Tag Archive for: Marriage Letters

Marriage Letters: On Co-Laboring

On the first Monday of the month, Amber and I write letters to each other. Follow this link to read hers. This month’s topic is “On Co-Laboring.”

*****

Dear Amber,

Co-labor–it’s such a taxing word; isn’t it? There’s the prefix “co,” which intimates that two or more are gathered together in the endeavor (and as they say, where two or more are gathered, there’s bound to come a disagreement). Directly following said prefix is the meat and potatoes of the matter–”labor.” The word finds its roots in the Latin term laborum, which means “toil, exertion, hardship, pain, fatigue.” Pain and fatigue–sounds like a cotton-candy carnival of rainbows and dancing unicorns, right?

I suppose that one way or the other, all married couples co-labor. Some co-labor well, know when to give and take, when to work and rest. They work together to make it from one day to the next in love and respect. Others, co-labor more in mutual misunderstanding and angst.  They work to keep their marriage on the less-than-sunny-side of life, conspire against each other, demean one another, and undermine the other’s respect and self worth. These are the marriages that co-labored to the death, and killing a good thing is hard work.

There was a time when we engaged in the latter sort of co-laboring more than the former. I flittered about, slapped the ministry moniker on too much work and attempted to call it holy. You stayed home, buried yourself in Yeats, Eliot, and Williams. You wrote a series of poems about a woman who was trapped in an affair, how she wanted a husband who was present. Through our co-laboring, you became that woman, even if only for a season. Those were the days we co-labored against peace.

It’s interesting how the tables have turned. I suppose forgiveness, vulnerability, and honesty will do that to a couple. Anyhow, these days I’m watching you minister with the church. You’re writing, speaking, and meeting with people at the local coffee shop. You’re less flitting and more engaging. I see you coming to life, see you becoming living water, living poetry.

On the flip side of this ministry comes sacrifice. You go to Haiti, and we stay back, waiting to hear the stories you’ll tell when you return. We wait with baited breath, sit on edge while you’re gone, stare at the door hoping you’ll come through it at any moment bearing hugs and Haitian coffee.

You return with stories about the children’s school and Le Negra Marron. You return full of life. Our sacrifice is a small price to pay for the life you bring our family. Sure, it’s co-laboring in a sense; somehow, though, it’s a lighter yoke than the etymology would suggest.

I wonder whether you feel that way, too. You’ve been giving me more space to step into poetry, have encouraged me in form and structure. This was your thing, poetry; maybe it still is. But you’ve let that go for now, have encouraged me to keep scrawling it in journals, on Post-its, and across the fold of restaurant napkins. This weekend, you gave me a day with the river and encouraged me in my exploration of nature’s poetry. Perhaps this felt like co-laboring to you. I wonder though, did it bring you joy to know that I was in a place of rest, a place where I come alive?

Yes, these days I suppose we are co-laboring in healthier ways. We are co-laboring toward a different kingdom, one that is full of peace and beauty. Even though it’s work, the work is light, and full of joy. We’re on the same page, working together, and it feels right. I wonder whether God sees this, whether he somehow credits your work to me as a co-creator, and my work to you as the same. This, I think, is the truth, and if we had the imagination to see it this way, perhaps we wouldn’t call it “co-laboring” so much as we’d call it “collaborating.”

Collaboration–this is the joyful expression of co-laboring. I’m glad to be your collaborator.

 

Collaboratively yours,

Seth

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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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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 – On Outside Influences

We continue our Marriage Letters  series. Today Amber and I write on the topic “On Outside Influence….”  Will you write your spouse today? Will you speak the truth?

***

One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof
of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was
very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The
man said, “She is Bathsheba….” Then David sent messengers to get her.
~2 Samuel 11:2

Dear Amber,

I remember the look in your eyes when you told me you had discovered that outside influences were competing for my affections.  You sat on the edge of the bed, seething.  You were a woman on fire, a broken reed, scorched earth.  I remember that you told me, “never again,” then you stormed out, slamming the screen door behind you.

To date, it is still the worst day of my life.

It’s a brave new world with instant access, easy communication, microwaved gratification.  The images that objectify the fairer sex entangle the race of men until we are tripped and crushed by the weight of our flesh.  The devil has been dancing in the details of enticement since long before David and Bathsheba.  He knows our kind well, knows that a midnight stroll is always good bait.

We’ve battled through those dark days, the days when we were as likely to believe the sexy lies as we were the truth of the Spirit.  Now, we’re more more proactive–we have the same sleep schedules, practice openness and confession, erect walls against the influencers.  Pragmatic?  Maybe.  But when we crawl into bed at the end of every day, when I put my hand on your waist, you know I’m not on some rooftop stroll, and I know that your at peace.

I wish I could have learned these lessons an easier way.  I wish I would have been challenged in the pragmatic slogging out of the faith, of my roll as the gatekeeper of our home.  I wish I would have been warned against Princess Leia’s metal bikini when I was a kid, but I suppose that even in all of that there’s still grace.  There’s still sanctification.  And you love me still.

Help me tell this story, Amber.  Help me remind the young married couples at our church.  Help me remind our boys.  Help me remember because remembering is protection against the outside influence, the one that seeks to lead us to the killing fields in the moonlight.

Good night and good peace,

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 Amber’s place today. Thank you for joining us.

Want to receive my updates in your inbox? Click here. Also, follow along on Twitter and Facebook.

Marriage Letters — The Names I Call You

We continue our Marriage Letters series. Today Amber and I write on “The Names I Call You.”  Will you write your spouse today? Will you call them by their true and proper names?

***

Dear Amber,

We’ve learned a powerful lesson or two, haven’t we?  We’ve learned that family vacations don’t come easily, that expectations can be an overwhelming thing, and that nothing says “comfort” like a stack of Beignets and a cup of coffee.  We’ve also learned that sometimes words spoken take shape.  And lest you think I’m headed down an Olsteenian road of health and wealth, your best life now, and spiritual lollipops and unicorns (hogwash), just hold tight.

Do you remember that night I called you ungrateful, when I spoke in  overly paternal tones? You were crushed, bent low, and I suppose that’s why you lashed out.  It was a short lived scuffle, but the sun certainly sunk on our anger.  I know that you doubted your disposition as you laid your head on our pillow that night.

The names we are called shape our self-image.  I know that shouldn’t be fact, that there’s a different gospel truth, but the reality remains–we’re only human.  So today, I’ll try to call you by honorable names, the true ones. And maybe they’ll bolster you, give you steel bones and a sturdy back.  I’ve heard that’s what the truth does.

You are strong.  I’ve seen you give birth to four children, watched you writhe through back labor each time.  You’ve confessed hard sin.  You’ve borne the confessions of others.  You have an iron resolve.  You always come through.

You are graceful.  You sit with the broken in ash heaps and speak the truth–”we’re all the same kind of screwed up,” you tell them.  You offer gospel hope and a cool water (or hot tea, depending on the occasion).  More than anything, you call them forgiven and remind them that our door is always open.

You are encouraging.  You tell the younger women that there is hope, that things get better with time.  They fumble around in the awkwardness of young marriage or first babies, and you remind them that they are fit to finish their callings.  You tell them to stick it out, that you’ll walk with them.  Sometimes, that is enough.

You are hopeful.  You are grateful. You are loving. You are smokin’ hot.

But more than anything, you are my best friend, and my buddy.  And that’s the name that means the most to me.

Sitting here wishing you’d volunteer to get me another cup of coffee,

Seth

***

Please join Amber, Joy, Scott, 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 Amber’s place. Thank you for joining us.

Want to receive my updates in your inbox? Click here. Also, follow along on Twitter and Facebook.

© Copyright - Seth Haines