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Real beauty, real marriage

On the fading of beauty.

wilting flower

Charm is deceptive and Beauty is fleeting…Proverbs 31:30

I’ve lately contemplated that I am the age where my beauty such as it is, is fading. I think of it occasionally, albeit in dependable cycles. It emerges on my birthdays, and on my children’s birthdays since they entered their 20s. It feels oddly illicit to be giving it this much thought at the moment, but in the interest of getting real, I’m confessing it.

I used to not think about it much for a few reasons. The first is that I am of an ethnic group which ages slower than women of other ethnic groups. Play our cards right, and by 60 we easily look 15 or more years younger than our same aged sisters of other groups.  There’s even a mantra surrounding our aesthetic longevity: “black don’t crack”.

The jig will eventually be up for all of us however, regardless of melanin count, and on days when lack of rest, improper diet, or stress driven agendas take their toll, the music shows slows down and the jig along with it. It’s rather remarkable the way God designed us to recover relatively quickly if we regroup and recapture our self-care game before the thing gets too out of hand.

The second reason I don’t dwell when I think of the fading effect is because I have been blessed with a love so strong and pure that one look into its eyes reflects a beauty unlike any I have ever seen in a mirror, even during my most comely years. Loving well and being well loved creates an exquisite beauty all its own; unique, unrivaled, and more real than the fleeting version we will all eventually bid adieu.

Rather than viewing this inevitable development as a tragedy, we should remember that growing old is the literal best case scenario. I suppose we could all, gripped by panic and vanity, just die young and beautiful, never encountering the reality of our frailty nor enduring the vanishing vapor of youth. In the rich and prosperous West, the sum total of our desirable years (as determined by our culture) is only 1/3 of our total life span.

Contemplating that fact gives me a profound sense of gratitude for the blessing of a passionate marriage to a man who is passionate in his devotion to and desire for me. Whether or not I am desirable in the larger culture is rendered irrelevant when I’m in the arms of my beloved.  My desirability is not in question. Whether or not I am beautiful to the one whose opinion I attach importance to on the matter is settled and unwavering. This is the beauty of marriage over the long haul.

Not everyone will marry, especially in our culture’s current iteration. Part of the reason for that is the way we have bastardized the institution. People walk down the aisle, spout all manner of dishonesty in the form of vows, grow disillusioned, break the vows, lather, rinse, repeat. The transcendent beauty of a love that encompasses all the ups and downs of life enveloping us, our children, and those closest to us with the security of resting on something solid has been abandoned.

Attempting to feel endless excitement from the shallow mirage of novelty, women find themselves unable to ever feel beautiful. How can they, perpetually on the open market? It’s enough to undercut the confidence of all but the most world wizened woman, and the consumer juggernaut takes advantage of every opportunity to dial up the doubts.

Finding the balance between being our best and living with the reality that we must, at some point, succumb to the inevitable is a balance best struck through love. Be grateful for the love of our husbands, and reciprocate it enthusiastically.

The love of our children, sisters, and friends serves as a bulwark against the flood of messages telling us we are ugly, weak, and undeserving of a life full of love and beauty. There is no surer way to walk through every leg of life’s journey with your head held high than giving and receiving love with a grateful heart.

Of course, there’s no money to be made selling that as a beauty treatment, so you’ll have to dig deep and make it happen for yourselves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

real life., Uncategorized

Solitude.

I am an introvert. Of the highest order. I live in my head, and my family often has to shake me to pull me out. Having been neck deep in the trenches of marriage and large family life since my early 20s, I’ve spent far too many hours fantasizing about having a prolonged period of silence to read, write, or pray. I think mean those in that order, whatever it says about my faith.

We often wax poetically about the things we wish for and how wonderful they would be because for the most part, we don’t often expect to receive them. As a homeschooling mother who also helps her husband in his profession throughout the day silence is a rare commodity for me and, like most people, I always want what I can’t have. And then, last weekend, I actually got it.

Through a relatively random series of events our children, all five of them, went on a road trip which extended from Friday through Monday. What’s more is that it was a weekend that my husband had lots of work scheduled, which meant that I would have Friday and Saturday at least, all to myself. Do wonders never cease? Silence, solitude, and the space to think were just around the corner. You’d think I grabbed the bull by the horns and soaked up the opportunity, and you’d be wrong. Well, mostly.

On Friday, after the kids left and my husband headed off to work, I found myself slightly disoriented. It was so quiet it felt like I had stepped into a parallel universe, and like anyone else in a foreign environment, I wasn’t sure what the rules were. I washed the breakfast dishes and cleaned the kitchen, resisting the urge to turn on my old Motown favorites or worse, the TV, just to fill the silence.

That task took all of half an hour, and right about then one of the kids texted me: “Is it strange being there all by yourself?” It was, I told her and after a few back and forths, I figured I should tackle some laundry. Laundry is the one chore around our house that I frequently fall behind on and the last thing I make time for as the day wears on. But here I was with no kids to teach, no riveting conversations to engage in and no fights to break up. I really had no excuse for avoiding the laundry (ooh! an epiphany!) so I got to it. There was a lot of it, too.

While I did the laundry I felt a sudden desire to pray. Silence and privacy are a great opportunity to get honest with God without worries of being overheard. The laundry and simultaneous time of prayer got me to lunch time, which is usually when I waste copious amounts of brain cells on the Internet. I’m doing that right now, in fact. I chatted with a few friends via email, wrote a blog post, and then cleaned up my teeny tiny lunch mess. It was nice, the minimal effort and small number of dishes.

I was starting to feel pretty good about it all, because not only was my psyche being served by the silence, but my home was too. I knew there was no point in getting used to my quiet, clean house, but it was kind of nice. The best part was that a particular mood of anticipation to see my husband kicked in. We always enjoy each other’s company immensely and have learned increasingly how very fortunate we are in that, but this was different. This was like a throwback to 26 years ago, before we were ever married, when  I anticipated his arrival. It was a great night. I think the mental shift provided by the silence in the absence of the kids was freeing. Day one of the solitude experiment was a success.

On Saturday, duty called. Friends are important and we were grateful for the occasion to be there for ours. Afterward, the day was still relatively young and my husband had work to do. I had the option of soaking up some more silence while he went off to do his work. Suddenly the prospect of another day of solitude didn’t sound so great. Maybe it was the remaining glow from our totally fun time together the day before. Whatever it was, despite all my purported introversion and desire for silence,  I wasn’t quite feeling like being alone.  So I packed up my own laptop in a bag with a couple of books and went with him because, I told myself and him as well, when he was done we’d be closer to the restaurant where we’d be having dinner. We had another great day together, and it never even occurred to me that  I was missing out on the chance to be alone to soak up some silence. It was a long day, but the sleep was sweet.

Sunday was worship, family, fun and whatever else we found to occupy ourselves, only without our children’s accompanying noisy presence. I was missing them, and their mess, and their noise. By the time they got home on Monday morning, we were both ready to embrace them, and I’d learned that I really do love my kids! Because we live in a culture where absolutely nothing goes without saying anymore, I feel it imperative that I take a small detour here and elaborate on that last bit.

Of course I love my children, have always loved my children, and have always known that I love my children. What I had begun to lose, kicking and screaming from beneath the weight of all the duties attached to raising them, was the ability to enjoy them. I carried a weight of guilt over that, and I worried that my bouts of impatience coupled with the urgency to tick off all the boxes made them feel unloved. That’s a kind of mother guilt you have to a be a mother to appreciate. Unless you’re a mother, looking for the sanity in this is probably a waste of mental energy you’d be better off using far more productively elsewhere. Now…where was I?

My truncated time of solitude was equal parts productive, instructive, and illuminating. I learned that I do need some time to myself every now and again. It frees me to commune with my Creator, it sparks an opportunity for me to remember everything that my husband and I were together before we were the parents of many children, and it reminded me of what a blessing it is to nurture, love, and be loved by these young people I was honored to be bring into the world as a vessel, participating in beginnings of their very existence.

I’m still an introvert. I still live in my head, and there will still be times when my family will have to shake me to pull me out. I’ll still have moments when, as I contemplate being pulled out, I wish for some silence and solitude. Because we always wish for the thing just out of our reach, but I know some things now.

I know that solitude can be good, but it  can also be overrated. I know that I don’t need nearly as much of it as I thought I did, although I do need a little. I know that once I’ve had my fill, I’ll be more than happy to crawl out, reach for my man, kiss my kids, and enjoy my noisy, crazy, busy life.

 

 

Getting real, real marriage

You really expect me to be all of that?

Our culture discourages real relationships. In fact, the dominant culture actively encourages us to abandon relationships and people at the first sign of things getting real. Somehow, this abandonment is supposed to propel us forward on our journey towards personal honesty and authenticity.

The level of cognitive dissonance inherent in this approach to life should be obvious to the most educated populace in human history, but somehow the folly of it eludes most of us. This is an attempt on my part, however small and seemingly insignificant, to inject some sanity of thinking into the madness that seems to have taken hold today. I am going to offer some experience, and yes my opinion, on the beauty of relationships which last long enough to get real.

Not long ago I ran across a quote from psychotherapist, relationship researcher and author Esther Perel. I didn’t know much about her before I encountered this particular quote from her book, and what I learned after reading her quote did not inspire me to get more acquainted with her. However, this particular quote was a strong one, standing well on a foundation of truth:

So reconciling our need for security and our need for adventure into one relationship, or what we today like to call a passionate marriage, used to be a contradiction in terms. Marriage was an economic institution in which you were given a partnership for life in terms of children and social status and succession and companionship. But now we want our partner to still give us all these things, but in addition I want you to be my best friend and my trusted confidant and my passionate lover to boot, and we live twice as long. So we come to one person, and we basically are asking them to give us what once an entire village used to provide:

Give me belonging, give me identity, give me continuity, but give me transcendence and mystery and awe all in one.
Give me comfort, give me edge.
Give me novelty, give me familiarity.
Give me predictability, give me surprise.
And we think it’s a given, and toys and lingerie are going to save us with that.

Whatever my thoughts about her answer to these dilemmas (I passionately disagree with her), her statement of the problem is more eloquently accurate than anything else I’ve read to date.

To put it succinctly, we’re being trained to search for and demand relationships which are not real.

Surely, intuitively, we understand that no mere human can feed every desire of our soul; that no mere man can satisfy every need and longing we might ever face. Nevertheless, we buy into the idea that this is what marriage is supposed to do for us; that it is the culmination of the Great Search for the one person that will make us whole.

When reality inevitably comes knocking, or more accurately kicks in the door of our imaginary fortress of love, we’re told it means we miscalculated. We chose the wrong person. We need to correct our mistake lest we live out the rest of our lives in misery and regret.

We women are notorious for mistaking fantasy for reality. It’s not that men don’t harbor unrealistic expectations, but they generally regroup and adapt to reality more quickly. They accept an ending of passion in married life as a part of what marriage is. Women however, when the inevitable happens -even minor ebbs and flows- assume a problem in their particular marriage, that somehow another one will be better. The good news is that both of these assumptions, when embraced as if they are the conclusion of the matter, are wrong.

It is possible to hold the passion of early marriage in one hand as the other reaches out in gratitude to grasp the increasing security and familiarity that envelopes a relationship. Marriages can joyfully withstand and even thrive in the midst of the mundane stuff of life; the things that increase as responsibilities and routines of family life stress you in ways that kept your most ungracious tendencies at bay when the two of you are living on love.  But first, you must shut out the cacophony of voices telling you there’s something better out there so that you can be thankful for what you have, and get real.

Love is not defined by perpetual sexual excitement, frequent declarations of love, and repeated grand romantic gestures. All of that stuff is great, and it certainly feels wonderful, but it’s not the essence of love.

Love is patient. When it wants to yell and argue, it stops ever so briefly to consider the other person’s point of view. Love is kind. It sacrifices what it wants to give to its object. It doesn’t envy. It celebrates the victories of the beloved and trusts in their commitment to the relationship. It doesn’t boast or lord over its object when the temptation to do so is presented.

Love doesn’t seek its own. Love understands that it is not on its own anymore. It doesn’t keep a record of wrongs. Rather, it keeps very short accounts. Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. Love that transcends our fickle and temporary feelings. This love, the genuine article, never fails.

A person we greatly respect and admire recently lost their spouse, and this was the admonition offered to those of us blessed enough wake up next to our spouses this morning:

Lover harder, laugh longer, and forgive faster than you ever have before.

This is profound and true.

I hope very soon to put a finer point on this issue of real relationships. Namely, how do we even begin to understand the proper way to feed all the facets of our minds, hearts, and being without putting an unreal burden on our spouses; expecting marriage to do and be something it could never possibly do or be?

Getting real

Must Be This Real to Ride.

distortion-61

The writing bug gripped me from a young age and has held me for as long as I can remember. From teenage noshing on cheesy romance novels to short-lived, misguided and inept attempts of poetry; and even self-aggrandizing dreams of changing the world through my righteous opinions. The drive for the pen was strong. Politics, relationships, racial controversy, and even theology swirled through my mind as potential avenues of creative expression. The last strikes me as uproariously ridiculous in retrospect, but is tempered with an exhale of relief that I never waded into that baptismal pool.

Life, if we’re paying attention, clears a path for us. We learn, grow older, and hopefully, eventually, learn who we really are. We also learn what we are not, our strengths, weaknesses, and limitations. These lessons are often only learned with the passing of time. Acknowledging the reality of our warts and weaknesses, challenges and triumphs along the hills and valleys of our life opens us up to the real.

Real is sorely lacking in this current culture because authenticity doesn’t always make us feel good. Reality often hurts our feelings, and hurt feelings –whether our own or those around us- are something we avoid at all costs. The cost of this concession however, is high, and it’s a price I am no longer willing to pay. Real is worth the painful truth. It’s priceless.

The beauty of life lived in the real is that it is both painful and joy-filled. We celebrate and mourn. We laugh and we cry. We sometimes get it just right, then our egos are checked after we bungle it. (Insert well-worn clichés about journeys and destinations here, because here they actually apply). If even half of us who used those clichés believed them, the world would be filled with more content people.

Instead, we live in a sphere which discourages inclinations to acknowledge one’s weakness or frailty. One where failure to make it to the top of the mountain is accompanied by shame, producing an entire generation of perpetual mountain climbers, posting cropped images of their fake arrival at the pinnacle on social media rather than blooming where they’re planted.  Blooming means having to hang up the harness and accept camping near the middle of the mountain. Or worse, admitting that we have to settle at its base.

What is a ridiculous way to approach life! But sadly, small dreams coming true are discounted count these days. There’s nothing people seem to fear today more than being ordinary, a face in the crowd, just another average Jane. So we’re surrounded by caricatures masquerading as real. Sometimes the caricatures are us. People convincing themselves and others that the caricature of awesomeness is something other than a fun house mirror image.

Not all the fake images are of perfection, however. Some prefer caricatures of misery. To be extraordinarily miserable is at least to be in some way extraordinary, so many embrace that. To win this contest, the weak show themselves spectacularly weak, broadcasting their struggles for the world to see; the Oppression Olympics as it were. This earns verbal accolades of bravery providing the sympathy which fuels another day and a crutch to get over the rough patches in life. It draws the attention and assistance of the strong.

Most everyone is playing the game while secretly and quietly hungering for something real. Real love, real friends, real life. It’s hard to find because –despite all the poetic waxing about authenticity- reality isn’t sexy. Reality doesn’t keep the propaganda machine going,

If we embraced reality en masse, we’d handicap the consumer juggernaut which keeps us spending ever more to prop up who we wish we were rather than who we really are.

I’m a cog in the machine as well. I won’t pretend otherwise. Nevertheless, my taste for reality has grown into a ravenous hunger, and I’m undertaking this journey in the hope that I’m not alone. What that looks like is what I hope to work out here, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it unfolds.

If you happen to stumble upon me as I grope around in this murky, foggy atmosphere, welcome. Whether this turns out to be a dud or one wild ride, I welcome all fellow travelers.