A few weeks ago I was being a class-A butthead to my husband. I was being critical for small things, overly snarky in my responses to normal questions, and wanted my space. I wasn’t one bit remorseful for my bad attitude, I just wanted everyone and everything to leave me alone. He was dealing with it so patiently and after several sustained hours of this calmly said, “Honey, you’re really not acting like yourself. What’s going on?” (He’s a much better human than me). Without warning, tears were welling up in my eyes. I was opening the refrigerator when he said that and I froze with the door halfway open, cold air rushing out.
Do you ever experience times like these when you have no idea why you’re acting like a jerk? Your voice is full of attitude to those you love, you have the constant desire to be back in bed (read: away from all human contact) , and normal mishaps make you want to cuss out the fork you just dropped on the kitchen floor? No? Cool. Just me then. This is my personal brand of avoidance, I think of it as my “bomb shelter.” Typically these times occur when I’m wrestling with some psychological angst that I’m not quite ready to face, the journaling, prayer, resolution, and hard conversations sound like way too much work. So instead of dealing with what’s going on, I enter the “bomb shelter,” avoiding danger with silence and isolation, yay! I do my best to block anything relational, crave distraction (oh hello candy and Hallmark movies!), and release all that tension onto whoever is closest. Super healthy. I’ve done a lot of work to get better in this area in recent years…and want to continue that journey for my family, but sometimes our weakest areas need to be exposed to those who love us most so that true healing can come.
So, I was standing at the refrigerator, cold air billowing out onto my face and hands, and my husband came into the kitchen. In that moment I felt all I deserved was his reprimand, a cold, unconcerned silence, or at the very most a playful singing of, "Cry Me a River,” with some Timberlake moves. Instead he took my hand, led me to the couch, and held me. I think we were both surprised by how hard I began crying…the kind of sobs that you know have been pent back for a long, long time. When I gathered my breath again I told him I was sorry for acting so meanly to him and tried to explain what was going on. After another set of unexpected sobs he forgave me and I continued. Now, mascara smeared, red-nosed, and humbled I explained to my husband how some things over the last few weeks had exposed a huge area of shame I carried around from childhood. I knew it was illogical, but it was there. And I had been feeling that shame all day long, everyday, for weeks.
We talked for a long time about where this had all started, why it had formed in my little-girl mind, and what it meant to walk out of it as an adult, as someone healed, as a softer, more loving version of myself. We ate dinner. We prayed, a lot. I was held. We did the dishes. And somewhere in the ebb and flow of the evening I felt that soft whisper of the Holy Spirit nudging me to make that night a celebration, a day of new birth, the beginning of a new season. Now, for someone in the center of shame there may be nothing harder than saying..”Hey! After I’ve been a jerk all day, made you comfort me all night, and have left mascara streaks on your white shirt…we should totally throw a party for me tonight!” But the one thing I got right that day was being obedient to the Spirit when it felt like THE most uncomfortable option. Very shyly I told Jon what I felt I had heard. I’m not kidding that THE warmest smile I’ve ever seen formed on his lips, “Let’s do it!” Now, it’s already clear at this point in the story that my husband is the hero of the day…but what comes next is every reason I married him.
A few minutes later we were at the coffee table with 2 stovetop-made s’mores connected by a tiny bunting that we had in the baking section of our cabinet. From the kitchen I heard a “POP” and then a glass of champagne was brought to me from an expensive bottle we had received for our wedding. I was feeling silly, like I was asking too much, and like I was making a fuss over nothing. I wanted to be invisible again. Shame despises attention and thrives in the dark. That warm smile came to the couch carrying the bottle and his glass of champagne. I began with my excuses about why this wasn’t necessary and apologies about the night… and was promptly cut off with a toast. Jon commenced speaking about my courage, my strength, my beauty, my tenderness, my love, my joy, my intelligence, and goodness of heart. He spoke about how lucky he felt to be married to me. Humbled. Humbled. Humbled. He put his bubbly up and said, “Cheers, to my beautiful, gentle, loving, and deeply worthy wife.” Ugh. How is shame supposed to stand up to this kind of love that I didn’t deserve at all that day? It couldn’t. It had no chance.
I come from a patchwork family of ex-this and step-that. There have been rips and mending. New additions and old scars. This time of year especially I can get caught up in the "shoulds." The way my family should be, the way love should look, the way Christmas should feel. It's easy for me to walk with the old ghosts of mistrust, fear, isolation, and hiding. What I'm learning ever so slowly is celebration. The celebration of what is. The friends I can call at 2AM over anything. The mom who's grown into a best friend. The little orange cat that is immensely cuddly for a feline. The church that feels like home. The God who is the dearest, most precious, and loving friend I've ever known. The husband who is nothing I expected, and everything I needed. The relatives I grew up with who make the city I live in my hometown.
There are a lot of things to be sad about. Plenty of wishes and shoulds in my heart. But if I've learned anything from these (almost) four months married...it's that letting go of expectations and choosing the family right in front of me, is the sweetest freedom there is. This Christmas, I'm so grateful to celebrate the little family I've chosen. They look nothing like I thought they would. They are so much better. They are my home.
We spent the rest of the night eating melty marshmallows, laughing, watching silly shows, and talking about nothing. When we turned the lights out I laid my head on his chest and knew I’d chosen well that day I said my vows in the Umbrian hills of Italy.