If You Want to Be Happy for the Rest of Your Life…

“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14 KJV).

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The apostle Paul wrote these words to the church at Corinth, a group of believers near and dear to his heart. People have interpreted this scripture in multiple ways, some more correct than others. One of those interpretations has a bearing on marriage, especially with regards to a Christian and a non-believer. The scripture itself is a reference to an Old Testament decree in Deuteronomy 22 that decrees the Jews were forbidden to yoke a donkey and an ox together because the weaker animal will work itself to death attempting to keep up with the stronger with no hope of escape.

This translates well to the concept of marriage where one partner is tied to the other for life. The example of why this is a vital decree is no more apparent that in the story of Mark Twain and his wife, Olivia L. Langdon. When they first married, Twain was a bitter antagonist of Christianity who often defamed it directly in his speech and indirectly in his writing. Despite his beliefs, at first, he consented to her pleas and participated in church activities and family prayer.

However, within a few years, he told his wife, “Livy, you may keep this up if you want but you must excuse me from it….I don’t believe in the Bible; it contradicts my reason. I can’t just sit here and listen to it, letting you believe that I regard it, as you do, ….as the word of God.” Over time, her exposure to his criticism and skepticism whittled away at her own beliefs. After a great deal of personal loss and trouble, Twain told his wife, “Livy, if it comforts you to lean on the Christian faith, do so.” Her sad reply was, “I can’t….I haven’t any.”

Langdon married Twain convinced that if she was pious enough and set the right example, her husband would eventually see the light and become a true Christian as she wished, yet the reverse is what actually occurred. The bond between husband and wife is an essential one over the course of a lifetime, and this is why Christians should be aware of the truth that God has a partner for them and that it is essential to listen to His heeding when choosing a spouse.

My own marriage stands as a testament to this fact. Had I had my way, I might have married a man I was madly in love with and who I left many friends and family members behind for. We still speak occasionally, and I will admit here and now that, as my first love, he will always sit on a special shelf in my heart. Nothing can or will ever change that. However, it was not God’s will for me to marry this man, however wonderful and sensitive he may be, and be yoked to him for life. God’s choice was Wayne, the man I am currently married to and have been for over eleven years.

Wayne and I met in 1997 when I began attending Valdosta State University, and very quickly, we became best friends. What I didn’t know was that he had been in love with me nearly from the beginning of our relationship and had something else in mind for us. However, when I told him I’d be moving to another town to be with the man I saw as my future, he didn’t protest. We had a heart-to-heart about it, a tearful one if memory serves, but he had the foresight to let me go and see the truth for myself. And in less than a year, as Christmas approached, I felt myself yearning for something familiar, something that felt like home, and I returned to my family and to Wayne (who by the way was more than happy to help me move back to Valdosta).

The man I left behind, as I said, is a wonderful man. He is kind and sensitive to a fault and often gives too much of himself to those he’s with. He is, without a doubt, truly good. However, being “good” does not make one a Christian, as so many professing Christians claim. The simple truth is this—to be a Christian means that one has a relationship with Jesus Christ, that he/she has accepted him as Savior after recognizing that he/she is dead in sin and relegated to hell without the blood of Christ for our salvation and justification before God.

Had I continued to persist in my own will and done things my own way, I likely would have married the good man in question and fallen away from my faith as Livy did. Praise God that the man to whom I am yoked is my equal in all ways–mentally, physically, and most importantly, spiritually. He shares my beliefs and strengthens them on a daily basis. When I am inclined to forget the teachings of the Bible, he reminds me, and when I am out of focus, he helps me see the truth again. I’d like to think that I do the same for him, and our attempts to edify each other have done nothing but pay dividends over the course of our marriage. We’ve been through many struggles and trials over the past five years, and while I don’t wish to repeat any of them, I know those were purifying trials that made our marriage stronger and helped us both to grow in our walk with the Lord. And that is something I wouldn’t change for the world.

 

Oh, and another piece of advice, marry someone with whom you can make beautiful music!

Playing Phone Tag With My Muse

Norman Vincent Peale once said that, “The cyclone derives its powers from a calm center. So does a person.” Mayhap that has been the root cause of my difficulty behind the keyboard as of late. For more weeks than I care to count, I’ve been, as my grandmother might say “riled up” about one thing or another. Struggles at work, time management problems, issues of over-commitment to various projects and groups–the list goes on and on. In fact, it often feels impossible to have a “calm center” anymore when life has its thumb on the scales and keeps them so unbalanced.

My novel, Paint by Numbers, was begun just prior to NaNoWriMo, and as a first time participant in that grand experiment in madness, I emerged victorious. Yes, I wrote over 50,000 words in thirty days, and I had a ball during every single minute of it.

That novel now sits at just under 56,000 words. Yes, since the NaNo binge, I’ve written next to nothing in it, about two chapters. Part of that problem had to do with the chapter dealing with faith, one I hadn’t anticipated having to write in a book about self-discovery and reclaiming one’s life. It feels awkward, stilted, and altogether slapdash, and I don’t want that to be the case. I got stuck there for quite some time, much like Artax in the Swamp of Sadness, and only recently did I return to the book. The larger issue, however, has to do with my time schedule and my motivation level as well as the requirements of my Diana Ross-like muse.

I work four days a week, which sounds pretty choice. However, those are ten hour days. Add the thirty-minute-each-way commute, and that means eleven hours of my day are spent doing things that are, for lack of a better term, cerebrally exhausting. I teach English at a technical college, so my days are a constant battle to motivate and aid students in everything ranging from technical questions to ones of subject matter, and after getting home at 6:20 or later most of those days, the last thing I’m ready to do is sit down and create a new chapter. In fact, I rarely have the wherewithal to read a book written by someone else. How pitiful.

In addition to being a teacher and a writer, I am also a musician (albeit not a very talented one). This means that I enjoy playing as well as writing, though I must work more diligently to be successful at it. Currently, I’m involved in my church’s orchestra, and that means Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings are off the table as far writing time is concerned. (However, I wouldn’t change that for anything. I love serving with my talent and spending time with the other players!) I’ve also recently joined a local wind ensemble to get more time behind the mouthpiece and to make friends in the area who share my passion, so Monday evenings vanished as well. Playing for pit orchestras and other events have also cut into my time and sapped some of my creativity, but I don’t want to give them up because I enjoy them too much and because it is something my husband and I can do together. We met in college in the music program, and it is something that always serves as a common denominator in our relationship.

That leaves Tuesday and Thursday evenings as well as the three day weekend. Writing on Fridays was working out for a while and served to help me fill up pages with words, but I’ve been using Fridays these last few weeks to recover from long weeks filled with work and multiple performances. (For example, with the Cinderella pit I mentioned in my last post, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings were devoted to pit as well as a 3:00 PM matinee on Sunday. This past Saturday was a double header. There’s no time to write when you’re flipping pages or trying to grab a meal between shows.) Add onto this the need to buy food, keep a relatively clean house, and spend a little time with family, friends, and pets, and my time for writing grows slimmer and slimmer. I tried to cut working out totally out of my schedule, but I can’t really do that much longer. Caring for my body will again become another thing that I need to get in at least three times a week.

So now, we come to the heart of my writing dilemma.

I have been writing as of late. Oh yes, yes I have. I’ve written several poems and a handful of short stories for various projects and groups I’m involved with, and two of the stories have been pretty darned good. However, I want to finish Paint By Numbers so badly it makes my teeth ache, and every time I have time and energy enough to devote to it, I sit down and nothing flows from the tap. At least not the way it did during NaNo. The difference was that I was focused utterly and completely on that book. My writing group suspended work for the handful of us brave (and/or stupid) enough to take on the challenge, and I could put aside all my other activities without guilt.

I didn’t care that I wasn’t working out and that my body was losing out a little, I wasn’t concerned with community bands or pit orchestras, parts of the house went to seed, and I was down to eating dry cereal and applesauce by the end. That was an acceptable lifestyle for me for a period of thirty days, but I couldn’t stay there forever, refusing to grow up like Peter Pan and his Lost Boys in Neverland. Some level of compromise must be attained to live a life worth writing about and having the time to actually write about it. I have yet to find that balance, and I don’t even know where to begin. I just know that I the book can’t stay in writer’s limbo indefinitely. Unlike the millions of zygotes “chilling out” in fertility clinics, I think this baby of mine has a limited shelf life. I don’t want to lose something that has real potential to the malaise of time.

 Ray Bradbury once said, “You fail only if you stop writing,” and I can happily say that I haven’t stopped in a very long time. I lost the fire years ago, and for far too long, that part of me lay dormant and almost dead. But she’s alive and awake and demanding attention now, my muse. I just have to figure out a way to appease her on a limited schedule, which is hard to do with a diva.

Fairy Tale Envy

Glass Slippers: Neither Necessary Nor Practical

This weekend, I had to do a little soul-searching regarding my reaction to another person’s joyous moment. I volunteered to play French horn in the pit orchestra for a local production of Cinderella, which was great fun and allowed me to make some new friends and grow as a musician. The young woman playing the lead role was playing opposite her real life boyfriend of several years. During the Saturday evening performance, he matched her with her missing shoe but then deviated from the script by pulling her center stage and asking her if he would be his “forever princess” and presenting her with a diamond engagement ring. The musical then continued on to the wedding sequence and ended as planned.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I don’t like ostentatious displays of emotion. I’m not comfortable watching them or participating in them, and I am rarely motivated to cry. It isn’t that I don’t feel things very deeply; I am just distressingly uncomfortable with expressing my feelings. (Aside from anger that is…I’ve got that one down fairly well.) Therefore, my first reaction to this heartwarming little scene was not that of 99.9% of the women in the audience that evening. Unlike them, I did not tear up, scream with joy, or clap my hands. I might have smiled a little, but that’s all. It was the second performance of the day, and after eight performances of a fairy tale musical, it begins to grate on the nerves.

My nearly Vulcan reaction to the scene wasn’t what gave me great pause, but my thoughts on the matter afterwards did. The young lady in question, I’m told, is the picture of loveliness and kindness. She and I have spoken exactly three words together, and they happened the night of her engagement:

Me: “Congratulations.”

Her: “Thank you.”

That’s as far as our relationship goes, and barring our working together in another musical, I doubt it will develop to any further.

On the way home, I began to think about the difference in her life situation and mine, and in my writerly way, I began to cull details I had noticed and learned about her to create a story that would allow me to dislike her intensely. I began playing my own version of “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not” with my memories and imaginings, alternating between what she (likely) has and what I have. For instance, she’s been the star of several well-received musicals. She’s young, beautiful, wealthy (from what I could see), and has very few limitations placed on her life. She is earning her doctoral degree from a prestigious university and, again I’m guessing here, has likely never known suffering or compromise. The version of her I created is every bit the princess she played on stage, and that was what began to stick in my craw the more I thought about it.

In contrast, I spent those nine shows dressed in black, stuck in a corner and playing what seemed to be an endless series of upbeats. The only time I was noticed was when I missed a note or a rhythm, and I’m sure few even took note of those mistakes (pun intended). Unlike the paper doll I’d envisioned in my mind, I am hardly princess material. I stand nearly six feet tall and boast few physical graces.  I know what William Faulkner described as “the old thrill and the old despair of a penny more or less,” my dreams of a Ph.D. and a university career grow more ephemeral with each passing year, and I’ve been beset by more health and personal troubles in the last half decade than I care to admit. In essence, while she was being waltzed around the stage, I was emptying spit out of my horn during a tacet number.

Envy, the “green-eyed monster which doth mock / The meat it feeds on,” was what was gnawing at me. That and nothing else. After all, from where I sat, she had just about everything I (and any other red-blooded American female) want, and I started ruminating on that and losing perspective on life. I was positively catty most of the next day because of it, but the more I pondered both that moment and my reaction to it, I realized that it was not justified.

It also wasn’t Christian. So I went in search of scripture to help me “get my mind right” as the Captain from Cool Hand Luke might say. A search through both the Old and New Testaments turned up several instructive passages, the most relevant of which were:

“For wrath kills a foolish man, And envy slays a simple one.”–(Job 5:2)

“A sound heart is life to the body, But envy is rottenness to the bones.”–(Proverbs 14:30)

“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”–(1 Corinthians 13: 4-7)

“For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.”– (James 3:16)

The truth of the matter is quite clear from these few scriptures. Envy is something everyone is prone to as it is a weakness of the flesh and is not of the spirit. Focusing on what she had and what I “lacked” only weakened me spiritually. I couldn’t take joy in the things that I do have–a loving family, a husband who adores me, good health despite my MS diagnosis, friends, a church home, and above all, a God who loves me and who has a plan for me that is right and just though I lack the power to discern it as of yet. To wish I had another’s life is fallacious as it would deny me all the good things I enjoy in my own, and wasting my time in envy is only harming my soul and sense of well-being. Unless the young lady in question ever reads this blog entry, she will never know my thoughts or what it took for me to see the error in them.

I may never get the “glass slipper,” and instead of spending my life “bemoan[ing] my outcast state” as Shakespeare put it in “Sonnet 29,” I am meant to trust and obey and to be content with my lot. Quite honestly, I have neither earned nor deserved the blessings that are already mine, and to wish them away for those of another is nothing but injurious to my own soul and detrimental to my fellowship with God.