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Tell them about the love that doesn’t show up in movies and love songs

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You have been travelling a bit more than usual, and I was in the home stretch of another week of solo parenting. My parents had graciously (read: heard the desperation in my voice and taken pity on me) invited us all over for pizza on the last night. On our way home in the minivan, a motorcycle sped past us, and a new line of questioning was introduced by the tinies. They asked if we ever had a motorcycle and, of course, no, because well, we aren’t risk takers, you and me, are we? And maybe because we had just been at Granny and Papa’s house, who knows, but they wanted to know if Papa or Granny ever had a motorcycle.

Without a thought, I told them the story I knew so well: the one about how my dad used to have a motorcycle when he was a teenager because well, he was that kind of kid. But when he showed up for a date with my mum, she wouldn’t get on the motorcycle because her father had forbidden it. Papa was incredulous – after all, he is the kind of guy who just does what he wants and screw the rules and the rule-makers – but sure enough, she stood her ground and let him ride away.

“That could have been the end of the story, but no,” I said. “Your Papa, well, he was already in love. Your Granny was so beautiful – she had a long sheet of golden brown hair, just the colour of Evelynn’s hair, and she had blue eyes just like you three here with me, and so instead, your Papa sold that old motorcycle and the next time he asked her out, he had a car to drive. She said yes, of course, and then they fell in love and got married. At the end, I said, you see? Your Papa loved your Granny more than any old motorcycle, right from the start. She was worth it.”

Their eyes were big as saucers, you know how they get. But they were silent – for once. And then they asked to hear the story again, and so I told it again, just the way I remembered it anyway, because that is the story I heard all the time as a kid. We arrived home, and I put them to bed after all of the rituals, and then I sat around and watched television by myself. I stayed up too late because you weren’t there to make me go to bed. I changed the countdown on the kitchen cupboard blackboard: 5 4 3 2 1 more sleep until Dad is home!

You came home on Saturday. Later on in the weekend, you were in the car with Annie and from her perch in the backseat, she asked you if you wanted to hear a love story. And of course, you said yes, and then she said, “Well, once upon a time, Papa had a motorcycle….” and then you listened to her re-tell the old story I’ve told you a few (dozen) times, using my exact phrases and expressions.

As she wrapped it up, she said, “Papa loved Granny more than any old motorcycle.”

You were amazed at how they remembered every word, and I thought of another generation growing up in the safety of our family fables.

Darling, let’s remember to tell them our stories, too.

Remind me to tell them about the nights we used to spend laying on the hood of your old car, stretched out with our backs against the windshield, staring at the Oklahoma nights. Remind me to tell them about how we danced to old Garth Brooks songs from an AM radio station on the side roads. Remember to tell them about the first time you saw me walking across the gym in university, knee high black boots and a mini-skirt among everyone in their workout gear.

Let’s spin our own yarns here at home, beloved, among all the books littered on the floor and buried under their pillows. Let’s tell them our homemade fairy tales.

Let’s tell them about our sacred places: the side yard in Texas, perhaps, the parking lot of the Mabee Centre, the little booth in the Earl’s near our Vancouver apartment. Don’t forget that creek we found as we drove through Arizona during the hardest year of our lives: the one we heard before we saw it. And we scrabbled down a red rock embankment covered in dust, just to sit on the stones and soak our swollen hot feet in the clear water. Remember how the sun came through the trees, and we began to feel something like hope, perhaps stirring, fluttering, through the leaves, descending to us again. Maybe we’ll tell them about the night we went camping in the mountains of New Mexico and a blizzard blew up, so we drove down the mountain to stay in a hotel, leaving our kit and tent all set up. We had a shower, ate bacon and eggs, and then went back up the mountain later in the day to finish the trip.

Maybe we’ll tell them about the night you proposed in the moonlight, kneeling in the grass with a mix tape playing Six Pence None the Richer songs on the portable CD player, holding up a ring paid for with the tips from Tulsa oil tycoons at the club where you worked. Maybe we’ll tell them about the guys in San Antonio who play the pan flute at the Riverwalk mall, and the mariachi bands, and the way we lingered over tables with bright umbrellas above us. And the way we used to hold hands as we wandered through Gruene, listening to Americana music through clapboard walls of an old dance hall. Maybe we’ll tell them about Kananaskis but probably not.

Because let’s not kid ourselves: our best – and our worst – stories will always be secrets, just ours, always.

Maybe we’ll tell them something about our wedding, but I’ll have to be honest: if I had to do it again, I’d have married you way sooner, and we could have run away together. That sounds nice to me now.

Let’s fill their little minds with the thousands of ways we’ve convinced ourselves that we were meant to be: let’s tell them about 28 May 1989 and the weird way it connects us because that was the day you decided to become a Christian sitting on the edge your parents’ bed in Omaha and at the exact same moment in a church in Winnipeg, I was descending into a water tank for my baptism into the faith. Maybe we’ll talk about Naples and Riadoso, that one field somewhere in the middle of Kansas where we had a picnic after I met your parents, oh, and the Silverthorne Village Inn on the winter nights of Colorado when we sneaked out of the communal condo and stayed up all night, talking, over terrible coffee.

We’ll talk about the way you drove up to see me in the dead of a Canadian winter, staying the night with my uncle and aunt. You’ll laugh and tell them about how everyone made fun of your old Monte Carlo because you didn’t have a block heater for the cold night ahead, and how my Uncle pulled his own car out of the garage, just to put your old maroon Monte inside, so you could leave first thing for the last leg to Calgary to me, our first Christmas together. And then – you loved this part – he went out on the deck, in minus 30 degree weather, and grilled you a steak at 11 o’clock at night, and you sat at their kitchen table eating meat and talking about nothing for a few more hours. You fell in love with Canada that night, I think.

Maybe we’ll talk about fear and sacrifices, about choosing each other’s best first, about deep sadness and the way we’ve clung to each other through dreams unfulfilled and longings unsatisfied and the still-waiting of right now. Someday maybe I’ll tell them about the babies who aren’t here with us, and about the night you stood in the darkness of their childhood room with another little lost one bundled into a kitchen tea towel and how I stood in doorway and listened as you cried and cried and cried. We’ll tell them about the nights they were born, the way I always burst out in laughter and you always burst into tears after they were safely earthside. Let’s tell them about the mundane beauties of their lives, and how we used to have them tucked in between us in our old bed so we could meet eyes over their downy heads to silently telegraph our disbelief at our luck – look at this! a real little person! –  at each other. We’ll talk about how we lived pay cheque to pay cheque, and it was worth every single tense conversation about the budget. We’ll tell them about the greatest part of parenting – witnessing them become the people they were meant to be all along – and how it made us love each other even more than we thought possible. We’ll talk about the teamwork of parenting, about how you always knew when I was at Noise Capacity and would whisk them outside for a street hockey game.

Let’s tell them about the vast middle part of love, too, this part right now, the part that doesn’t show up in movies and love songs, the part where my hips have widened and your hair is greying, and some of our dreams are languishing at the same time that others are coming true. About how we’ve become better acquainted and more appreciative of the fruit of faithfulness and gentleness as the years go by.

We’re still choosing each other, over and over and over again, this is what we want, this is what I want, this is what we want, you are who I want, still, then, always.

Let’s make them feel like they’re part of a love story, let’s tell them how love looked for us.

Let them catch us slow dancing in our pink kitchen to Patty Griffin songs, let them hear us say it out loud: we used to sit in an empty baseball stadium in the middle of the night and kiss behind home plate. Oh, and how when they were little, we put them to bed early for two reasons – first, it’s best for them and second, it made sure we had a few hours together every night to talk or make out or just watch telly.

Let’s hold hands on the gearshift of the vehicle, the way we do, the way we’ve always done, until we’re old and we will tell them the stories of their grandparents and their great grandparents, about Nebraska and Saskatchewan, Alberta and Oklahoma, Texas and beautiful British Columbia.

Let’s go to preschool graduations and high school graduations and university graduations, and then let’s stand in our empty nest house someday and cry because it went too fast and try to figure out the rest of it, and then laugh because there is still so much life ahead, who are we kidding? Let’s go to Paris and London, India and Cavendish together, all the places we never got to go because of money and tinies and plane fares, then let’s stay home and watch the sun set in the sky we love here, and let’s drink a bit too much and kiss until the stars come down.

We’ve had a regular sort of life perhaps, not too special to the outside eyes, but it’s enough to keep us warm.

Wrap me up in the ways we’ve loved each other, darling, and let’s keep on spinning.

edited and updated from the archives

Continue Reading · brian, family, love, love looks like, marriage · 21

In which love looks like the pilgrim soul

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Thirteen years ago today, our marriage began. I brought out the big wedding album for the tinies to see us in our wedding finery. Do kids today still have the big official albums? We said our vows long before Pinterest and digital cameras, let alone iPhones with apps. Instead, we have this heavy leather-bound gold-embossed album with nicely staged photos in the stock poses. Here we are lighting a unity candle.  Here we are with our parents. Here we are walking away into a soft-focus background. But you can still see the real us peeking through the tulle and the tuxedo: our enthusiasm, our youth, our joy, our curiosity, our hope. Remember when we were that certain boy and that know-it-all girl?

To celebrate, we went out to the ocean town for supper last night. I shaved my legs, you put on a clean t-shirt, aren’t we getting fancy? We stood on the western shoreline before supper with our arms wrapped around each other, staring into the abyss. Teenagers were just down the shore from us, taking selfies and posing by the water. Thirteen years, we said in a sort of disbelief. I suppose this makes us grown-ups. In some ways, these years have flown by – weren’t we always together? – and in other ways, we see every single day of it, stretched out to the horizon, remember this, remember that, remember the dozens of men and women we have been throughout these years? We’ve gathered shadows and light.

I briefly considered writing an article with thirteen things we have learned in thirteen years of marriage. But who are we kidding? It’s an art, not a science, not the fodder of click-bait on the Internet, not a performance. We’re not reductionists. It’s a mystery, a thin place between the heavens and the earth, made all the better and richer for the secrets we keep for each other and the freedom we enjoy. I could write those damn thirteen-things-we’ve-learned-in-thirteen-years-of-marriage but I’d still be left with an inadequate shrug and the je nais sais quoi that defines all marriages. We’re still that slow dance under-the-stars, finding our steps together, moving further and further out onto the water. Sure, there are practicalities we’ve learned about how we move through life – budgets and bills, babies and basketball practices, sex and laundry, communication and callings. But underneath it all, really, we’re still curious, we’re still saying yes, it’s poetry that makes the prose worth living, and it keeps us a bit wild, hosanna. 

We sat in the cool spring sunset to eat seafood. When you kept refilling my glass, I asked if you were trying to take advantage of me and you waggled your eyebrows at me: “absolutely.” The bottle of Pinot Noir was empty by darkness.

We talked a bit about the years that lay behind us, of course we did, but really we wanted to talk about the years ahead. We talked about our curiosities: what sounds like fun to learn about? If I wanted to follow a rabbit trail of knowledge for a while, where would I begin? I’m curious about seminary, oh, and I think that after this second book is done, I might try to dig out that novel again. You want to geek out about furniture building for a while, oh, and gardening again. You’ve turned into quite the tree hugger. Perhaps you could find a way to use all of your business expertise towards justice and peace-making. I think I’d like to chase a bit of knowledge about the French woman’s aesthetic, quilt-making, fashion, maybe think about a doctoral degree in what? women’s studies? poetry? who knows? oh, and let’s talk again about living abroad. Maybe England? Which part of England? Holidays in France, of course. So much to discuss and dream.

Over these thirteen years, we’ve often felt like we’re running to catch up with the consequences of saying “yes” to God, yes to our best hopes instead of our worst fears. Would we have been so agreeable and fearless if we knew how much courage it would take to abandon our neatly laid out plans for life, let alone how much we would change? I think so. I hope so. Maybe it’s best that we don’t know what waits at the end of the aisle. Let it come, we’ll keep walking together. I like you curious.

We drove home in the moonlight, listening to old songs from back in the 90s when we were dating. I slipped off my shoes and put my feet up on the dash. You kept your hand on my bare thigh, the window was down, we took the the backroads. Your hair is scattered with grey now – it suits you – but that Midwest-boy grin is the same, can’t you drive a bit faster?

Maybe this is the oneness of marriage then: there is no editing for any part of our selves. We bring it all to each other and abide into the end of it all: body soul spirit mind past present future dreams despair curiosities evolutions desire deference silence song weariness wonder.

You’re waking up again, I think. You’re re-imagining life, emerging into yet another new self. I’ve loved every iteration of you. You have always loved those lines from Yeats for us:

But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face

I write now and again about what love looks like for us.

Continue Reading · brian, love, love looks like, marriage · 18

In which it snows in the morning

Every day do something that won't compute :: Sarah Bessey

Wake up to a brighter bedroom, the snow has been falling outside all night. Take a lazy look around the room, look at the life it is reflecting back to you: a sturdy homemade bed; tangled and worn white sheets; a man with a beard is sleeping, his hand still resting on your spine; bright yellow baby rainboots tossed in a corner; piles of books. Stretch the length of your life.

The tinies will come clumping down the hall soon, their voices filled with wonder: “Mum! It snowed!” That man you kissed last night will roll out of the bed because Sundays are your day to sleep in, a deal’s a deal, you do Saturdays. But you both know you won’t go back to sleep – you never do. Watch him head upstairs to the ministry of coffee and Bubble Guppies on Netflix.

Get out of the bed and go to the window, look out into the forest. The snow is still falling, thick and lazy, almost predictably. Open the window for a few moments, just to smell it. Crawl back into your bed, pull up the covers, and grab a book. Once a week, you get to read first thing when you wake up and so here is a stack of Wendell Berry and Flannery O’Connor and Luci Shaw, practice the resistance of reading of good books.

When you go upstairs in an hour, make a pot of tea. No solitary mugs will do for a snowy Sunday, get out the big sturdy brown pot and your mother’s discarded delicate white teacups, the ones with blue and silver flowers on the rim. Hug your babies, good morning, good morning, yes, I see you. Listen to the dishwasher chug, everything is brighter and slower when it snows.

Church is cancelled, you’re pretty sure everyone is relieved for a day off anyway, an excuse to stay in their jammies, watch movies, work puzzles, roll in the snow, read novels. The more judicious might catch up on housework, pay the bills online, answer emails: the kindred spirits will make a bit of room for delicious indolence.

Decide to do something real today, then bake a loaf of bread. Yeast, flour, water, salt – simple is good for the soul and the belly. Guide small hands into kneading properly, let everything rise in its time.

Scratch a few lines into a journal. Write a bit but try not get frustrated because you are interrupted seven times in fifteen minutes. Read a psalm. Pray in the shower. Listen as you go through your day. Clean the kitchen. Bath a baby. Make the beds. Use the good dishes for a lunch of plain soup. Scatter children’s books around the house like bait. Put on lipstick. Flirt in the kitchen in quiet saucy voices. Comfort tired children, prescribe naps and quilts with seriousness. Promise a movie later on. Later when the snow settles, you’ll go for a walk in the dim, into the in-between for a conversation with yourself, you’ll be so relieved to be away from them all for a few moments but yearning to return to them all by the end of the block.

Watch the snow fall in the ordinary beauty of a Sabbath spent practicing what makes you feel most fully human.

 

Continue Reading · abundant life, enough, family, gratitude, love, marriage · 15

In which I disagree with Candace Cameron Bure about “biblical marriage”

Candace Cameron Bure recently stirred up a bit of controversy when, in her new book, she wrote about her “submission” to her husband:

“My husband is a natural-born leader. I quickly learned that I had to find a way of honoring his take-charge personality and not get frustrated about his desire to have the final decision on just about everything. I am not a passive person, but I chose to fall into a more submissive role in our relationship because I wanted to do everything in my power to make my marriage and family work.” – (excerpted from “Balancing It All”)

Later, because of the resulting pushback to her words, she sought to clarify her position in an interview at HuffPost Live:

“The definition that I’m using with the word submissive is the biblical definition of that….I love that my man is a leader. I want him to lead and be the head of our family. And those major decisions do fall on him. It doesn’t mean I don’t voice my opinion. It doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion. I absolutely do. But it is very difficult to have two heads of authority….When you’re competing with two heads, that can pose a lot of problems or issues.”

I believe that Candace Cameron Bure is wrong here. Of course, even simply scientifically, we know that there are millions of egalitarian marriages that “work” very well. But also, biblically, there are problems with her words.

This method or strategy may well be how her marriage works – and if so, lovely – but it’s not necessarily biblical: in fact. The idea that a Man is the Head of the Home has its roots in secular ancient culture, not in the Word of God or the created order of humanity.

And the idea that, as a wife, I would need to “become passive” or smaller or somehow less in order to make my marriage work is damaging and wrong.

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My marriage has instead brought out the best in me. I am stronger and more courageous. I am bolder. I am more loving. I am more of who I was meant to be because of the way that tall Nebraskan has loved me well. And I believe that I have done the same for him. It’s been fifteen years since we fell in love, thirteen since we were married: our marriage and our family works because we submit to one another. And because we make each other better at being ourselves, in all the fullness and glory and mess and truth.

But don’t get me wrong: I believe in submission.

I just don’t believe that our call to submission in marriage is restricted to me.

I submit to my husband. And he submits to me, too. And together, we submit to Jesus.

Like many Christians down through the centuries, we practice mutual submission. Patriarchy and hierarchy within marriage were consequences of the Fall (see Genesis 3:16).

In the church, people of Candace Cameron Bure’s doctrinal slant tend to point towards a few passages of Scripture (particularly Ephesians 5:22-24, Colossians 3:18-19, and 1 Peter 3:1-2) as justification for the the idea of a husband as absolute head of the home with his wife in submission to his leadership. She is not alone in adopting this as the standard of “biblical marriage.” (As an aside, I’ve never liked the phrase “biblical” as a descriptor. There are a lot of marriages in the Bible and I wouldn’t necessary identify most of them as the ideal or example to emulate.)

But those passages of Scripture are, in fact, a subversion of  the Greco Roman household codes in effect at the time. The maintaining of total authority in the home was critical to the functioning of a society that relied on the total authority of the government and/or religion. At the time of these writings on marriage, the Greco-Roman Household Codes were part of Pax Romana, the laws keeping the peace of Roman.  Peter and Paul worked within imperfect systems because any outright challenge to the law of the land would bring persecution down upon the Church in great number. In fact, the Apostles “advocated this system, not because God had revealed it as the divine will for Christian homes, but because it was the only stable and respectable system anyone knew about” at the time, according to Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe of the Women’s Bible Commentary.

Paul and Peter used the codes, not because they were perspective or ideal, but because they were familiar and they were showing the church how to move within the world while not being of the world. In fact, incredibly, they placed demands on the assumed power of men by teaching them to be kind to their slaves, to be gentle with their children, to love their wives; they addressed the powerless within a patriarchal society.

There is a redemptive movement happening here in Scripture. “Here is what is, here is what I want for you, move closer to My purposes” and so we find God out ahead of us, always moving us further into his purposes.

(For instance, just because there are references and instructions about how to treat slaves in our Bibles does not meant that slavery is right and good. In fact, it’s precisely because of our great love for Scriture and respect for God’s created order that we know that slavery is evil and wrong, an absolute perversion of our humanity. Yet the writers of Scripture often tried to find a way to subvert the current culture and to move us further ahead on God’s arc of justice even within unjust systems. Eventually the Church moved to the forefront of abolition because we understood this truth: Just because the Bible contained instructions about how to treat slaves in a context and culture where it was acceptable to hold slaves does not mean slavery is a godly practice or part of God’s intended purpose for creation.)

The Greco Roman household codes were an unjust system: these teachings show us how to work within them as people committed to the ways of Jesus.

As I wrote in Jesus Feminist, “life in Christ is not meant to mirror life in a Greco-Roman culture. An ancient Middle Eastern culture is not our standard. We were not meant to adopt the world of Luther’s Reformation or the culture of the Great Awakening or even 1950s America as our standard for righteousness. The culture, past or present, isnt the point: Jesus and His Kingdom come, his will done, right now – that is the point.” (p. 77)

Not only is the idea that wives alone are to submit to their husbands poor exegesis, it is damaging.

It is damaging to the image of God carried in women and in men. A woman who is held back, minimized, or downplayed is not walking in the fullness God intended for her as an image bearer (for instance, take a look at Carolyn Custis James’ excellent discussion about being an “ezer kenegdo” in her book, “Half the Church.”) A man is  most truly “helped” when women are walking in the fullness of her anointing and gifts and intelligence and strength, not when she reduces herself out of a misguided attempt at righteousness. This kind of doctrine has the potential to stifle and suffocate women, even resulting in abuse at times. And it doesn’t do men any favours either, often giving place to pride and individualism.

This is the danger of black and white thinking. We think that we only have two options when it comes to our marriages:

  1. Women submit to men, like in ancient secular patriarchal culture or,
  2. Nobody submits to anyone and we’re out for Number One, like in our modern individualist secular culture.

But instead here is the third way:

 3. Submit to one another, mutually, as in the Kingdom of God.

This is a Kingdom of Love. Anyone who wants to be first must be last, and the greatest is the servant of all, said our Jesus (Mark 10:44). In the upside down Kingdom ushered in by Jesus, the least is the most honoured and the one who gives everything gains it all.

The marriage relationship isn’t exempt from the words of Jesus – and the teachings of the Church – about how we are to interact with one another and love one another.

We are all called to meekness. We are all called to love others. We are all called to bear with one another. We are all called to love, to care for one another, to forgive, to minister, and so on.

When Paul likened marriage to the relationship between Christ and the Church, it was an exhortation to crazy love and sacrificial giving, not power grabbing. Paul’s words remind us that Christ gave himself up for the Church, loved her.

“And so we discover the great paradox hidden within these hotly debated passages of Scripture, tragically misused to subject and berate and hold back, to demand and give place to pride – however benevolent the intention. If wives submit to their husbands as the Church submits to Christ, and if husbands love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, and if both husbands and wives submit to one another as commanded, we enter a never-ending, life-giving circle of mutual submission and love.” (excerpted from Jesus Feminist)

There is a vast difference between mutual submission to one another out of an overflow of love and having submission demanded of you, one-sided, out of a misguided attempt at biblical marriage.

In a Christian marriage, Christ is meant to be the head of our homes, and within marriage, we are meant to submit to one another - even as Candace Cameron Bure rightly defines it, “so, it is meekness, it is not weakness. It is strength under control, it is bridled strength.”

Yes, yes, it is. For both men and women.

My husband and I submit to one another as we both submit to Christ. We learned that from our Bibles.

Photo courtesy of Tina Francis

Some portions of this post are quoted from my book, Jesus Feminist.

Continue Reading · Jesus Feminist, marriage · 254