Margins in Marriage

Margins . . .

We need them in our writing or creative arts so the focus of our work can be readily seen and embraced. We know we need them in other areas of our life, so we can catch our breath and re-energize for what comes next.

Merriam Webster gives several definitions for margin. Two that hit me hard are: a) a spare amount or measure or degree allowed or given for contingencies or special situations; b) a bare minimum below which or an extreme limit beyond which something becomes impossible or is no longer desirable.

It’s a catch 22 isn’t it? Because we live with disability in our families, we need more margins because our lives are full of contingencies and special situations (definition a). But at the same time, living in a constant state of special situations makes it nearly impossible to create margins. Yet I do not want my life, my marriage or my ministry to become impossible or no longer desirable.

Several months ago I attended a Caregiver seminar where I saw a visual that slabs-931581_1280made so much sense to me. The speaker took a tile and named a task she needed to accomplish any given day, like grocery shopping. Then another tile for a doctor appointment was laid on top of grocery shopping. A tile for a stop at the dry cleaner was next. There were tiles for cleaning the house, taking the child to physical therapy, making dinner for the family, attend small group at church and on and on. Soon she had a stack of tiles so high we could no longer see her face.

Then she took those same tiles, representing the same activities, and laid them out like stepping stones in a garden path. There was now space between each tile. Our speaker commented that by allowing space between each activity she was creating margin. When the road to the dry cleaners was rerouted it did not throw off the rest of garden-54366_1280her day; she had space to accommodate this unexpected delay in travel and still keep up with the other activities.

That visual came back to me recently when I was functioning in a stacked tiles kind of day. When I encountered a glitch the stack of tiles collapsed on me. It was then that I wished I had built some space into my day.

This week Jerry and I are trying to practice this lesson in our marriage and ministry. We are attending a conference that is a little less than an hour away from home, depending on traffic. Could we commute to attend this conference? Yes we could, but likely it would result in stacking tiles. We’d get home from the day at the conference and still try to pay the bills, do laundry, and tend to a myriad of other details before getting to sleep. The next morning we would get up, pack a couple phone calls in before returning for the next day of the conference.

So we decided to get a hotel room at the conference site for the week. We even came in the day before the conference starts. As we turned in to the parking lot I began to feel guilty that we were spending money to stay so close to home. Then I remembered our margin making mission.

As we get older (this month we each hit a new decade!) we must be wiser in realizing our time, health, and energy are worth at least as much, or perhaps more, than our dollars. Decisions cannot be made on money alone. Each of those things must be balanced to produce margin.

Kicking guilt out of the way, I remembered we made the decisions we did for the purpose of producing margin in our marriage. In the past we would arrive at the site the day the conference started, and already be exhausted. Then after a day filled with interacting with people and learning sessions, I would unpack us into the room. By arriving early we had time to unpack and set up our room (the hoyer lift, the alternating pressure mattress pad, the shower chair, etc.). We walked around the conference site so we would know our way around when the sessions start. We also had time to exercise and get a decent night of sleep before entering conference mode.

I realize we may not be able to do this every time we travel. But the difference in our stress levels and interactions with one another already tell us we made a good decision. Margins are not just boring white spaces; I could get used to this.

Those Glorious Differences

“I had a bad day today.” Those were the words my husband spoke after returning home from work.

Wanting to be supportive, I asked, “Do you want to talk about it?”

“I just did,” he replied.

And truly, that was all he needed to say. I, on the other hand, wanted to know what happened hour by hour, resulting in the overall sense of a bad day. Thankfully, God had already been teaching me the differences in our personalities and make up so that I was able to give him some space, rather than increase his frustration.

I marvel at the intentional differences in God’s creation of men and women.  Not just physically, but how we each process, our use of language, what we store as memories, how we each approach tasks, or problem solve, just to name a few.

Sometimes my marveling takes the form of, what were you thinking God ? and other times it is more along the lines of, grateful for our different perspectives on this matter.

On the days when I rail against the way my husband does or doesn’t function, I try to remember that I am taking issue with the Creator who said his creation of man and woman is very good. Jerry and I imagine God saying, “this will be fun to watch!” and then enjoying a belly laugh as he watches us grow into one.

I think God is on to something. I’ve tried the arguing, the questioning, and the objections. Those options get me more frustrated. The snickering at and embracing of our differences results in less stress, more enjoyment and a quicker acceptance on my part. We may still need to talk the situation through, but it is easier to do so after the tension is released.

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Image by Elisa Riva from Pixabay

Try it the next time you and your husband or wife encounter one of those classic male/female differences. I’d love to hear how it works for you.

Still Driving Mr Jerry

In the fall of 2017 I put up a post entitled Driving Mr Jerry. Almost two years to the day, we just our van back after a week in the shop, and Jerry is now in week two using his old chair, while wait for repair on his typical chair. I needed to be reminded of the truths in the original post. Since I did, I thought you may too. May you be blessed and encouraged by this throwback Marriage Monday.

This is week three of Jerry using his back up wheelchair while waiting on a new right motor for his regular chair. That means he is unable to drive his van.

If you live with disability in your family you know that this is not all that unusual, these things happen. Paperwork drags on and on, calls don’t get returned, repairs can take weeks, if not months. Most of us would win a Gold Medal if waiting or insurance hassles were Olympic sports.

Yesterday Jerry had scheduled service for the lift on his van. There was no sense in him going along for the ride. I rearranged my schedule and took the van to the appointed service, about 45 minutes away from home. The shop is fantastic and provides a nice waiting area. I packed enough work to keep me busy for three years.

322615_3126101352345_993835468_oPrior to the van appointment I met with someone who has a child with a disability. My friend commented about how weary she is. She went on to say one way she keeps going is to realize what a privilege it is to serve Jesus by serving her child. She asked if that was the same among spouses?  As I thought about it she went on to describe how my trip to take the van for service was serving Jesus.

My life goal has been to love and serve God by loving and serving others. Given that, my friend’s comment should have been no surprise to me, but it was. I love Jerry, which means that (most days) it is a pleasure and joy to assist him. But I had somehow forgotten that by serving him I am also serving my Lord.

That reminder put a new spin on my day. When I got home that evening after running other errands,  the unexpected visitors we had, the unplanned need Jerry asked me to help with were no big deal. Getting to love and serve others while remembering that by doing so I am loving and serving God changed my perspective.

Instead of fretting about not getting a Marriage Monday post up until Tuesday, I chose to invest in and love my spouse and the others God brought to me that day. I hope you’ll forgive my delay.

Knowing that sometimes people who have a disability feel they become burdensome to their family or close friends I made a commitment to God and myself early in our marriage. I would choose to show joy when asked to assist (even being woken from a sound sleep in the middle of the night), and to always complete the task by saying “I love you” and sharing a kiss. I have missed that mark a few times, but it is still the goal for which I aim.

push for helpWhat about you?  What is it that helps you readjust your focus when you are worn and weary?  Do you have a strategy you use to keep your relationships healthy in the unpredictable dailyness of disability?

Dangers in Making it Look Easy

There is an interesting phenomenon I’ve observed in families who have a member with a disability. While others may look at us and think we have a hard life, when we compare our family to others with disability, we think we have it easy. Whether it is a Mom who has an adult child who needs complete physical care, or a young parent with a child with autism, or a husband whose wife became injured and disabled into their marriage the response is similar. Likely this is because we’ve become accustomed to our situation, and for the most part have developed coping mechanisms.

I fell victim to this many years ago. I was in a group of ladies who all had husbands with people-35681_1280disabilities. I perceived, both from my observations, and their talking, that Jerry and I had it easy in our relationship compared to them. I felt that if I shared any challenge we were having it would seem insignificant. So I stayed relatively quiet.

After many months I felt we had bonded as a group and I could now open up a bit and become vulnerable. I shared a story about a fight Jerry and I had that week. Usually we  resolve them quickly, but not this time. I told my friends how I didn’t even want to help him get in bed that night, but God told me I had to. I also shared about our resolution the following day. The ladies welcomed my sharing and commented that they thought we never had any problems. Oh dear – danger #1 in making life with disability look easy. If we are perceived to have it all together we become a superhuman to whom others cannot relate.

Danger #2 surfaced the next week. The husband of one of the ladies called me. He asked how we were doing. When I told him of a minor illness we had he said that was not what he was referring to. He wanted to know how Jerry and I were doing in our relationship. He went on to tell me that he was so sorry to hear from his wife (uh, I thought our group pillar-3126027_1280sharing was confidential?!) that we were having such a hard time and were considering divorce. WHAT?

It took a lot of time and talking to convince him he was mistaken, and that our marriage was solid. That’s when I realized by not being real with these ladies I had set us on a pedestal. When I became vulnerable, our pedestal was knocked to pieces and our image was shattered. Ultimately that’s a good thing – I want to be real. But part of real is experiencing and coping with trials.

The third and last (at least for today) danger in making life look easy is that we rob people of the blessing and  opportunity to serve and engage in life with us. I can’t even count the number of times I have been in a buffet line at church, camp or a restaurant carrying two plates and someone offers to help with one. I usually decline, assuring them I’ve got it. Or outside of a hotel when I am loading or unloading the van full of equipment and suitcases and someone offers to help. Again I say no, thank you.

I know I make my life harder by saying no. If I took the help at each juncture along the way perhaps I would not arrive at my breaking point so quickly. Hmmm, receiving small blessings and breaks may make a big difference.

I wonder if I also make it harder for someone on the outside to offer help the next time they see someone like us. Will they hold back because they’ve been told essentially their help is not needed. We have a friend who has learned to just jump in and help anyone, and often says, “Hey, don’t cheat me out of a blessing!”

So maybe making life with disability look easy actually makes it harder  . . .

What’s been your experience?

Take It Easy

Take it easy
Take it easy
Don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy
Lighten up while you still can . . .

These words, written by Jackson Browne and Glen Frey and recorded by the Eagles,  resonated in my head on a road trip we took this week. Our destination was a military post where our nephew and his family live. Our base access pass from our last visit had expired. Our goal, or more properly stated, MY goal, was to get on post between 3pm – 4 pm to get a new pass. If we arrived after 4 pm we would have to be escorted on base and listen to the stern counsel of the guard on duty to get our pass first thing in the morning.

Focusing on this target, we left home allowing a two-hour window for rest stops, fueling and changing of drivers, which is not as quick as it may sound as it involves physically changing the setup of the van. In previous posts I have disclosed that driving was our greatest challenge in marriage. Twenty-three years later, it is still true!

With each stop our two-hour window shortened. I became antsy, which sounds better than saying my need to control kicked in. On the one hand I was telling Jerry to stop asstress-2883648_1280 often as he needed when he was driving so he could change position and keep his body healthy. At the same time I was telling him our arrival window was down to only 30 minutes and we needed to be more mindful of the time.

While saying that, I felt guilty.

When Jerry pulled over so we could change drivers, he asked why I was so bound and determined to get there before 4 pm. He reminded me that we had not done that on any of our previous visits and survived. It was then that I confessed my motivation.

I wanted to make life easier for my nephew and his wife. I did not want them to have to pile the six kids into their van (three still in car seats) to drive the four miles out to the gate and escort us in. Concern for their comfort and ease made me compromise my husband’s comfort. My concern wasn’t even valid as our family reassured us it would be no big deal for them to come escort us.

The clincher to that conversation came when Jerry said, “When you try to make it easy for others, you sometimes make it harder for me.”

Ouch!

This is not the first time I’ve become aware of that tendency.

Next Monday I’ll share a little more about the dangers of making life with disability look or seem easy. Can you relate?  For now I am going to take it easy and enjoy these precious days with our family. Have a great week friends.

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Marriage Dreams Part 2

A new friend and I recently chatted about the difference in our marriages because I married a man with a disability, and she did not. Yet more than 20 years later, her groom became disabled. We commented how the death of dreams is tougher in her situation because she didn’t expect disability.

The more I thought about that I came to a new understanding of my own self. If asked, I would reply that I did not encounter the death of dreams because  I knew disability was a part of our marriage. Until these last few weeks. I now see that while the situation and expectations were different, the outcome is similar.

Jerry and I spent hours on our dates and through our engagement dreaming about how we would minister together, serve together and continue to travel for ministry, as we both did when we were single. We talked about how his life would be easier. By me helping him with his care needs he would gain an hour or two every day. I could assist him to do physical therapy exercises, again extending his functional abilities. We dreamed of me camping with friends and traveling on international mission trips. The pictures we created in our heads were beautiful, fully accessible and without any bumps in the road. Not to mention completely achievable.

Honestly, our marriage is beautiful. But my definition of beauty has changed. 1240269_10201749692684916_1017749866_nAcknowledging and dealing with bumps, and sometimes downright huge obstacles, contributes to my new view of beauty. It is a rugged rather than pristine beauty today.

 

Working and ministering together? Yes, we have done that about half of the nearly 24 years we have been married. It has been exciting, memorable, fulfilling, an area of struggle at times as we uncovered some sense of competition. The reality has not looked much like those dreams we shared during our engagement. As Jerry is fond of saying, “The best part of working together is we’re together all the time. The hardest part of working together is we’re together all the time.”

Assisting with personal care and therapy routines? Little did we know that it wouldn’t be too many years into our marriage before I too would have therapy exercises to keep my body functional to help him! If we both did all the therapies recommended for our various body parts it would take the full day! We had to pick and choose. Helping him with his routine impacted my previously free and flexible schedule. Not to mention the toll it took on my own body.

Traveling? We have been able to do a significant amount of travel around the United States, and brief ventures to some islands accessible by cruising. Such a source of joy. As for international missions trips for me, I am grateful for the experiences I had when I was single. In recent years I believe God is telling me this is not my time for international travel. I have pushed back and fought against that (with God, not Jerry). But God has held pretty firm. My place, my job, my primary ministry is to/with my husband.

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Conversations about the pace we can continue to travel have been frequent in recent weeks. We are still talking through what we gain from that versus what it takes out of both of us now that we are nearing the next big decade of life.

I hope you hear my heart in this. I am not looking for sympathy. It has been healthy for me to acknowledge that I too have experienced the death of some dreams. But perhaps some of those dreams, were simply that – dreams. What God has granted us in place of those is a stronger appreciation and love for one another, a deeper understanding of what is important in life, and a gratitude for the time and opportunities we have.

chalkboard-620316_1920What about you? How has God taken what may have been the death of one or more of your dreams and traded it for a new kind of beauty? I really want to hear your stories. For those who post a reply by Friday September 6 I will choose one random commenter to receive a free copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Positive, Live Happy. You’ll read a story from me in there. So start typing  . . . .

Marriage Dreams

Dreams of marriage . . . candlelight and romance . . . tackling projects together. . . kids that look like you, and act like him (or vice versa) . . . retirement days to travel and enjoy one another and the family. What was your dream for marriage?

Happy 284 +1Many of us don’t think about disability when we dream about marriage. But here we are, with wheelchairs, memory loss, seizures, spasms, paralysis or some other constant partner in our family because we either married into disability or one of you acquired it after marriage.

Often we talk about how disability results in the death of our dreams. I know that can be true. I also know that while we said “better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness and in health” most of us don’t really understand what that might involve.

Let’s be honest. Are there any marriages – even those that do not involve disability – which do not deal with reality clashing with our dreams?

Early in our marriage we were taught that life would not be so hard if we did not expect it to be so easy. There is so much truth in that statement.

If you are in one of those periods today of feeling the loss related to disability, know that you are not alone. No marriage is easy. We all encounter loss.

Sometimes in marriage we see the disability as something to be grieved or overcome. There is nothing wrong with grieving or working to alleviate disability and it’s effects. But the final chapter has not been written. God is working good through our circumstances. How might disability be a tool God is using in your marriage?

share-2482016_1920We can all benefit from hearing from one another. Would you share how God is using disability in your marriage and relationships?

Stay tuned next week for some lessons I am learning in how God is using disability in our family.

PS – Kudos (or maybe since we are talking about marriage I should say hugs and kisses) to my  husband Jerry who helped me find the right words when I was working on this post today.