Thursday, February 19, 2015

"Do You Want to Resume Your Unfinished Solo Game?"

There is a game on our phones that Will and I enjoy playing called "Ticket to Ride," or "TTR," as it will be referenced for the rest of this post.  (Quick shout out to Erin Frizzell for introducing me to the game.)  This game is ideal for times when we're both home watching TV or doing chores or getting in bed right before we fall asleep.  It's a long-distance dating dream!  What's the thing I hate most about long-distance? Not being able to just "be" with the other person.  I love catching up with Will on the phone, but sometimes I wish we could just sit in the same room together and read. Or, play a game. TTR kind of allows us to simulate that. When we've already talked on the phone and caught up, or aren't in a place where we can talk at the moment, or just want to connect and play a fun game, TTR is there.  It has been a faithful friend to our relationship for about 9 months now.

Sometimes, when we are playing TTR, I get impatient waiting on Will to complete his turn (shocking, I know).  So, I'll exit our game and start my own game against the computer.  When Will plays his turn I get an alert that he has played and it asks me if I want to play on that game or "resume [my] unfinished solo game."  I always opt into playing on the game with Will without much thought, but the other night when I received this message it gave me pause.

The closer we get to this wedding the more I realize the intensity of my own selfishness, independent streak, and ego.  These traits show up in trivial things such as insisting upon carrying my own luggage, opening the car door myself, even not letting Will help me put on the new rain boots he got me for my birthday when they were a bit tricky to get on and off the first wear.  Unfortunately, these traits also show up in more meaningful areas like insisting upon my view of how we should look for a place to live or a timeline of getting something done or critiquing (okay fine, criticizing) Will when he does something just slightly different than I might have done it.  This weekend I even had a breakdown about losing my last name and the "brand" (yeah, squirm, I used that word) I had built for myself with that name while living on my own.  I confessed my fear of the anonymity I am going to have coming into a new town known only as "Will's wife" with no one knowing who in the world I am or what I did before I showed up in Prattville married to (in my humble opinion) the (former) most eligible bachelor in town.

All of this is part of me struggling to let go of my "unfinished solo game." Because I have learned that one's "solo game" is never completely finished before a future spouse steps into the picture.  One day, that person is just there and your "solo game" is cut short and your life is completely changed, albeit for the better.  Will and I are currently watching "How I Met Your Mother" from the beginning, and (spoiler alert) Season 1 ends with Lily and Marshall (the show's steady couple) breaking off their engagement because Lily leaves New York for San Francisco in pursuit of her dream of becoming an artist that she never realized because she met Marshall early in college and had melded her life with his ever since.  I assured Will, and I will assure the reader that my "unfinished solo game" is nothing of this sort.  I have no white whale that I was chasing and failed to achieve before meeting Will. Nothing like that. It's just that, no matter how much I yearned for a husband (and I did) or once realized Will would be that husband yearned to be engaged (and I did) or even now yearn to be married (and I do), there was and is a part of me that's just used to playing my "solo game."  As Will and I read books, go to our pre-marital counseling, and talk with married couples, I realize that this is the great challenge of marriage--to let go of one's "solo game" and enter into a "doubles match" with your partner.  In every aspect of life.  I'm not married yet, but I suspect this will be something I continue to lay at the foot of the cross and surrender throughout out marriage.

Speaking of the cross, yesterday was Ash Wednesday, and I had a(nother) major breakdown to Will (If you're still reading, are you surprised he hasn't left me by this point? I am. Everyday I'm surprised and thankful to find out he's still excited to marry me.) about how every aspect of my life feels like it's caving in on me and transition is all around and there are too many balls in the air, etc. etc.  And then I went to the Ash Wednesday service at church last night.  The theme, as it so often is on that day, was decluttering our lives to make space for contemplation and reflection which gives room to repentance and confession.  The service even began with a time just of silent prayer and reflection, the congregation being encouraged to "center ourselves" around the cross and set aside the busyness of the day to just "be."  I immediately almost burst into tears.  In fact, I fought tears the entire service. Not just at the reminder and reflection at my own sin and selfishness (see above), but from thanksgiving for an opportunity to come before the Lord and just "be."  I hadn't done that in quite some time and oh how my soul needed it!  I realized, in that service, that I not only had God been asking me if I wanted to "resume [my] unfinished solo game" in terms of my relationship with Will, but He had been asking me the same question in terms of my relationship with Him as well.  Did I want to continue to run around like a mad person try to check things off my list or did I want to take time to breathe and give my worries to him before going about my day?  Did I want to lower my shoulder and try to bulldoze through these last few weeks before marriage, or did I want to pause, look around, and realize the enormous gift He has given me and Will?  I realized I had been opting for the former but that my spirit needed the later.  I cannot play my "solo game" with God any better than I can play it with Will.  In both relationships it ends in frustration, exhaustion, and often times for me, tears.

So, no, TTR, I do not want to "resume [my] unfinished solo game."  As much as I am tempted sometimes to do so in order to prove my independence or worthiness or boast in my achievements, no. Instead, I'd like to learn to better play doubles.  I'd like to continue to grow as a partner, a friend, and (soon) a wife to the person I love most in this world.  And even more than that I'd like to continue to submit my desires to play my "solo game" with God at the foot of the cross where Jesus, who had every right to play solo, denied Himself, took on the sins of the world, and died for the sake of others.

Last night as I received the imposition of the ashes, my pastor said to me: "Jesus said, 'deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.'"  That's what I'd really like to do.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Song That Brought Me Back to Guitar

I took guitar for a  little over a year.   I'm so pleased that I did.  I was single here in Birmingham and had plenty to do at work and socially, but guitar, once a week for 30 minutes gave me a little respite from the real world.  It gave me a space and a time to think about things that were purely pleasure for me.  Music.  Lyrics. Artists.  And then as life got busier, relationships blossomed, I gave it up.  There wasn't time or money for it.  And I've been fine with that.  My guitar time has been replaced with time on the phone with a certain farmer from Prattville (similar to how his golf game has been replaced with time with me).  Until tonight.  I heard the song yet again and had to try to play it.

I've never been to Talladega.  I had some guy friends in high school who went frequently, but if I'm honest, I've never been.  What kind of Alabamian does that make me?  I've been to numerous Iron Bowls so I'm happy to chat with anyone who would like to question my credentials.

Regardless, when Eric Church's "Talladega" came out last year on his "Outsiders" album, I was obsessed.  I was thrilled that this bastion of songwriting sanity remaining in country music had honored a hallowed place and tradition in my home state.  And at first, that's all it was.  An ode to my state.  Church is a proud North Carolinian and his previous hit "Carolina" bears testimony to that.  He is particular about the subjects for which he sings and so I felt honored.  He is one of my favorites.

But, as the months have gone by and I have continued to listen to the lyrics to "Talladega," I have realized this is not simply a song about a phenomenon in Alabama.  No, this is a song for everyone.  It is, once again, a country hymn to nostalgia.  Everyone has a "Talladega." What's yours?

The opening line: "It was the summer before the real world started..."  For me that was 2007.  My "Talledega" could be named "Youth Intern" or "Atlanta," as those were the key phases and places for me that summer.

Or the line later in that verse: "five best friends on four bald tires."  We weren't five best friends on four bald tires, we were multiples friends on so many metaphorical "bald tires," having no CLUE where we were going.  And yet, like "Billy" in Church's lyrics, I can still see the smiles on so many faces as one by one we "made it."  We got married.  We moved.  We got jobs.  We settled into adult life.

Because, as Church reminds us "like a storm, time rolls on..." and despite the fact that, as he and his friends, there were times we would have "liked to stay in Talladega"we rolled on. With time.  We followed the paths set before us.  To Atlanta.  To Birmingham.  To DC. To New York. To Nashville. To Dallas.  And hey, even to small towns in Alabama that, though not named "Talladega," would prove to be vitally important down the road.

And as I'm barely two months away from making one of those small towns in Alabama my home, there is something about that last verse of Church's ode to youth that makes my eyes a bit misty.  "When the winds go cold and it blows October, I think about us shoulder to shoulder, Like those cars my thoughts roll over and over and over, In my mind...I'm in Talladega..."   But in my mind I'm not in Talladega.  I'm in Auburn.  When "the winds go cold and it blows October" I'm in Jordan-Hare. I'm in Graves Hall.  I'm in Arlington, Virginia--fresh faced and not a clue as to what to do with the world.  And that feeling that Church puts forth so well of youth and innocence and naivety and ignorance floods over me and I realize I'll never have it again.

I'm too old.  I've seen too much. In 30 short years I've learned that I'll never be "Billy." I'll never do things the way I did at 18. Or 22. Or 25.  Or even 28.  But that's okay.  Now that I'm 30, I'll be 30.  I'll marry my best friend.  I'll leave my dream job and my hometown (again) and I'll start a new life where my children will form memories of their own "Talladega."  There will be new Octobers where I stand "shoulder to shoulder" with this new best friend and though we may not be youthful, we will still possess a bit of naivety and ignorance.  We will still brace the cold breezes we face together.  And in 10, 15 years, I'll look back with nostalgia on this "Talladega" and wonder what will be the next to come.

Perhaps that's why Church's song brought me back to guitar.  Perhaps that's why it conjures the emotions it does within me.  Because I know that there will always be that feeling.  That nostalgia.  That the past will always fondly remind me of where I've been, but that the present and the future will constantly be bringing me back, good or bad, happy or sad, to whatever is my current and next..."Talladega."