Sunday, July 27, 2014

Marriage Is: A Beach

Something simple for the coming week, because the last week was long and did not include enough naps.

I grew up around the ocean. My family moved to Seattle (yes, actually Seattle, not some random suburb) the summer I turned 5 and we spent many sunny afternoons making sandcastles or skipping stones or being buried in the sand by my brothers s at Alki Beach. We visited other beaches, too--up on the coast of Washington, in Port Townsend, or sometimes we went to beaches in Oregon. I remember the lakes with less fondness. They were slimy and gross, and had too many sharp rocks. 

Now, it might be because I'm an introvert, or I've always had a poetic soul, or perhaps I just dreaded being pushed under the water by my brothers, but I preferred to sit in the water rather than swim. I did know how to swim, but I didn't want to. I wanted to sit, and I wanted my seat to be about a foot deep so I could be fully submerged but also feel the sandy shore. I liked to watch the water coming in and going out, I liked to feel the waves move around my body. I think I knew it felt peaceful, even though I couldn't yet appreciate peaceful things.

These days I am stuck in Illinois, and there is no ocean. There is a lake. It's not horrible. 

My husband and I have been to the beach just twice this summer. The most recent trip was about a month ago, for our anniversary. We went at night so we could light some flying lanterns (so cool!) and watch them sail out to sea. Well... sail out to lake. (And, for the record, they didn't sail out to the lake because it was incredibly windy so they probably sailed out to the train tracks. In case you're wondering, they're biodegradable, and the entire thing burns up so if you were worried about some innocent person getting attacked by a wilted lantern, don't. Not possible.) Anyways. We lit three lanterns in honor of three years of marriage, and we would have stayed for a while except the beach closes at 9 o'clock. Joey would have been happy to hang around until the stars came out.

But my favorite time to be at the beach is in the morning. So back in May we went and watched the sunrise. We woke up at 4 o'clock, despite the husband's whining, and it was absolutely breathtaking (see photo above for proof...). He wanted to leave after about five minutes, but I just wanted to sit. And so I did.

One of the reasons I love the beach so much is because it's two completely different things that make one beautiful thing. You have the water, which may be fresh or salty or have lots of goose poop in it, but it's definitely water. And then you have the shore, which could be made of dirt or sand or just rocks. You put them together and BAM you have a beach. 

It's that simple. They are so unlike each other, sand and water. At deeper levels, they're both complicated. Sand is made out of the tiniest particles of shell and glass and rock. And that water, well it could be full of sea creatures and sunken ships, or maybe it's just a lake with lots of goose poop. 

Marriage is like a beach. I know I keep making this analogy, about two completely separate things that turn into one thing, but that's really the nitty gritty truth of marriage. You take one man and one woman, you put them together and as a unit they become infinitely more awesome than they ever were apart. How fantastic is that? And how fantastic is it that a beach is just water and sand? 

Another important way beaches and marriages are similar is that they move. Tides of peace go out, a wave of conflict comes in. The water washes a dead fish onto the shore and then the poor sand has to deal with it. It ebbs and flows with life's changes. The sand can be too hot, the water too cold. In marriage we change as a couple, but people do still change separately--it's sad to think that for this reason people sometimes get divorced. The challenge is not how to "deal with" or "fix" the change, but how to respond in a way that is loving, and accepting. (Unless that change involves someone becoming a drug addict or getting bitten by a spider and developing super powers. You have to fix/deal with that.) Beyond time, beyond impending differences, the water and shore know that they belong together. They know their relationship is infinite, and so they make it work.
How often do we forget that some of the most surreal and heartstopping things in life are not complicated? Some things just come together simply... naturally... and I find that incredible.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Marriage Is: A Tent

I've been thinking recently about the words we use to define marriage. This blog series has allowed me to do that more freely, because I am dedicating real time, during real life, using my real marriage as a context in which to write this. We expect marriage to be so many things, and it is rarely any of those things all of the time--or sometimes it is none of those things, ever. We want it to be beautiful, but instead it's confusing. We want it to be glamorous, but instead it's messy. We want it to be interesting, and fun, and easy, but instead it's predictable and practical and--hard. 

And that's where people tend to lose interest--those sorts of words can cause people to disengage with things much less important than marriage. There is nothing romantic about messy, practical, or hard. Gosh, aren't those BAD things? Isn't it BAD for things to be hard?

If you think I'm making fun of you... I am. 

It is a childish perspective to believe that saying something is hard or difficult also means it is bad, or has some sort of negative aura. There are children I tutor several times a week, and at the end of each segment of the lesson I ask them their opinion about that particular assignment. "Was that easy, okay, or hard?" Most of the kids say "easy" 99.9999999% of the time. But occasionally a student says it was "hard." You might expect that these are the kids with dyslexia, or who come for lessons at 9am, but you're wrong. The kids who say things were hard are always my most academically-inclined students. When I ask them why it was hard, they tell me it was because they mispronounced "appropriate" once, or accidentally did problem #8 instead of #4 because they lost their place. I am not exaggerating. These students will get all of the answers correct, I will praise them for good work, offer encouragement when they get confused, and STILL if there was one slip up the entire process was "hard." They automatically connect "bad" things with the word "hard."

Isn't it silly to think that just because something is imperfect, it's difficult? And isn't is also silly to think that just because we say something is difficult, it's bad? And, to take it a step further, isn't it also completely ridiculous to think that just because something is easy, it's good?

There are plenty of hard things in life. Baking a pie, learning to ride a bike, driving in Chicago, making a tent, going to college, organizing paperwork, bathing your dog in a small bathroom, or being married. These are all things I actually quite enjoy, and they are difficult in varying ways, but today I am only going to talk about about two of them.

Today's topic! Marriage Is: A Tent.

I went camping this week, for the first time since my honeymoon (yep, we did that!) and man, was it fun. But it certainly wasn't easy! In fact, you might say it was pretty difficult. Some parts more difficult than others but for the majority of the trip it was all heartwarming difficulty with my best friend. 

First we organized our campsite by moving the picnic table and deciding on a good spot for the tent. Then we unloaded the car, and began putting up the tent. If you've never put up a tent before, you are seriously missing out. Maybe for some people this is a stressful experience, but for me, the work is very rewarding. (It would be more rewarding, except Joey likes to do a lot of it himself because it's manly, or something.)

So we dump the tent out of the bag, and for the next 20 minutes or so worked together to get it standing, get all the poles in the right place, and then we stood inside it to appreciate our efforts. Not a big deal, right? How the heck is marriage a tent? Where am I going with all of this? I'll be brief, this time. Promise.

1. You need 2 people to put up a tent. Sometimes you need more, if it's a bigger tent. During youth group retreats, we used to have these gigantic army tents. It took upwards of 10 people to get them up. A big tent like that can't be raised efficiently with just one set of hands. You've got to hold a stake here, stretch the canvas there, pull that pole this way. Marriages also need 2 people. You can't make one all by yourself--that's just weird.

2. Sometimes, you just have to trust the other person, even if they don't make sense. Joey is much more of a "tent expert" than I am. However, I am pretty quick at figuring things out, and I get a little thrill by figuring them out on the way. And yet, when he asked me to come hold a part of the tent or push something or find a velcro strap, I didn't argue. I just did it, because he was trying to build something with me, and if we both tried to put up the same tent separately, we would be intensely frustrated. In the same way, sometimes your spouse is going to ask you to do something that makes no sense, or something that you don't feel like doing. You might not want to take the trash out, or change a diaper, or get up in the middle of the night to make sure the front door is locked. But these are all important things, even if they don't seem like it.

3. Be patient. There are two people trying to do the same thing--but they can't read each other's minds. If that bungee cord snaps you in the face, it's probably not because your spouse was trying to give you a cool scar. In marriage, you will likely get hurt and assume someone did something on purpose--but they didn't! Don't jump to conclusions. Ask questions. Talk it out. Don't rush through the communication process.

4. When your tent is done, you now have a place of protection. You step inside, you zip up the door, and you are safe from the rain, sun, and raccoons. When you build a marriage together, if you've put all the parts together correctly, you have a place to come to when you need protection, or rest. 

Building the tent wasn't easy. It was hard. We bought this tent at a thrift store for $20 just a few months ago, so we'd never put it up before. I had to ask Joey to vanquish a few spiders. The pole for the door overhang kept coming undone. The canvas on top had all these tangled cords when we took it out of the bag. The whole process was difficult. But I loved it, and it was worth it. 

It was hard--harder than usual because it wasn't our old tent. But it wasn't bad. I don't look back on it and think, Well, I hope I never have to do that again.

Marriage is hard. It's hard because you have to step outside yourself every single day and love this other person with your whole soul. You have to deal with them rolling onto your hair while you sleep (Seriously, that hurts!) and not instincually punch them in the face because you're not quite awake. You have to remember to put the toilet seat down so your wife doesn't fall in (this is also a major catastrophe.) You have to make a very organized schedule because you share a car. You have to do so many things, and do them on purpose, and you have to say so many things on purpose (and purposefully apologize for the accidental things.) And it should be that way. Loving someone the right way should come naturally, because you love them and want what's best for them, but it should also require effort, intensity, and it should be intentional. 

I love my husband. My love for him comes second only to my love for God. He is my entire world. Loving him is not always easy, always fun, always glamorous. But it is always good, because God is love, and HE is good. 

Putting up a tent does not happen by accident. Building a marriage does not happen by accident. Love--the action, not the emotion--does not happen by accident. It's hard work. But it's GOOD.

**You may have noticed I'm not writing about singleness this week. But it's not hard to figure out. Singleness is a tent too... it's just smaller! Or, it's a huge tent for a big group of people. Then you have lots of hands. Either way, I find building a tent is incredible. : ) 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Marriage Is: A Clock

Since beginning this "Marriage Is..." series I have taken some time to write down potential blog posts, as they come, in hopes that I won't get overwhelmed or bored with the idea. I'm not easily bored, but you never know. So far the only series I've done is the National Poetry Month writing marathon I do every April. This, however, is compressed into one topic. It's fairly new to me. So I struggled to decide what I should write about this week, until Wednesday. 

Wednesday, July 2nd, was my parents' 37th anniversary. Can you imagine being married for 37 years? That's a really long time to spend with just one person. 37 years of raising children and going to work and buying socks and having fights and cleaning up after people and arguing about where to go for dinner or what movie to see or how big of a Christmas tree we should buy or who left the toilet seat up (it was a male in the house, I guarantee it). In the three short years of marriage I've experienced, we have broken at least 20 dishes (including but not limited to my very precious Saturday Evening Post tumblers, lots of pretty bowls, the occasional less-pretty plate, and the lid to an inherited Mikasa sugar bowl.) I can't imagine how many things have been broken in 37 years.

But more than anything, they have shared time. Which immediately led me to this conclusion:

Marriage is a Clock.

Specifically, marriage is an analog clock, and not a digital clock--for several reasons. I'll list the reasons shortly but first I want to get the "time" element out of the way because it's not my main point. Marriage is a clock because it tells time, it tells you how long until you have to leave, or how late you are, etc. In the same way, marriage is a gauge for other things in life. Your relationship with your spouse helps you make decisions. Like time. Moving on!
Please note that "analog" is the correct spelling for electronics. So there.

1. Analog clocks are traditional, as is marriage. They are not quite as traditional as the candles people used to burn which told how many hours had passed, and certainly not as traditional as sundials. However, they are still one of the most "old fashioned" things people carry around. Despite the prevalence of digital clocks (which I'll get into later) you still see people wearing analog wristwatches and hanging beautifully crafted analog clocks in their homes. Marriage is quickly becoming an old fashioned notion, an outdated institution, but yet, people still get married. They still sign the papers and have the wedding, sometimes just in a courthouse. The point is, marriage is so traditional some people don't even believe in it, kind of like how some grown adults don't know how to read an analog clock.

The concept of weddings, however, leads me to another reason marriage is like an analog clock: 2. Analog clocks are often very pretty. And if they're not pretty, they're certainly unique.

The photo on the left is of my husband (yeah, I know, he's super cute) and the clock we made together at The ReBuilding Exchange in Chicago. We bought the clock kit beforehand and put everything together at the event. The red pieces were pre-painted by some stranger who donated the wood, the brown pieces are actually really lovely cherry wood, and the numbers for the clock were cut from miscellaneous measuring tapes. Its' beauty may not inspire you (or anyone) but it certainly is unique--about as unique as those clocks with teacups for each number or different bird calls for each hour.

Marriage, like a clock, is not always pretty. There are plenty of unhealthy, damaging marriages. (I can't speak for unhealthy or damaging clocks. Maybe they exist, but I'm not an expert on that subject, to be honest.) But in the modern world, where the average person you meet has not been forced into an arranged marriage or married someone for money, most of the time when people decide to tie the knot they've done it with the intention of having a healthy, loving marriage.

Clocks are created to be functional, but they can also be a notable piece of decor on your wall. I made a clock because I wanted it to be functional and look awesome. I made a marriage because I wanted it to be functional and look beautiful.

3. Clocks tick. This is probably one of the most important pieces.

Anybody ever ask you what "makes you tick"? Or talk about what makes someone else tick? What makes a business tick? If you haven't heard it, a brief definition: what motivates someone/something. The ticking of a clock is motivated by gears. These gears rotate together within the watch, seamlessly causing every hand to go where it should and thus express the time. In the case of the watch pendant I inherited from my grandmother, it ticks after it's been wound up. A marriage "ticks" because it has been wound up, it's in working order, all the parts underneath the pristine face are working together.

The mechanisms, or the motivational "gears" of your marriage are up to you. For some couples, you might say "love" makes you tick, and that's somehow vague enough but also deep enough to be true. For others, it might be faith, laughter, or their children, or a basketball team, for all I know. It's usually a combination of many things. Just like there are many gears inside even the tiniest clock, there are also many things inside a marriage that allow husband and wife to continue loving each other and nurturing their relationship.

For me, the gears in my marriage are endless. We are motivated by our faith in God and the conversations this allows us to have, which let us grow closer to each other. We are motivated by and thrive on making each other laugh. We thrive on reading books together and singing loudly in the car and staying up way too late just because we didn't want to stop talking yet.

But here is the real idea I'm trying to share. 4. Marriage is like a clock because there are two hands. Three is a good number as well, and I could go into a metaphor about clocks along with that great verse from Ecclesiastes about a cord of three strands, but I won't. (Not today, at least!) You need at least 2 hands to properly read a clock.

Each hand does something different. The hour or the minute hand can't do much alone. Sure, you could make a hand with just an hour hand, but it would be insanely confusing, because I would always wonder if it was missing a hand and then wonder which hand was missing and therefore am I looking at the minute hand or the hour hand? Seriously, I have thought about this! This notion alone, of being confused by a clock, is enough for me to truly believe all clocks definitely need two hands. They each do something different, but they are each distinctly vital to the function of the clock.

In the same way, each person in a marriage does something different. They are made separately. They are unique. As I said last time, they are whole people by themselves. But they have to work together, or nothing will make much sense. When one moves, so does the other. When one stops, so does the other. The gears inside, the stuff of life which makes them tick, work so seamlessly that they dance on the face of time together. If you try to move one hand without the other... you will probably break your poor clock. The two hands, once together, can never be separated. Til death do us part. (Or until the batteries die, or Captain Hook throws you into a crocodile.)

Now, a few notes on digital clocks. You can probably see where I'm going with this. If marriage is an analog clock, then _______________ must be a digital clock. You guessed it, singleness.

Digital clocks are fairly modern. In fact, if you look it up, you'll find that the first "digital" clocks weren't digital at all. Invented around 1890, they featured rotating numbers instead of rotating hands, but were still run by gears. The clocks we commonly associate with the title "digital" weren't invented until 1970.

Digital clocks also don't tick. Digital clocks don't have hands. Digital clocks could be pretty, I suppose, but those squarish LED numbers are a little too industrial for me to ever call them pretty. The clocks themselves, that being the area which expresses the time, are not pretty. Digital clocks might come in a pretty design, but  LED numbers are designed for efficiency, not aesthetics.

This is why singleness is more like a digital clock than an analog clock. I am in no way trying to say singleness is not beautiful or inspiring, I'm not insinuating that singleness is industrial or boring. In fact, singleness isn't very modern either.

But it is freer, and more efficient. When God calls someone to singleness, it's because the purpose he has for their life is better suited for someone who is not attached to a husband or wife. He created someone to function alone (much like the self-inking stamp.) This allows a single person to move from place to place without worrying about their spouse. Being single allows people to go on long mission trips overseas, or study intensely on a subject they are passionate about, or be part of a ministry that requires lots of time away from home serving other people--all things that are good for anyone, but can be more difficult with a spouse and children waiting at home.

Digital clocks are singular. They are easily placed just about anywhere. You have one next to your bed, because you want to be able to tell time immediately. You have one on the coffee pot, the microwave, the oven, in the bottom corner of your computer screen, and your phone (for goodness sake!)... the list goes on forever. The point is, singleness, like a digital clock, has the glorious freedom to be anywhere at any time. Get it? Time? Yeah... nevermind. Just look at these cool pictures of digital clocks and be happy that you're a clock of some sort.

No matter what kind of clock you are, I find you incredible. : )