12.31.10

Get it out

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:16 pm by Administrator

you’re preoccupied. watching starcraft 2 replays on youtube. starting books and forgetting where you stopped, somewhere in the first chapter. you look through the movie listings for a diversion, you think through all the things you might be doing, and you feel unimpressed. you read a news article and get angry. you feel restless, like you have to beat someone at something. but you win something unimportant, and it just makes you feel more displaced. there’s something missing. there’s something wrong.

find what it is. Get it out.

once, there were perfect moments. they were sometimes sad, sometimes happy; they were perfect because they made everything clear. leland’s funeral, for instance, and the week in West Virginia that followed. Halloween with Elaine during senior year. the last day of freshman year in Cambridge, when the sun set behind the Union. with Andrew, i found the Cliff of the Stone above Gimmelwald, the spot on the Seine, the Scottish hills at twilight framed by the soundtrack of BBC 1. won ho and i would ski the short icy trails of Blue Mountain and eat Long River after a long day. once, it started to rain in the middle of a pick-up basketball game on a North Philly playground; we stood under an overhang and watched it pour over the whole city.

i had terrifying call nights with Nguyen and Piccini; i’ll never forget my bachelor party at Red Maple with Reza, Nguyen, Kim, everyone. Sandy and I bought a house; we got pregnant; we had a boy. isaac ate snow off the side of our trash can. Baltimore was full of painful moments; but it was full of perfect moments.

it has been three years. i don’t know why. i feel displaced, often tired. i feel my blood pressure rise or fall, or i feel bloated and strangely unwell. the moments never exist for themselves, as hard as i try. we travel, and i want to go home. we’re home, and i want to travel. i look for perfect moments, but they don’t come anymore. and the weather—the weather is always the same. when it rains, i rejoice; but the rain goes away, and nothing has changed. what i fear is that perfect moments only happen to a heart that is ready for them; and for some reason, my heart has changed.

i think that the difference now is that before i used to take it to heart; i used to know, in that powerful intuitive sense of knowing, that i would never relive what i was presently experiencing. this conviction lent an almost premature nostalgia to the memories i was creating. perhaps during my intense struggles with depression over the last two years, i lost this nostalgia. i do not believe myself to be depressed any longer; but i cannot erase the belief i have come to over my period of depression, the belief that there is no tenderness to life any longer. life is labor; life is process; life is struggle. ultimately, this life is the foreshadowing of real living, that thing that i will discover after death. i can’t savor the moments the way i once did because i no longer yearn for their prolonging; in a very real sense, i have decided that i want all the moments to pass, and to pass surely.

Get it out then. you crave a perfect moment, to bring clarity to a difficult and turbulent time. but no perfect moment presents itself. you face the prospect of spaces waiting to be filled; time expecting to be passed; age waiting to be awarded with meaning. life does not present itself as the irresistible, sweet temptation. the moments must be wrested from life; they must be wrested by force of will and imagination. and though you are still a young man in some ways, you are already tired at the prospect of this work. and it wearies you more, because you know that creating perfect moments might the hardest and most important work of all.

today, you are not happy or unhappy. you just wish to be impressed. i tell you, this longing is a true one. this is the real living. you want to get it out of yourself, but it is what you are. this—the questions, the doubting, the fearing, the emptiness—this is the living, and, like love, it takes everything that you are willing to give

12.29.10

The Man in Big Pine

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:59 pm by Administrator

whatever i might believe about myself or my life, the reality of what i am came into focus on Monday afternoon during our trip home from Mammoth. we were stopped in Big Pine at a bakery. a man insulted my family and me, and i was put to a decision.

the bakery was quite busy. there was a seating area with about half a dozen tables crammed together in the middle of the bakery. my father-in-law sat at one table and had his hand on the chair of the adjacent table, to claim the table for our party of ten. a man doing the same for his family sat at the table that my father-in-law was trying to save. he told my father-in-law to take his hand off the chair. “Dude,” he said. “Stop grabbing the chair.” he repeated this, in a tone of voice that immediately attracted my attention. the tone of his voice was beyond rude; it was frankly condescending.

for ten minutes, my family ate at our tables while the man sat alone at the table he had claimed. when his family came to the table, he said out loud, “Thank God. I was feeling like Clint Eastwood in Gran Turino here!” his family laughed. to make space for them, he swung his chair in our direction and backed it straight into my father-in-law’s seat. my father-in-law did not seem to notice the imposition. he readjusted his seat and kept on eating.

i was the only one of my party who heard his comment; in fact, I’d been watching him closely for the prior ten minutes, as I’d already been sensitized to his attitude. i understood the implication of his comment immediately. he and his family now had my full attention.

in my past experiences with racism, i’ve often been unprepared or bewildered by what i was perceiving. it sometimes took me minutes or even days to process the words or actions that seemed so bizarre at the point of contact. this incident was unique because i was processing and reacting to racist behavior in real-time. moreover, i was immediately prepared to react to it, with the full force of my anger.

there were a number of things that i contemplated doing in the minutes that followed that comment. verbal violence was my first thought. i had it in mind to stand up and call the man out on his blatant disrespect. physical violence was my second thought. there was a metal napkin dispenser on my tabletop, and i experienced a sudden vision of myself crushing it onto the back of the man’s head. there were other less overtly harmful things i could do to this man which i contemplated. i could spit on his neck. i could pour a drink on his head. i could push my food into his face, shove the smush of my pastry down his throat. i thought over many options with almost cool calculation as i studied the back of the man’s head. i studied his family too. his wife and i looked at each other. she turned away. i kept staring at her, thinking over my options.

my wife came over to see if i’d eaten, and that’s when i realized that i’d stopped eating because i’d lost my appetite. i told her that i had to leave because the man at the table next to us was pissing me off. again, at that very moment, i thought about raising my voice and provoking the man. instead, i left it at that, and i walked out.

i’ve often wondered what i would do in a situation like that. i’ve previously believed that the only thing that would restrain me from physical violence would be fear: fear of suffering harm, fear of legal repercussions, fear of not being effective in causing sufficient injury. but in Big Pine, i was not afraid of the repercussions. i longed to cause a scene; i was ripe for an altercation. i was tired, angry, and ready for a fight. everything was in place for me to go after the man. strangely, what held me back was something very much unexpected. it was empathy.

the man, after all, was tired. he’d had his face in his hands for minutes before his family arrived at the table. he was literally a redneck; he was flushed and looked exhausted from the labor of a Christmas weekend trip. he’d been barking orders at his son across the room, in the sort of voice that said that he was not able or willing to compromise on anything. despite the hostility i felt for him, i could realize that there was something that we had in common, here on the tail end of a frenetic Christmas weekend.

an idea crossed my mind too, even while i was savoring all the violent possibilities at my disposal. once upon a time, this towering white man of forty-five years of age was once small and vulnerable, much like his children. he’d been on the receiving end of rage that he could not explain. he’d suffered from the accusations and anger of other men in his life, things that had troubled him even as they’d become a part of him. i could see that this man was in a weakened state and that he was expressing things that he had no conscious explanations for. he was not in control. beneath all of my hatred, i felt a connection with this man. the racist in me understood the racist in him. the rage i felt against him became a reflection of the shame i have for my own self. i left, because the only things that could transpire in that place were futile and saddening things.

it is true that i have become a different man in many outward respects. i’ve taken on new employment, new responsibilities, new expectations. i’ve owned up to the fact that i cannot sustain even my own marriage without help. but as much as my visible life has transformed, my internal life has been a mystery to me. i have been struggling to discern whether or not my character has changed, underneath the turmoil of life circumstances. the man in Big Pine gave me a moment in time where i lost my future, my past, and the awareness of every other person in that room, save for this man and myself. in that still and frozen moment, i saw what i have become.

as i was with francis chan, i continue to be capable of overstepping my bounds, coming to exaggerated conclusions, and acting out of my rawest emotions. i have a hard time controlling my tongue. i am often still a prisoner to my passions, and i exercise poor judgment. but in a moment when all of my weaknesses should have converged and prompted me to the worst kind of destruction, i realized that another being was right there with me, forcing my eyes to account for different things, disrupting my natural tendencies. God did not have to say anything. He was just there; and as much as i struggled against his grip, i could not resist Him. i left the restaurant because God left me no choice.

there are so many ways to handle a man. you can discipline him when he is wrong; you can hurt or even kill him, if necessary. you can try to persuade him with words, or you can corner him with logic. you can be patient and hope in his change. you can support him with encouragement and love. it takes wisdom to know which of all these possibilities is the best one, in any given situation. i didn’t know how to handle this man, because i lack wisdom. but i recognize how God handled me, because He knows what i am, and because He knows that i know Him. there is a part of me that has changed because of the way God has handled me, time and time again over the years. if i could only learn a little about his healing touch, then i might know enough not only to control myself but also to bring life into the lives of others.

i am humbled by the fact of my ignorance and by the steadfast wisdom of my God. it looks to be the pattern of my life, and i embrace it, in the hope that i might not be a disservice to my Lord. today, i ask God to forgive me for what i am. i plead with Him to finish the work that He has started so that He might take pleasure in what becomes of me, and so that i might borrow from His pleasure and thus be pleased indeed

12.24.10

A Contrast

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:10 pm by Administrator

Over the past four days, I’ve received links to two prominent stories about two very different Christian leaders. The first, forwarded to me by my wife, was posted on CNN about the former pastor Francis Chan; the second, forwarded to me this morning by my friend Carl, was posted in the Baltimore Sun about Allan Tibbels. I’ve pasted the two links below:

http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2010/12/22/%E2%80%9Cchristian-famous%E2%80%9D-pastor-quits-his-church-moves-to-asia/

http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2010-06-03/news/bs-md-ob-allan-tibbels-20100603_1_mr-tibbels-sandtown-habitat-allan-tibbels

my wife forwarded me the first article about Francis Chan because his face happens to be the Facebook profile pic of my good friend Won Ho, who bears some resemblance to the Chinese-American pastor. i read the article not knowing too much about Francis Chan. i came away from the article still not knowing too much about Francis Chan.

i was however impressed by a few quotes delivered by the former pastor of Cornerstone church, a 4,000-person “megachurch” in Southern California, which Mr. Chan recently departed from for reasons which he hinted at in the article. he was quoted as saying “I just want to disappear for a while”; “I don’t want to be a jerk and tune everyone out”. i was also intrigued by the fact that at the time of his departure he was not receiving a salary from the church, and in the history of his leadership of Cornerstone, he’s never taken a salary of more than $36,000 a year.

last night, i was out with my wife for a movie (”True Grit”, which i would not recommend any more than “Black Swan”). over dinner, i began to spew out my customary unformed verbal diarrhea of reactions about the Francis Chan story. for one thing, i could tell that CNN found it intriguing that a “Christian famous” pastor was leaving a very successful ministry for some sort of uncharted territory; it rings of Zen asceticism, the sort of spirituality that we all like to romanticize. and wow! this author of two NYT best-sellers wasn’t taking a salary from Cornerstone. and for another thing, Mr. Chan wasn’t basking in the attention. Christ-like humility was driving him away from the pulpit to something more “authentic”, perhaps.

to me, it was all very anger-provoking. i’ll admit that i don’t know much about Francis Chan. what i gathered from the article is that there are probably very few people who really know Francis Chan, outside of his outward semblance on the pulpit; this is probably part of the reason that he left the ministry. what i do know is that he left his congregation because he couldn’t love them. in the context of this decision, i wonder if, in retrospect, he never took a significant salary from the church because he was never invested in the ministry. one who works for free in a position that is salaried for most is making a statement. he is saying that he is offering his services out of grace. to me, this, and the decision that Francis Chan made, shows me that he is at heart a personal mystic, not a shepherd of the flock.

contrast this story with that of Allan Tibbels. the Baltimore Sun obit that i read this morning provided such a sharp contrast to the story of Mr. Chan that it veritably left me speechless. for one thing, the article provided only one brief quote issued by Tibbels, and this was from a 2004 interview with the Sun. i believe that the obit couldn’t garner any other quotes, either from that 2004 interview or otherwise, because Tibbels really never said much that most would consider noteworthy. he never published a book; he never made a great speech about his work in the Baltimore inner city.

Allan Tibbels, like Francis Chan, had either the curse or luxury—whichever you choose to call it—of recognizing the extent of his influence in his community. major political leaders including Jimmy Carter brought attention to the plight of his community and the specific work that Tibbels was doing—the work of feeding the homeless, putting young children through school, living with the dispossessed, and becoming part of a community troubled by violence, drugs, and poverty. but Tibbels never allowed the attention or the potential fame to change his course or change his mind about his work. Tibbels never left. he moved to Sandtown in 1986, and he stayed until his death.

to me, the stories about Chan and Tibbels demonstrate two aspects of Christian leadership that i find intriguing. on the one hand, Chan for me reflects ‘influence’—the intellectual sort of influence, expressed in ideas delivered in conferences, sermons, and publishable books. on the other hand, Tibbels demonstrates a Christianity of transformative ‘relationship’—the interpersonal sort of influence that demonstrates commitment, loyalty, and perseverance. i believe that i was confronted this week by the stories of both men to come to a conclusion about this contrast. and in light of my emotional reactions to these stories, i think that my conclusion is clear.

for most of my life, i’ve wanted a ‘Francis Chan’ kind of life. i’ve wanted to be on the national stage, authoring books, being “cutting-edge”, challenging assumptions, and being admired for my intellectual prowess. i’ve wanted the flip-side of that too—being smarter than everyone else, so that i didn’t have to explain why i have to leave or try new and more interesting things. i’ve wanted a life that wasn’t bogged down by complainers, by people craving attention, by pedestrian demands. my sort of spirituality was an ethereal spirituality.

but then there is Tibbels, who was Christ incarnate for the people that God brought to him. for how can a man share of his home, his money, and his family without also sharing his soul? people knew Allan Tibbels. i believe that in heaven there will be countless souls who will recognize him and the immutable work of God in his life; for them, he will forever be a central aspect of Christ. this is the better work. Allan Tibbels was never ordained as a pastor, but in many ways he was the shepherd of his flock that his peer in Southern California failed to become.

i understand that i’ve made a construct out of Francis Chan, in the same way that i’ve created a symbol out of Allan Tibbels. but this is what we do with the lives of the saints; this is what we must do when we look into the biblical accounts. we must reduce the lives of our forefathers and peers in ways that we can understand, so that we can realize ourselves, so that we can go the next step and then surrender ourselves. i believe this morning that the stories of these two men were given to me this week so that i might view them in light of each other, and choose the better way

12.22.10

the new year

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:07 pm by Administrator

as i’ve been praying more in the past few days, i’ve sensed God lending me a new perspective, for my comfort and understanding. His message to me has been simple: remember that you are not what you seem to be. to myself, i would seem to be a family man, a working man, a church-going man. to God, i am none of these things; nor am i bound by space and time.

even two years ago, i was very much defined by my responsibilities—financial, social, familial. for many years, these responsibilities were like shackles around my neck; i believed them to be both arbitrary and burdensome. last year with the help of the men’s group, i began to explore whether my process of adaptation was genuine; the conclusion that i discovered is that i must transcend the banal, not adapt to it. earlier this year when i lost my job, this realization crystallized. i realized that employment in itself is not necessary, nor is it my obligation, and nor is it a gift. a job, like everything in life, is not fundamental; it requires an underlying purpose—the kind that only God can bequeath, by grace.

this holiday season is not like other holiday seasons. i do not see my life as i once did. i do not define myself by my relationship to my father, nor do i feel obligated to him; i do not feel beholden to my job or to the salary it affords me; i do not fear poverty or chance; i do not ponder retirement or death. both future and past have become constructs to me in ways that they never were before. i do not fear change, because i have come to depend on change and to find hope in it. what i fear now is not failure but rather disability and pain. but even in this fear, i recognize that these things are just vessels for change, and the idea of health is so protean as to be futile. even the dreams and ambitions i once had no longer strike me as necessary. i recognize that i have no time or energy to write a book or a movie, for example; and i think it’s possible that i never will.

in short, i carry fewer burdens than i once did. my personal process once used to be about self-realization and potentiation, but is this not the general curse of youth? i’m content now to abandon this pursuit and to embrace life for the inevitably incomplete thing that it will be. there is too much injustice and suffering, and there is too little time to sort it all out. it is vanity to believe that i will come to a point of real understanding about any of it. the angst is unnecessary. i trust that i will live where God places me, and i trust that in my pursuit of Him i will come closer to seeing the reflection of His identity in the evolution of my own. i trust that i am coming to know Him. for me, this is faith in God.

this will not be a sentimental New Year. i will not light any candles or make any resolutions. i am uninterested in any promises i could make, nor do i wish more or better for my life. what i want to do is to acknowledge, to the best of my ability, that indeed God is at work in my life; and i want to celebrate the fact that i can see Him now—the patterner, the architect, the faithful friend. i will tell Him in my own words that i do not know what i am anymore, nor do i need to. i will submit to His knowledge of what i am to become. i will close my eyes and empty my thoughts; i will become as nothing

12.20.10

The Personal Devotional Life

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:13 pm by Administrator

for the last few months, my public life has been a whirlwind, and my private life has been a mystery to me. i’ve gone for weeks without memorable, poignant prayer—the kind that i used to have at least a couple of times a week. i have a hard time feeling personal connection with God. i have a hard time remembering the last time we actually shared an intimate moment. and, at the same time, i have to admit that throughout this interval, i have been free of obsessional thinking and largely liberated from my prior pattern of morose reflection. i have not been praying—but i have been very content to live out my life.

there is some goodness in the pattern that i’m living. being connected to people and stretched by my responsibilities to them has shown me aspects of myself that have transformed my self-concept; i’ve begun to realize my strengths, my giftings, and my value to community in new ways. i’ve been relying more on the counsel of others, which has helped to erode my core characteristic of self-sufficient individuality. embracing leadership roles has essentially broken the personal boundaries that once confined me. i like the person that i’m becoming; i’m less stubborn and dogmatic, and i’m a better listener than i once was. i’ve found ways to take the intense self-loathing i once had and work it out in positive ways through my many interpersonal relationships.

but there is something missing. when the men’s group leaders did the Labyrinth together a few weeks ago, i experienced something emotionally overwhelming during that strangely solitary experience. Dan believes that this reaction signified an intense and unmet need for personal fellowship with God. i’ve been wrestling with this idea, because intuitively i believe it to be true, even if i cannot identify what it is exactly in my life that is going wrong.

it has been raining constantly in L.A., perhaps for the past week without respite, and the skies remain overcast. i’ve enjoyed the weather. in the past, the grey days engendered dark sentiments of brooding; but amid my present circumstances, the cold and wet weather has strangely been a comfort to me. the clouds have shielded me from the scrutiny of the heavens; the creeping cold of night has only reinforced the comforts of home; and the necessity of coats and umbrellas has created personal spaces within public spaces. in short, the weather has driven my thoughts inward, at a time in my life when i’ve been unable to do so myself. the weather has created intimate spaces where i was once invaded by everything and everyone.

this morning on the way to work, i realized, for the first time in a long time, that God was really with me, both present and manifest. i told Him many things, and He said nothing in reply—but it was an attentive sort of silence, the kind that i’ve come to associate with His listening way. i told Him that it is not enough for me to fulfill a role in the body, or to do well with the gifts i’ve been given, or to be connected to the church. it is not enough for me to live out a public faith. because no matter what, the deepest delight in God is one that i experience only when i am in powerful, intimate communion with His person. and despite what i’ve come to believe about God’s vision for the church, i have received this faith in the context of my conviction that one can only worship if one personally and deeply receives God in his everyday life. outside of this singular relationship, every other activity of my life is a shadow of something; every good and charitable action carries meaning only for a little while.

i crave you God. in these days, the earth receives the passion of the sky unremittingly; in response, the flowers and trees spread out their arms, to be clothed in silent but verdant wonder. there are no great spectacles, no extravagant words. the rain carries no poetry, no lofty intentions; it carries nothing but feeling, a feeling of the heavens for the substance of the world. God, i receive you. i have no apologies, no supplications, no understanding that i can articulate. but i tell you that it is not my ambition to do anything on this earth except to please you with my innermost thoughts and to worship you with the little that i have. i surrender to you my fleeting life. i hope that we will spend our days together, what few remain; i hope that you will know today, as always, that i know no love except what i feel for you

12.17.10

black swan—the unintended black comedy

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:00 pm by Administrator

sandy, grace, and i tried to catch aronofsky’s new movie “Black Swan” a week ago at our favorite theater, only to find that it was sold out. movies are never sold out at this theater. clearly, the hype for Swan was in full effect long before the L.A. opening.

i was guardedly optimistic about the movie as well, as i consider myself an Aronofsky sympathizer. i can’t truly call myself an Aronofsky “fan”, because i’m not an unqualified admirer of his work. “The Wrestler” was very interesting, even if it was not ground-breaking by any means; “The Fountain” was a true failure of execution, though its vision was impressive.

what i like about Aronofsky is that he commits himself fully to an aesthetic. for example, he won’t simply depict pain; he’ll explicate the pain with the rawest of images and words, so that the pain is palpable for the audience. he won’t simply describe grief. he’ll reflect the grief, dig into the sensation, and force it to evolve, so that the experience of it is nothing less than vivid. aronofsky is not subtle, but he is meticulous, thorough, and thoroughly invested.

i saw black swan last night. in every respect, it was a classic aronofsky product. it was visceral, visually extreme, and consistently intense. in fact, it was so demonstrative in these respects that it was theatrical, in the comical sort of way. i started laughing about halfway through the film, and i simply couldn’t reengage the film thereafter. there is always a point at which drama turns into melodrama, which then turns into farce. had Aronofsky been self-aware enough to make a few choice modifications to the script, “Swan” might have actually succeeded as a black comedy; as it is, it fails as a thriller, as a character-driven drama, and as a movie about the ballet.

this is not to say that there was nothing redeeming about the movie. natalie portman, generally a fairly limited actress, did have one very interesting scene near the finish, in which she and her makeup artists actually succeeded in depicting something of a personality transformation for her character. the physical details—close-ups of feet, ankles, and faces—were excellent, as they always are with aronofsky. but the dialogue was utterly unmemorable; the recurrent self-induced injuries/bleeding/hallucinations became both predictable and superfluous; and not a single character in the movie proved to be compelling. as a result, the only conclusion about the film that one could rightly make after viewing it was that it was a graphic movie about psychosis and self-mutilation. this might work in the genre of campy Japanese horror; it is not my cup of tea.

12.12.10

Marriage

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:38 am by Administrator

it has been quite a while since i’ve last written, mainly because i’ve had so much on my plate that even blogging (the closest thing i have to a devotional life) has been totally impossible for me. between hosting family for Thanksgiving, my Spanish immersion course, two illnesses, and the multitude of ongoing church meetings, i have been struggling to keep it together. in times like these, generally the thing that is most tested in my life is the strength of my marriage.

over the past week when various stresses in my life were peaking, my wife was frantically getting her final papers and grading finished. essentially, we’ve had to balance Isaac between us, and she’s been doing most of the childcare labor. at first, we were sniping a bit at each other about who was doing enough for the other person; by mid-week we were sharing living quarters but more or less doing our own things; and then two nights ago we had a full-blown argument which took us two full days to resolve. at the end of it, i had to admit that i have been feeling invalidated and unappreciated as a husband and father; and she admitted that she has been feeling helpless, marginalized, and overburdened. we talked it through and decided in the end that what we needed to start doing was actually sitting down to dinner, all three of us. we haven’t actually shared dinner in this manner for months.

the most striking part of our conversation today was when we both acknowledged that in some ways we are fundamentally incompatible. our argument this week exploded in the midst of powerful stressors, but the issues underlying our conflict have been consistently present throughout our 6-year relationship. i have consistently felt my wife incapable of genuinely empathizing with me; and she has consistently found me self-absorbed. in this particular manner i realize that we are reenacting the central conflict that has marred the relationship between my own parents over their past 35 years together. obviously, this frightens me, as i do not want my marriage relationship to end up like theirs.

as time has gone on, our sense of being on “different wavelengths” has only increased, partly because the stakes of our disagreements have become much higher. as sandy’s career takes shape and isaac’s needs become more pronounced, the burdens we have to bear together as a family become heavier; and the price of mutual unhappiness carries a far greater toll. i’ve realized that the problem of incompatibility will not simply go away. we must recognize that the issue of our incompatibility is one which we must continually adjust to or compensate for.

and yet, despite how clear the nature of our incompatibility has become, the manifestations of it have become very concrete and somewhat predictable as well. we can sense the limits of our ability to support each other. we can recognize the situations within which we are likely to experience misunderstanding and conflict. we can minimize these situations and adapt to them. our specific incompatibility has not been a deal-breaker in our marriage because we have adjusted our needs for each other accordingly. we’ve done this without so much articulation or intention; we’ve done this because we’ve had to, in order to survive.

i used to believe that receiving empathy and understanding at a certain level would be critical to my happiness in marriage. i realize however that i am married to a woman who has become adept at predicting my actions and reactions but without any fundamental understanding of where these come from. it is hard work for my wife to grasp the roots of my feelings. on the other hand, i’ve met a number of other women to whom this sort of situational understanding comes very easily. in bad times, i often wonder why it wasn’t God’s will to match me with another “blue” person (in personality test jargon), with whom i might have had much more natural emotional chemistry. but over the past two years, i’ve begun to recognize that it was a calculated decision by God not to match me with a more “natural” companion. i’ve begun to celebrate the non-intuitive but nevertheless resonant idea that my wife is the single person that God has designated for me as my partner, as the vessel of a sanctifying, beautifying work in my life. and, in converse, i’ve increasingly found the authority to assert myself as the vessel of the very same God-given miraculous work in the life of my wife, even when i recognize that in many ways i am not the man best suited for her sensibilities.

compatibility is a powerful concept. people divorce over incompatibility of various kinds—physical, emotional, communicational. my wife and i have some basic incompatibility in all three of these respects, and yet i recognize that this incompatibility is not by any means the last word in our relationship. in fact, i like my wife and i love her more when i recognize that we are being hewn together by distinct and imposed intention, not for companionship but rather for a miraculous work. like everything else in my life, i’m coming to recognize that i am not well-suited for this particular marriage, and nevertheless it is succeeding by the grace of God.

today is my wife’s birthday. she doesn’t brood over things the way i do; she doesn’t feel pain the way i do; she doesn’t understand my moods or my nuances. but she is a fantastic person, and she is constantly funny to me in all sorts of random and inexplicable ways, and i cannot suppress laughter when i think of her. she brings life into my life, and she makes me and my son very happy. she believes in the power and value of my life, and she multiplies my spiritual energy by the power of her own faith. among many women, she is unique in her sincerity, goodness, insight, and even keel, and i thoroughly enjoy what she is. she is 32; she looks and acts like someone 10 years younger, but she has the wisdom and heart of someone far older. i celebrate my wife. of all the other women i could have shared my life with, God gave me the right woman in His eyes, and that is enough for me.