Stories Told from the Middle

Dear Sherah,

As long as you don’t mind stories told from the middle, I have one for you.  

When Pete and I were newly married and talking about starting a family, we set a goal. Before we had a baby, we wanted to have ten thousand dollars in cash savings. Ten grand may not seem like much to other DINKs, but for two semi-employed students who were planning to move overseas, it was ambitious. When we had 10k, we would know we had our lives together enough to bring another human into the mix.

I’ll spare you the story of 2010 and tell you the end of it, which is that on the day Anders was born, December 30, we had more money in Cold Stone Creamery gift cards than we did in cash savings. And no, we didn’t have over ten grand in gift cards; we had exactly twenty-five dollars in gift cards. Pete’s mom had told our Secret Santas that Cold Stone reminded us of our honeymoon in Hawaii, so we had just come into some ice cream over Christmas.

The gift card thing is just a cute way of saying that we were totally broke. I remember joking with Pete that we had actually timed the birth of our first child perfectly, contrary to what it seemed. Not only did Anders arrive a day before the tax credit deadline… we actually needed the meals that our friends were bringing over.

I also remember saying, “No, but seriously. What are we going to do?” 

“I don’t know,” he said. “But do you want to go get ice cream?”

So we bundled up a five-day-old Anders and drove to Cold Stone to eat overpriced ice cream during a snow storm. And ever since then, Cold Stone has reminded us of our honeymoon, when everything was fresh and untested, and also of God’s faithfulness during a time of testing. Sometimes when we’re feeling depleted or challenged or afraid, one of us will say, “Hey, remember that time that we had a newborn and more ice cream than cash?” As in, Remember when we were at a total dead end, except then the story kept going?

A few weeks ago at our last team meeting in Indonesia before taking this leave, Pete told this story, saying that we had less than twenty-five dollars in our emotional bank accounts and no idea what to do next. They prayed for us, and the next day a friend dropped off an envelope with a generous cash gift from the team, folded in a Cold Stone printout and accompanied by a note. Here’s some ice cream cash while you guys get your emotional accounts filled, it said. We cried and I put the printout in a pocket in my purse, thinking that now Cold Stone would be a reminder of when we were newly married and didn’t know anything, and also of God’s faithfulness, and also of the community and support we’ve gained along the way.

A couple of days after that we were in Jakarta, hanging out for a few days before our flights back to the States. We were watching Anders play in a mall play place, and we were having a devastating argument. An awful argument. It was an argument that neither of us could possibly win, which I guess classifies it as something other than an argument. Eventually we stopped talking because there was nothing left to say, and we looked away from each other - stuck, sad, hurting, depleted, broke. And at that exact moment, I got a text message from Cold Stone Creamery, two floors down. Beli 1 Gratis 1 Ice Cream di Cold Stone Creamery Grand Indonesia. T&C apply.

“Let’s get ice cream,” I said. 

I was kind of hoping that the cashier would look at our text and then pass it around as if they had never seen it before, like we were the only ones who received it. But instead we got in line with about fifteen other people who had also received a buy-one-get-one-free text from a company that mines contact information from nearby cell signals to send promotions. When we got to the front, we ordered our usual flavors, but they were out of both, so we ordered chocolate instead. As we left, I saw Pete take his first bite. And then I watched him chuck the entire cup into the garbage and keep walking. Like he didn’t pause or anything, he just took a bite, and then he threw the whole thing in a garbage can that he happened to be passing at that exact moment.

“Totally freezer burned,” he said.

Without thinking I immediately walked to the garbage can, picked out theLove It sized bowl that was still fully in tact with what was indeed awful ice cream, and walked back to the Cold Stone counter. Then I caught up with Pete and put sixty thousand rupia in his hand.

“Why did you do that?” he asked. “Who cares about six bucks right now?”

“I don’t care about six bucks,” I said. “But the symbolism was too much. I couldn’t handle it.”

He laughed, sort of, like an exhale. He kissed me, which you’re not really supposed to do in shopping malls in Indonesia, but who cares. We kept walking. So I guess now Cold Stone Creamery is a reminder of our young and untested love, of God’s faithfulness in challenging times, of support and community, and of how I take symbolism way too seriously.

Sherah, your story last week brought me to tears, because I love you, and because I was retroactively grieving that season with you, and because I’m so grateful for God’s faithfulness to Charlie and your family, and because I’m so proud of you and Marty and how you have fought and hoped for your son together. The part where you just barely cracked open your struggle only to be reprimanded with “Children Are a Blessing” made me want to scream a tiny bit. Anyone who knows that children are a blessing should also know that there’s a curse at work in our raising them. To see how you have been putting together Charlie’s restoration puzzle was beautiful. God’s grace and your love for Charlie were all over that story, and I think you were brave and generous to share it.

This whole marriage and parenting thing… It’s kind of crazy, right? Like, it was going to be a little bit easier than this, right? Pete and I are at a stuck-in-bed, crawling-on-hands-and-knees, sailing-in-storms, harder-than-we-dreamed, freezer-burned, not-so-much-dancing-as-standing-terrified-in-minefields place right now. But I take symbols seriously because I take stories seriously, and I know enough about stories to know that we’re not at the end of this one. I believe that, I do. But we need to be reminded more than we need to be instructed, and your story reminded me, in a deep way.