Poem: Save Your Knees For Dancin’

I wrote this for my Mom and Dad’s 50th anniversary party last week. Thought I’d post it here with the rest of them.

For 50 years of marriage mom and dad tilled the soil.

They never struck paydirt, never found gold nor oil,

but instead they raised a family, with its troubles and joys,

full of friends, love, and laughter, and two very grateful boys.

 

The boys grew to be men and took wives of their own

and so appreciated the wisdom their parents had sown:

Keep learning, love a lot, take care to listen.

Take time out to play, but never play “Christian.”

Nope, if you’re gonna play, use your noggin. Try to win.

Keep each other sharp. You’ll have more fun in the end.

Stay together, hang tough. It’s not for sissies, this life.

And if you want to be happy, you better listen to your wife.

Every problem can be solved if you think and work together

Create opportunities to make memories you’ll treasure.

Work hard but set aside time for romancin’

Save your money, save your health, and save your knees for dancin’

 

Holding up Moses’ Arms

In my men’s bible study today we were reading from Exodus 17 where Aaron and Hur had to help Moses hold up his arms so that the Israelites could fend off an attack from the Amalekites (yes, I had to look that up). I’ve read this reading dozens of times before and usually associated it with the “persistence in prayer” lesson of that particular week in the liturgical calendar.

But today it hit me harder. It’s probably where I am right now, but I was filled with compassion for Moses. Here is this great leader. He is in charge, poor guy, with the very lives of people depending on him and his strength. Then he’s in this situation where the very lives of people seem to depend on him holding up his arms. When he drops his arms, in the story, his people, his charges who depend on him, lose their lives.

It’s a hell of a thing to realize that your personal weakness – your inability to hold up your own damned arms — puts others in harm’s way. I’m not too proud to accept help when I am faced with an extraordinary task or problem, or if I know that what’s needed is not in my set of God-given gifts. But having someone to come help you do something so ordinary as holding up your own arms so that the people you are supposed to be taking care of aren’t hurt, that’s pretty humiliating.

So translate this story to the life of a parent, a spouse, etc. Some daily discipline, something personal, something that anybody could and should do on a daily basis, if neglected out of weakness, can put the people you have vowed to love and protect in harm’s way. This is one of the main motivators for starting a moderately successful diet this year — I realized that my bad food choices put my family in harm’s way. And I had to ask for help to hold up my damn arms. Turns out that’s not the only personal discipline area where my weakness puts my charges in harms way. So I need to be held up in many ways.

So God, not one to let me wallow in self-pity for too long, reminded me of this old poem, which I now have printed out and posted front and center.

A CONFEDERATE SOLDIER’S PRAYER
Author Unknown,
(Attributed to a battle weary C.S.A soldier near the end of the war)

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve;
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things;
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy;
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life;
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among all men most richly blessed.

Words to live by. I’ll never read Exodus 17 the way I used to again.

Poem: The Preferable Fire

Found something I wrote a year ago that I forgot. I wonder how many pieces of myself I’ve left out there, unremembered and uncataloged. Anyway it’s a piece of poetry I’m almost not too embarrassed to share:

I can offer you only my life.

Having been with you longer than not

My life is as much yours as it was ever mine.

I have nothing else to offer, nothing

that is not made cheaper by saying that I own it.

My love for you is a friction between the man I am

and the one I am becoming for you.

Love demands friction, which

sparks the glow of my better nature.

St. Augustine says a man’s heart can never truly rest;

he cannot escape relentless desire.

So if indeed my soul must burn,

Yours is the preferable fire.
— Cody Clark, 2011

A Valentine's wish to all my married friends

The upcoming Valentine’s Day holiday does not do your kind of love due justice. To me, you are all badass ninjas of sacrificial love. You are heroes who deserve your own ticker-tape parades complete with helium balloons of cartoon characters and limos full of local radio personalities.

When I see you at your next anniversary, I want you to tell me that your wedding day was nowhere close to the happiest day of your life. I want to hear about that so-called bad day last week when the car broke down and you had to share a coupon meal at Denny’s because your spouse had to pick you up in the minivan instead of preparing the standard chicken dinner. I want to hear how even that day was profoundly more joyful than your wedding day because it was lit up by a billion decisions to love each other over your life together. And by the quiet assurance that a billion more will follow and the flame, though it flickers, will never go out.

Thank you for being brave enough to choose this life of love and light. I thank you in advance for choosing to stoke the embers every time it becomes hard to keep the darkness out. Couples like you are the lights I need to find my way. We all need you to shine. So I toast to the flame you lit on your wedding day and pray that it grows brighter each day.

Yes is a World

22 years ago right now I was in the lobby of our hotel playing a videogame called Hogan’s Alley (indeed, a class joint) with my Best Man and several groomsmen. Getting ready to say the most important “Yes” of my life to date in just a few hours.

And I did say yes, nervously, to what turned out to be a blessed life of “Yes.” Heidi and I over the years have said “Yes” to so many things. We have learned and loved in abundance.

Today I have been married exactly as many years as I have not been married. I am a “Yes” man, praise God. So blessed am I that we said “Yes” again and again.

Happy Birthday, Clark Family! You started with a big “Yes” and grew over countless many smaller and bigger “Yes”-es over 22 years.

Is there ever a more blessed thing than a world of “Yes” to God? I have this poem memorized like a mantra. One of my favorites.

love is a place

love is a place
& through this place of
love move
(with brightness of peace)
all places

yes is a world
& in this world of
yes live
(skilfully curled)
all worlds

ee cummings

It seems like nineteen years

Until last night, when my wife corrected me, I thought today was going to be our nineteenth wedding anniversary. Apparently it’s just our eighteenth anniversary and I’ve been deluded for the past few months. I feel oddly disappointed. It just seems like we’ve lived ninteen years worth of marriage in eighteen, I guess.

With our nets being full to breaking most of the time, it always seems like we have lots of fish wiggling free and flopping around in the bottom of our boat and there’s no time to oil the squeaky oarlock or fix the cracked gunwhale. Heidi and I have this bursting at the seams approach to family that is more expansive than either of us can account for. People ask us how we fit it all in, how we do all we do. We don’t, I don’t believe. The results are greater than the sum of our parts. We don’t know exactly how the fishes and loaves expand to feed everybody, all we can do is just stare at the leftover baskets in wonderment every once in a while and give thanks.

Today is one of those staring in wonderment days. Happy ninteenth eighteenth anniversary baby!

New Job, New Marriage

Okay, so I’m not updating much. Life is has been tumultuous lately. It will take a little while to get back into some kind of equilibrium, some kind of routine that is sustainable. Right now we are renegotiating the routines of our family life and our marriage.

But it’s a good thing. Ultimately good news. Heidi and I have a new job. Or two depending on how you look at it.

Heidi and I agreed to take on the youth ministry staff position at our parish which was in desperate need after the former youth minister left suddenly. We aren’t exactly Mr. and Mrs. Right for this position, but we were Mr. and Mrs. Right Now (and willing to help.) So for the past six weeks or so we’ve been playing catch up and rearranging our lives to make up for the fact that Heidi is no longer a stay at home mom anymore.

And then we were hired to fill the adult and family minsitry position at our church. The youth ministry is a temporary stop gap. This other is our passion. Heidi and I have had a couple vision of working together at something we love for years now. The opportunity to do so this early in our lives is a source of joy.

But the fact that the new new job overlaps the old new job is a source of chaos. At least until Heidi and I get remarried.

Yes, remarried. I plan to ask Heidi to remarry me for, like, the tenth time or so. Every time our lives change in some significant way — a new child, a new job, a new house — it’s a new marriage. All the routines, the plans, the expectations, the commitments need to be revisited, restated, and recommitted.

We have a lot of work to do, preparing for this new marriage, for this new life. Last night I was talking to the teens at bible study about Advent and how we need to prepare our hearts for the new life Christ brings into the world. I see the relationship work before us as just such a necessary preparation. And a joyful one!

I have several activites that are my barometers of life. Art, poetry, reading, exercise, prayer, and, yes, writing here in Overflow, are all activities that I have as part of my personal life if the rest of my life is to be sustainable. Right now it’s just not sustainable, but we’re doing the work to get there.

Debunking the Myth of the Soul Mate

For a more clear-eyed look at love and marriage, read these refreshing articles in Boundless Magazine. These are based on Scott Stanley’s book, The Power of Commitment: A Guide to Active, Lifelong Love. Being certified to teach his and Stanley Markman’s PREP course, I’m already a fan.

And I do not mourn the myth of the Soul Mate. Heidi is my mate. I’m happy she has her own soul and I have mine.

Smartmarriages Afterparty

We’re off to the Smartmarriages conference today, just in time for the weekend event to be wrapping up. We’ll pull in about four hours or so after most everybody else has pulled out.

We’re not going for the conference part,which we’ve been to and highly recommend, but for the post-conference classes which will enable us to teach two marriage education programs. “How To Avoid Marrying A Jerk” and “PREP for Low Income Individuals.” Last year’s theme was to learn PREP and bring it back. This year’s theme is to bring back material to teach single people about marriage.

Years of experience has told us that teaching engaged people about marriage, while a great good in itself, is not optimal. If you’ve already sent out invitations and picked out china, you aren’t quite as open to an honest evaluation of your commitment and comaptibility. So, in addition to teaching that, we wanted to bring some material to bear for those who’ve been married for a few years and are looking for some brushed up skills. That’s what we did last year.

This year we want to learn and eventually teach material to young people who are still dating to help them recognize healthy relationship behavior when they see it and, even better, exhibit healthy relationship behavior themselves. “How to Avoid Marrying a Jerk,” I suspect, might just as well be called “How to Avoid Being a Jerk in Marriage.”

This is all part of the Heidi and Cody Strategic Plan to:

  • Keep our own marriage skills sharp
  • Pursue Lifelong Learning
  • Develop a future income stream that capitalizes on Heidi and Cody’s gifts.
  • Get away for a romantic, child-free recharge

It’s fun, educational, and strategic. What more could we ask? Back in a few days.

Gratitude and Marriage

“When couples struggle, it is seldom over who does what. Far more often, it is over the giving and receiving of gratitude. The struggle for marriage in the contemporary context is the struggle to cultivate gratitude between men and women.” – Arlie Hoschild, The Second Shift

Gratitude grows out attention, appreciation, and humility. Acknowledging the importance of the Other. Taking time to notice what they do, the little things, the tiny ordinary graces. These are the soil of a fertile marriage. My greatest Achilles heel is that I get spun up in cloud of activities and distractions so that I fail to stop and notice, pay attention to little things, and appreciate. Prayer in my life needs to serve that function – slowing down, paying attention, appreciation.

Along those lines, reading Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson has been a prayerful experience. It has done wonders in that it has connected my left brained engineering side to my sense of wonder at the ordinary stuff of domestic life. It makes me want to go home at lunch and hug my wife, air the bed, dust under the couch, and read care labels. I read along this morning in gape-mouthed fascination at the unlocked mysteries of such things as dusting, ironing, and folding laundry. It made me want to go home and try my hand at folding a fitted sheet.

Reading all this was pretty overwhelming. Any manual pf proper care sets a standard that the limits of life, time, and space make it impossible to measure up to. But reading Home Comforts so far has mostly been an exercise in increasing my attention, appreciation, and humility about things domestic. And gratitude for the wonder that is my wife.