Editor’s Note: The below essay by Kara Chupp appears on behalf of the Faith and Culture Writers Conference. This article won this year’s writing contest (non-fiction) and appears on Bedlam Magazine as a part of Kara’s award. The piece was published as submitted. Enjoy!
I decided to buy the taco soup that had corn in it. And I didn’t forget. I knew he wouldn’t like it. He doesn’t like corn mixed in with other ingredients. But everyone knows that all Mexican food is better with corn in it. And everyone knows that it’s the small decisions, the easily tossed about bricks, that slowly build pathways, or walls. Love has a lot to do with what we decide to remember…or to forget.
Our marriage was in a season of blankness– fuzzy, white-noise drowning out the color that usually flowed with warmth and connection. But nothing is really blank, is it? Because even when the cursor blinks and my screen is empty, words and thoughts and emotions are swirling inside. I hear them in the shower as I think phrases that will never live on a page. I hear them as I make the trek to the mailbox and the rain beats down and trickles tears for me. Sometimes even more is said in silence than in what is spoken. For a while, too long, we’d been stumbling through the fog of daily life: rising early, working late, juice-boxing lunches, sorting laundry, transitioning jobs, multiplication-drilling children, signing papers, finalizing adoptions, moving homes, washing cars, wading through grief, numbing ourselves with the green flicker of a flashing screen that allows you to be in the same room, yet miles apart. And I felt the emptiness between us, a lonely ache that is only amplified by near proximity.
I longed to melt away the snow that had encased our marriage, making it seem cold and hard under a layer of white. How quickly those tiny ice-hard-anger-crystals can chill the warmth of marriage, even a good, solid one. And it hit me as I unloaded that taco soup (with corn) from our minivan, that while the frost covering appears a solid sheet, it really is made of millions of tiny, individual, cold, hard pieces. Likewise our marriage is shifted by many seemingly mundane moments and decisions: a withheld “I’m sorry”, a spotlight focused on faults, a running internal monologue of wrongs, a turned back when the lights go out, an email ignored, an opportunity missed, or even taco soup with corn in it. The ever present choice of self over selfless. The ongoing decision to remember wrongs and keep a tally or to remember what God’s love is like.
It was in that moment, holding that soup, that I decided to go back and remember– to remember the friendship and closeness that brought us together in the first place, to let my cold heart soften as I watched my husband reading to our children, to take note when he called mid-afternoon to ask how my day was going, to be thankful for how hard he works when each paycheck arrived, to laugh at his corny jokes, to show interest in the things that interest him, to pray for him, to make time for him, to focus on his kindness and quick generosity, to dare to believe that our God is one who redeems and renews. And “this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope; the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is (God’s) faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-23). I must call this to mind. I must choose to remember.
God and His Jordan River Stones– He knows we need help remembering to not forget. “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone…that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord…so these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever…so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.” (Joshua 4: 5,6,7&24). Remembering past goodness is heart preparation for holding on to hope now. I prepare my heart to live out love as I remember that first Valentine’s poem he wrote me. He was leaving our college campus for the weekend and he slipped it onto my desk for me to find after he was gone. I remember back to all our dating discussions about God and children and marriage and dreams and that night he dropped to a knee in the middle of Drake Park; we were bundled against the freezing December wind, hands shivering, but mostly with excitement, and he asked me to marry him. I think back to our first home and four-nights-in-a-row-Taco-Bell-dinners as we painted kitchen cabinets white because it was what I wanted. And newborn cries, as we wept together for joy, tears streaming over gifts of life. I remember years of– family room Lego trams and nighttime walks with neighbor children, bottle rockets attached to remote controlled cars, sandcastles and snowball fights, children taught to run the lawn mower and use pick axes. I think back to all the times he put up with my crazy whims—carpeted garages, 80’s proms, hatching duck eggs. How many times he just shook his head but smiled at my fun. But some of our deepest bonds grew through sorrow– the death of our child and how we pulled close as the deep silent screams came, the heart-wrenching moans that felt like everything within was being turned out. Raw pain like nothing we’d ever felt before. I remember well that grief and how we waded through it together.
And in all this, I am reminded that love persists. God’s kind of love is– never-ending, never-failing, always pursuing. And God reminds me of how greatly I’m forgiven. How “blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Psalm 32:1). So when my list of grievances starts to grow, my list of all-the-holds-that-I-could-hold-over, I also want to remember that while I was yet, Christ took that first step towards me.…(in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). I’m quick to forget who the enemy is. I forget in my forgetfulness where the true battle wages. I forget. But God reminds. He reminds me of the prowling evil one who loves to see a wedge between. My adversary, the devil, seeking someone to devour would love for me to build the wall, to forget what real love is and does (1 Peter 5:8). My enemy wants me to remember the wounds inflicted and to forget the goodness. God calls me to persist and pursue hopeful renewal.
So instead I will release myself to God and to His Word, asking Him to help me sip down each iota that is “living and active, sharper than any two-edge sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit” (Hebrews 4:12). And I will release myself to His kind of love, praying that God won’t let me push away when my heart is choosing between the welcome and the wall. And it really is all about the moment by moment decisions– To offer the words of encouragement, or withhold. To choose to look deep for the green life beneath the frosty blanket of ice, or to ignore. To remember the goodness of 18 years of marriage, or to focus on a season of distance. To buy the taco soup with corn in it, or not.
And by God’s love, my heart is softened, as I feel the drip, drip, dripping of my ice warming under His grace. Because He reminds me of what Love truly is: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7). God’s kind of love dares to hope in a Redeemer who lives. God’s kind of love remembers past faithfulness. God’s kind of love chooses to focus on what is good and true and right. His love raises beauty from the ashes (Isaiah 61:3). That kind of love is truly beautiful and truly worth remembering. And God is growing it again in my heart.