The rest of the story

Sorry to leave you hanging. As you can imagine, it’s been a busy couple of days. My husband, indeed, returned to us on Sunday night, and we’ve been visiting family and friends ever since. We’re currently in a hotel in Mattoon, one day of visiting here down, one to go. My whole family is sleeping, finally. Isabelle didn’t nap today and her overtired self resisted any attempts at sleep. Corban put himself to sleep while all of that was going on, and my husband succumbed to sleep at some point, too. He deserves it. He didn’t sleep much in the days leading up to his return.

Me, I’m not even tired. OK, that’s probably not true. I’m probably overtired, too. But snuggled in a hotel bed with a toddler and a gigantic five-month-old is not conducive to sleep for me. After too much time staring at the blinking smoke alarm light on the ceiling, I find myself here, unsure what to say, but needing to say something. And hoping that my body will shut itself down soon and I’ll be able to get a few hours of sleep.

I wanted to tell you about how separation from my husband helps me understand my relationship with Jesus better. When Phil was in Iraq, almost five years ago now, we had to learn how to develop a relationship while not in each other’s physical presence. I think it’s easy to take relationships for granted when you see the person a lot or are with them much of the time. When he came home from Iraq, even though I knew he was on his way, it wasn’t really real until I could hug him and see him.

This is what my relationship with Christ is like. I know He’s there. We have lines of communication open. I know He loves me. But until I see Him face to face, until I can touch Him, my faith will be just faith, not reality.

Living by faith is hard. Loving people is hard. Life in general is hard. But in the blink of an eye, it all changes. When I saw my husband again after three weeks, I didn’t feel like we’d been apart at all.

May it be so when I finally see my Jesus.

Sweet home, Chicago

Day 21. We spent the day in Chicago with my brother and his girlfriend. I forget how much I love Chicago until I’m there again. We had lunch at a place my brother frequents, Broadway Cellars, and then went to Shedd Aquarium so Isabelle could see the “fishies.” She’s been talking about that for weeks now.

No matter how far away we live, no matter what other cities are nearby and what attractions they offer, Chicago will always feel like home. The sights are recognizable. I have memories from childhood to adulthood of visiting museums, shopping, hanging out with friends, eating, and riding the Metra and the “L.” All that was missing today was my husband. He loves Chicago, too, and half or more of those memories were made with him.

He rejoins our family tomorrow. He missed Chicago by a day. But in the spirit of good Cubs fans, which we are, there’s always next time.

How do I spell relief? H-U-S-B-A-N-D

Day 20. Maybe that title dates me. If you remember the old Rolaids commercial, you’re probably getting old, too.

Both kids were especially needy today, and even though we had a lot of time with family, there still didn’t seem to be enough of me to go around. I kept thinking of something my husband said just after Corban was born and we were learning how to parent two children. He said he appreciated the fact that having two kids meant we had to work together more for their care.

We’re like a tag team, sometimes. Especially at bed time. If I’ve had Corban all day, he’ll take him while I get Isabelle ready for bed. Or, if Corban’s particularly needy and I’m feeding him, Phil will take the Isabelle bed time routine. It works the same with diaper duty, meals and the occasional potty training. I’m so blessed to have a husband who helps.

Right now, though, I feel like I’m in the ring, trying to fend off two wrestlers by myself because my partner is MIA.

No matter how tired either of us is, there’s always a small sense of relief when we can split up the kid duties.

I hope he’s ready to tag in.


Day 19. These last few days seem the hardest. Even though the kids and I have kept busy with outings and visits, with still more planned between now and Sunday, I’m just plain old worn out. If this were a marathon (and by the way, I am not, nor do I ever see myself being, a runner), I’d be nearing the finish line, wondering if I could make it to the end. Sometimes I think I don’t have the mental toughness for such endurance.

When my husband (then my fiance) was in Iraq, I thought of our relationship in terms of a huge rubber band. Each of us was standing on one side of it, and the farther apart we were geographically, the more our relationship was stretched. Sometimes it seemed like it was so tight it was going to snap. But we held on and eventually, we came back together, stretched but tighter somehow.

I’m feeling stretched again. I’m glad I don’t have to go on this way indefinitely. I’m desperately hanging on for Sunday, hoping I won’t be too exhausted to enjoy being together.

Hoping, too, that once again, our relationship will be stronger because we were stretched.

Man of my dreams

Day 18. I dreamt about my husband today during a rare hour-long afternoon nap. I’m not sure the last time that happened — the dreaming of him, that is, not the napping. Sometimes when I dream about him, it’s of something bad happening to him. Today wasn’t like that. It was just a being together kind of dream.

Although I literally dreamt of him today, he also is figuratively the man of my dreams. Indulge me while I recollect. We have an anniversary coming up, and I like to remember how our relationship began, how I felt when he proposed, what it was like to marry him. A recent look at our wedding pictures helped the reminiscing process.

Phil and I were friends before we were a couple. The first time we were in a group together, he called me by name. I consider this the beginning of our story because it touched me. There’s something about hearing your name, at least there is for me. It’s a personal address. I was new to the group at the time and it made me feel acknowledged. When I tell him this, he just shrugs. He didn’t think anything of it at the time, but it’s forever burned in my mind.

We became friends through church activities and other social events. More and more I was drawn to him. Eventually our friendship grew to the point where I considered him to be one of my best friends and when he wasn’t around, something felt off or missing. He brought a certain energy to our group of friends, and he lit up my world. I guess I could say I was pining for him at this time.

We grew closer and closer as friends until finally, the day came when he put his arm around me while we watched “The Princess Bride,” already my favorite movie, now with added significance. I was giddy with joy but also fearful that maybe he made a mistake and the next day he was going to tell me he was sorry for leading me on. I didn’t sleep much that night, and when he said the next morning that we needed to talk, the fear and joy continued to mingle. When he clarified that he wanted to date me, my joy was more than I could contain, and he held my hand as we walked down the hill at Rock River Bible Camp.

For both of us, there was not much question that our relationship would end in marriage. With a friendship foundation firmly supporting us, and a love for the Lord binding us, we could see no other outcome. A year later, also at RRBC, he proposed, and I still smile thinking of how nervous he was, how he enlisted help to orchestrate a game that ended in a proposal, how I could hardly believe this was happening. I remember my friend Nikki commenting that I kept looking at my left hand, admiring the ring I had picked out but didn’t know he had bought.

Two years later, we were married. Looking at the pictures, I remember the joy. Everything wasn’t perfect that day, but it was the perfect day, if that makes sense. Although it was a jam-packed, emotional, somewhat overwhelming day, all I cared about was that at the end of the day, I would be Phil’s wife.

Almost three years have passed, hardly enough time for us to be tired of each other yet, but some marriages these days don’t last even that long. Mostly today I just miss his physical presence. We’ve had some great phone conversations, which hasn’t happened much, if at all, since he left the Army. And we’ve seen each other on Skype calls. But none of that is the same as being in the same room, sleeping in the same bed, riding in the same car.

Our separation time is ending soon, and I can hardly believe how fast it went. I still have much to learn about what it takes to make a relationship work and survive in less-than-ideal conditions, but with only a few days to go until I see my husband again, I’m grateful for the opportunity to re-appreciate him.

I can’t imagine being married to anyone else. He truly is a gift from God.

A beautiful mind

Day 17. Today was good. Lots of great conversation. That’s a rarity for this stay-home-mom-of-two. It’s been great to have time to talk and catch up with family and friends. To reminisce about the way things were before husbands and kids; to compare notes about husbands and kids now; to envision what lies ahead.

Much of the conversation with friends centers on church life, church growth, church mission — you get the idea. As people on the path toward full-time pastoral ministry, my husband and I seem to often end up in conversations such as these. It’s like research, but that makes it sound a little shallow or meaningless. I just enjoy the chance to hear from those in church leadership and laity about what is and isn’t working. Maybe by hearing their stories, we can avoid making some mistakes.

Although Phil shares a lot of what he learns in seminary with me, I seldom retain what he tells me. Somewhere between his mouth and my ears, the information is swallowed up in a black hole of housework, child care and sleep deprivation.

Occasionally I can contribute something of what he’s learned, or what we’re learning together as we practice ministry, but most of the time, I just feel like I’m babbling. My husband, on the other hand, has a sponge for a mind. He soaks up what he hears, reads and sees and can squeeze out the appropriate thought at the appropriate time. It’s beautiful.

He would have loved today’s talks. And my account of them won’t do them justice.

Soon enough, he’ll be in the conversations. Just a few more days.

Baby sitter, emphasis on the sitter

Day 16. Today, I needed my husband’s arms. Not so much for me, but for our five-month-old. The boy would not nap today. I blame teething. And my own inability to sit still for longer than a few minutes. Maybe I should say he would not nap anywhere but in someone’s arms, and I had no patience or desire for that. Nap time is Mommy time, and I selfishly wanted it today. Each time I tried to put my son on a bed or in a pack n’ play, his eyes popped open and he gave me that “Oh, was I sleeping? ‘Cause now I’m not” look. And I just got more and more frustrated. Thankfully, my dad was home from work, so he entertained his grandson for a couple of non-sleeping hours while I took a break then finished fixing dinner.

I could have napped, too. I should have napped, too. But I resisted. And I know if my husband had been here, I could have easily plopped my sleeping son in his lap and let him be the baby sitter during nap time. This is something my husband does well and even enjoys. Especially if he’s not had a lot of time with the children. He can just sit and hold them for as long as it takes. Me? I think of a hundred other things I could, or should, be doing.

And I feel like a bad mother for admitting that, but it’s the truth. Not all “hold me” days are like this for me. Some days, I give in and take a nap, too, or get caught up on a good book.

Not sure why today was different. But we survived another day without a daddy. And found another reason we need him in our lives.

He’s got the look

Day 15. Since Tuesday, when I got my own small-scale makeover — haircut, highlights, some new clothes — I’ve been feeling different about myself. It’s pretty easy to feel frumpy as a mom, especially with two little ones around. Some days, it’s an effort just to get out of my pajamas. And with the changes to my body, few of the clothes in my closet fit right, so I relegated myself to a jeans-and-T-shirt uniform, usually with my hair pulled back in a ponytail.

But I’ve been watching a lot of “What Not to Wear” episodes lately, and the women on the show give the same excuses I give myself. “I don’t have time.” “I don’t take care of myself because I take care of my kids.” “I can’t find anything in my size.” Etc., Etc., Etc.

I decided to nip those excuses in the bud this birthday and let my mom and grandma help me update my look. I’ve actually had fun putting on clothes this week as I’ve tried out my different outfits. Granted, I don’t have a complete wardrobe, but I have enough pieces to give me a few new things to wear to church or on a date with my hubby or just to the grocery store if I don’t want to feel like I just crawled out of bed.

So far, my husband has only seen my new look on the computer via a couple of Skype calls. Today, he complimented the outfit I wore to church. I’m excited for him to be able to see the new stuff — the “new” me — in person.

As long as I can remember I’ve been self-conscious about my looks. I quit wearing my glasses in junior high because I didn’t want to look “nerdy.” I still take other people’s thoughts into consideration when getting dressed to leave the house, sure they’re going to judge this book by its cover.

While I’ve gotten plenty of compliments about the new look, my husband’s opinion matters the most. Even if he doesn’t use words, there’s a look I look for — the kind where his whole face smiles when he catches sight of me.

OK, so that’s a little bit RomCom, but some of you might know what I’m talking about. On WNTW, many of the women admit that they don’t think they’re beautiful or have never believed they’re pretty. And when co-host Clinton Kelly (who is gay) compliments something about the way they look, it’s like they realize it for the first time. I bring up his sexual orientation only because I think it’s important that the women are hearing from a man, whether he’s interested in them romantically or not, that they are pretty.

Consider that a challenge, men: We need you to tell us we’re pretty.

I know my husband appreciates me beyond what I look like on the outside, and for that I’m grateful. ‘Cause this shell of a person is only going to get saggier and baggier as the years go on. And I know that when he compliments my looks, that’s not all he’s seeing. For both of us, it’s what’s inside that keeps us together day after day.

Still, it’s fun to feel pretty and have a little extra confidence. When my husband chopped off 8 inches of his hair two weeks ago, I saw him in a whole new way. I even told him he was “hot.” (Not the sort of language I often use to describe my husband because it seems like such a shallow word.) Small changes; hopefully a bigger spark to our relationship.

And Lord willing, 10, 15, 20 years from now, we’ll be that “old” couple who still think each other is “hot” and our kids will be embarrassed to claim us.

Moms who do it all shouldn’t have to

Day 14. One more week to go. Am I a wuss to be missing my husband and wanting this separation to end? I feel like I should buck up and relish the chance to do this parenting thing all by myself. After all, millions of parents lead their families by themselves year after year. Three weeks? No big deal, right?

Honestly, I don’t know how single parents do it day in, day out. Even though I have my parents and grandparents, and my in-laws, not to mention the kids’ aunts and uncles on occasion, to help, I still feel the burden of responsibility for my children — a burden I’m used to sharing.

I don’t know if the kids recognize a difference with my husband gone, but I know they are missing out on a whole different aspect of parenting. I’m not comfortable tossing my son in the air, but I don’t mind if my husband does. I’m not as good at wrestling with my daughter as he is, either. I usually jokingly say that he’s the fun one, I’m the serious one. I’m missing the fun side, and I’m a poor substitute.

With Mother’s Day tomorrow, we celebrate all that mothers do for their children, and that would be a much longer blog if I tried to list what I, or any other mom, do for their kids. And there’s a sense of pride in knowing we “do it all” for our families, but I wonder how often we ask for help.

I like the feeling of accomplishment I have when I’ve completed a challenging task, but I don’t want to be the kind of wife who doesn’t need my husband for anything. I don’t want to be Supermom or Mrs. Incredible. Too much pressure. I’m content to do what I can and let others step in when I’m in over my head.

I know that being a single parent isn’t always a choice a person gets to make. Sometimes it’s chosen for her, and I in no way judge or condemn the single parent. I admire her. She’s an amazing woman (and the majority of single parents are women, thus the gender choice), and getting just a taste of what her life must be like makes me want to do all I can to help her.

What do single moms need most? How can the church offer their hands and lives to those who are raising kids by themselves?

Happy Mother’s Day!

Conversing with God is not the same as talking to myself

Day 13. On my drive home from the Quad Cities tonight, I mistook the clouds for mountains. I must be missing my other home. I love the mountains of Pennsylvania, but I’ll never be able to say that the plains of Illinois are boring. I’ll always find something beautiful about acres and acres of farmland.

I had a great evening watching a theatrical Christian production of Snow White as a parable for Christ and the church. The drive there and back was a little lonely. I miss the small talk my husband and I share, although even if he were in the same state, he wouldn’t have gone tonight. Ladies only. But I miss being able to “download” about my day or discuss whatever happens to be on my mind. I try to store up all the thoughts I’m thinking that I want to share with him, but I know they won’t all make it into conversation with him.

So, I find myself conversing with God more. Telling him the things I normally tell my husband, and feeling a little weird about it because doesn’t He know all this stuff already?

Maybe that’s another perk of this separation, developing my conversation skills with God. Just as long as no one mistakes me for a crazy person talking to herself. Then again, maybe that’s not so bad after all. Christians are a little bit crazy.