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Marriage is Healing, Part I

alec vanderboom

(Special note: everything contained in this series of posts are pre-approved by my husband. It's hard to find the narrow way when speaking about your marriage on the internet. I didn't want to come across as a glib "we're perfect and have no problems, isn't God great?", but I didn't want to disrespect my husband's and my real need for privacy either. I tried to find the middle way. God's healing mercy is real. My prayer is to give Hope)

When I woke up today, my early morning commuter husband had already

a) turned on the electric heater in my kitchen making everything warm and toasty
b) made our first ever pot of French Press Coffee
c) left a love note on our kitchen table.

That last act of romance warmed my heart the most!

I can easily write a mushy post about "Why I love my Husband," but what I want to try to accomplish in the next series of posts is "Why I love God," because He teaches my husband how to Romance my heart, and my Soul and my Body.

God pursues me. This isn't a theoretical debate we're having in my mind, heart and body. "Do you think I exist Abby?" "I dunno God, do you exist?" "Well, lets break it down into a mathematical equation..."

God wants me. He goes after me. He gets jealous. He gets perturbed. He tells me to do something--I refuse and after much back and forth I finally follow His totally useless, impossible, embarrassing suggestion....and lo and behold--He's right. And I think "Ahhh, God..... You truly Get Me! You Really Do Love Me! I'm Yours!"

God romances my Soul.

(At some point I'd like to skip ahead to the part where we're living in romance without all my"Kiss Me Kate" prelude drama, but that is much further ahead in my hike up Mount Carmel, right now I'm just grateful Mr. Jesus and I are getting all kissy face at all.)

In the middle of this "I'm totally underwater with a colic baby" episode this summer, I decided that I wanted my husband to Romance me. This request was not handed to him in a clear legal memo with helpful bullet points. Instead, I flung my need disrespectfully in his face when he asked me simply "Do you think I should take my car in for repairs on Monday since I have the day off for our anniversary?"

(He's said the above comment in a completely sincere tone while bouncing a feisty Miss Chillipepper on his hip and emptying the dishwasher for me.)

I have this immediate intense reaction: "This is the first thing you think about for our anniversary?" And it all comes out in one awful messy spool. "I finally got us a babysitter for all five kids, our first babysitter in five years--and we put no thought into what we are going to do together on Monday all week--but you can think about your stupid car needing an oil change at 5,000 miles on Monday?"

(I may or may not have said something worse than the word stupid but lets pretend I don't cuss when I'm angry, okay? A Southern Lady has to pretend to have some class on the internet)

Then I flounced out of the kitchen, took my first shower of the day at 5 PM in the afternoon--because that is how we mothers of colic infants sometimes roll--and cried hysterically in the shower. My heart broke. I made all of these noisy sobs that probably broke my husband's heart (did I mention that we live in a tiny house where the shower is next-door to the kitchen?) When I realized he could probably hear me, I just cried louder. "Served him right the lout!" and "my life totally sucks!" Then I came out, dried my eyes on a towel and tried to sort things out in my mind. Then I tried to go and talk to my husband in a somewhat more respectful tone "I just really need more date nights alone with you...."

And he said "I don't believe you...."

As in how can "I need more date nights" make you go off like a nuclear warhead out of no where.
"There must be something more to it than that!" "Why are you so mad at me?"

But there wasn't anything else I was mad about. A girl who is drowning under an annoying constant crying baby, really needs to dream about going to a quiet French Bistro in another town away from her offspring--or at least this sinful girl does.

(I'm kind of like Esau trading in my birthright for a bowl of soup. I'm pretty shallow that way.)

Well, this marital spat happened the night before my husband left for his 40th Birthday Retreat with the Benedictine Monks. We patched things up before he left. He went sought spiritual direction, and the healing power of Confession from a Monk--and this is the really funny part to me--the Monk basically said "Wow, Women are totally strange, you poor thing!"

"It was perfectly understandable that you wanted to take your car in for maintenance. You had the time off. This was a task that needed to be done. Why would your wife take that so personally?"

(unspoken subtext being--Wow, that must be so hard for you to constantly live with a totally irrational, alien species....)

When my husband told me this story when he came home, I just started laughing. Basically, I made a Monk feel better about his vocation! Oh yes, praying for hours is hard, working the farm is tough, but thank God I'm a Monk because hanging out with an irrational, irascible wife sounds like hell indeed!

That would be me, Mr. Jesus. Setting such a poor example of marriage that I make a Monk feel better about being celibate.

I thought things were patched up after his retreat--and things got better, and then they got worse. This "I need romance" she said, "I'm giving you everything I have and more... I've got a killer commute, an awful job, and a colic baby that stays up all night, what else could you possibly want from me since I'm working myself to the bone for you here, there is nothing left to give...." he says, argument kept coming up.

I tripped over it all of the time.

I never had an argument that didn't get worked out within an hour--maybe three days back when we were newlyweds.

This just felt weird.
And Hopeless.

And I started driving my minivan around town, suddenly sobbing hysterically to morose First Album Taylor Swift songs about unrequited love--at age 37, with five kids in the backseat!

Ugly times.

In the middle of this, all I could do was pray.

(And get really, really scared. Because I thought we were doing things "right." Having lots of babies. Trusting in God. Starting a long commute because He picked out this new house for us. I felt blindsided. I never heard  of in love, previously all lovey, dovey Catholic couples with lots of babies suddenly having troubles in their marriage. The only troubled ones I heard about were the ones that shocked us with a divorce. I started thinking about my second grade friend whose Catholic parents of six talked about divorce--and the Carmel family in my old parish who got divorced, and I started reading horrible articles about the Tipper/Gore divorce)

First, I prayed that God would teach my husband how to Romance me.
That didn't get anywhere.

Then I gave up and told God, "You romance me directly."
As in, I need romance, He can't give me it, so you have too..

Then after a long time --(From the May to the beginning of August) a Catholic priest from the Order of the Little Sisters of the Poor sat down at our table during the Feast of St. Clare, and said "this is how you write a love letter..."

I'm not kidding.

We were talking about some general subject. The priest said "My parents wrote love letters...." And then very directly told my husband "This is how you write a love letter. Abby, When you had Hannah in the hospital room, I felt this.... When you had Alex, I felt this.... "

It was actually painful to sit there and listen to this priest give advice about my marriage.
I needed that love letter from my husband so badly.

All the kids were messing around. My husband was tending to them and nodding politely--and I wanted to start jumping up and down saying "Listen to this, this is super important...."

When the priest said "When I made love to you on our wedding night, I felt this..." My cheeks got bright red with shame and I wanted to escape under the table.  My husband couldn't write a love letter like that to me, because we were sinners on our wedding night. We used contraception. We hadn't waited... This love letter advice wasn't going to work because it was for other Catholic couples, pure ones in a different era.

I decided right then and there that this simple advice wasn't going to work for us.

Yet my husband did listen to the priest.
He learned how to write a love letter.
He told me that he needed it to be in an envelope, on nice paper that I can save.

So I went to Goodwill and bought some old Martha Stewart wedding invites for $2.

Almost every morning there is a love letter waiting for me from my husband. Everything in there is holy. (My husband prays before he writes it.). Love letters make my heart happy.

Now I have a shoebox in my closet titled "Love Letters."

Once I picked up a very special one and accidentally smeared baby poop on it. I was so sad--because I wanted to save it. Then I started laughing because baby poop is actually how I answer my husband's love letter. (As in, He and Mr. Jesus tell me they love me, and my response back isn't so much a sweet note back but to submerge myself more in baby poop and the uncomfortable parts of motherhood).

Sometimes my girls find the love notes, and they love being the postman..."Mommy, there's a letter here for you!' You can't imagine the joy it gives my 9 year old to see that her Dad wrote her Mommy a love letter.

God answers prayers.
God loves marriage.
Marriage is a healing sacrament for both spouses.