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.

I Lost Jesus

We often use puppets and role-play when communicating Biblical truth to students  with intellectual impairments. On this particular Sunday, the students were re-enacting the story with puppets. At the end of the replay, as the students were relinquishing their puppets one of the assistants took the Jesus puppet and quickly put it in a cupboard. She knew one student would lose all focus if “Jesus” was still in view.

After class was dismissed the assistant opened the cupboard to put the Jesus puppet away correctly. Imagine her surprise when Jesus was gone!  She began looking around for Jesus. A few minutes later one of the coordinators came into the room carrying “Jesus.” She also was aware of the one student’s difficulty focusing when the Jesus puppet was around. In an effort to reduce distraction, she slipped in and took him out of the room.

When my friend told me this story she began by saying, “I lost Jesus today.”

I snickered hearing the story.  Then I started to think about my own life. How many times do I put Jesus on a shelf, or tuck Him away – whether mindfully or not?

Misplacing a Jesus puppet is one thing, but mis-placing Jesus, giving Him any other position in my life than as the sole holder of the Throne, is another.

 

Philippians 2:9-11 NIV 

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Rumors

Once upon a time, though this is a true story, I facilitated an informal support group of wives married to men with disabilities. Most of the ladies were older than me, most had little exposure to disability prior to their husband’s accident or illness. None of them chose to marry someone with a disability. Each month I listened to their stories and concerns and realized my life with Jerry was easy compared to theirs.  I held back from sharing too deeply from my life because it seemed to pale in comparison to what these ladies shared. They needed a safe place to be able to vent and talk freely.

After a few months I decided enough trust had been built and it was time for me to takehands-2374246_1920 the plunge with them. Jerry and I had recently been through a rough period – nothing earth shattering, but still, unpleasant. At our next meeting I shared some of that with the ladies. They expressed relief to know I/we were like them. I felt like our group had bonded on a deeper level.

Later that week I got a phone call from one of the husbands. After sharing the initial pleasantries he expressed his sorrow  to hear about the difficulties Jerry and I were having. He never thought we’d be on the verge of divorce like this.

WHAT?  I had no idea what he was talking about.

Then he went on to say that his wife had told him about the conflict Jerry and I had and he just hoped we would not split up. After all we were the first couple living with disability in marriage they had ever met.

My first inclination was to say, “Do you have any idea the things your wife has said about you?” Thankfully God held my tongue on that one. Next I wanted to ask to speak with his wife to see if she understood confidentiality. But God said this was not the time.

Instead I assured him that we had weathered a little storm, like every marriage encounters. We were not planning to split, and had never entertained that thought. I thanked him for his prayers and welcomed him to continue to intercede for us.

I learned a few lessons from this experience:

  1.  Groups want and need their leaders to be real. Even if the leader’s life is different than that of the others, authenticity from the start matters. Leaders though, need to  balance being open while also learning with whom and what we are safe to share.
  2. Marriage is hard. Every marriage goes through difficult spots. Don’t be surprised or alarmed when someone you thought “has it all together” shares that they don’t. We are all broken people in need of a Savior.
  3. Unless it persists, there is no need to fight back against the rumors, let them die.  Love one another, take the matter to God, and pray for the other people involved.

family colorful groupWe all need people who will accept us as we are, share real life with one another and encourage honesty and growth in our marriages.  Where do you find that support in your marriage?  If you don’t have someone, pray about finding that support, whether as a couple or individuals.

Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:1 NIV

 

What A Difference A Year Makes

Today has been a mostly ordinary day.  I helped Jerry get up.  I went to my part time job at the financial planners, and was able to confidently carry out my tasks with the knowledge I have gained there this year.  When my shift ended I attended a team meeting with my seeJesus Bethesda teammates in which we did some final planning for our upcoming fundraiser.  It is exciting to see the event and team come together.  Then I took a call from another seeJesus co-worker who shared a project that is just starting and asked if I would like to consider being involved with it.

As I pondered this request, as well as some other connections that came my way today I marveled at God’s goodness and grace.  You see, it was one year ago today, on this very rope-667319_1280date that Jerry and I got the first very clear information that life as we knew it was about to unravel.  We didn’t know the details, we didn’t know exactly how or when, but as the cliche says, the end was in sight.

To say November 2016 Started us on a tumultuous journey is an understatement.  But we’ve all been through our own kinds of floods, fires and trials.  You don’t need to hear the “down and dirty” from me.

What I do want you to hear is that our God is faithful!  Here we are at November 1, 2017 and we are growing in our new work and ministry roles, we have some exciting plans for our future, and we are stronger in our marriage than we’ve ever been.

Are we all the way through this rough spot?  Probably not – people tell us it will likely dance in and out of our lives for years to come.  But that’s ok – we are more snug in our cord of three, and that’s a knot I never want to undo!

Ecclesiastes 4:12 NIV

Though one may be overpowered,
    two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.rope-970023_1280

The View from the Back Seat

In recent weeks, I’ve gone on two quick trips with a couple of my seeJesus Bethesda teammates. One to eastern Ohio and one to Norfolk, Virginia. On both we spent as much time in the car as we did at the events. Preparing for the trips we talked about who would drive. It turns out that all three of us like to drive and were more than willing to do so. Trusting the others, I felt completely free to say that I would be fine to not drive, and in fact to sit in the back seat. While the others offered to trade seats with me at any point in the trips, I was quite content back there.

Not driving, for the first time in what feels like ages, reinforced the fact that I was not in control. I did not have to focus on directions, road conditions, traffic, or timing. I also had the whole back seat as my little kingdom (perhaps using that word “kingdom” means I still needed a bit of control – ha!). I had my thermal bag with my drinks, a book, my phone and charger, a blanket, sweater and other assorted sundries.

As I enjoyed the journeys, I found that these trips are a good analogy for this last year of my life. Most of my years of work and ministry had focused on creating, developing and

night
Sometimes over the last year I felt like I was traveling in the dark to a destination I did not know.

leading various aspects of ministry and teams. I enjoyed that work and found it was a good fit for my gifts, passions, and stage of life. When that work came to an abrupt stop, life seemed to turn upside down.

Several months later when I joined the seeJesus Bethesda team I found myself in a position of being a learner. I knew some about the ministry, but not enough yet to represent it well. While I wasn’t sitting back doing nothing, I was now the one asking questions, seeking clarification and learning to skillfully use the tools in our ministry tool box.

In my other part-time job at a financial planner’s office I have a support role. I copy, scan, index, confirm appointments and transactions, and assemble mailings. And it is good. Most of the people I work with are significantly younger than me. Many are on track for future promotions and career growth. Not me. I am content to do what I can to let them shine.

When my mind whirs with details of to do lists, projects to be completed, etc. I can recall that I am not the bottom line. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying I never try to step into the position of leader or controller (long ingrained habits change slowly). This new outlook has even carried over to my marriage.

Sky
Sitting in the backseat lets me take in the beauty around me.

Perhaps it is my age or my current place in this journey of life, but I am enjoying the view from the back seat and not anxious to change that any time soon. If a year ago you would have told me that I would find joy and fulfillment in “the back seat” both figuratively and literally I would have scoffed and disregarded your statements. Now after nearly a year as a supporting player on the teams God has placed me in, I find it refreshing.

arrow-1538686_1920What about you?  At this stage in your life do you prefer the driver’s seat, the co-pilot or the back seat?  What have you learned from your view?

It’s the Little Things

We haven’t made it to the Jersey shore yet this year.  Lord willing that will change next week when we spend a day there as Jerry’s preferred way to celebrate his birthday.  We enjoy playing arcade games together (if you ever see Jerry missing a couple teeth it’s probably because his mouth is close to the height of the air hockey table as the puck competitively flies back and forth), sitting on the boardwalk and listening to the sounds of the ocean and birds, watching the tide roll in and out.  It allows us to just be and spend time talking about everything and nothing all at the same time.

water-282784_1920.jpgBeing at the shore (or for those of you who don’t live in the Mid Atlantic — the beach, ocean, or coast) reminds me of God’s care.  I can’t help but sing over and over in my mind the song, O the Deep, Deep love of Jesus. (Words by S Trevor Francis, music by Thomas J Williams )

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast unmeasured, boundless, free!

Rolling as a mighty ocean, in it’s fullness over me,

Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love;

Leading onward, leading homeward to my glorious rest above.

The other thing I like to do when at the beach is to collect interesting shells.  They may not be interesting to anyone else, but they are to me.  On one exploration I was captured by the amount of teeny, tiny shells in perfect shape that covered the sand.  Inside each one was a tiny living organism.

shells

Into my pondering mode I went – thinking about how these trillions and probably kazillions of gallons of water moved with such force and beat up and wear down the sturdiest of shells, and as we have seen recently, houses and communities.  Yet within this power house are these small shells that find their home.  Somehow in the pounding of the waves they are not completely worn away or lost. I was also struck with how many there were, just in the small area I was in.  I tried to imagine how many more are across all the other beaches around the world! Just as God knows the number of grains of sand on the seashore I am convinced He knows the location and status of each shell and organism in the oceans and on the beach.

My concluding thoughts of wonder and amazement took me to the Creator who made even those tiny living creatures, and housed them in a perfect little shell home as they develop.  Why does He care about such things when He is also directing the winds and waves?  I know at least one of the reasons.  Because I need the reminder.  Every time I look at those tiny shells in my jar of bigger shells, I am reminded that God cares about the seemingly little things, in the seas and in my life.

Often we hear how nothing is too big or hard for God.  I need to remember nothing is too little or insignificant to take to God either.

 

 

 

When Will We Get It?

It happened again.  My heart is broken as I heard the latest news report on another child with disabilities who was abandoned by his Mom in some woods.  There is absolutely nothing about this tragedy that is right.  Even so, it’s an indication of how hard life with disability can be.

Two years ago there was a similar situation in Philadelphia.  The reflections I wrote then still apply and reposted below.  Church – these stories beg for us to act  – what is your response?

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I am sure that by now most of you have heard or read the story of the 21 year old non verbal young man with cerebral palsy who was abandoned by his mother for more than a week along Cobbs Creek Parkway in Philadelphia while she went to her visit her boyfriend.  This young man laid in the park for multiple days with only a blanket and a Bible.

hospice-1797305_1920The mother, who has been arrested and is currently hospitalized (reason unknown), has been berated by all who hear the story.  I have to agree that this is a horrendous situation.  I am grateful that this young man lived and is now being cared for by CHOP and other family members.  There really is no excuse for what the Mom did.  It is wrong to endanger her son’s life in this way.

Now don’t flog me; while I completely disagree with the actions of the Mom and cannot condone them on any level, I have some compassion for the woman and some understanding of what she may have been up against.

Caregiving is hard!  It’s constant and continual.  I know, I’ve been doing it full time about a year less than this Mom.  And gratefully the person I care for is verbal and independent with all but his personal care.  He also has attendant care that spells me off a few days a week.  Even so, caregiving is exhausting and relentless.

While some may say she should have sought services to help, we are all aware of how difficult it is to get services through the social service agencies and governmental avenues.  If there is funding available the wait can very long, and often appropriate caregiving support is difficult to locate.  Again, this does not excuse what this Mom did.  Honestly what this story tells me is that I am in the right line of work!

The answer to the challenges of life with disability and caregiving is NOT more money or better services (though they may help).  The answer is Jesus Christ and His family.  The only hope we have is the hope that is greater than anything in this world, and carries us into eternity because life on this earth is not all there is .  While we are still in this world though, the answer includes those of us who call ourselves the Church (not any individual location, building or gathering but rather those who claim Jesus as Lord of life and want to live for Him) taking seriously the call Christ gives us to care for one another, to love one another and bear one another’s burdens.

These stories reminds me that it’s time for the Church to step it up.  I wonder if these stories would have had a different ending if some people in the community who are Christians would have come along side these Moms and been there to encourage her, help care for her son and let her know there is a better way than abandonment? 

I don’t know that for sure – there are so many factors involved in every family and life.  But this story gives me a renewed sense of passion to go to work tomorrow and build the passion, capacity and burden within the Christian community to come alongside families affected by disability so this type of thing never ever happens again!

Who do you know in your community who cares for a family member with a disability?  

What can you do this week to share hope and joy to let them know they are not alone?

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