Revisiting the Fairy-Tale

I have noticed that the ideal, the pinnacle, of romance is supposed to culminate in a “fairy-tale wedding.” Googling that phrase produces a head-spinning amount of results. Ask any wedding planner, and they know the phrase well. That idyllic scene isn’t always achieved, of course. But it’s the stereotypical dream of every young girl, right? She finds her prince charming and then, at the perfect time, it all comes together for this so-called “fairy-tale wedding.” I suppose we use that term because many fairy-tales end with “happily ever after.” One of my favourite fairy-tales is a Cinderella-type story by the Brothers Grimm entitled The True Bride. There’s a garden, and long walks, and a lime tree, and abandonment, and disguise, and mystique, and deception. Another interesting one is Rapunzel, which features theft, parental abuse, illicit sex (leading to an illegitimate pregnancy), a violent maiming, lots of wandering in the wilderness, and a tearful, miraculous reunion. Other fairy-tales feature geese, cows, and wizards. Many feature lying and deception and trickery. Dragons. Blood. Surprises. Death. There’s a good-against-evil, or a little-vs-big, or a poor-vs-rich struggle. They’re often full of normal people, poor people, who stumble into circumstances well beyond their depth and must use cleverness or goodness to come out on top. In light of most fairy-tales, it is interesting that we use the term “fairy-tale wedding.” Weddings, you see, normally aren’t featured in fairy-tales. In fairy-tales, people have adventures, learn things about themselves, slay giants, fall in love – and then – only then – is a wedding implied. Not by a description of the gown or the cake, but by one tiny phrase: “and they all lived happily ever after.”

They lived.  happily.

ever after.

The ever after part? That’s a choice. That’s a choice I made when I said in front of witnesses, “until death gives us over to God.” That’s a choice I make every day when I follow, love, honor, and respect him.

The happily part? That’s a choice too. “happily” takes a lot of work and a lot of choosing to see good in places that seem dark and sad sometimes. Like when the giant is at the door, when you’re in the belly of the wolf, when your dress is in tatters.

In all honesty, a stereotypical “fairy-tale wedding” – the pristine white cake, bride’s tiara, 10-foot long train, harp music, flowers everywhere, not a hitch or a glitch – looks nothing like a fairy-tale.   But the wedding can be the beginning of a fairy-tale, if we let it, I suppose. After all, a marriage is an adventure. A marriage is a perfect example of normalcy shattered by the supernatural. A marriage is a couple of rag-tag adventurers who get whisked into new territory, with every turn challenging who they are and who they THOUGHT they were. Marriage is full of choices to either stand and fight or run and hide. Marriage makes you choose sides and choose teams against bigger foes; marriage makes you realize you can’t do it alone. Marriage is like a beanstalk and a path through the woods and an abandoned cottage, the rose garden of an ancient castle, or a royal ball. It can seem mundane, until you’re forced to make a choice that determines your destiny (and the destiny of others).

[My wedding wasn’t like a fairy-tale, but my marriage might be. Just working every day, little by little, on the choices. On the “happily” and on the “ever after.”]

Just Say What You Mean

Never, until now, have I seen such a push from Christians linking marriage to the absolutely fundamental necessity of bearing children.

Of course, Christians generally have believed in the birthing and rearing of God-fearing children as a calling – maybe even one that makes us unique from non-Christians. But never did I hear this discussed as something that applied to nonbelievers – or something that would make or break a marriage. If it’s so all-encompassing and drastically important, why has it not been framed so urgently until now?

Why have I not heard a preacher say this…until now?

Why is it an argument of DEFENSE against the upcoming governmental laws regarding homosexual marriage?

Even as contraception grew, the danger spoken of was that “more contraception will lead to promiscuity” – not that somehow removing children from the picture would nullify the definition of marriage.

{If children are the clincher, why did not a prophet, or Paul, or Jesus issue such a warning, such a directive? Why did Christ’s words on marriage not address the barren couple – who so obviously failed to produce a proper marriage in the eyes of God?}

I’m tired of the excuses. Just be truthful: you don’t want gay marriage to be legalized and accepted because you believe it goes against Scripture and the will of God.

And that’s ok.

I think that’s a valid interpretation of Scripture. I think for a careful, wise student of the Bible, it’s valid and well-researched to say “I believe homosexual behavior is a sin – and not the way God originally designed humans to function.” Christians and biblical scholars don’t all agree on that, and that’s ok. There are plenty of things Christians disagree about. I think if it was a matter of salvation, Jesus probably would have mentioned it a couple of times. Or once.

Just please, please stop with the children stuff. Stop with the sanctity of marriage stuff. If we truly want to fight for the sanctity of marriage, we need to start fighting against no-fault divorce. We need to fight against the mindset of those who get married out of societal or family pressure.

Even better, we need to start really caring for young people and newlyweds, being honest with them, and teaching them to love Jesus, honor their bodies, and stop being ignorant of/terrified of/nonchalant about sex. We need to respect our spouses and invest in our own families.

Unfortunately, this sort of removes us from the political spectrum, doesn’t it?

Kind of refocuses our priorities, doesn’t it?

{Oh, that we would cease to lobby, scream, and cry for the world to follow God’s Laws when they don’t even know God’s Love.}

:Confession:

I have almost always felt “off-the-market.” Advances by boys usually slipped over my head, or amused me, or made me wish they were more into the Platonic Thing. (I’m really into the Platonic Thing)

Another reflection on marriage is that now I am off-the-market, and that’s pleasant. I can be me and give love and oh, look, it’s got a ring on it.

When Your Life Is Just Normal (No, Really, I Promise)

There’s a sense of “otherness” about growing up. A sense of mystery and mystique about words like “boyfriend,” “husband,” “motherhood,” “marriage,” “sex,” and “living together.” We all know it. And we all equally know that our own expectations are massively overblown, if only because relationships and life events in movies get underscored brilliantly by James Newton Howard or Philip Glass and a personal soundtrack is much harder to attain in real life.

So we get a little bitter or grumpy about those who have crossed to the “other side” and we sigh and imagine how idyllic their lives must be. Even though we probably understand life well enough to know better.

When I was in high school and college, all the bitterness and longing of other girls and boys (my age, older, and younger) just made me sad. So I tried to be the voice of “hey, but remember how cool life is anyway?” and “shoot girl, you don’t need a boyfriend to be happy” but I suspect that made me come across as obnoxious to a lot of people. I learned how to nod sympathetically and BE sympathetic and I’m still learning that “I want to talk to you about this” DOES NOT EQUAL “what are your thoughts/advice on this?”

<life lessons>

During our engagement, during the planning and waiting and frustrated nights of just wanting to lie in the same bed together while we slept, my fiance admitted that he hated being engaged. I couldn’t blame him. He’d been doing all kinds of growing up, and making all kinds of life sacrifices, and being engaged is pretty much like being married without any of the perks.

I had to constantly beat down his expectations about so many things. I had to remind him over and over that attaining this status of “marriage” and getting a wife wasn’t going to fill the void in his life where dissatisfaction likes to creep in. That void ALWAYS exists. Saying, “I’ll be happy when I just finally get my own space” or “I just need to release some of this sexual frustration and then I’ll be OK” is honestly to kid yourself.

Last night was the first time since we’ve been married that my husband expressed a significant amount of frustration and dissatisfaction with life. “I hate waking up, working, doing school, and going to sleep.” We’ve been married for 19 days, and he already feels those tendrils of dissatisfaction creeping back into his life. He already feels the weight of the journey he’s on as not only a full-time worker and student, but now also husband and co-provider of our new family. And it’s true. Full-time work and school leaves little room for anything else. It’s true, working in the home (like he does) gives him ridiculous cabin fever. It’s true, my need for sleep reduces our time together to a mere five or six hours a day – when we have nothing else going on. But there’s
dinner,
constant laundry,
fellowship with our small group,
errands,
banks,
the DMV,
bills,
unpacking,
and the list goes on forever.

My personal reflections on marriage (after 19 days) is nothing but “thank goodness, it was about time for this.” We occasionally just laugh and geek out about how we can eat, watch, do, or say whatever we want. We picked out our own furniture, buy our own food, and invite over whomever we want. This phase is such a relief and an excitement and just downright fun after living so long in mostly-independence and gradually accruing skills and knowledge that I can finally put to use under my own supervision and responsibility. I can feel myself growing and stretching into more than I was before.

But in such normal ways, about normal things. We’ve not got immediate plans to fly to Paris or go on a kayaking spree or anything young and fun and crazy. It was cause for celebration when my social security card came in the mail, and we had time to watch a whole movie before I had to go to bed. Baby steps, you know.

So yes, I’m All Married And Stuff and I have my own space and it’s so welcome and I’m really digging it. But it’s just normal life. It’s “I don’t have any clean socks” and driving around in circles trying to find a UPS drop-box and…you know…normal stuff.

Oh, but if only I can find time to get rid of the unpacked boxes crowding my bedroom floor…

<right. baby steps. right.>

The Eve of the Eve

I am not getting married tomorrow. But tomorrow, I will be getting married tomorrow. Thus I suppose I ought to write a profound blog post, but I keep getting preoccupied with Jesus and love and unkindness and divorce and such things.

Warning: this isn’t a blog about “first world problems” -per say- but it feels like it. Anytime I say or write anything, these days, I feel like an American complaining about something when people are dying of malnutrition half way around the world from me.

Because a month after I got engaged, two of my dear friends got divorced. I was happy; I wanted to celebrate with the world and enter into this new season with gusto and resolve and community. And it felt like a shard of glass sticking in my ear. Whenever I get to spend time with either of these friends who divorced (which, happily, is semi-regularly), it makes me ache to see the scars, scabs and bitterness creep in occasionally. References hurt me, because I can see how badly hurt they still are.

It hurts in a different way too, in an angry way, because it hurt me how little they fought. And how stupid is that for me to say? How arrogant, how foolish to feel that way! I didn’t live with them. I didn’t hear their arguments and discussions. What I do know is that they were married for a year, with a lot of unresolved baggage from previous relationships, and I guess it turned out that they didn’t know how to be married to each other.

Mere months before they separated, she told me, “I knew he was different because I looked at him and thought, I want to have his babies.

And then I’m crying and talking to myself about “Why doesn’t anybody ever FIGHT FOR IMPORTANT THINGS?”

(An Aside)

Divorce upsets me increasingly, the older I get (like violence and death). My family was never stuffy or legalistic about divorce, because my mother was divorced before she married my father. I have a half-brother from her previous marriage, and it bothers me when I hear people talk about half-siblings as though they’re not REALLY family.

What I learned from my mother about that period of her life was that it was very hard for her, and that she should not have married her first husband. It’s over now, and she has my brother which is a huge blessing, but that doesn’t negate the fact that her choice was poor. She has always impressed upon us that marriage is important, and it’s worth the wait to make smart decisions about it.

That being said, even though divorce didn’t “phase” me growing up, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to deal with.

(Seriously. I sting over news of celebrity divorces. Amy Poehler and Will Arnett was especially hard.)

I don’t particularly have an explanation as to why it’s become such a gut-wrenching thing for me; I do suspect that as I enter into Marriage season I’m hypersensitive to the ideas of covenant and commitment.

(End of Aside)

So here I am, still trying to grapple with my twenty-something peers who are newly divorced, and mere weeks away from my own wedding, another one hits me. Another pair of twenty-something peers, who love Jesus like I do (two of my favourite people, actually) headed toward the divorce statistic.

And of course, I’m confused and upset at the world and trying not to cry at my desk and crying on the floor when I finally make it home. Of course I want to shake him until his bones rattle and the fear of God Almighty awakens in him.

Of course. Because I’m about to partake in what’s being ripped away from them.

But do you know what makes me mad?

The “he” in this situation (the one “doing the divorcing” you could say) tweeted this a few days back:

“Welp, nothing’s more fun than trying to keep track of who is blocking/unfollowing me. A nice distraction for my week.”

And that made me remember that, when my other friends were dealing with their separation/divorce last year, the same thing happened. Friends pulled away. People took sides, drew lines. In quiet, subtle ways. But it was felt by both of them.

Unfriending, blocking, falling away, in ANY way letting our Valid Upset and Valid Disagreement take precedence over Mandatory Loving is the most despicable, spiteful anti-Jesus display I can imagine in such a situation.

That’s a little more heated than I want to get about people, in a time of my life when I’m trying to learn a lot about patience (and, duh, love), but I think I needed to write that.

I don’t want to write any of this. I don’t want to write about my hurt and pain and confusion and anger, because I feel so unqualified to write about those things.

And it hurts me to write about joy and celebration and future hopes and concerns, because every day more and more people I know and love are moving to a broken place of not-having-that (or, at the very least, un-erasable change).

So I think that’s why I haven’t been writing anything about my upcoming marriage. Marriage is a hurting subject in my world right now.

But I treasure this time so much. I have so, so treasured my engagement. I have treasured looking for furniture, and the thrill of finding the perfect couch at a bargain. I have loved falling asleep during movies just because I wanted to spend a little more time in my David’s arms. I am glad we’ve had (so many) conversations trying to tweak the budget, or to make apartment decisions. (I’m not glad we fought in Target about the registry, but I’m we both realized it was stupid and showed humility afterward) I have loved moving things into the new apartment and finding places for everything in the kitchen and kissing with the tiny excitement of not having anybody in the next room.

I have loved the hours of driving to and from Virginia Beach, reading marriage books or The Magician’s Nephew aloud to each other. Loved having realistic (sometimes grumpy) conversations about expectations, habits, children, sex, and all kinds of things we get to figure out for the rest of our lives.

He has taught me so much. I’m going to learn so much. I’ve picked his brain and he’s picked mine and we’ve over-analyzed every feeling, thought, and fear. We know full well that we don’t have everything figured out, but that’s OK because we’re excited about each other, we want to take care of each other so bad, and we’ve learned how to take care of each other so well.

I haven’t required much care in my life. I’m an independent middle child. I fall between cracks on the Meyers-Briggs test, but I’m a Sanguine Phlegmatic extrovert who does just as much thinking as speaking (although something they’re simultaneous) and I can get things done when I need to. I’m often the one who takes care of things that need to be done (or at least delegates them). I make lists and see to it that things get crossed off. I’ve always had a loving mother, but one who gave me space and never hovered. I’ve always had a loving father, but one who chiefly loved by giving advice, setting rules, and being a good example.

My family taught me to take care of myself.

My world asked me over and over again to lead, pipe up, or suggest.

Until I had my David, I didn’t realize how hard it is to always be the one taking care of other people. When I started letting him take care of me, I gradually realized how much pressure can build up over 22 years. 22 years of having many wonderful friends, but no one “touchy feely” best friend to do everything with, share everything with.

But, oh.

Crying with someone.
Being unreasonable because I feel it sometimes, because he will remind me of Reason.
Yelling about what I hate because he’ll remind me of love.
Being sick, being tired to my core, and letting him carry me upstairs and tuck me in.

I didn’t know what that was like, and that is very good.

It is very good to carry each other.

(I will learn more about this soon)

Life Hurts

My generation has been blogging a lot about twisted concepts of marriage, romance, love, and sex. Some really good stuff has been put up. Good discussions are happening at the Good Women Project, Rachel Held Evans, Elizabeth Esther, Deeper Story, and Prodigal.

I even recently posted a few choice excerpts from a similarly-themed article.

I get excited by people questioning assumptions with which they were brought up. I get excited by conversation, real thoughts, people being real and not allowing themselves to be stifled.

But life hurts either way – you know?

Yes, people have been hurt by ultra-conservative, fundamental teachings about sex. Women have been ashamed of their bodies. Men have been told so often that they have a lust issue, that they have developed an unhealthy fixation with “getting rid of lust.” Boys and girls weren’t taught how to appreciate beauty, they were scolded to cover up, look away, not be friends with members of the opposite sex.

But that wasn’t really my life. That was fringe, observed, occasionally a part of my world. Usually through other people. I was allowed to wear tight pants and be best friends with boys.

Sex has hurt me, though. Sex too early, too young, with the wrong person. Not me personally, i.e. I’ve never actually had sex. But I’ve had friends so hurt and scarred and changed because of it. People who abandoned their friends because they wanted to chase after physical satisfaction. Friends betraying each other. Secret abortions. Members of my family (I won’t say how extended, or on which side) are still grieving, mourning over scars left by abortion. Abortion that happened because of selfishness, recklessness, carelessness. And abortion was just a consequence, a symptom of the problem.

You want to know something I think is a problem?

How somehow we’re so animalistic, flesh-driven, self-focused that even when we think sex is foolish, wrong, or even just not the best idea, we think we can’t help it. We think we can’t control it, stifle it, or just make smarter decisions.

Sex is not food.

You will not die if you don’t have sex.

My fiance says that making “good” choices comes easily for me; that I hold myself to a very high standard. One thing that’s difficult for him is that I instinctively hold everyone else around me to the same standard.

[We all do, don’t we though? Don’t we all hold each other to high standards? Usually even higher than the ones we hold ourselves to]

And I don’t know; maybe all of that’s true.

Listen, I have learned to understand and be OK with people who interpret life and the Bible differently than I do. It’s true, what so many people are saying: Scripture is not as black and white about premarital sex as we like to think. There are arguments as to what “fornication” means – and “adultery” means having sex with someone else once you’re already married to someone.

So I get that.

As it so happens, when I look at the broad brush-strokes of Scripture, I see sex as a covenant thing. Something that symbolizes what God describes marriage (and nothing else) as being.

[the two shall become one flesh]

Something that goes with marriage and doesn’t work properly outside of marriage, else what on earth is Paul even talking about in 1 Corinthians 7?

That’s one corner of my quadrilateral. (two corners, really, because tradition agrees with me)

But my other corners match up, too. I won’t bore you with my logic. Doctors, psychologists, scientists have talked about statistics and all kinds of reasons why sex works better inside marriage. Some of the logic is so infantile, you wonder why anyone questions it.

Experience is the part that hurts, in my life anyway.

The raw, removed fact that my husband has had sexual experiences before marriage doesn’t hurt me. In fact, when I found out about it, hurt or anger was the farthest from my mind. But every action has consequences. And some of those consequences hurt me.

He was tortured for months with shame and guilt over many things he got himself into before knowing me. That shame and guilt hurt me, because it was hurting him. He is going to have a harder time dealing with certain preferences and apprehensions I have about certain sexual things, specifically because he’s been in sexual situations where he didn’t have to deal with them. That hurts me. He has preferences which were formed before and outside of our relationship, specifically because of (or affected by) prior experiences. That hurts me. That excludes me. That puts pressure and expectations on me in a way he cannot possibly understand.

Sometimes, on bad days, I hate every girl who ever said, “sure” to a man who wasn’t her husband.

Because he’s MY husband. And now I have to deal with the hurt, the fear, the expectations.

And our relationship is beautiful, and he has healed amazingly. I worry neither for our marriage nor our sexuality as a couple. These words I write don’t come out of constant fear, wringing of hands, uncontrollable emotions. Just…life.

Intellectually, I understand it when people come to different Scriptural, logical, or experiential conclusions from myself.

But I wince when I hear people say that virginity means nothing. It’s true, obviously. Virginity, a woman’s hymen, mean’s essentially nothing.

But God alone knows what kind of emotional, spiritual, relational baggage that gets attached to one’s virginity. I know that to be true in my own life, and I feel that I have a very, very mild case of the hurt compared to so many people I know.

Virginity can be attached to abortion baggage. Infertility baggage. “I-know-I-like-this-thing, and-it’s-going-to-be-really-hard-for-me-if-you-can’t-fulfill-that” baggage. Pregnancy, or child baggage. Disease baggage. Cancer baggage.

I have seen, experienced those things. That kind of baggage.

And it hurts.

And I’m ok with saying that, although I hope I won’t be lumped with the negative buzzwords of “purity culture” “courtship teachings” or “fundamentalist” for doing so.