marriage

The Slovenian Flute Maker

One of the books I’m reading is called Heroes and Jerks, written by Ed Daly. This massive doorstop of a book breaks down human history into segments and then, in each segment, lists the 10 Best and 10 Worst people of the time. Now, there might be a bunch I wouldn’t ordinarily like about such lists, but it’s educational and hilarious, so what I wouldn’t ordinarily like doesn’t matter in this instance.

I tell you about this book because I want to tell you about a Slovenian flute maker and me and times like these, in particular.

First, the Slovenian flute maker. He’s #5 in the best of the Early Ancient History category (spanning two million B.C.-501 B.C.). And he’s the #9 worst. In 43,000 B.C., he hollowed out a cave bear’s femur and fashioned the first musical instrument, so if you’ve ever loved a song, danced, or cry when Gisy sings on Sunday morning, you have this guy to thank. AND if you’ve ever heard a Britney Spears song (or that Extreme song, “More Than Words”) and hated it, you also have this guy to thank.

I’ll be 45 years old in almost 2 weeks and I’m only just beginning to embrace the fact that the best thing about me is also the worst thing about me. It’s the thing that makes you (and my wife and my kids and anybody else) love me and it is the very thing that drives you crazy and want to never see me again. Just for knowing, it drives me crazy, too. I used to want nothing more than to change it, to leave that part of me well behind. I don’t anymore.

2020 is hard. Yesterday my phone rang and on the other end was a friend I haven’t spoken to in quite some time. She was in distress over the tragic news in our town (and her job and the local schools and COVID and everything else that is making us all feel like the world is upside down and tearing at the seams). I am in distress over the same things, as well, so we mostly just talked about how hard it is to get out of bed some days. How it can feel like it’s all for nothing. And somehow in the middle of ALL of the emotions we were feeling, there were sprinkles of laughter and hope and genuine care.

Then there’s this boy who came into the weight room where I work yesterday. Usually, the early teen-aged boys are overcome by insecurity and inadequacy and are absolutely insufferable (!!!!!), but this boy came in quietly and asked me what to do. He is apparently often in trouble. But he is also the boy who brought a bag of pretzels to the school office to share with my wife last year.

I don’t really feel that much like writing today. But times like these are discouraging and depressing. But just like the Slovenian flute maker (and everything else), they are not simply 1 thing. They are full of tears, but they are full of beautiful old friends, too.

Last night I had a rehearsal for a wedding that I’ll officiate Saturday and as I looked at these kids, I knew what was coming for them, for their marriage: the fights, the fear, the illnesses, the funerals, the all night conversations, the shouting, the questions, the anger, the pain, suffering, heart aches. I also know what else is coming: the joy, the celebration, the wins, the healing, the reconciliation, the passion, the dinners, the cozy movies on the couch, the births, the answers, the kisses, hugs, the hands to hold. It’s all wrapped up in a swirly mixture of a full love and life. It hurts and it is THE GREATEST. It’s always more than 1 thing, (everything is always more than 1 thing), if we only can have the imagination and faith and courage to just keep going.

The Point

I’m sitting here with this empty Pages document, probably taking a break from our response series. When I wrote last week’s “Echo,” I told my wife that it was probably as close as I could ever get to putting my heart & soul into words. If you happen to like me, that post made you remember why. I still do believe, and you can tell.

But part of the problem with that is, what comes next? What are we doing here with this blog?

Of course, I’d like to convince you that “Hey Jealousy” is one of the greatest songs ever (which my very good friend inexplicably tells me is debatable – she’s wrong;) and that Fumbling Towards Ecstasy is one of the greatest albums (inarguable), but the truth of the matter is that this space isn’t actually about either. It’s about Jesus (everything is.) And it’s about living in a world where His presence seems to be increasingly difficult to discern. It’s our job to point it out wherever we see and notice.

I often reference a story in Exodus where Moses is spoken to from a burning bush. The burning bush wasn’t the big deal, it was that it wasn’t being consumed. That is the kind of thing that takes attention, instead of just running through my to-do list preoccupied and distracted. How many burning bushes am I missing? I need someone to point them out when I find it hard to stop and focus.

Echo In The Canyon was a burning bush for me. So is Fight Club. So is this new Killers record (out today.) This blog is mostly just me pointing at bushes.

I have another website where I’m also pointing, last week it was at a terrific wedding reception that occurred 4 months after the ceremony (thanks to this global pandemic that you may have heard of.) I have a wedding tomorrow for 2 people I’ve never met. I’ll meet them at ‘our’ wedding. It took me quite a long time years ago to decide if I was going to be an officiant you could hire through a website. Obviously, I wanted to walk the steps, ask questions, have conversations, talk about expectations and Genesis 1 with the couple, but that desire became negotiable when a friend asked me to marry her sister. I didn’t know her sister at all, the first time I saw her was when she was walking down the aisle.

I didn’t like it then, was conflicted about all of it. Most of the guests weren’t taking it too seriously, were treating this sacred union like it was a trip to the grocery store or the McDonald’s. It felt offensive, like we were taking something awesome and huge totally for granted.

Until she came around the corner, like a fairy tale princess. If everyone else was sleepwalking, she sure wasn’t.

It took FOREVER for her to get to me, stepping slowly, tears streaming down her face. She faced her soon-to-be husband soaking in each other while they waited for me to begin. For a moment I couldn’t, overwhelmed by the moment. It would be impossible to overstate the gift she (both of them, really) gave me – the gift of The Point. Her name is Mandy and nothing was the same ever again.

Now, each of these weddings, I point. I say be here now and talk about Jesus and how wonderful and hard marriage is, but that everything is worth it. At the rehearsal I talk about burning bushes that aren’t consumed and that, like Moses, once we see them, nothing is ever the same again.

Ham

I have a really good friend who is the author of, as I write this, 5 novels I just looove. Honestly, I feel like a pretty big deal, too, that I know her and we are friends. She wrote a trilogy and is now 2 books into a quadrilogy called The Mercy Series. In the first book, Misericorde, through the words of a character, she detailed an extraordinary ethos for life: “May we show our thankfulness through kindness and appreciate our blessings through generosity.”

I immediately stopped reading and wrote it down in the notebook I always carry with me, and I’ll tell you why. 

Following Jesus at some point leads you to a wrestling with the idea of “faith +.” Faith + something, anything that I can do to prove my worth, to earn this gift of unbelievable love. We might not explicitly acknowledge this, but it comes out in much of what we do (and how we do it). 

Nothing is free, right?

The Grace of God IS, we are taught, so we hold on to that, but then James writes (in chapter 2) “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (v. 17)…faith without deeds is useless? (v. 20b)…You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. (v. 24)…As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. (v. 26)” Now what? Is it my faith or my deeds? And this wrestling leaves us at the same point: Do I have to?

The short answer is “No, I don’t.” The longer answer is “…but why wouldn’t I want to?”

The Angel married me, for some reason she loves me that much, so I guess I don’t ‘have to’ behave the way I did when we were dating, don’t have to prove myself, don’t have to wash the dishes and take the trash out and buy her Snickers ice cream bars and slippers, but why wouldn’t I? Why wouldn’t I want to express my love for her in all sorts of ways? Would I ask if I had to?

I think James’ question to me would be, “YES, she loves you NO MATTER WHAT, but if you love her, how is it possible that that love wouldn’t come out of you??” 

We love each other and the things we do are a response to that love. (That word, “response,” seems to have much more to unpack and may become the basis for a million part series here, but we’re talking about my friend’s book right now and I said I’d tell you why I wrote it down.) I love her so I’m making ham for dinner tonight and I absolutely hate ham but I make it because she likes it. That’s my response. My friend (whose name is Cyn Morgan and you can find her books on Amazon) writes about characters who are asking these same questions. That’s why her books are so great. They are loved and have been given so extravagantly, right then, there, as they are. Now what? Their answer is kindness and generosity. I wrote it down because, whether it’s in a novel or in space or in Cleona, it’s a great answer and an even better lifestyle.

This Angel

Monday is our 18th wedding anniversary, in 3 days our marriage will be old enough to vote. I have so many thoughts about that…and I’ve been sitting looking at a mostly blank screen. It’s not that I haven’t started. I have, quickly tapping out several sentences. And then immediately delete what I’ve written. 

Because what can you write about that? 

We’ve been together 1 day and, at the same time, a million years. It’s been smooth and easy, natural and peaceful. And it’s been difficult and uncomfortable and full of all kinds of tears. I know her like I know me, and I am consistently surprised by this Angel.

So now, what can you say about this marriage, any marriage that has made it this far?

I know it’s unbelievably important to kiss each other a lot. I’ll tell you my favorite thing we have done since the first day, as long as you don’t tell her I told you. Anytime either of us comes in the door, we get up – no matter what we’re doing – and we go to the door and say Hi and give the other a hug and kiss. (We do the same with the boys, too, but this isn’t really about them. It might be, now that I think about it. Theodore Hesburgh says, “The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.” So, I’m doing the “best thing” for my boys because I sure do love their mother.)

Here’s another embarrassing thing (for her) that I’ll tell you. I wrote earlier that the nearly 20 years we’ve been together sometimes feel like 1 and others like a million. I still see her and lose my breath and get nervous because she’s so ridiculously foxy EXACTLY like I did before I ever spoke to her, when she was “this girl in some of my business classes.” You would think that would fade a little, but it hasn’t, and I don’t know if that has more to do with her remaining this foxy or the more I learn about her, the more attractive she is. I’ve seen the way she loves our sons, gets out of bed the second they call her name (never mine,) cries over the things she sees and feels at work, and builds decks and bookshelves; each of which make her ever more stunning in the dresses she wears as well as her pajamas, fully made up or fresh out of bed.

I know now what to write about that! As I’m sitting here thinking about my special lady, about all of the things that I love about her and the many arguments and frustrations and storms and floods and heartaches and celebrations and all of the everything that comes with a full life, I realize that each of them contain some variation of the word ‘thankful.’ And I guess that’s what ties everything together. We go to the door because we are so grateful that they are the ones that are coming home and that we are the ones who are there to greet them. I still deeply appreciate the way she looks (instead of being overrun with the numbness that familiarity can easily breed, taking the most lovely woman you’ve ever seen completely for granted) because the God to whom we have given our lives and our marriage has opened my eyes, and transformed my life until I am the kind of man who is present and awake enough to see what is right in front of my face. I’m thankful He brought us together and that she chose me then, and continues to choose me now. 

I’ve been incredibly thankful for these 18 years, overwhelmed at the grace I’ve been shown, and I sure can’t wait to see what happens next. Happy Anniversary!

     

   

Watches

This morning, I picked up 6 watches I had taken to a local jeweler for battery replacements. I had been missing them for quite some time, and it is very nice to have them back and the one that is apparently my favorite, back on my wrist.

I love the look and function of a nice watch, I think it says something wonderful about the person that wears it. I also like the look and function of people, too, so I engaged him, asking an innocent question – more a statement with a question mark, really: “There sure aren’t many that still do watch batteries anymore, are there?”

He had opinions (and we’ll get back to this in a minute.)

First, there is a machine that exerts pressure on the face to put the piece back together. This machine is fairly complex and, if the proper fitting isn’t used, the crystal can easily break. Sometimes, the hands get bent and the mechanics get damaged as well, if this machine is used inappropriately. To prevent this sort of problem, it takes patience, training and careful operators.

Second, watches can be pretty cheap. Most of mine are. In fact, I bought 2 in Canada at a department store that was having a GIANT sale for less than $2 each. My watches aren’t all that inexpensive, but I also don’t have any that I have to insure.

These 2 actually share the same root. We are living in an increasingly disposable world. It’s cheaper and easier to buy a new watch than replace a battery, it’s cheaper and easier to hire a new employee than train and keep the old one. TV repairman are relics; if my picture fails, next Thursday I’ll take it out to the curb with the rest of the trash. Sewing is a lost art. I’ll put the pants that split right next to the tv.

I find this mostly depressing. I like cheap and easy, but I’m not sure I like it as much as patience and care. Speaking with the jeweler, who would’ve gone on all day about the watch replacement battery procedure and the many different choices of tools involved, who spoke slowly, softly and clearly (also anomalies), I was struck by his passion and talent. You know how that is, when someone cares deeply for something, you find yourself completely engrossed in whatever it is, right? (I have a good friend who is a tax lawyer and absolutely love to hear stories about codes and assessments) I wanted him to go one all day, was disappointed when the next customer opened the door. (She wanted a bracelet engraved. Engraved. Nothing I own is engraved. Yet.) I wanted him to offer to show me the machine, to train me, to give me a job. I wanted to be a jeweler. I wanted more fancy watches and I wanted them engraved.

Now, it’s an hour later and I don’t honestly care too much about watch batteries, outside of the simple fact that my watches tell time again. But this disposable world issue is farther reaching, and that’s harder to ignore. Our relationships are disposable, people are disposable. I guess it was inevitable, We treat each other as commodities, as we would dish soap or bedsheets  – remaining as long as they are useful. If my buddy has a rough patch and is no longer making me laugh or providing a fun time, I’ll find a new buddy, leaving him to deal with his rough patch alone. If my marriage doesn’t feel very good lately, maybe it’s time to upgrade and get a new one. Of if he disagrees with me, or has something negative to say about a decision of mine, or she expects too much of me, or wants me to do things I don’t want to, everyone can be replaced. Who has the time to invest in something that doesn’t offer a high return immediately? 

Marriages, authentic relationships, honesty, loyalty, kindness, care, love – these things aren’t cheap and easy, but they’re so great, they’re the best things about being alive. What does it say about us when we so quickly discard the most important for the most convenient? When we trade commitment for detachment and indifference? 

I know they’re only watches, but I’m not convinced we should become the kind of people who just mindlessly throw anything away.              

3 Examples of Weight in Real Time

We’ve been discussing weight and value and our ability to choose and leave behind the hopelessness of victimhood in our daily lives. Next time, the tone will shift to the way these minor choices can affect our lives in major ways, increasing our presence and peace. 

But first, this week I had (at least) 3 opportunities to practice weight that illustrate perfectly the water we’ve been swimming in.  

A nearby theater does a super-cool thing where they play an older film for free at 10am on Tuesdays, and for months I had been anxiously waiting for this Tuesday, April 2, and Fight Club. Everybody knows Fight Club is my absolute favorite movie and The Most Spiritual Movie Ever (and I’m mostly not kidding about that, and I promise I’ll eventually write a detailed defense of that position.) I invited several of the men in our church community to experience this together, with me, and have our minds blown and souls filled together. Then Monday, I picked my oldest son up from school and he looked like he had been run over, the kind of look that, instead of “Hey buddy,” requires “Oh no! What happened to you?” He had managed to make it through the season relatively unscathed by the illness everyone else suffered through until now. I hoped and prayed that it would move through him in a night and he’d wake up new and healthy, hopes and prayers that went unanswered (I say that, but maybe they were answered. Maybe the answer was just no.) 

I had a choice to make. I could call someone to watch him. I could go, and leave him home alone. I could ask my wife to take a sick day to be with him. I could stay with him. I’m sure there are more. I guess I could even take him with me. I had no shortage of options. 

But I work from home for many reasons. One of the very biggest is so my boys (or my special lady) would have their daddy (or husband) right next to them to fill their water, feed them tissues, rub their feet, or worse, hold their hair while they, um, fill a bucket. But the “right next to them” is the point. I usually don’t do any other work, I just am.

BUT THIS WAS FIGHT CLUB!!! It long ago passed through its theatrical release, how often do you get to see a life-changing movie on the big screen with your brothers? He would understand, right? Of course he would.

I didn’t go to Fight Club, we watched DVD’s of Three’s Company instead. Some things weigh more and, as it turned out I didn’t have much of a choice to make at all. I had already made it, long before the circumstance dictated a decision.

Next.

We have a gathering at the Bridge where we eat pizza together and talk about all sorts of things that come up – we thoroughly enjoy each other. This lovely space was scheduled for last night. Last night, I also had baseball practice. No, I don’t play (I’m much too old and my knees and ankles hurt and crack far too much), but I do help to coach. 

The Bridge is my priority, my job, and the people there are my family. No question as to weight here, right?

The son who was sick had recovered and Thursday was his first baseball practice of the year, first practice with a new team on a newly expanded field, first practice at an entirely new level. 

I coach baseball for 1 reason and 1 reason alone, and they live in this house. I coach to spend time with my sons. (The relationships I’ve made with other coaches is second. As a matter of fact, baseball itself is pretty low on the list of why’s. Of course, I do love baseball, have always loved baseball, but the best part of baseball is my dad. I can love baseball and my dad from home.) 

On the field (or basketball court), we worship the God who gave us these amazing physical gifts, we face challenges and our own fears, we do hard things, we learn to pick ourselves up, we discover what we are capable of, we love. 

And we walk into firsts together.     

I went to practice and it was awesome. He was awesome. I missed my Bridge family terribly. No one ever said this discernment of weight was easy, Saying yes to something means saying no to lots of other somethings.

One more. 

I get up early to go to the gym around 4am. This requires me to go to bed before 9, sometimes well before 9. My wife mentioned Tuesday night that she might like me to be up later, until at least 9, so she might have a bit more time with a conscious me. 

There are a million choices to be made in just this tiny example. Do I no longer go at 4? But what about the reasons I decided to go at 4 in the first place? What about sleep? How much do I need? She would surely deal with it easily if I still went down early. But what would that say, about her, about weight, about priority? To live at as high of a level as I value, I do need sleep. But I also need to work out. And most importantly, I need my wife to understand her significance. 

Sooooooo. You’ll forgive me if I’m a little tired this week because I’m now a night owl.

Next time, we’ll talk about a GIANT question Jesus asks. But for now, I’m going to take a nap.