Sunday, September 20, 2009

Eve's Curse

Oh, what a cursed gender are we!!! Why, Eve, why?!?

We all know how Eve ate the apple and spoke for all of us when she said goodbye to the perfect existence (Thanks, Eve). But the longer I'm in a relationship, the more I see how her curse affects us.

The part I always remembered about her curse was the 'pain in childbirth' part. While I'm not minimizing the significance of that (shout out to all you mothers...especially those of you who opted not to use drugs for the delivery - whoa! Amazing!), that pain is temporary. While excruciating (so I'm told), it's over and done.

I'm thinking of the part of her curse that we keep on having to deal with: "Your desire will be toward your husband, but he will rule over you" (Genesis 3:16 - The Complete Jewish Bible).

One commentary I read put it this way: "She was doomed as a wife and mother to suffer pain of body and distress of mind. From being the help meet of man and the partner of his affections [Genesis 2:18,23], her condition would henceforth be that of humble subjection."

And I can tell you that so keenly do I feel the effects of this. The desire for the man - for his love and affection...the power struggles...the desire to control...sometimes it feels like desire out of control.

We were made to be his helper, his partner. But now, it doesn't work that way so cleanly. And possibly, maybe our desire for him (and I think that includes our desire to control him) - has a dark root. It almost like it's just the nature of the beast of relationships in the same way pain is part of childbirth. This part of our nature is part of relationships now.

The Hebrew root of that word 'desire' likens it to a beast devouring, an overflowing, an abundance, a stretching out. It's the same word that is used in Genesis 4:7, when God tells Cain that "sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it." That's a little scary. So, it sort of begs the this intense longing we feel for the men in our lives the way it was meant to be - or the result of a curse? Yeah, sometimes it does feel like a curse. I think because we fear- and I think we know - they will never - no, can never - be enough. And we want them to be. So we try to control them to make them be.

I'm not saying that I think desire is evil or abnormal. But I can't get away from the fact that, according to Scripture, this desire is part of the curse. I think something that was supposed to be balanced and beautiful has somewhere gone wrong.

And I think about alot of the struggles in it coming out of this internal wrestling of not wanting him to rule - over me? Over himself? Maybe I want to be in control...of me...of him...of everything... I don't like having someone ruling over me. I am just learning to be OK with God ruling over me, but it is difficult when it is another human being...who isn't doing everything the way I want him to. Especially when in my eyes, I think I've done just fine ruling over myself (humanly speaking, that is).

So this is the part of relationships I've been mulling over. There are no intense power struggles going on between me and James (at the moment, lol)...but the temptation is always there. And I'm realizing - when I boil it down to its simplest terms - that my frustration comes because James is just simply not doing what I want him to do. There it is again - CONTROL. But life would just be so much easier if he did things my way (translation: if he let me control him)! Why can't he see that?!?

It has mostly come up in the wedding planning (or lack thereof). I've had to walk very softly when it has come to this area. And it is a fine line between being sensitive and tactful and being manipulative and controlling. I can hear the crunch of the apple in my ear even as I attempt to justify my actions by calling it 'finesse.'

But what I think both of us are learning (by trial and error, more or less)...that things work best when God is in control. And I have to realize that, curse or not, it is not God's will for me to be in control of the relationship. For as much as I am learning to be subject to James, I can find peace because I know he is subject to God.

I can see the beauty of God's plans and purposes even in this. And God can even redeem a curse.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Break from the Wedding World

Just to change things up...I thought I'd give a little info here for a cool giveaway I came across. Here's how it happened -

I came across a site I found on SITS (which Diana recommended to me) which led me to Or So She Says, which has some great ideas and things of interest...especially to the female sex (hence the title).

They are doing a great giveaway - which ends tonight. If you hurry, you just might make it. And if you miss it, check out their site anyway...good stuff going on there. Have fun!

Friday, September 11, 2009

We Marry Because...???

For better or for worse, I'm a deep thinker (it's usually worse). One of the biggest struggles I've faced in being in a relationship is trying to sift out fairy-tale fantasy from realistic expectations. Like I blogged earlier, apparently I have been very influenced by all the movies I've seen and books I've read. I really thought I was smarter than that, but on a subconscious level, it must have somehow shaped my mental picture of what a relationship should be like.

So, whenever we'd hit a bump in the relationship, I'd find myself asking, "Is this what it's supposed to be like???" I guess that somehow I thought that the "right relationship" equaled "perfect relationship." And in my very annoying, over-analytical way, my mind would set to work on trying to come to a bottom line about this.

I'm one of those people who can't see the forest for the trees. I look at the details so much that I can't see the big picture. So, in obsessing over every detail, I just couldn't get a clear picture in my head of what a normal and healthy relationship looks like, forget trying to figure out if our relationship was normal and healthy. Then I would over-analyze my own thoughts and feelings so that everything just would become fragmented. I would just lose an objective sense of the whole.

So my mind started asking all of those deep, philosophical questions like, "What is the point of getting married? Why do we get married in the first place? What is GOD'S plan for two people being married?" Because, honestly, that last question is really what counts. He instituted marriage. It is His idea - so then, it's not really even about my thoughts or feelings. (I'm not saying feelings aren't part of the picture, but we all know they come and go. So I knew that it had to be about more than just feeling 'in love' 24/7).

I came across an article (really a Q and A), but there was a section that just sort of clicked for me:

"We can't answer your question until we understand something critical about marriage as God intends. For all of its "practical" benefits — sexual pleasure, happiness and health, etc. — marriage, and intercourse, is not first about that.

"I cannot emphasize this enough. If marriage is ultimately and primarily for me and my needs, or her and her needs, if it is primarily about us, about self, then I will always struggle with disappointment, because there is never enough for me. Never.

"I use the words primarily and ultimately purposely here. Clearly, biblical marriage benefits me, and as such it is a great gift to me, but it is not first and foremost about me (or my spouse).

"Paul teaches in Ephesians that the mystery of marriage is this: It is primarily and ultimately about Christ and the Church; it is a living, breathing human parable on display to the whole world about the relationship between Jesus and His Bride.

"Christ gave everything of Himself for the Church. We are to give ourselves completely to Him. "Greater love has no one than this," He said, "that someone lay down his life for his friends." The throbbing heartbeat of the cross of Christ is a complete emptying of one for another, the complete giving of oneself for the good of the other. It is in losing our lives that we find life...

"A final thought. To give oneself away to another person in such a way as I've described here requires great trust in the One who brought you together with this other person. Does He know what He is doing? Do we trust that He can heal when we stick our heart out there to another human and get hurt (because even in a growing Christian marriage, both husband and wife will experience hurt)?

"Do I believe that God is big enough to catch me when the other person doesn't? Only in completely abandoning ourselves to Him first can we give ourselves in this way to another. And giving ourselves away to another, especially in sexual intimacy, is a beautiful way for us to express our trust in Him."

I've come back to that thought several times - a living, breathing human parable about the relationship between Jesus and His bride...complete emptying of one for another...complete giving of oneself for the good of the other...

That is hard. And scary. And like the article said, even in a Christian marriage, it's about putting yourself out there to love and knowing that hurt is unavoidable. But trusting God to catch you even when your spouse doesn't. That's heavy. Love and pain. Two sides of the same coin. Impossible to love without the potential of pain. Try to think of an exception to that. I haven't found one yet. So in loving, there's risk, there's pain. It's not all pain, but it's part of the deal. But somehow it helps me to know ahead of time that's what I'm signing up for. And you know what? Even knowing that, I'm still in.

The purpose of marriage - the choice to love someone else in the same way Jesus has loved me. I gotta let that sink in for a while...

Monday, September 7, 2009

Goodbyes - And Hellos - at Cedar Beach

cedar beach cedar beachThis weekend, James and I spent a good amount of our time at Cedar Beach. If you know Long Island, the South Shore beaches are on the ocean, the North Shore beaches are on the Long Island Sound. South Shore has waves, wind, and that 'beachy' feel (typically crowded, too). North Shore has rocks instead of sand (mostly), no real waves - unless a boat is zipping by - but it does have serenity.

James has lived on the North Shore for many years, and if his time is added up, he probably has spent the equivalent of months of his life on this beach. For him, it is an oasis from the traffic, the rush, the chaos of L. I. He finds peace and solititude and a time to be alone with his thoughts. Time to just 'be.' (One of his most frequently-heard phrases - "Can't we just 'be'???"). There are crowded pockets (mostly near the restrooms), but mostly, solitude can easily be found if you want it.

This place has always had significant meaning for him. Before we met, like I said, this was a place he would go to just find peace and escape the madness of the world. He also spent a lot of time there when marriage was not even a blip on his radar - many years of hanging out with the guys and his friends. In some ways, Cedar Beach was a tangible symbol of his single life. It was his beach.

I actually spent some time at Cedar Beach before we met as well. My friend Liz lived in a cottage not far from there and we would go there, too. We'd sport the bikinis under our church clothes and pack the sand chairs in the back of the car. So, I have some fun memories of single life there as well. Not to the extent that James has, but I associate Cedar Beach with Liz and her cottage - and that is always an association of fun, carefree single days.

Cedar Beach actually plays a role in how we met. On the Friday night of Labor Day Weekend, 2007, James was home and spent some time in prayer about some things. The next day, his friend Rob (the one from the first blog) showed up at Cedar Beach with his girlfriend. James recognized immediately that there was something providential in his showing up there - a direct link to the prayers he had prayed the night before. It was so uncommon and out of the blue - Rob just should not have been there that day. Anyway, he ended hanging out with Rob and Angela that evening, and the next day, Rob invited James to come to church that Sunday - which was the Sunday we met (also detailed in the first blog).

So, what led us together actually had its beginnings at Cedar Beach. Since then, James and I have spent some special time there together. Typically, on a nice weekend, that is where we will find ourselves, often from morning til sunset - and sometimes even later than that. Sometimes, we'd even just leave our blankets and chairs there overnight and find them there the next day, still in the same spot, totally undisturbed. Or sometimes, we'd go down there for a walk on the beach, the pier, or the nature path - sometimes all three.

It has been a transition for him, incorporating me into a place that has been so significant to him in his single life (For James, it is all about the 'process' lol). He has realized that this is the last summer he would be at Cedar Beach as a single guy. Although I've been there with him many times and it has been great, for years this was his place. In some ways, that is bittersweet for him.

So, on this anniversary weekend for us - it was two years ago on Labor Day weekend we met - it seemed fitting and right that we spend some time at Cedar Beach. We didn't plan it - it just sort of 'evolved' (another one of James' favorite phrases: "Let's see how it evolves," lol).

It was a weekend of goodbyes - to the single life being left behind. It was a weekend of celebrating - the providential moments and meetings that brought us together. And it was a weekend of hellos- realizing that the next time we spend the day at Cedar Beach, it will be a brand new experience for us - as husband and wife. And that's exciting, too.

Cedar Beach represents a tangible lesson I'm learning since we have been engaged: it is a series of goodbyes and hellos. We are both a little older (he's 41 and I'm 35), and we have both been single a long time. Although we are super-excited for our new life together, it's a little daunting - and bittersweet - to say goodbye to a familiar, comfortable life you've always known. A life that did have measures of happiness, too.

It's goodbye to complete freedom, independence, self-indulgence - but also goodbye to loneliness, isolation, and alienation, too. It's hello to partnership, oneness, intimacy- but also hello to sacrifice, selflessness and interdependence.
I guess like any change, you have to let go of one thing to embrace another - and both the positives and the seemingly negatives. I have to say, though, I think we both gain more than we lose.

I think Cedar Beach is the link between worlds - between single life and our life together, between his world and my world. I think Cedar Beach has been significant in all of those worlds. It seems that all of our worlds have converged right on that beach.

Goodbye, Cedar Beach. For now. Mr. and Mrs. L. will see you next summer.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Breaking In My New Pair of Heels:Engagement Day -7.18.09

"The weather is a little questionable -you still want to go? And the Mets are on tomorrow..." "You don't want to go because of the Mets???" I asked in my sweetest sounding voice. "No, no - that's fine. Let's go. I'm sure the weather will be fine." "I think we should do it. I feel like if we don't go this weekend, we'll never get around to rescheduling." "OK. I'm gonna go to bed soon. I'll be at your house at 3:30 am. Call me around 2:45am to make sure I'm up."

And that was the plan: to get to Montauk Point in time to see the sunrise. This was something we had wanted to do last summer but never got around to it. So we finally just picked this weekend to go. There was a chance of rain on Friday night, but it was supposed to clear up on Saturday. We decided to go for it.

Three-thirty came, and we were off to a good start, minus the slow drivers on a 2-lane road at 4 in the morning [That's par for the course with James, though]. The only other glitch was that our last chance to get coffee came and went as we passed the Southampton 7-11. Who knew the rest of the Hamptons were too good for a 7-11? Point noted.

The bad drivers failed to deter us, and we arrived at Montauk Point Lighthouse well before the sun did. Coffee-less, we walked down to the shore and were happy to find it was dry, albeit foggy and overcast. We were hopeful that we might see some remnants of a sunrise. Me? I was just happy to be there with him, doing something fun and adventurous. While James was setting up the blanket, I start setting up my camera and timer to take some pictures. "Katie, can we just sit for a minute? Do you have to do that now?" "We hardly have any pictures of us. It will only take a second." He conceded. :) (See Exhibit A above).

A few shots later, James took out his Charles Spurgeon devotional, as is our custom. James read our morning devotion and then grabbed my hand to pray. I bowed my head and closed my eyes. I didn't hear anything. I opened one eye and looked at him with a question. "I was just making sure your eyes were shut," he said. [Earlier that week, we had been in a park eating lunch, and when he prayed for our food, he noticed that my eyes were open. 'Do you always do that?' he asked. 'Hmmm, sometimes.' 'Well, that creeps me out.' 'OK, OK - I'll close them.'] "They're shut."

James then proceeded to pray. After we said, "Amen," he said to me, "I have to ask you a question." Knowing that James often asks me questions that are either proceeded or followed by a mischievous smirk, with mild trepidation and slight impatience I asked, "What?" He reached behind his back, produced an open jewelry box and said, "I wanted to ask you if you would marry me."

Now it's funny, because subconsciously I think I've always had a picture in my mind of what this moment would be like: the background music would build and crescendo, we would both be in tears, and after his profuse declarations of love and adoration, I would sob, "Yes! Yes I will marry you!" (I'm not exactly sure who I inserted to play myself in this fantasy...who is this girl and where did she come from???)

But in actuality, the record screeched to a halt, and my brain struggled to absorb what was actually happening and tried to catch up. Oh my gosh. James just proposed. To me. He asked me to marry him - What do I do???? For a fraction of a moment, time in the real world froze, and I felt like an actress who stepped out of character for a second, lost her place and forgot her lines. Totally disoriented. Crap! What's going on? What am I supposed to be doing?? I didn't practice this! This isn't the way I rehearsed it! Where am I????

Now this had nothing to do with my feelings for James or because I didn't know the answer. I knew I loved James with all my heart and I knew that when he asked me this question, 100% my answer would be yes. But I just felt so unprepared. It was so unexpected. I was totally caught off guard. I felt like it was happening to someone else who was borrowing my body. For this split second, I didn't feel like me. This couldn't possibly be happening to me!

All of this culminated on the pinhead of a second, and just as quickly as I was flung into that alternate universe, I returned back to reality. Finding my voice, I looked at the man who had just proposed to me, hugged him and said, "Yes - I would be so happy to marry you."

We spent some more time on the beach, absorbing what had just taken place between us, and James filled me in to all of the devious maneuvering he had had to do in order to pull this off and surprise me: meeting with a friend who knew a jeweler - back in March, getting my dad's blessing while I was in Morocco, praying with our pastor and pre-covenant leader, and other various, assorted, ring-shopping excursions. Just the night before, when he said he was going to 'bed,' he really drove to Massapequa to get the ring and then to his mom's house to show it to her. Even the Mets were a sneaky little diversion.
All this time, I never knew it was coming. We hadn't talked concretely about dates, plans - nothing - and we never even once discussed a ring at all. Never once. He did this all on his own. And while I spent significant amounts of time worrying during his silences, I'm so glad I held my tongue and let him plan this himself. It meant so much more to me to find out all the forethought he put into it.
We finally left the beach to get breakfast and I was so excited - and so frustrated that there was no one to share our news with! I just wanted to tell strangers! So, at 6:30 in the morning, I couldn't wait anymore and sent the following text: "Just wanted to let you know - I have a beautiful new ring on my left ring finger!!!" And then the texts and phone calls slowly began to pour in as the rest of the world woke up. After breakfast at Mr. John's, we called my parents and my mom shouted, "I knew it! I just knew it! When I heard you were going to Montauk, I knew today would be the day!" And so it was.

The rest of our day evolved into becoming an all-day celebration of our engagement: hiking in Shadmoor State Park, finding a semi-secluded corner of the beach, driving around and exploring all different hidden places in Montauk. We even ran across these great Australian guys who tipped us off to this great place to catch the sunset. Even these guys were genuinely excited for us!

So, we finished our day by going to Sunset Saloon to get pina coladas and to see one of the most breathtaking sunsets I've ever seen. It more than made up for our missed sunrise. We grabbed some Chinese at Wok and Roll on our way out of town and then we had the fun of sharing our news in church the next day. One of the best things was that everyone seemed so genuinely excited for us.. Even on Facebook, the congratulations just flooded in...I was so overwhelmed and humbled by that. We felt God's smile on us the whole time.
And that is how we got engaged :)

I still find myself looking at my ring in disbelief. Did that really happen? Am I really engaged? Someone loves me enough to want to spend the rest of his life with me? My life feels surreal and foreign and scarily unfamiliar sometimes. Sometimes, I still feel like I'm on the outside looking in at someone else's life - but it's really mine. From the inside looking out, I feel like the awkward, fumbling, clumsy bride instead of the beauty-pageant-I've-been-groomed-for-this-my-whole-life bride. It doesn't feel familiar - or normal - to me yet. Not quite comfortable, but I love the discomfort of it, too. It's like those darn heels that just hurt so much when you first get them, but you love them so much you don't want to take them off and you just endure the pain. You know that if you just wear them long enough, soon they will fit like a pair of worn-in flip flops.

The bride-to-be I am is a little different than the bride-to-be I imagined I'd be. But it is getting more comfortable every day. And it almost doesn't matter anyway- because I'm sure that when I'm just about broken in, it will be time to trade in my flip flops, and there'll be a new pair of heels waiting.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Of Movies and Off Screen Moments

I love a good chick-flick, but here is what I hate about romantic movies: they never tell the whole story. I do believe in having true love, and I do believe happily-ever-after is possible. But I think the movies leave out a whole lot on how that happens. Now, in their defense, I know their objective is to #1 - make money, and #2 -entertain (yes, in that order) - and not to present a realistic image of or a"how-to" session on relationships. But I think that I, somewhere in my subconscious, formed the belief that relationships were supposed to be that easy and neat and clean.

Maybe that is why I loved writing those first two blogs. It was so surreal and movie-esque - and it really happened. To me. Like I couldn't believe God was actually writing this script and putting me - me - in the story. It really almost felt magical. And honestly, writing those two blogs was a bit therapeutic for me. It was a great reminder of God's providential hand in our union.

But I fear I'd be guilty of what the screen-writers do if that is all I say and just cut to the engagement. Not every moment of our relationship has played out like a fun, romantic comedy. So, I wanted to put in some 'off-screen' moments - along with the magical ones that would make the movie cuts - to hopefully tell a more realistic story of what God has written thus far:

  • The holidays ('07). It was so wonderful to finally have someone to share them with. I remember how great it felt to walk into Thanksgiving Eve service with someone and not have to go alone. Giving Christmas presents, spending New Year's Eve together and having someone to kiss! Valentine's Day - he snuck into my classroom the night before and there were balloons and gifts and flowers on my desk.

  • My struggle with missions. That winter ('07-08), even though God had given me a green light about staying, I still struggled with a lot of guilt about not going. That definitely dampened what should have been some of those wonderful first few months. My uncertainty stole alot of the joy of the moment. James was patient, but I know I wore him out at times.

  • While I was away in Nicaragua (April '08) on a missions trip, he was back at home attending a marriage conference, getting himself ready for our future. That really impressed me.

  • The spring learning curve ('08). About that time, more of our 'true selves' and our differences emerged, and we really had to start the 'work' of a relationship - communication skills, differences between men/women, our backgrounds, the baggage that comes with every person. And this was my first long-term relationship, so I felt really unprepared for how to navigate through a lot of that; I didn't really have a good gauge for knowing that a lot of what we were going through was just 'normal'. I'm a perfectionist, a deep thinker and at times, a catastrophizer - and when combined, they are a dangerous trio in a relationship.

  • Nigeria (July '08). Oh, that was an amazing time for us! We grew so much closer through that experience. I was the team leader and this was his first trip. I was a little nervous, but it went beautifully! We had a great time serving the Lord together, and I remember being so proud of him when he preached in a church there. And, he later told me that seeing me in my element in missions is when he knew he was in love with me. I have such great memories of that trip.

  • The fall learning curve ('08). Just more 'stuff.' A big lesson God taught me during that time was 'Love is patient, love is kind.' (I blogged about that). I remember going to see the movie 'Fireproof' with him, and God really pressed into my heart the tenacious side of love - less of the 'feelings' of love, but more of the selflessness of love - and the choice to love.

  • Christmas break (Dec '08). We drove to Florida to visit my grandparents, and we had a great time with them. They loved him, and I loved how James fit right in with them and totally loved their stories and felt such a deep connection with them. We also had so much fun going kayaking, going to Miami beach, staying up all night on New Year's Eve and going to the beach and getting breakfast in the morning. Another great bonding experience for us.

  • Precovenant Classes (Jan'09). James planned for us to take the pre-marriage classes. In my church, these are a pre-requisite to being married. He had told me in Florida that he hoped we would be engaged by the next year, but we both felt it would be smart to take these classes before we got engaged. They were good- but very heavy. It gave us a lot to think about - and again, more things to work and process through - individually and together. If I could think of a word to sum it up? Intense.

  • The waiting (Spring '09). James would always talk about being on a 5-year-plan, so I never really knew if he was serious or just throwing me off. After the classes, we never really talked about engagement plans or anything like that. I never wanted to pressure him, and I wanted an engagement to be totally from his heart, without any, that was a little bit of a hard time for me. I knew that he wouldn't have gone through all that trouble if he wasn't serious, but sometimes, my fears got the better of me. I spent more time worrying than I'd like to admit. My dangerous trio reared its ugly head on many occasions.

  • His secret meetings (Spring/Summer '09). This was a good thing! Without me knowing, he took it upon himself to meet with our pastor, receive prayer for the upcoming meeting with my parents, call our pre-covenant leader for prayer, and speak to my parents. All of this was in preparation for our upcoming engagement/marriage (none of which I knew was coming!) He also was meeting with his jeweler friend to pick out the ring.

The next story I'll tell is the engagement. But I write this preface just to emphasize that this has been a journey of - and over - a lifetime, not a movie that is neatly resolved in 2 hours. It has had movie-esque moments - magical and surreal, and other times, it has been very real and challenging. But I think I speak for both of us when I say that our saving grace has been God's involvement and sovereignty over our story. There have been some key moments when we needed His intervention and help in one way or another- and truly, - and very thankfully - He wrote himself into the script. He truly is the Hero and Superstar of this story.

The journey is adventurous, scary, uncertain, breathtaking, frustrating, exciting, exhausting, exhilarating, and wonderful all at the same time. But my life with James is worth every minute of it, and we happen to have a fantastic Writer who knows exactly how the story should end - and knows just how to make that happen.