Sunday, November 23, 2008

november = character building month

a funny thing happened on my way to the call in san diego.

we had an appointment the night i left, and i didn’t get out of town until after 8 o’clock. driving alone, and knowing i had a long road ahead of me, i decided to pick up the pace a bit. i was clipping along close to 80 mph when I passed one c.h.p. and then 100 yards down the freeway –another one. seconds later the lights were flashing behind me. i made my way to the exit, but as i did the cop blared at me over his loud speaker “turn right at the first street”. at that i was upset and flustered. i followed his instructions but was thinking too much about the price of a speeding ticket and not enough about my driving. i turned right in front of an oncoming car. the driver swerved, horn blaring. "great"' i told myself, "not only are you getting a speeding ticket, but you pulled that one right in front of the policeman. brilliant."

i pulled over and rolled down my window. while opening the glove box to retrieve my registration, the officer approached the car and shined his flashlight in my face. sarcastically he remarked, “yeah. turning right means looking for ongoing traffic first.” i guess i earned that one. next he asked me, “ma’am have you been drinking?” and gave me a drunk driving test. me! i’m the one who always follows the speed limit - plays by the rules. my family likes to accuse me of driving like an old lady. sweet. “ma’am, will you take off your glasses? now follow my finger with your eyes – don’t move your head” (oh that’s perfect. i’m legally blind without my glasses, and i’m supposed to follow his finger, in the dark. what finger? i can’t even see it.) with everything in me, i struggled to follow what i thought was his finger moving back and forth in the shadows. i was probably cross-eyed. i passed, but the process was humbling to say the least. actually, the officer took pity on me. he gave me a stern warning and never wrote the ticket. but there’s one for the record books. my kids loved that the police thought i was drunk.

sadly that was just the beginning of the month. as the month progressed we managed to mess up the blogspot, and before we could re-post and fix our ills, our computer had a massive meltdown. i mean massive. we lost everything – nothing salvaged. after soaking hundreds of dollars into computer repair, both of our cars started acting up and needed fixing(more cha-ching, cha-ching). then our digital camera died (which accounts for the boring lack of pictures in this blog - sorry, we are working to correct that) . . . problems at the office . . . problems, problems, problems. what the heck? is there nothing working right? nothing going my way? you know what i’m talking about. we’ve all had those weeks . . . months . . sometimes years. it can become . . . well, laughable. almost like some cosmic joke and you somehow are the butt of it. you half expect ashton kutcher or allen funt to pop out from behind a camera – ha! just kidding. it was all a prank. until you realize that this . . . is your life.

in the middle of all of this . . . stuff . . . unexpectedly, one of our children ended up in the hospital. for awhile it was scary. really scary. but immediately that event put everything back in perspective. i didn’t care anymore about money issues, or work issues or computers. broken things meant nothing. all of our concern was for our loved one. suddenly it was about where do i stand with God, and Lord are You listening cause here i am and we need You now in a big way. are You there? and will You come here?

(this is a picture of the northern lights over yellow knife, canada. i know, kinda random, but panoramas like this remind me of how small i am in the whole big picture -and how big God is. it's a good thing.)

so what does this have to do with marriage? only this. life can be hard. and none of us will ever be perfect – not in this life anyway. stuff happens. gunther and i have decided that november has been “character building month”. does that mean i embrace trouble with both hands? hardly. when trouble comes do i always handle it well? no. it often gets messy. but i keep trying. mother teresa used to say “God doesn't require us to succeed; He only requires that you try”.

our lives are not perfect but we still have a lot to be thankful for - imperfections and all. i want to be constantly aware, not of what i don’t have, but of what i do have, however much or little there is.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

best in shell 2008

a couple of years ago, my wife brought home a chihuahua puppy. for a guy who’s always had sled dogs, having a chihuahua in the house was an adjustment. forgive me, i have never been a small dog lover. they yap. they shiver. they’re soooo annoying. the breed offends my masculinity. do you recall seeing a team of chihuahuas pulling a sled? or picture this – the hunter with his .358 winchester in one hand, his foot resting on the bear he just snagged, and his faithful . . . uh, chihuahua, at his side?

i’m not sure when it happened, but jasmine (that is the dog’s name) got to me. first of all she’s chocolate, plus she rarely shivers, and she really doesn’t yap much. don’t know enough about the breed to know if she’s an exception – but i’ll admit it, she grew on me. don’t tell my wife. i tell her that i hate her dog.

for the last five years, our friend clayton connolly has facilitated a neighborhood dog show: best in shell. the show has gotten great reviews and we had heard that it was a lot of fun. even better, every year clayton donates the proceeds to a worthy cause. in the interest of community support, vickey decided that she wanted to enter jasmine in this year’s show.

this is another entrant in the small dog class:

like a true small dog owner, vickey dressed jasmine in a black ruffled flamenco dress (complete with a pink rose at the “neckline”) and off we went. it was a beautiful day at shell beach. we were pleasantly surprised to see a large turnout. clayton is a competent and engaging m.c. and the day got off to a great start.

then, suddenly, vickey got sick. i mean sick. the i-can’t-move-or-i-will-lose-my-lunch kind of sick. as jasmine’s cue approached i was faced with a decision. my wife had entered jasmine to support the local cause and to show off her dog. would i step in and make it happen, or let my wife be disappointed? if i stepped in, i would need to lead the dog around the circle in front of all those people. still hoping for an escape, every minute or so i checked with vickey – “feeling better yet?” i tried the “it’s your dog” approach, but it became clear that my fears would soon be realized. i would have to parade the small ruffled prissy around the judging rink, and do it with sincerity - without excuses or disclaimers. i didn’t want to embarrass my wife, so for a few minutes, i would have to act the part of the proud owner of a chihuahua.

i did it. jasmine performed perfectly. she pranced around the circle as if she owned the show. and i smiled and led her in her 30 seconds of fame. knowing how mortified i was, my wife snickered and took pictures so that the moment would be captured for future use. and jasmine won! not really, but it would’ve made a great story. actually the real punch line is this: vickey, still green with nausea, whispered her gratitude. it meant a lot to her, and i knew it. that’s why i did it. “i did it because I love you”, i told her as I returned to my seat. she smiled. “i know”, was all she answered.

it’s not always the big things that matter. it’s the small things that count the most. sacrifice is the measure of health in a relationship. nothing says i love you louder than placing the wishes of your loved one before your own. i’m no great saint – i just love my wife. and i want her to know it.

but i still tell her i hate her dog.

Monday, November 17, 2008

rules for fair fighting

(this post was accidentally deleted from september’s posts. due to popular demand, we are re-posting it now.)

i love baseball. i played for years. my son loves baseball. he played all through school. my wife loves baseball too. after watching hundred of practices and games, vickey developed a love of the game. i was born and raised in the bay area, so the giants are my team. for my birthday, my kids purchased tickets to a game so that all of us could go together. most of the tribe went to petco park in san diego to watch the giants face the padres.

it was a perfect summer evening, at a beautiful baseball park with my family. the best part? our team won.

because vickey and i understand the game, and the strategies of baseball, we appreciated the contest, even though there were no hits for the majority of the innings. seated behind us was a group of people visiting from another country. for them, the game was boring. because baseball is the great american pastime, I think they had hoped to enrich their visit by “doing the american thing”. they did not understand the rules of the battle. they didn’t benefit from the game.

over the years, vickey and i have developed our own rules for the conflicts in our relationship. one difference of course being that we don’t fight recreationally. it’s not our favorite pastime, nor is it something we enjoy. but conflict can be a healthy thing in any relationship. if we approach our disagreements with some good rules, and the right attitude, we can both win at the end. the result will be a greater intimacy, and the confidence that we will be able to successfully face other struggles in the future.

we call these our rules for fair fighting – and we have agreed together to follow them in the heat of the battle. we share them with you in the hopes that they will give you some “rules for the game:”

1. make it a goal to express irritations and annoyances in a positive, loving manner, rather than holding your mate in the negative or being negative in general.

2. start out by saying “I have a problem with . . . “ rather than “you did such and such”.

3. stay on the issue. you will not fix all of your problems, past and present, in this one discussion – so address only the issue at hand.

4. attempt to control the emotional level and the intensity of the quarrel. no hitting or throwing (this one may seem like a no-brainer, but it can happen – so just don’t).

5. no name calling. resorting to insult is hurtful and counterproductive. you want to face the problem together, not face off against each other.

6. the “d” word is off limits – threatening, or even joking about divorce is not an option.

7. no walking away. you can’t resolve the issue together, if you’re not, well . . . together. if you have to take a 10 minute breather to calm down, then agree to reconvene in a specified time to address the problem (we suggest 15 minutes max). stick to your agreement.

8. words like “never, “always”, “everyone”, “nothing” are not used.

9. no interrupting. let your partner finish his or her thought before speaking. concentrate on listening to what the other is saying rather than formulating your answer.

10. don’t bring up past failures.

11. be quick to ask for forgiveness when needed. admit wrongdoing quickly.

12. extend forgiveness.

13. don’t go to bed mad. before turning out the lights reaffirm each other, even if you haven’t fully resolved the issue. remind each other how much you love each other, and that you are committed to the other for life.

remember – you’re both on the same team.