Firm in my Beliefs

Souper Bowl Snacks

My two 20-something co-workers never saw it coming. I quietly stirred my pot of soup and listened to their conversation until the wisdom soaked up through decades of hollow striving and longing boiled over.

We were in the conference room, the table converted from desktop to buffet table for our company-wide Souper Bowl Lunch. I was warming up the Italian wedding soup I’d assembled that morning, filled with hand-rolled meatballs made from locally sourced chicken and freshly grated Parmesan cheese, organic broth, and vitamin-rich spinach. My love would pour out with every ladleful.

BurgersThe women surveyed the full table, noodle soups and chili, salsas and creamy dips, Tostitos and  Wheat Thins, and pronounced all the food – except their salad and dip – off limits. These Paleo women shunned this blatant display of carbs. As I stirred my offering, I saw its other key ingredient swirling around, a cup of orzo, a rice-shaped pasta, and knew that it was as evil to them as the brownies across the table.

The food dismissed, the women talked next of exercise and getting rid of their cellulite, then of keeping their skin firm. “I use anti-aging cream every day,” said the smooth reed next to me.

Hot Dogs“You use anti-aging cream?” I tried to keep my voice neutral, to hide my surprise and, worse, my judgment.

“I need to stay ahead of the wrinkles.” She spoke with conviction. “As soon as I see any, I’m getting Botox.”

“You’re already considering Botox?” My voice and eyebrows were on the rise.

“For sure. I’m not going to let myself get old.” Her companion agreed.

“Botox. Wow.” I looked at their trim bodies and smooth faces and imagined the fallen soufflé of my own body, all doughy, saggy and rutted. But my mind was keen, springing back from the blow of their firm beliefs in staying firm. “You won’t ingest food like beans or bread or pasta, but you’ll inject poison into your face?”

“I am not going to look old,” she insisted.

Fruit plate“Oh, ladies” – I really wanted to call them girls because I was feeling a bit maternal, sad they had embraced our culture’s lies about beauty and how to maintain it, but I’ve scolded others, even the owner of the company, that we females are women, not girls, and that we really shouldn’t have to keep fighting that battle – “ladies, I wish you could see what I see when I look at you. You’re young and smart and beautiful. You’re hard-working and ambitious. You’re fun and adventurous. You’re awesome, and I don’t want you to miss all that because you’re waging a war you can’t possibly win. You will get wrinkly, but that’s okay. You’re so much more than the smoothness of your skin, and it’s those other qualities that really matter.”

Remarkably, one of the women was smiling at me: “You sound just like my mother.”

“Thank you.” I welcomed the comparison, glad another sister got stirred up in the effort to show our daughters their worth. And if she’d been in the room, I’m sure she would have been as ready as I was for a spoonful of cheesy meatballs and pasta plump with rich chicken broth.

Souper Bowl Snacks

Souper Bowl Snacks

BurgersHot DogsFruit plate

What He Said, What She Heard

He said, She said

“You’ve spent the whole day in that same spot,” Craig said to me Saturday night around 9.

The spot is my reading corner, a cushioned chair and ottoman beside the fireplace, bookshelves at my back, my computer or newspaper on my lap, a coffee or Diet Coke on the table beside me.

Craig was right. I sunk in at 6:30 a.m. with the newspaper, struggled for hours to design a new webpage (check out our new Art Library) and prepared for the discussion from the book of Genesis I was leading the next morning. At 9 p.m., the newspaper was back in my hands; I was determined to conquer the Saturday crossword puzzle.

Craig was also wrong. We walked three miles together that day. We ate dinner with our daughter and her friend. We cleaned up the kitchen together.

What was Craig really saying? Was he simply making an observation or was there a deeper message? Perhaps he meant:

  1. “You sat in that chair all day while I did all the work. I ran errands, bought groceries and made dinner. Why can’t you get anything done?”
  2. “After a long week of travel and going straight back to work, I’m glad you had a day to relax.”
  3. “I’m amazed at how you can focus for hours and not give up until you’ve worked through your problem.”
  4. “You’ve been working all day, and I wish you’d spend time with me. I’m lonely.”

My immediate thought – still, STILL, after years of knowing better – was No. 1: I was being criticized. Inwardly, I fended off the attack with anger: “I built the webpage you wanted for displaying your art. I planned tomorrow morning’s discussion because you were burned out and needed time away from leadership.” It was an instantaneous, fully formed defense.

Despite my thoughts, I responded with something like, “I guess so.” Then I returned to the puzzle, 20 Across, a four-letter word for “graceful genie of myth,” _ _ R I.

What fueled my internal assault? Why did I assume he was calling me lazy? How is it I blame him for the lashings I give myself?

Craig is naturally a doer. He readily helps others. He’s generous with his time and talents. I’m naturally a thinker. I readily sit and talk. I’m generous with my ideas and assessments. We know that and most times are comfortable with the other person’s way of engaging the world. The problem comes when I’m not comfortable with the way I engage the world.

If I feel small in the midst of his largesse, it’s not because of him; it’s because of me. It’s the voice inside me that says a good wife buys groceries and sets a welcoming table; she doesn’t get lost in an idea or challenging crossword puzzle. There was a time decades ago when he questioned the merit of me reading all day, but now he has more books on his nightstand than I do.

Craig is my greatest champion. The generosity he gives to others he gives first to me. He believes in me and my overactive mind, in the way it processes and analyzes. He loves to see me challenged. He wants me to be happy.

He shopped and cooked on Saturday because he saw I was occupied and knows I’d rather he love me by helping out than by bringing me a dozen roses. Plus he was hungry and couldn’t find much food in the house.

What he said to me Saturday was, “I love you.” By Thursday, I finally heard him.

 

Read other thoughts on love this Valentine’s Day at emilywierenga.com and her Imperfect Prose Thursday:

 

He Said, She Said

He said, She said

Unlocked Doors

6 Doors

 

Door 2

Door 1

 

 

A Door with a View

6 Doors

The walkway to our front door is usually littered with twigs from the river birch that shades it. After dodging those, visitors squeeze through two overgrown yews to reach the stoop. The path sinks a few inches where it connects to the cement slab, requiring extra quadriceps work to lift you up and forward to the front door. Once there, you have to knock because our doorbell hasn’t rung for years. The rusty knob jiggles as we turn it to let you in and then tug it firmly to make sure the screen door latches.

After putting you through these paces, we at least welcome you with a glass of water or cup of tea. All the ice or lemon you want.

Surprisingly, people come. The front door gets as much of a workout as the people walking through it. Our son and daughter-in-law visit or drop off their daughter for an afternoon with Grammy and Grampster. On small group nights, women walk right in. Our college daughter’s friends scatter their shoes throughout the entry for movie or game night.

Door 2Regular readers might remember our morning walk post at the end of last year that ended with the observation: “I’ve had seasons of intense service but right now am more focused on time for writing and time with Craig, our family and friends. But seasons change, and as the new year begins, I’ll be watching for my next movement.”

Craig and I weren’t compelled to measure up to a particular standard of service (although I have in the past and always came up short). We weren’t hunting or striving. We were noticing and waiting, open to receive.

Our gift of service came through that open door.

The daughter of a friend is getting married this summer and asked if she could live with us for five months before the wedding. She’s living at home with her parents, whom she loves, but wants to live independently on her limited budget until the wedding. She wants a place to transition from being a daughter to understanding the woman about to be a wife.

Craig and I have had other people move in for several months, and she seemed like a natural fit for us. The meeting we scheduled to talk with her and meet her fiancé turned out to be a formality. She moves in Monday.

Door 1I’m not naïve. I realize there’s a cost when a friend or acquaintance becomes a roommate. We don’t know her habits, we have to remember we’re not signing up to be her parents, sometimes I want to be left alone or am ticked that I have to keep the bathroom clean.

Even more, inviting someone into our house means inviting them into our lives. I’m happy to let her know we watch Downton Abbey and Elementary, but she’ll also learn that I indulge in Nashville. She connected with our desire to eat locally raised meat and eat seasonal produce, but she’ll soon know that most weeks we also order takeout pizza, Maria’s Special Supreme. Whatever grand thoughts she holds about us will be tempered with the reality of who we really are. She’ll see what our 31-year-old marriage looks like. It’s possible I’ll teach her more about how not to treat her husband than how to love and respect him.

In turn, we’ll see the optimism and passion of a young woman eager to begin the biggest adventure of her life. We get to encourage her hopes and dreams. And likely be inspired to reach for ours.

Come Monday when our rickety door opens, our imperfect selves will welcome the discoveries standing on the threshold.

 

This week I’m participating with Emily Wierenga’s Imperfect Prose on Thursdays. Click the image below to read more.