Tag Archive for: Marriage Letters

Marriage Letters: On New Seasons

On the first Monday of each month, Amber and I are writing marriage letters to each other. Sure, there are qualified experts who’ve written well about marriage, but we’re writing into our marriage. Read here, then jump over to Amber’s place to read her Marriage Letter.


Dear Amber,

The Dogwoods are blooming. The scarlet cardinal and his muted bride have returned.  The stone’s been rolled away by the rebirth of perfect light. This is the shape of the changing season.

It’s Eastertide, and the darkness of the harsh Lenten season has lifted, bringing the tender tingle of morning’s cool resurrection air with it. Each Spring brings with it the hope of new life, and the seedbed of that hope is found in our work. We’ve been cultivating hope over these last few weeks, I having moved crossties until my forearms burned, and you having worked the soil with a tiller.

Last weekend, I took a break from the heavy lifting, sat under the pecan tree and watched as you made the rows straight. You wrangled two different tillers–a smaller one, which was a dog-cussable joke of a machine, and then a larger cultivator, one which begged you to hang on for dear life. Up and down the rows you went, and I smiled. As the wise book says, it’s a wife of noble character who “sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.” (Prov. 31:17) By all indications, I’ve married a noble woman.

Amber Tiller

It’s not just the garden where we cultivate Spring’s new life. Spring springs eternal as we explore what it means to work in the fields of the local church. When I outed my want for a quieter space of communion last Advent, you nodded in quiet agreement. We’d both been asking whether a more liturgical space might be better for the rhythm of our family worship, and turns out, this was a good and right inclination.


We are a group not much bigger than the disciples before Pentecost, and though we miss our larger extended family across town, this smaller group has become our immediate family. The twenty of us (give or take) meet, and we daydream about serving each other and the community. We gather for meals and evening prayers. We enjoy each other.


This has been our home throughout this Lenten season, and you’ve taken to considering them in your morning prayers. You pray for growth–not the kind that leads to a packed house (necessarily), but the kind that leads to new life. You’ve spoken the words “rest,” over the community, too, prayed that our congregation might wear an easier yoke. You’ve read scripture over us, bowed before the altar and spoken the words of Isaiah with trembling lips. This, too, is a strong sort of work, I think. I watch you, along with the other women in our congregation, and I think–these are women who set about their work vigorously; their arms are strong for the task.

I’m thankful for the shifting season, for springing green of new life all around. I’m thankful for our little garden and our tiny congregation. This has become our “blue true dream of sky,” and though we toil under the Ozark sun for it, we find ourselves sinking into a more restful rhythm. This is becoming the rhythm of our marriage, too. A little toil, a little rest, a little springing of new life. It’s the little that adds up over time, that piles atop itself until it is what some might call abundance.

Thank you for working these fields with me. Thank you for exercising arms that are strong for the task. Thank you for walking with me through every new season.

For everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes,



In the most recent Tiny Letter (my once-a-month, insider newsletter delivered straight to your email), I’m discussing the artisanal theology and the Fayetteville Hipster. It’s a little bit snarky, a little bit graceful, a little bit introspective, and a whole lot of fun. If you sign up today, you’ll receive a FREE DOWNLOAD of the song “Train Wreck.” It’s a song I wrote about pain, loss, and the love of God.

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Absence Makes the Heart Grow: A Marriage Letter

On the first Monday of each month, Amber and I are writing marriage letters to each other. Sure, there are qualified experts who’ve written well about marriage, but we’re writing into our marriage. We’re mixing it up this week. Amber is on her way to Israel, and I’m home alone. I’m writing my marriage letter and posting a snippet of it here and the entire letter on Amber’s blog.



We left early Saturday morning to beat the ice and snow to the Tulsa airport. I dropped you off a full day early there at the airport hotel, extending your already eight-day trip to the other side of the world. By now, you are somewhere between here and Jerusalem, and I’m high-centered in the ice-covered Ozarks with four cooped-up boys. And you are well-acquainted with this truth—being cooped-up with four Ozark boys is nothing short of chaotic.

Yesterday, Jude made paper shreds at the table while Titus emptied every Lego from the Hobbit universe onto the floor. Ian found several boxes of Hot Wheels (where did those come from?) and raced them around the house while Isaac played “Fur Elise” twenty times in the living room. I worked in the kitchen, choosing to ignore the boys’ systematic destruction of a once semi-clean house. They were quiet—save and except for Isaac’s butchered rendition of Beethoven—and there were no indications that they were maiming each other, so I didn’t think twice. I put up the last dish, walked from the kitchen to the dining room. My mind swam in a sea of anxiety as I discovered an origami wasteland, enough Hot Wheels to cause a Manhattan traffic jam, and all of Lego Middle Earth exploded across the floor. In the background, Isaac played the soundtrack—ba da ba da ba du da na nuh—over and over again, ad infinitum. 



In this month’s Tiny Letter (my once-a-month, insider newsletter delivered straight to your email), I’m discussing the Lenten season, the darkness of my heart, and the discipline of quiet reflection. If you sign up today, you’ll receive a FREE DOWNLOAD of the song “Train Wreck.” It’s a song I wrote about pain, loss, and the love of God.

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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,


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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?),


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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,




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