Monday, June 30, 2008

Love Hurts

“If I never loved, I never would have cried.”
Simon & Garfunkel

“Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing, compared with love in dreams.”

“[Jesus], having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.”
The Gospel of John, chapter 13, verse 1

Mother Theresa was fond of saying that our main task in this life is learning what it really means to love. She was also fond of saying that there is no spiritual growth without suffering. And I’ve come to understand that the two – love and suffering – are not so very separate from each other.

I think we’re sort of conditioned by our culture to think of love in terms of mellow warm feelings toward another person – taking pleasure in their presence in our lives, wanting to do things together with them, or give our time and energy for their sake. But if warm-fuzzies is all that we mean by love, it winds up being pretty shallow and lame.

In a fallen world, it comes to seem that any love worthy of the name inevitably has a tragic aspect about it. We are all fallen, broken persons, and our fallen-ness and broken-ness redound to the pain of those who love us. And hobble our ability to love others as we ought. We inevitably hurt and disappoint those who love us, and in many ways, the measure of love is the manner in which it deals with those hurts and disappointments.

Our kids have taught some of this to Molly and me. When 1F was the ‘perfect’ adolescent, it was pretty easy to love her; to soak up the accolades we received for having raised such a wonderful girl. But, I don’t think I’ve ever been more deeply wounded than I was when she walked away from our family to live with the F-bomb. And I never, in my worst dreams, would have imagined one of my daughters having a baby out-of-wedlock. But, you know, in the ensuing years, I think we’ve come to a stronger love for each other. I found out that my heart could bear more pain than I thought it could, and that I loved my daughter even though she had hurt me like I’d never imagined I could be hurt.

Likewise for 3M – it was easy to love him when he was a cute and precocious child, when we got appreciative pats on the back for his wit and intelligence. But when he ran away from home, and defied us in every possible way, he simply broke our hearts. And such is the tragic aspect of love – real, down-and-dirty, harsh, dreadful love. He is not today what I would really want him to be, but I think we have learned to love each other for who we are, apart from any questions about ‘approval’.

All of our kids, in one way or another, have suffered from my (and, I suppose, Molly’s, although even to say so evokes thoughts of the Log and the Speck; besides which, it feels like ‘talking behind her back’) failures of love. 1F and 3M are just the glaring, nuclear examples. 2F suffers greatly to this day that we didn’t love her as she needed us to – that we were so dazzled by her sister’s ‘perfection’, and too easily put off by her more strong-willed personality. 4M can be a male version of 1F – ‘perfect’, except when he thinks we’re not looking. 5M too easily gets lost in the chaos that swirls around his older siblings, and 6F has had to endure all manner of trials that we wished we could have been more effective in helping her through. But perhaps we are learning, just a little bit better, what it means to love. Perhaps we can dig a little deeper, and give our kids the love they need, where once we’d have come up short. Perhaps. At least, I hope so. . .

It’s not just the kids, either. As much as I love Molly (and she me), there is, even still, a tragic aspect to our love. She has not avoided disappointing me (or, to be certain, I her), even though she is still the most amazing woman I’ve ever known. Some part of the measure of our love is coming to know – really know, where it hurts to know – each other’s weaknesses and character flaws, and keep moving forward. Even to cover for each other’s weaknesses (whether or not we ever thought we should have to).

So, again - the measure of our love is not the absence of our disappointments with each other. The measure of our love is what we DO with the inevitable hurts and disappointments that we inflict on each other – can we let “love cover a multitude of sins” (I Peter 4:8), or not?

And then we have the example of God Himself, who “demonstrates His own love for us in this – while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Jesus didn’t wait for us to get our shit together in order to make a gift of Himself for our sake. He loved us, “to the end,” even in all our fallen, broken, garbage.

In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously said that, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” And I think it’s likewise when it comes to ‘learning what it really means to love’. To love greatly is to risk being hurt greatly. To ‘pour ourselves out’ for the sake of the beloved, with little or no regard for what we have left when we’re done.

“And greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

Jesus, with all trepidation, I ask of you. . . teach me how to love. . .

Monday, June 23, 2008

Stepping Out?

Probably my closest friend for my entire adult life has been a guy who, for blogging purposes, I’ll call H. We were college roommates for two years, and when I was in graduate school, he and I lived in a house together with a group of other guys. We got married just a few months apart, and we were each other’s Best Man. H and his wife (call her F) bought a house a block away from Molly and me, and we both had daughters, again within a few months of each other. 1F and H/F’s oldest daughter have been best friends since they were both in diapers, which is really unusual these days, and really cool.

H/F’s second daughter married the son of GF2 (remember her?) and her husband, and they now have a baby daughter of their own. It has been really cool to see the relationship between the four ‘co-grandparents’, who were good friends before their children married each other, but having a grandchild in common has made for an even closer bond between them.

A while back, Molly and I were at a party at GF2’s house; one of her younger children was graduating from high school. Her kids and mine are all aware that, back in the day, we dated each other, and from time to time, it becomes the focal point of some humor among them. And this was one of those times. So, when the young parents (the son of GF2 and the daughter of H/F) arrived at the party with their little girl (the ‘common’ grandchild), I held the little girl briefly and said, “You know, I used to date your grandma.”

F was standing nearby, and heard me. Whereupon she said, “Hey, you dated BOTH of us!” Well, F is a very good friend, but she was never my girlfriend, so I had no idea what she was talking about. At first. But then I remembered. . .


Several years ago, a buddy of mine, knowing my serious musical jones (nyuk!) for any and all things Beatle, scored tickets to see Paul McCartney (even before he was Sir Paul), and picked up a pair for me (for which you can be sure I was grateful). I told Molly about the tickets, and she was ambivalent about going. “Why don’t you go with H?”

So, I offered my second ticket to H, figuring that we could have some guy-time together at the concert, but he wasn’t particularly interested, either. “But, I bet F would love to go with you – heck, she even went to see the Beatles way back when. . .” Well, I didn’t know about that – my buddy’s wife, and all.

But Molly was all for it. “Go ahead and go to the concert with F. She’ll appreciate it, and you’ll both have a great time.” So we did.

I admit, driving the hour-and-a-half to the concert venue was a little odd, but not so bad as all that – Molly and I had been doing things together with H and F since before we were married, and I had a good friendship with F even apart from her being married to my best friend.

We got to the arena, and we had a great time. F told me stories about when she went to see the Beatles when she was 12, and it was cool. Paul came out with the band, and played a great show, and F and I had tremendous fun singing along with the songs, remembering our youth, and just generally having a lot of fun.

When the concert was over, we hung around the arena for awhile, waiting for the traffic to thin out before we got back in the car. While we were standing by our seats, we saw a couple we both knew – former members of our community, who we hadn’t seen for probably ten years or so. They came over to talk with us, and the whole time, they were both looking at us oddly, like, “I thought you were married to. . .” After a few pleasantries, they moved on.

F turned and hit me on the shoulder. “You didn’t say anything!” she squealed.

“Neither did you,” I responded. “Besides, it’ll be interesting to see if any rumors come back around from it, don’t you think?”

“I can’t believe you didn’t say anything!” To which I only smirked.


As far as I know, there were never any rumors spread about us. And I haven’t ever run into that couple again, to ask what they thought when they saw F and me together.

But, I have to admit, in all candor, that I can’t say anymore that I stopped dating other women after I married Molly. Heck, Molly even said it was okay (and so did F’s husband, for that matter), so long as I tell her about it when I got home. . .

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Back In the Blog Life Again. . . Sort Of

Well, maybe not quite. Mainly, I just regretted deleting my old blog, and I thought it would be better to have almost a year’s worth of my old blog posts back up, in case anyone would ever want to have a look at them (does that seem incredibly vain?) Plus, a couple times in the past year, I’ve wished I still had my blog, so I could post some thoughts that were burning a hole in my brain at the time (that’s not nearly as painful as it sounds). So, here I am.

I don’t want to get anybody’s hopes up. My intention is not to post very often. If at all. I simply can’t ever go back to ‘full-time’ blogging; I have too many other things going on in my life. I expect I’ll be one of those frustrating bloggers who posts just seldom enough that you want to say ‘the heck with it’, but then a new post appears. But such is life in blog-space. Actually, to be perfectly candid, even as I sit here saying I don’t intend to post much, I have half-a-dozen ideas for new posts floating around in my brain. So, maybe some stuff will trickle out here and there, until the flow of ideas dries up, and then I’ll go dormant for a while again, until something else gets stirred up in my brain.


Since I’ve been gone for awhile, I should probably take just a moment to bring you all up to speed on what all us Joneses are up to these days, and where we’ve been.

Molly and I, and virtually all of our kids (except 8M) have spent time in counseling over the past year-and-a-half (I talked about it some here). I think it’s been helpful. At least, we’ve got a few more tools for how we relate to each other that, if we remember to use them, help us to defuse a lot of the conflicts that arise in the course of our family life. Molly and I are learning just to be more empathetic with our kids, to just throw an arm around their shoulders, and ‘be there’ for them. Which, over the years, has been our major failing as parents. It isn’t always easy to do, with so many of them. But it’s necessary; and worth the time and effort. And we’re getting better at it. I think.

Molly and I continue to be madly, passionately in love with each other, even after nearly 28 years of marriage. I can’t help it; she’s the most amazing woman in the world, and the hottest 50+ year old any of you will ever meet. . .

1F is steadily getting her life back on track, although not without some struggle. She’s been back in school, taking single classes for the past year, to get herself re-acclimated to the whole ‘school’ thing. Her daughter is now two-and-a-half years old, and cute as a bug. The ‘open’ adoption is still working really well for all parties concerned.

2F has spent the last year doing mission work in Detroit. She has tended to get short shrift here, and in real life, just because her siblings on either side of her have drawn so much attention. And that has left a few scars on her psyche. Under the age of ten, she was probably our most difficult child, but these days, she’s quite a shining star. Once her mission year ends this summer, she’ll come back to finish her schooling and see what life has next for her.

3M is doing much better. Since he graduated from high school, he’s spent a fair bit of time getting educated by The Universe. The first year after high school was especially painful for us to watch. But the past year has been better. He’s held a job, and has mended fences on several of the relationships he’d trashed. And our relationship as father/son is as good as it’s been in a long, long time. There’s still lots of room for him to make some better decisions for his life, but for now, he seems to slowly be absorbing the lessons The Universe is giving him.

4M has had a bit more adversity over the last year than what he’d been used to. He’s still an A-student, star athlete, All-American Boy. But, whereas a year ago, he had colleges knocking on his door to come play football for them, his junior season pretty much ended those prospects. When you play quarterback, you can be a great athlete, but if you make bad decisions under pressure, it doesn’t go so well for you. We’ll see how his senior year goes, but now he knows that he’s much more likely to earn his living at something he learns in the classroom than he is on the football field.

5M has also had more adversity than he’d bargained for, starting in 8th grade, when he was peripherally involved in some trouble at school, for which he was very severely punished (way more severely than the ‘offense’ warranted, in my opinion, but that’s another story for another day). He has also tended to get lost in the swirl surrounding his older siblings, but we’re learning not to do that.

6F has had a difficult transition into teenager-hood. Aside from being the only girl living at home in a sea of testosterone, middle-school social drama and barbarian middle-school boys have made her life more stressful than I wish it was.

7M, our ‘miracle boy’, is still brilliant, still volatile. We started him on piano lessons six months ago, and he’s already run miles down the road with it. Just like 1F used to do when she was younger, he tends to play the piano for stress-relief. And he’s gotten pretty good at it. The bad news is, he feels stressed a lot. We’re getting better at helping him get on top of his emotions, but it isn’t always easy.

8M isn’t a baby anymore, even though he’s every bit the ‘baby of the family’. He was in kindergarten this past year, meaning that, for the first time since before 1F was born, Molly was home alone during the school day. He’s showing signs of being genius-prone like 7M and 3M. We’ll see about that.

And that’s the short version of where we’re at these days. Life is both harder and richer than we’d anticipated. And God is merciful.