Wednesday, February 14, 2007

More than One Hundred Ways

I met him walking down Middlebelt Rd. He lived on Middlebelt. I had to walk past his house to get to the bus stop at the intersection of Middlebelt and Michigan Avenue and he'd see me walking.

We lived in a small town. He graduated the year I entered highschool as a freshman--the year his brother Joe was a senior. Joe was a hottie. He was voted "most handsome." I had band with him. I was loosely known as a flautist and flag girl, and Joe played trumpet. For a long time Ken would be known to me as Joe's brother. The guy who always asked me if I needed a ride.

That's how we met. Ken asked me if I needed a ride.

I said no.

I always said no. I don't even remember how many times he asked me, I just know brother was determined to get me in an automobile and I had some kind of car aversion when it came to "Joe's brother."

One day he asked if he could walk with me.

Ha! I love a guy who can change his technique!

So we walked. We've done a lot of walking for these last fourteen years, and we've walked together as husband and wife for eleven years today. One of those days, so many years ago, when he noticed me, and lemme tell you, I was not much to notice, he looked out of his door on Middlebelt, way before he asked me for a ride, and said to his mother, "That's the woman I'm going to marry." I never thought much of myself. I never thought I was anyone's first pick. But I was his. That was a miracle to me.

But a lot happened in between. We were a couple of kids then. We became friends and we genuinely liked each other. Life happens. Sin happens, and other S-words. Abuse happens and abusers. Things get done to us, and we do things to ourselves. I remember leaving home for D.C., being nearly killed, and coming back having lost most of who I was. But I remembered Ken. The first person I looked for when I got home was my best friend. The second was Ken.

What a pair we made. Me fresh out of a nightmare. Him fresh out of rehab. Me completely out of my mind. Him having realized his life had become unmanageable--basically, out of his mind, too, but better off than me because I hadn't had rehab. I talked him into getting me pregnant even though we weren't dating, having sex, or married. What's worse, he agreed. Sometimes despite the fact that you are out of your mind, God will give you a bit of mercy. The son we had is the most delightful human being EVER! A gift of grace if ever there was one. We really did fall in love. And somehow, despite unbelievable obstacles, we stayed in love.

We finally got married on Valentine's Day on the evening of a blizzard. Only a few came out. We'd planned to have a Kwanzaa wedding, but dear Lord, on December 8th, seven days after we moved in together I had a stillborn baby. I was in no mood for a wedding. January came, and midway through I was pregnant again. And miscarried again. When I was tired of all that death coming out of my body, I told God He had my attention. I told Ken I wouldn't live in sin anymore.

That stormy night we had no money. My sister (really the cousin I was raised with. I hate making these distinctions. Sheesh!) bought my wedding cake, but didn't show. None of the relatives that raised me came. The relatives that didn't raise me, who lived in town, did. My father gave me away. I'm the only one of his daughters that he did. My brothers threatened Ken with extreme bodily harm (and they are capable!) if he ever hurt me. I wore my sister Jill's cross--something borrowed. My wedding dress was borrowed, too. My Sister Carlean stood with me, and my daughters were my flower girls even though we didn't have any money for flowers and they held empty baskets full of imaginary flowers. Ken's ex, in a final act of vengence, put little flower girl Bianca in a black dress. A hot mess, I tell you. We'd gotten the licence that very day, and the guy at the cleaners almost didn't give me the wedding dress because he charged me the wrong price and I didn't have any more money.

Here's what I learned in these eleven years. Marriage really is a mystery. It is a veritable laboratory of love. It will test everything about your capacity to love. And you will fail. I am grateful someone told me beforehand that there would be days I'd be profoundly disappointed with the person I married. That I would be bored to death sometimes. They told me there would be times my heart would stray. My eyes. What they didn't say, but the Bible did, was that this awfulness too was the mystery of Christ and the church, because don't we get bored? Don't we stray? Aren't we at times, whether or not we admit it, profoundly disappointed as Christians? Marriage tested my faithfulness to Ken, just as being a Christian tests my faithfulness to Christ, but there's more.

There's this other side of the mystery. There are momemts when I am so profoundly moved by Ken's love that it takes my breath away. There are times when I am rolled up in a ball of nothing in my own sweat, sloth, and despair and it is Ken that holds our home together, cooking, and cleaning, caring for children, then tenderly sitting beside me, saying nothing, offering no judgement, and I lie there, knowing I don't deserve him, completely unable to come out of my foulness and his love becomes Christ drawing me out. Ken has been Jesus to me more than any human being that I have encountered in this life. He has loved me more. Pushed me more. Angered me more. Challenged me more. Bored me more. Fought with me and for me more than anyone. My parents didn't fight to keep me, but I can assure you that Ken Burney has, and will again if he needed to. Ken is my Jazz. My book readers know what I mean when I say that. Dear Lord, he's a very complicated melody. His notes have made me sing out loud, and his beats have made me do a very nasty groove!

On the day I left the demon lover in Washington D.C., and I waited all night at Union Station for the next bus to go to Detroit, I put the last quarters I had in the television to watch the Arsenio Hall Show. James Ingram was the surprise guest. He came out of the audience to everyones delight, including mine, singing "Find One Hundred Ways." As I listened to the words, still battered and disillusioned, I decided right then and there, demon lover be damned, to believe in love again. And that, my friends, is why Ken is the person I looked for after my best friend. He was a friend before he ever became a lover. He stayed a friend when it was hard for him to be a friend to himself. He is still my friend. I cannot imagine a time, come what may, that I will not have him to lean on.

Once, I decided to divorce him. I was in seminary, and his addiction was raging. I went to my professor, a Godly man and theologian I trusted. I said, "Tell me how to get out of this." And he said, "You have no scriptural grounds for divorce." He explained that if it were too much I could separate...but I wanted God's okay to get a divorce. For all the hell raising sin I'd lived in, I needed God's okay in this, and God didn't give it to me.

Not much later I had a dream. I don't have many of these, but when I have them they are unmistably God dreams. In this dream God was talking to me about Ken, and He said, "You will be his joy, and he will be your laughter."

Those words kept me through many dark days, and one day, the addiction was gone. One day, the hell had given way to a bit of heaven and I had myself a fine man. My laughter bubbled over in my soul. We are imperfect. Oh Lord, we are a mess sometimes, but tonight...I am loved so many more that one hundred ways, and just as James sang so sweetly that night so many years ago, in his arms tonight i'll reflect that I owe him the sweetest of debts. And God knows, I wanna pay.

I love you, Papi. I am yours. You are mine. And you're my hero.

Matthew 19:6 (The Message)

4-6He answered, "Haven't you read in your Bible that the Creator originally made man and woman for each other, male and female? And because of this, a man leaves father and mother and is firmly bonded to his wife, becoming one flesh—no longer two bodies but one. Because God created this organic union of the two sexes, no one should desecrate his art by cutting them apart."

Happy Valentine's Day!

Quincy Jones with James Ingram

Compliment what she does
Send her roses just because
If it's violins she loves let them play
Dedicate her fav'rite song and hold
Her closer all night long
Lover her today
Find one hundred ways

Don't forget there could be
An old lover in her memory
If you need her so much more
Why don't you say
Maybe she has it in her mind
That she's just wasting her time
Ask her to stay
Find one hundred ways

Bein' cool won't help you keep a love warm
You'll just blow your chance
Take the time to open up your heart
That's the secret of romance
Sacrifice if you care
Buy her some moonlight to wear
If there's one more star she wants
Go all the way
In your arms tonight
She'll reflect that she owes you
The sweetest of debts if she wants to pay
Find one hundred ways

In your arms tonight
She'll reflect that she owes you
The sweetest of debts if she wants to pay
Find one hundred ways
Ya gotta believe it whoa
Love her today
find one hundred ways


Heather Diane Tipton said...

I love hearing your story. I love how Ken takes care of you

ragamuffin diva said...

I love it, too, Heather. There is soooo much more I can tell you. Ken is freakin' awesome.

Anonymous said...

...after 14 years he awoke. One could hear on the wind a horrible scream, like a zephyr made of a dragon's breath and the faint words spoken, "what bewitchery is this?" LOL okay thats why I don't write...actually its been quite a wonderful delight to be one with we didn't go out and do "something wonderful" on this 11th year...something wonderful happened days before our anniversary...friends happened, family happened and staying at home was peacful...I don't think they (family and friends) know just how peaceful they made it for us today LOL...and I am thankful and we are truely blessed. I send out peace and blessings to you love as always to you babe. Oh just one more thing...I've had a talk with God about this laughter've been a joy to me, but I had to ask, "what's up with this laughter thing? I'm funny how, I amuse you, what makes me funny?" and I was told I do a pretty good Joe Pesci and don't push it. Love U babe...K

ragamuffin diva said...

Okay, calm down there, goodfella. And let's not argue with Sovereign God, K.

Love you, too, Papi!

sue said...

Wow, a beautiful for ashes. God is amazing.

Alison Strobel Morrow said...

Beautiful, Claudia. Thank you for sharing your story with us. I'm always encouraged to hear about couples who have stuck together through hell and high water since our culture doesn't seem to think marriage worth the effort nine times out of ten. You're an inspiration.


Shanna said...

You're a good man, Ken. I think my husband and you might need to start a new chapter of the Rodney Dangerfield "I Don't Get No Respect" Club. You could email each other about your crazy wives...

Oh dear. I'm not sure I just made the best suggestion...

Kristine said...

It's great to hear about you two and how you met. What a blessing that you have one another. I hope the day was peaceful indeed...

Joni said...

And that is what love is truly all about...thanks again for blessing me with your words, Mair.

He's definitely a keeper, that man of yours! :o)

ragamuffin diva said...

Alison, that statistics are sobering. Only one in two marriages survives now. Of those two, only one will make it past fifteen years. The divorce rate among Christians is the same as the divorce rate among non-Christians. Amazing!

Amy A. said...

Your story is amazing. Happy Anniversary and Valentine's day.

Deborah said...

Dear Claudia, what a beautiful Valentine to your husband.
And so sorry to hear about the loss of your Dad.

It feels like someone sitting on your chest, doesn't it.

Lots of love and hugs


Penless Thoughts said...

I found you on a link from A Little Insight Into My World. I am awed with the honesty I have just read here.

Nancy said...

Mair! Once again your raw honesty moves my heart. Your writing blesses me every time, you are such a gift.
Your words to your daddy are such a beautiful eulogy that I am sure brought a few smiles in heaven.

upwords said...

Now see? Why did you have to go and bring James Ingram into this? I'm still messed up from the eulogy post. Have mercy. And I drug my feet because I knew from the title it was going to be about Ken and I thought I could prepare myself.


Ken, if you don't know by now how funny you are, there's nothing I can say to you, bruh. Everybody in y'all's house is hilarious. I love the way y'all love each other. And Ken I love you for not hanging up on me when I call too much, too early and too late.

Happy Anniversary and many more!

Paula said...

Thanks for sharing this with us. I like hearing details I didn't know and it reminds me to treasure my man as well.

Bek said...

first of all, thank you for the story. its awesome. secondly, i never heard that song before. and i am in love with it now. thanks for printing it!!!!