Marriage Letters: On Co-Laboring

On the first Monday of the month, Amber and I write letters to each other. Follow this link to read hers. This month's topic is "On Co-Laboring."

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Dear Amber,

Co-labor--it's such a taxing word; isn't it? There's the prefix "co," which intimates that two or more are gathered together in the endeavor (and as they say, where two or more are gathered, there's bound to come a disagreement). Directly following said prefix is the meat and potatoes of the matter--"labor." The word finds its roots in the Latin term laborum, which means "toil, exertion, hardship, pain, fatigue." Pain and fatigue--sounds like a cotton-candy carnival of rainbows and dancing unicorns, right?

I suppose that one way or the other, all married couples co-labor. Some co-labor well, know when to give and take, when to work and rest. They work together to make it from one day to the next in love and respect. Others, co-labor more in mutual misunderstanding and angst.  They work to keep their marriage on the less-than-sunny-side of life, conspire against each other, demean one another, and undermine the other's respect and self worth. These are the marriages that co-labored to the death, and killing a good thing is hard work.

There was a time when we engaged in the latter sort of co-laboring more than the former. I flittered about, slapped the ministry moniker on too much work and attempted to call it holy. You stayed home, buried yourself in Yeats, Eliot, and Williams. You wrote a series of poems about a woman who was trapped in an affair, how she wanted a husband who was present. Through our co-laboring, you became that woman, even if only for a season. Those were the days we co-labored against peace.

It's interesting how the tables have turned. I suppose forgiveness, vulnerability, and honesty will do that to a couple. Anyhow, these days I'm watching you minister with the church. You're writing, speaking, and meeting with people at the local coffee shop. You're less flitting and more engaging. I see you coming to life, see you becoming living water, living poetry.

On the flip side of this ministry comes sacrifice. You go to Haiti, and we stay back, waiting to hear the stories you'll tell when you return. We wait with baited breath, sit on edge while you're gone, stare at the door hoping you'll come through it at any moment bearing hugs and Haitian coffee.

You return with stories about the children's school and Le Negra Marron. You return full of life. Our sacrifice is a small price to pay for the life you bring our family. Sure, it's co-laboring in a sense; somehow, though, it's a lighter yoke than the etymology would suggest.

I wonder whether you feel that way, too. You've been giving me more space to step into poetry, have encouraged me in form and structure. This was your thing, poetry; maybe it still is. But you've let that go for now, have encouraged me to keep scrawling it in journals, on Post-its, and across the fold of restaurant napkins. This weekend, you gave me a day with the river and encouraged me in my exploration of nature's poetry. Perhaps this felt like co-laboring to you. I wonder though, did it bring you joy to know that I was in a place of rest, a place where I come alive?

Yes, these days I suppose we are co-laboring in healthier ways. We are co-laboring toward a different kingdom, one that is full of peace and beauty. Even though it's work, the work is light, and full of joy. We're on the same page, working together, and it feels right. I wonder whether God sees this, whether he somehow credits your work to me as a co-creator, and my work to you as the same. This, I think, is the truth, and if we had the imagination to see it this way, perhaps we wouldn't call it "co-laboring" so much as we'd call it "collaborating."

Collaboration--this is the joyful expression of co-laboring. I'm glad to be your collaborator.

 

Collaboratively yours,

Seth

On Co-Laboring

"There is no American, African, or Asian way of breathing. There is no rich or poor way of breathing."~Richard Rohr, The Naked Now

I.

Amber woke me at 4:00 a.m. on Saturday morning. "I can't find your keys," she said, which I reckoned less of the truth and more of an excuse to squeeze one last kiss out of me before leaving on a jet plane. "They're here, right by the door," I said, the a.m. annoyance in my voice unmasked. She grinned, shrugged, and hugged me long. "Pray for me," she said.

I watched her pull from the driveway and turn into the street. She is a wonder of a woman, my wife; she is mother, writer, sometimes preacher, road-tripping traveler. She has a grand capacity for loving people--all people.

The taillights of the car veered left at the end of the street. I wondered how this trip would change her. I wondered if I'd recognize her when she returns from Haiti. She's traveling to tell stories with Help One Now. They are good people who hope to stay small and serve big. It's their grand ideal, and Amber is going to write it.

II.

When mama's away, the boys will play, so we loaded up the mini-van and made our way to a ranch south of Fort Smith. The ranch sits in the heart of the Ouachitas, the pearl that fell from the mouth of the Ozarks. I've been coming to this ranch since I was a teenager, it being owned by a family from the church of my teenage years. The ranch is a broad swath of green pasture with a black pond in the middle. It boasts a million wildflowers, an awakening honeybee colony, and a mess of Longhorn cattle.

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We spent the day there, fishing, shooting pellet guns, tromping through runoff creeks. Titus took off most of his clothes and ran circles around the pond in his crocks and saggy diaper. The boy was meant to run free.

My parents and I took turns with the children. My pop taught Ike how to cast beyond the reeds, how to zip the spinner through the thick mucky underbrush where the bass had bedded down. He practiced and practiced until he struck pay dirt and reeled in a two-pound smallmouth.

Jude and I worked the other side of the pond, talked about school, and girls, and mama's trip to Haiti. I told him about the earthquake in 2010, how the people were shaken up, some were killed. "This world is always shaking one way or another," I told him, "but God says that we are members of an unshakeable kingdom."

"Is that heaven?" he asked.

"Yes, but it's unshakeable here. The kingdom is here, even now. It's in this spring, in the beauty of the sun over the pond. It's in church, in sharing scripture with each other. It's in our conversation. The kingdom is in us."

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I think about the unshakeable kingdom, how I am teaching it to my children while Amber is experiencing it in Haiti. There is a co-laboring here. Do you see it? I am with the boys so that Amber can be in Haiti, and Amber is in Haiti so I can be with the boys. My parents are with me so that my four hoodlums don't overrun me. They are co-laborers, too.

We are symbiotic.

III.

This morning, Amber woke to the Haitian rooster calling. She woke where the smells of spice and sorrow mingled with the incense of joy and the sound of laughter.

I wonder what the people of Haiti will give her, what kind of water she'll carry home. Amber is the most empathetic person I have ever met--hands down. If you came to our house bedraggled and thirsty, if you told her your gullet was parched to cracking, she'd make two glasses of water, one for you and one for her. She feels the pains of all others, takes them on as if they were her one. She has no doubt tapped into the joy, pain, and love of the Haitian people. This is her gift.

Last night, Amber wrote of the Haitian church:

Today we met Gaetan’s wife, and after nearly being blinded by the joy of her face after she had cooked a meal for 31 children, my eyes went straight to her feet. I have never so desired to kneel straight down and wash feet. They are not famous and don’t belong on pedestals. They are humble, desperate, persevering disciples of Jesus Christ. To know them is to respect them and to want to show them honor.

She's honoring the stories of our brothers and sisters, our co-laborers in the good and coming kingdom. She is learning from the unsung heroes of our sister church.

IV.

Richard Rohr says that we have all been given the same breath--the breath of the living God. There is no us and them, rich and poor, Haitian or American. Those with the Spirit of God are all lesser brothers together, the humble co-laborers and bearers of the unshakeable kingdom.

I co-labor with my wife as she co-labors with the beautiful church in Port-au-Prince. My parents co-labor with me as we teach my children the value of service, of running free, of reeling in smallmouth bass. You co-labor as you pray for your families, for the international church, for your friends.

We are all in this together.

*****

Follow Amber, and our friends Sarah Bessey, Erika Morrison, and Sarah Markley as they write about Haiti for Help One Now. You can also follow their live tweets by following the hashtag #HONbloggers.