At five o’clock it begins to rain and he puts dinner on the table. I stare out the window amidst the clanking of forks, adjust my gaze—try to focus on these two growing boys shoveling food. The butter melts in the dish and they grab their things to go. He takes those boys to church and I gather dishes, wipe down the stove and table. When he returns he comes to me in the kitchen, scent of day-tired and rain clinging to his skin.
He lifts my hair and presses his lips against my neck, presses up against me and love is new and old all at once. I melt into him and he holds me gently, because he knows my heart is breaking, bruised by someone I love, stabbed through an old wound that flows fresh with blood.
His love is shelter and his arms a safe place because he loves me as Jesus loves the church and a cord of three strands is strong—wound tighter over the years. 
Is it crazy to love this way? When I look around I don’t see this kind of love very often. And I know there was a time our love did not look like this. There was a time we lived this parallel life and shook off the passion. Some of my friends say that sharp longing of new love is bound to fade over time.
But does it have to?
In a study she conducted that compares the brain scans of newly in love couples to that of couples who had been married an average of 21 years—21 years but still claimed to be “madly” in love—Dr. Bianca Acevedo made some interesting discoveries.
The scans were remarkably similar in some parts—showing activity in dopamine-rich areas of the brain—this is part of the reward center, the areas associated with motivation. Showing that thoughts of the loved one ignite a deep satisfaction—fill a deep craving. (This is also the area that lights up on the scans of addicts when they take cocaine.) But, unlike those of the newly in love, the long-in-love brains show no activity in areas associated with anxiety and fear. Instead, they show activation in brain regions that are associated with maternal love, or bonding. This doesn’t mean people want to parent their partners—just that strong attachments are present…one might even say joy.
And trust.
The excitement of new love and the security of old love all twined together, bound to each other in the shimmering ribbon of beauty.
We almost didn’t make it here. We almost let the storms of life carry us far away from each other. But how do I tell the one hurting in her marriage now that these storms—all these things that toss love about and douse its hot flame, wave after wave—how do I explain that these are the things that bind love ever-tighter…that make the bond even more sacred?
Because we have weathered these storms together—because he didn’t give up on me and because I didn’t give up on him—even when we wanted to…I know…I know my pain is safe with him. He is the love of Jesus, in his arms I find holy shelter. Because of this, the sting of pain is blunted. Because of this, these burdens—these stones that are thrown at me—their heaviness is broken in two.
I turn to him, my old-new love. And this is a choice. Because my natural inclination is to just take care of me—turn in on myself and nurse these wounds in solitude. When it might be easier to turn away, I make this choice—over and over again. And this is a small picture of faith—of my God-love too—this turning toward and not away.
Because Love is a shelter, an ever-present hope.

Sweet Lonely

The morning after Valentine’s Day I drive 252 miles away from my sweetheart. I pack my bags and drive north through a thin trickle of flurries. I have a conference to attend and my beloved and I don’t get hung up on these things. In May we’ll celebrate 20 years of marriage.
When I leave the roses still blush quietly on the kitchen table.        
I drive through the morning and into the afternoon and I watch the countryside don white frocking—a course rickrack around the edge of the highway. When I cross the state line, all this white has me missing my groom and I wonder that I can miss him after all this years; I wonder at the gentle way the yoke hangs around my neck…and I smile behind my hand as I glide through snow gossamer.
Funny how a little distance can sharpen the focus.
The way I’m missing my man reminds me of something Donald Miller says in his book Searching for God Knows What:

…Moses said God knew Adam was lonely or incomplete or however you want to say it, but God did not create Eve directly after He stated Adam was lonely…He did not create Eve right away. He did not give Adam what he needed immediately. He waited. He told Adam to name the animals…it turns out there are between ten million and one hundred million different species. So even if you believe in evolution that means there were between on mllion and fifty million species around in the time of the Garden, and Adam, apparently, had to name all of them. And the entire time he was lonely.
…this was a man who, despite feeling a certain need for a companion, performed what must have been nearly one hundred years of work, naming and perhaps even categorizing the animals….The thing is, when Adam finished naming the animals, after all his work and effort, God put him to sleep, took a rib out of his side, and fashioned a woman…here was this guy who was intensely relational, needing other people, and in order to cause him to appreciate the gift of companionship, God had him hang out with chimps for a hundred years. It’s quite beautiful, really. God directed Adam’s steps so that when He created Eve, Adam would have the utmost appreciation, respect, and gratitude.

I think about one hundred years and suddenly 252 miles doesn’t seem so bad. But missing him this way makes me long for Jesus because he loves me like Christ loves the Church and it feels like my heart will break if Kingdom doesn’t come: right. now.
The first thing I do when I get into town is call my sweetheart and let him know I made it fine. And then I wrap my arms around myself and hug this ache close. Because I know if I wait well then one hundred years will seem like a minute.
And lonely never felt so sweet.
Place me like a seal over your heart,
like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
like a mighty flame.  (Song of Songs 8)
With Jennifer:

Playdates with God: Making Memories

Thanksgiving 2012

We try to make memories when we can—I have so few stories to call my own. So we write them together—turn pages slowly and try to fill all the empty space into the margins. Life is a runaway train and the only way to stop that fast roll is to savor the minutes.

One day my boys will say, “Remember when…” and this thought feeds more than turkey and dressing and these snapshots are imprinted on my heart.

Thanksgiving 2012 Thanksgiving 2012 Thanksgiving 2012
We walk with their grandmother and their aunt and cousin. There is one missing, but Christmas is coming soon and maybe then we’ll walk again. It seems strange how conversation can be hard with people you love and I remember what my sister-in-law told my husband after she first met me. I think it was New Year’s Eve and her two girls still had rounded cheeks and I exclaimed over their dress-up antics. I was new and so young and I didn’t know where this love would take me. But when he asked her later, she said to him, “She’s just nice.
Just nice.
Sometimes I think the whole of my life could fit in those two words.
Blood and vows are the threads that tie us together but love is the knot that binds. So when the day after Thanksgiving dawns gray and threatens rain, we run away together—just the two of us. It’s another memory we like to make—a gift made possible by my in-laws, who are always ready to make more memories with our boys.

Thanksgiving 2012 Thanksgiving 2012 Thanksgiving 2012

We drive a couple hours and listen to music and talk about Tolkien and dream together. When we get there we shop a little and walk downtown. The streets are gilded with fallen gold and I can see my breath curl out in front of me. But my hand is in his and he still has places he wants to show me. And I think to myself how—when I am old and gray…when I’ve forgotten most things—I want this feel of his hand in mine to be buried so deep in my synapses that it is always the anchor that stays me. Like the words of my favorite hymn that linger inside every cell and molecule—singing music into the empty places inside of me—his hand in mine leads me to that place of deep surrender where I give thanks that my life is not my own.  
How do you embrace the God-joy? Every Monday I’ll be sharing one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find Him. Be with Him. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us:
The Playdates button:

Days of Wonder: The Way We Walk (and a giveaway!)

I’ve been thinking about the walking we do and how a person can walk through a life blind. There’s this book I’ve been reading and it’s called Walk With Me and it has me thinking about what I’m journeying toward. The byline says Pilgrim’s Progress for Married Couples and I can see how it is just that, but this book? It is so much more. It is at both times a mirror and a crystal ball.
Walk with me is the story of Celeste and Peter and their lifelong journey together to the King’s city. It’s a beautiful allegory about our faith journey and the things that can either hinder or help in this walk. Author Annie Wald uses sweet word pictures that place my heart in the story and gently encourage me to think of my own steps to the King’s city and reflect on my own marriage. There are the cords of commitment (the marriage vows), the moon of honey (honey moon), drinking from the chalice (intimacy with one’s spouse), the little travelers (the children), and so many sweet metaphors for the stuff of life. Along the journey there is the Low Country, the Swamp of Selfishness, the Orchard of Earthly Delights, and the River of Unfaithfulness. There are the Plains of Distance, the Bridge of Forgiveness, the Mountains of Maturity, and other geography of the heart that we all will encounter on this journey.
In the foreword, Eugene Peterson says, Parents preparing their children for marriage, Pastors preparing their parishioners for marriage, and married couples who need a “story” for their marriage will find this book a treasure.
I have to agree, but I also tend to think this lovely story would be valuable to anyone who seeks to maintain healthy earthly relationships while pursuing the Kingdom of God. There is such sage advice on what it takes to love others well—all Biblically based too. Annie Wald even includes a section on scripture references in the back of the book. It would make a lovely study with teens who seek to know what true love really means.
Not to mention the storytelling is superb.
So I’ve been thinking about the way I am walking to the King’s City. And the story of Peter and Celeste has made me more deliberate in my stepping. It’s a beautiful thing to see with the eyes of eternity. I’m catching just a glimpse between these pages and it is a sweet, sweet vision.
Moody Publishers so kindly provided me a complimentary copy of Annie’s book to share with you! One commenter will be chosen randomly to receive a copy of Walk with Me and announced on Monday’s Playdates with God post. As always, mentions on Facebook and Twitter earn extra entries in the drawing. I have to say—I love, love, love this book. And I think you will too. 
With Emily:

This is my day 18 of joining the 31 day-ers. They’ve ignited a fire and the flame of their passion is contagious. I know myself too well to say I’ll post every day…but I promise to try. If it sounds inviting to you and you don’t mind coming late to the party (like me), you can read more about the wave at The Nester’s place. She’s the hostess with the mostest.

Playdates with God: Domino

There have been too many rushed days, too many jam-packed weekends and crowded moments. And when it happens this way—when the days stack endlessly up against each other—it only takes one tiny push for them to tip over, fall flat against each other and spill messy everywhere.
We’ve had nineteen years together—some better than others—but after all that time that invisible string that ties my heart to his always seems to tug both ways when the domino days start to teeter.
So we go to a place where no one knows our face—duck in and out of crowds holding hands like young lovers and it feels this way…new. And once, in the din of the dinner crowd, to the background music of other people meeting and joining their lives together—once, I look at his face and I see God in him.
Because, aren’t we all His image-bearers?
I have to take a second look; I have to touch this face that I know as well as my own—each evolving crease and the turn of the mouth. In the midst of all that noise I am slowed to see how this man that I have made life with for nineteen years—made a nest with and made love and messes and babies—I am slowed to see how he carries God in his smile.
And the question falls out of nowhere—like a domino that’s been set too close.
Can I see loving my husband as a way of loving Jesus?
For just one moment I am touching Jesus when I touch his face and it takes my breath away and I am not sure how to hold on to this. If I could fill life with domino moments like these—wouldn’t love fall? Wouldn’t it spill a horizontal path out over everything around, weaving and twisting and turning until all the terrain of life is covered?
I touch his face and he looks into me. He feels it too. One touch. One tiny moment spills into another.
A domino cascade of holy moments. 
How do you embrace the God-joy? Every Monday I’ll be sharing one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find Him. Be with Him. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us:
the Playdates button:


Sharing with L.L. Barkat today also: 

On In Around button