But What About the Teddy Bear?!

BearThe biggest blow up of our early married life was over a teddy bear neither my husband or I ever owned.

Before we started dating, during that tenuous stage of trying to figure out how to define our budding relationship, a close friend of Mike’s pulled me aside and said, “Be gentle as you get to know him, because he had his heart broken not too long ago. He gave a girl a teddy bear, and she ended up giving it back to him.”

As I got to know him, I kept waiting for Mike to open up and share with me about the girl who had broken his heart. I didn’t ask, afraid of pushing him to talk about something that must have still been tender. He never brought it up. Two years of dating, then engagement, and not one mention of the teddy bear. I didn’t think about it much in the beautiful whirlwind of falling in love and planning a wedding. In fact, it didn’t really resurface until we had been married for about a month. Mike was cleaning out his wallet, and he pulled out a stack of pictures of friends from high school and college, including a couple of girls I knew he had been interested in years before. Why, I wondered, did he still carry their pictures? Could one of them be the Teddy Bear Girl? Could he still harbor secret feelings?

The next day we drove an hour and a half to visit his parents. On the way home I began brooding in the dark car about the Teddy Bear Issue, sure that Mike was intentionally hiding something from me. He could feel the silent tension, and brave man that he is, he waded carefully into the swirling waters of wife-feelings.

“Are you ok?”

Poor man didn’t know what hit him.

Pent up tears and almost three years’ worth of questions came pouring out in a flood. I’m sure a lot of it made no sense. Finally, I managed to string enough words together for him to understand that I thought he had been less than honest about his history. With a calmness born of extreme confusion, Mike tried to reassure me that he had been completely open with me.

But,” I gulped, “What about the teddy bear?”

“Teddy bear? What are you talking about?”

“Eric said you gave a teddy bear to a girl, and she gave it back and broke your heart.”

“Um. That wasn’t me.”

Mike’s friend had the story right, but he forgot the important detail that it wasn’t Mike’s story. And here I had lived the last three years with a false assumption that had grown into a big deal in my head.

Assumptions are a natural part of life. We learn from childhood onward to observe things, connect the dots, and come to a conclusion. But the reality is that people and their stories are more complex than we can see, and in an attempt to connect the dots we can see, sometimes we draw a picture that doesn’t come close to matching the truth. Our assumptions are often incomplete at best; at their worst, they can seriously injure trust, communication, and relationships. I’ve been on both ends of wrong assumptions, and neither position is a fun place to be.

Even in a community thick with missionaries, we do this to each other. (Sorry to burst your bubble. If halos descended when we stepped off the plane, we were probably too busy grouching at our whiny kids to catch them and fix them in place.) Maybe we do this especially in a community thick with missionaries.

“Of course you agree with me. We’re both Christians.”

“Life here must be easier for other people than it is for me. They seem to have it all together.”

“He doesn’t have many Papua New Guinean friends. He must not be trying to build relationships.”

“Poor woman. She’s been looking so rough recently. She must be struggling.”

And let’s face it, friends. The grapevine grows wild here. We tend to share our assumptions with each other, and somewhere along the way, they morph from musings and questions into solid fact. And we rob each other of pieces of the grace we would have extended to the people around us. (Just so you know, I’m stomping all over my own toes here.)

There is almost always more to the story, deeper layers, unspoken details. And even when we know all the facts, we filter them through our own still healing perception, and the image twists and warps. Some of the biggest heartaches I’ve lived through have been misunderstandings wrapped in a thick layer of brokenness. We don’t know everything in each other’s hearts and minds. We can’t.

But what we can do is listen. We can forgive. We can ask honest questions, let unanswered questions rest, and hold the answers we do get gently. We can assume one thing – that we don’t know it all – and give each other a cushion of grace in a world with sharp edges. And we can lean into the peace that comes with being loved by a God who sees all our layers, has His hand in all the details, and redeems every confusing, hidden, broken detail of His children.

And then, years down the road, maybe we can even laugh with each other about that phantom teddy bear.

“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” 1 John 4:11-12

1 Comment

  1. Joshua Hetzel
    Mar 16, 2016

    Beth, I have enjoyed reading your blogs and look forward to meeting both you and Mike when I come to Ukarumpa. My target date to hit POC is July. I know you will be on Furlough, so look forward to meeting you when you return.

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