What I’ve learned in marriage: to worship

Confession: It took me a long time to circle around to the most basic marriage secret of all. I don’t mean here on my blog. I mean in actual living.

If my marriage is to be successful (radiant, life-giving, and permanent), I have to believe my husband is the best thing since sliced bread.

NO DUH. That’s why I married him, right? But sometime soon after the honeymoon sea breezes (and sometimes during), there’s an entire boatload of reality checks waiting for both of you. You can’t live for weeks and months and years with another human without plunging deep into the good, the bad, and the ugly.

She doesn’t like to be told what groceries to buy. He can’t stand when she uses his tools. She wishes to goodness that he’d dress up like he did when they were dating, and think about something other than sex. He wonders if she always leaves socks strewn around like this, and what’s to become of the tub with all that hair going down the drain.

Marriage is hard work. Marriage is exactly designed to rub the bloom off the romance and make that lovey dove sit up and face the music. The loud, annoying music at 3 am. (Oh wait, that’s him snoring.) The hardest work of all is to keep believing in love, to keep polishing it fresh and clean and sweet, to keep remembering that you are the luckiest kid in the world to be waking up every morning beside this amazing person with a bedhead.

I’m not trying to be flippant. I know what I’m talking about, and it’s not easy. Our marriage has had times so painful that I didn’t know if we’d make it through, months when love felt like death. I know what it’s like to wish you’d never given your heart to this man to hurt.

One of the best wedding sermons I’ve heard was in Washington state, by a preacher whose name I’ve forgotten. He stood before the bride and groom and talked about the impossibly solemn vows they were about to take – to really do this thing – “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part.” It’s CRAZY, he said. It’s the kind of thing you would shiver to bind yourself to under normal circumstances. But while she’s loopy with love and has no idea what she’s getting into, she’ll look into his eyes and giggle, “Of course I’ll do all those things.”

Infatuated feelings of love are like training wheels, he said. They help you learn to drive right.

Those first giddy feelings won’t last the marriage, but after a while you’ll get the hang of this thing. There are entire levels of stunt driving that the newlyweds haven’t dreamed of. We don’t say “it gets better” just to trick them. It really. gets. better. There is nothing so exhilarating and satisfying as living with love for years and years – past the stress points and into the joy again, never giving yourself to another, putting all your eggs in this one basket forever, and being full-on certain that you are safe and known and beloved. It is riotous; there is nothing like it, folks.

But you must keep your balance, and you must keep peddling.

So when the marriage is a little wobbly and you’re not sure you remember how to steer, pretend you’re back in love kindergarten. Lay down all the scorn and the defenses. Meet him at the door with a hug. Take a little time to talk. Change the light bulb yourself. Write a sweet note. Cook his favorite food. Hide a chocolate on his pillow. Give him the better shovel [wink]. Anticipate your evenings together. Brag him up to a mutual friend. Take some extra minutes to iron that shirt. Scent the house with fresh coffee when he comes home. Use less words, more touch. Buy the kind he likes. Make it all about him.

I know, I know what I’m saying and how psychotic it sounds when you’re walking through disillusionment or pain. But someone has to start this process, and Jesus said that when you lay down your life you find it. Fake it till you make it, honey; the happiness will come back.

Once you have given yourself to this man before God and these witnesses, your path to joy lies through reverencing him, and it is best done with your body. I am talking about romantic intimacy, and I am talking about it as a conduit for more, and I would appreciate if you don’t pass out on me. Act out your love in ways both of you can see and feel and taste and hear. Put some sparkle in your eyes. Above all, give him access to you. He needs to know he’s accepted, and enough. You need to know you’re beloved to the core. The more completely you offer yourself to him, the deeper your love can grow.

There is pain that damages intimacy, and for it there are no easy fixes. But lovemaking is an integral marriage-building device. It is the highest act of human devotion, next to worship and inseparable from it, one of the portals where humans access the divine. It requires the mind and spirit to participate in what the body is doing: to give unselfishly, entirely, unequivocally, until death do us part. It heals holes in the heart. It teaches the emotions to dance again. It shows how the abdication of self and the fulfillment of self are one and the same. If you belong to Jesus, every act of love for your husband is an act of worship for Christ.

Love with abandon. And soon you’ll remember why you thought he was amazing. He’ll be that amazing, and you’ll be the luckiest kid in the world.


* If you could not read this post without pain because of loss, betrayal, or loneliness, please x out of this blog and call up a friend you trust to listen well. You don’t have to walk your path alone. xo

* On a lighter note, and just for the record, my man doesn’t snore. The other examples given about groceries, tools, socks, and drains are likewise purely fictitious; any resemblance to real persons either living or dead is highly accidental and probably a figment of your imagination. I would be happy to share our own factual examples with you, but regrettably, they are protected by the Official Secrets Act of 2003. Sorry.

Three stories – and #payitforward

Well, I won’t lie – it’s been a hard week, for reasons I don’t want to explain to you. Would you like to be entertained? Here are three snippets that made me laugh.


First

Dear Stranger in the Thrift Store:

I do not usually bum a diaper off someone I do not know. Thank you for being gracious.

You see, I had moved all of my baby’s diapers and wipes to a different purse, to give to the babysitter on the night I had a date—and I forgot to return them to my shopping purse. So that day in the store when I was smelling whiffs of diaper trouble, and whisked my girl off to the bathroom for a change, I got as far as unfastening everything and assessing the damages when I realized I was completely, entirely, 100% fresh out of options.

Several ideas flashed through my mind, none of them pretty.

Then I remembered you and your little girl playing by the toy section, and how we’d smiled at each other. Thank you for letting me come beg from you, and for refusing my money, and for offering me your wipes too as I turned away. I’m sorry that I smiled and clung to my pride and said I was okay, I’d use the paper towels in the bathroom. They were not as helpful as I’d hoped.

But I will remember you and your kindness. If you ever need one, you know where to come.

#payitforward
Shari


Second

I’ve been trying to find new coping strategies for worry.

The other day when something was eating at me I thought I would text it to The Boss, but suddenly wished I could text it to Jesus instead – as a way of forgetting about it and letting it go. So just for the kick of it I typed Jesus into the address line (53787) and wrote my little worries and hit send. I knew the message would bounce right back to me, but I didn’t care. What I didn’t anticipate was what my phone said – in large letters on the left side, JESUS, and on the right side, FAILED.

Not quite the sensation I was going for, but it cracked me straight up.

Since then my husband outfitted me with an extra number by which I can text to Jesus, that only he will ever see. I have been keeping it hot.


Third

I do not usually write here about my speaking engagements, for two reasons. First, it feels like showing off, and second, I don’t have many of them. So if you come here hoping for my opinion of your event, I’m sorry – you’re logging up the wrong tree.

But.

Last year about this time I was preparing to speak at an unusually stressful venue, for me. It was going to be a large audience, both men and women, in a Christian setting so conservative-minded that I figured if I mis-dressed or mis-spoke I might as well build my own coffin and go lie down in it, cuz it was all over.

While packing to go, I dithered about what shoes to wear. I’m not a big shoe person, so it came down to a choice of two pairs: snappy black dress shoes with inordinately high heels, which I had not worn for months – having a faint memory of discomfort associated with them – or black flats with big cream fabric flowers on the toes. I thought with a long skirt, the heels would be the less offensive of the two, so I picked them.

All went well, and I wore those shoes for two long days without mishap, until a week or so after the event when I developed shooting pains in my big toes. Both sides.

Cough.

So, if you were at the event or if you come from a church that has Opinions on such matters, I thought it would comfort you to learn that I lost two toenails to that wretched experience, and everything your pastor tells you about high heels is true. They are from the devil.

I can’t remember just now if I threw them vindictively into the trash can, or donated them to the thrift store to ensnare a new owner.

Like I said,

#payitforward
Shari

Monday’s confession of faith

I probably look like I always love him and I never doubt

And for many months this can be true

 

For many months the thought of him is sweet and I believe his words and am

So happy to be part of his family

The Bible is alive and the Lord’s Supper full of meaning

And when I sit in church on a Sunday morning, the sound of my own people singing hymns

Is the feeling of slipping into a warm and fragrant bath

 

But I will tell you honestly

Sometimes

I cannot stand us

Sometimes our meetings are endless and our trivialities a millstone

And our pastors insufferable

(Yes, I married one of them)

(His wife is even worse)

Sometimes God’s people are not that good

I said sometimes God’s people are not that good

Sometimes God’s people are not that good, folks

And the Lord’s Supper tastes like breadcrumbs and nothing more and

The magic does not descend

 

Sometimes it is a small discrepancy in Scripture that I stumble over

Calling into question the whole book and everything I’ve swallowed

 

Sometimes it is just life, when so many bad things happen at once that I wonder

How can it be that someone out there is taking care of us?

Would life look any different if he were nothing but a figment of my imagination?

 

And

What if he is there, but not who I always thought?

And

Can anyone really be that good?

 

Sometimes I drop into darkness and know that the world is empty of a Messiah

And that hanging all my heart on this one man to be true

Is folly

 

So I cry

 

And then

I blow my nose and think

Well

Here I am

If I can imagine a God better than the one there is, what kind of contradiction is that?

Wiser people than I have hung their hope here and found grace to live and die by it

(Some of them attend church with that pastor’s wife

And love her anyway)

 

I have not found another philosophy on earth

That makes anywhere near as much sense as the one that says

The Master suffers

And pain heals the world

 

And

Discrepancies aside, the fresh-air truth blowing out of those pages gives me reason to go on

There is more right about this amazing, historic, eerily accurate book than wrong

 

And

If he is not

There is nothing to explain the beauty

And how buds form every spring and seeds grow and the earth is renewed and people are sometimes kind

 

And I pray please, please be real. I need you to be real.

Who will I turn to instead?

 

I probably look like I always love him and I never doubt

But I believe in doubt

As the birthing stool

Of faith

 

Call back later

Confession: When my phone rang at 5:44 Monday morning, I thought it was the alarm, and groggily I punched around on its face a few times until it finally stopped.

That is how I sent a text template to Faith Builders Christian School (calling to inform parents of a two-hour delay), saying Sorry, I’m busy. Call back later.

After I stopped blushing, I wished I could’ve used that response on several more of the unexpected events December brought me.

My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is the third person in my immediate family to face the c-word, not to mention my sister-in-law, my aunt, and my late grandma. Sorry cancer, we’re busy. Call back later. Mom is brave and calm, trusting Jesus to take care of her through chemo, hair loss, and a lumpectomy. But oh, we dread to walk this path again.

My baby got hand-foot-and-mouth disease and spent a miserable week with it. We missed a Christmas party or two. Sorry, I’m busy. Call back later.

And then (all three of these events occurred in the same week), my six-year-old daughter developed acute stomach pain at school one lunchtime, moving from a pained face to tears to sobbing to screaming in less than an hour.* We thought appendicitis, but when they did the CT scan in the emergency room, they said “If it is her appendix, it’s already ruptured. There’s a mass in there. We can’t tell for sure.” And they transferred us to Children’s Hospital. Sorry, my daughter is busy. Pain, pain, go away. Please, please.

*(This is how my friend Anna described it, and she was there.)

in-the-hospital-20161206_074000

Hours crawled past us.

“There’s a mass of tissue, not fluid. Probably an ovarian cyst,” the surgeons told us after the senior radiologist’s report. “We don’t know what to expect until we remove it. They’re usually benign, but we may need to take her ovary as well. Please sign here.”

I will sign if you will help my daughter. Please, please.

In surgery, the doctors found and corrected an ovarian torsion, the “mass” nothing but her own body tissue, swollen but healthy. Nothing to remove? Really? Oh Jesus, really? And because it was all laparoscopic, she had very little recovery time, no stitches, no scars. The path felt interminable as we walked, but in retrospect I could measure it—from the onset of the pain to the first apple juice post-surgery was exactly 24 hours. Two days after her operation, she returned to school for the dress rehearsal of her Christmas program. On the third day she was her own sassy self, having to be reminded not to run.

Our resurrection story, just in time for Christmas. Thank you, thank you Jesus! We felt his miraculous healing in the skill of the surgeons, the kindness of the staff, the gift of living in 2016.

I spoke with another woman I love. She was cutting vegetables at my sink. She said, “I know it’s supposed to be such a season of joy, but it’s hard. It’s always been a little hard for me.” I know, I know. There are so many things we cannot say.

Sometimes I think that if we really knew what was involved, we’d say no to everything. Sorry, I’m busy. Call back later. Picnics and marriage and doorways and friendship and babies—and it hurts worst when everyone around seems so happy.

(Didn’t you know they each carry their own sorrows?)

But if we said no, we would never have the answers, the miracles, the resurrection stories, love. Sometimes I think if we really knew the joy on the far side, we’d say yes, yes, yes! Pain is the unexpected ring of the telephone, the bad news. Jesus is the one who shows up at the door at the same moment, with a loaf of warm bread and a stiff drink. His body and blood. God with us.

He is not afraid of sorrow, a man intimately acquainted with grief. We don’t have to make ourselves rollicking and carefree to celebrate Christmas properly. We just have to watch for him, answer when he calls, pick up the pain and say hello.

He said it will be all right.

To the forgotten one

I do not often pretend to have His words, but – This is for you.


I am the light you cannot see, searching, piercing – not the mild sunlight of a summer day or the glimmer of candle and firelight, but the unescapable blaze of a streetlight on a deserted parking lot when all around is darkness.

I love you.

I saw the look on your face when it happened again, the thing you feared. It was only there for a second before you hid it, but I saw. You were not alone.

When you look around, you see the smiling Others whose lives seem to work – their bodies, their faces, their families. They seem to skip over the hard bits, or laugh them off, or overcome them. They seem so on top of things, and in the darkness you wonder why you are the odd one out.

I know the grief you carry, the tightening of your heart when the subject comes up, the dread of insensitive questions and curious glances. I know how you cry when people move in to care, and cry when they do not.

I know you worry that it will be too much for you, that this thing will make you crack if you face it, that the price is too high. I know exhaustion. I see it in your eyes. I know what you have sacrificed, and though you wonder, I am the one who knows it is not in vain. It will never be in vain.

I see you.

I know you.

You are not the only one.

I know the things you hold close to the chest, the horrors you cannot share lest your world cave in around you. In scores of stripes across my bleeding back I carried them for you. I carry you still.

In your loneliness I am there. When the night closes in, you are held in my light. When everyone else has someone, when the silence of the people who matter the most screams at you, when you’ve forgotten how to be the person you were, when the radiant ship sails without you, I am there.

I know what lies beneath your frustration and your turmoil, I know the palpable midnight of your fear. I am there when it yawns beneath you, when frantically you flail your way to solid ground, panting, shrieking.

Darling, you could fall all the way down and I would be there.

You are mine.

Jesus