these are a shadow

…all that is worth remembering of life is the poetry of it

after night, morning

Our spirits, when the heavy things have been lifted, soar with new lightness. Now that his new job allows him to be home at 3:30, we are often together for the golden hour, the place and time where I feel the soaring most wonderfully. We walk for ice cream, or sit at the table for a shared supper, or clumsily toss a football in the yard. With all of it there is deep joy and celebration. If there is pain, we say it, and we soothe with more words and tactile grace. At the end, when the sky is dark, we sing and pray and read of Christ and our hope.

These heavy things I keep whispering of, the struggles of our marriage, the wanderings of our hearts, the wounds we are still healing from, we are not afraid to tell. But I want to speak it all with care and respect, and be sure to pull out the shards of beauty that are splintered through our story of the past two years and are being pieced together for the good of today and the glory of our future. You may only see parts and glimpses of us at times, and they may  be dark. Always try to see the goodness and the light, though. Even if it is just that spark of hope that comes when you realize that you are not the only ones.

And so many times, I have felt that no one can know my pain. Maybe someone distant, unlinked to my life, is going through this. But never do I imagine that the people I see and speak to at church on Sunday, or at work on a weekday, are facing this, or would know what to say if they knew that we do. That has started to change, ever since Seth has asked for an open ear each week with our friend and pastor. At the beginning of the year, he put words and terms with his struggles. He stepped into the light of accountability, and ever since has been doing the hard work of laying the truth on the table, and of doing whatever it takes to overcome things that have fought tooth and nail for our marriage and our lives.

::::

“I’m a binge drinker. If it’s in the fridge, I can’t stop.
“I’ve been smoking weed while you were at work for the last month.”
(The confessions that were needed but so very painful. So much hidden, yet so much known.)

A night in the hospital after an alcohol-induced diabetic coma.
And other terrifying nights where we were in different frames of mind and body–  and all I felt was a wall between us while I frantically grasped for the right words and the right feelings.
(The nights and days where I trembled for his life and our future.)

In these hard and lonely days, my soul has felt stretched to tearing. I have experienced deep pain because I have heard the darkest, loudest lies shout in my ears, telling me that I was not strong or useful or worthy or loved. That I was utterly alone. That because we couldn’t fix this, we had failed and there was no hope. I have struggled for a heart of grace, freedom from bitterness, and the ability to believe the best about my husband. [How do I love him, even today? Even in this?] I have made myself sick with worry that I would lose him. I have been tempted to stop believing that God is good. 

::::

This has been our night and our sorrow, in just a few words.

Yet we have also glimpsed magnificence:
Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes with the morning. And with the morning comes the cry to be satisfied with the steady love of God that never left. (Psalm 90:14) In each and every valley where we gasped for air and strained for the smallest glimpse of light, God has held us. He has torn down the glittering hopes we placed in each other for wholeness, and is showing us that we cannot save each other, or fill each other’s every last missing part. (To really know this is freedom.) Jesus is our fullness, our strength, and our morning song.

I am confident that this is not our only and last season of weeping. And some of this is still fresh and painful. Addictions do not go away from us cleanly and finally, most of the time — There is ongoing and real struggle every day, and will be until the day when Jesus comes to heal all wounds and wipe all tears. But please be tender and quick to see the glory being made in us. Please help us remember and believe that the best things are true and that we are never alone.

freedom to tell

I find it so much harder to write about today ever since I got married. I used to process my thoughts through words on paper or screen, and I found freedom in being as see-through as I could in those places. Writing was a process that helped me age spiritually and emotionally, as I needed to do. Not that I was ever very frequent or consistent with words, but it seemed more natural then to sort my thoughts into order and true words, whenever they began to swirl.

Lately, I have realized that since my life in its entirety has been bound up with Seth’s, it becomes trickier to figure out a way to tell the stories in my head without unwrapping those sacred, hidden parts of us that we are sharing just between us. I can think up plenty of past phases to taste again in my mouth, to remember and savor again in a good re-telling. But to tell of the present requires a new way to process, and I need to figure it out, because I need to keep writing. I want to tell of today with candor and courage, but hold the tenderest parts with greatest care.

Just the other day, during a difficult talk with my husband and our pastor, Seth was urged to free me from some heavy burdens I have been carrying. As husband and wife, and as Christians, we should be bearing each other’s burdens in order to help each other along toward light and truth. Here, we were both helped to see that I had been taking, and he had been placing, too much weight upon my shoulders, and that I needed relief. Some of my first thoughts went toward this fear I had towards creativity. That my necessary transparency in writing had become impossible to me, as I was afraid of telling the truth of what we have known, of what we have felt, of why I have cried in dark corners, of why he goes back to things he promised he’d leave. I couldn’t tell of the beautiful, victorious days in a right way, without also telling of the dark and terrifying ones. Right away, Seth looked into my eyes, and gently told me to tell without fear. To bring our stories to the page, no matter how hard they have been to live through, and no matter how hard they are to re-tell. Already I felt less weight in my soul, and the light just begin to finger its way to my shattered places.

As we have been learning, light is painful at first, when it shows us all that is not right. All that we have done, all that we have suffered. But it is grace all along, for it floods us with life. It buoys us to the air of freedom, where we can dance in the company of the others who have known those same darkest nights. It bids our heaven-sent helpers take our hands, and speak help to our tired hearts: “Your Jesus will not fail you.”  

I want to stay here in the fields and open air of grace, living and telling of the Light meeting our darkness, making all things new. So, here is my new start. I pray you’ll patiently prod me along the way to keep me telling. For there is so much to tell.

january steps

We have dreams with shapes, and we have dreams we can’t yet picture. The arrival of this year is stirring our hearts to move forward with some plans we have for change, in the hope of deep longings becoming true. Our hearts feel hardly more than inadequacy and fear, because all is hidden in the shadow of tomorrow and all we know is our smallness. We search for right paths, for the wisest thing, but it is hard when we still feel like children without a clue.

 

The chances of it all fitting the way we’d like to seem too slim, and we are tempted to cast off all courage. Waiting may be the name of this season, too. But still, we search, work, and try, and deep down we know the sureness of what God has said and done – about himself and for us – and that the unraveling of our handcrafted plans for the building of new ones is part of our lifelong journey of learning to take our hopes to his cradling, capable hands.

 

And it is a deep, cleansing breath when we feel the scribbled, frantic piles of our plans born away by the bearer of our burdens. As a good poet reminded me in the lines that follow, making my life story beautiful and right was never my work from the start.

 

Most blessings sprout not from the plans

We make, but from the soil of their sad ruin.

Watch their slow, unstoppable unraveling,

 

Their disassembly, the final shudder, and

Their collapse, and the dustcloud that follows.

Pay attention then to the way your heart

Breathes a sigh of relief when the work

 

That was never yours anyway is lifted

From your tired hands. Pay attention,

When you clean up the mess, to the treasure

That the wreck unearthed, and give thanks

 

For your folly and God’s favor.

  {Andrew Peterson, from “Paying Attention”}

to love, even today

Never before binding myself to my husband have I ever known such stretching of heart. I’ve felt pain and bliss as everyone does, but never this way. When love and marriage happened to him and me, so intriguingly fast and right, it was not how I had come to dream of it or expect it to arrive. We slipped into each other’s lives by surprise, and nearly without effort. Two starkly different souls with opposite histories saw that their lives were somehow heading in the same direction all of a sudden. It seemed wonderful to join the adventure of life side-by-side.

We met at the campground where prayer nourished the ground and the Creator’s praise energized every game and hiking trip. Generous hearts and homes helped us, guided us, and looked out for our good and growth. I stepped from that valley to the church in another one – a perfect May day where love and gladness beamed from all faces. There we made our forever covenants with God and each other. It was unforgettably perfect.

And here we are today, one year and one month later. The newness and thrill of being married comes and goes with the hard, ragged tries to live in step and understand one another. But there is never any doubt at the end of each day that we belong this way — straining and learning to love each other without condition.

Who would ever have thought that a self-righteous perfectionist with a religion degree would be fitting herself with a former drug addict and emo punk band lead singer that got kicked out of high school? He’s still silencing the calls to “come back” and the lie that he’s a failure — I impatiently bruise him when I attempt to fix his wounds with rules and Law, (which is often my urge instead of tenderness and still more grace.)He’s impulsive and a little sloppy –I’m a planner who needs every painful detail, obsessed about straight lines and mental order. He carries the weight of diabetes and seasonal depression –I’ve never known any suffering worse than menstrual cramps. He’s a joker and a goofball — I take every word at its value and get hurt easily. He’s easygoing and social –I’m fighting off painful self-consciousness and fear of people. This is just the start of our complexities.

This first year has brought so much delight over being one, sometimes it seems our hearts will burst with the wonder of it. It brings great pleasure to see how our differences fit just so brilliantly — how two so very opposite people can find home and healing in each other. But somehow it seems that this year has just as often shown us the dark, shadowy parts of ourselves, and the ways our differences can be used to hurt one another. We find ourselves frequently uttering pained, helpless cries to God, (or even struggling to pray at all) because we’re discovering more of how deeply we’re broken and cannot save one another. The temptation to throw up our hands grows strong, as we feel so fiercely our inadequacy to love the way we really need it.

With a sigh of thankfulness, we can say with confidence that these shadows have not shouted loud enough to break us, but have helped us fall hard on the only one who can save us. Jesus is the sinless spouse who daily bears with us, the most disappointing, frustrating and opposite people. We abandoned him, and still: he went after us in love. Even now, he is tenderly with us to the end.

And that is how I can hold tighter to Seth each day, even when we can’t seem to find any hope, even when we’ve hurt each other the same ways again after so many promises, even after we’ve uncovered an even deeper, uglier wound we’ve never seen before and can’t feel the love we speak. We’re being held all along the way, and all the pain of learning love is drawing us deeper into light, and making us glimmer just a little more brightly with peeks of what we’ll be one day. We’re stretched and we weep, but in our expanding we are better filled with Jesus and deeper breaths of grace. In belonging to Him, we are free to lay down our lives for one another and be honest without any fear of being cast out.

And we can be brave enough to face today and say:
“Oh, darling, let’s lift our heads and keep on. I love you forever.”

craving

I most crave the words when I most feel the mess,

                because order comes through the sorting of things,

                even when baring and searching take me to tender places

                where I’ve let it get murky.

Truth and light pierce, but needfully and healingly so,

                and when my word-work falls beside other necessaries or excuses,

                I feel the search in me.

It finds me in the pages of other’s labors,

                and calls me to take beauty from today, which usually involves

                a call to make beauty for today.

I know this doesn’t mean good words from every pen on every day,

                some souls have other ways of light-bearing,

                and some days need better ways of love-giving,

                but for today, from me, words.

thaw

The sun lives again,
(sang slumped bones and grey minds today,
weary of winter’s endurance.)
It called me early from my bed
to where it pierced in most,
the window with the roses on the sill.

Wind swirled without the bite –
the golden beams kissing each bluster
with warmth enough for our lungs to expand
and breathe deeply without a shiver.
Snow mountains shrank into streams
and roof gutters did what they were made for
almost gladly, spraying droplets in
bursts of thrill for the thaw.

Hearts, too, have felt frozen,
though cooped indoors.
They’ve stirred against the dullness,
wanting to see glory in still (even [more]) snow blankets –
but so needing the sun and a grand melting away
for starting again.
Yours and mine leapt
for the hope of certain springtime
and believed in the promise again.

promise

Our mother was the barren, weeping, waiting one.
She quivered and laughed in her time
to believe that something could be made of
her emptiness.

It is taking so long. We must be forgotten.
Abraham’s strength must make our child another way,
in a more fertile womb

And so came Ishmael of the slave, of the flesh
that sawed against the everlasting goodness of
God’s oath with Himself.

But Yahweh was tender and spun Isaac’s
human frame in the right place and time,
against the odds of
reproductive powers as good as dead,
silencing the rage and splintering brought by
doubt and human hands.

And we know Father Abraham as righteous
apart from things he’d done.

As Abraham’s,
we believe,
even when we can’t see the ram yet,
even when our very skin needs assurance,
(Again and again, Yahweh stoops.
Now, in bread and wine.)
even when we struggle
because we forget that we are not slaves,
but free, and righteous another way,
by believing God’s yes against the strain of our ways.

As Sarah’s,
we look to her city dancing above, Jerusalem the free –
while we finish here,
being born from nothing for that glory,
children of the promise.

of tea and open doors

We started sending invitations:
“Come and drink tea, come and sit, open doors for you this weekend!”

Soon, they became habit and needed, these small college gatherings, every one with their own story and mix of souls. We then welcomed friends of friends, and always (bravely) a particular boy or two we’d like to know better. Over time, the regulars grew to know they’d probably end up with a floor seat, or a center of the rug seat, or a closer-than-we’ve-ever-sat-together seat. But there were no cares, no weights of time (other than the leave-by-midnight rule for the gents), and no knowing who would knock. Those who never drank tea any other time would do it tonight. Those who had too much homework would at least peek in and meet the new faces. Those who were timid in normal circles felt safe in this one. There were always stories, laughter, and antics to take in. It could have been too much noise and chaos, but our mugs, slowly sipped, kept everyone anchored and together and quiet inside.

Other times, we’d theme the night. Those tended to be more sparsely attended; perhaps we were too eager and silly. But they held their own importance and helped us not take ourselves so seriously. 80s dance night was the least popular, but that didn’t keep us from living it up and running around campus to share the neon with those who had better, more responsible things to do. The redneck themed party was a bit more successful. One guy dressed up, although he did come wearing some overalls we had just seen in the women’s section of the Salvation Army earlier that day. Maybe clothing sections don’t matter to rednecks. I wouldn’t know.

College kept us busy, kept us studying. We needed these nights to lay aside the books and grades and enjoy simply being. Being here. Being family. Being welcomed in, as we were, no exclusions. We were occupied with becoming grown-up, and here is where could at once practice it, and still dance in the happiness of being young and not knowing what we were doing. I pray it was a gracious haven for any who ever came. It was for me.

Maybe these spots of fellowship even sparked something lifelong and good. One admired fellow began to come when we invited him, and soon one of us fell in love and is now sharing life and hospitality and tea with him every day. (Heidi and John, you are sorely missed.)

Don’t let it die, friends. It may look different than it did, because our lives ever shift. It may be harder, as I’m finding, to start over in a brand new place. But we need open doors for the opening of hearts.

changing and still

I’m sorry, my world is spinning again
And I need to hold on to you harder than I did yesterday.
You are standing so still and strong,
Your arms wrapped around my shakiest parts
Where I need to know most that I am safe.
I know you are weak, too,
Holding me because you need to right the wrong.
Yet, you are here with me, and
This tells me that you and I cannot be snatched, because
There are even stronger arms.

I am afraid of the rocking and churning of
Inconsistency and the sharp edges of
Our broken pieces and the tender, deep pain of
The spots we’ve been wounded.
We hurt, and we hurt each other more.
We get sick with the falling down and the lifting up,
Overandoverandoverandover,
Our sea legs wanting the firmness of the
Everlasting hills, but still wobbling with the
Chaos we’ve been taken from.

Learning:
We are being moved by wise hands that love us,
Not the unruly depths we nearly drowned in, remember that
Awful unrest? That will all be swallowed up in life, and
We’ll soon be fit to run, even to the highest mountain,
Where all is real and right.
There our changing will end, and be
Glory to the Eternally Same.


O Lord! My heart is sick,
Sick of this everlasting change;
And life runs tediously quick
Through its unresting race and varied range;
Change finds no likeness to itself in Thee,
And wakes no echo in Thy mute Eternity.
– F. Faber

this is new.

I feel more like a child than an adult, most days. All this feels new, all this takes more trying.  Feeling ignorant and a bit silly, I think I move in awkward, trembling fits and starts rather than smooth, bounding bravery. Then I hear someone say (probably you), that change is new, and new tries take failure most times, and that doesn’t change the beauty and goodness of it all, so breathe easy.

Sometimes I feel lost without a structure, without someone spelling things out. Now, there is so little of that, and I don’t know what to do with this extra movement. My living never was very rigid by its looks, but it seemed there was always some sort of grade or rubric at the end of it all to check-check-check and pass with flying colors. If not on paper, then in my head.

Now, do I still judge by inward obsessive tendencies (on their way out of me, but still there, fighting the light and the sturdy Door.) Or by trying to shape a confident-worker-woman look, so detailed that I start to believe it? Or by how many times my husband complimented me today, as compared with other days? Or by making it through a grocery shift without ruffling customers or letting bosses see me weak or faulty?

Or… need there be a judging at all? Do I need routine, or sameness, or comfortable, padded living, tiptoed through, so nothing can pierce me? So no change can knock me? So no self-construed red pen can mark against me? I need a different anchor, a different judge of me.

I think there’s slow peeling going on, a shedding to my raw parts, a salve of the Heavenly Father’s violent, tender grace touching me to the quick, as I unfurl colors you haven’t seen in me yet. (Some not worthy of the word “color,” but they hold their own hue just the same.) You are helping it, too, I imagine. Don’t stop the good exposure, even if I flinch. We’ll look again and smile in the future days, when minds and things aren’t so shadowy. Especially when that best harbor and shade make us finally glorious. When we’re finally you and me and home.

But I will need your hand, I will need your praying, because risk is a frightful word. Leaping and stretching and filling a space is daunting. Believing is hard. Tell me again, if I forget, that I can’t know or make the end, but it is okay to live partly seeing, partly knowing, yet brave to the uttermost, because grace is steady and enough.

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