If you have been reading my blog for a bit, you know that in July, I announced that I was "surprised by love" and in a relationship with Michael Thomson (click here for that entry). Several of you have asked how it has been going since then, especially since I am now 7500 miles away. The short answer is that our relationship continues to be moving on with great strength, and love continues to deepen daily. We spend at least two hours a day together on Skype (for me from 5:30-7 am, which is 10:30-midnight for Michael), and then either during his lunch break or mine if it works out. We spend that time talking, reading books to each other, or playing Scrabble. We debate, discuss, laugh, share, and occasionally fall asleep mid-conversation. Our relationship started with this distance and a very solid foundation of intense communication continues to carry us. That is not to say that the distance is easy - it is not. We enjoyed the summer together, being able to talk face to face, to have activities together, or just to stop by for a "drive-by hugging" (as Michael puts it) on his way to or from work. But we knew what we were getting into when we decided to step from friendship into relationship. Despite the distance, both Michael and I continue to feel the surprise of this relationship; it is almost daily that one of us will shake our heads and wonder how this happened.
That is the short answer. The long answer goes much deeper. As I shared with you in July, when Michael and I decided to go out for a coffee upon my return to Grand Rapids, we emailed our pastors to inform them, and in a way to ask for their blessing. As I shared, they both responded very enthusiastically which was a pleasant joy and surprise. But what made Michael and I chuckle was that BOTH pastors (in separate emails) immediately recommended that we start reading a book called The Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas. Additionally, Pastor Dave gave us a homework assignment in which we had to reflect on what fruits of the Spirit were developed in us through our last marriage, how we failed in our last marriage, and so on. We chuckled because at the time all we had proposed was going out for coffee - on a "date" - and our pastors were preparing us for marriage it seemed. But it seemed our wise pastors know something about how older persons approach relationships, getting into deep discussions rather quickly. We quickly saw the value of reading books like this, and so began reading The Meaning of Marriage, by Tim Keller, 101 Questions to Ask Before Remarriage, by H. Norman Wright, and The Mystery of Marriage, by Mike Mason. [Yeah. We like reading :)]
While all the books have been good and enjoyable, The Mystery of Marriage has resonated particularly well with us. Mike Mason is a deep and poetic author who has articulated very well the profound mystery of marriage. There is so much I would like to quote from this book but I will restrict myself to a couple of quotes as I believe it captures the experience of the last six months.
Marriage is a trap. It is a trap of pure love. The love is so pure, so intense, that it can be like a big iron gate that clangs shut behind us. And there we are. Imprisoned, of our own free will, in the dungeon of marriage. And the one and only key has been handed over to our partner, a total stranger, to swallow. No prison is darker than that of an imprisoning human relationship, and no marriage can escape without tasting to some extent of this sense of imprisonment. For this is just the sort of thing love loves to do. It loves to back us into a corner. It loves to rip out our independence like a rug from under our feet, and then stand back and watch what we will do. It loves to see us take enormous risks for its own sake, only to turn around and leave us in the lurch. There is perhaps nothing in the world so treacherous, nor ultimately so cool and calculating and intractable, as love. How infuriatingly irresponsible it can be, sweeping people off their feet and turning around their lives as casually as if they were leaves in an autumn breeze! Many people are very surprised to find out what love can be like underneath its charming exterior. Of course, love has its own purposes. And those purposes involve nothing short of a worldwide revolution: a revolution in which everything in sight will be turned into pure love. That is what it has in mind. And that is why it employs this cruel and drastic strategy of backing people into corners, squeezing them into impossible situations in which the only way they can ever hope to pry themselves free is by responding in kind with love, allowing themselves to be made more and more loving, to be made the tools and pawns of love, and learning to love what love has done to them. When the prison door of love clangs shut, the only thing to do is become more in love than ever. There is just no other way to get out of it.This has been what it has been like for us and why I refer to the continual sense of surprise. Neither of us were looking for this or even thinking about this. And yet, there it was, out of the blue, and so powerful and scary at the same time. Several times we nearly walked away, each of us believing at different points that we couldn't be good for the other person. Yet we couldn't leave and in some ways we felt backed into a corner. We had to make a decision to move forward in faith, believing through a number of revelations that God has brought us together for a specific purpose. That purpose has been slowly revealing itself. While a little traditional in roles for us, the book The Sacred Marriage had some good insights and reminds us that the purpose of marriage is not happiness but rather holiness, with marriage making us more aware of God's presence. Through the mystery of Michael's thorough love of me, I have become much more aware of God's love and delight in me. As I shake my head at my own continual delight in spending time with Michael, I am reminded of God's great delight in him - and in me - and I shake my head again.
Mason goes on to say,
One of the ways we know that love is from God, and that it is love, is that it always come in a form and a manner we never could have anticipated. It comes out of the blue. For it is grace, pure and free, one of the most spectacular ways God has of pouring Himself out upon people, exploding into their lives with breathtaking unexpectedness and bringing about sweeping renewal and transformation. To fall in love actually means (whether or not a person cares to admit this) to have a revelation from God. It is to receive from Him a new vision as to the true nature of things and new insight into the power and potential of life. But right away the lover has a decision to make, a decision as to how much he is willing to let his life be governed by a vision.Some of you may view this entry as "mushy." Others of you may be thinking that we may "feel this now but just wait." If you are thinking that, I would remind you that both of us were married for 19+ years (in fact, this Sunday, October 20 would have marked Bob's and my 23rd wedding anniversary). Michael and I are very well aware of the realities of marriage. But as middle-aged people who know such realities, we celebrate the goodness and love of God that we see in and through this. We want to hold on to the teachings of this love and be able to pour that into those around us. We don't want to forsake the revelation from God in the anticipation of struggles. There is a sweeping renewal and transformation going on in each of our hearts and souls. And when those struggles come, we want to remind ourselves of the call to holiness that is true in our relationship, looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. If you are married, whether for a long time or short time, and have not read these books, I would encourage you to read them - not separately, but as a couple if possible. If you are not married, but considering it or longing for it, reading these books helps to put things in the right perspective.
So what does the future hold for Michael and I? Allow me to let the devotion I just read from Jesus Calling answer that question:
I have lifted you out of darkness into My marvelous Light. Though I have brought many pleasures into your life, not one of them is essential. Receive My blessings with open hands. Enjoy My good gifts, but do not cling to them. Turn your attention to the Giver of all good things, and rest in the knowledge that you are complete in Me. The one thing you absolutely need is the one thing you can never lose: My Presence with you.Open hands. Turning to the Giver of all good things. Trusting Him for the next step and the one after that. That is all we have. And that is where we are.