Archive for category: Marriage Letters

Marriage Letters: What Makes You Come Alive

Amber and I are writing these marriage letters again, because we need them. You can read Amber’s letter here. (And make sure to visit her blog for the full story of Marriage Letters.)

*****

“The glory of God is a human being fully alive; and to be alive consists in beholding God.”
― Saint Irenaeus

Dear Amber,

In the spring of love, you were newborn.

We met in an Ozark autumn when all the leaves were brilliant hues of dying. You were a flash fire, a combustible woman who was coming to all things with the new eyes of fresh faith. It had been only weeks since you’d lost your first child, an unplanned one, and months since you’d last tempted death with a rolled up dollar bill and a white line. It was October, and you were phoenix, a woman rising with colors more brilliant than the Ozark fall.

We fell in love while you were awaking to a new mysticism, a way of living that saw the Spirit in all things, in scripture, in music, in the way the wind blew, how it whipped through the breezeway of Cathcart Hall, how it spoke things to you like love. On our first date, you said, “I smoke cigarettes and have panic attacks,” a vulnerable confession meant to induce me to run if, indeed, I would. Behind the words, though, was something recognizable; it was the fire of a kindred revolutionary, of a person who wants to live an honest life.

You had me at cigarettes and panic attacks.

You came alive that semester, and once you asked me if you were becoming Baptist. Such a thing was an unspeakable confession at a Church of Christ school, so you passed the question to me on a napkin at the coffee shop. You were trying to name the thing you were becoming. If I could go back, I reckon I’d tell you that you were not, in fact, becoming Baptist. Instead, you were becoming most alive.

A woman fully alive is an intoxicating sight to behold; a woman fully alive is one intoxicated by beholding God.

I wish it could be said that these red-hot holy fires never dimmed. This, though, would be revisionist history. In fact, it’d be revisionist history for any soul to deny the ebbs and flows of full life, the shadows that sometimes obscure the light behind the eyes. Even phoenixes turn to ash every now and again.

This fire, though, I saw it rekindled in the last few years. The first sparks of it came from the flint of confession. You had coddled resentments and hidden betrayals like a sick child, you told me. You asked for my forgiveness, as if I had another choice.

As old Jimmy said, you found healing in the confession. You took the sparks from that confession, fanned them into flame. You devoured scripture like a hollow-stomached child whose digestive tract empties into a hollow leg devours food. You outed yourself to the grand-wide church body, spoke of the healing found in confession. You met with women, ministered, prayed. You wrote. You learned to be reborn.

I’ve considered the question over the last few days: when are you most alive? I suppose it would be easy to say that you are most alive when you are writing. When you dig into words, I see fresh intensity, how you create metaphor from whole cloth and spin yarns better than any southern granny in a rocker. It would be easy to say, too, that you are most alive when you are preaching. (Aren’t you always preaching?) You have such an unassuming vulnerability, such a way of connecting, of speaking truth without alienating.

Yes, I see you spring to life in the writing, in the preaching. But these things are only byproducts, I think. This life flows from your unmitigated bent toward honest confession.

True life is not all spitfire and epiphany. True life is not all white-cloth tea parties and theological certitudes. True life is not in a perfect marriage and well-smocked children. True life comprises joy and pain, loyalty and betrayal, harboring and confession. You know this better than most, which is why, I think, you are most alive in confession. And when I say confession, I’m not only speaking of the confession of sin, that sort of soul-bearing that old Jimmy talks about in his fifth chapter. You become most alive in the outward expression of all facets of your own vulnerable humanity. Whether writing, preaching, or mother, the light in your eyes blazes when you explore joy, pain, faith, doubt, abundance, and scarcity.

Yes, you come most alive in the honest exposition.

You are exploding with light these days, a woman fully awake in so many ways. You are more alive than ever, and I look back on the spring of our love and wonder if we were only half-awake. (Granted, half-awake is better than not awake at all; you have to start somewhere.)

You are burning hotter and hotter these days, and I’m watching, and watching, and watching. It’s true: a woman fully alive is an intoxicating sight to behold. You are an intoxicating woman.

(Turn the coffee pot on, would ya?),

Seth

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A Marriage Letter on Pixie-Dust Dreams and Grafted Bones

Amber and I are writing these marriage letters again, because we need them. You can read Amber’s letter here. (And make sure to visit her blog for the full story of Marriage Letters.)

*****

Amber,

Yesterday the snow moved back into the Ozarks. I wish you’d have been here to see it. When I left for church, there was a chill in the air. Several hours later, I walked out the church doors and there was a five-inch blanket of snow on the ground. Things change so quickly here in the Ozarks. I’m glad you’re in Austin this week, but I wish you could have seen it.

Things change so quickly in the Ozarks. Isn’t that an understatement.

There was a time when everything was rose tinted. We drove deep into the heart of these hills, Billie Holiday crooning over the radio. We were holding hands when I noticed that you were wearing my favorite jeans, the ones that snugged up in all the right places and had holes at the knees. I reached down to the rip on your left knee, reached through the frayed edges and touched your skin. I remember Billie singing “all of me, why not take all of me.” It sounded good to me.

I suppose I had it worked out. You’d follow me into “the ministry,” dutiful wife that you would be. You’d carry two kids into the world–a boy and girl–and we’d adopt another, perhaps a biracial or international baby. We’d work out the Kingdom Come as best as we knew how; perhaps I’d end up as Christian rock god, or a mega-church preacher, or an overseas missionaries. We’d do something that changed the world. Of course, there’d be room for your poetry, for your words, and one day, you’d learn to bring them under submission. Perhaps they’d be a part of the world changing.

Do you remember when I asked you to marry me? It had snowed so much that my secret engagement excursion (the plans of which I cannot even now remember) was canceled, and we opted instead for a walk through the woods and to the park. I asked you if you’d marry me among the Canadian geese who could not keep from honking their approval and nipping at our backsides. You cried. You said you’d follow me anywhere.

If you’d have received the benefit of your bargain, I suppose you’d be a musician’s wife, or a missionary, or the wife of a preacher of some ilk. Ain’t that a gas? Yes, you said you’d follow me anywhere, and anywhere sounds like a fine place when life is projected on the pixie-dust covered dreams of two twenty-year-old romantics. But what if I had projected a more realistic vision?

If I had told you that our dreams were mirages, that the ministry, the adoption, and the poetry would never quite pan out, would anywhere have sounded quite so sexy? If I had told you that I would leave the ministry for law school, that I’d become a version of myself that made less time for music and art, would you have still followed? What if I’d have promised four children, all boys, one sick? If I had told you that our marriage would be pock-marked by more sordid things–things like loss of faith, addiction, infidelity–would you have ever said anywhere?

We both said it–to death do us part–and sometimes I wonder if this isn’t the saving grace of this whole shebang. We both meant it when we said it, and neither of us is keen to go back on our words.

Once upon a time, you said yes to a much more put together version of ourselves. We were too young to know this, but life does what it does, upends most of our put-together dreams. It teaches true fidelity–not the sort that is measured by feminine doe-eyed subservience, or masculine ax-wielding provision, or marital sexual devotedness, but the more mature, more mortared sort. True fidelity is the kind that recognizes the grafting together of bones.

In the end, life is somehow intuitive if we’ll let it be. Our dreams were all upside down once upon a time. Now, you’re moving into the ministry, and I’m making room for more poetry. Now, we’re talking less about adoption and more about family reunification. Now I’m a working stiff in middle America who wants to prove nothing more than that a real marriage in a real life has a fighting chance. Now, I’m telling you that I’ll follow you anywhere, and I mean it.

Things are cold here in the house without you. The snow is projected to stick around for a while. I miss you something fierce, but I’ll see you soon.

Seth

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A Marriage Letter on Dancing Circus Poodles

From time to time, Amber and I pen letters to each other as a way to memorialize the truth. Today seemed like a good day.

*****

Dear Amber,

The college students have returned to Fayetteville, descended on the town like a million ants on a spent apple core. I love their annual infiltration; they come carrying the heat of their passions along with them, whether tucked away in the trunk compartments of their uber-hip motor scooters, or filed inside of retro-Trapper Keepers in their super-cool backpacks, or logically categorized on the hard drives of Macs.  We both love the energy and sense of wonder they bring, their unquenchable passion for the issue du jour, the ironic inquisitive statements that post-cede each and every turn of declarative phrase. Right?

Yes, they are potential miracles, these young ones.

Yesterday, I spotted two freshman in the coffee shop, each trying the other on for size. They were trying on their big-boy and big-girl concepts, too, concepts like justice, and mercy, and international relations.  The boy had lost neither his ruddy cheeks nor his chain-link teeth, and his eyes were locked on a girlish thought-monger across the table. She was coming into her own grand epiphanies, the most recent of which involved the crisis in the Middle East. Working out  the pros and cons of “to missile or not to missile” (that truly is the question), she declared “there’s just no good solution.” For effect, she tossed her hair over her shoulder in that smart-is-sexy sort of way worn by this new crop of young ‘uns.

He swirled the dregs of his empty cup, searching for the answer.  Under the table, her naked feet were propped on his naked feed. Their Chacos were stacked one on top of the other, on top of the other, on top of the other–his, then hers, then his other, then her other–in a sort of flip-flop foreshadowing. I could see the furrowing brow of his worthy intellect distracted by her feminine wiles. 

“I know, right?” he muttered, blank-faced. It was all he could offer. 

The poor boy.

For all he cared, his companion could have been talking about dancing circus poodles as easily as sectarian violence. I don’t suppose he heard a word she said. Likely, he was dreaming more of canoodling with her on the couch while Wolf Blitzer provided some background ambiance. (Ah, Blitzer–that master of breaking it down in the Situation Room.)

I suppose I was that boy once, too.

Do you remember those days? Back then, we weren’t discussing the efficacy of missile strikes or “national security.” (Those were the pre-911 days, after all.) Instead, we walked in the October sleet holding hands as you ticked off your favorite Ben Harper songs, or recounted your Memphis in May experience, or counted the ways in which you loved Romeo and Juliet.  I nodded along as if I was hanging on your every word, but here’s what I’ve never admitted: you could have just as easily been talking about dancing circus poodles as easily as Romeo and Juliet so long as we were walking together.

That’s how it was in those days.

Things change. We’ve moved from discussing the rhythms of Ben Harper and Dave Matthews, and have settled into the rhythms of life. The business of raising four boys has set in, and there’s barely a lick of time for anything outside of familial obligation. Fifteen years into this thing, and we’ve found ourselves marching to the 4/4 cadence of responsibility.

Wake, coffee, breakfast, keys.

School, work, lunch, karate.

Supper, children, tea, sleep.

Wake, coffee, breakfast, keys.

The rhythm can be monotonous, especially for a couple of free spirits who’ve always tried to take the road less traveled. True to form, though, you squeeze the very last minute out of every night, try to wring out one last discovery, one last song, one last episode of Fringe. “I don’t want to go to sleep,” you say, “I’m not ready for the rhythm to start over.”

I get it.

Solid rhythms, though, are part of maturity. They give us structure, a driving cadence, and the truth is, we’ve got a pretty good beat going here. I suppose I’m glad we started this goofy band together.

One day, we’ll be back in those coffee shops, children grown and obligations relaxed. You’ll likely be pondering Dickinson, or Oliver, or by that time the Poet of the People, John Blase. Our rhythms will have changed to a more a free-flowing swing, the obligations of raising children and career having faded into positions of lesser importance. I’ll pretend to listen to you, but the truth is, you can talk about dancing circus poodles for all I care, so long as you hold my hand across the table, or stack our Chacos in a leaning tower under the table.

Circus Afro,

Seth

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To Amber (A Marriage Letter)

From time to time, Amber and I pen letters to each other as a way to memorialize the truth. I haven’t done it in a while. I thought today seemed like as good a day as any.

*****

Dear Amber,

I suppose we’ve seen some things over the years, eh?

Remember the early days? Remember when you hoped only to write poetry for a living? You plotted your course by a north star of poetic publication knowing that it would lead to little more than extravagant obscurity and luxurious starvation. Ah, you! Back then you had this penchant for trading the pragmatic for the creative. I loved that about you.

I wanted nothing less than to write music for the Christian artists in Nashville (boy, was that embarrassing to type), but settled instead for the steady paycheck of a youth ministry position (aint that a gas?). Remember how I had to teach that seminar on secular music? It was tricky business to encourage a group of fairly-decent kids to give up their Dave Matthews and Oasis when I kept a Jimmie Hendrix CD deftly hidden between the seat and console of that old Accord. (Speaking of which, if you were a teenager in my previous youth group and you are reading this letter, count that last sentence as a confession.) Thinking back on that story, I reckon it’s good we got out of that game. I suppose it’s likewise just as well that I never made it as a songwriter. And anyway, what with all the times we’ve moved, what-ever would I have done with all of those Dove awards?

On the move. Here we are, still on the move. Things have changed. Hopefully we’ve matured a bit, but here we are still with hot feet, still looking for the right place to settle and call “home.” That youth-ministry position wasn’t home, and we both knew it. Your masters degree in fine arts wasn’t home either, and we both knew it. And though early passions have given way to the adult practicalities of life–boy raising and career building–I think we’re closer to figuring out what “home” means to us.

And, as an aside, I still think you’ll write a grand book of poetry one day.

It’s been thirteen and three-quarters years now, and I feel like we’re finally starting to settle into a groove. Last night we sat on the couch and read, and wrote, and listened to Neil Young and Simon and Garfunkel. It was easy and nice. I didn’t feel the pressure to churn out another song, nor you to write the perfect poem. After all, I’m no longer gunning for a Dove award, and you know you’ll write your best poetry in a season to come (Lord willing). Sometimes the lack of urgency in can be a sort of salve, eh?

I feel like we’re earning the patina of marriage, and I’m starting to see the first glimpses of it (no jokes about the gray in my beard, here!). I suppose this whole letter is just a way to say that even though our hopes and dreams have shifted, though we’ve morphed into folks that I’m not sure my twenty-two year old self would have recognized, though we’ve tried a couple of time to wound each other right-good, I still like you. Whether we ever find the perfect home or not–I still like you. Whether you ever write a Pulitzer-worthy book of poetry or not–I still like you. Whether it’s Neil Young, or Simon and Garfunkel, or simply the sounds of silence themselves–I still like you.

This letter is just the wood carving in the tree. It’s finger-writing in concrete. It’s the signpost to remind you–I’ll always like you best. First, too.

Write a poem on a napkin today,

Seth

*****

candles1

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Marriage Letters–Enduring Together

We continue our Marriage Letters series. Today Amber and I write on the topic “Enduring loss together….”  Will you write your spouse today? Will you call them by their true and proper names?

***

“Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him, and opened his mouth and he taught them saying… blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”  ~Matthew 5:1-2 & 4

Dear Amber,

We have lost.

It’s one of the things that’s certain–life is but a vapor.  If you don’t brace for the glory of the hereafter, it sneaks up on you and robs you blind.  We all know that; we’ve all experienced that in degrees.  For today, I’ll leave that topic to those who have struggled with more intimate losses, to those who are struggling with it.

To them, I’ll just say grace and peace and leave it at that.

We’ve endured different kinds of losses.  We’ve burried ideals, laid them to rest.  Health, wealth, the movements of the church, family notions–they’ve all been put down, drowned deep in the river.  The death of ideals can be difficult and lonely.

Maybe those losses are the most difficult to endure.  Often, we can’t point to the culprit.  After all, we never placed tangible ashes of “ideals” in a tangible box and slid them into a tangible columburium.  Sometimes the loss of the ideals takes months or years to discover. Disillusionment can be an arduous process.  Dying to self can be excruciating if not transforming.

Together, we have stuck it out.  We counted these losses as the cost of discipleship. We’ve mourned what we thought was the stuff of life.  We’ve mourned the loss of innocence and the sin that so easily entangles.  We’ve mourned who we were.  In that, we’ve burrried a bit of ourselves.  But we’re still here.  We’re here and we’re comforted.  We’re comforted because the truth is always more satisfying than the ideal.

Still standing with you,

Seth

***

Please join AmberJoyScott, and me as we celebrate the truth about marriage. Every Monday in April we’re writing letters because we believe that when we bless our own marriage, we bless the marriages of others. If you write a post, share your link at Joy’s place today. Thank you for joining us.

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© Copyright - Seth Haines