Last Sunday was the anniversary of our rector’s first Sunday at our church, and the anniversary of our first Sunday as well. It’s been a year of transitions, and we’ve had lots of hard days. I’m surprised that we’re still here, at a church, at this church. It feels odd and good that I’m getting more involved here, rather than feeling overwhelmed and wanting to flee. Things haven’t gone as planned, and this is just one surprise of many.

I need to think on this, this year and this anniversary.

I keep a list on yellow notebook paper, of short term, big goals, and I keep it on the wall above my desk. It’s a sort of bucket list–if I die in 6 months, I’d like to have most of these things crossed off. My best friend and I started doing this about two years ago and it has been a private touchstone. This is who I want to be, this is how I want to be. Sometimes I look at it when I’m feeling restless, disliking who I am and where we are.

My best friend and I updated our lists recently, and I crossed a lot of things off. Some, I laughed at and hadn’t gotten around to–and didn’t want to get around to anymore. Some of the items I had followed through with, and following through with them had created a sea-change in how I see the world. I huffed at others, knowing I should do them, but resenting them anyway.

But writing out the new list and looking over the old one provoked some gratitude. Since this time last year, I went through [a continuation of] a shattering of my old, comfortable worldview, and stared down old things I had been in denial about for years. Things my sister remembers vividly, but I blocked out. Breaking the safety glass to that part of my life left me tired, with my hands all cut up, and some relationships tattered.  Long emails with hard words were exchanged. Late night crying jags because I didn’t know how to process it all. My husband listening to me talk, talk, talk myself dry.

Last September saw that struggle beginning to ease up, becoming less viscerally overwhelming. I was able to express myself with better articulation and less emotion. The long emails dwindled, and we began rebuilding relationships and I started to fight my disillusionment.

Kevin found himself without a job, and we were strapped for cash but free to visit churches and try to find a home for ourselves. I had spent the summer skipping sermons to read Harry Potter in a plastic deck chair outside the back entrance of the church. I needed to soak in language that wasn’t steaming with moralism and appropriateness. I read things that were previously wild and unwelcome, I tasted sharp words on my tongue, and I avoided telling anyone I was thankful, blessed, convicted, burdened, grieved, or overjoyed. The minister there meant well and loved his congregation through his teaching, but I was full of dry ashes inside after the damage of my previous church had burned itself out, and I needed to spread myself out in the sun and let the wind blow over my soul for as long as it took to uncover the good soil under the charred grime from before. And so I would slip out after the last song during the announcements, and I would lay my shoes under the chair and read in the sunlight until I heard the piano start up again inside. I would sometimes help with the babies in the nursery, finding their arguments about sharing sippy cups and delight over going down the slide far more palatable than the astronomy sermon analogies demonstrating how we are to be lights in the world and have our polar axes directed by the gravitational pull of the sun, that is, to reflect God’s light and move in his Spirit’s leading.

But that job ended, and so we were free. He and I had been attracted to the Anglican tradition in college, and wanted to find a sanctuary that was similar. And I, I was finally ready to listen to a sermon, to actually hear his words and not tune out the weathered catchphrases with my bone-dry weariness.

Fall was hard, last year. We did find our church, and we did find a pastor who could preach a sermon with meat and genuine language, who welcomed us on our first Sunday with a sort of buoyant giddiness. Where communion wasn’t crackers and juice masquerading as a “memorial service” for a dead-sounding Jesus once a month or so, but a sacred act where you ate his body and blood every week, lining up with all the other hungry people, claimed for Christ and confessing his potent resurrection in unison before lifting up hearts and blessing each other.

Kevin was out of a job in September, and then got mislead by his temp agency when he was told that he  had been given a permanent position, while the real hiring process went on behind his back. He was out of work again in November, and in December he took a job waiting tables at a nice DC restaurant. Some people shook their heads and said he could do better. But he ironed his long white aprons and threw on his starched blue shirts with diligence, and we slowly adjusted to the late nights and aching, tired mornings. I was so proud of him for keeping us afloat financially, and yet so hungry for more of his time when he would come home around midnight and fall asleep before finishing the third bite of his late dinner.

And I took charge of my own work situation, stewarding as best I could in a job I felt ill-equipped to thrive in, in a work environment I was fitting into less and less as time went on and I kept re-evaluating my beliefs and priorities. After months of anxious uncertainty, I did find a better fitting position with another company, at the same time Kevin was solicited to apply for a job he would enjoy more and would treat him better than waiting tables.

We began to make friends, too. Moving to this unfamiliar area was a difficult transition, and it felt like I didn’t know anyone until about nine months after we moved. But slowly we gathered to ourselves a group of people who would come play games and watch stupid movies with us, who I’d feed when Kevin wasn’t home to eat my dinners, who helped us out when we needed this or that, and eventually were our generous and hearty moving crew when we moved into DC.

Since last fall, my best friend has gotten married, my sister has found a good man she loves and agreed to marry him, my little brothers have gotten baptized, and my parents and I continue to grow in understanding each other better. My grandma passed away, and in doing so brought her children and grandchildren together in new and better ways. My in-laws have truly become my second family and second home, and Kevin and I have begun to feel like we’re on the other side of the awkward transitions newlyweds have to make and work through together.

We thought we’d be living in Virginia now, with Kevin in graduate school, and perhaps with me working for a newspaper or bartending or styling hair, while writing on the side. We thought we might be in an Anglican church, but instead we find ourselves in an Episcopal church, and we’re starting to reevaluated the party lines that dictated that preference. Kevin didn’t plan to start acting lessons, and I didn’t plan to teach Sunday School. But here we are.

And it’s not bad at all. I’m no longer feeling so overwhelmed that I just want to go hide in a closet and sleep until the seasons change. We’re getting somewhere. I can notice the light again.

I had to write about it. So I wouldn’t forget. 

What do you need to remember about where you were last year?

I started following Micha Boyett’s blog after I discovered her series on St. Benedict. Her writing has a gentle, incisive graciousness which I find beautiful. This morning I opened my feed reader and found this post on “Marriage and the Easy  Yoke.” I love this bit toward the end:

I can’t pretend to know much about marriage. Eight years is only 2nd grade in the education of married life. We’re only just now learning cursive and multiplication. We have a long way to go. But what I’m learning is that … Only grace oils the bitter places so the machine can run, so you can smooth each other out.

Her post is in response to this one on Her.meneutics, and in light of these two other responses to it. Reading those after Micha’s post, I’m bothered by how easily the author of the first post assumes that marriage is easy (without any discussion of hardships she’s walked through to back this up) and we should stop worrying about how hard the first year is supposed to be, etc. Like the first response by Kristin Tennant notes, it’s a bad idea to assume that your story or experience in marriage is the true one and read your experiences into other people’s lives. That said, I feel a little more kinship with the author  (Grace) of the second response: who are you to tell me that a good marriage is an easy one?

Kevin and I haven’t had a particularly hard marriage so far, and we’re not very far in yet, so I shouldn’t speak too loudly. We have a lot of time ahead of us before we stop being babies and earn the title of “seasoned.” But that said, in just the last 17 months, we’ve faced unemployment x2, frustrating jobs, evening shift work hours, depression, a move, debt, not having a church home, serious family tensions, a car accident, and more. It’s been intense. Not impossible, but difficult. These external factors have in turn exacerbated various issues in our relationship with each other, and the strain has been really exhausting at times.

We were talking about this yesterday, reflecting on our Saturday bike ride and how, while we had a good time, there were moments of tension based on ongoing issues, and by the end of our ride we were very emotionally worn out. But a little patience with each other’s weariness helped a lot, and we ended up having a quiet evening together, just being together and not asking much of each other.

Kevin commented that, for us, loving each other doesn’t always look like happy feelings and tender romantic moments. We’re both broken people with issues that make us hard to love and be loved. Sometimes, all we have to offer is insecurity, or anxiousness, or frustration. Sometimes we’re just too raw to make much of an effort to do “sweet” and “thoughtful” things. But there’s no one else we’d rather do this marriage thing with. Kevin concluded, “we can worship God with whatever emotion we bring in the door. He accepts us as we are–we don’t need to always put on a mask of happiness in order to be in a relationship with him. And it’s the same way with each other: we should be patient with each other, of course. But we don’t need to only bring the correct and proper emotions to each other. We can bring whatever we are at the moment.”

It’s been true. There is grace to be patient with each other’s broken places, even if I’m not always as tender as I should be when he’s weak (or vice versa). Marriage is the hardest thing either of us has ever attempted, and I want to be careful not to make it sound like it’s been all that awful. It hasn’t–but it hasn’t been hearts and flowers and Disney moments, either. But we’re best friends and I know he is a good-hearted man trying to love me the best he knows how. And I think he knows the same of me.

I doubt that our experience is universal, but I think it’s a pretty common one, too. I am really thankful that I have a good man to work this marriage thing out with and who makes the rough spots worth it all.

If you’re a newlywed, just enjoy your first year. If it’s sweet, don’t borrow trouble by worrying about what-if-it-gets-hard? and just savor the season. If it’s really rough, don’t feel alone. Plunge into community and get counseling, and let yourself enjoy the glowy moments when they come.

I’m starting off with the big picture here, so bear with me!

As a culture, we like to forget our dependencies, yet we still observe small reverences to the sacred act of eating food with another person: a first date usually means dinner, death or a birth signals the community to bring meals to the bereaved/new parents, and weddings are celebrated with multi-course reception.

Breaking bread in community is an illustration of our common physical weakness and our common spiritual weakness–our need of others. In some eastern cultures, this reality is honored by tradition, as a guest who breaks bread with his host is then treated as under the protection of the household. Food binds us together.

As food is intrinsically tied to place, to seasons (time), and our human dependencies, the need to make a meal becomes the catalyst for humans to be dependent on each other and tied to a physical place. Usually, the act of preparing and eating a meal draws you away from the computer and internal monologues, and forces you into the physical reality of your geographic location, your neighborhood, and your personal community.

Here’s an example of what I mean: last night, I made Korean Barbecue for dinner. Now, we live in a basement apartment and don’t have any place for a grill. The last time I tried to cook a steak indoors in my cast iron frying pan, the smoke detector serenaded us and everyone was grumpy (and I didn’t even burn anything). So this time, I planned ahead.

I made this based off of my grandmother’s recipe, substituting what I had in the house and adding this and that to balance the flavors. This recipe is one that her kids remember with great fondness, and she gave it to me in a recipe book she made up of family recipes (complete with stories prefacing most of them) for my twelfth birthday. And most recently, we made it in her honor at our family memorial dinner when she passed away in May.

This has to marinate overnight, and I hoped to grill it up for dinner on Sunday evening. Our pastor lives down the street from us, and he and his wife offered us the use of their grill anytime we needed it. So we headed down the street with tongs and the pan of meat, and chatted with this kind couple while the meat cooked. Kevin had a beer, and we met some of their family who was visiting.

When we got home, I stuck the steak in the warming drawer, and started cooking the rice and pot stickers while Kevin biked down to the grocery store for broccoli. While he was there, he ran into a new friend and her son, and they chatted and made plans for us to have them over for dinner one night.

When he got back, I finished cooking, and we sat down to eat. He took a picture of the food, posted it on Facebook, and later I ended up having a conversation with my younger brother about the recipe which turned into a good talk about life in general.

And Kevin and I had a lovely dinner together. Which turned into canoodling while watching Some Stupid TV Show.

And so, just making dinner together turned into a series of interactions with people in our community and families. Now, granted not every dinner is a conversation piece (I like mac ‘n’ cheese a lot), but it’s when your need for food drives you to interact with other people (even if it’s just the lady at the checkout in the grocery store or the waiter at the bistro…or fast food joint). You may not have much to talk about and it may be more of a transaction than an interaction. Yet it’s still an evidence that we can’t quite digitize our need for food and our need for community infrastructure.

Modern food methods and experiences tend to create either an imitation of a real community or family meal (restaurants!) or reduces food to a caricature of the real thing (frozen dinners, box mix desserts, Velveeta, margarine?!). It’s efficient for us and sometimes cheap, but the existence of these things and the cultural dominance of cheap, pre-prepared foods reflects a pivotal shift in our value system.

Another reflection of this shift is how we have ceased to use physical language (metaphors derived from nature) and are now dependent on mechanical or industrial metaphors for our linguistic rubrik. We develop things, we don’t grow them. We download or upload, instead of plant or store. I’m a productive worker, not someone with stamina. Try listening for this in your everyday language–our society has become industrial, rather than agricultural, and our language reflects that.

Similarly, the family and household has stopped being a place of creation and production, and has instead become a place where we consume products and store ourselves  and our stuff in between work days. Our lives have become defined by industrial efficiencies rather than natural cycles and relationships. We perform tasks in a process in our cubicles, we eat fast food, we relate over text and the internet. The value of our physical bodies is secondary to the worth of efficiency (which probably contributes to our national problem of poor body image and crippling physical self-consciousness).

I know we’ve heard our fair share of lectures about the detrimental effect on the family from not eating dinners together, but it’s worth reiterating: unless you take time to let yourself be human and hungry with other hungry humans, you isolate yourself and ignore the basic needs of body and soul to eat in community. We are a displaced and existentially challenged people for a reason: we have forgotten that we are mortals and we have sanitized human processes [ah-ha! mechanical language] until there is nothing human left about them.

(Which is why sex seems to be the most significant thing for our generation–it’s the last place we are able to be simply physical beings and need another person.)

And so, this is my apologetic for cooking and eating your own food: this process of mealtime is the most natural place for community to grow. You can have your slick blog community and guest posts and a thousand Twitter followers, but it will not feed your soul quite so well as eating spaghetti and garlic bread you made yourself with your spouse, family, or friends. This is coming from me, the introverted nerd who sometimes really dislikes people. You need community. I need community. Food is normal and good and somewhat of a social equalizer, and sharing food with people makes you belong somewhere real. Even if it’s Kraft Mac ‘n’ Cheese in your dorm room with your roommates.