dear friend,

You are in the darkest place your soul has ever known, and my heart hurts for you because I’ve been there too. It is beyond lonely. The voice of shame and accusation feels stronger than the voice of truth and love, because you feel more acutely aware than anyone around you, even your dearest loved ones, of how deep your sin and darkness have run, how far they have taken you from the person you thought you were, the person others thought you were. You wonder if your life was a lie, and it feels near impossible to even imagine yourself regaining any resemblance of that life again. You don’t know where to turn. You don’t feel you can fall any further and yet you feel you can never move forward again.

I want to say some magic words, pray some magic prayers, give a hug somehow strong enough to bring your heart back to freedom. I hurt because I cannot, but I hope because there is One who can. Oh my beloved Christ, He never gave up on me, though I ran, though I cursed, though I protested, though I shook my fist and said it was impossible for me to come back to life, I’d gone too far. I thought I understood grace until I didn’t understand grace. I had made such intentional choices against the One who gave up His life for me. Who forgives that? I deserved my emptiness. But He was stronger than the grave of my heart. He ran to me and wept over me and sang tenderly over my sick and broken spirit and loved me back to life. He will do the same for you. Maybe you have never fully understood the grace you preached, but maybe now, now you will, more than before, more than ever. Your life can still count for good, because of Him, because of the Gospel.

Friend, you may not believe me, but I still respect you as much as I ever did. Not because you are the hero you felt you had to be, but because you are my dear friend, because you are a child of God, that’s all, that’s enough. Please don’t walk away from the ones who love you. We won’t leave you, we won’t shame you in our words or our thoughts, we won’t. Please just let us love you.

I wasn’t lying then, but I am more honest now

Do you and your husband interact differently now than when you first got married?

I can’t stop thinking about this question posed to me and the husband by a soon-to-be-married couple, and my brief response at the time:

I think we’re a lot more honest with each other now.

Much of this is because we know ourselves a lot better, we know each other a lot better, and we’re more familiar with ourselves in light of one another. We know ourselves in ways that can only be revealed through shared life under one roof for an extended period of time. It wasn’t so much that we were being dishonest during the period of courtship. There were just so many things that had yet to be more fully revealed; hence there was only so much we could intentionally disclose to each other, much less ourselves, when we were still just dating. Learning to see oneself and one’s spouse truthfully in the context of many different life circumstances inherently takes time, effort, and experience. Surviving the occasional shock of these lessons requires honesty, humility, and the openness to being shaped and reshaped by another person – again, and again, and again. I thought I knew myself so well when we got married. I thought I wouldn’t really change all that much with time. Wrong on both counts. But a good kind of wrong, I would say. Deeper self-awareness and growth are from God. This marriage has been both the context and the tool.

Much of this is also about growing in trust and commitment. Unlike in dating or engagement, the entire relationship is no longer on the line if I say too many things that displease or unsettle him, and vice versa. (Obviously I am not applying this to more extreme cases like abuse.) We’re committed to walking together for life now, so we might as well be more honest about those issues that make the road rougher, and learn to truly smooth them out rather than romantically gloss over them. After all, if I’m not really planning to stick around, or he’s thinking of calling it quits, then I can lie and say it doesn’t really bother me that much that he roots obnoxiously for the Trojans. But since I must live with this major character flaw of his, then I might as well tell him how I really feel about it and then figure out some sort of compromise. No honey, we can’t paint the whole house cardinal and gold, but you can buy that ugly jacket. Just don’t wear it out on our date nights. Our love for one another is not perfect, obviously. (How could anyone love a Trojan fan perfectly?) But we can move from places of being stuck in our shortcomings, forgive one another because Christ has already forgiven us, and work hard at moving forward for good because this is how God in His forbearance loves us.

We’re coming up on eight years of marriage. I had someone say to me the other day, “After fourteen years for me and my spouse, it’s now more about tolerance than it is about love.” I found that to be incredibly sad. Less newlywed romance, perhaps. But mere tolerance and only wistful remnants of love? I don’t think it has to be that way. I think with each day, month, year together, we’re building something that is ultimately helping us to say an even more honest “I love you” now than what we uttered on our very wedding day.

The answer to a Charlie Brown prayer

The other evening, I received a small but profound blessing, a seed.

We had gone away for a brief vacation, both of us burdened by the sadness of many hearts, and weary from the battle for hope and joy and light when the darkness felt so thick. I asked a dear friend to house-sit for us. Yes, and can my other friend come too? She has been looking for a time of retreat. It couldn’t have worked out better. We prepared and cleaned as hastily as we were able, and I was glad that our time of getting away could in turn allow for other hearts to also find a time of hiddenness and rest. We left a small list of things we needed them to do – gather the mail, water the plants, take out the trash. I wanted their work to be minimal, and their rest to be true. I felt a bit badly for the countertops I didn’t get to clean before we left, though I knew these friends wouldn’t mind.

Our vacation was perfect. Mammoth was my much-needed reminder that beauty did not always require heartbreaking effort to find. That is the mercy of God over me. I hope in His redemption but I rest in His unshakable love.

Returning home from vacation always involves a mix of relief (there’s no place like home) and low-grade dread (I’ve got some work to do). On the long drive down U.S. Highway 395, I began to plan what we would do when we got home. First things first. Wash the towels and bedsheets. Wash the dusty dog. Semi-organize all the stuff we unload from the truck. Wash up. The rest can wait until morning.

Weary, though in a lighter-hearted kind of way, we finally arrived home. After unloading our vacation-in-a-truck, I walked into the main living space, and there it was, the blessing. Clean towels, washed and folded. Bedsheets newly washed, beds remade. A handful of thoughtful gifts, and a note. Everything has been washed. Enjoy your rest after a long drive. I walked into the master bathroom, and saw there was more. The countertops I hadn’t gotten to were now wiped down. Even the jacuzzi bathtub, which we hardly use, had the embarrassing spiders and dust rinsed from it. These friends had served us in their own time of retreat, beyond what we could have asked. They gave us a blessing.

In a profound Peanuts cartoon strip by Charles Schulz, Charlie Brown whispers a prayer one dark night after reassuring a very frightened Snoopy that the sun would eventually come out again. Who comforts the comforter? That was my heart as I wept in my prayers before leaving for Mammoth. God, my heart feels so drained, and so lonely. Who comforts the comforter?

These friends had given us the blessing of meeting anticipated needs. They were God’s answer to my prayer. I know what you need. I know what you need. He moved hearts to be thoughtful in the most substantial form of the word, to be sacrificial, to be incarnationally compassionate down to the most minute details.  I took this blessing, this seed, and put it in my heart. It is growing. Hope. Joy. Light. Life.

say yes to the dolphin

We first met at the Mount Hermon Career / Young Adult conference. You were a workshop speaker, and I was there from a small local seminary to network with pastors and other leaders. When we started talking on that last day of the conference, it was purely business on my end. I did, however, remember hearing a lot of people make unsolicited remarks throughout the week about how much you had impacted their lives for the better, and that made an impression on me. When we started dating, my boss laughingly said, “I didn’t send you there to find a husband!” I shrugged and said, hey, I networked.

We had similar temperaments and similar life goals. I felt incredibly safe with you. I remember saying to you early in our dating life that I just didn’t think there were guys like you out there anymore. I remember when you invited friends over for a sushi feast after a spectacular tuna fishing trip. For hours, I just watched people walk in and out of your house as if it was their own home. Your heart was and is so big. The sink got clogged with fish remnants and fishy water at one point in the evening and flooded the entire kitchen floor with fish-gut water. As calm as could be, you went about cleaning the floor as if it was just a small spill. I marveled.

You endured all the wariness that came from my lovingly protective parents, and weathered their grilling the night you asked for my hand. You recruited a dolphin to help with your proposal in Oahu, Hawaii. How could I say no to a dolphin? I kid. That was so creative, so outside-the-box, so you.

In our first months of marriage, I was so amazed that you were my husband. So I would constantly just address you, in awe, as “husband.” You would respond, “wife.” I find it hilarious that we still call each other as such, but with a different, more comfortable, and well, less romantic tone, and people who hear us find it amusing and almost insulting. But we know how it started.

Outside of your crazy sushi skills, I love that you went from having all of three items in your refrigerator – an old ketchup bottle, a small foil-wrapped packet of soy sauce, and a half-empty bag of baby carrots when we first met – to becoming one of the most elaborate cooks I know. Your repertoire now includes pulled pork tostadas, mango mochi, and sweet tamales. Oh how I have domesticated you!

People say that once you get married, you discover all the weaknesses of the other person. But I constantly think about how I have been so blessed to have seen your strengths and your integrity shine through more than anything. Of course we’ve had our differences and our issues that we have needed to work out, as any two individuals would when they try to bring their lifestyles and habits and preferences together under one roof. But you have consistently treated me with love and respect. You look away from scantily-clad women on the television and fix your gaze on me. When I have spoken with grumpy, sharp words, I see you pause and make a choice time and time again to only respond with gentleness and kindness. You have always made it clear that I am not a “pastor’s wife,” but I am your wife. You live an incredibly generous life. At times I struggle to keep up, but you are always patient, always gracious, and always inspiring. You have always sought to protect me, from things outside of me as well as the voices in my own head that can sometimes be too harsh. You have been a safe place for my heart. You show me through your life who God is, and who I am as His beloved.

I have no doubt I take you for granted more often than not. But as our 7-year anniversary approaches, I want you to know that there is no one else in the world that I would have rather spent the past 7 years of marriage with, and there is no one else I could imagine going forward in life with, in all its joys, storms, twists and turns.

I love you, husband.

– wife

He called this place home

It was without doubt a defining moment in our relationship. We were dating seriously by that point, but I was still unpacking all the fears that were surfacing about letting someone get so close to me. I didn’t expect to feel so vulnerable, or so terrified by my vulnerability. He really had no idea what he could do to my heart if he wanted to change his mind about everything.

So there we were at his house after spending the day together. He was on one sofa watching television, and I was on the other sofa, fast asleep.  And then I woke with a start after hearing a moderate-volume rumbling that seemed to originate from very, very close by. Dazed, I looked over at him and his lips were pressed together in a suppressed half-smile of amusement.

And then it dawned on me.

So I asked in some disbelief, “Did I…just… fart?”

He nodded, and broke into a grin.

And then we hi-fived.

And that was when I knew that I had a safe place in this relationship that my heart could call home.

*cue wedding music*

Ok, so love isn’t really that easy. But the story does illustrate how we open ourselves up to be discovered, for better or for worse, when we enter into close(r) relationships with one another. What adds to the complexity is the fact that it is not only another person discovering who we are, but we are discovering ourselves as well. I was already acutely aware of some of the less lovely parts in me that I preferred to keep hidden for as long as possible. But I didn’t realize there were so many more that would emerge once I began sharing life more intimately with another person. Where did these come from? And so there was my selfishness. My impatience. My dysfunction. My way of doing things (and my very strong preference for it). Laid out for us to see.  There wasn’t enough time for me to sweep out the cobwebs, tidy the clutter, put the dirty laundry away, or pull out the air freshener. And yet he still somehow called this place home, and said it could be my home too.

I am constantly humbled by this love. I am comforted by how it points me again and again to the home that my heart ultimately has in the unfailing, unchanging, eternal love of God.

When we first adopted our sweet dog JJ from our dear friends, the poor little guy was clearly traumatized. He hung his head low on that first unfamiliar car ride to our house despite our quiet attempts at reassuring him, his eyes forlorn, confused, and resigned. At first he refused to walk with us, ambivalent about our trustworthiness and unaccustomed to our role in his life. Some weeks passed, and we worked on the relationship. We got to know his quirks, and he got to know ours. His anxiety visibly lessened, and his affection slowly grew. He began to follow us from room to room, wanting more and more to simply be where we were. One afternoon we were out for a couple of hours, only to find that he had discovered a hole in the fence that was big enough for him to squeeze through. We had no idea how long it had been since he got out of the back yard. But there he was, sitting patiently at the front door, waiting for us to return.

He wasn’t going anywhere. We had taken him in, and he in turn had let us in.

He was home.

when romance becomes reality

He married a very pretty girl. No one was surprised that he fell so hard for her. I mean, she was without fail the one that guys would see in a group photo of many good-looking folks, point out and ask in an overcurious tone, “Who’s that?” He beamed on his wedding day; he didn’t think she could look any more beautiful, but his bride was beyond stunning. Many men envied him: he gets to wake up every day with her. Many women envied her: she probably wakes up every day looking effortlessly perfect.

A few months after the wedding, I overheard him say, “Oh… after you get married, all the makeup comes off.

The thrill of romance is, I believe, still a God-given gift despite its ability to blind us a bit (or a lot). From it springs forth great dreams, exhilarating hopes, longings for an ideal way of being. It is good and important and thrilling to dream and hope and long for a redeemed world. It keeps us from settling for just-ok, just-the-way-things-are. Hence the wise advice I received during my engagement period to not just love my husband for the long run, but to remain enduringly in love.

But sustaining romance is not easy in marriage, nor is it easy in other aspects of life. A couple months after I started my new career as a nurse in my dream job, someone asked me if the honeymoon period was over yet. I had to admit, the cleaning of some unbelievable bedpans, and the futile attempts over many hours to soothe an unsootheable child, was quenching a bit of the zeal I initially felt about working in a challenging pediatric intensive care unit. After you get married, all the makeup comes off.

My friend whom we affectionately call Chia once shared this quote: “I want to live a life that is closer to the oppressed than to the oppressor.” Entire books can and surely have been written based on the principle behind this quote. Suffice for now to say that I have dreamt a lot about what the living-out of this quote could look like in my life. I long for this kind of life. But if I’m honest, I long for it in a romantic kind of way and I still fear, and resist, what it might mean for me in reality.

These dear friends have decided to enter into the tension between romance and reality, with a deep burden to know and care for those living in the inner city. To move from what feels like a safe(r) distance of love, into the inner city itself, to risk being close. Closer. Uncomfortably closer still. They have big dreams, and they are not so naïve to think that they are not still in that romantic phase.

But I am hopeful and full of faith for them, and I am inspired to keep dreaming for their life and my own. Because I am convinced that the transition from romance into reality is not just a one-way street, with no looking back. I am hopeful that there exists, rather, an ebb and flow where romance helps to fuel a vision for reality, and reality helps to remove some of those more naïve blinders of romance, thus refining our core and bringing forth an even deeper vision. True, after you get married, all the makeup comes off. But from that, something even more beautiful than we can ask or imagine emerges, and we learn what it is to truly love and stay in love.

you must love me

I have to confess, I like control. A lot. I can’t deny it, though some days I do deceive myself into thinking I’m a flexible, go-with-the-flow, nothing-rattles-me kind of person. My deep-seated affection for control is not always a bad thing. After all, it makes me a real planner, which helps me stay a bit more organized in nursing and life in general. But being one who loves to feel in control is also troublesome and terrifying because there are plenty of moments in a pediatric ICU when things simply do not go the way you want. I must, therefore, keep my need for control, under control. Oh dear. Although when asked recently at work if the tape covering the cotton ball on my tiny patient’s neck was there to secure my patient to the bed, I had to wonder, maybe I do have ‘control freak’ written across my forehead after all.

But I digress. Why such a strong affinity for a sense of control? Predictability feels safe. Perceived sovereignty feels good. It’s a great place to be for the risk-averse.

Let’s consider this in the context of dating, particularly on shows like “The Bachelorette.” I don’t typically watch this, but I was flipping channels the other night and became a bit intrigued by what Hollywood can tell us about our infatuation with control.  There are multiple, eager candidates hoping to win a girl’s heart through a very limited number of group and individual dates, followed all the while by cameras and microphones broadcasting every word and deed to the American public. The candidates must, then, carefully select what they choose to divulge and how they choose to divulge it in their sporadic interactions with this dream girl. Control is everything. Tell the impressive things, but don’t come across too cocky. Disclose morsels of weaknesses or hardships, and if articulated with just the right affect, they could elicit a twinge of sympathy which she might mistake for love. But alas. The men who trudge to the limo at the end of each episode without the highly coveted rose are perplexed and disappointed that they unable, despite all their valiant efforts, to make her fall in love. We love control, and we are frustrated by our lack of it.

I certainly don’t purport to know all the reasons for the bewildering, heartbreaking things that happen in life. But I would like to suggest some things that we gain from not having as much control as we think, and definitely not as much as we would like.

Lack of control humbles us. It softens our edges a bit. There is a rumor that cops won’t give traffic tickets to nurses. Maybe it’s because they think they might need the nurse’s help one fateful day when they are laid up in a hospital bed. Perhaps this is the thought that passes through their minds as they loom over the driver’s side window. At my work, when a patient goes into cardiac arrest, I might be able to give chest compressions, but I can’t at the same time also give those life-saving meds. I’m not fully in control of the situation. I have to admit it – I need help.

Lack of control makes us less flippant, less cavalier. A large earthquake strikes, and suddenly every news story is discussing how to create an earthquake preparedness kit. I have no idea what kind of medical emergency my patient might go into on any given day, so I renew my Pediatric Advanced Life Support certification regularly. This is not to say that our only option is to live in paranoia and constant gloom. Life is meant to be lived to the fullest for all the days that we are given! But lack of control exposes our assumptions about our invincibility, and pushes us to ask some of the hard but necessary questions.

Lack of control frees us. When we give up the desire to control people or situations to unhealthy degrees, we find that we are no longer obligated to behave in prescribed and often unbecoming ways to try and maintain control.  The roseless bachelor can move on from The Bachelorette and find love with a woman who knows him for who he is, for all of who he is. I can go to work knowing that I don’t need to tape my patients to the bed. Perhaps a compassionate touch, a reassuring voice (and ok, a small amount of medication) will do the job instead.