At other places, Faith + Vulnerability
Making Marriage Beautiful
April 13, 2017 at 4:42 am 0

How do you do more than simply "make do" in marriage with all the demands of schedules, children, and jobs?

Here's a bit of my story:  We were making our sixth home together — after first jobs, graduate school in another country, ministerial internships, and now, after two little babies came whooshing into our life. I don’t remember the specifics, but I remember shouting that echoed off of wood floors, how I didn’t have words for the tail spin of all that I thought life should be and what it clearly was. So instead we screamed. I didn’t have words for all the ways it was easier to blame him than to grow with him— for the many moves, for adventures that took at least two years to feel at home, for our growing family and the demands on me as a young mother.
It was easier to thrust his own issues on him, run and hide from mine, and make him be the scapegoat for all the angst I felt at the hard process of growing up.
No, I didn’t have the words to own up to my own birthright of sin. So we shouted. We slammed doors. We both were so alone. Now, after more than half our lifetimes together and nearly two years into move number eight, we’ve added two more children, we’re planting a church back home in the suburbs, and I’m writing a book. We’re exhausted. But we’re not exhausted in a way that leads to shouting and door slamming. The change gradually seeped in through lots of prayer, counseling, and going through Sonship, an intensive discipleship program. As we do things we have no more energy to do on our own strength like writing books and church planting and raising four children — I’ve seen the sin patterns in my navel-gazing, my own fear of invisibility if I wasn’t out in the work force being productive, and how it’s easier to blame shift than to see the truth of your own heart.
We make our marriage beautiful because we choose, day by day, to be for each other.
... Read the rest at Dorothy Greco's site. ... Dorothy Greco has written a fantastic resource on marriage, Making Marriage Beautiful: Lifelong Love, Joy, and Intimacy Start with You. It's relatable, helpful, and filled with stories of people working hard to make their marriage not only thrive but also be beautiful. Buy it here.
When the Enneagram paints your marriage as volatile (for The Mudroom)
February 10, 2017 at 7:00 am 0

If Myers-Briggs put me in a lovely little box I could be proud of and present to others — “here is my amazing self, take and see” — then the Enneagram has been the first tool to tell me that maybe, just maybe, my "gift to the world" can be a bit “too much.” That my greatest strength can actually also make me obsessive and prone to navel-gazing. It's what the Enneagram is best at -- showing us the shadowside and paths for growth. Of course this is also something my husband has told me all along. When it's him who preempts my epiphanic moment, I get all ruffled. Later, we learn, lo and behold, that per the Enneagram we're a "volatile combination."

His number on the Enneagram (8, the Challenger) and mine (4, Individualist) are “inherently volatile.” The Enneagram Institute says:

Both Enneagram Fours and Eights are intense and have strong emotional responses; both seek to get a reaction from the other, and both can be dominating of their environments—Eights are socially dominant, Fours are emotionally dominant. Both types bring passion, intensity, energy, and deep (often unconscious) feelings to all aspects of the relationship. They are attracted to each other's storminess, the other's vulnerability, and the other's "hidden" qualities: neither is what they seem to be on the surface. Both types are also highly intuitive—Fours by being self-aware and knowledgeable about how they are feeling, and Eights with their intuition about external phenomena, often with an extremely accurate insight about the potentials and possibilities exhibited by others.

This is what has lead us to conclude that he builds systems and knows what needs doing to help an organization flourish, while I get my fingernails dirty in the mess of people's emotional and spiritual states. We’re yin to each other’s yang, when we’re in step with the other.


Read the rest over at The Mudroom -- all about how I've learned that volatility isn't a crime. It'll give you hope for your own marriage.

At other places
Finding Love in the Present Tense (for The Mudroom)
July 12, 2016 at 6:00 am 0
The theme for July at The Mudroom is Relationships, True Intimacy, and Lasting Connection. I asked the other writers what they were writing about -- motherhood, marriage, friendship, something else? -- so we would hit different themes. In the end, I wrote about ALL THE THINGS because sometimes the flood gates open. This is a love letter to love and an apology -- that I have most often used relationships to write a story about me. Maybe you have too. I'd love to share a few words with you here, but head on over to The Mudroom to read the whole thing. --AH Finding love in the present tense -- Ashley Hales -- aahales.com On the cusp of womanhood, we dreamt of boys who would sweep us off our feet, play the guitar, and in the sun-drenched summer days of southern California, carry a surfboard under muscular tanned arms. We wrote bad poetry and were waterlogged from long days at the pool. We ate cookies, drank Coke, and didn’t worry about waistlines while we spilled slumber party secrets. We traded best friend necklaces and dreamt of friendship that would always return like the rhythm of ocean waves. We were 17 — babies in love. I wrapped telephone cords around my finger during those hours where we plumbed emotional depths. Conversations about the sunny future where our hopes and dreams always seemed to align perfectly. Soul mates. Destiny. Knight in Shining Armor. You name it — we trotted out each cliche, but they felt newly awoken in our mouths. There were novels written in kisses in those early days. But then there were budgets, moves, babies, and ministry that consumed all of our creative energy. Then, years later, there was the fresh newborn head smell that I willed my senses to remember. Each babyhood became somehow more precious because I realized how fleeting time really was. When before, I’d smirk at the coos from gray-haired ladies, now I realized I was well on my way to becoming one. By my third baby (I’m a slow learner), I had become used to the lack of sleep, the mess, the way motherhood pours you out from reserves you didn’t know you had. And I fell in love anew with blonde curls, sparkling eyes, and how I could fully be someone’s entire world. That my body, my arms, my attention could meet every need. Then there were the friendships forged over red coffee mugs, the ones where we owned our anger, our feeble steps of faith and doubt, how as pastor’s wives we felt broken, vulnerable, and confused about calling. How we just needed a date night to fall in love with our husbands again. How we vacillated between fiercely loving our children while also wishing they’d just leave us for a moment of peace. When we moved away and the miles separated us, I cried to you on the phone, shut up in my minivan: I didn’t know how to do life away from you. And now, you’ve lost your dad, I am miles away and I do not know how to hold up your grief that I cannot see. // Read the rest here.
When Happily Ever After Isn’t Easy
June 20, 2016 at 6:00 am 6
Happily Ever After Isn't Easy -- aahales.com We celebrate being married fourteen years this week and really, I still want to just run away with you. This is not because we are perpetually in love. It is however, born from a happily ever after that hasn't always been so. We married on a summer morning, with peonies and roses in hand. We were children, really, though we felt like we had waited too long already. We wanted to get on with our life, we wanted to not have to say good bye each night. We wanted to fall exhausted to sleep in arms that were always meant for holding each other. I walked down the aisle and you teared up as we said vows, as we made a covenant that felt full of joy that day. Its champagne bubbles made us laugh and hiccup in delight. They bubbled over into wine, dancing, strapless wedding gowns. We said words like richer and poorer, sickness and health, and really, we didn't know what those somber words meant. But our eyes were earnest. We said them as best we knew. And that was enough. Because if we knew it all then, would we have said "I do" then? But we promised those abstract words. And they rose up real and true, loud and strong. And you gave me the platinum band that made it to my knuckle and I pushed it all the way down and it clinked with the engagement ring -- the one that I somehow lost years later in Scotland while doing the dishes. But you never shamed me for losing what cost you years of teenage sweat and work. For losing the symbol of our love. For losing something that was so precious. Because, you see, even the diamonds were not the thing. The covenant was. "Covenant" is a big, often clumsy word and it feels like stately pews and things that are perhaps, a bit out of date. We didn't know then that "covenant" meant that it would encircle our kisses, our years of international travel and starry eyed wonder at the beauty and majesty of living life together as husband and wife. We didn't know then that something like that word could stretch so large and wide to encompass 8 moves, 4 children and one unborn lost baby. We didn't that covenant would grow to accommodate job and career changes, loving new cities, stretching in ways we didn't know possible. We couldn't know that a covenant could stretch and grow and fill in the cracks of silent anger where we turned our backs on each other. We didn't know that covenant meant it would repair the hurt and angry words yelled across wood floors and bitterness felt through the reverberation of slammed doors. I think because you're the pastor and I'm the pastor's wife, that we somehow got a pass on this marriage deal. That we were wired for more holy, more sacrifice, and because we'd looked starry eyed at each other so long, that surely the rings would make it all only easier. Surely by virtue of our roles, your vocation, that marriage would come easily. Surely God owed us that?  Surely marriage would be blissful, because love always had been. We didn't know the beauty of a covenant that can get battered and beat up and somehow look more beautiful on the other end. I thought that the nicks just made it ugly, but never knew that when a marriage is tousled and comes out the other side, that it (like the Velveteen Rabbit) is more real. But we coasted for awhile on champagne love and a friendship that looked like independence. There were years where we could each do our own thing, play the role of adult in our jobs, and spend $50 on a gourmet salad for a dinner party, because what else was there to do with money but spend it? In graduate school, we could find cheap flights and spend the weekend in London in a drab part of town, but it didn't matter because we were young and adventure was always to be had. We drank in the world. We skipped like children on cobblestone streets and if we were not still drunk on love, we were happily content to walk side-by-side, pursuing our own individual dreams, working hard. But then the babies came, and the one that never was to be born was the first one to make me swell with mama-pride. And I became a protective hen, circling my future brood, drawing all mama knowledge to myself. It was then I lost a bit of myself as your lover, as our covenant grew to accommodate more love enfleshed. We became parents, we divided and conquered. We fell exhausted to sleep but there was no encircling arms. We were too tired, too busy to reach out to the other. In all those years of merely surviving, of roles changing, the anniversaries piled up, celebrated in dinners and cards. Our covenant felt cracked, it didn't make our eyes light up and the giddiness of those first several years had long ago gone flat. I didn't want something as boring as covenant then, I wanted the bubbling excitement of those early years with kisses that spoke volumes, with touches that sent electricity through my finger tips. I figured covenant meant disavowing all our early excitement. I was always leaking milk, or covered in sticky-fingered messes or spit-up from the next baby. Instead of pressing into the beauty of those early parenting years, of seeing myself as more real and loved, I floundered, my head barely above water. Where was I? Who had we become? I had turned into a mother. I morphed into a role that felt too big and never big enough. And maybe mother was a more comfortable role to grow into than wife and lover. Its path was clear. Our children are young, they're covered in dirt, and their voices are too often too loud. And as they needed tending, I bowed to the tyranny of the urgent. I figured we were both self-sufficient adults. You didn't need me. Not in the same way anyway. Just in the abstract. And abstract didn't hold much water. We had years of repelling each other like magnets, where we retreated to our corners, licked our wounds and felt unloved. It was never something major, just the accumulation of thinking the covenant would take care of itself, that we were owed something by each other and by God. We forgot the basic truth: when we said "I do," we vowed to always be on the same team. As the good news of a good God who runs after his children when we're stubbornly clinging to our own record of rightness sunk deeper still, we thawed and turned toward each other. You walked in instead of walking away. I practiced saying "I'm sorry." We laughed. We took long walks. We cooked together again. We retraced the liturgies of our early love-making. Now, too, there is a bit of space now to run away again.  It is time to reimagine us, to put time back into this structure, to weave our stories together again. It is time to see the beauty in well-worn furniture. We're not jetting off around the world, or even far from town, and yet, I can't wait to run away to celebrate the 14 years that this covenant has held us up. I do not need the miles. I do not need the airplane, even as I feel the ache of all the lives we have not lived -- because an airplane is not the only adventure. Moving place is not necessary to travel well. Adventure happens when your eyes are open to see what is always there. If this marriage covenant is supposed to hold us up, ours is not particularly alluring anymore. It's not the sexy, modern chair in the hotel lobby -- the one that is never actually used. But ours is sturdy like those wooden pews, it is solid and has weathered rain and taken a beating. The nicks each tell a story. And perhaps those gauges, nicks, and weathering are what is going to make this structure far more beautiful. Perhaps becoming real looks vastly different than what I imagined when we danced on our marriage morning to the song that we heard on our first date. Because looking back, I think I was hoping for a marriage that always felt new. I wanted to be picture perfect, to be adored, to be whisked across the sea on endless adventures with umbrella drinks and museum trips. I wanted everything that Facebook pictures and the magazines promised romance would be. Champagne, pearls, and witty repartees. But on the other end of 14 years, we can sit cross-legged on a beat-up wooden pew and know without a doubt that we will be held. You have seen me at my most vulnerable -- bringing our four children into the light through swears, fear, and strength -- and you have never left me. You have never used my weakness as shame, it has always been a crown of courage. We will always have a sturdy place to land, as we've worked to rebuild the broken places of our love. We have a safe place to rest our weary feet. Because I've lost the diamond ring. The champagne goes flat. The money for the adventure runs out with four little birds in our nest. We are left then with either bitterness, envy, or the solid hope in a covenant that encircles, bends and stretches through loss, anger, grief and fear. Because ultimately the strength of that covenant doesn't rest on words we said when we were just babies. It rests on the great I AM who says he will never leave us or forsake us, who runs to welcome his wayward bride, who clothes us with the robes of family. He is the rock of ages and, on that foundation, we can keep placing our little wooden marital pew. We can say I'm sorry, will you forgive me? We can crack our anger open and let the sadness pour like egg white until there is nothing left. On that rock we will have the courage to crumble and throw our bodies on solid ground when we feel we are melting with confusion, or upended when life looks nothing like it did when the air was thick with peonies and diamond hope. But on the other side of 14 years (though I would never say no to a trip around the world) I'll take the small adventure any day. I'll take a beat-up wooden seat every single day of the year. It has stood out in the rain and proven itself as solid, sure, faithful, and true. And "covenant" is such a beautiful word -- of shame met with faithfulness -- that it's the beginning of a story I want to fall deeper into. It is our story. And it's far more beautiful than champagne promises. So my love, let's run away together. There are always adventures to be had. Even ones that look like ordinary and start with faltering words of vulnerability. We have room again for promises and dreams in abstract words that we're unsure what those will  look like. We've stretched that far before. We can have the courage for those dreams, too. We do indeed have a soft and sturdy place to land.    
Beauty in the Mundane
Thank you starts here
October 28, 2014 at 7:00 am 5
You are like the drowning man who can't be helped because he clutches and grabs. -- C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
It was a terrific weekend full of walks and friends and crunching fall leaves. With sunshine at our backs and blue skies and warm bread and butter to share at the table. It was also -- like most weekends -- full of not enough sleep, a bit too much TV, and bickering. And I took the cake on the arguing. A clean house, or a hike in the woods, or a good meal can't make up for a preoccupied heart.  I have plenty of circumstances that I like to point the finger at: my baby who was gassy and therefore didn't sleep from 4am onwards unless she was lying on top of me; my too-long to-do list which includes sewing Halloween costumes all this week; trying to eek out dinners before the next paycheck. But essentially the problem isn't my circumstances, it's me. Me, grasping and grasping to be appreciated, needed, loved, respected. Fill in the blank. And when I keep grasping, my fingers just close tighter on nothing, and anger and hurt and resentment spew forth like the drowning man's splashes. And honestly, when I'm confronted with my grasping, I tend to naturally work harder to get what I want, to just keep asking for more and more validation. IMG_1596.JPG   It's only when my fists uncurl and I realize that I've just got it all wrong, that anything changes. It can't be what's around me, because I can't control when the baby sleeps, or if I'm always able to get exercise in, or if the kids are quiet enough so that I can read or write. No, it's me, me who needs changing. I'm learning to practice gratitude as an antidote to my needy grasping. I've been meaning to take up writing cards to people again as a little moment to pause and to brighten up someone's day when they receive real mail in the post. So today I took out one of those cards that I'd laid aside for the purpose of brightening a friend's day and wrote an I'm sorry note to my husband. It doesn't automatically change that I've hurt him and treated my family poorly. But it does help my heart to remember that thank you starts here, at home. Thanking my husband for emptying the dishwasher even when he just does it out of duty; thanking my children for their smiles and hugs and quickness to grant forgiveness when their mama's in a bad mood; thanking my sweet baby girl for her smile and kisses that reign down like grace on whomever receives them; thankful for food, and a roof, and so many conveniences that make life simple. And thankful for a God who rejoices over me with singing, a Father who stands at the end of the road, scanning the horizon and runs when his child returns home. -- flower photo1 This is the twenty-eighth post for the Write 31 days challenge, where I’ll be writing every day through the month of October. I’m excited to see what comes of this daily practice. I’d love for you to comment, pin the above image, share posts and subscribe to receive posts to the right in the sidebar as we work through these things together. Posts in the series are all linked to from the first post.
Beauty in the Mundane
The necklace
October 18, 2014 at 7:00 am 11
It has the colors and the rhythms of the sea in it. And he knew it was just for me. IMG_1504-0.JPG Back when we'd only been married a year or two, in a little German Christmas market in Edinburgh, we bought bratwurst and mulled wine to hold in our hands to thaw our fingertips. It was a little piece of magic for grad students with barely any money or what felt like free time, so we basked in the steam coming off of our beverages, and walked to Christmas music and in-between stalls. There, my husband spotted what has become my favorite necklace.  It's not gold or encrusted with diamonds, but what makes it special is that he knows me well enough (even then) to pick something that I'd carry with me for more than a dozen years. Not just a piece many women would want (pearls, diamonds) but something unique to me. He knows me. In fact, he's always been terrific at picking out clothes or jewelry for me -- finding that perfect little something that says, "I see you. I know you. You are mine." This necklace that I tend to finger when I'm a bit nervous or need something to do with my hands, also speaks to me of adventures. Of living in Scotland; of traveling to Greece and eating feta cheese and staying in a "hotel" with scratchy blankets and twin beds; of walking 5 miles a day around an ancient castle; of climbing stairs upon stairs to a tiny office with a tiny window overlooking the Meadows; of the dusty smell of the National Library. But, also adventures of another sort. The adventure of making home together for more than a decade, whether we're somewhere exotic or right where we started from. The adventure of daily bread and daily grace, that we're committed to showing up. Extending grace upon grace, when we're grouchy, and hungry for alone time, and can't handle the noise anymore. A grace that says, "You know me and I know you" and I love you with all of your bumps and imperfections and rather workaday edges, because I've got them too. It's a simple necklace, and a simple grace, that grows in attractiveness as it is well-used. But there's so much in me that wants to (and does) hammer for my own rights and preferences rather than learn to die to my own agenda day-by-day. Not the type of death, of course, in a "let's be a doormat" kind-of-way, but rather, that in little acts of sacrifice, and as I learn to value others, I am becoming more whole. More fully alive. More fully myself, more of who I was created to be. So today that may mean I actually get in the fort and laugh and play with my children (instead of my phone), or I don't leave my stuff like a trail of crumbs around the house because it stresses my husband out. It means little choices like homemade pumpkin bread and fall leaves collected for the dinner table. It can also mean shucking the to-do list and having a big bowl of popcorn or takeout and a movie night. It means that I look my husband in the eye when he comes home, kiss him like he knows me instead of like my 5th child, and thank him that we get to do this crazy adventure together. Right now. Today. Because his eyes have the rhythm and colors of the sea, too. flower photo1 This is the nineteenth post for the Write 31 days challenge, where I’ll be writing every day through the month of October. I’m excited to see what comes of this daily practice. I’d love for you to comment, pin the above image, share posts and subscribe to receive posts to the right in the sidebar as we work through these things together. Posts in the series are all linked to from the first post.
Beauty in the Mundane
A marriage made of little moments
October 4, 2014 at 6:00 am 12
It's 5:15 and my foot is tapping with impatience. The noise level has racketed up to a million and one, the baby is shrieking since she's recently discovered she has a voice, the toddler didn't nap and so is whining about everything and the older two are arguing about something (anything) because apparently that's their favorite sport. I'm doing all I can to get a meal together while my leg is being squeezed by chubby, sticky hands. He's later than I anticipated. I hear the door close. Relief! Reinforcements! The gang of children rush towards him with "running hugs" and the noise meter progresses to deafening. I quickly turn, mutter a "Hey," and get back to supper-making, grateful that the throng is following him for a bit. A few minutes later after he's put down his things and deposited his sanity and peace along with it, after he's heard me just-about-to-lose-it with the kids countless times because I just want to get the #$&* thing on the table, he comes behind me and wraps his arms around my waist. My tenseness, my anger, my anxiety, my accusations, melt as his arms circle me. And I relax into his peace and calm amidst the swirling chaos and noise. "I love you." "We're on the same team." A little hug, a few small words reorient my myopic preoccupation about how everyone else is making "the witching hours" worse. It's the kids' fault they're loud. Why couldn't the toddler have just napped? Why must the baby shriek her delight (wouldn't a quiet clapping suffice?)? Why can't he be home on time? But the embrace turns it all around. We're on the same team.

Image of our family in 2010 by Sundin Photography

I think back to the giddy covenant we made to each other more than a decade ago, that we'd love and cherish each other in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, till death parts us. There were happy tears, and flowers, and wine and a conga line. Now there's just demands and noise and just so much seething life. But it's not so much the moving or the job changes or the new babies that threaten to stress and separate us, it's the countless little things that build walls of isolation through the years. The forgetting to greet one another; the forgotten pile of laundry; the frustration with each other when we're both dying of lack of sleep with having babies one after another; the unexciting meals as you try to stretch the end-of-the-month grocery budget; the just-being-too-tired to have sex. And so we retreat to our screens and our quiet and we lick our wounds, never really letting each other in, because it's too scary, or too tiring, or just too much. It takes courage to break through walls, to take one brick down at a time. To show up. To put down the phone and really look at each other. To ask good questions when you want to zone out. To wrap your arms around another human being when they're radiating condemnation and self-preoccupation. It's these little moments of connection that keep a marriage from crumbling. It's so easy to think that the other adult in your house doesn't have needs (he can go to the bathroom all by himself! He can clean up his mess without falling on the floor in response!). But relying on your spouse simply as reinforcement reduces him to a functional roommate, not a confidante or lover or someone who makes you smile. As we bustle around from one task to another, from one child to another, we sometimes just stop each other in the kitchen, with a long glance, with a hand on the other's shoulders, or a smile and a word of encouragement: I love you, you're great, thank you. Little words and little touches and real eye contact that say "you matter, you're important, you're my favorite." Lest you think we're some atypical lovebirds, it wasn't always this way, and it isn't always this way. It's a fight to love another person. It's a choice to turn our eyes to one another when we want to slink away and take time for me.  I remember knock-down drag-out fights where we thought the only way to get the attention that we each craved was by shouting hurtful things at the other person -- hurting more so we could feel like our own hurt was covered. But hurt just begets more hurt and more hiding and ultimately, more shame. And shaming is never a great motivation to love. Even though my husband and I have been a couple now for half our lifetimes, it isn't easy or natural. It's work and commitment and choosing to believe that we're for each other. It's him cupping his hands around my face and really seeing me. It's me finally mopping the floor because I know that makes him happy. It's countless little moments that build a bridge to another person that communicate you're valued, you're seen and we're in this together. So give someone a hug today. We all need it so we can be taken out of ourselves and into something bigger. --- flower photo1This is the fourth post for the Write 31 days challenge, where I’ll be writing every day through the month of October. I’m excited to see what comes of this daily practice. I’d love for you to comment, pin the above image, share posts and subscribe to receive posts to the right in the sidebar as we work through these things together. Posts in the series are all linked to from the first post.