Breaking up with my future husband

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Dear future husband,

I started writing to you when I was 12 years old.

I had never been boy crazy or interested in dating at my age, but I was fascinated by the future. I always dreamed of college, of moving into a tiny studio apartment in New York after graduation, of graduate school.

And I dreamed of you.

I wondered what you looked like, whether you were short or tall, whether your voice was light and cheerful or deep and rumbling. Whether you and I would like the same TV shows, whether or not we would fight, whether or not you were saving yourself for me.

I was always saving myself for you.

I didn’t know better, really. I was handed books like I Kissed Dating Goodbye and When God Writes Your Love Story, telling me I should write you letters and knit you scarves whenever I felt the urge to date someone. Because if there was anything worse than not saving your body, it was failing to save your heart.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life,” I was always told. So I obediently tucked away my letters, listened to Rebecca St. James and dreamed about how one day you and I would be together forever.

Somewhere between the driver’s tests and college applications, I started to get impatient. I tried to project you on each boy I met, wondering does it fit? Is he you? But each time I was disappointed. And when I went off to college I put you on the shelf, vowing that you would come along after graduation, in the real world.

And then I met him.

He sits with me when I’m weary. Sometimes he has things to say, and sometimes I have things to say, but when we don’t we sit in companionable silence, just grateful to be near each other. He does silence so well—it fits him like a comfortable sweater. He is the most loyal and caring person I know.

But he’s not you. And I know why.

Because you’re not real.

You’re a figment of my imagination. A straw man built for me to believe in. You don’t actually exist. You’re too good to be true, and a sweet fantasy is no substitute for the rich bittersweetness of reality. You, a one-dimensional trojan horse, cannot bear the weight of who I am. You were created to keep me obsessed, to keep me hesitant and second-guessing and I’m done with you.

 

I don’t miss you.

I pulled out the journal the other day. The one written for you. I thought it would be sweet and meaningful, and it wasn’t at all. It felt hollow, and kind of embarrassing. I couldn’t believe how much time I’d devoted to a person who doesn’t actually exist, instead of loving people who actually do exist.

I wish I hadn’t feared giving my heart away, because that’s not even possible. There is no heartbreak that hasn’t been worth the pain; no lost love that hasn’t been wisdom gained.

 

This is the last letter I’m writing you.

I don’t ever plan on writing you again.

I’m respecting myself and others enough to know that perfection is not a fair standard to hold. So if settling is accepting that people are broken and messy but still worthy of love and connection and belonging, I guess that’s what I am.

 

But I don’t mind. I actually kinda like it here on the ground.

The loyal kind of love

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They broke up for their families.

That’s what you told me over the crowd, as an afterthought while the group behind us laughed loudly. They broke up because they fell in love, but they were both married so they decided to go separate ways to save their marriages.

The conversation moved on quickly and nothing more was said about them, but this image haunted me long after talk shifted to celebrities and other scandals. Two musicians, making art together, fell in love over the art, but didn’t let their emotions stop them. They were stronger than what they felt. And they decided to choose differently.

– – – – –

I am afraid of marriage.

There. I said it.

I spent years dreaming about the ceremony, the colors and the dress and the flowers (gosh I love flowers), and whether I would serve dinner or just hors d’oeuvres? But the part that comes after “I do”. I have woken in cold sweats at 3am over dreams of divorce. Death. Or worse: boredom. Discontentment. The 7th year itch.

I’ve heard them all. The warnings. Don’t marry him for who he is now, because he’s going to change and you’ll wake up next to a stranger. Don’t marry him for who he could be, because you need to love him for who he is right now. Don’t marry him for what he could give you, don’t marry him for how he makes you feel, blah blah blah. All the advice has turned into one big pile of crap and I am left with major commitment issues, feeling like Snoopy – I think I’d rather just crawl under the porch and die.

I have never gotten very good advice about marriage, and it’s not because I haven’t asked. I had to put down the marriage self-help books because of the waves of anxiety that would wash over me every time I picked one up. I wish nothing more than to sit down at the feet of someone I admire and plead, tell me your secret. Tell me how you still glow.

But no matter how many books I read, how many blogs I follow, I find myself still yearning for some secret I haven’t yet learned and that is when I discovered something: we all want the answer to an unanswerable question. We all want the guaranteed “3 steps to perfect your marriage”, and there are plenty of people who are willing to put their ten cents in on the topic. But that 3-step formula doesn’t exist. There’s no how-to manual for doing life with a completely one-of-a-kind human being.

I’ve never been married – I can’t tell you what it’s like. But I do know that there’s no finish line. I know that every day is a choice, and it’s a marathon, not a sprint. I know that being honest about when I’m scared or doubting is the best way to relieve fear and doubt. I know that love is more than a fleeting emotion, but a skyscraper that you build brick by brick.

And if you seek out a wise man, he will pace himself. He will show up in the unspoken moments, the quiet hand in yours, the steady shoulder you lean your head on. He may not write poetry, but he’s the kind of person who always has to check the oil in your car before you drive, just in case.

Beware the man who tells you you’re the prettiest girl in the world, because you’re not. There will always be someone who is prettier than you. But choose the man who tells you that you’re the prettiest girl in his world, because he just might be telling the truth.

– – – – –

There’s only one kind of love that’s cool anymore – the passionate kind of love. The kind that kisses fervently in the rain and tells someone “my feelings will not be repressed”.

But the kind of love that says goodbye to a man you’ve fallen in love with to choose the man you’ve stayed in love with just isn’t cool anymore. It’s not flashy or glamorous. But it’s romantic because it’s loyal. The loyal kind of love is the kind that lasts.

They broke up to save their marriages – that’s what people say. I don’t know if the story is true. But even if it’s not, I hope I will be the kind of woman who says no to what’s convenient to say yes to what is lasting. Because loyalty might just be the secret I’m hoping for.

From apathy to empathy: why we must press on

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There is so much to be discouraged by in our world right now. Can I get an amen? Child brides, terrible education systems around the world, racial and sexual oppression, the economy, the Church…we have every reason to feel disheartened.

The Church has not been good to us. And we find ourselves in these same circular conversations, over and over. We are not reaching each other, we are not understood, and so we give up and turn inward. The world has been sitting heavy on our shoulders lately, beckoning us into despair. We are tired. It makes sense to throw in the towel.

It’s hard to keep loving and investing in the people who are making the decisions that hurt us so deeply. But we can. not. stop.

In a culture of apathy, it is our job to care. In a world that has numbed itself to the pain of others and ourselves, we must shoulder the burden of feeling. We must claim ownership of the world and do what we can to make it beautiful. We are designed to bring beauty, and so we will bring it with everything we have until there is no more beauty left to deliver.

We are the deliverers of God’s message of love to all the Peoples of every nation, and we must go on fulfilling our call until we are no longer able. We must speak for the voiceless, give to those who have nothing, love the unloved, speak truth in the faces of liars, and we must never give up. This is what we’re made for. We were designed to be disturbed and hurt by injustice. Our hearts were made to break with the dying, we were meant to feel the hunger of the starving, we were created to share in the pain of the wounded as a motivator towards change. If we bury our compassion, we bury what makes us humans and not monsters.

Oh, it hurts, to care. It hurts when people think you’re too passionate, but what other appropriate response is there when you read about a woman selling her body to feed her family? When you see the faces of thousands of starving children?

There is no appropriate response other than the ache. And so we must lean in and bleed together, because discomfort is always at the root of change.

We must never stop trying to be understood and to understand. We cannot afford to let the conversations die.

 

photo cred: Bill Phan

Why humanity should care about Ferguson (and why racism is just like rape culture)

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Ferguson.

Most of us have at least heard the name by now, wondering what it’s about. Yeah, okay, it’s about a young black man who was shot by police officers. Everyone would agree it’s a tragedy for a young man to lose his life at the hands of an apparent misunderstanding.

However, this is not a one-time scenario. This is not something to be blamed on “that police force” or “crime in that town”. The reason why Ferguson and Mike Brown should matter to all of us is because it is merely one example of the attitude we carry towards black men and women across the country. The fact that a young black man named John Crawford was shot to death for holding a toy gun in a Walmart. The fact that when someone is told of the story, many of us jump to “he must have done something to make them shoot”. He must have provoked them. It’s his fault that he’s dead.

What does this sound like?

“What were you wearing?” “How much did you drink?” It’s her fault that she was raped.

Not. A. Coincidence.

Oppression is not even subtle enough to change its vocabulary.

We need to care because we’re all part of the human race. We need to care because the protests in Ferguson have been met with dogs, tear gas and jail. (Media crews included.) And if we do not have freedom of speech and freedom of protest, we are powerless.

We cannot willingly allow ourselves to remain powerless.

So what do we do? Talk about it. Get on Twitter and keep up with the news (Twitter is where it’s at right now, y’all. #Ferguson). And get down on our knees, often and earnestly, and pray for a world where our authorities are the people we trust, not the people we fear.

I know it doesn’t seem like much, but desire for change is what gets the ball rolling, and we have to stop waiting for other people to push it. These are our brothers and sisters, dying in the trenches for the color of their skin. We cannot rest until they do.

The girl with the yoyo heart.

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Photo cred goes to the one and only Logan Evans.

I used to think I was a wanderer. All I ever wanted was to roam, daydreaming of road trips with no destination. The airport was my favorite place in the world. I would stare at the list of arrival and departure flights; O’Hare to Tokyo, Vienna, London, Paris, Sydney. Going everywhere. I could go anywhere.

Now I am far from that airport and the little brown house I lived and laughed and yelled and danced in, and today all I want is to go home again.

Home.

Such a complicated word.

For some, home is a vase full of flowers, a brick chimney, lasagna in the oven. The smell of fresh coffee. Music. Hugs. You are home and you are at peace, taking off your armor. You are safe.

For others, home is knives and anger and dust, dust everywhere, dust on things that should have been moved and removed long ago. You are angry and you are misunderstood and you know you are not safe, no matter what you are told.

Home used to fill me with bitterness and I used to say I’m done, I’m done with home. I get to pick my home. No one can tell me that is my home unless I want it to be. 

I disowned home and set out to find it somewhere else. But that somewhere else was nowhere else.

So.

I went back.

It’s still there, the dripping rain gutter and the arguments and the nest over the front porch light. But home feels a lot less painful now. It feels a lot less like old wounds and untuned piano keys and more like comfort. A place to rest. A fresh start. Bitter and sweet, like dark chocolate.

Friend, home may be a place of pain for you. You may have stormed out, slammed the door, and vowed you would never return. You never wanted again to see the tiled kitchen floor, the geese stomping on the roof, the wasps living on your windowsill.

Home may be a place of a lot of error and not enough apologies. I get that.

But can I ask you one more thing?

Please, don’t ever get so angry that you can’t give it one more try.

I know it’s hard. You may have already given one hundred, even one thousand tries. But please, save one more in your pocket just in case. You may come home and find the chimney has been replaced, and the walls have been repainted a prettier color, and that chance will still be there waiting to be offered. Just because it hurts now doesn’t mean it must keep on hurting forever. Don’t let your shoulder be chipped over and over. Don’t become a rebel without a cause.

And if the house is so torn down that there’s no hope for repair, you’ll know. And if that day comes, I hope you can walk away without regret.

 

I am what I choose to become.

I’m sitting in class, taking notes as the professor talks about humanity.

He’s talking about if humans are all cut from the same mold, if our circumstances determine how capable we are of evil, if our character is ever really the determining factor. If when confronted with pain, we will all innately respond the same way.

Then I flash back in time, and I’m fifteen again.

 

It’s November, but it’s a different November, one when the red leaves look less like glory and more like blood dripping from the trees. That November was dark, cloudy and sad. And my mother hung up the phone on a Wednesday afternoon and turned to me with the tears in her eyes and told us news that was going to break our hearts.

Five days later, we dressed in our Sunday best and went to the church, and shook hand after hand and spoke in quiet voices as I stood next to my dad, watching his every move as he politely accepted condolences from strangers. After a few hours, we walked into the sanctuary and slipped into a pew as the pastor read from the Bible. I stared at the closed casket and the pictures around it, pictures of him in high school, pictures of him before the addiction smothered him.

He was only 39 years old.

And I wonder, how could something like this happen? How could this be my life? How could he slip through my fingers? Had it only been six months earlier that he had asked me about my mission trip, about why I was going, why I would leave my comfort zone to do nothing but love strangers? He’d been searching, and only God knows if he found the answers, but I sure hope he did.

Oh, how pain loves to find someone to blame.

My uncle was reading the eulogy, choking it out in his tear-filled voice, and suddenly it was harder to swallow. I had never known loss like this before, the loss of a person. It was like learning to speak a new language.

And I remember how I chose at that moment to let death be my teacher, not my enemy. I wouldn’t allow the future to make me bitter. I had a choice, but I refused to choose despair. I chose love and peace and beauty.

And for my grandma’s birthday that year, I wrote her a poem that said God is our solution. We will turn to Him.

 

Suddenly I’m back in my seat, taking notes, but when I look down at my page I see:

I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.