We’ve just passed up our two-year anniversary here on Full of Graces. Last week, Jen and I were talking about some of our favorite posts that we have written. Immediately my mind jumped to the post I wrote about Planting Trees. I remember that we had just moved into our new house and the kids were so little. My husband’s parents gave us a bunch of trees, nine to be exact, to plant in the bare landscape of our back yard and I had purchased three beautiful lavender bushes and a jasmine to plant as well. As we (and by we I mean my husband) were planting all of these lovely things in our yard, it really felt to me like we were planting roots. It felt monumental, like this was now our home. We were both so eager to have a big yard for our kids to run around in, to have a safe neighborhood to Trick-or-Treat in, and we were sure that this place was it.
Two years later, now, our roots are definitely taking hold. The trees are growing slowly, and beginning to show signs of giving fruit this year. The lavender and jasmine bushes grow like crazy and fill our evenings with their beautiful fragrance. We’ve added a vegetable garden that nourishes our family. And as I sit out on the patio, rain or shine, morning, afternoon, or evening, I am so thankful for all of our roots. I’m thankful for this beautiful place to raise our girls, but I’m also thankful for the intrinsic roots that ground us all together. I’m grateful for the family and friends that have graced our home at Christmas parties, birthday parties, and dinners together, and that fill our lives with everyday laughter and love.
Our roots are beginning to run deep. And our lives are beginning to truly flower. Thank you for being a part of that.
I’ve been trying to write this post about the Drummer Boy and folks who don’t go to church because they think they aren’t good enough.
It wasn’t working. I was trying too hard to say the right words.
So here are the true words instead.
My favorite Christmas song is “The Little Drummer Boy”. I like it because it’s a song for the outcasts. The message is “Forget what they say, come as you are, all are welcome, all are loved.”
In today’s church bureaucracy, twisted up around rules and platforms, the come as you are message sometimes gets squashed. It’s easy to believe, from the outside, that only the right people go to church.
Of course, this is a lie. I’m regularly inside a church, which should be enough to convince you that “perfect” and “church” are not hand-holding friends. My church is full of sinners. I know this because we make a confession of sins every single week. And get this: even the priest says it. Boom.
Still, folks hesitate at the doors. They stay behind while others head out for midnight Mass, joking behind their glass of wine about being “retired”.
Or they shake off the invitation to come along with a whispered “I couldn’t because of, you know….” The divorce. The addiction. The lifestyle. The third husband.
Or they are angry at the church for some (probably very good) reason.
I think that most of the time, what’s holding them back is the brick and mortar institution of church. Which can be daunting, judgmental and sometimes—yes, we have to admit it—destructive. Any church that drives people out instead of in is destructive to God’s will.
I get it. I have packed my bags and headed for the door in my faith life more than once.
But then someone always says to me “It’s not about the church. It’s about Jesus.”
And this stops me because I cannot imagine my life without Jesus. I have to come to Jesus, like that Drummer Boy, with nothing but my weaknesses, imperfections and sins, and find love. Without that soul shelter, I cannot continue to wife, mother, friend, function in this world.
Can I get an Amen from the choir?
Right. So here’s the thing—We have to tell the people in our life who hesitate outside the door that we go to church because we’re human and frail and sometimes we suck. We’re not good because we go. If we’re good, it’s because of the love that we find there.
And if you are one of those people, already dreading the Christmas Eve guilt trip and also secretly wishing you could swallow your pride and just go, remember this: There is nothing, nothing, nothing in your life that would make the Baby turn you away. Just come as you are. Bring what you have. Let the love heal you.
Merry Christmas from our families to yours.
We wish you health, peace and of course many, many graces!
If you follow us on Facebook, you know we have been praying for Meg, a friend of Amy’s who was diagnosed with cancer while pregnant with her second daughter. Just a few, too short weeks ago, she found out that her cancer was back, stage 4, aggressive.
Elle is 5. Baby Cora is four months. Sam is their daddy.
I don’t know Meg. But I know Amy and Amy’s heart was broken at this news. That was enough for me and Dana. We rallied the prayers for Meg. My good friend Steffani called on her homeschool prayer chain and the big guns at our church.
The disease moved quickly. Yesterday, Amy called to say the end was near. We asked for help to pray Meg Home. Two hours later, she was gone, leaving her suffering and her fear behind her.
But also her young husband and her two little girls, one old enough to feel this pain and the other too young to remember anything.
It makes me really, really mad. It hits very close to home for me, for Dana, for Amy. It’s hard to know what to do.
We can rage at the heavens. We can curl into ourselves, or push the story away from us and those we love. We can turn from the suffering of strangers, sad but relieved that it was someone else.
We can pray. We can witness. Not in a train wreck kind of way, but we can take a moment to acknowledge the grief that Meg’s family is feeling right now.
We can donate in Meg’s name to places dedicated to conquering this bullshit disease. We can honor those we have lost and those who have survived.
We can remember that suffering is a universal condition. We can do today what we want strangers to do when it is our turn.
Tonight, I am going to lift up Meg’s family in prayers for comfort.
I’m going to lift up Amy and her sister Ashley and their family in prayers for peace.
I’m going to lift up my own anger and give it to God. He knows what to do with it.
I am going to give thanks for the women and men who showed up in prayer for a stranger.
It’s the least I can do for a sister mama gone too soon.
When Shea and I bought our current house, it was at the height of the real estate market in So Cal. We did what so many other folks did—we toured the Inland Empire on Saturdays, looking at models of homes still to be built. We entered our names into lotteries and huddled with hundreds of other people at 7 am, waiting to hear our number called. When it was, we had ten minutes to pick a lot with a model on it.
The price was predetermined, as was the layout. No negotiating. We didn’t need a realtor. Once we got the house, the rest was easy.
I’m telling you all this so you understand that I. Didn’t. Know.
I have not just one, but TWO realtors in my life. A local realtor who is going to do her best to make our short-but-almost-standard-sale in So Cal a success. And a realtor in Oregon who is stalking houses for us to buy. This poor woman. The home market in our price range is hopping, and here we are, 700 miles away and trying to play. Already, three homes have sold out from under us in less than a day.
What can you do when you’re this far away?
I didn’t know sellers would be so infuriatingly patient that even when it is clear to the whole wide world that their house ain’t gonna sell for that amount, they will not entertain a lower offer.
I didn’t know that we would find the perfect five bedroom home and enter into escrow. Only to have my neighbor, her hand clearly guided by the Blessed Mother, discover on page 3 of Google that the home had previously belonged to a sexual psychopath, with family still living in the area and a clear history of breaking his parole.
We walked, not just for the bad mojo, but for the fear that one day that guy would knock on the door for kicks and giggles, and there would be one of my daughters.
Oh. Hell. No.
(Buyer beware: The listing agent knew. It is not legally required for anyone to disclose that a sex offender used to live in a home. The Megan’s Law websites can only tell where offenders currently live.)
And then this house popped up:
I know. I wanted this house, so badly that I flew to Oregon on a whim to see it. And it was everything it promised to be except for one small problem: sloped ceilings. I guess folks were shorter in the 1940s.
Still, I found a lovely architect who could fix it for us if we were willing to live with it for a few years first. He was on vacation, then we were and when we came back, the house had sold.
That was when we started praying every night for “God to send us our house”.
Just pick a house, you say? It’s not that easy. One morning, over coffee and the morning Zillow report, I found a lovely contender. Great neighborhood, good lot size, enough bedrooms. Then I scrolled through the pictures and saw this:
Do you see that thing on the stairs? It’s not a shadow. It’s an absence of light, like the light has been sucked in or forced away. Now look carefully at the TV in this picture:
You see that???
I sent these pictures to Dana and Lesley, who called me a chicken for not wanting to live with a spirit. She’s right. I‘ve done ghost in the house and don’t need to do it again.
I’m sure the owners are wondering why their beautiful home—now priced below market value—is not selling.
I kind of want to tell them.
Today, we fly to Oregon to make a decision. We have a Top 12 list of homes we like. We are going to spend a fast 96 hours dragging the kids from house to house until we find it.
Please pray for us. Because the fatigue is setting in, and the worry about how I will fill my days after we find the right place, and if there is such a thing as Realtor.com Anonymous, because I may need it.
It’s a big day! Everyone, please meet Jen’s mom Terri, our special guest blogger. She has been married to Ted for almost 46 years, and together they raised Jen and her two brothers, which was no small adventure. Now there are 8 grandkids begging her to retire from her impressive health care career.
We are so proud to have her here today, with such an important message about marriage.
I ran into you at church and asked, “So where is Dave today?” You said, nonchalantly, “He is not here. We are getting a divorce and he is going to another church now. ” Trying to discern your mood I said, “Oh Beth, I am so sorry. “ You looked me in the eye and said, “No big deal. It doesn’t matter.” Then you walked back towards your car and left.
I stood there shocked and pondered your announcement and your response. As a believer in marriage, committed to my husband for over 45 years, I felt so sad. Sad that your marriage was ending but just as sad because you think it doesn’t matter. Every marriage that fails impacts those of us who are married.
I remember when the first of our friends announced that they were splitting up. We had been married about 10 years. We got caught up in their battle and started arguing ourselves. We each felt that there was this little voice saying “Whoa, if it can happen to them, maybe it can happen to us.” We finally shared that fear and realized that our relationship required increased vigilance and constant attention and that we were NOT going to let that happen to us.
So your broken relationship does matter very much to those of us who are committed to loving and living together for the long haul. It is a little bit of failure for all of us.
I have thought about you so many times since that day. And I have thought about my own children, all of whom have been together with their spouses about 10 years. What issues are they facing and what could I say to help them understand the value of their married relationship?
Some critical things came to mind.
Every married couple needs to remember that they are the primary relationship. Their family started with just the two of them. The children will grow up and fly away, as children are meant to do. And the couple needs to be sure that they have nurtured their marriage. There will be crazy, busy times: crying hungry babies, work deadlines, PTA meetings, running from practice to scouts to dance recitals. But when things get too hectic or too distant, one of them needs to say “Stop. I miss you and need your time and attention“ There is nothing like hearing that from the person you love most.
The marriage also matters to the children. It is hard for them to overhear the arguments but it really hurts trying to tell their friends that their parents are divorcing. It is painful to hear their parents talking poorly about each other, to live in two homes, carrying precious belongings back and forth. And it is even worse to feel like a prize in a carnival game, where the winner gets the most and best days.
When I was 28, a married mother of 2, my Dad left my mom. I was devastated! I cried and cried and raged at him for hurting my mom, for not being willing to stay the course, for separating himself from me and my family, for giving up. Over time they resolved their issues after long and intense counseling but it was a painful and difficult time for all of us and I was an adult, beyond depending on them for food, shelter and support anymore.
So separate is not necessarily better for your kids unless the living situation is riddled with fear or abuse. They just want to feel safe, happy and together, not drawn into your “stuff”. They want peace in a unified home.
And marriage matters to your married family and friends. It impacts those who love you, watch your life splatter and feel your pain. It hurts those who thought it was a relationship to emulate and are shocked to find that it was not. And what about your unmarried friends and relatives who still have hope that there is a great person out there for them? They lose a bit more of their hope and anticipation. They want the marriage, the long term relationship but become fearful about making a commitment because they see your pain and are disenchanted.
What could you have done?
I don’t know much about your relationship and my perceptions may be all wrong. I have only seen you in our church setting. But you two seemed to have so much going for you. And if there has been substance abuse or physical or mental abuse, these words do not apply. But if you have just drifted apart I would like to tell you some things I noticed. When you spoke about him to others you often did so without respect. You poked fun at him when you told stories about the things he did. I know, I know, a lot of people do that—it helps to be able to unload on someone uninvolved and he laughed, too. But when you talk disdainfully about someone often enough, eventually you start believing that they really are stupid and worthless. Instead of affirming him, you ridiculed him and no one can take that for very long.
I also noticed that you both seemed to choose activities with your friends over activities with your spouse. I heard you talking after church about activities and trips with friends, not spouses. I saw pictures of you on Facebook and it always seemed that you had an entourage of girlfriends and family. Where was your attention? Who was prime in your life?
Your commitment to your children is obvious but you made a vow to commit to your marriage. If you don’t pay attention, your partner becomes a stranger. You cannot put “spouse-ing” on hold while you do 20 years of parenting and expect to find a happy spouse waiting with open arms. Not too many people thrive when they feel second or third in your life all the time. And it is so true that the best gift you can give your children is to love and honor your spouse.
I think you are a caring woman, an amazing mother and a committed friend to many. I care about you and pray for you to have whatever you want in life. I will support you in everything that I can. But I want you to know that the demise of your marriage does matter to many of us more than you may ever understand.
Terri and Ted have done Marriage Preparation and Marriage Enrichment classes for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for twenty years. They can be reached at email@example.com