Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Why I Said, "Yes," Instead of, "No," Against What I Wanted

I know I am bad about writing. More, I know I am bad about writing consistently. 

It has been almost three years since I wrote anything for this space. I wrote something for my other blog for the first time in equally as long only a month or two back. 

That space is for books, movies, and music, though. This space is for me. For my struggles. For my frustrations. For my heartbreak. For my joy. For who I am in this moment. 

Right now, I am devastated. There is this soul crushing, heart-wrenching, and anxiety-triggering grief that has sat beneath my exterior for the past five weeks. It showed its head for the first time last December, and then, 10 months later, roared front and center. 

The senior pastor of my church is resigning. He is a man I deeply respect, admire, and care about. I have only known him, his wife, kids, and fluffy human (dog, for you muggles) for 4 years, but they are one of the closest things I have to non-biological family here in Pittsburgh. 

My relationship with them, and with my church, was a large percentage of why I decided to remain in Pittsburgh when my family moved back out West, other than my job. 

He is one of the best men I have ever known, and currently know. I cannot say that about many people in my life, but I unreservedly say it about him. 

The conflict that has arisen at my church and the inherent problems that could not be reconciled are why I find myself with this rolling turmoil for the past five and a half weeks. It is always sitting beneath the surface, waiting for a chance to sneak through. I work a lot of hours between my two jobs, which helps me keep a lid on it, but some days the glass cracks and it feels like, if I hold my breath sometimes, I can regain control. 

You see, at the town-hall meeting my church had for people to come and voice their concerns, experiences, and negative interactions with my pastor last month, I was one of only a couple people to stand up and speak on his behalf. I am not saying this makes me a good person, because I am, in fact, not that good a person. I simply reached a point, in the midst of that two hour character assassination, where something inside me snapped.

I had to stand up and hold a microphone and tell people I have known for 12 years, pillar members of my church's congregation, and representatives from the local governing body over our church, that the man that was being described by all of these people was not a man that I knew. I wanted them to be careful, and make sure that if they were going to give weight to the dissenting voices, they also give equal weight to those of us that have been insurmountably blessed by my pastor's ministry and our relationship with him and his family.

Maybe it is because I am only 26. Maybe it is because dissenting voices are louder. I heard nothing from my church leadership. I received minimal response from the Session members when I sent a letter last December, and I received no follow-up (except from the associate pastor) in September. While the dissenting voices may feel like the Session, deacons and elders are on their side and taking their matters seriously, I feel like they have brushed me aside. I feel like they have conveyed that everyone else and their experiences are more valid than my own. 

Since mid-September last month, I have been able to perform a magic trick. I should be cast in a Harry Potter movie. Is Fantastic Beasts looking for a walk-on/walk-off role, or a body double? I would be perfectly suited for it, because apparently, I am invisible. It is a newer quality of mine that I have only discovered in the past five weeks, so I am not convinced I can put it on my CV yet. However, for an hour and a half, each Sunday morning since that moment I was handed a microphone and stood against a current, no one at my church, outside of the same 5 people, have talked to me. 

This church I have called my home for the past 12 and a half years has become an incredibly lonely place. I can move through the post-service crowd with hardly anyone stopping me. What used to be a time when I could hang back and talk to different people for 30 minutes or an hour, has become a sea of people moving around and past me. 

This past Sunday, I attended church with friends I had not seen in a shamefully long time. I was greeted and welcomed warmly by people I had never met, and passed around on introduction after introduction. I felt like people were curious about my life and what I did or if I needed any help getting connected. It was nice to feel welcome. It was better to feel wanted. 

Sunday night my church had a congregational meeting where we were to vote on ballot to accept or reject our pastor's resignation, and have our delegates recommend the same to our presbytery. This is what I mean when I say, I checked, "Yes," when all I wanted was to check, "No." 

I love my pastor, and I love everything he was trying to accomplish at my church. However, my church is insular and not outward facing, and while I am disappointed, I am not surprised either. They never have been in the 12 years I have been attending, and maybe it was too much to ask of them. I prayed and hoped that someone as passionate as my pastor was and is about discipleship, the goals and vision for what we could be would be as infectious to others, as it was to myself and my friends. 

So, on Sunday night, I checked, yes, to accept my pastor's resignation and recommend that the church leadership recommend that our presbytery do the same. I checked, yes, and it felt like admitting defeat in a battle I did not want to lose. 

But, I checked, yes, because I love my pastor. I love his wife and his sons, and their very big, fluffy dog. I love them too much to make them endure the crippling fight they have experienced with my church that only seemed to be boiling over this year. 

I checked, yes, because I want him to be free to do what he came to do: discipleship. 

I checked, yes, because I believe it is what he is called to do and that others will benefit immeasurably from his work and experiences. 

I checked, yes, because he deserves people that will receive that training and work with him to further that common mission. Those kinds of relationships have the power to change someone's life. 

I checked, yes, because my church no longer deserves him as our pastor. 

I checked, yes, because my church decided that it did not want to put in the work he asked for our well-being. Rumors were allowed to spread without control, and instead of standing in unity with my pastor, elders and deacons stood in opposition to him. 

I checked, yes, because I watched a group of people I have known from almost half my life deny forgiveness and reconciliation to a man that has sought those very things from them, by going outside of himself and attempting to change himself for them...to fit their idea of what a pastor should be. 

I checked, yes, because I watched my church deny love and grace to a man that has loved them, in an imperfect way, but still loved them the best he could as a fallen human, the same as we all are. 

I checked, yes, because I watched people in my church declare that growth, forgiveness, and repentance have an expiration date and are finite, as opposed to infinite and requiring faith. 

I checked, yes, because it would have been selfish to say, no. It would have been selfish to want to keep him, when there were strong forces opposing it. It would have been cruel to put his family through that, especially with congregants that were trying to pressure the leadership for the exact thing my pastor voluntarily decided. 

I checked, yes, not because people in my church wanted my pastor's resignation. I checked, yes, because it was a decision he came to himself. I checked, yes, to set him free. 

I checked, yes, and it caused me immense pain. We folded our ballots and handed them to the deacons and elders. I turned around and one of my best friends had tears in her eyes. I held her hand and she squeezed mine back. I had to look at her, and tell her it was going to be okay and that this was the best decision. It did not feel right, and everything about where we found ourselves was wrong, but it was where we were. And we sat there in silence, together, a group of friends torn over the decision we had been forced to make, knowing that we were losing maybe more than anyone else. I held my friend's hand and she held mine in one and her husband's in the other, as we waited for the ballots to be counted with the results we knew were coming. 

I checked, yes, and I understand the cost. I understood the cost when I wrote the letter last December in support of my pastor, his family, and their ministry. I understood the cost when I raised my hand for a microphone in September. I understood the cost when I folded my ballot on Sunday. 

I understand the cost by writing these words. I understand the cost of sharing these words. I understand what it means, and that there may be no going back, and that I may irreparably ruin relationships with a church family I have loved for almost half my life. 

I understood the cost of speaking up, and I did it anyway. I would do it again, because what happened was wrong. What happened was the anti-thesis of everything I believe about forgiveness, empathy, and love for a fellow human-being. What happened appears to be a pattern my church is familiar with falling into, and I am beginning to wonder why that is. 

What happens now, then? What happens to those of us that are left behind in the wake of our pastor's departure, with his ministry initiatives cancelled effective immediately, and us given no alternative place to find support or attend a small group Bible study? What happens to those of us that stood against the current? What options have been afforded to us that have been generously extended to those on the other side of the line? 

My pastor's family has cared for, taught, mentored, and loved me far beyond my own deserving. So, I checked, yes, because I was given a choice, and I chose to stand with my pastor and his family. 

I understood the cost. I still understand the cost. What happened, though, is wrong. 

I write these words, because it is where I am right now. In this moment.
And, despite how I have been made to feel on Sunday mornings, I am not invisible. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Sexy Time: Why PAPER and Kim Should Reconsider Their Collaboration

I cannot believe there is a need to comment on this, but there appears to be debate over whether backlash against Kim Kardashian is because she is now a mom and moms are not supposed to pose nude or be sexy. Honestly, this is one of those things where internet media runs with something out of context or fails to request clarification and I feel a pressing to offer some fleshed out points. 

I do not like Kim Kardashian's cover photo for PAPER. 
I do not like that her clothes, as a rule, leave almost nothing to the imagination. 
I do not like that I do not even follow her, watch her show, know or want anything having to do with her reality-television saturated celebrity presence, and yet, my newsfeed is full of her bearing all because everyone else thinks it is worth talking about while her desire was to "break the Internet." 

The irony of my response is not lost on me as it becomes one of the thousands of pieces of grist that will get eschewed by the pop culture mill.

This is what I say:

Let her break the internet if she wants, just have the decency to give me forewarning so I do not share the fracture in conjunction with an inanimate entity's psyche. I am not saying she does not have the right to pose nude. Celebrity and public citizens, alike, possess the right to photograph their disrobed bodies. Each unto their own. Just warn me before you share it because that is the last thing I want to see, whether I know you, and especially more so if I do not. 

This is not me saying that being a mom means you cannot do those things and you are forbidden from feeling sexy. While I question how sharing a nude photo, with literally the entire world, fulfills the definition of what it means to "feel sexy," I am all for you wanting to feel sexy. I am not yet a mother. I have yet to be married. I have yet, even, to be kissed. So why do I get an opinion in anything having to do with this, right? 

I am in my mid-twenties. I know that I have the desire to "feel sexy" for myself, as a woman. I understand how subversive and objectifying our culture is about that on both sides of the gender line. However, I do feel there is a more appropriate way to achieve that. I love dressing up. I love doing my hair. I love experimenting with make-up because I do not wear it often or minimally for work. I love pulling out those treacherous black heels that make me six feet tall -- something that is not my genetic inheritance -- and are the remains of maid-of-honor wear.

As a mother, do I think Kim should being posing nude on the cover of a magazine? Absolutely not. The questions to be examined, though, are more intricate because is there really any good reason for her to be posing nude on the cover of a magazine at all? Feeling sexy? I am not sure that is a valid reason. To me, it seems she possesses an extroverted sense of self confidence about who she is and how she feels about the way she looks. She chose to share it. With everybody. That is my point. 

In just a few short years, her tech savvy child will have the mental consciousness to Google her mother's name and that is one of the pictures that will show up. How does that teach her about modesty and respecting herself when her mother has flagrantly shared her sexuality with the world, both online and in print? When man or woman shares that over the one medium where such images can never be erased. Mothers that declare such is your right because it makes you feel sexy are correct. It is your right. And it may make you feel sexy, but I would encourage you to consider two separate, but unequal exclusivities: feeling sexy and sexy time. 

Sexy, to me, is man or woman that bespeaks intelligence, respect for themselves and the world around them, thinks through their answers when posed a question, are generous where they can be with their time and attention, has voracious passion for life and the things of it, and someone who understands who they are, even if that is only a sliver of who they become. By no means perfect, we are only human, but we are always growing, changing, stretching.

And I know, virgin girl here, but I am not going to besmirch sexy time. I am not a prude nor a product of a painfully strict, conservative, and sexually repressive upbringing. My married girlfriends tell me often, oh how they love their sexy time with their husbands. That is where those conversations end. I do not need to know more. They rarely proffer more. That is their private, intimate relationship. That should only be between the two of them. I hope that is the discussion that comes about from this. That is what I am worried about. Mrs. Kanye West will carry on as she determines, but I hope that she comes to realize that she has more to offer the world than a provocative angle of her body, nude or clothed. She deserves to be known and remembered for more.

What ever happened to less is more? What happened to making people wonder? When did it become okay to treat yourself like a piece of meat to be consumed, carrion vultures lurking on the periphery? I have grown up convinced of the mysterious allure of modesty. I understand that men, and women, are both visual. Women can stop trying to shove it off on men. You know it is as true as men do, but no one talks about it out of fear or shame or something else bewildering. And I believe exposing people and children willingly to it is not okay. I believe that there are still things about you that belong to your significant other, what you look like sans dress being a primary example. I think it is about time that men and women demonstrated a little more respect for the distinction from feeling sexy and the sacredness of sexy time. When it comes down to the line, I do not want to know. Nor should I have the right to know.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

She Woke Up & Got Engaged or Proof that Aspen, Colorado is Romantic Wilderness: A 4th of July Reflection, 3 Weeks Early

I learned a man spends an average of $5229 on an engagement ring, because, supposedly, as a rule, jewelers recommend shelling out about three months of their salary, depending on financial situation. This statistic is per Brides magazine, which I read because my job as a bridal sales consultant semi depends upon the knowledge said print media provides. However, excuse me? The answer is no. Five grand? I would rather take a honeymoon worth five grand, not wear it on my finger. The reason for that, though, is entirely selfish and unrelated. Ask me about it and I will elaborate.

Second, if I hear one more bride, or friend, tell me she knew all about the proposal or had a general idea of when he was going to propose, I may flip. Maybe this makes me old fashioned, but come on…it is supposed to be one of the three surprises that actually exists in our lifetime: whom we marry, the proposal, and the gender and number of your children. As long as my handsome man knows I will say yes, I do not want any other information from him. Timeline. Nothing. Propose how you see fit (minus involving a bunch of people in a public song and dance number). Leave her out of it, unless you want her involved in the ring selection (even that I waver on because I want the surprise through and through, some brides do not). Consult friends or family if you must but choose wisely (especially in my family). Some secrets are vastly important.

Listen, I know romance still exists, despite no first hand experience. 
Do not tell me it does not. 
I see it won, and occasionally lost, every day.
I have listened to the stories and stumbled into the conversations.
They are, in fact, some of my favorites.

4th July 2013, while at the Maroon Bells, I saw a man go on bended knee in front of his young lady. She covered her face with her hands. A pair of friends that had come with them were taking pictures and, hopefully, filming. The dozen of us there applauded when she reached for him, to kiss him, and he came up to meet her. I fancy she woke up that morning, at o'dark thirty, dressed warm for the chill, ran a comb through her hair before putting it up, maybe put a touch of mascara on to look a bit more awake as we do, and got in the car with her boyfriend and friends to drive to the Bells to take pictures at sunrise. I am hoping, by her reaction, she had no idea it was coming that particular morning, or at 4:30am I doubt it crossed her mind. 

It was classic. 

Maybe this is me challenging you to prove it. Maybe this is me saying that you can be clever without giving hints. Hints constitute cheating. Maybe this is me verbalizing that in the last year of hearing proposal stories, sometimes two or three times a day, often five or six days a week, I have yet to hear a proposal as good as the one I saw on the 4th, in Aspen, feet away from one of the greatest views I have ever beheld. 

You want to know the other great part of this story? The footage of that proposal, that I am convinced exists, is not on Youtube or Godvine or Vimeo. It was photographed and recorded for posterity. For the two of them. For their family. For the friends with whom they choose to share it. For their children. Grandchildren. Great grandchildren. 

In every sense, that proposal was a proposal that should have ended up on the Colorado news. Instead, it is a story that they get to tell. Them and the dozen people that witnessed it. But me, unlike them, I can only write about it. I can only attempt to communicate that that proposal sticks in my mind. Every time I see a photograph of the Bells, I remember. 

And the truth is, I almost missed the whole thing. If people lined up with their DSLRs mounted on tripods along the lake shore had not gasped, whispered far too excited for 6 in the morning, and begun clapping, myself, seated on a rock a handful of feet out in the water, would not have turned around in time to see him ask or hear her say yes. 

I know romance exists. 
And I know there are men alive, raised to perpetuate it. 
I have come to the conclusion that I would like such a man, however self-serving such a wish is.
I would like to be told more engagement stories like that in a dressing room.
The stories are one of the reasons I love my job as much as I do and why it will be hard to give it up.

I would like to see my brides laugh and blush and smile and tell me the details while stepping into the first ivory gown I am holding out to them. To set the scene while I lace-up the corset of the dress they ordered months ago that arrived just last week.

Because one day, in the unknown number of days to follow, I will get to step into my first dress at a try-on. My consultant will have asked me what I like, when I am to be married, and what I want to spend. Five thousand dollars will not be my answer. My mom told me years ago what my dress budget was. She is nothing if not prepared. I will step into that lace or satin dress and my consultant will ask me what my fiancĂ©'s name is, how I met him, and how long we have been together. She will ask me if we have selected a venue and the size of our bridal party. 

And if she is anything like I am, she will ask how he proposed. I will smile, most assuredly blush, and say, "He's a secret romantic." 

"Oh yeah?" She will say. We all say it. 

"Yes. He promised it would be good. I kissed him, then told him to prove it."

Saturday, April 19, 2014

And the Devil Went Walking

It sounds trite and cliche to say that I have thought about how I wanted to say these words. I know no other way, though. In an effort to be eloquent and moving, but in light of the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual drain of events, my vocabulary fails me. Hopefully these small words reach your ears and you can begin to understand how it feels because like a teacher wrote, you simply do not know.

Wednesday, the 9th of April, is the stuff of which my nightmares are composed. Since I was eight years old, only two things run at the forefront of my mind as numbing: acts of violence against a student body and car crashes. Car crashes, though, are irrelevant here, in this space. This is for the other. Yet, you must understand why, first.

On Tuesday, the 20th of April 1999, Columbine High School, in Littleton, Colorado, was smeared across every major news outlet. Two boys had walked into the building and unleashed terror upon the inhabitants, who were their fellow students. In the end, they themselves were among the dead. I was there when it happened. I remember it clearly. 

My family lived in Evergreen, about thirty-five minutes up C-470 and I-70 from Columbine, when it made international headlines. Just because we were a few dozen miles away did not separate our school district. Jefferson County went into lockdown. No one in. No one out. My mom remembers attempting to pick-up me up for a dentist appointment. The police officer at the front of the door said that she would have to go home and wait for me at the bus stop. I remember disembarking and asking my mom what was wrong. People were talking about something going on at the high school. I was in second grade. How do you explain what happened to a child? 

My mom called some family friends that lived down that way. Their children went to the neighboring high school. Everyone we knew was accounted for, but that does not change the reality. I did not see a newspaper for over two weeks. Captain and my mom hid them from my little brother and me. There were pictures of the library running on the cover. Photographs, serving as immortal proofs of tragedy, stamped as headlines.

Years later, in high school, on the 16th of April 2007, Virginia Tech demolished Columbine's body count by over double. From what little I understand, that was the goal. I had fellow students at Franklin checking in with family and friends who attended all day. Sandy Hook, just two and a half years ago, reached extremes with the targeting of elementary school children. The final straw. The last piece in the Jenga tower before it all crumbles over. Are we finally desensitized? Are we no longer haunted?

The answer is no. Wednesday, April 9th, I rolled over at 8:36AM to find my cat next to me. I did not work until noon. I thought seriously about sleeping for another hour. My mom walked down the hall. I said good morning. She opened my door and said there had been an attack at the high school. I felt the initial tremor. She said it was all over. Had been for over an hour. A student had brought a knife. They were saying the number was twenty.

Next, you reach for your cell phone. I did. I graduated in 2009. I no longer knew anyone but faculty and staff at the senior high. My brother, a 2013 graduate and section leader in the band, would have better connections. Still, the text messages and phone calls start. I texted my bridal manager to make sure her little brother was safe. Then my friends to verify their sibling whereabouts. The home phone began ringing every few minutes and band moms my mother had served with and church moms began calling in with roll call and names of the wounded. We knew the name of the student responsible hours before the media. Or hours before the media shared it with everybody else.

That is how it feels. Do you see? The instant when your stomach cramps and that feeling you get when your chest tightens and you feel as if you are being pressed by giant stones. Tears sting and even though everyone you know is safe, that is your high school on the news with the local police at every entrance and the life flight helicopters in your football stadium. It is your high school that you work less than a mile from, where you had to take a detour to get to work to avoid potential road blocks. It is your high school everyone talks about all day. It is your alma mater that is the second most read story on BBC by one o'clock Eastern Standard Time. This discovery brings even more tears. And they do not stop. 

It is your high school, when you leave the bridal salon at five o'clock that you will drive home past. It is the senior high that you bought midnight showing tickets to I Am Number Four to watch them blow up. It is the pavement you ran repeatedly when you picked up running. It is your school. Your panthers. And there, at the top of the complex, the senior high building sits cordoned off with yellow crime scene tape and uniforms to prevent media from crossing. It is the incline and the middle school parking lot and the east entrance by the elementary school that has local and national news crews lined up along the road, cameras staggered between vans, ready for the evening coverage. It makes you whisper, "Oh my God," repeatedly under your breath and cry some more and want to scream and curse at the men and women in their pressed suits, standing in the gravel adjacent to the tennis courts. It makes you mad. Or it should. 

Are we not haunted enough? I lived there when Columbine occurred. I am twenty three, I have seen all the pictures now. I saw the coverage of Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook. My mom turned off the television because it provided continuous coverage and it hurt her heart. She could not turn it off when it was our high school though. I did. I had too. There was no new information, just speculation. Alex and his family. The students in the ICU. The emergency room selfie. All of it. 

This is all that you need to know. On April 9th, the Devil went walking, in the words of Sally Gardner. He picked a new country, a new state, a new town, and a new high school. My high school. On April 9th, my nightmares materialized. I stopped dreaming the horrible scenario because it actually happened.

And this is how it felt after. I texted people I knew all over the country throughout my work day. Please pray. There is nothing else you can do but that and I will take it. We all with take it. 

Tragedy reveals how well, and poorly, people respond. I had numerous friends tell me they would do just that. Some did not make the connection that it was my alma mater. One voiced a conspiracy theory and then sadness. Another remarked at the choice of weapon. The crucial outcome difference, I reminded, means I will take the miracles as they come.

It is amazing the comfort that people can offer or believe they offer and how little you can feel it. 

You need to understand the void, the hollow, that is created. The place where it aches just thinking about it in passing. And the things that live in the void: the stories of the heroes, the witness accounts, the faculty testimonies, and the unforgettable devastation of a family that must reconcile what their son, brother, nephew, cousin, and everything Alex is to those who love him, what he has done. Alex will have to reconcile it too. It is not our job to do that for them. We can only offer them privacy, love, support, prayer, and when needed, flowers too, I think.

But you know the most amazing thing? The tears I cry now are most often realizing the love and support that Murrysville has from all over the Pittsburgh-metro area. T-shirts are being sold to fundraise for scholarships, which have their production sponsored by corporate donations. Every church in the area opened its doors and its pastoral and counseling staff availability. Businesses have personalized their signs. Blue and gold bows run the length of the chain link at the softball field, on mailboxes, pillars, and small business monikers. Banners with thousands of signatures are running the length of the hallways at the high school. Flowers, balloons, and tokens were all tied to the front step rails. Over one hundred people showed up to pray before school commenced on Wednesday for students in the same stadium and on the same turf that panic had washed over the week before. And not just FR students. Students from every district in the area.

I will never understand the allure of April. Maybe it is because April has been the setting of nightmares for me for fifteen years. I grew up those kids I worried about in the corners of my mind. 

But beauty is in the break down. The Devil may have found a grand angle, but he did not win. How many times has it been said only good can come out of evil? So much good has come out of a tragic event and violent act. 

And tomorrow is Easter. And the anniversary of Columbine. 

But I am not afraid. For the Devil went walking, but he has been conquered. 

He failed to fray the edges. We did not unravel.

He failed to drive the wedge. We have not turned against one another.

He has failed.

I am not sure he thinks that.

He will be displeased.

I do not care. You should not care.

Nothing short of sitting on the rock, at the water's edge of the Maroon Bells, during sunrise on the 4th of July, has convinced me of the immeasurable fortitude of our Father than the threads I have seen tightened since 7AM just ten days ago.

The funny thing about perceived loose ends? When you pull on them, you realize everything they are attached too and how, in fact, immovable they truly are. 

We are immoveable. We are united. We are proud.

We are FR Strong.

The Devil can go pick on a cat his own size. Our Lion is fierce and up to the task.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

To Him…When Nights Are Bad

Last night was a bad night.

It was a good night. I went out to the theatre and dinner with my mom. It has been several months since she and I have gone out for a show, just the two of us.

As I was falling asleep, though, it became a bad night. You were not there.

Did I ever tell you this one story? When I was a freshman in college, home for Christmas, I woke up one morning utterly confused. You were not there. I awoke in my parents' house with the same silver band I have had for eight years, bewildered as to why you were not next to me in bed. It took only a few minutes for me to remember that I was almost nineteen and that I had never been on a date.

Whatever I dreamed had felt so real that waking up single and living with my parents was disorienting. And yet, I could not remember what you looked like, let alone the name I wanted to call out down the hall.

Last night was bad for precisely the same reason. I remember very little, except that I went up on my tiptoes to kiss you after you walked in the door. You removed your jacket and I can remember the feel of you putting your arms around my waist. It was only a moment, a mere flash. I woke up feeling alone for a split second until I remembered that last night had not, in fact, happened.

And yet, now a week away from being twenty-three, some how, that realization twinges more than it did five years ago. A lot has changed in those five years. I graduated from university last month. I am searching for jobs, spread between Colorado Springs and New York City. All but four of my closest girlfriends are married or getting married. And the first wave of pregnancy announcements have started in. It is not that I am not happy for them. Because I am. It is not that I do not enjoy being single. Because I do as well. It enables a flexibility most of my friends do not have. I can make a decision solely for myself when it comes about where I want to live and work.

It is as my mom put it two weeks ago: I am feeling a little left out.

I love my married friends.
I love my single girlfriends.
And yes, I love the men in my life too: the husband and single guys. They all treat me amazingly well.

I just had to tell someone who might, perhaps, understand how it feels to be surrounded by couples.

I wanted you to know that I have moments where I wish you were here now.
Yet, I also wanted you to know that such a moment is something I am more than willing to wait on.

I do not know if you ever think about this. Maybe you do not think about it as much as I have.
Planning weddings for friends and working in bridal puts it at a forefront in my life.

I do not despair. I do not snap under impatience.
I have waited (nearly) twenty-three years for you.
And glimpses like the one from last night or from five years ago, have reassured me that God is in control.

While I am pressed, I am not crushed.



Wednesday, December 11, 2013

10 Days Later…No Words…Just Anxiety

I distinctly remember promising on December 1st, that I was going to write every single day this month, to get into the habit of writing every single day. To point out the obvious, I have not written a single thing outside of rewriting my thesis (which was twenty-two pages in the end) and my notes for studying and filling out paperwork at the bridal salon.

It has been a productive ten days, but not in the way I was hoping.

I have been consumed with anxiety about finishing my thesis. Which I did.

I have been worried sick over my oral presentation. Which went phenomenally well.

I have paced, since my last final, worrying if my capstone course will give me the grade I need to leave proud of my accomplishments, not just because I slid out by the skin of my teeth. At this point, I would take a C, happily, but it would not belie the work and hours put into the project. I would rather receive a B, but it is just a waiting game now. Grades are not finalized until next week.

I am a week away from knowing if I have graduated with my Bachelor of Arts.

I am a week away from not stepping foot in a classroom as a student for an undetermined amount of time. I am far too burnt out from my undergrad to attempt graduate studies right now. And the Captain advises working for a few years and putting a dent in loans before accruing new ones.

I am beginning the job application process. Fingers crossed on these Colorado inquiries of mine. Or just pray that I find work soon. I do not know that a bridal salon and closing two nights a week at the store are enough to foot my gas, insurance, and student loan bills, which kick in next month.

I find myself overwhelmed at the prospect of so many decisions.

I get trapped in my head easily.

I panic.

I get frazzled.

I blush.

I stammer.

It is exhausting.

Being an introvert is not always as restful as it sounds.

It takes months of my knowing someone before I feel a semblance of comfort unmarred by anxiety.

I am supposed to apply for jobs and then pick-up and move there to work.

Chances are high it may not be in Colorado where I know numerous people.

I am all for adventure and starting some place new, but I am afraid of jumping straight in with no fail-safe. No backup. No one to call when something goes wrong that can access me easily.

I fear being truly on my own. It does not sound safe. It is unfamiliar.

But, maybe it is the words of a Baggins I should be taking: "I am going on an adventure."

Having read the terms and conditions and understanding that it may not go as I hope it does. I know planning, to an extent, is useless and I try to remind myself not to get so wrapped up in details I have no control over.

I cannot control other people. I cannot control whole situations.

I am only me. I have to have faith and trust in the LORD or I am truly alone.

It is taking that step of faith that is the hardest.

But December may yet prove to be an exercise in how to do just that.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Unde lux est orta salus invenitur...

Right about now, I can imagine the look on your face as you read and reread the title and imagine that I became a hobgoblin sometime in the last five days for writing my title in language long dead. I would apologize, but I am not contrite. In fact, I am going to work on augmenting your quality of life, one Classical [Christmas] Latin phrase at a time. Mine as well, considering I am a bit rusty. My history thesis did not fall within the category of Roman Antiquity as I had hoped it would, so we get to go on that minor adventure together. Do not worry, before long, you will see the Latin in everything and parse words upon seeing them. Especially those of you in medicine, law, and anything having to do with the human body (yes, that means athletic trainers and coaches too). You can thank me later, after you start dreaming in Latin. I will drive you a little nuts, in the best way possible, while adding a little culture to your life simultaneously.

Moving on, however, breaking down Wheelock's Latin for you is not the purpose of my writing tonight. Dominantly, my brain is a little fried from the final draft of my thesis being due tomorrow and as someone with unheard of levels of anxiety, I keep tinkering. I will probably be awake most of tonight, actually, so tomorrow will be more fun than I can say. Once I turn it in, I will be able to sleep--it has been a restless Thanksgiving weekend.

With the passing of another Thanksgiving, though, I realized something extremely troubling about how my semester has played out. I was confronted with very tangible proofs of how selfish and fallen I am as a human being. My desire to completely skip November and simply graduate overrode natural common sense. Some people are stuck in the past. Others are firmly planted in the present. I have the problem that follows progressively: I get stuck in my head, in future plans, and have a hard time readjusting to the present. I got a taste of life and working in an office I would love to be hired at this summer, in a town I learned is not so bad, in a state I adore. The Springs is no Denver, is hard matched for where I grew up in Evergreen, and I am not convinced Garden of the Gods trumps Aspen's Maroon Bells, but I digress. My point is, I am so ready to be done, I became flippant about things I should not have been.

I went to Focus this summer and it rocked my boat more than I expected. I watched sunrise at the Maroon Bells on the 4th of July and have gone through withdrawal for that sight ever since. I made new friends, but missed quality time with old ones, our schedules consuming with no cross-over, just time grabbed between shifts or during shifts. And here, on December I, mere minutes from December II, I find myself burnt out and starved of quality interaction with most of the people I count as close friends. Do not get me wrong, there have been the texts and the Facebook messages, and the occasional telephone tag, and the conference Skype that ends at 3am with the others calling me to wake me up because I fell asleep a half an hour ago and they just kept talking. All of those have been wonderful and life saving. I cannot wait to breathe and attempt to catch my breath, and graduate and be done, at least for the next few years.

Here in the problem with the other half of this though. I fell out of a routine with God. Writing was my ritual until my sophomore year. Now the words I write here are the only words that see any light that has not been mandated by academia and we both know my writings have been sparse this semester. You see? All consuming: the selfishness, the desire to be done colliding with the frustration over a twenty page paper, which is nothing, I might add, in length terms. That frustration vent of a piece about women in the church was over three thousand words--half my thesis length--in just under two hours.

So here is where I am now, after church this morning and confronting the very real and being uncertain about what is next. I am going to start simple. I am going to start by writing every day this month of December, I through the XXXI. Everyone waits until January for their resolutions. This, however, is much more important than a resolution. Something has to give. And it starts with me. It starts with God. It starts with as many pages as it takes to hash it out. To make sense of the burn out. To see where He leads.

And it starts right here with those words: unde lux est orta salus invenitur

from where the light rises, salvation is found

Monday, November 25, 2013

As a woman, what do you want from the Church?

I have been a devoted follower of Preston Yancey's blog for well over a year now. As a church history minor, I have adored his examinations of theology and find myself a bit miffed that I have to wait a whole calendar year for his book to be placed on top of my reading book stack--I have no more shelf room. It is also a source of constant amusement to me that one of my friends went to the same graduate school as him and my RD's wife's little sister is his fiancĂ©e. Small world. Just last week, however, he issued something that made me stop and mull it over. I have been pondering and meditating on it for days, as well as which arm I should sharpie 2 Corinthians 4:8 in Latin to, but that is separate. 

He posed this question: As a woman, what do you want from the Church?

As a woman, what do I want from the church? As surprising as it sounds, I have never been asked this question before and I find this troubling. Preston spoke about it in discussion of giving women open mic on his blog about the thing or things, they want from the church, and is accepting submissions on a rolling basis. His word limit, however, is 600-800 words, something I am not totally comfortable with, so I am going to dry run my thoughts here, with myself, God, and I think the seven people that read this regularly and there may not be that many of you. But I have recently become reacquainted with this single frustrating trend within the Church and I think somebody has to call it out, so I am going to. After all, lux ex tenebris invictus, right? Light triumphs out of darkness.
As a woman, I want the Church respect the definition of "personal life."

I suffer no delusions that the fact that I address relationships often has not escaped notice. I would apologize for that, but it is the stage of life in which I find myself: surrounded by relationships. I believe, at last count, that the number of single girlfriends I have do not outnumber the fingers on my left hand. Now, before you raise some white flag, bracing for a single girl to beat you over the head about how to own your singleness or make you feel bad for being one of the many in my life who are married, I invite you to stop and breathe. This is not about any of that. This is about an attitude within the church that affects both married and single. Let me paint a picture of both sides, the one I am getting and the one some of my best friends are receiving.

Single side first: 
"Do not worry, you are young, you have plenty of time to marry."
"Maybe guys do not date you because they see your purity ring and assume it means something else."
"It is quite obvious that he likes you because of…."
And my recent favorite: "Is there anything going on between you and…"

Dating & Married side:
"Have you guys talked about when you're getting married?"
"When do you think he'll propose and how?"
And recent married friend favorites: "Have you guys talked kids yet?"

I am just curious as to where everyones' tact and upbringing in conversational boundaries has gone. I mean, even if we're friends, in what way is this any of your business? I have a very specific, small group of women that I confide such matters to, and unless I tell you otherwise, you are not a part of said accountability group and neither are you the person I am dating/engaged/married to, and therefore, it is definitely none of your concern. Something attending a small, Christian university taught me is that the gossip mill loves grist and relationship news is always plentiful, juicy, and changing. 

As I am currently standing on the single's side of the line, I can comment more intimately about the phrases I wrote because they have all been said to me since the beginning of the month. Those are the best of all of them, but I promise there were more. The first two occur a lot because I am a sales consultant in a bridal salon and by the end of a bridal appointment, there are almost no secrets between yourself and some brides. When you are helping them in and out of dresses for four hours, stories get shared back and forth. 

The one I hear the most is that it is okay that I am not married because I'm still young (two months from 23) and they are surprised at how little single girlfriends I have remaining. Oh the things Christian college will do for you, if not bestow an MRS degree. As much as I appreciate the sentiment and can feign kindness in response, telling me I still have plenty of time really does not help me feel any better. As "Save the Date" cards continue to come (three 2014 weddings already, with more to show up), I have a whole batch of friends who I am waiting to announce the first round of pregnancies. All us singles have placed bets, don't you worry. All your married friends have too, I promise. 

Do you want to know why it does not help for you to tell me that? For me, it promotes an insecurity. I have no success stories to tell except my only ex and I, together for two weeks, are very good friends, but it took over a year for that to be true. You want to know what insecurity it promotes within me? That I might still have time, but maybe not enough time to figure out how to keep a relationship moving forward. It promotes fear in my life because I am so far behind so many of my friends in my personal interactions with men and have no love life to speak to. It might sound ridiculous to say that, but it took nineteen years for me to go on my only date. If I am engaged, let alone married at 25, I will consider it the greatest triumph God may have worked in my life to that point.

The second one, that my purity ring throws men off, I'm sorry, I have to call it, so cover your ears: bullshit. What utter nonsense. Total hogwash. One of my best friends from high school professes the same thing I do, saving ourselves until marriage, and she has always opted not to wear a ring because she holds that tenant to herself. Nothing wrong with that in the slightest. I, in contrast, like having the ring. It is a good conversation starter, number one. And the other perk, I have learned, is that it appears to limit frivolous attentions, which I have told you baffles me. To say that wearing the ring, though, detracts from my perceived availability is ridiculous. Any man that has ever spent any time with me in public or in person, knows that I read single loud and and clear. If not, I have probably called them obtuse in general conversation. And as a general standard, Christian culture is familiar with the concept of the purity ring--it may be a dying breed, but it is still recognized. A ring is not a turn off. It can all be solved with a single question.

So I think he likes me and based off of my deeply biased account of the facts and conversational snippets, you completely agree with me. This is where you, as my friend since I am confiding these childish girlhood scenarios to you, need to put me back in my place and remind me that nothing is final until a date is involved, and even then, life is not set in stone until you're dead. I have run up against this wall frequently since this summer. Talking to friends about extended conversations with one man tends to raise a lot of questions, especially after weeks of back and forth. You know what my friends did when I asked for council? They told me to stuff my fear, take a risk, and see where it goes. Not bad advice, because what is the worst that could happen? He does not like me. Okay. 

But they did something worse than that, a few gave me a list of conclusive evidence that proves he must like me, even a little. Thank you for that. I can certainly maintain my perspective now. Talk me down a road and then they get frustrated when I take it upon myself to maintain that perspective. He has not asked me out. We have no understanding. Unless said otherwise, he is my friend. And then there is the nagging for the "DTR" which is poison in its own right. Here is my advice, the next time one of your friends gives you a list of conversational snippets that indicate he must like her, tell her that there is nothing wrong with seeing where the friendship leads and stop there. Do not fluff it up. Remind her to keep her boundaries, to not let her heart get ahead of reality, and hold her accountable. Do not cut her brakes and berate her when she is hurt that it did not go where people assured her it would because "the signs were all there that he liked you and he must be an idiot not to see them too." She is your sister in Christ, protect her like she is one.

Lastly, and one of my favorites with the previous: Is there anything going on between you and…? No. You ask if I am sure? Of course, I am. I am one half of the equation just described and I have not gone out with him, so the answer is a conclusive and resounding NO. And beyond that, even if I have gone out with him, more than once, if it is not public knowledge yet, why do you assume that asking me will grant you access behind the curtain? I have had friends that dated for months before they announced exclusivity. Did most everyone know by then? Of course, they were no longer trying to hide it either, but no one ever asked. You can ask me seven different ways to Sunday if there is anything going on between me and whomever you choose, but my answer will always be the same, "Unless you know something I do not, the answer is no." Sure, I might like him. Maybe a little. Maybe a lot. But if I did, I would not tell you. It is not public knowledge for a reason, mind you. Remember what I said, small group of girlfriends know the whole truth. You are not them or my mother, therefore….

And for the dating/engaged/married whom I count as close as any other, since a majority of my best friends are categorized as such, I think I and everyone else, owe you an apology in some shape or another. I apologize for all the times I asked about when you two are getting engaged. I was raised by parents who did not waste any time and one year just seems like a ridiculous amount to decide whether or not you want to live with someone who will become your closest confident for the rest of your life. But on the same playing field, my heart breaks for you every day too. I know what expectations you have because you have confided in me and you are tired of waiting for the proposal because that is all you are waiting for now. Or worse yet, you are barely engaged and friends and family are talking children. How utterly ridiculous. 

It is always one thing after the next: you're talking to a man, they want to know when you will date. You're dating a man, when will you marry him? Engaged, how did he propose? Because no proposal is official until it has been Youtubed and announced on Facebook. Yet another thing to consider as a part of your "personal life" for a time. And then married to a man, are you pregnant yet? On and on the train goes. Many of my own friends find themselves in that last category, one of numerous married milestones. The problem is the emphasis that they feel is placed on it, akin to the emphasis they felt as singles about getting married. Why the rush to have children? Let them enjoy being a married couple. They have plenty of time, right? 

Nothing about the relationship process is any of your business, unless you are included. That, as a woman, is what I want from the Church. You preach constantly about boundaries here and boundaries there, but then fail to understand that boundaries are not exclusively personal, they are interpersonal too.  Asking my friend when she and her husband are having children has nothing to do with you. Their bringing forth life does nothing for you and you asking may be doing more harm than good. What if they have miscarried? What if they cannot conceive? And if they are simply waiting, what then? It does not make things any better to offer your comments. 

And do you want to do know what else I want from the Church, in regards to respecting personal lives? I want you to be honest about how hard it is. That is something I do not hear about enough inside these sacred walls and yet I see it demonstrated every day and become more and more aware of it. Only since returning from grueling, eye-opening, culture shocking understudy in Colorado Springs this summer, have I began to understand just how challenging so many things in life truly are, especially marriage. A plethora of married friends will offer a vivid insight. 

I have begun to realize just how exhausting it must be for my mother to have my father working out of state, approaching four years now. The way I talk about my father working in a separate state, new friends might assume they are divorced, but they are not. Approaching thirty-four years, next summer, in fact. It is a window into the life that some of my friends, who are military wives, have. A small window, but a glance none the less. And it makes me hurt for you and pray for you and wish for you in ways I may not for other people. Whether that is wrong or right, I cannot say, but it is for you and that is what matters. And I see how still other friends have fought it out over finances and when they should start trying to have children and if going back to school is even an option. I know that I do not know the full story--how can I? I am not married to their spouse and I am not them.

However, despite my fears that I have no idea how a relationship practically looks for me, because I think myself a special kind of awkward that may be impervious to the "normal" rules of dating and relationships, seeing them work through it, fighting or smiling, gives me hope. It grounds me in reality seeing the struggle of sharing life with another who is just as fallen. Marriage is not utter bliss. I will not always like my husband and vice versa. We will fight. I will make it worse more than once by not being so good at communicating. Despite what I have been told, I will not regret saving myself for my husband. However, the sex will not break the headboard (I am looking at you, Twilight). Although, I refuse to discount the idea that it wouldn't be fun to try, if only for the story. 

That is what I want and need more than ever as a woman in the Church. I need to know that it is okay that I am not dating and married like most of my friends. I need to know that you do not see my worth defined against whether or not the ring on my finger ties me to someone specific. I need to know that my worth is not found in how grand my engagement story is because I like it simple, because what is being proposed is the grand gesture. I need to know that it is not easy. Not as a deterrent, but as a way to keep me grounded. A happily every after does not end at, "You may now kiss your bride." Happily ever after are stories that have no finished yet, to quote Mrs. Smith. I need you to be honest with me. I need you to speak into my life so I am not tempted to elope with that guy I like within the realm of fantasy, divorced completely from what is real, which can be so very far from the truth.

I want you to stop saying those things you think I want to hear. They are not for me.
I want you to stop asking those questions you want the answers to. They are not for you.
I want you to be honest with me when I ask for advice, even if I become angry at the answer.
I want you to know I will be honest with you, even if I deny you the answers to the question you want.

Call me a bitch for speaking to you this way. Trust me, it is not the first time, nor the last.
Call me naive for wearing my purity ring. Your insistence does not change my mind.

Ask my friend one more time when she will be pregnant and see if she lays a hand on you before I do. She and her husband may have fought about it earlier that day and you are rubbing it raw.

Ask us something real, for once. Something that has nothing to do with our jobs or our relationships or our thesis paper or our plans after graduation.

Show that you care about us more than just that. 
Show us that our worth to you goes beyond that.
Show us that you see us. 
Show us that who we are, is not invisible.