I don’t blog anymore because I can’t react to things at the appropriate times.
I can’t be a journalist.
I can’t be clickbait.
See, these days, I live up in a little top story of a Nashville cottage-mansion with two little souls who haven’t quite learned how to respond when I say things just yet. I could talk at them all day about women’s rights & evangelicalism & purity culture & they’d just blink. Maybe scream. (Prolly scream.) I play mama now, & let me tell you WHAT, is it ever an exercise in rejoicing-with-those-who-rejoice & mourning-with-those-who-mourn. Our tear duct cycles are all in sync, the three of us, in our little Rapunzel tower on our quaint, fiery autumn Nashville street.
I’m not gonna blog about blogging, although I probably should. I should probably tell you why I’ve been absent. I should probably wax verbose on the subject of blog “vision”. Maybe I should care about branding or making this little corner of the internet look less like shit. Maybe I should tell you that this site is UNDER CONSTRUCTION & will shortly be streamlined & professional – all the punk-kid shined off & looking semi-respectable. Maybe someday all my blouses will get hung again after that one bedbug outbreak & maybe someday that little ring of grime around the faucet I can’t quite get to will miraculously disappear.
Maybe someday! *insert cheery shrug*
TODAY IS NOT THAT DAY.
Today, I’m just going to write like we are the oldest & dearest of friends, because I have a little story to share. I made almond icing for these scones in the oven, and boy, I’ve never made anything this fancy so you’d better get it while you can. Pull up a mug of cream tea. I have an announcement.
Today, after 10 months of bathroom-floor tears & planted roots of bitterness & playing the outsider, today I told myself: I FIT.
I choose to fit. I choose a community that is broken & shabby & kind of looks like grandma’s quilt after 30 yrs & moths.
Truth is, by most accounts, I kinda don’t – or so I’ve always believed. “You’re a missionary kid,” the voice that sounded sorta like me would say disdainfully. “You’ll never meet anyone’s expectations. You’re just a punk kid with weird lipstick who loves foreign alphabets and calligraphy and solving Agatha Christie novels and you don’t even look like a good minister’s kid with those sunset-colored PICTURES on your arms! Who would want you?”
(Turns out that voice wasn’t me after all.)
I sat across from my pastor’s wife, a woman in whom I had seen a fierceness, a twinkle, strength & wisdom & humor gathering pooled behind her eyes. She was a deep well. I could tell. She’s a pastor and a therapist, a mama and a leader, and I asked her to meet me so she could tell me I was OKAY. That I fit. I wanted validation, see. I wanted recognition. I wanted her to pat me on the back & say, “Well done.” I wanted her to be the Spirit.
Then, the strangest thing happened.
Turns out – the SPIRIT was inside ME.
& I heard, in my heart’s ear, the whispered truth about my self & how I mattered & without knowing what she thought of me really, I told her I fit anyway. I spoke it into existence.
AND IT WAS THERE, SUDDENLY, IT WAS THERE. IT WAS REAL.
I FIT BECAUSE I SAID SO.
& then, just like that, we were in the thick of it, talking about our dreams for God’s strange, beautiful women in our little city. We are a ragamuffin lot, we are, failed artists & aspiring singers & single moms & boy, do a lot of us have purple hair. A lot of us left other places because we didn’t fit those places & we are all HERE, NOW, not-fitting together. Most of us have probably heard a voice that sounds much like ourselves tell us that we don’t belong where we came from & it had sent us like aimless, doubting Hagars to search for a hometown & answers from heaven.
She told me that the Spirit had given her a dream – a dream about women – and my breath caught. She’d had an inkling of equipping the women of our little body with PERSONHOOD – dismantling the power differentials that kept us from preaching & standing tall & forging ahead with our respective visions. In her dream, that strength & purpose had gone forth through the city, passed on from sister to sister until it spread far outside our four old brick walls & took root in the hearts of this city.
She said, “That’s kinda my thing.” & I said, “That’s MY thing!” & together we soaked in that joyful, pregnant silence just a minute.
The conversation turned to books, & she said, “Have you read N.T. Wright?!” & I said, “Have you read Jesus Feminist?!” & she took down a little note to herself that out there in the world was a lady named Sarah Bes – no, two S’s – ey who thought that being a Jesus feminist was a real thing.
She hadn’t had the words for it, you know?
She didn’t have the language.
But she had the Spirit, & the Spirit had spoken anyway.
It was then, I think, that my little abstract dreams of feminism in the way of Christ took flesh & blood.
They had a name.
They were April.
It’s taken a long time for my dreams & theories about feminism in the way of Christ to take any sort of tangible form. Praxis is not my strong suit. Tonight was a tiptoe in the right direction, though, and in the name of the Spirit who speaks to us even when we don’t know all the fancy words & in the name of Ruth, who declared Naomi her home & Boaz her kinsman-redeemer I say, with all the clarion tones my timid voice can muster,
I say to you
& you & you & you –
I FIT, & so do you.
(…& should be considered pre-nuptials)
On Sunday I got engaged, and on Monday, the well-wishes began to pour in. Facebook is a horrible place to talk about impending nuptials, because your mom’s oldest friend’s cousin always comes out of the woodwork with all the well-meaning, horrible advice she can conjure up out of thirty years of archaic cultural standards & committed Kool-Aid drinking. Suddenly, the choices that I make with my body are everybody’s business, and believe me, they lost no time in reminding me.
As a child, I read the story of the Velveteen Rabbit with more devotion than any other I can recall to my imagination. Every dog-eared reading would leave my heart aching for the little rabbit that couldn’t be real because he was, in fact, stuffed, and the love of the little boy that eventually gave him legs to bound with. My confused, precocious child-brain fused its fantasies of love and romance with this borrowed hope of the stuffed bunny – I thought, if some body ever loved me & my body, then maybe, just maybe, I could run and explore and love like the others that I looked like but never was. I mean, come on, people, True Love’s Kiss? That’s in like, every Disney Princess movie ever! You think that your child doesn’t feverishly intake every fiction & fairy story they hear, gathering the bits that they like & constructing their hopes for the future out of that tangled, sparkling web? (Let me clue you in, as a former child & also a preschool teacher: they DO. But I digress.)
Having a body seemed such an overwhelming, frighteningly big deal that when I met a man who wanted to kiss me & hold me & wasn’t awed by the fact that me & my body were next to him on the couch, I was almost put off.
It was like he couldn’t see how I was transforming from velveteen into a real human woman at his touch!
It was almost as if he took for granted that I’d been a woman all along!
I can laugh at myself now, but it’s a bit sobering too. What if I had waited? What if I had stored up all of my kisses and all of my touches until after the wedding day, when there was no longer any hope of easing myself into it? What then? I probably would have recoiled in fear. I probably would have blamed him for my insecurity. We probably would have grown apart before we ever had the chance to grow together.
I’m not even sure that I believe physical or sexual compatibility is anything automatic; electric; instantaneous anymore. It might be a slow burn. It might be a bean sprout tenderly watered. It might be something one can cultivate, even in the most awkward of relationships, as long as both partners can and want to offer consent long enough to make it happen. However, in the case of modern Christian marriage, I’m not sure that physical compatibility isn’t a primary cause in the overwhelming – and growing! – prevalence of divorce within our ranks. I don’t get the sense from my rapidly growing group of newly married friends that any of them take their vows lightly or have any residual Plan B’s lurking in the recesses of their imaginations when they commit their lives to one another. And while I’m not by any means discounting the effects of sin & the slow, lapping wear of suffering against our best-laid intentions, I have to wonder if our white-knuckled clinging to all the supposed biblical literalism of purity culture, our clamors of “not even a hint” of sexual immorality have so gnosticized us that we forget that, in a very real way, we are two bodies promising to coexist in (often!) a very small space for the rest of our foreseeable heartbeats.
We are not just souls.
We are not metaphors.
We are REAL.
It’s exciting & gross & mesmerizing & terrifying & glorious & REAL.
I’ve learned more about the man I love lying next to him & staring into those tender, piercing green eyes than in any of our through-the-night, long-winded monologue exchanges. His touch draws out my tenderness. I wilt with happiness.
I am not gonna tell you what to do – that is the work of purity culture & legalism & I want no part of it. But I am gonna ask you – please, for your sake, for your partner’s sake, for your marriage’s sake & for the sake of the generation you will likely bear & raise – do not neglect your bodies. Not yours, and not your partner’s. You were created, fearfully and wonderfully, and you get the sobering, exhilarating task of being REAL together.
Don’t miss it.
How to Date a Purity Culture Kid
(probably Part I because I’ll most likely think of a thousand other things I need later when I discover them & the language to express them)
In a world where slut-shaming is “accountability” & having a body is a sin, it’s hard for a rehabbing Purity Culture Kid to enter the wildly frightening world of dating. We are marching into the unknown armed with, well, nothing! (Name the movie this deep-cut quote belongs to & we are best friends on the spot.)We have no sex education, no partnered sexual experience, no language to communicate our wants and needs, and no clue what we would want to ask for if we could.
A year ago, at age 22, I got my first kiss. You may have read about it. It was a dusty, outdoorsy, eye-opening sort of moment – mildly romantic & mildly uncomfortable & there was that one jagged stone underneath me that I could not imagine away for the life of me. The sudden hormonal rush kept me staggering around for a bit afterwards & I imagined myself in love for a whole 5 minutes before we were on our hands & knees in the 3 am Arizona desert searching frantically for his keys.
I didn’t transform into a princess. I wasn’t awakened from some magical slumber to the fairytale of love. I got a nice boyfriend out of it, and we had a few months of mildly romantic, mildly uncomfortable interactions, & by the end of the summer, I didn’t have him anymore. Nothing changed. Nothing transformed. No hellfire & brimstone. I just stayed me. A little more confused & muddled & disillusioned perhaps – but still me.
That break-up – and the next two after it – alerted me to the knowledge that I had none of the tools and none of the language to have realistic, successful relationships. I didn’t know how to ask for what I wanted, and worse still, I had no idea what I’d ask for even if I did. But “realistic” and “successful” don’t sound very romantic, do they? Waiting on “the one” & the myth of “true love’s kiss” inspire more dreamy-eyed, hormonal rushes than the sober, cautious choices that time and experience evoke from us.
We turn partners into princes & sexual intimacy into a game – as long as we women can withhold enough of our virtue, men will still want us. Once they get what they definitely wanted all along, they will discard us for the next set of virginal eyelashes that bat at them.
1. NEVER SHAME US FOR OUR INEXPERIENCE. I’ve been shamed for being a “seductress” and a virgin just about equally. One boy actually got up & ran away pre-kiss when I blurted out suddenly that I’d never been kissed. IT DIDN’T FEEL LIKE A DREW BARRYMORE MOVIE, I CAN TELL YOU THAT MUCH.
2. NEVER ASSUME WE’RE COMFORTABLE WITH SOMETHING. CHANCES ARE: WE’RE NOT. But just because we aren’t right this minute doesn’t mean we can’t be eased into these things. We’ve never been equipped with the language to talk about safety or boundaries other than DON’T HAVE SEX EVER EVER EVER OR YOU WILL GET PREGNANT AND DIE, so ask us a lot of questions. Watch for hesitation. We might be saying yes to a certain physical situation just to appease the supposed sex-crazed monster we’ve been raised to assume you are. A world in which we are allowed to physically express our feelings for you but also not do anything we don’t feel like doing is not a world we were ever trained to exist in.
3.TRY TO JUST COOL IT ON THE CONVERSATIONS ABOUT CLOTHES. Or hair or personal style or maybe just appearance in general. Chances are, we’re probably already OBSESSING enough already about whether or not you are judging us for wearing what we want, so find things to affirm & then just shut up. We probably already spent enough teenage years being asked if we were “goth” for our black t-shirts or getting sideways glances from Christian co-eds at our fire engine lipstick. If we ask you point blank for your input, that means we trust you enough not to mock or shame us for our personal choices. DON’T GIVE US REASON NOT TO. Let us swim around in our freedom for a bit – we’ll find our way. If we need to wear a see-through midriff shirt just because we can, don’t shame us for that. If we need to smear glitter all over us for a night on the town, humor us. Let us be ourselves. Let us find ourselves. A little exhibitionism never hurt anybody. And frankly, if the pieces of material slung on our backs matter that much to you, you should probably not ever date a Purity Culture Kid. Or anybody, for that matter, but… I digress.
4. DON’T TREAT US LIKE FRAGILE BITS OF PORCELAIN THAT MUST BE PRESERVED AT ALL COSTS. We are tired of our shelves. Chances are, what we really need is sunshine & a good hard run. Challenge us, but cautiously & slowly. We’ll get to where you need us to be, physically and emotionally, as long as we don’t feel like you’re rushing us along.
5. DO NOT USE THE AFOREMENTIONED RULE TO TURN YOUR PURITY CULTURE KID INTO YOUR PERSONAL PLEASURE DISPENSER. We are not here for your benefit. While chances are we’re trying to challenge these harmful expectations, girls and women raised in this environment were often taught that our opinions are simply not as valid as a man’s; that we must be prepared to respect and comply with his every whim, and that the primary male objective is to try and get into our pants. If your physical interaction begins to take a selfish turn, your PCK will most likely regress rapidly & chances are, you won’t be seeing much of them anymore.
6. REMIND US NOT TO BE AFRAID OF YOU FOR YOUR EXPERIENCE. Sorry, we’re kinda judgey. We don’t know how not to. We are repulsed by it when we find it in ourselves, but unfortunately, we don’t know where to root it out until we first have the negative reaction.
7. REMIND US EVERYDAY THAT WE ARE ENOUGH. It doesn’t matter if words of affirmation is actually our “love language” or not (I’m not convinced that’s a “thing” anyway). We need to feel enough. We need to hear it & see it & feel it coursing from your fingertips when you touch us. Maybe I’m at the point in my journey where I know I’m enough, but gosh, it sure is nice to know that you notice it, too. The camera roll on my phone is full of screenshots of text messages from new & old relationships that have made my heart a little lighter.
There’s more, I know there is. I want to hear what you would add to this list, PCKs, or if there’s a point you would challenge. These are just the little scraps that I’ve managed to gather for myself. Please share yours with me, if you feel so inclined. I’m concerned with the ways that we progress and regress as people based on our relationships.
Ultimately, friends, hold off & maybe stay single – stay enough – until you find someone who sees you the way you do.
Trust me on this one: it’s worth it.
‘It could have all turned out differently, I suppose…
… but it didn’t.’
– Fanny Price
Feminism for the Creative
Before my hatred for labels & my disgust for most arguments lead me to throw out the term entirely, I want to take this chance to try and explain WHY FEMINISM for a peace-loving, non-confrontational creative like myself.
At the heart of feminism is the belief that all people have inherent value as image-bearers of the divine. Why then, the feminine focus, you ask? When the sins of prejudice and hatred and hierarchy overtook the world, this is the way it all panned out: women, among countless others, have often been treated as less than human subordinates to men.
Could it have all worked out differently? Could the opposite be true?
It could have all turned out differently, I suppose. But it didn’t.
Amid all the murky waters of ragey Twitter trolling and reactionary blogging, I have struggled to keep my head above water; to remember why feminism is not merely a theory but should, in fact, be a way of life.
These are a few thoughts toward that end.
Feminism is for selflessness. It’s for seeking out the unloved by man but beloved of God.
When I sit beside a child in my preschool classroom, bend down to look into their crestfallen eyes and listen to their story, that is feminism.
When I go to war with the elusive pride of privilege when my own dire financial straits lead me to seek help in a community clinic I consider “beneath me”, that is feminism.
Feminism is an opportunity to rise out of quiet victimhood and speak up. It is an opportunity to name the sins of oppression in our culture, robbing oppression of its power & hopefully bringing help & love & Gospel to those who have been its hands and feet. If we are honest in our humanity, all of us have oppressed someone.
Feminism is gripping, stomach-wrenching art, created to draw attention to the things that we like to miss. I think of Morgan, Rachel & Jordan, friends and alums from our common alma mater, Moody Bible Institute, who wrote, directed & acted in “Vyrosla”, a musical (!) about the injustices of sex trafficking. While receiving both praise and censure from the decidedly conservative student body at Moody, I watched them stand up for their art last week & I am privileged to know such wild, talented, engaging, overwhelmingly courageous souls. (Highlights here!)
Feminism is writing songs and blog posts and tweets that consciously seek to uphold and revere the personhood of every unique, intriguing, whole human being that I get to encounter. It takes a bit longer, granted. It takes a lot more sitting & thinking & erasing & pray pray praying for clarity & guidance and most days, it means shutting up & listening.
Feminism is prophetic grief: a voice crying “All is not as it should be” & weary feet that bring with them good news saying, “Oh mourner! Redemption is yet nigh”.
Feminism is a voice of one crying in the wilderness –
for often following the Spirit can be a lonesome road –
that the heart of God is to bestow a crown of beauty upon the burdened necks of those who grieve (Isaiah 61). I find it very telling that God’s heart, as expressed so eloquently in these last chapters of Isaiah, is yet brought near to the mourners by human feet that walk & human hands that lift.
Feminism is both for repairing bridges long forsaken and rebuilding the walls of personhood torn down by sorrow and abuse.
Feminism is for broad shoulders and strong hearts,
for binding up the broken-hearted and holding the battered and being the servant of all. [Isaiah 55]
Feminism is “now I will show you a more excellent way”,
for at the root of feminism that is centered in Jesus is love, modeled after the love of Christ who ripped down the veil of the Holy of Holies and the individual veils that had kept us from seeing one another as the beautiful, sacred image-bearers we were created to be & he – the one, true, holy, enthroned creator – came NEAR, & in so doing gathered us, however unwillingly, across cultural & societal boundaries & near to one another. ‘For he himself is our peace.’
O Come, Emmanuel, & be our peace.
‘“Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins;
You will raise up the age-old foundations;
And you will be called the repairer of the breach,
The restorer of the streets in which to dwell.’
Every afternoon I corral him into a corner, his slanted, bow-legged run coming to a quick halt when the only way forward is straight towards his little mat. He knows his time is up, but the sideways smirk tells me he’s glad he tried anyway. I sweep him up and firmly place him down, wrapping him up mummy-style so there’s no hope of flailing feet or wandering fingers. Three months ago this routine brought on tears & screams & scenes – today all I get is that sideways smirk to remind that sleeping was my idea, after all, and he’s not sorry.
As soon as all of his little self is encompassed in the warm folds of his naptime roll, however, my little man transforms. The smirk softens into a contented little grin, and as I pat him gently on his chest to lull him into submission and sleep, he nuzzles his face into my arm, looks me straight in the eye and says, “I miss you.”
“But I’m right here!” I used to say.
Today I smiled & said, “I love you too.”
Everyday it’s the same, and every day until today I’ve wanted to correct him; to stop patting him long enough to teach him a thing or two about verb usage and/or the human heart. But today I got to thinking,
….maybe, after all, my friend’s little word substitution is more profound than he understands just yet.
When I was seventeen, I had my first little scrap of a love affair. It was actually this long, drawn-out, dramatic thing, but I call it a scrap now because if you’ve ever been in unrequited love with your boyfriend… you know my story. But oh! The dreams and the thoughts and the concepts he left me! The poems, the stories, the songs that have formed me into myself! It was not all for naught.
It is never all for naught.
One word he taught me, in our rendevous gazebo on the lawn of Old Main between classes, was the Portuguese “saudade”. It means love and longing; it means missing with your whole self. He told me, breathless and wide-eyed as usual, that sometimes native speakers used it to mean “missing something they’d never known”. A nostalgia, of sorts, for the future; for the unreachable or the as-yet-unreached. I watched his eyes and I knew, even as the words flowed out of his mouth, that I knew exactly what he meant.
I missed the all of him I had not yet discovered. I longed for all the things I had yet to find out. He was simultaneously within reach & just beyond it – and my whole passion-ridden, seventeen-year-old soul ached for what I could not yet have. And, as it turns out, I never would have.
And when my little man stares up at me with those enormous chocolatey eye-spheres and tells me he misses me – me, sitting right next to him, band-aiding his every scratch and wiping his every tear and mummy-wrapping him every day, I get to thinking that maybe loving and missing are not so different after all.
When it comes to love, the appetite for more is insatiable. I cannot get enough of the beloved, and I don’t intend to ever stop looking. While I realize that nothing short of infinite can satiate this hunger, I think a common church platitude is to tell people that “nobody but God will ever satisfy you.”
In a way, they’re right. The creator of our souls is the source of the personhood that we revel in when we find it in our friends & our loves. He gives us our infinitude. I see such different embodiments of his creativity and his personality when I find it in his creatures. But I do not neglect His creatures.
I have been ridiculed and misunderstood and shot down and laughed off for trying so hard with people. In fact, I have about a week-long period every six months or so where I decide that I HATE EVERYBODY and NOBODY’S WORTH IT and ALL MY FRIENDS SUCK and my heart just breathes for a bit. That’s not a failure on my part – it’s just a water break. Then, of course, after I’ve breathed and licked my wounds and offered them to Jesus, I get right back up there. That’s all I know of love.
Because, in light of the ridiculous, radical saving grace of the cross, running and throwing in the towel are no longer options.
So, here today, in the presence of all these e-witnesses, I promise to miss you.
I promise to care.
If you are hurting or have been knocked down or are fighting against the monsters of privilege and injustice, I promise to hurt too. This is the only way that I myself can fight with you, but I will be dedicated to the task.
Your wounds will be my wounds.
Your hurts will be my hurts.
Where you go I will go, because I am Ruth, and all I know how to do is to tirelessly follow the ones that I love.
I know I am offering up my heart for a task it is not equal to, but I have the First Heart on my side and that’s a foundation worth standing on.
Friends, strangers, neighbors, sisters,
Old loves & new loves,
frustrated seekers and watchful doubters,
freedom fighters and feminists,
Republicans and reprobates,
lawyers and liberals,
the lost & found & still looking, hear this:
I love you, and I miss you.
It was the kind of summer day that threatens to melt you into its scorched grass and heavy, humid air. I filled my Kool-aid bottle for the five-hundredth time that morning and languidly pulled myself up out of my lawn chair to go wander the campgrounds in search of God-knew-exactly-what. My go-to wander that summer at Cornerstone Festival 2012 was a little stage nestled right behind a long snaking line of bright blue porter johns, constructed rather haphazardly and shielded from the unforgiving Illinois sun by little more than a tarp or two.
It was called ‘Arkansas’, and I spent every afternoon sitting criss-cross in the back left corner, trying to seem inconspicuous and drinking in the languid, folky melodies of acoustic guitar players and hymn singers. Every artist who found their way onstage was a new discovery; a treasure to store up in my repertoire of all sounds bright and beautiful.
And then, suddenly –
like a train wreck,
like being born,
like fireworks and electrocution and every rude awakening –
I met the blues.
He looked like a lost son of the ‘70s – hair and beard almost to his knees, tied back out of his face with a faded bandana, cut-off t-shirt and an old steel guitar. “I hear death knocking at my door,” he sang,
and his voice quivered a little,
as if perhaps he really had.
Conjuring up phantoms of deep deltas past, he led his mesmerized listeners through old spirituals and scriptures, walking us through the simple truths of the Gospel and accosting us with the bold-faced prayers of a man whose soul seemed to wander up from the stage and into a fellowship with the divine that was almost uncomfortable to watch unfold.
I felt suddenly that maybe my soul had never quite had its fill;
that perhaps here was a man who knew how to truly commune with the God of history and tragedy and the grief of longing for redemption.
Here was a man who could sit in it,
soak in it,
drink in his own sadness and desperation while offering it back up to the only one who could truly bear the weight of his burdened longing.
“When the saints go marching in, dear Lord, I wanna be in that number,” he pleaded.
“Don’t let me go down to the grave.”
My soul echoed his words, screaming them at the heavens from the back left corner of the rickety old stage that now felt like home.
I never was quite the same.
This January, I am joining this man & his band in their mission.
I have the opportunity to help launch Sean Michel Partners from Nashville, Tennessee,
a movement based on the belief that music is mission –
that souls the world over will hear the blues when our hearts will not hear sermons.
We’ve heard enough talk.
But the Gospel and God’s mercy are new every morning,
and our methods in sharing them ought to be as broad and inventive as the One who first gave us our imaginations.
Please come with me.
If you cannot pack up a bag and fit in the back of an old rusty Toyota Corolla with me, then join in the vision with me from wherever you are.
Let’s get coffee and dream about the Kingdom coming.
If you can financially support me – 5, 10 or 20 bucks a month – well, please & thank you!
Lift me and Sean and the band and the hearts of listeners who haven’t learned how to sing the blues yet up to our Father,
who hears us and grieves with us and alone can soften our calloused hearts & make us sing.
Thank you, finally, for being my community.
I hope to keep dreaming and striving with you for all redemptive motion and heavy summer days and every aching,
Or, “Why Intentionality Is Nobody’s Magic Word.”
“I wanted to see
if you’d go to dinner with me.
As a date.
Sorry for the bluntness. I just wanna be intentional with you.”
I sighed a little, because I knew he thought he was being my knight in shining armor.
I knew he thought he was being a man.
I knew he thought he was doing the “right thing”.
But from where I was sitting in that dimly-lit coffee shop, it signaled the end of something. The end of two people – two strangers – just learning how to BE together. Instead we were, in one fell sentence, learning how to be TOGETHER, regardless of who we actually were.
In an article entitled “We’re Just Talking”, The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood attacked the idea of talking to the opposite sex, because supposedly, talking obstructs the ultimate goal of all male and female relationships, which of course is MARRIAGE. Using a bunch of extremely problematic words like “quasi-manhood” (WTF?! Is there one monolithic way to be a man that all men must, at all costs, mold themselves into?) Here’s how they get there:
This new phase of pre-dating called “talking” is like adolescence for relationships: an unnecessary stage in the relationship allowing young men to avoid taking responsibility and acting like men. It prevents the man from having to be clear about his intentions to pursue or end the relationship. If he wants to stop “talking,” he simply walks away, leaving behind a confused, and potentially wounded, young lady.
Oh no! The worst thing that could ever happen is a confused and wounded young lady! Let me clue you in, Councilperson Gunter- relationships – in case you are somehow irrevocably alone and unacquainted with how they work – relationships are a constant state of confusion and woundedness that you must continue to fight through at all costs, regardless of the effect it has one’s always-present, always-interfering FEELINGS.
That goes for friendships. That goes for family. That goes for romance. That is love.
Can we, for once, just stop trying to preserve everybody’s feelings? Dear lord! Feelings are there to be hurt. That’s the whole point of them. They are the current representation of our favorite possible reality. Feelings are “what could happen”. What has been. Rarely are they a reliable indicator of what should or what WILL be. Regardless of how much we protect them, they will get hurt, because change inevitably bruises them.
But, as one of my favorite slam poets would say, “Hearts don’t break ya’ll. They bruise and get better.
We were never tragedies. We were emergencies.”
And while I sat in this dimly-lit coffee shop reading the influx of text messages that communicated this man’s die-hard intentionality, I couldn’t help feeling like I’d missed out a little. Of course I was going to accept his dinner invitation. Of course I was going to allow him to move our relationship from friendship to romance. But at the same time, I felt that I had missed out on learning how to appreciate him as himself, apart from what he could do for me or his potential as a future spouse.
And I did. I had. Because I didn’t know him well enough to know if I wanted to be his wife, we stayed in a five-month holding pattern during which I broke up with him three times – pre-dating, mind you – because I couldn’t match his enormous, overwhelming intentions. When we finally did date, we lasted two weeks. Every time I walked out of a dimly lit coffee shop after breaking up with him yet again, I left kicking myself for not being good enough. For not being sure enough. For not overriding my intuition and letting him act on these most excellent intentions.
Reflecting on this situation, the question for me is, ‘What should our intentions be towards another strange, unique, image-bearing human being?’
And all I can come up with is love.
Our intention should always be love.
Love looks different for different people, because different people need different things.
The idea that “intentions” should always include marriage strikes me as overwhelmingly selfish. I don’t think anyone means it to be, because we’ve been groomed to believe that it’s the right and honorable way to treat the person we’re attracted to. We don’t want THEM. THEMSELVES. We want our emptiness to be filled. We want that relationship label that will lull us into a false sense of security & intimacy with someone we haven’t yet gone to the trouble of loving. We want whatever we assume will help us most, and overlook completely whether or not that thing – marriage, the supposed cure-all for all of our emotional problems – is actually what’s best for the other person.
I propose a new kind of intention. I propose selflessness and sacrifice and getting your feelings hurt on the regular. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve crossed paths with and for one holy, stand-still moment I had this one chance to see exactly THEM before all my enormous, blinding, overriding intentions got in the way.
I remember sitting with an old friend of mine in his living room, a year after I’d been using my interest in his art, fraught with ulterior motives, to get close to him. It was hard work, this charade I was playing in order to get him to see me as his closest friend, confidante, & of course, future love interest. As he sat in the armchair across from me, eyes filling with tears, I suddenly heard him say, for the first time, that he was so disillusioned with and disconnected from his writing that he was considering stopping altogether. Shocked I realized that this, in fact, was the moment I’d been brought into his life for – a crucial turning point in his life and art, and I had so nearly missed it.
I saw him – broken, lazy, disheartened, withering – and I was taken aback. He was not the image of him I’d so carefully forged and sculpted and daydreamed about! He was so much more human, so much more soul than I’d given him credit for. And silently I thanked God for lifting the veil before I missed out on the chance to love him like he needed to be loved.
What if we stop flirting and start listening? Stop daydreaming? Stop forging. Intentionality is no magic word, & people are so much more than the golden-calf images we like to turn them into. See them as you would want to be seen, & let love grow as it will or as it must.