Multiple Multiples

We’ve just moved to a new city where I will assume a new pastorate in a few days. Until this transition, my wife and I worked 165-miles apart. We  will be living together full-time for the first time in four years. Unpacking and consolidating I’ve discovered that when you live in two homes, have a home office and a work office, AND keep the car well-stocked, you can end up with multiples. Multiple multiples might be more accurate.

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Weary of being without when needed, I kept lip balm in my car, with my running gear, in both homes, and in my desk.
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Can you really have too many paring knives? I have paring knives from both homes as well as my office desk.
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I’m a middle-aged runner. Of course, I had two ice packs (one clay, one gel) in each city. Sometimes, heat is more appropriate which meant two heating pads. I gave my multiple unopened bags of epsom salts to the Food Pantry before the move.
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Is there anything more annoying than toe nails that need clipping and you’re without an adequate tool? Tweezers are needed wherever you are when the stray hairs of middle-age crop up. Yes, that’s three toe nail clippers, three tweezers, and two nail clippers. Why three? Maybe for the trinity; we’re clergy after all.
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Notice? I did not take the church’s stapler. Nor did I take the church’s staple removers. (Though, there was the time when I bought multiple staplers for the church office within a few weeks. The bookkeeper was confused until I explained the children had gotten hold of the first new stapler. 
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In the small town where I lived and served a church, power outages were not rare. When you live in a frontier town, you don’t want to be without a flashlight. Of course, my wife needed one, too. Or more. Quite a few more.
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I’m not so much of a salt lover that I need shakers in my office or car. Still, do we really need two sets now? Yes, why yes we do. She prefers the glass ones and I like my Tupperware versions.
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Scissors are useful in the kitchen, in the office, for sewing, and for opening packages. I don’t know why we needed six, it’s not like we carried or used them in the car. Honest. Trivia: that top pair were my grandmother’s sewing scissors. No one is allowed to use them. They are sacred object in my home.
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Besides the two sets of three hymnals (Chalice, New Century, and Sing! Prayer & Praise) that I used for preparing worship, I needed incense in both locations. Incense can help lure the Holy Spirit out of hiding when I prepare sermons. It’s true.

We also had multiple toasters. We have multiple bags of dog food not to mention the hand lotion here, there, and everywhere. We even have an extra robe now because she kept an extra in my parsonage. None of this is to complain. It’s been fun counting the number of like items we’ve found we had. The joy of being together in one home outweighs any minor difficulties of merging households.

 

 

It’s What I Do. 

When one of our beloved flock are nearing death, we live in dread of the next phone call or text. That’s the way it is for clergy.

When the call comes, our carefully planned day or day-off drops to the bottom of the priority list. The dreaded communiqué and our response disrupts schedules and family time. Yet, we don’t complain. This is the job. We respond in love without resentment. That’s how it is when you’re called by the divine. Though I don’t exactly find joy in this aspect of my work, I have a sense of satisfaction and peace in being with families.

I also feel a private sense of grief. Always.

My grief can be simple and straightforward: I feel sad for others. If it is someone with whom I’ve had a deep or longterm relationship my sadness can take awhile to process. Nonetheless, out of love I set my feelings aside to be God’s presence for the deceased’s family and friends. That’s the job. That’s the calling. It’s what I do.

Sometimes, however, the death triggers a personal emotion. That’s what happened recently. Both clergy, my wife and I minister 165-miles apart. We manage the distance well. I feel as called to my rural congregation as she does to the suburban hospital where she is chaplain. Still, I don’t like it.

Dealing with unwanted separation in my own marriage I am sensitive to the grief of departures and time apart. The death of a parishioner’s spouse is prone to trigger my own feelings. This can especially be true when an aspect of the couple reminds me of my own relationship.

***

When the text came recently, I was over a hundred miles away. When the text came recently, I didn’t question where and with whom I must be. This is the job. This is the calling. It is where I needed to be.

This time the triggered emotion, coupled as it was with a tragic death the week prior, and the too soon departure from my own wife, I found myself sobbing as I drove the freeway to be with the widow.

I thought about the grieving family. A family I love has been struggling for far too long. I sobbed and prayed for them. Without the drive, my emotions would have remained in check until the quiet of the evening or days later.

I didn’t just sob for the family, however. I sobbed for myself. My personal feelings had been triggered. This is the job. This is the calling. It is what I do in my alone time surrounding a death.

My own overly sensitive feelings about detaching from my wife cascaded down my face. I thought about the choices we make for our jobs, our God. I thought about quitting outright and becoming a househusband. I fantasized about living with my beloved full-time. This is what I do when we must part. These were familiar thoughts, not enough to cause sobbing.

And, so, I prayed for my own relationship. I did not pray for our circumstance to change. I know that, at least for now, this is the job. This is our calling.

I thought about our deaths with eyes open. One day, one of us will die and leave the other. The widow with whom I would soon sit, was not an aberration. This is the nature of life, death will come.

I thought about the depth of aloneness one of us will one day feel. I prayed that when the time comes, my wife should die first. I hate the constant separations of our present, dread going on alone after her death, but I do not want my beloved to have to feel that pain. I will gladly take it upon myself, I told the loving spirit that connects all of creation.

This is the marriage. This is a calling. This is love.

Am I Wasting What Time I Have?

It can be extremely rewarding and gratifying but this month, it is hard. Ministry is hard.

We spend half our time 165-miles apart and I’m done with it. Done, done, done. I ache. We’ve been at this for over three years. Before that we dealt with 350-miles for the three years while I was in seminary. There was a brief period between in which we lived together, in which we slept in the same bed every night.

I shouldn’t be surprised that we’re challenged by separation and distance. In my focused meditative Bible reading leading up to my seminary years, I perceived the Holy Spirit speaking to me about the cost of my call. Following God can sometimes involve leaving family behind, at least for a time.

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus. Turning to them, he said,  “Whoever comes to me and doesn’t hate father and mother, spouse and children, and brothers and sisters—yes, even one’s own life—cannot be my disciple. Whoever doesn’t carry their own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:25-27 CEB

No, I don’t think God is trying to break us up.  The still speaking God, however, hinted to me about the very kind of challenges we’re enduring. I naively thought they would end once we finished my seminary years.

I’ve grown weary about what it means for a clergy couple to respond to our individual calls from God and remain true to our marriage vows. We both work hard in our respective ministries. We also remain strongly committed to one another and make good use of texting, phoning, and Facetime to maintain our relationship.

But it is hard.

Ministry can be lonely work under the best of circumstances. When you are faced with personal struggles of loneliness, there is often no one to whom you can turn. The role of the pastor (me) and the chaplain (my wife) is to listen to others rather than talk about our own problems.

I have found healthy ways to cope. I exercise regularly. I maintain friendships of mutuality outside of my tiny community to the extent I’m able. I sit with my feelings and accept them without judgement. (Well, sometimes.)

But it is hard, especially in weeks like the last few.

Having survived Holy Week with its extra pressures and services, I looked forward to some downtime with my wife. As is prone to happen, death comes on its own schedule rather than on mine. Word reached me that a beloved member of our church was nearing his final breath. I kissed my wife and traveled 165-miles to be with the dying saint of the church. I did not get to pray with him the one last time I’d hoped. He died while I was en route.

The time apart from my wife has been more emotionally difficult since this death. I’ve been weepy. I’ve been clingy. I’ve been a bit on the controlling side.

This is what sometimes happen when standing and praying with a widow as she bids the body of her husband of six and a half decades goodbye. Her emotions mingle with my own and I wonder if I’m wasting the little time I have with my own beloved to minister to others.

Ministry is hard, especially when my emotions get all tangled with others.

I don’t know whether I’m wasting the little time I have with my own spouse. At the end of the day being a non-anxious presence for others, I just don’t know. All I can do is sit as quiet tears fall down my face.

What’d You Get Her For Your Anniversary?

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On our hike this morning, we were both intrigued by this tree that seems to grow from two root systems. Photo by Tim Graves

Thirty-five sounds like we should have special plans. We should get all dressed up in our sexiest clothes and go out to dinner. If you believe the commercials, I should surprise her with an expensive gift. Perhaps a diamond ring or necklace. Maybe I should send her thirty-five roses?

Instead we’ve been hiking and now we’re hanging out together over fast food pizza. We might stop by the cherry stand in Mosier on the way home and we’ll probably cuddle with the dog this evening. We rarely put pressure on ourselves with the big days or the numbers. We also don’t spend money on each other just because some marketer says we should.

We spend time together. As we traveled from our remote town to the trail this morning, we talked about our future. I asked about how she was feeling about work which is currently in a state of flux. She listened as I reflected upon my hopes and dreams ministering with my congregation. We listened. We loved.

We did what we usually do on our Monday sabbath. We spend time doing things we enjoy and just being together.

Still, I’m more reflective today than most Mondays. As I look across the table at my Imzadi, my soul mate, my other half, my partner in life, my thoughts drift to where we were then and where we are now.

We were married young. Maggie was nineteen; I was a few months into my twenties. Objectively speaking, she has a few “blonde” hairs on her head now. My red beard is rapidly greying and we both wear bifocals now. We finished our childrearing a long time ago. We bicker less than we did during those years, perhaps because we have more rest and time to work on our relationship. Undoubtedly, because we’ve learned a thing or two about ourselves and one another through the decades.

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On our hike this morning, we were both intrigued by this tree that seems to grow from two root systems. Photo by Tim Graves

Through it all — including the stormy times — our commitment to one another has remained rooted in our own mutual admiration society. You see, there is no one else. There is no one, including my children, with whom I’d rather be than Maggie. No one gets me like she does and I get her better than anyone else. I know and love her through her idiosyncrasies. She inexplicably finds my obnoxious morning (and afternoon and evening) songs endearing.

How could a diamond necklace or roses in any way represent the value of our thirty-five years together? Time together, sharing jokes with one another, talking about the next thirty-five, and simply being together are gifts that reflect our decades together. Those are the gifts we both expect from one another.

Related Posts

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s God! No, It’s Just My Wife
The Core Secret of Our Marriage
Keeping Covenant When the Storms Roll In

Tears

Tears

Breetel and IsaacTears can be many things. They can be a cleansing liquid that washes away the pain. Tears can be like baptismal waters that renew and refocus our souls. They can indicate deep sadness or profound joy.

For me, tears are often a sign of Divine presence. They flow when the One breaks into my awareness. Tears are “of G-d.” I well up when I intuit the presence of the extravagant love that binds us together as one human family.

Yesterday, the day of my son’s wedding, was one of those holy times when G-d’s tears flowed like a waterfall. The One who is within us, between us, and surrounds us was palpable as two families united to celebrate the love between a rabbi’s daughter and the son of two ministers. It is an unlikely and likely story.

Unlikely because too many Christians have learned the false doctrine that G-d’s love is limited to those who profess Jesus as savior and turned love into hatred. Unlikely because a people who have endured millennia of persecution, including genocide, must be cautious of those who are not one of their own.

Likely because the Divine never breaks covenant and never gives up on us. G-d’s love broke through yesterday. G-d’s extravagant desire for us to be the one human family we were created to be, lured two souls together.

And when the One lured two souls together, two families celebrated together. Not only did two young people covenant to journey together in love, two families began the journey of accepting, getting to know, and growing to love one another.

In the presence of the One, our tears of joy, a palpable sign of the Divine, flowed together reminding each of us that G-d’s extravagant love is for all of us.

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The Way It’s Supposed to Be

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My mantra over the last few days has been, “It wasn’t supposed to be this way!” No, I’m not talking about my baby boy getting married. I always thought that would happen. Neither am I in any way disappointed in who my son Isaac is marrying. I adore Breetel; I couldn’t have picked anyone better.

Two weeks ago I got sick. Very sick. Sicker than I’ve ever been. It was (and is) serious, requiring treatment and time before I’m fully myself again. I don’t yet have the energy level that I’m accustomed to having. And, so, I tire before activities are over. I excuse myself and go to bed early when I’d like to socialize.

“It wasn’t supposed to be this way,” I whine. My image of this wedding weekend included a stamina that I simply don’t yet have. But I’ve been missing the point.

I’ve been looking at this the wrong way. I’ve been viewing this weekend, especially my role and my stamina, through the wrong set of eyeglasses. Two weeks ago, I would not have been able to be here.

I am here.

Though I am not at my peak, I am present in this weekend in which two families are getting acquainted. I am present as two families unite to celebrate that our children have found love. They’ve found the soulmate kind of love. They’ve found the kind of love in which one couple is greater than the sum of two individuals.

Slipping on the right the right set of eyeglasses, I realize this is exactly the way it’s supposed to be.

Doing CPE: The Marriage Version

Maggie and Tim at their home in the Columbia River Gorge. Photo by Dawn Kolakoski.

Our conversation began innocently as I prepared dinner and she caught up on Facebook at the end of her workday. I’m not sure how comments about our days resulted in a deep conversation. Regardless, I confessed my feelings about being the emotional caretaker and nag to a woman with chronic asthma and other health issues.

One of the roles I play in our marriage is to nag Maggie to take care of herself. Sometimes it’s necessary; much of the time it’s not. I’m also a sounding board when her too-often struggles to breathe do not fit with her desire to lead an active lifestyle. For example, she struggles with the likelihood that there are places I have hiked that she may never be able to see firsthand.

But this conversation was more about my psyche than hers and, with my permission, Maggie was “doing CPE” on me. (CPE refers to clinical pastoral education. CPE is a touchy feely part of pastoral education in which delving into a deeper understanding of motivations is idolized. It’s a form of deep communication, listening to your inner voice, and helping others to do the same.)

“I often feel like I can’t share my needs because you’re sick so often.”

“What would it be like if you did?” she responded.

As I pondered my response I felt tears welling up. Tears are simultaneously a gift of the Holy Spirit and a psychological sign that I’m close to my core feelings. I replied that, “A good husband places the needs of his sick wife before his own needs. Some of my needs conflict with your health.”

Aware that I wasn’t yet done, she remained quiet. I continued, “I genuinely worry about you. At times, though, I feel like I have to play the role of ‘the good husband’ just as I played the role of ‘the good son’ for my mother growing up. Sometimes I feel like I cannot do things for me because of your health.”

Like a good therapist, Maggie waited attentively as I processed both internally and aloud. To even name my needs feels selfish, I thought. A pivotal moment came when I said, “I’d feel vulnerable if I shared my needs.”

“Tell me more about your feelings of vulnerability. What’s that about?”

Of course those pesky tears showed up again. To even name my feelings and needs that conflict with my wife’s health needs, would tarnish my self-image as the good husband, as the perfect husband, as the one who has it all together.

We both laughed out loud at the absurdity. Feelings are real. Needs are real. Naming feelings doesn’t give them power; it allows us to problem solve and work together to find ways to meet both of our needs. It is when we shove those feelings and needs deep inside that they are more likely to sneak out in destructive ways.

I sighed and smiled. Here we were after thirty-three years of marriage still learning and growing and working together.

See Also
The Core Secret of Our Marriage
Keeping Covenant When the Storms Roll In
It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s God! No That’s My Wife

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s God! No, That’s My Wife.

No, I’m not really suggesting that my wife is a god. That heresy is even beyond me. I suggest that it is in deep love that we glimpse the nature of the divine.

This is our double-trinity anniversary. My beloved, my imzadi, my soulmate and I were married thirty-three years ago today. In our three decades + three years the following are ways in which I’ve glimpsed the one I call God in our relationship.

Presence. Since the day we committed ourselves together Maggie has been present. When not able to be physically together she is within me. Even during my seminary years when we were separated by 350 miles and weeks, she would text me about little things in her day, seek my empathy, to check on something with which she knew I struggled, or to rejoice in my successes!

Unconditional love. Maggie’s love for me is unconditional. Even when I don’t deserve it, she offers me grace. Though, sometimes she must cool down, her love for me never wavers. The slammed car door as I drop her off unsettles me but not to my core. This is because I feel the depth of her love even when she’s angry with me.

Sustaining love. In the 70s, Harry Nilsson sang “I can’t live if living is without you.” The love that Maggie and I share sustains us. Her love transforms me. I am not the person I would be without her. I could more readily give up food than the love of my beloved.

Reciprocal love. She needs me as much as I need her. I don’t know why; it makes no sense to me. In the giving to her, I find a boundless supply of love. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for her.  I know that the same is true of her love for me.

Knows me & sees me. Maggie’s love, like that of God, is inexplicable. She loves me not despite my faults and annoying habits but through them and, because of them. What is more inexplicable than that?

Calls me out. Because Maggie knows me at the soul-level, she also knows when I’m taking the easy path. She sees when I’ve been sleeping, she knows if I’m awake, and knows if I’ve been bad or good. She’s also not afraid to make it crystal clear that I need to be the person I’m capable of being.

Takes my side, protects me. When the world hands me lemons, Maggie makes the lemonade for me. I know that no matter how bad a day I’ve had she will take my side. She will wrap me in her arms and hold her fist to the world at the same time.

Never gives up on me. Ask our kids. We’ve been known to have some metaphorical “knock down, drag outs” in our time as a  married couple. Throughout it all, Maggie doesn’t give up on me. She can sometimes get pissed — beyond pissed — but we always reconcile our differences and do the work necessary to heal our conflict.

So, though my imzadi is not God, it is within our relationship, within the nature of her love for me, that I so often glimpse the extravagant love of the One.

Related Posts

The Core Secret of Our Marriage

Keeping Covenant when the Storms Roll In