When We Never Wanted to Escape.


I tried one of those short colored background posts on Facebook. It was a marriage post and it went like this:

FBPETE“It started when beauty captured you 😚 You married 😍 You saw flaws 🤨 Slowly you forgot what made you fall in love😢”

It didn’t take long for the first comments to arrive, “Peter, are you okay?” My wife jumped in quickly to explain all was well with us and that I was simply preparing to speak at a marriage. The thread gave me and others a good laugh. Not as hilarious, though, is that I can attest also to the truth of my 86 character/ post including the emojis.

“It started when beauty captured you 😚

I fell hard for Patricia, she was so clever, had a great sense of humour, was athletic and her build reflected it. Not to mention her black shiny hair on her white freckled face, it all captured me. I joke with her about the time we decided to go to the indoor pool and I saw her in a bathing suit for the first time. My mouth dropped to the floor, hubba hubba, this was my girl!  And we had so much fun finding ways to be together in a school where holding hands was considered too much contact!

You married 😍

We did. We were passionate. We couldn’t wait for the day to hear the bells ring. I graduated from college. We married a week later. We were twenty.

You saw flaws 🤨

Too many couples call it quits because they begin to focus on the negatives. Patricia and I eventually lived out this scenario for a long stretch of time. I began to notice it, slowly, during our years in Thailand. (They are not years that we look back on fondly.) Patricia wasn’t happy being there. I told her that we would stay no matter what. It was the stubborn dutch blood in me speaking! And besides God told us to go there! We were obeying the call! That strong-arming approach did not help and I wasn’t listening to her heart. Her respect for me, as I went globetrotting around Southeast Asia to ‘serve the Lord’ and others, plummeted. I began to see her simmering anger in the forms of complaints and quick mood changes. At times it exploded all over me with shorter and fewer peaceful times in between.

You may have heard the axiom that says you will always see what you are looking for. For my part I  become adept to seeing the unlikable in my chosen partner. “Why is she so angry all the time? Why did she look at me like that? Can’t she ever be happy?” I got good at seeing what I was looking for and saw it all the time. Perhaps she did the same for me. I’ll let her tell her side of the story another time. Yes, our eyesight focused on the negatives, the flaws, and it became a deeply imbedded mindset that slanted towards the negative.

Slowly you forgot what made you fall in love😢”

The good Lord has seen it fit to keep the both of us on this planet into our fifties.  You can guess already by context that we are still together! I attribute that to two things; 1. my stubborn Dutch roots that went down deep enough to hang on to my wedding day commitment, and 2. fear. I thought I would lose everything I loved; my work and reputation. Ugh!!!

But we said those words, “Till death do us part…” That required an ungodly amount of stubbornness! And it called for hours and hours of long hard talks. Neither one of us really thought that killing each other was a good option, though we joked that it was the only way we would leave each other!  So what other options were there? Option One was the hard one: stick it out. There were days – long ones where our emotions ran amuck and  this option was stifling, at best, and completely joyless. We lost the beauty of Pete and Pat! We lost sight of each other. The raising of five kids in a polluted Bangkok crammed with cars, motorbikes and taxis didn’t help. The daily grind was grinding our love to smithereens. We forgot what made us fall in love. And we started not caring. “Oh God is this my life?”
Our tiny daughter Amanda mouthed this phrase (mimicking what she had heard her mother say over and over) “Oh God is this my life” one day while play acting with her two dolls.  Our life. Patricia longed for a better life. Years of resentment were eating her soul and identity. The lack of perspective, positivity and joy darkened the majority of her days with a blasĂŠ going-through-the-motions. Often I heard the words,”Oh God is this my life?” I felt it keenly.

PetepatinvadeThe kids felt it too. Amanda could repeat her words perfectly with the same tone. And I resented the joylessness of my option, stick it out. I would do it. I didn’t like where we were headed. But I would be a martyr if called for.

My facebook post didn’t allow me to add more characters. But there is an Option Two: Change the way you see. 

When you have tried digging yourself out of a hole that only got deeper with each shovel full change seems, well, pretty darn impossible. I know that feeling! We tried some digging with counselling. It helped some. But we found ourselves back in the hole again. Bouts of anger still flared, yes, less and less, but still some scary moments. Distance between us, like a phlegmatic sea and its uneven rhythms, increased and decreased and increased again. It’s hard to change.

But not impossible.

You may be reading this and asking for the key to, “How did you change?” Yes, the key. More like hours of honestly looking at ourselves and then hours looking for the good in each other.  Hours of being miserable and not wanting to repeat that.  And one of the turning points,  a key, was to go way back, try and graciously remember the initial attraction, those things that captured us in love’s grasp in the first place. When we never wanted to escape.

Those attractive things hadn’t disappeared completely. Our skin, of course, wasn’t as vibrantly taut and our hair began to thin and grey, but we were still essentially the same inside. We were different versions of the same. It was hidden for a long time from our eyes under expectation, resentment and indifference, but it could be resurrected! Our keen eyesight for the negative caused us blindness for too long. We dealt with the resentment and the anger and the indifference and stubborn selfishness. Slowly we rediscovered the beauty of each other. It rekindled a joy. This sounds simple. It is. But it’s not easy. And it took us a lot of time.
So my short little Facebook post was not so much prompted by preparing to officiate at a marriage as my wife suggested. I was thinking about some couples I know going through  staggering storms.  I stand with you and the many couples who wonder if it is possible for two people in our day and age to stay together until ‘death do us part.‘ I’d like to shout to you and them, “We made it through many storms, you can too!” Hope you can find some honesty and hope for you in this blog.

Recent PEter eand Pat in ParisSome of you cannot turn the page. “It is finished” is written on your marital story. There are probably good reasons for that. For Patricia and I, we are glad that we are still writing chapters as a couple. We had to learn to move past the flaw seeking and look again at what made us fall in love in the first place.  We had to forgive and then bury the awful, and learn from the lean years so we could again be that couple that laughs, talks about everything and nothing, and loves into the sunset.

Advertisements

Your Gifts


“Isn’t everything you have and everything you are sheer gifts from God?”

You might not have given much thought to this question lately but it’s a good question. I’d rather live by a good question than a bad answer.  In case you were wondering, it’s a question from the Bible. Paul wants to bring to light what should be obvious, that what we have and who we are should be understood as sheer gifts from a generous God. See if you can hold your breath and read this entire blog before exhaling!  If you are a speed reader you might be able to, but most of us can’t last long without oxygen. And this invisible air we breathe second by second is gifted to us without cost by another much greater than you and I. You wouldn’t be reading this blog without that perpetual supply of that oxygen! So, no room for entitlement or conceit because life, every part of it, is a gift.

So back to the question, what’s the point of Paul’s asking? To not live by a bad answer: Conceit. Conceit doesn’t recognise gifts. The next step is obvious, too. It doesn’t recognise a giver. I found out that the more I knew the more I knew I didn’t know! So I decided trusting a God I believed was beautiful and generous, albeit cloaked in mystery. I found out I didn’t need to throw away my head to believe and I could give thanks. I simply trusted my heart and let my heart’s response inform my head. Realising that all of life is a gift made trusting the guiding hand of God become easy. That’s not a bad place to start this New Year, by enjoying the generous giver, God.

Now after the weirdness of 2016 lots of people are afraid that 2017 is going to be a harder year yet. Those crazy U.S. elections didn’t help much, right?  Add to that the big bear Putin flexing his Russian muscles and aligning with the Syrian tyrant to destabilise the middle polar-beareast even more than it was. And those poor polar bears so used to running around on ice at this time of the year now find themselves swimming, a lot. It’s a weird world. Not to mention that our personal worlds are full of variables too. Will we lose our jobs, our health or one of our loved ones in 2017? God forbid! Yet even if this were to occur, there is reason to not give up hope.

Though the future may seem out of our control, there is an obvious certainty that we can trust: God is bigger than we. He hasn’t lost sight of us nor control of our universe. It doesn’t mean you and I won’t have to face some hard situations. We will. And hanging tuff through that can mean being a part of the white knuckle club! Yet, humbly, I assert to you that our lives and our days are safe in God’s past movements, present moments and future mercies. We, all of us, are on a trajectory towards greater goodness, healing, wholeness of the likes that will last for an eternity! So take a big deep breath, now exhale, and know that where that breath came from, is the greatest gift of all, God himself.

breath

The Storm Called Dying


My Dad has always been one strong man. I can hardly ever remember him being sick! On the top of his game he seemed to have an answer for most things, even if his answer wasseed-podn’t quite right! Now at the age of 78 he still can be found out in the garden in spring or piling wood in the cold fall for the wood stove. Yet I’ve seen a softening, perhaps a tiredness in his bones. He cries. He is at a loss for words. I would be too. His wife, my Mom, once a real beauty, is losing life slowly from the ravages of cancer. Today they took Mom out of her home of 40 years and put her into a hospice.

I was there this past September for Mom’s 75th birthday. We actually tried to light all 75 candles, give or take a few. The cake looked like an inferno as we sang her birthday song a little quicker than usual! It was a precious moment. The moment I will cherish most, though, was the night I said my deepest goodbye, I held mom in my arms and wept, wept like a baby. I knew she was not getting by this storm, not this time.

People go through storms all the time. Some are deadly! A few days ago an Air Asia plane with 162 people on board flew through what was thought to be a storm-filled cloud. They wanted to ascend higher but permission was denied by the air traffic control tower. The plane disappeared soon after. I’ve flown on countless Air Asia flights, I cannot imagine how frightening it was to the passengers to feel a powerful storm rock their plane. My heartbeat quickens when turbulence barely lifts the plane in that jumpy up and down motion. The only mercy for the people on board of that Air Asia flight was that the storm would not last long. For all the relatives and friends unfortunately the ‘sad winds’ won’t taper off for awhile. I don’t think this was the ‘will’ of God to take that plane down. I know so. It’s just weather patterns and human decisions and untimely happenstance.

Yet I have toyed with this idea of the ‘Allowing’ of God. Seriously, God does allow a lot of awful stuff to happen on this planet! So it makes sense that God allows us to go through storms for reasons beyond our comprehension. Can we bypass a lot of the storms that life throws at us or that we bring upon ourselves? Probably, but not all. Do they always make us stronger or simply prove that we have weak shallow roots? Only we can answer that one for ourselves.

Oswald Chambers says, “The only way God plants His saints is through the whirlwind of His storms. Will you be proven to be an empty pod with no seed inside?” The question at the end of the quote was meant to be a warning, but strikes me as somewhat shocking.Jesus talked a lot about seeds, including the mustard seed, and once said that unless a seed falls to the ground and dies it cannot produce anything anymore. How sad it would be to have lived out life and at the end of it have nothing inside, nothing to release into the final wind. What exactly is the DNA of our seed we need inside of us, that when planted in the ground will produce more seeds and bring forth yet more beauty on the earth? Could it be the smallest seed called the mustard seed of faith?

IMG_0455

I sit here in my thoughts and wish that this slow unrelenting storm called death was shorter for my Mom and for my tired Dad. I hate to see my Mom unable to respond with her mind or with her swollen legs to life’s needs and challenges. I hate to see Dad frail with caring each day and night, for the love of his life. I know, however, enough about seed planting and how the pod dries up and cracks open to release new life and the winds serve in blowing these seeds to new places. For me, Mom and Dad, helped to inspire a faith in us kids. Mom planted seeds, man! I had faith in the goodness of God to get me through to where I needed to be, to grow, to be fruitful. Their faithfulness was an example to me in Asia and now Europe.

Wherever you may be now, whatever you are going through, and I do know there are people feeling the blowing storms even now and it doesn’t take much to cause tears to drop for you. I want to encourage you to have even the tiniest tad-wee faith in your life-whirlwind. His eye can see you there where you are and He will see you through somehow! You’ll also be one of those saints planted by God right where you need to be! And when the final storm comes upon you, you will have given the world something to thank the God above about.