Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Chocolate Scones

I am wearing a sundress and there are chocolate scones in the oven.

The Pilot will text me in a little while, alphabet flung into the land of satellites to reassemble magically on my phone, and have me come pick him up, since the motorcycle didn't cooperate earlier today.

He is home.

My heart scurried like a rabbit as I watched him come through the gate into the tiny airport waiting room; I spotted him before he spotted me and admired how his hair had grown and how breezily good-looking he was. He didn't feel like my husband, not quite. It was months since the last re-enactment of the welcoming scene between us, and back then I was usually the lead player, the traveler returning (except I never knew whether I was going or returning, when I visited him in pilot training). But I recalled the fleeting sensation of knowing and yet not-knowing. It would happen early on in our relationship, this breathless, dancing little friction between us, anticipatory, like the minute before the first firework explodes, the feel of reacquainting ourselves with being together. I felt it again, except this time he was my husband, not my boyfriend or fiance.

We would sometimes speak, in the long phone conversations, as I lay on my bed and hunted down his voice with the desperation of missing him, how being in the Air Force, being obliged to be separate on regular occasions, might be good for us and our marriage. It is not simply an "absence makes the heart grow fonder" sort of mantra brought to flesh; rather the separation teaches the heart what it is missing and what ought not to be taken for granted, and those first faltering hoping moments of reunion teaches the soul that the beloved's soul is just as real and yet other, an almost unknown landscape with great vistas still to be explored. It is far too easy, in the daily swing of routine, to take each other for granted, and, to borrow a phrase from an article I read in this month's Poets and Writers, to adopt the idea that "everyone else's existence only supplement{s} my own." As I watched the Pilot walk toward me, I'm home grin on his face, my heart trembled in the knowledge that here was mystery embodied, coming to embrace me, the intricate world of another person whom I was taking home with me.

Perhaps one of the foundations of love is curiosity.

I have often read and been told that only until after you are married do you begin to realize how little you know this mystery you have partnered your life with, and in that reunion moment I realized it was true, and I smiled. You face the unknown with fear, or with excitement, joy. Does a cook try a new recipe because she is afraid of it? I baked chocolate scones because I love baking and because I have never had chocolate scones before and I want to know what they are like. A humble, domestic analogy– you may substitute chocolate scones with writing, or a piece of piano music, or anything you like, but how much more should my burning desire to know be extended to the infinitely complex human being who kisses me goodbye in the morning and falls asleep beside me at night? To be a lover is to be the explorer of the wilderness of another human heart. If love doesn't hold a certain measure of curiosity, won't we all end up taking each other for granted?



Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Shattering

I'm suffering from Acute Husband Deficiency.

One definition of "to miss" is "to notice the absence or loss of."

I can't help thinking that there's more than just noticing. I will notice when the butter is gone. This noticing will certainly cost me a pang– butter is butter– there will be a twinge of dismay, a mild irritation, a drop of sadness. Dear butter. What will I do without you?

But when I notice that my husband is gone, it's not as if I murmur, "Oh dear, look, the Pilot is gone. How vexing."


Noticing simply doesn't cover it. That would be like "noticing" the absence of one's hand. Or leg. "Dear me. Whatever has happened to my leg? It was there last time I noticed it."

Another definition says missing is "failing to encounter" something.

That's a better one, I think. I failed to encounter the Pilot this morning when my phone alarm went off so unreasonably early. The covers failed to encounter him leaving the cozy snuggle, and my arms failed to encounter him tugging me out of bed as he so often obliges me by doing (so that I don't have to tug myself out.) All day long I have drifted about to my various tasks and amusements and we simply haven't gotten in each other's way the way we're used to doing.

So perhaps marriage is a promise to permanently get in each other's way, and that's why when one fails to encounter one's spouse getting in one's way, it's such a disconcerting experience. One doesn't like it. One doesn't wish to be able to do whatever one likes without encountering a tangible reaction from one's spouse.

Yesterday, my most annoying classmate said that he's got lots of things he wants to do before marriage ties him down. By all means, then, I want to say to him, go out and do them. You'll have such a lot of fun without anyone else getting in your way, without anyone really caring what you do, or when you'll be home at night, or what you ate for dinner, or how you feel about your life. 


One way to think of marriage is inviting one person to intrude on our private landscape for the rest of our lives.

It's a terrible choice, really: you can either sacrifice all notions of autonomy to one person and consent not only to becoming part of someone else, but to having them become part of you, or you can spend your life trying to keep the intruders at bay. I honestly don't think there is a middle ground, because even if you never get married, you're either going to give yourself away to the people around you or you're going to try desperately to remain intact.

"Love anything," says C.S. Lewis, "and your heart will certainly be wrung and probably be broken."

The proof is in the shattering. I think I would like to submit that as another definition of "missing". Missing someone means you've allowed yourself to be fragmented, and the shards slice blood if you try to snatch them back.

I found a quote by Norman Cousins: "The eternal quest of the individual human being is to shatter his loneliness."

Perhaps the only way not to be lonely is to be shattered. Am I really saved if I have not lost myself?



Monday, April 16, 2012

Who Are You?

I have a fascination with quizzes like this one

Despite the disorder of the thoughts in my head, as ideas tumble like books off shelves and sprawl face-down on the mind's floor, littering till I come and dust them off and put them back, there is an odd allure to the promise of classification, of order, of being neatly labelled and put on the correct shelf.

I love to see myself mapped, charted, plotted on the graph of existence, told this is where you stand, this is where you belong... dare I say the desire goes deeper, to be told- this is who you are.

A picture is worth a thousand words, and I sift through the pictures, trying to choose– trying to choose me. Where am I in the visual matrix of... shoes? Am I the pair of scuffed Converse All-Stars, rubber toes touching in a gesture of casual uncertainty, or the simple foam flip flops flung to the floor? Certainly I'm not the manicured toenails in strappy pink heels. I am trying to identify myself– no, to let someone else identify me– by which pair of shoes best represents me. American self-definition at its finest. I choose the flip-flops.

Facebook just changed again, and I spent twenty minutes exploring the "map" which I can use to show all the places I've been, the things I've done, complete with pictures! Here is Meredith's life, illustrated... come see who I am, in color! 

But who am I?

The Internet tailors itself now to my tastes, my preferences, my interests, gathering information about me at every click so that it can shower me with advertisements for all the things I might like. Amazon's algorithms recommend books I might enjoy. The university here recently sent me a survey to ask me how I think student organizations ought to be run on campus (I didn't have an opinion, but for a chance to win a free iPad? Sure, I'll fill in multiple choice answers!) And then this personality quiz, and the irony: As a Harmonizer, the expert quiz tells me, it's important to learn to trust your intuition and to know that everything will work out for the best... Your confidence and self-belief will continue to grow.

Hear the declaration– trust yourself, believe in yourself, develop yourself, but let us tell you who you are! You are a Harmonizer, and that means x, y, and z. Happy living! 

I live in a country that says "You can do whatever you want, you can be whoever you want" and we create our online profiles and our résumés and our school personalities and all the time our souls are starving to be told who we are, where do we stand, what is our meaning? I study writing as a process of making meanings, and in this age of abundance and materialism we desperately piece together our lives as a process of making identity (a touch of artistic culture there, a dash of spirituality there, sprinkle generously with bewitching style and fashion), yet we still fall back to online quizzes to tell us who we are.

There is a girl in my Renaissance literature class, and when we were discussing Renaissance concepts of love and beauty the other day she said, "When I see a girl with a cute guy, I'm only jealous if she's uglier than me. If she's prettier, then of course she deserves him." A beautifully simple philosophy for life. Being pretty means you deserve things, like cute guys, and not being pretty means you don't deserve them. What about self-esteem? screams pop psychology, but girls like my classmate know better. Have self-confidence, trust yourself to the moon and back, sweetheart, but by the way, make sure you're pretty or you're not worth anything. You want definition? You want identity? You got it!

Here is an experiment: which do you remember more vividly, the time that someone else told you that you were not valuable in some way, or all the times that you've told yourself that you are valuable? Which would you rather experience: telling yourself that you're beautiful (or smart, or valuable, insert whatever positive characteristic you like) or hear someone else telling you that you're beautiful?

We can craft ourselves, shape ourselves, mold ourselves, define ourselves into oblivion, and the soul-ache is still there. How many times do we need to hear "I love you!" from the person who loves us best? Why isn't once just enough? Why do we have "self-help" sections in the bookstore? Why do we need so much help believing in ourselves? 

What if... just perhaps... identity is something that cannot be self-crafted?


The Pilot's words draw close to me, from two nights ago when I clung to his voice in a moment of shattering when doubt closed in. Please tell me who I am, I pleaded, and into the black mess of my lies he spoke truth, You are my wife, you are my partner, you are my best friend, but more importantly, you're a child of God.

More importantly.


God wired us so that He told us who we were, and outside that relationship that said we were loved and valuable and beautiful, we didn't have any worth at all... what if a person isn't supposed to... have glory on his own, but rather get glory from the God who loves him? What if, in the same way the sun feeds plants, God's glory gives us life?... What if... we will be fulfilled when we are finally with God and, in His companionship, we know who we are? (emphasis mine)


                   ~ Donald Miller, Searching For God Knows What


What the Pilot said about me in relationship to him was true, but if that was where it stopped, then my importance is based on how good of a wife, how good of a partner, how good of a friend I am to him, and my identity hinges on that and when I stumble, when I fail miserably to be the wife and friend I long to be, then I am unmaking myself. But my husband didn't stop there, and he affirmed the identity that I cannot unmake, no matter how hard I fall and how deeply I fail: you're a child of God.

When the crises come, my own clutching attempts to self-define are inadequate. I am designed to have someone else tell me who I am, and if that isn't the Someone who created me then I will spend life trying to drown out the voices that say "be pretty or you're not worth anything" by the voices that say "you're pretty" but all the time I'll be wondering if the first voices aren't right, because if the authority to define me comes from other people then why shouldn't one voice be just as right as another?

Life words from other people are important, make no mistake. Affirmation is a gift that makes the soul sing. Yet if human voices are where we begin and end, we will become praise-hoarders, glory-gluttons, never able to be satiated with enough positive identity, desperate to hide our faults and display our virtues so that the people will think well of us. 

When the Pilot spoke to me in the dark of my night, he was not giving me identity me but rather helping me remember the identity I already have. We need our lovers, our friends, our families, not to define us but to remind us. The echo of Eden reverberates through the human soul, when Adam and Eve walked before God and were "naked and unashamed", because they were listening to His voice and no other tell them who they were. 

The lifeboat system of redemption seems so ugly in comparison to the love of God. We can trust our fate to a jury of peers in the lifeboat, we can work to accumulate wealth, buy beauty under a surgeon's knife, panic for our identities under the fickle friendship of culture, and still die in separation from the one voice we really needed to hear.
              ~ Donald Miller

Or we can listen.

Listen again. Let the Voice that spoke the stars into their dance and the oceans into their ebb and flow and the glory of the world into existence drown out all the other voices. Let the Love that created you define you. Let Him tell you who you are.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday

Tonight the pastor of the church I grew up in said in the Good Friday sermon, "We have a far too sanitized view of sin."

I haven't mentioned sin here yet, I don't think. The mind quivers. It is a highly unfashionable word. It echoes of guilt, of shame, of things that the soul squirms at and resists. It is much easier to write of love, yet Mark's words drove through the mind- Can I truly grasp how much I'm loved without an idea of how little I deserve that love?


Good Friday is not the popular service. We go and we break bread and we drink the juice and we sing hymns and we remember our God-Man dying on a tree, two thousand years ago. It sounds primitive, doesn't it? Primitive as sin.

How deep the Father's love for us, how vast beyond all measure, posted one of my friends earlier today, the words of a song by Stuart Townend, that He should give His only Son, to make a wretch His treasure. Wretch- another primitive word. The tongue stumbles over that one, the heart resists. Wretch, really? Not perfect, certainly, flawed, of course, but everyone is. Wretch, isn't that too far? Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me! There it is again. An old song echoing the words of the new.

Sanitized means to make clean. Is that what I do? Do I try to make my sin clean? Do I dress my death in the mask of respectability, and try to imagine that the leer of the skull is not still present behind? Why am I a Jesus-follower, anyway? Doesn't the mere fact I claim Him as Savior mean that I need saving? That I need life? I was not Sleeping Beauty waiting for the kiss of a noble prince to wake me, to give me meaning and purpose and security in life. I was the decaying corpse in the coffin, already dead in the stench of my rebellion against the Creator, and He looked at me and decided to go to hell and back to bring me to life.

The fingers are aware as I write that these are not popular words. We like God's love, we say very little about God's justice. We hear rarely about His absolute holiness- the breath of Life that cannot endure the toxicity of sin. We like Jesus and we claim Him for our own, for our various causes, we write bumper stickers about Him and pit my Jesus against your Jesus and we forget what He actually came to do- bring the dead to life. Because we do not want to admit our own death. Dear friends, the things we dismiss, you, I, all us respectable people, the things we think won't really harm us, the gossip, the half-truths, resentment against that sister or brother who always got the attention, bitterness against that unkind boss or teacher, the judgment with which we brand others as inferior to ourselves, the quiet satisfaction we feel when misfortune comes to those we dislike, the daily focus of our lives on our own wants, our own desires, our satisfactions, me, me, me– it is not just killing us. It already has!


I do not believe that you can take the Christian faith seriously without taking sin seriously.

But.

I do not believe that you can take sin seriously without taking even more seriously the Cross and why Jesus died there. He died there to bring us to life, to set us free, and out of love burning passion for these helpless hopeless corpses that dress themselves in lipstick and try to pretend life. Out of the flame of love for a creation that turned traitor and spat in His face, Christ said Yes I will come and yes I will live the perfect life you could not and yes I will face and endure to the bottom the justice that you could not face or endure and yes I will make you alive, if you will receive it. 


That is what I believe. Tim Keller says the essence of Christianity is this: "I am more sinful than I ever dared believe, and more loved than I ever dared hope." He also says, "When the Bible speaks of love, it measures it primarily not by how much you want to receive but by how much you are willing to give of yourself to someone."

In Jesus' case, it was all of Himself. He reserved nothing, held nothing back. When the Bible says love, it points to the Son of God gasping for breath on a Tree, reeling in the agony of the justice poured out for my evil, my sin, my death, and says, this is love. Love that went to hell and back to pour life into my dead heart, to start the contractions and bring forth life, to let my blind eyes gaze on glory and see that we are only alive when we stop playing at being alive and say thank you with out-stretched hands for His life that He gives us.

Behold the Man upon a cross
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Seesaw

God holds us in the untamed moments, too.
~ Ann Voskamp


I have been wandering through the days somehow, a quick peak in the morning as I pluck myself from the bed, shoving back thoughts of why bother, there's no one here to care if I don't get up till noon. A surge of energy, of productivity, and I go for runs and I study homework and I cook meals alone. Bedtime looms empty. His absence keeps me awake.

It chafes, the Pilot being away. Even with friends, with phones and Facebook to bring family close, still the loneliness closes in at the end of the day. I half-thought it might be easy, compared to fourteen months of long-distance engagement. But something has changed. We're married now, and the heart, the mind, the body knows the difference. I am a child on a seesaw and my playmate has had to leave, and instead of the two-person rhythm I am stuck lumpish at the bottom. It takes two to let both soar high.

He is in the field now, out of reach by phones, and last night the dam broke and I called my older sister so she could tell me that it was going to be okay. I thought I would be okay. I thought I wouldn't have any difficulty. You're not super-woman, she told me, and you don't have to be. It's okay. It's okay for the distance to hurt.

~

"When a man is newly married, he shall not go out with the army or be liable for any other public duty. He shall be free at home one year to be happy with his wife whom he has taken." ~ Deuteronomy 24:5

Impossible or impractical in this day and age, and the Air Force doesn't consult Deuteronomy to make its training schedules, but I feel better just knowing that God loves us to be together too. The enforced distance is necessary but that doesn't mean it's good. It's okay to mourn.

"You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!" (Psalm 30:11-12). Ann reminds me that "mourning and dancing are but movements in His unfinished symphony of beauty." The tears are not shame, and He promises they will be transformed. Even in untamed moments, when the heart rebels and the spirit is infested with doubt, He is there to hold me, my "Lover who never burdens His children with shame or self-condemnation but keeps stroking the fears with gentle grace," (Ann). Might sometimes the caress feel like the chafe of this distance? His hand holds my soul, gentle motion repeated to clean off the dirt of self-reliance, of pride, of pretending it's all fine, to let me see what it means to need Him. Needing Him is all He asks of me.


Come to me, He whispers, you who are weary and heavy laden, come to me and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28) Not the super-people. Not the people who are "fine". No, He wants me not fine. I am free to bring the doubt, the sleeplessness, the loneliness, the weakness, the tired of being apart. There will be no shame. No "why don't you just pull yourself together?" No "get over yourself, it's not that long." Only love.

Isn't that what we really want? To drop the mask, and feel no fear? The freedom to be not fine? The echoes of childhood when we ran to to our mothers with skinned knees, to bury our tears in warm love, that is what we long to return to, to drop adult pretense of self-sufficiency and find acceptance of our own weakness.
~

All fear is but the notion that God's love ends, Ann says, and the reality is that it doesn't. Ever. Not even  when I'm a lump at the bottom of the see-saw, feeling half of myself.

Open my eyes and see: fear holds me down. It's the Love that sets me free and lets me soar.