License to Drive (A Marriage Letter)

Today, Amber and I reached our 16th year of marriage. (Friday the 13th? Don't worry. I don't believe in omens.) I'm commemorating with another installment of marriage letters.

*****

Dear Amber,

The first days were infantile and cooing. Babies in marriage, we were unsure how to use our limbs, how to use our bodies in tandem connection.

These are the things you're never told: it takes time to acclimate to the shape of another person's body; it takes even more time to acclimate to the division of a closet.

There came the days of toddler marriage, the two of us tripping into the mine, mine, mine stage. Money, art, love--we shared sparingly, but thought ourselves generous.

These are the things you are never told: the generosity of love is a death of sorts.

In the pre-school days of marriage, we asserted our independence, tried our best to put distance between each other. We explored the great wide world of other shiny possibilities. We stole glances at lovers--careers, faith, maybe even people--but kept falling back into the same bed. That bed, it was the place of our pulling together.

These are the things you are never told: real love is like a magnet, always pulling, pulling, pulling so long as you keep opposite poles facing one another.

After a decade of walking this covenant, we settled into an easier love. Career, church, children--each was more complex. But our needles were set in a good groove, a worn one. Relationship made more sense, better music, even if we spun into a blues ballad from time to time.

These are the things you are never told: marriage and jazz are kissing cousins; if the music is still playable ten years later, it has a shot to be something classic.

It's been sixteen years today, and I feel like we've finally figured out how to drive this thing. The permits have turned into licenses. We've inherited a used car, but it's a beauty. We know how to drive to work, to school, to the grocery store. We've know the way to Lover's Lane, too (the metaphorical one, not the one up by the Furlow's house). Sixteen years--can you believe it? Let's take the car for a spin tonight?

These are the things you are never told: every year of marriage can be a little better than the last, but only if you let it be.

Happy Anniversary,

Seth

*****

Coming Clean: A Story of Faith, is available. You can order online wherever good books are sold, or visit your local Barnes & Noble and pick up your copy!

***TINY LETTER***

CC Austin OuttakesThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. If you sign up, you'll receive my free eBook, Coming Clean|Austin Outtakes. The Outtakes share the story behind my latest release from Zondervan, Coming Clean|A Story of Faith.

powered by TinyLetter

Marriage Letters: The Quickening Moments

Dear Amber, There are moments in marriage where all things quicken, where best or worst moments siphon out the essence of togetherness. In those moments, we’re brought to the edge of joy or pain, hope or despair. These are the moments that suck the air out of the room, moments leaving me in holy awe that, yes, this thing called marriage is an ordination, a calling.

I felt it first when the white wooden doors at the Guntersville Church of Christ swung wide, and you stood there in blinding beauty. This was the first time my future passed before me, and all the possibilities of life spread wide. I felt it again with the birth of Isaac, then Jude, then Ian, then Titus—the bundles of potential energy, of potential boyhood, of potential manhood.

There were other quickenings--the time you called from Louisiana; “grandma’s gone,” you said. There was the morning we woke to discover grandpa’s soul had fled his hospice bed and tore a hole through the great hereafter; he and grandma were together again.

The quickening moments of marriage are not relegated to life or death, to marriage vows or the renewing of vows. Confession, repentance—these are quickening moments, too. In September of 2013 I called from a conference in Austin, Texas. You were home with the children, and you answered at the end of a frazzled day. Our conversation was brief.

“I think I need you to get rid of all the alcohol in the house,” I said. “I think I have to quit drinking.”

“You have a drinking problem?” The words hung, lump forming in my throat.

“Yes,” I managed after too long a pause.

“Okay,” you said. “I love you.” And that was it.

You were all grace. It was a quickening moment for me, but perhaps for you, too?

You’d clung to a dream of Paris. In your dream, we sat in an outdoor cafe, wine in our glasses, baguettes and butter on our plates. At night, we turned down Parisian sheets, sipped chilled champagne and found the right mood. In the morning, we traveled to the French countryside, toured wineries and learned the slower way of the farmers. We collected wine stories, perhaps wine bottles. Your dream was one of art, French jazz, wine and love. Could there be anything more romantic?

S&A

My confession on that September evening stole your dream. I came clean, and your fantasy of Paris was thrown out with the bathtub gin. You didn’t tell me this until nearly six months into my sobriety (thank you). By then, you were glad to trade your dream for a more sober version of me.

There’s been a lot of talk and some abuse of the Holy Scripture's recitation of wifely submission. "Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.” (Eph. 5:22). [tweetherder]Some doofuses quote this scripture as they bark commands, or as they push the women-folk down the chain of command.[/tweetherder] I’m not qualified to unpack this scripture in its entirety, but this is what I know: you led me into sobriety by your gentle-hearted submission. You crucified your full French fantasy to serve me in sobriety’s throes (see all the scripture you embody?). If that’s not submission, I’m not sure what is.

Perhaps there’s still Paris. Art, the countryside, baguettes, butter, and midnight romance--it's still a possibility. There may not be wine or champagne, but there’s still us. Somehow, I know that's good enough for you. I know I’m good enough for you. That’s a hard sentence to type.

Here’s what else I know: we’re siphoned, and siphoned, and siphoned, and I suppose one day there will be nothing left us but the bare essentials. Maybe we’ll submit to each other. Maybe I’ll crucify a few dreams for you. Maybe you’ll crucify a few more for me. Maybe we’ll have quickening after quickening. Maybe we’ll watch our children be siphoned. Maybe we’ll see our parents' souls siphoned. Maybe we’ll watch the world be siphoned to its nothing-elseness. [tweetherder]If we’re lucky, maybe the nothing-elseness will look like faith, hope, and love.[/tweetherder]

Submitting to the siphoning,

Seth

***COMING CLEAN***

Coming Clean: A Story of Faith, is available! You can order online wherever good books are sold, or visit your local Barnes & Noble and pick up your copy! While you're there, check out this month's Relevant Magazine, which features and interview with me about Coming Clean.

***TINY LETTER***

CC Austin OuttakesThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. If you sign up, you'll receive my free eBook, Coming Clean|Austin Outtakes. The Outtakes share the story behind my latest release from Zondervan, Coming Clean|A Story of Faith.

powered by TinyLetter

Marriage Letters: On Home

Next month, Amber's first book, Wild in the Hollow, hits the shelves. It explores a sort of coming of age, a discovery of what it means to be home. In celebration of her book, we're writing Marriage Letters this week, exploring the concept of Home. After you've read our letters (read Amber's letter here), wander over to Amber's place and check out Wild in the Hollow.

*****

Dear Amber,

We've treated home like a pair of jeans. Tried them on. Owned them for a time. Stained them, then taken them to the thrift store. Bought a new pair.

Truth is, if we're known for anything in Fayetteville, it's for moving. Let's recap.

1. The Oklahoma Apartment

We started in Oklahoma, newlyweds in an apartment smaller than a single-wide. The walls were thick, the floors thin, and the smells of our downstairs neighbors' musty towels and Chinese takeout wafted up and permeated our space.

There was a tree outside our apartment, and it's upper branches spread onto our balcony. A student from our church climbed its boughs one night, lowered himself onto the balcony and tap-tap-tapped on the sliding door while we were making out on the living room couch.

That was embarrassing.

2. The Love Shack

We moved to the tiny house in the Ozarks, the one behind my grandparents' house. White, nearly dilapidated, we called it the Love Shack. Every summer sweltered in that house, what with only one window air conditioner unit to cool the whole shebang. We wore a whole lot of nothing in those summer months. In the winter, it was all flannel and covers and "sweet Moses I can't seem to shake this chill." There was a field of horses, a spring's worth of surprise lilies, and tuna fish sandwiches and Dr. Peppers with Grandma.

We brought a child home. His name was Isaac. He made us laugh.

3. The Grouse House

After graduate school, we bought our first place. The corner lot in a neighborhood on Grouse street. Children rode bicycles till dusk. We grew tomatoes and peppers in barrels. We brought another child home, Jude. He'd be our prophet-poet-artist in resident.

Just when we'd settled into the new normal--toddler and infant and a little dog that leached all manner of rotten smells--we watched a terrible movie and drank a cheap bottle of wine. We conceived a third child in that house. The Grouse house was full of love.

4.  The Upwardly Mobile Joint

We moved across town, upsized to middle-class dream home with crape myrtles and a sprinkler system. It was a two story joint and the back porch overlooked our neighbors tropical paradise. He was a Tyson man, a life-long accountant of chickens, and he'd recreated a Bahamian island in his backyard. There were tiny banana trees and flowers from Hawaii. We spent evenings in the backyard admiring his landscaping.

On the fourth of July, the neighborhood men went in and bought fireworks together. The neighborhood sounded like a war zone, like too many humans were trying to rip another hole in the sky. We watched as a sulphur smoke descended on our neighbor's paradise.

5. The Rock House

We moved back to my grandma's land, but this time we moved into the big house, the Rock House. Grandpa had passed, slipped away in a hospice bed in the living room. An angel had visited him there. Seven feet and clothed in purple, he told grandpa he'd be back in an hour to escort the old man home. He kept his word.

The memories were too much for Grandma and she moved to an apartment in my parents' hometown. We took ownership of the surprise lilies and the fish pond. We ate tuna sandwiches from time to time. It was all about nostalgia.

6. The Arkansas Apartments

We left the Rock House and moved into an apartment. We'd been bit by the bug of communal living, and insanity set in. Close friends--missionaries from Southeast Asia--had moved into the complex, and we followed to forge a new kind of community. The quarters were too close again, but the community loved well. We brought another child home, Titus. He was sick and required more space than either the little apartment or community afforded.

7. The Rock House (Part Deux) 

Back to the Rock House we went. (Does the reliving of all these moves make you tired? It does me.) We made it two years in that place. But sooner rather than later, the old family house became too much to handle. Titus grew sicker by the day and demanded all our attention. We learned a little known fact from that old place: honeysuckle and morning glory can eat a house in approximately three months and seven days if you don't tend to it. We were too busy tending to sick child and the house grew into one gigantic ornamental shrub.

A buyer came knocking even though our house wasn't on the market. We sold.

8. The Rent House

While we waited to close on the Rock House, we had two separate homes under contract. The first was structurally unsound. The second leaked worse than the Titanic. Neither passed inspection, so after a selling the Rock House (and after a 4 week housesitting stint), we settled in a rent house in the heart of town in an effort to avoid homelessness. It was a cozy place, the place where I dried out. We sat under the arms of a massive American sycamore tree and learned the peace of poetry, records, and dreaming of a place to call our own.

9. The Tiny House

We visited Tuscany during the summer of 2014. We saw farmers tend their olive grows and sheep. We caught a vision for something small, something organic. We came home and you looked at listings. You found a tiny house on an acre. There was a small orchard, a garden. There was a compost pile under the pecan trees. "This is the one," you emailed me, and we jumped.

We've been here almost one year. It feels as homey as anyplace.

What is Home?

Some folks associate home with a particular geography, a landscape. They think of the old Baptist Church on the corner, or the coffeeshop down the block. They think of a particular town or region. They see mountains, maybe deserts, maybe a river valley running over.

Some folks associate home with a people.  They remember how grandpa used to sit on the same porch carving peach pits in the pastel evening, or how Ms. Werner brought homemade krawt down the apartment stairs. They think of genealogies or new friends. They like their colorful city mixing bowls, or their stayed and stolid country folk.

Some folks associate home with fauna. The peonies pushing pink in spring. The summer stargazers. The rusted leaves of autumn maples. Portland cherry blossoms. Florida palms.

Geography, people, and fauna--these are accouterments of home, but when your home-place is in constant flux, you come to find that home transcends any of these things. Geography changes. People pass. The leaves turn. So what is home?

We've made home nine times, and each feels as settled as the last, at least for a while. Each place feels like home. Why? Home,  I think, is where you are; it's where we are together. And antsy as I may grow from time to time, as itchy as my feet might become, I'm home so long as we're together.

I'd like to think we'll be here twenty years. That we'd finally pay a place off and have a dream to leave to our children. I know us better than that. I'm sure we'll put this dive on the market at some point, pounce on a piece of property deeper in the country. Whatever. It's not so much about the physical place as it is about being with you.

So let's move to Tennessee, Texas, or Tuscany. Let's try on Portland, or another house in Fayetteville. Country living, city living--let's try on just about anywhere (except Pine Bluff), and know that it's home if we're together.

[tweetherder]The trick to finding home? Knowing the one who makes it what it is.[/tweetherder]

 

Thanks for being my home-girl,

Seth

 

*Don't forget to read Amber's Marriage Letter HERE.

 

***TINY LETTER***

Cover.FrancisThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. In the first of edition of the June newsletter, I'm giving away Chapter 2 of Dear Little Brothers, a serial eBook. Sign up in the box below to receive Chapter 1 and look for the June Tiny Letter in your inbox to download Chapter 2!

powered by TinyLetter

Marriage Letters: The Things That are Yours

On the first Monday of each month, Amber and I are writing marriage letters to each other. Sure, there are qualified experts who've written well about marriage, but we're writing into our marriage. Read here, then jump over to Amber's place to read her Marriage Letter.

*****

Dear Amber,

When we met, the things that were yours were a mystery to me. An accent from the deep south. A Ford Taurus that wouldn't crank on Tuesdays. Jeans with a cigarette box imprint on the back pocket. A collection of Nirvana CDs. The bounce in your unction when any Salt-n-Pepa tune played on the radio. Journals of angsty poetry. Lotions that smelled of Spring. Memories of summer strawberries. Your collar bones peaking from the top of a loose blue sweater.

You were both collector of and a collection of mysteries. You held your mysteries close. In fact, there are some I still haven't quite unraveled. A little intrigue keeps a boy on the chase, I suppose.

We've grown into these last fifteen years, and as the Good Book says, our two have become one flesh. I suppose many take that bit of Scripture to mean "what's yours is mine and what's mine is yours." That may be a valid interpretation, but I don't see it that way.

We've made a home together. Ours. We've made four boys together. Ours. We have a dog, a garden patch, a record player, and a number of books that rivals the Abrahamic stars. Ours; ours; ours; ours. But even in this shared life of ours, you still have your own things.

Amber Fedora

The fedora you wore to the best Italian dive in town, the one in the sketchy pay-by-the-hour motel. The smile you wear when you work the dirt or a good sentence. The tears that well up after a good church service. Gilmore Girls. The flower beds. Lavender oil. The gate you made from used pallets and zip ties. The baby chicks.

FrankFlowers

Purple flowers

Chicks

You still have the things that are yours. I don't suppose being one flesh means those things are mine, too, though I do enjoy the spoils from time to time. I understand you better today than I ever have, and we've lived into each other's experiences and discoveries together. I've watched you come alive as you've discovered new interests or rekindled old ones. And maybe it's not as mysterious as what filled those jeans with the cigarette box bleached into the back pocket, but it's every bit as romantic.

[tweetherder]I don't think marriage is about persona-melding, about trading individual identity for a collective one.[/tweetherder] That kind of marriage sounds less like something I want and more like a bad episode of X-Files. No doubt, we share a lot, but the truth is, I don't want to be married to someone with a personality just like mine. (I'd probably kill me, if I'm honest.) I want to be married to you--all of your likes, dislikes, and personality quirks included.

I'm glad that you've walked with me into this life that is ours, but I'm also glad for the collection of things your call yours. More than anything, I'm glad you keep collecting me.

Cheep, cheep,

Seth

*****

Thanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. In the first of edition of the May newsletter (coming soon), I'll be giving away the first chapter of a serial book. Sign up and follow along!

powered by TinyLetter

Marriage Letters: On New Seasons

On the first Monday of each month, Amber and I are writing marriage letters to each other. Sure, there are qualified experts who've written well about marriage, but we're writing into our marriage. Read here, then jump over to Amber's place to read her Marriage Letter.

*****

Dear Amber,

The Dogwoods are blooming. The scarlet cardinal and his muted bride have returned.  The stone's been rolled away by the rebirth of perfect light. This is the shape of the changing season.

It's Eastertide, and the darkness of the harsh Lenten season has lifted, bringing the tender tingle of morning's cool resurrection air with it. Each Spring brings with it the hope of new life, and the seedbed of that hope is found in our work. We've been cultivating hope over these last few weeks, I having moved crossties until my forearms burned, and you having worked the soil with a tiller.

Last weekend, I took a break from the heavy lifting, sat under the pecan tree and watched as you made the rows straight. You wrangled two different tillers--a smaller one, which was a dog-cussable joke of a machine, and then a larger cultivator, one which begged you to hang on for dear life. Up and down the rows you went, and I smiled. As the wise book says, it's a wife of noble character who "sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks." (Prov. 31:17) By all indications, I've married a noble woman.

Amber Tiller

It's not just the garden where we cultivate Spring's new life. Spring springs eternal as we explore what it means to work in the fields of the local church. When I outed my want for a quieter space of communion last Advent, you nodded in quiet agreement. We'd both been asking whether a more liturgical space might be better for the rhythm of our family worship, and turns out, this was a good and right inclination.

Megan

We are a group not much bigger than the disciples before Pentecost, and though we miss our larger extended family across town, this smaller group has become our immediate family. The twenty of us (give or take) meet, and we daydream about serving each other and the community. We gather for meals and evening prayers. We enjoy each other.

Table

This has been our home throughout this Lenten season, and you've taken to considering them in your morning prayers. You pray for growth--not the kind that leads to a packed house (necessarily), but the kind that leads to new life. You've spoken the words "rest," over the community, too, prayed that our congregation might wear an easier yoke. You've read scripture over us, bowed before the altar and spoken the words of Isaiah with trembling lips. This, too, is a strong sort of work, I think. I watch you, along with the other women in our congregation, and I think--these are women who set about their work vigorously; their arms are strong for the task.

I'm thankful for the shifting season, for springing green of new life all around. I'm thankful for our little garden and our tiny congregation. This has become our "blue true dream of sky," and though we toil under the Ozark sun for it, we find ourselves sinking into a more restful rhythm. This is becoming the rhythm of our marriage, too. A little toil, a little rest, a little springing of new life. [tweetherder]It's the little that adds up over time, that piles atop itself until it is what some might call abundance.[/tweetherder]

Thank you for working these fields with me. Thank you for exercising arms that are strong for the task. Thank you for walking with me through every new season.

For everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes,

Seth

*****TINY LETTER SIGNUP*****

In the most recent Tiny Letter (my once-a-month, insider newsletter delivered straight to your email), I'm discussing the artisanal theology and the Fayetteville Hipster. It's a little bit snarky, a little bit graceful, a little bit introspective, and a whole lot of fun. If you sign up today, you'll receive a FREE DOWNLOAD of the song "Train Wreck." It's a song I wrote about pain, loss, and the love of God.

*powered by TinyLetter