You Asked, I Deliver: Some Advice About Divorce

I got an email this week that started, “I have a friend who wants out of her marriage, or for him to shape up, but feels like as a Christian she has no option for divorce…” I get these questions a lot. As this same friend put it, “Being open and honest must get you a lot of feedback and questions. Like owning a pick up and always being the person who helps move.” That sums it up pretty well.

I’ve been hesitant to write and advice-style blog post about divorce for many, many reasons. But… I’ve been asked this often enough, there are a few common threads that I want to write about publicly. I’m addressing Christian women who feel like they’ve exhausted their options for fixing their marriages, because that’s who I typically hear from. If it applies in other scenarios, great. Either way, I’d love to hear whether this is helpful.

Dear Sister,

I’m sorry you are hurting. I can guess that you’re hurting badly because you’ve turned to me, and we live far away from one another or we’re not close friends, which means you feel like you have nowhere else to turn. It probably also means this problem has been going on for a long time. I’m sorry. I know the pain you feel. First of all, know this: You are priceless. Your presence in anyone’s life is a gift, whether they acknowledge it or not. Jesus died TO BE WITH YOU. That’s the end result of His sacrifice that we don’t hear enough about. He died for our sins SO HE COULD BE WITH US. He values our company that much.

I’m also hearing from you because you love God, and you just don’t know how to reconcile your situation with your love for Him. Bless you for wanting to do the right and God-honoring thing, for having a heart that desires unity with God and unity with your spouse in spite of extremely difficult circumstances. And when I say “bless you,” I mean just that. God will bless you, even though it doesn’t feel like it right now. Isaiah 54 is well worth reading—the whole chapter describes God’s love for neglected and abandoned wives. It talks specifically about that feeling of being abandoned by God. I started inserting a quote here and ended up with half the chapter. Just go read it.

Now, the elephant in the room. You’ve heard it a million times, like a broken record—God hates divorce. It is in the Bible: Malachi 2:16. Go look at the context, though. If you read verses 12-16, you’ll find that God hates all the things that lead up to the divorce, too, specifically (and repeatedly) when husbands who are “faithless” and treat their wives “treacherously” (depending on the translation). Yeah, if you’re writing to me, that’s probably gonna resonate for you. The conclusion of the passage? It’s not, “Don’t get a divorce under any circumstances.” It’s, “So guard yourselves in the spirit and do not be faithless.” As always, God cares most about the heart. I say this first because I hear of SO many situations where a person acts unmarried in everything except the legal document, leaving the spouse who would rather preserve the marriage feeling bad about being the one to actually file the paperwork. That’s just straight up cowardly. If you’re the spouse trying to fix things in the face of overwhelming odds and even opposition, you have no reason to feel bad about your actions. In fact, you should be proud of what you’ve been able to accomplish even if you’re don’t succeed at saving your marriage. I also say this because it’s important to remember that the heart of God is for our hearts. Jesus said divorce had been allowed because hearts were hard. If you have a hard-hearted spouse, God sees your situation with eyes of compassion and love. He cares about your broken heart.

Marriage is hard. Anyone who has been married knows that. Marriage is also strong. It can survive unimaginably hard times. Have real talks with enough people who have been married at least fifteen years, and you’ll find out that  “dealbreakers” like infidelity and major financial malfeasance aren’t as uncommon as you might think. Couples move on from those things to have strong marriages. But trajectory matters. Intent matters. Somewhere, there is a line between someone committed to the marriage who is just having a bad day/week/month/year and someone who is actively dismantling your union. I’m not going to pretend to know where that line is. I think that is an individual judgment call, one made after a lot of prayer. But it is there. I know women who have waited for years for their husbands to come around, and they did. It happens. But there is a point at which patience with bad behavior becomes destructive to everyone involved. Destructive to the person enduring it and destructive to the person whose behavior it enables. No one wins. That kind of destructive disunity is the thing God is calling out as bad when He says he hates divorce. I don’t think God requires us to stay in marriages that are defying His design for marriage at every conceivable point.

Here is my practical advice if you’re thinking about divorce:

  • Don’t run away from God. He loves you. The fact that you are considering divorce doesn’t change that. You are probably judging yourself for the things you could have done better in your marriage or for even considering divorce, He died so that He could look past those things to walk with you toward your breathtaking potential. You feel hopeless, he has plans to give you a hope and a future. Find a good list of the ways God sees you and read it as often as possible, out loud. Victory Over the Darkness has my favorite lists. Here are the first few: I am God’s child (John 1:12). I am Christ’s friend (John 15:15). I have been justified (Romans 5:1). I am united with the Lord, and I am one spirit with Him (I Corinthians 6:17).
  • Communicate and Calibrate. Find good people you can talk to. Wise people. People whose first response is not judgment or advice. People who will listen. Most importantly, people you are comfortable being open with. I hid a lot of things in my marriage from everyone. I was ashamed, and I felt disloyal airing our dirty laundry. Also, talking about it means admitting there’s a problem. Hiding became such a habit, I didn’t even bring some things up in counseling until well after my divorce. When you don’t talk to people, it is very easy to justify really bad things in your own head. I’ve seen people overlook rampant infidelity, physical abuse, drug use, even hiding dead bodies. When you’re in your own head, it’s also really easy to overreact to things that aren’t so bad—think about the little things that can upset us like husbands who bring home the wrong kind of cheese from the store or leave the toilet seat up. I’ve seen people react more strongly to incorrect cheese than to physical abuse—no joke. The more reasonable people you talk with openly, the better idea you’ll get of whether your reaction is proportionate to what is going on.  Try to include conversation with someone who has been through divorce. No one hates divorce more than people who’ve lived through it. They’re less likely to be judgmental and often more likely to give you sound, practical advice.
  • Consider separation. It may feel like a nuclear option, but it’s not. It’s a good strategy for giving you and your spouse space to collect your thoughts and clear your heads to see the truth of the situation.
  • Take care of yourself and remember that you’re not responsible for someone else’s actions. Even if you want to try to fix things or wait for your spouse to come around, that doesn’t mean you have to put up with being treated badly. Do what you need to do to ensure your needs are met, even if that means drawing lines that your spouse is unhappy about. He may try to use your healthy boundaries to blame you for his bad behavior. If there is harmful behavior going on, allowing it to continue instead of distancing yourself from it will only make the situation worse. Enlist support, because this will be hard.
  • Look at trajectory. Ultimately, you want to see evidence of where your spouse is headed, where his heart is leading him. If he is lying and persists in it, it’s not a good sign. Honestly, I think lies are the worst wrong someone can commit in a relationship. I used to see them as secondary issues—I did a bad thing, so I’m covering it up. Bad things can be overcome by good when people are truthful. If someone continues bad behavior but is truthful about it and shows signs of trying to fix it, you might actually be able to work with that. Lies prevent that. Lies put up barriers to relationship that can only be removed by truth. Fact-finding has limited effectiveness when it comes to lies (What will you do with what you learn? Confront the liar only to have him lie some more?), but I wrote about some other ways you can identify them in a previous post.
  • Pray. Well, duh, you say. Yes. Obvious. Less obvious is to pray for insight. Every time I’ve heard of someone praying for God to show a spouse’s true heart and intentions, He has done it in ways that cannot be ignored. I never prayed for insight in my marriage, only for healing. God very gently showed me later why He didn’t answer my prayers to heal our marriage—there were things going on I didn’t know about. He knows. Yes, pray for reconciliation. But also ask God to show you what He sees, ask Him for the truth. Even the act of asking can open your eyes to things you might not see otherwise. Also, ask God to give you direction–when to be patient and when to say enough is enough.
  • Try not to hide from people. There can be a lot of shame in these sorts of situations, even if you haven’t done anything wrong. Particularly at church. If you are around people who make you feel ashamed, find other people to be with. Try not to run away from people entirely. And try not to run exclusively to people who are also in the middle of separation or divorce—misery loves company, but it’s not usually helpful for much else.
  • If you’ve done everything you can, file for divorce in good conscience. You can’t make someone stay in a marriage they don’t want to be a constructive part of, nor should you.

I love you, I love your heart. You are breathtaking and amazing, and you will come out of this stronger and more beautiful no matter what happens. I believe in you.


Waking Desire (Part 6): Love

This is the final (!) episode of a six-part story. To read the rest of the series, go to Waking Desire. (The posts in the story are listed from newest to oldest. I’m working on fixing that when I have patience to wrestle with WordPress.)

Also, I’m still working on my sexier posts. Right now I’m reading a book about polyamory. Intrigued??! Check back soon… In the meantime, let’s get back to Emmy and her trail Viking. This post is long enough to split into several more episodes, but I won’t make you suffer through that. 😉 Thanks for following!

Bryson would be leaving soon for some kind of orchard conference “outside.” (That’s how Alaskans refer to places that aren’t Alaska.) He’d be visiting his own farm and planting thousands of trees. It had been six weeks and they’d still only ever gone on walks. And in spite of very romantic things he said to her–like when she slipped on the ice, and he said “next time, fall toward me. That’s what I’m here for.” Or all of the lovely compliments he paid her–he’d never so much as tried to hold her hand. Maybe he was shy, but that didn’t seem right.

He left the state. He texted, but, oddly enough, only during the day. I won’t go into details, but Emmy knew enough at this point about men juggling more than one relationship to know that was a bad sign. She waited until he got back to Anchorage. It wasn’t a good day. Her car had been t-boned with her in it. She was sore, she was cranky. His text popped up, “Hey, how about a walk?”

“You have a girlfriend outside?” She was done waiting.

“Yes I do… What makes you inquire?”

“Needed to test a hunch.”

“No worries. I was trying to find a way to tell you. Sorry.”

Emmy was livid. That is not a detail you accidentally leave out of hours of conversation over weeks of time. She was mad at Bryson, but she was even more mad at God. God had lulled her into admitting desires on her heart that she’d been pretty content keeping hidden. He’d poked and prodded them to life again only to completely decimate them. Jerk.

Emmy was mad at God for weeks. Months, actually. Much longer than her time with Bryson had actually lasted. She still kept talking to Him, fists clenched, jaw tight. (God, not Bryson. That was O-V-E-R.) A friend pointed out that God doesn’t as us to unclench our hands to leave them empty, but so that He can fill them. Let go to receive, not to lose. She knew it was true but she didn’t want to buy into it. It felt too painful.

Gradually, the memories and her anger with God faded without being resolved. A year passed–a year that no one could deny was epic, even Emmy. Travel, amazing times with friends, unearthing new talents, reshaping her career… A lot of those things had even been spurred on by inspiration and encouragement from two of they guys she’d dated. Still, Emmy occasionally thought back to Bryson, wondering what he was up to. She never saw him, even in the big small town of Anchorage. Maybe he’d moved back to his orchard and his girlfriend. For some reason, she decided the story belonged in a blog about God breaking through to the small details of our lives, in a series about sex and relationships…

At this point, dear reader, I am going to shift to the present. I’m sure you’re shocked to learn at this point that Emmy is me. 😉 I never really knew what to make of this story. When I started writing it, I thought I was going to conclude it with a big question mark. I honestly don’t even know why I started. I guess I like to write about God moments, and there were a lot of them in this story. Maybe I thought it would help me figure out what to make of God’s seemingly contradictory, capricious behavior.

And then as I started writing, “Bryson” started showing up in my life again. That was weird. I really didn’t know what to do with it, but there was no way I could let go of the series of coincidences. Once would be one thing, but several times in one week… While I was writing about him… Exactly a year after we last talked… It was just too much. We met for coffee. Twice. He still has a girlfriend. The brief spark of “maybe he’s changed and now is our time–maybe God is making good on his ‘hold my beer’ moment” was extinguished pretty quickly. That wasn’t too surprising. What was surprising was that 2018 Amy has no interest in the guy. None.

Seeing him sitting in front of me raised the hair on my neck, but when we met for coffee… nothing. I wouldn’t be interested even if he didn’t have a girlfriend. Even if he hadn’t been the kind of guy to carry on an extended flirtation while hiding the truth about his availability. He’s cute, he’s funny, he’s smart, he’s interesting. I like where he’s headed if he chooses to follow the hard and beautiful course of his life. But I know myself a whole lot better than I did a year ago. I think I have a ways to go before I feel confident I know what I’m looking for in a partner, but I’m more confident in who I am every day. I can’t think of a better foundation than that. And I know enough now to know he’s not for me.

Talking to him again has been like putting bookends on the last year of my life. It has given me a chance to look 2017 Amy square in the eye. I don’t think I would have done that as honestly if my trail Viking hadn’t shown up in my life again. I’d have written this story and felt a little sad, and that would have been the end of it.

So, after all that, what do I make of all of those God moments, the beautiful signs written across this story? (Or, for that matter, the fact that they seemed to shift meaning over the course of weeks?) I’ll try not to make generalities about how God uses signs or why. I’ve been humbled enough by this not to venture there. But what I do know about Him is that He likes to be on the journey with me. (There’s a reason they’re called “signs”, not “arrival depots.”) He rarely offers easy answers. In my past experience, when His answers do come, they are far more breathtaking than the easy ones would have been. I think, given the choice, I’ve seen enough to know that I actually prefer the hard road when it’s the one God has laid out.

I’ve realized that 2018 Amy wouldn’t WANT to have a relationship just dropped in her lap like that. I want to build and hone my wish list with God. I want to grow and stretch into something and come alongside someone who is doing the same. Even if God did do easy answers, 2018 Amy would tell Him “no thanks.”

I’m learning that, for me, the exhilarating life of faith isn’t a passive one spent quietly submitting to the will of God (no matter how beautiful or how difficult). Faith pairs well with strong desires. Faith is bold. Faith takes action. Faith just doesn’t know what the outcome is going to be, and so it is willing to hold the methods for getting there loosely even while pursuing them passionately. When God does drop hints, they are typically more along the lines of encouraging me to boldly go into the unknown than telling me what is actually going on. It’s like driving a powerful car with great fuel in it, destination unknown (to me). God doesn’t usually work in my passive hoping, He works with me, through me, as I act on it. Hope and action: both are required.

I’ll leave you with my paraphrase of I Corinthians 13:8-13: Prophecies, signs, and wonders are just flashes in time of the glory of a timeless, infinite God. You think that you get it, you feel like you know, but knowledge is ephemeral. As beautiful as they are, these moments are echoes on the wind, a shifting reflection that disappears if you look directly at it. I used to cling to those, like a child. (Okay, I still do.) But, I’m learning to look forward to the day when I will know and be known in the unflinching light of eternity. So, where does that leave me? Faith has me hoping for things without knowing how I will get them. Hope has me holding onto desire, even when my own lack of control of the outcome makes desire feel like a hot coal in my hands. And love, the greatest thing… Well, what are faith and hope without a God of love who knows what I need before I ask Him, without love for and from others to fuel my engine?

Waking Desire (Part 5): Unravelling

(This is part five of a story. To read the rest of the series, go to Waking Desire. The posts in the story are listed from newest to oldest. I’m working on fixing that. When I have patience to wrestle with WordPress. In the meantime… back to Emmy and her lumberjack Viking.)

The walks with Bryson were the highlights of Emmy’s days. They talked about all kinds of things. Europe. Food. Politics. Their families. Trees (always). The end of the world. Bryson was a bit of a conspiracy theorist, but that’s pretty normal for single men in Anchorage.

They talked about God. Because, of course they did. Emmy sometimes wondered if she annoyed people with how much she talked about God, but she didn’t really care. Bryson went to church–he was the second person Emmy had met dating who went to some weird underground church that Emmy had never heard of. It met on Tuesdays in people’s houses. Or something. None of her friends had ever heard of it, either. She had a fleeting thought that maybe this was something guys dating Christian women made up. There was probably some Reddit discussion board called r/datingcrazygodfreaks where guys all agreed that Jesus girls find it sexy when you make up an underground church that you attend…

Emmy often had crazy thoughts like that, and she was never sure how crazy they were. She’d recently come to terms with some things about her marriage that she’d been unable or unwilling to recognize at the time they happened, and it was messing with her sense of reality. One day she wondered whether it was possible that Bryson was some random homeless guy who lived on the bike trail (there were some in tents near the bridge). He would always just pop out of the woods, supposedly coming from his home across the creek. A home she’d never seen… Of course, he did have a jacket with the name of a the large oil company he worked for embroidered on it. And he didn’t look or smell like someone who didn’t have regular access to a shower. But still… These thoughts were hard to put away, even ones that she recognized as pretty odd.

One more persistent thought she kept tripping on was that they never did anything but go on walks. This was great for awhile, but after a few weeks, it just got weirder as time passed. It was her habit to walk to her dog on the trail every day anyway, so she kept it up, but he never seemed too enthusiastic about suggestions to do other activities. There was always an excuse, mainly that he didn’t have a car. That didn’t seem right. Maybe he was shy? Maybe she just needed to be more patient?

One day, they passed Emmy’s ex-husband on the trail by the lake. He passed without a word, and his face was so stretched with stress that she didn’t even recognize him until he was already behind them. She was completely discombobulated, and told Bryson, “I know it’s a small town, but… He never goes outside! And definitely not just to take a walk by a lake…”

“Maybe he’s a daywalker and you just didn’t know it?” They both giggled, but the encounter rattled her. She just wasn’t used to running into him randomly, and with the realizations about their marriage that kept bobbing to the surface of her consciousness completely unbidden, the whole thing was more uncomfortable than she liked to admit.

She went home agitated. The walks were still enjoyable, but the generous smattering of the God moments she’d seen at first were getting fewer and farther between. Her experience of God in the last year or so had been radically different from earlier in her life, and very different from most people she met. It wasn’t a shared experience you could count on by checking the box next to “Christian” on dating websites. It wasn’t until Bryson that she began to recognize how much she craved friendship not just with someone who knew Jesus, but company in her ability to see and hear Him. Not all Christians she knew had that. In fact, most didn’t.

Today when they’d talked about God, Bryson seemed like he’d backed away from those shared moments from their first few walks together, the ones when heaven shone through to the bike trail and they had both seen and heard. Not quite together, but ever-so-close. Adjacent visions. Now he’d stepped aside from it, he talked about the importance of the Old Testament law, about how his main experience of God was that he’d come back to God and the law when he was angry at someone for stealing his car. Emmy was looking for someone who knew grace, who knew and talked to God like her. She had thought she’d found that, but… Well, it had been that way for a few moments.

She prayed, “What is going on here? God, I’m confused.” The fruits of the spirit came to her: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. If that is where God is, and they were in her experience, God was there, right? Emmy alwas tries to go where God is, and she began to feel encouraged again. She looked up the verse in Galatians. Yeah, she’d remembered it right… and then her eyes strayed to the next column. It was her verse from Isaiah. Wait… what? She didn’t know it was quoted in the New Testament.


The context of it floored her after her last God conversation with Bryson…

“Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically… So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.” (Galatians 4)

Phew. Children of freedom require free parents. That… this thing with Bryson wasn’t that, that much was becoming clear. He seemed much more like a child of law kind of guy. He certainly identified himself that way.

That week she was reading Hebrews with some friends, and ran across chapter 4, verse 2:

“For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.”

Could… people could hear sometimes without listening? See without seeking? She’d met so many people who were united by faith but who couldn’t see and hear. Was it possible there were people who could see and hear like her but chose to ignore it? It seemed incomprehensible to her that someone would turn away from that kind of beauty, that anyone could fail to run after it with every ounce of their energy once they’d gotten just a hint of it.

Their moment was crumbling. Emmy hung onto the fading light of it. She didn’t want to let go in spite of increasing doubts. Besides, what was up with the conflicting signs? Why would the light of the presence of God shine on Emmy and Bryson one way one minute and another the next? Ahem, God? Why would you get my hopes up and show off like that if you weren’t going to make good on your “hold my beer” moment? Just thinking about that gave her a lump in her throat. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know the answer.

To be continued…

Waking Desire (Part 4): Wonder as We Wander

A note before I dig into my story again… The events in this story were a year ago. (Almost exactly a year ago, as it turns out, although that was not deliberate. Sometimes I’m a little in awe of the power of my subconscious.) I saw “Bryson” once during that year. Once, until I started blogging about him. Then he sat in the row in front of me at a show. I saw him on the street afterward. I ran into him again at a movie theatre last night, again in the row in front of me. As soon as I finish this blog post, I’m meeting him for coffee, one year and one day after our last walk. Weird coincidences. I hope you’re enjoying the show, dear reader… For what it’s worth, I composed this blog post yesterday, before I knew we were getting coffee.

(This is part four of a story. To read the rest of the series, go to Waking Desire.)

Emmy had been learning not to believe in coincidences. This particular confluence of circumstances–God speaking, other people’s stories, a sexy viking on her favorite trail–was impossible to ignore. Was it really possible that, after writing about walking a relationship path with God before you walk it with someone else, she’d met someone on the bike trail where she liked to talk to God? There was a poetry to that too beautiful NOT to be true. Animated and a bit dazed, she told her friends at the party about Bike Trail Bryson. Most of them thought it was a lovely story, but one friend’s response stuck in her head, “That just doesn’t happen. Are you sure he’s single?” She didn’t know, but she felt certain. With all of those signs, how could he not be?

Bryson texted the next day inviting her on a walk. “Meet me by the Narnia light?” She knew exactly where he meant–the surprising street light in the middle of the wooded trail, the one that shed a small and welcoming pool of light onto the snow in the middle of the wooded darkness. Whenever she encountered it, she half expected to hear the foxes that haunted the trail begin to speak English to her. She’d called it the Narnia light to herself for months.

“Friendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .” C.S. Lewis

He texted again two days after that. Before long, they were spending most evenings pacing the several miles of wooded trail by their homes (he lived about half a mile away). She learned that he was an engineer by day, but while he was furloughed during a recent layoff, he’d gone down to Washington and started an orchard on some property he owned. He’d selected trees that would last a century or more. And some exotic trees… did Emmy know that farmers had grown tropical fruit high in the Swiss Alps?

He called her Sunshine. Sometimes he greeted her with a wolf whistle, sometimes with the Norwegian word for “hello” and a nod to his beardless Viking hat.

He loved all trees. He told her the story of the trees on their trail and how they’d come to grow in Alaska. There was a birch that had split, its top half bent and hanging from the base by a thread. After days of grumbling about the city’s neglect of tree maintenance every time they passed it, he brought his own hatchet on their walk. Jacket off, muscles taut, he hacked the last bit of connecting fiber away. It wasn’t that warm out, but when he didn’t put his coat back on, Emmy didn’t complain. If he wanted her to watch his manly hands turn blue from showing off, she was happy to.

The summer before, when Emmy complained about the dating pool in Anchorage, a friend had reassured her that someday she’d find an intellectual lumberjack. It was only a matter of time and patience. It appeared the friend was spot on with his metaphor.

The moments on the trail were magical, even though Emmy wasn’t much for trees and orchards. She could converse intelligently with anyone about almost anything, and talking with men about things they have a deep passion for is always interesting. But it wasn’t just a deep personal connection, or even his beard and sparkling eyes that captivated Emmy. What really enchanted her were the God moments that jumped out when they were together and the fact that Bryson seemed to be seeing them, too, at least at first.

She felt a little crazy when she told people stories like how God had given her red boots, but the fact was she didn’t really care if she was crazy. She would talk to anyone who would listen about what God did in her life. She told Bryson about hearing God speak to her on the trail they walked, about the beautiful and loving things He said to her there. A few moments later, as they were passing the precise point on the trail where God had told her He had made her part of a new family (a story she hadn’t shared), Bryson stopped. “Did you hear that, Emmy?”

“Hear what…? No, I guess not.”

“There it is again!”

“Still didn’t hear anything.”

“The splashing?” (The creek alongside the trail was frozen)


“Huh. Maybe I’m beginning to hear God on the trail the way you do.”

Silence. They turned around.

Flowers in the snowOn their way back, they noticed something they’d been too engrossed in conversation to see before: someone had stuck fresh flowers in the snow with handwritten quotes and poems hanging from the stems. They were an odd and beautiful sight, these frozen reminders of a season of warmth. Bryson and Emmy stopped to read the signs. The significance of one in particular stood out to Emmy. She took a photo:

To feel God brush against her soul, and to share the experience with someone in the moment was something unprecedented in Emmy’s romantic relationships. Was this even possible? Her relationship with God and her conversations with Him were deeply personal. It was like the inner dialogue we all have with ourselves, except with another person inside the echoing space of her head. Was it possible that the ineffable beauty of God in her life was something the two of them could share with a third person? That would be something. She said goodbye to Bryson on the trail with a sense of awe and wonder.

Why I Appreciate Your Messages

I’ve had a number of readers message me something along the lines of, “I have no idea where you’re going with this, but I’m following you. I appreciate your story and your vulnerability.” As I’ve written, I honestly don’t know what my destination is, either. That’s half the fun, some days. Other days, it’s really hard.

I’m writing about things that have happened to me over the last few years. They’ve been good (amazing, really). Often, they’ve been subtle. But bit by beautiful bit, they’ve overturned my world as I know it. It’s like Alice following the White Rabbit. I’ve taken one step, then another, eaten a little cake and sipped some odd liquids, and suddenly I find myself well beyond known territory.

Some days it’s hard to put words to where I am and how I got here. The words of religion are so worn from being beaten into the shape of piety that I can barely get them to stand up under the weight of any real meaning. Words like righteousness and justified and helper. Friend and faithful.

I have company on the journey, thank God. But even together, it is hard work breaking ground.  And my story and my perspective are my own. I can count on one hand the number of people who really get what I’m doing with this blog, and I’d still have a few fingers left.

I’m not boohooing that no one recognizes my genius. It’s not genius, it’s just experience that I happen to have fallen into, if you believe in coincidence. Providence, if you don’t. What it is is hard work, with the hope that if I can narrate the path I’m on, I will find more companions for my journey. There are Jonah days, when I get tired of putting myself out there, when I can’t even remember why I do it. Days when the vision wavers like a mirage and even I think I might be a little crazy.

Several friends have written to me about how they’re reading my latest blog series on sex, how they’re trying to think through what to tell their kids about sex. Usually they’re saying something along the lines of, “I don’t want to tell them the same thing I learned growing up. I have some ideas what not to say, but no idea what TO say.” I will be more surprised than anyone if this blog series lands on a set of guidelines that are even an improvement over what I’ve spent most of my life living by. (You know, the guidelines that worked okay until they didn’t. Some people have followed them successfully, for what that’s worth.)

If I had a child I wanted to talk to about sex and relationships (about anything, really), I’d try to find a way to tell her:

What you do and experience matters less than what you take away from it. Bad things will happen. Relationships will fail in small and large ways. The most important thing is to know and hang on to your value no matter what happens. You are precious. You are priceless. The God who created the universe valued you so much that He died so Hecould be with you when He rose again. Any story about you that doesn’t reflect that value is a lie. Try to learn not to repeat lies to yourself. The lies will come from unexpected places–from people you think are friends. From people who are friends but who are just having a bad time. In the end, the story that matters isn’t the one your hear from your circumstances or from other people, it’s the one you tell yourself. Listen to God first–listen to Him sing joy over you. Learn to tell yourself the story that He sings, and you will be invincible.

And then I would tell her the stories that God sings over me. Over and over.

This blog is me learning to listen to God sing over me, then learning to join Him in it. You may not feel like you get what I’m doing. That’s okay. If what I write sticks in your head at all, if it causes you to ask questions you might not have asked otherwise, if you just think it’s an interesting read–above all if it makes you want to tell your own story–I love hearing about that. Thanks for reading. Thank you for telling me your own stories. You help me remember that my experience has meaning. You help me remember what story to tell myself.

Waking Desire (Part 3): Truth & Beauty

(This is part 3 of a story. To read the rest of the series, go to Waking Desire.)

Emmy decided to tell her friend (and herself) the truth. She described the dreams. She spoke up about her real desires, the ones she’d kept hidden so long, even from herself. This was the first time she would speak her desires to a friend, her longing to be married again, to have kids. It was terrifying. And powerful. And (she had to admit) liberating.

The next morning, Emmy helped out with the kids at church. The lesson was on Abraham and Sarah having their only child Isaac when she was 90 and he was 100 years old. (Of course.)

Emmy walked the bike trail together with God after church. It was a bluebird Alaskan day, when the snow is still on the ground but the color of the sun has begun its shift from cold blue to warmer golds and yellows. Snow sifted from the trees, catching the sun in glittering clouds around her. This is beautiful, God. Thank you.

What I enjoy most, my love, is you enjoying it.

Contented silence, then…Okay, God. I get it. What you did for Abraham and Sarah, you can certainly do it for me. I trust you. But, um… kids? I need a man. In reality, that was the form desire usually took for her. This time it was a bit turned around.

God responded, but the things He said to Emmy weren’t always in words. The best I can think to put words on this particular expression is something along the lines of “Hold my beer.”

Emmy rounded a corner of the trail and there, walking confidently toward her, was a man. He was wearing silly crocheted hat made to look like a viking helmet and a smile that openly welcomed the day. They got closer, and Emmy saw sharp, laughing blue eyes and a blonde beard that any Alaskan man would be proud of.

Their paths finally crossed. “I like your hat.”


“Where’d you get it?”

“ It came with an attachable beard… I lost it.” His voice. It was even better than his eyes and hat and beard. He spoke like it was a song.

“You lost it? Where? Is it hiding in your actual beard?”

They both laughed and stared at each other a minute as her dog began to bark her fool head off. Emmy apologized for the noise, the spell broke, and they both moved on.

Emmy’s head buzzed. What was up with that? She hadn’t believed in that kind of thing. Romance was silly (and vulnerable). Attraction that strong in a short conversation was ridiculous. She must have been out in the cold too long.

They were both circling a pond in opposite directions, and she could see him as she continued her walk. He seemed to be seeing her, too, but it was not a small pond and it was hard to tell for sure. They walked a bit until they met again. This time, they stopped and talked over the dog barking. The dog gave up after 20 minutes or so, her vigilance ignored, and they kept talking. For an hour.

“Let’s do this again.”

“Yes, let’s.”

“What’s your number?…” Number given. “Okay, you’re in my phone as Emmy Trail.”

“And you’re Bike Trail Bryson.”

He texted when he got home, “That was a lovely way to spend an afternoon.”

“Yes, it was. :)”

Emmy went to a Super Bowl party later that day, where she learned that another friend her age was expecting her first baby. Seriously, God? You really like to drive a point home sometimes…

Emmy had been learning not to believe in coincidences. This particular confluence of circumstances–God speaking, other people’s stories, a sexy viking on the trail–was impossible to ignore. Was it really possible that, after writing about walking a relationship path with God before you walk it with someone else, she’d met someone on the bike trail where she liked to talk to God? There was a poetry to that too beautiful NOT to be true. Animated and a bit dazed, she told her friends at the party about Bike Trail Bryson. Most of them thought it was a lovely story, but one friend’s response stuck in her head, “That just doesn’t happen. Are you sure he’s single?” She didn’t know, but she felt certain. With all of those signs, how could he not be?

(To be continued…)

Waking Desire (Part 2): A Dream is a Wish

(This is part 2 of a story. To read the rest of the series, go to Waking Desire.)

Emmy had been having dreams. Strange dreams about houses that stretch and grow. When she woke up and asked God what they meant, he pointed her to Isaiah 54:

Enlarge the place of your tent,
    and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;
do not hold back; lengthen your cords
    and strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left,
    and your offspring will possess the nations
    and will people the desolate cities.

Wow. That kind of caught her by surprise. She wasn’t used to applying verses like that to herself. Commands and parables, sure. But prophecies that her study Bible told her relate to Israel…? Seemed like a bit of a stretch.

Once, after she’d had these dreams several times, she was driving past her old house, the one she’d owned with her ex-husband. She parked for a moment across the street. For some reason, she felt like singing a little song. So she did. And then she cried. That house had held a lot of promise for her. She missed it. As she was driving away, God whispered to her to go back to Isaiah 54. And there was verse 1: “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud.”

Sing and cry… Okay. Okay.

She had to admit that, if the God of the universe can speak planets into existence, He can probably inspire poetry that has figurative and literal truth for Israel and for her… At the very least, there might be some metaphorical meaning in it for her. Friends pointed out that the dreams could indicate an expansion of her gifts. She was spending a lot more time on writing and music, after all… She put that one on a shelf and thought about it for awhile.

After the baby shower, Emmy had dinner with a dear friend. This friend jumped right into it, “Emmy, if you found out your ex was having a kid with a much younger woman, how would that make you feel? I mean, I know you always wanted kids, and now you’re in your late thirties and still single. How would you feel if you found out that after all of those years of putting you off when you wanted kids, he finally came around and decided to have kids with someone else?”

Emmy wasn’t even a bit ruffled. She’d had practice answering this question, out loud many times, even more often in her own head. “after all we went through together, the last person I’d want to have kids with is my ex. If someone else wants to try that grand experiment, she’s welcome to it. Besides, I’ve never been one of those people who just HAS to have kids. I’m okay with it either way.”

What she said felt pious, but she realized as they came out of her mouth this time that they weren’t true–the house dreams were awakening her to something she’d grown so accustomed to ignoring, she couldn’t even see it. It was so simple to use contentment to cover desire, to hang onto the things she had because it’s easier than admitting she wanted something she didn’t have. Desire doesn’t feel pious, it can even appear ungrateful. Besides, once I admit to desire, I admit that I don’t hold control over my own life.

The friend went on to tell about people in her church who had been conceiving unexpectedly. There was a woman who had undergone extensive fertility treatment to conceive her first child. Several miscarriages left her a bit afraid of the whole process. She was considering trying for a second when a mundane health problem took her to the doctor, where she learned she was pregnant again. Three months pregnant, as it turned out–well past the first few months when most miscarriages happen, already safe the worst of her fears before she even know she was pregnant. Story after story unfolded. In fact, they didn’t know it at the time, but this same friend would find out she was expecting a few months after their conversation.

Emmy decided to tell her friend (and herself) the truth. She described the dreams. She gave desire a voice. This was the first time it would speak out loud to a friend. It was terrifying. It was powerful. It was liberating.

(To be continued…)

Waking Desire (Part 1): Cake Day

We Christians love to talk about how God is a God who gives good things, who is a God of order, who comforts us… all of these are true. But sometimes I forget that one thing He is NOT is predictable. He likes to surprise us. And man, oh man, when I really want something, being surprised SUCKS. To be more accurate, when I really want something, waiting sucks. He likes to remind me that I want something, then invites me to sit in anticipation of Him meeting that desire without having any idea how or when He’s going to do it.

Frankly, it mostly pisses me off. Imagine Mom coming home from the grocery store with an amazing cake. Teenage me has sworn off cake because I think it’s bad for me, and Mom is like, “Hey, I brought home your FAVORITE cake. Remember how much you love it?” Then she waves it in front of my face and reminds me of all of the things I love about that cake until I’m ready to eat it right now. “Oh, no, that cake is for later.” What?? When later?? “Oh, just… later.” And I’m stuck looking at and wanting that damn cake every time I walk through the kitchen.

That’s God in my life. A lot. It’s something I’m learning to enjoy about Him (when I can let go of the fear that He’s not going to meet my needs and desires), but I admit I mostly find it annoying. Think I’m wrong? Let me tell you a romantic little story.

Once upon a time there was this woman. We’ll call her Emmy. (I assure you, any resemblance to my name Amy is completely coincidental.) Emmy was learning to enjoy the heck out of a celibate life. She was getting to know God. She was learning to have better, more fulfilling friendships. She was discovering things about herself she didn’t know before. It was a beautiful time–a time she walked closely with God, figuratively and literally. She and God took long walks together on the bike trail behind her house. They had special spots on the trail where He had whispered loving things in her ear. Things like, “I knew you would be here when I put this creek here,” and “I’ve made you part of a new family.”

Emmy was happy and content. She’d seen so many of her needs for love and intimacy being met in unexpectedly platonic ways. She had victory over that irresistible craving for intimacy that had driven her to sex with the nearest attractive guys she could lay her hands on. Maybe sex just wasn’t for her. She could handle it. Mostly. She began to forget that she’d asked God for a husband and a family. After all, she was within spitting distance of forty. She’d never wanted to be one of those woman who freak out because her biological clock is ticking. Contentment was safe. Being content made it easy to forget that her deep desire for specific intimacy might still be there. She only knew two ways to handle desire: 100% containment, or unleashing the beast. Taming it wasn’t her area of expertise.

There were occasional prods, pokes that woke desire, caused it to stick its nose out of its hibernation cave. Uninvited moments that delighted her but also left her feeling a bit like she’d been ambushed. There was the memorable week when she finally connected with a neighbor the day before he was supposed to move out of town. They went for drinks after he’d found her lost dog, and they closed down the bar talking. He extended his stay day by day as they made a tour of Anchorage restaurants and bars, talking late into the night like they’d known each other for years. Then it began to snow. The threat of icy roads on the trip south finally drove him away, leaving her with ghost traces of his kiss and the pressure of his hand on her back. It was just as well. A pasture fenced by time (not heartbreak) was a safe place for desire to come out and play.

There were moments like that, glimmers, really, when circumstances pushed desire out into the light. Emmy didn’t seek them out, but she didn’t fight them. Then came a weekend–she joked to her friends that it was “fertility weekend”. It also happened to be the weekend of the Super Bowl. There came a weekend when desire was pushed out into the open, naked and blinking. It started with a friend’s baby shower on Saturday. This friend was Emmy’s age, and pregnant with her first child. Emmy had avoided baby showers for awhile–the reminder that her ex had never been ready for kids was just too painful. But she was past that now, and she went happily, the token single friend with a gift of wine to save for after the baby was born.

There was, however, something a little different this time. You see, Emmy had been having dreams. Strange dreams about houses that stretch and grow. (To be continued…)