How to Make the Magic Happen in a Marriage

Three words can make magic happen in a marriage. The three words aren’t “I love you.” The three words are I, am, and sorry.

marriage

Photo Credit: Christophe Verdier via Compfight cc

I went to college in the golden age of the computer lab—a sterile, windowless room in the basement of a dormitory where students wrote papers and saved them on floppy disks. I didn’t write my papers there. I wrote my papers on a legal pad in my dorm room and then went to the computer lab to transcribe them. The first draft was the final draft. No revisions.

I didn’t like making revisions.

The perfectionist in me liked to think I could get it right the first time, be done with it, and move on. Revisions seemed tedious and complicated and messy and unnecessary.

Sixteen years later, I started this blog, and every week I’d put my wife in an impossible position: I’d give her the first draft of a blog post and ask for feedback I didn’t really want. When she would return the document with suggestions, I’d bristle. My ego wanted a stamp of approval, and the perfectionist in me wanted nothing to do with the hard, messy work of revision.

Marriage is a lot like writing.

We become perfectionists in our marriages, too, and not in a good way. We like to think we’re getting it right the first time. And we certainly don’t want the person we love to suggest any revisions in us. We want them to love the first draft of who we are.

We want a stamp of approval.

Promises to Our Boys About Manhood (On the First Day of School)

I’m writing this from the empty playground at my boys’ grade school. Right now, in the final dog days of summer, it is still and quiet. But in a week, when school starts, it will be teeming with the energy and activity of my boys and their peers.  And it will be teeming with messages.

boys men

Photo Credit: MFer Photography via Compfight cc

What messages will this playful space send them about being boys and becoming men? If history is any indication, our boys will learn to live like an old, buried, neglected water main…

Why You Should Unsubscribe From My Mailing List

The world isn’t moving at an increasingly rapid pace; we humans are. Beneath all the noise we make is a world beating slow and steady and quiet. It’s up to us to find the rhythm…

mindfulness

Photo Credit: Courtney Dirks via Compfight cc

September is on the way.

If I put my ear to the ground, I can hear its manic rumblings.

The pools will shut down and the schools will open up. And with three kids in school, the onslaught is about to begin: back to school ice cream socials and curriculum nights and forms to sign and homework to complete and soccer practice and guitar practice and school drop-off and school pick-up and illnesses and sick days and bullies and tears.

All of it in triplicate.

The hours of light will shrink and the hours of obligations will expand and the open space of summertime will be crowded out by activities and responsibilities and hurry and voices and noise.

September is on the way.

Of course, parents aren’t the only ones burdened by the frenzy of life and September is not the only culprit. We’re all swimming in an increasingly loud and agitating sea of activities and obligations and the voices of business and commerce and news and information. And we’re immersed in it all the time…

The Virus is Coming

Ebola virus

Photo Credit: jungmoon via Compfight cc

The virus is coming.

Actually, it’s probably not coming. But if it was, what would you do with your dwindling days?

And I don’t mean what would your animal self do. I don’t mean the things you’d do to survive. I don’t mean the looting and the hiding and the procreating. I’m not wondering what your fear would tell you to do; I’m wondering what your soul would tell you to do?

I’m wondering: who would you call?

I’m wondering: if you had one last chance, what new way would you find to tell the ones you love about the depth of that love?

I’m wondering what you would pay attention to. What would you soak up and drink in like it might be your last taste? I’m wondering if you’d pay attention to the glint of sun off your child’s eyelashes. I’m wondering if you’d feel the skin of your lover—not just touch it, but feel it. I’m wondering if the smell of freshly cut grass and the sound of late-summer cicadas winding up and winding down would make you ache with gratitude. I’m wondering if every ripple on a pond would be cause for celebration. I’m wondering if the birds in the trees would sound like a choir and the people in front of us would look like gods.

I’m wondering if we would wake up.

No Matter What, You Are Beautiful and Beloved

Whatever lies we’ve swallowed and no matter how loud the voice of shame hollers in our heads, there is another voice whispering, waiting patiently and hoping to be heard. It’s the brilliant, counter-intuitive, scandalous voice of grace, whispering its truth at the edges of our being: No matter what, you are beautiful and beloved.

grace

Photo Credit: DaDaAce via Compfight cc

I walk into my son’s elementary school fundraiser dressed in a wig, bathrobe, and women’s boots.

A best costume contest has been advertised, so earlier in the day, I walked into a Goodwill store as a suburban dad and walked out as a rock star circa 1985. But now, as I skitter across the icy parking lot in four-inch heals with my chest hair showing, I realize something: with the exception of the few friends who came with me, no one else has chosen to compete.

The crowd of people slip-sliding from the parking lot to the entrance is all ball gowns and khakis and sport coats.

And, somewhere in the shadows of my mind, my shame-whisper begins it’s murmuring:

Everyone else knows what they’re doing and you don’t.

You look silly. Ridiculous.

You’re a joke. 

The One Illusion We Cannot Afford To Believe In

“We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness.”

—Thich Nhat Hanh

community

Photo Credit: Leon Fishman via Compfight cc

I’m on the fifth floor of a hotel in Pennsylvania, waiting for an elevator to the lobby. It’s July 4th—Independence Day in America. Early morning, and I’m leaving the hotel to find a cheaper breakfast. As I wait, I become aware of piped-in music overhead. I hear lyrics that remind me of my wife: “Fortune teller said I’d be free, and that’s the day you came to me.”

I instantly reach for my phone, Google the lyrics, and the song title is the top result. I click out of Google, tap my Spotify app, search for the song, and the song playing above my head is now coming out of my phone.

I enjoy the dopamine rush of immediate gratification and I marvel at the convenience of technology. But mostly, I revel in my apparent self-sufficiency. Twenty years ago, I would’ve required the help of a number of people to identify the song, find a music store, and purchase the CD.

In 2014, I interact with no one.

In 2014, I can completely ignore how interdependent all of us are…

Why Sometimes Hope is Hopeless and Hopelessness is Our Best Hope

Hope can be a beautiful thing, but it can also be the worst of things. Because sometimes our numbered days are spent hoping and waiting, instead of acting and living…

hope

Photo Credit: Theen … via Compfight cc

Last March, as the long, bitter Chicago winter wore on, my wife and I started hoping for something different. We began searching for houses in Nashville. Every morning, we’d check our weather app for the temperature in Nashville, and every night we’d scan our email for new home listings.  By the time we fell asleep, we’d be dreaming of an acre of wooded land in the temperate winters and rolling hills of Tennessee.

Summer has arrived in Chicago. We don’t look at the Nashville home listings anymore.

Hope is a wonderful thing when it feels like the wind at our backs, carrying us toward the good things we seek. But, if we’re honest with ourselves, sometimes—maybe even most of the time—we hope so we don’t have to change anything at all.

Why I Don’t Believe in Grace Anymore

I used to say I believed in grace. I don’t say that anymore. Now I say I have known grace, and what I know is this: grace believes in me

grace

Photo Credit: Novafly via Compfight cc

It’s 9pm, and I walk in the door still carrying the burdens of a day at my office. The kids are already in bed, eyelids heavy but holding out for a “goodnight” from Daddy. My wife is tired but smiling and happy to see me.

And I don’t want any of it.

I stomp around, tearing open mail, griping about food that isn’t in the fridge, acting like a serious jerk. And in some secret place inside of me, I know it. Somehow, this only makes it worse. I wait for the reprisal from my wife. The well-earned reprisal. The angry, “I don’t deserve this!”

But it isn’t forthcoming. Instead, she kisses me on the cheek, says she loves me, and goes to bed with the same smile on her face. I stand by myself in the kitchen, but I have two companions. My bad mood. And my wife’s grace.

How Self-Acceptance Might Just Save the World

“The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years.” 

—Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn 

self-acceptance

Photo Credit: [RAWRZ!] via Compfight cc

When I was in middle school, I was forbidden to see the new Batman movie starring Michael Keaton. I understand why:

He was complicated.

He was a superhero, but he was depicted as dark and disturbed and a little unhinged. Instead of wearing his trademark gray, he cloaked himself in black. Instead of telling jokes, he was somber and depressed. He did good things, but he did them for the wrong reasons. He was a complicated, tortured soul, working out his redemption in the best way he knew how.

He was a good guy, but he had bad parts.

In a word, he was human.

Now, almost twenty-five years later, our cinematic superheroes are increasingly complicated. They are good guys with bad parts. We’ve become quite comfortable with the complexity of our fictional characters.

Yet, we continue to resist, and fail to embrace, this complexity in our lives and in our hearts

How to Accept the Things That Drive Us Crazy in a Marriage

We spend most of our marriages trying to change our lovers. Ironically, the most important change we can make is to accept more of the good but crazy-making things about each other…

marriage

Photo Credit: DezCreates via Compfight cc

In the spring of 1999, a film called Jerry Maguire left a permanent mark on pop culture, with three little phrases:

“Show me the money.”

“You had me at Hello.”

And, “You complete me.”

By the autumn of ’99, it had become my favorite movie, probably because I was broke and single. I wanted someone to show me the money. And I wanted someone to complete me. I met my wife that autumn. She was broke, too, but there was no question she completed me. Which is to say, she was the opposite of me in endless ways.

She gladly jumped out of planes; I deliberated about jumping out of the bathtub.

She loved to run; I loved to run to the couch.

She had one tattoo and plans for more; I avoided pain at all costs.

She was energized by a crowd; a party left me with an introvert hangover for days.

She was a feminist; I had once heard of feminism.

I panicked if I misplaced my car keys; she shrugged her shoulders when she misplaced her car.

You get the idea—she was a free spirit and my spirit had routines. She was the opposite of me in endless ways and, consequently, she was fascinating to me in endless ways. She drew me out of my shell, propelled me into a bigger world, and made me look at the stars instead of the ground.

The problem is, in most relationships, we begin by looking for someone to complete us, and we end up wishing we had someone who was identical to us.