Stretch Armstrong

re·​sil·​ien·​cy | \ ri-ˈzil-yən(t)-sē

1: the ability of something to return to its original size and shape after being compressed or deformed

2: an ability to recover from or adjust easily to adversity or change

Some people stretch before a workout. Many times we are forced to stretch our budget. A cat loves to stretch out in the sun. Sometimes we must stretch our imagination to see things clearly. It’s not a stretch to say we stretch all the time…

But a key component of stretching is that the goal is always to return to the original point. We stretch before a workout to help our muscles recover. We stretch the budget to make it to the end of the month, and normalcy. We stretch our imagination to understand what someone is describing and find a place for it in our mind. And a cat stretches, then curls up in a ball and goes to sleep, a cat’s natural state.

Stretching implies a certain resiliency, an ability to recover, a way of springing back, of regaining a steady state. Which got me to thinking about love, especially in the relationship sense.

I am headed into thirty-eight years with my wife Diana. It’s no stretch (pun intended) to say that has taken some serious work, real effort, plenty of bending, pulling, straining to the breaking point. It is impossible to forge a life-long relationship without being resilient. If you are going to make it, you will need the abilities of a Stretch Armstrong to pull it off.

We were talking the other day about how some couples just don’t make it, how some seem to never get along, how many marriages are obviously doomed. Is it because they do not love each other? Maybe they never did? Or is it because they do not understand a basic fact about love, and how it applies to marriages:

“Love suffers long, and is kind.” 1 Corinthians 13:4

Over the course of our time together we have learned to be together, and to be apart. Both of us are comfortable stretching out and being ourselves, while always ready to snap back together as one. This is true in the little things as well as the major adversities and changes of a long relationship.

Especially since retiring from work, we spend a lot of time together. Our daily routine means enjoying breakfast (and social media catch-up) together. Morning coffee (cuppa, we call it) is important to us, and today we played Bananagrams while sipping our joe. We eat lunch together. Happy Hour is a vital component of our time together, and whether in the pool, hot tub, or by the fireplace it is sacred time – no texting, social media, phone calls. Dinner is a shared event, reading in bed as well. All told, maybe 6-7 hours together, more if out and about.

In the middle of all that, we stretch out and do our own thing. Reading, puzzling, working in the shop, listening to music, writing, shopping, watching dubious TV shows, are all independent activities. And we always rebound back to the default position, like the rubber toy doll named Stretch.

But perhaps our greatest strength has been the ability to be resilient in the face of the Big Stretches of life. Like the 7,000 mile stretch of Diana’s deployments in the Middle East.

People always asked how we could pull that off, not once but twice, for nearly a year each time. No daily routine together, no shared meals, no gentle touch or kiss. It definitely stretched us as people, but the answer to the question is simple: we knew that we would return to our original shape, that we could adjust temporarily knowing full well that our love “suffers long, and is kind.” It was important that we be able to pursue ourselves, assured that the other had the ability to let the stretch happen.

We both had challenging careers. When Diana wasn’t busy defending our freedoms, she was teaching Kindergarten. Teachers are stretched thin every day, spending inordinate amounts of time, unpaid, making sure their little munchkins get the early start they need. I sold real estate, often working late into the night, almost always on weekends, many times spinning my wheels in frustration while a deal unraveled. But we always supported each other’s ambitions and efforts, and we always recovered from the stresses of the days/weeks/months with Happy Hour/weekend getaways/trips to the beach. We were both resilient in accommodating the other’s career choice.

The biggest test of resiliency is in times of crisis. I have had more than my fair share of medical adventures. The longest stretch of all is when you let your love go through those automatic doors alone, letting your love stretch to its heart-breaking point. In times of crisis, facing the unknown, not wanting to even consider the worst, enduring a stretch that would make Armstrong snap – that is when you find out what you are made of.

During my last event Diana never wavered, always with me, always praying, always hanging on, sometimes maybe by a thread, but knowing if she stood her ground that maybe, just maybe, I would snap back and be me again. Which is exactly what happened. It is no wonder she spent the three weeks at Siskin with me as I went through rehabilitation – she had stretched a bit too far, and now wanted to be close all the time, spending the night and tending to my needs. Sometimes events can be just too much of a stretch.

As a couple we have stretched our relationship sometimes by our own will. Disagreements, differences of opinions, money, life choices – all the usual offenders. Did we yell, slam doors, go off in a huff? Yes, but she hasn’t done that in a long time (ha – she’ll kill me for that one!). Knowing we were safe, assured that our love was long-suffering, grounded in the fact that “love never ends” we could afford to stretch our emotions a bit now and then, secure that we would snap back to our steady state. Ol’ Stretch has got nothing on us.

There is one thing you can count on in life – it will be hard. You will have trials and tribulations, you will have sickness, you will experience lack, you will cry in turmoil, you will suffer in your job, your body, your marriage, your parenting. Knowing all that going in, shouldn’t we prepare by taking a cue from our elastic friend Mr. Armstrong? Shouldn’t we be ready to stretch when the going gets tough? Can we be prepared to endure the tug and pull of life?

Yes. Yes, you can.

At the beginning of our relationship, we both agreed to base it on a covenant promise. We built on the Rock, a sure foundation. While knowing full well we would never be insulated from problems, that we would certainly be stretched beyond our abilities, we also knew full well that the center would hold. You see, only the arms and legs of Stretch, well, stretched. His core remained intact, and when immediately the stretch was released, his arms and legs resumed their natural position. He was resilient. If you establish your relationship on a sure foundation, all the stretching of life will not remove it. You, too, will be resilient, because you will have the assurance of a strong and reliable core, a safe place to return to after the stretches of life.

“Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like: He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock. But he who heard and did nothing is like a man who built a house on the earth without a foundation, against which the stream beat vehemently; and immediately it fell. And the ruin of that house was great.” Luke 6:47-49

You can make it in this world, but only if you can be stretched, always believing you will recover and snap back to who you are, maybe a little wiser, maybe a little stronger, maybe a little more elastic.

Stretch Armstrong. More than just a toy, stretching is a way of life.

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