Marriage Under the Rainbow
It hadn't been a particularly great day. From what seemed like it came out of nowhere, my husband was sharing how he felt parts of the last month had been between us, and I was blind-sighted.
"So you're basically saying that ever since we got to Uganda I haven't cared about what you think at all?" I asked.
I was so confused. I needed more data or anecdotal evidence from him to back up what he was saying. "Please, give me some examples."
"I'm not saying it's all been bad Kace. We've had a really good month in a lot of ways. But some stuff has been a miss..." he started. "Like, for example, in the kitchen yesterday. You walked in, and I told you I had inventoried all our antimalarials. We've been meaning to do that, so I thought you'd be happy. But you quickly cut me off and corrected me, and asked about the emergency bag and told me I shouldn't have included what was in there. You mentioned it three times in that conversation."
COVID-19 has us counting up all our medications, making sure that we don't run-dry during a lock down. But living as a missionary, close to the DRC border, also has us needing to have a "go bag" ready at all times. As an added level of preparedness, and just in case something ever happens, we are supposed to have everything our family may need, packed and ready to be carried out on last minute notice. This is standard for a lot of places.
As he was telling me the amount of medication, I saw a glitch in his system. I couldn't count what was in our go-bag. We needed that set-apart from our monthly count. How long can we get by on our medications without using our emergency supply?
Add to that my active imagination, and he lost me in that conversation. I was already mentally fleeing my home with kids in tow, without our Malarone, with no protection against malaria ridden mosquitoes. (I should note: our region is stable, please do not worry for us).
He, on the other hand, was just having an excited moment, glad to have checked something off our to do list when I so matter-of-factly pointed out the errors I saw.
My frustration level was rising, in hearing this story retold. Our new nanny, Robinah, quickly hurried off with our two-year old as she heard us trying to work stuff out. We don't yell, but we're not afraid to share our emotions either.
"So what would have been a better way to have dealt with that?" I asked. "I am sincerely asking for help here."
"You could have just acknowledged it at first. Like, I appreciate that you did that, thanks Mike. Can we talk about the go-bag also and how that plays into the count? But instead you just came in with these statements and there was no wiggle room for conversation. It's, I'm right, you're wrong, the end. And it's been like that a lot recently, and it's tiring. I went outside today to just go look at the trees swaying, to be alone, because I'm just so tired from it all."
When our family went to our month long cultural training in Colorado this past fall, they put all the participants through an entire training on conflict. Each person answered some questions and then were asked to identify their conflict style in marriage (it can differ in friendships, work relationships, etc.) from 4 choices; turtle, teddy bear, owl, and lion. Without completely delving into each category, Mike learned he is a teddy bear, and I learned I am a lion. All these categories have positives and negatives. The training taught us how to see blind spots, how to leverage the positives, and how to soften the negatives so that they aren't so impactful. Any huge change can bring out conflict where it lay latent before. So they told us to expect it, and gave us a new framework to work within.
As a lion, people said they appreciated a lions forthrightness, and always knowing where they stand. They liked that in a group, lions can move things forward and get things done. But I also learned from over twenty people sharing their general experience with lions, that we often only focus on what we are saying and not the actual delivery and timing of how it may be coming out. We jump too quickly to conclusions without hearing people out. We can unknowingly shut people down.
In an ironic juxtaposition, a Teddy Bears need in conflict is to feel heard, and they ultimately want everyone to feel good about the process, as well as the outcome.
As I listened to the man I love sharing part of his experience of moving across the world with me, I could see that in my more anxious thoughts I was clamping down with my words and trampling over him with my desire to get a handle on whatever new scenario we were dealing with. Anything that seemed like a potential threat to our children (Boston drinking unfiltered water in the bath, the kids playing with seeds from unknown plants, etc.), often turned into a command towards Mike, with no room for open communication. Which to him felt demeaning and disrespectful.
"You know your desire to connect, to feel understood and heard?" He said. "That's your primary need in our marriage, to feel loved. But guys need to feel respected. I need to feel that. And there are parts of this month that have been hard, because at times I've felt the opposite from you in our communication."
We've been married for eight years, but early on in our marriage I had a realization: when my husband hurts, I hurt. We are one. And I vowed to be a wife that built him up. That brought out the best in him.
I started to mentally sift through the past few weeks. A few interactions stood out to me. I could see a little of what he was referring to, and tiny cracks of enlightenment began to shine through my frustration.
It takes someone else to point out your blind spots, but "blind spot" is such a misnomer. It's not a spot. It's an entire way of being that is offensive to others- that you have no idea exists within you. Last year I took a progressive poll and asked a few of my close friends and family, "if you could change one thing about me, what would it be?" I was surprised and encouraged, that independent of each other, they all said the same thing, in different ways.
It wasn't something I was thrilled to ask of everyone, but our missions agency put us through a 16 week training called "Sonship", a training meant to dive deep into our spiritual
identities. Part of that was understanding our dark sides in light of who Christ is. That we can rest in who Jesus Christ is, and not on our perceived sense of worthiness or unworthiness. He is perfect, we are not, but we don't need to be. We can cling to him as we are honest about who we are, because he is sufficient, worthy, and good. And He loves his little creations (us).
And in turn, God brings freedom. Freedom from having to make excuses, cover-up, be defensive. When my entire identity is not based on what I strive to be;
"awesome mom" or "one who is right"
or "who has the best advice"
or whatever the fill-in-the-blank for the week is, but rather my identity rests in what it means to be a cherished daughter of God, then I can rightly orient myself towards the truth of who I am and there is room for it all. Failure and success.
And in the failure, God gives us the freedom to rest in Him as we honestly seek to reconcile how we have hurt others.
I would like to say that I tapped into these truths as my husband shared his heart with me. But I definitely made excuses. And defended myself.
But there are signs of growth too, not to be ignored. The cessation of our argument with a desire to understand each other better. Followed by no bitterness. Then a kiss over the kitchen counter.
This life is a work in progress.
And then, dinnertime.
The kids gobbled down their rice and beans as we sat around our new dining room table. Mike and I happily discussed what we should do with the 3x3 hole in the wall we were looking over at- a boarded up space between our kitchen and our dining room, once a window people used to pass food through.
"I think we should put a painting up." Mike said.
The kids finished dinner and ran outside, racing to beat the sunset and the impending rainstorm. Mike and I sat next to each other.
"Let's get the artist in town to paint us something." He said.
"What about an ocean picture?" I asked.
We sat and considered it. Then simultaneously agreed staring at the ocean all the time while we were living in Africa might do us more harm than good.
"The Ventura pier?" I asked. It's Mikes favorite spot, but still the ocean.
"What about a painting of your old living room?" He said with a smirk.
His parents, happily married for 61 years, have a painting of the Santa Monica Pier, where they had their first kiss. Mike always liked the idea of having "a spot" to commemorate, but our first-kiss was in front of a bookcase inside my old house.
He stood up and brought some plates to the kitchen, then jokingly yelled "still one of my biggest regrets!"
I kept staring at the huge hole in the wall, asking myself- what is most meaningful- to us? When we fill this space, what would we all want to stare at while we eat or when we walk through our door? What would we want others to know about us? What is beautiful and worthy to be the first thing everyone sees?
In mid-thought, out front I heard excited yelling. It was Dr. Jennifer, our friend and team leader. "You guys! You gotta come out here- QUICK!"
We all ran out, turned our gaze to the Rwenzori mountains, and right there spanning across the sky was a complete and perfect rainbow, the bottoms dropping down so low they felt meant for us to run and grab.
So close, and so bright.
Almost as if, amidst the fear and spreading of the coronavirus, and a difficult afternoon with Mike, children expressing their first waves of homesickness, and the growing demands and questions we all have about what to do next during this pandemic, which move to make, and where to turn...
God said "Time out. I will fill this space. Stare at this. Amidst the hard, I AM beautiful and worthy and I am with you in it all. I promise to always be with you."
Our family ran ahead on the grassy lawn, held hands, and Dr. Jennifer took a picture of us underneath the rainbow. We will get this painted and it will hang on our wall. It's not a picture of a perfect day, but a testament that God is with us, in all our imperfection.
This is what we are about.