Posts Tagged ‘comfort’

We got a phone call from one of my wife’s former co-workers at Dillard’s while we were on the train coming back from Chicago.  We had to be at the station early Saturday morning to catch the train back to St. Louis, so we only had time to get up and have a quick breakfast before heading out.  The call was from the furniture manager.

While she had worked there, my wife had picked out a sofa that she wanted for the loft.  It was too expensive, but she got an employee discount and the furniture often went on sale.  When she resigned and we still hadn’t been able to buy it, we told him that if it ever went on clearance to call us.

We didn’t expect to be on a train in another state when he did, but that was the day it got marked down, and we knew that it would probably go fast.  Earlier, we had tried to do the same with a leather recliner and it had been sold before we could get there.  I explained where we were and offered to give my credit card number over the phone if necessary, but he said he would mark it sold and make sure that we got it.

The train crossed the river into St. Louis right around lunchtime, and our beautiful city had never seemed more inviting.  We decided to drive to The Hill for lunch at Guido’s, the same place we had gone with my daughter the day the tide began to turn for our marriage.  It seemed only fitting after a spectacular weekend of restoration in Chicago.

We made the drive home in the afternoon and went straight to the mall to pay for the sofa.  In the meantime, I had listed what we called “the mushroom,” an odd shaped sofa/loveseat sort of piece of furniture on Craigslist, as it would have to go to make room for the new couch.  We wouldn’t be able to pick up our new one until I could borrow a truck, so we had a little time to work with.

As a final stop before going home, we pulled into the Steak and Shake near our loft for peppermint shakes.  My wife loves all things peppermint, but will almost never eat or drink any outside of the Christmas season.  The shakes signaled the unofficial beginning of the season for us, and allowed the glow of the trip to linger for just a little longer.

It was important from a memories and association standpoint (and especially for my mental health) to replace a lot of the furniture and change the appearance of the loft.  We needed to make it our place, not the place my wife had lived while we were separated.  Someone came that very night and bought the mushroom, clearing the way for us to pick our new couch up the following afternoon.  We had already gotten a new dining room table, and just those two things changed the loft a lot.

We got some other surprise blessings that helped us finish the process just about the time we were getting ready to move.  I hadn’t wanted to breach the subject, since the loft we were living in was the one she had picked out, but even with the changes, it was difficult for me to live there.  Fortunately, between her understanding, and a growing frustration with the property manager’s lack of response to any of our maintenance requests, she was all too willing to begin looking for an upgrade with me.  By moving into a brand new loft together, we would be able to leave behind all of the reminders of what had happened, and free ourselves from some troublesome issues related to our past.

Right before our move, I got an extraordinary deal at Macy’s on a new bedding set.  There was also a black leather recliner there that I wanted, and I had been waiting for it to go on clearance, much like we had waited for the couch at Dillard’s.  One of the people I worked with told me that she had bought one recently and now didn’t need it, and would be willing to sell it to me at a fraction of the cost of a new one.  I was able to buy it, and buy the floor model (it did go on clearance at about the same time), so we had matching chairs to complete our new living room set.

Those kinds of blessings have been common throughout this entire year.  We just take them as that much more evidence that God is with us in the process of restoring our marriage.  The New Testament teaches that marriage is symbolic of God’s love for His church, called “The Bride of Christ” in the scriptures.  He is very interested in not only saving our marriage and making it strong, but also in doing the same for anyone else who will give Him the opportunity.

I’m having trouble wrapping my brain around the idea that it was only two years ago that my wife and I first spent a weekend in St. Louis. Before moving to Missouri, my only impressions of that city were taken while passing through on the interstates during family trips across the country.  It always seemed like a place I would never want to go on purpose.

Once we started living in southwestern Missouri, people kept telling us how much they liked going there.  When they heard that my wife was Italian, they would always talk about something called “The Hill.”  It’s an Italian community in the middle of St. Louis, where most of the businesses are still family owned and operated.  Even though I didn’t believe that we would like St. Louis, we figured that at some point, we better go find out what the fuss was all about.

It was exactly two years ago, over a Fourth of July weekend that we booked a hotel for a couple of nights and set off.  We quickly discovered that the St. Louis of my negative perceptions from the back seat of my parents’ car, and the real city are two very different places.  We spent a great weekend discovering that there is so much to love about the city, that we couldn’t imagine why we’d never gone before.

First of all, there’s The Hill.  I can’t really describe it to you other than to say that when you’re there, it’s like you’ve left and gone somewhere else entirely.  It’s the place where people like Joe Garagiola and Yogi Berra grew up.  There’s a sense of community that you just don’t find anymore in the United States, and the people there hold to so many of the old traditions. In the bakeries and shops, you’ll sometimes see three or four generations of family running the place.  The pace is slower, and people take time to talk.

The food, of course, is wonderful.  You can choose everything from a casual deli, to a fancy, full-course formal restaurant.  There are bakeries, Italian groceries, and much of the pasta, sausage, and other foods are still made locally, by hand.

Nearby is Forest Park, which is about 500 acres larger than New York’s Central Park.  It is home to many attractions and is a beautiful place to spend time.  Downtown is the river, where there is no shortage of things to see and do.  There is culture, entertainment, atmosphere, and a world of diversity to see and experience.

That first time we went, I wasn’t sure if we would really grow to love it as much as we have, or if it was just infatuation with something new, but before we even left to come home, we were already making plans to go back.  We had visited the St. Louis Art Museum and the St. Louis Zoo, had a picnic in Forest Park, and done the tourist thing around the Arch.  We’d had one of the most memorable meals of our lives at Charlie Gitto’s on The Hill, and we were all but ready to pack up and move there.

Since that weekend two years ago, we have taken at least a day trip to St. Louis almost every month.  As educators, we only get paid once a month, so it’s usually the Saturday after payday that we go.  We always eat on The Hill, shop for authentic groceries and foods that we can’t get at home, and spend time in Forest Park.  We always look forward to our time there, and we’ve not only never gotten tired of it, we’ve grown to feel more and more that it is a type of second home to us.

Even while our marriage was deteriorating, we would still go, and for that short time, we were always “us” again, and there was hope.  That’s why it’s so difficult for me to grasp the thought that it was just two years ago that we first visited.  That would have been during the period of time following my failures as a husband, but nearly a year before we separated.  I suppose that in finding St. Louis, we found something new that was only ours.  We were writing a new chapter of our lives that could have changed our marriage for the better, without having to go through the sorrow that we ultimately did.

When it came time for the restoration tour, there were some things involving our beautiful city on the river that needed to be taken care of.  Of all the stops on the tour, there may not be any more significant than these.  I’ll share them in tomorrow’s post.

Probably the biggest surprise for me of our restoration and reconciliation was the way my thoughts and emotions would sneak up and throw me for a loop at the most unexpected times.  There was the initial newness and bliss of being together again that was so amazing, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  Then there was the completely unforseen dynamic of me becoming very angry or sad because of everything that had happened.

I suppose it was extremely naive and unrealistic to think that we could go through everything we did and that I would just be able to put it all in the rear view mirror and go happily forward.  It seemed like it at first.  There were the fears and doubts that plagued the first couple of weeks of being back together, but those mostly amounted to opportunities for each of us to reassure the other of our love and commitment.

Still, I didn’t expect things to get worse after they had been so good.  I don’t know if I just pushed things down and ignored them and it was only a matter of time before they came back up, or if it was more that I was initially so filled with gratitude and relief that I really didn’t think about any residual effects from our time apart.  I finished up my therapy about a month after my wife and I reunited, based on my doctor’s opinion that I no longer needed to make regular visits.  He left the door open for me to return at any time and, as the months went by, there were numerous times that I seriously considered it.

I know just enough psychology to understand the way I’m wired, and my emotions are very much tied to specific events.  These “events” can be as major as the day my wife moved out, or as minor as a casual statement that she made that struck me wrong.  I tend to have triggers like certain days of the month that correspond to painful memories, or visual reminders of past hurts.

For a while, life began to be a maze where I had to try to navigate without getting caught by any of those reminders.  Fairly quickly, I realized that it was not only unhealthy, but a form of running away to live like that.  My wife also was carrying burdens that she needed to be able to release, and I needed to be strong enough to let her give them to me and help her to heal and be free.

This is where the need for complete trust and honest communication became so critical.  We each had to trust the other’s love enough to be able to open up and talk about the things we were having trouble with.  We needed to know that even if these conversations were painful, they were necessary to produce healing for us.  Unfortunately, the more I knew, the more I had to heal from.

I decided at the beginning of this summer, it was time to make sure any remaining issues, no matter how small or insignificant, were taken care of.  I still hd a few questions and there were a few things that still bothered me.  I wanted us to reach our ceremony and our honeymoon in August completely healed and free from any guilt or hurt.  The truth is, as much as we may not want to talk about these things, the healing comes when we express them and are assured once again, of each other’s steadfast and continuing love.

In just the last few days, my wife and I have both had little things unexpectedly creep up and surprise us.  For her, it actually occurred while reading this blog.  For me, a series of events over the last couple of days took me back too much to a place I didn’t want to be.  Just this morning, I ended up expressing that I was still a little bit angry with my wife over some deception regarding her state of mind before we separated.  It was triggered by three or four things that I still had some painful associations with, and I realized that it wasn’t just going to go away.

That’s really what the restoration tour is all about.  It’s about identifying those memories that have been corrupted by gaps in our love, commitment, and faithfulness, and revisiting them.  Not to rehash the hurts, but to replace them with new, better memories.  We are taking back what used to be ours and claiming those things for us that hadn’t been ours before.

Last night, we had a couple over for dinner and we got to hear some of their story, as well as share more of ours.  Their names are Kevin and Deb, and this is the same Kevin that I referred to earlier in the blog.  He was one of the heroes during our separation, although he wouldn’t claim to have done anything heroic.  He would say that he was just doing what was in his heart to do, and that’s to help others who are going through painful struggles in their marriage.

Kevin was a friend of a friend who many years ago had walked out on his marriage and, years later, reconciled with his wife and family in spectacular fashion.  Two common themes with my own story of restoration were the healing that took place through love and forgiveness, and hearts and lives being radically changed by God’s love.  He supported and prayed for me while my wife and I were separated, and the one significant phone conversation I had with him during that time led to part of the breakthrough in our marriage.

Having been through all that, he and his wife have spent a lot of their years since doing whatever they can to help other couples find forgiveness, healing, and another chance at true love.  My wife and I were one of those couples by divine appointment, and now it’s in our hearts to do exactly the same.  Where we used to consider other peoples’ problems to be none of our business, now our hearts break for everyone we meet or hear of who are going through separation, divorce, or marital struggles of any kind.

We will probably never have a satisfactory answer to the question of why God allows troubles and afflictions to come into our lives, but what comes out of those, if we respond by moving toward God, instead of away from Him, is probably much more important than asking why.  That’s another commonality of Kevin and Deb’s marriage, and mine.  We wish we hadn’t had to go through all the pain, but what we have now is so much better than what we ever had before, we can’t help but conclude that we’re thankful for the end result.

The apostle Paul wrote these words nearly 2,000 years ago.  “God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort.  He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.”  If we never went through troubles, how could we help others?  Would you rather be comforted and helped by someone who has a perfect life, but has read a lot of books about problems, or by someone who has gone through the same problems you are and come through them stronger and better than before?

Before Kevin and I had met, and when I only knew him by what my friend Joe had told me, I used to call him, “that marriage guy.” All I knew was that he had won big in the arena of marriage, and now he wanted to help people like me who were losing.

Yesterday morning, the very same day that my wife and I were going to sit down with Kevin and Deb to celebrate where we had come from and where God has brought us, I received a text from a friend of mine telling me that he had a friend who was going through some difficulties.  He asked me if I could recommend any books or resources that had helped me and that might, in turn, be of help to his friend.  And so the circle goes on.

Why does God allow us to suffer and go through tough times?  Some of it is the consequences of our own choices.  Some of it is because He sees beyond the pain and knows the victories that will be won down the road because of it.  After all, that’s what His own Son Jesus did.  The Bible tells us that, “Because of the joy awaiting him, He endured the cross, disregarding its shame.  Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.”

No one wants to suffer.  We would all choose the easy road if we could.  But once we’ve experienced what’s on the other side, where the joy awaits us, we have something to offer to others.  We want to give what we’ve received, and that truly is a gift that keeps on giving.