"Yes, words are useless! Gobble-gobble-gobble-gobble-gobble! Too much of it, darling, too much! That is why I show you my work! That is why you are here!"
So that's Edna, from the Incredibles. Possibly my favorite character, just for sheer enthusiasm.
Couple of us wives are meeting once a week, going through Ephesians, looking for the statements about our identity. That's pretty cool. And we talk about what that identity means for us in our marriages, in our friendships, at work, with our church family, etc.
So, both wives had an odd request for me. I'm used to thinking in terms of, women deal with women, men deal with men. This is, perhaps, something of a cultural leftover from the hypervigilance several of us had when a friend's wife cheated on him while we were all working overseas. They asked me to stop doing this - that if I need to talk with either of their husbands about something, that I just talk with him, instead of going through his wife. There are other points that bug them, too, like being hyper-cautious about riding in a vehicle with one of their husbands by myself, or that I'd rather stay over at my single girlfriend's place for the night than with S (who lives next door), because mornings are an intimate time for me and I would feel awkward sharing that with her husband when mine is unavailable.
Overall, the message was, "Look, it was kind of sweet when we didn't know you, but we're friends now, we really do trust you and our husbands, this is just ridiculous."
So, that's been on my mind. I don't have an answer. I can't keep irritating them with this, and it's going against the grain of what I'm used to, to just interact directly with the guys. Okay, yes, these guys are friends with Rick.
Apparently I've also been communicating to both of them, by talking in the group more than my husband does, that I don't respect my husband.
This is especially interesting to me, because one of these women has communicated by frequently ridiculing her husband in public that she doesn't respect him. (Not the case - turns out that was an outpouring of her own feelings guilt and dislike for herself.) S pointed out that she and her husband know each other's views of the Bible so well that she already knows what he's going to say when he speaks, so she doesn't feel the need to add anything to it.
That's definitely not going on with Rick and me.
(Actually, Rick thinks I read too much. We tried me-not-reading for about four days. I was really stressed. We tried me-just-reading-at-designated-times, which worked about as well as watching a movie for an hour each day. Currently, we're trying the approach of overloading my reading plate with material I need for class, so that what I'm reading is theoretically useful. I like anatomy. Nom nom A&P textbooks.)
And then we three wives got into why do I talk as much as I do? I mean, they were honestly interested.
I usually just shrug and announce, "I'm an extrovert," but there's two reasons that doesn't work here. One, S doesn't believe there's such a thing as extroverts and introverts. Two, I know perfectly well that I talk when I'm excited, and I talk when I'm nervous. When I'm relaxed and happy, like hanging out with Jewel at her house and it's just the two of us, I'm a "quiet extrovert." I want to be around people, but I don't necessarily need to converse, just want to be near them.
In our little tribe, I'm nervous. Every time I talk, it's because I'm eager to prove that I have something of value to offer.
Because I feel like I don't. More than that, I feel like if other people don't believe I have something to offer, then they'll leave me out of things. They won't want me around. I'll lose the opportunity to have relationships
It's actually pretty stupid. Because I know that Rick, S, and A think I'm beautiful; they all tell me so. I know Jewel appreciates me being there; she's told me so. There's always a nasty little whisper, "That was then. This is now. You messed up in THIS way and THIS OTHER THING since then. You have to prove yourself again." And, of course, all I end up proving is that I'm overeager to talk.
Last night, I had the opportunity to experience the other side of this. Several of us in class are assigned to a sort of group project, we're getting to know each other. One young lady (dresses well, very pretty hair and skin, has a lot of the visual points women like to have going for themselves) is the most likely, out of the handful of us, to burst in with commentary designed to prove that she has some experience and knowledge to share. It's not that she's wrong in what she's saying, it's that it's a little irrelevant, and it's honestly okay not to know much; this is a basic level course, the instructors expect that most of us are beginners.
So, Thursday I had this talk with the other two wives, and then Friday I'm watching/listening to instruction punctuated by happy-desperate bursts of semi-relevant information, thinking, "Huh. Is that what it's like for the others?"
There's a point where Jesus advises people, "If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it from you. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it away." Obviously, He's not referring to physically maiming - it's still completely possible to lust with the remaining eye, steal with the remaining hand. But that's what I'm thinking of. I seem to keep coming back to this idea that I just plain talk too much, and I wish I could just remove my tongue and fix the problem. Physically removing the offending member isn't going to change the heart-nature, though; whatever the problem is at heart, it'd just find some other way to express.
I don't want to be disrespectful and offensive. Do I "not-want" that enough to put in the effort to make an uncomfortable change?
I really don't know. I thought I did. But we keep coming back to this.
I have some very well-meaning friends who keep telling me that I need to understand my "identity in Christ."
"What we have here is a failure to communicate."
'Identity' for me is a problem word. Like grace. And honor as a verb. It's really important, and pretty vague. I think the main reason I struggle with this 'identity in Christ' concept is because I don't really think in terms of, "Who am I?" to begin with.
(I'm not really a big fan of my name, either. Mostly because it gets used like "shipmate!" People who have something kind or positive to say are usually emotionally close enough that no form of address is necessary.)
Something didn't so much "click" as "clunk" a few days ago. See, a few days ago was T's birthday. (Don't look at me like that; some numbers you just memorize for a few years and they don't go away. I can also give you my best friend's phone number from when I was 16.) And while I'm not friends with T on facebook, I was thinking that in with the 50 other people who said happy birthday I could do the same. It wouldn't hurt anything.
And it clunked. Not clicked, this one was more like one of those thoughts that falls like a 5-pound-weight onto sheet metal. That's not something a wife would do. I mean, a wife who knows God, and loves her husband as a function of her relationship with God. She wouldn't go wish her ex-boyfriend a happy birthday. It's not a question of right or wrong, it's a question of identity.
Paul, a bunch of times in the New Testament, addresses one church or another with this idea, "You are saints! Act like saints!"
I've been trying to get my brain around this identity idea like it's some deep understanding into who I am, something that will finally click and make sense of the many twisty recesses of my interior heart. Doesn't work, or at least, hasn't so far. So far, it's like trying to memorize a mountain by reading about it.
But when it comes to action, that's a lot easier.
I've admittedly had some issues with the 'wife' identity, fussing about how I haven't had good examples and don't know what it looks like. Okay, that can be argued, if the goal is 'to be a good wife.' I don't know what that looks like. That's still really vague. What I DO understand is, "I know God. God gave me His son Rick to love, care for, respect. If a person has kids, you don't expect to be rude to their kids and have a good relationship with them. If you're kind to their kids, your friendship with that person takes off. I have some okay ideas of how to be kind to Rick, and I love God. That, at least, I can make sense of."
I'm becoming less cerebral, I'm noting. Old me would have been horrified. Living inside this, I think old me can stuff it.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector."
This happens once in awhile in our church. And by, "once in awhile," I mean the last time this came up was either before I came to this church, or while I was on deployment. This is the first one I've witnessed.
It's been a year in the making, I think. The whole process. The man's daughter is one of the girls I've come to love. I've been praying for her, that she wouldn't grow hard and bitter through this, because she's one of the more gentle ones and I hate seeing that.
I didn't think beyond that.
One of my friends is going through a lot of pain because the church she was attending didn't want to do this. They'd prefer that, since a man is a friend and leader within their church, the sin he refuses to address not be known to the congregation. She wanted to confess her part in it, and they would have none of it publicly. Privately, they blamed her and made it clear she was not welcome. (This is the opposite of what's supposed to happen. It's supposed to be that the repentant one is welcome, and the church as a body works together to help the person. Repentance is the outward posture of the gratitude that is the natural response to understanding who Jesus is. You only make it known to the congregation if someone really won't repent, because that's how someone announces they're done with Jesus.)
I knew about this girl's family pain, a little bit, but I mostly saw it in terms of her being in pain.
I've grown so, so callous. I had a philosophy that divorce was like cancer - it was really awful to go through, but it happened sometimes, and there wasn't any way to predict whether it would happen to your own family.
It's not supposed to happen.
Our pastor read a letter to the congregation this Sunday, and it dawned on me that this is a small picture of why our (Rick's and my) mentors are pleasantly exasperated with us. We're one of three couples in our tribe that they counsel, and every time we bring them a conflict, they help us through it, but there's an air of bafflement as to why we aren't solving these ourselves.
I'd forgotten that this couple sees so much of what happens in this church, not just our little tribe, which is at most a tenth of the church's size. They've been trying to help this older couple be resolved and whole again, part of the body again. This is not the only one, but I can see how it's been wearing on them.
Most of the things we've been bringing them are really, truly, small potatoes. I just didn't see it. I know, I know, any problems in a relationship are the fault of both people, not just one...but I also know the mompetition rule.
(The mompetition rule states, among women, if you want to eliminate half the competition, one-upping, and negativity from your relationships...stop doing it.)
While it might not clear up everything, a huge chunk of what's been going on has just been my own selfishness. I've been demanding that Rick do what I want, that he be perceptive to what makes me happy, while also expecting that he interpret what I do for him in the spirit it's given. Basically, double-standard, evaluating him by how I feel about what he's done, and evaluating myself based on how I feel about what I've done.
God's bigger than that. A LOT bigger. And His standards are infinitely more worthwhile than mine.
Listening to the letter written to the congregation, something hit me about both writing and marriage. Part of the reason writing used to be so good, so enjoyable for me, was because I liked writing about what I thought was beautiful. It might be tragic beauty, it might be fiercely joyful beauty, but I loved writing beauty. Writing to vent ugliness from inside me - it makes sense that this would make for undesirable reading.
There is so much that I am thankful for in Rick, in our marriage, in our life together. I'd rather live in awareness of these things. I'd rather write these things.
Seeing Jesus - understanding a glimpse of who God is, and what He did for undeserving wretched little me - produces profound gratitude. There's a moment of despair, over how I could not possibly deserve this gift, and when I understand that it is given to me, not because I'm worthy of it but because He wants to give it and because He's the supreme authority He's going to give it* so it's unquestionably mine now...that blows my mind and makes me want to do everything that pleases Him. That's repentance - turning around and going His way.
*I grew up in a culture where it was socially expected that one gently refuse an offered gift until it is very clear that it is to be accepted. One does not gently refuse God.
Living in my marriage in gratitude for who Jesus is, which spills over into gratitude to Him for who Rick is (because, as wonderful as Rick is, Rick is wonderful because Jesus made him wonderful, not because Rick decided to be wonderful)...that's the marriage I want to have, the life I want to live.
And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed. -Genesis 2:25
I reread that one recently. Doing a chronological study of the Bible this year, one of course starts in Genesis. It grabbed my attention, because that's what I'm doing with my heart. "Captivating" gets me naked, and I am ashamed.
I had a ritual in high school. At the end of each day, I would turn off all the lights in my room but one, put on Bruce Springsteen's "Worlds Apart" on repeat, and punish myself for whatever I had done wrong that day. This involved seeing my unclad body in the mirror, and using my nails to draw deep scratches everywhere I could, one for each offense I could remember from the day. Pain was the only time I felt in control of anything. I had some idea that I was purging the badness from me, that over time, since I used my own body to hurt myself, myself would no longer do bad things but only what was good for my body, and when I reached that point, I would be whole.
(This was a very distant future, and since I fully expected that I would actually go through with killing myself before I reached majority, I did this more because I felt like it was something I had to do, keep the badness from raging out worse, than any hope in a future.)
Seeing my body was a form of punishment. My sisters were very slender, and while I understood the logic of not comparing myself to Disney princesses, movie actresses, or even the thousands of blonde women in this land of Norwegian descent, it made sense to me that I could look at the other products of my parents' genes as an example of what we were supposed to look like. I didn't look like them because I had done something wrong.
It was a long time into our marriage before Rick managed to get the idea into my head that he found me more attractive than my sisters. In my experience, EVERY man thought my sisters were more physically attractive, and I could accept that there were multiple facets of attraction, so it was okay if they 'beat me out' physically - none of us three was interested in a man who was only interested physically. Once my husband managed to convey this to me, I was a lot more comfortable with being physically naked.
Soul-naked is different. I can get soul-naked with God, because a) He made my soul, and b) there is nothing hidden from Him. He knows how it started, He knows what I've been doing, and the best thing in the world is getting intimate with Him. I can bare myself with Him, and be found, and loved, and satisfied. I am also aware that I am a first-rate wreck, that the deeper one goes into me, the more mess they find. I'm aware that some of this shows up on the surface, but not most of it - that's not how people work. But getting soul-naked with someone who WILL be surprised by some of what's in there...man.
I kind of wish there was some sort of written agreement, as part of our marriage vows, "Do you take this woman, with all her wreckage and baggage, understanding that she's a wreck of a sinner and it's only by the grace of God and no merit of her own that she can even stand up and breathe..."
"But when I look into your eyes, we stand worlds apart."
Obviously, my plans as a teenager were death. I really did not plan for that song to be prophetic about my own marriage, but it's shivery-scary that the chosen theme song for punishing myself with my nakedness ends up describing the result of loving each other without being able to get soul-naked.
I told Rick last night, "I think I'm going to have to read Captivating now." Why? Because it's scary. And hard. And it's not supposed to be. The couple who wrote it are not Stephen King; they did not write this with the intent to raise fear.
There was a time, whenever I encountered something that was hard and scary for me, but wasn't difficult for other people, then I just had to go and do that. (Note: This rationale only works if you live in a pretty sheltered environment. Once you see how many things in the world there are to do, you have to start developing some discretion about the wise use of time.)
I'm wrestling some with the idea that there is badness in my heart, and I'm not supposed to give in to that badness - but I'm realizing that that doesn't mean stifling it somewhere inside me, that means pulling it out and giving it to God instead of pulling it out and giving it to myself.
It's not that Asperger's Syndrome is a problem, per se.
It's that not mentioning it for two years of marriage is a problem.
Because he's my battle-buddy. We go into situations together. We have each other's backs.
Asperger's, in my world, is like the 'seer' born every so often on the Hork-Bajir homeworld. A 'seer' is different, his parents know he's different. It's not a happy or a sad thing - it's a knowing that something is coming for which their people need a seer. That's Asperger's. It's kind of like a superhero trying to blend in at high school - he has some very cool abilities, and some things impact him very differently.
In our case, this is me learning that my battle-buddy has been going into the field blind every time, and finding things by extremely specific echo-location, or infrared. That's really cool. That also explains that IED he didn't see, that earned us both a lot of shrapnel. If I'd known then that he doesn't see on the normal-light spectrum, I would have mentioned said IED. It's come up more than once, and each time I just figured he was doing a lot, had a lot going on, and didn't notice it.
He hates the word. Because he's very high-functioning, compared with most of the people who have noticeable Asperger's. He sees it as a label that some doctor slapped on a combination of symptoms that kept coming up, and figured that as long as he told me about each of the symptoms HE has, that was what was important.
So when he explained that he's sometimes pretty socially awkward, I chalked that up to his homeschool background. And when he explained that he doesn't feel things the same way I do, I just figured that was part of being male. And when he explained that he's not like the average male - okay, every single male I have been friends with has explained to me, "I'm not like other guys." "I'm not like your average male." "I'm not like a normal guy." All right? (This is just something I understand as a guy thing - not that I disbelieve them, just that I understand they have some concept of "average guy," that I will never understand, and they want me to be very clear that they are not THAT guy. Okay then.) And he explained that he's an introvert, and I took that at face value. Jewel is an introvert. My dog-trainer friend is an introvert. And he explained that he has extra-sensitive hearing, and that's why the music is usually turned down and we always sit in the far back at church. I just thought that was some random Rick-quirk.
So he covered his bases.
And I almost spent the night at Jewel's last night, for the first time in our marriage, because I was so angry with him I couldn't guarantee that I wouldn't lash out at him when he got home from class that night. Home needs to be a safe place. If I'm a danger to that, I need to take it somewhere else until I have it under control.
(One of the other frustrations is realizing that this is why he sometimes doesn't tell me rather key information - because he doesn't feel the same emotions as other people, he doesn't register that information as particularly important. He's not hiding it - you can tell by how it comes out. For example, we're watching a movie together, and he comments, "Hey, that guy looks like my stepbrother!" I pause the movie and turn to stare at him, "You have a stepbrother??" His stepbrother just isn't a big deal to him - it's on a level with, "I once had a blue bike," or something similar. Nobody hides their childhood bicycle preferences; it's just not something that comes up much in conversation. Similar thing happened when he started smoking to deal with work-stress - he mentioned it at some point, I expressed my displeasure, he quit.)
About a third of the way over to Jewel's, I remembered something I'd once asked Rick. I was in tears at the time, crumpled into a little ball on the floor - we knew I was taking on some heavy spiritual attack, but we didn't know how to fight it. And I tearfully pleaded with Rick, "Why me? What's the point in attacking me? I'm nobody! I don't DO anything to advance the Kingdom; I just live in it!" Rick pointed out very soberly that if someone's trying to wreck him, taking me out is a good way to do it. And that cleared things up pretty swiftly - if I was an enemy trying to wreck a man who loved his family, I'd take his family away. Or isolate him somehow.
So I turned around, headed back home, and prayed for Rick for about an hour.
I'm still really frustrated. But he's mine to love, respect, and trust for as long as God entrusts him to me. Leaving when it's hard gives Satan a foothold here. "There will be none of that here!"