The following passage from Ruth chapter one was read at our wedding. And though I got slack from some of my preacher friends with the highest regard for lectionary readings appropriate for wedding (saying that this was not a passage about a marriage, rather a friendship between two women), I stuck with my strong desire to have it read. It seemed to me in planning the service (Kevin planned the party) the only way to truly articulate what I thought marriage was all about was this passage:
Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. . . . But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? 12 Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons— 13 would you wait until they grew up?Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!” 14 At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye,but Ruth clung to her.15 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-lawis going back to her people and her gods.Go back with her.” 16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.
Now, almost five years later, I feel this passage is as important to my life than any other text. It’s a story I keep coming back to find grounding for all of the transition around me. For in the past couple of months, I’ve been asking myself:”What does it really mean to be married?” over and over again. And I feel like as I am learning to answer, I’m simultaneously saying to Kevin my wedding vows again for the first time. Wherever you go Kevin I will go. I will support and love you no matter what.
As many of you know, earlier in this month, Kevin accepted a position as CEO/ President of Feed the Children— a very exciting vocational and ministry opportunity for him. But, it has been a change in careers which required him to primarily work in another state, Oklahoma (at least for a time). As one of my colleagues recently pointed out, the commute to OK is not one as if he just got a job in Richmond or Raleigh. No, it is a little bigger deal than that. In order for us to connect, it usually takes a full day of travel or one 3 hours and expensive non-stop plane adventure. Because for now, I am remaining at the church as pastor and maintaining our home in DC and thankful for Washington Plaza’s flexibility for me to commute to see Kevin when he can’t come home to see me. Though I know we are not alone in the “commuter marriage,” we hate the separation and can only seem to make it 2 weeks before we need to see each other face to face.
But, there is something larger at work in all of this. What is marriage? What does it mean when your spouse is given a once in a lifetime opportunity in another state in a place where you know no one? Do you continue to go your own path as if nothing has changed? Or, do you seek to uncover the jewels that such an experience might offer you– even as the supportive partner?
The process of discernment that has taken root in me over the last couple of months has been one where I’ve been reminded at every juncture that I said to Kevin on a sunny day in October in 2007 that “wherever he goes I will go.” And so now we are here. We are here at the hard place of discernment. We are here at the place when the words on the page go from a beautiful reading for a wedding ceremony to real life. I am here seeking to figure out what supporting Kevin and our marriage AND not loosing my own identity and calling looks like.
But for now this is what I know:
1. God wants our marriage to be strong. God did not call Kevin to lead Feed the Children and say, “Ok now is the time to screw Elizabeth.” No, as much as God provided and led Kevin into this new calling for his life, God is equally going to do the same for me. I’m just waiting to see how the pieces of the puzzle shake out.
2. Communication, communication, communication. How often it is that expectations and important feelings aren’t expressed (especially when you live in different places) that cause trouble that neither partner meant toward the other. If you are serious about marriage, I’ve found I’ve got to make time for talking, talking and more talking to my partner– as much time as I would any of the other basic necessities in my life. And, “I’m sorry” is never a bad phrase to begin with either . . .
3. Marriages are meant to bless others. Kevin and I are a strong team of support for each other (which is why we got married in the first place!). As we find ways to move forward TOGETHER in all that is ahead, the result is not just about our own sanity or happiness (though these things are good). Rather, if Kevin and I stick together in all of this, the result will be more blessings for those around us. More hospitality for those without it . More friendship for those who need it. More clarity of mission and calling as to why we all are alive.
Though our life journeys have taken an unexpected turn this year, I’m so happy to be on this adventure with Kevin. The best is just yet to be . . . I hope!
We’re still on this discernment journey of the logistics– so if you are the praying kind, I’d appreciate any support in this way as the story goes on. I’ll keep you posted.