Marriage and the Phlebotomist

Marriage

Getting my blood drawn ranks right up there with vomiting on the list of things I hate.  After putting off some follow-up blood work I needed to get done for far too long, the dread had become more all consuming than my distaste of the procedure. So I decided to pull off the proverbial band-aid last week, which is why I was found dutifully sitting in a crowded lab office.

My fellow blood-letters were mostly from a previous generation. The powerful scent of aftershave and Chanel No.5 filled the space not taken up by walkers and puffy jackets. They make conversation with each other about their Power Ball lottery losses, raising gravely voices over the morning news playing on the TV above our heads. While I decide whether to distract myself with Instagram or let all the ambient noises lull me into a false sense of security, I hear my name called from around the corner.

A woman my own age ushers me down the hallway. She reminds me of a girl I knew growing up. Her trim, athletic figure looks enviably good in scrubs; their plumb hue complimenting her unadorned olive skin and bright eyes. We turn into an empty room. I slide off my jacket and take a seat in the chair trying not to stare at the lone vial of someone else’s blood standing sentinel in the collection tray. The phlebotomist asks a few preliminary questions. When I tell her my birthdate, she looks up and smiles, “I’m a five too.”

Pleasantries aside, I push up both sleeves and we begin the banter that always ensues when I give blood…

“Do you have an arm preference?” She unwraps a needle and gets some tubes ready.

“No. I tend to be a difficult stick.”

“What’s your dominant hand?”

“Right,” I reply.

“Dominant sides generally have bigger veins. Do you mind if I do your right arm?”

I clench my right fist and she feels around for a few seconds.

“I think I’ll use a different needle.” The cold sweat begins.

She goes back to the drawer and unwraps another package. Taking off a glove, she hones back in on a spot in the crook of my right arm.

“Well, I think I found one. It’s a little rolly. I bet most people don’t find it because they won’t take off their gloves.”

I can feel my face blanch at the mention of rolly and I don’t hear her finish the sentence. I’ve already been doing deep breathing to keep my heart rate normal, but the thought of her having to fish for my rolly vein makes me feel nauseous. I don’t want to experience the two things I hate most in the same day.  

I’m not sure if she sensed my panic or if she was just being courteous, but she turned around to close the curtain separating the room and the busy hallway, muttering something about privacy. I am thankful that if I do happen to pass out vomit there will be only one witness my shame.

“You’re doing great.” I let my eyes drift away from the glove boxes I’d been staring at over my left shoulder and look at her in surprise. I hadn’t even felt her put the needle in.

As she attached the last vial to be filled, she asked what I had going on the rest of the day. She worked steadily – sliding the needle out of my arm, holding a cotton ball to the puncture site, taping the cotton ball in place –  and listened quietly as I explained I’d be hanging out with my 3 month and two year old.

Her next question took me by surprise.

“Do you like being married?” She paused and before I could answer, added, “Marriage kinda scares me.”

“It’s good. I really like it,” I said lamely.

I’m not sure if she felt a special camaraderie with me because we shared the same birth month or I looked like someone she could confide in, but she continued her line of questioning.  “Marriage kinda scares me. I’ve just been hurt really bad, you know? How did you know he was the right one?”

I stared at her for a moment, wondering how we jumped from what I’d be doing this afternoon to how I knew Tim was the one. While she threw away needles and added my vials of blood to the collection tray, I replayed June 10th to October 30th, 2011 in my mind as quickly as possible, searching for a decent answer. I wasn’t sure I actually had an answer.

Was Tim the right one because he met all the criteria on my list? (Yes, I had created a physical list that I still possess.) Was Tim the right one because our relationship survived a week long camping trip with his family? Was Tim the right one because both of us happened to be available at the same time?

My brief replay of history didn’t yield much fruit, but this felt like one of those God-ordained opportunities to have a meaningful conversation and I didn’t want to blow it. I wish I could say I came up with a profound answer that gave this woman hope and enthusiasm for future relationships. In actuality, my response was lacklustre and riddled with the religious jargon I was meaning to avoid. I slid my jacket back on and walked into the hallway a little reluctantly, feeling like I had indeed blown it.

How do you explain to someone that marriage is created by a God who loves us and wants to be intimately involved in our lives; that marriage is hard and doesn’t preclude you from getting hurt; that marriage is less about finding the right one and more about finding a person who always points you to the Right One

I guess you say just that.

Here’s to hoping she becomes my regular phlebotomist.

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It’s complicated…

It' complicated

Four years and 2,700 miles separate the top two photos and the bottom two photos. The top photos (I just realized Tim is wearing the same shirt – ha!) were taken while Tim and I were dating – one at the Flower Fields in Carlsbad, CA and the other in Yosemite. The bottom two photos were taken this Winter after we moved to Pennsylvania.

This little collage holds an ocean of emotions in its four boxes. There’s joy, gratitude, anticipation and love mixed with exhaustion, anxiety and fear. Sometimes I have a hard time looking back at photos from when Tim and I were dating. Not because they bring back bad memories; quite the contrary. I look at that carefree couple and envy their stage of life.

Their weight of responsibility was lighter. Less of life’s worries filled their minds. (And, because I’m particularly missing California right now, they had the beach at their fingertips.)

But that couple was just two pieces of rope inching closer and closer together. Their connection was just beginning. With every bill they paid together, with every move they made, with every tough decision, and who gets the car today discussion, those two ropes made a knot. Knot upon knot have made those two people closer, albeit more complicated, couple.

Every little thing that makes this stage of life complicated makes our relationship stronger, deeper. I’m over on Kindred Grace sharing about the power of complicated…

Since I didn’t date much before I met my husband (and by much, I mean barely at all), that particular season in our relationship has always been a favorite. Dating was fun. The thrill of getting to know someone can be intoxicating.

I’m not a naturally talkative person, but I loved staying up late discussing our families, our college experiences, and our faith. I also loved the doing of dating. We had season passes to Disneyland, so if we weren’t exploring our favorite beaches, roaming Barnes & Noble, or eating frozen yogurt, we were making memories at the Happiest Place on Earth. It was a fun and easy time, punctuated by increasing depth of attachment and possibility.

Continue reading The Power of Complicated

The One Question Experiment

Could asking your spouse just one question every day for one month transform your marriage?

Tim and I would both readily admit that communication isn’t a strong suit in our marriage. A goal? Yes. A strength? Not so much. I was tired of letting conflict and misunderstandings be the impetus for improvement, so I decided to get intentional about bettering our communication. And I decided to do it without telling Tim. (The irony of that is not lost on me…)

I’m easily overwhelmed these days, and I also have a tendency to make a production out of the smallest project. With that in mind, I dismissed grand ideas like finding a communication curriculum of some sort or forcing Tim into deep, emotionally driven conversations every evening after James went to sleep.

Instead, I opted for a simple addition to our daily routine – one question. One question seemed doable. It was intentional, but not overwhelming. It was small, but had the potential to make a big impact. For me, one of the hardest parts about communication is opening the dialogue. Tim and I talk throughout the day of course, but I often feel silly and awkward starting a conversation about my feelings, whether it’s a relationship frustration that’s been niggling or a spiritual insight I had that morning. Asking questions seemed like a good means of practicing “the start” of communication in a non-threatening way.

One Question Experiment

Here’s how I organized this little One Question Experiment:

  • I created a master list of 31 open-ended questions.
  • The list remained hidden from Tim. I would refer to the list every morning to familiarize myself with that day’s question.
  • I would ask the question during dinner, except for Wednesdays when Tim generally eats dinner on the fly before youth group.

I culled various blog posts to curate my list of questions, which ran the gamut of lighthearted and random to serious and introspective. I added extra questions as I thought of them because sometimes I couldn’t help but ask the next day’s question, too. It was challenging for me to be inconspicuous about my question asking. I’m sure those with more skill in the art of conversation would find a better question segue than, “So…”

The goal was for Tim to remain in the dark about my intentional question asking until the experiment was over. I had visions of a big reveal at the end of the month. Something that involved shock, dimmed lights, communication breakthroughs, and a few tears of admiration. However, like you’ll find out in my recap, Tim caught on to my question experiment pretty early. (Probably all those so’s.)

The similarities between my One Question Experiment and a spiritual discipline struck me as I was preparing to add this new habit to our daily lives. Spiritual disciplines are practices that help us connect with God. They take time and effort but result in deeper, stronger faith. Communication is a practice, a marriage discipline if you will, that helps us connect with our spouse. It takes time and effort but results in a deeper, stronger marriage.

The One Question Experiment is over, and I can’t make any “become a master communicator in 31 days” claims. One question doesn’t make a great communicator, but one question might lead to another question or might make you feel more comfortable talking about that tough situation going on at work or might just give you good old fashioned practice in the art of conversation.

Did asking Tim one question every day for a month transform our marriage? Yes, I think it did. Not in the splashy, snap your fingers and we’re a whole new couple kind of way. Our transformation was a matter of habit and ease. We were reminded how fun it is to get to know each other like when we were dating. We were reminded to talk about the small stuff as well as the big things. We were reminded that communication gets easier the more you do it.

The One Question Experiment Questions

  1. What makes you most fulfilled or happiest as a father?
  2. What is your dream destination and why?
  3. What area of your spiritual walk do you want to improve?
  4. Bungee jump or jump out of a plane?
  5. Who’s one person in your life who inspires you to be a better person?
  6. If you could have witnessed one biblical event, what would it be and why?
  7. Are you more like Fred or Ricky? (We’ve been watching I Love Lucy…)
  8. What’s one personal quality you’d like to improve? How can I help?
  9. What are your top five favorite foods? (Bonus: Put one on next week’s menu.)
  10. What was your very first impression of me?
  11. What makes you the most fulfilled or happiest as a husband?
  12. What is the best way to encourage you when you’re down?
  13. What kind of gifts do you like?
  14. If you could only go on one ride at Disneyland, what would it be?
  15. What makes you the most fulfilled or happiest as a man?
  16. What’s your favorite hymn and why?
  17. How would you like to celebrate our tenth anniversary?
  18. What do you fear the most?
  19. How have you changed since we got married?
  20. Judging from my actions and words, what are my priorities?
  21. What’s the best way to communicate respect?
  22. What’s your favorite memory of our wedding day?
  23. What is one thing you must do before you die?
  24. What have you been learning about God lately?
  25. What’s the best part of each season?
  26. What are the strengths of our marriage?
  27. What 3 things would you tell your 16 year old self?
  28. How would you spend a day without your phone?
  29. What are 3 of your favorite things about our family?
  30. What have you learned this week?
  31. If you weren’t a youth pastor (insert your spouse’s job here), what would you be?
  32. Who’s a couple you admire and why? (Bonus: If they live close, invite the over for dinner!)
  33. What big award would you like to win?
  34. How should we celebrate getting out of debt?

The One Question Experiment Recap

“What’s with all these questions?” says Tim on day ONE. I got that a lot before Tim figured out what I was up to, which happened on day twelve. Even though I had to come clean about my purposeful question asking, it was fun to have Tim in on the project as well. There was a new sense of expectation for the day’s question.

Be prepared to give your own answer. Tim never let me off the hook.

Involve dinner guests in the One Question Experiment. One of my favorite days was discussing question 27 with my siblings-in-law.

Curb your expectations. Some questions won’t turn into the scintillating conversation you were hoping for. That’s okay. Keep plugging along.

Questions can lead to healthy changes. My answer to question 3 led to a change in our prayer patterns.

Are you a good communicator? Give us some tips/encouragement/advice in the comments!

Other posts you’d probably be into:

The Marriage Disciplines

There were definitely a few things I was apprehensive about when Tim and I got married (thank you, pre-marital counseling), but communication wasn’t one of them. I quickly discovered that the intensity of my desire to be a good communicator did not necessarily match my actual communication skills.

My ability to craft a winning speech or talk for hours on a date weren’t the tools I needed in the face of conflict and day-to-day life with another person. I may have a rich, complex internal dialogue, but that didn’t really translate within a marriage relationship.

The type of transparent communication I coveted wasn’t going to grow from complacency. I knew I needed to practice – practice voicing my feelings, articulating my thoughts, and encouraging Tim to do the same. But it’s easy to grow comfortable when your relationship is going smoothly. My commitment to bettering our communication would fade until the provocation of an argument or a misunderstanding brought the need to light again. My concern would reappear until our conflict was resolved and the business of life and our daily routine buried any urgency.

Bettering our communication would require intentional practice, patience, and discipline.

Discipline isn’t something I generally associate with marriage. Discipline makes me think of parenting and meeting personal fitness goals. But I also think of discipline as it relates to our spiritual lives. Spiritual disciplines are practices that put us in a better posture to connect with God. They don’t always come naturally and require intentional practice, patience, and, as the name implies, discipline.

Marriage Disciplines

In the same way, I believe there are marriage disciplines – practices that put us in a better posture to connect with our spouse. These practices don’t always come naturally, but through intentional practice, patience, and discipline they help our marriages grow deep and strong.

The marriage discipline concept sprung to life in my mind and heart as I considered ways Tim and I could work on our communication. Framing the challenging aspects of growing in that area as a marriage discipline made the effort seem worthwhile because I know how much spiritual disciplines like simplicity, lectio divina, and journaling have transformed my relationship with Christ. Wouldn’t investing in disciplines like couples prayer, love languages, and communication be equally transformative in a marriage relationship?

I’m convinced that they would. And I’m acting on that conviction. Stay tuned for how I’ve been practicing the marriage discipline of communication and how you can, too!

When Marriage Isn’t Fair

A couple weeks after returning from our honeymoon, Tim and I spent a couple days with his sister and bro-in-law down in San Diego. We had done this several times while dating and despite having grown up in Southern California, traveling down to their home always felt like a mini vacation. Part of the vacation aspect was attending their church on Saturday nights.

With Tim in vocational ministry, Sunday sometimes ends up feeling like work instead of worship, but our times of fellowship at their church were always refreshing – a time to be filled, challenged and recharged. That visit, shortly after marrying Tim, was no exception. And wouldn’t you know, the sermon was on marriage!

What I remember from that sermon, more than a year later, is that marriage is not fair. The pastor illustrated his point with percentages. Both people don’t give 100 percent all the time – it’s a balance of resources and the scale is generally never even. When one person can only give 30 percent, the other has to give 70 to make it work. Not easy. Not fair. But neither is love.

when marriage isn't fair

That principle was not new to me, but I have since realized I’m not very good at it, especially the receiving part of the equation. I have my moments, but for the most part, I really enjoy giving to my husband. I like putting in the extra effort to meet his needs and support him in any way possible. It matters to me that I contribute to our relationship. It matters to me that I’m not draining. It matters to me that I give more than my (perceived) half of the effort to make our marriage thrive. It mattered so much that I began to derive too much value from my ability to contribute.

Looking back over our first year of marriage, there have definitely been times when I couldn’t give much emotionally. Our first few months in Idaho were tough and I see how Tim stepped in to compensate for my lack. However, in my mind, I was making up for my low emotional percentages by doing. I felt like I could make things more fair by cooking meals, maintaining a clean apartment, staying physically fit, and being actively involved in youth ministry.  My worth as a spouse was slowly being wrapped up in this contributing scale that I was so desperately wanting to be even.

Then I got pregnant. [pullquote]I have never experienced the truth that marriage isn’t fair in a more tangible way than during pregnancy[/pullquote]. Even if I had started with 100 percent to give, being pregnant quickly depleted my stores. This pregnancy was a surprise so I wasn’t always fully emotionally engaged in the process. (Subtract percentage points there.) I wasn’t prepared for the exhaustion aspects that truncated my ability to make up for my emotional lack by doing. (Subtract even more percentage points.)

Over the past nine months, I’ve watched Tim give and give because I couldn’t. He has cooked and cleaned and run errands after work and on weekends. He has never made me feel like a lazy turd for staying in my pajamas all day or reading when there were dishes to be washed or napping for hours at a time. (I could go on about the sweet things he does for me, but I will spare you the mush and the word count…)

It’s taken me all these 37 weeks of pregnancy to let go of the guilt and accept Tim’s extra percentages of effort for what they truly are – genuine expressions of love. I realized I was placing my worth as a wife in what I could give and have been deeply humbled through this process of acknowledging my lack and accepting Tim’s love without giving anything to deserve it.

I am daily reminded that[pullquote position=”right”] sacrifice is the foundation of love[/pullquote]. Sacrifice was the ultimate expression of Jesus’ love for us and marriage should be a reflection (though it will be murky at best because we’re human) of His ultimate sacrifice.