Your Marriage Doesn’t Have to Look Like Anyone Else’s

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I think my picture of what marriage would look like was some combination of my parents’ marriage and every 1990’s rom-com I’d ever seen. We’d have clear his-and-hers roles based on how my parents did everything, because hey, it’s still working for them, and we’d cuddle every night and fall asleep with our arms and legs all intertwined under the big comforter and never have morning breath.

It was pretty soon after we got married that my mental pic started to unravel. Apparently we had one minor difference with all my poster marriages: our entire personalities. The first time my car needed to go into the shop, I looked at Alex like, “You best get on that,” and he looked at me like, “It’s your car, so . . ” With consternation I drove to the car fixer place and learned how to grownup. Apparently I was not living in my parents’ marriage. As for the rom-coms, I quickly discovered that cuddling at night was like strapping myself to a hairy furnace and I started erecting a large pillow blockade to protect myself from the wall of heat. I wear a bite guard in my mouth that smells like zombie flesh and the first morning I went to kiss him he had to fight the urge to throw up.

From the beginning, our marriage didn’t really look like the other ones we saw.

I’m gonna let you in on a little secret: your marriage doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. I’ve been married sixteen years, and if I had to pinpoint the biggest most important thing I’ve learned about the institution, it’s that. Yes, serve one another and communicate and listen and stuff. But most importantly, don’t worry about what other people are doing, because your marriage is your own special freak show. Just do you.

When we were starting out, we did all the training. We had couples’ groups and groups of couples’ groups and retreats and conferences and oh so many books about sex and love and everything in between. We did premarital counseling and pastoral counseling and we were vetted and prepared like racehorses for a different kind of steeplechase. By the time we got married we were so freaking sick of marriage and talking about it.

Pastors told us about submitting and helpering and explained about how the Trinity was like roles in marriage, and we took notes and listened to cassette tapes. We tried to be like everybody else, because it seemed to work for people.

Deep down we wrestled with thoughts.

“You’re the helper. Help him. He needs you.” But I need him, and he helps me, too.

“You need love and he needs respect.” But I need respect like a lot. A lot a lot. I’m like a respect junkie.

“Let him lead.” I’m going to bite my tongue off in the middle of this small group. I wonder if anyone would notice if blood starts dripping out of my mouth.

We’d sit in sermons and listen to gender stereotypes and force ourselves not to snort out loud. “Ladies, when you’re shopping . . ” “Men, on the golf course . . .” We’d look at each other and roll our eyes. We seemed to defy the categories.

I love bloody action thrillers and he loves Regency England period pieces and we both love both of those things. So whether we’re watching the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice or Kill Bill Vol. 1, we’re happy as two clams with the same taste in movies.

We heard that couples struggle with communication, that men aren’t talkers and women are, that it would be hard. Except in our case, it wasn’t. Alex is a fantastic communicator. We talk all the time about everything and it’s probably my favorite thing about this marriage. Either that or sharing the same favorite color: orange.

People kept saying opposites attract. Except in our case, they didn’t. We are the exact same Myers-Briggs personality type, ENTJ. Which basically means we’re two first-born generals barking orders at each other all the damn day. (And also we must be complete narcissists who love ourselves so much we went out and married ourselves.)

Figuring out our roles looks different than what we were told. We are two leaders who had to figure out how to co-lead. We had to pull and push and learn how to communicate and share. The most crucial thing we’ve had to learn and are continuing to learn is to humble ourselves and listen to each other.

And also how to get some friggin’ sleep.

I’m a really light sleeper and my husband is . . . I feel like you should picture knocking out a bear with Lunesta but also administering a gallon-sized Ziplock of meth. So the bear is unconscious but also amped up and rolling around like he’s demon-possessed. This might be an exaggeration. I’m a light sleeper and wake up if a mosquito sneezes two counties over. I hear footsteps from across the house. (I always joke that if we’d lived together first before getting married, we never would’ve gone through with it. So I’m glad we didn’t, because we would’ve missed out on a great marriage because of a small thing like lifetime insomnia.)

A couple years ago we started getting great sleep. Was it the sleep apnea mask? No. Was it the earplugs that bored all the way into my brain? No. We stopped sleeping together.

Gasp. I know. This isn’t the ideal picture of marriage. But for us, we love each other more when we’re well rested. Simple mattress geography was keeping us from a terrific relationship because we were too exhausted between him snoring, and me sighing passive aggressively, and him flailing, and me whacking him on the head regular ol’ aggressively. So we took a page out of the Victorian playbook and started crashing separately. Now if we’re sharing a bed it’s because we’re doing stuff in it. And the stuff was another road all our own.

Books told us about sex and what to do and what not to do. But then infertility broke us and no book could put us back together. We had to throw out everything we’d read and heard about and figure out our way. How would we find the way back to each other after years of “failing” in our intimacy? Sex was a reminder of what we couldn’t do: make babies. So we started over, carved out a new way, our own way, and rekindled oneness without expectations.

Sixteen years in, we’re settling into who we are, defining our own freaking roles, and shifting them around as needed. Our marriage doesn’t look like anybody else’s, because we don’t look like anybody else. People are nuanced and unique, and our marriages should be that way, too. Individual marriages made up of individuals. I can share what works in mine, but I can’t tell you how to work yours.

Our marriage might not be like everybody else’s, but we do have a kickass marriage. I’m married to my best friend, we hang out and solve the world’s problems over French-pressed coffee, and we’re closer than ever. It’s amazing what can happen when you ditch what you think marriage should look like and try creating a real one.

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Cleaning Up the Mess

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“Now, what?”

I asked myself a few months ago. After years, consisting of very long days, of  family struggles with mental and medical conditions, the season began to change. At first, I dared not believe it. So many times, there had been brief glimpses of light as we forged through the darkness. But those moments seemed to fade quickly. Once again, we would be left trying to find our footing and walk forward together: my daughter, my two sons, my husband, and myself. To say that the relationships between us were strained would be an understatement. When one person in a family struggles, everyone is effected. 

The dynamics between us does not resemble the picture I had in my mind before my husband and I started a family.  My daughter began treatment for Bipolar Disorder at 9 years old (she is now age 15). My older son (age 18) has battled anxiety and depression along with a host of unexpected health concerns along the way. The youngest son (age 13), whom I call the “comic relief,” manages mild anxiety. None of their conditions define them, but they do effect the climate of our home. It hasn’t always felt like the refuge I hoped my husband and I would create. We have tried to initiate traditions, affirm each other’s strengths, and attempt to carve moments of time together. We have sought out therapy, utilized resources and developed a support system. Humor has even found its way in. Yet, we couldn’t always keep the storms at bay.

Truthfully, the winds, at times, seemed so forceful that I wasn’t sure I had the strength to resist them. My husband and I could be a strong force together; yet each of us developed our own methods of survival. We also felt as if the storm was invisible to everyone else. When your kids are physically sick, it is usually visible and garners sympathy. However, mental illness carries a stigma. There are plenty of opinions regarding how to “fix” your child. “If we would just . . .” Meanwhile, the unpredictable nature of episodes and triggers as well as the financial stress and school concerns mount. And in the midst of it all, you are trying to sustain your marriage, pay bills and pray for endurance, provision, and healing.

It occurred to me one day that this long season of storms may have finally transitioned into a season of calm. When you are so used to living in survival mode, you don’t always realize that the storm has weakened. Weeks no longer seemed packed with doctors’ appointments, evaluating medications, financial distress, school battles, emotional burnout. It may be the beginning of a season of restoration. On the surface, a calm after the storm sounds welcoming. But, truthfully, the implications are daunting.

How do you begin cleaning up the mess?

Branch by branch, piece by piece. I remember a horrific storm that erupted suddenly about 10 years ago. When it was safe, we made our way outside to access the damage. Thankfully, our belongings remained intact. However, our street and our yard were filled with tree limbs and branches scattered everywhere. In order to move toward restoration, you must begin cleaning up the mess one branch at a time. It may take a while. And I’ve learned (reluctantly) that’s okay.

Restoring our relationships with each other will take time. One branch at a time. I often wonder how my kids would relate to one another had our situation been different. I will never know the answer. It would be tempting to dwell on the “what ifs,” but that would require looking back. We are heading forward. The medical concerns have not resolved. The winds may indeed return. We have found space to breathe and rest. We have found our footing once again and set our eyes on God; who is in the business of making things new. I find inspiration in the promise given to the Israelites: 

See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
 Isaiah 43:19 (NIV)

The Truth of Loneliness

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I remember a show where a magician betrays his sacred order, and with a heavy shadow disguising his face, spills the secrets of his magic.

The secrets of marriage are far more closely guarded.

You won’t catch many people admitting to how much sex they have or don’t have. Most wives wisely caption their social media photos as “Date night with my best friend!” instead of “Desperate to connect with my husband: dinner was our best idea.”

I forget how many people we are fooling, so my friend caught me by surprise when she held her heart bleeding in front of me.  

“I don’t care about sex”, she said. “It’s the companionship. I feel like if I don’t get married I’ll never have a best friend.”

She continued to tell me more about the loneliness of singleness. She assumed I wouldn’t understand, and went into tender detail.

I took a deep breath. 

There are certain things we are coached to do as wives, and one of them is to always speak highly of our spouses and our marriages. We guard marriage almost as fiercely as we guard other people’s perceptions of our marriages.

I didn’t know how to tell her that I knew the dark, desperate hole of loneliness well. Whatever our relationship status, there is no relationship that guarantees intimacy. We’ve all got one shot at intimacy, and we’ll never experience it if we are waiting to receive it as a gift from someone else.

There was a night a few years ago that I went to bed alone, in the dark.  

My husband was working a lot of hours and traveling internationally. I felt trapped in my sweatpants at home with two babies under two years old. I resented him for not being there. I grieved the way my relationships had changed with my girlfriends after marriage. I hated that my husband and I traded spending our evenings together or going to bed at the same time for a paycheck. I warned myself to be more supportive.

As I laid my head on my pillow that night, I turned my face into it and screamed instead. Afraid I might wake the baby, I tried to contain myself. I barely recognized my own voice as it rebelled from deep inside of me. The groans and tears had stormed the gates of my lips and eyes. They would not be silenced. I sobbed until my pillow was wet and I could barely breathe.

“God, why am I so lonely in my own house?” I lamented.  

A couple days later I went for a walk with a friend. She’s been married much longer than I, and she’s the kind of friend I could talk to when I was hurting. I told her I was desperate not to become one of the couples who has nothing in common when they aren’t raising kids together.  She responded that marriage is hard. We walked and talked and by the end I felt like maybe I had a choice if I was going to be lonely. My friend prayed with me, and I gave her a big hug. I remembered that my circle of people whom I love and the circle of people who love me is much bigger than the dark and desperate place I imagined myself in.

Later that night I took my husband by the hand before his next conference call and I sat him on the couch.

“I love you, and I’m lonely,” I told him. I admitted when I felt like he wasn’t spending enough time with me I began holding my thoughts and feelings back from him. The tears in the eyes of a man who never cries assured me we were going to be okay. When the words finally circled awkwardly in the open space between us, the way toward connection became clearer.

I didn’t just need more from my man, I needed to give him more of me.  

Loneliness is not about who you have or don’t have, or about who is or isn’t loving you well.  Loneliness is best measured by the people you give your heart to.  

Whether you are single, celibate, or in a struggling marriage you are not banned from intimacy. Intimacy is not an experience someone else is blocking you from. You can stop chasing the un-loneliness. No matter what your status is, the invitation to relationship stands. Emotional intimacy is a precious gift that is yours to give. Guard it carefully, share it often.

Friends for a Season

Friends for a Season - The MudroomI see them smiling together on Facebook, their photos gleefully captioned “Mom’s Night Out!” as they escape their kids for wine and pedicures. They comment on each other’s throwback Thursday pics, poking gentle fun at the teased bangs one had peeking out from under her graduation cap. I imagine they wore the matching heart necklaces in middle school – BE FRI on one half of the heart, ST ENDS on the other. They’ve been besties as long as I’ve known them, as close as sisters for most of their lives.

And I’m jealous.

I envy their shared histories. I envy the way they have managed to grow as friends, navigating the separation of college, the rock-your-world transitions into married life and parenthood. I’ve had intimately close friends throughout my life. But the faces of those close friends shift and change across the years.

My childhood bestie and I had matching Cabbage Patch dolls and were as comfortable sleeping over in each other’s houses as we were in our own. But we went to different schools, and despite summers lounging together at the pool, eventually we drifted apart. We still keep up on social media. I run into her mom now and then, and we smile at the fact that it’s our turn driving the carpool line, watching daughters of our own giggle in the backseat. If we went out for drinks and pedis, we’d surely laugh about the old days, attempt to catch up. But I suspect we’d soon run out of things to say, our current lives many miles apart.

In college, I found, for the first time, a circle of friends who were all friends with one another. This little dorm community was formed through the intensity of being on our own for the first time, away from the supportive safety nets of high school pals and first loves. We became fast friends, connecting over shared struggles in Chemistry 101 and failed efforts find romantic chemistry with the boys down the hall. We bonded through bouts of homesickness and bad dining hall food. We wrote letters, paper letters, that first summer apart. But when we came back together as sophomores, still living in adjacent rooms, it wasn’t quite the same. We began to grow in different directions, distracted by sororities and heavier academic loads and boys. I loved these girls fiercely and wholeheartedly in those early college days. And outside of the Christmas cards we still exchange, I’ve not talked to any of them in nearly a decade.

As an adult, two women came into my life and promptly became my best grown up friends. They showed up at the hospital with milkshakes in hand when I had my babies. They cleaned out my fridge when my toddler’s hospital visit stretched from days to months. Theirs were the shoulders I sobbed on when I lost my mom. But they were also besties for the non-crisis moments: the Friday night crafting dates, the ones I’d text when I couldn’t decide what to wear. I called them my chosen sisters; still do, actually.

Lately, though, I feel the closeness waning. We try to meet for coffee, and the first date we’re free is 6 months out. We pass each other in the church hallway, but the conversation rarely makes it past “I’m good, busy as ever! We should get together!”  I see us slipping from sisterhood into mere acquaintances, and I feel powerless to stop it. I could list a hundred reasons why it’s hard to remain close. They work full time while I’m home with tinies during the day. The older our kids get, the more time we spend schlepping them to swim team and soccer practice. It’s easier to hang with preschool moms whose schedules line up neatly with mine. Lame excuses, of course. But I default to them when I can’t explain the patterns of our friendship shifting.

Looking back, I see that the moments when my friendships were close emotionally are the same as those when we’re close physically.  My childhood best friend and I were closest when we could walk around the corner to play together. When my college friends weren’t spending as much time in the dorm, we grew apart. Friendship is intertwined with proximity, of course; shared time is the heart of human relationships. But I refuse to believe that I can only remain close with people I see every single day.

Why do I keep losing touch with people I love dearly? I see myself as someone who takes time to invest in important relationships. I pop off a quick text to say “This made me think of you.” I try to squeeze time for coffee in an already overloaded schedule. I pray for them. I wonder, though, if I’m making the wrong kinds of efforts to sustain friendship. Do I need to be better with birthdays? Set unbreakable standing coffee dates? Call instead of text? Could those simple efforts stop the slide with my chosen sisters?

I wonder, though, if I’m doing something unintentionally to push friends away. Maybe I’ve only got so much bandwidth for friends. It hurts to think that time spent building new relationships erodes time for old friends; both deserve my attention, my heart. Perhaps the efforts I think I’m making to sustain a relationship are only halfhearted. I try to accept the fact that relationships come and go and change, that some friendships are strong only for a season. But in my heart, I will always wonder what I might have done differently.

So I pull out my calendar. In red pen, I write “Coffee with Chosen Sisters,” circling a Tuesday evening six months out. It feels a little futile, like it might already be too late to restore that sense of sisterhood. But having seen the pattern of close friends slipping away, I long to know that I made the effort, that I showed these women how much they matter to me. I’m torn between a sense of resignation that friendships change and a desire to change together.

I wish I knew the secret to making it last.

Image courtesy of the author.

Soul Bare Giveaway!!

 
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A small hybrid press announced a new community project called Soul Bare: Reflections on Becoming Human, created by Cara Sexton. The original call for submissions was announced on July 12, 2012, with a deadline of November 1, 2012.
 
It was to be a collection of raw, personal stories by some well-known Christian writers and some newly discovered. I considered it, looked at the list of contributors, got intimidated, and gave up before I put a word on the screen. 
 
Over the next few months I would have twinges of regret, wondering if I made the right choice. With the new year approaching, it was almost time to pick a new One Word for the year. My word for 2012 had been fearless. That same Cara Sexton had even created an image for me when I saw the same one on her blog.

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Fearless. I launched into 2012 with a list of things that scared me and I set about to meet each one of them as bravely as I could. And that year I accomplished an amazing amount of things, but apparently my courage was waning by then and I was already looking for a replacement word. 
 
Cara announced a new January 1, 2013 deadline for Soul Bare. On New Year’s Eve, hours before the deadline, I mustered all the fearlessness I could, pulled together an essay, and sent it off. Then promptly detached from that reality. It was a deeply personal piece where I revealed more of my story and brokenness in writing than I ever had before. I actually felt sick to my stomach after I hit send.
 
On January 25th I received an acceptance letter with congratulations. My piece had been chosen. 
 
I was overcome by elation mixed with disbelief. I had to read the email a few more times that week to make sure it was still true. The contributor list was emailed to everyone and there were even more illustrious names on it. Our edits were sent to us in June, and in July our bios were requested.
 
On March 29, 2014 the news we had been waiting for arrived: “The final manuscript is with the publisher now, awaiting the completion process, which will include a revised cover design, release date scheduling, and the like.” It was really happening!!
 
Until it wasn’t.
 
The press dropped off the face of the earth and left Soul Bare hanging in the wind. 
 
But God . . . 
 
He’s been at the center of this from its inception, and he was far from done with it. Cara took back the manuscript and sent it to agent Chip MacGregor who LOVED the book, shopped it to a few publishers, and by the end of June 2015, the offer was accepted and InterVarsity Press announced as the new publisher! Helen Lee took a chance on an anthology and I am constantly impressed by her. 
 
There was another round of major editing including a number of essays being pulled, and I doubted that mine would be chosen again. It was a long, nerve-wracking three and a half years of acceptance, approved edits, losing a publisher, gaining a publisher, losing fellow contributors, until I held my Soul Bare baby in my hands. 
 
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I am profoundly grateful for Cara’s unswerving faithfulness to this project. Without her vision and tenacity it would have been scrapped long ago. She battled severe chronic illness flare ups and a host of other scary medical issues but never let it cool her passion for Soul Bare. She seemed to always have a spoon left for us. 
 
I am deeply honored to be among such brilliant, brave writers and I want to give a special shout out to Sarah Bessey who gracefully endured my stalking her at The Festival of Faith and Writing and hugged me tight when she met me.
 
The writers who fill these pages with story and experience, lessons learned and regrets confessed, are some of the finest writers I’ve encountered. You’ll want to pause after every essay to tweet a quote, thanking them for their willingness to bare their souls, and may even want to bare yours. 
 
Soul Bare is coming out August 8th and you can preorder it now and be the first on your block to read it! I hope it meets you where you need it and helps you feel less alone wherever you are. 

The Mudroom is giving away 5 copies of Soul Bare, courtesy of InterVarsity Press! Send a tweet or like our Facebook page to enter. Winners will be chosen on July 30th. You can enter once a day. Share this post with your friends!

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Check out the first book trailer with Shannan Martin!


Finger Pointing and Neighboring

Black and White Neighbor

Like so many others, I am following the developments in Dallas, Minneapolis, Baton Rouge, Kansas City and Florida,

And I know that there will be fingers pointed.

I could point my finger at the police, who disproportionately kill unarmed black men, who are seven times as likely as white men to die at the hands of police. Pointing fingers at all police would be uncalled for, as we know that there are quality officers who love & serve their communities well.

I could point my finger at our news stations, who report black crime at greater rate than white crime. Even though black crime rates have plummeted in the past 20 years, the reporting of crime with black perpetrators is higher than the crime rate itself (75% to 51%). Neuroscience shows that when we turn on the evening news and see higher frequency of stories involving black perpetrators, our brains begin to link blackness with criminality–and the more this link is triggered, the stronger the link becomes. In other words, our brains are being trained to link black people with crime. And when white crime is reported the white suspects are often shown more favorably, as seen here.

Of course, pointing fingers at all media would be uncalled for, as there are quality reporters & networks doing the heavy lifting to cover stories fairly.

I could point my finger at Hollywood, for continuing to show that black communities are solely dangerous, ghetto subcultures–for routinely depicting black neighborhoods as a disorderly place in which youth cannot be controlled by adults, so police are needed to crack down on violence to maintain order. Yet pointing fingers at all movies is ridiculous, as there are some great films that shape our imaginations in healthy ways about culture.

I could point my finger at the NRA, whose answer to all gun-related violence is always, well, more guns. Just buy more guns. Pointing fingers at solely at guns and gun owners is not the answer either, as I know that there are responsible gun owners out there (although I do believe regulations should change, but that’s another issue).

We should be pointing back at ourselves. We cannot continue to think that racism will disappear over time–that people will just become better with time. Racism must be deconstructed. But we don’t know where to begin, the issues are so complex, and we don’t think of ourselves as part of the problem. I mean, we’re not racist–we have black friends, co-workers, teachers. Heck, we’ll adopt a kid from Africa and serve meals in the inner city (and what’s the white savior complex anyway?). We certainly can’t have a finger pointed at us, accusing us of being the problem, right? 

Here’s the thing. We can’t–no, we won’t–deconstruct a system without loving each other well. I’m not talking about the fluffy, feel good concepts of love, peace and acceptance. I’m saying that we cannot love each other well unless we know each other well. 

We do not know each other.

This idea is based on the simple fact that white people and black people live separate lives in separate neighborhoods. White exposure to blacks is minimized, (except for the evening news), even as the country became more integrated. From 1950 onward, blacks and whites became more segregated across municipal boundaries. After 1950, they not only lived in different neighborhoods; increasingly they lived in different municipalities as well.  In other words, blacks and whites now reside in wholly different towns and cities

We don’t live together. We don’t know each other. And my guess is that we are afraid of each other because of it.

So many things will continue to keep us apart. How can we start a conversation about how we can start to come together, to do life together, to simply be with each other and know each other? It’s radical and simple and it just may change all of us–and the world.

 

Ready to start that conversation?

How have you done this in your life, in your community, in your neighborhood?

Share with us in the comments. We want to hear from you.

Requiem For a BFF

Being the new girl in 8th grade was like walking over hot coals every day. All the other kids were a part of established cliques. Hormones and insecurity are a double rip tide that pulls under all but the strongest and most resilient of us during middle school.

It was a life preserver to have Karen draw me into her circle of friends during a ski trip. Her clique wasn’t “cheerleader popular”, but they were a pretty cool group. As time went on, we cycled between being besties and drifting from each to connect with others in the intense friendships that characterize adolescence. Karen and I found our first bond in our respective difficult home lives and our shared weed smoking habits, then as each of us came to newfound faith in our Rescuer, Jesus.

When I got married at the end of my sophomore year in college, Karen and I learned that the bond of true friendship was elastic in nature. Our lives went in different directions for a while, and our rubber-band bond stretched farther than it ever had before.

Our lives were different for a while, as I focused on married life and then starting a family, and she traveled abroad and finished college. We fell again into closer orbit after she and her husband started a family. We were together in the trenches of parenting, and our kids grew up spending lots of time together. Even after my family moved a couple of hours away midway through our kids’ respective childhoods, Karen and I stayed tethered to one another by phone call and visit.

I had a solar system of friends and acquaintances, and for years considered Karen the inner ring, my closest friend, fixed in orbit, always and forever my Proverbs 18:24 BFF. What a consolation it was to know there was always someone there who knew my story and was in my corner no matter what. When my husband and I went through two hellish church leadership experiences, Karen’s friendship proved Aristotle’s axiom true in my life: “The antidote for fifty enemies is one friend.” Karen was one of God’s most effective antidotes during those difficult periods, and a bubbly glass of celebration of our shared lives and faith during so many ordinary, extraordinary days together.

As our kids grew into adulthood, our once-synced lives again fell into a stagger step cadence. More than a decade ago, an excruciating breach in my family sent me to the Valley of the Shadow. Karen is one of the most committed party-creators I know, and as time went on, a long, hard season of clinical depression became a buzz-kill party guest and threw Karen and I out of sync in new ways. When Karen and her husband moved to a new part of the country, the rubber band binding us stretched far and thin, and our every-so- often conversations shifted to catching up on newsy bits and referencing our thick catalog of shared memories.

Certainly, there is something wonderfully comforting about having someone to call BFF. David had his Jonathan. Anne of Green Gables shared bosom-friendship with Diana Barry. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are an invincible power duo. But at midlife, many of us realize we’re in for (pardon the pun; I couldn’t resist) a duo-over.

This life stage brings often carries a shift in relationships. I wrote a piece for Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog a few years ago about midlife loneliness that follows after kids leave the nest and we discover some of our friendships may be fading as a result. I noted then:

Our kids scattered, some to college, others into the workforce or the military. Some friends relocated or put new energy into their careers. A few marriages ended. The easiest way to deal with the new distance in these relationships was to make excuses for it (“How did we get so busy? Let’s get a date on the calendar ASAP!”) or to try to pretend nothing had changed.

Midlife strips us of the things that formed our network of relationships in our 20’s and 30’s: children's activities or the drive to find meaning in a career. No one I know is riding in a red convertible with her empty-nester Gal Pals, singing along to oldies while heading together to a beach house weekend.

As I’ve matured, my friendships now look less like a rigid, closed-unit solar system and more like an open-source web of relationships. High school cliques and the comfort of having a best friend I could name carried me through first-stage adulthood, but were not sustainable as I moved into midlife. Now, I’m content to know there’s something “best” about each diverse, enriching, relationship in my life, because each is a gift from the Eternal One whose friendship has sustained me ever since the day Karen and I stopped smoking weed together and began following him.

Come Eating and Drinking, Come Hungry

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In my father’s last days, his hunger vanished. 

As he shrunk like a hollowed out husk, his spirit being gathered by the very hand of God, his appetites died within him. The hospice nurse handed me a pamphlet about the stages of death and closed her palm gently over the back of my hand. 

“Fluid and food decrease. Your loved one may want little or no food or fluid. The body will naturally conserve energy required for the task ahead. Food is no longer needed. As the end-of-life physical changes occur, your loved one is completing important work on another level. Emotional and spiritual changes may be manifested. An IV can be used for your loved ones comfort if oral intake is not possible. Loss of appetite is one of the final stages of death.”

Skilled hands slipped on latex gloves and threaded an IV into his veins to keep him hydrated and to limit pain but his lips had already spoken their last words and eaten their last bites. His eyes never opened again. 

He slipped easily from consciousness into a hushed body I no longer recognized as my dad. 

I didn’t know my dad without his appetite for life. 

As a girl, he would hoist me onto his lap and offer me love straight from his plate. He taught me that to offer a seat at a table was to invite communion and community. 

He sat on mud floors in dung huts beneath the Himalayas scraping small handfuls of dahl and rice into his mouth, eating hot momos cooked in the hammered pot full of sizzling oil spitting and hissing on the open flames. 

He held the white cardboard cone with fritz and mayonnaise, each bite warming me as we walked hand in hand from the street vendor in Holland. He ate oxtail soup and kim chee and lau lau in Hawaii. He scooped up menudo and posole with our Mexican friends, under the watermelon hued backdrop of the Sandia Mountains. He ordered lengua tacos from the tiny taco stands and doused them with fiery hot peppers.  

People always made room for him at their table. His fair skin and blue eyes were readily invited into so many cultures because of his love and respect for others’ customs and foods.

They welcomed him because he truly appreciated the great wide world of tastes and flavors, the halo of fragrance from steaming pots and sizzling pans. 

He was happiest sharing a meal because a meal shared meant an open invitation to belong to each other. 

But his hunger was no longer for this world. I watched as my dad slipped from his body into eternity. 

The hospital bed looked garish and oversized with his shrunken torso.The edema swelled his belly feigning a fullness he could no longer get from food and in those days it deflated like a balloon steadily losing air. His body sagged in dying, like the very soul of him had leaked out bit by bit.

And this was just one more part of it. This exhale where his body couldn’t contain him anymore. He was letting go of this world as God called him home, and releasing his appetite was one of the final tethers that broke.

Our bodies were made to be nourished. We are reminded as our stomachs groan and plead for food day after day that we are not autonomous from this world. We are bound by our physical needs. But we are also bound by the needs of our body and our body is always more than joint and sinew, marrow and muscle. Our body is a hungry church. 

Our bodies are sustained by the table.  After all, the Son of Man came eating and drinking. On his last night he didn’t preach a sermon, he poured wine and broke bread. 

It’s no wonder Jesus broke bread and drank wine and told us to remember. Because we forget so easily that we have communion and connection in the very physical act of eating and the very spiritual act of ingesting the life of God. That by passing the plate to our brother or taking it from our sister, we partake in the wild beauty of being fully alive. We embrace the body when we taste and know that God is good. 

We are fully awake to a God who created every burst on the tongue to tingle with the creamy smoothness of homemade ice-cream, or to steep in the flavors of summer fruit ripe and tangy, or to swell with the intoxicating scent of garlic and butter rising from the pan like holy incense.

We remember that we are not full of our own accord. We are made to worship the God who nourishes us while we gather as a body at the table. While we hunger and thirst, we remember we will know fullness of life if we taste and see that the Lord is good. 

Come hungry. Be filled.  

Meet our Newest Writers!!

newwriters

We’ve added some new writers to our Mudroom family and can’t wait to introduce you to them. You may already know them from their online presence and stunning writing. These women are thoughtful, gritty, and engaging, and you should be following them everywhere. Please join us in welcoming . . . 

 

Grace P Cho loves the power of the written word and believes that writing is her vehicle to lead and encourage others. She loves to gather people around the table to share lives and good food, and she hopes people will see more of Jesus through her blog. You can find her at www.gracepcho.com, Twitter, and also on Instagram. Grace’s latest post for The Mudroom: “Cooking and the Feeding of Our Souls.”

 

alia

Alia Joy is a storyteller, speaker, and homeschooling mother of three making her home in Central Oregon. She shares her story in broken bits and pieces on her blog and finds community where other’s stories intersect. She’s a cynical idealist who is always trying to find the beautiful bits in the midst of the messy and broken. She believes even the most broken stories have a redeemer and she’ll always dance to the good songs. She is a regular contributor at (in)courage, SheLoves, The Mudroom, and Deeper Waters and can be found on twitter hashtagging all the things, drinking copious amounts of coffee, and making goo-goo eyes at her husband. You can find Alia at aliajoy.com, on Twitter and on Instagram. Alia’s latest post for The Mudroom: “Coming of Age in This American Life.”

 

marlena

Marlena Graves is the author of A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness (Brazos Press 2014). Hearts and Minds Books awarded it the Best Book on Spiritual Formation by a First Time Writer (2014).  Marlena is also a bylined writer for Christianity Today and Our Daily Journey (Our Daily Bread Ministries). Her pieces have also appeared in Relevant and many other venues. She is the Minister of Pastoral Care at her church and an instructor at Winebrenner Seminary. She lives in NW Ohio with her husband and three daughters. Marlena’s latest post for The Mudroom: “The Place of Privilege in the Kingdom of God.

Cooking and the Feeding of Our Souls

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I’m becoming my mother. Whenever she comes to visit us, her greatest ambition is to cook for our family. She asks which of her Korean homemade dishes we’d like to eat, and even prior to her stay she prepares in advance by shopping for groceries we can’t find locally. She’s a lady on a mission. Her goal is to cook every dish she knows we’ll enjoy and to freeze extra meals to last us for weeks after. Each morning she’s up before the sun, and when I come downstairs I find her drinking her tea with something new simmering on the stove.

She overworks herself cooking for us, but even when I tell her to rest she has a hard time stopping. She wants to make sure everything is full- our bellies, the fridge, the freezer- and until recently I didn’t understand why this was so important, so inherent in her.

A couple of weeks ago I stepped down as an associate pastor at our church to prepare for our move out of state. It’s the first time being a full-time stay-at-home mom with no meetings to attend, no sermons to prep, no ministry or work obligations whatsoever. So how do I fill up this new space in my life? I cook. Instead of prepping for Sunday services, I plan for meals. Instead of having coffee dates with people, I shop for groceries with the intent of filling my family’s bellies and our fridge to bursting. I am becoming my mother, and I can’t help it.

But I’m understanding now that innate desire to provide food for those around you. The act of cooking runs deeper than merely wanting to satisfy empty stomachs. It is a medium for love. When I chop up garlic and make it dance in hot oil, when I sprinkle salt to season the meat, or when I mix sauces to make a marinade, it’s love. When my mother insists on cooking all the dishes she can despite her lack of rest, it’s love. When she wants us to eat everything she’s made even though we’re beyond full, it’s out of love. It’s for us to know, experience, and appreciate her tangible care.

The joy of cooking, feeding, and eating together bonds us with unexpectedly strong ties because love gets poured into creating a meal, and love is what’s taken in as we enjoy the food. So when we share food and conversation, our hearts and our lives naturally become entwined with those who sit at the table with us. We get to experience connection and intimacy, and we get to have community, whether it’s with old friends or with strangers.

This value in the relationship between food and friendship has been apparent since Old Testament times. We read about feeding others as a means of love all throughout the Bible, but one of my favorites is God’s hospitality toward Elijah in 1 Kings 19. After experiencing a powerful demonstration of God’s power against the prophets of Baal, Elijah goes into utter despair. Queen Jezebel is threatening to kill him, he is exhausted, lonely, and all he wants is for God to end his life. But God meets his needs with tenderness. He lets Elijah sleep and get rest. He bakes bread over hot coals and gives him water to drink. He is gentle. He is motherly. He cooks for him, He feeds him, He is present with him in a gentle whisper because that is His way of caring for His people, His way of satisfying our soul’s hunger.

Even when Jesus is approaching death, He spends His last hours eating together with His disciples. They break bread and lean into one another’s company. They don’t know it then, but they are getting a foretaste of the incredible demonstration of love that would soon be coming. Jesus shares a meal with them to give of Himself, and so He does with us every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. He invites us to His table to feast on His grace, to be nourished by His words, and to be filled by His presence again and again. But I’m learning it’s not only through the Lord’s Supper that we get to experience communion. On a daily basis whenever we cook, whenever we gather around the table, we and the people we feed get to taste and savor His soul-satisfying love for us.

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