{midnight musings} On support, and success

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“You could be a poster mom,” the nurse at the doctor’s office said.

Because my baby is gaining weight. Because I try to feed my daughter good things like cheese and broccoli. (Trust me, many meals consist of mac and cheese, too…) Because I got out of the house and made it to my appointment on time.

I paused for a minute when she said it. There is no reason for her to say that to me. I am only doing what every mother desires to do for her children. My only response, and one that has had me thinking ever since I heard myself say the words:

“Well, I have wonderful support.”

In that moment, my heart ached as I thought of all the mothers and babies who do not have what we do. We have loving and supportive extended families. We have a community already here at Notre Dame who brought us meals, watched our firstborn, welcomed our son with joy, and came over to be with me just in case I needed something those first days of flying solo with Dad back to class.

And most of all, I have a husband and my babies have a father who attentively and sweetly loves us.

In my few years as a wife and now as a mother, I have often wrestled with the suggestion that my role is to support my husband in his vocation. Yes, it is. But often that suggestion sounds to me as if my support is at the giving up of my own desires and dreams. As he pursues his desires—and this primarily for the purpose of providing for us!—I am to take a supportive role, doing the dishes, cleaning the house, caring for our children, doing all I can to be sure he is given every chance to succeed. Again, yes.

But what I realized is our roles are so much more mutual than I came into marriage thinking: he leads, I follow; he provides, I support. They are not so simple.

Our support is, and must be, mutual.

Just as I make lunch for him (occasionally these days; sorry, babe!), attempt to facilitate some quiet in our home so that he can focus on his studies, or even just get up with babies at night so that he can be well-rested for class the next day, so he comes home with a smile for his family, makes bath time full of giggles for Edith, or snuggles a baby while I teach a few online classes.

I realized that we both have vocations—different ones, but equally important. And in these vocations, our role is to support and help the other to succeed. Does it still often feel like a sacrifice, like small deaths every day? Yes, of course. But we both die these deaths and make these sacrifices for the success of the other.

And as I seek to support my husband in his pursuits, I could not do that without his own support and love.

My babies are happy and healthy. I am able to get out of bed in the mornings, feed my family, love my children. We laugh and sing and play together. We thrive in the love and support of a father and husband, and we are thankful.

For all of those who have not been given this mutual love and support, we pray. Lord, hear our prayer.

Burning into being

Lacy-262It must be the pregnancy hormones.

I have been near-tears all day for no particular reason and was just looking through all of our wedding photos, reminiscing.

I realized there were some that I had never really noticed before—in fact, they were the photographs that particularly made me smile and feel as if that was us, really and truly Travis and Shannon. I wonder if it’s because who you are together on your wedding day, although beautiful and magnificent, is only a very small taste of who you will one day be.

I am sure that right now we are just a shadow of the people we will be in twenty years or in forty, but we are becoming them—more them than we were a year ago. It was sweet to see the moments shining through where I recognized us best, where the Travis that I know and love appeared and I could almost hear the words he must have been saying. The portraits and the poses are all lovely and right in their own way, but I treasure even more the photographs that seem to reflect us more as we are now.

Those first days of marriage and the glow and excitement and feeling of newness are so special and sweet. But I realize now how much more of ourselves we are—how grace and love are making us more human, more of who we were created to be when God made that first man and first woman in the Garden. And I think that is precisely what a vocation is meant to do. (I say vocation purposely because marriage is not a person’s only hope for becoming most fully alive. “The glory of God is man fully alive.” —St. Irenaeus)

In my case, marriage is how I am being made more fully myself. I don’t mean it in the trite and perhaps silly ways that we hear it these days. I mean that we are made to be the imago Dei, the image of God on this earth. I think our culture knows in some vacant and distant way that we are not fully ourselves, and that we must become more of who we are in our essence and in our very being. And even the culture’s answers—love and joy and creativity and passion—are a shadow of the true answer. They are all hints of reality, of Paradise.

Madeleine L’Engle writes about the burning bush, imagining that it is burning but not consumed because it is fully itself. It is fully and most perfectly a bush. Its existence is perfect in all of its “bushness.” She imagines herself as the bush, burning with flames that are the trials and hardships of life. These fires only burn away the parts that are not true to our being, those branches and leaves that mar and distort our existence as imago Dei. The flames burn and we—like the bush—become more fully ourselves so that one day, perhaps only upon glimpsing the heights of Paradise and experiencing the Beatific Vision, we too may burn with divine love that does not consume.

I am reminded of the hymn that says “The flames shall not hurt thee, I only design / Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.” We are gold and dross both and we are being made into purer, more beautiful gold. The dross burns away, slowly and painfully, but the flames shall not debilitate thee. In fact, they are the means of our existence, of becoming as Christ Himself. They are the very thing that bring us to eternity, ourselves, fully and completely.

Participating in the everyday

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 preset“The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.” (David Foster Wallace)

Became a wife. Moved from Pennsylvania to Dallas. Began a new, first-year teaching job the next day. Husband started seminary; stopped seminary; applied to two new graduate schools. Finished school. Moved again, this time from Texas to North Carolina. Husband is now a Duke student. I am still looking for a job. We have lived in two apartments, two cities, made new friends in one and are now making new friends in the next.

Reading that list and looking back on this first year of marriage, it appears that I have done a lot. They all sound like such huge, significant changes. But those changes—the kind that happen and leave you feeling like you are running, breathless to catch up as they charge ahead—do not define the day in and day out of this life. They are much like a wedding day: one day, you get married and then the next day in many ways, life is the same. Time continues on, albeit with a few more laughs and a man in bed next to you, some extra hairs on the sink, and toothpaste in unlikely places. And sometimes I still wonder: just what am I doing with my life?

I suppose it is the eternal human longing: to feel that life has significance and meaning. That we are doing good things and making our life matter. But these feelings and yearnings still feel esoteric, invisible, and impossible, like trying to grab the wind as it blows little strands of hair across my face. When I study history and the lives of others, I see that they had meaning. Doctors saved lives, writers inspired people, explorers found new lands. And here I am in my little apartment, washing dishes, trying to play the piano again, and pulling the sheets over the bed each morning.

We moved across the country in two days the first time, and three days the second. The first day of my new job came and went and after that came days and days of school, like any other day. I suppose our first year of marriage could be defined by the list of big events.

But marriage—like the rest of life—does not find shape in those few seemingly more consequential and significant days, but by what we do day in and day out in all of those quiet hours and minutes between the moves and the jobs. If our lot in this life is love, then it is not the grand moments, but the little, that make us who we are.

I think one of the hardest parts of the everydayness of life is the feeling that no one will see that my life is significant or meaningful. No one is around to hear me say a kind word to my husband or to watch me scrub the toilet again. Sometimes he doesn’t even know those moments when I catch my sarcastic word or when I choose to quietly embrace one of his quirks instead of making fun of him for it. Yet joy comes not in the praise of others, but in the assurance that love is taking root in our hearts, that it is being planted into our home, and that sometimes it can, in fact, be what first rises out of our hearts.

So it matters how we think and how we see others—more than the list of our past year, or the great things we have done and the places we have seen. It matters most of all what we do in the grocery store line, the traffic jam, at the movies, the baseball game, the lake. By giving our love to others, whether in physical gestures or simply in charitable thinking, we are participating in the Love poured out for us.

“By wasting our time, our love, in secret, we participate in the resurrection of the everyday. I heard someone say once that we should not think of the risen Christ, as if it were a finished act, but of Christ rising, Homo resurgens. When we work in secret, we participate in this rising, in the great taming of the world as Christ ascends.” (Love and Salt)

Marriage: happiness through holiness

IMG_20140222_114542Discovering the preset brew on our coffee maker changed our lives.

My kind husband gets up with me every morning, fries a few eggs, and makes sure I have coffee for my morning at school. A few weeks ago, we discovered that we can set our coffee maker to turn on in the morning. It is surprisingly comforting to hear the alarm go off and then hear the coffee maker beep its readiness just a few seconds after. Funny how the mornings seem less daunting when there is already hot coffee in the pot.

A few weeks ago, we were up late one night and Travis did not get the coffee maker ready for the next morning. The alarm went off far too early, as usual, and he slowly got out of bed to make the coffee. I went into the kitchen a few minutes later, only to discover that he did not make fresh coffee. He noticed there was coffee left over in the pot from yesterday and just turned the burner on to reheat it.

We laugh about it now, but in the moment, I was angry. I’m the one waking up, going to work. Isn’t making a fresh pot of coffee the least you can do for me?

I thought about waking him up to complain, but in that moment—through no holiness of my own—I remembered what I heard so often from a college friend and what I have been attempting to make a habit of repeating throughout my days:

In dying, we live.

“In dying, we live,” I said to myself as I made a fresh pot of coffee. And somehow, in that moment, I felt happy. When I walked back into our room and saw my husband already asleep again, I did not feel angry. In dying to myself, I found life and happiness. That night when I got home, we laughed about the day-old coffee and his sleepy attempts at fulfilling what he considers to be his morning duties.

I have read many an article and heard from many a church-goer that marriage is for holiness, not happiness. It is a school for sanctification, and when we look to it for happiness, we will be disappointed.

All of this is true and good, but sometimes I wonder if in rejecting the extreme that the world paints of marriage existing primarily for the fulfillment of our own desires, the church has gone too far to the other extreme. Sometimes we make marriage seem like bootcamp: it is hard and painful and a relentless exercise in giving up your life for the sake of another. When we think that marriage exists only for the sake of sanctification through trial and sacrifice, it sounds daunting and less than desirable. I can not possibly think it will make me happy or I will only be setting myself up for many disappointments.

But it is precisely because marriage exists for holiness that it also exists for happiness. Marriage is not for the sake of one or the other: marriage exists for both. It is in holiness that we find the greatest happiness. As we imitate the life and sacrifice of Christ, we find there true happiness: that of laying our own life down for another.

It is not a question of which does marriage exist to produce: happiness or holiness? It is that holiness exists as the ultimate end, but with holiness comes happiness that only grows as sanctification continues.

Marriage makes me happy. I love living with someone who is genuinely funny, who has weird quirks and who is always ready to listen to my own jumbled thoughts and struggles. It makes me happy to walk down the street with him, watch football at the bar with him, and kneel in church together on a Sunday morning. This happiness will only increase as I learn to welcome those sanctifying moments of sacrifice as they come, knowing that they are conforming me to the image of Christ.

And the more we are united to the image of Christ through marriage or any other season of life, the holier and the happier we become.

Hardship

IMG_20140128_180311For years, I primarily heard marriage described as ‘hard.’

So many parts of me rebel at that idea. Marriage is deeply joyful, fulfilling, and yes, even happy. It is full of sacrifice and dying to self, but I never wanted my first words about marriage to be that it is first and foremost hard.

Using the word “hard” to describe this new adventure that is marriage meant in my mind that our marriage is off to a rocky start, or that it is a roller coaster of emotions and unreasonableness.

But I am realizing that marriage is, in fact, hard. And hard is not bad.

Every season in life is hard. Middle school is hard. College is hard. Adult life is hard. Hard does not mean that we despair. It does not mean that we are a mess and if we could just get our life together, it would no longer need to be hard.

Marriage is just another season that presents challenges and changes and asks great things of us. Every season in life has the same ultimate end for the Christian: sainthood. Sainthood is won primarily through hardship and suffering.

I am so happy to be married. But it is hard. The sting of loneliness in a new city, the struggles in this new season that we are entering of waiting to move again, and the daily opportunities to navigate this making of one life from two lives prove to be quite hard at times.

So I am slowly learning that “hard” is not a bad word.

Hardship does not mean we are not happy or that we love each other less.

Hardship means that the refiner’s fire is in this season, just as it has been in every season before and will be in every one after. The fire is here in the hardship and in the joys, consuming our dross, refining our gold, and crafting us into saints.

It is hard. And that is okay.