This is not so much a piece about marriage as it is about certainty, about propositional truth. In a certain sense, this is a piece about driver-side doors.
At the wise old age of eighteen, I laid on a bed sheet under the midnight stars with a God-fearing girl; we flung dreams into the river of hot summer wind. She was supposed to be my first love. She was not–not really. She was, instead, the girl I was supposed to love, I being the youth group preacher-to-be, and she being the daughter of an upright minister.
We had a First Baptist kind of relationship, one that was more of a profession of faith than a profession of passion. The truth was–and boy, did we ever know the Truth–passion is a fleeting thing and decided love is lasting love. So, as was the way of relational propositional truth, we cultivated the easy way of close friends, or kissing cousins, except we had decided not to kiss until marriage.
Here’s to the kissing virgins.
To the simple all things are simple, I suppose, and we were among the world’s simplest. We were young’uns who’d bought into worldviews without nuance. We’d measured all variables, concluded that the decisions to follow Jesus, enter the ministry, and marry were not all that different.
We talked, and talked, and talked ad nauseum, under the star-flecked ebony sky. We opined in the presence of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob–the God of sun worshipers, jesters, and scoundrels–that matters of life and lvoe were decisional. We would love each other, have and to hold, etcetera, etcetera.
Several years into our propositional relationship, we split the relational sheets (so to speak) because she refused to unlock my door after I opened hers. Allow me to describe my perpetual frustration: time after time, I’d open the door, allow her to enter, close the door behind her and walk to the other side of the car while she sat with her hands folded neatly in her lap; as I fumbled with the keys, I’d Christian-curse her lack of common courtesy. Couldn’t a sister reach across the seat and flip a latch? At first, this was a mere inconvenience, but it time, it turned into an abhorrent annoyance.
Yes, it really is as petty as it sounds.
I met Amber in the fall of 1998, just four months removed from my logical love. She had me at “hello,” as they say, mostly on account of the fact that her thick southern drawl seemed to elongate the word by ten seconds. As it turns out, a fine female fisher can set the love hook in ten seconds. She reeled me in, this riddle of a woman.
In the days of early love, she told me that she was equal parts cigarette ash and magnolia blossom. Her jeans were ripped at the knees and at the mid-thigh. She broke darn-near every rule in the book. She was anything but Baptist, and she always unlocked the driver-side door, courteous lover that she was.
Amber was a woman of few pat answers, one who was wild in spirit and quick to shake her hips. She was an impassioned woman, a fiery Irish wick. A bamboozler, she was hell-bent on undoing my spiritual assumptions, always asking me “where’s that in the bible?” She forced every issue, asked me to live less by the rules and more by the answer.
And in case you’re wondering, there is an answer.
No, it isn’t really as simple as it sounds.
In the spring of 2012–two years ago now–our youngest baby, Titus, fell ill. He’d not gained weight in some time, and we began a long descent into a dark season of the soul. Titus declined until we landed in a hospital room in Little Rock, he attached to a feeding tube, an IV, and a heart monitor. He was throwing up every meal, and what little fat stores he had were depleted.
He was in a death spiral.
Amber was a gentle spirit in that time, a woman who clung close to my side and didn’t struggle for any theological epiphanies. She forced no prayers, though she prayed. She required no convincing answers from me, but gave me space to ask questions. Amber was comfortable in the tension of the present reality and the future unknown–what the mystics call “the mystery,”–and she unlocked the door for me to share in her comfort and discomfort.
I don’t suppose my eighteen year old self wouldn’t have given the two of us a Titan’s shot in Tartarus, we with all questions and no systematized answers for the failing health of our little boy. But then again, my eighteen year old self didn’t know Amber. She was every pat answer gone awry; she was the enigmatic beauty of cigarette ashes and magnolia blossoms.
Regarding Christian answers: they’re rarely pat, and often not answers at all. There’s no explanation for why some relationships are destined for failure. There’s no way to sum up either the sickness of a child, or how a struggling marriage can hold under its weight. There’s no rubric for understanding the tight-knit fabric of any surviving or failing relationship–whether marriage, friendship, church, or otherwise.
There is, instead, only mystery, Spirit, grit, grace, prayer, love, and maybe a little bit of luck. (Yes, I said it–luck. Make of it what you will.)
There are only these things, it’s true. These things, and maybe the common courtesy of unlocking driver-side doors or two.