If you have ever imagined walking a tight-rope without a safety net than I can assure you it’s quite similar to creating a public platform to showcase the raw, ugly, imperfect, cloudy, muddy and seemingly depressing truths about yourself. You’re up there trying to balance the weight on either side, all while knowing there are those who will catch you if you fall and there are those who are silently hoping you’ll fall for the refuge they find in the entertaining affirmation that you’re not perfect either. The latter hide behind the risk you take in trying the tight-rope at all. It’s risky folks. Life is risky. Each and every darn piece of it. It’s likely there will always be those folks fighting to resist the fall and gripping for the protective net to break the paralyzing height. But when I stepped out onto the literary tight-rope I found that there are courageous and supportive people who are actually ready to walk alongside you. That’s how I stumbled upon Jodie.
Truth be told, I grow weary of that tight-rope from time to time. The glaring eyes beneath the rope feel as if they’re judging every calculated move and hoping my inevitable fall will provide silent triumph for them. I read one offering Jodie wrote. Yes, you read the word “offering” correctly.
That is what Jodie did. She offered up a piece of herself with the intent that it might actually bring relief to someone else. You know, someone out there who believes the walk is too risky? She did that for me and I was instantly captivated by someone I had never even met. So we corresponded back and forth awhile. Aside from our shared love for all things imperfect (even the name of her blog made me heart her), the renowned Glennon Doyle and a mutual quest to ignite support through personal pain, it was one profound truth I was particularly magnetized by. Not just because our stories parallel one another, not because Jodie sheds necessary light on a shameful circumstance people are suffering through in silence and not even because her motivation is to empower others, but because…
She is you,
She is me,
She is your daughter,
She is your sister,
She is your mother,
She is your friend,
She is your neighbor,
She is the woman hiding behind the computer screen,
She is all of us.
Her story isn’t just one that I know you will identify with, it’s one you will feel gifted by. It’s beautifully raw in all of the painful ways beauty rests on the other side of the tight-rope. She is walking that tight-rope and does it so imperfectly perfect. It’s refreshing and truly my honor to feature her as July’s Honoree under the Resurrected Together initiative.
Meet the candidly refreshing and ever-so relatable gal you’ll want to adult-nap so you can delve into her literary wisdom about life, love and loss as you sip on a cup of coffee (a beer will do too). I promise you won’t be disappointed and it’s likely you’ll be next in line to fight me for that opportunity too.
In Love & Truth,
Unless you purposefully hurt other humans, I will probably get you on some level. I will understand your beliefs, choices and actions at least in partiality. Probably in no small part because I want to be understood. I don’t want to feel unmoored and alone and I don’t want anyone else too either. When I am reminded that our stories are not for everyone, I get all the reasons why that can feel true. Our stories about our mistakes and our missteps and our trials and tribulations and our regrets and remorse will cause a stir. We will be judged. We will be ridiculed. We will be misunderstood. We will be abandoned. We will be declared less than, unfit, a nutter. By some. It will happen.
But….if in sharing our stories, we can reach even one person that needed to be reached in the exact way and at the exact time they needed it, and that reaching creates a compassion connection, then I’m in. I can’t keep quiet and not reach that person anymore. Because I’ve been reached by others sharing their stories and fearlessly telling their truths, in the precise way and at the precise moment I needed it. The universe seems to be designed to facilitate this and it’s so beautiful, but it only works when we participate. We have to share and we have to listen.
A year ago, part of my story was told publicly without my consent or participation. The flash burn ravage of having the story of my husband’s newly revealed affair told in the media will never leave me. The invasion of my privacy left me feeling gutted, shell-shocked and ready to relocate to a remote and distant cave. I will always remember the sickening dread that accompanied the dawn of the realization that our kids could not be sheltered from this. My husband was a public employee in our community at the time his affair, long since over, with a former co-worker was brought to light during an internal investigation on a different co-worker within his agency who was accused of illegal activity. The revelation about my husband made the story the media was working even juicier and my family became part of the circus.
Will you pause here and try to imagine going through something personally devastating and nearly impossible to navigate at the onset and then, before you can even catch your breath, watching it play out on television news? Then hearing it on the radio and seeing it in print? And being aware of it taking on a life of its own on social media? Our first amendment affords us a necessary and glorious fundamental right AND it can work to grab you by the throat and fling you around like a rag doll. Both things are true.
When your story is told for you, you can get a little feisty. As no one can tell your story the way you can. You alone have the insight, accuracy and acute recall of the details and emotions, of the background and turn of events, of the effects and the aftermath. Just you. But we don’t always choose to tell our stories. Even if we are inclined to do so, it can take a long time before we are strong enough and then willing to share on a level that leaves us utterly exposed and vulnerable. I don’t know if I ever would have told this part of my story to anyone. First and foremost, to protect my children. Further, to protect my husband. And finally, to protect myself and the allowance to hurt and to heal and make the hardest of hard decisions away from the public eye.
It took me longer to recover because this story of mine was told for me, without my knowledge it was going to be told and without me having the benefit of even knowing yet what the entire story was or how it would end. And I recovered more quickly because my story was made public and accessible to others. Both things are true. The number of people who reached out to me in love and support, in understanding and empathy, in grace, mercy, compassion and warmth was staggering. The number of people who expressed anything negative, directly to me, was zero.
If my story had remained with me, festering inside of me, it may very well have destroyed me. Through engaging and weighing in, in telling my own story (albeit against my will) to those I trusted and valued, sharing became the initial mechanism I used to begin to heal. At that point I felt I had no choice, if I wanted the people who matter to know what actually happened and how it was actually affecting me and my family, I had to talk. I cannot express to you how much I resented that. I cannot express to you how liberating and cleansing it was. Both things are true.
That experience reshaped my thought process about telling our truths. I don’t know where I’d be today without the support I received, support that I had planned on denying myself by keeping quiet. No, that’s not true, yes I do. I was hurting and full of shame and I felt alone and scared out of my mind and that’s where I might still be today. Instead, I am surrounded, loved and protected.
When I hear others sharing their truths and laying it all out there as once-wounded human beings now on the recovery continuum for the sake their own healing and for the sake of other humans; I rejoice. I feel their stories opening up new passageways in my heart and firing newly generated neurons in my brain. It resonates as right. Necessary. Important. As survival and self-preservation and as tremendously useful for the greater good.
I have found solace in hearing the hard, the heartache, the hurt and the healing others have come up against. I’ve been made to feel less alone and more understood. After reading the book Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton, the seemingly unstoppable flow of lava oozing from the depths of my heart started to solidify and I began to climb out of the deep, desolate crater that is created in the aftermath of an affair. Glennon shamelessly and beautifully depicted how from devastation and destruction can come restoration. From heartbreak and losing our way can come revival. From betrayal and pain can come renewal. From restoration, revival and renewal can come unprecedented reparation, growth and deep, strong, fortified love. All of these things are true. And all of those things can come quicker when we deny shame’s hold on us, when we disavow embarrassment, when we devalue stigma and when we embrace the healing power of telling our truths.
Given the choice, I would never have told the story of my husband’s out of character and beyond shocking betrayal. But I am choosing to begin to write the end of that story. I was asked two questions during the past year of recovery that gave me pause. One was, “how did you miss it, how did you not know?” I will eventually write that chapter, when my scars are more fully formed and my wounds are less open-fleshy. It will be better for all of us that way. The other was, “how did you do it, how did you come back from this?” A myriad, a plethora, a multitude, a slew, a legion, a manifold of ways. But it’s the following way that stands out.
In finding ourselves at the brink of marriage failure and in clawing our way back we encountered the single best piece of marital advice we’ve ever heard. Actually it’s the only advice that has ever rang true, right and doable over the very long haul that every marriage is. This advice is ethereal in its authenticity and power. When we came upon it we knew without a doubt that embracing this wisdom was how we would get back to our set point and then soar beyond what we’ve been settling for and on to new heights. The reason we knew it was going to work for us is because we had not done it with much regularity in the 20 years we have been married and we recognized the ignorance of this instruction to be where we went wrong.
Looking back over two decades of being committed to each other, we can’t recall any other relationship advice that worked for us, and that worked again, and again and again. Because that’s what marriage is; trial and error and rebooting. Again and again and again. Since different sets of circumstances can cause each of the failures or crashes, we need lots of different tools on hand to repair the damage. Forgiveness, compromise, and selflessness are some of the go-to implements. But darn it, those things are tricky to use and they break so easily.
If you have lots of well maintained equipment and you’ve learned to use it all with skill, if you’ve mastered the process of damage control and think you have arrived at marriage nirvana, that’s exactly where the hidden danger lurks. Because when we think we have arrived we can get complacent, lazy even; thinking our hard work is done and it’s high time we rest and bask in the glory of the marital bliss we’ve accomplished. In a marriage, a union of two imperfect people, the hard work of accepting that imperfection and its consequences is never going to be finished. We will never ‘arrive.’
In the realm of iconic movie characters, my personality resembles Scarlett O’Hara’s. In that my inherent stubbornness, hot-headedness and Chicken Little-like outlook on life can commingle to morph me into a fiery orb of myopic rage and I need time to calm the @#!* down before I’m fit to hash out a disagreement or a grievance. When I’m pushed to the point of crushing overwhelm, I need to peace out. I need to think about it all tomorrow or I’ll go a little crazy, just like Scarlett.
The age-old notion that in our marriage we shouldn’t let the sun go down on our anger does not work in our house. I need the sun to go down. I need it to disappear into the night sky and come back a good sleep later. I need the sun to stay down long enough for my rage and despair to dissipate into a less harmful, less radioactive state before I can begin the hard work of conflict resolution, sans collateral damage. Otherwise, we’ll need the HAZMAT suits, again.
For me, there isn’t much that a good laugh or a good sleep won’t ease and make a little more palatable. Years later, I am still laughing about the time a good friend of mine sat down next to me on my couch, put her bare feet up on the coffee table and said, “look, I shaved my big toes for you.” A little levity goes a long way with me. And after sleeping, I wake up at least a little but usually a lot renewed and ready to face the thing. I am calmer, more able to think it through with logic and positivity. Emotion no longer rules the day like it did the night. This is hard for my husband because he needs the opposite. If something is amiss, he needs immediate resolution and restored peace of mind and will rest at nothing until he gets it. This has been a recipe for disaster for us in the past. A clash of the Titans type disaster. For better or worse, Erik has chosen (read: been forced) to concede this point and let me push pause when I need to. He has learned to trust that I will do the hard work of conflict resolution, but sometimes I just need to do it the next day. So, common marital advice like never go to bed angry does not always work for us (read: me).
This is what works for us. This is what got our attention and gets to keep it: give each other your first and your best.
In your marriage, if you’re building or renovating on a solid foundation of love and you’re both willing to do the hard work it takes to stay married and make the union an enjoyable one, begin by giving each other your first and your best and never stop. Did you get some shivers or feel that deep in your bones? If you’re in that dark and scary place, I bet you did. If you’re not in the dark and scary place, good, I’m so glad. But it won’t hurt to keep this tool close by and ready to wield for the next time you are.
We were in a couples small group bible study years and years ago and I will never forget what one couple said to the group. With an overarching tone of prejudice and snobbish disdain, we were talking about divorce and one of the couples offered up that they had learned not to say, “we will never get divorced.” Because they almost did. Because even after having always said divorce was not an option, that they would never threateningly use the “D” word on each other, they had in fact found themselves right there at divorce’s front door and it was inviting them in to stay. They ultimately turned down that invitation and as a result of that experience what they learned to say instead was, “we will always fight our hardest against divorce.”
At the time, having not yet been through trials heavy enough to advance divorce into our View-master, I remember thinking, “well, it’s sad they came close to divorcing but WE will definitely never get divorced.” Divorce was a slide in their reel though and I felt bad for them but also like maybe they were doing marriage wrong but also like I should heed what they were saying. They had been to the brink and back and the outcome was they now understood divorce wasn’t just probable statistically speaking but also very possible right inside their own marriage. They knew that words and platitudes were not enough to keep divorce at bay and that real effort, the hardest of work and the fiercest fighting against it is what it takes. I paid attention to that.
We’ve been to divorce’s doorstep as well. Infidelity drove us there and kicked us out at the curb. We fought the urge to cross the threshold by learning to give each other our first and our best. It was a game changer. It suspended our downward spiral and it altered our trajectory. It sounds so simple but is it easy? No. And it might never be. Are we really good at it? No, not yet. Do we do it all the time? Nope. Because hard. Because life. Because imperfection. Because tired. Angry. Hurt. Let down. Distracted. Stressed. Selfish. But now, when we fall short of giving each other our first and our best, our barometer falls dramatically and we feel the negative change in pressure very quickly. The difference is that in years past, the pressure change was subtle but consistent and we became so accustomed to it we didn’t correct it. Our marriage eventually became a challenging climate and we did not know how to affect any real and lasting change.
What does giving each other your first and your best look like? I don’t know, because I’m not one of you two. But for us it looks like deliberately spending time alone together. Touching, talking, planning, hashing things out, reminiscing, what-if-ing and doing the things we do. We are social creatures and we have some fabulous friends (though I’m also a colossal introvert, both things are true) and we are tempted to put them on our calendar many days of the week. But if we did then our friends would be getting our first and our best.
For us it looks like learning to ride the wave of parenting in a way that mitigates crashing and burning on the reef. It looks like letting our kids know we beyond love them and we are committed to parenting them but after we love and care for each other. Because we were here before they were and soon it will be just the two of us again after they’ve gone. Because we were, they became, and without continual focus and nurturing we know how badly our marriage can deteriorate, into a toxic state that will harm them and cease to help them.
For us it looks like saying no to insidious, soul sucking distractions like our phones or Netflix or too many drinks. And no to more complicated interference like relatives that continually offer up drama, turmoil and stress instead of healthy interactions that shore us up and lend us strength.
It looks like loving each other with action and not just with words or intent.
It looks like taking action for each other because it costs us our time and energy and not in spite of it. To give of our first and best means, ‘here you go, honey; this is what I have and it’s for you, take what you need and everyone else gets what is leftover.’ Not the other way around.
We took the other way around, and that not so merry-go-round threw us off and nearly broke us. We are still healing from the fall and we are doing it by giving each other our first and our best. It’s working. It will continue to work as long as we continue to do it. And now, we will always fight our hardest against giving our first and our best to someone or something else.
P.S. ‘Give each other your first and your best’ came from the book, What Did You Expect?: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage by Paul David Tripp. Erik found this book and we read it together, slowly, chapter by chapter, pausing to talk about each one in turn. I wish like hell I had read this book before I got married, so does Erik. I highly recommend it for any and all marriage folk. I give it to brides-to-be at their bridal showers now. I send it anonymously in the mail to anyone that sends me an S.O.S about his or her marriage. And now I’m telling you about it. It’s the bomb. It really is.
Come and join Jodie on her own literary journey on what she describes as “Utterly imperfect musings on life, love and less loneliness” on her Facebook Page, “Utter Imperfection” at https://www.facebook.com/utterimperfection/ She uses this page as a mini-blog to curate and share content she thinks will help us all to fight the good fight in the battle against loneliness.
Or on Jodie’s blog at: https://utterimperfection.wordpress.com/