Archive for June, 2011

The question has been asked thousands of times for thousands of years.  Songwriters ask, “What is love?” and “How will I know when it’s love?”  Poets and painters, preachers and philosophers, psychologists and pundits all have their take.  “I want to know what love is,” sings one man who found that being a rock star, with all of its trappings, didn’t satisfy that inner longing for something deeper than money and fame could provide.

The need for love is basic to the human condition.  The lack of understanding of what this somehow elusive entity is, underscores how far from the path we humans have wandered.  The scriptures declare that, “God is love.”  For some, that is far too simple.  For others, such an idea is far too complicated.  I would humbly suggest that, if God is the creator, then apart from Him, love is irrelevant and cannot truly be found.

While my wife and I were apart, I searched both my heart and the scriptures for answers to the many questions I was struggling with.  I was led to two words.  One, of course, was love.  I wrote out pages of verses that contained the ideas of love and marriage.  I read them out loud and prayed them day after day until they took root deep in my soul.

The other word was fear.  Again and again, God led me to that word.  He revealed to me that there was a stronghold of long-standing fears that were holding my wife’s heart captive.   She didn’t know or understand this, and would have denied it if asked, but it wasn’t important for her to know it.  It was important that I be willing to fight for her, and to know what I was going up against.

I’m not really comfortable putting on the hero’s cape and going out to rescue the damsel in distress, but love drove me to do what I had to do.  Just as with the word love, I wrote out pages of scriptures about fear, and prayed and meditated on them.  Even after we got back together, there was an ongoing battle for both of us to conquer our fears and overcome those beliefs and tendencies that still remained from previous failed relationships and unhealthy interactions with people who didn’t show true love.

During the height of all of this, once again, a song spoke deeply to both of us.  I was in the car and a song came on the radio that literally stopped me.  I was so blown away by what I was hearing that I had to sit and take it in.  I found out later, by searching the web, that it was called “Please Don’t Let Me Go,” by a band called Group 1 Crew.

God’s love is a rescuing love.  His love is relentless and unstoppable.  He loves in the face of rejection and hurt, even to those who spit in His face, and most especially to those who are lost and confused.  Deep beneath the surface, where she appeared to be detached and independent, my wife’s heart was crying desperately for real love.  A part of her closed up her ears against those cries, because sometimes it’s easier to deny a need exists, than to face the idea that you might not be able to get it met.

My wife desperately wanted love to be real, and she wanted the love that she had believed she had from me when we married.  If she couldn’t have that love, she didn’t know where to go or how to live in this world.  It was up to me to break through her walls of fear and doubt and set her free to love and be loved the right way.  In order to do that, I needed to be filled with God’s love, because none of us have that kind of love on our own.  It simply doesn’t exist apart from Him.

Two verses were very powerful for me during that time.  The first is a prayer.  It says, “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other.”  The second says, “There is no fear in love.  But perfect love casts out fear.”  Perfect love doesn’t come from us.  It only comes from God.

As I allowed Him to fill me with His love, it began to overflow to her.  The love that she was then receiving was coming from Him, through me.  Once she was filled to overflowing, she began to return that love back to me, and I, in turn, was returning it back to God.  He returned it back to me, and the cycle continues.  The cartoon is right, when the child asks, “Dear God, if I give all my love away, can I have a refill?”  Not only a refill, but a neverending supply.

Today is Father’s Day and truthfully…I don’t remember Father’s Day last year.  My wife doesn’t either.  So as far as the restoration tour and Father’s Day, we’re just going to assume that last year wasn’t good.

My wife and I both had kids from previous marriages, so when we got married, we did the whole blended family thing right from day one.  We never had any kids together because she was no longer able to.  All of the kids she already had were very young, so I was in their lives from early on.  I had a daughter who didn’t live with us, and my wife had two daughters and a son.

They don’t give you an instruction manual on raising your own children, and raising step-children is even more of a challenge.  I always tried to be there and provide stability, but I never tried to take the other parent’s place.  The kids had a “real” father, and replacing their blood relative was never a thought for me.

It took time for the relationship to develop between myself and the kids.  There were custody and visitation issues, as well as the problems left over from the previous failed relationships, and those are things that you just have to figure out as you go.  I thought that if her kids saw me treating their mother right, that was about the best thing I could do for them.

From the very beginning, we agreed that there would be no “your” kids and “my” kids.  We were married, so everyone was part of the family.  We always referred to all of them as “ours” and we still do.  That wasn’t to say that they no longer belonged to their other parent, it just meant that in our household, there would be no favoritism.

My wife’s oldest daughter, Angie, developed the earliest and strongest bond with me.  She had been a teenage pregnancy, and her biological father had chosen not to be a part of her life.  Even though she knew him, I was the only “Dad” she really had for most of her life.  She is one of my heroes, because she overcame the rejection and dysfunction of her early childhood, and has become a shining example of what can be, rather than what could have been.

When things went bad between my wife and I last year, Angie was as devastated as I was in her own way.  She cried and agonized for the same number of days and months that I did, so much so that her own marriage began to suffer for it.  What neither of us realized was that she had watched my wife and I through the years, and seeing the beautiful marriage that we had gave her the faith to believe that she could have that too, despite her less than ideal beginnings.

When people are going through troubles in their marriage, it’s very easy to forget that there are future generations who have a stake in the outcome.  While my wife and I had alternately cast our love for each other aside and wallowed in self-centeredness (i.e. focusing on what I want and MY needs and what makes ME happy), we lost sight of the fact that there were other people who were going to have to live with the consequences of our choices.

A friend of ours got a divorce after her husband cheated on her, confessed, and then went back to the same woman.  As much as it was a horribly painful experience for her to be betrayed like that, she discovered that the future pain that she had to watch her children go through was even worse.  She once told us, “If I had known what the divorce was going to do to my kids, I would have invited her (the other woman) to live in my house and sleep in my bed.”  While she wouldn’t have in actuality, the point hit home.

When a marriage fails, it’s not just a husband and wife who experience the pain of loss, and their pain is not necessarily even the deepest.  For my wife and I, our pain was very real, and our loss would have been great.  For Angie, there’s no telling what the final toll would have been if we hadn’t made it.  She said to us that she had based her whole marriage and choice of a husband off watching us, and if we couldn’t make it, then what chance did she have?”

When we reconciled, we not only saved our marriage and created a testimony of hope for others, we positively affected generations down the line.  The other kids have been affected, and have since shared things that we never realized they saw in us and thought about us.  Today, those kids are celebrating with us and wishing me a happy Father’s Day, even though I’m only their Step-Dad.  I would like to believe that they would still care about me if our marriage had failed, but there’s no guarantee that I wouldn’t have lost both a wife and a family.

I completed a sprint triathlon in Willard, MO this morning – my first since the Tiger Tri last August.  For the first time since I started competing in races, my wife was there to support me and cheer me on.  During the transitions and at the finish, she was there today, taking pictures and offering encouragement.

In my other events, she was either competing also, or simply not there.  I went to all of her events last year while we were having our marital breakdown.  Every time she ran, I was there supporting her and being excited for her.  I was glad to do it and didn’t ask for anything back.  Last year, it was disappointing not having that from her, but I understood it based on where she was (or wasn’t) in the relationship.

There are a lot of things that have changed and turned around completely since then.  It would be one thing for us to have simply worked through our differences and decided to give it another try.  What happened, though, was something different altogether.  During our separation and reconciliation, we were changed. We became new and different people.  Things are not like they were before.

My wife has always had difficulty with empathy.  She was never one to show her feelings, and always kept up the “I’m tough” appearance.  Some of this was a survival technique arising out of an abusive background.  She had a sense that no one had been there to comfort her or empathize with her.  No one made her feel better when she was hurting, so she didn’t really have it in her to offer that to anyone else.

She also never did well with sickness.  She has a very strong immune system and her kids seemed to inherit those healthy genes.  Since she was never really sick growing up, she never experienced a lot of being cared for.  In the same way, her kids were rarely sick as they grew up, and when they were, they would usually recover quickly.  Her attitude tended to be, “suck it up and get better,” because that what was pretty much what she had always done.

My immune system isn’t so efficient, and I’ve had my share of illness during our marriage.  It took me a while to get past the idea that she wasn’t going to pamper me when I was sick.  Eventually, I came to accept that, in our marriage, I was going to more or less have to deal with being sick on my own.  It’s not that she didn’t care.  She just wasn’t wired that way.

Last year, I spent months giving to her in every way I could and asking for nothing in return.  I poured myself into her day after day, week after week, just trying to show her how much I loved her and what that meant.  My only intention in it all was to love her enough that it would break through the wall that she had built between us, so that we could be together again.

Last week, I got sick, completely out of the blue.  I came down with a fever right when I was trying to push my training for the triathlon.  For several days, I was burning up and weak, unable to do much of anything.  It was the first time I’ve been sick since we’ve been back together, and the difference in the way she treated me was astounding.

She constantly asked me how I was doing and if there was anything I needed.  She put blankets over me and held me at night when I was shivering.  She was kind, compassionate, and attentive.  In short, she treated me the way I’ve always wanted to be treated.  Then today, she was my cheerleader as I swam, cycled, and ran.

So how did this happen?  What made the change?  In contemporary language, they say, “What goes around comes around.”  People call it karma.  They say, “What you give out will come back to you.”  Jesus said, “Whatever you sow, that you will also reap,” and “Give, and it will be given to you.”  These are spiritual truths.  When you give from a pure heart and unselfish motives, it changes things.  People still have a free will, and nobody forced my wife to change, but in the context of receiving so much love from me, she wanted to.

My wife and I ran some errands and did some shopping this morning and it turned out that she was thinking about where we’ve been and what we’ve come through.  She gets all three of her summer paychecks at once in June, while I still take mine once a month all year long.  Last year, when she got her checks in June, she bought her road bike, knowing that she had her job at Dillard’s to replace that money.  She also knew that she would be living downtown and would be able to use her bike as her primary means of transportation.

We were a mess in terms of our relationship then.  Today, everything is utterly different.  She commented on how things were then, and how things are now.  Now we each have our road bikes and we ride together.   We have a great place where we woke up together this morning, and we’re spending summer vacation together, enjoying each other’s company and more or less doing whatever we want.  We’re making plans for traveling, camping, trying new restaurants, and the list goes on.

The key word in all of this is “together.”  My wife often looks me in the eye and says, “We’re together now,” when I get melancholy or feel twinges of regret for the time that we lost.  It keeps the focus where it belongs: on the present instead of the past.

Another key to our happy life is finances.  We work in education, so we are not what anyone would call, “well off.”  Even so, you don’t have to be rich, or even upper class, to be able to enjoy life.  We have learned, mainly with help from Dave Ramsey, to live within our means.  Through his programs, we learned how to write a budget and how to prioritize income and expenses.  We have learned to control our money, instead of letting it control us.

We have a great apartment, but the rent is very affordable.  We don’t pay for things that we don’t really want or need, so money is freed up to spend on entertainment, trips, and spontaneous fun.  We don’t have cable or satellite, we don’t carry balances on credit cards, and we drive a used car that is reliable, but requires only a very modest payment.

For women especially, in order to fully trust and give themselves to another, security is a must.  Security doesn’t necessarily equal a certain dollar amount.  It’s more the idea that the bills will get paid, there will be money in the checking account, and when we really need something, we won’t have to beg, borrow, or steal to get it.  It’s the idea that she won’t have to go out and get another job, or worry all the time about what’s going to happen.

For so much of our marriage, our finances were a total wreck.  We lived off cash flow and financing.  The stress was enormous, and it was always just a matter of time before we had to take some kind of unwanted steps to try to fix the mess.  We had collectors after us constantly, we had to borrow money often, and we had no idea how to change things for the better.

Very soon after we got back together, my wife was able to quit her job at Dillard’s because we didn’t need that money.  There was no reason for her to be working a second job.  I kept my extra job at Macy’s for a period of time, so that we would have some additional disposable income, and so that she would realize that I was going to take care of our needs.

Trust needed to be rebuilt in a number of areas of our relationship.  During our separation, I had been able to demonstrate committment, faithfulness, responsibility, and more.  Now, with us living together again, I had the opportunity to show her that she would be financially secure.  It didn’t take her long to decide that the extra money from Macy’s wasn’t as important as having me home.  She knows now that I’m willing to work as much as is needed, and she appreciates having time to spend together more than a higher balance in the checkbook.

There are always two or three days before the school year starts that the teachers have to report to “get ready for the year.”  What this really involves is huge amounts of wasted time and frustration.  The teachers want to work in their classrooms, but almost all of the contract time is scheduled with meetings, presentations, etc.  The overwhelming majority of the content of these meetings are 1) things that the teachers either already know, 2) don’t pertain to the entire staff, or 3) could have been communicated via email.

To say that I don’t look forward to these days would be quite an understatement.  This past year was different, however.  Not different from any of what I just mentioned above.  That didn’t change.  What was different was the fact that my wife and I work at the same school, and, after facing the possible dissolution of our marriage as the previous school year had come to a close, we were attending these meetings together and feeling like newlyweds.  Acting like it, too, I suppose.

There were a number of people on staff who knew nothing about our troubles.  Then there were others who were aware, on various levels, of what had taken place.  It was a very emotional experience for me to share the story of our split and reconciliation several times with different groups of people, and I really wanted everyone to see a difference in me as a person, as well as the changes in us as a couple.

I also really wanted everyone to be happy for us, and to share our joy.  Many did, but there were some who didn’t respond well.  I was even called in to the principal’s office later in the school year because there had been complaints about us being affectionate toward each other while at school.  I can only assume that the people who didn’t or couldn’t feel happiness for us were jealous or unhappy in their own lives.

For my part, I was utterly thrilled to have my wife by my side and to have our future looking bright and beautiful.  I enjoyed those days that usually drive me crazy.  One teacher, who is a friend of my wife, told her privately that she could see how much better things were, because I, “look at her like a goddess now.”  Another teacher called us, “the lovebirds.”  It was a very special time, especially after my fears of never reaching this point.

It was, after all, during such days, at the beginning of an earlier school year that I had still been in the middle of my confusion about who I wanted to be with and where my life was going.  It was from my classroom, during a brief respite between meetings, that I had made a phone call effectively choosing my wife and ending my ambiguity about where my affections were to be given.  That all seems so absurd now, and redeeming those days as part of the restoration tour was a joy that I won’t soon forget.

Just yesterday, my wife was hired for brand new position at the school; one that she should excel and be very happy in.  It was great to be able to celebrate her success, and see the result of her hard work and perseverance paying off.  It also means spending more of those in service days prior to the new school year together.  It doesn’t mean I will look forward to the meetings any more than I ever have, but the blessing of sharing life with the one I love will certainly take the frustration out of them.

Going back to the apartment in Republic to get “my stuff” was very bittersweet.  I could tell that my wife was growing tense even while we were driving down those old familiar streets.  I asked her if it was bothering her to be going back and she admitted that it was.

I could have gone by myself to do this, but I wanted her to be a part of it.  I wanted her input on what to keep and what to get rid of, but more importantly, I wanted her there when I walked into and out of that place for the last time.  When we had moved there, I thought our marriage was going to get better.  After spending all those painful nights and days in that place, I didn’t want my last time going back to be without her.

In truth, most of “our” stuff was already at the loft.  We had picked the place out together with the hope that we would be able to work things out.  With an eye to that end, we had agreed to bring those things that we would both want to have there at the time my wife moved in.  The things that were at the old apartment were mostly my clothes and some basic survival stuff for the kitchen and bathroom.

It wasn’t the things that were important.  It was the idea of making the change permanent, and restoring some of the damage that the separation had done.  It was the idea that we were now together, and always would be, so this wasn’t something that I had to do alone.  It was a necessary step on the restoration tour, and we made it short, although it certainly wasn’t sweet.

A big part of me really didn’t want to live in the loft, because I associated it with us being split up, and her pursuing her own life without me.  I had always dreamed of having a loft, but in my dreams, it was never like this.  On the other hand, it was the place where my wife had grown and changed and was still becoming the person I was now more in love with than ever before. She had done a masterful job of organizing and decorating the place, and her personality and good taste were all over it.

One of the things I had vowed to myself when we got back together was that I would be there to give to her and not take from her.  Another was that I wouldn’t try to control or manipulate her.  Even without me saying much about it, she understood the need to make some changes.  She knew that my mental and emotional health would be improved if some things about the place could be made different.

It was great to rearrange the furniture, change some things about the decor and the atmosphere, and feel the support from my wife as we began to slowly make the loft “ours.”  I wasn’t going to demand that any changes be made, and she was more than willing to try to make me feel more comfortable about living there.  I’m a visual person, so being able to walk in and see something different from what I used to see while we were split up was important.

That’s really what’s at the heart of the entire restoration tour.  Changing negative associations into positive ones.  We can’t go back and undo what’s been done.  We can’t take magic wands and pull certain memories out of our heads.  Some part of us will always know things we wish we didn’t, and will always remember things that we wish had never happened.

Restoration isn’t about denial.  It’s about repairing, strengthening, and replacing.  You don’t try to hide what’s wrong with an old house that needs work, so that you can pretend the years haven’t taken a toll.  You identify everything that isn’t as it should be and you make it right.  So it is with our marriage.  We don’t try to pretend the damage never occurred, but we don’t accept that we have to live with it either.  Much like the prayer of the addict, we are hard at work on accepting the things we cannot change, and changing the things we can.

It’s amazing how you can know someone for so long, yet not know them nearly as well as you should for the time you’ve spent together.  As my wife and I began to take our first steps together on the restoration road, we got to experience what very few couples ever find.  We got to fall in love all over again.  We got to discover once more, what it was about this person, compared to all the billions on the earth, that made being together so right.

Every day was literally like living a dream.  I walked around with a dumb grin on my face and made statements like, “I am the luckiest and most blessed man on the planet,” for several weeks, at least.  It was even better than I had pictured things being while we were apart, and what I had pictured had been awfully good.  I’m sure some people got tired of it, but people were mostly happy for us, especially those who really knew what had been going on.

There was also a part of me that kept being afraid that it really was a dream and that waking up was inevitable.  I am well aware of the old saying that, “If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.”  I wanted it to be true, and I didn’t have any reason to believe that any of it was fake, but I was still nervous that somehow, it was all going to blow up in my face.  Even some of my friends, although they were happy that we were back together, kind of kept their distance and watched, as though they didn’t believe it was real, or they thought that at some point, some other shoe was going to drop.

As was so often the case, God used a song to speak to me.  I like to listen to Pandora while I’m working out, and I have several stations. Which one I choose on any given day depends on my mood.  I don’t always pay attention to the songs, but on one particular day, I found myself hearing lyrics that sounded like they were describing me.  The song was “So Far Away,” by Staind, and it says,

This is my life, it’s not what it was before
All these feelings I’ve shared
And these are my dreams
That I’d never lived before
Somebody shake me
‘Cause I, I must be sleeping

Now that we’re here, it’s so far away
All the struggle we thought was in vain
And all the mistakes one life contained
They all finally start to go away

These are my words
That I’ve never said before
I think I’m doing’ okay
And this is the smile
I’ve never shown before

Somebody shake me
‘Cause I, I must be sleeping
I’m so afraid of waking
Please don’t shake me

Now that we’re here, it’s so far away
All the struggle we thought was in vain
And all the mistakes one life contained
They all finally start to go away

And now that we’re here, it’s so far away
And I feel like I can face the day
And I can’t forget that I’m not ashamed
To be the person that I am today

So Far Away

The song inspired me to begin to let go of all the fears and the bad memories.  Instead of being afraid of waking and finding that it was only a dream, I could acknowledge all the changes and celebrate how different things were now.  Hope is always stronger than fear, just like joy is so much more powerful than sorrow.

I realized that we had a whole new world open to us, and we could make a brand new life of our own choosing.  We didn’t have to be bound to our past mistakes, and we weren’t doomed to repeat them.  We could move forward as a brand new couple.  We were familiar with each other, but we were now going to get to know each other on a much deeper level than ever before.

A few weeks before my wife and I got back together, I was at the gym one day working out.  I was thinking, “I’d really like to go to a church this week where I could just worship and not have to worry about what everyone’s thinking.”  Later that day, a friend of mine called me and asked, “Would you like to go to North Point with me this Sunday?”

North Point is a large, non-denominational church that plays rock and roll music and is very non-traditional.  I told him that yes, I would like to, as a matter of fact.  It was just another answered prayer on a minor level, but would turn out to be a major blessing as time went on.

We met in the parking lot on Sunday and went inside.  In the auditorium, it was much more like a concert than a church.  During the music, there were strobe and stage lights, fog, special effects, and five large video screens, making it difficult to focus on anything.  Add in the fact that I didn’t know any of the songs, and I mostly just stood there looking around.

I don’t remember much about the message because I was on sensory overload.  My friend asked me what I thought and I told him honestly that I didn’t know. I figured I’d have to go at least a second time, when I would know what to expect, to really decide whether I liked it.  I knew I was done going to my old church, and I would have to do something.  I just didn’t know if this church was it.

The next Sunday, I went back by myself.  It was a completely different experience.  Instead of looking around with curiosity, I found myself being drawn in.  By the third song, I began to break inside.  Tears streamed down my face, and I felt like God was right there with me, meeting me right where I was.  The rest of the service was just a time for Him and I to spend some quality time together.

I still wasn’t sure this would ever be my home church, but I was encouraged that it was a place where I could heal and be ministered to.  I was also impressed that people dressed and looked any way they wanted to, and some of the people in the worship band, as well as the pastor, sported tattoos.  I knew that if things ever worked out with my wife, she would be very uncomfortable going to a church that judged people by the way they look.

Once we had moved back in together and gotten things cleared up in our relationship, the next most obvious thing that needed to be fixed and restored was our spiritual life.  Amazingly, my wife, who was still angry with both God and His church, asked me if I wanted to go to North Point with her.  I told her that I had been a couple of times and that I wasn’t sure how she would like it, but one thing that was for sure is that they wouldn’t look down on her for having a tattoo or piercing.

I hoped that things would go really well, but they were a disaster.  They weren’t having regular church that Sunday.  It was more like a business meeting where they announced that they had bought a property and were opening a second location.  They told the history of the church, the state of their finances, and other such topics in a panel discussion format.  My wife was still angry when we left, calling it, “a waste of time.”

The next week, she unexpectedly announced that she was willing to go again.  We did, and this time, her experience was like mine had been the second time I attended.  She broke during the singing, and we both cried all through the message, which was about the prodigal coming home.  It was a beautiful experience, as if God had set it up just for her.  She gave her heart back to Him that day, and we’ve rarely missed a week since.

I still cry in church almost every week, and God continues to heal, minister, and bless.  We now belong to two small groups and lead a third in our home.  We volunteer, serve, and continue to grow as a couple and as individuals.  I am overwhelmed with gratitude and joy again and again as I stand in the congregation with my wife at my side.

My wife now has two silver medals from the Cox Health Medical Mile hanging on our “wall of fame.”  This is where we display all of our race bib numbers and medals from the various events we participate in.

Our "Wall of Fame"

Last year, after she ran the half-marathon that inspired me to get back in shape, I set my sights on running a 5K as a goal for myself.  The Medical Mile is an annual event in Springfield that benefits the Children’s Miracle Network.  Recently, they added a 5K run/walk, and I chose that event to be my first.  I used the C25K program and some trail running with my wife and our son to train, and I hoped to be able to run it in under 30 minutes.

At the event, they hold the mile run first, then the 5K follows after about a 30 minute break.  Some runners participate in both, and my wife was to be one of them.  I waited by the finish line to cheer her on in the mile, and she ran a faster time than she had in any of her training runs.  Unfortunately, she used up so much of her energy that she struggled through the 5K, battling the heat and developing a headache partway through.

I had no idea how to pace myself during the 5K, so I just tried to let my body tell me how to fast to go.  It was a hot, humid day, but I felt strong as I approached the finish line.  My lack of experience kicked in there and I didn’t even look at the clock to gauge my time.  I ended up missing my goal by one second, posting a 30:01.  I was a little disappointed, but I was glad to have completed my first race.

Afterward, we hung around for the award ceremony, mostly to see if we would win any of the random door prizes that are usually given away at these events.  Both of our mouths fell open in disbelief when the announcer called out my wife’s name during the medal presentations.  She had been training for 5K’s;  the mile was something of an afterthought, so we hadn’t even considered where she had finished.  It turned out, she placed second in her age group and eighth overall!

Our separation made it a bittersweet day.  It was great to be sharing this part of lives, but I would have given everything I had to have our marriage back.  I was proud of myself for running the 5K, and proud of my wife for her accomplishments, but there was a hole in my heart where she should have been.  I took a lot of pictures, bragged about her medal to everyone I could, and tried to make the moment last as long as possible.  In the end, though, we were going to go our separate ways.

For this year’s race, which was held last weekend, she moved up into the 40-49 age group, so we figured that gave her an even better chance, but you never know with these things.  She had also been spending more time enjoying our new life together and a lot less time training, so she didn’t even commit to running the mile until a week or two beforehand.  Her training runs weren’t very good, but I figured she’d pull out a better time when it was the real thing.

She didn’t run nearly as well this year as last year, but we tried not to be disappointed.  We were glad to be part of supporting a good cause and glad to be together.  That was the biggest difference.  Last year, there was all the stress of our marriage problems and the uncertainty of our future clouding everything we did.  We were working hard and training well, and we were both getting into really good physical condition. Mentally and emotionally, everything was marred by the fact that we weren’t together and things weren’t working out for us.

This year, we thought it must be a mistake when the same announcer again called my wife’s name as the second place winner in her division.  We didn’t think she had placed and had almost left before they even presented the awards.  This year’s Medical Mile and 5K would have been a successful stop on the restoration tour even without a medal to show for it.  Getting to bring one home and add it to the wall just made it that much more of a special memory.

Intimacy implies so much more than sex, but that’s what most people think of when that word is used.  It’s the part of a relationship that should be reserved for marriage, but without emotional intimacy, a sexual relationship, even between spouses, can be hollow and dysfunctional.  Sexuality should be a loving product of the relationship, not the point, or the driving force to it.

Mort Fertel, who I’ve previously referenced in this blog, says the two most important keys to a good sex life are physical condition and emotional intimacy.  The physical part is a pretty easy fix.  If you’re not in shape, get to work, and you’ll get there.  Anyone who commits to physical fitness can achieve the results.

The emotional part can be more elusive.  One thing became painfully clear to me during our separation and it now seems so obvious, I don’t know how I missed it.  Two unhealthy people can’t have a healthy marriage.  It doesn’t even make sense.  If the people in the marriage are struggling with personal issues, those problems will be part of the relationship.

If these are significant issues, then each person will have to get well as an individual. This may mean therapy, as I needed, or being healed by God’s love and grace, which my wife experienced.  Whatever problems you have apart from the marriage, you will still have within the marriage.  Finding someone to love does not make these go away. It may temporarily take your mind off them, but they will still be there, and they will affect you.

For the small stuff, and, to dismiss another popular cliché, it’s not all small stuff, the secret is incredibly simple.  It’s communication.  You have to tell your partner what you think and feel.  He or she can’t read your mind, and it’s selfish and immature to assume that your spouse “should know.”

I used to keep everything inside, and resent my wife, who not only hadn’t done anything wrong, she didn’t even know there was anything wrong.  Then, at some point, I would blow up.  Whatever was going on at the time would usually have little or nothing to do with what I was upset about.  It just reached a certain point and I unloaded.  Nothing was accomplished except that my wife would get hurt, and I would feel bad.

During those first few days that my wife and I were back together,  and before we had talked everything out, the stress of the uncertainty about our relationship was affecting me in the bedroom.  I’ve never had issues there before, and it really caused me some anxiety, which only made it worse.  I decided to talk to my therapist about it.

He told me it was very common under the circumstances, and that it almost certainly wasn’t a physical problem, but an emotional one.  He said that we should take things slow and talk everything out, and that the problem would most likely go away on its own.  At my next appointment, I told him, “I took your advice about talking everything out, but didn’t follow the advice about taking things slow, and as far as that problem going away, oh yeah…it did!”

It was the open, honest communication that created the emotional intimacy.  That led to a new level of physical intimacy that wouldn’t have been possible without it.  We began applying that same communication to every area of our lives. If I had a question about something, I asked.  If something bothered me, I said so, instead of telling myself it wasn’t important, and my wife started doing the same.  We were careful to say it in loving, non-accusational ways, and it created a mutual trust and understanding that kept the air clear and brought us closer than we’d ever been.

As an example, my wife likes to play video games and I don’t.  For her, they are a way to “disconnect” for a time, especially when work has been stressful.  I used to see it as her disconnecting from me and I would resent the time she spent playing.  We had never talked about it.  Now, I willingly give her time to play because I know it blesses her, and she willingly limits her game time to make sure to give me the time and attention I need.  Additionally, we discovered that I do like to play kinect and we bought one so we can play together.

Just last night, my wife was talking about something and she stopped herself and said, “That’s the old way of thinking.”  I asked her what she meant and she said, “Hoping you’ll figure out that I don’t want to go instead of just saying so.”  It really is a new way of thinking, and it leads to a new way of acting.  We communicate openly about everything, and we’ve never been closer.