catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 4, Num 15 :: 2005.07.29 — 2005.09.08


Coming down now

They will see us waving from such great
Heights, ?come down now,? they?ll say
But everything looks perfect from far away,
?come down now,? but we?ll stay?

?Such Great Heights? by The Postal Service

A long time ago my husband had hair. I remember, it was black. I?m certain he, too, remembers my hair. It used to be dark blonde with natural red highlights. I liked adding that: Natural red highlights. Most people wouldn?t know that anymore. I still have hair, but my it?s been white since my mid-thirties when I was forced to stop dying because my scalp swelled and the hair follicles nearly popped with an allergic reaction to Clairol. Many things have changed since we were first married and Denis indifferently dropped his clothes to the floor in heaps wherever he took them off. The mystery was why he picked them up before we were married, and quit as soon as we were. I found this offensive. It took about a year for him to relearn the habit. I used to drink from his glass. Anything he had interested me. This annoyed him. It took ten years to learn to leave it alone or order my own drink. During the first few months of marriage it was shocking to learn he could not read my mind. Not even for simple matters. Should I have to tell him when his sarcasm hurt? When I needed reassurance? When it was time to buy me flowers?

One evening as we prepared for bed we had an argument. Now thirty-five years later I can?t recall what it was about. I only remember how it ended. I said he was really the most insensitive man I knew. He said I was the most unreasonable woman he?d met. So while he was in the bathroom I ran away and didn’t bother to dress before I left.

In my whole life I had not been driven to such an extreme. As a child growing up in a poor family with five brothers and sisters there were times when I was unfulfilled: eating whole bags of chocolate chips was forbidden?and abused: I was actually required to make my brother’s bed while he was helping Dad with early morning chores in the barn. My brother and I sometimes considered running away to a place where we would be appreciated. Dad seemed to sense our malcontent, and his remedy was to invite us to leave. Go ahead, he said. He would help us pack. He suggested we could go about a half mile down the road to the Larson?s where the kids didn?t need to work and ate candy whenever they liked. That gave us pause. Although we liked playing with the Larson kids and eating candy, they lived in astonishing filth. As rooms filled with garbage and waste they simply boarded them up and added on to the house. We admired their ingenuity, but decided our family?s three rooms weren?t so bad after all.

Now here I was supposedly all grown up, running away to the back yard, and hiding under a bush. I waited to see what my new husband would do. He came out on the landing of our upstairs apartment and furiously whispered; “Margie! Where are you! Get back here this instant.”

Hah. I snickered in the dark and waited for him, thinking he shouldn?t speak to me like I was a child. Stubbornly, I crouched lower and hoped he?d come get me. Mosquitoes hummed around my head settling in clouds on a buffet of exposed flesh. Heavy dew dampened my nightgown. I could see him silhouetted in the light of our kitchen door. He stood silently without moving then disappeared inside. I waited expectantly for him to come out again. I wanted him to stumble through the grass calling my name. Then I would have forgiven him anything. Finally I gave up, wiped my eyes with the hem of my gown, and went inside scratching a hundred bites.

That was the end of my running away. But it wasn’t the end of my uncanny ability to humiliate myself. Sadly, I am unreasonable. There are other disagreeable things lurking behind my attractions. We both needed to learn that contrary to Love Story, a popular novel by Erich Segal, love did not mean never having to say you?re sorry. Love meant having to say it over and over again?in so many ways.

Although we didn?t speak of them every day, beneath the adjustments, the conflicts, and the daunting prospect of living the rest of life with one other person, our wedding vows existed like a stone foundation for the building of our lives together. They couldn?t be dismantled. In anger we said to one another: If I were not a Christian, I would leave you. But we had promised before God, the church, and our families that we would never leave our marriage. So, partly out of a healthy fear of what they might do to us, we stayed. When it seemed impossible to compromise, or love, or say I?m sorry, we stayed.

These days when marriages fail there isn?t much fear of the offense we make against a holy God, the hurt it causes families, or the effect it has on the church. Our culture has made it easier to leave spouse and family with little more than a backward glance. We are taught that our greatest fear ought to be denying ourselves happiness. In a thousand ways this conviction is pressed into our consciousness. Wedding vows are rewritten to reflect this possibility by promising to live with one another ?so long as love shall last.? When film-maker Milos Forman, director of Amadeus, was asked to name the greatest love of his life, he replied: “Excluding some great loves that faded, I guess I have to reluctantly admit that my only lasting one is myself.”

With that as a standard the days of our marriage would have been few. It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who wrote in a wedding sermon, “It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.” When I first understood the meaning of what he was saying, I was profoundly moved. It was like moving from a tiny blow-up life raft where the slightest shift dumps you in the ocean to a log home overlooking the shore. Occasionally I caught a view of what we were building together and it made me wonder how I could give it up at death. (Though I trust him, I don?t understand when Jesus says in heaven we will live as the angels.) Even though I battered and tested our vows, they were solid, our marriage was secure.

Once I tried complaining to my mother about Denis? faults, but I didn?t get a lot of sympathy; I got a gentle reprimand?something about giving the Holy Spirit a little time to work in him. When it comes to myself and change, I give liberally?months, years, whatever it takes. She also mentioned I was becoming a nag and the tone I took with him was sometimes nasty. I hated that she was right. The unexpected result of her honesty was winning the respect and love of my husband. To this day, many years later, she, my husband?s mother-in-law, could choose to live with us any time she pleased. And since I?m very fond of her, that suits me well.

Often when, in my opinion, Denis most needed it, God sent someone along who challenged him with hard questions about our relationship?how was he loving me, in practical ways??and told him to take me away to a special place no matter how costly, just the two of us, for the sake of our marriage and love. I liked that advice.

James Montgomery Boice writes in Foundations of the Christian Faith:

It is not easy to have a Christian marriage today. Every?thing in the world works against it. The overriding concern of our time is for personal satisfaction, and there are always things in mar?riage that do not seem personally satisfying. We wish it could be different. But the question is: What are we in the marriage for? Are we in it for personal satisfaction above all? Or are we there because we believe that God has brought us together with our spouse to establish a Christian home in which the truth of his Word can be raised high, Christian values demonstrated and children raised to know the Bible and live a Christian lifestyle? It must be the latter.

Establishing a successful marriage is directly linked to our learn?ing to love and serve God, and in serving God, to love and serve one another. We often think service to God is working as a pastor, a teacher, a homeless shelter volunteer, or some other visible public work in the use of our gifts. In marriage there is a more fundamental service for the kingdom of God?that of practicing faithfulness in the ordinary, everyday things that don?t receive any public recog?nition. The surprise cup of coffee delivered just as you waken on a cold, dreary morning. The run to the store for the forgotten item right at the top of your grocery list. Calling the insurance company because I can?t argue with the adjuster anymore. Showing up in time to help make dinner for guests. It?s the kind of serving that fosters love to last the end of life.

There?s a part of me that?d like to make you think that thirty-five years of keeping our vows has made us totally adorable. That would be fraudulent. A friend recently recounted at our dinner table?which included several young friends who couldn?t imagine Denis and I ever delivering any kind of crap to each other?a day when she called our house. I answered the phone with ?What?! Call us back later. Denis and I are in the middle of a fight.? She said ?I never forgot that. It gave me hope, and I also knew if I ever needed someone to talk to about my own marriage, I could come to you guys.?

Whenever I hear the beautiful vows from the Anglican marriage ceremony?the words a groom vows to his brideWith this ring I thee wed. With my body I thee worship. With all my worldly goods, I thee endowthe words always catch me mid-breath. Through our years together, that is the gift and sacrifice Denis has given me. All his worldly goods. All his sexual fidelity. All he has is mine. Nothing is withheld. I know his love for me.

I have also given. I gave up my name. My time. My body. Priorities are not mine or his, they?re ours. Sometimes it?s still hard to give without grudging or wanting to smack him. Paul urges us to “not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9). Right, I think. However, to my utter delight I haven’t had to wait for heaven to be given some of that reward. What?s been returned to us is some?thing of great beauty and value. I have a companion, a friend, a lover who knows me better than anyone else, and yet he stays. We live believing, by God’s grace alone, our vows will sustain our marriage until death.

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