Saturday, July 11, 2009

Compare and Contrast

A couple of weekends ago, the woman who introduced Jacob to me got married. She and her husband are both pastors and their wedding was exactly the one that - when I pictured another wedding - I pictured for myself before I met Jacob.

Since I had sworn off men who wouldn't understand my desire for the spiritual, I assumed that I would marry another Christian, you know, if I could find one who didn't have any weird, latent misogynistic tendencies. We would do Bible studies together at the kitchen table and volunteer to be counselors for the high school camping trip at our church. More importantly, when I needed to talk about the decisions I had to make in life, he would understand the language I was using and the framework that I was making the decisions within. I would be known and my future husband would be able to support me fully. This would be reflected in our wedding that would be casual and liturgical, with both of us participating fully in its solemnity and fun. It would be very church-y with communion and the guests singing hymns (I had to settle for hymns being played by the organist as mood-setting music before the ceremony in my first wedding). There would be prayer and people would know that God was there. The very sure knowledge that I have that God loves me and that I know she loves me because she sent us Jesus would be felt by everyone who attended. There would be no altar call but my friends would more fully understand the appeal of the religion to me because they had experienced this wedding. (My cousin's pastor used to shout, "Play it again Ramona!" as they sang Victory in Jesus. We all loved the story so much that this Presbyterian knows all the words.)

(By the way, these three old white people crank it OUT. My family was not this funky. Just as weird; not as syncopated.)

But then I did meet Jacob and my desire for a man who held spirituality in the same spot on his priority list was fulfilled in a way that I never expected. As the months of our courtship went on and we began to imagine what our lives would look like if they included each other for the rest of them, I quickly lost track of that earlier relationship fantasy. The project of discovering a joint spiritual practice was so delightful and difficult that it dominated my field of vision.

So, Tabitha and Shane get married. She carries the bouquet I made and he wears the boutonniere I crafted. They had a praise team from their other church leading us all in song. They had two officiants who know them personally because both Tabitha and Shane are pastors themselves. In fact, they met in Divinity School. It was a raucous time since so many guests pitched in to create the event and finally got to enjoy the fruits of their labor. The more charismatic and evangelical pastor jokingly(?) attempted to convert the more WASP-y, non-denominational pastor (who I know and who does amazing social justice work) to his "one, true church." I loved the Jesus banter that arose out of a culture that I know so well. It was all in my language. Then, they serve communion to the congregation. They were so comfortable in their roles as spiritual people that the ritual of blessing the elements was both casual and sacred. At one moment, they messed something up and Shane leaned over out of habit to kiss Tabitha in what must have been a private ritual of reconciliation and love. They caught themselves in time so that they wouldn't kiss before they were announced formally.

In short, it was the wedding I always thought I'd have.

And I'm OK with that. However, I felt out of sorts for most of the evening and the next couple of days. I never doubted my choice of a life with Jacob. That wasn't it. But being confronted with a realization of one of made dreams forced me to consider it again.

When Jacob and I were first getting serious, I struggled with the transition from a life of personal independence to a new life of inter-dependence and compromise. My friend Shawna, who had just finished her chaplaincy at a local hospital, said, "All change, even good change, requires a period of mourning for the future you thought you would have." I knew this to be true because of my divorce. I will always say that the hardest part was picturing a future different from the one he and I planned together. For instance, while I was on the island, I had an intense experience in a spiritual circle with 4 other women in which they created a safe space through song and incense and I wept for the children that my ex-husband and I had already named and imagined distinct personalities for but whom I would never meet. So, I knew this to be true but had never applied it to good change.

That conversation made me comfortable with allowing myself to struggle internally without doubting the decision. That early experience helped me with Tabitha's wedding weekend. I knew that my mind and my heart had to compare what could have been with what will most likely be. The compare and contrast in itself does not signify that the choice is wrong. In fact, the process led me to a place of greater confidence in our relationship because in every comparison, life with Jacob was far and away a better option.

For instance, in addition to the wedding as option, my study group that I used to be close to were all in attendance. Jacob and I had arrived earlier than they had and so sat with his friends from college who were already there. I felt myself feeling a little resentful that I couldn't sit with my delightfully sarcastic friends and make snarky comments during the service, which is by far one of the most entertaining things that I ever participate in my life. Instead I had to sit with my earnest fiance who occasionally tells me that something I've said was mean, rather than laughing like I wanted him to. Worse, I have to sit with his friends who will probably think I'm mean to. If I sat with my friends then I would be able to be appreciated and loved since they love snarky comments as much as I do. That was part of our chemistry. We functioned at a level of trust that we were all good people and that our jokes were just jokes, not devious flank attacks.

This struggle was a perfect example of comparing a life that I used to want to the life I have chosen. I won't give up being sarcastic completely and I won't completely forgo my friends in favor of his. But the reality is that in a life with Jacob, I will be less sarcastic because he doesn't laugh as often at those kind of jokes and sometimes they hurt his feelings. And I will spend less time with my friends just like he will so that some of my friend time can be spent with his friends.

So, since the service hadn't started yet, I went over to see my friends and made some jokes and thought I was pretty cool. But when I went back to sit with Jacob, I realized that whoever else we sat with, I wanted to sit with him. I wanted to feel him squeeze my hand whenever the pastor says something that applies to us, too. I wanted to lean my head on his shoulder and dream about our wedding and know from his small sighs that he was thinking about the same thing. I just wanted to be with him.

I know that Jacob had similar second thoughts when we attended an Orthodox Jewish wedding a few weeks ago. We talked and talked and talked through that and now it was my turn. These experiences make us stronger and I'm glad for them. This process is so much more than I could have ever fantasized about. Jacob prays with me and is learning how to speak my faith language so that when I need to suss something out with someone who understands the framework I'm working within, he'll be able to help. But in addition to this, he can see my moral quandaries with an outsider's eye and help me out of the box when I get stuck. Our wedding reflects this. Our ketubah says more than simple vows could have said. We will complete the ritual of getting married by signing it there during the ceremony. We'll probably have a laying-on of hands so that present clergy can bless us. Our chuppah will be a symbol of the community that surrounds us. It will be comfortable and sacred. It will be the wedding that I never knew I wanted.

God is good and unexpected. I appreciate her grace in having offered Jacob to me.


ABG said...

Rebecca, you continue to make me imagine God and community and life in new ways. This entry--beautiful. What a good gift Jacob is to you (and I know you must be to him).

tabithak said...

Thank you for this. Your willingness to be vulnerable so that we might not only understand you better, but also understand ourselves better is so courageous. My eyes well up as I think about how much I will miss you and your honesty as a joyful piece of my daily routine.
--p.s. Shane and I are planning to get our family mission statement made into a framed ketuba-like piece. Yay for mutual inspiration!

Anonymous said...

I love this so much. I am not even sure where to start but posts like this really wish that we lived in the same place so we could grab coffee.

But yes. I actually cried while reading about your island ritual, and this: "It will be the wedding that I never knew I wanted" is true for all of us, I think. I am friends with a few lapsed Jews and all of us found ourselves having much more Jewish weddings than we ever thought we wanted, for example, and it's kind of amazing to come to these realizations together. Sometimes I feel the twinge you're describing, but I also think it's amazing to discover these things that you never knew you wanted.


Jake and Jess said...

personally - i hate it when people make shallow comments to thought-filled, personal, soul pouring entries. there is just something in those surface comments that makes me feel unappreciated, like a teenage misunderstood skater girl.

yet - although i have many thoughts related to this entry (yes, please!): your legs look HOT in that dress and in those shoes... H.O.T.