Marriage Letters: What Makes You Come Alive

Amber and I are writing these marriage letters again, because we need them. You can read Amber’s letter here. (And make sure to visit her blog for the full story of Marriage Letters.)

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“The glory of God is a human being fully alive; and to be alive consists in beholding God.” ― Saint Irenaeus

Dear Amber,

In the spring of love, you were newborn.

We met in an Ozark autumn when all the leaves were brilliant hues of dying. You were a flash fire, a combustible woman who was coming to all things with the new eyes of fresh faith. It had been only weeks since you’d lost your first child, an unplanned one, and months since you’d last tempted death with a rolled up dollar bill and a white line. It was October, and you were phoenix, a woman rising with colors more brilliant than the Ozark fall.

We fell in love while you were awaking to a new mysticism, a way of living that saw the Spirit in all things, in scripture, in music, in the way the wind blew, how it whipped through the breezeway of Cathcart Hall, how it spoke things to you like love. On our first date, you said, “I smoke cigarettes and have panic attacks,” a vulnerable confession meant to induce me to run if, indeed, I would. Behind the words, though, was something recognizable; it was the fire of a kindred revolutionary, of a person who wants to live an honest life.

You had me at cigarettes and panic attacks.

You came alive that semester, and once you asked me if you were becoming Baptist. Such a thing was an unspeakable confession at a Church of Christ school, so you passed the question to me on a napkin at the coffee shop. You were trying to name the thing you were becoming. If I could go back, I reckon I’d tell you that you were not, in fact, becoming Baptist. Instead, you were becoming most alive.

A woman fully alive is an intoxicating sight to behold; a woman fully alive is one intoxicated by beholding God.

I wish it could be said that these red-hot holy fires never dimmed. This, though, would be revisionist history. In fact, it’d be revisionist history for any soul to deny the ebbs and flows of full life, the shadows that sometimes obscure the light behind the eyes. Even phoenixes turn to ash every now and again.

This fire, though, I saw it rekindled in the last few years. The first sparks of it came from the flint of confession. You had coddled resentments and hidden betrayals like a sick child, you told me. You asked for my forgiveness, as if I had another choice.

As old Jimmy said, you found healing in the confession. You took the sparks from that confession, fanned them into flame. You devoured scripture like a hollow-stomached child whose digestive tract empties into a hollow leg devours food. You outed yourself to the grand-wide church body, spoke of the healing found in confession. You met with women, ministered, prayed. You wrote. You learned to be reborn.

I’ve considered the question over the last few days: when are you most alive? I suppose it would be easy to say that you are most alive when you are writing. When you dig into words, I see fresh intensity, how you create metaphor from whole cloth and spin yarns better than any southern granny in a rocker. It would be easy to say, too, that you are most alive when you are preaching. (Aren’t you always preaching?) You have such an unassuming vulnerability, such a way of connecting, of speaking truth without alienating.

Yes, I see you spring to life in the writing, in the preaching. But these things are only byproducts, I think. This life flows from your unmitigated bent toward honest confession.

True life is not all spitfire and epiphany. True life is not all white-cloth tea parties and theological certitudes. True life is not in a perfect marriage and well-smocked children. True life comprises joy and pain, loyalty and betrayal, harboring and confession. You know this better than most, which is why, I think, you are most alive in confession. And when I say confession, I’m not only speaking of the confession of sin, that sort of soul-bearing that old Jimmy talks about in his fifth chapter. You become most alive in the outward expression of all facets of your own vulnerable humanity. Whether writing, preaching, or mother, the light in your eyes blazes when you explore joy, pain, faith, doubt, abundance, and scarcity.

Yes, you come most alive in the honest exposition.

You are exploding with light these days, a woman fully awake in so many ways. You are more alive than ever, and I look back on the spring of our love and wonder if we were only half-awake. (Granted, half-awake is better than not awake at all; you have to start somewhere.)

You are burning hotter and hotter these days, and I’m watching, and watching, and watching. It's true: a woman fully alive is an intoxicating sight to behold. You are an intoxicating woman.

(Turn the coffee pot on, would ya?),

Seth