Tag: Love

14Feb

Braving Together

Seth and Amber Haines have been sharing letters to each other for the last few weeks, hanging the hard work of marriage up as art, and their love story never fails to inspire the writing of my own. This week, patience:

~~~

Dear husband,

You don’t know this, but I spent half an hour on my hair this morning. If any day of the year is worth the extra effort to look sexy and glamorous, it’s Valentine’s Day, right? I knew I was ridiculous for pulling out the ruby-tinted lip gloss before breakfast, but date night was already smoldering on my mind, and you know well after nine years that my whimsy is nothing if not ridiculous. It also has good taste in lip gloss.

By 8:30 a.m., all signs were pointing a hot lovin’ kind of day. Only, when I walked out of the bathroom, you said, “I’ll wait to make the coffee until you’re done getting ready.”

“Come again?”

“I mean, since your hair is still pinned on top of your head from doing your make up.”

I suddenly felt very slow. “So… you don’t like how I fixed it?”

Oh, my dear one. I could hear your face buckling from the impact of the realization, and you scrambled to salvage an unsalvageable situation. “It, uh… it looks very pretty… in the back… I mean…”

I’d seen that expression once before, on the face of a friend’s fiancé who had just asked me when my third child was due. It’s the look of a man without a time machine.

I don’t make these things easy on you, I know. I retreat from hurt feelings as instinctively as I do from conflict and controversy and furniture placement decisions. For a man who connects best through brave words and open eyes, it must be especially difficult navigating marriage with an emotional turtle.

Yet you do it so well, husband of mine. You have never tiptoed around the dark parts of our relationship, but you don’t take them by force either; you wait until I’m ready to talk, and then we march into the dark together.  It is this willingness to hold out for together, this inexhaustible patience, that has turned me into a woman who comes out of hiding. You make me brave.

Brave enough to grin as I shake out the hair pins (loose hair is its own kind of sexy and glamorous, yes?) and let your intentions speak louder than words. Brave enough to reapply ruby lip gloss after my coffee. Brave enough to go out this evening with open eyes and unhidden words for the man whose patience won me over a long time ago.

It’s going to be a good date night.

Bethany

12Aug

Mirror-Soul

This firstborn daughter of mine has kept me on my toes from that moment in a London hostel when the nausea and the swelling finally began to register as meaningful. Somewhere between the first anniversary in Venice and the train ride through the Chunnel, I had lost track of dates, and when I discovered I was already six weeks into motherhood, I had to lie down. She was already pulling me along into a new universe of stretch marks and neonatologists and caring so fiercely for another person that I left the hospital one day after my C-section just so I could stroke her cheek through a maze of NICU tubes.

This firstborn daughter of mine has been the most gracious of guinea pigs to a mama caught unawares. She has blossomed despite parenting mistakes and loved me through my hardest times, times I desperately wish I could uproot from her history and replace with flowers and strawberries and the dark pink everything that makes her world go ‘round. She has taught me more about grace than I could ever learn from books, and she’s the one who reminded my atrophied feet how to dance.

This firstborn daughter of mine continually impresses me with her patience, her focus, her enthusiasm, and her inside/outside/radiating-from-every-pore kind of beauty… which makes phases like this latest one particularly mystifying. Over the last week, when faced with gentle but logical consequences (of which I’m a firm believer) for occasional misbehavior, she’s dissolved into a roiling sea of self-deprecation on the spot. “I’m a bad Natalie!” she sobs. “I can’t do anything right! I’m only bad, never good! Nobody will ever love me!” My protests to the contrary are dashed against unyielding angst. I find myself for the zillionth time having absolutely no idea how to navigate the hurdles of motherhood and worrying that my head will go on strike due to poor working conditions.

This firstborn daughter of mine is so much like me that I want to look away. There is something so agonizingly familiar behind her eyes that I can’t stop remembering how I spent so much of my own girlhood drowning in self-contempt. I too wanted to be good but believed myself incapable; I too felt in my core that I was fundamentally unlovable. I am absolutely dumbfounded, though, as to how Natalie picked up the same thoughts despite completely different parenting methods, completely different cultures, and completely different lifestyles. To my knowledge, no one has ever told Natalie that she is bad or worthless or incapable at anything. We have always drawn attention to the traits we love about her. I am bewildered, but there’s no time to brainstorm in a tempest.

This firstborn daughter of mine, her mirror-soul storming in my arms, is pulling me through old territory in a new light. I can’t tell her the things I used to hurl at myself in the dark—you’re hideous, you’re evil, you’re worthless—missiles targeted at my own insecurities with something like satisfaction. The only thing I know to do is to remind her of the truth, so I draw tear-rimmed eyes close and whisper it into the turmoil… and it finally begins to sound like truth when I admit that this firstborn daughter of mine isn’t the only little girl I’m comforting.

You are lovely, inside and out.
You are capable.
You are irreplaceable.
You are loved.
You are loved
You are loved.

You are loved

1Aug

eHarmony Would So Not Approve This

He has his version of Irish music; I have mine.

He piles spicy peppers on his breakfast eggs; I once licked a jalapeño, The End.

He likes his beer as red as his beard was when we met; I’ll always reach for the pale ale (unless there’s a mojito on the table, in which case all bets are off).

He once spent a semester tutoring me in math so I could in turn teach it to my SAT students without crying; I once spent a semester tutoring him in English so he could pass an exam marry me.

He runs marathons for fun; I have a vastly different understanding of the word “fun.” (Of course, I would consider getting buried alive in a library fun, so maybe we can just agree to politely mock each other’s definitions ‘til death do us part.)

His 6’2” ≠ my 5’6”.

He relaxes after work by getting together with friends; I relax by getting as antisocial as possible.

He keeps his t-shirt collection in circulation year-round; I burrow under duvets in August.

He grew up speaking Venetian; I grew up speaking Christianese.

He appreciates a lively discussion; I would rather run a marathon while doing tongue trigonometry with habaneros than debate politics.

He prefers to work out our disagreements face to face in the honesty of the moment; I prefer to work them out with the solitude of my journal and the perspective of elapsed time.

As the saying goes, opposites attract.

During those warm Texas nights when we’d sneak away from campus to talk for hours, uninterrupted, until night turned to morning around us and our reputations began to register as lost causes, we saw only the shared wavelength of our thoughts. I still count our minds’ chemistry among the most precious gifts of my life. But eight years (and twenty-seven days, if you want to get all precise up in here) of marriage have given our differences their fair share of stage time, and I’m a little amazed that I ever thought of us as birds of a feather.

Of course, we have a few things in common now that we didn’t have back then. When we tiptoe into our little girls’ bedroom every night to rescue covers from a tangle of sleep-flung limbs, the smile we share on the way out is uniquely ours. The way our bodies interlock as we hug, molded to each other over eight years and twenty-seven days of babies and marathons and travels and sharing a bed, transcends any others’ touch.  Our joint account holds the memories of our first five homes together (plus the two that weren’t really ours), the course changes we’ve seen each other through, and the dreams that have grown up alongside of us.

We still hear each other through the noise of life, and I pray never to take our soul-compatibility for granted. But truth be told, I don’t think I would be writing this today if not for a partner who consistently introduces me to new experiences, keeps me social despite myself, pulls me out of hiding time and time again, and manages to surprise me every time I’m sure I’ve got him all figured out. I’d even venture to say, poor math skills notwithstanding, that he + I = just right.

(Plus, it turns out we do agree on one or two definitions of fun…)

 

 

13Jun

Coinstinct

This morning, I pressed the snooze button ten times, at which point my alarm rolled its eyes and turned itself off.  I was tired with a capital T-I-R-E-D and deflated by the realization that even after all the midnight oil, I had still gotten only halfway through a project I planned on finishing weeks ago. I thrive on both completion and sleep, so this really wasn’t my ideal wake-up scenario. Plus, thanks to my snooze button calisthenics, we hit the ground running late.

I don’t remember how many snippy things I said to Dan and the girls as we drove to their school—my cappuccino hadn’t gotten a chance to make it from the thermos to my bloodstream where I count on it to turn on the lights and unlock my brainwaves every morning—but I’m sure I wasn’t overly endearing. As we piled out of the car and jogged onto the school grounds, I mostly thought in cartoonish scribbles and thunderclouds. We’re late, we’re late, we’re latelatelatelate! WHY  won’t the girls’ legs move any faster? And why did Dan have to park across the street when there was a perfectly good crosswalk unoccupied space here? Are they just trying to inconvenience me because they know I’m late for work? Grumble, grumble, thunder, lateness, doom, etc.

Just ahead of us, an equally rushed mama was leading two little girls, her arms spilling over with backpacks and an adorable toddler boy. “Still with me?” she panted toward her girls, and as she glanced back to check, her foot snagged on the uneven pavement. She and the backpacks went sprawling, but her little boy didn’t so much sprawl as he did thud. I made it to his side just as his cries began. His mama’s instincts kicked in immediately as well, and she scooped him up without seeming to notice me. We all saw the smear of blood. Dan ran to get some help, and she followed with blank desperation, the little boy’s wails transmitting across the schoolyard to his sisters.

I knew he would be okay. He hadn’t fallen out of his mom’s arms until she was already halfway down, and the bump hadn’t affected his vocal cords in the slightest. However, I couldn’t help aching for his sisters. The younger one in particular was frozen in place with tiny hiccupping sobs, so I picked her up hoping it wouldn’t land me on the five o’clock news as a child abductor. I comforted as best I could while bringing the girls into the school where their brother was loudly protesting treatment, and then I left them. There wasn’t really anything else Dan or I could do, and the minutes were racing full speed ahead toward work. I hated to leave them though—the little boy wailing in pain, his sisters hugging each other in bewildered tears, or their mama whose lifesaving instinct would undoubtedly turn on her in blame. They had my heart’s full attention; all the scribbles and thunderclouds had been replaced by compassion.

And then, not three minutes later, I was snapping at Dan over his driving.

I couldn’t tell you the exact moment when my mental state shifted back to doom and snark, but snapping at my husband was every bit as sudden and involuntary as rushing to help a child in pain. I mean, I was clearly going to be latelatelate!, so my brain followed its problem-solving protocol to its natural conclusion: Make sure your husband understands his crime of failing to drive just like you do. Hugging him goodbye was a halfhearted mix of irritation and regret, and I booked it to work feeling like I probably should have snoozed that first alarm with a sledgehammer.

There are two things I just can’t understand about the morning. One is that somehow my instinct for compassion can coexist in such tight quarters with an instinct for criticism. Despite the visceral strength of my heart-ties to loved ones and hurting ones alike, those bonds can be sidestepped by something as paltry as being late for work. Do I even need to mention how scummy this makes me feel? The last thing I want is for tragedy to have to strike my little family before I stop taking them for granted; I just need to learn the delicate art of instinct override.

The second thing I can’t understand is that somehow, even after everything, I made it to work on time.

 

10May

7.8 Years In

[2 months  after the wedding]

I keep trying to write about this and surfacing steeped to the bone in inexplicable feelings, the words evaporating off my skin into the night, so I’ll stop trying and simply say this:

I love him.

Still. More.

5May

Eucharift

Our church doesn’t officially celebrate Christmas. I’ve heard of other churches that choose not to as well, most citing pagan or consumerist holiday origins as the reason, but ours shies away from it for the opposite reason: it’s too religious. More specifically, it’s too Catholic.

I sympathize with their need to differentiate themselves from the national religion. Here in Italy, the Pope is held up as truth incarnate, and the small Brethren congregation with which we share Sunday mornings is anxious to dispel the notion of religious royalty. In fact, we don’t even have a paid pastor. All church members are seen as equal participants among each other and with God, and the inclusive environment is incredibly welcome for those like me who run screaming from the word “orthodoxy.”

I’m not sure how welcome a Catholic visitor would feel though. While it isn’t often said aloud, the general consensus seems to be that Catholics do not know the real God; they base their lives on superstition, worship idols, and enslave themselves to greed (the clergy) or fear (the parishioners). They need to be saved just as badly as Buddhists or even Wiccans do.

However, I simply can’t make the stereotype match up with the Catholics I personally know. It’s easy enough to say a certain denomination (or religion, depending on your viewpoint) has it all wrong, but can I honestly make that verdict about my Catholic friend who prays regularly for me and launches heart-to-hearts about our life’s passions? What about my ex-fundamentalist friend who finds solace from her oppressive past at Mass every week? What about the devout family friends who uprooted their lives to keep a mentally disabled relative from losing her inheritance?

How can I say that I, with my ever-evolving doubts and struggles, have exclusive rights to the God we all seek?

I twice attended Mass when I was living in the States, and both times, I stayed conspicuously in my seat while the rest of the church filed to the front for the Eucharist. I reasoned that I was merely an onlooker of a foreign religious ritual and that participating would be on par with apostasy. (Never mind that my own church’s monthly communion service was essentially the same thing, give or take a priest.) If I were to go back now, though, it wouldn’t be as a tourist. Rather, I’d go as a fellow believer, doubter, stumbler, and seeker. And while I probably wouldn’t agree on a lot of doctrinal points, and while the reverent liturgy of the service might chafe my nonconformist sensibilities, and while my current church could have some strong opinions over it (thankfully, we don’t do excommunication), the slot vacated by my superiority complex would be just about the right size for a concept called loving my neighbors… and maybe even learning from them too.

Rally to Restore Unity

[Joining the Rally to Restore Unity going on this week on Rachel Held Evans’ blog. Want to play along?]

10Mar

Sigh No More

One of the first pieces of literature I ever memorized was a Bible verse familiar even to those who have never set foot in a fundamentalist Christian home: “God is love.” It’s a nice sentiment, and it probably sounded adorable in my toddler lisp, but I was already on my way to a very unhappy understanding of the verse’s meaning.

“God is love” meant that he was willing to defile himself by sifting through the filth of humanity and saving a worm like me.

“God is love” meant that he would inflict (or sanction) whatever pain necessary to insure my soul against hell.

“God is love” meant that he would play the gentleman and let people make “unbiased” decisions between Christianity and eternal suffering.

(Alternately, it meant that he had predestined me over less lucky humans for salvation. I experienced my fair share of Calvinism.)

“God is love” meant that he had paid my debt, so I was forever in his.

In practical terms, “God is love” translated into fear. God’s love was conditional, you see, and it wasn’t particularly affectionate to start with. When I was Baptist, any little mistake would put my salvation into question. (You couldn’t lose your salvation per se, but if you messed up… well, Jesus clearly wasn’t alive and well in your heart.) When I was Presbyterian, my soul was secure, but God didn’t love all of my friends and family enough to choose them. From my earliest memories, the unthinkable torment of hell—burning alive forever and ever and ever—dangled over my head  and that of everyone I knew. And this was God’s love.

Which brings me here:

Maybe you’ve heard about this. Maybe you don’t care. Maybe you care so much that you’re brandishing every weapon in your arsenal against heresy. Or maybe you’re like me, wanting to weep for the hope of it all.

Even though “Love Wins” is not yet released, prominent theologians have already consigned the author to hell… simply for suggesting that perhaps God is not torturing the majority of his creation for eternity. A dear friend writes about the divide between real, aching hearts and those “who are more concerned with winning than with loving,” and I want to ask those people, those self-assured theologians and heretic-slayers, Why? Why would you rather follow a God who allows babies to be born knowing that nine out of ten will burn forever… who handpicks some for his utopian afterlife but not all, or who makes our fates dependent on accurate guesswork… who expects us to rejoice while billions die… whose love only concerns itself with right vs. wrong… Why would you rather follow that God than explore the hope that true love doesn’t require us to shut down our hearts?

I was terrified the first time I posted about hell; I expected anger, hatred, and Molotov cocktails (approximately the treatment Rob Bell’s been getting), but it was worth the risk. I couldn’t not share the spacious peace I had found outside of religious tradition. The idea that God actually could be love—kind, unconditional, crazy-about-us love—is worth spreading no matter the cost or the dissenters. In fact, it might be the first piece of truly good news some Christians have ever heard.

Play us out, Marcus:

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