Hot Pursuit

Nearly twenty-two years of the same stealthy preparations. A pre-dawn routine executed with precision. On this particular morning, I sought extra discretion. My mission was to slip away unnoticed. Avoid interaction or confrontation. No words. Simply brush her cheek with a kiss and leave her sleep undisturbed. Gently close the bedroom door, descend the stairs, and traverse the minefield of aging floorboards without setting-off a creak or groan.

My destination: the office. The goal: a quiet morning of coffee, reading, prayer – you know – the litany of good, noble, and righteous things that are fodder for humble tweeting.

I wish there was something tweet-worthy in those moments. My morning maneuvers that day were a cover-up. A ruse. An attempt to distance myself from the week’s tension. Tension with what, I’m not sure. I can’t pinpoint a particular issue or conversation or event. Life just felt like a slow plodding through fog and a 45-degree drizzle. I don’t enjoy being wet or cold and those days gave me feelings of wet and cold. I responded with observable annoyance and emotional withdrawal. And as I began that day in question, my aim was continued retreat…to somewhere…alone.

I slipped out the door and was soon bunkered in my dimly lit office. My escape seemed assured. The coffee was poured, email checked, and Bible open. I was alone, and it was quiet.

Until my computer loosed a tinker bell chime. A new iMessage. From my wife.

My cover was blown.

Here’s our brief exchange:

my wife
    Are you meeting someone for breakfast?
    No. I’m in my office studying. I meet my mom at 8.
my wife
    Can I come up and have a meeting? 🙂
    a meeting?? about what?
my wife
    Just a couple things I started to write but are complicated. Easier to talk.

Ugh. She was on to me, hot in her pursuit. I was hemmed-in. Trapped. She was coming to crash my pity party. What did she want to talk about? “Complicated” is code word for “you’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do, buddy!” I found small consolation in her use of a smiley face emoticon.

I sighed, then slouched in my chair. I was upset and disappointed. Not with her, but me.

I didn’t want to see her. Well, I did…and didn’t. I was seeking escape so I could spend time floating like deadwood in the mental whirlpool of ‘woe is me.’ I wanted to craft my case for why I deserve better. That morning I wasn’t interested in reason or rescue. I didn’t want to chat.

But she did. And she’s my wife, so we talk.

She is also the person I fear the most. 

I fear her, not because she is unkind, but because she knows too much — too much about me. Marriage necessitates deep, personal revelation. A sacred vulnerability brought forth through committed trust. With transparency comes risk in our engagements because neither she nor I are free from mistakes. We misjudged and misinterpret. We make assumptions. We say things we shouldn’t and cause each other pain. This reality can be frightening. Sometimes distance seems a safer choice. It did for me that morning.

But marriage is a covenanted oneness. A relationship that pursues and protects and breaks into early morning darkness. It brings warmth to a cold heart. It protects from the mist that dampens a spirit. How wonderful is it that someone who has experienced the most offensive, disgusting, repulsive things about you makes the willful choice to seek. To find. To confront. To love.

My wife has heaps of grace and saintly patience for this stubborn man. I am blessed, and grateful.

I really did hope to escape that morning. On occasion I need some time by myself to get straightened around. My wife knows that and gives appropriate space.

She also knows when to track me down.

My Favorite Picture

Last week I was overwhelmed – again. It was déjà vu from two years ago. All those hallways and galleries and glass cases and tiny spotlights. It doesn’t take long for me to get lost in the varied and sometimes loose interpretations of art at The Art Institute of Chicago.

But this time, while indulging in Monet’s impressionist beauty and marveling at intricate hand-sewn tapestries and pausing over Picasso’s intriguing depictions, my thoughts floated to another piece of art. A picture – and it’s my favorite.

It’s an unfinished piece. Even so, it’s wonderful in its present state. The artist continues to work on it – daily refining, enhancing, reducing and adding. It’s a complicated work that I ponder and probe closely. In the details I perceive bits of anger and pain. Joy alongside sorrow. I discover sections that exude bright laughter and coy smiles. Happiness. Gentleness. Attentiveness. Kindness. Love.

Two figures are central to the piece. The artist has captured them speaking. Their mouths are nondescriptly shaped, so I’m free to envision a confounded effusion of words – some shouted, some whispered, some savored, and some unsaid. Their intricate faces, focused upon each other, are both quizzical and knowing.

Layered deep into the picture is a warm acceptance that blankets cool, undulating anxieties. Shadowy tones of doubt and fear are present, but carefully bound to the perimeter. Wonder and celebration effervesce from the picture, seeking to capture and enthrall each observer.

Stepping back for a broad view brings forth soft, strong, tender, and compassionate characteristics. Taken as one, this picture is simultaneously fully feminine and wholly masculine. Each part necessary, yet independently special. It’s a mysterious collective. A deeply personal picture that’s common in its representation, but unique in its presentation.

This extraordinary piece was in The Art Institute of Chicago last week – for about two hours. Then it walked out the door, down stone steps, passed between the majestic and beautifully oxidized pair of bronze lions and onto a sidewalk along Michigan Avenue. That piece – a masterfully crafted picture – is my marriage.

More than twenty years in its progression, God continues to paint my marriage with vibrant colors of grace, mercy, patience, and love. Despite moments of resistance, He gently knits together the souls of my wife and me. Closer. Tighter. Singular. Intimate. We are bound with cosmic sacredness.

God’s sings with pleasure over our bittersweet union. And in the safety of His purposed design we cling to our covenant. We fight for it. We trust it. We rest unified, gladly reflecting back to the Artist the beauty of our oneness.

The gift of marriage is a spectacular display of creative love. A man. A woman. Fit together with God-given complementarity. A blessed picture of the redemptive, life-giving relationship of God and His children.

Me and my wife. Together.

That’s my favorite picture.

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24, ESV)

Marriage is War

G.K. Chesterton said, “Marriage is an adventure, like going to war.”

Today (January 16) marks 19 years of ‘war’ for Katrina and me.

Yes, it has been war. But not that kind of war.

Do we have some moments of ‘intense discussion’? Absolutely. Have we proven the adage that opposites attract? You bet. She’s peppermint mocha; I’m coffee—black. But despite such differences, we’ve grown to understand that tensions in our marriage are not about our covenant, but because of it. We struggle not against each other, but against ourselves.

Our self-centered passions seek to poison our covenant—to turn our affections inward, rather than out. To distract our gaze from our sacred unity to a (seemingly) more exciting diversity.

A vibrant marriage is hard work. It requires drawing-out each other’s poisons. It’s painful and sickening. But in the midst of this necessity is a glorious journey of discovery as the wonder of raw humanity is revealed. The adventure of marriage is born through the linking of mind, body and soul in the war against the biggest threat to oneness: us.

I’m ashamed of those times when my actions have threatened my marital oneness. I can be a very unattractive man. How grateful I am for the many times my wife has covered my ugliness with beautiful grace. She’s seen my worst, listened to my rants and observed my knee-jerk, thoughtless actions—yet loved, accepted and forgiven. She inspires me to be a patient father, sacrificial spouse and a fully-devoted Jesus freak.

I am a totally infatuated, one-woman man. That resolve has brought a daily, compounding dividend of marital joy and contentment. I cherish the life-long promise my wife and I share. We are perfectly partnered for life’s grandest adventure.

Pat Benatar was right: “Love is a battlefield.” But on that battlefield, the best is being brought out of me, and my wife. I’ll go to war with, and for her—anytime.