Tag: Marriage

11Jul

Re-stitched

One one hand, the ER was not where I’d imagined spending the evening of our 9th anniversary. Sure, the colored reflectors on the operating room lights scattered a certain romantic sparkle through the air, and we had some special moments answering the doctors in two-part harmony. “Which one of you is Bassett?” “We both are.” “Yes, but which one is here for treatment?” “We both are.” Still, we probably wouldn’t have handpicked the emergency room for our anniversary getaway.

On the other hand, how better to commemorate this perpetual adventure of a marriage than to get matching stitches for our matching arm wounds which will be matching badass scars by this time next year?

Yeah, I’ve got nothing either.

It started at midnight, the first moon-slivered seconds of our anniversary, with a tremendous crash just beyond our bedroom door. We (I) were still skittish from the night before when our television had started blaring in the opposite end of the house leading us (me) to imagine burglars hiding in every sock drawer, so I felt totally justified in jumping up and brandishing the first weapon available. Which was… our sheet. I must have looked very fierce indeed, terror-frozen at the foot of our bed with a fistful of linens.

Dan, possessing all of our collective presence of mind and movement of limb at that moment, dashed out of the room to investigate and soon reported that, contrary to popular opinion, we were not under mortar attack. I surrendered my sheet and came out to see what would only ever under those exact circumstances be considered a welcoming sight—a bathroom covered wall to wall in foamy brown liquid and shards of glass.

To those of you still reading, it’s not as gross as it sounds. Promise. My husband brews artisan beer as a hobby and had recently bottled a batch of lovely dark stout to finish fermenting on a bathroom shelf, not realizing that the temperature would creep up to dangerous levels. A bottle had exploded, and despite making a royal mess, it smelled delicious and wasn’t a grenade-launching burglar. I’ve never been so happy to scrub down a bathroom at midnight.

Exploding beer 1

We crawled into bed an hour later, kissed sleepily, and closed our eyes just in time for another explosion to rock the house. Crap. We checked on the damage—at least three bottles this time—and decided to just cordon off the crime scene for the night. By the third explosion, we barely even stirred on our pillows. Any number of home invaders could have blown down our door that night without encountering so much as a single belligerent bedsheet. Prospective villains, take note.

We didn’t really want to spend our anniversary cleaning double malt off the bathroom ceiling, but sometimes life requires maturity. Which is why we waited until nearly suppertime to start. (Why else did God invent second bathrooms if not to allow for slovenly cleaning habits?) Now, some people might have reasoned that walking into a room full of spontaneously exploding glass necessitated flak gear or at least a healthy sense of caution, but then again, some people don’t get to experience unforgettable 9th anniversary bonding moments like the one just ahead.

It happened while I was kneeling over the bottom shelf of bottles hosing away glass chips and yeasty goodness. I didn’t realize that the shelf above it was getting nudged off its pegs until I suddenly found myself trying to catch a dozen beer bottles as they exploded. In my face. Demonstrating the same quick reflexes and superior thinking that I had the night before, I froze in place… that place being a front row seat to my own dissection.

Fortunately, survival of the fittest is trumped by survival of the married, and Dan yanked me onto my feet and toward the door. Just as I was registering that my arm kind of maybe really hurt, he made a sound indicating that some part of his body kind of maybe really did too. We stumbled into the other bathroom where the following half hour remains a bit of a blur. At some point, a pair of blood-splattered jeans ended up in the laundry, and we found a red scatterplot across the mirror the next day, so you know it had to be fun.

My arms, legs, and shoulders were peppered with tiny nicks, but there wasn’t a single splinter of glass lodged in my skin—a mercy. Even more remarkably, my face was untouched. Not a mark. I didn’t recognize the miracle of this until much later because that was about the time Dan realized that a few Angry Birds Band-Aids and wishful thinking were no match for the slices on our biceps. Always a people pleaser, I myself was reluctant to head to the hospital. In my mind, the ER is for head injuries and heart attacks; wouldn’t the doctors frown on us for taking up their valuable time with something as mundane as cuts?

As it turns out, there’s a generally accepted rule of thumb about this very situation: If you can see your own muscle, get thee to the ER.

Exploding beer 2

A mere hour and a half later (I know!), we were sewed up and headed back home, five stitches apiece and gratefulness all around—for the neighbor who took in our girls with thirty seconds’ advance notice, for the friend who cleaned up every bit of broken glass in our absence, for the spouse cracking jokes and grimacing in sympathy across the triage room, and for the divine current of goodness carrying us not only through our 9th anniversary but to it as well.

This last year has been one of our hardest as a couple, and I know that probably sounds worth an eye roll or two in light of the marriage letters and the Dear Nearlywed and the happy Instagram feeds. None of that is an act; we are happy, but some days, it’s a happiness hard won. Some weeks, life pressure turns into a geyser under our feet and we jump in opposite directions without meaning to. Some months, we can’t really tell whether the intensity we’re channeling is primarily push or pull, both instincts being so strong and our minds so weary. We’ve spent so much of the last year facing obstacles and scanning for miracles that we’ve often forgotten how to look at each other, how to look and really see.

This is why our 9th anniversary came as such a gift. Fresh out of the emergency room, twinges of pain reminded me of the pain avoided—the deep mercy of an untouched face, of blood beating soundly inside our two skins. And then this interpersonal rawness after an intense year… it floods me with gratefulness for the new bonds we’ve forged throughout, the promises kept, and the sacred still of forgiveness.

I’m not used to picturing us with scars, and my mind keeps reverting back to the way we used to be like a dog who can’t understand its owners have moved. I can never adjust to new realities without a ridiculous amount of head-swiveling. However, the new us is quickly growing on me. This is the year we start rocking the scars, and honestly, I love that we share these testaments to coming undone and being restitched. Even the ones on our arms.

Exploding beer 3

(All pictures by Dan, who had the presence of mind to take them)

9May

Trumped

I decided years ago that I was done with the creation vs. evolution debate. As a Jesus-follower, I often hear earnest sermonizing that God created all life forms in six literal days and that science is trying to undermine the truth of our Bible, but I no longer take on that conversation. My personal belief is that the creation story in Genesis is highly figurative and that God in science are on the same team, but I could be mistaken. Honestly, I don’t care. I see a divine fingerprint on the world around me, but the method of its origin has no bearing on my faith. It’s simply a non-issue to me.

I’ve taken the same approach with the sexual orientation subject too. Nearly all Christian denominations openly condemn the homosexual and transgender, but I never saw the point in getting worked up over it. After all, I’m straight. I can hardly claim to understand, much less consider myself an authority on those with other sexual orientations. Yes, there are passages in the Bible decrying homosexuality, but the Bible is a complicated book, and I didn’t see a personal need to delve into the linguistic and cultural nuances behind those passages in order to polarize my stance. The issue simply didn’t affect me.

That was before someone very dear to me shared the story of her husband—a conservative pastor and Quiverfull dad—admitting that he actually identified as female and of their transition to a same-sex marriage. I was stunned. My lack of a position on the whole subject left me in a philosophical no man’s land as I tried to wrap my mind around their story, and my own longsuffering spouse can attest to the many hours I spent talking myself through it. I kept trying to put myself in Melissa’s position, but I just couldn’t imagine finding out that my husband had always felt his deepest identity to be female. More, I couldn’t imagine coming out myself and continuing our committed, affectionate relationship as he became a she.

It finally dawned on me that I was trying to understand things from the wrong angle. My body and soul genders match each other, and my romantic inclination is as conventional as it comes; I’m not going to be able to conjure up the transgender or gay experience any more than I could picture myself a tsar. But I don’t need to. I don’t need to feel what my friend is going through in order to hear the emotions of her story, see the awe-striking love she and her spouse have shown each other throughout, or understand the way people’s reactions affect them. I don’t need to twist my mind around in search for empathy. It’s been right here all along… and so has my stance on the issue:

Love matters most.

Jesus said that when a religious leader asked him for the greatest commandment, and it’s one of my favorite things in the Bible. All those lists of laws and thou shalt nots are both summed up and solidly trumped by love. You would think, according to some sermons I’ve heard, that Jesus accidentally forgot to exclude homosexuals when he said “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But this same Jesus met with scathing criticism from the churchy crowd for his habit of hanging out with prostitutes, cheats, and other flagrant sinners. He had dinner with outcasts and approached people considered too vile for interaction, and you know, he never once remembered to launch an anti-gay campaign. He was too busy teaching how to cultivate peace, live authentically, and stop burdening our fellow human beings.

I realize that unconventional sexual orientation has become a huge moral issue to many people, and it’s often seen as grounds for terminating friendships. In the case of Christian communities, many adopt the strategy of trying to shun the offending person into repentance. Bullying can take the form of anything from hate crimes to prayer meetings to constitutional amendments, and we’re only kidding ourselves if we claim that our repugnance is rooted in the Bible. The Old Testament puts pride, eating pig meat, and doing things to gain popularity in the same category as gay sex, but the cultural stigmas on those actions have long since been lifted. If you pick up a clam on the beach today, you’re not going to face a religious firing squad even though touching shellfish is listed as an abomination in the same section of the Bible most often used to bash homosexuals. Like it or not, every single Christian interprets the Bible through a cultural filter, so I think it’s about time that we acknowledge our prejudice for what it is.

I imagine that some people are ready to jump down my throat right now with theology books in tow, but I’m less willing to join in the debate now than I was during all my years of disimpassioned neutrality. It really all comes down to this one truth beating in my heart:

The Bible says homosexuality is an abomination!
But love matters most.

God intended marriage to be between a man and a woman, period!
But love matters most.

If I remain friends with gay people, they will think I’m condoning their behavior!
But love matters most.

They’re unnatural and perverted and mentally unsound; they need to be cured!
But love matters most.

What if my child turns out gay?
Love matters most.

No matter our fears or aversions, our power as a majority group to put others down, or our arsenal of theological ammunition, love matters most. Jesus summed up centuries of religious law in this, and I don’t believe for one second that he meant “love” as an abstract semantic device that we can claim over the people we’re shunning. Jesus’s love was always hands-on—touching the sick, embracing muddy children, tearing off hunks of bread for the hungry, washing his followers’ feet—and he charged his believers with carrying out his heart for people. He charged us with grace, freeing us forever from the responsibility of judging or condemning each other. His is a legacy of radical community, beautiful in its unconcern with convention or religious respectability, and I can’t tell you how grateful I am to be a part of it… right alongside my friend.

~~~

I’ve linked to this before, but it’s worth a second read: A Mountain I’m Willing to Die On

27Apr

Dear Nearlywed

Dedicated to sister-friends M and B. I love you both.

~~~

To you, dear one, with the new ring catching light and the Pinterest folder of DIY centerpieces and the momentum of happily-ever-after already spinning you off your feet:

This July, I will have been married for nine years, and my mind is already clicking over, imagining our tenth anniversary with the same bewildered wonderment I always attribute to our future together. Marriage holds its own kind of time warp for me, I guess; our years together have flown by, but I can hardly remember a time when we weren’t each other’s flesh and blood. Even before I met my husband, all the way back to those starving junior high nights, I was fingering the edges of the soul connection that would one day be ours. His and mine, ‘til death do us part.

Only, engagement was the thing that almost did us part. We loved each other, no doubt. Shortly before getting engaged, we had to be in different parts of the country for three weeks, and I discovered just how unwilling I was to live without him. He had my “yes” long before he asked. But then doubt kicked in as if set to activate at the pinnacle of my happiness, and this is why I wanted to write to you today.

Nobody told me how to handle doubts about getting married. Premarital counseling seemed designed to scrutinize us for incompatibilities and then issue us a pass or a fail stamp for our upcoming nuptials, but compatibility wasn’t the problem in our case. My idea of marriage was. I’d always been taught that marriage was a permanent, divinely-sanctioned contract, and in my mind, the divine sanction aspect implied that God had tailor-made one person specifically for me. This idea had been reinforced by everything from church programs to fairy tales, and I didn’t realize until the diamond ring slid onto my finger just how terrified I was of accidentally marrying the wrong man.

It made me dizzy with unknowing. What if I hadn’t been home the day he came looking for my roommate? What if my roommate had been there? What if I had chosen to attend a different university altogether? What if I had gone with my impulse to travel for a few years first? Was the real Mr. Right waiting for me on one of the parallel paths I hadn’t taken? And what if it went back further? What if my father’s first real romance hadn’t ended in tragedy and I’d had a different mother? What if his father hadn’t gone through the same? How many threads of my divine narrative had already been tangled, snapped, or grafted onto divergent storylines? Or… was God really orchestrating every heart-wrenching moment just so I could land safely in the arms of my own personal Prince Charming? I had no idea.

Under the wind-whipped froth of doubts lurked my real fear: If I marry the wrong man, I will be doomed to the wrong storyline for the rest of my life.

I wanted desperately for someone to sit me down with a bullet point list and say “This is how to be sure you’re making the right decision.” Alternately, I would have taken a voice from heaven or a soundtrack every time we kissed or a glimpse of Cupid’s backside flitting away, some kind of unmistakable confirmation of our love. I had no justifiable reason for breaking off our engagement, but I came to the brink several times, my voice shaking as much with the fear of losing him and with the fear of a mistaken marriage. The happiness of planning our life together was offset by the heavy clamor in my mind. What if? What if? What if?

Our wedding day came as a relief in more ways than one. Once I’d pledged my vows and been pronounced wife, my burden of indecision lifted; I was committed now, for better or for worse. That sounds theatrical and bleak, I know, but the sense of finality I experienced was nothing like the heavy cloak of doom I’d expected. It was actually incredibly freeing to stand beside the man I loved and know that I had the universe’s permission to love him and to continue loving him over the course of our lives. I had never been so happy.

However, my doubts didn’t evaporate along with my indecision. Though I was happy, I wasn’t sure if I should be, and every newlywed misunderstanding brought my questions into sharp focus. If he were The One, we wouldn’t be struggling to communicate, right? If he were The One, I wouldn’t dream about old boyfriends or swoon over chick flicks… right? I didn’t feel like I could share my concerns with anyone; I didn’t want to hurt my new husband, disillusion our friends, or invite criticism over my failings as a wife. I didn’t really know what I wanted beyond peace of mind.

Dear one, I’m writing this letter today because I wish someone had written it to me nine years ago. Your story is uniquely yours, and I don’t presume to know what you are going through just because we’ve both been a fiancée. However, I don’t think I was nearly as alone in my doubts as I felt at the time. I don’t think I’m the only woman to have experienced a centrifuge of turmoil beneath her bridal glow or the only one to have woken up beside her new husband wondering if he was the man meant to share her bed, and I want to offer you this assurance:

You are not alone. You are not defective. Your marriage is not doomed.

Here is what I’ve come to believe about marriage since that shaky “I do”:

Prince Charming is a fairy tale. Not to detract from the delicious moment when Cinderella is swept off her feet by her one true love, but Mr. Right is a fictional character born of wishful thinking and our perception of happy relationships. The key word there is fictional. As a girl who inhaled love stories by the dozens, I wanted Mr. Right to be true with all of my heart, but in retrospect, this damaged my own romance more than anything else. Over the years, I’ve started to realize just how unfulfilling it would be if my husband were custom made for me. I want him to have a life purpose outside of our marriage and a personality all his own (even when it clashes with mine… though please don’t tell him I said that). Beyond this, the element of choice is enormously important in keeping love alive and healthy over the long haul. When you remove destiny from the equation, everything hinges on choice; you choose each other, and you continue choosing each other, and nothing in those fairy tales comes close to the romantic depth of being chosen again and again by the person who knows you best.

Conflict is not spelled D-O-O-M. I’ve watched a heartbreaking number of friends go through divorce within their first decade of marriage, but I’ve also seen the alternative—couples who have stuck together through betrayals, affairs, and seemingly irreconcilable differences and forged an intense love for each other that they would never have dreamed of in the beginning. I know you’ve already heard plenty about marriage taking work; before our wedding, it seemed like people were falling over each other to dampen our happiness with warnings of the hard, hard effort to come. Now, though, I see the idea of marriage taking work as brim-full of hope. It means that conflict is something to navigated through, not something to be feared. It takes the power away from circumstance and puts it into our own hands. You can’t live with the same person for years in close quarters without running into relational problems—it simply isn’t possible—but it helps to see those problems as a bridge to cross with your spouse rather than a roadblock to your marriage.

There is no manual for choosing the right partner, but… well, as they say, bullet points are an indecisive girl’s best friend:

  • Do you like each other? I’m not talking about fluttery feelings here (I assume you already have plenty of those). What I mean is, are you friends? Do you genuinely enjoy spending time together?
  • Do you share a direction in life? Do your own, individual, heart-felt goals get along with each other? Plans will change plenty of times over the course of your lives, but it helps tremendously if you start off facing in the same direction.
  • Are the loved ones in your life behind your relationship? I don’t believe that anyone but you should have the final say on whether or not you get married, but the support of your community can make a huge difference… and it helps to have outside confirmation of your relationship when you’re feeling uncertain.
  • Okay, this is probably a no-brainer, but I’ll ask it anyway: Are you attracted to each other? Yes, in that way? (Don’t worry, I’ll stop there.)

If you get along well and can talk excitedly about your dreams together and have the support of your friends and can’t wait to jump each other’s bones and have made your decision with careful thought (and prayer?), then you, dear one, can be unequivocally happy. You’ve chosen well, and the inevitable rough patches of marriage will be all the easier to work through because you’ll have not only a lover but a friend by your side.

Now comes the part where I tell you how wonderful marriage is and you roll your eyes because I’ve just spent 1,600 words talking about disillusion and difficulty and telling you that your beloved is not, in fact, Mr. Right… but my point is that he doesn’t have to be. The two of you will experience priceless companionship, passion, and loyalty together. In working through hard times, you will knit forgiveness and redemption into your story. You will be given the honor of choice as long as you are together, and you will feel the soul-swelling gift of being chosen by your spouse even after you’ve seen the worst of each other. Marriage is absolutely worth it.

So my last advice to you, dear one, with the Operation Wedding diet plan and the girlhood mementos sorted into boxes and the whispers of uncertainty coming at you from every side of this great new unknown, is this:

Don’t be afraid.

24Apr

Weathered

Joining up with Seth and Amber for this week’s Marriage Letters: Enduring Loss Together. I always feel self-conscious writing about my marriage in such a public space, but reading others’ heartfelt efforts to prioritize their marriages reminds me that we were never meant to live out our most important relationships in seclusion. Honesty leading to encouragement—this is community, yes? Here’s my contribution to it:

~~~

Dear husband,

Today is a wild, wooly kind of day—rain flung sideways by the handful and winds to rival those which flattened our tent in the Highlands two summers ago. I remember the girls chasing sheep on Glenbrittle Beach that same evening and the absurdity of lumpy farm animals dashing along the waves like William Wallace’s ghost was after them. Of course, come to think of it, he might have been. The storm which roared up that night seemed to have intention in its fury, and we only lasted until first light—dim and rain-lashed as it may have been—before abandoning our plans for the week and fleeing toward the nearest source of hot breakfast.

We’ve had to be flexible in our life together, you and I. Every version of normality we’ve tried constructing for ourselves over the years has ended up as an unfinished roadside attraction, and rained-out camping trips are the least of the sudden losses we’ve had to navigate. We’ve lost jobs, friendships, relatives, and pay-outs. We’ve watched the sure path of our future disappear in an afternoon. Even this morning, unforeseen circumstances came down swift and heavy, and we’re left with a blueprint of rubble, rehearsing again how to let our plans go and move past them together.

I hold that last phrase dear though because of all that’s implied in doing this again, together. We have our own history of upheaval and, though it all, each other’s hand held tightly. Simply knowing that we’re on the same team when the sky falls down turns my anxiety outward, away from me, away from us, and eventually just away. Having you as my teammate, especially when everything else seems to be slipping through my grasp, is one of the greatest gifts of my life. And when the ghosts are placated and the storms settled and the uncompleted plans put to rest, I love you all the more for what we have weathered together.

Bethany

So glad to see the sun again

~~~

Previous letters here, here, and here. And if you’re the married sort, would you consider filling out Seth Haines’s marriage survey? I’m anticipating some good insights to come from it.

31Mar

Cause + Effect

I spent last weekend helping my husband transform his home office from this…

Bedroom before

to this:

Bedroom after

Bless IKEA.

I have always loved working on home improvement projects with Dan, and probably nothing speaks more highly to our do-it-yourself compatibility than the fact that our marriage has survived onetwothreefourfivesixseven low-budget moves in good spirits. We both love the atmosphere of change and the symbolism of building our life together one screw at a time (::does the pun victory dance::), so last weekend’s project was right up our alley.

It’s also why I’ve spent this weekend doing this:

Post home improvement

 ~~~

Do you have grand weekend plans? If it’s any assurance, my definition of “grand” includes desperate day-long naps. 

7Mar

Dormitory Night

When he’s away, I clean the kitchen at 10 p.m. The house sleeps around me while I sop up crumbs and shuttle coffee cups into the dishwasher, but my martyr act falters when I remember that shining counter tops have only ever been for myself. He would tell me to go to bed, so I do… once every accessible surface smells like lemon.

When he’s away, I make a nest of our bed, my bare toes wriggling puppy-joy under the covers, and settle in with late night guitars and peppermint tea. (More than one longing glance goes to the Chimay stash, but that’s ours, and some unwritten pacts are not to be broken.) I can never decide whether I relax best by reading or by writing, so I waltz between the two as minutes slip by in the lamplight.

When he’s away, I tell myself that this will be the time I take advantage of his absence—transform overnight into a monk and spin productivity out of the silent pre-dawn—but it never feels like an advantage at midnight when his side of the bed is still cold and I can’t remember how to sleep alone. I wait until the lowness of the hours makes my head spin. It’s the feeling of oxygen deprival, of dormitory nights.

When he’s away, I tuck a pillow under the covers where his chest would be and keep this contour of us, together warm until he’s home.

~~~

Those of you whose significant other travels frequently, how do you adjust in his or her absence?

 

28Feb

The Bramble Squad

Joining Seth and Amber again for Marriage Letters: I Knew You Loved Me When. It’s a tender topic for me this week, so please read gently.

~~~

Dear husband,

You’re probably not expecting another marriage post this week given our stalemate conversations over the past few days, and honestly, I wasn’t planning to write this either. Our decade together has been one long series of transitions, yes, but this, learning how to share an office as two dream-chasing freelancers, is a big one. It remaps our individual orbits, and the gravity of being so near each other so much of the time pulls issues out from under the tide-pools. We knew it would be like this, but we’re still taken by surprise when conversations take a nosedive into territory neither of us particularly wants to visit. When we’re down there, neck-deep in brambles, it’s hard to see what we’re doing as progress.

But do you remember all those hours we used to talk perched on the dryers at our university laundromat, and how one evening, you looked at me across the low rumble and I knew? You caught it in my eyes too, weeks later across a tiny restaurant booth, and I didn’t need to say anything. We loved each other, and we knew it.

Yesterday, when you walked in with bits of sky still reflected in your eyes, and I was head to toe in flour rolling gnocchi as a peace offering, we knew it again. Everything shifts when love is the perspective, doesn’t it? With one look, we remember that we’re teammates on the bramble-clearing squad and that this hard work is all part of landscaping our future. We love each other still, and knowing it helps us sweep the stalemate off the board and plop down on it to continue our conversation.

The dryers might have been comfier, but I’d rather be here, now.

Bethany

~~~

Previous letters here and here.

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