It’s Really Hard

I think the last few things I wrote have been sad. Not because life is All Sad. It’s not. It’s beautiful. It’s adventures and rehearsals and vlogs and laughing and swan kids and cooking experiments and thousands of kisses. But it’s also harder and sadder than I ever knew life could be.

Is that what it’s like to be a grown up?

I think maybe that’s what it’s like to learn things.

I realize now that many people don’t want to know more. Many people like what they have and aren’t interested in more. Even people who have access to education, resources, and people who are different from them. And I can’t hold that against anyone. Take the life you want and do glorious things with it!

But I just love learning so much. I find myself constantly reading, absorbing, re-thinking, listening. Once you hear enough about an issue, talk to enough people about something, your perspective is just changed forever. Even if my conclusions are the same – I’M not the same. I don’t have my conclusions for the same reasons. I’ve cultivated more empathy, understanding – I’ve tried to wiggle around in strange shoes.

But that gets so lonely when so few people live like that. It gets so lonely when people I love retreat further and further into their boxes, when I just want to keep following light and air and growing my wings and learning to see the world through other people’s eyes.

I don’t know what to do about how hard it is.

I don’t know how to deal with brothers dying and sisters fading away. I don’t know how to deal with living thirty miles from my best. I don’t know how to deal with friends who go to toxic churches and leave compassion at the door of their social media accounts. I don’t know how to deal with false whispers and hate and smallness.

I don’t know how to be Good like I want to be – but I know Bad when I see it.

And I don’t know how so many people can’t see it.

The Lie of the Slippery Slope

This will be brief.

But I have been thinking about The Slippery Slope. The idea that, “once certain events are set in motion, certain other things inevitably happen.” Put in place certain policies, America will become communistic. Allow gay marriage, soon we’ll be letting people marry children and toasters. Etc.

Now, there is some wisdom in recognizing that certain things lead to other things. That, I will concede.

But as a young adult always making connections between my lived reality and things I was taught growing up, I am becoming wary and disappointed with the messages that The Slippery Slope rhetoric is imparting, especially to young people.

For example, many people in my generation who grew up in evangelical environments were exposed to a certain strain of purity culture that emphasized: be careful who you choose, and then be even more careful about your physical boundaries. kissing leads to french kissing which leads to petting which leads to sex.

And yes, physical intimacy is a great example of how it’s easy to get carried away with things once you start down The Slippery Slope. Once you kiss someone enough that you’re madly in love with, you definitely want to move on to doing more things with them. But I want to say something very loud and very clear for any reader who may happen to be of the younger variety:

There is no LITERAL slippery slope. You are an independent agent capable of saying “yes” or “no” to anything you want.

Want to kiss your boyfriend? You are a human being capable of doing that, and not moving further than that.
It might be hard to stop there.
It might be difficult dealing with HIS desires and hormones.
But (assuming you are in safe places with people who respect you) you are 100% capable of removing yourself from an uncomfortable situation, saying “no, not right now,” or creating new lines in the sand for your relationship.

And I fear that The Slippery Slope argument, perhaps, might give young minds the impression that they do not possess such agency.

But you do. Please please know that you do.

Yes, make wise choices.

Yes, consider the consequences of what you choose to do or say. Consider them deeply and thoughtfully.

You can always say no, not tonight, not this far.

You don’t have to believe pedophilia is OK to think gay marriage should be legalized.

You don’t have to have sex just because you’re holding hands (or kissing, or snuggling, or ANYTHING THAT’S NOT SEX).

You’re bigger than The Slippery Slope. You can jump the freak off the sled anytime you want to.

Sociology and the Way People Work

1. //

I only took one Sociology class in my undergraduate career, though I would have taken more if I’d had the chance. Even so, I feel like I learned and got to discuss some really important things. In that class I developed a deep reverence and empathy for lawmakers and government officials, simply because I realized I would never, ever want to do their jobs. In that class I learned a little bit about how culture is shaped, and how things change, and how people react to different aspects of society, and how that leads to more changes.

I distinctly remember us discussing the family unit. Why do human families interact the way they do? Why do we form life-long bonds in ways that so few members of the animal kingdom do?

The simple answer is: our babies.

Human babies develop so slowly, and humans learn so much about how to take care of themselves from their parents and caregivers. This is not how baby frogs and toads work. This is not how giraffes work. Many animals begin to reproduce by the time our human babies are toddling or crawling around, not even yet able to speak.

Whether or not we believe in a higher power or deity, the fact remains that this is how human beings grow and mature. Families must stay together, in some form or fashion, in order to raise healthy children and propagate the species.

2. //

I just read an interview with a strong, upright, compassionate doctor and abortion provider. I so respect his humanity and his desire to help women, and I so respect others who share his opinions and his desire to help others.

But I ache for how much we have forgotten how humans work, and how families work. I ache that we put ourselves in situations where life is created, and unprepared for, and unwanted. I don’t believe that marriage = sex = babies = Glorify God = end of story. I may, at the end of the day, have a biologically childless marriage, myself. I would never, never tell anyone that their ability to have children is what makes their sex valid, or their marriage valid.

But still – still I ache over the separation of “rights” and “how human beings work” in many, many situations that lead to abortion.

Maybe I’m coloured by my own experiences.

You see, I know two girls who got pregnant when they didn’t want to be. (I know more, I’m sure, but for now I’ll stick with this)

One girl was young, a teenager, but had the most loving family in the world. A life-giving, we’ll-stick-it-out-through-anything family, a young family with a home and open arms. A family trying to follow Jesus, who never yet rejected this daughter for any of her previous mishaps and terrible choices. And yet, though her family explicitly offered her all the help, and all the love and desire for the baby she carried, this girl got an abortion. I don’t know what she was thinking. She was scared, I’m sure. Perhaps she didn’t want to experience the pain of childbirth. Perhaps she didn’t want her parents to raise a reminder of her own broken relationships. Her mother cried over the baby so much, the baby who was already loved and wanted and now sacrificed on the altar of Separation of Recreation and Actual Bodily Functions.

Now, the second girl was young as well – in college. I’m sure her circumstances were not too different from the first, but I cannot say. She’d made mistakes, she’d made poor choices. But this time she didn’t insist on her rights, and she put the child up for adoption after carrying her to term. She faced judgment and glares and tsks, but she did what she did and moved on with her life. Someone else, some family, now rejoices in that baby daughter.

My experience taints the emotions I experience over the idea of abortion. I would never, never condemn a woman faced with the agonizing choice of an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy. But all the unwanted pregnancies I’ve known about happened to girls who should have taken that sociology class.

{{Does it seem like I’m trying to preach against having sex before marriage? I’m not advocating for new laws or universal codes of conduct no matter your belief system. But I’ve written before about the heartache that sexual choices have caused – in my own life, and the lives of others I know.}}

It’s not about “GOD SAYS SEX BEFORE MARRIAGE IS WRONG.”

It’s, Precious sister, things happen that we cannot prepare for. Actions have reactions and sex sometimes makes babies. Why, why would you take the risk with an unfaithful ex-boyfriend? With a boy not even out of his parents’ house? With a man who says he loves you but isn’t able to care for you?

It’s about knowing you can deal with a situation before you do certain things.

{does that make me ill-fitting and heartless? I KNOW abortion-situations aren’t all this way. I know that. But some of them are and it turns my stomach in knots.}

I’ve been brought to the altar so often recently, dragging my rights behind me. Because I don’t serve a God who insists on rights – his own or anyone’s. I serve a God who gave up his “rights” and reached out to me. I serve a Christ who asks that I do the same. The religious right and the progressive left in this country both demand rights for their various causes, for various people.

And yeah, we should give rights to others. I absolutely 100% agree with that.

But it’s still my job to lay down my rights, even once they’re given to me.

//Is that just getting the gift but never opening it? Is my tear-stained gut even making any sense?//

Can Men and Women Be Friends?

I get weary of hearing that question. I get even wearier of hearing some people answer, “no,” or a “yes, but-” with a thousand qualifying factors, like the prohibition of ever being alone with a member of the opposite sex. I guess I’m not going to say what anyone else hasn’t said before, but to anyone who struggles with this question, I just want to let you know:

I exist. The answer is simply an unqualified “yes.” To deny the possibility that men and women can enjoy plantonic friendships is to look me in the eye and invalidate my existence, my experiences.

What I’m NOT saying is that this is normal (in this, or possibly any, culture). I cannot promise that your opposite-sex friendships will look any particular way. I cannot even know whether you, yourself, are capable of living in platonic intimacy with someone who belongs to the sex you find attractive. I would never be so presumptuous. Every person is different, and so many factors play into such situations, like childhood, hobbies, school, parenting, siblings, and more.

All I’m trying to do is just clarify that yes, I exist. This “mysterious” and “debatable” topic isn’t as mysterious as we like to think. It’s just hard. It’s just rare. But just because Sally and Harry couldn’t keep out of bed, doesn’t mean there’s no hope for the rest of us.

[As one author recently put it, I am not a sex-fueled robot.]

I guess I just think my story is really beautiful, and I hope more and more people become open to stories like mine.

1: I grew up with brothers. I know many people who never experienced the joys of opposite-sex siblings, and that always made me sad. I think there is something so special, so human, about learning to interact early with different sorts of people. Boys and girls don’t take the same journeys growing up, for better or for worse. They often do different chores, attend different extra-curricular activities, and deal with different things during puberty and the transition to adulthood. To learn how to respectfully, lovingly, joke, touch, play, write, talk with a boy helped make me who I am. I absolutely wouldn’t be Me if I hadn’t grown up with big, creative, loving brothers.

2: Home. Because I was homeschooled, family meant a lot. Because I grew up in and around church, I learned that the body of Christ was like a family. I spent so much time at home, at other people’s homes, and loved the feel, smell, taste, of just Being Family. When people asked me to “feel at home,” I learned to feel at home. I learned to see boys in houses as brothers; to not get offended at their sass, to roll my eyes at their silliness, to play video games with them, to listen when they needed an ear, to give back as much spunk as they gave me. Because that’s what you do with brothers, right?

3: Being a company. I started doing theatre when I was thirteen, and there’s a reason why subcultures of dance and drama know more about intimacy without romance than the average person. In high school theatre, I learned to hold hands with my company members, to dance with them, to pray with them, to give a much-needed back rub (even amidst the consternation of select mothers). We napped, cried, prayed, laughed, sang together. Sure, we tiptoed through some of it with awkwardness. And we definitely were told to “avoid the appearance of evil” more than we should have been. Because our hearts were young and noble and our hands sought to help and hold, not molest or defame. Sometimes we listened and obeyed. Sometimes we rolled our eyes and gave bear hugs anyway.

My aunt came to pick me up from a rehearsal one time and was taken aback by all the hugs. “Do you have to hug every single person before you leave?”

Well, yes. Of course.

It was a culture of hugs that we cultivated. A culture of love and silliness and memories and inside jokes. Sure, eventually some of us paired off romantically. But a pretty significantly low number, what with all the hugging and loving and being together. The hugging never led to the pairings. The specific attraction between the specific people had more to do with that, I think.

In high school, one of my dearest friends was a boy a little older than I. For much of the summer, I spent a lot of my time working part-time right in his neighborhood, so after I was relieved from my duties we met at a stopsign between our respective locations and gave each other a huge hug. Then we took a walk, or played on the playground, or went back to his house.

Part-way through the summer, his family went through a major upset. His world started crumbling at the foundations, and he was lost in a whirlwind of questions, confusions, heartache, and tears. So after we met at the stopsign and hugged, we normally walked to a park bench and I put my arms around him and just let him cry. Weeks of this. Weeks of whispered words of comfort. Weeks of wet faces touching in solidarity. Weeks of his scent on my clothes, his tears on my shirt. Hours and hours sitting in the sunshine in an empty playground, talking about heartache, encouragement, or just not talking at all and holding hands instead.

He’s the baby of his family, accustomed to a family full of arms and hands and faces. He was always particularly adept at connecting emotionally with girls, and not so he could take advantage of them. That summer when I was fifteen and he was seventeen, I laughed with him and sistered him and sometimes we talked about the girl he was in love with.

I don’t know very many adults in my life who, had they been a bird at that park, would have been 100% OK with our afternoons. Not because we did anything wrong, or broke anything sacred. But because boys and girls can’t be friends like two girls can, I guess. Because touch and intimacy are somehow thought to be elements of Marriage Only, or at the very least, gateways to unholy sexual behaviors.

I loved this boy more than almost anything. But never “like that.” Even now that we’ve both married other people, I regret none of that summer. I cherish it and know that my arms were there for him when he desperately needed them. I rejoice that my time was well-spent, and a fragile young man who might have had his faith all wrecked was able to remember that he is loved no matter what.

Aside from my husband, my closest, most long-standing best friend has been a boy (though I suppose he’s mostly a man now). When we were young, making that sometimes-awkward tween transition, we wrote letters and emails and played video games and dreamed. We danced and did shows and made a box full of memories that still sits in my closet. He was the eldest in his young family, struggling to know right things, behave right ways, and still be himself. He walked a fine line between caring and noticing the opinions of those he respected, and being oblivious to (or simply ignoring) the judgments of others. He half-reluctantly became friends with the limelight. He wrestled intensely with how attraction fit into his penchant for making friends with girls (if, indeed, it did). He stubbornly wore glasses instead of contacts so girls wouldn’t fall in love with his pretty blue eyes, and he got in a lot of trouble for his tendency to “woo” his new, young, female friends and then innocently move onto the next new friend to be pursued, leaving a trail of broken hearts.

All this …and there was always me, pestering him and hugging him and sometimes holding his hand on the couch while we watched movies or talked about the latest Life Struggle. There were long delayed good nights inching toward the front door, with muted laughter and goodbye-kisses on the hair. People thought from time to time that we were an item, I suppose, but when asked we clarified, “No, my brother.” “No, my sister.” Eventually people stopped noticing, caring. Eventually people caught on to the possibly unusual wavelength we lived on. Our relationship, a strange combination of banter, mockery, tenderness, loyalty, nerdiness, intimacy, and family-sharing, has been one of the most treasured parts of my existence.

And it wasn’t that gender or sex was ignored or didn’t matter. He’s a boy and I’m a girl and that’s important. It’s part of who we are. We wouldn’t have the same sort of friendship if he were a woman, or I a man. Skirts and dancing and strong arms and intuition and different perspectives helped define our relationship. We dealt with different lenses, different bodies, different experiences, different frustrations, different struggles. But those things were factors, not foundations. Those things were peripheral, and not core. Those things were, are, variables to discuss and explore, not boundaries or fences that keep us from love or friendship.

I don’t want to make you feel lacking if you haven’t this same story. I don’t want to say that it’s possible for everyone to have such stories, such friends. I don’t even want to say I’ve never broken hearts, never make unwise choices in my opposite-sex friendship, never taken anything for granted when I should have thought more about it.

But I know, I know, that I have experienced glorious agape, soul-closeness, with boys who never wanted to undress me. So please believe me, believe others, when they say it’s possible. We may be few, but we exist.

(And it’s actually kind of nice over here.)

Revisiting the Fairy-Tale

I have noticed that the ideal, the pinnacle, of romance is supposed to culminate in a “fairy-tale wedding.” Googling that phrase produces a head-spinning amount of results. Ask any wedding planner, and they know the phrase well. That idyllic scene isn’t always achieved, of course. But it’s the stereotypical dream of every young girl, right? She finds her prince charming and then, at the perfect time, it all comes together for this so-called “fairy-tale wedding.” I suppose we use that term because many fairy-tales end with “happily ever after.” One of my favourite fairy-tales is a Cinderella-type story by the Brothers Grimm entitled The True Bride. There’s a garden, and long walks, and a lime tree, and abandonment, and disguise, and mystique, and deception. Another interesting one is Rapunzel, which features theft, parental abuse, illicit sex (leading to an illegitimate pregnancy), a violent maiming, lots of wandering in the wilderness, and a tearful, miraculous reunion. Other fairy-tales feature geese, cows, and wizards. Many feature lying and deception and trickery. Dragons. Blood. Surprises. Death. There’s a good-against-evil, or a little-vs-big, or a poor-vs-rich struggle. They’re often full of normal people, poor people, who stumble into circumstances well beyond their depth and must use cleverness or goodness to come out on top. In light of most fairy-tales, it is interesting that we use the term “fairy-tale wedding.” Weddings, you see, normally aren’t featured in fairy-tales. In fairy-tales, people have adventures, learn things about themselves, slay giants, fall in love – and then – only then – is a wedding implied. Not by a description of the gown or the cake, but by one tiny phrase: “and they all lived happily ever after.”

They lived.  happily.

ever after.

The ever after part? That’s a choice. That’s a choice I made when I said in front of witnesses, “until death gives us over to God.” That’s a choice I make every day when I follow, love, honor, and respect him.

The happily part? That’s a choice too. “happily” takes a lot of work and a lot of choosing to see good in places that seem dark and sad sometimes. Like when the giant is at the door, when you’re in the belly of the wolf, when your dress is in tatters.

In all honesty, a stereotypical “fairy-tale wedding” – the pristine white cake, bride’s tiara, 10-foot long train, harp music, flowers everywhere, not a hitch or a glitch – looks nothing like a fairy-tale.   But the wedding can be the beginning of a fairy-tale, if we let it, I suppose. After all, a marriage is an adventure. A marriage is a perfect example of normalcy shattered by the supernatural. A marriage is a couple of rag-tag adventurers who get whisked into new territory, with every turn challenging who they are and who they THOUGHT they were. Marriage is full of choices to either stand and fight or run and hide. Marriage makes you choose sides and choose teams against bigger foes; marriage makes you realize you can’t do it alone. Marriage is like a beanstalk and a path through the woods and an abandoned cottage, the rose garden of an ancient castle, or a royal ball. It can seem mundane, until you’re forced to make a choice that determines your destiny (and the destiny of others).

[My wedding wasn’t like a fairy-tale, but my marriage might be. Just working every day, little by little, on the choices. On the “happily” and on the “ever after.”]

{And I Think It’s OK}

Sometimes I mourn the loss of unimportant friends. Between-and-before classes people. Study buddies. People who wanted you for a semester, year, and then decided to want other things. People who used to date a sibling or friend, but then moved on and slipped away. Military friends (or kids) who come for a season.

I think about them sometimes, and wish I could somehow have retained a little shred of them for myself. But all I have are whispers of former laughs shared; memories of notes exchanged and books lent; conversations had; papers critiqued; smiles; inside jokes.

What happens to those ghosts of smiles and inside jokes when friends stop being friends?

When Your Life Is Just Normal (No, Really, I Promise)

There’s a sense of “otherness” about growing up. A sense of mystery and mystique about words like “boyfriend,” “husband,” “motherhood,” “marriage,” “sex,” and “living together.” We all know it. And we all equally know that our own expectations are massively overblown, if only because relationships and life events in movies get underscored brilliantly by James Newton Howard or Philip Glass and a personal soundtrack is much harder to attain in real life.

So we get a little bitter or grumpy about those who have crossed to the “other side” and we sigh and imagine how idyllic their lives must be. Even though we probably understand life well enough to know better.

When I was in high school and college, all the bitterness and longing of other girls and boys (my age, older, and younger) just made me sad. So I tried to be the voice of “hey, but remember how cool life is anyway?” and “shoot girl, you don’t need a boyfriend to be happy” but I suspect that made me come across as obnoxious to a lot of people. I learned how to nod sympathetically and BE sympathetic and I’m still learning that “I want to talk to you about this” DOES NOT EQUAL “what are your thoughts/advice on this?”

<life lessons>

During our engagement, during the planning and waiting and frustrated nights of just wanting to lie in the same bed together while we slept, my fiance admitted that he hated being engaged. I couldn’t blame him. He’d been doing all kinds of growing up, and making all kinds of life sacrifices, and being engaged is pretty much like being married without any of the perks.

I had to constantly beat down his expectations about so many things. I had to remind him over and over that attaining this status of “marriage” and getting a wife wasn’t going to fill the void in his life where dissatisfaction likes to creep in. That void ALWAYS exists. Saying, “I’ll be happy when I just finally get my own space” or “I just need to release some of this sexual frustration and then I’ll be OK” is honestly to kid yourself.

Last night was the first time since we’ve been married that my husband expressed a significant amount of frustration and dissatisfaction with life. “I hate waking up, working, doing school, and going to sleep.” We’ve been married for 19 days, and he already feels those tendrils of dissatisfaction creeping back into his life. He already feels the weight of the journey he’s on as not only a full-time worker and student, but now also husband and co-provider of our new family. And it’s true. Full-time work and school leaves little room for anything else. It’s true, working in the home (like he does) gives him ridiculous cabin fever. It’s true, my need for sleep reduces our time together to a mere five or six hours a day – when we have nothing else going on. But there’s
dinner,
constant laundry,
fellowship with our small group,
errands,
banks,
the DMV,
bills,
unpacking,
and the list goes on forever.

My personal reflections on marriage (after 19 days) is nothing but “thank goodness, it was about time for this.” We occasionally just laugh and geek out about how we can eat, watch, do, or say whatever we want. We picked out our own furniture, buy our own food, and invite over whomever we want. This phase is such a relief and an excitement and just downright fun after living so long in mostly-independence and gradually accruing skills and knowledge that I can finally put to use under my own supervision and responsibility. I can feel myself growing and stretching into more than I was before.

But in such normal ways, about normal things. We’ve not got immediate plans to fly to Paris or go on a kayaking spree or anything young and fun and crazy. It was cause for celebration when my social security card came in the mail, and we had time to watch a whole movie before I had to go to bed. Baby steps, you know.

So yes, I’m All Married And Stuff and I have my own space and it’s so welcome and I’m really digging it. But it’s just normal life. It’s “I don’t have any clean socks” and driving around in circles trying to find a UPS drop-box and…you know…normal stuff.

Oh, but if only I can find time to get rid of the unpacked boxes crowding my bedroom floor…

<right. baby steps. right.>