finding the motherlode

– mining for a vein of truth in the stuff that matters –

Category: relationships

this road whereupon we agree


DSC00405John Wolford Road

________________________________

 Let me walk with you,

this road will take us places.

“But it’s long, my view is obscured, I cannot see…”

Then we will take turns following.

 (And we also have found this to be true: Agreement is formed in times of need)

 If you have borne the burden in the heat of the day

driven like a madman for mercy’s sake

 gathered up a bowl of ginkgo leaves

 and seen winter’s bruisings pass into spring

— and if I witnessed your faith when you prayed,

“Perhaps healing will come anyway” — 

then you have proven something to me:

Persistence is a hand that reaches up

and guidance too is a term that forms,

burrowing deep in the conscience —

protecting, 

sustaining, 

hoping.

Where, at last,

faith is home 

 and this then is our evidence: 

Assurance.

 

Such were the steps we took

(intentionality can be painstaking, if not starkly beautiful)

knowing we’ll meet again

 but for now

these walks 

at dawn

as we watch the swan circle

and the sun through the willow

as it weeps

after dusk

locked at the hip

moving like Jacob

holding hands

until the road parts in two.

 

DSC00405

Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?

— Amos 3:3

_______________________________________

 ©2014 Elizabeth DeBarros

 

keeping time

Anthony, Corolla 2013

Anthony

_____________…_____________

There you go

stopping to stare

shovel in one hand

birds in the air

dreaming of nut trees   

“— maybe the tomatoes will be even redder this year —”

feeling full,  

knowing crops do better from tending.

___________…___________

And the boys,

used to be everything was a race.

Now, in tandem —

hardy maples, taking shape 

while you listen to the rhythm

of the lapping waves,

keeping time for the rest of us.

Is it me or do you look younger, though twice the age of when we first met?

Maybe it’s your smile

so easy, free

like that day on the altar

when our eyes

espied a glimpse 

of what began as the braiding of a sturdy cord.

Three strands:

love, our vows, and the face of God.

A marvel.

How those tiny bits of metal embedded

and where knots had once been 

instead have become 

a strand of smoothed pearls and colored stones

  nothing left between us 

but gold refined  

  in this silver cup of time. 

 

© 2014 Elizabeth DeBarros

_______________…______________

This poem I wrote for Anthony, my beloved husband of 25 years. I recited it to him before a small crowd of witnesses this past Saturday at an intimate ceremony where we renewed our marriage vows.

(An excerpt from the vows we exchanged)

 It has only become more evident, after these 25 exquisite years, that you are God’s chosen man for me, my Adam, the one I’ve been called to love and live with, to bear fruit for God, that we might glorify Him.

Today, it is my wholehearted desire to affirm the vows I first made to you on April 8, 1989, and to fulfill them all the more from this day on. As I stand here now before you and these witnesses, I am ever mindful of what took place in the Garden, and with a far deeper appreciation and keener understanding of this momentary gift, this mystery, this glorious picture of Christ and the Church, I, by God’s grace, promise to love you, honor you, help you, submit to you, and serve you all the rest my days, so help me God.

I love you, Anthony.

these, our hands

Hands
          
     


 

I rush to the water’s edge

without fear of falling in 

eternity has consumed me —

 Is this what love is? 

These, our hands —

still, I didn’t recognize them as ours.

The lines seemed untraceable 

to an earlier time

when the riverbed was full of stones 

and of all that lay ahead.

 …

Joined,

one on top of the other —

weathered 

but not beaten,

sanctified by scars

we could not do without.

Testament to what’s been wrought: 

a generation’s worth of work,

for better or worse.

 …

These, our hands —

once full of prayers

now answered

trace the lines

where no moth consumes

nor rust corrupts 

my treasure, my heart — 

 this is love.

_____________________________

Hands

©2014 Elizabeth DeBarros

This poem was first presented to my husband, Anthony, on April 8, 2014, in honor and celebration of our having lived twenty-five years together as man and wife. A milestone we share with you for your encouragement and for the glory of God.

Someone once said it takes twenty years to get to know someone. I say it takes twenty-five. And that goes for the both of us. A few things known to our minds we have come to better understand only through experience, and what are now cherished in our hearts:  

Marriage is a gift, a vestige left over from paradise. It is a crucible, where the refining  fires of God take place. And it is a cup, meant for overflowing. But grapes don’t appear overnight. The vine must first be tended, and watched. The fruit must mature and is then harvested. Time is involved.  And a winepress. So much mess! But the fermented wine is worth it.

Wine must first be mixed, then stored and aged, and finally, poured out to waft strong, imbibed as lovers and friends. And shared among friends. Over and over.

Marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church. 

Soli Deo Gloria.

session six: letter to my mother

Geraldine Mary Robertsky Clarke 

May 28, 1935  —  September 4, 2012

_________________♦_________________

Who are you apart from me? For so many years, I thought we were one and the same. Unfortunately, we made that mistake. But God, He changed all that — by setting us both free. How do I know? In my hands I hold the mirror you gave me and I see a perfect reflection of myself. Thank you.

__________________♦__________________

Mater. Madre. Mère. Mum. Mom. Mommy. Mama. Ma. Mother.

Greater than an ordinary sailing vessel, larger than a merchant ship — Mother — she exists for others. Her hull is commissioned with strength to brave the high seas of life, carrying goods from afar. She maintains the spirit of the ages, takes her cues from above, has eyes in the back of her head, and can tell a storm is coming by the way the wind blows.

Her arms are of borgana softness, providing for the heads of all her children. She remembers everything, including what she was wearing 20 years ago on a certain day. All her yesterdays are kept as memento and patina is her middle name, and by which time itself is framed. She perceives beauty even in blackness and trusts God for light when there is darkness. Her kitchen is never closed even if tomorrow is another day.

Me: But what about all those storms? 

Her: Oh, those? They were just stepping-stones to the mountains I learned to climb and the Rock I learned to cling to.  

Me: You taught me that. On my right hand I wear your wedding ring.

Her: Love endures all things.

Me: Thank you.

___________________ ♦  ___________________ 

In Letter to My Mother, Barbara Kingsolver delicately scans with a silent eye every stage of her developmental life, recounting how it was, who she was, and what she saw — from her earliest memory at 3 to her gawky adolescence and those fierce, independent college years and beyond to the time when she herself became a wife and mother — where ego’s bloom finally fell off and her arms opened wide to the realization that giving supersedes taking and love truly is possible.

She’s amazed at love, really. Amazed at how her firstborn daughter’s “tiny hand is making a delicate circle, index finger to thumb, pinkie extended…” just like hers did at eight weeks of age. Amazed at how loving and being loved by a man is not horrible and how willing she is to bear the cross that is motherhood. She celebrates the event known as coming full circle and when Mother receives her reward. Sort of. Let’s face it, the need for Mother doesn’t ever really go away. And mothers and daughters don’t ever actually retire from the mother-daughter relationship. As Kingsolver admits:

“A week past my due date you are calling every day. Steven answers the phone, holds it up, and mouths, “Your mother again.” He thinks you may be bugging me. You aren’t. I am a woman lost in the weary sea of waiting, and you are the only one who really knows where I am. Your voice is keeping me afloat. I grab the phone.”

♦   ♦   ♦

We cut our teeth on the figurehead of Mother — a developmental task that extends far beyond toddlerhood. Emotional growth is painful. But it’s teeth we need and a good mother knows that. So she offers her edge and bears the pain along with us. Cries for us, too. Then she cheers us on. Through a million and one little things, she shows her love, mirrors back to us who we are. How else can we know ourselves but through the eyes of another? Children need a face to look into to know they’re loved. And they need eyes that speak back to them, “Yes, you are loved.” Through our most significant relationships do we become that person of certain expression, disposition, demeanor, stature, spirit.

Mothers are God-given.

But I am only too aware that not everyone is fortunate enough to have been fed from the spoon of a mother’s love. Sin, brokenness, sickness, absence, narcissism, selfishness — how often the effects of the fall play their role, rob us of the good things. Inasmuch as we want her to be, expect her to be, demand her to be, Mother is not perfect. But love is. And why there is forgiveness. If we are looking to Christ, He redeems the faults. Heals the wounds. Fills the gaps. Works wonders.

Kingsolver does a masterful job in this essay at capturing and conveying vivid moments of her life and the genuine love she received from and has for her mother. She writes with depth and candor, both of which I can relate to on so many levels, except for maybe the phone call her mother made tracking her down at a remote café in Beaurieux, France. Amazing how mothers have a way of knowing. They just know.

A BIBLICAL LENS:

If there’s a single trait that binds mothers together the world over, it is the sacrifice of self.

I think of Eve, mother of all the living, and how she models for us the quintessential role — the woman of firsts: She was first to be second. First to be deceived, to feel guilt, shame, and fear for her sin. After Satan, she was first to stand before God in judgment to receive her sentence. First to receive a promise, to find mercy, to submit to her husband’s authority, to suffer pain in childbirth, to bear children, to lose a son. What did God require of her? Body, soul, and spirit, the sacrifice of self. 

And what of the other mothers who beckon to us?

Sarah was called to sacrifice many years while waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise of a sonHannah sacrificed on her knees in prayer, asking God for a son, only to give him back to the Lord. Rachel travailed and died in childbirth. Upon the angel’s announcement, Mary said, “May it be to me as you have said.”

These mothers have not flatlined somewhere in the annals of history.  By faith, we can receive from them still today, be fed from their spoon, receive instruction, emulate their character. Mother love is synonymous with sacrifice.

Our spiritual DNA is secure.

___________________________

Next Thursday: Household Words by Diana Lovegrove 

-Please share comments, quotes, Scriptures, or views below-

 

metaphor

 

Lace curtain,

French urn,

You’re an

Adirondack chair

with a touch of fresh paint —

You’re ticking stripes,

a tall glass of lemonade,

shades, straw hat, and lipstick.

You’re a slew of window boxes,

  herb garden,

  honest, overflowing, and lush.

Thirsty,

 vigorous,

changing year to year.

Candle flame in the dark,

 laying up prayers

with your heart on your sleeve,

inviting me into your arms,

laying down your crown

        at His feet.  

 

© 2012 Elizabeth DeBarros  

____________________________

Whenever I call my mother, we usually talk either about how she’s feeling, the weather, what she’s eating for dinner or what I’m cooking for ours. I then try to keep her up to date with the rapid pace of growth and production of testosterone going on at our house. She never fails to ask for everyone by name. If she’s up to it, the conversation moves into the past and we’ll land on a memory, chew it to bits, have a laugh or two. I love it when she roars. It strengthens her spirit. And mine. Other times, we’ll briefly touch on a current event, acknowledge the strong hand of God and end up praising Him together.

Today was different.

At one point, I stumbled over my words, then I didn’t have any. I just cried. Hot, sweet tears.

She let me.

And I could hear her thanking God.

bread of angels

This post was orignially written for  Doctrines in the Kitchen, a theological series compiled and published by my wonderful friend, Becky PliegoShe welcomes you there with open arms and a seat at the table, where food is always being prepared for you by her and her friends!

♦  ♦  ♦

He rained down manna for the people to eat, 

He gave them the grain of heaven. 

Human beings ate the bread of angels; 

He sent them all the food they could eat.

-Psalm 78:24-25  NIV

Bread of angels for breakfast?

Yes.

For lunch and supper, too.

I’ve never known God to skimp. When He gives, He gives only the best. And when He gives, He gives more than enough. Ho-hum is not how I would describe His hospitableness, either. What lessons we can learn from God’s table — take your pick!

I’ve been asking God to teach me how to be generous as He is generous, hospitable as He’s hospitable. To learn from the best is to learn well, but I must be teachable. God’s school is the hands-on-learning type, so I need to be willing, too.

Let my yes be yes.

I also want to hold nothing back, just as He holds nothing back. Why else is Eden still the gold standard for the average backyard gardener? Exactly how many varieties of heirloom tomatoes does a family need? Surely, abundance is indicative of His blessing, but when life doles out only a meager supply, God comes through with a touch of class and, dare I say, invention. Even long-term drought didn’t stop Elijah from having his meals delivered next day air by ravens.

God’s ability to finesse a moment always points to His glory — the multiplying of bread and fish, changing water into wine — all miraculous signs — not to impress but to feed and still a hungry, restless crowd. Perhaps later some would come to understand what Jesus meant when He referred to Himself as the Bread of Life. Meantime, the disciples were learning to trust and obey, give out of their lack. And the wine? Well, for one, God loves a celebration to last a good long while. Eternity never leaves His mind.

But sometimes I wonder if this saying is also true: “Some people can be so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.” I hope not, but we can spend a lot of time talking about God, learning about God, and even thinking about and praying to God but still find it hard to invite a neighbor over for a cup of tea. “Crazy busy” may well be an excuse, but it’s not a good one. When “the house” and stuff like decorating, dogs, and shopping lists become the gauge for frittering away our days, we do well to remember the time when Jesus stuck His head into the kitchen:

“Martha, Martha,the Lord answered,

“You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.

Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

-Luke 10:41-42 (NIV)

Let’s learn the lesson here. Jesus wasn’t implying that hospitality was irrelevant. He was letting Martha know that priorities give off a flavor all their own. The difference between preparing a simple meal in a spirit of love and prayer and a lavish spread simmering in fury is evident to all. What goes on in the kitchen is tantamount to what happens in the prayer room, but things go best when the latter serves the former. After all, Mary and Martha were sisters, and probably very good for each other.

From Scripture, we know that God is a God Who ministers to the whole man. And I think it’s reasonable to say that He intends for us to have a prayer life and supper ready. Study His Word and get the laundry done. All in the same day. But to what end, ultimately?

Photo courtesy of Anna Gibson @ akginspiration.com

Perhaps to feed and still a hungry crowd, one person at a time.

That’s why I don’t want to know my neighbors only from afar. I want to get close, look in their eyes, breathe the same air, listen to their story, tend their wounds if they’re willing. I want to feed them, pour something hot for them to drink when it’s cold outside, something fizzy over ice when blazing. Talk a while. Tell them about my Jesus.

So often, before I’m aware of what’s happening, before I even mention His Name, I’m inviting them in.

And I’m learning that a cup of tea and a little sympathy goes a long way when bread is offered, too.

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,
for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

-Hebrews 13:2

♦ ♦ ♦

Author’s Commentary

Certain attributes of God, such as holy, righteous, and majestic, often take precedence in our minds over the rest, if only for their “otherness.” For only He alone is altogether holy, righteous, and majestic. However, it’s important to acknowledge His many other attributes and understand that they are no less important. Based solely on Scripture, both generosity and hospitality also belong on the list of His divine attributes. As we allow a theology of generosity and hospitality to broaden our thinking, we learn to make them accessible, as Scripture exhorts us to practice such. These virtues not only adorn the Christian lifestyle, they’re pleasing sacrifices to God, bringing Him pleasure and much glory. Approaching this topic from a whole Bible theology, we discover that generosity and hospitality are practical expressions of thanksgiving, demonstrating grace to others and reverence for God’s holy Presence.

For additional study: John 6:1-59; Psalm 78; Matt. 25:35; Job 31:32; Isaiah 58:7; Ezekiel 18:7

For further study from the ESV footnotes: Heb. 13:2 hospitality. The virtue of hosting and caring for visitors was especially valued in antiquity since travel was difficult and inns could be dangerous (e.g., Rom. 12:13; 1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:8; 1 Pet. 4:9). entertained angels. Cf. Gen. 18:1–15; also Judg. 6:11–24; 13:3–24.

ides of march

THE FOG IS FINALLY STARTING TO LIFT and the chill is almost gone.  One reason we decided to get married in April. Having both grown up in New York, March is still the dead of winter in our book.

forsythia

______________________________

To marry was a decision that led to the million and one other decisions we’ve made as a couple. Nobody told us it would be a trip to the moon. But we had no idea it would take nearly twenty years to find our stride.

Having spent our fair share of days standing knock-kneed in the wind, we can vouch that marital know-how is achieved by neither dummies nor the faint of heart. Marriage is a hands-on lesson in love based on the practice of acquired skills over a long period of time. Namely, learning separately how to walk in lockstep together. Every decision made, seen and unseen, is for better or worse. Brave souls need only apply.

Some decisions we’ve had to make on the spot, like when our youngest needed to be rushed by ambulance to Children’s National Medical Center in the middle of the night. We didn’t waste time arguing with paramedics over ambulance capacity. I rode shotgun while strangers cared for our son in the back and my husband trailed behind in his Honda, white-knuckling it down 14th Street in D.C. with a lump in his throat.

Other negotiations have been more impulse-driven, for grander purposes — as when we bought our first cherry wood dining set. There was nowhere to put it but the entryway of our one-bedroom apartment. It served as honoree of all other hopes. Posterity held sway something fierce back then. But good decisions are the backbone of a solid marriage. The table is now in the kitchen, every nick and stain ours. After a while, even the gash turned meaningful.

Picasso once said, “It takes a long time to become young.” I say it takes a long time to learn how to love. Wedding bells and a fistful of dreams a marriage does not make. Behind tufts of tulle and cake-smeared smiles stand masked two selfish beings God has joined together for the purpose of reflecting His glory. That’s the ultimate high wire act everyone wants to see.

How does a couple go about making that happen?

All I know is that it takes time. Better throw away the watch. Time is what allows the “mother”  to collect at the bottom of the wine barrel while everyone is at the party next door and you’re stuck at home duking it out, stirring up all that good bacteria to make happen things like love, growth, and understanding.

A healthy marriage needs gobs of time and a measure of obscurity for these things — a place where every angle and odd-shaped feeling can be discussed in full. How else does agreement form? And it takes grace. Can’t forget grace. Without it, we are truly motherless, lacking culture and cure. With it, we’re more than halfway home — we’re home free.

Song of Songs says love is as strong as death. I never understood that passage until a friend told me of when she walked down the aisle to greet her groom, she saw it as more of a death march. A bit older and on her second marriage, I listened to her. She was ahead of the curve. I was never quite the same after that conversation.

Another reason we didn’t marry in March. We knew to beware. Besides, April is when things come into bloom.

forsythia

makings of a man

This is a second revision of a memoir I wrote in 2006 entitled “What Child is This?” on the bittersweet task of mothering two sons during the hot sweaty days of their boyhood. This piece is mainly about the eldest, now 18, who has added to my cup the sweetest drop of sorrow by becoming a man seemingly overnight.

___________________ ♦ __________________

The first thing I used to devour on Sunday mornings along with my bagel and coffee was the old, now defunct “His/Hers” column in The New York Times Magazine. Host to an ever-changing string of authors, the column was my muse, providing inspiration even on the dreariest of days. One particular piece was that of a mother’s cry, at once bemoaning and exonerating her adolescent sons’ taciturn ways, amplified to what sounded in my ear like a prophetic warning.

A decade later, flanked by two boys, 9 and 4, respectively, I am that mother. The four-year-old is a regular chatterbox wherever, whenever — car seat, shower, or bedroom turned magical kingdom. Strange noises erupt from remote corners of the house, and protracted conversations with no one specific trail through the halls at all hours. He has yet to figure out that he’s male and men don’t “talk.” He considers the gurgling noise made from holding down the toilet handle bona fide chit-chat. He’s an Abrams tank en route to the next explosion. But I’m grateful. He tips the scales noise-wise. Helps me feel less outnumbered in a house whose walls are held together by testosterone.

But the nine-year-old is a different story. He began shutting down around eight and a half, simmering to a low boil before we ever had the chance for meaningful conversation. Instead, he relates by flashing hazy reports of school bus shenanigans or blurting out sports scores on TV — “Mom!” “Nats 9, Giants zip!”

To interact, he asks me to pick names, numbers, divisions, and entire teams for world-record fantasy championships played out on top of his clipboard in the kitchen. When he really wants to connect, he says, “What’s in the fridge?” He talks, but it comes out in odd ways. It’s authentic, though, so I’ll take it.

His name, Santos Joseph DeBarros, means, The Lord shall add a saint to the earth. Poetic. His father picked his first name from a baby name book and was sticking with it while I puzzled out whether we could pull off something that exotic for the rest of our lives. Together, we liked the middle name. It was safe — Biblical. And we had no say with the last. It works. Names often tell something of a person; they carry weight. His does both.

An hour after his arrival, before the expected parade of friends and relatives, a routine X-ray revealed a tiny pneumothorax of the right lung. I was a blur after having undergone an emergency C-section — lost in recovery after 16 hours of back labor — barely able to mutter a prayer. I offered up trust instead while we kept vigil. Thankfully, the small puncture, as the doctor described it, disappeared somewhere between the neonatal oxygen tent and his father’s arms. But on day three, another report indicated that his blood gases were “off.” Countless pin pricks to the heel later, the entire medical team gave up after his fifth set of labs. By day five, the doctor discharged him on grounds that his cheeks were pink, saying, “He looks good.”

___________________ ♦ ___________________

On his first birthday, we threw him a party and gave him a Native American tom-tom — Boom! Boom! Boom! — wowing the crowd on first performance. Only difference now is he pounds a lot faster and stronger, like his heart. Rhythm is in his blood; he loves numbers and is good at math.  He’s a list maker, joke teller, peacemaker. Swallows books whole but baseball is his meat. He chews and savors all 125 years of America’s favorite pastime with a bottomless appetite for more stats. He thinks in cartoons but feels and cares deeply. Smiling and slap-happy while reading Calvin and Hobbes, he rules like Garfield, pulls for Charlie Brown, but despises Lucy.  Already knows to tell his future wife “I love you” septillion times — all in one day if need be. When I asked, “Why septillion?” He said, “Because it’s a real number.”

He gets it.

Justice is his cause and Passion his middle name. No matter how much we may moralize, winning still means everything to him, but people must play fair. When they don’t, he turns slightly red in the face and I’m first to hear about it. An old soul, his knowing eyes don’t fit the rest of his body. Strangers smiled when, at three, he bopped to the beat walking into the Gap like he owned the place. Poetry in motion — a gift to the world. No claims here.

As parents do, we sang and whistled away his raw newborn nerves well into the night and taught him his three R’s. Up until sixteen, he didn’t guzzle soda or chew gum, we’ve been hoping it’s just a phase. Early on we divulged the merits of fine chocolate. He’s hooked.

But our greatest aim has been to show him how to walk in ancient paths for a future hope. It’s also been our greatest challenge. When peers demanded a reason why he hadn’t seen a certain movie yet, we supplied a plausible answer with an equal amount of salve for his wounded pride. Told him we were holding out because innocence, once lost, isn’t easily recovered. He nodded while my husband and I exchanged a wistful look from across the table, holding our breath as the teen years loomed.

We also wanted to preserve wonder, so we skipped Disneyland. We desired something with more mileage in the end. The Grand Canyon, or maybe Stonehenge. Even so, the dinner table still proves the most interesting journey. It’s a world of tempting shortcuts, but we took the longer, more scenic route, pointing out the pitfalls and valleys along the way, hoping he’ll be better prepared to get where he’s going on his own.

Fulfilling as all this was, what I really wanted was his heart. Since before he day he was born, I’ve wept over this child, knowing he was never truly mine.  It was his heart I wanted to get my hands on, examine — make sure it was right — gladden with kisses and bolster when low. Sometimes I did. But more often I’d leave him be, let him roil away, allow his heart to strengthen on its own, even break on occasion.

What did I want from him? To sit and sip tea with me, chatting until sundown?  Maybe — but God forbid. I wanted a man to walk out of that heart, so I mourned frilly desires, too. He wanted to be outdoors playing against the wind, practicing his pitch or working his layup rather than be held hostage in upholstered world. He was way too busy pounding out his frame, adding to the foundation we were so busy laying. He had no time to stop, sit, and be a nice boy. His is a vigorous soul, a “tough hombre,” as the obstetrician pronounced at delivery. So I let him hammer out a heart of God’s design, not so much mine.

Now, the time has come when I hardly recognize my own child — he’s become a man, the man I hoped for.

And mourned for.

 _____________________ ♦ ______________________ 

Well, the teen years are almost done. He turns 18 today. With a spring in his step and a gleam in his eye; the future is now. Another cup of tea and I’m getting out of the way. He’s serious.

The house is quieter, but in a good way.

“There, now. Everything’s gonna be alright.”  

If these walls could talk, they’d be smiling.

DSC05267


the marital cup

Still Life with Lemon, Oranges, and Glass of Wine

— Willem Kalf

____________

Like handblown glass, delicate in construction but strong in substance, the marriage covenant is a cup that holds the vintage of years gone by, blessed and preserved by God.

While love is as strong as death, marriage is fragile if only for the fact that two fallen people, a man and a woman brought together as one, commit to an exclusive bond for the rest of their days, come what may. Knowing that a covenant designed by God has His backing brings much-needed assurance.

But no marriage is unlike the first, where the culprit of sin creeps in to take its toll. The effects of Adam and Eve’s fall were felt at close range — firstborn son murdered the second-born, with God presiding as Witness and Judge. I imagine that as parents, partners, and lovers, they fell into each other’s arms that night searching for consolation from an unbearable wound, aware that bitter herbs change the taste of things.

What keeps a marriage? Sustains it through life’s trials, cares, disappointments, and woes? Certainly not the froth left over from an elaborate wedding ceremony. As exciting and wonderful the fanfare, wedding attire, rich foods, lavish gifts, and honeymoon can be, eventually helium dissipates, styles change, china breaks and pictures fade. Something stronger is needed when storm clouds gather.

Apart from inviting family and friends to witness the ceremony and share in the festivities, what compels a man and a woman to stand before a crowd and declare that they will stay together, “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part?”

The nearness of God.

But our culture trends toward having the greater focus be on the wedding event — the more outlandish the better — a raucous party with all the trappings. Whether staged in a desert, bride and groom suspended from bungee cords, or videotaped underwater, it’s all but forgotten that when vows are exchanged, God is the unseen Officiate. Even Christians need reminding of this. In a day when selfishness and “freedom of choice” permeates our thinking on every level, we’re not immune to being lured away, abandoning all reason for the sake of pleasure and the pursuit of happiness.

Vows are best framed in solemnity. As comforting and wonderful as marriage can be, it’s both a sacrifice and a crucible, less often a pleasure dome. Without strong Biblical encouragement, we can be tempted to subtly diminish the gift God has sewn into the fabric of society, designed to remind us of the mystery between Christ and the Church:

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother
and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
This mystery is profound,
and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

-Ephesians 5:31-32 (ESV)

Ultimately, marriage is on display for the glory of God. It’s not about happiness as much as it’s about holiness as He works through life’s circumstances to mold and shape us, conforming us into His image if we will surrender to His dealings. He’s the third strand in the cord, providing strength, proving faithful as a very present help when things appear to be fraying. He sees every sacrifice, gesture, trial, hardship, sorrow, annoyance, hurt, fear, desire, joy, hope and dream. And He collects every tear in His bottle, stores them up in remembrance, watching over the covenant made in His Name.

So lift up your marital cup to the Lord. Reflect through the glass on His faithfulness and the memories made, even the ones that stretched you in every direction, and ask yourself, “By Whose authority?” Then bow lower still.  Bless the partner of your youth, recount your vows, bless and enjoy one another. Understand that God is just as near today as when He presided over you when you stood together upon the altar before a future unknown.

And remember that the cup belongs to Him. He’s the expert viticulturist, Who patiently perfects the bouquet of a fortified wine over time. Let Him refresh your cup, fill it anew, pour out a blessing.

Savor the long finish. He reserves the best for last.

Shalom.

____________________________

Details on Still Life with Lemon, Oranges and Glass of Wine

The middle axis of this painting is formed by a römer wine glass with an elaborate stem. Placed in front of a dark niche, it is partly lit by the small amount of light that shines on it. The light is also refracted by the transparent glass and the wine itself. On the marble table there are three bergamot or Seville oranges and a lemon. Jutting out over the table’s edge, a knife with a polished agate handle protrudes through the bright yellow lemon peel, and the porous strip of skin, peeled off in one piece, curls around like a festoon, forming a decorative counterpart to the narrow pointed orange leaves. Showing sweet and sour citrus fruits together in this way, the artist symbolically admonishes the viewer (who can be seen looking in at the window, in the reflection on the glass) to be temperate and to add lemon and orange juice to wine, as they were considered to have medicinal, humoral, and physiological properties.

renaissance

I have more dreams hanging in my closet than anywhere else. Take the teal velvet jacket with the pewter filigree buttons. Snug on first try but not unforgivably tight, its vintage feel and slashed price tag cost me a slight rise in adrenaline, while promising kindness for having rescued it from an otherwise loveless attack of thumbs at the circular rack. Plus, I needed something dressy. Those four-inch cuffs and satin floral lining confirmed this was it.

Truth is, I’ve worn it once. Second time doesn’t count. So it hangs on the rod to remind me of the nature of hopes and dreams.

Some dreams we chase, only to find out they were never meant to be. Others follow us — the ones that have no goals or direction, but stalk us and hold us hostage, reminding us that they’ve got us just one more day, if only inside the cold, locked storage unit of our minds. I’m not saying those dreams are to keep. Sometimes we need a wake up call to help us embrace reality.

But some dreams we have aren’t meant for us at all. Sure, we may carry them, give them birth even, but only to put up for adoption when time comes due. God ordains the sacrifice, as the purpose is for greater blessing.

Last week I pulled a dream out of its own form of suspended animation. Decided to give it some air, see what would give.

When I began setting up my portable French sketch box easel that had been tucked away in my closet for too many years, my youngest son instinctively knew my actions had something to do with him. “Go get some newspaper,” I said, while puzzling out the easel’s configuration. After we made an adequate floor covering, I set down two rules: “Don’t flick paint on the wall” and “Use more water than you think you’ll need.” After all, they’re water based paints. The easel drawer held my old pad of cold-pressed paper and a sizable collection of Winsor & Newton water colours: Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Antwerp Blue, Ultramarine, Permanent Sap Green, New Gamboge, Yellow Ochre, Burt Sienna, Chinese White, all pigments from a more golden age, some as yet unpierced, and a slew of high-quality brushes, largely unused.

Everything laid out before him, I said, “Go, run and fill up two cans with water!”

“And go find your smock!”

Serendipity has a way of catching people off guard. I needed a minute to dust things off.

Soothing notes of Yo-Yo Ma’s cello set the mood further. I let him be. The afternoon was both an exploration of color and an explosion of ideas. Release from the normal school day routine perhaps being my son’s greatest sense of achievement. His face beamed well into the night.

That Saturday, he attended an all-day art workshop taught by Tim Chambers to learn technique and work with acrylics. After I had picked him up, I noticed he had not only discovered the thrill of creative process but also a new dimension of himself.

Six months before he was born, my husband gave me the honor of naming him Nino Benjamin: little boy; son of my right hand — old enough now to hold a paintbrush to color in his own dreams.


For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

Psalm 139: 13-14


“Old World Village,”  8 x 8 acrylic on paper,  Nino DeBarros