Marriage

Why We Moved to Hong Kong

In my last post, I gave a brief answer to the very complicated question of why we picked up and moved to Hong Kong. Of course, there are some obvious reasons–we have wanderlust, and the timing was perfect for a new adventure since Jonathan was graduating. We found jobs in Hong Kong that match our interests and skill set. This is likely the last opportunity we will have to live abroad before we’re ready to settle down somewhere. We also have a great opportunity to save money and to travel more. But even as spontaneous and adventurous as I like to think of myself, I could never have made such a huge decision based solely on those things.

On some level, it isn’t anyone’s business but our own, and I don’t feel I owe anyone an explanation, but to my core I believe in the power of truth-telling, even when that truth is ugly.

Our three years in Columbia were unhealthy for us in many ways. We both struggled with our physical health and fitness as well as bigger issues like Jonathan’s knee surgery. I struggled off and on with disordered eating. I had several low points in my mental health (though now, after nearly a year of experimenting, we seem to have found a good treatment solution). We loved our church, but our hectic schedules made it hard to plug in outside of Sunday mornings. Most importantly, these years were not good for our marriage.

For three years, we existed largely in different worlds that overlapped only at the edges. We loved each other, and we lived peacefully together, but we were living separate lives. Jonathan learned and worked and grew and changed in his grad school community and through his hours and hours of dedicated writing. Meanwhile, I threw myself into my job, into nurturing and caring for children in my life and for friends whom I connected with deeply. Both in terms of our actual schedules and in terms of emotional energy, we gave very little to each other. And so we grew and we learned and we changed and we became in ways that we did not share with each other.

In the spring, it became clear that we had a problem that we couldn’t fix with a few date nights or meaningful conversations. We had rooted ourselves into a way of life that did not include one another, and this had taken a toll. We felt disconnected and frustrated, resentful and sad, and, in moments, a little bit hopeless. Something had to change, and in the end, we knew that it would be very difficult to make those changes if we stayed in the same place doing more or less exactly what we had been doing for the past three years.

We always speak of our time in Korea as being both the hardest and best time of our lives. The pictures and the CoT stories cast some glamour and humor over the memories, but there were moments when life there was very difficult. The thing that made it so worthwhile anyway, was how close we were to each other. We were all each other had, and we supported each other, explored together, and grew together in a sweet way.

In Columbia, I had a job that was meaningful and fulfilling and that I worked hard at. It was a job I loved and felt competent in. I had gained the respect of my peers and my superiors and the love of my students. I had a boss who became a dear, dear friend. I had amazing relationships with several families who let me into their homes and their lives to help care for their children. I had a beautiful 14-year-old girl who I loved with my whole heart and whom I took care of  like she was my daughter. I had (have) friends who I love like my own heart. And for once, my family was actually close enough to visit several times a year. I had built a home, and leaving it all behind was one of the hardest things I have ever done.

I did not do this casually. I did it because even though those things are important to me, my marriage is more important. My marriage will always be more important. And Jonathan and I had peace that moving away was the best thing for our marriage. We are not running away from our problems. We are taking them with us to a space where we can work on them without the temptation to slip back into the separate lives we had been living.

So here we are in Hong Kong, launching into a new adventure, hand in hand, faces turned toward the same horizon, waiting to see what we will discover next.

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Super Bowl Sunday is for Lovers & a Spoken Word Poem

Super Bowl Sunday is one of the most romantic days of the year to me. What’s so romantic about giant sweaty men pummeling each other for a few fleeting moments of glory, you might ask?  Absolutely nothing. My tender feelings towards Super Bowl Sunday have nothing to do with the event itself, but are rooted in the fact that Jonathan and I first started dating on Super Bowl Sunday 9 years ago. (A story I wrote about here).

In honor of our date-a-versary I wanted to share this spoken word poem I wrote a few years back. I’m posting the text here so you can follow along, but I’d recommend listening. Since it’s written as a spoken word poem I don’t give special attention to the line breaks and the way it displays on the page. Also I use the word Love in at least 3 different ways which is probably a huge technical mistake, but I think it matters less if you’re listening to it. (Maybe?) In any case, it’s a little something different. (PS- Photo of us in the recording was taken in Korea by the amazing Laura Rhoades).

Sometimes Love is 19 years old on a swing set at midnight,
Two swings tangled around each other,
Expressing something their bodies can’t.
It’s warm and the night is quiet and
Love runs his finger up the back of her arm
Like it’s something sacred
And he is the first person in the world to discover it.

Sometimes Love waits at the end of an aisle,
Looking strange in his tuxedo and his too-shiny shoes,
Eyes full of Love as she tumbles towards him,
Fighting to pace herself
To keep herself from sprinting to Love,
The space between them feeling unbearably large.

Sometimes Love comes home from work and covers Love’s face with kisses,
making up for each moment spent apart.
Sometimes Love pulls love into his lap,
folding her into himself like a handkerchief he’d like to fit into his pocket
where he can keep her – every bit of her—close to his heart.

Sometimes Love makes Love laugh so hard she cries,
Lying on their backs on the living room rug –
the rug Love swore they had to have because “It ties the whole room together”
—laughter tears dripping down the funnel of her ear,
collecting like sea water inside of a conch shell.

Sometimes, Love cries and doesn’t know why,
So Love lays quietly beside her and holds her until she falls asleep.

Sometimes love is romantic, surprise flowers and slow-dancing in the kitchen.
But…
Sometimes Love forgets about Valentine’s Day.

Sometimes Love is lonely… because Love can’t seem to understand her.
Sometimes Love is Spock, when what Love needs is Captain Kirk.
Sometimes love feels broken, fractured, splintered,
Like a glass bottle shattered on the kitchen tile,
shards of green glass oozing red wine like blood.

Sometimes Love feels like they are two pieces that don’t even belong to the same puzzle.
And sometimes…Love DOES go to sleep angry,
Because Love knows that everything will look brighter in the sun.
Because sometimes it’s better to go to sleep when you’re too tired to be kind
than to go on trying to pull the right words from a heart that’s running low on grace.
Sometimes Love knows that, against all the advice,
it’s better to stop than to force resolution to fit into your timetable.

Sometimes Love has to choose to love again and again and again.
I choose you.
I CHOOSE you.
I choose YOU.

Because sometimes Love really fucks up.
Over and over and over again.
Sometimes Love wonders, “Will Love give up on me?
Will he throw up his hands and say he has had enough?”

But the answer is always, “No.”
No no no no no no no, never.

Sometimes Love doesn’t have to say, “I forgive you,”
because Love is too busy living, “I forgive you.”

Sometimes Love says the true thing instead of the easy thing.
Even when it hurts Love
Because Love sees the magic in Love even when she’s lost sight of it in herself.
And Love will never give up on Love being his best self.

Sometimes Love means you don’t have to be the loudest or the smartest or the best.
Because Love says you are heard, you seen, you are known.
You have nothing to prove.
Sometimes Love doesn’t have to bring anything to the table.

Sometimes Love doesn’t look the way it used to.
Skin sags in places where it used to stretch and
Stretches in places where it used to sag.
Sometimes Love is different shape than Love expected.

Sometimes Love doesn’t feel beautiful.
But Love sees her beautiful anyway.
Sometimes Love doesn’t feel strong.
But Love sees him strong anyway.

Sometimes Love leads.
Sometimes Love follows.
And sometimes Love means no one is in front or behind.
Sometimes Love means two people standing side by side,
Hearts beating together, feet stepping together,
Testing the next step, looking for a way.
Together.

Sometimes Love isn’t strong enough to stand.
Sometimes Love feels like she is sinking with no hope of rescue.
And then, Love says, “When you cannot walk, I will carry you.
When you cannot see a way, I will hold a light for you.
When you want to give up, don’t despair, Love. I will fight for you.”

Sometimes Love fights in the darkness, in the hidden places
And sometimes Love fights in the light.
And sometimes Love fights in the gray spaces, quiet and overlooked.

Sometimes Love goes to the grocery store twice in one night
because Love realizes she forget to put tomatoes on the list.
And sometimes Love does yet another load of laundry,
because she knows that every folded sock and towel make up a liturgy of love.
And every dish that Love washes whispers, “I love you.”
And every plate that Love dries says, “I am here. I will always be here.”

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*Sorry if the cursing offends you. I don’t use that language often, but when I do, it’s on purpose. You can read my thoughts about that here.

 

 

On Getting Married Too Young

When you fall in love at 19, people talk. People think that you’re naïve. That you’re too young to understand love and commitment. And if you choose to marry young then you shouldn’t be surprised when it doesn’t work out.

So we waited. We waited until we were 22. And still, people talked. They said, “When you marry young you still have so much growing to do. You’ll change. He’ll change. You might become totally different people.”

After five years of marriage I can say that they were right.

We are different people and Lord knows I’ve changed. Sometimes I feel guilty that this woman who shares your bed now is not the girl you married. It feels like false advertising. As though I promised you one thing and delivered another.

But then, you’re not the boy I married either. And I love you more because of it.

See, love is not one fixed shape. It’s elastic. It stretches like a balloon or a gum bubble or the belly of a woman around the body of her child. Its parameters are set by the beloved.

Maybe marriage starts with “I love who you are now, today, in this moment,” but it is also, “I will love who you become.”

Marriage means our roots are intertwined. No matter which direction you grow, you can only go so far from me. We are hopelessly tangled. And this is a miracle. This is why we say that marriage is holy. Because it requires an act of God.

I will change and you will change and we may grow in different ways that are impossible for us to imagine. But love will grow as we do. Sometimes it will grow easily and naturally. Sometimes it will require work, like a master gardener prunes and weeds and coaxes a sapling. It might be hard, but hard and bad are not the same thing, Love.

After more than eight years of loving I can see that every change in you is a gift to me. I get to discover a new part of you, and the more I know you, the more I love you. It makes me wonder if the people who grow bored with their relationships are simply the people who stop changing.

Yesterday you asked me for something simple and easy to give and I snapped. I sighed. I exaggerated. I may have even stomped my feet. But after a few minutes I came back. I was embarrassed. I apologized.

And you wrapped your arms around me and lifted my feet from the ground, which always makes me feel small even on a fat day. Then you put one hand behind my head and planted the other on the small of my back and pressed me into your body. We swayed back and forth in our little kitchen without any music and I fell in love for the thousandth time.

Note: The photographer for this picture can now be found at http://www.grainandcompass.com

Fifty-Two Weeks of Adventure # 24: Anniversaries and Love Motels

On Saturday my husband and I celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary. I’ve been waiting for years to feel like a grown up. I kept thinking I would feel like one when I moved away from home, when I graduated from college, when I got married, when I got my first “real” job, when I moved across the world. But I have to confess that I’m often amazed that other people seem to think of me as an adult. Cause I just don’t see it most of the time. 🙂 I thought that perhaps a five-year wedding anniversary would be the kind of milestone that made me feel grown up. And I admit that this made me feel a little old. But then I ate nachos for dinner. So not really all that grown up.

Speaking of not grown up...these guys were just chilling on their stilts.

Speaking of not grown up…these guys were just chilling on their stilts.

For our anniversary, we spent the night in Busan, our favorite city in Korea. We stayed in a love motel near Haeundae Beach, one of Busan’s most popular areas. “Love motels” are a very common form of accommodation in Korea. As the name suggests, they are motels specifically marketed as places for couples to tryst. In Korea, most people marry in their late twenties to early thirties and people live with their parents until they get married, which means there aren’t a lot of options for couples to spend time together. Additionally, Korean families often sleep together in the same room, so even a married couple with a few young children might utilize a love motel for some alone time. Actually I’ve heard that a few years ago, there was some sort of law that required businesses to close mid-afternoon one day per week so that people would be encouraged to make more babies. There is something of a population crisis in Korea where the average family has only have one child, two maximum, which means they aren’t replacing themselves and the population is in decline. So the government invented a way to encouraged people to spend more “quality time” with their spouses. As far as I know, this is no longer in effect.

Some motels are themed and have interesting decor and others are essentially just like small mid-range hotels that happen to provide you with condoms. It may sound sketchy, but the love motels are often cleaner and nicer than hostels and are much more affordable than fancy hotels. The one we stayed at this time wasn’t themed, but it did have mirrors all over the place, including the ceiling. It also had a lovely bathtub which was easily my favorite part of the room since we don’t have a tub or even a proper shower in our apartment. (Like many Korean apartments, we simply have a “wet room” where our shower head is attached to the sink and you just stand in the middle of the bathroom to shower with no curtains or anything).

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It was pretty overcast the entire time we were in Busan, so while we spent a bit of time walking along the beach, the views weren’t the best we’ve seen. We did have a nice dinner in a restaurant near the beach that’s known for it’s Western menu where we had BBQ chicken sliders and a giant plate of nachos. Nothing gourmet, but certainly some comfort food.

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We tried so hard to selfie, but we weren't very good at it...

We tried so hard to selfie, but we weren’t very good at it…

This guy right here = most wonderful man in the world.

This guy right here = most wonderful man in the world. Also, so handsome!

It’s hard to believe we’ve been married for five years, but when we reflect on all that we’ve done and seen and the ways that we’ve changed and grown we have been amazed. I am beyond blessed to be married to such a kind, patient man who makes me laugh every day. We are as crazy about each other as we were when we were 19 and I never want to take that for granted. I’ve written a bit about my thoughts on marriage and why I think ours works so beautifully well, but I am still overwhelmed by the gift that it is and I’m pretty much fine with owning the fact that I have the most wonderful husband in the world. I am so humbled that he chose me and that he chooses me still, every single day.

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If you have an adventure to share, add your link to the link-up by clicking the button below. You can participate in all of the adventures or you can just do a few – no pressure. If you missed last week’s adventure about the MERS scare in Korea you can find it here. And if you are new to my Fifty-Two Weeks of Adventure project you can find out more about it here.

Super Bowl Sunday: A Love Story

Do you remember the day that you and I became “us”? It was Super Bowl Sunday, 2007. You were in Indiana watching the Super Bowl at your best friend’s house, a tradition I wasn’t yet a part of. I was in Chicago with my parents who had spontaneously flown up after I’d called to tell them I wanted to date you.

I remember hanging up with my mom and thinking, “How can I possibly explain to this nice 19-year-old guy that my parents are flying all the way to Chicago because he wants to date me?” It was intense. I didn’t know how to tell you they were coming. I was certain it would freak you out and scare you away forever.

But you didn’t miss a beat. While I stammered apologies all over the place for how dramatic this was becoming, you smiled and said it was fine, that you weren’t changing your mind. (Though I do remember you asking, “They know I didn’t propose or anything, right? I just want to date you”).

I think I knew you’d be my one and only right then – because of the way you took some serious crazy in stride.

Super Bowl Sunday holds special significance for a lot of people – there are traditions, parties, special foods, and friends that come together for this event. For some it’s about the game itself and for others it’s about the social ritual – the shared experience, the sense of togetherness. As far as the football goes, I could take it or leave it. (Ok, to be honest, I could just leave it). But Super Bowl Sunday is heavy with memories for me.

On February 3, 2007 I said goodbye to my parents and as they drove away I called you in Indiana to say, “So…do you still want to date me? Because you totally can.” You told me later that when you hung up the phone and told our friends we were officially dating the whole room cheered.

We spent the next three Super Bowls in Indiana, surrounded by college friends who packed the Henderson’s living room to the max so that we had to have the game projected onto a sheet hung up across one wall so we could all see it.

The first year we were married we spent the Super Bowl at a party at a pastor we hardly knew’s house in Naperville with strangers who would become our friends.

We spent two Super Bowls in North Carolina – the one in Raleigh when we’d had a huge fight just before the game, and the one in Charlotte where we crashed a party for friends of our friends.

These past two years we’ve been in Korea and the Super Bowl hasn’t been a Sunday night event shared with friends, but something you had to stream on your computer Monday morning around your class schedule–something I was only aware of because of the date and the memory of that Super Bowl Sunday that changed the course of my life.

Eight Super Bowls later and you are still my favorite. You are still my one and only. Never once have I wished for a life apart from you. Never once have I wanted out.

People say that marriage is hard work. That love is a choice we make even when we don’t feel like it. I agree with those ideas. Marriage does take effort and commitment. Love is more than a feeling. But, Baby, you make loving you SO EASY.

Sometimes I look at you and wonder how? How did we grow a love so big and beautiful between two broken, imperfect people? And how did I get someone like you to love me in the first place? And the answer seems clear – we didn’t. I didn’t. We are living a miracle. Every good and precious bit of our marriage is a grace.

You and me, we’re nothing special. We’re just a Southern girl and a Plain-Toast Midwest boy. But somehow, we ended up with a miracle. On Super Bowl Sundays I like to remember those two 19-year-olds, giddy with infatuation, with no idea that this thing between them would grow into a love big enough to rattle the stars.

Image credits: Wedding picture by Taylor Rae Photography, “Twenty-Four” anniversary picture by Grain & Compass.

My Husband Doesn’t Treat Me Like a Princess – and I’m OK with That

In college, when Jonathan and I were dating, we had an acquaintance who was always asking me questions about our relationship. I’d run into him coming out of the Beamer Center and he’d throw his arm over my shoulder and ask me, “Tell me, is Jonathan good to you? Does he treat you like a princess?” This made me really uncomfortable. Partly because it felt like a weird way of flirting when I was clearly not interested and partly because it seemed to suggest that maybe there was something wrong with our relationship.

Jonathan was my first boyfriend and I wasn’t totally sure what it was supposed to look like. Questions like that made me panicky. I thought things were going well, but what did I really know? Did I feel like a princess? Shouldn’t I?

Growing up in a conservative evangelical church and community I believed that the ideal husband was a man who treated his wife like a pristine jewel.* I imagined I would marry a man who admired me for my purity and my modesty and who considered it the great honor of his life to provide for me. This man would be captivated by my beauty and filled with gratitude and maybe even some disbelief that he had been entrusted with something as precious as me. I would be a companion to him, supporting him and taking care of all of his domestic needs** and he would dote on me.

When I pictured my husband in that abstract way of a teenage girl I imagined flowers every Friday and frequent serenades (sometimes featuring string quartets). I pictured picnics in the park and romantic dinners and moments where he stopped dead in his tracks, awe-struck by my beauty and maybe a little weepy.

If you know my husband, you know how funny this is.

Don’t get me wrong, my husband is a wonderful man. He is very gentle and tender towards me. He serves me in beautiful and humbling ways. But he is not a romantic in the conventional sense. He tells me that I’m beautiful, but I don’t think he’s ever stopped and stared at me in awe. He expresses appreciation for the things I do around the house, but he does not worship me as a domestic goddess. Once, I leaned over and whispered very sweetly in his ear, “I love you so much and I’m so glad that we’re together.” And he smiled and reached out and said, “Got your nose!” while joyfully tweaking my nose. My husband is unfailingly patient and kind to me. But does he treat me like a princess? No, he doesn’t. And I’ve come to realize that I’m glad about that.

See, the “princess” as we commonly envision her, rules from an ivory tower. She may be adored, but she isn’t really known. She is praised for her sweetness, her beauty, and her daintiness. She might be wise and may be present for important discussions, but she doesn’t make decisions. Her power is symbolic more than it is actualized. She can’t protect herself because she’s never been given the opportunity to develop her strength. She isn’t able to grow because she isn’t given the freedom to fail. Her value lies in her position and in everything that that symbolizes.

All of the princesses together in the castle! I bet they have a book club!

All of the princesses together in the castle! I bet they have a book club!

My husband doesn’t treat me like a princess. He treats me like I’m his favorite person in the world. He treats me like a woman whose ideas and opinions he respects and is influenced by. He tells me that I am capable and strong. He treats me like I am valuable, not for the role I play, but for who I am. I am not afraid to make mistakes because my husband treats me like a human being – he isn’t devastated when he discovers that I’m flawed, because he never expected me to be perfect.

So while the remnants of my younger self sometimes wish my husband lived in awe of my beauty, my current self is thankful that he doesn’t. I don’t need a husband who treats me like a princess. I need a husband who reminds me that I’m a warrior.

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*Ok, part of that might also have come from an early obsession with Disney. But I don’t want to get into the whole Disney princess debate because they are really improving that lately. And also, Disney still added far more magic to my life than the damage done by limp-noodle heroines. In conclusion, I still love Disney and my children will know the words to every Disney song ever recorded by the time they are three, so help me God.
**I wasn’t raised in the kind of strict complementarian circles that would disapprove of a woman working outside of the home, but there was certainly the expectation that part of a wife’s role is to keep a nice home.

Mysteries and Miracles

This post is a little behind because our anniversary was last week, but I didn’t want to let a couple of days keep me from saying it. Since I already posted a few months ago about how I suck at marriage, I’ll keep this one short and sweet.  PS – If you came over from Relevant and you are looking for my response to your responses to my article, you can read that here.

***

Do you remember our first Valentine’s Day, Love? When we’d been dating a grand total of 11 days? You met me in the lobby of my dorm and we walked together through the snow to the Starbucks in downtown Wheaton. You gave me a single red rose because you couldn’t afford the whole dozen. I gave you a card, simple and sweet, something about how much I liked being around you. You drank hot chocolate (because you hadn’t learned to like coffee yet) and I had some festive holiday drink (probably a peppermint mocha) and we sat by the window and talked about how happy we were to just be together. Somewhere on the way home, my phone fell out of my pocket and was swallowed by a snowdrift, never to be seen again. You walked me back to my dorm and awkwardly hugged me good-bye because you hadn’t even kissed me yet.

And here we are seven years, three major moves, six jobs and two cats later – on the other side of the world from where we began. Loving more fiercely, more deeply, more deliberately than we could have imagined.

Last night I dreamed we had a baby. A baby girl with a soft peach-fuzz head made just for kissing. I can remember her weight in my arms and the smell of her skin like honey and cream. I woke up sad because she wasn’t real. But she reminded me of something. She reminded me that there are mysteries and miracles still ahead for us, Love. That the honeymoon may officially be over, but ordinary life is still heavy with wonder.

In the heat of these summer evenings, we lay on our backs across our bed, fan churning full-blast, carefully arranging ourselves so that our sticky limbs don’t touch. We look up at the ceiling and whisper out loud the names of the places we hope to see and of the children we hope to love. We map out a dozen possible futures and describe the kind of people we hope to be and the dreams we hope to accomplish. We exhale prayers and breathe in hope. And with these words we build a life.