hills_

Just a few short years ago, all I would have seen was the rain.

Anticipation

This was Parents’ Weekend at my daughter’s university. Since this is her first year away, my husband and I made the six-hour drive for the weekend. We’d never spent that much time alone together in a car. I’d planned on doing lots of flirting and teasing on the way.

I’ve looked forward to this weekend for a long time—not just because of how much I’ve missed my daughter but also because my husband and I would get to have so much time together. Oh, and because we would get to have sex in a new place, in a hotel room that we didn’t have to clean, uninterrupted by kids or phone calls.

For weeks, I’ve been thinking about how wonderful it would be. I woke up Friday morning, finished up the last load of laundry I needed to do before I could start packing. The fall colors in my state are absolutely beautiful right now. The morning was sunny where we live, and I thought about how wonderful it would be to sit next to my husband as we traveled.

It Blows Up

While I was packing, my husband exploded in anger toward our son. This anger is connected to his on-going medical issues (he’s still undergoing various tests before we can proceed with treatment), and when this happens, we typically have several difficult days. Horrible and hurtful words were said, I’d seen the ugliest of both my husband and son, and all I could think about was whether their relationship was irrevocably damaged. I wondered how I could manage to be in the car for six hours with this man who was angry, upset with himself, and steeling himself for me to say something to him about the argument. I was able to remember that I loved him, but I didn’t like him at all.

I worried about leaving this son—who was angry and very upset with himself for some of his actions that morning–and his brother, who is still working hard to rebuild some things in his life and who tried to intervene and was upset, alone together for the weekend.

Amidst my tears and worry, I finished my packing. I was quite distraught. I posted a prayer request, barely able to type.

The day was not an easy one. My husband was growly for the first couple hours, and I was quieter than usual. Every time I would start to relax, my mind would replay the morning’s incident and I would again wonder about the relationship between my husband and son. It was cloudy all day, and the fall colors were dimmed.

Rainbow

As we pulled into the city where our daughter goes to school, we drove through sunshiny rain and saw the most beautiful rainbow behind us as a reminder of God’s promises. I remembered that rain does not last forever.

A few years ago, the hurt I felt from an incident like we experienced Friday morning would have reinforced my walls for at least a week; there would have been no sexual contact for that time.

My heart was raw, and I felt incredibly vulnerable. I had to work hard at remembering to love my husband as another child of God, just like me, who sometimes makes big mistakes. It occurred to me to think about what he needed. He felt bad about his blow-up that morning, and he’d made several comments throughout the day about having ruined the day and weekend. I knew that he needed to know that he was still loved. To tell the truth, I needed the same thing from him.

I pushed through my raw feelings. I’ve known for a while now that sexual contact can be emotionally healing for us both and relationally restorative, so I knew it was important to connect that night even though it wasn’t easy at first.

That hotel sex I’d been anticipating for weeks as lots of fun became something completely different. It had become more important. Our relationship was shaky throughout the day, but reconnecting in the most intimate way possible soothed and healed beyond what I’d realized was possible. Our encounter added a layer of life and love over the wounds from the day. Balance was restored.

We managed to get through the weekend. Today we took our daughter out for brunch, dropped her off at her residence hall, and headed home.

Seeing Through the Rain (and Tears)

One of the by-products of having knocked down the walls I’d built between my husband and me is that I’m much more emotionally sensitive. When my husband is grouchy, it hurts me more. I cry more easily.

I thought about the wonderful weekend I’d been anticipating. I was sad that the weather had been rainy instead of sunny. My husband was grouchy because our car radio was not working and we couldn’t get the football game to stream through his phone. My response to his grouchiness was to cry, which naturally affected him in a negative way. We kind of fed on each other. I was teary much of the way home today.

A few years ago, the blow-up and the walls I would have reinforced throughout the weekend would have caused damage to our relationship. We would have made it through the weekend with fighting rather than loving. I would have spent a lot of time wondering who this man was that I’d married. I admit that I asked God that question a couple times, and in response, I heard, “He is my child just as you are.” We would have returned home, relieved not to have to spend more time with each other. This would have been an extremely difficult weekend.

Mistakes mean something so different in our marriage now. I no longer use a mistake as a justification for withholding physical and emotional intimacy at a time when it is most needed; intimacy has become a path to healing between us. I can accept mistakes from both of us more easily. We are human. We mess up. My husband’s mistakes are not a reflection of his feelings for me. They are not a sign that he is less than worthy of my love.

At one point this afternoon, we were stuck in horrible traffic in pouring rain. I looked out the window and gazed at the rolling hills far away. Raindrops stuck to the window. The skies were gray, so the fall colors were muted. I chose to look through the raindrops today. Even when you’re stuck in a traffic jam, you still get where you’re going. Rain is temporary. Love heals.

We arrived home. My husband and son worked together on the furnace, they talked about football, and they joked around.

I no longer saw the rain at all.

~

Be still, sad heart, and cease repining;

Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;

Thy fate is the common fate of all,

Into each life some rain must fall,

Some days must be dark and dreary.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

After a week of glorious sunshine, my part of the Midwest is being deluged by rain again this morning. I sit at my desk at work, gulping my hazelnut coffee and watching the water pour from the heavens. Everyone who walks past my office comes in grumbling about the rain. “When will it stop?” “Isn’t the grass already green enough?” “Rain, rain, go away, come again some night when I’m sleeping.”

I don’t complain about the rain. I don’t love it all the time, but I am careful with my words. As the daughter-in-law of a retired farmer, I know the value of rain. I watched my then-future father-in-law during the drought of ’88. We had not a drop of rain for months. I watched this man’s spirit become as dessicated and brittle as the fields that barely yielded corn and soybeans.

“You can always grow something in a swamp,” he said. “But you can’t grow anything in a desert.”

The moment I realized my marriage might be in trouble was when I realized that many times, it was no longer raining. Instead of pouring down  pain and heartache and refusal and everything else that was going on in both our hearts, I was starting to see moments that were a desert–an absence of investment, an absence of caring, a drying up of even the negative passion that sometimes lived between us. It is hard to live with a hurting heart. It is hard to live with someone who is unhappy with you. But as long as the other person is unhappy, it means that the person still cares. It is when apathy comes that the desert has taken root.

You can always grow something in a swamp, and sometimes, our marriage had certainly felt pretty swampy. But when I began to see the desert encroach, I knew that we were in danger. You can’t grow anything in a desert.

So I don’t complain about the rain. And in ’89, the summer after the drought, I stood with the man who raised the man I would marry and watched a glorious thunderstorm roll in across the plains from the west. We stood together and soaked in the rain, letting it flood our spirits and our shoes. Only the lightning was enough to send us indoors.

And this morning, looking out my window, I rejoice that we are sent so much life-giving water to wash us clean and allow us to continue growing. And maybe tonight, when I get home, I’ll ask my husband to go on a walk in the rain with me.