Thursday, February 5, 2009

fairy tale romance

Once upon a time, there was a young woman who was desperately longing for love that did not stop to count the cost of loving. She had lived a long time with love doled out based on merit, and had learned that that kind of love never stayed, if it ever arrived. After this many years, she had learned to stop setting a place for love at her table, and then she stopped going to her own table. It had become such a lonely place, that it wasn't worth going there to wait for any visitors, and so she never ate there, herself.

She had once grown a garden, but since no one seemed to want to enjoy what she grew, she stopped tilling the soil, and stopped planting, or watering or tending at all. Her little cottage became very overgrown, and the dark forest that had long occupied her back acres encroached, and soon the sun barely touched her little roof. She had once thought that she would sing out in her front yard as she tended to her little plot, but the songs she had planned to sing became long and lonely, haunted verses that she barely recognized as her own.

This little home was so unsatisfying and unfulfilling without any Love visiting her, that she stopped going back. For many days at a time, she would wander in the woods, fascinated by the shadows and thick gnarled trees, scavenging whatever she could for sustenance. Sometimes she wondered when she would accidentally pick a poisonous mushroom or berry, and the thought never really frightened her as it should have. When she saw the quick moving shadows of wolves and strange lunatic birds, she contented herself with the thought that they were farther off than was dangerous. Sometimes she wondered how she would fare if they were close enough. In her heart, she knew that one day she would meet one face to face, and there would be no sunshine, no torch, to keep them at bay. The thought brought only vague curiousity, and the ebb of sadness that flowed in her would rise and wash over her.

There was a village of run-down sheds and cottages somewhere in the forest, that she sometimes stopped at and met and sang her lonely songs to the people that lived there. Sometimes they listened, and one or another villager would walk with her for a day or two. But they would always go back, because her little cottage was too far to walk to, and no one really wanted to do more than walk awhile, anyway.

One day, while walking along the outskirts of the village, she saw another lone figure along the path up ahead. This person was so bundled against the cold that she could not tell if it was a man or woman, old or young, dangerous or safe. It had been so long since she even thought of her little cottage, that she forgot that anyone might visit her at all. So when she saw this figure, all she thought was that it might be fun to walk with someone else for a time. She knew that just like every other villager, they would leave her to the dark woods.

As they passed, she saw that this was a young man, whose face showed the same sadness that she lived with. He breifly glanced up, but neither spoke. She took comfort in the simple fact that she was not alone.

The woods were darker than ever over the next few days, and more and more she found herself travelling through dangerous territories. More and more she could glimpse the wolves darting between the trees, hear the flutter of the owls that took more than small rodents. She stumbled into an opening in the forest one night, tired from so long wihtout a roof. With great surprise she found it was her very own little cottage, nearly overtaken by the grasses and thorns. the paint was chipping and one shutter was hanging from one nail, but inside the table was set and there was everything she needed to host a lovely little party.

The supplies and the lovely table made her sadness harder to bear. She laughed at her own innocent hopefulness, and the laugh was so bitter it tasted foul in her mouth. It was too painful to stay, so she left her little house by the front door.

Out by her broken down little garden plot was the same young man she had passed by those few dark days ago. When he heard the door, he looked up, the remaining delight from the sight of her little garden plot still on his face. There was hope, and longing, and she recognized both because she had never been able to shed either from her lonely heart.

There had never been any fence around her cottage or her garden, because she had taken them down, believing that Love must have been convinced that the fence was there to keep it out. All that happened was strangers would come and take her fruit and flowers, and leave. That seemed so long ago, and so full of hope.

This young man apologized for trespassing, and complimented he ron her little plot, and she went out to him and they stood for a long time by her poor little garden plot. After awhile, he shuddered from the cold, even with all his layers. So she invited him in to sit by the fire, and he agreed, more delighted than she could ever fathom. Why would anyone want to sit in such a broken little home? She hoped she could get the fireplace to work. She didn't bother to warn him how mean and poor it was inside, because she was quite sure it all spoke for itself.

But it seemed the young man never noticed. His face registered such delight and wonder and pleasure at her dusty little rooms. The old curtains were still up, and the interior, which she had taken such care to furnish, were dirty, but unchanged. She looked around and began to see what she had once taken such care to create- a place where Love could live.

Sometimes they walked together in the woods, and mostly they shared the little dusty cottage. After awhile, she began to dust, and clean, and fluff out her table cloths, and curtains, and she began to clean out the flu, and prepare her table setting for a feast. After all, she had the supplies, and finally there was a guest who cared to stay and share the food with her.

She tended her garden, and pulled out the paint cans in the cellar. Just when spring was coming to her little cottage, her visitor came and spent the day with her, but he was preoccupied. He told her he wouldn't come to visit her anymore. The woman felt all her hopefulness like a dagger in her heart. She realized what a fool she had been, and turned her eyes to the beckoning night of the woods. Maybe if she let an owl tear her heart from her chest, it wouldn't hurt like this.

But before he left her yard, she called to him, and laid all her heartache on his shoulders. She pulled out all the feast plans she had made, and handed them to him, and when he left, at least he would know what he had cost her.

The trees were gnarled and ugly, and the wolves circled her from a distance, and she wandered so far, so long, that she stumbled and fell asleep on her feet. But it was never far enough, because she still felt that dagger in her heart. She went to the village, and took no company. There were nights she laid down in the woods and slept, dreaming frightening dreams, and woke shivering in the cold dawn. It was always a disappointment that she had not been devoured.

After days of sleeping in the woods and walking the windy paths of the village, her paths crossed with the young man once more. The sight of him was so comforting, that she thought maybe if they would only walk together, and no more hoping- then maybe she would be alright. There would be company but no hope. That, she thought, would be alright.

He agreed to this arrangement, but as they walked the dark cold paths, she found that he was leading them back towards the little warm cottage. He was shivering, and he smiled with great longing. When they came within sight of the tended plot, she stopped. "Please." he whispered. "I did not know how cold I was, until I sat by your fire. I did not know how dreary it was, until I saw the pretty curtains, and soft chairs. I did not know how hungry I was until I could not eat wiht you any more. I dis not know how terrible it was to wander until I had a home."

And in her heart, she knew she felt the same. There was no home without Love. "Please don't turn away." he pleaded, and reached out his arms. It was not her sadness, or her loneliness that moved her then- it was the greatest thing she feared and longed for. It was Love.

She went in wiht him, then. Laid out a hot feast and warming mugs of mulled wine, and they sat and ate and when they were done with all their fruit, they went out together and planted a garden full of seeds. During the day, they worked to bring the little cottage back to it's original state- bright and warm and cheery. He chopped down the trees that had come too close, and the sun shined on their little yard. Together they put up the fence that she ahd taken down, and she realized that it had never kept Love out, but kept out those who had the worng intentions.

After a time, they took in visitors who needed the warmth, and they saw many a traveler stop and take heart at the sight of their chimney puffing smoke and the windows lit with yellow glowing light.

There were days when she wondered if she would have met him if she had never wandered- if he would have come to stay when her garden was blooming and her fence was still up- but she knew that it was no matter, now. The old scars had healed, and she was cold no longer. The night outside was not hers, and she knew that it never had been. Wherever the villagers were, whatever they did, she could not find it in her heart to care. If there were wolves and the lunatic birds out there, she lived within strong walls that kept them out.

Love had finally come, and this Love stayed.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Takes two to tango, or the Tragedy of the Duchess

I recently watched the movie "The Duchess" starring Keira Knightley, and I am still wheeling from it. I have heard, of course, that it was not historical on some things, but to be honest, I am not terribly interested in that.

It was a story of a woman born to privilege, who was married at seventeen for the politics and status. Her husband wanted only to have a son, and she had no idea what the hell she was getting into. From the beginning she was uncomfortable with her husband- who did not woo her, talk to her, or even get too affectionate while making heirs, if you get me. At one point her dear friend tell her to imagine a man kissing her back as he unfastened her dress, and she replied "They do not do such things." Oh how sad.

Suffering miscarriages and stillbirths, she believed that she as a woman was incapable of carrying a boy to term, as if it was her biological inability. (Oh the irony that it's the man that determines the sex of a child) Her husband had many affairs, sired a daughter out of wedlock, and Georgiana suffered quietly. Dressing extravagantly, going to parties and striving to be winsome and winning, she succeeded in being adored by everyone but her husband. When she did have an affair, one that may have promised love, she was forbidden by her husband to see him, and told her if she did not turn from him, she would be denied her children. (four, by now)
She bore a daughter to her lover, Charles Grey, and went off on "vacation" to be pregnant, and then hand over the tiny infant to her lover's family.

If ever there was a scene that ripped my heart from my chest and stepped on it, it was this. Accompanied by her best friend and her husband's mistress, she took her tiny baby Eliza and in the middle of nowhere, handed her over to a nurse. The baby was silent, until the carriage began to draw away, and then when her daughter began to cry, Georgiana flung herself forward, but her friend was there to hold her, whispering in her ear as G wailed and floundered.

Can any mother watch this, can any woman watch this, and not wither in horror and grief? A loveless life save for her children, a friendship that struggled to continue through the affair wiht her husband, and now this? The abandonment of her only chance for affection, and the giving up of her baby?

My poor husband didn't know what to do with me, as I quailed and silently sobbed as the baby cried. I went and held my sleeping boy in my arms for a long time, savoring his healthy adoring weight.

I watched a portrait of a woman whose extravagant exterior and social life belied a miserable shriveled marriage and a lonely interior life. Her children were her only source of love, and at the same time her burden. There was no blessing without it being mixed. How should I come away from this?

A selfless woman, who sacrificed her own happiness for the well-being of her children? A poor mistaken soul who suffered for no good reason? I think the movie lends itself towards the former interpretation, but truly, there was no overwhelming moral lesson. I found one moment interesting.

She confronts her husband after many years of affairs and failed pregnancies- after he has bedded her best friend. After exploding at him, she finally, in desperation and pure vulnerability, asks him "What is wrong with me?" implying his lack of interest in her. He goes to her, face full of concern and sorrow- and she leans towards him. Before he touches her, though, she shudders away and shakes him off.

There was one single moment where there might have been something real- a seed of possibility. Personally, I believe that no matter how ugly, a marriage can be patched up and given some kind of life. It takes a hell of a lot of work, and requires that one be completely vulnerable, and then be willing to continue with that. If she had let him hold her, as she so desired, if he had accepted her as she so wanted, (which it seemed he would) then their love might have become real. I believe the movie does make it clear that she wanted her husband to love her more than any other.

And the truth is, it takes two to tango, right? She wants his love, and he only has so much to give. He has a set idea of what will come of this, and does not believe that he is willing to change. But as the movie proved, he was willing, in some extent. If only they had read "The most important year ina Man/Woman's life." then maybe they would have had some luck!


My husband and I are coming up to our second anniversary of marriage ( May 11th) and now past is our second anniversary of
a) having met ( February 8th)
b) our first conversation (February 11th)
c) our first "date" (February 12th)

If you have been paying attention you will notice that we married about three months after having met. I don't really tell people that right away. I try not to, since most people tend to react with a sense of restrained surprise and doubt. How do I express to these folks that in our three month courtship, we crammed in three years' worth of life? How would they believe me?

How can I tell these nice people that though their concern is well-intentioned, and based on reality ( so says the great relational cynic) but totally unnecessary? That we know exactly what challenges we face as a married couple, let alone one who has only recently gotten to know one another ( and continue to do so). We know what a failed marriage costs, and so we know what a successful one is worth.

Well, let me say that life with Fuzzy has finally settled down, somewhat. In our first year of marriage, God changed both he and I dramatically, and we went through EPIC adventures. We also lost a baby and then had a baby shortly after our first anniversary. We are now learning how to be parents, and learning how to love one another in the midst of a life that feels more like regular life.

While the changes we go through are smaller, they are no less dramatic. I want to post a tribute to my husband, to the beautiful man he has become, and is still becoming. But before I do, I think it is important to talk about us.

I am motivated strongly not only to praise him to whoever will listen, but to lavish him with affection this Valentines' Day, and I am excited by this. Every day my hubby goes to work, to earn us a living and to allow me to stay home to raise our little Tristan. Every day, he chooses to put me and our son first, and for each small sacrifice he makes, I resound like a bell in gratitude. How can I show him what this means to me?

I come from a broken home, as many of you know. My father has chosen to love himself more than any other being, and as such he is not very well equipped to love ANYTHING let alone himself. My mother has a tendency to love based on production and behavior. I believed that God loved like that, too.
Until my husband came along, I didn't believe that anyone would or could ever love me like he does. Even God. For that alone, I am thankful. I keep that in my mind whenever I have the choice to get angry for the little stupid things. Because of him, God is introducing me to the love that He really has for me, and who I really am in Him. What a blessing!

On the anniversary of our first meeting ( four days from now) I am overwhelmed at how much we have both changed, and how we have been changed for the better. Marriage is a constant refining of one's self in order to put another first- and so is parenting. Much refining is going on, little by little. In the beginning, it was like refining metal- boil it up, skim off bad stuff, boil it up again, lather rinse repeat. While such a process is volatile and painful, it may have been easier to take for someone like me, who is drawn to extremes in myself and in others. I also enjoy using extremes to challenge people. But the slower process? More like water on a stone? ( Isn't there a torture like that? Chinese water torture?) I have a hard time with the slower ways, because it's easy to forget what's going on, lose focus and just complain.

But there are times when I am bored out of my mind and so rocked by what feels like stagnancy, and in comes a still small voice saying "this is so painful- there must be a purpose. What compels you to run, and what good comes of staying still?" and I thank God for that voice. It is this very inclination that causes me to realize that there is a purpose.

Joni Earekson Tada is a quadriplegic. She is strapped into a wheelchair, and is so much more than many people ever will be with all four limbs functioning- but one of the things that blew me away about her was what she said one day about when she gets to meet Jesus face to face. In her glorified body, she will have all the uses of her limbs and digits. She said that she used to tell people that when she met Jesus she would dance for Him. Later, and still, she said that now she knows that when she meets Jesus, she will




I felt that through my whole body as if I had been hit. An offering to Jesus to be still in His Presence, after a lifetime of being still. How amazing and self-sacrificing. I think of this whenever I feel frustrated. My stillness as an offering.