of Xanax and not wanting to take the entire bottle of pills at once and risk throwing them all up (I was already feeling nauseous) took four or five, drank another beer, took another four or five, another beer …  I continue this way until my memory of the remainder of that night is faded.

Now, I’m told that during this time I sent a barrage of Facebook and text messages.  To my wife, to family and friends, to the therapist…  I remember none of this, but do vaguely remember the culmination of all of it which was to log onto Facebook and post as my status “Life comes at you fast.  Sometimes you just gotta roll with it”!  I know!  What the hell was I talking about right?  I wasn’t “rolling” with jack!  I was looking to checking out!  It doesn’t make sense to me either.  Maybe it was a message for me then.  Maybe it was what I wanted my final words to be.  Maybe it was meant to be a message that was intended for me to get latter.  To this day I still have no idea what I was thinking by posting that.

The next day and a half to two days are just a hand full of snap shots to me now.  They don’t really seem real.  As if I watched something on the TV, like one of those movie commercials that just kind of show an image then fade to black, then show another, black again –  I’m being made to stay on my feet in the woods with two faceless policemen on either side of me, black, ambulance doors closing, black, a clock on a hospital wall that says 10-something, is it morning or night? Where’s my wife?  black, I’m awake again, starving but my throat is on fire, black, I’m in the back of a police car with handcuffs on, black. On the couch in the admissions office of the same mental hospital my wife was in, black, speaking to my wife on the phone and her telling me that she’s leaving me, black.  I don’t think I really came out of it until Wednesday, because I don’t have any really solid memories until then.

The first real solid memory I have was of speaking to my wife on the phone that Wednesday.  Asking her if I remembered correctly that she said that she was leaving me.  Being told that she was.  Pleading with her to not leave.  To stand by me.  To Give me another chance.  Promising to never bring up anything that she had done before again.  She knew very well what talking on the phone there was like – it was the exact same ward she had been on not two months before.  To make a phone call you had to stand in the hallway, which contained approximately a dozen phones each about twenty feet from the next.  The cords from the headset to the receiver are approximately a foot and a half long and if you yank on them too hard you disconnect the call.  It’s anything but private.  It was under these conditions that I pleaded my case and to be honest, I don’t remember all of what I said, but must have eventually said the right thing (who said that about quality not quantity?) because I heard her silently start crying on the other side of the phone.

“I just want our little family back”, she said.

“That’s all I want now too”, I remember saying, both of us now crying.  She agreed to not “leave me” but said that she was going back up north for an undetermined length of time with the boys to stay at her grandparents in NJ.  That hurt me greatly as I not two months ago I was making the two hour drive to this same hospital to bring her clothes and cigarettes, come for visitation, family therapy, to pick her up.  Now I was in the same place, same screw up, minus the affair and the felt that she was entitled to go visit her family.  She needed to get away.  Her grandmother had not been well and she hadn’t seen her in a year or two, but my grandmother had passed the year before and we decided that I would not be able to get to her funeral because money was too tight.  This notwithstanding and with the additional financial burden that she had now quit her job in order to go to NJ, seemed a bit like a double standard to me.  Still, I didn’t fuss about it much as I was just so grateful that she wasn’t divorcing me.

She said something than that would eventually change my perspective about everything; the affair, the lying, suicide and what it means to love people.  She said “why haven’t you called your brother”?

“What do you mean call your brother I asked”, thinking that she somehow wanted me to ask him for advice.

“I told you last night on the phone”, she said.

“Told me what”?

The thing that I haven’t mentioned until now is that that same past Monday, at the exact same time that I was swallowing those pills in my truck under that angel oak, my brother was at his daughter’s soft ball game in New Hampshire.  He passed out and had a seizure.  He had had one before a few months prior, but had convinced himself that it was from stress and being over tired.  This time they rushed him to the hospital in order to find out what was going on.

Anaplasitc Astrycytotic Glioma was the name they gave it.  Brain Cancer is what it meant.  My kid brother had brain cancer and here I was about 1000 miles away, locked in a mental hospital.  They were fixin to have surgery early then next week and didn’t really know if he would survive it.  The thing about it was to anyone who knows both my brother and I, myself included, if you had to guess who would ever be the one to get sick like that, it be me, without doubt.  If you’ve been reading here, you probably can guess about the type of lifestyle I’ve lived.  Drinking, smoking, I think bacon should be given its own food group.  My brother never smoked a cigarette.  He’s been a vegetarian for ten years, a vegan for the last three; I’ve never seen him drunk.  He finished college and medical school in 7 years, was an all-state football player – HS football for me involved a warm coat and a flask of blackberry brandy!  He has a beautiful family with three young girls, all of whom rely solely on him for their income.

I had been told a number of times by now that it was somewhat amazing that I was alive.  I would describe to the social workers or to the doctors or nurses or even the other patients that actually knew about drugs, there how much alcohol I had consumed and how many of each of the types of pills I had swallowed that night and each of them would seem to be taken a bit back.  Almost all of them said the same thing: “Wow, you’re lucky to be alive”!  Now I don’t know if that’s true.  It may be something that people just say to crazy people to keep them from trying again.  Not wanting somehow to insult me by telling me that my attempt at suicide was ill planned and never going to work anyway.  What I do know is what my intention was that night sitting in my truck and that was to clock out.  I made a choice, despite my faith, despite my family’s dependence on me, despite how much I actually had, to just give up, check out and I didn’t care what would happen after that.  Someone else decided to kick my ball back on the field.

Why?  Why me and not him?  What was so special about me to deserve another chance?  What was so special about my family that they didn’t have to go through that? Why was I, who was far more deserving and expecting of something like that happening to passed over and my brother the vegan, all-state football player, podiatrist from a little Norman Rockwell like town in NH chosen?  None of it made sense!

These were the thought going through my mind as I hung up the phone at the staff’s desk, to which I was given special permission to call my brother’s house and speak to my sister in law who explained all the particulars of the my brother’s condition that Friday.  My social worker was walking by and saw me hang up the phone.  Knowing what it was I was doing and to whom I was speaking, she stopped and asked how it went.  I explained to her, exactly my thoughts as I have described above.  She said just one thing and then walked away, leaving for the weekend:

“don’t waste this chance”.

I had a lot to think about that weekend, which was just as well because there really isn’t much to do on weekends in the mental ward.  During the week, your days are highly structured.  Up at 6:30, vitals, meds, breakfast at 7:00, ward meeting at 8:00, group therapy at 10:00, Art/Recreation therapy at 11:00, vitals, meds, Lunch at 12:00, meet with your psychologist, another group therapy, supper, vitals, meds, NA/AA meetings at night, lights out by 11:00 – if you don’t know where to go or what to do just follow the procession of highly medicated unshaven folks in their house shoes and sweat pants with the drawstrings removed, scuffing through the halls on their way to this room or that room, all connected by some sort of invisible string that was simply the highly refined routine of the ward.  There was a cadence to it – a rhythm, a pulse and after a day or so you could just sense it, even appreciate it.  It reminded me of luggage on those belts at the airport; you didn’t have to know where you were going or what you were supposed to do next – you only had to stay on the belt.  Everything else was automated.

Weekends were different.  Most of the doctors and social workers were off.  Our schedule far less regimented.  The string was gone and you just sort of walked around wondering what to do with yourself.  You missed the cadence.  Now you not only had to think about whatever it was that landed you in that place, but also what to actually do with yourself.  By the grace of God, it was one of the only hospitals in the state that actually allowed patients to go outside, into a small, highly fortified courtyard for smoke breaks.  During the week, you didn’t miss a smoke break because, although you always knew exactly when the next would be, you never knew if you would be pulled aside by your doctor or social worker and miss the next, if that happened, it may be half a day till you got a chance to go out again and the thought of it was simply intolerable.  On the weekends, you could about smoke whenever you wanted, but that “can’t miss a chance to smoke” mentality carried over.  That plus boredom and the fact that we were literally all crazy – most of us smoked until our fingertips were stained with nicotine.

We weren’t allowed our bibles there.  Someone in the administration must have seen The Shawshank Redemption.  Someone had told me that there was a shared copy of the New Testament + Psalms available if you asked the staff, but to be honest, I really didn’t have the interest.  My thoughts were almost completely devoted to my brother, lying in some hospital bed 1000 miles away.  Would I be able to get out of here before his surgery?  How could I get there if I did?  My wife had taken all of the money out of the bank account before going to NJ, I wouldn’t even have money for gas to get there.   Could I ask my parents?  My parents, what they must be going through; one boy locked up in the mental ward and another with a brain tumor – how could I ask them for anything now after what I’d contributed to their problems.

And of course, woven throughout all of this was the haunting question “Why”?  Why him not me?  Why his family not mine?  It was the “why” that consumed my thoughts, to the point where I didn’t really realize it at the time but it was the first time since the affair, that my thoughts hadn’t been consumed by the affair.  I knew there was a lot now about which I could be obsessing regarding my wife, our marriage and our family; she had agreed not to divorce me but still chose to leave me there and go to NJ.  Maybe she just didn’t have the heart to tell me it was for good now that my brother was sick.  Maybe it was something that the doctors and social workers hear had told her to say until they thought I was strong enough to deal with her leaving me.  Maybe she would meet someone up there, an old boyfriend or something and just change her mind about coming home.  I was aware of all of these things as was everyone else there – everyone knew everyone else’s story.  Most readily shared their stories with the other patients and the few who didn’t were usually outed by the social workers in small group.  I think that was part of their therapeutic philosophy.  Invariably, I could see the same reaction wash across folks faces when they listened to my situation –  My wife who was here not two months ago for her suicide attempt and drug addiction after being discovered having an affair with her drug dealer, has now decided to abandoned me here in my time of need to go visit family in NJ.  The exact same look on every face; patients, social workers, doctors, nurses and other staff members.  It was a look that said, as clearly as if they had just said it, “um, you know that’s kind of messed up right? I guess I shouldn’t point it out and contribute to this guy’s problems, but he’s far worse off than he thinks.” Every time!  I guess most of them were thinking that I was really just avoiding reality by not concerning myself with these things, but the fact was that for the first time since the affair, I really just didn’t think it was going to be the end of the world if they happened.  My brother was foremost on my mind and as much as that sucked, I felt a relief that for once it wasn’t my wife.

As I took my meds and went to bed that Sunday, I still didn’t know why?

The following Monday I went to my small group.  They had a small group for the crazies and a small group for the drunks/druggies and another for people who were both – I was apparently both crazy and a drunk.  As a matter of fact I was about everything there was to be in that place.  If there was a list there, my name was on it; the don’t give this guy a razor and let him shave list, the may have screwed up his liver and needs blood work list, the needs to go to AA/NA meetings at night list – on it, on it, on it!  Anyway, the way small group usually worked is that there was some kind of lesson, then an exercise, then discussion.  Now I can’t say that I even remember what our lesson was that day or what the actual exercise was, but I do know that the topic of the discussion turned to how we would be remembered if we had actually been successful in our suicide attempts/stayed on drugs/ran away/whatever you actual problem was.

I of course thought of my family.  At first in terms of money and who would discipline the boys and who would teach them to play catch and stuff like that – stuff I felt bad about but nothing particularly wrenching.  My wife was resourceful, I knew that she’d find a way to support them, move in with family or get another job, probably even find someone else to teach them to play catch.  That was a little stab, but it was all stuff I had thought of before.  I remember wondering if my wife did all of these same exercises when she was here, same lessons, talked about the same things.  What would she have said to this?  What would have been the effect had she been successful in her attempt?  I thought back to those days, home alone with the boys and how we felt.  I remembered the baby realizing that Mama hadn’t been there in a while.  The way I felt when he started searching the house for her; “Where’s Mama?  Where’s Mama?…”  So alone, so scared, so empty!  I at least was able to say that Mama was coming home.  She was sick and getting help and would be home when she was strong enough.  What if she wasn’t?  What if I had to sit at the table and tell those boys that she was never coming home?  That she was gone and that they would never get to see them again?  Now I thought of my wife sitting at the table having the same conversation to them about me.

Yeah, that got me.  I could feel the tears well up in my eyes and before I could get them under control in any kind of a discrete way, one escaped suddenly down my cheek.  This of course, is the international small group sign for “now let’s groove on this guy”!  I felt every eye in that room on me as I tried to speak the words that would describe what I had been thinking.  Girls, young kids, guys that had been in prison, guys with motorcycle gang tattoos, little old church ladies, “real” drug addicts who used words like “crank” and “snowball” and “bar of Xanax” .  Of course it seems silly now but I remember feeling inadequate as a chemically dependent person because most of the other people there knew more about the drugs with which I had tried to kill myself than I did.  What were the milligrams, what color was it, generic or name brand, do you remember what number it had on the pills?   I didn’t know, it’s just what the doctors said I needed and to be honest I had never even hear of those drugs before.  I had smoked marijuana a few times in college, but it really wasn’t ever my thing and one time when I lived overseas I took a tab of a thing called ecstasy while we were out drinking and though I would about go outside my mind because it made me feel like a pickle in a jar with everyone else touching me.  I like to park my truck in the woods and drink beer alone while I listen to country music.  It seemed so lame, but that was my thing.  These people, I thought, all think this was all nonsense and who would never be caught crying in small group – I couldn’t believe that I was losing it in front of these people, but I really just didn’t care, I wanted to get this out.

It must have took me about 5 minutes to speak the first two or three sentences because I had to keep stopping to try to control the crying.  I cried some now! And no kind of manly, Lou Gehrig farewell speech or Jack Nicolson “one who flew over the coco’s nest” kind of cry – It was like somebody smacked a girl scout!  Once I got the first few sentences out, the muscles in my throat loosened up and although I was still crying I could now speak freely.  I told them about why I was there; the affair and my wife and my own suicide attempt.  I told them about my brother falling down at his daughter’s little league game at the same time that I was swallowing those pills in my truck that night.  I told them about the way I had lived my life and the way that he had lived his and how the “why” just wouldn’t stop plaguing me.  That I didn’t know.  That I may never know.  And that I didn’t know what to do with that.  I told them about my social worker saying “don’t waste this chance”. I told them about how I didn’t think I deserved it, but it was given to me none the less.  And then I said; “I don’t know why y’all, but I was given this chance, we were all given a chance and for some of us it may be our last chance.  I don’t want to waste our chance”

During all of this, I continued to stare down at the clipboard and pencil with the eraser remove which I had been assigned to complete the exercise.  I didn’t want to see their faces.  I was certain they would judge me.  Think I was a sissy and week for losing it like that in group.  I had outed myself, admitted that something was really wrong with me and I could no longer count myself among the ranks of everyone else who thought they didn’t need to be there.  That it was some mistake.  Just ended up there because of some kind of bad luck.  Just sort of biding their time until the staff said that they had been there long enough and they could leave and go right back to the way they were before.  I summoned my courage and slowly looked up, felling just like a dog who’s just pooped in the hallway as their owner is walking in the house.  I looked at them – frozen, silent, most with tears in their eyes and I saw, for the first time, not drug addicts and motorcycle gang members and guys who were in prison, but people.  People hurting like me, people with broken hearts like me, people who just wanted to stop being broken.

God tells us in Isiah:

Isiah 55:9 (NLT)

8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.
9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts

And that’s really all there’s ever going to be to it.  I’ll never know, at least not during my time on earth, why God decided to give me this chance.  I can only trust that there is a reason and that reason is part of his plan.  I was not to be released from the hospital in time to see my brother before his surgery.  The Wednesday before I was discharged, they operated on him all day and were able to remove most, but not all of the tumor, he lost some motor function in his face and his moods were affected profoundly, he now battles deep bouts of depression and anxiety, but he’s alive.  So far the doctors have not found any new grown of the remaining tumor so we remain optimistic.

The next Friday they decided to let me out.  I’d been there a while now, longer than most stay.  I had seen people who were admitted after me be discharged and I was beginning to wonder if they ever planned to let me out.  By that point I had been there longer than anyone else on the ward and I felt like the mayor.  The mayor of BRP North!  I introduced myself to all the new patients, told them to hang tough, told them that the first night was the worst and that it got better.  I was the guy who knew what time the staff put out the fresh coffee (decaf only) and how to get an extra packet of salt at supper.  I knew and could interpret the color dot codes on the whiteboard behind the staff desk with all of our names on it; green dot means that you were committed, yellow means substance abuse, purple means special medical needs etc.  There was a culture there unto itself.  A culture unlike I’d ever seen before or expect I shall ever see again.  A culture wherein you would see motorcycle gang members and blue haired church ladies sitting next to one and other, talking, laughing, comforting one and other, comfortable with each other.  We were all crazy, all drunks, all broken in one way or another and it was ok to be broken there.  Indeed, it was the only thing that really mattered. I’ve never experienced that anywhere else.  Anywhere else it was always suck it up, be strong, if it doesn’t kill you… but there, for a brief period, we were brought into each other’s lives for a reason – to be broken together, to let each other see that it was ok to be broken sometimes, that life does come at you fast and sometimes you do just have to roll with it.  I didn’t even mind being there anymore.  “Shoot, it’s better than work”, I would say.  As a matter of fact they asked me if I wanted to be discharged on the previous night and I told them that I would prefer to stay until the next day because my buddy would be able to come get me the next day and the only option I would have for getting home Thursday evening would be the preacher.  A two hour ride home with the preacher after trying to kill myself vs. staying an extra night…. I’ll take the extra night.

I had to wait a long time for my buddy to come get me.  I was discharged in the morning but they wouldn’t let me leave until I had a ride and he had to work and then make the drive up to where I was.  You don’t go to groups or anything the day you’re to be discharged, you go to meals, but otherwise you just hang around the common room with all your stuff waiting for your ride.  It was almost supper time by the time my buddy got there.  I was starting to worry that he had forgot.  I was relieved when the phone at the staff desk rang and they told me that my ride was here and would walk me out.

I remember the sound that the heavy magnetic locks on the outside doors made when the opened them to let me out.  These were the same doors on the other side of which I had spent four hours on a bench waiting for my wife to walk through.  I’d never dreamt then that in two months times it would be me on the other side of them and yet here I was about to go through them with my duffle bag and complimentary toiletry box in hand.  Ball cap, wallet, cell phone, pocket knife returned and wearing a belt for the first time in two weeks, I walked out the doors and greeted my friend in front of the same bench on which I had been seated waiting for my wife.  It was empty.

On the ride home I kept seeing the image of that bench in my mind.  It was alright.  I fully realized what it was a symbol of – a metaphor for, but I wasn’t going to let myself worry about the metaphor when I was already hurt about what it was a metaphor for.  Still the image stayed with me.  He had come in my truck as his had needed a new head gasket and he asked if it would be ok if we stopped to pick up his step daughter as she was coming to them to spend the weekend.  We did and headed back toward home.  As opposed to what I might expect the preacher would have said, he simply said “you know this was stupid and I’m gonna have to beat your ass for doing it right”? He just left it at that.  I’m still waiting for that whooping.

His step daughter is a diabetic and started to feel weird on the way home so he wanted to stop and get her something to eat.  We went to McDonalds but it was jam up packed so he decided to go someplace else.  My heart sank as he said “Oh, well just run over to Burger King”.  Burger King I knew was directly next to the hotel where my wife had told me she began her affair with her drug dealer.  As we waited in the line of the drive-thru the hotel was directly in front of my truck.  My spirit sank as I could feel myself returning to the reality that had been and still was my world.  “Which room was it”?, I thought “what was she wearing?  Did he make the first move or did she? Did she really not come here expecting to have sex with him or was that a lie? Was she under the influence of the drugs when she decided to lay down with him or was it before? What did they say to each other?  Did they talk about me?  Did she even feel bad”?

We got the food and left to drive the last 20 minutes home. He asked me if I wanted to come over for supper, but I knew that sooner or later I would have to return to my empty house.  I just wanted to get it over.   I dropped them off and went to town to buy a case of beer.