Monthly Archives: August 2013

Hitting our stride

My husband and I celebrated our fifth anniversary of marriage in Paris this May.

Paris at sunset.  Photo by Jeremy Wance.
Paris at sunset. Photo by Jeremy Wance.

I usually let him lay low as far as this blog is concerned.  He’s the kind of guy who has plenty of opinions, but is also content to let me play the public internet persona…though his tidbits of wisdom still sneak in from time to time.

I wanted to write about marriage from a personal point of view, though, not because my husband and I are above the vulnerabilities of any other couple (and believe me it’s scary out there), but because especially when we’re feeling vulnerable I think it’s important to share our joys with one another, too.  I wanted to share what we’ve learned in a short period of time, which is enough to tell any newlyweds that it gets better, much better than you could imagine.

Many moons ago, we weren’t really the types who saw ourselves getting married, and I remember wondering even as I said the words, “I do,” how anyone in their right mind could promise forever and eternity, especially someone like me who had only lived twenty-six years up until that point.

But I’ve come to believe that marriage is a lot like faith–we promise impossible things, not because we’re capable of them, but because we believe that through practicing faith, we grow to be faithful.  We believe that our faithfulness, our devotion, and our love mean more to marriage than our abilities, our faults, or our failures.  I believe that a healthy marriage, like a healthy faith, relies on grace, mercy, and love.

At the top of a minaret in Cairo, Egypt.  Photo by Ben Robinson.
At the top of a minaret in Cairo, Egypt. Photo by Ben Robinson.

I haven’t always had that kind of faith.  

The first few years we were married, things were kind of rough, and our relationship teetered because of imbalances in careers, contentment, and expectations.  We weren’t very graceful with one another most of the time.  We were just trying to hold things together so they wouldn’t fall apart.

Over the years, we’ve learned that it’s not so much about holding things together, as practicing trust, compassion, and understanding.  It’s a bit of a slight of hand–when things feel like pushing a boulder uphill, it’s usually the pushing that’s not helping.  But when things look effortless, there’s a lot of building, trusting, and caring that’s going on behind the scenes.

A few years ago I remember sitting in a classroom in China, where my Chinese teacher outlined marriage patterns in their culture.  She drew a little chart where she demonstrated that men with Ph.Ds marry women with masters degrees, men with masters marry women with bachelors, and men with bachelors marry women with a high school education.  She pointed out that my position as a female doctor would be very lonely in their society, where men are still threatened by women’s academic success and earning power.

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Crowds at night. Photo by Evan Schneider.

As I walked home that day, threading the e-bikes and seas of people, I realized how much I had taken my husband’s undying support for my academic goals for granted.  He’s never once begrudged me my success or my dreams, in fact, he’s always there right behind me, supporting and encouraging me (it’s not like the man is an underachiever, though, I mean the man has two masters).  The point is, when I wasn’t looking my husband was investing in not just me, but our marriage, silently and without fanfare, but in one of the most meaningful ways.

I’ve found someone with whom I share a passion for travel, for service, and for justice.  And I’ve grown as I’ve let this person shape me, too, with his love for China, his passion for learning, and his commitment to community.  My goal these days is to outdo my husband in my respect for him and in trusting his love for me, to rejoice with him as he excels in his new job, and to challenge him to achieve his goals as well.

Lately I’ve been so filled with gratitude that I enjoy spending time with this guy just as much, if not more than we were first met.  It’s a thrilling thing to be–and I know this is cheesy–falling in love with your husband more and more everyday.  But it’s also a sobering thing to choose that love and commitment day after day especially at the moments when it would be easier to say something prideful, spiteful, or just walk away.

In front of the dragon's neck rice terraces, Guangxi, China. Photo by Kelly Raffety.
In front of the dragon’s neck rice terraces, Guangxi, China. Photo by Kelly Raffety.

I guess that’s how one promises forever, one day at a time, until ten, twenty, thirty years have passed before you know it.

For now, I’m satisfied with five.  I feel like we’re finally hitting our stride, and I’m in for the long haul.

Virtual Coffee Date

Hibiscus in the President's Garden, Princeton University.  My photo.
Hibiscus in the President’s Garden, Princeton University. My photo.

If we were having coffee this morning, I would wonder aloud whether this coming of age thing is supposed to be so fraught with life and death, divorce and birth, loss and love.  Sometimes the co-mingling of so much joy and pain, so much sunshine and devastation, seems cruel, contrite, and certainly, inconceivable.  I think it’s partly this stage of life, where friends and family are facing such crossroads, but I also think that living life fully necessarily takes us into deep sorrow and deep joy, and we have little control regarding where one ends and the other begins.

Inside Notre Dame, Paris.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
Inside Notre Dame, Paris. Photo by Evan Schneider.

I’m left with a sense of awe regarding how the God of the universe holds our fragile lives in such a charged balance.  And a sense of humility for how little I understand of this life, how without words I find myself when witnessing deep pain or deep joy.

But in the midst of the unknown, I find gratitude creeping over me.

What more is there in this life than accompanying one another through the valleys and the mountains?  What more is there to be being human than these experiences and the ways we respond in love and care to one another?  And how much more there is to this God we seek to know more fully!  I’d tell you that even when I can’t see or feel God and I doubt what God is doing, I trust in God’s peace that passes all understanding, I trust in the peace we lend to one another as sinners, yet bearers of Christ, when worldly peace is utterly unfathomable.

My family and I walking in a wash in Arizona.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
My family and I walking in a wash in Arizona. Photo by Evan Schneider.

I’d also tell you how I’ve hit something of a stride with this dissertation and how very thankful I am to be in a field where I can be both analytical and creative.  I’d tell you how nervous and excited I am to be teaching at Drew University this fall and be learning with students there about Chinese family culture.  I’d tell you about the anticipation of planning to receive our Chinese pastor friends at Princeton Seminary and Princeton University this fall, the joy I feel at hosting them at our home when they were so generous in showing us around years ago.

And finally, I’d tell you about how gorgeous these final days of summer in New Jersey have been, how there’s something about the sun coming through the window in the morning, the hummingbird on the porch, and the encroaching crispness of the evening hours that reminds me of hope in the midst of darkness.  Just last fall, New Jersey experienced much of the brunt of Super Storm Sandy, but since that time, nature has been healing herself and healing many of us in the process.

Fuzzy photo of the humming bird feeding on our porch.  My photo.
Fuzzy photo of the humming bird feeding on our porch.

Yes, in the midst of pain, there is peace.  It’s not immediate or instant, but comes about slowly, with grace and goodness, and we are its bearers in a fallen world.

Photo Credit.

What is your hope or your peace this day?

P.s. I’ve linked up all the virtual coffee date posts in a new category so you can find them easily.  Check it out!

The God of all of us

The other day when I was speaking with my wise spiritual director, I was imagining these concentric circles in my life, ones that stretch to China, Puerto Rico, Mexico, many states in this union, and narrow toward  local church, friends, and family.  I was reveling how faithful God has been to show that God is just as present in China as in this country, and the irony that sometimes it’s those inner circles–church, friends, and family–where we have the most trouble trusting and inviting God into our lives.

We may not give up on friends or family all that easily, we may continue to share our lives together, but we might just be going through the motions.  We might reserve our prayers and our hopes for far off places rather than those nearest to us.

We might have our reasons.  

Maybe a friend’s made it clear that God is not for her, a family member has been burned by the church and can’t bear to go near one again, and we’ve learned to choose wisely the topics we’ll discuss at church, with friends, and at home, because conflict and harsh words are inevitable.

A butterfly in Princeton.  My photo.
A butterfly in Princeton. My photo.

But as I reflected on the beauty of these concentric circles and the way God permeates them, I realized that it’s me, it’s we, who assume some people somehow lie outside them.  Even when those in our lives have made attempts to separate themselves from God, no one is truly outside God’s purview.  Even if I give up on people in my life, even if my faith is not really as faithful as I profess, God does not give up on me just as God does not give up on those around me.

Rodin Abraham and Isaac sculpture on Princeton University campus.  My photo.
Rodin Abraham and Isaac sculpture on Princeton University campus. My photo.

So I’m lifting up prayers for those in my “inner circle” this morning, those who I’ve neglected, but God hasn’t, and I’m not just asking God to grow others toward healing, wholeness, and ultimately toward God, but I’m asking for forgiveness for the limits I put on the God of all circles.  I’m praising a God for whom none lie outside, and a God who never, ever gives up, and I’m contemplating what it would mean for me to be just a little more faithful, and to truly believe and live as though none of us are ever outside God.

What would that look like for you?