Eight years ago this past Thursday, I married Gary Wayne Young, a long, tall, drink of water from California, by way of Ohio, and with a heart as big as Texas. I could never have imagined that love would feel this wonderful! That it would cause this kind of joy to bubble up deep in my soul! But this was my second time around. In marriage, I mean. For a little girl who worried if she would ever get to ‘tie the knot’, or if she might be so fortunate to find her ‘one and only,’ it was beyond wildest cognition (mine or others) that I would stand before a unity candle a second time. Making forever vows and breaking them was not only atypical of the way things were done in my religious milieu, it was uncharacteristic of the way I did things as well. Those who know me will attest to the high value I place on relationships, both in my pastoral role, and far beyond it. Giving up on love was just not part of my playbook.
Five years passed, marked by as much prayer as I could muster and paced cathartic soul-work about what went right and not in that first nuptial. But what my first spouse and I knew intuitively is that we had an unmitigated and boundless responsibility to the life that resulted from our love. And that this uniquely wonderful red-headed, blue-eyed AnnieLaurie (our only child together) was counting on both our presence and our parenting. What this meant is that any of our unresolved ‘stuff’, both individually or as a couple, needed to be confronted and robustly so. Her tender youth depended upon it. I am happy to report that from that time to this, we have been able to work together graciously in the care and nurture of our daughter.
As a pastor, I am painfully aware that not every parting ends this well. We live in a broken world where both people and relationships get caught up in that soup. It has been my experience that, for a variety of reasons, we sometimes fail to do necessary ‘pulse checks’ on how things are with the other and between ourselves. Life gets busy and we take much for granted. And we know this story. That if we are not attentive enough along the way, we forget how to talk to one another, or at worst, we cease to talk at all. What was once recognizable as a relationship is not that anymore. People may inhabit the same home or bed (or not) but they co-exist. Scarcely more. Sometimes the necessary tools to dress and heal the wound (s) are neither present nor desired if they were. Or it may be that one will spare no expense seeking the right healing tincture while the other expends nothing at all. Finally it is true that sometimes, no matter the effort invested, the relationship ends anyway.
When I said “yes” to Gary Wayne Young back in October of 2010 in a non-traditional 1880’s-style wedding complete with bustle dress in a barn, beneath a pungent tobacco leaf canopy with two pastors and a fiancé in cowboy hats among cherished family and friends amidst a field of hay bales and pumpkins, it was after having said “no” once before. Because he asked much too soon. And not having done the hard “love work” when he asked first, I was a mess—second-guessing love, myself, him and all manner of things. But when I said, ‘yes,’ the next time he asked (which he said would uncategorically be his last) my heart was at peace—even though he hyperventilated on the way to collect the marriage license! But with that ‘yes’, I was sure I had fallen into the arms of grace. God’s and Gary’s. And I am still doing so.
Any relationship of consequence requires faith and a complimentary stock of courage. My Jewish friends would call it chutzpah. Devoted relationships require a willingness to put the others’ needs ahead of our own AND to respectfully ask for the same when our own ‘love tank’ is on fumes or depleted. Relationships worth their salt create space and time for the other. They will commit to communicate whether it’s easy or hard. And will resolve to do whatever possible to address any disconnect and brokenness between them. Relationships that endure are willing to extend forgiveness even as it is extended to them. Not to be forgotten, relationships of deep substance speak of a future with a hope and have clear vision for what life could look like together over time. And this is true whatever the alliance—between family, friends, partners, spouses or otherwise.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus makes clear his intention for coming, ‘that we might have life and have it more abundantly.’ He cared intimately about people, the quality of their lives, and that of their relationships. To that end, the church, at its best, should be a relationship place where people can do the rewarding and sometimes arduous work of loving and connecting. As your pastor, I am committed to dispensing that same measure of love and grace when you come seeking help with the relationships you value most.
Whether you got those relationships right the first time around—or not!
It seemed good for you to know this.