One of my favorite fights that Mark and I have had (can there be such a thing?) probably happened on a few occasions, but the one that sticks with me was about twelve or so years ago. I was a junior in college, and we were in the car together driving through the hilly farmland of upstate New York. I don’t know where we were going; I don’t know where we had been. And I remember little else except this: “You are the woman of my dreams,” he says to me, all happy and in love, one hand on the steering wheel, one tightly clasping mine. I have little doubt that he had no idea what was coming next.
My reaction was immediate, and forceful. My mouth opened, and what come out was a verbal spew: you’re only going to be set up for disappointment; I’m not perfect. I’m nobody’s dream anything. On and on it went – not in some display of lack of self-esteem, but almost the opposite. Couldn’t he see how not-dream-like I was? Didn’t he know that I am a terrible procrastinator? Didn’t he know that I bore easily? Change my mind quickly? Didn’t he know that I was way too stubborn? Too self-involved? Clearly he was learning of my sardonic realism. Poor Mark. He had no idea what just happened. In a moment of contentment he had simply let his lips proclaim what he was feeling to be true. He was telling me of his love for me. But I didn’t hear it.
We’ve grown miles and miles since those idealistic words. We’ve battled hard through years of growing up together, growing in together. Step by step we’ve been living out the hyperbolic vision that Mark had for us. Because whether in actuality he knew his dream then or not, what has happened since is we’ve been building this dream. Life is not lived in the grand gesture, but in many, many small ones. When I listen to that claim now, what I can see with absolute clarity, is that yes, Mark saw me as the woman of his dreams – with an endlessly stubborn streak and erudite vocabulary.
In my women’s bible study we’ve spent the past year studying the book of Philippians. We dance around a bit, take breaks here and there, but mostly are taking the slow and deliberate march through this letter from Paul. Philippians 2:15 says, among other things, that I am to be pure and blameless as a child of God. When I’ve read this verse before I’ve felt inadequate and overwhelmed. Doesn’t God know who He is dealing with here? He knows my need for Him. But here’s what I learned this time ’round: of course God knows me. Of course He knows all of my inadequacies. But He has chosen to see me as pure and blameless, because of the work of the cross. That’s who I am now. A child of God. And certainly I can put up barriers between me and God, I and might not feel so pure and blameless. When Mark calls me the woman of his dreams, he’s telling me how he sees me, not how I am in my broken reality. (Bear with the messy connection here, I’m not attempting theology. Mark ≠ God, clearly).
Driving through the farmland, when Mark was telling me of his dreams, we were far enough along in our relationship for him to know, with certainty, how I was not a picture in a magazine. (how could he ever be confused?!) He was, in a way, speaking a blessing to me: a vision of how he sees me. With all of my crazy, I am the woman of his dreams. There’s this great line in Gone Girl: “Give me a man with a little fight in him, a man who calls me on my bullshit. (But who also kind of likes my bullshit.)”
You see, there’s something better-than-dreams in our reality, don’t you think? There’s something about seeing the flaws in Mark, and about him knowing mine with such intensity and honesty, but still claiming dream status for us anyway. It’s like that Shakespeare sonnet:
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red, than her lips red:
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound:
I grant I never saw a goddess go,
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare,
As any she belied with false compare.
I, like the mistress in the sonnet, am much more mortal than any goddess living in dreamland. But I don’t doubt that I’m living the dream. And I have learned to swallow my snark, say “Thank you,” and give Mark a big ol’ kiss any time he tells me: “you’re the woman of my dreams.”