Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Unbroken

It's not every day that you read a book that changes your life. The first book I remember having had this particular impact is The Upstairs Room by Johanna Reiss.  It was the book that introduced me to the story of the holocaust and it was probably the first book I ever read that really showed me that life was not fair, that suffering and pain do exist in great quantities and that hope is powerful.  I probably read it 100 times growing up and it was a strong force in the development of my love of WWII history and my own personal commitment to "never forget."

So, it was with great anticipation that I finally picked up the book Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand one short week ago.  I'd heard from a number of sources that this was a must read and having learned it was connected to WWII only made it more enticing.  Within 3 pages I was hooked.  Here was a story you could just tell would be life-changing.

I'm not going to put any spoilers here but suffice it to say that with each turn of the page the story got more unbelievable. Just when I thought I had seen the limits of what a human could endure, I'd remember that there were still 200 pages to go in the book and surely the story was not finished.  It touched the sport lover in me as well as that huge part of myself who is moved by all things war. It reminded me anew of the terror that humans can wreak on each other as well as the enormous capacity we are given to forgive through the power of God.  It made me laugh and cry and imagine anew what life must've been like for my own grandfather who fought in the European theater.  It pointed me, yet again, to the only One who can offer us new creation, who can take mourning and turn it into dancing, who can turn our weeping into joy, who can truly change us, heal us, give us hope. 

In short, it changed my life.  Not just because it was well written or because it's a compelling story, of which both are true.  But because when you read the story of Louis Zamperini, you can feel God at work.  And in a world with lots of awful and discouraging stories, it's a good thing to be reminded that we are not alone, that hope is still powerful, that perseverance is not pointless and that God is always hard at work in the act of redemption.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Side By Side

I still remember my first date: the eighth grade dinner dance. To this day I can confidently say that the arranging of said date is the most awkward phone conversation of which I have ever been a part. And I'm awkward on the phone, so that's saying a lot.  That poor boy never knew what was coming when he picked up the phone, right? 45 seconds of excruciating "ums" and "so" all so we could get dressed up in early 90's fashion and then be awkward for 3 hours together.  I cannot even remember if we actually talked during the course of the date. We certainly didn't get a picture together. Oh, middle school.

Dating culture was in a major transition as I was growing up.  People were still "asking people out" and you usually knew when two people were a couple, at least in my friend circles. Phrases like "hanging out" and "talking" and "seeing each other" were starting to creep in but mostly people were girlfriend and boyfriend or they weren't.  Texting didn't exist, nor did email when I first started dating, so you really had to arrange things voice to voice.  Much harder, maybe, but much clearer.  Someone took a risk, an obvious one, and someone else either shot them down or went for it. None of this "months-go-by-and-we-hang-out-and-can-you-look-at-what-she/he-wrote-on-my-wall-and-interpret-it-for-me" junk.  I do not envy younger people.

Here's the thing though. From the time of that first date until about six months into dating Reed, I was pretty uncertain about marriage.  And, yes, I do realize the inherent inconsistency of dating people when you have no intention of ever getting married.  I was so uncertain, though, that I even wrote a song in high school that involved me moving to Africa without a husband or children and living there forever with my dog.  (It is to my everlasting horror that my best friends in high school memorized and then revived this song for our rehearsal dinner 10 years later.  I have yet to repay them, but it's coming. Oh, it's coming.)  Song aside, I looked at marriage as a major loss of freedom.  A place where a man would try to rule me or wherein we'd be excited at first and then miserable for 50 years and our kids would know it. Why would I choose what I thought was certain misery, two messed up humans trying to keep a promise inherently impossible to keep?  

Yet, there was a moment when I was dating Reed when I thought, "Hey, I could marry THIS guy." No specific epiphany about marriage in general, no hidden book somewhere that had planned out my cake, bridal gown and which song I would eventually dance to, just a small, quiet moment of choosing him.  Choosing this man to commit to, to love each day, 'til death do us part.  And choosing it in the face of overwhelming odds against its success, because, let's face it, we all come into this thing with a lot of baggage and having the baggage of not even being so certain that marriage is a great thing is like bringing that oversized, misshapen bag that the airline check-in counter person just looks at, shakes his head and then starts covering with mysterious stickers.

But the thing is, success is not about luck. It's not about finding that "soulmate" or "the one" with whom we'll make it all the way, it's about that choice again and again to turn towards him in the morning, to choose honesty over manipulation, to work at what's off between us, to dream together for our future and then wait expectantly side by side, to not isolate ourselves from each other when we face disappointments, to invite others into our life who can ask us good questions about our marriage, to cause our son to giggle when we linger over a kiss in front of him (I assume this will turn to embarrassment in a few short years, but so far he thinks it's fun), to unpack those huge bags a little more as each year passes and God molds us individually more into his image and, hopefully, molds our marriage into one that reflects his love to people around us.

Today we celebrate nine years of marriage. The reason we can truly celebrate is not just because we are still together or because everything has been perfect or because he is a great husband to me(which he is). We can celebrate because we've put our ultimate trust not in each other for fulfillment but in God to fulfill us. We know we can't be each others everything, that we were never meant to be.  But we have lived out each day of these nine years in commitment to each other and whether those days have been easy or hard, good or bad, disappointing or exhilarating, they have been lived out together.  And because we are trusting in God and not each other to be perfect in this, we can also trust in "til death do us part" knowing that it is never in our own power or ability to see those words come true, but in the daily grace we are given by a God who has rescued us, changed us, loved us and taught us how to love one another sacrificially.

Here's to nine years, my love!  May God keep us ever focused on Him so we can freely love, serve, respect and challenge each other and do it all in the midst of tears, passion, laughter and, most importantly, side by side.