Abide : accept or act in accordance with (a rule, decision, or recommendation).
Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. – John 15:4-5
I keep my wedding bands in a small clay bowl. They join a vintage NYC token, a memento of our chance meeting on a subway platform almost 30 years ago. I take them off before approaching the work of ministry in my kitchen or when preparing to style one of the many full heads of my childrens hair. The bowl sits on the second shelf of a cabinet in the corner of our kitchen, very near the table I love so well. It’s become part of my daily rhythm to take them off and, often a day later, slide them on again.
I’ve wondered over that action the past two years. I’ve reached to open the cabinet door puzzled by my dilemma and unable in every way to quell my concerns. When had putting the rings on become a question? We were living and depending on the vine but the branches we leaned on had begun to weaken. Burdened with a deepening sense of frustration, I asked God what I should do when I didn’t want to wear the rings anymore.
They aren’t the rings I got married in. We wore matching gold bands for our wedding with the promise he’d give me a dream ring in year 5. When the pain of infertility met us at the doorstep of our early marriage dreams, I forgot about the ring. Focusing on a dream of motherhood consumed me. Its fulfillment satisfied a part of me that could not exist without it. That part of me was too busy to remember the rings or what they meant. I’d changed.
Year 5 brought our first spirit child and my promised dream ring but by then we’d already settled into an unsustainable pattern of never enough. And so began years of living pressed deep between the pages of a theology of suffering. We made it work, until we couldn’t. And still we changed.
The suffering strengthened us but it also made us tired. We became parents in the middle of it and walked through a long-awaited pregnancy with a fear I won’t name – changing yet again. We came through the battle bloodied and fragile – scraping the bottom of the barrel of belief but still holding on. We needed help then, but didn’t know how to ask for it.
Seated in the truth of 20 years are stories only married people know. The person I love most is also the person who challenges me and money or the struggle to make and keep it wore us down. The grind of trying so hard to make it all happen, all the time – wears on a soul. Our marriage became more about making it to the next day than a ministry and that bred dissatisfaction. I began to imagine another life. I believe Rodney did too. I missed my best friend. I think he did too.
The weeks leading up to our 20th anniversary were tense. Every exchange seemed to be filled with the question – will we move forward? Will we make it? I didn’t have an answer. Only the sustaining liturgy of words and thoughts in my Book of Common Prayer – a practice that kept me praying all year, especially when I had no words of my own.
Afraid of what the night might bring I stalled in the family room as long as I could before crawling into bed the night before our anniversary. A threshold I couldn’t escape waited for me and its doors flung wide to make room. The question demanded a response.
Bone and heart tired, I made my way to the bed imagining the field of muted flowers emblazoned on our sheets. I found him there – weeping. Core shaking, I can’t do this life without you tears. When he reached for me I joined him in a healing and hopeful lament. Equal parts cleansing and apology, humility, forgiveness and gratitude. Grace – all grace.
And then the word turned promised answer – Abide. It hovered over us like a cloud of manna we could reach for when we wanted.
Wrapped in the commandment to abide is obedience and observance, following and holding. Choosing to abide is remembering the promise, to stick to and stand by the decision we made.
There’s a hard truth behind the process of pruning. It’s painful. God lopped off whole chunks of our hearts to make our union ready for some of the things we’d face. What remains still needs refining. This is a season of pruning the unwanted parts, paring and slimming down to increase future fruitfulness and growth. I won’t pretend it hasn’t been hard.
We believe we have something worth keeping. God help us as we work for it. We can’t do it without him.
God says abide. Our rings are wrapped in stories bound in the forever of Gods dream for our union. The years represent the tangling of two lives multiplied now many times over. Our past present and future are in the filigree flowers, in the precious shimmer of tiny diamond chips set firmly in a band of platinum and gold. It is my dream ring. I will wear it always.
Happy Anniversary to my love … I know he’ll read this.
The next day he brought home my favorite peonies.
Let your handmaiden find grace in your sight … #GiveMeGrace