I used to believe my love was like an ocean...I was young. I don't believe in love like that anymore.
This is a week about death and life.
It’s about the grave and resurrection.
It’s about re-animating what we had believed to be cold corpses.
This idea of resurrection has particular meaning for me this year.
A few years ago, I died.
I don’t mean that my heart stopped pumping blood through my arteries and veins or that the pathways in my brain shut down.
No, I died a different kind of death, a death out of the public eye. No one was there to mourn. No services. No flowers. The closest thing to an obituary was something I wrote down in my journal one night as I reflected on what my life had come to:
I don’t want to feel anymore. I don’t want to be disappointed anymore. I don’t want to want or to yearn anymore. I want to be dead inside.
People who haven known me for a while know how significant those words are. How so far removed they are from who I am and have been since I was little. My whole life, I had dreamed of a great love. My heart has always been geared to burst out of my chest and spill over into everything I did, everyone I knew. I dreamed about it, thought about it, wrote about it, talked about it, sought after it and fought for it. I wanted passion and adventure in every aspect of my life.
But we’re led down strange roads sometimes. Rather than walking a path that led up the mountain toward the blue sky and clouds and breathless heights, I found myself wading through the lowland swamps of what would become the deepest, darkest valley I would ever encounter.
I was suddenly years into a relationship that turned everything I believed about love and life upside down.
Lower your expectations is what I heard over and over and over again. And so I did.
I lowered my aim from having a great love to having a good love.
But that wasn’t happening, either. Those expectations were still too high.
So I lowered it again from a good love to an okay love.
Still too high.
Over and over, my expectations dropped down the rungs until they were rock-bottom: I will survive this love. Even if this person doesn’t want to work on it, even if this person doesn’t want me, even if this person rejects me over and over and over again…I can survive it.
I went from fiercely declaring that I wanted a great love, a revolutionary love, to not wanting anything anymore. To put to death all of my desires. How far I had fallen. How shattered my dreams had become.
The only way I felt I could survive was to lay that dreamer in the grave and pour earth and rock over him until his cold body was completely covered.
That part of me died, and I left that dream for a great love and a great life to rot with me. I patted down the earth, I dusted off my hands, and I walked away feeling cold, like iron or ice.
Days passed. Months. Years.
The sun has passed over it hundreds of times. The moon has peeked at it with its pale gaze. Rain has come down and seeped past it. Snow has fallen and rested on top of it. Long grass has grown over it.
This week, though, something began to stir in the earth.
It was such a minute movement at first—a twitch, a tremble of the dirt.
But soon, the earth opened up, the grass parted, and light and air and hope rushed into the space only darkness had occupied.
God is resurrecting dreams for me this week.
It's been such a long night. It’s been such a deep grave. But I believe in a Jesus who destroys death.
I believe in a Jesus who reaches his hand into the earth, rips me from the mouth of darkness, and breathes air into my lungs.
I believe in a Jesus who resurrects dreams.
I believe he died and rose again.
I believe it because I’ve seen him do it with me once again.
This past weekend, I visited my sister Susie in Phoenix. She has pancreatic cancer, and it's wreaking havoc on her body.
Out of everything I could write or say about it, for right now, I only want and am only able to talk about this:
Love, and how little I've known of it.
I spent most of my time in Phoenix with Susie's husband, Mike. If you had asked me a week ago if I loved people well, I would have given some humble version of a "yes," but in my mind would have thought, "Of course I do." Mike has me reconsidering that.
While my sister is in the hospital, he handles everything else--the kids, the bills, the taxes, his work. He goes to visit her in the hospital and holds her hand and no matter how tired he is, he asks in the most gentle voice, "What do you need, baby doll? What can I do?" He gets on the hospital staff when something's not going right--not because he's a jerk, but because it's one of the only things he can control when it comes to this cancer business. He'll do anything, even if it's a tiny thing, to make this better for Susie.
This weekend, I realized that for most of my life, I've only played and splashed around in the shallow end of the pool of love.
Mike has dived into the deep end of love. Submersed himself. He holds his breath there and lets it burn his lungs.
I'm thankful for a guy who loves deeply like he does.
I have so much yet to learn.
Feature photo ©2013 Oscar Cortez
A while ago, I wrote these "Monday Confessional" posts. Then I stopped. This kind of follows a pattern in my life where I come up with an idea and try it out, and then I hate it for a while, and then I realize it might not have been that bad. So after over a year of hiatus, here's the return of my Monday Confessionals:
I vowed to myself a while ago that I wouldn't let any one person determine my happiness or worth.
I may have overcorrected.
This is what happens when you overcorrect: you make a mistake or have some negative experience, and in trying to fix said mistake and prevent said situation from happening again, you go too far. Overcorrection is frequently linked with driving.
It happens like this--you're driving down the road, and suddenly your car hits a slippery section of road and begins to slide, out of your control, to the right or the left. This can be a heart-stopping, terrifying experience--you might be going fifty to sixty miles per hour or more (to be fair, it's scary at any speed) and headed right for another car, a telephone pole, a concrete median, or a menacing ditch. In these moments, your gut, your instinct, your body will tell you to slam on your brakes, grab that steering wheel, and jerk it in the direction you want your car to go.
That's overcorrection. And that simple reaction to a bad thing happening and trying to get out of it causes thousands of accidents and deaths every year.
I think that's where I am.
Wanting to avoid slamming into the tree that's threatening to snap your car in half isn't bad. Wanting to avoid placing anyone on a pedestal and pinning my happiness on them isn't bad, either. It's good, actually.
It's a lesson everyone has to learn if they're serious about having healthy relationships. If we think a person--a boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, friend, boss, coworker, fan--is responsible for our happiness, we'll find ourselves wanting. We'll find ourselves, at some point, the opposite of happy--we'll be miserable and disappointed because no one can be our happiness. No one can live up to that responsibility.
After I hit enough telephone poles, relationally speaking, because I placed my hopes and dreams in a person, I decided to hit the brakes and turn that steering wheel away from disaster. It was my gut reaction, my instinct. At first, it seemed to work.
I told myself there is no person out there who can fix me and my issues. I worked on living my life in a way that allows me to pursue my passions and what breaks my heart. I committed myself to decrease my focus on my problems and increase my focus on helping and encouraging the people around me without the expectation of being treated the same way in return.
I became independent. Which is great. Mostly great. I go where I want to go, when I want to go. I don't need someone else's permission, nor do I have to wait for someone to join me to feel validated in going. If I want to go camping in the Adirondacks, I go. If I want to visit Niagara Falls, I go. If I want to drive to the beach at 11 p.m., I do it. If I want to see a movie, I don't need to call anyone and figure out which nights and times we all have free. I can just see it by myself. Some of you might read that and think of other words to describe me other than "independent" (loser), but if you have the freedom, both of schedule and self-confidence, to see a movie by yourself, then you've made it in life as far as I'm concerned.
All of which can be good. But sometimes, we can take independence too far.
When your car starts to slide out of control, experts say to fight your instincts--fight the urge to turn the steering wheel hard and fast or slam your brakes. They say to let off the gas and the brake pedal, to slowly and carefully turn the steering wheel in the direction you'd like to go until your car settles back on track and into the proper lane.
Which is easy to do when you read about it, and much harder when you're making split-second decisions at seventy miles per hour with your heart in your throat.
As I've corrected myself toward independence, I may have had the steering wheel to the side a little too long. Perhaps I've pumped the brakes a bit too hard. I haven't stopped at simply being independent and content.
My heart has become stone.
In my attempt to fix my past mistakes, to free myself from the lie that some other person holds the key to my happiness, to keep my heart from spilling out all over people who don't want it, I've sealed it up.
I find myself thinking and saying, "I don't care what this person thinks. I don't care what this person does. I don't care."
To say that a person doesn't determine my worth or happiness is one thing. A good thing. To say that I simply do not care, to clamp the valves of my heart so tightly so that I don't feel anymore--that's different. That's an overcorrection.
Lately, I've refused to let anything that even smells like validation or rejection from anyone jump over the moat that has slowly surrounded me. I don't care who calls me or doesn't call me to hang out. I don't care who responds to my text messages or not. I don't care who remembers my birthday or not. I don't care if someone compliments me or not. I don't care when someone does compliment me. I don't care who checks in on me or not. I don't care if you care about me or not. I don't care if you respond to me. I'm going to do me, and I'm going to do it with or without you.
I will not let you make me feel anything I don't want to feel. This is not, "I'm independent." This is, "Forget you--I won't give you the chance to put so much as a scratch or dent anywhere on me."
The difference is hard to detect. I'm not quite sure of the exact moment I crossed the line from healthy to shut off. It was probably a slow process, the way that bread shifts from soft and fresh to stiff and stale a little bit at a time.
I feel lucky that I'm catching it now, before I make any stupid decisions or hurt someone significantly in the process. Maybe I have already, and if so, feel free to call me on my nonsense. If I've learned anything from my past, it's that people who don't allow themselves to be hurt will inevitably hurt the people around them. The defenses you set up, the barbed wire with which you line the doors to your heart, will cut and damage the people who try to breach them.
I don't want this to be me.
I know better. I really do. To love, to experience life in its fullest capacity, I have to let people hurt me. It's part of the deal. One of my favorite bands, Sleeping At Last, has a song that says, "We can't...fall in love with a heart that's too strong to break."
I think that applies to all forms of love, not just the romantic sort. We can't love and be loved without being in a position to have our hearts broken from time to time.
We have to fight our defensive instincts sometimes.
We have to resist the urge to jerk the steering wheel away from danger.
We have to restrain our feet from pushing the brake pedal into the floor.
We have to finesse this. Keep our eyes fixed on where we want to go. Ease ourselves back in that direction.
And sometimes, we'll still hit something.
It's how life and love work.
I'm excited to have another post for the #LiveTogether series which is about the ups and downs and bumps and tears and laughter of doing life with other people.
Today, my friend Nate brings some real, raw, and honest writing about marriage and the fights and grace involved. We hope you find it helpful.
“God, I really hate this bitch right now.”
That was an actual thought that passed through my head during one of the more heated moments of a fight with my wife a couple months ago. And I meant it.
You probably think I'm an asshole at this point.
Before getting married, I expected we would have disagreements. I knew we would not always get along perfectly. But I never expected I could feel this. Not hate. Not towards her. Somehow I figured I would always make the choice to love, no matter what. No matter how badly she pissed me off, no matter how unfairly I felt she was treating me, I would stoically maintain a loving attitude and see the argument through to its resolution.
What an idiot I was.
Marriage changes something. I'll be damned if I completely understand why that is, but something changes between two people when they get married. A lot of it is good. You get a partner, a best friend, a confidant – someone who you know (in theory) will always have your back through the rest of your lives together. It's good. Marriage is good.
But marriage sucks sometimes, too. No, it's not just hard--it sucks. Because when you're married, you also become comfortable with your partner. Guards are dropped, and in a healthy marriage the guards need to be dropped. But when your guard is dropped, you become vulnerable. Your partner becomes vulnerable. And then, without even thinking about it, you say something that is beyond unkind – it's devastating.
That's when stubbornness kicks in. See, I often know within seconds that I've said or done something hurtful. But instead of doing the right thing, humbling myself and apologizing, I start to make excuses. I justify. I am the king of justifications. I've actually won fights this way, verbally manipulating my wife until she is so worn down and tired of fighting that she just gives up. I win. Except that's not really winning. She's not supposed to be my enemy. We're supposed to be on the same team. When I win those fights, I've only deepened the chasm between us.
When this happens enough times, something dark begins to set in. Tempers flare more quickly as we both become quicker to recognize when a fight is brewing. Remembering to love becomes harder and harder to do. Eventually we give up, and hate begins to set up shop. I get so good at justification and manipulation that I start to believe my own bullshit, and she becomes my enemy, in the literal sense of the word. It's her fault. If she would just learn to deal, not be so sensitive when I'm a jerk to her, we wouldn't have to fight about this crap anymore. After all, what I said to her wasn't that much different than what I say to the guys at work when we're horsing around. Damn--this is such a pain in my ass.
Well. Now we have established that I am indeed, an asshole. You're probably wondering if she's drawn up divorce papers yet.
Fighting is normal. Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, feeling hate is normal too. But here's the thing – even though those feelings are normal, I think it's foolish to try and work through that alone. For a long time, my wife tried to convince me that we should get counseling from someone. I hated that idea. It felt like failure. Counseling was only for marriages that are really on the rocks. We weren't there. I didn't need someone else to tell me I was being an immature asshole. I already knew that, and had enough self-loathing that I figured I'd eventually get it right.
That is total, utter foolishness.
It is ok to ask for help. It doesn't mean your world is coming to an end and that the next step is divorce; it just means that you've been banging your heads up against a wall over and over and over and over again, and something needs to change. When I finally did agree to meet with a couple from our church, it was amazing. They were an older couple, with tons and tons of marriage experience and counseling under their belt, and in a very short hour and a half I learned so much about my wife and about myself. The biggest thing: this is normal. It's ok. Don't be so hard on yourselves. You have a lifetime to figure each other out; give each other some grace.
I'm not going to be able to wrap this up in a neat little bow, if that's what you're hoping for. Marriage is a process. Sometimes it sucks, but then sometimes it's great. We've had these fights, but they don't last. Eventually, we remember that we're on the same team, and actual reconciliation starts to happen. We're learning to give each other grace. The key, for me, is letting go of the need to be right, the need to win. It is absolutely one of the hardest things for me to do. That's not the same as being passive and simply rolling over whenever she gets mad. It just means learning how to empathize--how to speak kindly, gently, and to affirm each other, while at the same time being willing to take however much time we need to work out our shit. Even if it's two in the morning.
I love my wife. She is amazing, and she treats me with honor that I truly don't deserve most of the time. I know that she loves me, and I can say that with total confidence. I try to love her well. Most of the time. But we both screw it up sometimes. Badly. It's ok. It's human nature. Humans are naturally selfish, sinful, jerks. God is doing a work in our hearts, though--changing us, perfecting us. I can think of no one else I would rather go through life with, fights and all. She is my best friend, my greatest ally, and the love of my life.
Also, makeup sex is amazing.
Nate Roach is a plumber working in Lancaster, PA, but is currently beginning to transition to full-time ministry working with CrossRoads Missions in New Orleans. He's been blogging for years, and recently started a new blog with his wife called Unfettered Grace, where they will share stories and thoughts on ministry, life, and their new adventure in New Orleans. They also occasionally blog at The Sometimes Ugly Truth, sharing about some of life's difficulties and challenges. He's a drummer and music lover, and generally still a boy in a man's body - he still loves video games. More importantly, He is a husband and a daddy to two little people he adores.
You can follow him on Twitter, too.