As a young girl I played “Mercy” with other friends. The wrist-bending game where the loser had to shout, “Mercy.” The word that meant punishment would end, the word that was embarrassing to yell.

Dale and I watched an episode of Midsomer Murders last weekend. The kind vicar with the bitchy wife was the murderer.  Several times Dale and I made significant eye-contact over the slow harping way she pulled him down to the gutter. She was Wormtongue, she eroded his worth and his pleasure. In the end you wondered how she played a part in his crimes.

A day later Dale and I would talk with hurting eyes and slow words about how we had failed to love each other. I had hurt him in ways I had not let myself realize.  He said, his eyes filling, that the vicar’s wife reminded him, for one splitting moment . . . of me. I couldn’t stand it.

And yes, I had my list of offenses, too.

He had hurt me.

Old patterns, but new ways. The stepping on Dale’s value, the stepping on my time. The juggling of Finn, the lack of sleep, the sexual missing of each other like ships in the night, his desire, my apathy, the current sickness that still keeps my beloved in his bed, too achy to even cuddle against my eager body.

My throat aches, but I will the sickness down, deep into my belly where I am too tightly wound to enjoy food.  Finn pulls out of his double ear infection enough to count him nearly well.

But, today I work alone at the coffee shop.

I talk with a dear friend and text another, the two women who hold my hands up, who listen to me crying at night on the phone and remind me of why I married Dale.

“Because he loves you so well,” one says.

So well? I started weeping, even with weeks like this, I know she’s speaking truth.

But Oh, these wretched weeks of sickness.

Sickness without and within.

So I’m watching Finn solo, again.  December 1st, Dale left for a Jeep trip and got stuck in a blizzard. Not really his fault, was it?

He comes home more than a day late. I’m left with Finn and wondering when I get time. Alone.

Monday comes and I take Finn to a friends with gladness, so Dale can put in more hours on his memoir on spiritual abuse. I feel I’m contributing to good work. I put Finn to bed and write.

Bump and Stumble and Bursting get penned, but I notice the pattern, that I write when Finn sleeps, that Dale writes when I watch Finn.

I wonder if we can call this co-parenting and shoulder on, not without ticking off my time gone, wondering when I get my break.

It does not come.

Finn gets sick Tuesday and I commandeer his care, even when Dale offers.

Wednesday finds Dale sick, a sickness that gave him one day respite. That was the day when Dale works hard (too hard) on installing a new sound system into the aforementioned Jeep, a system that MUST be installed Saturday because it’s the only day the friend will be in town to install it.

Dale also got up extra early that morning and took Finn to our babysitter, because I was breaking down.

Dale breaks down that evening.

I pick up Finn from the babysitter at 11:30, insisting on watching Finn as Dale says the Jeep’s sound will be done soon. It’s 5pm when he returns and I swallow resentment.

Even though, even though . . . Dale offered to watch Finn all afternoon if I needed it. But no, I could watch him.





Saturday eve Dale is sicker than he was Wednesday.  The promise of getting Saturday afternoon to rest, of Sunday getting time to me, of Monday, of Tuesday. . . gone

Impossible to keep, impossible to know what to ask, impossible to change.

How can I expect day labor from Dale when light is denied him. He is unwell.

I am well.

Am I?

There are sicknesses deeper than those of body.

I heard God in the wee hours of Saturday night, the hours when I wrench my body from sleep and stumble over to Finn to re-dose Motrin or re-store his fluids with milk, I hear God.

“You are strong,” he said.

I almost replied, “Damn right I am… look at all I’m doing!”

“You are strong,” he said, again, “Strong enough to care for Dale. I made you strong . . .

to serve.”

My badge of honor, my strength, a badge for entry into the hall . . .

of servants.

Can I stay outside that hall?

Lately, I’ve been asking friends to pray for me, for expectation to shift into what is the real, even if it’s a desert of realness.

Desert to me means accomplishing little, it also means waiting without a due date, it means surviving without producing.

My days are slow in passing this December. I’m tired of playing with blocks and doing the dishes.

I’m stunned with ennui and cold.

I cannot make the fire as well as Dale, nor can I clean the dishes or make Finn laugh like he. I cannot make love or make delightful meals, my partner-in-arms is sick. I feel him as a ball and chain around my ankle and instantly feel disgust at the way I feel.

But I can ask God




I can become a woman who serves, without storing resentment.

I can call my therapist (which I just did) to request a meeting. For her to teach me about how to serve without being subservient, how to ask and receive help, even (and especially) when the help isn’t the way I want it.

How to give mercy, so I can give it, this Christmas.

Wrapped in my flesh, served without a side dish of guilt.

I just finished A Live Coal in the Sea, by Madeleine L’Engle, a story of wonderful, beautiful, painful life. A novel where the sins of the mothers’ infidelity are visited on the second and third generation, where mercy mingles with resentment.

The title is taken from a thousand year old quote by William Langland, 14th century, “But all the wickedness in the world  which man may do or think is no more to the mercy of God than a live coal dropped in the sea.”  

All the wickedness which woman may do . . . or think.

Make me part of your sea of mercy, God,

make me learn the gift of mercy to myself,

so I might give it for Christmas

to those I claim to love.


Inspiration from this post woven from:

~ Spoken word poet, Alysia Harris, Cab Rides & The Morning After , disclaimer for mature content and language.

~ Andrew Peterson’s “Serve Hymn

~ Midsomer Mystery, Death’s Shadow

~ Madeleine L’Engle, A Live Coal in the Sea

~ John Milton’s “On His Blindness