Monday, November 14, 2011
Time to leave?
Rob had suggested to Celia’s mother that there might be a receptionist job opening, in the company where he works, in the coming months. Celia was horrified, fearing her mother would consider this a sure thing, an excuse to neglect looking for anything else.
Rob considered lying to his mother-in-law.
Celia had asked him to rescind his offer to help her mother get a receptionist job at his company. He regretted that he let his desire to be helpful undermine thinking strategically about the situation. Then again, Celia had asked him to handle it and he had been firm that she would need to leave by this weekend—
First thing upon arriving at work this morning, Rob double-checked with the woman who was retiring at the end of the year about her retirement date, hoping that for some bizarre reason she had extended her retirement by, say, a year or so. No such luck.
But he could tell his mother-in-law that anyway…
He dialed her number, wanting to make the call before his cubicle-mate Lucy arrived at work. He would make it up as he went along, although he had to admit that Celia was much better at that than he.
“Good morning, Robbie,” she answered. “Broiled salmon for dinner tonight?”
“Sure,” he said. “I love salmon.”
“You and I love salmon,” she said, being strangely intimate over their shared food tastes. “But the odor might upset Celia – so sensitive, being pregnant and all”—
“Mom,” Rob jumped in, his stomach churning. “You know, I was thinking. I would rather that you don’t apply for the job here. I don’t think it would be a good idea for you and I to work together. Might get kind of awkward”—
“You know, I was thinking the same thing,” she said, and Rob almost died of relief. “Besides, I need a job before the end of the year. But you gave me a great idea. There are a lot more jobs here in Columbus than at home, so I thought I’d focus my job hunt here. That way I can still be nearby when the baby’s born.”
And live where, he thought. Celia’s mother was good at ideas but not so good at the details, such as where would she live in Columbus and what would she do with the house she has? She was not thinking of living with them, of course, but since she was probably not thinking about where she would live at all she would likely end up on their doorstep, at least temporarily.
“Hmm. Interesting,” Rob said, buying time in the moment and imagining sharing this one with Celia. At least her mother was showing initiative.
What happens next?
Monday, May 30, 2011
Handling disappointment with wisdom
The stress is building for Rob as Celia’s full-time employability as a music teacher becomes increasingly questionable. Celia feels both guilty and discouraged.
Every day at the afterschool program felt precious now that Celia knew the grant for it had not been renewed. Paul, the church intern who ran the program, was disappointed, too, but he had gathered material for his seminary thesis and had gained valuable experience for his career. Or so Celia learned as they talked about it face to face for the first time since they had learned the news. They were in the re-purposed parsonage before the children were expected to arrive for their tutoring and music enrichment.
Whereas Celia wanted to cry, Paul simply shrugged and said, “Well, we knew we might only have the grant for one year when we received it.”
Celia realized that for her, working in the afterschool program had provided a glimmer of hope – perhaps it could be funded permanently and her role in it could be expanded accordingly over time, she had thought. Now she felt stupid in addition to guilty and discouraged, since it now seemed so glaringly obvious that this job had provided enough income to make it appear to Rob that she was genuinely trying. But in reality she had just put off facing the truth for one more year – that as school districts continued to cut funding, the market for music teachers would only get worse. And not just in Ohio.
“Wow, you’re really upset about this, aren’t you?” Paul said. He had been shuffling some papers at his desk, but now he turned toward her and assumed a caring, pastoral pose that always made Celia nervous, because he was just way too attractive when he stopped what he was doing and looked at her like that…
Celia burst into tears.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she sobbed, flopping into the chair next to his desk. “Rob is so frustrated with me – I’d make more money working full time at Starbucks than I am making right now.” She grabbed a tissue from his desk and blew her nose.
“Well, no one goes into ministry to make money,” Paul said, soothingly. “You’re doing what you’re called to do.”
This was the kind of thinking that confused Celia to no end. It made so much sense when Paul talked about it, because she did feel called to music and to teaching. But Rob, while professing to want her to be happy, worried so badly about money. And to be fair, part of what attracted her to Rob was that she knew he would provide financial stability, which she had never had.
“Rob couldn’t care less about ministry,” Celia said, sniffing. This hadn’t come out right, because she really did not want to blame him for the problem. “I mean, I wish I could have it both ways.”
Paul reached out and took her hand.
What happens next?
Friday, April 22, 2011
Devotion Commotion (Harold’s response)
When Dalia and I talk with couples with base much of our perspective on what for us is a simple truth--"our marriage isn't primarily for us." In other words, our marriage doesn't belong to us. It belongs to God. And, our duty is to maintain a posture where we are giving our marriage away as an acceptable offering back to God. We do this by using our experiences--both good and bad--to tell a story about how God has designed our marriage to be a ministry. And, naturally this marriage-as-ministry mantra is what we advise to others.
There is something transcendent about understanding that God has a purpose for our marriage that is bigger than our own individual likes and dislikes. And, sometimes God uses the simple things that we intend to actually do profound things in the lives of others.
When I read this week's episode with Celia and Rob, I am reminded of this. When starting the devotions, Celia had her own intentions for its utility. Well, Rob's application of the devotions has opened up another entire direction. We don't know yet the full measure of this exercise. But, it is creating relationships. And, God is all about relationships.
So, while we have to thank Celia for having the courage to open Rob's mind up to devotions. We have to encourage her to ride with this and see exactly where God would have it go rather than trying to control it. As she is able to let this flow, this devotion commotion will be transformed into a rewarding experience---probably for all parties involved.
Monday, April 18, 2011
Celia and Rob are trying to incorporate a daily devotional routine into their life together.
Celia was still parked under a tree on a quiet street in Arlington, still on the phone with Rob for what had been their first scheduled daily devotional discussion, and still as astonished at the current state of this discussion as she had been five minutes ago when it had started. Rob had announced then that his application of the devotional meant that he was now planning on spending the evening in a sports bar with his cubicle mate Lucy and her boyfriend Rocco.
“So what time are you done with your lesson?” Rob asked her over the phone, fishing for information about when Celia was going to be joining them. Celia hated sports and therefore sports bars, and while she was not that interested in meeting Lucy, she had a feeling that she ought to, especially now that Lucy was her husband’s new best friend. It’s not that Celia wasn’t happy that Rob had grabbed onto the “entertaining angels unawares” Bible verse and decided to treat Lucy as that angel. Mostly, though, she was hurt that an exercise that had been intended as a help to their marriage suddenly seemed to have nothing to do with it.
“I’m done at 7:45, but”– Celia did not know how to get her point across – “I thought that discussing a devotional meant that I get to share my thoughts, too.”
She could hear Rob sigh impatiently. “Yes. You’re right, it does. OK, I’m sitting at my desk with my computer off and Lucy’s gone. Let’s discuss it.”
There was a long pause where he was presumably waiting for her to say something. “Well,” Celia started, “I guess I’ve always applied that verse to my students, and the choir members, especially when I’m impatient with them.”
This sounded so much less active than the steps Rob had taken to apply it. “So, reading the devotional today reminded me to do that more often. You know, to treat them like they are angels.”
As her speech faded, she began to wonder if this daily devotional thing was going to work anyway irrespective of today’s effort. The whole thing felt so wooden, so false, so contrived; and she had nothing to add to what Rob had already done. She certainly did not feel connected to Rob because of it, even though she had pushed for this.
“Cool,” Rob said, because there was not much else to be said. “So, what time are you going to be done?”
In what manner does Celia respond?
Monday, April 11, 2011
What is faith in action?
Rob’s application of his new daily devotional routine with Celia has had unexpected results.
“So, Lucy and her boyfriend Rocco are going to watch the game at a sports bar and they invited me to go along. Since you have piano lessons I thought I would go, and then you can meet us there later”—
“It’ll be a double date!” Lucy said, leaning over Rob’s shoulder so Celia could hear her through the phone. Her perfume assaulted his sinuses, but now that he knew what a nice person Lucy was, this did not bother him as much as it had before.
There was a long pause on the other end of the phone, and in his peripheral vision Rob could see Lucy turning off her computer and putting on her coat to leave. Finally, Celia spoke.
“Um – so I guess we’ll talk about the devotional later, after the game?”
Lucy handed Rob a slip of paper with the name of the sports bar and signaled that she’d see Rob there and doing a jiggly happy dance at the same time. She was so fun! Rob realized how unfair he had been to judge her on her sleazy clothing, excessive make-up, and sultry voice, and he felt chastened. Thigh-high boots were modest in their own way, really.
“Rob, are you there?”
“Yeah, I’m here,” he said, waving see-you-later at Lucy. “Man, that Lucy is a riot. She actually started law school but when her father had the heart attack she quit to get a job and help out her mom – I think she lives with her parents still”—
“Ah, so that’s how she ended up in your lap,” Celia said. Rob knew Celia well enough to know she was trying to make a joke, although he could tell by the edge in her voice that she did not find it funny.
Rob google-mapped the bar – oh, it was near campus; he knew right where it was – and turned off his computer.
“So what’s wrong?” he said to Celia. Going out to a bar with friends was the kind of thing she liked to do more than he did; typically Rob objected because of the cost – but isn’t this why he worked so hard, so he could go out and have a good time occasionally?
“Nothing’s wrong,” Celia said. “But we were going to discuss the devotional tonight, and you won’t feel like it after the game.”
“I thought we were discussing it now, like we said we would,” Rob said as he grabbed his jacket and headed to the elevator. “I mean, I just told you what happened when I read it and decided to apply it.”
What happens next?
Monday, April 04, 2011
Building faith, one relationship at a time
For the sake of marital harmony, Rob has engaged a “daily devotional” routine so that he and Celia can discuss it each evening.
Before Rob had read one word of the devotional he had agreed to, Celia felt light and happy, realizing that while she might enjoy the outcome of their discussions, for the moment it was sufficient that Rob had heard how important his efforts alone were to her. Because he had agreed to do this for her and for no other reason, she knew she ranked in his life. Of course she hoped he would eventually read the devotionals and engage other aspects of her faith, for his sake as well as for hers.
But for today this was good and she was excited. He had texted her that he had done the reading and “applied it.” Celia was more than curious about what this meant and very pleased that Rob would bring his own experience, thoughts and feelings to this first discussion, so it would not devolve into what she feared: her asking questions and him providing minimal response, rendering the exercise not only meaningless but problematic now in its own right.
However, Rob had made it clear that he would not be available for conversation during the Butler-UConn game, and Celia respected his boundary – they had discussed this before – and she asked if they could talk over the phone before the game when she was traveling between a pair of after-school piano lessons. This was not ideal, but she had learned that to try to nail Rob down after any anticipated sports event was useless because he was too wound up. Since watching sports was Rob’s one hobby, she could respect this.
So as agreed, Celia pulled over on a pretty street in Arlington and called at 6 PM, which would give them a few minutes to talk before the game started.
Rob answered and to her surprise, jumped right into the conversation. “So I read it,” he said, “and I really thought about the ‘entertained angels unawares’ part. So I turned to my left and who was sitting there”—
“But Lucy!” Celia heard a female voice echo loudly in the background as Rob said the same, and realized Rob was still at work.
“So I thought about that idea,” Rob continued, “and decided to ask Lucy about her boyfriend. I did, and she said, ‘I’ve worked here for three months. I thought you would never ask.’ I felt terrible.
Celia could hear laughing in the background. She recalled dimly that Rob had a new cubicle mate with whom he did not have much in common. This must be her.
“So we started talking, and we went out to lunch together, and we’ve been talking all day. Her father had a heart attack last fall, too! Can you believe it?”
“Wow,” Celia said to fill space as she tried to follow what was happening. Apparently Rob’s application of the devotional was yielding much more than meaningful conversation.
What happens next?
Friday, April 01, 2011
Can entertaining strangers help your marriage? (Harold’s response)
Marriage is complicated. Yes, it can be romantic. Yes, it can be emotionally satisfying. And, yes it can be physically stimulating. But, it is complicated. And, none of us do it right all of the time.
That is why it is so important to have trusted people (who are also married) with whom you can share your experiences. Marriage is done best among accountability partners that challenge each other to be the best spouse possible--heartily pursuing God's purpose for their marriage.
You never know what person is going to bless your marriage. My wife and I have had people who don't even know us give us a prophetic word that could ONLY have come from God. At certain seasons of our married life, we have had certain married couples who have come alongside us for encouragement--but those relationships lasted only for a season.
The bottom line is that you never know who God will use to speak truth and blessing into your marriage. And, conversely you never know who God will place in your path for you to be a source of encouragement.
Like the scripture says there are times when we entertain angels unaware.
This week Rob has decided to apply some of what he has been reading in devotions by engaging his colleague at work. We don't know where this conversation will go. Maybe, it won't go anywhere. But, maybe, just maybe it could be a divine connection. And, that is something that all of us need to be on the look out for on a daily basis.
Monday, January 17, 2011
Shared faith in marriage
Celia and Rob are back to their routines following the holidays and her mother’s visit.
Celia was putting away the rhythm instruments the youngest children had been using. Over the holiday break Celia had missed her piano students and the children in the afterschool program. She was surprised how much she enjoyed being back with her church choir to begin to rehearse music for Easter. Most of all she realized she had missed Paul, the seminary intern who ran the afterschool program at her church.
She watched him in the next room, sitting next to a fifth grader and helping him with his homework. Celia had complicated feelings about Paul. Initially, she was attracted to him, which obviously she could not act on since she was married. As their working relationship evolved, Celia focused on the genuine respect she had for him. He was passionate about articulating the faith he claimed and “putting feet to it” in concrete ways. He had started the afterschool program because of that and challenged himself regularly to put other aspects of his faith and theology into practice in small ways. This often led to discussions with a theological bent as he brought Celia into his thinking, seeking her ideas.
She enjoyed this. Celia’s training as a music teacher had been highly practical and the chance to engage heady theological and philosophical topics was a nice change of pace. Paul complimented her on taking his airy-fairy ideas and envisioning and enacting the concrete expression of them with the children. In many ways, Celia provided the “feet” to Paul’s ideas. They were a good team, and his esteem felt good.
In fact, she missed those conversations when she was with Rob. Rob was not a particularly theoretical person, being much more comfortable with spreadsheets, sports, and sex – all of which were concrete; rather black and white.
Rob did not mind that Celia was involved in her church, but the longer they were married the more Celia minded that Rob wasn’t involved in her church, for himself. Religion and faith were no more part of his life than music was, and while he was willing to participate in them at times, he did not bring his own passion to them.
Looking away from Paul, she walked into the kitchen of the old house in which their program resided and called Rob. Sometimes, the world she inhabited here seemed almost at odds with her married life. It helped her to touch base with that life sometimes while she was at work.
Rob answered. “I have a new cubicle-mate,” he said in response to her inquiry about his day. “She’s dressed like a Christmas tree. And smells like a perfume counter. She’s at a meeting with HR right now so I’m taking in as much oxygen as I can before she gets back.”
Suddenly Celia realized how much she wished Rob shared her Christian faith with her. “Rob, would you come to church with me on Sunday? I miss having someone to talk to about theology and things like that.”
How does Rob answer?
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