Archive for the ‘Marriage’ Tag

Saved by Our Differences   5 comments

In case you haven’t noticed, my wife and I are different.  She prefers being nice and I prefer being blunt.  She likes the familiar, I like the novel.  I like competition, she likes cooperation.  She wants to plan ahead with lots of cushion for mishaps, I want to postpone decisions way past their due date.  We aren’t completely different: we both like eating on the sofa instead of at the kitchen table, me with a pile of spicy, fruity, sweet and salty foods and her with bland food groups neatly separated into equal shares on her plate and eaten proportionally throughout, washed down with water… her with a dainty napkin and me with a protective towel (from her) which ends up scrunching down between the seat and arm while food spills on my shirt and pants. and sometimes on the couch. The dogs follow her back into the kitchen for the fat and gristle they won’t find left on my plate.  While she’s on her second bite, I’ve finished my dinner, burning my mouth on food I can’t wait to cool… unless I’m in the middle of a project and eat dinner 3 hours late, in which case we don’t eat together (given all her promptitude), but we both eat on the sofa (which was my point).
… unless I eat without a plate while leaning over the sink.  Hey, it prevents food stains!

So like most couples we have our similarities and differences, and the differences tend to cause problems, like when we went phone shopping this week.  We finally caved to the pressure of buying smart phones since Kimberly’s work situation seems to require it.  We’ve been talking about it for a few months and Kimberly had marked her mental calendar with a personal deadline, mentioning the expectation now and again so we would be on the same page.  Same page, different books.  Finally the time had come and I wasn’t ready–I was still in volume 1 “Thinking About Being Ready to Start to Plan for New Phones” and she was finished with volume 2 “Making a Decision About Which Phone to Buy” and was now on the last page of volume 3 “Buying a Phone.”

You know the whole thing about my postponing decisions for the greater good?  Well this goes into overdrive when it involves spending money.  The longer you can hobble along without spending cash, the better off you are–the lazy man’s savings account.  I’m all for quality of life improvements as long as they’re free–who needs to fix a leaky roof as long as you have pots to catch the trickles?  Being a default foot-dragger for any decision, I become a butt-dragger over money, a sit-down protester with placards shouting “Just Say No!”  As I explained the conflicting viewpoints to my wife, “Every day delayed is a victory for me but a defeat for you.”  She came home with a smart phone.  I’m sticking with my same dumb phone, even though I’ve hated it for two years.  How can you argue with free?

Procrastination requires no thought.  Thoughtlessness is actually rewarded because you win the game effortlessly, avoiding the stress of decision-making while accumulating points for not spending resources needlessly.  But it has finally dawned on me after eight years of marriage that what works under sole proprietorship does not work in a partnership.  Now when I leave a matter undecided, it does not prolong my freedom to choose, but forfeits that choice to Kimberly.  She is going to cure me of my procrastination without even trying, by just being herself in this relationship.  And that life lesson is free–who can argue with that?

Posted January 14, 2015 by janathangrace in Personal

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The Unpredictable Timing of Grace   Leave a comment

For 45 years B.K. (before Kimberly) I did life on my own.  Going from single to couple in midlife can’t compare to marrying young, and though it has big pluses, I’ve felt the loss of her absence from my history: so many key events that are not shared moments, so much of who I am pieced together without her.  But after my blog post yesterday, I have to recalculate.  Missing those years has given her a clearer sense of who I am now, a view untainted by past distortions.  In a way, she knows me better than I know myself because those years marred my self-understanding, not just my spirit.  Without that baggage, she can see more objectively.

loving eye

footprintsI truly don’t know how younger couples manage to navigate any sort of major life transformation after marriage if they don’t somehow make those transitions in step.  Kimberly and I are both dramatically different people from our young adult selves.  Had we met then, our false selves would have been inimical.  Instead of helping one another towards genuine self-discovery, we would have driven each other into deeper hiding.  It would have been a disaster.  Our paths only crossed when our souls were ready.  Since most of my life was a quick march in the wrong direction, how did I hit the right intersection at the crucial moment?  The magic fingers of grace.

beach photo

Posted September 10, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

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Anniversary Fatigue   6 comments

It’s our anniversary today.  Last year I went “whole hog” as my mother would say: an 8 foot card of all Kimberly’s attributes.  This year things have gone the other direction–pork rinds so to speak.  We’re both tired, worn down, stumbling through our days clinging to linty scraps of hope that we keep misplacing.  My offering in celebration of 7 years of marriage was a handful of dry, leftover brownies I brought home from work and a love note scribbled on a slip of paper from our refrigerator grocery list pad.  I left that for her to discover this morning when she got up.

anniversary note

This is what real marriage is all about.  If a couple’s relationship is threatened by what does or does not happen on their anniversary, they’re making that date carry far too much weight.  You cannot make one day’s extravagance compensate for even a month of short-changing the relationship, and by the same token, a paltry celebration does not diminish a well-maintained heart connection.  A marriage is built on daily choices–to listen, share, cry, laugh, trust, support–not on grand gestures.  I’m very grateful for what Kimberly and I have.

Posted May 11, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

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Killing Me Softly   1 comment

This afternoon Kimberly and I were listening to an NPR Fresh Air interview of musician Sam Baker.  He was the victim of a bombing in Peru by the communist group Shining Path, which prompted one of his striking lyrics: ‘Everyone is at the mercy of another one’s dream.’  Yes, we daydream of weddings and families, homes and careers, but our plans collide:  mother and daughter over weddings, husband and wife over child-rearing, homeowner and banker over late mortgage payments.  If we can’t agree over a music station driving to Walmart or where to hang wet towels, how can we compromise our deepest, longest held dreams.  Must I abandon my dreams to fulfill yours or do we each halve our hopes?  Does relationship shrivel potential?

Group goals differ from personal goals, and each has advantages and disadvantages over the other.  Choosing relationship changes dreams, but if we are innately social beings, then purely individual plans are misguided and incomplete.  We can only be our true, whole selves and fulfill our potential within the context of relationship.  It is in togetherness that our richest dreams are shaped.  With God’s help even difficult relationships can enhance our journey; we can turn the barricades thrown up by our enemies into stairsteps to the stars, just as Sam’s devastating injuries gave him a new and better purpose, to write songs on albums titled Mercy and Say Grace.  I want to live in such a way that those who cross my path, even briefly, find help on their way rather than hindrance, encouragement rather than pain.

          *          *          *          *          *          *

After the interview I told Kimberly I like NPR anchors.  They are nice people.  Even when they disagree with their guests, they are polite and respectful.  On his website, Sam reflected about his interaction with (NPR’s) Terry Gross, “I talked to her last week in Philadelphia at WHYY.  I am a long time listener and a fan and was nervous (and a bit intimidated) to talk with her.  She is gracious and charming and I am deeply grateful.”  Kimberly replied to me, “Those gentle people are the only ones I want as friends.”  I said, “That’s funny because you didn’t marry one!”   Mind you, I try to be gentle.  I’m just not very good at it, like a lumberjack with a bone china teacup, and I often feel deeply flawed as a human being for not being nicer.  So why would Kimberly choose me?

We’ve had this discussion many times.  In spite of warming up to nice, she keeps choosing real instead, because (as it turns out) you can’t really have both–no one can always be sweet and still genuine.  When we let our insides out, the shadows appear.  Kimberly was raised on nice, and didn’t discover her anger until she met me.  She fearfully buried that part deep inside from everyone, even herself, and it was killing her.  The folks who keep the ugly locked inside not only hurt themselves, but short-circuit their relationships.  If I trust you only with what’s admirable, then you don’t know me and can’t love me for who I am.  To truly connect at the heart level, we have to share more than happiness.  As it turns out, I’m very good at real, both in being vulnerable and accepting others in their vulnerabilities, and that is what Kimberly needs most deeply.  When she committed to our relationship, she gave up on her safe, carefully crafted dream and woke up to a reality far better.

Some dreams are in fatal conflict, and pursuing them tears everyone down.  Surprisingly, fairytale endings often fit this mold because they are unrealistic, delusive, and usually selfish, and they depend on everyone involved having precisely the same unchanging vision.  Trust me, after the credits roll, the sheen of Prince Charming dulls quickly as he wipes his mouth on the kitchen towel and forgets to replace the TP roll, and if Cinderella enforces her Hollywood dream, everyone else is going to be living a nightmare pasted over with smiles.  May we all learn to dream together, to find the richest, fullest expression of ourselves in the symphony of relationship.

Go in peace, go in kindness,
go in love, go in faith.
Leave the day, the day behind us. Day is done.
Go in grace. Let us go into the dark, not afraid, not alone.
Let us hope by some good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.

–Sam Baker–

Frictionless Marriage   3 comments

DSC01639By this afternoon the snow had mostly melted at our house, and it didn’t feel that cold, so I pulled on my tattered loafers sans socks and drove to the park with Mazie to walk.  The asphalt path was mostly free of snow, but by the time I reached the end, my toes were stinging.  When I turned onto the wooded dirt trail, I found half an inch of unmelted snow, and I started waddling with my feet splayed to keep from scooping snow into the gaping holes on the out-sides of my shoes.  As I walked, something strange happened–my toes began to warm.  I was surprised enough to pull out one foot and check that it wasn’t just going numb.  It was cool to the touch, but not icy, in spite of the snow that was clinging to the edge of the open splits.  Even on cold days my bare feet in loose shoes rub themselves warm against the leather as I walk, and now the broken trail made my feet slide around even more, increasing the friction.  There is an upside to friction… even in relationships.

Berly uses her lunch break to stretch her legs, and since I walk Mazie at the same time, we phone-walk together.  Today we chatted about yesterday’s blog post and how grace plays such a big role in our relationship.  My sketch was true in its broad strokes, but don’t suppose that Berly is always trusting and I am never selfish.  We screw up regularly.  But we make room for that in our relationship.  Our family values are framed by grace–we structure our lives to make space for one another’s weaknesses, fears, needs and the like.  Grace designs the principles by which we live but also the manner in which we live these principles, or rather fail to live these principles.  In other words, we give ourselves grace for failing to live by grace.

In my last post I said Berly trusts “that I am doing all that I can within the sphere of my emotional strength.”  But sometimes I shortchange Kimberly by doing less than I can, intentionally or not (that is, sometimes I am lazy and at other times I simply underestimate my own energy level).  We are deeply committed to one another, to mutual understanding, acceptance, and support and we live this consistently, but not perfectly.  We have expectations… our expectations are that we will fall short of our ideals on a fairly regular basis.  We trust one another not because we live flawlessly, but because we live in grace towards one another’s flaws.

In other words, we live with friction, and we think that’s good.  It’s possible to smooth over all interactions, but the cost of such a tightly controlled “peace” is shallow and inauthentic relationships.  Nothing is more lonely than a friendship where we cannot be ourselves.  If we are unique individuals with our own histories, views, personalities, and preferences, then doing real life together at any depth is going to bring tension.  Real life and growth comes from rubbing up against the rough grain of those we love and discovering that our flaws are the basis for our bonding.  It is not fixing faults but embracing grace that strengthens relationships and deepens trust.

Posted January 23, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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The Best of All Things   3 comments

Today is our anniversary.  Since I come home from work after Berly is in bed, I was able to do some shenanigans to surprise her in the morning.  She woke up Wednesday to banners draped from the rafters reading “BERLY IS THE BEST”.  On Thursday she found a 3 foot paper flower I had made and a love poem.  This morning she came downstairs to see an 8 foot tall card I made her covered with a list of her attributes.  Here’s a snap of the card and the ten page list of attributes follows (I could have written hundreds more)–hey she deserves a lot more than a giant card!  I spent some time this morning selecting a few of her good points and expounding on them to her.  I was thinking to myself, “Hey, she’s married to me, so that wealth of goodness is all mine too!

Me and Berly

“A few of the hundreds of reasons I am glad you are my wife”

CAPABLE, ENDURING, FORBEARING, FORGIVING, GENTLE, LONG-SUFFERING, MEEK,

MILD, PERSEVERING, PERSISTENT, SELF-POSSESSED, SERENE, TOLERANT, TRANQUIL,

UNDERSTANDING, CONSIDERATE, CALM, COMPOSED, EQUABLE,

KIND, TEMPERATE, CONSIDERATE, RESPECTFUL,

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

MILD-TEMPERED, ACCOMMODATING, VALOROUS, ATTENTIVE, BENEVOLENT,

GLADDENING, COMPASSIONATE, KINDLY, MINDFUL, OBLIGING, SOLICITOUS,

SYMPATHETIC, TACTFUL, TENDER, LEVELHEADED, TENACIOUS, THOUGHTFUL,

UNSELFISH, WARMHEARTED, UNCRITICAL, UNDEMANDING, UNHURRIED,

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

DISCERNING, STABLE, STEADY, TOLERANT, FORGIVING, UNDAUNTED,

MERCIFUL, MILD, DILIGENT, STEADFAST, AFFECTIONATE, VALIANT,

APPRECIATIVE, BENEVOLENT, CARING, CONCERNED, EARNEST, EXPRESSIVE,

COMPETENT, FAITHFUL, LOYAL, SWEET, THOUGHTFUL, GOOD,

COURTEOUS, FRIENDLY, PERCEPTIVE,

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

GOOD-HEARTED, GRACIOUS, KINDHEARTED, LOVING, STRAIGHTFORWARD,

TENDERHEARTED, CONSIDERATE, RESPONSIVE, CONSCIOUS,

PEACEABLE, ENCOURAGING, HEARTENING, COURAGEOUS, INSPIRING,

ADMIRABLE, DELIGHTFUL, ENGAGING, ENJOYABLE, GRACEFUL,

DAUNTLESS, REFLECTIVE,

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

LIONHEARTED, STRONG, BRAVE, PEACEFUL, TRUE,

VALOROUS, HOPEFUL, SELF-RELIANT, SELF-SUFFICIENT, TRUSTING, WISE,

INTELLIGENT, TOUGH, REASONABLE, ASTUTE, AWARE, CAREFUL,

FRANK, CONTEMPLATIVE, INSIGHTFUL, PRUDENT, SENSIBLE,

TACTFUL, SOFTHEARTED, ATTENTIVE,

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

SUPPORTING, AWAKE, GROUNDED, RECEPTIVE, SENSIBLE, CLEVER,

ABLE, BRIGHT, DEEP, GIFTED, TALENTED, COOPERATIVE,

TRUTHFUL, CANDID, ABOVE-BOARD, AUTHENTIC, CONSCIENTIOUS,

DECENT, DIRECT, EQUITABLE, GENUINE, INTUITIVE, HONORABLE,

INGENUOUS, OBLIGING, OPEN, PLAIN, REAL, RELIABLE,

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

SINCERE, STRAIGHT, STOUTHEARTED, TRUSTWORTHY, TRUSTY,

UNFEIGNED, DIRECT, GENUINE, GUILELESS, UNCONTRIVED, UNPRETENTIOUS,

DEPENDABLE, COGNIZANT, RELIABLE, SOLID, SIMPLE, MINDFUL, THOROUGHGOING,

LOYAL, RELIABLE, CONFIDING, CONSTANT, ENDURING, HONORABLE, STEADY,

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

ACCOMMODATING, SOUND, AUTHENTIC, REAL, SOUND, STERLING, UNADULTERATED,

UNALLOYED, UNVARNISHED, PRAISEWORTHY, GENUINE, PROFOUND,

CONSCIENTIOUS, FORTHRIGHT, GUILELESS, COMMISERATING,

RESPONSIVE, SENSITIVE, SOFT, SUPPORTIVE, SYMPATHIZING,

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

EMPATHIC, RESOLUTE, HARMONIOUS, LISTENING, ACCEPTING,

ATTENTIVE, INTERESTED, OBSERVANT, ACCEPTING, DEPENDABLE,

AFFIRMING, TRUSTING, RESPECTING, AGREEABLE, EMBRACING,

COMPANIONABLE, SUPPORTIVE, ENCOURAGING, REASSURING, COMFORTING, GROWING,

DEDICATED, HARD-WORKING, FAITHFUL,

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

PURPOSEFUL, DETERMINED, ENGAGED, INDUSTRIOUS, UNFEIGNED,

SOFTHEARTED, SHARING, INTIMATE, PRINCIPLED, CONSISTENT,

UNBREAKABLE, BROKEN-HEARTED, EMPATHETIC, UNDEMANDING, WELCOMING,

WOUNDED HEALER, OPEN-HEARTED, WILLING, COMFORTER

AWESOME

Posted May 10, 2013 by janathangrace in Story

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Tough Love   4 comments

Kimberly and I have had rough weather for the last few months, not only in our individual souls, but in the soul of our marriage.  We have wanted to sort it all out and have tried, but we’re still baffled, unable to do anything but cling to our seats as we ride out the turbulence.  In spite of the conflicts that keep popping up, I want her to know that she is precious to me, and sometimes words of appreciation ring truer when we overhear them, so let me share with my friends here the treasure she is to me.

She is gentle.  She is accepting.  She is courageous.  She is true and genuine.  She is self-reflective and in touch with her soul as few people are.  She is determined and tough in spite of setbacks.  She is vulnerable and open.  She naturally believes the best of others, and stands up for the underdog.  She is empathetic and understanding.  She is a great listener.  She is wise and insightful and talks for hours about deep things.  She is welcoming of the weak and broken and marginalized.  She is responsible and capable.  She calls out the best in others by being okay with their faults and foibles and valuing them for who they are, not what they do or fail to do.  She is a woman of grace, even when it hurts her.  She shares her true self with others even when they have crushed her spirit, but she is also good at keeping healthy boundaries.  She never gives up on herself or on others.

She accepts me as I am and makes room for my weaknesses, encouraging me to support myself even when it is hard on her.  She has an incredible commitment to personal growth and wholeness, and though she started out far behind others in her childhood environment, she has far surpassed most others in becoming her true self.  She welcomes all of who I am, even the broken parts, and loves me as I am, and so she has taught me to love myself.  In other words, she is for me the truest experience of the gospel with skin on.  When my insecurities and weaknesses break out against her, she does not retaliate, but hangs on through the tensions until we work it out.

She is not perfect, and I wouldn’t want her to be (how intimidating would that be!).  She has her own hangups, insecurities, and weaknesses.  But we have discovered that the deepest and truest bonds come through our frailties more than our strengths.  I’ve never met anyone like her, and we do life together in extraordinary fashion… even our stumbles seem to add something beautiful to the rhythm of the dance.  We’re still figuring out the steps to this new rumba, and we often as not step on each other’s feet, but we’ll keep swinging till we get it down.  It is in the hard times that love proves its character.  Ours is a tough love.

Posted February 14, 2013 by janathangrace in Personal

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Does Happiness Still Run On This Line?   4 comments

STILL STANDING... SORT OF

HOLDING IT TOGETHER

Yesterday I was so sick at heart I felt nauseous.  Life does not make sense to me right now.  My last few blogs show I am oscillating between anger,  faith, sarcasm,  acceptance, doubt, misery, hope… the only constant is depression, which drains my energy and darkens my outlook.  What used to restore my spirit no longer works.  “Happiness is a choice,” they say.  Balderdash.  You can decide your actions, and to some extent you can direct your thoughts, but you cannot pick your feelings like a vending machine treat.  Some folks find cheer in thankfulness or service or friendship, while others find comfort in meditation or nature.  You can keep an eye out for happiness, but it may not show up at any of these stops.  I don’t control it’s schedule.  I can only wait for it.

For some years now I have found consolation in discovering and working to heal my soul’s wounds, but I cannot get at the root of my current turmoil.  That process simply doesn’t work for me now.  Kimberly and I have also solved our conflicts by talking through our issues, but since we can’t make sense of what we are going through now, that approach doesn’t work.  When my emotional energy is dragging, I don’t have enough flex in my shock-absorbers to cushion the bumps, so I’m easily disheartened or hurt or agitated, and Kimberly feels it more sharply because she’s also deflated.  The proverb “as iron sharpens iron” has been profoundly true of us through the years, but during this season it seems often to be “as iron notches iron.”  We need to find a new way of supporting ourselves and one another.  I know we will find a way, we always do, but in the meantime it is painful and discouraging.

Posted February 7, 2013 by janathangrace in Personal

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Growing One   Leave a comment

Yesterday Kimberly was reading to me from Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s “Gift from the Sea,” a breeze of calm and insight from the ocean by way of the author’s soul.  Anne spoke of the slow drift between spouses and the need to restore the purity and simplicity of the first wave of love.  Berly and I are coming up on our fifth anniversary (May 10), and neither of us want to return to those early days of our relationship.  Folks remember the romance, the excitement, the uncomplicated acceptance of one another, the overlooking of each other’s faults and feel sad that those intense feelings and sense of inseparability are gone.

Kimberly and I feel sad rather for a culture that believes romance is the fullest expression of relationship.  We would never want to trade what we have now for what we had then.  It was pure and simple then because it was so superficial.  We spent many hours every week for two years sharing openly with one another about the things closest to our hearts, so we knew one another fairly well at a basic level before we married, but knowing the basic truths about someone is so far short of really knowing them and connecting with their heart, which is why the first year of marriage is often so hard.  I know it was for us.

Like marriage, a sailboat on her maiden voyage looks sleek and beautiful, there are no rents or dings, and she slices effortlessly through the water.  But it is only after years of riding with her through the storms, risking life and fortune, and recalling the story of every rattle and dent that the captain knows his boat as no one else ever will, and the bond is deep and fierce.  As we share life with mutual understanding and love, the original beauty and delight I found in Berly fills with meaning and substance.  For me, every line of her face is an etching of her soul.  The roots of our hearts grow ever deeper and more entwined.  To pull us apart now would rend our vitals.

Posted April 23, 2012 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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A Blessed Rejection   3 comments

This is a letter from John Peter to Brennan Manning, one of my favorite authors on grace, a Catholic priest who was black-balled for getting married (to Roslyn). 

They Tried To Make Me Go To Rehab... I said, "No, No, No!"

My wife, Lolly, and I were at a breaking point.  I did not think I could continue to stay married to someone who was so self-destructive!  But I wanted to consult you before moving out or calling a lawyer.  When I did call you, Roslyn said that you were in route to Providence, Rhode Island, for a week of renewal at a Catholic church there.  Ros also said that you had a layover in Newark to change planes.  So I immediately drove to the Newark airport and, believe it or not, found you in the midst of that huge airport!  I told you what was going on, and you said that I, under the circumstances, could leave Lolly—after twenty-five years of alcoholic drinking!  So I drove back to our house in Manhasset, New York.  When I arrived there some three hours later, I found Lolly all cleaned up and as sober as I had seen her in a long time.  She announced to me that you were coming for dinner!

What had happened was some conservative Catholics at the church you went to visit in Providence found out that you were married and reported it to the bishop.  The bishop then forbade that parish to have you speak there, so what did you do?  You called Lolly and said you’d like to come to dinner!  So I had to turn around and pick you up at LaGuardia and home we came.  Lolly could not have been a more willing or welcoming hostess.  She loved you, Brennan.  After dinner I retired, and you and Lolly sat up and talked almost all night!  She had sworn that she would never go back into treatment again, so you can imagine my surprise when, the next  morning (Sunday), you told me that Lolly agreed to go back to Brunswick Hospital Rehab….

As you know, Lolly stayed sober in AA for the rest of her life—over twenty-five years!  She passed away September 27, 2009.  And the gift of her longtime sobriety was something that my children and I found as close to heaven as I suspect we’ll see this side of the grave.

–from All Is Grace, Mannings recent autobiography, though I would much more highly recommend The Ragamuffin Gospel or Abba’s Child if you want a taste.

Posted January 3, 2012 by janathangrace in Reading

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