Your husband wants to be seen, too.

The kids were playing, their happy voices echoing off walls bathed in sun on a spring afternoon.

I used their distraction as an opportunity to wander around our downstairs, picking up abandoned shoes and socks that dotted the floor before heading back to our bedroom,

I grumbled as I made a mental checklist of everything that needed doing, and that whatever efforts I put in would probably seem undone by the week’s end.

I made my way to our walk-in closet with an armload of clothes. The cream colored walls looked like amber in the afternoon sun, but I didn’t notice as I rammed an armload of sweaters into the bowels of my closet. 

I remembered how excited we were when we bought our house. My husband and I  went from sharing one normal sized closet to us each having our own, complete with a small dressing area and full length mirror. It certainly isn’t Sunset Boulevard grand, but it is several steps up from what we had grown accustomed to.

I pride myself on how my closet is barely full because darn the incessant belief that every woman only dreams of a giant closet for just their shoes.

My husband’s closet? His is brimming with stuff.

Everything from his military dress blues tucked in the very back recesses to guitar cases leaning against each other on the floor. Combat boots and rugged Doc Martins mingle on the top shelf. Business suits, ties and belts, hats and keepsakes. You name it, it’s probably in there. Pieces of his entire life.

I noted all the cellophane wrappers and green tags on the floor and growled out a sigh. I’d given him a small waste basket for all the paper shirt tags and wrapping his shirts come home with from the dry cleaners. Why doesn’t he ever seem to use it?

Lately, my husband has moved through each day almost like a specter. He’s there, but he isn’t really.

He’s been bogged down with life. We have a new home that needs cracks repaired, rooms refinished or painted, and a bathtub that likes to backup like clockwork once a month – always at 10 o’clock at night after we have sank down on the sofa after the kids are in bed, because of course it does.

He has kids who are still small and need endless attention. He just finished another semester for his master’s program. He works full-time each week.

And he sometimes wakes up early each day feeling defeated before his feet hit the floor.

Up until that day, I had been so frustrated with him. Why couldn’t he try to make the best out of his days the same way I have tried to?? It wasn’t like homeschooling small children and cleaning soggy food out of a kitchen sink strainer was the answer I eagerly filled in on all those high school career surveys.

This life isn’t always the best version I could have conjured up when I was looking at college brochures.

I didn’t think adulthood would be having the cup holders in my car full of sticky rocks and coins, and how my house would constantly feel more like a dumpster behind a Toys R Us with four walls than home.

I did not think it would be chocked full of grief and anxiety while trying to be a responsible parent. I didn’t think being a grownup would be so astoundingly hard.

I also never considered the isolation and anonymity of parenting and marriage. How you spend your days wanting to build the perfect home, but then those four walls can surreptitiously swallow your identity from having to work so hard to safeguard everything.

They can even hide you from your spouse.

“This is so far from what we pictured most days” we both silently think as we convince ourselves the other one just wouldn’t understand how we feel.

Your husband wants to be seen, too

I snatched up each clear wrapper on the floor, wrapping them around my forearm as I began to hunt furiously for the black plastic waste basket I’d given him to contain his mess. I noticed one side of his closet was shut, and yanked on the handle. The bi-fold door sounded like an old book spine as it creaked open and I ran my eyes down the long line of hanging dress shirts, and the smell of leather and cotton filtered out.

I found it. 

The waste basket. Full to the absolute brim with paper tags. Then I noticed the rest of the tags. They looked almost like snow on top of his leather bag that lay on the floor. There were tags everywhere.

I slowly sank to my knees.

I reached in and picked up a handful of those tags, passed them through my fingertips like I was skimming them delicately across the surface of water. I let them fall, heard them rustle to the floor. And I started to weep.

Here was his waste basket. Full. So full there was simply no more room. I looked up at his closet and saw the stark division between him and “him.” On one side are dress shirts and suit jackets. A tie rack divides the closet, and on the other side? Polo shirts, the suit he got married in and his military dress blues. Button down shirts he has owned since before we were even dating, and the uniforms he wore every day when he was in the service.

I saw the guitar cases that haven’t been touched in months. His Doc Martin boots he doesn’t get to wear often on casual days out because he’s hardly out of the house. A tote full of keepsakes and letters, probably from me when he was deployed to the middle east.

I saw clearly his life, divided into two quadrants. The parts of him that are hardly ever touched because he lives the rest of his life for us. And the weight of just how much he forgoes for himself out of duty to his family. I saw him again fully for just a moment. The square-cut jawed man I married, tan and impossibly youthful, as he told me of all he wanted to do with his life, and I decided to myself what is life if not an adventure. And what is an adventure without your best friend? I saw him contrasted to the person he is now, beholden to responsibility, willing to set so much aside for the people he loves.

I know that we mothers struggle with finding ourselves again after children arrive and wreck shop. The ocean we are in is so staggeringly beautiful that we don’t even realize it sometimes when we are drowning.

We think nobody could ever feel as lonely as we do.

I think we are wrong, ladies.

The closet was bathed in golden sunlight. I saw it then, as I cried and dust motes hung in the air and our ceiling fan spun silently and cars raced past. Time stopped for just a moment as God let the scales fall from my eyes.

How often have I prayed for and craved deeper intimacy with my husband. I thought that meant heartfelt conversations at 1 a.m. and love notes and sonnets. Instead, it looked like a river of paper tags on a closet floor and my eyes bursting open when I finally saw where my husband is.

I didn’t realize as I hunted down that trash can I was actually hunting for him and for some truth, no matter how imperceptible, about where he is. Where he’s gone. About what is laying hard on his heart.

It was right there, behind two bi-fold doors, buried on his closet floor. The neglect that defines his life right now. Both my own and his. I had neglected to see the divine partnership my husband and I share. And how much he has neglected himself for the sake of his family.

He was doing his best, each morning. Each morning after sitting at the table with a plate of breakfast after a quick shower. Tossing tags into his closet as he tightened his tie, threw on his suit jacket and left his family for one more day at the haste of the daily grind.

I emptied his trash can. I slipped it back into his closet and closed those doors. Not before I poured out a prayer to God from our closet floor.

Women. That moment changed me. It affirmed to me what I should have known a long time ago. Me and my husband? We are so very much in this together. I am not alone. 

And he shouldn’t be either.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Maybe it’s time to be alive again.

This might sound morbid. But, I am going to be honest.

In the months following my dad’s death, I waited to die, too

I’m not sure what logical reason I could give for such a morbid concern. I don’t know if I will ever have an explanation. I think it came from seeing my world crack in half like an egg.

I observed it, like I was a spectator. But then I lived it in realtime, over and over again.

Any pain in my chest or shortness of breath or vague ominous feeling creeping up the back of my neck sent me headlong into an inner torrent of worry. 

My husband and I were laying in bed one night, and I revealed this to him as I lay staring upward, eyes never leaving the slant of the ceiling, for fear that I might look at him and his face would betray me as the lunatic I felt like I was. 

“You aren’t going to die,” he reassured me. I didn’t know if I could believe him.

Maybe it's time to be alive again.

It took a while for me to notice the uptick of anxiety in my every day life, and for me to understand why even the simplest tasks suddenly became challenging. 

We live near a gigantic bridge that stretches the width of the Chesapeake Bay, and even now I can barely stand to cross it – even if I travel in the middle lane. For a while, I was certain that someone would slam into us from behind, and we would all careen over the railing into the choppy water below.

Even merging into everyday traffic became an unnerving ordeal.

The fear that my children would somehow end up in the street pervaded my mind every time I let them play out in the yard.

This is the aftermath of what losing someone suddenly can look like. You learn to not automatically trust in certainties and probably not’s.

My mind raced to fill in the negative space left from losing my father. It filled it to the brim with worry and depression, my mind oscillating between the two like an old, rusty fan. 

Each new day, I wondered what burden would I carry around with me today. Untold grief or strangling worry? Door number 1 or door number 2?

Meanwhile, as an avowed middle child used to disguising her feelings, I operated in my day to day life around other people as normally as I could. I smiled, cracked jokes, made light conversation when necessary, then retreated swiftly when I sensed I was running out of the energy to be both sociable and guarded.

I was “functional,” as I described myself numerous times over texts to the people who intermittently checked in with me. 

Meaning, “I can stand here and make dinner and wash dishes and run the washing machine, but don’t ask me how I’m feeling. Don’t ask me for more than this. Don’t you dare ask me to tell you how it’s really going because I can’t stand to tell it.”

Just like I didn’t notice how much grief was controlling my life as it was happening, there was eventually something else I didn’t notice. 

The part where I started living again. 

I waited so long to turn a corner. In fact, I tried to force it many times. I would concede some millimeter of myself to God, when I even wanted to talk to Him, and think I was cured.

I used to be believe grief was something a person sloughed off, like a butterfly from its chrysalis. 

We believe this lie that we can shed off the things that hurt us, the things that damage us, and never feel the weight of those things again. That we never have to return to this dark place again.

But I’m not sure that’s true. 

I think what is true is that this pattern, this journey toward finding peace, isn’t linear. It has high points and low points. And you never see it coming when you round the bend to what lies ahead when life takes hold of you again. 

Joy, loss and hope. I am a keeper of all three.

You never see it when hope seeps back in to your life. When the joy creeps in. I didn’t necessarily make a conscious choice to be over my pain. It’s just that life found me again. And by the time it did, I was unknowingly at a point where I was ready, despite myself.

My wonderful husband assured me many times of how my father would want me to be happy. He would have wanted me to carry on. For so long, those words hurt. I wasn’t ready for them yet.

Maybe I felt guilty for knowing that eventually, life would carry me further away from the memory of him, the sheer existence of him. It would fall prey to the mechanisms of time until it was just a thing that happened long ago. 

I worried one day, Lord willing, I would be in a rocking chair on my porch, gray and weathered, and it might take effort to recall the sound of my father’s voice, and that thought broke me. And, what if my life can’t be spent building a temple to him and his memory?? What if nothing else feels good enough to honor my grief? 

Does it mean I’ll forget if I carry on, that I’m leaving him behind? 

It was eventually I realized that if I carry on, I can carry my father with me. 

And I could start living again when I realized that my sense of loss could coexist with joy if I was brave enough to trust God that the two could abut each other.

I didn’t need to build a temple to my father and my grief. I realized that I was the temple. And between the chasm of joy and loss is hope.

And somehow, with the Lord’s help, I can be a keeper of all three. 

 

 

 

You are not responsible for your husband’s happiness.

I am going to lay out what may be a difficult or hard but (hopefully) freeing word for us as wives.

 

You are not responsible for your husband’s happiness.

 

You are not his keeper.
You are not his babysitter.
You are not his surrogate mother.
You are not meant to be the single source of his contentment, hope, effectiveness and peace, just as he is not meant to be yours.

 

What you really are is so much more than these things.

 
You are not responsible for your husband's happiness

It is time for us wives to find freedom from a burden that we have been saddled with for far too long. We have permission to not be everything to our husbands, women. We have permission to be as complex and flawed and in need of grace as they are.

We wives were built, in part, to be helpers to our spouses. But that is not our only purpose and gifting. We are meant to magnify the Lord preeminently in all we do, even if we happen to take a husband at some point.

And yes, our God’s greatness will shine through us in how we love and treat our spouse.

However, as an occasionally misguided extension of that reality, we are hardwired to be fixers even when a situation may not require it of us. Many of us want nothing more than to see our husbands succeed and find fulfillment – even at a disservice to ourselves. 

And Lord knows, we wives will spin plates and walk an exhausting tight rope trying to make that happen – by whatever means we think is necessary. Whether those means are nagging, compensating for your spouse where they fall short, lowering expectations or raising them, striving for constant perfection in an effort to keep them continuously happy, keeping quiet to keep the peace or NOT keeping quiet.

 

And it is to our own detriment when we take these efforts of our husband’s fulfillment, success and even sanctification completely upon ourselves. 

It is simply not our job to complete or constantly cater to our husband. 
This is does not mean that their happiness and joy is unimportant to is. It simply means that we surrender feeling like we have failed at some divine task when we see our husband struggle. And instead, we take up the mantle of championing them and seeing them through difficult seasons in life as their wife and spiritual companion.
 

Our job is to be a conduit of God’s grace to our husbands. Which means forgiveness when he gets it wrong. It means encouraging him when he is discouraged. It means helping him, and being attuned to him in ways no one else can be. 

It means cherishing him above all else and anyone else in this world.

It means grieving when something wounds him as you would for yourself – because the two of you are one flesh.

It means being honest. It means speaking truth – in boldness. And it always means being faithful to the Lord first, and above all things. 

And, it also means allowing yourself to be the flawed, finite human being that you are as you both walk this road together.

It also means there are times where you can and should be asking for his support, prayer and respect because grace is reciprocal. 

But we are not ever ultimately responsible for making them feel complete. It isn’t even in our jurisdiction. And it was never meant to be. 

The onus is not on us to always concede ground in a disagreement. The onus is not always on us to be sure they feel happy or fulfilled. The onus is not on us to be all things at all times.

We have permission to be as complex and flawed and in need of grace as they are.We are responsible for making sure that we are not adding to their burdens in their every day life, and for being a blessing to them.

We are responsible for being a safe place for them to land when they need it most.

We are responsible for praying for and seeking out ways to foster their continued growth in the Lord within our marriage and relationship as best as we can.

We are responsible for caring deeply about their needs, and esteeming them above ourselves, just as they are responsible for caring for our needs and esteeming us above themselves.

We are responsible for showing respect to them, and for giving them the room to be complicated, flawed and imperfect entities. Much like we are! 

We are responsible for sharing our own hurts and successes and joys with our husbands in an effort to build intimacy and humility.

 

This doesn’t mean that there won’t be seasons where this is more work on our part than theirs. And conversely, there will be seasons where they will put forth more effort than us because life and redemption and growth are not linear, and because we will be tested.

The hope we should pray is to ask God to help us be the wife that our husband needs in whatever season you both find yourselves in.

 

And that our husbands would remember that God is the only God he needs – in every season.