Louis CK does a bit about marriage (it’s an old bit; he’s since gotten divorced, which makes the content both sad and prescient) in which he recounts his therapist’s recommendation that he take his wife on a date. “I went on a date with my wife, and you know what? I’m not going to call her again.”

My husband reminded me of this joke recently upon returning from our “vacation.”

I use quotes because, as anyone with kids knows (and some have written), any temporary relocation of the family unit would be more aptly described as a trip. I’ve been on vacations before, and they involve some combination of the following: free-flowing adult beverages, relaxed seaside dinners, aimless strolls through picturesque villages, books read cover to cover. Given these standards, the last vacation my husband and I took was our honeymoon.

This recent trip involved our family of four flying cross-country to California for the accomplishing of multiple goals (there’s another red flag–no vacation description includes the word goals), which you may cross-reference with the aforementioned list: a day at the West Coast office for my husband, meeting with a neurosurgeon for our son, my running a half-marathon (you can put running in the same quotes that enveloped vacation), and, finally, a family reunion. See any similarities with the Vacation Activities List? I didn’t think so.

We were on a trip.

My husband and I were friends for awhile before we were more. So we had a relatively unfiltered lens through which we became familiar with each other–the kind of honesty you don’t display on a first (or second…or third) date. Also, we watched Lost together and totally disagreed on whether Jack or Sawyer was the better character. So we managed crisis and conflict well, I thought. Despite the absence of rose-colored glasses, our year of dating pre-engagement was pretty blissful and Bachelor-esque. I attribute this to a few factors: we were in our early 30s, so the singles scene was getting old; we lived in New York, one of the best cities on earth (I maintain)…oh, and we really liked each other. We totally gave each other our final roses.

Then we got married and had children.

I kid, I kid. But also…I don’t?


After a five-hour flight and at least ten hours in the car just a few days into the trip, tensions were high and tempers wearing thin. Add to that the time adjustments, the baby “sleeping” in our room, and our older son’s–and his mom’s–pervasive anxiety (Relocation to Unfamiliar Setting Edition!), and I was ready to call a lawyer when I discovered my husband hadn’t used the right wipes to clean the kids’ hands prior to snack time. Is this how a marriage devolves, I wondered–start with true love, throw in a few kids and family outings, forget to buy the milk, and suddenly a ten-minute bike ride becomes a temptation to leave and NEVER EVER COME BACK?

The next morning we were invited to go kayaking with extended family. I recalled a kayaking trip my then-fiance and I took into Puerto Rico’s bioluminescent waters, and I imagined our family of four out in open water together now. I mouthed a hearty “HELL NO” to my beloved, who politely declined over the phone.

My husband, wise man that he is, allowed me to tag out for a spell, and I used that time to go for a run along the beach. I popped in my ear buds and zoned out, watching the waves crash on the shore and feeling my anxiety slowly dissipate. I am a classic control freak, worrier, Type-A, blame-shifting, insecure, narcissistic jerk: in short, a sinner. And I continue to be surprised by this fact. But I’m not the only one. I overheard a conversation recently in which one woman told another, “I really am a nice person. I usually get along with everyone.” I was torn between sitting still and waiting for lightning to strike, or jumping up to introduce myself and prove that there were people I was sure she wouldn’t get along with.

The idea that we, or our marriages, or our families, are just one thing is laughable. “I’m a nice person” may equate to highly-valued conversational currency but it means absolutely nothing in the deeper realms of personality and truth. Might as well say my favorite color is taupe or I’m a fan of happiness. I’m a nice person too–and not, and awkward, and confident, and insecure. I’m a great mother, and a terrible one. My marriage is fantastic, and troubled, and triumphant, and hard, and heavenly, in the span of a trip. Or a day.

David understood this. His psalms, to anyone expecting consistency, are a heaving mess. The guy’s all over the place. So God made him a king, gave him a book in the Bible, and allowed him to be a predecessor of the Messiah. Which–I’m not sure–but I think means there’s hope for all of us?

I Ed Sheeran Grammy Daywould love for my marriage to play out every day like an Ed Sheeran song and accompanying music video: sensuous, romantic, poetic. Sometimes, though, finding love “right where we are” doesn’t look so much like “kissing under the light of a thousand stars” as it does “not killing each other over a toddler’s diarrhea explosion.” Sometimes it looks like passing out from exhaustion in the same bed when a hotel sounds more inviting. Sometimes it’s a rueful yet shared smile over over a monitor as the kid climbs out of bed again, or the squeeze of a hand in a waiting room after they wheel our son to the OR.

Life is messy and allowed to be more than one thing; so are we. The great secret and joy of it all is that grace isn’t limited to our pretty moments–it shows up in all the moments. It doesn’t wait for us to get it all together–to be “nice people”–before it squeezes our hands back and promises to stay. It doesn’t shake its head and throw up its own hands at my constant inability to be grateful, even on vacation, and it doesn’t mutter judgments (like I do) under its breath. It doesn’t ask me, in this moment, to be anything other than who I am, even as it gently leads me to firmer ground and a softer heart. To redemption.

On our trip, my husband and I stole away to watch a matinee of Trainwreck. Mild spoiler alert: I found the ending heartwarming (I’ve always been a sucker for Billy Joel), and Amy’s efforts for Aaron endearing. And oh so relatable, because as she pleaded her case and cited her attempts to try, I felt my own relationship and spiritual history writ large: the exhausting effort of it all, the constant maintenance from my end. Like the time I considered abandoning my faith as a teenager because I was so drained from trying to keep it going on my own fumes (didn’t help when our church dispensed a book to the youth group called something like The Complete Handbook to Christian Life. DIY indeed!).

Tamy-schumer-s-trainwreck-has-big-laughs-and-a-big-heart-555872he Christian section of the bookstore is overlapping way too much with Self-Help. It’s one thing to put forth the effort of maintenance in our horizontal relationships–I assented with couch-bound applause when, during his Oscar acceptance speech, Ben Affleck dared to describe marriage as work (question for me to ponder later: why do I keep quoting divorced guys?). Our friendships and romantic relationships are the constant victims of our own humanity, and need the work of compromise and forgiveness to survive. But our vertical relationship is beholden to no rules of mutuality; there is no way we can ever outdo or even approach the measure of forgiveness extended to us, the amount of mercy expended on our behalf. We are forever debtors who must cast our deadly doing down and switch to full-on acceptance mode.

It’s uncomfortable. Especially for those of us (all of us) with control issues, for those of us (me) with some experience in trying to manage our relationships and the people in them.

How offensive it must be to God when I try to earn what he has freely given, and how unnecessarily exhausted I become in the effort, all while I’m being invited to rest–from the self-improvement, from the maintenance, from the managing and strategizing. To rest in a love that simultaneously recognizes my imperfections, forgives them, and is freeing me from them.

Parker Palmer writes,

As you integrate ignorance and failures into your knowledge and success, do the same with all the alien parts of yourself. Take everything that’s bright and beautiful in you and introduce it to the shadow side of yourself. Let your altruism meet your egotism, let your generosity meet your greed, let your joy meet your grief. Everyone has a shadow…But when you are able to say, “I am all of the above, my shadow as well as my light,” the shadow’s power is put in service of the good. Wholeness is the goal, but wholeness does not mean perfection, it means embracing brokenness as in integral part of your life.

Wholeness…and holiness. This side of eternity, none of us will be perfect, and neither will our marriages and parenting and friendships. But they are met by a perfection that envelops the brokenness and binds it up, giving rest to those of us so tired of trying and so tired of failing–because you just know that, despite the happy ending, Amy and Aaron have some tense “vacations” in their future. And I do too. But I also have a grace that is both One thing and all things, and that’s going to come in handy since my husband just informed me of his outrageous opinion that Dawson was a better character than Pacey, and we may not call each other again.