Wednesday, August 7, 2013

20 Years Today

20 years ago today I married Robyn L. Shields. We've slept next to each other most of those 7,330 or so nights. I was 21, she was 20. I know it's real, but at times the whole thing seems too good to be true. Before her, I was never much of a catch for girls. I was their friend who was a guy who was there for them to talk to about their boyfriend. But when Robyn came along, it was like deep calling out to deep. Sure, we started as friends and hung out at the beach and laughed a lot. We had this great blend of light-hearted humor and profound conversation, sort of a weaving between the two. I remember one summer night in 1992 in Laguna beach walking on PCH. We had spent the late afternoon at the Sawdust Festival, then a romantic dinner at Splashes in the Surf 'N Sand, in the lower section outside with the spray of the ocean misting over the plexiglass while we sipped on ice waters and Pepsis. And then it was the live art at the small outdoor ampatheater, Pageant of the Masters, which, on the scale of romantic dates, is pretty hard to top. So the night was over, almost, except for the drive up PCH back home to our parents' houses. We were walking slow on the sidewalk in Laguna to my truck. And somehow we began talking about the power of a knot tied with three strands, as opposed to two. And that there's this part of Scripture in Ecclesiastes that talks exactly about that, and we wanted to be like that. Because without God in our relationship, we'd be like a two-stranded knot, and everyone knows that two stranded knots don't last as long, and God designed it better and stronger by inviting himself into our mix, and that he probably wanted to be more than an occasional string and more like a permanent part of the knot. And so Robyn and I linked our fingers and swayed down the concrete sidewalk, watching shop owners turn off the lights and close up for the evening. We always drove home slow, because we wanted the night to go on, and we lived an hour away from each other, so we didn't see each other except for two or three times a week, a magnificent sacrifice for a 20 and 19 year old falling in love.

It was 1992, a few years before cell phones and internet, and so we talked on cordless landlines and wrote love letters, literally. It was the sweetest part of sweetness. We shared secrets, we unlocked each other's doors, we held each other's bodies, salty and warm, in the afternoon sand at the river mouth in Newport Beach. Our courtship was about restraint and anticipation, about being apart and being together. From our first date on May 10, '92, to the afternoon of my proposal a few months later at Hammonds Beach in Santa Barbara on Dec. 12, to our wedding day a few months later on Aug. 7, 1993, it was a walk in the clouds. And this isn't a glossed over rendition. Sure, we had some fights, some clashing. I was a surfer/beach guy, she was an inlander. I was working construction in downtown Long Beach, she was a server at wedding banquets in Glendora and volunteering as a counselor at Forest Home outside of Redlands. She was a faithful Missouri Synod Lutheran, I was a Calvary Chapelain. She was a student at Cal Poly Pomona, I was finishing at Long Beach City and transferring to Westmont College in Santa Barbara. But we were just ordinary kids who found each other rather quickly and wanted to hang on to this thing that was growing and shaping and calling us further.

And Robyn was beautiful. From the inside out and the outside in.

And 20 years later....well....she's the same and she's more.

I wish there were stronger words than "grateful" and "appreciative" because these don't satisfy the feeling in my heart when I think about her or this marriage of 20 years, this knot of three strands that's still tied and strong. We've had times of absolute depletion. We've been in fights that have lasted weeks. We've been disillusioned through family loss and exhaustion from physical work and generating income and making financial mistakes. And yet.    

There's a current of love and commitment that runs deeper than the things on the outside, the circumstances, the hard things. There have been times I've wondered at the speed or flow of the current. But it's always been there, no doubt. In fact, it's the thing that swallows my doubts and takes my fears. It's the current that feeds the relationship. It's pretty important that it's there. I'm grateful. I know for certain the blessing in my life. 

From day one we've wanted our marriage to be a light of sorts. We've wanted it to have a purpose, something beyond just living together and getting along and making a living. It's like giving back because you've been given so much. The beginning of our love, the making of our relationship on the Southern California coast in the early '90's, the depth and beauty of it-- we've always seen it as a gift from God who fashions beauty from ashes and makes weak things strong, all for a purpose to be lived. Our marriage, our friendship, our lives, are so far from perfect. There are glaring things in each of us that many people would recognize. But there's quite a lot of good. We've been given so much, and the gratitude I carry in my heart exceeds the fatigue and pressures of this life. I want the current to stay flowing, and whatever light there may be between the two of us to keep shining strong and well.

Today's my anniversary. Robyn's at the salon getting a massage and her nails done. I could spend this day writing 10,000 pages of memories and gratitudes, simply dwelling on the blessing of the last 20 years. With every thought come 10 more. But we're going to meet up in a little while. And so I'll be content to leave on this note, another Scripture portraying the object this morning's musings: my marriage, my Robyn...

 "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is of a good reputation, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things."

Thursday, June 27, 2013

No Tip-Toe

I should be working now. It's after 8:00 am. I just let my two guys off for the day, told them to come tomorrow to start the new job. My left eye is sticking shut, and I keep catching myself in a blurred gaze toward the nearest wall. One hour of sleep, and all the day is before me. Canceling things, reshuffling schedules, letting it go. A yes to one thing is a no to three other things. I have to put it all back on the alter of faith. I've been trying to manage, balance, prioritize, and it's the equivalent of juggling ten lighted torches when I can handle maybe two. I've got to lay these down, find the Spirit-ordained rhythm for this day, the next two weeks. Some of the torches will likely go out, some will cause some fires, but the ones that remain will probably be the right amount of heat and light that I require for this path. And I'm not going to tip-toe around it. It's just going to happen. Sometimes you have to step gently into the water, but sometimes you have to storm it. You don't tip toe up to the alter of faith and lay out your burdens all neat and safe. You find your way there, spill them all out in a big pile, and then ask God for the grace to walk away from it in faith, hoping and trusting he will take it and set you free from it. Or maybe He will take some of it from you and give some of it back to deal with, but at least you know that it's been given over and acknowledged, and you should have some more strength to handle it for a while. That's what happens when you go up to the throne of grace boldly. You find help. There's more strength there. There might be more hands to juggle the lighted torches. Either way, you throw them down on that alter (I may even lay myself down there for a while; it's a big alter), you're not quite as responsible for all the stuff that overwhelms, and you come away with some clarity and peace. At least that's what I think. It's happened before. It's a promise from long ago that I still believe. It's just getting there that's the problem. Right now I don't have the energy to map it out and go slow. My gaze at that wall is still blurry. The burdens are heavy. So I'm just going to charge into it, and the sooner I can throw the heavy things down. I don't have the energy to tip-toe into the water; today it's going to be a pretty straight run.

Thursday, January 3, 2013


Many, maybe most, people serve the god of utility. Whether you're a church person, a temple person, a shrine person, a or one who tries hard to keep a polite distance from anything existential, spiritual, biblical, or religious, you probably live your life with a high degree of measurability, or at least you strive to. People value the process of accomplishing, of being strategic, and often with no boundaries or checks. Usefulness is the litmus test, the paradigm that governs choices and behavior. You won't keep your job if you're not useful. If your SMART goals aren't met than something's not right; you need to adjust, alter, mend, and do it again, better this time. And this is all logical. There's a mound of things to address, to fix, to make, to write, to pay, to visit, to clean, to generate, to preach, to manage. We are innately utilitarian. We predict to control. It's the bedrock of the naturalist worldview, which says that we exist in a closed-system universe. No God. No divine intervention. No existential nonsense. No spirit, just matter. It's all up to us. Sophisticated molecular connections and interactions. Pure cause and effect. Scientific method, only. Empirical data. If I can't measure it through sound sensory instruments, it's dismissed, relegated to the underground of pious myth and archaic narrative. Interesting, maybe, but not true.

Assuming "true" is linear, progressive, rationally ascertained, governed by logic, and appropriated most fully through ventures of utilitarian nature. To me, that's like saying the Pacific Ocean can be put into an aquarium if we're carful and methodical. But it can't. Truth is uncontainable. We don't govern it, it governs us. We are invited into it, like a good south swell in the summer dumping six foot a-frame barrels on a sandy bottom beach break. We taste it. We get wet in it. But we can't predict it and control it, try as we do.

We ought not abandon our utility, only temper it. Utility is a tool, and that's it. What is the end of the striving, of the accomplishing, of the climbing? Rewards? Pats on the back? A release of endorphins? Probably, but that's not enough. The soul won't be satisfied with it. Utility needs to be tempered with play. Play. Sabbath. Play. Uselessness for a time. Shouting for your team in the bottom of the ninth at the stadium. Swimming out to the dock. Testing your four-wheel drive. Piddling at the cafe. Singing in the stairwell at a downtown building. Questing to accomplish, driving to fulfill demands, these have their place, but without play, it doesn't matter and won't matter. "Marley is dead," penned Dickens in his opening of A Christmas Carol, and his business partner, Scrooge, has pretty much wasted his life being useful. His end will soon be that of Marley's.  He never played. He was never chosen to play, and so he nailed that coffin shut and got on with it, making money and establishing security.

We've been chosen to play. We've been allotted the time. We've been given Sabbath.