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!

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Marriage Letter: What You Call Holy

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. After you read my letter follow me to Amber's blog, where she's sharing her Marriage Letter and inviting you to participate in writing your own.

*****

Amber,

You leaned across the console from the passenger side, craning your neck across my lap and looking out the driver's side window. "Pull over!" you said, ribbing me with your left elbow, and I slid the car to the chat shoulder there by Clifty Creek. You jumped out and looked to the sky. There, two bald eagles gyred over the fresh rain-fed waters looking to harvest perch or bream. It was the bleak mid-winter, and the Clifty valley was thick with the smell of sawdust and the smoke of home fires. The backroad was empty, and we stood, watching the eagles in their element. After a few minutes I turned to ask whether you were ready to go, and I noticed how your eyes were filled with the glory of God. In the car you hummed "This is My Father's World," and I knew you'd had a holy moment.

When we were first married, I accepted a job as a youth minister, and we moved to a patch of concrete on the outskirts of Tulsa. Wildlife sightings were rare in those days with the exception of the occasional sparrows roosting in the Applebee Apartment tree that shaded my car. (Thank goodness for the automatic carwash across the street.) You were not made for this sort of city living, you said, and reminded me that you were only ever used to seeing the deer and coyotes running through the Alabama fields.

On a rare weekend getaway, we kicked up a dust cloud down an old dirt road near Grand Lake. It was dusk, and without warning a herd of mule deer sprung from the thicket on the passenger's side of the car. I slammed on my brakes as buck and doe hurdled the hood. We skidded to a stop and after the last of the herd passed, I checked my pants to make sure I hadn't wet myself. I turned to you, making sure you'd not suffered whiplash, but you sat broad-smiled and clapping. "Deer! Deer!" you said like a little girl riding shotgun with your daddy. Then you whispered, "thank you, Jesus."

By Clifty Creek and Grand Lake, you saw through the natural order and into the supernatural. As long as I've known you, you've been this way. Yours is not the seeing of a time-wisened woman or some mystic desert mother. Yours is a simpler seeing, the seeing of the world with little girl eyes. It's in this seeing you remind me that we are sharing sacred, gifted space.

You've cradled four newborn children now, each wearing drying afterbirth and crying. You smiled the smile known only to mothers and hospice workers, the smile of ushering a life into a new world. You've said, "hey there; hey there; it's okay," to each of bawling babies. Staring into their blurry brown eyes (except Isaac's, which were always blue), you welcomed them into this sacred world where the natural order points always to the supernatural. First priestess, you cradled and fed them gifts of God for the people of God. Your body has been a miracle, and this is not lost on you. The way you've seen it, you've been given a quadruple foretaste of the Holy of Holies.

What do you call holy? The eagle on the whirling currents; the deer flushed from the thicket; the baby taking nourishment at the breast--these inform your understanding of holy. You do not call them holy because they are God. Instead you know them as best chalices, the vessels that carry forth the Word of creation to the people of God. "This was the intent of all creation," you might say, "to point to the ultimate Creator."

So, stop me again by Clifty Creek. Clap with doe-eyed wonder at the springing deer. And though I'll not see the smile of newborn wonder curl your lips again, smile radiant if I beat you to the hospice bed. There, remind me that the wonders of our world were only the foreshadowing of the best present, the eternal chorus of "Holy! Holy! Holy!"

Love,

Seth

*****

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Marriage Letter: On Health And Wholeness

Today, Amber and I are resetting the Marriage Letters series. Read here, then follow over to her blog for her Marriage Letter.

*****

Dear Amber,

To be healthy and whole—what does it mean? Is it an achievable thing?

You were barely a woman when we met, a teenage girl throwing off wild, untamable sparks. A free-spirit of the can’t-nobody-stop-me-now sort, you fell for the do-right rule-boy afraid of any shadow of rebellion. You were unbound by orthodoxy, I was bound hand and foot to Christian legalism, and in hot passion we decided the only remedy for our lovesickness was to join these two kinds of disfunction in holy matrimony.

On a warm November afternoon, we made our vows in the church on the lake. You wore a slender sleeveless dress and curled your obstinate hair. You walked the aisle and the cloud of witnesses watched as we made our future promise, “in sickness and in health.”

Two made one, this was the birth of a new life. In all our hubris, we believed that we were created healthy and whole. In our hubris, we believed ourselves invincible in that moment—us versus the world and who would stop us? Isn’t it true, though, that chinks in any armor are often hidden until the battle begins?

Marriage tests armor, and ours is no exception. There was the church run amok, the years of over-worked emotional disconnection, and the insanity of bringing three children into the world in three years. Then there was the faltering health of Titus, the uncertainty of it all, the way I took to the bottle, the way you took to the dark. Each time, chinks in the armor were exposed, and the one flesh of marriage was cut deep.

Though we still bear scars (is there a plastic surgeon for the married soul?), though we sometimes limp in our marriage waltz, we’ve found this to be true—there’s a Spirit who always manages to meet us, to bind fresh wounds, and to bring us into the greater health and wholeness.

Of course, marital healing isn’t all pie-in-the-sky mysticism and supernatural transcendence of tricky predicaments. It’s not all long-suffering perseverance and pulling yourselves up by the collective bootstraps, either.

Healing is a pictureless puzzle, but I suppose we’ve found the corner pieces. It starts with confession—so says St. James, and we’ve found this to be true. “Confess your sins one to another so that you may be healed.” It’s an uncomfortable truism, an alarming disarming that induces the sort of anxiety associated with pubic-nudity. (Yes, really.) [tweetherder]Confession brings sickness to the doctor’s light, brings hope for the healing of wounded marriage vows.[/tweetherder]

We’ve learned, too, that sometimes we’re not equipped to bind up each other’s spiritual and emotional wounds. (We have our limits, after all.) Along the way, we’ve found good doctors who are well acquainted with the soul-healing arts. Ministers, therapist, counselors—they’ve bound our wounds a time or two. Sometimes the healing has been Good-Samaritan free; other times we’ve paid to lie face up on the proverbial leather couch. Either way, there’s no shame in admitting the need for either soul or noggin doctoring.

I suppose that brings me to crux of this letter. We took on a new resolution this year—becoming healthy and whole. The way I see it, the pursuit of a healthy and whole marriage is an extension of our wedding vows—in sickness and in health. On occasion we’re soul sick, but we stick with it, agree to pursue the wholeness of full health.

So this year, I promise to walk toward that confessional healing of old St. James, and to rely on the spiritual counselors and noggin doctors if necessary. What’s more, I promise no judgement should you need to confess, and promise no stigmatization should you need help from your own noggin doctors.

Who knows how 2015 will turn. For everything there is a season, and this might be a year of great joy, or tremendous healing laughter. There’s always a chance it could break the other way, though. Either way, I resolve to help you do what it takes to find health and wholeness, and to remain in it. And being that the good folks on this-here internet are reading this letter, some of whom comprise our family and local community, I suspect there’s a little built-in accountability. (Lord, have mercy.)

Yes, there is a season (turn, turn, turn). But no matter what that season brings, let’s push into health and wholeness together. Deal?

Loving you while limping,

Seth

*****

Now, follow me to Amber's blog for her Marriage Letter. Read there to see how you can participate in this series.

*****

In this month's Tiny Letter (my monthly newsletter), I'm discussing the idea of resting  within church practices. There, I'm speaking candidly about some recent changes in the Haines' household, and I'd love to hear your thoughts. Sign up to read along!

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