Idaho: What Makes Love Last?

When I left for Idaho one of the things I was seeking the answer to was, what makes love last? How do people make it stick?

I kept crashing headfirst into the reality that it isn’t years that produce success; it isn’t stability that creates longevity. Finding out these were not the answers started to blow my world apart. I always believed these were secret ingredients that my millennial generation couldn’t grasp with our microwaves and fast-food upbringing.

Waiting to board my plane to Boise, I met a man with a bright red backpack; his stories had me leaning in with awe.

“I got divorced a few years ago. It took some time to get my stuff together after that, but now I just travel all the time.”

His pain was visible. I asked him what he did before he got divorced, before seeing the rainforest, kayaking in Belize, or racing motorcycles in the desert.

He once built beautiful homes that were stable and strong. He built one for his wife. I sat there willing to bet they had muffin tins. I imagined his wife baked dozens: blueberry, chocolate chip, and pumpkin. But after years inside that home, they still didn’t last. Now that house sits empty on acres of land. He told me that he doesn’t know how to let go of it. It is lonely and empty, but he can’t let it go.

I had plans to find him when our plane landed. I needed to ask him what he would have done differently.

But he was at the front and I was at the back. By the time we touched down and deplaned, it was too late. The man with the red backpack was long gone.

It isn’t the house. It isn’t the stable job and the keeping our feet on the same piece of land. That’s all I could think as the doors opened and Idaho greeted me with her sunshine.

It isn’t the muffin tin. Heaven help me, if there’s one thing I’m learning after my break down in Kroger, it’s that. Those aren’t what make it last. It isn’t the perfect life that we build and never move our feet from. It isn’t an illusion of stability that we can fit inside of cabinets and between four walls. That won’t keep us in the arms of another person. It isn’t just forty years of furniture and picture frames that keep it together.

So I set out on this restless adventure across what I anticipated to be the most boring state in the continental United States. And it was nothing I expected. It was an incredible mix of learning how muffin tins are not the answer, but they are not the things we can blame for why we fall apart.

I don’t think I found a secret ingredient or all the answers. Still, I found something I needed, but not until the trip ended and I was crying at the gate waiting to fly home.

I sat watching a man and his pregnant wife. He was so exhausted that he could not keep his eyes open. She was far enough along in her pregnancy that she could barely see over her baby bump.

She attempted to put her shoes on, but it’s not an easy task when you cannot see your own feet. Immediately, her husband slid to the floor and began to help her. His eyes so heavy, his mouth opening with a yawn. When he seemed certain that she was mostly settled and could finish the task, he slid back into his seat and shut his eyes. I could tell he was literally seconds from falling into a nap.

A few minutes later she exhaled with frustration, struggling as she reached to finish the final stretch of tying the last shoe. Almost there, but not quite.

He heard it. He knew the sound of her. Without even opening his eyes, he slowly slid back onto the floor without hesitation. When his knees hit the carpet, he cracked open his eyes. The sweetest and softest smile covered his face. He tied the shoe.

She giggled. He laughed. I cried.

I thought of my friend with the red backpack. I thought about all the trips he’s taken this year. I thought about how he is getting older and how one day he’s going to be sitting at Gate C2 and he will sigh because his bones will be aching.

Connie won’t be there to help him tie his shoes.

The big strong stable house might be standing, the muffin tins might be inside of the cabinets. The plane tickets might take him to all the places he resented his marriage and house for never letting him go, but they will not tie his shoes. 

We’re all looking for something to give our lives for. Something worthy of sliding onto the floor, digging our knees into the dirty airport carpet for: something worth the words and the fight.

A life that looks perfect and stable will not make us stay. Good jobs, paychecks, houses that have bay windows, and the years we spent building them will not be what make us stay in their arms.

Somewhere in the stretch of those few seconds that her husband almost fell back asleep, there was a building in my chest as I watched her struggle to put that shoe on. But when that man fell to his knees to help her, despite the fact that he had just been down there minutes earlier, despite his exhaustion, regardless of the ungodly germs on that airport carpet, that’s when I realized that it isn’t years, it can’t be.

It’s something more like not letting the years pass.

It’s realizing that sometimes only seconds pass before it’s our turn again.

I cried in that airport because I realized that I don’t always know the kind of love that takes another turn a few seconds later. The kind of love that doesn’t have to follow a perfect rhythm of give and receive.

Sometimes it all goes out of order and you don’t tally it up. Sometimes the clock ticks by and you don’t remember who owes what and why. Sometimes you’ve been the one to slide to the floor the last eight times. Sometimes you’re the one in the chair and their sleepy brown eyes are staring up at you. Sometimes you’re the one learning how to let go and receive the help your tired body needs.

Friend with the red backpack:  I hope that you will forgive yourself for the years in between. I pray you find people whose shoes are worth tying on airport floors and who will slide to the carpet when you can’t tie your own. That you come to find God and see the way He ties our shoes when we’ve taken our lives to gates where no one else knows our names. That you’ll come to know your loafers are worthy of a good double knot and that it might be time to let that old house go.

 

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Why I Won’t Pursue a Man

Relationships and opinions about them are sticky.

People get passionate and everyone has an opinion. I think it’s something that we all work out, a choice that is ours to make. I can’t and don’t judge anyone’s personal journey, or the way they feel like God calls them to pursue romance.

As for me, I can state this (after much wrestling and questioning):

I can not and will not pursue a man.

Feminism is becoming a common doctrine of our world, and because of it, there is a question of whether or not women can approach a man in the way that they’ve been forbidden to in the past.

I’m not going to answer that for humanity. But as for me, I have one desire:

I want the (and yes, I said “the”) man that God has for me. God cares for the birds, so I believe that He intimately cares about my husband. He is sovereign over that. I believe that, I’ve prayed for that and I live my life trusting for that.

My entire life, I’ve wanted a man whose life is committed and unquestionably sacrificed to Jesus. I want a dead man, whose own life means nothing to Him, who doesn’t want a Sunday morning Jesus, but is branded by the very God who has wrecked my entire life.

And, yes, we’re going to be equal.

We deserve the same privileges and respect, we are both fully human and should be loved and valued equally. But there’s an order, a way that the Bible calls me to be. It says that I will be submissive, it says that my husband will love me as Christ loves the church.

To be submissive appears to be contrary to everything that makes sense to me. I’m independent, opinionated, passionate, argumentative. But if someone loves me sacrificially, unconditionally, I can (and want to) submit to that.

The problem is, we don’t trust men to love us as Christ loves the church. In a lot of ways, that makes sense. They’re imperfect, they mess up, they aren’t Jesus. No one will love me like Jesus, this is something that I must accept.

But my husband’s desire will be to love me in that way. My desire (though it won’t always happen) will be to submit.

I want that to start as soon as I meet him, as soon as the pursuit begins.

If I want a man that loves me, the way Christ loves the church, then that’s going to point me toward this belief:

Christ came for his church. He chose me, I did not choose Him.

I was the responder. Yes, I got a choice. I was given the right decide whether or not I wanted to enter into that relationship. AND I knew what God’s intentions were toward me in that relationship (and if I didn’t, I was free to ask!)

But He found me, He chose me, He came for me.

I want a husband, a man, who has that quality stained in the core of his heart, his behavior, his choices.

I can submit to that. I can say “yes” to that. And it might surprise you, but I feel respected, equal, free, and valued in that.

Feminists everywhere might nail me to a cross. That’s fine, I’ll loan you my hammer. This is something I am willing to put my life up for. This is something that I will not compromise. This is because it is one of the biggest decisions I will ever make. The man I marry will be my partner, my advocate, my leader. He will be the father of my children. He will need to be responsible, he will need to be bold and he will need to know what he wants and how to pursue it.

When we are ninety, I will wipe the drool from his cheek, bathe him, feed him mashed potatoes. And he will sit with me when I’m frail, he will pray with me, he will still stand up to fight for me…(even if he knows the other guy could take him).

I want someone stronger than me. And if that’s the hammer I hand you, the thing that makes you call me old fashioned, weak, or irrelevant…well, I’ve been called a lot worse.

You don’t have to agree with me. You don’t have to believe that this is the path for your life, I’m not telling you it is. This is me, this is what I’ve chosen, and these are my reasons.

All of them because I fell in love with a man, with holes in his hands, who comes, fights for, and pursues his bride.

I want my life to mirror that on this earth. On earth, if I ever get married, I’m going to be a bride; so, I don’t want to, at any point, act like the groom.

Lovely Letters: Jesus is enough, BUT…

This Lovely Letter is coming at you early! I just needed this to be out of my hands today. It’s longer than usual, and it’s quite bold. I know that some of my readers don’t have a religion or belief in God or whatever you want to call it—I do. Whatever you believe, I still want you to read it.

“Everyone always says that loneliness is an opportunity to get closer to God—-I’m failing to see it now. Does that sound like Jesus isn’t enough? Because I know He is, but He can’t go to the beach with me.”

-S

S,

I can already say that this will be one of the toughest things I’ve ever written.  I read that line in your e-mail, but He can’t go to the beach with me. One after another, tears slid down my cheeks and I just sat slowly nodding my head because it was so in sync with the ache in my heart. He’s enough, but He can’t go to the beach with me.

He also can’t go to the doctor with me.

Today, I just sat there on that tacky mauve-colored exam table and stared at the wood paneling on the walls. When those appointments first began, I used to talk to Him. I used to have little conversations and ask Him questions while I waited for the doctor to lightly tap on the door and make an entrance.

But today I just sat there and I waited. I looked at my phone, I read a poster on the wall, I picked at the threads hanging from my shirt. I waited. 

Mostly because that’s all God has been asking me to do lately, and so I didn’t expect anything else from Him.

Then I thought about that Facebook status I posted the other week. “When you’re single, people always say “You should just let Jesus meet every need” while I know what they mean, I wish those people had been here for the last fifteen minutes I just spent praying that He would open the world’s most difficult jar of pickles.”

A lot of people liked it, a lot of people laughed. I knew they would and I meant for them to. But even though I intended to be funny, there was still a raw truth lying in those words. He is enough, but He can’t open a jar of pickles for me.

Sometimes, that makes me cry. Because I’m spending weekends at baby showers and getting bridesmaids dresses altered and beating pickle jars with knives hoping that if I just grip tighter and turn it harder it will finally open.

But sometimes the pickle jar doesn’t open.

Sometimes you go to the beach alone.

Sometimes you go to the doctor alone.

I’m not going to tell you the annoying truth (and yes, it is true) that Jesus is there even though you can’t see Him. I’m not going to throw a Psalm at you and I’m most definitely not going to tell you that you’re a bad Christian.

I’m going to just simply say that today I felt alone.

So, when the appointment was over and I got into my car, I just kind of sat looking at the passenger seat and I felt an incomparable pain at the sight of it being empty.

People offered to come to my appointment with me, and I was the one who declined. But S, even though there may have been ten people I could have called and asked to go to my appointment with me, it wouldn’t have changed the fact that none of them are who I really wanted sitting next to me.

Because when I’m sitting in an office where women are smiling with their protruding little baby bumps and their endearing husbands sitting next to them as they wait for an ultrasound, I didn’t want to be sitting there with a random friend or family member. I didn’t want to be that pathetic girl. Maybe that’s prideful, but the reality is, I would have felt just as alone if any of those people had been next to me.

So many people tell me to let Jesus “be my husband through my singleness”. He might have been sitting there, but I couldn’t see Him and He couldn’t put His hand on my back and tell me I’d be okay. S, if I’m being honest with you, in that moment, I wanted to smack those fluffy-talking Jesus nuts in the back of the head. I wanted to take all those married people (who have lost touch with the loneliness of the single life) and who have fed that line to me and give them a not-so-pretty piece of my mind.

And I don’t think Jesus was angry at me or disappointed in the fact that I just wanted a a husband next to me today.

Last I checked, Adam was only alone on this planet for about 2 seconds before God was like “Hey, no, wait a second! It isn’t good for this guy to be alone!”

S, God’s not sitting up there crafting this hard road of loneliness for you. He’s not trying to make you miserable.

Honestly, I don’t know why you’re in the state you’re in. I don’t know why it seems like He’s not helping you out with this. Because He did make us for companionship and community. I don’t know why you don’t have it. I know you’re trying and there’s not a thing in this world wrong with you. You’re worthy of love and friendship, affection at the greatest magnitude. But today you feel alone, and there’s just no good reason for it.

I’m not going to try and write this big long speech about community or the value of finding a small group or Bible Study of people to invest in. I’m just going to tell you that I felt the same thing today. That I don’t know why. Sometimes God doesn’t make sense. My heart will always know that He is good, but sometimes this human flesh of mine just isn’t going to always have a grasp on Him and why He lets us go to the beach alone.

But I can tell you that He’s not happy about it. I don’t know why He allows it, S. But it doesn’t bring God joy to watch you sit on the shore with no one to share that view with.

He is not selfish. I know that much and I am certain that He is not threatened. I don’t care what the church told you, He is not sitting up there biting His nails, worried that if you get a husband that you’ll lose focus on Him. God is not in a competition with your future spouse.

And I know that fifteen people will probably e-mail me with scripture about how God is jealous. I’ll probably delete them. Because I know that He wants my heart and my affection. I know that He wants all of me. But I also know that Adam walked in perfect unity with God and God still saw that He needed someone else.

So, let’s get real here, God’s not making you be alone because He thinks you are so immature that you will abandon Him for a spouse. His jealousy for you and me isn’t rooted in fear. Jesus isn’t intimidated when someone takes you out on a date. He doesn’t go into strategic counter mission planning. Jesus isn’t threatened by marriage, or dating, or friendships.  He can sustain his pursuit of you no matter what stage of life you are in. So, if someone made you think that He says it’s good for you to be alone, they’re preaching from the wrong Bible.

I’m not going to give you a theology about “the one” or about “true love waits” or whatever other wagons there are to jump on when we need a theology to defend his goodness in regards to our loneliness. I’m just going to tell you that it is hard, that there are no clear answers. That God didn’t have Paul write a book about dating and finding Mr. Right (though I think that may have saved God a lot of time listening to all of us whine).

He knows when you feel alone. He knows when I’m being stubborn in my silence at the doctors’ office. He knows when my flesh and faith are failing. He is not unmoved by my pain, but nor is he unnerved by my doubt. He is still there, whether I feel Him or not. Even if He isn’t physically here to take me for a milkshake and pull the car up to the door for me when it’s raining.

S, it’s hard. I wish I could come to where you are, sit on that beach with you. I wish I could wrap you up in a good conversation. I wish that I could make this all a little easier somehow. So, if I, a complete stranger, could want to do those things for you; I’m certain that a God of love longs to do them more.

That’s why He came, that’s why He isn’t finished here. Because He hates our loneliness, our lack, our pain far more than we do.

I think that’s why He told Thomas, “Blessed are those who believe and have not seen. That’s my proof that Jesus knew it would hurt. He knew I would cry at the frustration of not being able to have him physically hold my hand. He knows the weight of that pain. He feels it and he cares.

But there’s a timing, and a reason, and a purpose. It’s all for my good and somehow in the grand scheme of everything, it makes sense. And even though He knows the end and all the reasons, He still hates the incomplete things in our lives, the things that are not yet made right.

But they will be and He is working on it. He’s got you, in your uncertainty and in your blindness, He’s got you, S. 

You don’t have to figure it all out. You don’t have to come up with a list of ways you plan to change your loneliness. You just have to know that though I sit in my corner of the world, uncertain of how far that is from you, that I feel it too.  So let the words on your screen be tangible proof that despite it all… He’s got you. 

I may not be there to hug you, S. I can’t buy you a coffee right now. I can’t watch a good movie with you and laugh over a big bowl of popcorn…but it doesn’t mean I’m not with you.

That’s what I’m saying, and I’m pretty sure that’s what He’s saying too.

 

 Love,

Ashlin

P.S. I hope it makes you laugh that I’m adding the disclaimer that despite the fact that there were a lot of pregnant women there, my appointment was not because I’m pregnant.

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I WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

Lovely Letters is a series that happens every Wednesday (and apparently, on the occasional Monday)! I’ve gotten such an amazing e-mail response from many of my readers and I try to respond to as many as I can directly; and some of them have inspired me to share thoughts and ideas on my blog. You guys seriously inspire me and what you’re going through is universal and I think other people need to hear that they’re not alone.

So… if you’re interested in inspiring the next Lovely Letters post, send me an e-mail and let me know what’s going on in your life. I absolutely love hearing from all of you!

E-mail:  ashlinkayh@gmail.com

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