Mr. and Mrs. Roussel

Mr. and Mrs. Roussel by Edouard Vuillard, 1896

Marriage is a joining: Mr and Mrs, man and wife, flesh of my flesh. But the minds still operate apart. As close as we get together, touching forehead to forehead, there’s still that bony skull in the way. The Mrs. Krohn part of me says “I am you; why are you saying these things I would never say?” The Amy part of me draws my forehead away from his as a little rebellion against the whole marriage deal. Sometimes I’ve found myself in the same room as my husband, but not touching, not connecting one bit. Bone of my bone, but the bones don’t fit.

And then there are times, even when bone of my bone is walking a different way across life than I am, tenderness applies a little surgery, and my forehead is resting against his shoulder. It doesn’t matter that he is still mostly stranger after eleven and a half years. It doesn’t matter that he can’t remember much at all about me or things that happened after we were married.

There’s a voice that God uses to draw us together. It lisps. It starts talking about my mind, or his mind, and it drops the d at the end. So it says “mine” and means both of us. I don’t know how this works, and sometimes I like to deny it, but then, I find myself resting my head against his, and I’m curled up in our joined world again, a refuge that takes me by surprise when I find it.

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The Overheard Conversation

This past week I overheard three Christian ladies counseling a poor woman who was having trouble with her marriage. I wasn’t really eavesdropping. I know all the ladies, but I ended up in the same room as them after their conversation was going already, so I didn’t feel comfortable to join in. Anyway, the good counseling stuck with me. I thought I’d share what I learned.

I learned about something called polarization, where if one spouse is something to an extreme, the other spouse goes to the opposite extreme (either consciously or unconsciously), as if to make up for the other one somehow. Dean and I do that, sometimes. I don’t know that I’d recognize it right away, but knowing that concept might help.

The woman with marriage problems couldn’t see that her situation with her husband would ever change. And this one lady jumps in and says that the more we depend on Jesus and throw our problems on Him, the more we are going to see change. The change may not be in our marital situation, but it will be in our hearts as we grow nearer and nearer to Christ. And different things will be more important or less important. I really like that. I might want someone else to change, but the change that God wants is inside me, not outside me.

I don’t know if the words were what the distressed woman wanted to hear. Probably not. She probably wanted someone to tell her to get a job and leave her husband. That’s the problem with counseling, I think. When it is needed, it is really hard to hear the right things. But when I overhear counseling at a time that I am thinking rationally, and I’m not desperate or in despair, I can really benefit from it! It’s like preventative maintenance. I wonder if I can get my husband to accidentally pop into a counseling session… 🙂

The Country of Marriage

Sometimes our life reminds me
of a forest in which there is a graceful clearing
and in that opening a house,
an orchard and garden,
comfortable shades, and flowers
red and yellow in the sun, a pattern
made in the light for the light to return to.
The forest is mostly dark, its ways
to be made anew day after day, the dark
richer than the light and more blessed,
provided we stay brave
enough to keep on going in.

— from “The Country of Marriage” by Wendell Berry, 1971

“The forest is mostly dark…” I can’t agree enough. This quote is from stanza III of a longer poem in which the speaker writes about his life of love with his wife. Here I find beauty at the gentleness of married love. When is the last time I’ve read anything about gentleness and marriage? I don’t know. It might have been in a Christian marriage book, in a section written to the husband, telling him to be gentle with his wife. But does anyone assume marriage is gentle in itself? Passionate, confusing, difficult, long-suffering… but usually not gentle. In this part of the poem, I think we get several aspects: the gentle beauty, the blessings, the courage needed, and the sense of uncharted territory. Because every marriage is different, right? That’s why those marriage books just don’t work. They are good tries, but I think Wendell Berry is more honest than most Christian living authors. Here we find that the dark mysteries of marriage, rather than being the inconsistencies that pull people apart, are more blessed than the obvious, well-lit truths about marriage. I can say that my husband and I have dark, mysterious inconsistencies; we are creatures of opposites. I need to be brave enough to keep on going into that forest of marriage day after day.

Marriage

I’m not much for political talk. I usually think I don’t know enough about the subject to speak my mind and be correct. And I don’t read or listen to the news enough to be up-to-date. But while my husband (male) is sleeping through the news, I overhear things about marriage equality in all fifty states. And there’s this rainbow border above my WordPress reader that I know doesn’t represent God’s promise to never destroy the earth with another flood. So here I am, writing about something that I need to say.

An old girlfriend of mine, a classmate, married a woman two or three years ago. I saw them both at the local pool shortly before that. It struck me as strange that I did not feel awkward around her. I didn’t. She was the same girl I used to know. I definitely disapprove of her lifestyle, but I don’t feel like I need to shun her in any way. I didn’t talk much; I’m not much for talking. But I’ve imagined conversations where I’d tell her I think her lesbianism is a sin, and then I remind her that I sin, too, and these are things we must pray about. These are things between ourselves and God.

That was an individual person. Now there is a movement which our country has embraced. The movement is something I must react against. I must shun it. I must not talk nicely to it, even in my imagination. This movement moves against Biblical truth. It pushes people toward sin, away from God. My old friend is not a movement, and neither are the individuals bound together in this rainbow-ribboned ride to hell. I can love the people and hate what they believe in. I can pray for the person’s soul and pray that our country rejects gay rights. I can love what is good and beautiful and hate what is bad and ugly. I can still tell my daughter that she can’t marry another girl. I can reject that term “marriage equality” because it is faulty math; man plus woman is the only way to equal marriage.

The Sleeping Couple

The Sleeping Couple, Jan Steen, c. 1658-1660
The Sleeping Couple, Jan Steen, c. 1658-1660

It’s our wedding anniversary today, so I looked for a painting to complement the special day. This one fit the occasion. (Smiles) I’m actually not sleep-deprived, but Dean gets up very early to milk the cows, so napping and falling asleep in a seated position are normal occurrences for him. I first saw this painting on the cover of a book called Reforming Marriage by Douglas Wilson. I only recommend the book to husbands and wives who are both interested in reforming their marriage. If you’re not on the same page there, then forget the book and pray for peace instead. And sleep. Sleeping helps.

Favorite Marriage Proposal

This comes from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Rochester has just asked Jane to marry him. Jane has not answered yet.

“Do you doubt me, Jane?”

“Entirely.”

“You have no faith in me?”

“Not a whit.”

“Am I a liar in your eyes?” he asked passionately. “Little sceptic, you shall be convinced… You–you strange–you almost unearthly thing!–I love as my own flesh. You–poor and obscure, and small and plain as you are–I entreat to accept me as a husband.”

“What, me!” I ejaculated.

[The dialogue continues with many exclamations.]

“Jane, accept me quickly. Say Edward–give me my name–Edward–I will marry you.”

“Are you in earnest? Do you truly love me? Do you sincerely wish me to be your wife?”

“I do; and if an oath is necessary to satisfy you, I swear it.”

“Then, sir, I will marry you.”

“Edward–my little wife!”

“Dear Edward!”

[How I enjoy the dynamics between this famous couple!]