A Reflection on 10 Years of Marriage

wedding

Last year I felt inspired to write some poetry around the time of our anniversary. This is what I wrote and its still one of my favorite pieces. I think I could post this every year on June 7th and feel satisfied. But this year we’ve hit 10 years and I want to reflect a little more. Its in the writing of things that I figure out what I know.

The past 10 years have been a wild ride. Wild in that I wouldn’t have expected the course we’ve walked in ten million years. Truthfully, I don’t know what I would have plotted instead. I don’t think I’d thought that far ahead when we got married 10 years ago. I know if I had been asked I would not have guessed our course. Two out of state moves. A career path on my end that involved the lowest lows (bored out of my mind for three years straight) and the highest highs (leading an organization that built houses and opened a business). A doctorate and fellowship for Andy. The birth of our daughter. The unexpected loss of a pregnancy. Recently, a trip to the Bahamas. Turns out you can do a lot in ten years.

TEN.

When I was ten years old I was in the fourth and fifth grade. I remember those years well. I loved my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Sabathier. She was from Baton Rouge, Louisiana and had the syrupy sweet southern accent to prove it. She loved her students to pieces and didn’t so much as teach us as she swooned over how wonderful and brilliant we all were. We emerged none the worse for wear the following year as Mrs. Biondo took over our education as fifth graders. She decorated her desk with cows and took off her shoes  during class and donned black and white cow slippers while she diagrammed sentences on the board. The cows did not disturb from her merciless expectations in reading and writing. She would pause in read alouds to ask us to define large words and made us memorize all of the prepositions in the english language. To this day I remember them all, in alphabetical order, and can say them in approximately 15 seconds or less thanks to her insistence that we compete on the matter. The world thanks you for this, Mrs Biondo…I think?

These were great years to be in school. I had my first little crush on a boy named Omar. We made sure to count the boys and girls to the back of the line so that we could sit next to each other in Friday morning church services. We would play jackpot at recess and he’d give me the ball 50% of the time when he caught it, making me feel special.

I remember some jarring times too though. One morning Mrs. Sabathier came in crying and asked us to quiet down. She explained that Mrs. Clarke, a first grade teacher at our school and the mom of one of my classmates, had lost her fight with breast cancer. The next year, both fifth grade classes attended a funeral service for the father of another girl in our class. He had died suddenly in an accident at work. Those were weird, hard days to absorb for fourth and fifth graders whose worst days in a given year revolved around petty recess shenanigans. Funerals seemed incongruent with the world we assumed we were being handed.

I’ve tried to write this piece on marriage several times and have abandoned it several times because it always has such a rough edge to it. I’m trying to write about my most beloved relationship here people, and I keep getting all dreary! Lest there be concern, Andy is still the funniest and funnest person I know. I admire him to the skies and I’m most certain he still admires me too as he tells me so on the regular! So, I keep thinking I’m not supposed to write this way and it should be coming out all dream-like and nauseating. Isn’t that the promise of the white dress and the tuxedo? Nauseating perfection, until death do us part?

If perfection’s the promise (I’m not sure that it is) than it certainly isn’t fulfilled in a hippy skippy manner (I am sure of that!). But I’ve decided I’m ultimately OK with that. Wearing a wedding dress and a tuxedo every day for ten years this side of heaven would be irritating, if nothing else. We’d also be incredibly overdressed when so much of life is taking out the trash and doing the laundry.

Maybe that’s where I’ve gotten hung up as I’ve tried to write this reflection. I look back on those 10 years of highs and lows that we’ve weathered together and realize that so much of it was just taking the next right step. Even when we found ourselves sitting in the mud. We’d get up each day and do chores. Discuss finances or weekend plans. Cook dinner.  Which is not to say that it has all been drudgery. That’s not the case. Its just been different than I think I thought it would be on June 7, 2008.

That’s kind of life for you though, isn’t it? You memorize all the prepositions in the english language for class in the same week that you smile over your fourth grade crush giving you the ball at recess in the same month that you attend the funeral of a classmates mother in the same year you grow an inch taller. Life is so strange and weird and awkward isn’t it? Sometimes its also just really wonderful.

Some mornings, 10 years after you wore a white wedding dress and he wore a black tux, you wake up and realize that the good times and the tough times have really been God’s way of ushering you both, hand in hand, into the one great struggle of your lives. The struggle for a true and lasting joy. Not joy as in happy. Joy as defined so well by Kay Warren: “the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of our life. The quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be all right. And the determined choice to [give glory to] God in all things.”

Today, I can look back on ten years and then look over at Andy to say this:

It has truly been a joy. Not because it has been easy. Not because we were always skipping through fields of wildflowers without a care in the world. It has been a joy because by some peculiar and amazing grace we keep coming back to that guiding line that we both sense and can never see to say that we’ll honor and acknowledge and obey what its calling us to. For richer or poorer. In sickness and in health. Moment by moment. As long as we both shall live.

 

“In the cathedrals of New York and Rome,

There is a feeling that you should just go home,

and spend a lifetime finding out just where that is.”

 

from “Cathedrals,” by Jump Little Children

(our first dance)

andy

 

 

Rebirth. Not Reinvention.

rebirth

Well, it appears its time. I have to talk about giving birth.

Not that I really want to. The birth process is scary and something beyond our control…but it has to be addressed because I am afraid that too many of us are trying to reinvent our lives when we are actually called to the process of rebirth.

I am not talking here about physical birth, though the birth of a child can be a wonderful fruit of this process. It was for me. Here though, I am talking about spiritual rebirth.

In a recent post I wrote about God calling me into the spirit of adventure with him and I am afraid that for all of the whimsy that a call like that suggests, it appears that most days I am just not up to this task. Deep down, the person I most identify with, is the little girl who wants to feel completely secure. Sometimes I wonder though: Am I really that girl? All the way through to the bottom? I’m not so sure that’s true. And if its not true then maybe I cling too easily to a part of my identity that’s really, in the end, unhelpful.

In the couple of years before Ellie was born I spent a good amount of time trying to figure out who I was and what exactly I was supposed to be doing. At times I affectionately call the decade of my 20s my “awkward teenage years” and for all the laughter that gets in a conversation, the actual living of those years were incredibly difficult. It felt like learning how to walk.

There’s a moment in the gospel of John when a pharisee named Nicodemus visits Jesus at night and tells him, essentially: “I know who you are because of the signs you have been performing in our community.”

Jesus responds to the man’s certainty with a slanted truth: “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” This mysterious line sends Nicodemus into an intellectual tailspin as he realizes that while he had approached Jesus to identify with him and likely seek his allegiance he hadn’t expected Jesus to respond by holding up a mirror to him to ask him if he really knew the man in front of him in the first place.

Jesus tells him to be born again. Using terms like “born again” in our day and age is not a way to win any friends but I will say this…coming to grips with who you are, deep down, requires not just a rearrangement of what you know intellectually about yourself or your life but submitting yourself to the emotional-physical-spiritual gestation process that Jesus invites us into. Rebirth is not reinvention. He says it to Nicodemus plain as day in the text:

“You’re not listening. Let me say it again. Unless a person submits to…the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life—it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. When you look at a baby, it’s just that: a body you can look at and touch. But the person who takes shape within is formed by something you can’t see and touch—the Spirit—and becomes a living spirit.” John 3:5 Message Translation

Things started to change in my own life when I finally let go of what I felt I was certain of and took a chance on the mystery of the Spirit of God. First, I let go at work. Then, I let go at home. Before long I was leading an organization that birthed a business and not long after that I found out I was pregnant. If you had told me a year before this all happened that these two things would occur at the same time I would have dissolved into a puddle in front of your very eyes. Yet somehow, by saying I’d allow him to lead and then taking the next right steps with him, I got through a pregnancy, a multi-state move and a job transition with energy left to spare. Which was perfect – I now had a newborn to care for and a new life to build in a new city.

I would leave it at that but I think so much is left unsaid if I don’t share what I learned in the middle of all these crazy transitions. A few things are coming to mind:

  1. Rebirth, spiritual rebirth that is, requires a moment of consent. God is not going to drag us into spiritual maturity. He will wait patiently until we let go and allow him to lead us but he will not take one step in the direction of holistic and abundant new life if we do not take the step with him.
  2. He WILL allow our lives to become narrow and difficult. He will take us to a place where we don’t have much choice but to reach out our hand towards him in faith. He really is a loving parent. He really does want to help us out of our junk and he will make that fact obvious.
  3. Bringing something, someone or some part of ourselves to life takes ALOT of time. Way longer than you ever anticipate. So take your plans and then add some time. No, really. ADD MORE TIME THAN THAT. This will take more time than you ever imagined and this will be incredibly frustrating. There are more verses than I would like to count in scripture that say essentially: “And Joseph was forgotten and spent two years in prison…” (Genesis 40-41) Keep the faith. A broken and limited people may have forgotten, but God has not. This is not for nothing. This is how you change a life.

Finally, I would just say this. The joy on the other side of the mess will be better than you could have ever imagined. I lived in absolute terror of life for a good half decade. And that’s conservative. But I will say this: Just yesterday I sat back at the end of a beautiful spring day with a joy that spilled over into our evening. We ate dinner outside and “played lacrosse” with our daughter and I could have burst over the beauty of something that years before I would have been scared to allow myself to enjoy. Truthfully, I’m still scared some days. Thankfully, those fears are no longer driving the bus.

“Fear not little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:32.

 

It is Time.

wine

Well, we’ve recently introduced Ellie to the Lion King. Such a great Disney movie that I remember seeing with my Grandmother and my sister when we went to visit her one summer in California. I remember how good it felt to sit in a freezing cold theater at midday in the desert where she lives only to leave and be warmed by both the hot air and the lingering images of Simba winning back his seat as King of the animal kingdom.  Its a warm memory as I prepare to go see them both again next weekend! I have really missed them both.

Andy and I have found ourselves quoting lines from the Lion King here and there. Lets be honest…I don’t think there was a child of the 80s who didn’t have that movie memorized. We both love the moment when Rafiki, the monkey priest, realizes that Simba is alive and he heads off to find him. In a thick Afrikaner accent he yells: “It is time!”

This line came to mind this weekend when reading about Jesus first miracle, turning water into wine. It struck me how Mary might have been more pivotal in this moment than I’ve ever given her credit for. I wonder if she was encouraging Jesus, telling him before he’d possibly grasped it himself, that he was ready to embody the kingdom. 

“Embodiment” is my new favorite word these days. I think because I’ve spent far too much time in my own head. I’ve finally entered a season where my head and heart feel at least loosely connected…and let me tell you, its lovely! I feel more like a whole person, and in that way its making me feel like a more fruitful person too.

Several years ago I found myself over-taxed with evening commitments. I had two church activities each week outside of Sunday services and was about to take on a third and realized I’d have to neglect some aspects of rest and/or physical fitness if I was going to hold all these balls in the air. It took about one week for me to realize I’d have to give up an evening bible study in order to stay connected to the other activities I felt committed to. The choice was logical if not a bit of a bummer. I really enjoyed our time with friends at the Duke house. But Andy agreed that he would continue going to those studies on his own while I took that evening to go to the university gym with a friend who I’d not spent much time with over the last couple of years (due to a literal lack of available time!).

Folks, those evenings were so much FUN! We would hit the elliptical and talk about any number of things. I’d been so steeped in a search for God’s presence through a really difficult season that I was literally oozing Jesus out of every pore of me. I couldn’t get enough of the fact that He not only promised to meet me but was also actually meeting me in the details of my life and helping me get through them in one way or another. I couldn’t help but share that with my friend who has a similar temperament as I do. Tiffany is as lacking in tolerance for frustration as I am and so she and I would talk throughout about how we were approaching different snags in life. Sometimes after our workouts we’d crack open a bible and see what there was to be said in there. I don’t think it was anything earth shattering. Mostly we just laughed and yelled “Bullsh**!” to the air as we considered what Jesus would say today about the viruses in her petri dishes at her lab and the poverty in the neighborhoods I was trying to work in. It was all just a lot of fun. (Tiff, if you’re reading…I really miss you!)

Looking back on that time is so funny to me. I had to quit a bible study to work out with my friend and I think I got more spirituality out of the workout than I would have at the study. To be fair, I needed a history of bible studies to talk intelligently about how God works. I don’t want to throw the Bible study baby out with the bath water. I do think we can become spiritually or intellectually bloated if we are not careful. There comes a time when we have to integrate what we’ve learned with our lives or we’ll get too fat to move. Which would be sad, as we were created to move…and move freely.

Which brings me back to Mary and Jesus at the wedding. I wonder if Jesus took a minute to get oriented to his ministry. He’d just been baptized and he clearly knew his mission to reconcile people to God (see verse 4 in John 2.) But maybe he needed a little help with his next step in the process. Maybe he needed Mary to say: “You’re ready. Show them what the kingdom of God is like. Give them some wine.”

I love that Mary didn’t have to say anything back to Jesus when he responded to her. He’d realize in due time what he needed to do and she knew that he’d make the next right step. By my reading, she appears to shrug off his response and instead tells the caterers: “Do whatever he tells you.”

Which could be the greatest line to a follower of God I’ve ever heard. “Do whatever He tells you.” 

God is not silent. He’s patient, and he’ll wait for us to decide if we want to partner with him, but he is not silent. Better still, he is not unaware of the fact that between this moment and our final breaths we might just run out of wine and find ourselves in a bit of a pickle, wondering what to do next.

So we do whatever he tells us. We read the scriptures if we can’t sense his voice. We remember anew that we’re witnesses to a paradoxical kingdom where the good wine is saved for last. And we realize like Jesus that there’s no time and place like our present situation to reflect what he, and Mary for that matter, are trying to say:

It is time.

 

When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.” John 2:10-11

 

Dr. King and Me

martin-luther-king-jr-

Today, Atlanta is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the funeral procession of Martin Luther King, Jr. I love this city, I really do. I spent Friday afternoon with my kid at the Carter center and then considered last night how I might join a march with the King family on the anniversary of his death (sadly, sickness and rain kept us home). I’m remembering that this city is a place where so many good things have started (with King). And continued (with Carter, among others).

I found myself wondering along with the nation the other day what Dr. King’s death accomplished, if anything. I don’t know that I am qualified to answer that question. I should probably ask my black friends for their opinions. I do think Dr. King and I have some things in common. We both have dreams for better lives. We both believe that this can happen in response to the invitation of God in his work where “every valley shall be exalted [and], every hill and mountain shall be made low (to quote King, who quotes scripture).”

I remember the exact day in my college career when I realized I wanted something different. I had decided on a business degree because it was the logical choice for someone who would graduate with student loans. I sat in a downstairs classroom of the Sellinger Business School as my professor passed out slips of paper that had a company name on it. We had split into groups and would prepare a marketing plan for the company that we were assigned at random. My company?

Gillette Razors.

Now…I love me a good razor. I am personally glad that there are people in the world who work at the factories that make them. I suppose I’m even grateful that someone markets those razors to my local grocer so I can buy them with ease when I need them.  But I’d be lying to say that on that day my heart didn’t sink. After 17 years of school I found it somewhat demoralizing to realize that I might just finish it all to go sell razor blades. Not when I knew that there were people not one mile down the road from the classroom I sat in that would walk past our campus and consider attendance at a school like mine an impossibility. A literal dream scenario.

My momentary exasperation would eventually lead to hope as I learned just how badly the not-for-profit world needs people with business degrees. I’ve ended up putting it to good use in my career. Yet that day may have just been the moment when my life would take a turn that I didn’t expect. It didn’t totally connect with me that the desire to do kingdom work often comes with a cost.  For King it was the ultimate cost of his life. For us, its been a much slower march to certain goals than I had ever anticipated.

A surprising thing about life, for me, has been how hard it is to go after what you want. As children, people will ask us what we want to be when we grow up and we’ll say “a doctor!” or “a firefighter!” or “a ballerina!” not realizing that the process required to do those things and still keep food on the table can be incredibly difficult. People will tell you, as they told me, that it all requires sacrifice and I will agree wholeheartedly with them until the moment comes for me to actually give up on something. Even if just for a a bit more time. Its then that I start to get suspicious that I’ve been led into a bait and switch, though that couldn’t be further from the truth. I have been told all my life that I can go after what I want AND i have been told that it would require sacrifice. I just never really understood what that really meant until those two realities came together.

Which brings me to my weekend and a dream that I had. This weekend I pretty much busted at the seams as I realized that some things that I’ve wanted for our family are just taking longer to realize than I ever imagined that they would. Sometimes it feels like your dreams are just getting lost in the shuffle and you lose your cool. Sometimes, to my absolute surprise, I make certain desires ultimate things without even realizing it. I’ve put them there because the culture I’m surrounded by has put them there and told me that I’ll be able to say “I’ve made it” once I check off these boxes.

Which brings me to a dream I had on Saturday night. I dreamed that my sister was getting married. Kristin was beside herself that she was heading down the aisle. She couldn’t wait to get married and I, as her matron of honor, was just as excited for her. The only problem with this wedding day was that little things kept going wrong before the ceremony could start. I was supposed to hold onto the engagement ring and I had somehow misplaced it. Kristin’s dress had torn and she was forced to wear a black t-shirt on top with her bridal gown’s skirt on the bottom.

Over and over things would happen that were culturally problematic though I suppose not functionally so. You don’t technically need an engagement ring to get married. You can in fact get married in a torn black t-shirt and a white skirt, though perhaps you’ll be thought odd. Over and over in the dream I would finally get up the courage to break the news to my sister about the problem at hand and each time she would laugh and figure out a work around. Each time she would remind me that she just wanted to walk down the aisle and nothing could really get in the way of her excitement over that.

No sooner would I start to laugh ever so hesitantly with Kristin who could have cared less would someone pull me aside and say: “you’re not really going to let her walk down the aisle without her engagement ring, are you?” or, “We can’t start the wedding until she has a new gown. You can’t go down the aisle in a t-shirt!”

Then the dream ended. Ellie woke us up in a coughing fit. Kind of happy about that though…this is one that I want to remember. I believe what the scriptures tell us – this life is preparation for a wedding feast. Genesis starts with a wedding and ends with a wedding celebration and I’ve put all my eggs in that basket. Everything that’s beautiful in the world points to this if you have eyes to see it. The relationship between a husband and a wife. The relationship between a child and her parent. The relationship between us and our environment. The relationship between our work and our world. They are all, at their best, mini outworkings of a world and a people that are preparing for a time when the barriers between God and man are broken down for good. The best wedding you’ve ever attended.

So when my sister was excited to walk down the aisle, regardless of the particulars of how that ceremony itself would play out, she was responding to the call of her life. She was saying: “I don’t care how this all plays out. I just want to walk towards the love of my life!”

While I should have been celebrating and laughing with her I found myself pulled by a culture that said I wasn’t doing it right. Which is kind of ridiculous if you think about it. I’ve never been to the same wedding twice. Which is to say, everyone has a different path down the aisle. So what do we do when we recognize we’re being pulled from the celebration? For good or for ill, here’s what I did:

I intentionally reflected on it all and found myself thankful for the grace to see that I was torn. The night prior I had been certain that I was right as I hammered home a new plan of action for us all and you couldn’t have told me otherwise. But this dream set me straight. I apologized to God (and to Andy!) for believing that he was intentionally withholding from me. Then I couldn’t help but marvel at the fact that God would allow difficulty in my life to expose what keeps me from the expectation of the best things for us. Lastly, I asked for the faith to believe that he is already working to provide the next piece of the puzzle that is a part of our journey.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was ultimately killed for daring to dream of and speak for a better world. I wish like hell it didn’t take his death to shake us awake. Yet 40 plus years after his death I sat in a classroom one Tuesday before college graduation and realized I wanted to be a part of the feast that he, and the scriptures he tried to live by, were inviting us into. This didn’t happen in a vacuum. It came after learning about him over and over again and going on trip after trip to engage with folks who’ve had different American experiences than I. I ultimately realized I could go get a corporate job that probably paid really well but left me spiritually empty or I could hold out for a position that stirred up my heart for more partnership with God. The jobs that have pulled that out of me the most have been my roles at Habitat for Humanity and my role as a mom.

I don’t think this leap was insignificant. Taking a position that makes $30,000 a year so that economically distressed individuals can become first time homeowners is not necessarily the best investment of a 17 year private school education. At least if we’re just looking at the numbers. Staying at home with a child is even less so! But at Habitat and in this season with Ellie I see echoes of what the feast will be like in ways that I’m certain I would not have seen as a corporate marketing executive. People who were unjustly kept from opportunities for home ownership finally had the barriers removed. Seemingly insignificant things are inviting great wonder again. While my hopes for the future are taking longer to come to fruition I find that the difficulty makes their eventual appearance that much sweeter. So today I remember the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. and am encouraged by the city I live in to keep figuring out ways to live out his vision. He was not a perfect man but I know this one thing about him: he tried to show up peacefully and make space for everyone to sit at the table. I hope to follow his lead.

The full text of Dr. King’s speech is here. I can’t recommend reading it enough!

 

What is it that you want?

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Hi friends and faithful readers.

I promised myself and you all when I started this blog that I would not write a post that I didn’t feel inspired to write. When I’ve found time to write lately I have found myself trending towards the book I feel compelled to write. Unless things start to move differently I’ll likely post less often on this site in this season as I try to figure out what this thing is about. I do want to keep this blog going though so I hope thoughts will come to mind here and there that I can share with you all. I just probably won’t be terribly consistent.

That said, I’ll leave you with a few brief thoughts.

A friend of mine posted a verse from a poem by a Persian poet yesterday. It says this:

“Why do you stay in prison when the door is so wide open?” -Rumi

The longer I live this side of heaven I think this is the question of our lives. It is Christ’s question to us in the New Testament: What is it that you want?

It is the king’s question to Nehemiah when he looks downcast on account of his people and homeland.

And its the question I have for you if only because I find it does not disappoint. This is probably because the Jesus who asks it of me never lets me get away with the easy answer. He’ll sit there quietly until I’m finally honest with him about what’s weighing me down. When I finally get to that crystal clear aspect of what I’m wanting its as if I can feel him smiling and saying “OK, sounds good.” By this time in a very one sided conversation, we are usually of one accord.

Jesus is remarkably quiet. That’s probably because, like children, we’re all making plenty of noise in his presence. But silence doesn’t have to mean disengagement. Silence can just be a waiting period that allows time to catch up to the wonder of a thing. My prayer for us all is that we would use whatever waiting or silence we might find ourselves in for our betterment. Sitting before God and telling him, honestly, what we want. Meditating on the whole of the scriptures and asking God to align our hearts with His. Confessing where we know we fall short and asking for help when we don’t understand.

I’m trying to write more here today but sense its just not coming. So I’ll leave this short and sweet and share a line from Oswald’s Chambers:

“Yielding to Jesus will break every kind of slavery in any person’s life.”

If Paul can write as he did in Philippians (the book of Joy) that he knows the secret to being content in any number of situations – poverty, wealth, well fed or hungry – then I believe its possible for us too. May we be like Paul and learn what it means to do all things through Christ who gives us strength.

Lord, we need the power only you can give. Give us new eyes to see you and show us that you are the abundant life we crave. Amen.