Seasons of Quality Time

To celebrate our first anniversary, Frank and I hiked the West Highland Way in Scotland. The nearly 100 mile trail wound through farms and small towns. Some days we saw lots of people; other days it was just us on our section of the trail. I’ve written before about one of my favorite days: When Frank and I hiked separately for the whole day, taking in the scenery and processing our thoughts at our own pace. We met up for lunch and, of course, that evening we walked into town together. We were never out of each other’s sight, but we weren’t together, either.

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Frank exploring on his own

That evening, when we sat on the sunporch at our B&B, we reflected that it was a good day. We connected, we had a shared experience, but we each had time to ourselves.

Frank and I are in a season of squeezing alone time into the margins. We’ve been practicing a rhythm that seems to work well for our family at this moment: Frank gets up super early and is at work by 5:00 but then he’s home before dinner’s on the table. This means that we’re heading to bed by 9:00 every night, which is probably a healthy choice in any case.

The only downside to this arrangement is that our evenings together are shorter. We have to be more intentional about our 45 minutes before bedtime. But what I’ve found is that, because there wasn’t a crazy rush of dinner! Daddy’s home!! Finish! Play a game that winds us down rather than up! Bedtime!! we are able to have more quality connection in those 45 minutes than when we had longer but were more tired.

Often, in these 45 minutes before our 9:00 alarm sounds, we don’t talk much. We’ll read or scroll Facebook. Sometimes we sit and talk and dream. Sometimes we look at the budget. Whatever we do, we do it side by side. We are sure to sit on the couch together; to sit next to each other, even if we’re not talking.

In some ways, this season reminds me of that day of hiking. We’re together in this, we are in each other’s sight, but we aren’t necessarily walking at the same pace. We’re tag teaming bedtime and household duties. And yet, because we’re still in sight; because we aren’t disconnected, it seems to be working.

Of course, we need actual in-person connecting for this all to work. But it’s a good reminder that sometimes you need quantity time to just soak in (like after tax season) and sometimes we need to recognize the importance of quality time, when we simply don’t have a quantity.

In this season when I’m rarely alone and when I simultaneously need to spend my time connecting, I’m thankful for a partner who recognizes the need to stay in view, to do the work together, and to leave space for quiet.

If you have a partner, how do you connect at the end of a day filled with work and kids and life? How do you best unwind?

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This post is Day 5 of the Write 31 Day Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the StrengthsFinder test. You can find the entire series over at Live Your Strengths page.

Celebrating Strong Women: This Side of Heaven

Author PhotoAndrew Budek-Schmeisser lives on a mesa in New Mexico, with his wife Barbara and a whole lot of rescued dogs. Though now sidelined by serious illness, he has working in construction, security contracting, video scriptwriting, and was a college professor for several years

He is the author of a Christian contemporary romance, “Blessed Are the Pure of Heart,” published by Tate Publishing and available from all he best online retailers (as well as Hastings outlets in the Albuquerque area).

A Wife This Side of Heaven

If I may, I like to have the honour of introducing you to the strongest woman I know – my wife, Barbara.

I should begin at the beginning of our relationship – we met through a Catholic singles website; she lived in Indiana, and at the time I lived in Texas. She lived in the town in which she’d been born; I was used to moving every few years. Her roots were deep, and mine were nonexistent. I was 40, I’ve got a few years on her.

After a month and a half of email and telephone communication, she flew to Texas to visit me, on August 9, 2001. She made the trip because, well, I had nearly severed my right arm in a woodworking accident. This might have been a warning to the less robust.

Barbara and BrayI met her at the airport in Austin, at the gate at which her flight arrived, wearing my usual summer garb of ratty shorts and a loose shirt. The flight was 20 minutes early, so she had time to build up some anxiety! She later told me that at first sight, she thought of slipping back down the jetway. Glad she didn’t.

I proposed to her within five hours, and we set the wedding date a year to the day from our meeting, August 9, 2002. She would move to Texas, and leave her family, friends, and the job she’d held for seventeen years, as an accountant.

Wow. And in the meantime, I found another teaching job, at Texas Tech, in Lubbock. This should have been another warning.

A few months before we married, I became ill on a trip to see her. Very ill; my gallbladder needed to go. Since the insurance I had wouldn’t pay for out-of-state surgery, she flew home with me to Texas, to make sure I got there. Her employer had to simply deal with it.

And then we were married – in Indiana – and immediately moved both houses and homes and the seven dogs we collectively owned to Lubbock.

And I got sick again. The surgery had gone bad, and I developed the beginnings of the illness that is killing me now. My first term teaching at Tech was a leave of absence, during which I had another, unrelated surgery that ALSO went bad…I was sent home with internal bleeding, and she noticed that I was in trouble…in the nick of time.

Eight more days in the hospital, and I was given Last Rites twice.

I recovered from these, enough to return to the classroom in January 2003.

And in May I filed for divorce. The fault was entirely mine. I wasn’t unfaithful, but I was unfeeling, immature, and something of a cad. I don’t like who I was, then.

And I did it when Barbara had gone home to visit her parents, for a chance to get some rest after the stress she’d been through.

On June 24th, 2004, we were remarried…in a helicopter over the Las Vegas Strip, at night, by a Catholic priest.

It had been a long road. I’d gone through therapy to deal with the monster I had become, and during that time there was another monster, beginning to grow inside me…one which necessitated a trip to the Mayo clinic in Arizona, and a surgery which had a 70% chance of killing me. I called Barbara, and asked her to act as my medical power of attorney. There was no one else I would trust. It was January, 2004.

The surgery didn’t kill me, but it was not successful, and the beast continued to grow.

In April Barbara said, in a telephone conversation, “I think I want my husband back.”

And in June, I got my wife back.

And she left her family all over again.

To give a man who was capable of the most callous disloyalty a second chance.

Not out of pity.

Out of love.

If that isn’t living the example of Christ, I don’t know what is.

It seems I will be going on to Heaven…if that is my destination…rather sooner than she will.

But I’ll wait outside, so we can go in together, for how can it be Heaven without her?

Unspoken Modeling

My mom’s engagement ring was a nontraditional emerald. It was lost before I remember what it looked like and my parents replaced it with a ruby ring, found an an antique market in Paris.

When our conversations turned toward engagement and marriage, I told Frank I didn’t want a diamond ring. In his quest for a fair trade, ethically sourced ring, he found Brilliant Earth, a company that specializes in sapphire engagement rings. I love my deep blue sapphire. It fits my personality – a classic cut and ring with a bit of a twist.

My engagement ring
My engagement ring & wedding band

Many of our friends have a variety of stones in their rings, and Bea loves looking at the different colors. Emeralds, various shades of sapphire, pearls, and diamonds are all fun to look at. Beyond the personality differences in our friends’ choices, I love that Bea is subtly exposed to a different view of the wedding industry. She is being shown that you don’t have to fit into the marketing boxes, that you can have a symbol that represents your own personality.

The variety of engagement rings in some ways represents the variety of marriages and relationships being modeled for Bea. She is seeing so many representations of happy, healthy marriages. Our friends have all had their own journeys – some fit into a very traditional model while others are not at all following the mainstream. I’m thankful for these differences, that Bea will see firsthand that life is not done uniformly and that we all find our own path.

If you’re married, what kind of ring do you have? How does it represent your personality?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing.

The Right Way

After getting back from a wedding this weekend, I’ve been thinking about marriage. Even before this trip, marriage seems to always be in the news: When is the perfect age to get married? Is it better to wait, to have life experience? Is it better to marry young and grow up together? Is it worth marrying at all – why not simply live together without the legal documentation?

I got married when I was 27, almost the exact average age that women in America tie the knot. Looking back, I am so glad I had most of my 20’s to myself. My college years were filled with questioning and refining my worldview and my faith. I learned to trust friends, community, and God in ways that I could not have fathomed. I traveled alone, spent a night on the porch of an abandoned house after missing the last train, and learned to rely on myself as I navigated new cultures. After college, I explored Nepal, moved back to Denver and started grad school. Once I had a job, each summer I would take an international trip. I went to Italy to see my brother as he finished a study-abroad experience; I visited my college roommate in Canberra, Australia; my roommate from Nepal and I spent a couple weeks in Ecuador. By the time Frank and I met, I had explored 5 continents with amazing friends.

Beyond travel and adventure, I came into our relationship with confidence and wisdom that years of adventuring alone can give. I learned how to be lonely and how to ask others for help. I learned how I wanted to budget my money and what things were important to me.

Our wedding

(c) Cathy Walters Photography

When we got married, Frank and I had been working for a while. We had a good-sized savings account, so were able to have a wedding that truly reflected us. Our parents chipped in, but we paid for most of it ourselves. During our first years of marriage, we ate at fancy restaurants for special occasions and just because. We spent our change jar on Dom Perignon and went on a wonderful, romantic hiking holiday one year and an African safari the next (and my 6th continent!) We would dress up and go to the opera, ballet, or symphony several times a season. We were able to give generously and knew that this was important to us. When the time came to become parents, we had seen a lot of the world, explored our city, and had been able to live a good Double Income, No Kid lifestyle for a few years.

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Feeding Mashumbi in Zambia

Here’s the thing: The way we did it worked for us and our personalities. I needed to explore on my own, to make decisions and mistakes on my own, before I was ready to join someone else in life. I have a cousin who met his wife when they were in high school, got married right out of college, and had three kids before they turned 30. And they are a very happy family who take advantage of exploring life with older kids. They, and my other friends who married and had kids young are now in places where they can get away for a week much easier than we can.

I have a friend who got married in her late 30’s and is just now starting her parenting journey. But, she was able to live abroad and see the world in amazing ways, and she’ll be able to pass on an incredibly rich worldview to her kids. I have other friends who are in their mid-thirties and wish they were married now, and others who got pregnant in their early twenties, married, and now feel they missed out on some freedom.

I love hearing people’s different stories and journeys and am always amazed at how unique and “right” each of our paths can be: How incredible to “grow up” with the person you love; and how incredible to have a baseline of travel and fine dining to return to when the kids are more independent. Being at the wedding last weekend reminded me of the importance in celebrating each person’s own journey. My way is right for me, just as my friend’s is right for her. Sometimes I grow weary of hearing about the “right way” to do something, when, really, all of our stories need to be unique to create a bigger picture.

What adventures did you have (or are you having) before you got married?