Beyond Understanding – To Unity (While
Denie & Dee Stemmle
(Excerpted from 1982
July-August Worldwide Family Spirit magazine)
A couple of days ago we received a phone call asking us to pray
for a lady we'd never met who had only a few more hours to live.
As I hung up the phone, I thought to myself "One of these days
that'll be me asking for prayer. So that maybe somehow or another,
God will grant Denie and me one more extra hour, one more day, one
And later on that evening, the record player was on and one of
the lines from the song that was playing really tore me up. It went
"And these few precious days I'll spend with you, these precious
days I'll spend with you". The tears came to my eyes not for
the lady and her husband, but for Denie and me.
Because in reality, that's all we really do have, "these few
precious days", and most of the time I sure don't treat them
as though they and Denie were precious. I waste the opportunities
we have and someday I know I will give just about anything short
of my immortal soul to have some of them back again.
And so that night just about the time we were laying in each others
arms making love, the lady died and I think in a way both of us
sensed that. I've tried to talk about it. We tried to put into words
the awareness we had that rarely are we properly appreciative of
how we should treasure our lovemaking and each other and not take
it or each other for granted. But we couldn't seem to say it all
- so we just ended up holding each other very tightly and crying
It's such a horrible shame that quite often those kinds of words
that truly express how deeply we love one another only come when
it's too late for the other person to hear them.
Each time Denie has to go away on an extended business trip we
each get a small taste of what it is going to be like to sleep alone
in a bed that once was such a cozy refuge for two. We get a taste
of what it's going to be like to not have someone near who wants
to know what your feelings are on all the little things We get a
taste of what it's like to live out your mask to the hilt 16 to
18 hours a day because there isn't someone you trust enough to be
completely candid and real with - who you know loves you, warts
We've each had those moments when that cold fear of maybe something
horrible happening to the other one sweeps over us and we end up
praying "Oh God - keep him/her safe and just bring them home",
and you'd think that after all of that, we'd wake up and start living
our lives together as the precious, time-running out gift that they
are. But we haven't. We still believe that it's never going to happen
Last night we made love again, but the tenderness was not quite
so acute - nor the news quite so recent. How often I forget that
the clock is ticking. How many times I've walked right up to the
threshold of a beautiful, painfully close moment of intimacy with
Dee - then backed away from it.
How many times all the pieces have been in place - two beautiful
loveletters written and read, a quiet house, the kids asleep, the
atmosphere perfect, the feelings alive - and I gave only a halfhearted
attempt at experiencing my wife through her feelings.
Unity is so elusive, especially when I'm not going after it with
much enthusiasm. They told us about unity of feelings as the ultimate
goal of dialogue on our Weekend. They asked us to recall our three
closest moments and then gave us the tool to create moments just
as close if we worked at it, and we did - especially in the early
We not only believed it was possible - we proved it to ourselves.
Not often, mind you. But often enough to realize that it is possible
to pursue Dee's feeling with such commitment that I can truly feel
it inside myself - to be so close to Dee that I know exactly what
it's like to be her at that moment. To love her so much that nothing
is more important to me at that moment than to see the world through
her eyes and feel it as she does.
I came home from our Weekend determined to make that crescendo
kind of closeness our goal for each and every dialogue. For months
I pursued that with a vengeance - working as hard as I knew how
to experience Dee fully. For the first few weeks she held back.
She kept telling me there was a "bag of snakes" inside
her that I didn't want to know about.
I kept after her until she started to reveal some of what she thought
were "uglies" because she slowly became convinced that
I really wanted to know. But they weren't uglies at all –
they were very real fears and doubts about herself buried deep behind
her mask. She began to let me share in them. Up until that time,
she had spent a lifetime never believing that anyone, including
me, really wanted her to feel loved.
Then one day we made it. Or at least I think we did. We worked
so hard at reaching unity of feelings that our oneness became an
incredible, almost painful moment that neither of us will ever forget.
It's probably the closest I've come to a religious experience: the
presence of Our Father in that room with us - part of us - was tangible.
There are no words to describe that incredible experience. We've
never been closer - and the glow from that blending of our souls
lasted for weeks. The memory will last forever.
We've come close to that a few times since then when we've cared
enough to work for it, but not so much in recent years. We just
haven't worked to pursue each other with every fiber that's in us.
We've forgotten the ultimate goal of dialogue and settled for using
it to better our understanding of ourselves and each other rather
than to better our experience of each other.
I don't know how to define unity or intimacy on a practical basis,
if I'm honest. I can talk a lot of good-sounding words. But for
a lot of reasons this question has been bugging me for weeks, and
the more I look at it, the more I realize I am afraid of unity and
intimacy with Denie. The more I look - the more I see all the ways
I back away when an intimate opportunity presents itself.
One way is by writing Denie "loving letters instead of love
letters" because I'm afraid that the "love letters"
will create feelings of sexual arousal in Denie and I'll lose my
control over that aspect of our lives. My thanks to a dear friend
named Mary for that insight. I can also see where I carry that downplaying
of my hunger for Denie one step further, especially in our dialogue
Recently I've found myself being unable to describe accurately
in our dialogue very deep and painful feelings of hurt and longing.
I'd get to a certain point and then reach a mental blank. I knew
there was more there but I just couldn't seem to get at it.
After looking at myself, I realized that in these areas I had stopped
trusting Denie beyond a certain point. That certain point being
where the feeling would start to truly come alive in me and become
so obvious to Denie that I couldn't bluff my way out of it. The
reasons why I stopped believing in him are really kind of irrelevant
right now. What is important for me to deal with is the fact that
I'm sometimes not as open to Denie as I once was.
At least before and shortly after our Weekend, I knew the specifics
of what I was afraid to tell Denie. There are times now when I get
so bound up; I'm not even willing to acknowledge the feelings to
myself. That isn't exactly what you'd call progress. And more importantly
it's the biggest hurdle I can see to us fully appreciating our right
nows as these few precious days".
Sitting down to think about unity of feelings has been good for
us. It's caused us to recall what it takes to experience that unity
for ourselves. It takes determination and absolute commitment. I
have to want it enough to go after my lady with every ounce of commitment
that's in me. To set myself aside completely, and to become an empty
vessel ready to be filled up by her, to die to myself.
I have to make full use of my imagination and creativity to conjure
up images of Dee's description of what her feeling is like and know
the right kinds of questions to ask.
It takes the most intense form of listening possible, and it takes
both of us working as hard as we can. We get nowhere when one of
us wants to experience the other's feeling, but the other doesn't
want to share it fully.
But the reality of our dialogues in recent months have been far
short of the ideal. We seem to settle for understanding and trust
starts to fade when we don't work very hard at experiencing each
other. Long ago we discovered that we have a three minute barrier.
Using some of our favorite questions, we can get to the point of
understanding what the other person's feeling is like in about three
minutes, like "Can you think of a time when I felt like this?"
or "How would you act it out if you could?" or "What
increases your feeling?" or "How do I act when I feel
like this?" - all help us to get to a fundamental level of
understanding, and the problem is that once we get to this level
of understanding, we tend to quit or lapse into a chat. The fact
is it takes a tremendous amount of energy, concentration, and pure
determination to dialogue for a full ten minutes. Ten minutes is
a long, long time when we are focusing our full attention on trying
to absorb one another completely. At one point, we timed our dialogues
- and that's how we discovered the three minute barrier. Yet that
intimacy we tell ourselves we're after comes only when I know Dee
loves me enough to want to experience my feeling even after she
understands it - whatever the feeling is. When I see the effort
and the hunger in her when we punch right through that three minute
barrier I end up knowing I am being pursued, wanted, and desirable
to her even if we never succeed in tasting the feeling. The closeness
comes on the journey not just at the destination.
That lady's death has had a good affect on us. We're trying harder
to experience each other. We're reminding ourselves that all it
takes is a decision and a little willpower, and what spurs us on
is the knowledge that God gives me the gift of caressing her cheek
today - He has allowed me to try to touch her soul today - but he
doesn't guarantee that gift for tomorrow.
here for a printable version (PDF, 19KB)