Monday, February 27, 2012

on marriage: i know you love me when …

 photo credit here

Amber and Seth Haines started a Monday series on marriage, penning letters about the grit and the grace of it all.  this week's topic is "i know you love me when..."  link your marriage letter here.

dear rYan,

i could fill in the blank to the statement above with a simple photo: one of piles and piles of swamp-flu laundry that you disinfected, playing the role of hero-as-nursemaid to our sad, sad selves last week.

or i could paste in a snapshot of that corner of our house where the Christmas tree stood until February.  me, paralyzed with the task of putting away: not just the swaddling of ornaments and the tangling of lights, but the feeling that presses in, like it will be “always winter and never Christmas” until the spring thaw, which is long away.  and so you and our two tiny elves snuck it all into storage while i was out for the evening, and when i returned, there was no more tinsel,  but the season of giving raved on.  

i could fill a whole photo album with snapshots of love on the daily:  you wrestling the loud out of our boy, your man-hands wrapped round a tiny girl’s hairbrush, you lifting a single finger to touch the place on my forehead that clenches, anxious.

for love, to you, is a verb.  an active one.

but the biggest miracles happen in shadow and secret, and so the way i’m convinced you love me most is something camera pixels couldn’t quite render.  though, actually, come to think of it, i saw it once, on a Saturday morning cartoon:

for sometimes i catch myself,  wide-eyed and standing on air  like that cartoon coyote, and i realize that i’ve run, love-struck, into a place i never would have gone if i were still that girl -- chin raised proud but inside begging to be loved, to be unloved – from ten years back.  when i look below my feet and see none of what used to hold me together – the impenetrable mask, the sarcasm, the “you go first” -- i know that it is the tender of this two-becoming-one-flesh that frees me to fly and fall and fail.  your love shows up in my brave.

and don’t i know how dangerous this is?  what gravity can do?  that temptation, in the good, to fashion you - His instrument - into an idol of brawn and bronze and ego boosting?

i do.

lucky for us, these moonbeam moments are typically followed by an eclipsing remark, like the time you requested, ever so casually, that i not wear your favorite sweatshirt, for fear that “i might stretch it.”


... and in the silence of three marriage-saving deep breaths, that forehead muscle of mine tight as fiddle strings, i gave you a look that put this love right back in its place:  real life.  

no, your love won’t fix all that’s broken  'bout this world, but i do enjoy it something fierce. 

please continue – in your loving – and i’ll continue breathing thankful,


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

on marriage: the philosopher’s wife

 photo credit here

Amber and Seth Haines started a Monday series on marriage, penning letters about the grit and the grace of it all.  this week's topic is "my job - your job."  link your marriage letter here.

Dear Ryan,

How many times now? --

“So, if you don’t mind my asking, what exactly does one  do with a degree in Philosophy?”


[shifts weight, left to right]

[makes crazy Nietzsche face]

And this, my love, is where you thank God that  you married an English major.  For once I have shepherded the questioner through a maze of metaphors concerning the realm of the metaphysical and the future of mankind as we know it, you swim off the hook, and he or she is left believing that the lamentable vocation  you’ve been assigned is listening to me ramble for the next seventy years, and these classes are simply convenient excuses for escape.

Little do they know that for all of the rhetoric, I wouldn’t know an epistemic axiom if it plopped into the dishwater.

And  dishwater is what I do.  That, and sticker charts, and Goodnight Gorilla on repeat - though I swore I wouldn’t.  Our first fight as marrieds – on our honeymoon, nonetheless – was about the jobs we’d do, you and me.  I watched a plate of shrimp and grits congeal while I explained to your raised eyebrows what "real work" was, what my qualifications were, what I planned on giving to the world.

Then we were given a boy.   And he made a fool out of me.

Since he came, we’ve learned to take the work as it comes:  steady -- sprint! --  then slow, reminding ourselves that   
we’re making a life, not just a living.  

We discuss Hobbes in the bathtub.  You know my favorite students by name.   We love the work that we do outside these walls, but ask for daily remembrance that  the work within  counts more.  We’re finding our rhythm, amidst the chaos, and   
it’s never fifty- fifty.  You don’t keep a tally of the times you fold the laundry, and I write off the walk to the dumpster as part of my cardio for the day.

We work ‘til we’re dizzy, into the wee hours, then we tell Monday morning “not just yet” and spend our slow waking daydreaming out loud over oatmeal.

Soon, you’ll wear a tassel.  All those late night papers will get you a fancy piece of paper, and No, I will not call you Master.

The day will dawn, soon enough, when you’ll receive paychecks with numbers higher than the electric bill, and there’s a part of me that’s already waiting at the mail slot for one.  But then I catch a glimpse of you, and that smallest of ours is in your lap, cradled beneath some volume of Platonist whatnot, crinkling her eyebrows like you’ve been known to do.

And somehow, in those moments - this life of late nights and patchwork income – just works.

Here's to finishing this work we've started ...

Your proofreading paramour,


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

on marriage: true love waits

Alice in Wonderland: White Rabbit - Who Killed Time?
click photo for source

Amber and Seth Haines started a Monday series on marriage, penning letters about the grit and the grace of it all.  this week's topic is "patience."  link your marriage letter here.

dear ryan,

you were there.  you saw it:  the newlyweds canoodling on our couch.

we’d invited them over because we get a contact high off the newness of their love … the way they can’t bear an inch of couch to come between them.  the way they punctuate sentences with cupped face smooches.  the beauty in their  
just beginning.

i want to smile wryly, tell them:  just you wait…

i once told you the same, sans smile.  that day we sat a full two couch cushions away from each other and stared slack-jawed at two pink lines and decided to become a marriage before becoming a family.   i looked at you steady and i said, with more brave than i knew i had:

“don’t say that you love me.  not yet.  just you wait, until you can mean it.”

i held your gaze, my jaw, my breath … knowing the tiniest facial twitch might betray me.  might make it plain as day how much i wanted you, how greedy i was for your love.  how my hands trembled, even as they pushed you to a safe distance.

you nodded, understood.  and because i’d drawn that line in the sand, you kept your word, even on days i would have begged you to lie to me.  we spent our first year of marriage like two sticks making a fire from scratch.  we earned, the hard way, our scout badge in patience.

i don’t remember how many days – weeks – months -  it took, but i remember long nights of watching your shoulder blades rise and fall in sleep, tears sliding round the backs of my ears, and me there beside you while you breathed, waiting.

i don’t remember the moment you finally said it, either.  there is no commemorative photo. this love wouldn’t make a very good Sandra Bullock film, but it could be an installation manual on grace.

for patience is a fruit of the Spirit, we’re told.  and Spirit – that wedding gift given to us, the bride - has always been our secret superpower, our go-to, our enough.

i don’t know what the future may require of us, and i don’t pretend that we know enough of marriage to wax poetic.

but i said it plain to those newlyweds on our couch what truth was written in our first chapter:  how the sweetest victories in marriage are most often things that you’ve bruised your insides hoping for.  and waiting.

and after watching those two newlyweds skip lockstep down our sidewalk, to their car?

you kissed me like someone with five years of practice.

and it was good.

thank you for making those three words worth waiting for,


Monday, February 6, 2012

on marriage: a couple of misfits

Last Minute Whisper
click photo for source
Amber and Seth Haines started a Monday series on marriage, penning letters about the grit and the grace of it all.  this week's topic is "opposites attract."

To My Stag,

we were young in our story.  on a date.  when that woman came into that tiny dinner theater to ask me in a hushed voice, below the crooning on stage, if i might step outside, please.

i followed, mechanical, and stood in a rotunda that turned carousel as she frowned explanation:  family had come to fetch me.  had come with news that my Paw Paw, that man who’d loved me like a Daddy ought, had breathed his last.  had snuck to the other side of the veil in the middle of a Frank Sinatra impersonation, for crying out loud.

and cry out loud i did – only on the inside.  though my face was flat as stone, sirens wailed within as we drove to hospital in no real hurry, and they would not fall quiet even in the silence of my living room, where we sat, late and awkward, with
not enough knowing each other  done yet to do the grief dance gracefully.

those stiff movements are etched into memory on my skin.  how you pulled my cheek to your shoulder, expecting me to wilt.  how i left it there, like a dead fish handshake, because you expected me to.

how i hated, in that moment, all that you were and were not.  not the mama who’d taught me to busybody with caretaking and hurry through the hurt.  not the friend who would have let me sprinkle sarcasm like pixie dust and play in neverland, unawares.

we’ve spent a lot of time in this marriage with you waiting for me to cry proper,
like a real girl.
we’ve spent an equal amount with me trying to see those man-hands of yours open to uplift,
not to crush.

born on the wrong side of the garden, we don’t know how to see each other so very naked –  OPPOSITE!  scribbled on every inch of anatomy, within and without – and not burn shame.

a couple of misfits.

like a new language learned through immersion, this marriage has been an exercise in forgetting the textbook things we’d learned about what Husband and Wife would be and learning instead to listen and listen and listen and finally hear -- in the click in my throat just before i really do need to cry, in the rhythm of your heartbeat when i’ve come, on my own accord, to rest there, in the crook of your arm -- the whispered vernacular that only the long-married learn to speak.

my Paw Paw, he used to say “at ‘tall,” with a tennessee T on the second word.  and if he were still here, i’d straddle the recliner arm to snuggle in beside him and sigh and confess:  that a handful of years and two kids who are handfuls in, i still sometimes feel like “i don’t know you at ‘tall.”

but i want to.

and oh, what grace -- that in marriage, that’s enough.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

oh love that will not let me go

click photo for source

is it strange to spend hope, to lapse into fantasy, about a day when we won’t fight on the way to church?

we love hard, you and i.   but we bite, too.

it’s coming – i feel it – the anniversary of that day and those vows, and i tingle at the thought of it.  for though we won’t dine fancy or lavish gifts, we’ll be giddy all day on the adrenaline of what grace can do -- the 80s movie soundtrack climaxing into celebration that John Cusack is really, finally getting the girl.  the marathon of marriage that groans and stumbles but keeps moving forward, against all odds.

but today?  today is not yet.  today is Sunday, and we fight.

i slam the snooze, in denial.  you wear your most quiet face, the morning one.  he wants something else for breakfast and she puts hers in her hair.  are you serious, thinking you have time to shave?   is it possible, you inquire, to just put things where they go?  my shower is too long, your oatmeal baptizes the microwave, and as we drag a kid each to the car, we are  a walking antithesis of Sabbath.

we drive there with a soundtrack of criticism and self-righteousness blaring in our ears.

how the devil  loves a bargain:  and in attacking marriage, he scores a two for one.

sigh.  at least our car is headed in the right direction.

for it’s there, with the kids name-tagged and dispersed, with the lights low and the truth in our ears, that the real battle being fought on Sundays makes itself known.

we need that singing, that sermon, that silence … not to fix our marriage, but to fix our eyes on One who loves us – the always late, the ever impatient, the too much and the not enough of us – and who offers us, at the Table we approach together, a taste of Love that surpasses the love we can offer, even hard as we’re trying.

we walk the aisle to table, and i try to quiet memory of your critical words while tracing the crevices in your palm.  your hand is stiff – your jaw, too, and i am thankful for just music and no words. 
together, we plunge shard of bread into dark of juice and it nearly crumbles from the weight … and don’t i know this crumbling feeling, too?  how  the mystery of tender mercy saturates -- leaves me undone?

my jaw clenches, then releases.  bitter of yeast and sweet of berry.

i take.  and eat.

and as we turn, i find your hand is warm

and firm

and you hold

and He holds

and we hold

and taste death

and pray life

and walk this aisle in metaphor and mystery ... like the day we married,

and  this is my body, broken for you
and  this is the new covenant  of my blood …
a table prepared so that we might
and eat.
and find marriage, in all its bitter, to be sweet.

linking today with sweet emily, of  imperfect prose, who is a treasure.  do pay her a visit.