The Storm Before the Calm
by Michele (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Love is patient. When Mark and I began connecting as a couple, I knew I wanted to “confess” my past to him. I wanted to have a clean slate with him. I did not want any surprises to be revealed later that would unsettle our growing relationship. I also figured “If I’m going to push you away because of something from my past, I want to do it right now. I want to get it over with before I fall even more in love with you!” That doesn’t sound like a very patient statement, does it? Being a woman and being me, I am quite verbal, so I had no trouble spilling the beans. I poured out my heart to him and he just sat there looking at me, even taking me in his arms saying “I understand. It’s no big deal. The past is past.” Who could ask for a more lovely and loving response? Mark is such a good listener so it is easy to talk to him. He is also an attentive listener, which makes it hard for me to stop talking sometimes. Oh well, just another cross to bear (apparently for both of us!) Mark is quite an articulate speaker and conversationalist, but Mark as Mark was less forthcoming. He was ready to listen and not judge my sins, but he was not as sure that I would feel the same way about his sins, so I began to learn patience. I was a good girlfriend, and later became a good fiance, and will be a good wife by being patient with Mark.
One reason I had such an easy time revealing myself to Mark is because I had spent the two years prior to our getting together as a hermitress. I spent one year removing myself from the world and turning to God, the second year I devoted myself to returning to Catholicism. I left the Catholic Church for thirty years, so I had some catching up to do. One of the ways I caught up was to review the 10 Commandments according to my worldly life and then make a good confession to a priest so that I could receive the sacraments. So all of my sins were in the forefront of my memory, even though they were forgiven by God through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I still thought of them from time to time, in an effort to step out of man’s world and into God’s world. I even quit my job (retired early?) to make the withdrawal from the world as complete and thorough as possible. Mark, on the other hand, was working and was living in the world as a single man, although he never stopped going to mass at any point. As God would have it, Mark’s worldly ways became evident as our relationship grew, but my patience helped him to feel comfortable confronting the ways of the world. My example, helped him to see a different way of being. When I was not patient, Mark always forgave me and we continued moving forward in our relationship.
Love is kind. Love is not rude, it does not rejoice over wrong-doing, but rejoices in the truth. I made sign and hung it in my classroom for most of my teaching career. It said “If it is not nice and it is not true, don’t say it!” Needless to say, this put a damper on a lot of teenage conversations. And it provoked a lot of thought as to creative ways to work around it, but it stood as a firm rule in my classroom. I also enforced this rule with my daughters. We live with the understanding that anyone can say anything using any words (not the Lord’s name in vain, of course!) to anybody, but in a kind way. No screaming, no belittling, no name-calling, no sarcasm, no “Oh, I’m just joking!” kind of stuff. Just language to convey feelings. I would like to say that we always spoke that way to each other, we did. But the number of times we spoke a little too loud, could be counted on two hands. My daughters and I did pretty well in this respect, and so by the time Mark showed up, I was in the habit of making requests in a calm manner with as little unnecessary emotion as possible. “Mark, this upsets me and this is why.” As time went on, and because of the grace of God and my prayers to always be patient and kind, I learned not to take things personally. I learned not to be hurt by anything Mark says or does because he does not mean it personally against me. It is not his intention to hurt me, but sometimes it seems that way as he steps out of man’s world and into God’s world. Mark is out in the world every day, he endures unkindness on a regular basis. I choose to be kind to Mark in every situation. No yelling, no sarcasm, no belittling, no criticism or complaints. My behavior is between me and God, no matter what Mark says or does, no matter what I think Mark is saying or doing, it doesn’t matter. It is not about me. But my behavior is about me, it is about me and God. I have to answer to God. And there is no need for me to point out Mark’s sins or flaws or human-ness to him. His behavior is between him and God. Period.
Michele is not jealous. If I see myself as God sees me, if I trust that God has a great future for me, if I focus on me being me….. then I have no reason to be jealous. The main “issue” that Mark and I have had is that in my opinion, we do not spend enough time together. But looking back to Michele is patient, I remember that Mark and I manage time differently and we have different responsibilities. Because of this fact in our lives, I know that the way to help Mark is to be patient with him and trust God that our time together is as it should be right now. Obviously, when we are married, this problem will begin to take care of itself. We will be living under the same roof and I will be close by to help him by sharing in his responsibilities, hopefully making his burden lighter. I have no need to be jealous of our lack of time, God will take care of it.
Love does not seek her own self-interests. As I was on my own during my single years, I spent a great deal of time developing my own interests and sharing in the interests of my children. I also spent time seeking God and all things Catholic. Mark spent his time cultivating his own interests. Now we are in a position to share our interests with each other. Mark has taken an interest in photography and I have taken an interest in football. Mark will accompany me to museums and even plan hiking trips (one of my loves) knowing that it is an expression of his love for me to share in my interests. I listen to his favorite radio shows with him or help him run errands for his parents. Just being together makes everything fun. We enjoy each other’s company, and even when something sounds like it won’t be fun such as taking his folks to their doctor’s appointments, we take a deep breath and make something good out of it. Mark is so kind and wonderful and sensitive. He wants to please me as much as I want to please him.
Love is not quick tempered. But I am usually quick to respond or move to a resolution in various situations. Mark is not quick tempered, and he is usually slower to respond and more thoughtful in his resolutions (thank goodness). God is so smart. He paired us up so I could learn to slow down and smell the roses by becoming more like Mark. Mark is learning, from me, the qualities that he needs to learn as well. Our individual traits complement each other and as we move from our opposite tendencies toward each other, we are moving toward a more balanced and centered way of being. More in the peaceful, yet productive middle. A blend of doing and being.
Love is long-suffering. Mark specifically, and men in general, are sooooo sensitive. They grow up hearing constructive words as criticism, most likely because they have been criticized mercilessly by other women in their lives. God is so smart. He teaches that if there is a situation that needs to change, all I have to do is pray. I pray to change myself and to change the situation. Then I have to practice patience in long-suffering. When I see how Mark grows and thrives on love and patience and kindness, it makes my long-suffering not so long, because love heals all wounds. Fr. Donald Calloway wrote in his book “No Turning Back: A Witness to Mercy” that the Blessed Virgin Mary told him “You don’t have to change to love me. Loving me will change you” I posted this in my kitchen and refer to it constantly. When my Mother Mary speaks, I listen! Mark does not have to change for me, but he has to change for God. It is not up to me to change Mark. It is up to Mark to change Mark. It is up to me to change me. This last statement is soooooo important because what Mary said to Fr. Calloway is also true between Mark and me. Loving me will change Mark and loving Mark changes me. God is so smart.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. Early in our relationship Mark told me “There’s nothing that we can’t get through!” The more we keep love in the forefront of our relationship, the easier our lives together become. Does that mean we have less disappointments, or worries, or problems or flat tires? No! It means that we trust God and truly believe “there’s nothing that we can’t get through” because we are not alone. We have God and we have each other. Love never fails because God is love and God never fails. The cross is the only path to holiness, to real love. Christ carried His cross and He tells me that He will help me carry mine! So why be afraid? Why think anything that happens in my relationship with Mark, or in my life is unbearable? I know all things are bearable because Christ is before me, beside me, behind me, within me. Christ is everywhere. Christ died to show His love for me because real love involves dying and carrying my cross. I want real love. I’ve experienced the world’s love, I’ve experienced what I thought was love. Now I know what true love is, it is love of TRUTH, which is love of GOD and all things Godly. My cross is anything that separates me from God, God calls this sin. Sure I’ve never killed someone who cut me off in traffic, I don’t even use the Lord’s name in vain, but my greatest daily sin is that I forget God and who He is and what He says to me and about me. When I do not sin I keep my awareness of God’s presence the focus of each minute of each day. I know He can do all things, and He turns all things into good, so I never need to worry. I know He loves me and showers me with graces, so I never need to feel unloved, rejected, or a lack of anything – not time or things or money. He fills me with love, I feel “in love” any time I want to feel that way, because I turn to God for that feeling, knowing His love is other worldly, to say the least! God provides all that I need as He provides for the lilies in the field. And now God provides all that I want, as well! I pray to continually fall more deeply in love with God, I pray to long for His presence, I pray to really understand and enjoy mass and remain attentive and filled with awe. I pray to see God as He really is, not the way my limited mind portrays him. I pray to know and and then do His Will. I pray that as for me and my household, we love and serve the Lord.
So we need to be imitators of God (especially in forgiveness and loving) as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us. When I am close to God I am more able to receive God’s graces. Why is it that when Mark and I first got together everything was great? We were attentive to each other as we poured out our hearts to each other, sharing our past hurts and our future hopes and dreams. We were stripping away our boundaries and revealing our real and best selves to each other, so that we could grow more closely together in love. We could hardly stand to be away from each other. We made dinner for each other, carefully paying attention to the other’s favorite food preferences. Mark explained how he always enjoyed watching his parents make meals together as he was growing up. He said it was one of his best memories of how they showed their love for each other. We started making meals together. Mark walked with me through all of the flower gardens at my home and enjoyed looking at all of my photos, attentively listening to my travel stories. I watched every single sports event that he wanted to see, snuggled up beside him, while he told me the personal stories of each of his favorite players and the histories of the teams. We thought about each other constantly and gave each other little surprises. Mark would bring peppermint patties, wild flowers that he stopped to pick on his way home from work, or fresh produce grown by local farmers, to me. We talked on the phone periodically throughout the day and for hours on end at night. Sometimes we sat under the stars, just sitting quietly. Or in the hot afternoons we would rest quietly in his hammock under the shade of his ancient Maple trees. We even began reading his favorite book “Trinity” together, each of us taking a turn to read aloud to the other. The list goes on and on. We were all smiles. Love and affection seemed to pour out of us. People commented on how happy we looked together and how happy they were for us, and strangers seemed to be drawn to us. Our love was contagious. Everything was laughter and wildflowers. I say “was” because before I knew it everything changed from other worldly greatness to ugliness. I believe our culture (the culture of death) calls this the honeymoon period and when it is over it is time to move on. At least that is what the self help books say, or else it is time to start setting up boundaries and standing up for yourself so you can make him/her into the man/woman you want him to be.
Lucky for us, before we got together I had immersed myself in God and His ways. I had spent a great deal of time and energy extracting the world from my mind, body and soul, and turning myself over to God. Yet, I was surprised when things became ugly between us. Initially, Mark could do no wrong, even when he did wrong. But slowly and gradually this “honeymoon period” evolved into the realization for both of us that things were as ugly as they were in our past relationships, in our former marriages! Actually, things were much uglier than our former marriages because we did not have the love and connection in those relationships that Mark and I have together. More importantly, we did not have the Catholic understanding of marriage in those relationships, hence the granting of an annulment for each of our marriages. We were quite confused, how is it that we are having these same issues and having them at such an intense level, especially since we both agreed to put God first in our relationship? Lucky for us, every time an issue reared its ugly head, I would turn to God for comfort. I would turn to God for guidance. I started praying novenas, lighting candles, increasing my prayer time back to what it was before Mark and I got together. I started saying more rosaries and spending more time in adoration. None of this seemed to help. As time passed I felt more and more removed from Mark, I felt frustration, disconsolation, isolation, and humiliation. I prayed “God, am I wrong? Am I supposed to be alone or with Mark? It is unpleasant being with Mark and I felt so much peace being alone. Are we supposed to be together or not?” After a few months, well, almost a year I heard God’s answer to my question. I am a slow learner or else not a very good listener or maybe a little of both. Or maybe it was that I didn’t quite understand what I learned during my two years of being immersed in God’s world and way. Actually, what I believe it really was, is that I had that two years of knowledge and good practice under my belt, but now it was time to put all of it into practice.
Eventually I realized that every complaint I had about Mark, was the complaint God had about me. (Except God didn’t complain to me, He just sat back and let me figure it out!) “We aren’t spending enough time together.” I had cut back my time with God to spend it with Mark. “I go out of my way to look nice for you and you don’t even notice!” I forgot who I was in God’s eyes, I wasn’t seeing myself as beautiful and wonderful as God intends me to see myself, instead I wanted Mark to say that to me. “You don’t tell me that you love me anymore.” God was saying that to me. I was spending all my time being head over heels in love with Mark, that I forgot that I was head over heels in love with God! Eventually, I got it. God allowed me to put Mark in his place, He allowed me to make our relationship so miserable that I could no longer turn to Mark for love and comfort and peace. I needed to turn back to God. I needed to turn back to God. I would like to say that once I realized this I immediately understood what God was trying to tell me… that I only need God. But I can say today as I am writing this, that I get it. I need God. I am poor of spirit. Without God I can do nothing. Yet all things are possible through Christ, who loves me. I really took to heart what God was telling me, and that is that He is first, no other idols before Him. I am to love the Creator more than His creations. This whole episode is what I like to call the storm before the calm. This realization was a turning point in my life, and in my relationship with Mark. I realized that Mark and I told each other and God that we wanted to have Him in our relationship and that we wanted him to be first, but we were not doing it. We were hearers, but not doers of His Word. Faith without works is dead. Our relationship was dying because even though we believe in God, have faith in Him, understood the concept of putting God first in our future Catholic marriage by putting Him first now…. we were not doing it.
As soon as I realized this, I changed. I began praying my favorite prayer “Change me, Lord”. I started looking at my relationship with God and I saw that I had needed to apply His Word to my life. I needed to become closer to God, make Him my best friend, my true love, the love of my life. I knew I needed to treat Mark the way God treats me. St. Louis de Montfort reminded me that I had consecrated myself to Mary, yet I had stopped turning to her each day. So I took all of the knowledge and practices that I had and I knew I had to begin applying it to my life. I knew it, but I didn’t know how to do it. No kidding. That’s the point. I think at that point I finally got it. I needed to confess that I was not putting God first in my life, not to mention in my relationship with Mark, and ask for the grace to know how to do it. So I received the Sacrament of Reconciliation where I received the grace to change and then I headed to Adoration to sit and really thank God for His love and mercy, and then I began really listening to His Word. I was able to hear His Word at mass in the scripture and in my alone time with Him. I was given the grace to see that I had more complaints about Mark, but God was using Mark as my mirror to bring me closer to Him. I discovered, by the grace of God, that the closer I became to God by imitating Him, the closer I came to Mark. This is the secret to all great relationships, treat others the way God treats me. Ok, I guess it’s not really a secret. I know I’ve read it and heard it at least a gazillion times, but by seeking God’s grace I now have the eyes to see and the ears to hear it. Thank God!
The storm before the calm is good. It is the good news. It is the time when I die to myself the way God wants me to die to myself. The storm is a result of my hard heart softening, or stepping out of man’s world and into God’s world. Oddly enough, I had already learned that when someone “annoyed” me, I knew it was because I was seeing something in that person that I did not like about myself, it was something that I needed to change in myself. I knew this. I had been practicing this for a long time. I knew that God used others as my mirror, He used others to help me see my true self so that I could let go of that part of me and become my real “true self”. So I can become the Michele that God created me to be. My true self, my self seen through the eyes of what is true, God’s Truth. I learned that lesson well in my hermitress days, in my BM (Before Mark) days. Now I once again live this lesson in my BM (Blessed Mary) days, because Mary is the way to Christ, just as St. Louis de Montfort or any Marion Priest. God brought Fr. Michael Gaitley’s book “Consoling the Heart of Jesus” to me to help me make this connection. This book is such an inspiration and makes it easy to put God in His place. I learned to see the Consoler, rather than seek consolation. St Fransis’s prayer took on a whole new meaning to me “to console rather than be consoled”. I learned that to be full of grace like Mary, I had to be present with God so He could fill me with His grace. I had to revolve my life around God the way I was formerly revolving it around Mark. Now there is a balance. By putting God first in my life, He gives me plenty of time to put Mark second. But God, being God, and being so smart, knowing everything, He makes it seem to Mark as if Mark is first. If you ask Mark, he will tell you that he feels like he is first in my life, and he is. Except now he is first in my life AFTER God.
This is more than a play on words, God makes life so easy and so perfect when I put Him first. I have to know God’s promises to know what to expect from Him. I have to know His commands, so I know how to treat others. I have to know how God sees me so I know how to see myself. So I know to cast my cares to the Lord and be joyful at all times, praising Him in good times and bad because I now know in my heart that the storm before the calm is a good thing. I just think it is bad because my vision is so limited. God’s is all-knowing, He knows that the calm that follows the storm is so much better than the calm before the storm. I thought Mark and I were in love, and we were, during the honeymoon period. I wanted to stay in that place, but God has an even better place planned for me, for us. That honeymoon period showed Mark and I what life can really be like after we heal all of our wounds, after we go through the storm. The key is going through the storm with God. God has an even greater and deeper love for us and He wants us to know it and experience it on earth, at least that’s what I’ve read in the Holy Bible! God wants to pour his love and mercy on me, but I am the one stopping Him. He has graces showering on me every day, all day long, and I’m finally learning to keep my umbrella folded up and letting those graces pour all over me. It is as if Mark and I were in the garden of Eden, then I listened to the snake and got wound up in fear and self-loathing, forgetting what I had learned in my God-immersion time, but now I remember, so I can return to the garden, except the garden has changed. The garden is even better than I remembered. The honeymoon is on its way back and I hold the key to getting there, I know the secret. So regardless of Mark’s behavior or actions, I know better and it is up to me to lead us back to the garden, back to God. Mark sees how I now treat him and it opens his heart to healing his stuff. Is it fair that I have to put up with Mark’s “stuff”, treating him as Mary treats Jesus even though he is not always acting like Joseph? No it is not fair by the world’s standards. But by God’s standards, it is the point of living. It is why Mark and I were brought together, to learn to die to each other, just because I figured out how to act like Mary before Mark figured out how to act like Joseph, means that I must really be Mary and be all-loving. That is how God treated me. He never complained to me when I was not spending time with Him, he just patiently and silently waited for me to figure it out. He continued being God, showering me with love and mercy, as I must do with Mark. A Catholic marriage is one in which each spouse dies to self and leads their partner to salvation. God gave me the grace to know this first. God gave me the grace to know that Mark will know this soon, we will be back in the garden soon. I trust God. I know Him and His promises. He is my best bud, the love of my life, He keeps His Word to me. When I am hungry He feeds me, except He gives a feast to me, not just a morsel. His generosity is not to be outdone, so I can be generous with my love, time, and energy with Mark during the storm because I know the eventual calm will be extraordinary! When God is first in my life this is a fact, not just a pollyanna attitude. I am able to give thanks for the storms because I know that experiencing God’s peace in the storm prepares me to receive God’s peace at an even deeper level in the calm that follows. I can give thanks for the storms because I know God will carry me through them, I can cast my cares to the Lord. I can give thanks for the storms because when I give my suffering to God, He uses it to benefit others. So God allowed the honeymoon to end because He knew I needed the storm to bring me closer to Him. I NEVER, as recently as even a year ago, would have imaged thinking the words “God is the love of my life!” let alone having those words come out of my mouth. Yet hear they are in my mind, in my mouth and now written on paper. God is so smart, so good. He knows everything. He’s been waiting for me to know it, too. So in every part of my relationship with Mark, I keep God’s Word, Will and Ways in the forefront of my being. In the forefront of all I think, do and say.