The ghost of Halloween Past

In October of 1996, the Happy Just-Friend approached me and asked if I would accompany her to a Halloween party in College Station, Texas. If you don’t grasp the gravity of that request right away, let me tell you that College Station, Texas, is the last place on earth any University of Texas student wants to visit—especially on Halloween—because it is the home of Texas A&M University, UT’s arch rival in football and our main competition for the hearts, minds, and loyalty of Texans everywhere. This rivalry is not typically friendly. Aggies and their supporters are some of the most rabid (seriously, mouth-foamingly rabid) proponents of an institution that you’ll find anywhere, and their passion for their school is matched only by their hatred of UT. However, the Happy Friend’s best friend from high school was attending A&M at the time. (Let me add here that Amy, my wife’s friend, is a wonderful person and one of the best things ever to come out of that school.) She invited us to an Aggie Sisters for Christ party, and it apparently meant a lot to her. Since I didn’t want my Happy Friend to have to make the two-hour drive alone, I agreed to go.

Three words: Worst Halloween ever.

The first thing I noticed when we showed up at the party was that it wasn’t a party—it was a dance. I hate, hate, hate dances. I can’t dance. I don’t like to dance. I don’t like watching people dance. I would rather spend an entire day at the beach than two hours at a dance, and I really don’t like beaches. I wanted to turn around and leave as soon as we arrived, but I didn’t. The next thing I noticed was that the dance was not a slow-dance-that-anyone-can-do kind of event. No, it was a country-and-western event where if you didn’t know how to do the Texas Two-Step you might as well attach yourself to the wall and stay there all night. Then I noticed that the Happy Friend and I were pretty much the only people not wearing costumes. So we spent the evening sitting off to the side, drinking punch, talking as much as we could over the blaring C&W music, enduring a raucous rendition of The Aggie War Hymn (the words of which are basically “That school over in Austin sucks so much we refuse even to speak its name correctly and Aggies rule yeah!” repeated 173 times), looking like non-dancing non-costume wearing party poopers, and feeling pretty much like pork chops at a bar mitzvah. It was good that we got to spend some time with Amy, always a pleasurable experience, but the whole thing was pretty uncomfortable.

After it was finally over, we made the two-hour trek back home. When I dropped my Happy Friend at her house, I got out of the car and gave her a hug like I had always done before. At the end of the hug, as she was pulling away, she did something she had never done before. She kissed me on the cheek and said, “Thanks for going to the party with me.”

Three words: Best. Halloween. Ever.

Comments, please

Yesterday I wrote about my friend Todd, a married Christian man who struggles with homosexuality and a pornography addiction. I sort of expected to get a lot of comments on it, but the comments never came. I didn’t mean to scare anyone away with my warning statement at the end of the post (“Please note that any discussion about…homosexuality lies outside the scope of this blog…blah, blah, blah…”). I just didn’t want to get unhelpful comments like “Gay people suck and he doesn’t deserve to be married blah, blah, blah….”

The whole story has been weighing on my mind for a while, and I haven’t really shared it with people until yesterday. In fact, it is the first time this particular story has been told in public, albeit with a pseudonym for Todd. (The post had the explicit approval of both Todd and his wife, by the way.) We were both a little relieved to get it out in the open like that, and then we got no indication that anyone had read it.

Thus far in the life of this blog I have not begged for comments, and I promise never to do so ever again for at least another three months, but please leave your thoughts. (If you’ve never done that, you can leave a comment by clicking the Comments link below and typing a message into the text box in the window that appears.)

Real commitment

I have a friend who, for my purposes here, I’ll call “Todd.” Of the many things Todd and I have in common, two of the most important are that we’re both committed Christians and we’re both committed husbands married to wonderful women. He’s one of the people I look to when I get discouraged, because he loves God and he loves his wife and he shows me that I’m not alone in my struggles.

In a conversation we had recently, Todd told me that he battles against an addiction to pornography. He had hinted at that before, but it didn’t strike me as an insurmountable problem. All he had to do was avoid the magazines, porn shops, and web sites—problem solved. Until that conversation, I didn’t realize that pornography can wreak havoc in a person’s life as easily as heroin. I didn’t realize how debilitating such an addiction can be, nor how helpless a person can feel against it. This addiction was real, it was serious, and it was damaging his marriage.

If that confession was a stick of dynamite, what he told me next was a full-fledged bomb. “I struggle with homosexuality,” he said. “And the pornography I’m addicted to is gay pornography.” Perhaps only another conservative Christian can appreciate the pain and difficulty involved in his making that statement, and in my receiving it. (If this bothers you, please read the statement at the end of this post.)

I can’t really speak to his state of mind at the time, but I can tell you how it affected me. The revelation shocked me, to say the least, and in a way infuriated me as well. I felt no anger toward Todd—I love him as much as I ever have, maybe more, and nothing has changed that—but I felt a lot of anger at the situation. I know this is irrational, but I was furious at homosexuality for existing, for invading his life, for causing him feelings of guilt and isolation, for placing a nearly unbearable strain on his marriage, for holding him back from true peace with God and others, as if it were an entity that could be fought, an enemy that could be hated. Hours after our conversation had ended—days, even—I was still numb, not knowing how to feel. The entire situation confused me, addled my mind, and forced me to rethink a few things.

First, I had to re-evaluate the encouragement I drew from Todd’s marriage. I had always assumed that both our marriages were based on the mutual love, respect, and attraction we felt with our wives. After learning of his homosexual struggle, though, I had to wonder whether his marriage existed more because of social pressure and familial expectations. Second, I wondered whether he would actually stay with his wife now that his secret was out (he had told six people, including his wife, before me). Third, I wondered whether his wife would actually stay with him.

Upon subsequent conversations, my fears about his commitment to his marriage dissipated. Regardless of his struggles, Todd truly does love his wife and will not repeal the commitment he made to her. The whole ordeal, I think, has been harder for his wife. From her perspective, she now lives with a man wholly different from the one she fell in love with, one in whom she has invested much of her life. When she found out, I’m sure she felt a betrayal that touched the core of her being. She continues to feel that. She continues to feel angry and wronged and cheated out of the life she knew, a life she knows she can never have again. But she remains committed to Todd and to their marriage. With God’s help and the support of her closest friends, she makes it through those days when she feels no hope. The two of them have good days, bad days, and horrific days, but they so far remain committed to restoring their relationship to a state of true love, trust, and devotion. In a time when so many couples split for no reason other than boredom, their commitment inspires and encourages me and raises the bar for everyone.

This is an excerpt from a note I wrote Todd’s wife recently:

Todd is quickly becoming one of my heroes in the faith, and I get the feeling that if I communicated as much with you as I do with him that you’d be near the top of my “most admired” list as well. I sometimes get discouraged when I see so many marriages fall apart for very little reason. For the two of you to persevere through one of the hardest tests I can imagine encourages me more than I can express.

And this is from a letter I wrote to Todd:

I have a tendency to look at the Christian life as a holy standard by which to live and judge ourselves, as a guideline showing us how to make the right choices, as a description of God and how we can serve Him. I’m slowly expanding that understanding, looking more at what God can do than what I can do, and a lot of that stems directly from you.

Todd still struggles with his addiction, and he and his wife are going through some pretty intensive counseling. But they both have exceeded any and all reasonable expectations of them and are emerging stronger because of it. True Godly love is not reasonable. True Godly love is sacrificial, extravagant, and enduring. Their efforts and their marriage encourage me more than ever before, because they are living proof of the power of true Godly love.

Please note that any discussion about the acceptability/sinfulness/biology/psychology of homosexuality lies outside the scope of this blog. Todd and I both believe that God intends for marriage and (therefore) sex to exist between a man and a woman. Trust me, we’ve talked about it and we both know all the facts/arguments on both sides of the issue, so have that discussion in another forum.

The name game

In a conversation with some long-married friends the other day, my wife made a statement along the lines of, “No marriage is perfect. All couples encounter issues that threaten to tear them apart. I guess it’s inevitable. But we’ve been married five and a half years and still haven’t experienced anything like that yet. Sometimes I wonder what it’s going to be.” Our long-married friends pretty much simultaneously said, “Kids.”

Our marriage hasn’t been entirely free of conflict. We’ve had to work through deep misunderstandings, seriously injured feelings, and cherished but opposite ideas about how the world should function. But like Mrs. Happy said, we’ve never had to deal with an issue that shook our foundation. If that’s ever going to happen, though, it will probably happen some time near the birth of our first child.

I say that because the first argument we ever had concerned the naming of children, and it occurred before we even thought about each other romantically. For some reason, we started talking about names that we liked, and I took the opportunity to share my thoughts about naming children. I love my name because I’m named after people in my family. My first name comes from my father’s oldest brother, my middle name comes from a great grandfather who died before I was born but who my mother speaks very fondly of, and my initials match the initials of my grandfather, whose entire name consists solely of those initials. I’d like for my children to have names like that. A special bond forms between a child and his namesake. My uncle and grandfather are both still alive, and I’m sure that my bearing their names means as much to them as it does to me. I never knew my great grandfather, but I knew his wife, and I think I may have held a special place in her heart because the name everyone calls me was the name she called her husband. My name also gives me a feeling of connection to my family and my past that I might never have had otherwise. So I’d like to name my kids after family members.

When I explained my well-thought-out, deeply significant philosophy about naming children, the Happy Friend looked upon me with a mixture of pity, horror, and abject sympathy for any woman unfortunate enough to one day become my wife. “What are some of your family members’ names?” she asked. I listed a few, none of which seemed acceptable to her. She shook her head sadly. “You can’t just make a decision like that. You’re leaving your wife out of the whole process entirely. You’re so set on this that she won’t have a choice,” she said, continuing to shake her head. I tried to point out that I wasn’t locked into any particular name. Once I’m married, my wife and I will have two entire families’ names to choose from. Surely we would be able to find something that we agree on. I failed to convince her, and she didn’t stop shaking her head for several minutes.

“Okay, fine,” I said. “How are you going to decide on a name for your kids?” She got sort of a blissful look on her face, as if she had put a lot of thought into it and arrived at a perfect conclusion. She said, “I’ve always wanted to have a girl and name her Laura.” I laughed for the rest of the day.

Now that we’re married, Mrs. Happy has become the object of her own previous pity. We talk about names every once in a while and never reach any sort of agreement. She wants our kids to have nice, pretty names that somewhere include Laura. I would still like to draw names from our families, even though I admit that our families do have some pretty strange names. We haven’t had any truly serious arguments about it, but then again we haven’t conceived a child yet. Since we know it’s an issue, hopefully we’ll be able to work it out before it before it turns into a conflict.

The M-word

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Jesus’ statement on lust and adultery. An article in the current issue of Christian Counterculture deals with this topic in a frank and practical way by looking specifically at the topic of masturbation:

Is masturbation a trivial issue that we need to stop worrying about so much? Or is it a big deal?

I think it’s both. Let me explain. First, I think Christians make too big a deal of masturbation in that we obsess over the act and neglect the more important issues of the heart. No question, God is concerned with our actions, but He’s even more interested in our motivations. Men and women I talk to are often consumed with how many times they’ve masturbated, but I think God wants us to be more concerned with the soil of our hearts.

Read the whole thing.

Marriage links for the week

In the absence of a brutal dictator, love and marriage now thrive in Iraq. This story marks the first time I’ve seen the word ululation used by anyone other than my friend Mickey. It means “howl or wail.”

News, views, and findings about marriage.

Two people find love late in life.

Never assume you’re incapable of adultery, because that assumption will disintegrate your defenses and make an affair all the more likely. “Those who assume that only bad people in bad marriages cheat can blind themselves to their own risk.” Read the story here.

I’ve loved every single pet I’ve ever had, but this is just wrong.

Speaking of pets, take a look at this great photo of Jeff’s cat.

The marriage kitchen

My wife and I share in the housework. One of my main responsibilities is the kitchen. I have to keep the stove and oven clean, sterilize the countertops, sweep and mop the floor, throw out old leftovers, take out the trash, etc. I hate washing dishes more than any other chore, though. I’ve heard of machines that wash dishes for you, and I hope against hope that they actually exist and that some day I will own one. For now, though, I wash them by hand in the kitchen sink. I usually put it off as long as I possibly can. I know from multiple experiences in my bachelorhood how unpleasant a kitchen can become when I wait too long on that: Mold grows, roaches congregate, mice investigate, and women run away screaming. I haven’t let my kitchen get that bad since I got married.

The best, healthiest way to take care of a kitchen and keep it clean is to clean it every day. With a little bit of work every day, I can keep it clean so that mold has no chance to grow, roaches and mice have no reason to wander in, and women have to fumble around for some other excuse to leave. But I’m lazy. I let three or four days’ worth of dirty dishes accumulate before I do anything about it. I end up doing a good deal more work washing half a week’s dishes all at once than I would have if I had just put a little effort into maintaining a clean kitchen over each of those days.

So is it hard to have a kitchen? Yes. Would I give it up? Never. A kitchen is one of the biggest blessings of modern life. It’s where my wife makes chicken pot pie and chocolate chip cookies, two of my favorite sensual experiences. It’s where we can converse with friends over a common cooking activity. It’s where we can find a bit of comfort in a late-night snack. Without my kitchen, what would I do? I’d have to eat out for every meal, a habit that would deplete my bank accounts and quickly become tedious in spite of the variety of restaurants near my house. I’d have to get all my glasses of water from the bathroom and keep the refrigerator on my porch. I’d lose the social heart of my home. I have to put effort into maintaining my kitchen, but I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

I thought about this the other day when I read somewhere that there are two kinds of marriages: bad marriages and hard marriages. Everyone says marriage is hard, that it requires a lot of effort, that trouble and pain and knockdown drag-out fights are par for the course. Every time I hear such a statement, it seems that the speaker or writer is adding under his breath, "…and it’s just not worth it."

The truth, though, is that marriage is like a kitchen, only more so. Every day I have to let my wife know how much I love her. I have to build her up, enrich her life, and make her glad to be married to me. This requires effort, sometimes strenuous and difficult effort, but the effort is a joy. If I maintain my relationship with my wife, I find rewards worth more than I ever imagined. If I didn’t maintain, things would deteriorate and I would end up with more of a mess than I ever dreamed. So is marriage hard? Yes. Would I give it up? Never. Without my wife, what would I do?

Cold feet

Seven or eight years ago, on a nippy night in November or December, I stood in the parking lot outside my apartment with The Happy Just-Friend. We used to stand in that parking lot quite a bit, usually at night and regardless of the weather, because I would always walk her to her car at the end of her near-daily visits and it always took us a while to get around to saying good-bye. At those times, we would stand under the stars of the big Texas sky and talk (at that point, yes, we actually did spend all of our good-bye time talking) about anything and everything to delay her leaving. This particular night, we had a conversation about marriage.

She spoke of things she wanted in a husband. I don’t remember what they were. I spoke of things I wanted in a wife. I do remember one of the things I said: “I’ve always wanted a wife who would let me warm my feet on her legs in the winter.” (That was on my mind because my feet were cold at the time, their constant state whenever the temperature drops below 60.) So my best Just-Friend looked at me and said, “I would do that.” It didn’t faze me. I nodded my head, gave her a hug, and said good-night to the fabulous young woman who was just my friend. I really was an ignorant clod.

Anyway, years later The Happy Just-Friend became Mrs. Happy, and she had to make good on her promise. She regretted ever having made it. My feet actually form a more accurate gauge of outside temperatures than inside. In other words, if the temperature in our bedroom holds steady at 70 degrees while snow falls outside, the skin temperature on Mrs. Happy’s legs stays somewhere between room temperature and her overall body temperature whereas my feet feel more like the snow. Her legs serve as the perfect heating device for my feet, though, and however much she may dislike my popsicle toes I believe she cherishes the opportunity to warm them.

My hands get pretty cold, too, but I don’t have to wait for bedtime to warm them on her back. Every time I do that, she grits her teeth and scrunches her face until my frigid hands make contact with her warm skin, and then she reacts with fairly violent spasms, playful slaps, and finally laughter. Sometimes her hands get cold and she does the same thing to me, and it’s just as fun. Please forgive my sappiness, but I love her.

Marriage in the blogosphere

I don’t often see a post about marriage in someone else’s blog, but
yesterday the Rev. Donald Sensing at One Hand Clapping wrote a
fairly long post about marriage, cohabitation, and
premarital counseling
. Take a look at that, then read the lively
discussion in the comments section.

I exchanged e-mails with a couple of the commenters, thanking them
for their thoughts. One of them was Michael Williams, who has his own blog called Master of None. He pointed me to a couple of posts he’s written regarding his uncertainty about getting married some day (in response to Rev. Sensing’s post), his thoughts on love and marriage, and the importance of marriage. He has some good thoughts that are pretty insightful, especially for a single man. Check out the rest of his blog, too. Good stuff.

More on marriage protection

Last week, I wrote about President Bush’s Marriage Protection Week proclamation. I said in the comments that “there’s a difference between supporting the idea of marriage and supporting the practice of marriage. Everyone supports the idea, but a lot of high-profile people oppose the practice through infidelity, separation, and divorce. I think what Bush is doing here is supporting the practice, and I applaud that.”

Predictably, some people didn’t like the proclamation. Homosexual groups saw it as a flagrant attempt to undermine their efforts to get official legal recognition for same-sex unions. Out of the entire 398-word proclamation, they focused on ten words: “Marriage is a union between a man and a woman.” An article posted on the Gay Financial Network web site stated that most activities surrounding Marriage Protection Week did not actually try to strengthen marriage but rather promoted “a systematic plan for stopping gay marriage in the U.S.”

The article makes many points that are inaccurate, exaggerated, and paranoid. But I looked at the web sites for Focus on the Family and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and searched for the phrase “marriage protection.” The results consisted almost entirely of articles about passing a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a one-man, one-woman enterprise, or as one article put it, “to develop a cohesive and workable plan to aid and assist churches in responding to the well-organized and well-funded effort to redefine marriage.” Here are some of the search results from the FOTF site: – CitizenLink – FNIF News – Marriage Protection Pledge Catching On

Arizona congressman, Colorado state representative among the first to declare their support for one-man, one-woman marriage. – CitizenLink – Extras – Thank President Bush for ‘Marriage Protection’ Proclamation

Homosexual activists are in an uproar because the White House has acknowledged that marriage is a “sacred institution” and a “union between a man and a woman.” – CitizenLink – FNIF News – Marriage Protection Campaign Launched

Pro-family organizations hope to reach two million churches with the message that the preservation of marriage must be a priority for every American. – CitizenLink – FNIF News – Marriage Protection Week Set for Oct. 12-18

Dozens of pro-family groups banding together to celebrate, defend traditional definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. – CitizenLink – Encourage Your Pastor to Support Marriage

Visit the Family Research Council’s Marriage Protection Week Web site to download a sample sermon on the importance of one-man, one-woman marriage.

This is disappointing. What should have been a time to celebrate marriage, to encourage, to educate, to strengthen the institution, instead became a political attack. Pro-family groups should have offered programs to combat divorce, to grow couples closer together, to help families get along, to teach men to take more responsibility, to teach husbands and wives how to love each other more effectively, live in joyful intimacy, and make marriage last. Instead, two of the most prominent pro-family groups in the country (the ERLC is part of the Southern Baptist Convention) used it as an opportunity for political gain.

For the record, I believe in one-man, one-woman marriage. I wish the definition of marriage wasn’t even an issue. I wish our past leader(s) had been strong enough and principled enough to let the country know by statement or example how the institution of marriage should function. I know that in reality there are people trying to redefine it, and they probably have a lot of support so it has become an ideological fight. But I thought that Marriage Protection Week was going to be an opportunity to advance the knowledge and the practice of marriage. Instead, it turned into a political argument about what marriage is not.