To Labor With You

Ada & Zora

Our home is stamped with Ada’s art: photographs of the canyon from our first trip together; a mounted sage leaf from my grandmother’s garden and a jay feather from our first neighborhood; our wedding vows framed in our bouquets’ peony petals – this piece is my favorite.

I asked for it – “commissioned it,” I like to joke. I wanted a reminder of our promises because I knew there would be times when I would forget, or worse, when a stupid disagreement would make me want to forget.

So now I can’t, because when I lie down at the end of the day, I turn on my side and see our vows. When I wake up and reach for my robe hanging on the bathroom door, I breathe them in. When I’m brushing my teeth, waiting for the timer’s two-minutes-are-up, I read them.

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“I promise to labor with you for the fruit of the Spirit.” – Zora

We wrote them together, just a day or two before the ceremony. Writing vows felt daunting and serious, especially with our culture’s ridiculous expectation that any true love deserves original vows. Like most couples, we put it off way too long. In twin strokes of desperation and genius, we grabbed hold of Galatians 5:22-23.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

We aren’t relationship experts. In fact, we’re still new at being married. But with Beloving, we’re offering a glimpse of our life in order to offer hope and voice to the experience of LGBTQ Christians. Here are some of the foundational pillars that help us to build mutual respect and love in our relationship and that help provide purpose to living in communion with one another.

“I will strive to be selfless and honor you with faithfulness.  I will show you gentleness and be good and kind.” – Zora

Ada and I are big fans of Myers-Briggs Personality Typing (often referred to as MBTI). It’s given us a helpful framework for navigating our lives, our interactions with friends and coworkers, and especially our relationship with each other. It helps us to see one another’s unique strengths as assets, not obstacles, in our relationship.

Within this framework, Ada is an INFJ (Introversion, Intuition, Feeling, Judgment). Here’s my short version of describing an INFJ like her. She’s game for a social gathering but will need solitude later (I). She’s a big-picture thinker: a “forest for the trees” kind of gal (N). She relates to the world through emotions and feelings. She’s the one who will comfort a crying stranger or feel viscerally the pangs of systemic oppression (F). She’s a planner who crafts conversation questions for parties and itineraries for trips (J). She’s a real catch for me.

I’m an ISTJ (Introversion, Sensing, Thinking, Judgement). Ada and I have our outer descriptors in common, so we’re both happy with a night in or a well-planned vacation. I’m prone to be detail-oriented: the person you want assembling your IKEA furniture or organizing your event (S). I think of the world first in terms of logic and rationality rather than emotion; if someone brings a problem to me, I’m quick to determine possible solutions or offer candid feedback (T). I have a vice-like memory, much to Ada’s relief.

All MBTI types come with their own synergy; the various combinations describe unique human and shared tendencies. Understanding the MBTI framework helps us grow our self-awareness and our partner-awareness.

When a friend reaches out to me upset or in pain, Ada helps me perceive those emotions as integral, though my tendency is to cut through them to what I sense as the chase. And when Ada feels paralyzed by too many emotions, I guide her to comforting whys and hows.

When I was overwhelmed by seemingly disparate data in my master’s thesis, Ada helped me parse out themes. (It helps that she’s whip-smart, too.) And when she has cultivated the buds of a new project, I help her prune to formulate an action plan.

In our relationship, we lean on one another’s strengths, and in doing so, we practice selflessness and humility. We admire each other’s differences and renounce the idea that one set of skills is superior to another. We respect one another’s limits and faithfully offer our assets. Thus, we honor one another.

“With patience, I will work beside you…” – Ada

Soon after our engagement, we attended a pre-marital “clarity session” at the home of our friend and wedding officiant. A master of metaphor, Francisco spoke across the table about the need for us to remember that we belong on the same side of the table.

When you disagree – he advised – do not sit across the table from one another. Move your body to the same side of the table so that you can better remember that you aren’t in opposition to each other.

Now, when we have disagreements, we remember Francisco’s advice. We are to sit together on one side and confront together whatever is before us. We are not to sit facing one another, en garde.

Even before Francisco’s advice, we made an agreement of our own: that we would do our best to eschew passive aggression. Both of us have had our share of friendships and relationships complicated by passive aggression. Before we began dating, we made an explicit agreement to avoid passive aggression by admitting when we are upset by the other’s actions or words.

Passive aggression is about maintaining anger as power over the other. It is an effort to wound the other as a means of feeling healed, but it only accomplishes the former (if at all, and even then, it takes a long time). It’s certainly easier to let hurts simmer and to fashion them into weapons, but this is not the point of a loving relationship. Often, when I’ve abided by our rule, I’m humbled by how willing Zora is to right the perceived wrong, how quickly and selflessly she wants to make amends, how no malice underlies our misunderstandings.

Additionally, we have learned through our relationship – perhaps through the process of fighting for our love, perhaps through learning to gaze outwardly – that there are too many things worth fighting for for us to find something to fight about.

“…to build peace, to bring joy, and above all, to love.” – Ada

At the end of the day, we strive for a relationship that isn’t pre-occupied by mutual navel-gazing. The purpose of our relationship is not just to continually assert our neediness – though we both have needs – or to constantly affirm each other – though we both seek affirmation from one another. We aim to continually build our relationship in a way that honors God by doing God’s work.

We want to be focused on building the kin-dom of God as whole individuals and in partnership. To do that requires us to continually develop one another’s gifts and supplement one another’s weaknesses, to be vulnerable with one another and to accept care in its myriad forms.

Our lives are short. To be entrusted with the love and vulnerability of a person who chooses to spend their days in the world you co-create is an enormous privilege. We consider ourselves charged to love one another in the example of Jesus and to utilize our relationship to be light and bring light to the world.

Sometimes we stumble, yes. And sometimes the world throws stumbling blocks at our feet. That’s when we fight our way to the same side of the table and find again the path ahead.

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Click here to take an MBTI test that’s almost as good as the real ($) thing. 

Click here to access the Gottman Institute’s Marriage Minute: free research-based relationship tips that we love. Each one takes only a minute to read, and they’re sent out on Tuesdays and Thursdays.