Arguing with Pink: Broken is Better Than Bent

Sometimes I argue with the music.

Usually this happens in the car while the radio is playing. There’s this song you’ve probably heard Pink sing. It’s catchy, not in a I’m-all-about-that-bass way, but more in a You’ve-lost-that-lovin’-feeling way. So catchy that it deserves to endure as a one of the great ballads of this generation.

But as foundational logic for relationships, particularly marriage, these lyrics stink. To be sure, the emotions are relatable. In case you don’t want to watch the video, let me summarize. Pink describes a beautiful, intimate trust in her lover (husband?) that flourishes until the seeds of that trust are undermined by her bad dreams and by some vague questions about their relationship that he purportedly airs in his sleep. She begs him for reassurance:

Just give me a reason,
Just a little bit’s enough
Just a second we’re not broken just bent
And we can learn to love again…

As an observation of human relationships, this is just brilliant. Her insecurity rings true. Like every woman I’ve ever known who has ever been a willing victim to the thief who stole her heart, she has those moments (in her sleep even) when she can’t relax in that love, when she wonders if his love is strong enough, big enough for her. It’s the dark side of archetypal womanhood. And he answers as any male archetype might:

I’m sorry I don’t understand where all of this is coming from
I thought that we were fine

This is where I start talking to the radio. I tell Pink, Honey, (I don’t call anyone Honey, except radio voices) nothing is going to get better as long as you keep calling this gaping distrust of love something less than what it is. As long as you say you’re just bent, merely dented out of shape, instead of broken. Admit your brokenness, I tell her. Don’t be so afraid. It’s the only way to learn to love, not again, but really learn it aright.

I understand her better than I understand him, so I am harder on her. But he’s just as bad. I thought that we were fine is such an easy way out. Fine? I ask him, Really, is that what you want for this woman whose heart you so dramatically stole? Fine?

Then I invite these two over to our house for a little counseling. I make them coffee and serve them banana bread with dark chocolate chips in it. I bring in my wiser, gentler better half, and we tell them that the only healing we have found for the brokenness of my insecurity and the brokenness of his inability to reassure me loudly or fully enough of his love is to own up to it deep at the core of our beings. To cease pretending we’re fine or bent, but to confess our utter brokenness.

Pink, I say, maybe he stole your heart, and maybe you were his willing victim. Maybe you let him see the parts of you that weren’t all that pretty. Your vulnerability is commendable and healthy. But he’s just a guy. A guy who thinks things are fine when they aren’t. So I’d rethink that part of your lyrics, too. With every touch you fixed them? Did he, now? Maybe if your unpretty parts are nothing more than a few bent chair legs. You could hammer those straight. But what if all your furniture and your house itself was broken? Totally, utterly broken. What if you were unable to be or do anything straight or right or enough to fix it? Stay with the guy long enough, go deep enough, and you’ll find this is true of you both.

My husband used to say, “Marriage will either harden you or humble you.”

Let this love humble you, Pink. Let it do what it was meant to do.

Then I ask her if she’d like to hear just one verse from the Bible. It’s in the Old Testament, but it is echoed in the New Testament when Jesus quotes it as his explanation for why he came to earth. It describes a love that is big and loud and effective enough for any middle-of-the-night insecurities and the daylight ones as well.

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, Because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted, He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners. (Isaiah 61:1)

Brokenness isn’t something to hide or minimize, no, it is what people just are. It is what marriages are. And Jesus came to heal broken people (and I would add broken marriages). Jesus never, ever says things are fine when they are not. And his love, like none other, can touch our unpretty and fix it. Fix and fix and fix, over and over and over. He doesn’t hammer us straight. His love makes us new every day and gives us a new song to sing. A brand new song.

As I finish my argument, I think of another song, one about the beauty of a long, dangerous, sure marriage between two broken people. I wouldn’t dare compare these two songs musically, because I like them both a lot. But I wonder if Pink would like to hear it? I hope she says yes.

Three Ways to Face Your (Worst) Fears

I am 57 years old. In a few paragraphs, you’ll understand why this is important.

I’ve written a book several editors like but won’t publish about how dying is essential to the emotional, spiritual, even sexual health of marriage and how I discovered this during the multiple times my husband’s physical health made death relevant. Here’s a brief laundry list of those times:

Cancer at 23, when I was his 21-year-old almost wife. Heart attack at 38, when I was 36 and the mother of his four young children. First of many heart stents in his late 40s when I was in my mid-40s. And then at 52, when I wasn’t quite 50, major heart surgery. A tiny little stroke and a carotid artery stent at 56, when I was 54.

54, it turns out, is the age when you cannot fake anything anymore, when if you’re terrified, you say it too loud, and if you’re overcome with fear you can’t help but show it. 54 is when you don’t wear a crisis well. The cumulative effect represented by that little stroke kind of did me in for a while. For a while.

This post is not about dying, it is about fear.

The thing is, I can’t stop loving Bill so much that the thought of losing him terrifies me to death. So when I read the other day that the average age of a widow is 57, the familiar fear crept in. That statistic stabbed me in the back. I am 57 for one more month. I began to wonder if I’d make it to 58. (I said it to Bill like that and he said, “Don’t you mean if I’ll make it?” Well, yes, but this – today – is about me.) And before I knew it, I was picturing what life would look like at 58 and 59 and 60 without the love of my life in my life. I missed him already. I wondered how I’d make our house payments and what I’d do to keep from going crazy in the silence. My imagination warped and trembled like a funhouse mirror during an earthquake.

I know fear, know it well. But when I said Bill’s little stroke did me in only for a while, I wasn’t pretending to have conquered fear once for all. 54 is also when, to survive, you cash in on what you have believed for close to 40 years. If it’s real, you need it by then. What you need is more ancient than any human life span, more certain than death. More sure than gravity and more solid than the ground gravity will pull you to if you jump from a cliff. What you don’t need are clichés or half-truths.

54 was when I got more deeply serious about my fears, not about running from them, but facing them. It’s a good catch phrase, to face fear. Here’s what I’ve learned about turning my face, eyes wide open, toward fear:

1. Go ahead and imagine the worst.

Because God does not promise it won’t happen. I don’t mean dwell on it, but allow your mind to admit that, yes, it could come to that. The fiery furnace moments, they purify us. Like when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego told the king that they trusted God, whether he delivered them from the flames or not. “Or not” was a gruesome reality, but they admitted it was a possibility.

In 1988, Bill and I sold our house, said goodbye to our family and friends, and hauled our little family to a small town on the West Branch of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania to a pastor a church that could barely pay us and didn’t know us well enough to love us… yet. We had CB radios to communicate from truck to car, and I used mine to say, a bit too late in the game, “BILL!! What have we done? We have left everything. Are you sure about this?” to which I think I might have added, “Over and out, good buddy.”

My wise, mostly fearless husband answered in a crackle of wisdom, “Kitti. The worst we can do is fail. And if that happens, we’ll just move back home.”

We visited that beautiful river valley this summer, almost thirty years later, and we marveled at what God did then and how he is doing it still among people who have become friends for life. We failed a lot, but he never has.

Somehow, facing the worst made me able to trust God for the best.

2. And speaking of the best, go ahead and jump right into it.

I remember attending a Tres Dias weekend years ago at a particularly low ebb in my life. If you know anything about Tres Dias you know those people are eerily secretive about what goes on at their weekends, but I don’t think I’m breaking any rules by telling you what I got out of it: Love big. I was in this place where I felt small, and as a result I gave small, I attempted small, I lived small. Suddenly I had permission, by their example, to give, love, act, obey big. To live a lavish life.

Even when others criticize you for spending money on that for them, when your plans get shot down, or disgruntled people on the sidelines tell you you’re nuts, or that it—whatever it is—is not worth the effort, jumping in to crazy best is better than jumping in to safe good. This is not carte blanche to do dumb things. But, really, isn’t it worth a few dumb things when you’re figuring out best, especially when best is simply your fumbling attempt to love? Don’t let fear rob you of that.

3. Finally, sing.

Actually, although I’m sure there’s research out there to support the endorphin benefits of singing in a crisis, I’m talking here about worship. Worship only starts with singing and then it stretches to serving and giving. All told, worship is the best fear-buster I know.

After his heart attack, when the helicopter dropped Bill off at the ICU a few hours from our small Pennsylvania town, a group of friends gathered in the waiting room with me, all of us shell-shocked and sad. They helped me process the doctor’s comments, prayed over me, and left. And I spent the night alone in that waiting room, sitting up straight in the hard, molded chair, feet on another in front of me, and head on the pillow a nurse gave me. I had my Bible with me, but I was too shaken to read it. I think I may have prayed. But what I remember best was that I sang. Out loud. Our God is an Awesome God, an anthem meant for good acoustics and better voices than mine. At dawn I let my Bible fall open and my bleary eyes landed on Psalm 91. It ends like this:

The LORD says, “I will rescue those who love me.
I will protect those who trust in my name.
When they call on me, I will answer;
I will be with them in trouble.
I will rescue and honor them.
I will reward them with a long life
and give them my salvation.”

I remember saying, “Lord, what does this mean? Does it mean Bill will live? Does it mean he will live a long life? What is long anyway? Because, Lord, 38 might be considered long.”

I wanted to grab these verses and make God comply with my understanding of them. But this Psalm is the very one Satan quoted to Jesus when he told him to jump off the temple and let angels catch him. Satan did what I do when I am afraid. He used specific God-breathed words to extort action out of Jesus. But it never works. Jesus reminded him, “That is not the only thing Scripture says.”

I knew then and I know now that Psalm 91 is not the only thing the Scripture says. I know that these promises are true, but may not be true in the way my human brain can understand them. I know this. And that is why I can face fear. Because I know, even if the furnace turns me or those I love to ash, I know my God is by nature a Rescuer, a Savior, and Protector. He is worthy of worship, deserving big obedience and ridiculously lavish love. Both Rewarder and Reward.

Take that, fear.

This Old Couch: Or How Our Sofas Tell Our Marriage Story

Bill and I tell each other our marriage story over and over. We started this practice somewhere around our twelfth anniversary, over dinner. First we came up with a best-of list for each year. In later years came the variations: a list of the houses or cities we’ve lived in or the churches we’ve been a part of. Same story, different table of contents. However we tell it, we think our story is grand.

If you can’t find your own story, you might want to look for it in your furniture.

King Arthur had a Round Table, and we had a Sofa. Or, rather, a series of sofas. The dinner table is where our stories are formalized, but the couch is where they are lived. Some tables have monetary and sentimental value, heirlooms from past generations. A couch is not precious. Its trade-in value is negligible, but maybe that’s because you use up a couch and it doesn’t seem to mind.

Epic events happened on our couches. The best naps of all time, the kind with a newborn nestled on your chest. Cookie, our hamster, had to be extracted from deep within the upholstery of one. I reupholstered a few and shed blood on them. Forts built with cushions. Our friends and our kid’s friends have slept many a night on many a Murray sofa. Deep conversations and silly games, like Mafia or Telephone Pictionary

Lately I’ve been thinking that we could tell our story in sofas. They chronicle our history as a couple. A couple who became a family who became an extended family.

The hand-me-down couch

Our first couch wasn’t even a couch. It was a loveseat. Mid-century-ugly, orange plaid with glossy wooden wings, it barely fit in our living room. One friend visited and slept on it, his long legs resting on our (also hand-me-down) coffee table, the one that sat next to the couch instead of in front of it because it wouldn’t fit any other way. Six months later we moved and had room for another hand-me-down, a goldenrod yellow pullout sofa that my mom and I reupholstered a countrified blue and white check.

Every marriage needs to start with something borrowed and, even better, ugly. And you should probably be really happy to have it, whatever it is. You sit on your parent’s sofa, borrowing their wisdom and their values, noticing what is scratchy, uncomfortable, and old about it, adopting what is comfortable, right, and beautiful. Over time you develop your own ethos. Together.

The what-were-we-thinking? couch

This is the stage of marriage where you think you know more than you really do. Which, of course, leads to a few regrettable decisions. We had the formulas down pat. Give, and you’ll get. Raise your children biblically, and they will obey. Do life right, and nothing will go wrong. The formulas worked just enough to lull us into trusting them.

We bought three couches in a row in this phase. First, a blue and white Chippendale that looked great but was not comfortable. Second, these parents of four boys bought an Indian cotton white sofa. You can guess how long it took this bad choice to turn silly-putty gray. And then there was the vomit-green loveseat that, true to its name, enforced cuddling in its sunken middle.

Mistakes are the inevitable stuff of marriage and parenting, especially early on. But the beauty of this season is that life was too demanding for our mistakes to paralyze us. And because we learned to give our kids more grace than formulas, they grew up to give us the grace we needed but didn’t deserve. And our couches didn’t last long enough to chastise us for being foolish enough to buy them.

The worth-the-trouble couch

By now we had developed a tough hide, so of course we bought a leather sofa. We almost took it back to the factory outlet store where we got it because it would not fit through our back door. First we took off the door, then the hinges, then the door frame, and, finally, one of the studs. But once we got it inside, we discovered the wonder of the right couch, the feel and smell of it, the durability (one of our kids still has it). It made us feel rich.

By the time we realized we’d done something that was more trouble than we bargained for, like birthing babies who would inevitably become teenagers, we were all in. Our story was halfway told. We began telling it to each other again, weaving in what the story tells us, that God’s “faithfulness is as broad as the day.” (Lam. 3:23) And we declared that even the poor choices were worth it.

The what-really-matters couch

Our current sofa (above) may well be my favorite, even though it is lumpy and spilled-upon (mostly coffee, and because it is coffee-colored, that’s okay). We bought it to fit in our downtown apartment, the one we moved to in order to leverage our empty nest phase for every ounce of its worth. We did not buy this couch for us, though we liked it a lot. We bought it for the people who sit on it. Our kids and their kids (who don’t exactly sit; they climb and jump). Our friends who eat and study and talk and play games on it. Our refugee neighbors, who need the welcome of a home and a couch to sit among friends.

Paul said, “You have been purchased at a great price, so use your body to bring glory to God!” (1 Cor. 6:20) We used to say “people before things” to remember that our kid’s unbreakable habit of putting their feet on the couch was a lesser evil, if an evil at all. But now we understand that God’s glory can be found when we take the next step and purchase “things for people.”

The circle-of-life couch

Bill keeps talking about replacing our sectional with our “last couch.” I always wonder what he’s saying about our life expectancy. Besides, couches do not live long, I remind him. And he says, “They do if you spend enough money on them.”

This is a new development in my husband’s otherwise conservative economy, and I’m tempted to take advantage of it. But not yet.

As I write, I’m sitting on a hand-me-down sofa in our office. It’s the one my mom bought not long after my dad died. And it strikes me that we’ve never really outgrown those early lessons in the early stages. We’re still learning what is comfortable and right and beautiful.

Meanwhile, we sit on our lumpy sofa downstairs and tell our story to each other. Now more than ever we’re convinced that this is a grand story indeed.