Love is: building a safe space

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For being a person who is pretty open about my opinions, I surprise myself by how private I am. When people ask me about Logan, I can feel all my muscles tighten. It’s like asking about intimate details of your friendship with your best friend—why is it “small talk” for so many people to ask about your significant other?—but I’m learning to roll with the punches.

There are plenty of things I will get on a soapbox for, but marriage relationships are not one of them. Maybe it’s because I’m so deeply skeptical that a one-size-fits-all exists? Maybe it’s because I don’t feel qualified because I’m not even 25 years old? But I’ve been asked by several people in the last few weeks to talk about relationships, particularly about Logan, so I’m going to do it the way I know best—a conversation. Consider this the first of many talks about love.

• • • • •

I tend to think of all relationships as a literal, physical space. From the moment you become friends, you lay the cornerstone, and from there you build. Some relationships are further along in the building than others, but they’re all spaces nevertheless.

Logan and I often say to each other, “this is a safe space.” We say it to remind the other person, and sometimes to remind ourselves of what our relationship is all about: creating a space to know and be known, a space that’s ultimately bound by knowing that the other person is invested and is gonna keep showing up. That kind of safety is built over time, as the walls become more secure and the ceiling holds itself up.

Sometimes those words are a reprimand. I will never forget when, almost a year ago, I confessed to Logan that I had lied about something totally irrelevant because I worried that it would jeopardize his self-confidence. The first thing he said to me was, “I thought this was a safe space.” Those words haunt me still.

Because safe space means that lying is not allowed. Passive-aggressive behavior is childish when you could just grow up and tell the truth about how you’re feeling. Safe space means the other person’s feelings have inherent value and worth, because that person has value and worth. Safe space means practicing a teachable spirit and showing up to do the work. Safe space means that you are ultimately for the other person, their #1 fan, their teammate and coach and best friend. And safe space means that when the other person fails you, you are there to remind them that if it only took one thing to kick them out then it wasn’t a safe space to begin with.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t fight. When you have two people together as stubborn as Logan and I, fighting is going to happen. But we know that at the end of the day, we are for each other and one little fight doesn’t jeopardize that. We built a strong foundation, and we intend for it to last.

Safe space is the other person respecting you enough to call you on your bull****. (The danger of being a writer is that I don’t get called on my B.S. enough—thankfully Logan does that for me.) Safe space is telling the other person if you were hurt, and safe space is choosing to respond with “tell me more” instead of becoming defensive.

The only way to establish this kind of safety is to be willing to walk the tightrope of risk. This is what Brené Brown calls “vulnerability”. Because what if he’s not safe? What if the other shoe drops? The key here—and the key to any healthy relationship—is to love and respect yourself first. Because if you do, and the other person doesn’t prove to be safe, you’ll know that you owe it to yourself to find someone who is. You’ll know that it’s not worth the temporary (and shallow) sense of security. When it’s that early and you haven’t laid a foundation, it is good to walk away. I repeat: it is good to walk away. But if the other person proves to be trustworthy, these little risks land like bricks, building your sanctuary.

If you want a safe space, you have to be willing to go first. Be willing to be the first one to say I love you; be willing to be the first one invested in commitment. (It’s really hard to build a safe space when each person is trying to appear less interested than the other.)
Be willing to give up the façade of “chill”. I have zero chill. It’s very freeing. Be the first one to admit you’re wrong, and that you’re sorry. Remove the stigma of admitting failure: when it’s not a battle to be won, there’s no satisfaction in having the last word.

Building a safe space is hard. work. But there’s a reason why I chose “sanctuary” as a synonym: these spaces are sacred. There is a holiness to all relationships, romantic or platonic, that reflects the Trinity. Relationship should be a verb, because it is an action, not a thing. It is a practice, it is a liturgy, and it is a discipline.

Logan and I are not perfect. At my best I am inquisitive and teachable, and at my worst I am stubborn, uncooperative, and argumentative. I react much more quickly than I wish I did, and I am much more fearful than I want to be. But being honest about my flaws makes space to learn and grow. And Logan and I will always be practicing this discipline—the art of building a safe space.

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Wearing the Word Brave: a guest post on Mudroom Blog

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It’s dark in here, I told him, but all the lights in the room are on. It’s the first thing I can think of to explain my knees bouncing and my teeth chattering, even though I’m not cold.

I am out of control.

I am helpless, at the mercy of my brain.

I am utterly terrified.

I used to run from the fear. But it followed me from church to church, friendship to friendship, argument to argument. I would fall asleep gripped with terror, clinging to anything in reach until I learned to cling to myself, to cling to the hope that joy comes in the morning.

I used to fight the fear. I would bare my teeth and roar, but the cold would still seep into my bones and I’d still find myself shivering. Fear was the great archenemy of my soul, and so I took on every battle and sought everything I could to eradicate the terror like it was a cancer.

I used to outlearn the fear. If I just knew enough, if I read enough books and conducted enough research and found words to explain the panic, it would go away like breaking a magic spell. So I studied history, psychology, sociology, poetry, art, whatever I could to understand the mystery of the human condition. Knowledge is power, I would say, tattooing the word brave on my neck and going on coffee dates with strangers and giving speeches.

You are fearless, they would say in awe. I wish I were as strong as you. And I used to let them say it and not correct them, because it felt nice and I craved their admiration. But if I could go back, I would have stopped them. I would have said, Thank you very much, but I’m afraid you’re wrong.

Read the rest over here.

3 Ways to Be Counter-Cultural

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Christians are kind of obsessed with being counter-cultural, yes? Especially in the wake of some heavy news. And the most common reaction seems to be, “We need to be more different from our culture now than ever before!”

Something about this approach always rubs me the wrong way. And it’s not because I think America’s non-Christian culture is perfect or better. But if being counter-cultural is the goal, I think we’re missing the point.

There’s some problems with this mentality. For one thing, it’s basically saying that if we do the opposite of what everyone else is doing (homeschool vs. public school, no tattoos vs. tattoos, not engage with secular art vs. enjoy secular art, etc), we’ll automatically be more like God. AKA, secular American culture is doing everything wrong.

I see the ideology behind that…but I think it’s flawed. Because even if someone isn’t a Christian, they’re still made in the image of God, and that makes them capable of good things. Secular culture is not the enemy.

But there are some ways we need to be counter-cultural that we’re not. Ways that Christians are actually not even paying attention to, because we’re so focused on the obvious surface stuff instead of the issues layered underneath.

So instead of focusing on being against a bunch of stuff, why don’t we focus on…

1. Being actively pro-vulnerability and anti-shame.

I so badly wish this was a given. But we (Christians) are just like our culture: promotion of having your life together, and shaming yourself as a form of punishment.

I don’t know a single person who hasn’t experienced shame at the hands of the Church. Whether it’s shame over not feeling “Christian” enough, or not reading their Bible enough, or not looking “transformed” enough, or being shamed by an authority figure for being too attractive or not attractive enough…we inflict a lot of shame. And we teach Christian kids that it’s deserved. And so they learn to shame themselves.

What a great opportunity to be counter-cultural! Why don’t we cultivate an attitude of vulnerability with one another, teaching kids that you can make mistakes but they don’t make you bad, and not using fear-mongering or humiliation as a way to keep people following God’s commands? What if we taught from a place of desire for meaning instead of a fear of straying from the rules? This is literally as counter-cultural as it gets. It is empowering, instead of paralyzing. It is strengthening, instead of tearing down.

As Brené Brown says, “The greatest casualties of a scarcity culture are our willingness to own our vulnerabilities and our ability to engage with the world from a place of worthiness.”

2. Promoting engagement in our world.

However you may do it, we’re all looking for ways to disengage with real life. For some it’s addiction, alcoholism, workaholism, sex, “pleasure” (still not sure what that means to be honest), Netflix binges, etc.

For others, it’s “we are not of this world”. It’s Christian escapism. It’s constantly dwelling on Heaven instead of recognizing our responsibility for Earth. It’s dwelling on the soul with a disregard for the physical body.

We have to show up. Even when it’s painful. We cannot stop reading the news just because it hurts. We cannot donate money to Africa to placate our ignorance about what occurs daily in America. We cannot spend money on Bibles in Syria that could have been used to feed a child for another day. God calls us to a life of awareness. When someone is at the bottom of the social totem pole, they deserve our ears first.

We have to slow down. Even when we don’t know how to go for a 10 minute walk alone, without our cell phone or music playing. Some of us live at such a fast pace (read: me) that we can’t even sit in the car without the radio playing. I am physically incapable of sitting in complete and total silence, doing nothing, for more than 5 minutes at a time. I feel weird when I’m sitting at my computer and my TV is not playing in the background.

We are all running away from something. The real world is so hard to bear. That’s why we have to face it together.

3. Stop talking and start listening (OR vice versa).

Our world is constantly shouting at the top of its lungs. Always. Whether it’s social media or real life, we don’t listen well in either capacity. We don’t listen well as a society.

But this is a special direction: it’s not for every Christian. It’s for every Christian leader who has ever had a platform; every white Christian man who has been asked for his opinion on issues varying from racism to birth control; for every person who feels that “servant leader” is a goal they can aspire to without being ignored.

But for some Christians, to be a servant leader would merely be a rug for people to walk on. Another way to become invisible. For black Christian women, to be told to become a servant leader is a joke. A servant leader is a calling for someone who is given authority, not someone who has to fight for a rung on the ladder.

Have you always had the opportunity to be heard? Maybe you should give it up for a while. Ask some people who are less valued to guest post on your blog, or make good use of the retweet. Ask a woman to preach at your church. To the girl who always gets interrupted when she’s talking with your group of friends, make sure you give her space.

Have you been fighting for a voice but no one will listen? Don’t stop now. Don’t let people tell you to sit down, because it’s their turn to sit down, not yours. Thank you, and keep going. Your stories need to be told. We need your narratives to alter a Church that has a history of hushing voices that are somehow different. So please, don’t stop, because without you we have no hope of a Church that will ever look different than it does today.

The power of words: compliments + criticisms + the vulnerability of it all

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I’m not an encourager.

I want to be, but it’s not naturally in my personality. If there’s no good in something, I’m not going to force it. If I’m not impressed I won’t blatantly say so, but I won’t lie either. (Sorry. I’m a tough crowd.) That, combined with the strong sense of self-sufficiency I learned from my mother (I love you Mom), and you have a very independent, perfectionist person.

Criticism is my home terrain. Self-improvement is my field of expertise. Honesty is my bread and a good work ethic is my butter.

Because of this, I never feel more vulnerable than when I am sincerely complimenting someone else.

A lot of us avoid compliments. And it took me a long time to figure out why, but I think I’ve found it – it’s one thing to send a Facebook message or leave a note, and it’s an entirely different thing to stare into someone’s baby blues and tell them how much their presence has changed you.

It’s scary. It’s vulnerable. Genuine compliments are hard. How do I look into someone’s eyes and tell them that they are irreplaceable in my life? How do I admit to someone how I have admired them from afar? How can I bare myself as the needy, confused, grateful person I am when all I want is to just be cool? JUST BE COOL.

Interesting how the more meaningful one is also the scarier one, isn’t it?

• • • • •

The people who know me will say I am hard on the people I love. This is because I want them to be the best versions of themselves, just like I want to be the best version of myself. Honestly, it’s a reflection of the way I treat myself. I am hard on other people because I am hard on me.

Criticism can be eye-opening, but when used without restraint it can cripple vulnerability. When your entire relationship is basically you pointing out the faults in another person, the relationship becomes really tiring and heavy and not a place where you feel safe to express yourself. In order to have a healthy relationship, you must be honest and also discerning.

Nowhere is this more obvious than the way I treat my boyfriend. I love him more than sleeping in, pie, and Netflix (3 of my favorite things), but I don’t let anything slide and he knows it. He’ll tell you he’s grateful because I’m pushing him to be a better person, but I know it doesn’t always feel that way. There are times when the compliments are scarce and the criticisms are many. I criticize because it’s safer for me to analyze him than to trust him. Sometimes my critique is more selfish than selfless.

• • • • •

He and I had a last-lunch-before-spring-break, the buzz of the dining commons around us as we talked about faith and God and identity and shame. And suddenly I found them – the words I had been searching for.

I looked him in the eyes, and I told him how he is living Jesus: in the way he works behind the scenes without recognition, how he makes time to help people he barely knows, how he is endlessly patient with me as I muddle my way through my huge, sometimes crippling fear. How those who humble themselves shall be exalted. How those who put themselves last shall go first. How the one who leads by example is the one who should be leading us from the podium. How he’s making me better, just by being himself.

His eyes filled with tears as I spoke and I knew, in that moment, that this is the most important work I do. Nothing is more important than this – extending tenderness to those I love most.

And we sat there, both blinking back tears and grinning and hearts as soft as butter, and there is no sweeter moment than one who is reminded of how much they are loved.

• • • • •

I know it’s scary. It’s tough as frick. But I hope you’ll tell someone how much they actually mean to you – how much you need them, and how they give you strength to go on. We forget how much power words have until we hear them, and once we hear the right words, we are never the same.

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.

IFWC, Lena Dunham, and the epidemic of oversharing

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I had the privilege of attending the Indiana Faith and Writing Conference last weekend. I’ll be honest – I went into the conference expecting to get very little out of it, since I assumed the conference was for writers of fiction. It actually turned out to be a great conference and well worth my time (thank goodness!).

The very first session I went to was with Nate Pyle, a fellow blogger and thinker, and with him I found a kindred spirit. He had my attention with some of his earliest words: authenticity is the new Christian buzzword. AMEN AND AMEN. I think vulnerability and authenticity are not just Christianity’s new buzzwords, but our entire culture. Just look at Lena Dunham.

I know everyone has something to say about the chaos surrounding Lena and her story. Several bloggers have written great articles on why oversharing is so dangerous, and I don’t want to regurgitate their words to you. But I think this is a conversation we need to be having. Why is there such a pull to tell too much online?

Another thing Nate said was protect the stories of others, and I think that should be in some kind of blogger manifesto. It is our responsibility as storytellers to only tell the stories that are ours. Even if Lena got her sister’s permission, the story isn’t really Lena’s to tell. It was her sister’s. And that story should have been gently cared for and protected, not laid out under a microscope for people to analyze and evaluate.

I think Nate said it best when he said this: take where you are one step further. And that doesn’t always mean sharing more – sometimes it means being challenged to share less. We hide behind our strong opinions and make them our mask instead of saying I just don’t know; I don’t have all the answers. I might not be interesting enough for the internet if I don’t tell you about what makes me cry at night or the last date I went on, but I have to be willing to risk being boring if that means I can be a safe person and a good friend to the people I know offscreen. Because if I don’t, my online presence might flourish but my real life friends won’t.

The people you love are worth the risk. Save your stories for them. And by doing so, you invite them to love you better than any Facebook friends or Twitter followers can.