(94) anticipating reunion

Today I called the number that’s saved in my Contacts as your “home” phone number and listened to the familiar recording: “This is the _____ Air Force Base multifunction switch. All attendants are busy. Please remain on the line until an attendant becomes available or try again later…This is the…” And then she repeats the message. Lately I haven’t had to wait very long. Once I waited maybe 7 minutes.

“Operator 34, how may I help you?”

“Hi, I’d like to place a morale call to a DSN please.”

“What’s the number?”

And then I read off the number. I always read it — it’s saved in my phone — even though you would think I’d have it memorized after calling several times a week for over a year.

Today the call dropped twice, but on the third try we got to talk for a nice long time without any more problems.

I will sure be glad to be able to talk with you without going through this process. It will be nice to not have to worry about the call dropping, when I can just call around the corner or sit with you on the couch. When we live together again.

Can you believe we made it through this?

You’re probably reading this and shaking your head at me a little right now. I know, I always analyze everything to pieces.

But it’s amazing, it really is.

How do we measure the time that has passed?

Maybe in birthdays (2 of mine, 1 of yours) or anniversaries (#2) spent apart? Maybe in the personhood development of our niece, who was a squirmy infant when I moved in (3 months old) and who is now a bright and mobile toddler who knows when she’d rather eat yogurt than an egg (18 months old)? Maybe in how long my hair has gotten? Or in that I think I’ve forgotten most of your favorite foods?

Maybe nothing has changed. Maybe a lot has changed. Probably somewhere in between.

I guess I’ll find out soon what it feels like to really be on the other end of this strange journey and launching into whatever comes next.

I hope I remember how much I wanted you sleeping beside me on so many nights. I hope I remember what a gift it is to just say what is coming to mind without waiting for a time when we’re both free to talk. I hope I remember looking at the lawn and wishing you were here to edge it properly. I hope I remember to enjoy the convenience of being in the same time zone with you. I hope I remember all the times I stood in church, praying for you, and looking forward to one day being there with you.

It’s easy to take people, even the ones we really love, for granted. I hope that this time apart has cured me of that where you are concerned, at least for a little while. And when I forget, well, you can point me back to this little bit of writing.

(82) love, marriage and telling it like you (want to) see it

I read this tremendously moving love story written by a husband who lost his wife to cancer after just 4 or 5 years of marriage. He tells their story so sweetly, with such tenderness. It’s gripping to read how their struggle against cancer knit them even more closely together and taught them to treasure each moment with each other.

As I reflected more on this story, I wondered (and this might sound cynical, but bear with me):  If it hadn’t have been for the suffering they experienced together, had their lives followed a more “normal” path, would they have eventually found themselves bickering about whose turn it was to unload the dishwasher? Would they have even reached a point of frustration and disillusionment with their marriage, maybe even doubting for a moment that it had ever been “love at first sight?”

It’s possible. But here’s the thing:  this husband will always remember his wife in a certain light, he’ll always remember the details of meeting her, pursuing her, loving her in this powerful and beautiful way because that is the way he has chosen to tell himself the story.

I first heard this basic idea in reading a marriage book by John Gottman. He talks about the importance of nurturing your fondness and admiration for your spouse (which translates into having “retained some fundamental sense that the other [is] worthy of being respected and even liked.”) and writes that “…the best test of whether a couple still has a functioning fondness and admiration system is usually how they view their past.” (from The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, pp. 62-63).

I know that lots of stuff actually happens in life. Some things are truly terrible, regardless of how you frame and reframe them in the retelling. But at the same time, to some extent, we are writing our stories as we recount to ourselves and to others our memories and experiences. This seems particularly significant in relationships and marriage. Crazy stuff is bound to happen in any relationship. Some days will be extraordinarily mundane, others peppered with chaos. Maybe you’ll get slammed out of the blue with a huge horrible scary thing, like a big illness. But I guess I really want to practice retelling these things in a way that builds and strengthens the relationships I’m in.

Other than the couple I mentioned, the most striking example of this kind of reframing that I have seen lately is in my grandma. While Grandpa was a great guy in many ways, it seems that there were other ways in which he was not the easiest person to live with. Apparently my grandparents never fought, which I think was mainly accomplished through Grandma often if not always ceding to what Grandpa wanted. Yet they were married — and I am certain Grandma would say “very happily married” — for 65 years. Now that he has passed away, Grandma is able to redecorate and say things like, “I never liked that color!” To us kids and grandkids, it was an obviously imperfect relationship. But she has reframed her experience in that marriage in such a way that allows her to enjoy her new independence without regretting any of the last 65 years, to be soft and thankful rather than bitter and hard.

So reflecting again on the beautiful love story of the couple I mentioned at first:  Maybe their story is no less or more beautiful than mine or anyone else’s. But he has figured out a way of looking at life, those years with his wife, through a beautiful perspective. He is seeing it all through a different lens than the ones we habitually employ.

And I want to use that lens.

I want to practice writing the story of the relationships I’m living in, of the marriage I’m a part of, in that grateful, honesty-tempered-with-unflagging-optimism, loving, believing-the-best, sort of way that I can. I want to remember to treasure the moments that I’m given, rather than imagining moments I’d perhaps prefer. I want to be tender and gentle and unconditionally self-sacrificing toward my husband instead of wasting time frustrated over whatever the latest thing is that I think he should change. And I think a lot of this is connected to how I recount our story to others and to myself.

***

P.S. If you are or someone you know is in an abusive marriage/relationship, please don’t try to reframe the story; get out, seek help, find a safe place. I am writing the above for those of us who are in good and healthy, albeit difficult, relationships, and not to in any way excuse abusive behavior in a relationship.

(77) adios, 2013 (part 1)

A dozen days in 2014 and you’re only just getting around to bidding goodbye to 2013, Anna?

Yeah, I know, it’s a travesty.

Social media and news media seemed to mostly cram this reflective farewell into the busy week between Christmas and New Year’s. I was by turns nostalgic and tormented during that time — what did 2013 actually hold for me? what did I do? who the heck was I? — but read a blog post that helped me allow myself a little extra time to reflect and then post about it. So here I am, with both feet in the New Year and glancing over my shoulder at the old. What was that year all about?

A married girl living the single life

It is decidedly weird to be married and not living with one’s spouse for an extended period of time, which was the case for us basically 10 out of 12 months of 2013. I could not be more relieved to have gotten the majority of this tour of duty out of the way. In some ways, it was worse in the anticipation. But honestly, there were times that felt just as bad in real life as I’d anticipated it feeling – this might be a first for me (realistic expectations? what?!). The few weeks right around our 2nd anniversary in May were the worst, I think. I remember feeling so emotional and lonely all the time. And then it got a little easier. I’ve learned that marriage is about living the mundane little things of life together and so when you’re 10,000+ miles apart, you talk about the mundane little things of life in lieu of sharing them. And it’s pretty mundane sometimes. But when I got frustrated about this initially, he gently reminded me, “hey, isn’t this small stuff important in our life together?” News flash:  Living apart does not automatically push your daily sorts of conversations onto an ethereal and deeply meaningful plane. Living apart mostly seems to mean that you get to practice caring about stuff and hearing about stuff you can’t really picture and you’re not really part of.

On the bright side, sometimes it’s fun to be independent. And I imagine he probably didn’t mind missing out on some of my fun emotional roller coaster/mood swing moments. Instead he could hear about it afterward (“yeah, I was a little upset yesterday”). I can rush around in a flurry without disturbing his peace and quiet.

On the difficult side, I can’t reach out to grab his hand when I feel frustrated with him to remind myself to settle down and that I love him. And when he’s feeling down or lonely, I can’t do anything except say, “I’m sorry, love.” No hugs, no back rubs.

A motherhood internship

Seriously, who gets this kind of opportunity? I’ve had copious practice changing diapers, packing a diaper bag, buckling and adjusting car seats, and running errands, cooking and cleaning with a tiny companion. I’ve discussed nap schedules and introducing solids and teething and discipline techniques. I’ve been sent to pick up diaper rash ointment and teething medicines at the drug store. And I’ve watched and learned as my sister and brother-in-law have tried many different ideas to help my niece sleep longer or have taught her the preliminary essentials of good behavior. I’ve seen how terribly tiring and difficult the journey of parenting can be sometimes and yet how much joy this small human brings to the world. I don’t think a person ever feels ready to become a parent. But now I do feel somewhat prepared.

Community is messy and beautiful

The first several months of living with my sister and brother-in-law were especially messy, although now we find ourselves in a very natural rhythm with each other. I am deeply grateful for this God-given chance to know them on such a deep level. If I had lived alone this year, I would have been able to be selfish all year if I’d liked. But living with family has stretched me to practice setting boundaries while giving me ample opportunity to give and love in absolutely simple and practical ways all the time. I imagine this will smooth the transition into living with my husband again as well. I will miss the fellowship, the sharing of burdens and also the access to my sister’s wardrobe (!) when I move.

A different way of doing church and living faith

I knew coming into this year that it might be a little challenging and strange living with an Orthodox family. I did not anticipate that Zack and I would embrace Orthodoxy and decide to become Orthodox. I am still surprised by this, I think. At first, I just went to church with my family because I had no friends and didn’t have anywhere else to go. It just seemed practical. Then I took a bit of a step back in the summer. I still had a lot of questions, but I felt somewhat less interested than I had. And then fall rolled around and I continued going, more of my own accord. And for the first time in a long time (years?), I actually wanted to go to church.

Zack wanted to become Orthodox after attending church just 3 times and talking with Father Justin for an afternoon while he was home on leave in October. Then he tossed the ball into my court as he often does. Even though I’d been here for virtually a year at that point, I was thrown off balance by his sudden change of heart. Yet “is anything impossible for God?” I recognized that this could very well be the answer to a prayer I’d been praying since we’d met and I couldn’t justify any alternative other than joining God where He was working and walking with Zack into Orthodoxy.

This has changed the dynamics of our long-distance relationship by giving us prayers to say together, a spiritual book to read together and discuss. I can share everything I’m experiencing with Zack and he wants to hear about it. He isn’t surprised or concerned when I describe going to church several times a week. He’s just sorry to have missed it all. I never in a thousand years anticipated this as an outcome of this year.

And a few more things…

I started a new job in April and struggled with it and against it all year. I’m still don’t really like it and find it frustrating and hard, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately that it’s time to move on from not liking it. Looking back, it’s been a unique blessing this year, giving me a lot of flexibility alongside a decent income that I couldn’t have had otherwise.

I climbed a big mountain. I went on several road trips, collectively driving through Washington, Oregon, British Columbia, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Nevada, California, Arizona, and New Mexico. I planted a garden and grew tomatoes successfully, maybe for the first time in my life. I realized that I love having friends over for meals and know that I want to do that more often.

Wow. What a year.

There were many things I didn’t get done that I expected to or wanted to, but after listing all of this out, maybe I understand why I felt so busy.

More reflections on lessons learned and in process to come…

(59) anniversary (letter to a dear man, far away)

There is just one little thing that I cannot get over
And that is going to sleep without you.
I anticipated this, remember?
Muffled and not so muffled tears into your back, night after night
“I just don’t want you to leave.”

And now you’ve been far away from me for a whole three almost four months
And I’m still sometimes surprised at how cold the empty side of the bed feels.
I still occasionally find tears waiting for me here, alone in bed
After making it okay even happy through another day.
I wonder if this is what the grief would feel like
If you die before me someday and I’m really left without you.
It might be different though
I hope we’ll have lived many more years together
And I imagine we’ll mean even more to each other by then.

Just recently I’ve started sprawling across the whole bed
Instead of staying on my side
And I imagine you coming home and teasing me like you always do
About commandeering your side of the bed
But the truth will be the same as always
I love being close to you.

It’s our anniversary next week
Two years, can you believe it?
So little, and at the same time, so much.
If these first two years have been so full
Of everything, really
I can hardly imagine what the next years will bring.
Let the adventure continue.

And God willing, the adventure will include
Many, many simple nights
Of falling asleep in this bed
Beside you.

(52) conocer {to know}

conocer – to know; to have an idea of or to understand (capture) intellectually the nature, qualities and circumstances of people or things; to understand or perceive someone/thing as distinct from others; to feel or experience…

***

We were playing a “game” in a marriage book by John Gottman, answering questions about each other and, as Gottman says, expanding or filling in details in our “love maps.”

I asked #49, “Name my major rival or enemy.”

He paused a moment before responding, “Your self.”

“I was going to say you don’t really have any major enemies,” he explained, “but I think the only one would be your self.”

***

I finally took the plunge and did something I’ve been thinking about for a long time: I signed up for an advanced Spanish class through a community continuing-education program. The first night I was terribly nervous. I guess I typically am nervous about going into a new/unknown situation. But by the end of the night, I was excited. I love this language. Beyond that, I am terribly fond of grammar and phonetics. I am deeply intrigued by mutual influence of culture on language and language on culture (is it significant that the complete sentence “I love you” or “yo te amo a ti” is terribly redundant in Spanish? or that many other Spanish sentences employ similar redundancy, probably to emphasize the subjects and objects?)

***

I hear in surround sound the whispered challenge to “know thyself.” From one side, a sister encourages me to hold still and say yes to Jesus. I protest that I do not know how and persist in unending busy-ness. From another, the practice of Lent swells with unending reminders of the stark juxtaposition of our sinfulness and God’s grace. I am tempted to obsess over the rules of fasting, neglecting the invitation to deeper prayer and recognition of who I really am, simultaneously True and Good and full of sinful leanings.

***

I have experienced how meaningful it is to be known, to have my husband pin down an aspect of my self that I hadn’t yet recognized,  to honor my own dreams. See, that wasn’t too bad, was it?

Why, then, am I so terrified to continue down the road of “know thyself”? If I have the potential to be my own greatest rival or enemy and also my own great advocate, if in knowing my self I have the opportunity to also see God’s faithfulness and grace revealed, if, if, if…

then why not?

 

(48) change (or why I do not like to choose my own adventure)

All I want to know is:

Am I on the right track? Is this step the right one? Will it really be alright in the end? And what will the end be?

Setting aside the obvious observation that I cannot have really any, let alone all, of these answers, a better question is do I, really, want to know all this?

I’ve always disliked those books where you can supposedly choose your own adventure. I would read through all of the options and possible endings before choosing what to do next. Seriously. Once I decided which ending I liked, I would figure out exactly which options to choose to get there (if you enter the cave with Susy, turn to page 45…).

Not surprisingly (have we been through this before?), I often think I would love to do the same thing in real life.

Example? Long distance marriage would be one. What will our marriage look like at the end of this very long-looking year? He reminds me that many other families weather this no problem. We both express confidence that it’ll be fine. But what does fine look like? Here is one story in which I don’t want to misstep. I don’t want to turn to page 67 if the option on page 35 is the right way to reach the ideal ending. I want to read the endings, choose the best one, and work back from there.

Also not surprisingly, God doesn’t seem interested in offering this option. I mean, sure, there may be ways to sort of choose steps in the right direction. But I won’t know what the end looks like until I get there and I won’t reach the end until I’ve lived through each day of the middle.

Which makes this journey feel very much like a choose your own adventure book in which I cannot read ahead.

(47) hollow

He called me at 5 a.m. my time after he had checked in at the airport and before he went through security. He asked how our dinner went last night and how was the house blessing (the priest and his family had come to bless the house and for dinner) and I sleepily recalled how it had gone. The priest’s 3-year-old son must have asked my brother-in-law about the picture of Zack and I at our wedding that was in the living room because he padded into the kitchen in his footed pajamas to ask loudly about a man he’s never met, something like, “Where’s Zack? Why isn’t he here?” My thoughts exactly, dear one.

I wish you could meet these people, I tell him in the early morning darkness. I wish you could be here. I want them to know you, too. Maybe that’s why I have half a dozen pictures of him and I framed around this basement room that is now my home. Maybe I’m a little afraid I’ll forget the sweetness of his face. Mostly I just want anyone who comes down here to remember that I’m not just a me, that there is an “us.”

Neither of us really want to say goodbye, but he has to go through security and I kind of want to go back to sleep. So he just says he’ll call me again before he gets on the plane. I fall back to sleep, but sleep fitfully and dream.

He calls again at about 7 a.m. He’s had breakfast. He spilled his coffee before he had a chance to drink much and I feel sorry about this, although it’s a small thing. They’re about to start boarding the plane. “I’ll try to find WiFi when I get to Japan,” he says, “And send you a message somehow.” And then we really have to say goodbye. Being an hour and a handful of states away feels so much more manageable than being a day and half the world apart.

When I wake up again a little while later, I feel so empty. Hollow.

 

I know a lot of good things. That there is hope. That I’m sure I’ll hear from him soon. We have the Internet, for God’s sake. Many, many people are separated from those they love most and many of these are in far more dire circumstances than he and I. Don’t lose perspective, I tell myself. Don’t wax melodramatic and lose hold of Truth.

 

Yes.

But.

Maybe it is okay, even good, to embrace the emptiness, the grief and loss. Maybe God will honor my tears as prayers. Maybe if I live with grief for a while, I’ll grow up in compassion. And maybe we will meet God together from a world apart.