This fishing rod was to be an olive branch.
On the way out the door to go get it, days before his birthday, we had another rub. The same conflict or a new conflict, I wasn’t sure. They had begun to blend, all of them, into one great echo. Would we ever come out of this?
While we shared a common love — many, in fact — the way we approached life in both the big and the small was different. He found God while hiking the Blue Ridge mountains and trampling snow in the dead cold of winter to gather branches for his wood stove. He loved rooms full of people and drank life from history and literature and story. Dust accumulating on a mantle meant the house served its purpose. He liked piles.
I, on the other hand, was a runner. Every part of my life felt like a race. I woke early and set goals and made lists. I saw the world through systems and felt most at home when my days were ordered. I came alive in the quiet. I thrived in routine and talked my way out of all suggestions of spontaneity.
He had vision and I saw the steps to get there; most days, when we lacked a grid for how to see our differences, this caused strife. He made plans and I poked holes in them. He sought adventure and I attempted to reason him out of it. Round and round we went with little give. We were young and stubborn. To us, love was being right and marriage made us same, not one. I saw him as my interruption. I had stayed the course, but his ways were a distraction.
If he could change, we might walk holy, I thought.
I clung numbly to a perspective on love that didn’t include repentance. I feared that place where my knees bent against the floorboards because that, to me, meant failure. And I’d rather search out his failures than expose mine. In those days, the God I’d configured in my mind had His eye on success.
This fishing rod was my attempt to bridge the gap between his world and mine. He wanted adventure when I could barely assent to a hobby. After all, the list of things to accomplish in a lifetime was too long. I created my own definition of the narrow way and upheld it. I’d tried to subtly distract him from this thirst he had for adventure, in hopes that it might go away. But even just a year of secretly hoping he might just forget himself and become more like me left me unsettled. I knew enough to realize that what I’d been doing wasn’t working.
And desperation left me purchasing a fishing rod.
I needed to start somewhere.
I arrived at the bait and tackle store, emptied the tissues from my front seat and thought: where are You in all of this mess?
Nearly a decade later, we drove for hours with the windows down, the children sprawled across all corners of this African “minivan”, one which held less seats than bodies that day. Had it been any other day, the drive would have been quite a showcase of Uganda’s countryside, but on this particular day my stomach was in knots.
We’d made a decision which had potential to alter our year — possibly the next 3 years of our life — and we were sleep-deprived and emotionally spent. We had two courses of action for our adoption. One led to a for-sure in-country stay of three additional months and an uncertain outcome beyond that point. The other could have us home in time for my father’s legacy trip but it carried its own risks of us losing forever the children whose skin now smelled familiar.
We prayed and chose the latter; my husband was leading this charge.
Days earlier, and almost exactly 9 years after the day I bought him that fishing rod, he had come home from a morning prayer meeting and said “I think we need to go now.”
His pursuit of our daughters was being informed by a Source other than reason. We paid thousands of dollars and packed hundreds of pounds of luggage, all on the sense he had that we should go and the confirmations which followed. And once we landed, his fervor didn’t relent. Where I leaned towards caution, he prayerfully pushed us towards trust, which — in this case — meant risk.
In those 9 years the rough edges of his adventurous spirit had been worn smooth — they’d been refined. “This is necessary,” he said with a twinkle in his eye that spoke louder than his words. “We have to go after them. We have to trust Him.”
And here we were, a week later, on another continent, chasing paperwork in the bush.
My eye was on my watch. This final piece of paperwork was required in order to file for court before it recessed for the rainy season. The decision we’d chosen (to take the riskier course) also required some significant hurdles to be cleared before we could file. We had a little over 2 hours to meet the man responsible for signing these papers before he left for another village, and a 3-4 hour drive ahead of us. It had been traveled many times before by our driver and friend, never under 3 hours.
To even leave the starting block would require a miracle.
So for 2 hours straight my heart beat hard in my chest while they sang and laughed and played games that trumped language barriers. Nate took it all in; He was alive. Our car spun and bumped and hummed through this backroad that looked as if it led to nowhere and I wondered if this adventure — his adventure — was taking us nowhere, the summation of all of my fears. My mind fought old thoughts about him and about us.
And while my watch still read 4:45, we slowed to a stop in front of a structure that looked official for Africa.
We made it. Fifteen minutes before the office closed and an hour faster than it’d ever been driven before.
The weeks that ensued held day after day of events like this. Our trip to Uganda was one long roller coaster. Oceans parted for our girls to come home and we witnessed supernatural events morph into natural reality.
Had we done it my way, we might still be waiting for them now.
The marriage mold was forming more than just me and Nate — it was forging a family.
What I had most resisted in him was that which God used most to refine me.
We were meant to rub.
Early on, I had eyes on my husband and I thought, isn’t this marriage? I isolate his weak spots and call them higher and he does the same for me? Except love is not a self-enhancement program, it’s a person — and it’s a shadow of the covenant that happens between Him and us. Marriage is the place where we get to practice the economy that God has set up for His bride: death precedes life.
Union is birthed at the burial site. His, and ours. Lives now wed can’t have hearts, wed, without the cross. His cross and our cross.
We thrive when we die.
I’ve never been at risk for thinking too big in my marriage, only too small.
The summation of my union is not a mission or a vision or a well-planned existence, it’s a heart that leans deep into the Father’s deep. And one year in, driving full speed — angry — to pick up that fishing rod afforded me the same opportunity that ten years in, driving full speed — anxious — through the bush to pick up that paperwork did.
The man He gave me was fashioned for my undoing. And for my restoration.
(And in the middle of my death, He gave me the adventure for which I didn’t ask but that made my heart soar. Union to Nate gave permission to those parts of my heart, long latent.)
The rub of marriage melds us. It’s here that we’re purged, with knees digging into the dirt, bowed in repentance. This pouring out of self is our entry point to what feels foreign to our flesh but is prescribed by Him.
It’s here that I was introduced to Love.
Making it practical: If, like me then, marriage has rubbed your flesh raw, the only way up from here is down. It may be time to lay down: your dreams, your expectations, yourself. Slide away to a quiet place — some of you may need hours, not just minutes to process the pain of letting go — and ask Him to show you parts of yourself and your demands on him or her you need to surrender. Repent. To Him, and then to him or her. Pray His Word like a banner — a new promise — over your life and marriage. Make a commitment to let His Word, not the circumstances under your roof, be your guide.
And a note to that guy — the one who gave permission to parts of me I never knew I had — on our eleventh anniversary: thank you for loving me in and through all these years of my dying not-so quietly and for patiently (’cause you have been so patient with me!), carefully stewarding my heart as He’s been making it new. You make me want to love Him more … and, even if it means more of your style of adventure, I say yes ;).