Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What is love and intimacy?

A couple of months ago, Janie asked me:
What is love and what is intimacy? I mean between men and women, and I don't mean sexual intimacy. I mean emotional intimacy.
My answer would be posted on her site as this is a series she is running on her blog. (note: her blog is private but you can email her a request for permission to view her blog at She posted my answer about a month ago and I would like to share my answer with you. I actually wrestled with my answer for a while because I somehow knew it but couldn't describe it. Branden, knowing me as well as he does, told me to just sit down and start worked. So this is what I sent her:

This isn’t something I would typically write about because I realize that my view is not a typical one that the world holds and even just sharing my view could be judged as ‘preaching’ (and am not a fan of that word). I’m not trying to preach or push my views but you asked for my thoughts so I have to give you an honest answer.

I don’t like the term ‘religious’ and don’t consider myself to be ‘religious’. I am not affiliated with a specific Christian denomination but I love Jesus and am married to a Biblical Scholar. Having said that, I can’t give an answer about my thoughts on love and intimacy without talking about Jesus. This is because I think that pure love and intimacy is not possible between two people. We can come as close as we humanly can to it but it will never be pure or perfect. That is because none of us are pure or perfect.

I learned from an early age that everyone would somehow let me down at some point in my life. It’s not always that they intentionally do so or even want to but they are human and humans aren’t perfect. This did make love a bit more scary because it meant that my future spouse would eventually let me down and hurt me too so I had to look into how to handle it. This is where I have to look to Jesus. He is love and is the only one I can have pure love and intimacy with. He is perfect so I don’t have to fear him letting me down but it’s also deeper than that. His love is unconditional and that means that there is nothing I can do to make him stop loving me or love me less. This is a major difference in us humans as we all have a limit. There is usually only so much we can take before we throw in the towel.

Unconditional love also means forgiving...always. How can Jesus love me even if for example, I go out and slaughter tons of people? Well, he already forgave me for all of the things I have done wrong and will do wrong. My forgiveness is not conditional and it’s not earned. It’s freely given because of unconditional love. This is another difference in us humans. Forgiveness has become something that is earned. My mom taught me something important when I was younger. Just because you forgive someone, doesn’t mean you have to trust them. Trust is something that is earned but forgiveness isn’t. Forgiveness frees you from holding onto bitterness and anger which isn’t healthy and doesn’t hurt the other party at all. You just hurt yourself.

When I knew that I was going to marry Branden, I told him, “I am forgiving you now for anything you might do to me in the future”, and I meant it. This has been a wonderful thing in our marriage because it means I don’t hold onto petty little frustrations and I free myself from any bitterness that could build up. If for some reason, he does something like have an affair, I will forgive him but I don’t have to trust him again. Jesus knows we are imperfect humans and that’s why there are allowances for divorce, so we don't get abused or taken advantage of.

Trust and intimacy go hand and hand. They are both earned and built up over time. Because my husband isn’t perfect, I can have reservations in going to him with certain things because I fear how he will react. I don’t have this fear with Jesus because that goes back to knowing that I’m already forgiven and unconditionally loved. I still think it’s very important to be open with my husband though because it develops an important bond that we don’t have with just anyone. One good thing about moving 4500 miles away from our friends and family just 2 months after getting married, was that we really had to work things out together. If we had a fight, we couldn’t just call our friends or family members for advice...or for ‘ammo’. Healthy intimacy is between two people and only those two people. It isn’t shared with your mom or your best friend. If there is an issue that the two of you can’t resolve, then take it to a professional that’s an uninvolved 3rd party. I don’t think it’s healthy to take your issues to other people who know you because it ends up in side taking and a sense of entitlement to your opinion. Intimacy can’t be built upon selfish needs or the desire to always be right.

This leads me to the most important thing about love: that it is self sacrificing. It is why forgiveness is possible. Jesus died so that I could be forgiven. He sacrificed himself so that I could understand pure unconditional love. Sure I believe that he could have just blown the world to bits and started again but it wasn’t about what he could do, it was about how much he loved us and wanted us to live and know that he loved us. This is something that is very foreign to the human mindset. Every day my husband and I try to live our lives for the other person. It’s not about what we get out of the marriage but about what we can give in the marriage. Love has to be unselfish to be pure.

So because of our imperfections, we can’t ever experience true love and intimacy with another human. Our flaws will find a way to get in the way but if we hold to the image of what perfect love is and try and put it into practice, we can come as close as humanly possible.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

So, what's the deal with me not working?

Joshua asked a great question:

"I'll admit that I know absolutely nothing about the labor laws of Ireland, so I'm still confused why you can't work. Especially because it sounds like Branden will be able to work once he's done with school. Can you talk about that sometime?" 

It is a bit confusing so let me try and break it down for you. Basically, it all comes down to the fact that we are not EU citizens. If I was an EU citizen, then I could work here and move here for whatever reason I wanted, with little issue. Since I am not an EU citizen, then I only have a few ways that I am allowed to live here. I could either move here with a work visa, put in by a company that is wanting to hire me (but is limited to only a handful of professions in the medical field, IT, and University positions, and the permit costs 1000 Euros per year), or I could be a student, or as in my case, the spouse of a student (but even that is limited to spouses of PhD students only). So if Branden had been a master's student, I would not be allowed to come with him. Since I am only allowed to live here based on my spouse being a PhD student, my visa lists me as a dependent, which gives me as many rights as if I were just his child. His student visa limits him to only be able to work part time during the school year and he can work full time during school breaks, which is a bit silly since PhD's are year round. 

Since I am basically considered by the government to be no more than a child, I have a big stamp in my passport that reads:
"Permitted to remain in Ireland on conditions that the holder does not enter employment, does not engage in any business or profession, and does not remain later than *date of visa renewal."

So I am not able to attain a work permit and get a different visa because non-EU people can't just get work permits for "any old" type of job. Everything I am qualified to do is not allowed because I would be limited to get a job only in the specified fields I mentioned above. This does works out for when Branden is no longer a student and wants to get a job because he wants to be a professor and that's a field that allows for non-EU work permits. PhD students are also allowed a year long visa to find employment after they graduate. This will be helpful.

The Irish government was in the process of amending their immigration laws right as we were trying to move. The international student office was certain that the laws would change in my favor since Ireland wants international PhD students, but when we got here, the law didn't change. We were told our only hope would be to write to the Department of Justice, plead our case, and hope for an exception. They wrote us back basically saying that they already recently went over their immigration laws and if they didn't amend it now, they weren't planning on amending it again anytime soon. So "too bad, so sad" basically.

We even aren't allowed to start our own businesses until we have EU citizenship, and getting EU citizenship will take us at least 8 years. Normally it's 5 years, but unfortunately they currently don't count the 3 years Branden's studying as time put into living in Ireland. We even looked into me becoming a student just so I could work part time too, but non-EU citizens pay double the University fees so the part time job allowance wouldn't cancel out the cost of paying to study. Luckily Branden has a scholarship that makes it so he only pays EU University fees, so we are saving half in tuition costs.

A lot of people here reassure me that I could get a job and that no one ever checks for work permits for visas. I have seen that this is true, but I can't do it with a clear conscious, knowing that I've got that big nasty stamp in my passport. Plus, since we are in a recession, it just takes someone to get a fire underneath them to decide to crackdown on illegals taking the jobs from Irish citizens, and I could, by random chance, get caught. Then what? I would be kicked out and probably not allowed to come back. That's not worth it to me since we are planning on living here permanently. Also, that could bust me with the US government as well, since even though we don't pay taxes on our money we make over here, we still have to report it to the IRS every year. So potentially, I could have 2 countries crack down on me and that's just not worth it. I don't want to go against the law just because that's just how people do it over here, and I want to ensure that I don't jeopardize my future of living here.

In so many ways, not being allowed to work has been a huge blessing. We have been able to see an incredible amount of love and support poured out over us from our friends and family back home. It's been very humbling and I have found how much more fulfilled I am by using my time in whatever way God leads me, instead of within the confines of an 8-5 job. The flexibility and the opportunities to volunteer have been priceless, so no matter how tough an tight things may be financially, there has been nothing to hold me back spiritually, and I wouldn't trade that for the world.