By Courtney Anderson
What do you do when your whole life you wear cranberry,
and cheer for the home team,
and eat creamed onions at Thanksgiving,
and yell at the wonderful old building and loan,
and then one day —
Or was it really slowly over 453 days —
You don’t anymore?
you wear blue,
and walk through the red doors each week,
and eat breakfast burritos on Sundays,
and do yoga in the backyard.
What do you do?
I wrote this poem earlier this year, in between engaged and married, in between two worlds. To be engaged is to be a bit of a nomad, living in the tension of becoming one and not being there quite yet, to be of one family and moving toward the inception of another totally new one.
Connell, my now-husband, and I were working through premarital counseling with our pastor Elliott, a wise, sharp and cheeky man, whom we both deeply respect, appreciate and admire. We talked about many things: sex, conflict, money, and, namely, family. We talked about the need to leave your father and mother and join with your new partner; we talked about broken family systems, legacies of strengths and what we inevitably bring to each other; we talked about allegiance.
Allegiance. Devotion, loyalty, obligation. My whole life, my loyalty had been to my own family — my mother, my father and my younger sister. We were the #stabsquad (of the maiden name Stabingas, not some terrifying family mantra). I count my parents as wise, so I valued their input and often followed their advice. Their happiness, in general and with me, mattered to me (and still does). And now, I was to leave them, to tell them they no longer had a prominent voice in my decision making. I love my mom! How do you tell that to someone you love? It felt unkind and prideful, if not bratty. It felt like digging a chasm with one strong crack of an axe.
For lack of more eloquent words on the comfy gray couch in his office: “Elliott, how does leaving your father and mother work with honor your father and mother?”
In more words than this, he explained in the Judeo-Christian tradition, parents’ roles were to raise their children in reverence of and service to God, and in preparation for this — to begin again, a new generation of believers. He explained that leaving our fathers and mothers was honoring our fathers and mothers, because it was doing what they raised us to do. The leaving was what would usher in building and flourishing.
I am a worrier, so I began worrying. What does it mean to leave? How do we do that? What do we do if — when — that offends them? How will my mom respond? How will my dad respond? How will my fiercely-loyal sister respond? What will happen to my marriage if we don’t value our own relationship over that with our families — or with anyone else, for that matter?
I’ve been married two weeks. I do not have answers. I am still afraid of hurting feelings, and I am still afraid my people-pleasing ways will wind up wounding my marriage (and honestly, as such things aren’t healed overnight, they probably will).
But I also know I do not hold my own heart or anyone else’s — that is far too great a job for me; as a Christian, I believe God holds them. I know as we grow, there will be disappointments and misunderstandings, but also joy, freedom and new norms. Marriage is, among many other beautiful things, newness. There is anticipation, anxiety, messiness and adventure in new things.
Reading over that poem again just now, I am struck by the stark ending I insinuate in the first stanza. I’m not sure such a stark ending is what’s ahead, but rather a left turn. Indeed, a new beginning. Can something begin without another thing ending? Maybe, as we carry seeds of the past and walk with them into the horizon of a dawning tomorrow, building something new from what already was. I am praying for humility, a beginner’s heart, and eyes to see and ears to hear; for courage to have difficult conversations, a deep and tender soul, and, most of all, for a new symphony to evolve.