A spot of something good in the world today: the songs we've loved in our eleventh year of marriage. Jack says that this is our slowest playlist yet. Maybe we're getting old. Maybe our lives are moving so fast that we need something to be slow (as Jason Martin sings on track one). Or maybe time running out is a gift, and as another Jason (Isbell) sings, we will treasure each other and we will work hard till the end of our shifts precisely because we know that our days are numbered. That song (track 4) is without a doubt my current favorite of these, but I hope they will all bring a little joy to your week.
First: I'm sorry. If you've been looking for me here on the blog, I've been absent. If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, then you probably know some of what I've been up to... but I'm in the mood to share a bit more. Ok, more than a bit. Let's catch up. Let me bend your ear. Settle in as I chat away.
Jack spent the summer in Indiana, PA completing courses towards his PhD in Applied Linguistics. This was our second summer apart, and easier in some ways than the first. I visited him and met his friends, and then I took the kids to Colorado, where we visited friends, family, and places that hold so much nostalgic sway over me. We hiked and fed chipmunks and swam and I remembered what I had always liked best about being a camp counselor: the way it forces you to be present to the moment, alive to the physical world around you, undistracted by other things. I felt that this summer, focusing just on the day before me, and I loved it.
When Jack's courses ended, I began my first intensive courses for my MFA through Seattle Pacific University. We met on the campus of St. John's in Santa Fe and joined Glen Workshop participants (like my writing buddies Danielle and Christiana) in worship and play and craft lectures. I wrote a little bit about one of our field trips, to the holy site of Chimayo.
The day after I returned from Santa Fe, Owen started kindergarten, and Rosie began second grade. And I plunged into a fall filled with many things: helping coordinate programs for the Honors students at Taylor University, teaching 3 hours of class a week, completing MFA coursework, a (fairly new) gig writing for Our Daily Bread (more about that later), trying to help out with Relief Journal as a contributing editor, nurturing relationships outside the classroom with various students, hosting poetry nights, and of course staying on top of details related to my book coming out in February. Between those things and my responsibilities at home, I am finding my attention scattered, pulled toward so many different, good things.
Life this fall:
Jack ran a marathon with his dad in Columbus, Indiana, and we had a meal at Story Inn to celebrate.
I went on an overnight retreat with honors students, and took another group to Wheaton for a day to check out the collection at the Marion Wade Center.
The four of us went to Grand Rapids for a long weekend. While Jack and the kids explored the city, I met with my publisher and attended a conference for writers and editors at Our Daily Bread. I left feeling encouraged and blessed by the humility and sincerity of this group of people, more thankful than ever that they are the ones midwifing my book into the world.
A couple of my writer friends came to visit me. I love when people visit me. I love cooking for them. I love having the long-distance people I love see the place where I live everyday.
Rosie and Owen dressed as Hermione and Ron for Halloween, and for one night my dream of having a red-headed child was fulfilled.
Books this fall:
I've been re-reading a lot of Dorothy Sayers for the class I'm teaching this semester. Her Lord Peter Wimsy detective novels build very slowly, but they are smart and funny and worth the investment. Her essays are even better. I love smart women.
Over the summer, I read other detective novels set in Britain, mainly the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series. They aren't as good as my favorites by Louise Penny, whose latest, A Great Reckoning, I read in September, but they're satisfying.
The best book I read this fall was Claudia Rankine's Citizen, a moving, genre-bending work that about her life as a black woman in contemporary America. I highly recommend it.
Oh, and I can't forget The Road Back to You, a new book from IVP on the enneagram that has inspired hours of conversation between Jack and me and our friends. I think this book has given me tools to better flourish in my relationships with others. (I'm a 5, by the way.)
Movies this fall:
I really need help staying awake in movies. We liked The Lobster, a sort of absurdist black comedy about what it means to be human, and enjoyed Southside with You, which is like Obama fanfic about Barack and Michelle's first date. I love Michelle Obama and would probably watch countless more hours of this.
TV this fall:
The shows we're adding to our DVR this fall are Pitch and The Good Place. I was less than enthused about the premise of Pitch, which is about the first female pitcher in MLB, but the writers have crafted a show that is nuanced and interesting, and that is about much more than baseball: the dynamics of male-female friendships, for example, and the politicking and money behind the scenes in sports. And The Good Place is funny, some episodes more than others, but I'll watch Kristin Bell in almost anything. Still a little on the fence about This Is Us, which I enjoy but do find to be a bit emotionally manipulative, taking the easy way out in its writing more often than it should.
Music this fall:
We're still listening to Hamilton (and loved watching Hamilton's America on PBS). And did I ever share our 10 year anniversary playlist?
Writing this fall:
Honestly, I've been struggling since I finished writing the first book. Do I have anything left to say? This is one reason why being in the MFA right now is good for me, I think. Apart from learning things to strengthen my craft, I'm also being forced to create and to pay attention to my life. Hopefully something good will come of it.
Also, I have an essay in a book that came out from IVP this summer. You can read "Teenage Heretic" in the collection Soul Bare, which includes poignant essays by writers like Sarah Bessey, Karissa Knox Sorrell, and Seth Haines.
Maybe the only other thing I've written this fall was an op-ed for the Taylor student newspaper about Independent candidate Evan McMullin. I've been deeply disturbed - I mean, there have been nights I haven't been able to sleep, I went to see a doctor because of a constant lump in my throat, I've been sick - by the religious right's support for Trump this season, by the silence of prominent evangelical men when I expected to hear them condemning the racist, misogynist words and actions of the Republican nominee. When I saw polling that indicated that a large number of Taylor students were planning to vote for Trump, I wanted to make sure they understood all their options. McMullin is a good choice, but personally, I did vote for Hillary, because although parts of her platform bother me - she's hawkish in the Middle East and more aggressively pro-choice than I am, for example - overall, I believe she's smart, hardworking, dependable, emotionally stable, and has policies that will support the common good. (More here.)
So that's what I'e been up to this fall. How about you?
"I'm still trying to understand what marriage is," you say, in the middle of a long conversation negotiating our relationship back to normal after two months apart. You spent the summer working single-mindedly on a PhD in Pennsylvania, training for a marathon in your precious little free time. I spent the summer carting the children to and from swim lessons and playdates, watching Gilmore Girls every night, and gallivanting around the country with a large arsenal of snack food, Adventures in Odyssey playing on the car stereo.
Marriage is a mystery, isn't it, love? And it isn't what most of our cultural mythologies tell us it is. It isn't the wedding: it is the more complicated everything that comes after that happy ending. It isn't a trap you're stuck in during the thick middle years, but it isn't the fulfillment of all your childhood dreams, either. It isn't finding your other half, or never feeling alone. It isn't "you complete me."
Maybe most confusingly for us, it isn't necessarily the most clearly fruitful Christian existence. After all, Paul had a good point when he argued that it was better to be single than to be married. Free from our obligations to spouse, children, house, and property, we have more time, resources, and emotional energy to invest in others and to devote to developing our own gifts and talents. Sometimes the people we love most also feel like hindrances to our work. How many more books would I have written? How many more songs would you have sung? How many more spiritual conversations might we have had or Bible studies might we have led or classes might we have taught or churches might we have started? How many worlds might we have saved if we hadn't been so sleep-deprived because of our children and distracted by each other?
But in choosing marriage and parenting, we have chosen a humble way. (Humble: from the Latin humus -- we have chosen an earthy way, a way dirty with everyday life.) We have sacrificed ideas of our own influence and ability to save the world. We have sacrificed some of our growth in our vocations and as creative people. We both have sacrificed for each other, because you love to see me come alive when I'm making meaningful connections with students, putting new ideas together, or deep in a writing project, and I love to see you enjoying research, gently shepherding lost sheep home, writing songs.
Sometimes it feels like we can accomplish more together, and enjoy life more together, than we ever could apart. But sometimes the opposite feels true, and that's confusing; growing up in church, they always acted like getting married was the key to Christian maturity, adulthood, ministry.
And this is when I remember a lesson that you helped me learn, a long time ago: that life isn't about what I can accomplish, or about what my husband can accomplish. I was never meant to save the world. And I can't understand what, in God's view, is a "big" thing and what is a "small" thing. It doesn't work that way.
My work is part of what it means for me to flourish as fully human, as fully God's, and growth there is something to pursue. But it's not the ultimate. My most important work is the work of believing that I am loved. Deeply, fully loved by God, apart from any thing I accomplish or do not accomplish. And very little on earth has helped me understand that more than you have.
Tim Keller: “When over the years someone has seen you at your worst, and knows you with all your strengths and flaws, yet commits him- or herself to you wholly, it is a consummate experience. To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”
Happy nine years to us! Here are some songs we've both loved this year:
Dad asked us, on our first anniversary, what surprising things we’d learned about marriage or each other in our first twelve months of married life. Maybe for some people that’s an easy question - I think of the many, many jokes I’ve heard illustrating how people only present their best selves while dating, then once they’ve scored the spouse, they suddenly change - but it was a hard question for us. We’ve never been very interested in trying to impress people. You had already seen me without makeup on (because I hardly ever wore make up). And it wasn’t like you had two sets of clothes, your dating clothes and your regular clothes. You didn’t have two characters, either. You were integrity, peace, and compassion. You still are.
Our first year of marriage wasn’t shocking or hard. We spent it cocooned in a five hundred square foot apartment between green Ozark hills. I taught tenth graders how to interpret symbols in literature, and you planted trees, coming home with shaking muscles and dirt so deep in your skin we could never quite wash it out. We’d spoon Thai peanut chicken from the slow cooker over rice and watch Northern Exposure and Veronica Mars and shut the rest of the world out.
We moved to Seattle, where we lived in a shared house for three years. The gorgeous old house on 52nd street, with its wide, slanting front porch and horrible flowered kitchen wallpaper. We had one bedroom on the second floor. Seven others belonged to a rotating group of international students, some of whom became aunts and uncles to Rosemary, who spent the first eighteen months of her life there.
You wrote a song for me around that time. (Was it on our second anniversary? Our third?) “We are not gifts given only once,” you sang. You compared our love to an ocean, which "lives and shifts and swallows and opens up."
In eight years of marriage, maybe that’s the most important thing I’ve learned - and I’m still learning it. That you are not just a gift for me. That the cocoon of the first year was never supposed to last forever. That our love exists for others, not just for ourselves, not just for our children, but for the kingdom of God.
Last night you lifted your glass of wine and joked, "Here's to another eighty years together!" and I said, "The only reason I would want to live another eighty years is that once we die, we won't be married anymore, right? Doesn't it say there's no marriage or giving in marriage after the resurrection? I don't want to be alive if I'm not married to you."
And I don't - but maybe that's part of what it means that we are not gifts given only once. Maybe this love is preparing us for a greater ocean. I don't know, but whatever it means, I want to be swimming in it with you.
PS: World, here is our 8th anniversary playlist. Enjoy.