Archive for May, 2011

When I was a basketball coach, a saying I used with my players was, “Don’t waste your energy on things you can’t control.”  There was only a certain amount of energy they had available to them, and they couldn’t control the temperature in the gym, what the referees did or didn’t call, how the fans or other players treated them, and so on.  Any focus on those types of things only served to distract them from their ultimate purpose; winning the game.

I knew that in my marriage, the same principle had to apply.  I could spend time and energy worrying about whether there was another guy or if this was a mid-life crisis my wife was going through, or whether becoming an empty nester was at the root of the problems she was having.  Any of that would only take energy away from my ultimate purpose; winning back her heart and love.

My wife and I are both Ted Dekker fans and read everything he writes almost as soon as it comes out.  A number of his books deal with the subject of sacrificial love.  He spins tales of characters who have to make terribly difficult choices and endure awful pain for love.  The theme of rescuing the beloved is also prevalent in many of his novels.

My wife had revealed that, deep in her heart, she still carried a desire to be loved that way by me.  I went back to God for wisdom, and back to Ted Dekker for inspiration.  I began to search the scriptures for every verse I could find about love, marriage, husbands, and wives.  I wrote them all down on notebook pages and began to speak them out loud every day.  I made them my constant prayer, substituting my wife’s name into the verses and making them personal declarations.

For inspiration, I went to Ted Dekker’s Circle Trilogy to read again about, “The Great Romance,” as he calls it.  It’s the story as old as time.  The man rescues the woman, wins her heart, and makes her his bride. She is unable to resist and falls forever in love with her hero who protects and cares for her ever after.

It’s exactly the kind of love that so many people today dismiss as only a silly fairy tale and not to be believed in.  It’s the kind of love that an entire culture is on the brink of rejecting.  It’s the kind of love that I believe that everyone, deep in the secret places of the heart, longs for.  And it’s exactly the kind of love that I decided I would do anything to experience, no matter the cost.

My prayer life was continuing to grow and evolve as I struggled with everything I was facing and dealing with.  I continued to yield my heart to God and let Him bring about changes to my thinking and my inner being.  I was praying for wisdom and understanding in how to deal with my wife.  I was also trying to learn to rely on God instead of trying to do everything myself. 

While in prayer, I would have thoughts that were not typical of my way of thinking and I would wonder if it was God trying to speak to me.  As time went by, I became more and more convinced that the changes in my thinking were, in fact, coming from His Spirit.  Sometimes, they were specific guidance, like things to say and do.  Other times, they were advance notice of things that were going on or that were coming up, so that I could be prepared for them. 

In our relationship, we were stuck.  I was trying to change and show my wife that things were going to be different.  She realized what I was doing, but was unable to respond to it.  It wasn’t getting through to her heart, and she often felt pressure because she knew that I expected a response that wasn’t forthcoming.  The idea that we might need to experience some time apart to break that impasse began to take a stronger hold in my thoughts, even though I objected to it greatly. 

One afternoon, we stopped at a deli to eat and the fateful conversation took place.  She broached the subject. For a while, I had been trying to figure out if there was a way that I could go stay somewhere else for a few weeks or so.  I figured that if she spent some time alone, she would miss me and things would work out.  Now, sitting across from each other, she said she thought we needed a separation. 

She told me there were things she needed to figure out about herself and what she wanted and that if I could give her that, she might decide that I was what she wanted.  She said that she felt she had always had to be dependent on a man and she wanted to know if she could make it on her own.  She reasoned that if she could be independent, and then chose marriage to me, it would be because she decided that was what was best for her. 

She presented it as a way that I might possibly get her back, but it caused a major war to break out inside me.  One side understood that what she was saying was the truth, and I even told her that I had been working on possible separation scenarios myself.  The other side said, “What about what’s best for me?  I’m your husband and you made vows to me that were supposed to be forever. You already chose marriage 12 years ago.  That choice is already made and you don’t get to change it.”

I didn’t voice any of these latter thoughts.  We talked and I found out that she’d already been looking for an apartment.  She said that there were loft apartments in downtown Springfield that she could afford and where we might both want to live if things worked out between us. 

It was both a terribly painful and somewhat hopeful conversation at the same time.  It hurt tremendously to know that we had reached the point where my precious wife wanted to live apart from me.  It also cast a vision that showed her thinking in terms of reconciliation and ultimately, staying together.  We agreed to table the subject for the night, but to continue it the next day.

As it turned out, we went together and found a loft apartment within the next few days that would be hers, but that we both liked and would want to share together if we got things worked out.  The message was clear.  “I’m stepping away, but not too far.  You’ll know where I am.  Will you come after me and pursue me and win back my heart, or do I not mean that much to you?  Is this love you are now professing real, or is it just for show?”  It wasn’t a game, but she had made her move and now it was my turn.

My wife and I used to have a small organic farm where we raised livestock, herbs, and vegetables.  It was during that phase of our lives that I made a mess of our marriage and was too busy working the farm and my regular job to even take the time to notice what was happening.  I just plodded ahead like I was going somewhere when everything was falling apart around me.

We left the farm in the Fall of 2009 and it was an attempt, weak as it was, to save our marriage.  I didn’t know at the time that it needed saving, so I thought it was more preventative.  Things were going in the wrong direction, so I decided to let go of the thing that was taking so much of my time and energy and try to be there for my wife.

I thought we had patched everything up and moved on from my mistakes, so it was a complete shock to me when Spring of 2010 came and my wife began letting go emotionally.  We were no longer selling at the farmer’s markets, so we started walking to our local market and it was on these walks that we began having honest talks about what was going on with our marriage. 

It was on a walk to the farmer’s market that I asked my wife if she still loved me and she couldn’t tell me that she did.  It was on these walks that I realized the seriousness of what was going on inside her.  I kept thinking it was a phase that would pass, and that any day, she would say she was sorry and everything would go back to normal.  These Thursday evening conversations showed me that things were much worse than I wanted to imagine, and I began to face, for the first time, the idea that I really could lose her forever. 

During one of these talks, she told me that she hadn’t made any decisions yet, and that she was going to take it a month at a time.  She said that she had chosen me once and she might be able to choose me again, but she might need time apart to figure that out.  She said she had lost herself during our marriage (We had been pretty co-dependent at times, and there was a lot that was unhealthy in our relationship) and she didn’t really know who she was anymore.  She told me that if I could give her time to find out who she was and what she wanted, she might choose me again, not because she had to, but because she would want to.

Then she asked me the million dollar question, “Does that make sense?”  I told her with all honestly, “Not a bit, but I respect that you feel that way.” She reiterated this idea several times over several weeks, and every time I told her that I didn’t understand it even a little bit, but I didn’t judge her for it, or try to tell her she was wrong.  I just tried to listen to her heart and love her the best way I knew how.   

While everything inside me cried out to hold it together, the idea of possibly having to let her go began to lodge itself in my consciousness.  Things were already in motion that would have to run their course, and it really wasn’t up to me to figure it all out.  I was going to have to do a lot of work on making myself the person that she would want to choose when she was ready to make that decision.

They say that the first step in changing is admitting that there is a problem.  Sometimes there’s a disconnect between recognizing that there is a problem and recognizing what to do about it.  It’s easy to look at a run-down house and say, “There’s a problem here.”  Understanding how to restore that house can be considerably more difficult. 

Through the giving over of my heart and will to God, I had gained a lot of insight into what the problems were.  Fortunately, I wasn’t on my own in figuring out what needed to be done.  Between God showing me the places I had failed and needed to restore, and Mort Fertel’s emails giving me practical advice on things to say and do, I had a pretty good set of blueprints. 

I also had an impulsive desire to fix everything NOW!  Of course, it doesn’t work that way, but once confronted with the truth of it all, I just wanted to make it right.  I didn’t want it to take time.  I wanted it fixed this minute.  Because of that, I sometimes said and did things that were counter-productive and probably set us back instead of moving us forward. 

The most unique aspect of Mort Fertel’s Marriage Fitness idea is that you don’t focus on the problems.  You step away from the problems and begin using words and actions that will begin to rebuild love.  In terms of fitness, it is perfectly logical.

If you find yourself overweight and out of shape, it doesn’t help to talk about how you got that way.  You need to get to the gym and get to work.  You won’t lose weight, build muscle, or get fit by focusing on why you haven’t been exercising or how poorly you’ve been eating.  You’ve just got to do the work.  The result will be that you’ll get fit and it won’t really matter how you got off track in the past.

By trying to get my wife to see what I was seeing and get her to focus on the past, I was missing the mark.  I was unintentionally still making the situation in our marriage her fault.  Although I didn’t mean to be, what I was really saying was, “Why can’t you see it like I see it?  Why don’t you just get over everything and it will all be ok?”  She needed a whole lot more than that to learn to love me again. 

I quickly realized my mistake (a scenario that would, unfortunately, repeat itself many times over the next few months) and began to simply work on saying and doing as many loving things as I could to her and for her.  I didn’t try to get her to talk about what had happened and why she couldn’t forgive me or any of that.  I just started loving her, really loving her, on God’s terms and her terms, not mine.

During this time, I began writing all these thoughts and realizations down so I wouldn’t forget and lose them.  I kept papers that had scripture verses, memories, and things I needed to go back and restore like the wedding ring.  I also wrote on one paper this statement:  “I am to blame.  I caused the failure of our marriage.”  That admission allowed the shift to occur from, “Why doesn’t my wife respond in the way I want her to,” to “I caused this, it’s my responsibility to fix it.”

You will never finish any project that you never start.  No matter how simple you think it’s going to be, nor how daunting the task.  You have to get it started if you’re going to get it done.

I’m not really sure why I was such a procrastinator for much of my life or why I would fail to take care of things that needed my attention.  With a big project, it can be so overwhelming that you simply don’t know where to start.  You look at it and it all just seems like too much.  Sometimes that was the case for me.  That was where Mort Fertel’s emails were such a godsend.  I didn’t have to figure out what to do.  I could just follow the instructions.

In the routine maintenance, however, I had no such excuse.   I just didn’t do what needed done.  I didn’t pay attention.  I neglected to maintain the romance and the special things that keep love fresh and new.  I still wanted our love to be like that, but I hadn’t done my part for years and I finally more or less gave up. 

Seemingly out of nowhere, as I would walk through the apartment, I began to see my wife and our history all around me.  Things I hadn’t thought about in years, and things that I had forgotten altogether were suddenly returning to me with great force.  As I passed by a shelf or opened a drawer or cupboard, I would see things that had always been there, but now they reminded me that they had been gifts we had given each other, or were keepsakes from special times and places in our lives. 

Where I had forgotten all of the good things that we had shared for more than a decade and allowed myself to focus on the disappointments, I was seeing anew how special and wonderful our marriage had always been.  Where I had allowed myself to blame my loving partner for the marriage going downhill, I could now see how she had always tried to make me happy and had only wanted my love in return.  I was living in the same place, surrounded by the same things, but seeing it all so differently.  I saw her in everything and knew that I had blown it.

That evening, I tried to talk to her.  “This is us, remember?”  I tried to get her to see what I had seen and feel what I felt, but her eyes hadn’t been opened.  Her heart was still hard.  And I was taking the wrong approach.  I would learn that in the days to come.

Shortly after the restoration vision, while I was trying to process my recent change of heart and mind, I received an email late one evening.  I found it curious that it said something about help for your marriage in the subject line, but I assumed that it was spam and ignored it.

By morning, my curiosity got the best of me and I opened and read it.  It addressed me by name and said that I had visited the web site and requested information.  It was from someone named Mort Fertel, whom I had never heard of, and whose website I had definitely never visited.

Nevertheless, it said I had signed up for the free help and that I would begin receiving a series of emails called, “7 secrets to fixing your marriage.”  Even though I couldn’t imagine how it was that this had come to me, I was all for any help I could get, so I read the information.

He has a program called “Marriage fitness” where he uses principles of physical fitness and training to help people whose marriages are in trouble.  It’s a completely different approach from traditional marriage counseling and it really caught my attention. 

Over the next few days and weeks, it was absolutely uncanny how much the emails spoke directly to our situation.  I began to conclude that they must really be coming from God, because this guy couldn’t possibly be that much in tune with exactly what we were going through.  (Much later, I would find out that our oldest daughter had gone through Mort Fertel’s pre-marital counseling and she had visited the website and signed me up without telling me.  As they say, God works in mysterious ways)

Mort Fertel’s approach works because it is practical and doable.  Much like Dave Ramsey helps people with their finances by walking them step-by-step through exactly what to DO, so Mort Fertel’s message is not a bunch of theoretical what-if’s, but rather very specific things to begin doing immediately.  He even tells you that when you first begin doing these things, your spouse probably won’t respond, but do them anyway because they need to be done.  They will take effect over time, but they need to be started if things are going to change. 

In a restoration project, a great deal of work goes on before it really looks like anything good is happening.  There’s a lot of tearing out and removing of damaged, worn out, and useless material.  Then there’s all the work on the infrastructure: putting in wires, pipes, replacement beams, insulation, etc.  None of that is seen from the outside, and none is attractive to the eye while it’s taking place.  In reality, the house is going to have to look a lot worse before it starts looking better.

So it can be with a marriage that is severely neglected and damaged.  There’s a lot of work that needs to be done, starting right now, but it may very well not seem like it’s getting any better for quite some time.  More likely, exposing all that damage will exacerbate the pain in the beginning.

There comes a point, though, with a house, where it seems like all of a sudden, it all comes together.  It’s almost like you drive by one day and it looks like a shambles, and you drive by the next day and you can see a beautiful house appearing right before your eyes.  The work you do at the end is the part everybody sees.  The painting, landscaping, and putting on the finishing touches is where the oohs and ahs come in, but the dirty work that went on without any recognition is what made the transformation possible.

The old cliché, “It’s the the thought that counts,” is probably the one that I hate the most.  Not all clichés are bad, mind you.  There’s a reason they became popular sayings.  It’s just that this one implies letting people off the hook when they don’t care enough to follow through, or they don’t know a person well enough to know what an appropriate response or gift would be.

Toward the end of July, my wife asked me if there was anything I wanted for my birthday.  This is significant on a number of levels  (I realize that this is in no way chronological and is probably going to confuse some of you, but we’re on the subject of birthdays, so I decide to write about this today.  Keep reading and focus on the big picture).  We weren’t living together and things had been looking like they were going to end badly for a while. 

I had wondered for a few weeks if she would acknowledge my upcoming birthday and I had decided that I wouldn’t bring it up.  If she never said anything about it, I wasn’t going to either.  If she did, however (and here was the twist), I was prepared. 

Most years of our marriage, I really didn’t have anything I wanted for my birthday.  She would ask what I wanted and I would tell her that there really wasn’t anything.  Last year was different.  There was something I was going to ask for if she asked.  It was very personal and for me, it would be a sign as to whether or not our marriage was going to make it. 

So she asked, one day in the car, out of the blue.  So suddenly, in fact, that I almost chickened out and didn’t say what I had planned to say when or if the question came.  But I pulled myself together and told her that yes, in fact, there was something I wanted.  And then I took a risk.  I told her what I wanted, knowing that whether or not she did it would probably parallel whether or not she would ever return to being my wife. 

You see, years earlier, she had bought me an expensive men’s fragrance from Mary Kay.  It was the only time I ever had anything like that, and it was special to both of us.  The last time we had moved, it had become one of those things that disappears in a move, and was never seen again.

Since then, whenever we would walk past a certain store in the mall, there was a fragrance that you could smell and she would comment about.  I told her that what I wanted was for her to shop for a fragrance for me that she really liked and that she would want to smell on me.  This was a risk because it implied a future in which we would be together.  It implied us going on dates, being romantic and intimate.  More than that, it implied her having a stake in a relationship with me.

One popular saying that does carry a lot of truth with it is the one that says, “Your thoughts become your actions.” I knew that if I could get her thinking along these lines, there was a lot better chance that actions would follow.  I also knew that, contrary to popular wisdom, the actions of love produce the feelings of love, not vice versa.  She was telling me that she wasn’t feeling the feelings, but I had learned that doing the actions produces the feelings.  I realized that if she would really think about it and take the time to shop, this had the potential to produce feelings. 

Yes, I skipped a lot in the story, and yes, I am going to go back and fill in the blanks.  And yes, last year I had the happiest birthday of my life.

It’s the first day of my wife’s 41st year and life is certainly looking good from here.  Yesterday was one of those benchmark days on the restoration tour.  It’s a specific day, with specific events, that rectify and replace some of what was wrong with everything that is now right.

This birthday was full of peace and joy, while last year’s was anxious and fretful.  Last year, love was elusive, and noticeably absent.  This year, the presence of love was pervasive and unmistakable.  Last year, we were discovering that a lot of people who we thought were our friends were no friends at all.  This year, we know that we have a number of true friends, and we value them greatly.

So what made the difference? Several things.

Of course, the fact that we reached the point last Summer where we reconciled and found each other again changed everything.  Celebrating a birthday is completely different when two people are happily in love and wouldn’t think of leaving or ending the relationship.  But what about the healing, and the restoration of the past?

This year, it was all about knowing my wife well enough to know what mattered to her, and caring enough to make sure that she got the birthday that she wanted.  It was about putting thought and intent into making this a special and memorable day for her, not just doing obligatory duties like buying gifts and ordering a cake.

My wife is a kid at heart, so I made it a princess birthday, featuring Disney princesses and especially Belle, her favorite.  I got a good laugh at the store where I was buying princess wrapping paper, stickers, silly bands, etc. and the checker asked, “How old is she going to be?”  I’m pretty sure 40 wasn’t the answer she was expecting.

I gave her gifts and little surprises throughout the day, with a big surprise or two carefully worked in at the right moments.  There were presents to open in the morning (she’s a kid remember, and they want their gifts), little surprises slipped into her lunch box, and a car full of pink ballons when she left work.

Birthday Morning

After dinner, I gave her a surprise gift that she never saw coming.  Many years ago, a diamond pendant that I had bought her came up missing and was never found.  This year, I picked out a pendant to match the ring I gave her on our anniversary.  She thought she had already received her “big gift” in the morning and was completely unprepared for the necklace.
In the evening, we had a princess party at a local specialty cupcake shop, where a small group of friends and family surrounded her and joined in the spirit of the evening by putting on stickers and silly bands, pulling the strings on party poppers, and generally being silly.
A lot of healing took place yesterday.  A lot was restored.  Some of it, I wasn’t even aware of.  That’s the way love works when you do it right.  In the passage known as the love chapter the Bible says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.”

My wife turns 40 today and Friday the 13th is a lucky day indeed.  She is celebrating 40 years young with a wonderful future to look forward to.

It wasn’t that way last year.  Last year at this time, she was angry and hurt, not knowing what the future might look like, but imagining it wouldn’t involve me or the life she had known for the past 13 years. 

Growing up in her family was very different from growing up in my family, and birthdays were no exception.  In my family, they were a special day, where the person who was having the birthday was excused from all chores, got to choose the evening meal, and was spoiled with gifts.  I always looked forward to my wife’s birthday more than my own because I got to give her the royal treatment. 

Last year, she was insistent that we were not celebrating her birthday and she didn’t want anything.  Nevertheless, I arranged for us to go out to eat at a place we always enjoy and had two of our adult children meeting us there.  I had bought a few small gifts that I snuck in and I discreetly let the server know it was her birthday. 

We all laughed and had a great time as we ate together, presented her with gifts, and convinced our server to take some pictures.  For an hour or so, the pain was pushed aside, and the reality that we truly are a great couple and have a great family took center stage. 

This year, that reality is where we live every day.  We are blessed beyond measure with a love that continues to grow and deepen.  Tonight, my wife will be the princess of the ball, and at the stroke of midnight, she will be sleeping, safely wrapped up in my love.

So what had I done, that got us where we were?  It was as much a question of what I hadn’t done, as what I had.  There are sins of omission and sins of commission.  We all do things we shouldn’t and later wish we hadn’t.  There are also those things we know we should do, but we don’t.  Both are part of being human and imperfect. 

When they happen as a momentary lapse in judgement, or in a moment of weakness, they are easier to understand and, perhaps, to forgive.  When they happen over a long period of time, or with intent, they are much more difficult to excuse, because the damage they cause is deeper and more significant.

In talking with my wife last Spring, I finally just asked her, “Does this go back to what happened with ________ ? (For the juicy details, visit the disclaimer page.  In other words, you’re not getting any, so focus on the point here).  She said yes, it did.   She was still hurt (even though I thought we had made up and moved on) for a variety of reasons.  She told me she could no longer trust me, and that fact that I had never admitted anything or owned up to my indiscretion was a wound that wouldn’t heal. 

While I’m sure that was true, and I would never make light of it, I began to see that long before that, I had already been on a path that would ultimately destroy our love.  When we got married, I was the person she not only loved romantically, but looked up to spiritually.  She believed me to be a man of God, who would lead and protect her always.  In those days, that is what I strived to be.  It was only years later, when I turned my back inwardly (while keeping up appearances outwardly), that the erosion of trust began.

I was also her fitness instructor prior to dating her, and fitness was a big part of both of our lives.  As the years went by, I became lazy and neglectful in that area, also.  That in no way caused her to stop loving me, but it altered the roles in that part of our relationship.  I didn’t care enough about myself to stay healthy, so I couldn’t care for her in the ways I had promised to.

Perhaps most significantly, she had told me over and over, for years, that she wanted to be cherished.  For her to have to come out and say that, even once, is an indication that my love for her was not the kind we spoke of in our wedding vows.  And how did I respond?  I failed to do anything differently.  I ignored her desperate pleas to be loved the way she was meant to be. 

I made it my quest to begin, from the moment of realization, to cherish her in all things.  In the way I looked at her.  In the way I talked to her.  In the way I honored her in front of others.  In the way I lived my life. 

I began to proudly display pictures of her.  I began to speak highly of her to others.  I bought her gifts that showed I really cared.  In short, I began to treat her like I was “in love” with her and that she was the most special person on the planet to me.  And I began to use the word “cherish” in talking to her.

Interestingly enough, while the actions paid huge dividends over time, the word almost seemed to have the opposite effect.  Telling my wife, “I cherish you,”  never got any positive response. 

Somehow, a new word emerged that seemed to please her heart.  That word is treasure.  She had asked me to cherish her and I hadn’t.  She didn’t ask me to treasure her, but I did.  And when I would tell her that she was my treasure, or how much I treasured her, it began to melt away the cold and bring us closer again.

Sometimes restoration means taking something old and making it like new again.  Sometimes it means replacing something old that can’t be repaired with something new.  In this case, it meant getting to know my wife’s heart on a deep enough level to understand what she needed and then provide it for her.