By Lindsay Vernor
*I am publishing something I didn’t write myself. This essay describes what, had I experienced it, I would have seen as a clinical problem, maybe dissociative identity disorder. It is a powerful reminder that sometimes we experience normal things but because of our illness, we assume it’s not normal. Lindsay writes:
My husband has been married to nine different women.
Oh, don’t worry. They have all been me. And that doesn’t even count the one or two iterations of me that he dated prior to us getting married twenty-two years ago. Or the fifteen-year-old version of me that he decided to marry. Or the nine-year-old version of me that he “fell in love” with. Sometimes I wonder, even with his gift for anticipating and planning for the future, how could he look into my fifteen-year-old eyes and determine that he loved the essence of me enough to love all the iterations of the me I would become in addition to the one that was before him?
What kind of love is it that offers one the security and foundation to grow without any certainty about how that growth will occur? What kind of love is steadfast and yet not only makes room but invites one to take a deep breath, allowing space for lungs to expand and contract, but somehow holding tightly enough to offer deep sanctuary? It is breathable love. The Old Testament describes this as hesed (kheh’-sed). Often translated “lovingkindness,” hesed describes that steadfast, abundant, and everlasting love that God has for God’s people. Ultimately, it is breathable love.
You know, I was actually surprised at the number of distinct versions of me that I could count. I think I expected four or five, but on average, every two to three years, it seems I become a new person. And yet, I am also still me. Philosophically (or rather, metaphysically), that is a complex concept to consider. Some might want to say that the fundamental essence of me has not changed. I don’t want those people to be right, though, because in many ways, I was a fearful, but self-centered little girl. While I am certainly still unlearning the habits and trying to undo the instinctual responses of fear and self-centeredness, I don’t want that to be “my essence.” I live in the optimistic hope of my Wesleyan tradition, that I can be set free from those things which bind and inhibit me so. I am more than that, and I am also becoming more than that.
Breathable love, which my husband has so amazingly offered me all of these years, is the love that God has for us. It says, “I’ve got you—now and all the ‘you’s’ that you will become.” It is the love that we offer to our children as we watch them grow, particularly when they become adults themselves and we wrestle with that very fine line of being supportive but not overbearing as we watch them spread their wings… and sometimes fall. Breathable love is love with an abundance of grace. It is the best kind of love because it beckons us to grow even as it keeps us from falling. It gives us permission to fail. This is a kind of love that we must learn to cultivate for others—breathable love—the love that God has for us.
Lindsay Vernor is a writer and pastor who lives with her husband, two kids, and two little dogs. She loves exploring the integration of theology, identity, and gifting, and seeks to use her voice to inspire more openness and grace in the world, particularly for those who have been marginalized.