Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your rich neighbors–for they will invite you back and in this way you will be paid for what you did. When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind; and you will be blessed, because they are not able to pay you back.”
I realized years ago that Jesus is addressing me with this parable. I realized that I expect some sort of repayment when I invite people to my banquet. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a reciprocal banquet.
I just want something.
I became aware that I wasn’t giving others food, time, or attention because God is good. And I intended to change.
But what I have found?
I. Can. Not. Do. It.
I want, no, I demand, internally, to be repaid for my friendship or my service.
I have re-read this passage probably several dozen times in the past twenty years. And every single time it is as relevant as before. It is so deeply ingrained in me that I cannot blame my upbringing nor the teaching I have received over the years or People Who Were Mean to Me or anything else.
As my then four-year-old son told me when asked why he was doing something I didn’t want him to be doing, “It’s just sin, Mommy. It’s just sin!”
In his case, we gave him coffee flavored ice cream for dessert. This led indirectly to his attempting to fit himself under our bedside table at midnight, thus waking me up, and causing me to feel aggravation.
In my case? I have no other explanation.
I have been given, given, given to by God, pressed down and overflowing. There has not been a day in my life that I have gone hungry. I’ve had a home and someone to share it with me. When I was at the lowest points, God always brought me what I needed, eventually. He kept me alive through deep despair and depression. He gives me ice cream, and kittens.
This ought to be enough!
Enough to satisfy the crouching beast within me who always wants more.
The old man (or in this case woman) who demands from others, the unforgiving servant, the old heart is not going out without a brutal fight.
There are always surprises in marriage. As I wrote a few weeks ago in this blog (https://swanatbagend.wordpress.com/2016/08/17/why-hes-so-flexible/), I learned something new about my husband during the process of negotiating plans for a weekend with extended family.
But that’s not the only thing I have learned about him recently.
Do you know how long we have known each other? We have been married almost 3/5ths of my life. We have known each other for thirty-one years, which is more like 31/49ths of my life (reduce that if you can). Thirty-one years is a long time as far as human life spans go, and you would think that after that amount of time nothing your spouse could do would really surprise you.
You would think—
Board games have never been a big thing in our family. One reason was some of our children couldn’t handle playing them when they were smaller, so we basically stayed away from competitive games for family time and were more into hiking, camping, playing outside, and horsing around in the den and knocking end tables over.
The other reason is that as far as I could tell my husband did not like board games. He was willing to play Pictionary or Trivial Pursuit if pressed at larger family gatherings, but he never, but never asked the kids and me to play a game with him.
So, logical conclusion: he must not like games.
But this is what happened. I gave our youngest son a game called Survive for his birthday last year. I knew he liked it because good friends of ours had introduced the kids to it and I’d heard a lot about it when he got back home.
We were at the beach on vacation at the time, so during our afternoon siesta we all sat back sipping Pineapple Fanta and tried a round of Survive.
The daddy man loved it.
He wanted to play again the next day.
Requests to play the game continued fairly regularly over the next few months, and then his comments made something go “click” in my head. He was wondering out loud how the game would turn out, (aside from the fact that each game is inherently different because you set up the game board variably each time using three types of tiles that represent rock, sand and jungle) if we all shifted our strategies a bit, stopped playing so nice, if he put his high value tokens in another area of the island, and so on.
This year, things got even more interesting around our house, because my son received another game–Settlers of Catan.
We have now laid the myth to rest.
Between Catan, Doctor Who Risk, and Survive (oh, and chess!), there is strategy and game playing going on at our house.
And I thought I knew all there was to know about that man.
There is almost always something I need to hear in the liturgy, in the readings, in the music, or in the sermon. I can’t deny this.
There are days when I don’t want to get out of bed, or just don’t feel up to the process of eating, dressing and hurrying everyone out the door to get to church on time.
But I have found even on those days, that, when I follow through on my basic rule of thumb which is “Go anyway,” I hear just what I need to move me past the obstacle that made me debate the need to go in the first place.
I’d be a fool not to go.
Today was very much like the day before my son was born. It was a fortuitous pleasant day in August–cool enough that you could go for a walk in the afternoon to try to get labor moving along without seriously regretting it.
Today, like that labor day in the past, was beautiful, with a stirring cerulean sky brushed with cirrus clouds.
Tomorrow, like his birth-day, will be hot and humid again.
I’m thinking tonight about that damp-looking, cone-headed infant boy, who got so excited when he saw my chest for the first time. No, I did not expect that reaction from a two-hour old baby, but that just shows how little I knew about how alert babies are and how inside that 8-pound-something body was a very distinct personality.
Before that moment when we met, he had just been kicks, and squirms, and my imagination–that’s all.
But now, for 21 years, I have had the joy of learning him–learning to care for him, learning to know him well, learning to love him, and learning from him.
He was not a red-headed girl with lots of hair. Thank heaven for that. He was a boy with lots of dark hair, and very long fingers, which his maternal grandmother observed when she arrived three days later with his grand-dad to meet him for the first time. “Look at his fingers!” she exclaimed. “He’s going to be a piano player!” She was right about that–and other things as well.
I think he was three or four when she gave me a copy of the book Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Kurcinka. That book, and the example and guidance of his co-op preschool teacher, opened the doors for me to learn how to walk alongside him as his mother. He demanded my attention and respect the whole journey through. Right from the beginning, he lifted his head and looked around intently, before we even left the hospital. He has never stopped looking around him intently, although thankfully his neck is strong enough that he does that on his own now.
He does a lot of things on his own now.
When your child heads out the door to the dorm at 18, there are many unknowns ahead. At that point, I’d say while your child is legally an adult (and FERPA is there to assist you in remembering that fact), there’s more of a sense that he can and will hop back into the nest on a regular basis. You know the future is there, but it’s protected somehow, as if there’s a golden fence around it.
21 is completely different.
We moved him into an apartment this summer for a job. We moved him back home end of July–but just for nineteen days. Last week, I moved him into an apartment again, this time for his senior year. It was nothing like the first time he left home for college nor was it like the second and third times. Now he had the plan, he set the agenda, and waved me off when we were done. No hand-holding necessary, nor should it be.
I don’t know how to describe how different 21 feels.
I know he is not coming back.
After twenty-eight years of being married, I learned something new about my husband–just when you think nothing else big can possibly be known. But the revelation wasn’t really about him so much as about me.
My husband is very flexible. He has always been willing to go along with my wild ideas, or my wishes, or my wanting to invite someone else over, or the camping trip I’d like to take.
I thought this was because–well–he’s flexible. He’s very easy-going, reliable, calm, dependable.
In short, a rock of peace.
I suppose that is probably the main reason, if there is one only, why I pursued him and ended up choosing him as my spouse, when he indicated his willingness to engage in such an intimate connection. I have benefitted from his character and the kindness that flows from it for years. I have known that at some level. But a few weeks ago, I found out that he is not as flexible as I thought.
I’m glad that the proposed weekend to which I wanted to add an activity was his birthday weekend. We planned to travel to his mother’s to retrieve our youngest two children from their time at Camp Grandma, and the Saturday of that weekend was his birthday. Of course his mom did not want to miss an opportunity like that! She set up a simple party with some family members.
The other variable in play was that I was hoping to also see my brother and his family. They live within reach in the same general area of the state we were traveling to. I thought it would be possible to do both. I started to make plans with my side of the family–all before actually talking with my husband about the weekend. I just assumed, as I have many times before, that my spouse would want the same thing I did, or at the least, be willing to do what was important to me. I mean, this is our big opportunity to connect with both sides of the fam, why wouldn’t we do that?
And that would normally have been what happened.
Because it was his birthday on the day we were talking about, and because I had been reading a pretty good book on marriage in the weeks before, this self-absorbed person actually had a rational thought.
I’d probably better ask dear-husband what he is willing to do. Would he like to extend our travels by some additional hours?
So, I asked him what he really wanted to do.
and I told him that I really wanted to know.
and he told me what he really wanted to do.
He did not feel like adding more driving, more events, and more craziness to his life.
So, we did not try to do it all in one weekend.
We enjoyed our time with our kids and his mom. We got a great several hours long visit with our nephew and his wife and two boys, who came over for the birthday party, more time than we usually get, and I got to know my niece-in-law quite a bit more. She’s a real gem. The next day before we left we enjoyed an incredible meal at the Olive Garden with the family and my brother and sister-in-law, provided by my mother-in-law, and that was a good time also. It was good to see my husband getting the time with his mother that he wanted and needed.
So, why wasn’t he flexible this time?
It’s not that he’s not flexible.
He’s so flexible, he probably has almost never gotten his way in our marriage. This time, because I stopped to ask, he got what he wanted and needed.
He has been flexible to help me. He has lived for 28 years with a person who’s so high-strung and particular that she does not handle situations well at all if they don’t go according to her expectations. He has been patient and calm and long-suffering because he knew that a) as my oldest puts it, I would have a snit if things did not go as I expected and b) he loved me enough to be willing to do what helped me be okay.
Sure, he could have told me 27 years ago that I was the most ridiculously self-absorbed, inflexible crazy person he had ever met. Maybe he should have. He could have told me that I was not being fair and that my almost always having to have my way was unacceptable. He would have been perfectly correct.
But I don’t know that I would have been able to hear it then.
He has spent the years loving me in myriad ways, making me more lovely. He has loved me so well that I can now freely chose another way to live.
I am the mother of three children ranging in age from 12 to 20. Over the years of being their mother, I have graduated from desperately longing for just five minutes where I could rest or read a book, or yes, go to the bathroom without extra bodies assisting me with those functions, to being able to leave the house with the kids in charge. But I still remember what life was like when I was stuck in the bathroom. We did not have family members living near us when my children were small, so my husband and I took turns getting out without them. We did have a wonderful woman from our church who came and babysat for me many times when I had doctor’s appointments. Grandma Judy used to bring a toy bag with her that always had interesting games and activities in it. She is still my now 15-year-old daughter’s favorite babysitter ever.
Now that the children are older, more mature, responsible and self-sufficient, I don’t have the same desperation to escape as when they were little. Thank God!
But there is a sense of relief and refreshment when I am not in charge of their well-being that is just as vital as ever.
I don’t go out with my husband that often, or as often as marriage gurus advise, but we get out a couple of times a year. I do insist on getting away for our anniversary for two nights. We’ve done one night, but that doesn’t really cut it. You’re just beginning to unwind and then it’s time to get up and pack your suitcase. Nope.
And I meet friends for lunch or an ice cream once or twice a month, so that is good as well. A mother needs to take some time, no matter how brief, every day to do something that she enjoys. Those breaks are vital, but those gatherings are short.
The value of a Mom’s Night Out pales in comparison to a week at Grandma’s. The destination is for the kids, I mean.
Now that, my friends, is a gift on a whole other plane.
When you can turn your children entirely over to another qualified human being in whom you have complete trust, and stop thinking about what your children need (Time, Attention, Food, Drink, Therapies, Medications, Special Diets, Better Curriculum, More Clothes, Help with Fill in the Blank), then you have been given a gift that is priceless: the gift of not being responsible.
You know it is not going to last, and you don’t want it to. There would be no words to describe my loss if they did not come back.
But I’m telling you, this week has been great. They’re happy; I’m happy.
I have not missed them.
I know, this is self-evident, right? We all know that you should not yell at your kids. And sorry, I don’t have a five step method for not yelling. But let me give you the motivation.
I used to get really frustrated because we were often late. Looking back it’s fairly obvious I just needed to plan ahead better. I would make some adjustments every time I had another baby, such as adding another five minutes to the pre-boarding ritual, but we were still the same amount of time late to events.
Clue one that I needed to hear was the day when we were heading out to co-op and about to be late again. Guess what happened to the kids on the way out the door? My oldest son–probably about eight years old at the time–moved so fast to get out of the way of his crabby mom he literally knocked down his little sister, who then fell sideways onto the stairs which were close to the door in our tiny two-bedroom house. Had carpet, but no, she hit the wood.
So my baby girl has an injury on her face because I am a grump and can’t control my emotions when I’m displeased with circumstances.
I wish I could say that this was an effective wake-up call. It started the process, yes. But it was not enough to fully reform me.
Over the years, there have been any number of incidents in which one child, usually the oldest, would attempt to correct or direct the other siblings. When I would investigate further to find out why he was being so bossy, invariably, the bottom line was he wanted them to do what I wanted, so I would stay happy, so there would be no yelling.
The classic example comes from a camping trip at spring break. We are in our pop-up on a warm night in Florida with the fan blowing on me (because yes, I’m the big baby who needs the fan more than anyone else in order to be able to sleep). It’s dark and I’m sleeping, but eventually I begin to register seismic events in the camper. Slowly, vibrations that I know are not being caused by my husband, because he’s the solid peaceful log next to me, invade my world. I pretend there are no vibrations a few times and doze back off, but eventually I realize that ignoring whatever it is the kids are doing is not going to work this time.
There is not only movement but conversation at the other end. I finally ooze upward, turn on a flashlight, and ask what on earth is the matter.
My youngest child who was 7 or so at the time, was not able to sleep because of bug bites from the sand flies. But, his brother started their explanation by highlighting his attempt to keep the younger child from waking me up. He knew the consequences could be dire–but wait a minute aren’t moms supposed to take care of kids at night when there’s a problem? I thought my kids knew this. However, the fear that the roof of the camper would blow off short circuited getting actual help.
Thankfully I am at least decent in a crisis, even a sleep crisis. I told the others to relax and gave the youngest my anti-itch protocol of liquid antihistamine, Calagel applied to the bites, and time with mom, a favorite book and the fan. Within 20 minutes he was calmed down, and I tucked him back in on the kids’ end of the camper. Yes, I did put the fan on him, and somehow I managed without it.
Fast forward to this summer, five or so years later. We took my oldest son to his summer job and moved him in to his apartment. Something he said that day made me realize there was a possibility that the way he handles conflict is based on cross-examining himself to be sure he isn’t doing anything that would piss Mom off.
I realize now, as a mother with almost 21 years of experience, and as a mother who has loved her kids well in many ways, that my typical short circuiting has meant that my kids have developed in the light of my temper. Sure, I don’t lose it nearly as much as I used to, but what I have already done has had a long-term effect on my children.
I don’t know how much counseling they will need to get past their fear of making others angry, but I don’t want them to have needed any.
I wanted my kids to live their lives based on what they believed they are meant to do and be, not based on what they hope will keep the peace.
I wanted my kids to live their lives from a foundation of trust and hope, not out of anxiety.
I share my faults with you because I want you to know that hindsight is a truly powerful teacher.
Maybe, you can benefit from mine.