Newlyweds, Ryan and I

I dearly love my husband. We have been through a lot with each other and because of each other. It has never been the perfect marriage but thankfully, that is not our expectation or role. It’d sure be nice but that is just not our story. It’s been perfectly messy at times and we have included others in that mess, hopefully in healthy, opening ways. (Not in the pointed, friend-ostracizing, facebook status sort of way. :)) We continue to be students to the marriage covenant, even while finding ourselves already plopped down in one.

It helps to know that to be married, to stay married, is to commit to being a beginner.

Women in our society are frequently and especially sequestered to an imaginary starting line at each stage of life. Each milestone of age and position is burdened with a new set of flawed expectations and matrices of “success” that generally disregards the preceding set. Meanwhile, as our gender goes through those gymnastics, our culture values finishers. Winners. Experts.

And I am never finished being married. Being a wife.

At times, he is my companion and confidant and my opposite in all the right ways. We are walking beside each other now with fresh, substantive memories of Guatemala, a year of counseling under our belt, triumphs and trials in ministry, joined hopes for a daughter, harmonious perspectives on our family and families. He knows the valley I am in right now, agrees with it, sometimes identifies with it, and is willing to study it.

At other times, he has been a stranger and changes from my complimentary opposite to the opposition. He can be the catapult sending me into deep places of fear and abandonment. I have been a person from whom he wants to flee, who has not been safe and caused indifference to pattern. We have seen each other in the psalmist’s agony: “For it is not an enemy who taunts me–…then I could hide from him. But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend. We used to take sweet counsel together; within God’s house we walked in the throng” (55:12-14).

Marriage-keeping is a constant starting over because people change and the covenant does not follow. In Kathleen Norris’ words, we continually have said “yes” to marriage. With each yes, our understanding of the cost of the yes is greater, and it began quite steep. In a bizarre arrangement, the first agreement in marriage is the instant of the least understanding. Our first agreement was June 10, 2006 around 2:45pm PST. Since that walk to the end of the aisle, there have been many feelings of dead ends. The end of our healthy arguing resources. The end of our love for each other. The end of our wits. But our dead ends are not His. We are not beholden to the weight of the moment.

And so we begin again. Reacquainting. Refilling. Learning to share again. Share the bathroom. Share the plans. Share a smile. With each yes, true the cost is understood better. But also with each yes,  each dawn of a wedded day, the thing that is greater than two small lives put beside each other is understood better. The sense that roots are deepening, vows are divine, and that this thing, this breathing animal called marriage, is worth insisting on, morning and night, becomes stronger.

I have often considered what a good marriage might be. Aside from our mission and what we may accomplish or do together. What would count as success at this ongoing starting line? Do I aim to be conflict-less? Is passing the years without splitting up the goal? If my kids think of marriage as desirable? So far I know two arcing hopes for the journey–two things that would contribute to making a marriage beautiful: that whatever our marriage brings and shows, our need for Jesus–our reliance on Him–is dominant. And two, that because of that, we can fully engage the humanness, the ups and the downs, honestly, openly, deeply, so as to work out this thing without losing either of us.

Sometimes people ask us for counsel and about our story. Not because we appear to have it figured out but I suspect because we are obviously such difficult people, so human and full of trying. Beginning. Hopefully this helps. Knowing there are others who fight in their marriage but mostly fight for their marriage. Knowing it is hard and deep and confusing. Believing in humble beginnings and perpetual starting lines and coming to rely on those as the saving graces that change one day into a span of years.

We have been beginning our marriage for over seven years.  It is a start.

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“Look at this perfect house we made!”

I am officially, permanently, 29 today. (God bless that waiter who asked for my ID tonight.)

I have nothing particularly profound to say except many thank you’s and thanks, and thanks a whole lot. To my Shepherd, to my husband, to my family and friends. Such a good, good company I have walked through life with. Many parts are not acquainted with the others, but in my heart, you are all my Church, my companions, my neighbors and witnesses.

In the midst of this inspiring company, I am currently struggling to remain faithful while truthfully realizing a valley. But I have so many hills that have been covered and moments of green pastures and rods of comfort that even though I may cry frequently (though less now than a couple weeks ago), the valley is becoming less unfriendly and urgent to this soul.

The past year has included some amazing developments. Marriage counseling, One Thousand Gifts, growing in understanding of church planting, Guatemala, the adoption process, shared spirituality practices and finally reading Walk Two Moons come to mind. We truly don’t know what this next year will hold. Ryan is 30 now, after all.

Today was not an especially restful day but lazy birthdays are not really in the plans for several years. Until then, I!!! I did sleep in till 7 and was showered with delicious kindnesses throughout the day, just in case my aging metabolism needed help slowing down. I read library books to my children. I raced cars, jumped on the trampoline, built bugs, and worked on fine motor skills. I skyped with my parents and youngest sibs. I ate with dear friends. I did some official, super-high-profile work.

I also had the chance to tell my story, that convoluted, unconventional story, to a social worker. I sat in a room for two hours with an adult, no children, and answered grown up questions about my life, from birth till now, and my extended family and my thoughts on adoption and… What a special opportunity. It really was a birthday gift.

Today, Ryan and I had separate interviews with DCFS. Suddenly, we are at the top of our social worker’s list and we see the finish line in the adoption approval process. Which means we are very close to when a random phone call could be a significant invitation to our third child’s life. We are very close to the waiting game. While I was testifying to God’s goodness in an office building and all the caring souls in my company, a few miles away my 4-year-old exclaimed suddenly at the lunch table to his dad, “Look at this perfect house we made!! — Look!” while taking in the kitchen, the living room, the walls, the windows, as if all for the first time.

I love that. I love that something that has been relatively the same, going without his notice, for 3+ years, is all of a sudden something to shout about and find a burst of joy in. As Ryan and I wander nonsensically around the house tonight, arms full of misplaced books, toys, outlet covers, and cleaning supplies, as we prepare for our final home study and interviews tomorrow, my mind keeps traveling back to Dante’s lunchtime wonder. Look! Look at this great set of cupboards in the bathroom. Just look at what a perfect bed this is. Look! There’s our front door!

Oh! To have wonder. To have it in the next decade of adulthood, well before everything is nostalgic and before the toy and diaper chaos is over. Before all the answers, before the healing, before the valley has been walked. Oh to see something that is dramatically the same and find something new. If that is not the Gospel, I don’t know what is.

It is such a perfect house. With its unpainted walls, dusty surfaces, loose papers and cruddy carpet. It is grand and excessive and a blessing. And has room for more. One more.

And even in the valley, this valley that has layers and depths that continue, there is room. There is room for something else.  When I see the old, crusty familiar and the tears well again, and I think I know what everything means and what the setting is, may wonder and thanksgiving surpass my poor 29-year-old vision. May I hear the word, “Look!” from a delighted Maker above and see the same, anew.