It was a Saturday night in the city. A chill in the air because it was February but not enough to keep people from being out and about. Maybe the city never really sleeps. I don’t know. We hustled against the chill, the sun already setting. Warmth waited behind the heavy wooden doors. My husband…
The hanging flower basket sways in the wind on this rainy morning, its blooms all but invisible. The purple and green leaves are struggling for life because of neglect. Watering the plants wintering inside the house is not one of my strong suits, so I feel a bit responsible for this, especially because of the plant’s significance.
I remember the day we picked it out, a tangible memory of the weekend we spent picking up the pieces of what was left of our marriage, seeing if we could put it back together again. It was my first time away from our youngest, still a baby at the time, but we were only a couple of hours away and both of the kids were in good hands. It wasn’t even a question, this time away, even if we couldn’t afford it with time or money.
We stood in the gift shop of the conservatory where the colors and smells had revived something inside of us in the dead of a Midwest winter. We didn’t need a knick-knack to commemorate our time. We needed a living memorial. The wandering jew caught our eye, although the name still sounds odd on my tongue. (Its official name: Tradescantia zebrina. Also a mouthful.)
That particular plant actually died years ago, but we replaced it with one that was discounted at Lowe’s. It thrived. And now it’s struggling again so it might be time to purchase another one.
I used to feel guilty about this inability to keep the same plant alive. As a metaphor for our marriage, I thought maybe it was a sign that we were destined to not make it as a couple. I’m over that now because what we’ve experienced is a continual process of planting and uprooting; of dying and thriving. The symbolism of the plant is as true when it is struggling for life as when it is thriving.
Our marriage has had those seasons, too.
Today, it’s been 10 years since the church filled with people and I donned that white dress to meet you in the sanctuary in your pink suit. Certain memories of that day will never leave me. But sometimes it seems like someone else’s life. Was that really us? (I feel the same way when I look at our engagement pictures, the last professional pictures we had taken together. Who are those people?)
It was us.
And so were all the other us-es from then till now.
Sometimes I want to toss out the uglier moments, but like the plant hanging on our porch, I come back to our marriage again and again, even if it often feels like something entirely different from what it once was. Its very existence reminds me of all the struggling and the thriving and the beauty that’s worth the result of having both.
I used to feel sad and a little bitter when I looked at pictures of younger us. I would feel sorry for them and their ignorance of the things to come. But now I know that we couldn’t be “us” now without “us” then and there are things we will face in the next 10 years that will contribute to future “us.”
I used to write these anniversary posts hoping to impart some wisdom about marriage, to celebrate and memorialize the years. I’ve never been the mushy type though I do love a good love story and to be honest, ours is my favorite. Even with all the times our union struggled for life. I’m not sure I would like us as much without all the hard stuff we’ve endured and overcome and are still overcoming.
I have no great wisdom just a lot more to learn.
And a grateful heart for where we happen to be right now, in a place of thriving. (We have known long seasons of near-death, though. I keep bringing it up because I want you to see more than appearances. We have smiled in pictures when there was no love in our hearts, celebrated our marriage while hiding hard truths.)
I still don’t understand how 10 years can feel like the longest stretch and a blink at the same time. That might be the only thing that really scares me about the future. How in 10 more years I’ll wonder how it was possible that so much time had passed.
Maybe 10 years is still too little time to really know what marriage is like but it feels as if we’ve crossed a milestone. And all that we’ve endured propels me toward the next milestone.
Marriage is no sprint. It’s a marathon.
I’m glad we’re running together.
I used to think people standing along the side of a busy road was weird. WHAT are they doing? I would ask myself. I haven’t always lived in a place where public transportation is normal and available. After four years in this county, buses are a regular sight and I no longer think it’s strange when people are standing alongside a road in what looks like an unusual place.
In fact, at least once a week, I’m one of them. I’m just a girl standing next to the road hoping the bus will stop for me. Usually, I’m the only one at my stop, but there are other stops on other routes that attract a lot of riders at the same time.
Even after months of riding the bus once a week or so, I’m still not 100 percent confident. I have a real FOMO (fear of missing out) which also manifests as fear of being abandoned, so even when I am early according to the bus finder app, I still wonder if maybe I missed it. Or if maybe this would be the one day the bus doesn’t come.
So far, the bus has never let me down. It might be late or on time, and I might have to wave my arm to make sure the driver sees me, but I have always met the bus at my stop at the time it was expected.
As comfortable as I am with groups waiting at bus stops, a once-a-year gathering of people along an interstate-like highway still leaves me anxious and a little weirded out.
Every Mother’s Day, people pull their cars onto the side of this busy highway and pull out lawn chairs and blankets and picnic lunches. We have yet to watch from that side of the fence, preferring to set up our viewing party inside the park adjacent to the highway, but it is a spectacle nonetheless.
We are all gathered to watch a truck convoy but that isn’t evident from the road. Sometimes the pre-show is as entertaining as the show itself. Some travelers in cars or vans will honk at the spectators. Others lower their windows, stick their heads out and wave, as if we have assembled simply for them. (Confession: I’m sometimes angry at this because the purpose of our gathering is serious AND fun but it is not a joke. Of course, the average passer-by wouldn’t know this. Still, I’m annoyed.)
I would think it was odd, too. In fact, the first year we lived here, we heard the sirens and truck horns and wondered what was on fire. What tragedy was happening in our neighborhood. It was nothing of the kind. It was hundreds of trucks spending a Sunday afternoon making wishes come true and raising money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The next year, we watched. And every year since, we’ve made it a priority on Mother’s Day.
If I think too much about it, I’m overwhelmed by the emotion. Inside these hundreds of trucks are families fighting serious illnesses in their kids. And on this one day, we celebrate their journeys by treating them like superstars. Kids wave from the passenger windows of big rigs and fire trucks and even though we aren’t close to the road, we can see their smiles.
This gathering of people on the side of the highway is weird, but it’s important, and I’ll do it again and again.
I feel like life is more a waiting time right now than an accomplishing time. I used to call it “being stuck” and felt it was my job to get unstuck, but I’m tired of making an effort at the wrong things, so I’m trying to let the waiting time be a kind of gift. A chance to pause and evaluate and do the necessary work but to not force myself out of this season.
Waiting sounds so passive, almost lazy, especially when you live in a culture that is all about doing and doing more. I’m anxious even as I write these words. I’m certain our life looks lazy to some but with a limited amount of energy (mental, physical, emotional, spiritual), I’m no longer interested in spending it on the wrong things. And if that means NOT doing for a time, then I’m going to be (mostly) okay with that.
The thing about waiting is that if one person does it, it looks a little nutty, right? If one person set up their lawn chair on the side of a highway, we would think they were not quite right in the head. But when many people do it, the attitude shifts. Instead of Look at that fool, we think I wonder what’s going on.
All the noise of the truck convoy drew one woman from the park to the edge of the fence. “What is this?” she asked. And we told her. Another couple walking through were concerned because cars weren’t letting the ambulances through. “They are part of the convoy,” I said.
To the casual observer, it’s a confusing scene but it’s hard to ignore.
I’ve written a little bit about my struggles with church right now. It’s complicated, that’s all, and there is no easy answer for my questions, but this whole gathering and waiting thing pricks something in my soul.
We gather, yes, on Sundays and sometimes on other days as people professing similar beliefs. We claim to be people all going somewhere but sometimes I wonder if we will miss the bus when it comes.
When I stand at the bus stop, sometimes I bring a book along, if I think I’ll have a long wait. But usually, I tuck it back in my bag because I don’t want to miss the bus’s arrival. I track it on the bus finder app, but even then, it’s rarely accurate. The expected time is usually close but the little bus icon on my screen is never in the right place. I could easily miss the bus while I’m standing at the bus stop.
I think this is true of my church experience. I‘m showing up at the right place but I am not waiting for God to show up. I am distracted. By my kids. By the other people. By my own thoughts. I think I have convinced myself that God is showing up anywhere but here so why on earth am I in this place? I often feel like I’m at a bus stop where the bus hasn’t picked up in ages and even if it did, I have no idea where we’re going or even if I want to go there. (This is a commentary on church at large not a specific experience.)
Going to church because it’s what we do is not enough for me right now. I am on the lookout for the places where God is showing up and I will find them in the gathering and the waiting. I need the church to show up in surprising places, to be weird enough that it gets noticed by people who otherwise wouldn’t pay any attention at all. I need it to be a place where we’re as comfortable with waiting as we are with doing, where we wait together on this shared journey.
I don’t know how to end this post on a high note, which is what I always feel pressured to do, especially when I talk about the church and my complicated relationship with it. I love the people we have known through church and there are many, many situations we have been in where we would not have gotten through without a church family. We have much for which to be grateful.
But I still struggle with belonging, and I always want to blame myself. I know I can be critical. I know I have failed to do my part in the church. I know I’m not an easy person to get to know.
I just don’t understand why I feel so much more a sense of community when I’m not in church.
There. That’s the heart of it. I don’t know what comes next only that I want to be in church less and less and I want to be on the lookout for God more and more. Even if it’s in unusual gatherings and extended times of waiting.