Crooked Trees

I’ll never be able to wear that.
I ran my hands lovingly over the blouse. It was just the kind of style I knew would look great on me, the colors enhancing my summer tan and a deep, ruffled v-neck to highlight the recent emergence of my collar bone (something I haven’t seen since my early twenties.) Perfect, except for one thing: it was sleeveless. I stood for a moment, longingly taking in each detail.

I haven’t worn a sleeveless shirt in almost 20 years. I also haven’t worn shorts. Until recently, all my clothing consisted of long skirts and baggy shirts and although I wear more form-fitting clothing now, it’s almost always accompanied by some sort of torture device underneath to smooth the lumps and bumps and jiggly parts. Recently, a man called me sexy. Inside, I laughed. I look okay in clothes. What Romeo doesn’t know is that once removed, I’ll explode like biscuits in a Pillsbury Dough can. I didn’t buy the shirt. But as I walked away, a rebellious voice rose up and shouted “what the hell?!”

That voice is getting louder these days. Not long ago, it actually told me my body was amazing. Can you imagine? Here’s what it said (and this is word-for-word, because I was so astonished I actually wrote it down.)

Your body is the result of some incredible things. You have carried eight children in your womb. You have fed and nourished eight children from your breasts. You have overcome anorexia, gained weight because you refused to continue starving yourself, ran a half-marathon, and lost 100 pounds. 100 pounds! Your body is the result of all those things. Your body is fucking incredible.

(Forgive me, that voice likes to curse.)

Yesterday, as I rode through the woods guiding a group on horseback, a customer exclaimed, “look at that tree! It’s beautiful!”
I turned to see. The tree didn’t tower over the others and its leaves weren’t full and lush, but its trunk curved in an incredible arc and its branches twined together in a spectacular canopy. It was beautiful.
This morning, I read the following statement, by Peter Wohlleben the man who wrote The Hidden Life of Trees:

“For a forester, a crooked tree is ugly, because you can’t get much money for the wood. So it really surprised me, walking through the forest, when people called a curved tree beautiful. They told me: ‘my life hasn’t always run in a straight line, either.’ And I began to see things with new eyes.”

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Feelings are signals

In his book 12 Rules for Life, An Antidote to Chaos, Jordan Peterson writes that in order to live a better life, we must learn to pay attention to the things that bother us. This advice strikes me as counter-intuitive, yet incredibly profound. Want to live a better life? Want to live with more joy, peace, and happiness? Then the secret isn’t (as one might think) to ask ourselves “what would make me happy?” Instead, he says we must ask ourselves three questions:

“What is it that’s bothering me?” “Is that something I could fix?” and “Would I actually be willing to fix it?” If you find that the answer is “no,” to any or all of the questions, then look elsewhere,. Aim lower. Search until you find something that bothers you, that you could fix, that you would fix, and then fix it.
Maybe there’s a stack of paper on your desk, and you have been avoiding it. You won’t even really look at it, when you walk into your room. There are terrible things lurking there: tax forms, and bills and letters from people wanting things you aren’t sure you can deliver. Notice your fear, and have some sympathy for it. Maybe there are snakes in that pile of paper. Maybe you’ll get bitten. Maybe there are even hydras lurking there. You’ll cut off one head, and seven more will grow. How could you possibly cope with that?
You could ask yourself, “is there anything at all that I might be willing to do about that pile of paper? Would I look, maybe, at one part of it? For twenty minutes?” Maybe the answer will be, “No!” But you might look for ten, or even for five (and if not that, for one.) Start there.

Our feelings are signals. They will, if we pay attention, give us insight into ourselves and the world around us. They will, if we listen and follow and are willing to do hard things (but maybe not too hard, as Jordan Peterson suggests,) guide us toward a better life.

What bothers you?

Start there.

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Walking with God

“A knowledge of your perfect life sits inside you.” —Martha Beck

“Your soul alone has the map of your future.” —John O’Donohue

“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” —Isaiah 30:21

Every major religion and theology speaks of some sort of guiding principal, some internal compass we can (and ought to) tap into, a state of inner contentedness to a source of wisdom which flows through us all. This voice (I will call it God, feel free to call it whatever you want… the soul, the inner compass, I don’t think it matters) speaks in different ways to each of us, and seeks to take us all down different paths. When, for instance, offered the chance to go on a primitive camping trip in Oymyakon, one person may respond with excitement and another with dread. I believe our internal responses are indicative of the life we’re meant to lead  and the more often we listen and follow, the more capable we become of hearing and distinguishing this voice and the more guidance we will receive.

But often, we lose our way. We find ourselves wandering the woods, the path covered by thorns and thistles, unable to determine the next right step. Some of us live the majority of our lives this way, reaching adulthood having only a vague idea of what we enjoy and what might make us happy. We find ourselves adrift in a sea of indecision, tossed by waves and carried by winds, without any form of navigational star. How does this happen?

I believe the answer lies within the story of creation. To paraphrase:

God creates man and gives him a partner perfectly designed for him. They are naked and unashamed and walk with God each day, living peacefully in a beautiful garden God has given them to live in. One day a serpent enters the garden and convinces them to eat from the only tree God has placed off-limits. When they do, they realize they’re naked, feel ashamed, and cover themselves with leaves. Later, when God comes into the garden for his evening stroll with them, they hide. Eventually, God learns what they did, and they suffer the consequences which include banishment from the garden.

Two things most interesting to me about this story, as it pertains to the current subject, are that the serpent which causes man’s fall is described as “subtil” (difficult to see, vaporous, and deceitful,) and that he provokes the same state in Adam and Eve. They cover themselves. They hide. Could it be that if we’ve come to find ourselves lost in the wilderness, unable to hear God’s voice and see the path before us, it’s because we’re cowering in the bushes, ashamed of our own nakedness?

“If we claim to have fellowship with God and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.” (1 John 1:6)

I used to assume this verse spoke about sin. In my interpretation, I could have substituted the word “sin” for “darkness” and it would have made sense. And yet, the passage continues:

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7)

I had to read this several times, because the consequences are so profound. Notice what this verse is not saying. It is not saying that if we walk in the light, we will not sin. It says that if we walk in the light, we will have fellowship and be purified from our sin. What is light? What is darkness? Just as it’s impossible to stand in the light without being seen, it is impossible to stand in darkness and be revealed. If we are not willing to stand in the light, if we’re not willing to reveal ourselves in all our naked imperfection, we cannot have fellowship with God.

It’s no coincidence that Satan (the antithesis of God) is called the Father of Lies. Being led by God, hearing his voice, and walking the path he has set before us, requires honesty. It requires stripping ourselves of whatever we use to cover our nakedness and showing up to the world fully exposed, willing to reveal those parts of ourselves we’re most tempted to hide. Naked means being vulnerable. It means being subject to judgment. It means being unprotected and unarmed and exposed to danger. But it also means walking with God.

If we cannot hear his voice, if we do not see the signs, if we cannot find our way, perhaps it’s not because God isn’t speaking. Perhaps it’s because there are things inside of us that need to be revealed, so we can listen. Perhaps it’s time to come out of hiding, so we may walk with God.

“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed about by the waves and carried around by every wind of teaching and by the clever cunning of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ Himself.” (Ephesians 4:14.)

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No, Honestly

“There is absolutely no way that you can be truly, genuinely, deeply compassionate and generous toward someone if they are violating your boundaries at the same time.” —Brene Brown

“An internal no nulifies an external yes.” –Henry Cloud and John Townsend.

Lately, I’ve been asking myself the following question: How much ought someone else’s needs, opinions, and desires dictate what and when I provide? I think the answer to that question is very context-dependent, but there is one guiding principal I’m becoming more comfortable using to evaluate each and every situation:

Don’t do anything you don’t want to do, unless there is a very good reason to do so.
(By the way, fear [of what someone will think, how they will respond, etc.] is never a good reason.)

There are people I don’t want to help, or spend time with, or talk to, and there are circumstances I don’t want to—and shouldn’t— involve myself in. We all have an internal voice which sometimes screams “no” while our external representative nods her head yes, and I believe that voice is trying to tell us something. Something important. Maybe we’re not the best person for the job, or it will tax us beyond our abilities, or we’re being taken advantage of. Maybe the subconscious is trying to bring critical information to the surface of our awareness. But most of us ignore that little voice. We lie. We say yes when we want to say no. We pretend we’re happy to help, when in truth we’re feeling bitter, angry, irritated, resentful, and/or used (all indicators that something isn’t quite right,) because we’ve come to believe, especially in the Christian culture, that we ought to help everyone who asks. But as Jordan Peterson says, Jesus’s death exists as an example of how to heroically accept betrayal and tyranny, not as a directive to victimize ourselves in the service of others.

“’Do onto others as you would have them do unto you’ and ‘loving your neighbor as yourself’ are equations, not injunctions. If I am someone’s friend, family member, or lover, then I am morally obligated to bargain as hard on my own behalf as they are on theirs. If I fail to do so, I will end up a slave, and the other person a tyrant. You are not morally obligated to support someone who is making the world a worse place.”

In the end, truth is the most important thing we can offer the world. It’s the only method by which we can wholeheartedly show up for our lives and do the work which God means for us to do. One cannot walk with God while hiding in the garden. Truth, and the act of exposing and expressing ourselves which truth requires, is the only means by which we can genuinely love those around us and make the world a better place.

An honest “no” is better than a dishonest “yes.”

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Safe Places

Early in my marriage, I remember hearing something about how couples ought to create “safe places” for each other–environments where they can talk about their issues and work through them without the fear of anger or condemnation from the other party. I agree wholeheartedly that this is a worthwhile goal, but today I’m asking myself… what happens when your safe place fails?

Throughout my marriage, at least in the early stages, I tried to be open and vulnerable with my husband, but we were often ill-equipped to handle big issues, especially when they manifested themselves through seemingly trivial problems. For instance, not knowing our differences in “love languages” often left me feeling unloved when Jon came home and immediately headed downstairs to work out (my love language being time.) He saw my anger as lack of support and grew angry in return, sometimes responding in sarcastic ways which left me reeling in pain (my secondary love language being words of affirmation.) Eventually, I shut down and stopped expressing my needs altogether, or did so through manipulative tactics which hurt us both, until one day so much pain and anger and resentment had grown between us that I sat before a marriage councilor and cried “I feel like you’re telling me to cut down an entire forest with a nail file!”

Today, I sat thinking about a recent incident that left me feeling bruised and tender, and I thought once more about the concept of “safe places.” The funny thing is, Jon has been a “safe place” for me in many, many ways throughout our marriage. He has been the person who knows the best and worst of me and has loved, supported, and been there for me, anyway. In many ways, he’s one of the most loving and forgiving people in my life. And yet, even that bastion has had it’s weaknesses. And this makes me wonder: isn’t that true for all relationships? Don’t we all fail, on occasion? Don’t we all grow tired and angry and confused and respond in ways guaranteed to create distance between us and those we love? And if so, how can I maintain a commitment to being vulnerable with those I love, when I know they may occasionally fail to respond in loving ways? How can I remain open and willing to share my weaknesses with people who will, at times, lash out in the midst of their own hurt, anger, or frustration?

As I thought of this, I was reminded of Jesus’ words to Peter, who asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother who sins against me? Up to seven times?” And Jesus answered, “not seven, but seventy times seven.”

Now I don’t think forgiveness necessitates continued relationship (ie. you can forgive an ex who beats you, but that doesn’t mean you ought to continue living with him), but as I ponder this particular verse, the continued forgiveness of “seventy times seven” does seem to imply continued relationship, and it makes me think, perhaps, that the key word in this verse is “brother.” When I think of a “brother” or “sister,” I think of someone who truly wants what’s best for me. I think of a person who genuinely tries to be a “safe place” even if the moat protecting the castle occasionally dries up. It makes me realize that all I can ask of someone is that they be willing work with me toward building a place of refuge and comfort and unconditional love, even if it’s not perfect. It makes me realize that there will ALWAYS be cracks in the wall, but what happens, afterward, is where the real work begins. Will I run and hide and shut down as I have so many times in the past? Or will I use that place of pain and disconnection to illuminate the cracks, and work with this knowledge to create a safer place for both myself and others? Maybe the key to vulnerability and openness and being willing to share our struggles isn’t so much knowing the other person will never hurt us, but being willing to walk through that pain, over and over again, seventy times seven, in order to heal.

It reminds me of a dream I had, years ago. In the dream, I stood unclothed before a friend. I felt embarrassed and uncomfortable, but compelled to stand there, exposed and vulnerable. Later, the image from the dream came to me with the following words:

“Some day I will stand before you, naked and unashamed.
Not because you have created a safe place for me,
But because I have.”

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Posted in Fear, Forgiveness, Friendship, Love, Marriage | Leave a comment

Limping Toward Love

This morning I had a conversation with my husband and a friend about a difficult situation I’m currently dealing with. Together, they asked some challenging questions:

Did I know for sure what was going on, or was I making up stories?
No, I didn’t know for sure, and yes, I was making up stories. And not just any stories–stories that intentionally cast the other person in the worst possible light, because I was angry.
Could I view this situation, and this person, with compassion instead of anger?
Yes, I probably could, I just didn’t WANT to.
Why?
Why, indeed?

As I sit and think about this, I’m forced to admit there is a part of me that wants to be angry and resentful. A part of me that wants to see the other person as my enemy, because if I see her as my enemy then I don’t have to put any effort into understanding her. I can ignore her, I can discount her opinions, and I can even (I’m ashamed to admit) justify hurting her from my own place of woundedness.

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hate so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” –James A Baldwin

Today, I am reminded of something I wrote two years ago:

People are hard to hate, close up. We can choose to love the person who hurts us, even when its hard, because people deserve to be loved and we deserve to be the kinds of people who love. This doesn’t mean we check our beliefs at the door. It means we find a way to connect while firmly holding our position and gently seeking to understand theirs better. It means being brave enough to walk through our own pain in order to understand theirs.

If I want to live a life of love and compassion and connection, then that work starts here. Here, in this place of anger and resentment, I must find a way to move closer, rather than further away. I must find a way to build bridges, rather than burn them. I must find a way of dealing with pain that softens my heart rather than hardening it.”

“Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.” —Brene Brown

“For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” —Galatians 5:14

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A Truth

“The truth has legs; it always stands. When everything else in the room has blown up or dissolved away, the only thing left standing will always be the truth. Since that’s where you’re gonna end up anyway, you might as well just start there.”
—Rayya Elias

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“I can’t tell him that!”
“Why not, if it’s the truth?”
My heart drops and I find it impossible to imagine a way to reveal this without destroying my husband and my marriage. There are a thousand ways this could ruin him, and I spend the next few days desperate to find just one that I hope will only hurt. One thing is certain: He has to know.

I am in love with a woman.

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My husband thinks I shouldn’t write about this. He’s worried about the reaction I’ll receive, the negative comments and loss of friendships and to be honest, I’m worried, too. So why do it? Why announce something that could possibly ostracize me and cause me and my family to be ridiculed, scorned, and possibly even hated by my conservative friends and neighbors? Because it’s not about a blog post. It’s not about an announcement. It’s about who I want to be when I look at myself in the mirror. It’s about honesty and transparency and moving through the world unashamed of who I am, where I’ve been, and where I’m going. For the nine years that I’ve been blogging, this medium has been a tool in my quest for authenticity, and I cannot allow one of the most important things in my life to remain in the shadows.

“If you will not reveal yourself to others, you cannot reveal yourself to yourself. That does not only mean that you suppress who you are, although it also means that. It means that so much of what you could be will never come forward. Truth is the light in the darkness.”
—Jordan Peterson

And so, I tell my story…

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I sit criss-cross-apple-sauce and read the baby book. It’s obvious from what is written that my I was loved, once. What did I do, as an baby, to earn that love? How can I become that child again? I turn each page slowly, searching for answers.

My life became a search for love. I studied the popular girls in class, the successful women on the television, the members of my family who seemed to “have it all.” A deep, hidden part of me decided I needed others, especially men, to define me; I needed the respect and admiration of those around me in order to feel worthy and loved.

As a teen, I was given a book called The Rules. Advertised as a formula for being “desirable and mysterious,” the authors claimed their list of do’s and don’ts would help me “land the guy of [my] dreams.” I vowed to follow this set of rules, twisting the meaning of the word “love,” giving it an impossible definition, and spent the rest of my life chasing it.

The illusion. The Sisyphean Stone. My very own Holy Grail.

As a young adult, I was given another book which would change the trajectory of my life forever: The Bible. Within, The Commandments. A divine list which, if followed, guaranteed stability, predictability, an idea of what the future would hold and, to a certain extent, control over my life and seeming lack of vulnerability. Most importantly, it offered a clear road through which to earn God’s love. I vowed to follow yet another set of rules.

For the next two decades, I examined the bible to determine the correct practice on every subject I could think of. From birth control, to recreation, to clothing, to celebrating religious holidays, I held it all under the microscope and examined it in the light of scripture. I kept the Old Testament commandments, covered my head, and abstained from using birth control and wearing jewelry. I read books on how to be a good Christian mother and a good Christian wife and experienced guilt every time I binge-watched a season of Grey’s Anatomy. Most heartbreakingly, I lost my best friend because she was gay, and I felt I could no longer associate with her. Later, I broke ties with several family members for the same reason. I made unimaginable sacrifices and horrific mistakes in my search for what was “right” and held myself apart from all I believed was “wrong.”

Until it all fell apart. Without going into too much detail, two years ago I found myself going through one of the most heartbreaking, difficult things I’d ever been through, and it left me drowning, disoriented, plunged deep underwater and unable to find the surface. During this time, I did what I’d always done when in pain: I turned to books. However, things were different. For the first time in almost twenty years of Christianity, I lifted my self-imposed ban on authors who didn’t line up with my religious beliefs. I decided to read anything and everything, with only one stipulation—I would read only those books that pointed me toward the surface. I examined my own responses as a drowning person might examine her own breath, searching for the bubbles that will show her the way. I had long ago discovered that some books were stones, weighing me down with guilt, shame, and unrealistic rules and expectations. Now, my focus, instead of being one of control and orchestration, became “who can help me navigate this? Who writes good bubbles, and how do I follow them?” I devoured books by Glennon Doyle, Cheryl Strayed, Brene Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert, Sue Monk Kidd, Anne Lamott, Jen Hatmaker, and Anne Patchett—all authors I would have once avoided in the past. Simply put, and to use Anne Lamott’s words: they’re “bad Christians.” But their words resonated with me and helped me in a way few authors ever had.

These books changed me. My life became more peaceful, even as my beliefs became less stable. Somehow, without intending it or fully realizing what was happening, I began exchanging my book of rules for little markers of direction. I released the self-created certainty I thought I had with scripture and I embraced the unknown. When I finally breached the surface, I faced a landscape for which my maps had become irrelevant. What was the world, if it was not as I had always defined it? Who was God, and how could I relate to him outside the confines of my own understanding? I spent weeks confused and disoriented, unsure of how to navigate this new territory, unsure of how to connect with God. Then one day, I realized there was only one thing I could offer the one I had called my Lord for nearly two decades: honesty. So I said one thing, the same thing I’d been saying since I met him eighteen years before:

“I will follow you.” Only this time I would LISTEN.

For someone raised in the particular brand of Christianity I was raised in, this was one of the most difficult moments of my life. I had been taught that my desires were questionable, if not bad, and my heart was corrupt, if not evil. I had been taught not to listen to the voice inside, never to trust myself. In the bible, I believed I had a set of instructions that would keep me from being deceived. Yet now, I faced uncertainty. I no longer knew what the bible was to me. Had I become lost again? I didn’t know. I still don’t know. But through this process, I discovered that it’s not my job to know. That’s what God’s sovereignty is all about. I had taken His job upon myself, and He’d allowed me to do so. Now, I gave it back.

In the months that followed, I became aware of my own thoughts, feelings, emotions and reactions in a way I’d never been, before. I spent time doing things I loved and hadn’t done in years. I said “yes” to more things I wanted to do and “no” to things I didn’t. During this time, I stopped wearing headcoverings and started using birth control and stopped trying to squeeze myself into the Christian box I’d believed I must live within.

And then I met a woman.

By then I had paid attention to my own voice long enough to identify the feeling. I was attracted to her.  My body resonated like an untouched string that sings with its harmonic. It caught me by surprise. I had never been attracted to a woman before, and didn’t know what to do with all I was feeling. Yet I knew what NOT to do. I wouldn’t ignore it. I wouldn’t shove it in a box and sit on the lid and pretend it didn’t exist. I wouldn’t call it bad. I had committed myself to embracing the dichotomic yin and yang of my own existence, and resolved to pay attention to all that was inside of me, rather than slapping on a label and repressing what I didn’t understand. I didn’t know what would happen, but was determined to remain open to the experience, wherever it might lead.

We slip our shoes off at the shore and I try to anchor my feet in the sand, the rest of my body floating, unmoored by the strangeness of this night. Me. Her. Together in the moonlight, under a canopy of stars. Our first date? I clutch my skirt in trembling hands, desperate for something to hold on to.
“You make me so nervous.” My words sound foreign, transfigured by the salty air.
I feel her eyes on me. “Why?”
I turn and force my mouth to form the question I’ve been longing to ask since the day we met: “Am I the only one who feels this?”
Each second seems an eternity waiting for her response. When it finally comes, it is so soft I can barely hear above the crashing waves. “No. You’re not the only one who feels this.”
Her hand meets mine and everything fades as I focus on the sensation of her palm caressing mine. After years of squeezing myself into places I don’t belong, it feels as if I’ve finally come home.

For a short time, I believed I could leave this experience behind, but having once stepped over the chasm between what religion had taught me was “right” and what I believed in the deepest part of myself to be “right,” nothing in my life would ever be the same. In the days that followed, I slipped deep into dark thoughts and reflections. I no longer felt like the confident woman I wanted to be, the courageous woman I’d spent half my adulthood striving to become. I felt like a simpering fool.

I tried to be gentle with myself. As a 38 year old mother of eight, raised in the Southern Baptist/Pentecostal traditions, married for 17 years, in love for the first time in two decades, and grappling with a new-found sexuality, it seemed only natural to feel disoriented and confused. Questions haunted me.
How could I explain this to Jon?
What would happen if I tried?
Was I gay?
And the biggest question of all: Did God hate me?

But though I was confused and distraught, I had promised God I would trust His love for me, even if I couldn’t understand it, even if I felt I didn’t deserve it. I took great comfort in the words of Thomas Merton:

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

I also took comfort in the words of Elizabeth Gilbert: “Women can survive their consequences.” I had survived horrific religious mistakes in the past, such as cutting ties with our family members for the crime of being gay, and I would survive them again, if need be. I chose to trust God’s love. And I chose to tell my husband.

The first few weeks after telling Jon were fraught with confusion, anger, resentment, and blame. He struggled to support me and I struggled to help him understand. A few weeks before I was scheduled to see her again, I sat down with him, in tears.

“I can’t do this. I can’t be an adulteress.”
He twirls his thumbs the way he always has during uncomfortable conversations. I notice the pale, wrinkled strip of skin on his ring finger, skin that hasn’t seen the light of day for 17 years. Until now. “What choice do we have, Rina? We can’t divorce until the kids leave home.”
I touch my wedding band, running my finger along the indention of the letters which spell “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.” I can’t yet bring myself to take it off. “I’m not talking about divorce. I’m talking about the time between. We’ve talked about open marriage, but I don’t think you want that. And I can’t be an adulteress. I can’t be the person causing you pain, if it’s not a pain you’ve willingly signed up for.”
“What do you mean? Who signs up for pain?”
“I mean there’s a difference between deciding, together, to open our marriage and deal with the pain and jealousy and fear because we’ve chosen this path, and being forced into a situation where you have no choice. We’ve spent 17 years partnering in this marriage, and we’ve committed to continuing that partnership at least until the kids leave home. That means something to me. It matters to me. I can’t take this next step without your blessing.”
He leans forward, eyes dancing with anger. “You’re asking me to bless this relationship? Are you fucking kidding me?”
“I’m not asking you to bless it. I’m telling you I can’t do this unless you can.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that if you can’t, I end the relationship. It means we go back to the way things used to be.”
I wait, watching the familiar expression of his thoughts play across his face, still handsome after all these years. “I’m going to need to think about this.”
“Of course.”

He spends the day driving and praying while I lie in bed, sick from blame. For 17 years, Jon has been faithful. He has worked for me, sacrificed for me, and given me and our children everything we’d ever needed, everything we’d ever asked for. For 17 years, he has worked toward a life with a clear future. A life in which we would grow old together, perhaps on a little farm somewhere, surrounded by our children and grandchildren. All he’s ever wanted in return is now the one thing I feel powerless to give him. Stability. No matter where we go from here, no matter what he decides, nothing will ever be the same.

He sits beside me on the bed and places a hand atop my own. “Rina, I love you,” he begins.
“I know you do. And, although it must seem impossible to believe, I love you, too.”
“I do believe that, as insane as it all seems. And I think that if I truly love you, I have to let you go.”
I swallow a lump rising in my throat. Do I want him to let me go? Do I really want to end our life together?
Reading my expression, he goes on. “I’m not talking about divorcing you. I’m talking about possessing you. I think I have to learn to love you without expecting anything in return. As crazy as it sounds, and as much as I hate to admit it, I see so much good coming from all of this. I see so much growth, for both of us. And in a strange, fucked up way I can’t begin to understand, I think we need this. I don’t know what’s going to happen with us, but I think we’ve been given an opportunity to learn what true love really is, and I think whatever pain or heartache we have to go through to learn that will be worth it. Don’t you?”
I nod, tears filling my eyes.
“I wouldn’t have chosen this, any of this, but I think we have to see it through.” He draws a piece of paper from his pocket. “I wrote this, today. Will you read it?”
I unfold the paper, studying the familiar handwriting, the writing which had begun our relationship so many years before, when he’d tucked a love letter into my hand at the end of our work shift. I hold it in one hand, place my other into his, and read:

“The place of brokenness is a quiet place. All arguments are laid to waste, there is no room for begging or pleading or trying to find a way out. The door is closed. This is the place of acceptance and surrender. There are no volunteers here. This is a place for those whose dreams have been shattered, the humbled and broken souls. Some decline into despair and hopelessness and never make it out. But those who return do so changed. They return with a divine ability to love—truly love. Not a love of rules, or protections, or covenants, but a love which needs no such restrictions. A love that is vulnerable. A love that boldly states in the face of its recipient: “You can do whatever you want and I will continue to love you, because I have fallen through fire. I have risen from the ashes. And I will be here, loving. Regardless, loving. I will love freely, without fear, anger, resentment, or control. And my love will never fail.”

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