Splinters, the Truth About Stars, and the Dust Storm

I stayed home from work today. I felt like crap and just wanted to rest. I needed to rest. A recent and previously alien development in my life has worn me out and beat me down. And after the past two nights of fruitless tossing and turning on what can only really be described as a lounge chair cushion, coupled with the previous handful of centuries (or weeks or months, I’ve lost count) on tenterhooks in my own bed, I finally broke down to the point where taking an unplanned day off from work seemed like a brilliant idea to try and gain some ground on the whole “getting some rest” concept. Naps are nice. But rest is not what I really needed. Needing rest is only a symptom. I could have slept all day and still that which is at the core of my somnambulism would remain unchanged; severely restless, relentless, dark and shifty like shadows at dusk, thrashing around chewing my head from the inside out. None of this may make any sense. Expect disjointed thought, non-linear timelines and contradictory assessments.

I’m starting to doubt. No. I’ve been on the cusp of full-blown doubt. Doubt in myself, my marriage, my faith, humanity, everything. I’m starting to lose hope in having hope. I’m starting to wonder what it means to have faith and I’m crumbling under not having any answers for my broken, fragmented questions that half the time I have trouble articulating through the splinters and sawdust they’ve created and the other half of the time I feel completely inadequate to know what to ask. It’s like I’m being undone and I’m literally feeling held together by a little glue, some tape and a few staples. At some point all this undoing gets rebuilt, right?

My world is unrecognizable. Blinding. Exhausting. Unbelievably amazing and frightening. I’m scared. Horribly frightened. If I accept the reality of what is going on around me, then that means things will change. Forever? Good? Bad? I don’t have a clue.

I’ve discovered that I’m not dead; that I’m not a tin-can, or an appliance with nicely tuned gears and crisp set of instructions. But I’m not sure yet if I’m fully alive. There are moments, sporadic moments of uncanny clarity and glimpses of something far better than my day-to-day goings-on but the past month or maybe more has me wondering if I’m stuck somewhere in the in between. I have so much to learn still about myself and the things I’ve buried and boxed away; about the things which make my blood boil and the things which capture my fancies stopping me in my tracks. I have much to learn about love and feelings I swore I’d never expose again out of a sense of mutated self-preservation. I love my wife with every molecule of love I’m capable of bestowing to her and I’m learning that it hurts like hell. Most days it seems like I don’t know her… at least, I don’t yet know who she’s becoming or who she has become. It seems like she’s lightyears ahead of me and I’m burning up trying to catch up. Or, maybe there’s nothing new to really know and just a whole lot more to re-learn. She’s amazing; so full of life; strong. But she says she’s broken. I think I might have a slight clue of what that feels like.

A storm recently ripped through our little home, turning everything inside out leaving us with piles upon piles of stuff that we’d just packed away. A bunch of stale, dusty feelings and memories, nightmares and seething, volatile monsters that individually we had hidden from the air, from the light. Jen embarked on a journey and is trying to hang on to a hurricane that has taken her dead-center through the valleys of the shadows of death. Her journey has forced me to evaluate my own skeletons and zombies — things I was so sure that I’d extradited from my mind and heart — only to catch them creeping up through cracks in the floor. They are like eerie shadows passing by limestone encrusted windows I can’t quite see out of. I expected to deal with garbage from her journey, but I was totally unprepared for the way it haunts and torments me. I thought I was a rock. Some days I am. Some days I’m a goddamned tank and other days I’m the unfortunate soul trapped under the treads.

Braving the storm, she made it to the point of no return. You know, that point where you suddenly realize the cost of the journey just as paralysis, like a virus, does its damnedest to secure a tactical advantage? I suppose we made it to the point of no return — a side effect of being cleaved with someone is the sharing of all the paths covered, uncovered or discovered along the way; marriage is like that, or should be like that. “We can’t go back to how things were, that would be living a lie.” she’s said before. Agreed. And she’s not always sure she has the courage to keep pushing forward into the darkness that just seems to hover around these parts. I’m not sure sometimes if I can bear her taking another step because with each determined, carefully placed step into the void she pulls us both closer to that which has tried and is trying to destroy her, to destroy me, and it scares the shit out of me. But, as long as she somehow musters the strength (wether it be given to her or born from inside) and dares to step in further, I know that same source will in my complete ignorance give me either the courage or the blindness to be right beside her, cheering her on, widening her path, our path, as needed… one step at a time.

Its going to take quite a few steps to make it through this and the hope of a lush, healthy life on the other side is powerful enough to draw us through all the garbage and decay and rotting, infested and infected pieces of ourselves. My life story is riddled with selfish and lustful and self-righteous and hollow and dishonest moments and I’ve drowned myself over and over again in self pity and I’ve hidden my shame and buried myself behind a facade of some lame-ass ideal. I’m trying to embrace my past mistakes and current state of brokenness because I’ve seen first-hand how powerful it can be… while she has been used and abused, neglected, tossed aside, molested, raped, drugged, thrashed, jacked up and left outside for dead somehow this beautiful woman wakes up every morning by my side and makes it through her day mothering and loving our three precious children and loving me and even carries a smile and a light in her eyes most of the time. Don’t mistake these words. She is human and would say herself that she fails daily. But we set such high expectations of ourselves we often cannot see the obvious that others can’t help seeing. She’s exhausted and burnt, but she’s strong… stronger than she thinks and she fights for what’s right.

God has reached down and grabbed me and saved me out of the muck and the mire and he continues to free and protect me from the destructive threads of darkness my heart was born with. He’s rescued her from the clutches of hell on earth; from the edge of obliteration and from the sharp, obsidian shards which lie in wait in the hearts of most men and she knows it. She knows grace in a more intimate and much deeper way than I’ll ever know. Her faith is monumental in my life. Her understanding of God’s grace and mercy has taught me empathy and how to love, and how to forgive. Though, I wonder sometimes if she’s ever forgiven herself. There are things we cannot change or avoid — life just grabs us and throws us down for reasons only God himself knows, but other things we could have steered clear of… those circumstances and situations and consequences we find ourselves in come down to conscious decisions we make. But even in those disheartening and disobedient times, God still loves to forgive us… that’s not the hard part. I’d venture to say that accepting the forgiveness freely poured out by the absolute spotlessness of the blood of Jesus is cake if you think about it. It feels good to think he washed us white as snow. I don’t mean to downplay his sacrifice AT ALL, but forgiving ourselves… now that’s a beast of a thing to do.

Two nights ago I was in the mountains and I looked up at the sky and saw some stars and thought, “Oh, wow. I forgot about stars.” Then I shielded my gaze from the glare of a nearby porch light and instantly the sky exploded with a zillion points of ancient light. The immediate and only complete thought I could muster in that moment was, “But she’s so much more than that, God. These stars are amazing and they don’t compare.” I think in that moment… in that strike of a synapse in my head I understood the significance of being alive… of being created by that which made everything. The vastness and sheer endlessness of the universe that night had zero effect on making me feel tiny and meaningless. As if for a brief sliver in the time stream of my life I got it… I understood God’s love for me and that those stars, all those stars, were made for me. For us. For all of us. That all creation was made for us. And then it dissipated. The questions came flooding back once the dam had cracked and collapsed releasing fathoms of deep, deep heavy sorrow and rage and despair and more questions.

Sometimes I make myself sick thinking about who knows how many assholes have done what to her and through the torrents of vomit and my misguided accusations against God for not stopping things from happening to her, up it gurgles, my crushing blow, my one silver bullet: the question of what number I am to her and that knocks me down to my knees with my face in the dirt and my heart in my mouth shredding through my teeth and my hands fisted and armed for bloody revenge and angry justice. Eventually though… not as quick as I’d like, and not nearly as loud as I hope, I hear a whisper against the raging waters of, well, rage and sorrow and putrescence with an answer. With thee answer. “One. You are the only one who loved her first, who loves her so purely, so deeply, so completely that she is sanctified through your love for her.” I know this because God said this:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
Found in Ephesians, chapter 5, verses 25-27

It’s then I crumble [again] and submit my fears and worries to God [again] and accept the adorable gift he’s given to me [again]. It is then that I find myself more in love with her and so in awe of God and the way he designed the canyons of the heart to only be satiated by certain things and I get so horribly taken by her that I realize what we have is not normal. It is not common. It cannot be found, or stumbled upon, stolen or searched out. It was planted in us and cultivated, for us. It was given to us, this gift and burden of loving each other. This is my spin cycle. This is why I cannot sleep very well lately. This rift in my head with her pain and my pain and the darkness on one side and forgiveness and redemption and brilliance on the other. Constantly.

While up in the mountains, I was part of a conversation with a few guys and one of them said, “When you asked [her] to marry you, that’s the exact same thing as saying, “Not only do I accept you, I forgive you.” I had never thought about that before and after just learning that the covenant of marriage is intended to be a direct parable of Jesus and us, his church, his bride, that comment solidified for me what the parable of marriage is: Past, present, future forgiveness for each other and dedication and devotion to loving one another and the selfless, unconditional giving of grace and mercy.

Wait. Did you catch that? “Just as Christ loved the church…” I’ve been asking myself what that means. I’ve been sifting through the question that statement invokes: How do I love my wife just as Jesus loves me? That sounds like an impossible thing to do. Like a heavy and burdensome impossible directive. A while ago when she was setting down to bed she thanked me for my help that day with the house, the kids, and whatever else I did that meant something to her and in whole sincerity I told her, “All I have to give is yours.” which to her was cause for alarm, which broke my heart and made me so sad. She knows grace and forgiveness, but does she understand love? Does she know what I mean when I tell her I love her? Sometimes I’m not sure. How can she? I’m just starting to grasp what it means to love my wife… it means that I’d die in her place; that I’d do everything in my power to save her and lift her up; that I desire to be with her so badly that I’d defy death just to hold her tightly. And when she doesn’t know how to accept my love, I wait, patiently, with open arms for the moments when she might catch a glimpse. God’s command for me to love my wife as Christ loved the church creates incredible freedom to give Jen every bit of who I am and what I have to give. I’m learning little by little how to do this. I screw up and fail and I keep trying.

There’s still a disconnect, a sort of crossed wires effect that messes with me. This is the monster chewing my head into splinters and my heart into pulp. This is the beast who lives in the rift that keeps me from resting and relentlessly torments my thoughts and ability to trust and function. It’s “touch.” Physical touch. It’s my band-aid, my recharger, my pain-killer and my caffeine, my crutch and my kryptonite. Why, God did you make my primary mode of experiencing and receiving love through the one sense my wife has the hardest time with? How come with one intentional caress of her hand, or a single embrace, or a lingering kiss, or the passionate moments when we are whole am I suddenly validated as a person, husband, man, friend, lover, and parent? Am I selfish for thinking this? Am I horrible and rude and wrong and a sicko for wanting this? Is this war I find myself in only in my head and so far from reality? Who can I even talk to about this? Who’s going to understand that the one thing I crave, that’s built into the core of who I am, is the one thing intentionally or unintentionally withheld; the one thing with the power to feed me to oblivion? It’s not that I feel unwanted… just… not wanted. I miss the electricity in our glances and the acceptance of her gaze. I crave the promises remembered in her kiss. It pains me to think that she feels these things too and we hover in stasis next to each other, but it kills me to think that she shuts them off. Who has been in my shoes and can point me onward? Who is there to say, “Come on, son. It’s this way… this is the season where your patience and love are her jewels, not your passions and desires and she’ll be alright and you’ll make it. Don’t let go. There are streams to rest by along the way and there are parts where you won’t be able to tell where the path is. There are some big rocks to climb around and some areas where if you let go, you’ll plunge to your death, so be sure to hold on tight until you can get your footing again.”

I’ve no resistance to climbing a mountain, or two or ten. Bring them on! But which path leads to the top instead of the desolate hidden valley or the sheer drop halfway through, or the one that ends at the mouth of the cave? Where is the guide who knows what I don’t here in the foothills? She’s worth everything to me and these questions and fears and my monsters are pinning me down while her monsters are stealing her away. I went to the mountains hoping to find a guide, but scared out of my skin to ask.

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