Thursday, January 18, 2018

It’s two weeks out from my birthday, which marks five years since the day a dialogue began between my now-husband and me. A most elaborate birthday gift if I do say so myself. Still in the infancy of marriage (sixteen months), five years feels like room enough for us to have suffered through five whole lives and five whole separate deaths and that’s probably about true. Hopefully more than that, I suppose, if we’re speaking in terms of “absolute being” and necessary expirations for the ones on their way to it.

(I hope my saying this doesn’t communicate to whoever might be reading that a relationship which turned to marriage is the single avenue for necessary dying. It isn’t. If you’re breathing, you’re sinful and Christ is working to draw you to Himself, and dying will happen, not as punishment but reconciliation. I’m only using this example, because I’ve had more of my sin exposed and survived more tiny deaths over the course of five years and have witnessed it doubly so as I continue to know Ryan).

I was telling him a day or so ago that something’s come over me recently and the something is that I don’t feel scared about real death like I used to. I’m not sure what birthed it, this epiphany, and if this turns out to be a weird, archived premonition, well then, tell my dog I loved him, er – love him.

I certainly don’t welcome the end or wish it, and I’m not unwell by society’s current standards. I only know for sure that it was once my deepest burden – the fear of my time being up with an armful of gifts the world hadn’t yet received – and now it’s not. I practice communion, obedience, faithfulness, and the world needs nothing else from me. My arms are empty and I give only what I have this day and this moment, grateful that the Lord resides in the land of plenty and is not stingy. Perhaps all this earthly dying has laid before me like a hall of mirrors how little each unfinished me has brought to the table. And perhaps it’s this humble prelude that practices us and prompts us to say, “I believe. Help me in my unbelief” as we inch toward its permanent and more comprehensive counterpart, depending on how much stake you have in what’s coming. For me, a people restored of all sad things and no more dying.

Unfortunately, as the world spins and we chug along – passing away and again living only a fraction better than we were before – we’re reminded and painfully about the first one-hundred lives and our heels that dragged in the gravel to be sinful and broken still. If I’m going to die (whether by choice or by grace) let her at the least be gone so I can go on independently unbothered. But she’s there in the funhouse multiplied, wearing the young face of perfectionism and, to my left, an older, fuller one of isolation and cynicism. Behind me, apathy and more of it. Each of them is there, not entirely, but until I’m at last done with the dying, they get to hang around. That’s part of the deal, and I’m sort of glad for it lately.

Christians in church (well-meaning) often stand completely on the coverage of our sins. We accept one new life in Christ and thereby discard each of our previous selves as they produce too much shame and condemnation. “My past doesn’t define me” or “I’m not who I once was before Jesus.” All of these new creation adages are fine and true, but might we be doing a disservice to the coming you and I’s by resenting or avoiding altogether the ones that walked before? I don’t know.

I got really jealous again the other day. Going mad at the irrational possibilities. I felt the train wreck on its way, triggered by a bout of inadequacy or fear of abandonment or my period. Either way, I ended up in the mirrored room at eye-level with the one who died once due to trust in man, and she retaught me about how misplaced or displaced trust is a foundation not built to last.

I speak poorly to Ryan in efforts to make him hear. I feel unheard and severely misunderstood. And then, offered up to me is one who died during another lesson in pride. She doesn’t rub my nose in it – that I had failed him again as a nurturing wife – but cautions me against the manmade and entitled right to be heard and to be understood. It’s only an injection of the Spirit that compels people to understand.

Having these is not a handicap or a haunting. It’s a grace that I’m insurmountably grateful for, to accept forgiveness as a blanket but to also confide in the ones that have failed me. To conspire together about what went wrong and what is being made right at every turn. After all, our greatest teacher is Christ in us, by us, through us. I will not make a name for myself by my sin alone, but I will use it as it’s there until it’s not any longer.

Revered mystic and the first known female writer in English, Saint Julian of Norwich, said this something like six-hundred and fifty years ago: “Sin is behovely (useful), but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” None of us here enjoy a thousand sinful ghosts riding our coattails to the next, but if it’s necessary carpool for all manner of things to be well three times over, then I think that’s an alright trade, don’t you?
. . .

Ryan and I started five years ago what would carry on as one long conversation, and in it, a million tiny deaths. In the past year, post-covenant, our exchange has wandered closer to the likes of sex, hospitality, the dog, and bills. Sometimes it’s empty, shallow, sometimes it’s silent, and sometimes we wrestle to fill that space, which is mostly and usually unhelpful. And sometimes, on nights like last night, we wind up beneath the debris of a good old-fashioned fight; letting tears dry up slowly on our faces as we talk about our current death and the mystery of God. The Great Equalizer. The middle sphere in Newton’s cradle. And about how only something genius and good would kill off our favorite darlings and let them cheer us on forward to more abundant life.

Death will happen when we least expect it and when we most expect it, not one time but many, and I’m going to need my whole unruly bunch – until all manner of things is well and until they’re buried for good.


Monday, December 11, 2017

This week’s been a bit tough. You know the kind – a proverbial freight train. You clean up street trash from the barreling boxcar with a six-ton elephant on your back and you’ll wonder if anyone on God’s green earth might come to you and say, “enough.” An appropriately timed Advent has me longing for these inside out bruises to be gone for good. Of course, none of which compare to those that plague my single friend at Christmastime or a dear relative that’s been locked away as her mind and her memory betray her, and especially not to the wife whose womb won’t stay full.

I’m immediately convicted as I finish that sentence and am reminded of a million ones like it as of late – ranking in order the greatest and the worst sufferers so that I might have some excuse to keep quiet about my own regular, layman’s grief. Prop it up to matter against the rest or let it go and die. Those are your choices. We all know of the blatant jealousy in comparing our good with someone else’s better. The bitter fruit of discontent. But I’m realizing this season that the seemingly humble (and often unconscious) undermining of our pain in the scope of a neighboring humanity’s is as nasty a disease as any. Taking the enemy in small and large doses, judging his best, most harmful work. You and I will pray for the souls who have it harder and resign to our place in the shadows of less and little suffering. That’s a sneaky version of pride, and we should call it when we see it.

For years I did this, and I do it still now when a stranger offers up their story and asks in exchange for mine. Bumbling around for key phrases that act as a match for brokenness, as if to relate or be helpful, I’d have to be a leper. Perhaps I’ve grown tired of contorting my testimony so that only badness shows through or maybe I’m learning about the gospel as just listening and sitting shiva with a brother. But in any case, my healing looks different than the leper’s, and is healing any less powerful for the normal, old sinner? The pastor’s daughter and product of a saved marriage. A year-old wife who makes coffee to pay the bills. And an anxious one who – without the work of the spirit – is prescribed an entire life of violent mood swings which, on a good day, calm to apathy.

At the beginning of the year, the Lord began unwinding in front of me this concept of faithfulness. You should know that I’m historically leery of these loaded words – the type filed next to Authenticity and the Evangelical Christian. I’ve been let down by them before and I’m not under the impression that I won’t be another time. These words are sweeping and are of the nature to be twined and twisted, overused or misused. Once whole and full, now soiled and stripped bare. Taken out of context and beaten to a pulp. As a lover of words and keeper of them, I feel the heavy weight – a dwindling glow – that comes from a falsified meaning, one intended to be good.

So, he said, go to the corners where you’ve been faithful and find me there.

It wasn’t until a slew of disappointments had incurred an unpayable debt that I would know clearly what that had meant and would see what then remained. And it happens that way, doesn’t it? Wounded by one and knocked down by another and kicked by the next and at last left alone to survey, does anything still stand above this wreck?

I was sweeping my tiny kitchen in the moments before supper, my dog at my feet and a thousand small graces leaping toward me at once. I had arrived from work just hours before. Four and some years I’ve come home from this place. My eyes met my husband doing chores in the room over, a man that I’ve loved for five. My phone lit up with a message from my best friend, and I wondered how long a stretch of those would measure. Miles of messages, twelve year’s worth. Tomorrow, Ryan and I would attend the same service at our same church. The one that held me and grew me and taught me to serve and welcomed me back, and on the eighteenth year is holding me still.

Here’s what I’m learning through a gracious unwinding:

As we are faithful, he is doubly so. He caught me in the middle of preparing a meal in my home that was to be enjoyed by a two-person family - a task so menial and regularly small - and laid before me a feast having to do with forty years of his faithfulness. I’m headed into my twenty-fourth year here, and in the corners where I’ve been faithful, he’s gone and doubled them. It’s kingdom math that I don’t understand nor do I feel right in accepting, but we’ve never had much choice in the matter. He gives to his children freely and lavishly and without reason.

Faithfulness is only faithfulness. A cynic searches the word and will not find in it some ulterior motive or unhappy connotation. It will always be properly construed. Faithfulness, in its simplest form, is the same and is the same. Steadfast. Pillars left standing above the wreck. Not overused or misused or taken out of context by the world. We either are or we aren’t, but you and I cannot be faithful too many or too little times. What good news for a post-Eden people failing to hit their quotas.

Being faithful does not allot us the time, thank goodness, to go around justifying a good or a bad week, scrutinizing the weeks and the lives handed to those near us. But it does generously give us each our mornings, our families, our health and our homes. Our small grievances, our losses, and our suffering should it come. Tending to these is our holiest work.

Richard Wilbur, in his poem, Love Calls Us to the Things of This World, says this – “Let there be nothing on earth but laundry, nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam and clear dances done in the sight of heaven.” This has been my prayer ever since. The sanctity of Christ maturing me, making His likeness my own is no small thing; yet, we find him in the corner, in the collection of small things taking us there. Meetings and due dates, clean dishes and pruned fingers, ordinary and every single day. I said this last month, that it’s the driving of my feet to the ground and my hand to the plow that reminds me about the humble man who lived to sow seeds for no easy reason other than following in the way of his master. Clear dances done in the sight of heaven. Let there be nothing else on earth but this.


Saturday, November 18, 2017

There, in my earliest memory of a long road trip, I'm a tween, maybe twelve. I wear bright colors back then and wish the world away with such sad music. I enjoy doing things on my own time and in my own space and at my own will. The Andy Warhol in my bedroom told me that everybody should like everybody because art is about liking things, but here I am, getting it from the gut to like anything at all. I tie myself to nature and call it God - the reservoir and the field and something like a ladybug - but people don't impress me, or fool me. I pick and choose and justify what kind of creation to call beautiful, and I'm a walking, mostly sleeping, dichotomy with little concept of how the world works but a clear picture of how it ought to be.

We were visiting family in Longmont and would be there a week. The five of us had packed our SUV tight with two week's worth of clothes if you were a girl and essentials to last three days if you were a boy. We'd collected an obscene amount of snacks on the off chance that the sky came falling or the highway stopped running, and Dad somehow rigged a seven-inch portable television to the top of our red Igloo cooler which squeezed unsuccessfully between the middle two seats. The three of us who weren't forty, we each selected our favorite DVD prior to the two-day drive and I still don't know how thirteen made it into that Walmart sack. During intermission, Mr. Blue Sky by Electric Light Orchestra would play and we'd harmonize until two of us were fighting about leg room. Twelve close-quartered hours broken up into days has its special, hellish way of multiplying when you're young and there's a place you're supposed to be and you're not in charge of getting there.

We'd stop over in Raton or someplace like Trinidad and there'd be nowhere to eat but Arby's. And it was just hours before this point where I'd start picking up on the cars that had been with us for miles. Hundreds of miles. The maroon four-door belonging to Baptists with the luggage secured on top by bungees and the silver Honda Civic that held a Hispanic family of four. A questionable Subaru that was in a fight with his wife down 287 and a passed down Chevy - the side mirror dangling from colored wires - that was a young man headed home for holiday. It was five of us, having traveled similar distances for whatever reason and finally catching up in town with still more to go. We'd offer an affirmative nod through our respective windows as one would pass, knowing good and well we'd likely pass again soon after bathroom and dinner.

It wasn't a competition, but a sliding and gliding sort of waltz within the comfort and safety of our own. Unlikely contenders on a high-speed pilgrimage to wherever it was that we were all going. We were married together on the road, and if you weren't in the Colorado caravan then you weren't in on the joke. The stretch of cars thereby excluded from the pack were plenty, but I had rationalized a certain filtered logic to be similar to these people, latched onto some fabricated meaning that might attach us as our journeys seemed the same, and I was just thinking recently that isn't it funny how we continue to need reason for our relationship with others? An excuse, an explanation, for the lane next to us to matter. I did this twelve years ago and I do it now, too.

Maybe this is only the cynic's kryptonite, but I'd suggest that the phenomenon of human connection is a real one and it plagues us all whether you're an introvert or unmarried or have autism or are mute. And in order to connect, we must compare, accentuating differences and weighing our options before we think it right to proceed. We don't act this way with other types of creation, we don't have to, because the abstract, intellectual gap that separates us is enough for us to remain emotionally unharmed. A rainbow, a swan, longer days and shorter nights, they're each at their most helpful just by being there at a time on the earth and we appreciate them and respect them as such. But people, we're an entirely different story, and how much more he cares for us than the birds, but goodness - these planks are in our eyes and it's tough to dig them out.

Richard Rohr, in his book called Falling Upward, tells us that "if we are created in the image and likeness of God, then whatever good, true, or beautiful things we can say about humanity or creation we can say of God exponentially. God is the beauty of creation and humanity multiplied to the infinite power." When I speak well of his creation and dismiss his likeness in humanity, I've taken my view of his infinite power and made it smaller, believing that he only makes half of it good. When I have to search high and low and through every tunnel for ways to associate with my neighbor, then I've been carrying his name wrong all along.

Rohr goes on to say that "in the second half of life, we can give our energy to making even the painful parts and the formally excluded parts belong to the now unified field - especially people who are different, and those who have never had a chance. If you have forgiven yourself for being imperfect and falling, you can now do it for just about everybody else. If you have not done it for yourself, I am afraid you will likely pass on your sadness, absurdity, judgment, and futility to others. If we know anything at this stage, we know that we are all in this together and that we are all equally naked underneath our clothes. Which probably does not feel like a whole lot of knowing, but even this little bit of honesty gives us a strange and restful consolation."

. . .

I am young, and if the Lord wills it, I still have more than half of the pie to eat, but I'll say this: a juvenile worldview is one that would take creation in pieces, honoring whichever side works in its favor and discarding the rest because it's lame or risky or time-consuming or temporary. The pressure of the two competing dissolves when we're familiar with our role as dust in the soil. Rather than spending our lives fumbling around to find a common ground with the Conservative and the Poor One and the Wife-Beater and the Kid, how much sweeter and more comprehensive would it be to know that our common ground is just in being here at a time on the earth and appreciating and respecting our kinship as such. All of us having traveled similar distances for whatever reason and finally catching up in town with still more to go. An affirmative nod and we're off - equally naked underneath our different clothes. It's a dance belonging to the cosmos and a humble one to be a part of.


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Why do I struggle so much to start one of these? I wish I could charge with the crime a lack of time or caffeine, but it's neither of those today. I'm here, slumped inwardly on this couch. My lower back aches and I'm one bite short of a hangnail on my right pinky finger. An Indian man is making a phone call. There's a sad Ravenea at twelve o'clock that's passed on from green, each arm fanning out wide and finishing the color of toast. I study the interiors of the space that I'm in and wonder how I've become so intolerant to milk in my older age. My older age. I'm almost twenty-four.

People that I know well and don't know from Adam think that writing is the thing that just comes naturally for me, and easily. School was easy. The grades and the studying, both instinctive and cooperatively dependent on the others' being there. Professors in university esteemed me for my proper use of a comma and found it special that I could distinguish in papers between an en dash and an em dash (two seemingly similar lines in punctuation whose lengths are commonly mistaken with the hyphen). The elements of writing oozed out of my too-big pores and, to this day, walk before me lying to the masses that I know what I'm doing, but writing. Writing is not easy. Like my husband who sees a head of hair and, in a moment, shapes it away until it's beautiful - time and time again and without a hitch - it's perceived to be so as I put pen to paper. If only they could see.

My favorite misconception about the writer is that she begins at dawn, having stretched already and let the greyhound out. She sends her husband off well and chooses the same recliner in the corner of the sunroom, laying beside it a two-week-old bouquet of wheat and roses. There's a coffee fogging her glasses and a bowl of fruit that the neighbor's garden grew. The day wakes up and bows to her. She speaks silently of an autumn in Vermont and the house that shone from the lamppost.

It's a self-deprecating sort of scene that one, not by itself but compared to its truer counterpart. One that involves fewer showers and a colder version of the coffee, a hungry husband, a hot October, and a person who tries to write but instead bows to everything else on God's green earth. Each day that I go to write, I'm tasked (laboriously) with this practice of sitting, marinating in my own thoughts, ones that wield an obscene amount of power if I don't carefully and often let them breathe. Eventually, I will. But right now I'm fidgety. Anxious. Entirely aware of a world that I ought not tap into just yet. So - I'll walk my dog a lap around the complex and start a load of darks and check our bank statement and flip through the stories online, mostly of babies and meals and other lives being lived. I'll pace in my PJ's and become undeniably irked when he walks in the door after a long, hard day at work because another one has passed and I'll have nothing to show for it besides an erasable few sentences.

I like being alone very much, but it's a lonely job, I'll say. I catch myself making faces at my animal and checking the time and resisting the irresistible itch to radio in my actual self that's breathing and alive and trying to communicate offshore. Perhaps we all behave this way, making distraction our very meaning. Babbling about, taking bathroom breaks until our contentment is jostled enough to, at last, react to it. Ryan and I went to the Angelika theater last week, a spot that we frequent. It's a theater devoted to low-budget, independent, and specialty films typically veering the opposite way of a Hollywood feature. Historically, the endings of these movies aren't tidy and neat. The dialogue is awkward and the pauses too long, but ultimately these DIY, puppet show films display humanity in a way that just comes right out and says it. I was remembering to him how much I enjoy the irony in this type of film. Cinema serves as an escape for most, if even an hour or two. It's art but it's recreation and it's usually quite good at letting an audience forget. But not here, I said to him. These movies always seem to charm me inside, seduce me to bed, and put me plumb in the way of myself, offering me intimately what I hadn't known I'd set out to find.

I know why I struggle so much to start one of these. It's an intrinsic desire of mine, and a childhood motivation, to identify myself over and over again, for however long it takes (Google "type four Enneagram"). As Didion says, "to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not." It's not scary to me to flaunt whatever terrible thing that I am as long as it's known to me, as long as it means peeling back the truth of my experience. When I am not well, I bow to the world and succumb to every mood and fear and whim, becoming unintelligible to a self that craves its own understanding. It's intimidating to delve straight into the thing (i.e. rest, relationship, God, the past) that will find you out and play you as a fool for the rest of your life. There's a reason we distract ourselves from these, because it's simpler to.

Dani Shapiro says that writing makes her well, and me too. She says that a world submerged slowly reveals itself and that we can stick our fingers in our ears and hum a merry little tune, but that what we ignore, we ignore at our own peril. She's found that "the moment you feel you want to jump up from your cushion and make sure the stove is turned off, or write something down you're sure you'll otherwise forget, or even open one eye to see how many minutes are left to go - that is precisely the moment to stay the course. To allow yourself to be pierced by whatever it is that's just beneath that impulse. What longing? What uncomfortable thought? What sorrow? What desire? The only way we can know is to be still enough to find out...beneath the translucent ice, more is thawing."

More is thawing, and whatever's submerged is likely different and better than the one you sought out to find. The urge to push back and turn away and be satisfied doesn't have concern for you and certainly not for the truth, so withstand it and stay the course. Shame and bitterness and lust and pick your Achilles heel - they lose when you decide to come right out and say it. Everything you need to know and everything that matters is contained in your willingness to go there, and do all that you can to put yourself in the way of it. I'm wondering what have we got to lose.


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

He's sitting at my feet watching a western on our day off. From the couch I can spot two bottles of water - an empty one that's crunched up to save space in the bin and one still three quarters full, because to get up and so often use the restroom has become a real interruption for me these days, a time-sucker. A couple mugs of tea with turmeric and ginger, and just a sip of iced coffee left to help with the headaches. Something's in the air because growing up, my dad always celebrated his September birthday with swollen, itchy eyes and this same time of year has started doing me that way exactly with the ragweed. We're back and forth between busted lips at night and a scratchy throat by morning, trying to stay ahead of the achy limbs and a week in bed.

Our dog shares in a similar suffering apparently. We spent the afternoon coddling him on the kitchen floor, squirting water into his clenched up teeth and just holding him while he coughed and heaved and swallowed back up the dry mucus. Before I knew it I was at the bottom of an internet rabbit hole, searching for existing links between sleep apnea and Texas allergies, specifically but not limited to Jack Russell Terriers. I'll probably end up cancelling the vet appointment that I scheduled earlier, but overarchingly and to catch me candid, it seems as though the irrationalities (which bleed into more of my areas than I'd like to admit) have a mountain of work to do before the thought of human children, and the responsibility of one, is a livable option. It's a hefty and permanent sort of thing with no real way out if I wanted one.

. . . 

Ryan and I flew to San Diego two weeks ago to ring in our first anniversary. It was the next vacation in line after our honeymoon, so a whole year of meetings and dishes and work and normal things had gone by before we had the guts to go again off the grid as newlyweds. We had toyed around with New York or someplace up north because the prices of a plane ticket matched, but we finally settled on a city and its coast that would let us sleep in and not feel worried or hurried while doing so.

The state of California continues to surprise me, and I should know better by now. I've seen Los Angeles and Santa Monica, but this was altogether different save its place by the water. I suppose it's as jarring of an experience as when out-of-towners judge Texas based on their subsequent times in Austin, Amarillo, and Galveston. San Diego is about the same as Dallas in terms of density, but the traffic to anywhere is nothing. Our longest time on the highway was a twenty-two minute stretch during rush hour, and we traveled in our rental everywhere from North Park to Roseville, to Coronado, Ocean Beach, and the cliffs at La Jolla. We stayed tucked away in a yellow guest house in Del Cerro, which I was glad about because the noise was low and it felt like we truly "came home" after a full day of exploring.

There wasn't a corner excused from a homeless man and his immediate belongings. One of them laid in the sixty-five degree shade, awoke from a nap to lick the underside of his tennis shoe, and started down the street with two, to-go bags of wine: one red, one white. Ryan noticed on the third day that the displaced population here clashed with our standing idea of the one back home. In all of our walking and wandering, not once were we approached about spare change or a ticket for the bus. I saw one cardboard sign held up in front of the donut shop on Sunday, but it suggested something about smiling to make someone's day and nothing regarding his current situation on the sidewalk. Maybe there's a more nagging sense of urgency where we're from to get them back on their feet or maybe we carry a louder, more bickering perception. Maybe it's just the weather. In any case, they seemed happy to be living - figuratively - perhaps not literally.

People in San Diego are cordial but not friendly by its latest definition. They aren't overtly harsh or disagreeable like some would be up in Boston but some form of tunnel vision keeps them in their separate lanes pretty good. We weren't granted automatic and obvious permission to pet their dogs on a leash, and we thought what's the point of having a dog then, so that was at least an adjustment for us. We didn't mess around with the zoo or traps like it this time, so we mostly depended on recommendations from local livers, who turned out actually to be quite helpful. We would start out early at coffee and then be sent over here for the rooftop at sunset and then we'd be confidently sent in the other direction for the best focaccia bread we'll ever eat. It was almost our last day, and we were sharing for lunch an otherworldly, wood-fired pizza with cauliflower and green olives - chef's special with ingredients picked up that week. Our waiter, Matt, seemed like he could have Asperger's. High enough functioning to twirl dough up in the air and probably manage the store himself but hard with eye contact and two-sided conversation. He sat with us for too long and told us about a street taco place that's inefficient but the best in the business for forty plus years. He told us which line to stand in once we made it there and to only bother with the corn tortillas. He said that they don't sell chips but that all the hipster f*cks keep them busy and running without it.

We went at night and parked in what looked like a gas station lot with a hispanic man there to confirm we found a proper spot. Marijuana filled up our car before we opened the doors to get out. We peeked inside, and it was just as he had warned us. Three lines that all eventually converged towards the door, mostly teenagers and hardly any english. The first four items on the menu said: BEEF HEAD, PORK STOMACH, BEEF TONGUE, AND BEEF GUTS. In all fairness, the orders being delivered looked excellent and fresh and authentic as a taco can be, but we squeezed each other's hands at the same time which mutually signaled that our brief encounter had been good enough for us. As we mapped out Plan B on our phones, it came to our attention that (of course!) we had been only about a six minute drive from crossing over the Tijuana border. Authentic was right.

. . .

He and I did all of the regular things that we would have done on a week off at home, only there's something unspeakably restful about sharing in the discovery of a place for the first time. There's little to explain or articulate or even misunderstand because you've felt it together and without context and at the same times. Marriage has been a bit like this. Counselors and textbooks and those that are for and against the construct of marriage all know that the first year is the hardest, generally speaking. I had gathered armor for the worst but left it hanging for the best, and turns out that neither has been true. Hardness exists inside or outside of marriage, but the first year surely wasn't the trigger that brought it about, and although good and pleasant and right, I'm not under the impression that this year will have been our easiest one either. 

When I hear people tell others what they ought to expect when a certain time comes, it seems hasty, verging on reckless. Like holding a cone to a kid's mouth on their first ever bite of ice cream. You could offer that it might feel cold against their teeth or - depending on the characteristics of the ingredients - they might experience a texture that crunches. But it's irresponsible to posit that this bite will be the best or the worst compared to the bites that follow. 

The day before our anniversary, we had a big fight. It lasted half the day and lingered, and we've hardly fought like that since dating. Patterns of hurt had conveniently resurfaced, there was no place to go except for opposite sides of the room, and I felt taunted the minute our fairly easy marriage reached the year mark and decided to make us fools who were told this might happen. Tomorrow, we would celebrate three hundred and sixty-five days living in human, covenant relationship, and I couldn't even meet my husband in the eyes without mourning a year of firsts and preparing for a lifetime of whatever this was.

Something that I heard The Lord convicting me of in a moment of head down, arms crossed, wishing I was somewhere far, far away: Maybe so much of your time is spent glorifying firsts that the promise of eternity seems disappointing. And goodness, how true for me that is, I've come to know. 

My compulsion to lay things out "exactly as they should be" means that many of my firsts are manufactured and felt as I want to feel them. There's a twinge of grief that comes as a first is seen all the way through, knowing that seconds and thirds and fourths might come but that there will never be another like this one. And then the first year goes and forever suddenly feels underwhelming and like a long time to wait. And what is sacred and guaranteed and entirely a manifestation of imago Dei instead feels like a hefty and permanent sort of thing with no real way out if I wanted one. 

I wonder if He saw something that didn't really belong to him and He let it die that day. Just twenty-four hours shy of seeing our first year through and startled as He completely unraveled my doing and let us try again. Because his kingdom wasn't built on firsts and to grant them such authority is to rob his people of a coming redemption. And unlike any place or person or idea I've known, there's something unspeakably restful about sharing in the discovery of Christ again and again and again - no first or final times - just one degree of glory to the next until His likeness becomes our own.

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