Colombia, for the win!

J. and I had a winning moment yesterday. You see, we have this ongoing “joke” now about how every time we are on our way to mentoring the Atlanta Jesuit Volunteers (which is bimonthly), we argue en route. “Joke” is in quotes because it’s not a funny kind of joke. However! Yesterday, in mutual acts of pure will, we deliberately chose to break the pattern! Granted – it took us literally 12 months but – we did it!

You might find yourself asking, “But E., how could two adults, with pretty good communication skills, possibly argue every time about driving directions when you have easy access to GoogleMaps, when you’re going to a place you’ve been over two dozen times, to a place you enjoy going, in which you are supposed to provide guidance and examples of maturity, intentionality, and self-awareness?”  Great question. There is no logic here.

Our best guess is that our regular en-route-JV-house arguments happen at the intersection of habit, hunger, rushing against time (we go in the evening hours after work), forgetting small details (we usually take dessert/beer), over-extention and under-appreciation, trafficy angst, and un-commuicated expectations (“I thought you would print the handout”). It really is the perfect storm, no?

Not yesterday. Yesterday, on the verge of extreme frustration, teetering on the edge of an argument, we chose a different path!  Slowly, begrudgingly, against our inner-five-year-olds, we mustered up the will (and opened to the grace) to check-in instead of picking a fight, to laugh instead of tense conversation. Then we high-fived. Now we have this experience that reminds us what it’s like to break the spell, that a new habit is being formed to choose another option when we notice the familiar temptation. I credit the Holy Spirit, the dove in the poster below (by Bro. Mickey O’Neill McGrath, OSFS) who is whispering “Work with me.”

“Peace sometimes only takes a small gesture.”

How many times do we all let ourselves to get flustered over something that’s really about something else? How easy is it to pick a fight when we’re hungry, lonely, tired, have a bruised ego? What about when we’re trying to prove something? when we need affirmation? instead of asking for what we need, using humor, or being honest about where we’re at?

I’m learning that these tiny milliseconds present a choice, the choice to turn towards J. or turn away from J. I’m realizing how much power I have (and J. has, and all of us have) to make or break a moment, to use it to connect with each other or subtly isolate from each other. I’m learning to take ownership of my role in these moments of our car ride, and to practice humor and benefit-of-doubting and connection.

This experience of choosing — of training ourselves — to think differently reminds me of David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech to Kenyon College in 2005, which went viral in the past couple years:

Thanks, Dove.



On Lunch-Making and Laundry-Hanging

J. is six weeks into his no-longer-new job, and our household has found a new rhythm.

We’ve entered a new realm, a realm that involves lots of ironing of Oxford shirts, making lunches the night before, commute planning, and ensuring clean laundry, breakfast options, and a set alarm clock. It’s a little less French Press, a little more Set the Timer on the Coffee Pot.  This movement into the conventional working world has previously been delayed by grad school programs (over the past four years for each of us), and most currently for me, my flexible work schedule.

excited for the day we add a dry cleaning budget.

We’ve already started to notice the impact of our new, daily routine on our relationship. On one hand, I love structure and it goes without saying I’m grateful for J.’s job, and on the other hand, I’ve already felt weary at times from daily chores, the routine, and from missing the old days of seeing J. at random times throughout the day.  It’s neither objectively good nor objectively bad to have a daily rhythm that largely remains the same day-to-day; rather, we realize that our task will be to find meaning and joy, to meet God, and to stay connected in the daily grind. Here are a few ways we try to do that:

Small gestures matter. Doing the little things with great love (Mother Theresa said something about this? So did St. Therese of Liseaux, Thich Nhat Hahn, and lots of other smarties). This means that it’s awesome when we notice teeny tiny ways to help each other out. Example: J. wiped out the bathroom sink the other say because it had developed a “film” (EW), and it was awesome. Also in this category: setting the table, folding socks, leaving little notes, packing cookies in lunches, leaving the outside light on when one of us comes home late.

Parallel play. When we’re in the same space but quietly doing different activities, we call this parallel play. Since our new schedule has made the evenings super important for getting stuff done, this is one way that we can still accomplish necessary tasks without boxing out the other person. On evenings when we’re paying bills, looking at finances, making grocery lists, ironing shirts, or doing a myriad of other household tasks that have to happen – parallel play works for us. You know how oftentimes you feel close to your comrades on a silent retreat even though you’ve barely spoken? Parallel play.

There is always something to celebrate. Fridays = frozen pizza! Traffic wasn’t so bad today! You had a presentation at work! Anything! Everything!

Ritual. Sitting at the dinner table, sharing a quiet moment before work in prayer or reading the paper or coffeetime. One ritual that stuck: the day after our wedding, in a reenactment of the day before, we gave each other our wedding rings and said “take this ring.” Cheesy? You decide. Ritual? Absolutely. Daily reminder of the vows, 226 days strong.

Technology. Texts during the day, here’s-what-I’m-doing pics, sometimes calling on the lunch break, competitive updates about J.’s company’s health challenge (why yes, I did replace sugary drinks with water today, and I’d love a point for that).  We also help each other avoid using our phones in ways that make us feel disconnected. One concrete way we unplug is our rule about no phones in bed (see: iPhone addiction). No pre-bedtime Instagram scroll or news first thing in the morning?! NO.

I’ve found that when I’m operating from this frame, I feel less weary or less creeping resentment, and more in touch with gratitude, service, and partnership. What are your best ways for partnered presence in the daily grind?