“How on earth did I get to this place?” I asked myself as I sat in the recliner in our living room. In the dark, I sat in my pajama’s and a flannel long sleeve shirt, leg bouncing in anxiety as I rubbed my forehead and stared at the new rug in our living room. Truthfully, I was sulking as I was trying to figure out how this had happened, how I got here, and how it all went so wrong so fast. Know the feeling?
Not too long ago I asked God to help me to be a better husband, father, grandfather, friend, human being. Since that day I have continued to pray that prayer and God has been answering me in the most amazing ways, ways I never dreamed possible. Needless to say I spend a lot more time lately looking inward and taking responsibility for the outcomes in my life. He has lifted so many stresses off of my life and is helping me to grow, the right way. So how does he help me on this particular night? What is the answer to my question of how I got here?
A tater tot.
Yes, that is what it all boiled down to, a stupid little tater tot. Let me give you some context.
I pulled into our garage after a long day at work and turned my car off. A new thing I have been doing lately is stopping before I get out to let my head clear and be “present” when I walk in the house. I learned this from John Eldredge and the team at Wild at Heart Ministries and http://www.RansomedHeart.com. I take a minute to pray and give God the evening. It has been a great help at home and this night was no different.
When I walked in the door I said hello to my best friend and wife, Ms. Toni. She spoke back and we exchanged a “How was your day?” “How are you feeling?” etc.. I noticed that she seemed a little “off” so I asked like any self-respecting, paranoid, “it’s all about me”, hoping I am not in trouble, husband would do, “Are you upset with me?”
She assured me that nothing was wrong. RED FLAG #1. I should have paid more attention to her eyebrows than to what she was saying. Had I done so, I would have been as cautious as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs and saved myself a lot of pain in the “tail”.
I noticed a new rug that she had taken the time to purchase, pick up, and place in our living room. I thought it was really pretty and said so. My thought? “Here is a good opportunity to show how attentive I am and score some brownie points.” It was a high quality rug and she had gotten another good deal from TMI Gifts in Belmont, as usual. I pointed out, just as any caring, wonderful, cautious, husband would do, “The only thing that concerns me is that it is pretty thick and the babies might trip over it when they run around on Sunday afternoons.”
RED FLAG #2: What she heard: “You did all that work for nothing. I hate it. You are endangering my grand babies. What’s for supper?”
Did I see my mistake? No. I just wobbled on through the evening like a Yeti with a hangover in twelve feet of new snow, uttering sounds that could be likened to a bull elk in the fall or maybe even that hairy giant guy in the Star Wars movies. What was his name again?
She was very kind and had dinner on the table, another remarkable feat she seems to be able to pull off daily even though in twenty nine years I can’t remember ever asking her to do so.
As we began to eat, I bragged on how good the food was and thanked her for preparing it. As almost always she said, “Awww, I just threw some things together.” It was very good, for the record. I thought to myself, “Brownie point number 2! I really am on a roll here tonight, being an all sweetie-sweet husband and all.” She pointed out that the tater tots really didn’t go with the main dish, but since we had some left over from yesterday it seemed to be a shame to just throw them out so she seasoned them and put them in a skillet and to crisp them up. They were really good! I told her so three different times.
The third time she mentioned that they were tater tots and how she prepared them I offered, “Sweetie, know what a tater tot is.”
RED FLAG #3. CRITICAL MASS REACHED! Keep in mind, I said this in the most loving way possible. But, I didn’t pick up on the real question which was “Do you mind if you are eating warmed up tater tots?” I could have been considerate and assured her that I loved them and that would have been the end of it. It would have taken about a half a second to stop and think, but no, not Mr. Rocket Scientist who needs another shoe in his mouth. What I did do is what I should not have done.
I thought, “Of course, she needs to hear the truth and so long as I am sorta kind, she can’t blame anything on me, right?? Wrong! How amateur can a man be after twenty nine years? Apparently, pretty amateur.
I will spare you the pain of the rest of the night but to say there was a little “static” in the air would not be an overstatement. Our conversation seemed strained and it seemed as if we were both in the same house but somehow miles away from one another. Finally, as we went to bed, Ms. Toni said “Maybe we need to clear the air. Something seems “off”.
Well, since she brought it up! RED FLAG #4, NUCLEAR BLAST RUMBLINGS IN THE DISTANCE”.
As I often do, I kindly pointed out that she didn’t need to point out every little flaw in me and that I am not stupid, and she should be happy because I am so giving and helpful and considerate and all I was trying to do was agree with her that the rug looked great and the tater tots were a great idea, and she had it out for me and so on, and so on, and so on. (Note the sounds of breaking bones as the cat’s tail is caught by multiple moving rocking chairs.)
There is no way I was laying my validation down at her feet, right? Wrong. That is exactly what I was doing and I was breaking her heart over a stupid tater tot.
The conversation ended there. She rolled over and I got up and went to my chair in the living room.
So there I sat. Asking God the question “How did this go wrong?” The answer, “With a tater tot”.
Instead of being truly caring, I was guarding my heart and not trusting her with it from the minute I walked in the door. To make matters worse, I was defensive needlessly, and I chose to listen to every single accusation the “enemy” threw at my ears throughout the evening. To top it off, when things finally got uncomfortable, I did not protect her heart or honor her as a good husband and mate would do.
God said to me, “Do you really want to be a good husband like you asked? I sheepishly answered “Yes God.” “Then go be a husband.” “Yes, she may have done a few things that you didn’t like, but were they really important and is she more important to you than a tater tot?” I answered again in my heart, “Yes God, she is. She is worth it.”
As I stood by the bed in the dark she turned on the light. “God said I need to honor you.” I said. She looked confused as I told her of how God called me out on my attitude, on how I had listened to a voice that was not being truthful but was accusing of her, and that she was worth me taking responsibility. I was also wrong for needing to be validated by her. I apologized and asked her to forgive me. She did and let me live through the night.
The point of the story is that we often need to be validated by things and people other than God, and that is a mistake. Further, if we are so naïve as to think that we don’t have an enemy that is yelling in our ears every minute of every day to try to keep us from real happiness and freedom, then we are taking a lot of damage that might be avoided, at least to some degree.
What could have been a week long argument over a tater tot (being right) turned into a thirty minute course correction by a God that loves us both. I thank God that Ms. Toni is so strong, and that God is so kind to answer my prayer. Pray for me that I stay the course and continue to grow in His truth, not my own or my enemy’s, but His and His alone.
I guess what I am trying to convey here is that often times the little voice that we hear accusing others, and often accusing ourselves, may not be our own. It may just be that we have been jaded a bit by life or bad experiences or maybe we are just trying to survive the day. That makes us vulnerable and open to believe negative self-talk. I have found it to be helpful to truly try to put myself in the other person’s shoes and consider that I don’t know what challenges they have faced in a day. This is helping me to be more considerate and forgiving, and helps me to give the benefit of the doubt much more easily.
I am not saying that it doesn’t take effort, but it does make things a little better. When I think to do it, things tend to work out better. When I don’t… Well let’s just say that I am sympathetic to a cat with multiple breaks in it’s tail.
God bless and keep you and all that you are. Thank you for being you!