This time last year, I used Jen Fulwiler’s Word of the Year Generator to pick a theme for 2019 and got “Fertility”
Fertility has many meanings beyond the human procreative one. Produce much writing. Grow in my friendships and relationships. Create something new. 2019 did end up fertile for me (yes, I did actually have a baby, too), in many of the ways I expected and many ways I wouldn’t have seen coming if they were about to run me over. And I was run over. I was forced to confront so much of my own weaknesses and flaws and desires and strengths. Forced to confront how I’d been selling myself and my loved ones short. Forced to confront my own selfishness. Forced to truly evaluate my desires and the needs of myself and my family and keep only what overlapped. Forced to confront Faith and my lack thereof. Forced to till the soil of my heart and being so that anything good might even begin to grow.
2019 began unsteadily
Truthfully, I hadn’t done anything really in recent memory to make my foundation stronger; I simply let what I had rot away. I was exhausted and hurting and didn’t know how to make any of it stop. I began 2019 unsure of myself and my surroundings, if what I had was what I wanted. Sometimes it’s difficult for me to stay and live in the present. Often, I’m reflecting on the past or working through some issue from my past or I’m looking toward the future and dreaming of what could be. What was, could’ve been, and still could be. 2019 showed me that that wasn’t enough.
Selfishness has a way of creeping into the best intentions and polluting them, poisoning the self and those in contact. I thought just pushing through everything and dealing with issues as they came up was the best thing to do. Meanwhile, my husband felt neglected and railroaded, my children weren’t getting the individual (and sometimes specialized) attention they needed, and I was unfulfilled in my work and relationships.
“Good night,” I would say to my husband as we laid in bed right before falling asleep
“Good night,” he would reply and then promptly begin to snore. Love was not something I felt I was receiving from him to the point that I doubted that he loved me at all. And I doubted if I really loved him. I would stew over this lack. Why wouldn’t he say more? What is so hard about saying, “Good night,” first sometimes? Why did I always have to be the one to initiate any sort of conversation? Me, me, me. These were legitimate feelings and questions, of course, but I framed them around myself instead of around my marriage and it showed.
Fed up with not getting a response, I started to say, “I love you,” as we fell asleep. “You too,” my husband would reply. Eventually, I began to just ask him if he really did love me after he’d respond as such. “I think so?” he’d say or, “Yeah.” He thought he loved me, but he wasn’t sure. A sword straight through my heart! But it was also through that wound that the selfishness began to drain from me and then I was able to see how, even though I’d say the words, I wasn’t really sure if I loved my husband, either. What is love? A feeling, an action, a decision, a commitment, a vow, a Being. Did I love my husband?
We began talking about marriage counseling or a marriage retreat or something to help us work through these communication issues and see if we were even ever on the same page or merely swept away in emotions. That uncovered fear in both of us. What would happen if we decided we shouldn’t be together? What would that look like? How would we make it work? In confronting those questions, we uncovered an answer, so simple, that we’d been overlooking for years– no matter what situation we ended in, we’d have to work together to make it work.
We’re in this together anyway
We became pregnant with our third child not too far into the year. So we were sorting out marriage problems right along with trying to prepare for and welcome a new life into the world. The stakes were high and we knew we needed to work things out quickly.
What a kick in the ass children are. When you’re lazy, they’re there to remind you all they need and depend on you for. When you’re noncommittal, they force you to make commitments. When you’ve got issues, they force you to figure them out. They speed up growth for you. Virtues that took me years to progress in before I became pregnant with any of my children I can suddenly acquire in a matter of months, sometimes quicker! Why? Because my life isn’t about just me anymore, it is about these small people who need me and about my husband whom I’m supposed to be one with. I give my life over. I choose to submit my life at the service of another.
We are called to the biggest love imaginable
God became man, became the smallest form of human possible and grew as all humans do. The King of the Universe, the Creator, the everything became a speck, a tiny, helpless speck and relied on others to care for Him. He relied on others to lay down their lives for Him so that He could live and grow and then lay down His life for us. The God of everything became just like us, all so that He could die so we don’t have to. That is love at its biggest and best and deepest and most fulfilling. And we are called to it.
Lucifer fell from heaven when he said, “I will not serve.” Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden when they said, “We will not obey.” Each sin we commit says the same. But Mary said, “Be it done unto me. I am the handmaid of the Lord.” And Jesus said, “I will be obedient to death, even death on a cross.”
“Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you.” As Simon Peter said this to Jesus, saying that he could, pitifully, only love God with familial love and not the all-giving agape love the Lord was asking of him, so I say this. Christ responds with the most beautiful hope I could ever imagine: “One day you will. One day you will follow even unto death to yourself and you will agape love me” (cf. John 21:15-19). Finally, I have begun.
People heal people
“Good night,” I said. “Good night,” my husband replied. “I love you,” I said earnestly, eagerly. “I love you, too,” he replied without hesitation. “Do you really love me?” I asked. “Yes, I really love you,” he responded. We went to sleep.
An hour later, the baby woke up and her crying woke us up. My husband got out of bed to prepare a bottle and I slept. The first weeks postpartum were hard on my body and, to make sure I was getting enough rest and healing properly, my husband was taking all of the night shifts. I didn’t even know he had decided to do this until almost a week had passed and I’d realized he had never woken me up any night for my turn.
I speak my love, loudly and often. My husband lets his actions speak his love. In the past, I’ve been too loud to see his love, but it’s always been there. In the past, he’s been too busy to hear my love, but it’s always been there. 2019 has taught me to see clearer and it has taught my husband to listen better.
We heal each other. After all, are we not God’s hands and His feet? His ears and His voice? His eyes and His heart? We are. His grace pours through us to each other. The most miraculous aspect of grace is that it multiplies when it is given. Hoard it away and it will diminish, but share it and it’s abundance will have no end. This is how we heal each other and why we must.
“Good night,” I say. “Good night. I love you, Theresa,” my husband replies. “I love you, too.” And then I make a decision to get up with the baby once every night.
2019 really has been very fertile for me, most especially in making my heart a fertile ground for love to grow and grace to multiply. The baby was just the icing or maybe the catalyst. Perhaps with 2020’s word “Soar,” I’ll sprout some wings.
Image courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/vintage_illustration/42745551432