Saturday, January 28, 2012

Domestic Items

Item # 1- Homemade pizza- at least mostly homemade, I quail at the idea of fresh-formed pizza crust; "you're okay with store-bought crust, right?" shy inquiry of the Pilot as he trolls the Commissary lanes with me, "of course!" is the reply, and last night out comes the pizza, high and molten with slightly browning cheese. Secret: bathe the mushrooms in boiling butter (and the peppers and the onions, but mushrooms are the most important) before adding them to the pizza, so they stay soft and moist and don't dry out.

Item # 2- The shelf that the Pilot built. A children's picture book in the making, with that title: a fortnight of care and a cartload of patience, to teach children that its always best to do your best. It took both of us to mount it, all afternoon, allowing for the drill battery to charge after singing its song of protest as it wound the screws into the wall. I am impatient; sometimes all the measuring and leveling seems silly and why can't we just eyeball it? But his meticulousness pays off, his determination to "do it right" stretches from flying a jet to mounting a shelf, and the result is something I am proud of him for, not just a place to put our stereo, but an emblem of  work and careful thinking and good craftsmanship.

Item # 3- Our budget. Money can make me nervous. I feel its frantic power, the enormous promises of security it offers coupled with the panic of wondering "will there be enough" and it is physical effort for me to drag my mind the opposite direction and trust that God will provide. All morning the Pilot and I organize bills and expenses, set up spreadsheets, try to be wise, try to remember that the love of money manifests itself in anxiety or worry over money. "Do not worry about tomorrow," Jesus said, and that's a command, and it has just as much to do with our budget as with anything else. 

Item # 4- Soup and Salad Sunday. Our solution to the problem of how to feed ourselves after church on Sundays. The Pilot's suggestion: we tried it last week and declared it a resounding success. That time it was his dad's chili; this week, Cheeseburger soup. We the soup together, on Saturday so it will be ready for lunch on Sunday. Today he talked in an exaggerated drawl, narrating his adventures with chopping the vegetables, and the smiles darted across my face as I darted about our small kitchen, not too small for the two of us, in fact just right. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Gray Day

I squirmed into my husband's Northface jacket last night to wade the Mitsubishi through enormous rain-splash puddles on base, off for the third time to the Bible study that hasn't been a Bible study yet, since each girl has taken turns telling her testimony, that story of her and God and what her life has been like on this road.

It's a scary thing, telling your story. Human beings are so terrified of what's actually deep down inside us that we'd rather do or say anything than really let one another in. But when you dare to actually do it, it's like letting yourself in out of the cold. When you unlock your heart's door in a fellowship of grace, it's you who is let in next to the warm fire and the love of fellow travelers. To receive affirmation and love you must let yourself be known, toss masks to the breeze and boldface bravado to the wind.

At this gathering we can be together as tired, scarred, but hopeful sisters on the same path. Yellow is the color of hope, said one of the girls last night after telling her story, and I listened in a blur of shy amazement that she sat there with love for Jesus trembling on her face. If I had gone through the heartbreak that she has had, would I have that same confidence, that same conviction? Yellow is the color of hope, but today is a gray day, and I am tired and missing my old home, and where is the confidence and joy in God my Friend?

I volunteered to tell my story next week. What will I say, I wonder? I already feel welcomed and warmed by these women, their love for any Air Force sister ready to push back loneliness, to offer that sunny yellow hope. Even so, the dark powers and lies that Fear likes to whisper will creep into a gray day, trying to choke hope, you're never really going to fit in, what if these girls don't really like me, what if I will never really form real friendships with them, you're never going to be a good Air Force wife, just wait, they'll see you fail, or even just the simple, deadly idea that I've left all my best friendships in Colorado and I'll never be able to keep them up at a distance, nor find new ones, and I'll end up alone. Lies. I know they are lies, but still my heart pays attention to them.

How will I tell my story? Mentally I grapple between narcissism and an intense honest desire to be known. How to know what to say and what to leave unsaid? The point is not to impress anybody, but to be real. The lies fuel the inner performer, that impostor who thrives on admiration and attention and leaves the real soul starving in the shadows. She's already planning how perfect my story is going to sound, how well I'm going to speak, how to make this all about me and not about the God who is the Author of the story.

If this story is about me, then I've missed the point entirely, and I will go on slogging through gray days, listening to lies and letting fear drive me from one performance to the next. Only in humility and gazing on the beauty of God do I find the ability to fight against the lies and believe the truth. Only in remembering that God loves me do I find the ability to silence the performer. If God's love is true then why do I need to impress anybody? If God's love is the very reason that we are all gathering together each week to hear each other's stories, then why on earth should I fear judgment? Why should I be afraid of failure? God's love is for everyone who knows they've failed, who knows they are failures. Only in the light of His love is failure redeemed and transformed.

Only in the light of God's love does a gray day turn golden with hope.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Moments of Joy

Quarter to six and I'm on my way home, the sun to my left reflecting melted gold into my mind. It's the middle of January and the evening and it's sixty-one degrees outside, and the moment is joy and I breathe it in, absorbing it like the sunshine.  

Emerge from my classes into the evening sunshine: oh summer-time, flip-flop feeling that the sun is still up and the air is still warm! My mind is mulling thoughts like wine from professors and students; my crazy Renaissance English Lit professor asked us if our classroom, when we left it, still existed, and how much of what we see is decisions we make, not just passive perception? What if the scientific model of taking humans out of the equation to make it more accurate is wrong? What if humans are the whole point? My classmates sputtered protests and I grinned in my corner desk, for I still read fairy tales, and I like to believe in impossibilities. (How else could I believe in the doctrines of Christianity? God become man? How is that possible? Yet I think it is true, all the same.) In the other class, the class I thought was something else and wasn't, the one I thought perhaps I might drop today, but didn't: the professor did not look aghast when I proposed that perhaps no one is entitled to an education, perhaps education is a privilege, and perhaps the dismal state of education in our country is due to thinking that we are entitled to  it. Things perhaps I would not have dared to say at the university in Colorado, but maybe here in Texas there are people who might listen? The discussion of the class darted about like a dance of grasshoppers. My intellect could taste the joy.

Wife and grown-up, that's me; I go to the Market Street United Supermarket and the struggling chef inside me, starved on Walmart for the past couple weeks, took a giant breath and revived as I wandered the produce aisle, choosing zucchini and yellow squash, marveling at emerald and sulfur skins. I think of all the different kinds of foods there are to create. I read aloud in class the few lines in Metamorphoses of Prometheus creating Man; what was Ovid after in his verses about what makes humans human? Well, for one thing, we are creative even down to the food that we eat. Else why this abundance in the supermarket? Why preferences? The Pilot and I both love guacamole; I made it last week and I make it again tonight. Somehow liking guacamole, that little moment of joy when the chip goes into the mashed green innards that cast such a spell on the taste buds, that's part of being human. 

Tuesday night Bible study with other pilot-wives, second time this week: Char brought me. She is my beautiful hostess from visiting-the-Pilot days; her husband, my husband's friend and in the same pilot training class. She turned from hostess into friend, and now she is moving to California in not many days, my first bittersweet taste of saying goodbye to Air Force friends. I arrive here to live, and she is leaving. But first she brings me into this group of women and they welcome me unabashedly, the afghan-warmth, the joy of the surrounding spirits of girls like me, the feeling that we are all in this together, our men in different classes and bound for different places, but we are all Air Force and we will cling fast to each other. Last year I prayed at various times, and my close friends and sisters prayed too, that community would come for me in this new place. Deep down I am astonished to find it so fast, and then wonder why I wonder that on this occasion God delights to answer my prayer "Yes!" 

Is my crazy Renaissance English Lit professor right? Is what we see mostly a decision? Is it a choice, for example, to see the joy in guacamole? Yes, there's frustration, there's annoyance, there's daily routine that can become dull if we choose to forget the magic, but surely there's something to be said for the phrase, "It's all in how you look at it". Can we choose to see the world as God made it, magic and mystery and moments of joy? 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Wichita Falls Discoveries

1. The post office
           Driving through sketchy and sketchier to get there, wondering if the Pilot would scold me if he knew what I was doing, if I should have brought my pepper spray (even though I don't know how to work it, and am more afraid of spraying myself with it than of being attacked) when voila! Downtown Wichita Falls, looking tired and sparse; bumpity across nine sets of empty railroad tracks to get into the "metropolitan district". Large buildings that are faded like a worn-out poster from last year's circus, but here and there signs of life: an open antique shop. The post office is so big I almost miss it. All I have is quarters for the parking meter; I pay for 30 minutes, but the post office is almost empty so I only take 5 minutes. I go through grand museum doors and my shoes click softly on the marble floor. A feeling strikes me that this is how post offices used to be, big, mysterious places with lots of wood and marble, a place that linked you with the exotic unknown. The post office man is kind and explains exactly why extra postage is needed for a square-shaped envelope. I listen seriously and murmur "ooh" and "I see" as if he were explaining a scientific procedure.

2. The library
           The library is in another massive down-town building but it only takes up the whole first floor, and the afternoon sunlight filters in with that particular glow it has when it's lighting up a room full of books. A young man at the front desk explains that I can't get a library card until I have some sort of document that proves I live in Wichita Falls, but he's very kind too and I don't feel unwelcome. I drift through the bookshelves, picking up titles that seem interesting. There is a genealogy section! I don't remember if the large library I left in Colorado has that: probably it does but I never noticed. Perhaps I would never have noticed it; perhaps it took coming to a smaller library to notice it. I pick out the G-O volume of American family names and find my old last name and my new last name, not very far from each other. The children's section has lots of the books I read growing up, and I stand entranced with Mitch and Amy by Beverly Cleary for several chapters.

3. Candlelight Picnic Dinners
           The Pilot came home from San Antonio (victorious! Nine Gs are vanquished!) last night, and I made spaghetti and lit candles and we ate sitting on pillows opposite each other, a cinnamon-clove candle burning between us on the beautiful European lace table centerpiece that was a wedding gift, and probably given with no idea that it would first be used for a picnic dinner on our living room floor. My heart had beat faster when I heard the truck door slam outside. He kissed me when he came indoors, and I was wearing an apron, and I felt like a wife. He told me about feeling like a 400 pound elephant was sitting on his chest in the centrifuge, and I told him about sulking through the orientation at the university that afternoon (as if I need to be told how to go to college!) and it struck me that this is home, home even without a table, or chairs, or a proper couch. It will always be home with him no matter what we have or don't have.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Marriage Thoughts

To the romantic sound of the typhoon-dishwasher, I am glowy with our wedding all over again from sneaky-peeky pictures the photographer posted on Facebook.

The Pilot is in San Antonio to withstand 9 G's tomorrow, and I was feeling sad and bluey in the empty apartment that didn't seem very much like home without him there, and bags and bags of groceries to be put away but no one but myself to cook for tonight. And then, pictures on Facebook! My breath catches and my smile is as unforced as it was all day on our wedding day ten days ago. The moments stand breathless, caught forever; we are outlined in the love of the day.

It has been ten days since we left who we used to be behind and brought us into who we are now, married, forever, in the bond of vows so enormous that only God's grace will allow us to stand true to them. It's easy to forget that words mean things. To break a word is to destroy something; thus to stand by our words, to hold true to them, is the preservation of something beautiful, of something meaningful. Ten days ago I stood before my husband and I promised to love him unconditionally, to honor and respect him, to cherish him as my friend, my lover, my partner in life, to submit to his leadership, to follow him in his path, to laugh with him, to go on adventures with him, for the rest of our lives. I spoke with a grin on my face because his eyes were sparkling at me and the love was thrilling between us in the firework joy that we were finally marrying each other. But the words I said, and the words he said, are solemn, sacred, gargantuan in their meaning and implication. In fact, for weak, broken, sinful humanity, the words of marriage vows are truly absurd unless looked at in the context of grace.

The Pilot and I  married the day before New Year's Eve. We poor humans make New Year's resolutions every year to eat more healthily and exercise more and read this book and be kind to that annoying person, only to shatter our words, though heaven knows how sincere we were when we spoke them. What hope can we possibly have when we stand up and make a preposterous promise to do something we are entirely without innate power to do? Unconditional love? I had to bite back exasperated words enough times, just going through my husband's old clothes to make Goodwill bags, to know I am incapable, in my own strength, of even loving him well, much less unconditionally.

Unconditionally means without conditions, absence of ifs, buts, or excepts. In what other sort of relationship, any relationship at all, do we promise to do anything without conditions? You do this, I'll do that. You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. Don't do this or that, or I'm out. Even in the closest friendships there can be contracts of this sort. Our marriage vows threw that all to the wind. My husband could come home on Wednesday and tell me that he's not interested in going on dates with me any more. I've promised to love him no matter what. I could refuse to do any cooking. He's promised to love me anyway. There are other things, things that seem unthinkable: lying, hurtful words, cheating, abandonment, terrible things that either one of us is capable of committing against each other. Yet ten days ago we willingly and joyfully vowed that nothing will separate us. No outs. No conditions. No clauses. No pre-nups. Nothing. We're in this forever, no matter what.

How can we not fail?

God's grace.

Grace to fall into; grace to cling to. Grace to wrap ourselves in, to sing to ourselves; grace to preach to ourselves morning noon and night. Grace to clothe ourselves, radiance of sunshine. Grace to taste and touch and trust. If it was amazing grace that set us free from sin, it is amazing grace that will allow us to stand by our words and make them true. If unconditional Love died for us on the Cross to save us from our sin, it is that same Love that will make it possible for us to die to our own selfishness and love each other selflessly day in and day out. Our tiny capacity for love will exhaust itself and wither quickly if it is not  fed by the depthless river of God's wild, endless, astonishing grace. Grace makes our marriage possible and grace will feed it, grow it, and blossom it. That's why the wedding is just the beginning of the marriage: the beginning of a story of grace.

Saturday, January 7, 2012


Today was progress– today was clothes, and closets, organizing dishes and a mysterious gadget with three-pronged blades that I thought was just a salad spinner and discovered in time it wasn't. Three trash bags full of old clothes to be donated: first world problem. So many things to find their spaces. Making the internet work with the new Netflix account. What's for dinner. First world problems.

I am reading Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts: my Christmas book from my parents (God bless my mother who created bookworms!) She was given a thankfulness dare. She wrote down one thousand gifts in her life, gifts fresh with the fingerprints of God. The essence of joy, she says, the only way to a full life, is to receive everything as a gift wrapped in the grace of God.

I am trying to learn how to listen to grace. A year and a half ago on my birthday, Sarah gave me an art board that says this very motto: Listening to Grace. It's hard work, listening. I will hear grace sometimes, accident it seems like (but I think it's God's mercy that forces grace into my ears). But listening requires me to engage, to open up, to be ready; eyes, ears, mind, heart, quivering and alert, like a small rabbit watching you from next to a fence-post. If you move, the rabbit will run. When God moves in grace, am I listening to be able to know what is happening? To react? To give thanks?

While it might be easy to receive sunny days and fluffy towels as gifts, what about the rainy days? What about finding places to put the towels? What about not getting to go with my brand new husband to San Antonio next week, because the university here holds its student orientation at the same time? What about loneliness and missing family and friends? What about when there is a great grief? Will I wallow in self-pity or will I be still and listen to grace? Will I accept that the first-world problems, the minor inconveniences, and the big fat problems are covered with the same God fingerprints as the beautiful days and coordinated schedules and Yes-answered-prayers are?

Will I give thanks?

Can I- can we– listen to grace?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Dancing to Chaos

I have been married for a week, and Texas is home now.

The apartment in which we live– my husband (husband! really?) and I live is only slightly less of a disaster now than it was this morning when we first woke up and wandered out from the chaos of our bedroom to the chaos of our living room.

The expectant dining room swells with boxes and books, a cake caddy from Caroline, dishes, a single shoe that belongs to the pair that I split, accidentally, last time I was here, before this was home. It's a good thing that we don't have a table or chairs yet.

We eat meals on the foam fold-out couch, crouched like an indoor picnic, teetering sandwiches and apples  on new plates that glisten like hewn jewels. We didn't want a china pattern; these Target plates are majestic. Who needs a china pattern?

Half of my clothes are mixed with his clothes in the walk-in closet; the other half are slowly disgorging themselves from the suitcase that sits against the far wall of the living room. Next to me on the couch are swirling satin ribbons, purpley like velvet Emperor butterflies, from off Bed-Bath-and-Beyond boxes.

I promised myself that after I was married I would start a new blog, a new place to write, and I would really write there. No more hairline pauses that expand into three-month cracks between posts, like the old blog; no more waffling, whiffling, or whining. Give up and write!

So that is what I've done, and in between the chaos the words come dancing out, the same way the mid-afternoon walk in January-summer weather came, swinging hands with the new husband. The words emerge like his hands come out of the covers in the morning before waking hasn't quite reached my sleepiness and he pulls me close for a good-morning cuddle. The words hurry, straining to be born before the ticking clock calls a halt to the labor and reminds me that it's supper time.

Words wing between all the other things that I could be doing. The chaos has a rhythm to it and yes, yes, we dance.