Archive for category: Marriage

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?),


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Clean Air

There was a time when Amber and I tried our best to undo our vows. We were young and headstrong, the sorts of kids who had loved like roman candles on the fourth of July–hot; bright; fast.

For those of you who met and married in ’round about a year’s time, you know how this sort of whirlwind romance feels, and how that whirlwind seems to continue well into your marriage. You also know that whirlwinds have a tendency to upend your fancy place settings and well-hung family photographs. It’s just the way it is.

In any event, I penned the below poem for Amber a while back and stumbled across it last week. Though it tells a cryptic sort of story, allow me to unpack it. During the Christmas season of 2007, I visited a dear friend in Mozambique. The trip was an undoing of sorts, a course correction, if you will. I returned to the States, where things in our house began to change. Marriage secrets were exposed, forgiveness was extended, and the healing process began.

For the full story, visit Amber’s place. Otherwise, enjoy my poem, “Clean Air.”

(Note: This piece was first published on February 11, 2011. The below is a revised version.)


“Clean Air”

Nuclear winter only lasts for a season. After watching the meltdown, we tried on lead sweaters hoping they would shield us from each others’ radiation. No matter how much you layer, though, a little skin is always left exposed. Skin has to breathe.

I left for Mozambique to find clean air. There was a boy there like the one Samuel Gray sketched in charcoal. He spoke to me, said “you can wipe a canvas clean if you rub hard enough, but you’ll lose the life in the eyes.” Then he smiled, picked up his soccer ball from the weeds, and ran back to the goal slung with bed nets.

I stood on the hill and watched him. He kicked the ball time and again into that net, the one some missionary gave him so he wouldn’t die of malaria. Following the leader, I shed my lead sweater (boy was it heavy) and stood as tall as the Portuguese pines that lined the village.

Epiphany, You promised a miracle. That day, on that Holy Hill, I knew You’d un-spin her sweater too, knew You’d sum us up proper.


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St. Valentine’s Thoughts


Here we are on this eve of the great feast day of love. That’s right, tomorrow is that day of celebration, of wine, roses, and amorous candle-lit evenings. “Oh, my; how bawdy,” you might be saying. “Come on, we’re all adults here,” I might reply.


I feel as though I should pen a word or two here, some sort of romantic ode to Amber that compares her eyes to emerald isles rising from the Carribian, or her teeth to the shorn sheep that have come up from the washing, each with its twin and none of them missing. (What a grand Solomonic compliment, eh?). I suppose, though, that love is not so much declared to the lover by public penmanship as much as by quiet and gentle acts of service and devotion.

I wish I were less loud.


I’ve had the distinct dis-privilege to see more than a few marriages fall apart in my day, and I’ll tell you, each time it was painful. There are circumstances beyond our control, and there’s never any telling which marriages will be shot full of lead, and which will be bullet proof, is there? Sometimes I think that Amber and I are lucky; we’re still standing.

Is it more than luck, though? Perhaps it’s fortuitous, or spiritual, or good ju-ju?


Amber married a liar of a man, and maybe I married a liar of a woman, too. But in the end, we’ve always been honest about our lies, and I suppose that’s been the magic that’s kept us together. Yes, I reckon old Jimmy was right–there is healing in confession.


There are some glues that dissolve over time, but others that bind harder. Elmer’s school glue, for instance, has earned one heck of a reputation for binding shiny-happy glitter to construction paper, but its reputation for long-term adhesion is lack-luster. Wood glue, on the other hand, is utilitarian stuff, but it creates a long-lasting molecular bond between the fibers of two pieces of wood.

The moral of the story, I suppose, is to avoid putting your love together with Elmer’s school glue and glitter. It might sparkle-baby-sparkle, but at some point that glitter is going to flake off all over your carpet.

Perhaps that is an idiotic metaphor.


I’m writing these thoughts about love on the thirteenth of February, which some might consider ill-advised, much like opening a business on the thirteenth block of main street, or sending your lover thirteen yellow carnations for Valentine’s day. I don’t believe in numerology, though. And besides, we’ve never called the receipt of thirteen glazed donuts from the good folks at Rick’s Bakery bad luck. No, we call it a “baker’s dozen,” and smile at our good fortune.


I married a good gal, who’s beautiful to boot. We’ve got some days left together. I’m supposed to say “God willing,” on that last statement, but in this instance—and in this instance only—I’m adopting a bit more of an actualized outlook. You can call it prosperity theology, or The Secret, if you want. I’m just going to call it hope.

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Lest you have wondered whether I am, indeed, a hopeless romantic, allow me to write and remove all doubt. Yesterday, I offered Exhibit “A” as proof, and today, I offer Exhibit “B”.

Follow me over to A Deeper Story writing about Amber (again), and a professorial pedagogical genius, and that grand poet, ee cummings.


Professor Atkinson met us at the door of the lazy Fayetteville bistro, took Amber by the hand and said, “pardon all these ambitious paper chasers. Aside from your husband, they are the most boring companions. I’m so glad you could make it, and I have a surprise for you.” With that, he turned, clinked a water glass with a fork, and declared to the small group, “thank you all for coming. Please have a seat and let’s begin.” He waited for each of us to find our respective table settings, composed himself, and then, with a flair that can only be described as theatric, he recited the following poem by EE Cummings from memory.

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

Continue reading at A Deeper Story.

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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,


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