It has been three years since Husband and I stood before family and friends to commit our lives to each other…our third anniversary. Maybe now we are an old married couple? 😉
Pastor John was one of the officiants at our ceremony. He means a lot to both of us, as he has had significant relationships with each of us in very different ways:
Pastor John was on the church’s board where Former Husband worked–until he didn’t anymore. He had been very good friends with Former Husband for more than a decade. He knew what was happening. I didn’t have to say anything to Pastor John for him to know how I hurt, because when FH left me, he left Pastor John too.
Pastor John came and sat on my front porch with me shortly after FH left. As we watched the neighborhood activity go by, I cried. He, as I remember it, was mostly silent, just nodding compassionately from time to time. Sometimes, the best thing to say is nothing.
Over the years, my Junior Tribe Members had all sorts of antics with his JTM’s-potato cannons, backyard campfires (it’s amazing…and not a good idea when you toss flour into a fire. I wouldn’t recommend it for safety reasons), biking adventures. When I had a pipe that dripped from the ceiling in the basement, I called Pastor John, and he figured it out. He fixed it. Our families intersected often in the following years.
In a world where too often single parent families aren’t considered real families, he and his wife had our little family over for back yard BarBQ potlucks on warm summer days.
Pastor John wasn’t Pastor John. He was John, my friend.
Pastor John was pastor of Husband’s church while his wife, Car, was ill, and then dying. He stopped by the hospital and their house in the last days often to be with them; pray with them. When Car passed away in the middle of the night, who did Husband call? Pastor John. He sat there, in the dark, with Husband and Car’s body. He made sure Husband wasn’t alone, until morning came and friends and family started the steady flow of supportive visitors.
Pastor John read the words of comfort at Car’s service, and prayed with the family when they interred her ashes.
They continued their friendship, meeting regularly for lunch in the months after.
Pastor John stopped being Pastor John to Husband…and became John, his friend.
Pastor John knew both of us in our most vulnerable moments. He knew us both, in literally our darkest hours of life. There’s no room for pretense in those moments.
Real relationships are forged when walking through tragedy together.
As a man of the cloth, inclined and trained in the business of holy empathy, John knew each of us, separately, in a profound way.
Husband and I knew each other only by name, across a crowded room. Friendly acquaintances.
In the months after his late wife’s death, Husband called me to ask about some parenting issues. Single parents are good resources for each other. We walked and talked about parenting kids on our own, about loss, about being alone. It came as a surprise to both of us that we were becoming more than friends.
As we were just realizing there was more than friendship between us, he talked with John about our relationship.
John said to Husband that although Jim’s wife died much more recently than FH left me, it would be I that would struggle more in sinking into a new loving relationship.
Husband’s wife, Carolyn, died—she struggled not to die, she desperately wanted to stay married to him– the cancer robbed them both of the chance to be married to each other.
I, on the other hand, got left. He chose to go. I wanted it to work, and he left anyway. I tried everything I could to show him I was someone he wanted to stay married to, only to have one experience after another be a reason to have him further pull away.
John told Husband that I would have trust issues.
It wasn’t a judgement, just fact.
It would take longer for me to feel comfortable in the relationship than it would him.
It was true. I did struggle with believing Husband was for real…that he would be faithful, and that he would follow through on his word. Husband had given me no reason to doubt him, but trust didn’t come easy.
That’s a little crazy making actually–Husband was good and faithful, and had been through years of many dark days with his late wife and had remained faithful–and yet I was fearful.
Husband took that seriously. Very seriously. And he took on the job of letting me know that I, as a person who doesn’t trust easily, could trust him. He didn’t tell me it was foolish, or that I was wrong when I struggled. He was amazing– he didn’t get frustrated because I doubted his care and love and commitment to me—even though he had done absolutely nothing to have me doubt him.
On the contrary, actually, he heard what John said and patiently and consistently lived a life of trustworthiness:
For months of dating, he texted me each morning, telling me he was still present in our relationship.
For months after we started going out, he would hug me at the end of an evening and say this, rather like a familiar mantra: “I’m behind you. I got your back. I’ll stand in front of you and protect you, even though you don’t need protecting. I’ll stand beside you, because you’re important to me. I know that I know how to be there for the long haul because I’ve done it before.”
Husband had never done anything for me to doubt him.
But I did doubt.
Big time. Because I had been betrayed and abandoned before.
For a long time, well into our marriage, in subtle ways, I still sometimes had trouble having faith in him, and our relationship. There would be days when I would cringe because I’d gotten us lost on the way to a store, or the store wasn’t open like I thought it would be, and I was ready for him to be very upset with me. I braced myself and got quiet.
And he would smile at me and kindly say, “Do I look mad?”
I could hardly believe it that he wasn’t.
And then, what got more amazing yet, was that this didn’t seem to upset him. He stayed calm and cheerful.
One day, while we were engaged and Husband was helping me get my house ready to sell, I asked him about a small cut on his finger. He curled his fingers in at the table where he was writing to conceal the small wound at the tip of his finger, and said, “Nothing”.
I knew it was something, and I lost it. I got upset because I knew I had seen something and he told me what I had seen wasn’t there. I felt lied to, deceived.
I over reacted in a big way.
Husband then said that he had nicked his finger while he was working with a power saw while working on my front porch. He knew I was nervous about power tools and he didn’t want to trouble me about a minor cut, because he knows how I worry.
I let him know, then and there, in a way that he will likely never forget, that this little white lie was not kind to me. Protecting me from something I know I saw would not work. I’ll admit I was a bit of a crazy woman that day.
But he gave me a big long hug and apologized, reassuring me that he had learned how to better love me through this experience.
Husband wanted, over time, have me be convinced and relaxed that he isn’t going anywhere, and that he simply isn’t the kind of guy that is looking for reasons to reject me. He told me once, while we were engaged, that he had taken this on as a personal challenge. He was looking forward to the work of building my trust.
Y’know how when something moves really fast towards your eyes, your eyes automatically shut tight? You don’t consciously tell your eyes to shut quickly. The automatic response happens at a lower, more primitive, much faster part of the brain. You can override that response if you are very deliberately thinking about not blinking. However, a few minutes later, when you’re thinking about something else, and something rapidly approaches your eyes again—even if it’s the same thing, and you know there is no danger—your lower brain will automatically shut your eyes tight. That part of your brain takes no chances—it just reacts.
My brain did the same in a new relationship. When experiences that my primitive brain learned were dangerous and unsafe from the end of my first marriage reoccurred in some way, I reacted. I got worried, I pulled back, and I started apologizing way too much.
I didn’t like that I reacted that way, but it didn’t matter whether I liked it or not. The body remembers—it always remembers. The body holds the pain and resolves to never allow it to happen again.
Husband would see it happening, and he would ground me…calming me. He allowed, even encouraged, me to check about what was real in the moment—what was actually happening—and what was an echo from experiences past. The conscious part of my brain would see that Husband was still close, and I would relax again.
The anniversary gift for three years is leather.
Fine leather is known for strength, durability, quality and comfort.
Comfortable, good quality shoes that last and wear well. Boots that protect feet from the harsh condition of winter. Belts that are stylish—and holding up pants—practical and essential. Purses/bags/jackets—all of them, in leather, are long lasting. Saddles/bridles etc…equipment that makes riding a horse a thrill. Leather jackets and car seats are an upgrade from what works to something that feels better–quality.
Leather lasts. And the beauty of the leather is how it’s even better after its been used a while. It gets more comfortable. It stretches just a wee bit here and there making it fit even better.
We are now three years into this marriage, and it’s only fitting that it be leather.
Somewhere along the way, and I can’t even say exactly when, I have learned to trust Husband deeply.
I’ve always trusted him with the highly developed part of my brain—because I could think through how solid his character is.
Now I also trust him automatically—at a deep level.
The “flight/fight/freeze” response which we can’t control, that decides deep in our brain whether our body will panic, doesn’t get triggered. My automatic reflexes have learned to trust that Husband is for my good.
When he is late, my body doesn’t powerfully react like he’s not coming at all, ever, and I have to talk myself out of it. Instead, I wonder what has come up that is keeping him.
When we don’t see eye to eye, I look him in the eye and we talk about it. We figure it out so that it’s resolved. I don’t have to first talk myself off the ledge.
It didn’t happen all at once–this lack of the fear response. I can’t even say when, exactly, my body stopped hijacking me from the present moment into a reaction that was more fitting of past days.
I didn’t make the panic not happen–we don’t have that ability.
I think it just gradually happened less often, the hijacking gradually becoming less intense, and the recovery time gradually shortening, until months past, and I realized it hadn’t happened in a long time.
It wasn’t just one thing that Husband said or did. It was the steady, present stability of Husband constantly being patient and kind and understanding, even when my primitive brain held him in suspicion. I suspect it wasn’t always easy to remain friendly and safe when treated with panic and doubt—but he was trustworthy. Unendingly trustworthy.
While it was something I worked on deliberately—he gave me permission to ask him questions when I was unsure—it isn’t something that I make happen. It happens on its own, beyond conscious awareness. I like to think that his understanding of the importance of me being able to check with him about what is real and what isn’t real contributed to this, but I don’t really know.
I do know that it wasn’t one big moment where my primitive brain knew my body didn’t have to go into a panic.
It was a thousand forgettable moments of trustworthiness, small acts of commitment to numerous to mention, and almost too insignificant to remember that made the difference.
And all those little moments of trust mattered, building up trust at a deep level beyond my conscious awareness.
Pastor John’s wisdom and Husband’s trustworthy patience combined to create a quiet healing in me that I was oblivious to because it was so profoundly subtle. It was only recently that I happened upon some writing I had done during our engagement that I realized that was once a big deal has pretty much faded into nonconsequential.
It’s a huge deal that it’s no deal at all, anymore.
Husband’s kindness, his understanding and his steady love is so like leather: solid, comfortable, stable, strong. And now, comfortably fitting in all the right places like a pair of leather shoes that I am going to enjoy wearing for the rest of my life.