What Do I Thirst for this Christmas?

A friend recently pointed me toward Mary Oliver’s poem “Thirst” and encouraged me to consider what I am yearning for in the coming season. I’ve been reflecting on this all month, both because it’s Advent and because I’ve been in the habit this year of writing in my One-Line-a-Day journal. I’ve found it supremely helpful to spend a few minutes summarizing the day, good and bad, before bed. However, it’s rather different to look back on a single day than to look forward several weeks toward a day seeped in so much expectation and attention and baggage.

I have been looking forward, however, with the help of a one-page-a-day Advent journal. Each day of December, the journal prompts you to answer a question about your upcoming Christmas and provides space for you to record the festive things you did that day. Many of my entries thus far include passages processing my younger cousin Santee’s death, as well as notes about what gifts I’m looking forward to giving, what traditions are new for Tyler and I, the movies we watched, the shopping I did, and the flavors I’m experiencing (like gingerbread cookies and peppermint hot chocolate).

So what do I thirst for as Christmas approaches?

Comfort for Santee’s friends, girlfriend, sister, and niblings. I yearn for comfort as well for our extended family, including conversation about Santee’s life and death. A death so near Christmas, as well as experiencing the first holiday without a loved one, is it’s own unique brand of pain. Worse because your grief is in direct tension with calls to be jolly and joyful and the insistence that all is merry and bright. Our family has experienced this before, but many of Santee’s friends won’t have.

Time to rest and enjoy the season. That means time to read a fluffy Christmas romance and watch a ton of movies. That means time to bake and make ornaments. Time to run errands without feeling rushed. I’d love to get my wedding photos organized and printed but I’m concentrating on enjoying the season, not bogging myself down with something I can do any time of the year.

Peace for all people. The peace I refer to comes from a Hebrew word, shalom, referring not only to a cessation of violence and vehemence but also the wholeness and wellness of the entire community. This won’t happen on the scale I want, maybe not even in my family, so I’ve chosen several ways to work toward providing a more peaceful holiday for others.

What do you thirst for as December trots on? Silence? Solitude? Companionship? Rest? Understanding? Shortbread? I’d love to hear the desire that sings for you.

A Creative Christ

Before I begin, I want to acknowledge the life of my cousin Santee, who died very suddenly yesterday. In time I may write more about him here, but for now I just want to say that he was always such a loving, sensitive person. And he had the best smile in the world. He struggled and he kept secrets and he died in a way we as a culture cringe away from and immediately judge: an overdose. An overdose after years of successful rehab and good community and generous support of others. We thought he was through the worst of it, out of the woods as much as one can be. But the Christmas season is hard. And his late mother’s birthday was coming up, and it was an accident. He worked with his hands and gave that gentle love to so many people. The same love that sent him running toward me for a hug and a game when we were kids. My little cousin. We’ll bury him on his birthday beside his father. He’d lost so many and been hurt so deeply. It is so hard to comprehend that his brightness has gone out of the world.

A few weeks ago, I read an introduction to the song “The Gospel According to Mark” by a musician I had yet to encounter: Nick Cave. Indeed, the article seemed to be as much an introduction to the book of the Bible as to the song, which I have repeatedly forgotten to listen to. I’ve since read conflicting reports about Cave’s theology, but his intro sparked a lot of thinking, and therefore a lot of blessings, so I want to share one those.

Cave said of Jesus,

“He enters a wilderness of the soul, where all the outpourings of His brilliant, jewel-like imagination are in turns misunderstood, rebuffed, ignored, mocked and vilified and would eventually be the death of Him.”

I had not considered that Jesus’ words, at times confusing even for those of us who’ve heard dozens of sermons and read countless books on that very phrasing—as well as the rest of the Bible—sprouted from Christ’s imagination rather than a vague sort of above-ness. I considered Jesus to be more divine than usual in his understanding of the world and in his use of metaphors to describe it. And I viewed the people around him dense and hopelessly defined by the cage of their literal minds. Only after Pentecost did I believe those cages flew open and they understood.

I’ve thought of the phrase, “jewel-like imagination,” daily since I read it. Immediately, my brain pulled forward my memories of a friend whose mind I would describe as having a jewel-like imagination. Her brain is wired brilliantly and much differently than all others I have known. When we lived in the same town, I loved to spend time just listening to her interpret whatever inputs surrounded us. We could be on a walk or crafting or driving to get milkshakes or discussing a movie. She once explained to me, in tremendous detail and depth, the personalities and appearances of her and her three sisters, including who got what from which parent, how stress alters the performative actions of each, and in what ways the older ones influenced the younger. She spoke passionately and precisely, as if she’d been studying a specific scientific phenomenon all her life, rather than a unit of individuals to which she also belonged.

I couldn’t follow along. I confused her sisters’ names as well as their traits (none of whom I’d met). I couldn’t keep it all in my head and quickly stopping trying to understand, but simply listened to her and pretended to comprehend. It was all so simple and straightforward to her. She understood and explained it well. But I hadn’t met her family at that point and didn’t have the necessary context to be able to understand and retain. Some years later, once I had spent time with her sisters and parents, I considered asking her to explain their personalities and traits to me again, certain I’d better understand. I chickened out though, not wanting her to know I only remembered the topic of the conversation, and none of the principles or details she’d so painstakingly laid out.

This friend once confided in me that she thought it very rude, even cruel, that Jesus didn’t explain himself to his followers in ways they could understand. Being divine, he ought to know exactly how to do so. Therefore, their lack of understanding must be the result of Jesus’ deliberate choice not to explain it well enough for them. Worse than the choice to leave them uncomprehending, he then grew angry and annoyed with them for it.

Cave acknowledges the disciples’ incomprehension and Jesus’ resulting anger, saying,

“Even His disciples, who we would hope would absorb some of Christ’s brilliance, seem to be in a perpetual fog of misunderstanding, following Christ from scene to scene with little or no comprehension of what is going on. So much of the frustration and anger that seems at times almost to consume Christ is directed at His disciples and it is against their persistent ignorance that Christ’s isolation seems at its most complete.”

My friend’s logic tracks but her conclusions didn’t sit well with me. I suspect they stem from the intense compassion which my friend and my Savior both possess. In truth, I wonder if Jesus isn’t a good bit like my friend. While walking the earth, Jesus interpreted it in ways none of the rest of us had considered, and in ways which seemed perfectly obvious to him. He used elaborate and apt metaphors and images to explain the material and spiritual world to those around him. And though the words were ones the people all understood, they could not all understand. A few with “ears to hear” understood (see Matt 13:16), and the rest did not. None understood all of the time. Even his closest friends and family members didn’t understand his meaning much of the time. We who surround the jeweled imaginations lack the context to comprehend.

If had I had access to the text of my friend’s explanation of her sisters once I did have context, I’m sure I was have managed to understand. Just as, with the help of the Holy Spirit after Pentecost, the disciples suddenly understood all that Jesus had taught them.

How lonely for Christ, to be explaining as well as his humanity and divinity allow and to still be misunderstood, misinterpreted, and frequently abandoned or despised because of it. How lonely for all the wonderfully unique people, driven by compassion for others, who struggle to be understood.

Having now entered Advent, let’s consider the brilliant, creative child who came and the lonely, loving man he became.

November Made

I’m planning a series of more reflective posts for Advent, which starts next week, but I didn’t want to get off schedule too much before then. So bear with me for a brief overview of my November creations.

I’ve been crafting again! Okay, I didn’t stop. In the past month, I’ve crocheted three pumpkins (orange, white, and green) and a turkey (Terence, my first foray into stuffed animals, as evidenced by the crooked tail feathers and oddly proportioned head). I turned a few empty ornaments into mini winter wonderlands and displays for our keepsakes like graduation tassels and a bracelet from our honeymoon. I have plans for a few more ornaments, if only I can get the right size and shape plastic ornaments.

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I made a banana pudding that only required me to go back to the store once. I chickened out on the meringue, as I’ve never made it by myself before and the pudding was intended for Tyler’s family Thanksgiving. Tyler and I made beef stew, taco soup, and a potato casserole together. The soups were experiments in our Instant Pot, both of which turned out well and froze well (important when you’re only feeding two at a time). We also baked whipped shortbread cookies and snickerdoodles. The snickerdoodles will definitely come out of our kitchen again.

Tyler created a gorgeous and highly delicious unicorn cake for my 30th birthday that I love too much to not mention here, though it certainly wasn’t my accomplishment.

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I read two books: An Embarrassment of Mangoes by Ann Vanderhoof and Cancer Just Is by Morgan J. Bolt (this one was for work and I loved it). Both are excellent memoirs, the first about two years sailing the Caribbean and food, the latter about four years of cancer treatments and theology.

I didn’t participate in NaNo in a traditional sense this year, but I did use it to track the words I wrote on all my many writing projects, most of which are secret. I’m happy to report that I broke 10k words yesterday, which was my goal for the month.

I’ve seen 12 Hallmark Christmas movies so far this season, my top two favorites being “Road to Christmas” and “It’s Christmas, Eve.” (The full list is below.) Tyler hasn’t been very impressed with Hallmark movies so far, but he’s now seen 5 and has survived very well. I particularly enjoy when he starts shouting at the characters.

-Christmas at Pemberley Manor
-Christmas Joy
-Road to Christmas
-Let It Snow
-Christmas at Reindeer Lodge
-Christmas in Love
-A Bramble House Christmas
-Engaging Father Christmas
-Marrying Father Christmas
-It’s Christmas, Eve
-A Veteran’s Christmas
-Christmas in Graceland

We’re planning to put up our tree this weekend and I’m hoping to finish the ornaments and a wreath I have in mind by then. The calendar has really thrown me off this year. I’m used to transitioning directly from Thanksgiving to Advent, but we have a whole week in between. Whatever your week looks like, I hope it’s bright and life-giving.

On My Thirtieth Birthday

My thirtieth birthday was less than a month after our wedding and a few days after we “fell back” for Daylight Savings. I’d had a pretty good day at work and was looking forward to going out to dinner that night with Tyler and a few friends, including a couple of my bridesmaids. About 4:00, however, I noticed it was getting really, really dark outside. Like night. Surely it hadn’t been that dark at 4:00 the day before? I checked the weather radar and saw a huge red-cell thunderstorm growing as it approached us. I left work exactly at 5:00 and arrived at our apartment complex just before the bottom fell out. I texted, then called by friends and canceled our dinner plans. The storm was just too rough. Then Tyler called me.

He works at the next town over, usually a 35-45 minute drive. That day, he’d left work on time but was still far from home when the storm hit. He was unable to see more than a couple of feet in front of him. Other cars were stopping in the middle of the road. He was scared, afraid of cars and downed trees he couldn’t see. When a tornado warning came over the radio, he called me and told me his plan to make it to the parking lot of the place he used to work so that he’d have somewhere safe to wait it out, and to get inside if he needed to. The wind howled and the rain pounded the side of our apartment building. It was so loud, I couldn’t tell whether the wailing I could sometimes hear between the thunder was just the wind or a tornado siren. Tyler told me about the tornado warning on the radio, and a friend texted that she could hear a tornado siren, so I took a candle and a lighter and locked myself in the bathroom, the innermost windowless room in our apartment.

I grew up on the Atlantic coast, so I’m more familiar with hurricanes than tornados, and I’m glad for it. Tornados come fast, erratically, missing one house and hitting the one next door. And most of the time you have no idea they’re on their way until they’re right on top of you. I loathe them. I’m afraid of them. I know the second floor isn’t a good place to be if one hits.

Tyler talked to me until he got to the parking lot he had in mind. We told each other “I love you” and hung up to wait it out. It was my thirtieth birthday and all I wanted was for my brand new husband to get home safely. No gifts, no dinner, no big trip or special dessert. I just wanted him home.

I called my mom, told her the situation, and asked her to talk with me to keep me calm. As the storm lightened, I hear the tornado siren more clearly. I lit the candle. Soon after, Tyler texted that he was getting back on the road, but he planned to avoid the interstate so it’d take a long while for him to get home. Mom and I stayed on the phone together until he walked through the front door, half-soaked and shaken but safe.

That night, we watched a movie, ate a frozen pizza, and cut two generous slices of the ice cream cake we’d intended for our friends. I couldn’t have been happier.

That night, as Tyler and I lay in bed, we talked about what we’d felt during the storm, how we’d worried more about the other person than ourselves, and then we prayed together, thanking God for protecting us and asking help and comfort for the people whose night had gotten worse when ours had gotten better.

Happy Thanksgiving! May you experience the joy of sharing food with others and may you find rest.

Getting Crafty

I noticed the change about a month ago. I was in the midst of wedding chaos and moving chaos and the heavy presence of family and expectations and scrutiny. I didn’t have enough time. I didn’t want to write. I read to survive, mentally and emotionally, but I wasn’t particularly excited about any one book. What I did get excited about, though, was crafts.

Two weeks before the wedding, I went to Joann’s after work to buy a hot glue gun, scrap fabric, matching thread, and a small mason jar to make my own pin cushion. I had found an unopened box of straight pins and was returning my mom’s sewing kit, with pin cushion top, after 10-15 years in my possession. I’d noticed a lot of things I’d quietly pilfered from her over the years and I wanted to give them back. After doing so, I needed a pincushion. I could buy one online and it’d be delivered in a couple days (Amazon) or a couple weeks (Etsy). I could buy one in an actual store and save some shipping time. But I wanted to make one.

A few days later, I got together with a couple of friends, and we each painted a canvas. I created a spooky (spoopy) pumpkin on a black and grey streaked background, which I set on the bookshelf in the living room as soon as I got to Tyler’s apartment that night.

We returned from our honeymoon to actual fall weather, and I realized I had less than 10 days to take full advantage of the Halloween season.

A day or two later, I had an idea for a wreath while at work, and raced home on my lunch break to see what I could cobble together from materials I already had. I found a rope circle such a people use for macrame, and which I’d originally intended to turn into a spring wreath for my parents. I grabbed a length of off-white yarn and a pair of scissors and plopped down on the living room floor to spin a spider’s web.

Twenty minutes later, I clipped a black rose barrette, my makeshift spider, to the end of the string and hung my new wreath on the front door as I headed back to work. I remain really proud of it. Tyler’s dad makes wreaths for their house, so I showed him a picture of my creation and earned a “looks good.”

Sunday afternoon, I flipped through a magazine of winter holiday crafts at Tyler’s grandparents’ house and took pictures of the instructions for several projects I’m happily dreaming about.

Sunday, I crocheted a little sleeve to help protect my new phone until it’s case comes in.

This week, I intend to crochet a couple of pumpkins that I can also use to decorate through Thanksgiving.

I’m so happy with these projects, but the change still feels a little random, a little sudden. I didn’t spend a lot of time crafting before. I’d intentionally avoided Pinterest-ing any aspects of the wedding decorations so that my friends and I wouldn’t be rushing to fold enough paper roses or arrange the right number of silk flowers by the wedding date. So what’s with the sudden crafting passion?

In all my packing and moving, I rediscovered a bunch of craft supplies I’d forgotten about, plus buttons. And I still have those seashells from the beach at St. Augustine last year. What can I do with all that? A crate full of yarn is hard to give away, so what can I do to whittle down what I do have? Yes, I intended to make a scarf from that skein and a hat from that one, but what can I do with it today?

I think the lack of a deadline (except Halloween or Christmas) is a big draw. I can do these projects casually, whenever I get the chance. And it’s something that I can finish. I can’t finish all the laundry in a day (though I tried). I can’t finish all the unpacking in a day (again, I tried). I’ve yet to finish this book I’ve been working on for 7 years or this scarf I’ve been crocheting all year. But I can create something I like, something I wanted, in just a few minutes or a few hours.

Plus, I don’t have many holiday decorations. The last five years, I’ve lived with someone who had her own decorations for the living room, kitchen, and other shared spaces before I got there. The decorations I did acquire were mostly for my bedroom and mostly Christmas-themed. I don’t have decorations for fall or for a whole apartment. I don’t know how Tyler will like the ones I do have. And I don’t want to spend a ton of money on ornaments or red pillows just to have ornaments and red pillows. I’d rather build our collection over time, but have enough this year to make things feel festive and homey for our favorite season of the year.

Do you have a favorite fall decoration? Have you been getting crafty lately? I’d love to hear your ideas!

Our Love Story – Q&A

A couple months before our wedding, which was yesterday, our officiant Blake Jenkins emailed us a list of questions to answer, which he planned to use to tell our love story to our wedding guests. Below are my full responses.

Thank you to everyone who helped us celebrate yesterday, in person and in spirit.

When was the first time you met your future spouse?
I first saw Tyler across the worship room in the Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) house on Georgia Southern’s campus a couple weeks into my freshman year. He and my roommate Allison had been talking and a mutual friend pointed him out as he passed by the stage. I met Tyler a few days or maybe a week later when he and Allison wanted to watch a movie at our dorm room. I had the biggest movie collection of my roommates, tucked into rows in a big black footlocker under my bed.

Please describe your first impression of him.
Tyler’s curly hair bloomed from beneath his worn, blue Atlanta Braves hat. He was clean-shaven and wiry. As my friend pointed him out to me, safe behind dozens of people and the din of their conversations, I thought, “Remember this. This is important.” I thought it was because he and Allison would start dating. I wanted to be able to recognize him on campus and seem in-the-know when I did finally meet him. I also felt a shot of jealousy. He was cute and nice and the first time I met him, he picked out one of my favorite movies, The Count of Monte Cristo, to watch. (I’ve since read the unabridged book and it lowered my opinion of both the book and the movie considerably.)

Please describe in detail your first date and what you thought afterwards.
We’ve had two first dates and a Looney Tunes almost-date that Tyler probably wishes I hadn’t brought up. First came Looney Tunes. At some point in college—Tyler could better tell you when but I’m guessing my second year/his third—we got to talking at the BCM and realized we both loved Looney Tunes. I boasted that I had the Looney Tunes: Golden Collection on DVD, and he suggested I bring it over to his apartment so we could watch Looney Tunes together. I didn’t know if it was supposed to be a date, or if he liked me, or if this was just Looney Tunes. I was nervous. I gave more thought than I probably should have as to what Allison would think if Tyler and I started dating, even though Tyler and Allison had never actually dated; I decided I’d tell her only if something came of it. I arrived at his apartment and there were entirely too many places to sit. In my memory, the room was full of couches. Full. With a huge sectional that wrapped around the back of the room and bean bag chairs taking up everything that would normally pass as walking space. Tyler assures me there were only two couches, no sectional, and a reasonable number of bean bag chairs. Still, there were too many options and I didn’t know where to sit so I panicked and sat in the corner. I figured if he sat by me he liked me. If he didn’t, he didn’t. My choice to sit in the corner was weird to Tyler because it was not the sofa directly opposite the TV, obviously the best choice in seating. He didn’t want to crowd me, and figured if I didn’t want to sit by him then I definitely didn’t like him, so he sat opposite the TV on the other couch and neither of us spoke for the next three hours. I left after the DVD finished with a headache and the conviction that we would never date. I still have that DVD collection, and no, we have not watched it since.

Our first actual date was at the Starbucks on Forsyth around Thanksgiving in 2012. I remember what I wore (black turtleneck with buttons down the sleeves, skinny jeans, back flats, and peacock earrings), where we sat (at the second hightop from the trash can with my back to the window). I don’t remember much about the date itself, though. Prior to moving to Macon to work as a ministry intern at Mercer’s BCM, I knew Macon as that interstate exit with the Five Guys, the place my Dad’s cousins lived, and Tyler Cummings’s hometown. I’d been living and working in Macon for about 4 months when Tyler, getting ready to graduate from Georgia Tech and move back home, ran into a former roommate of mine (not Allison) on campus and looked me up on Facebook to see where I was. We dated for a few months after that first date, though at the time I wasn’t sure if it was a date or just coffee, until my internship ended and I moved back home to SC for a few months.

We both had really rough autumns in 2016, gratefully got through Christmas, and found each other at church the first Sunday of the new year. Finding him sitting a seat over from my roommate (and bridesmaid) Morgan that Sunday felt like such relief. By that point, we’d known each other for over 9 years. We’d once dated. We’d both traveled and grown and worked on our careers while keeping in touch. I knew him. And I trusted him. He’s always treated me incredibly well. Morgan would like me to point out that she suggested Tyler and I try dating again after that Sunday. Our first date was on his birthday that week. His sister Rachel had been ill that day, and Tyler told me about it when I texted him to wish him a happy birthday. I figured any plans he’d made with his family for his birthday had probably been postponed. That night, he went to the first night of a Bible study series at church, taught by (our officiant) Blake. I offered to meet him afterward, in case he wanted a “buddy” (yes, I used that word) to have dinner with. I’d heard he was dating someone (from my bridesmaid Nicole), so I figured he’d have made alternate dinner plans with her. But Tyler said he’d like to have dinner with me, if I didn’t mind waiting. While he was in Bible study, I made break-and-bake cookies—the only kind of sweet I had in the house—and hid them in my purse. We met up in the Ingleside parking lot, and he drove us to Metropolis on Riverside for dinner, where we stayed until we noticed the staff closing the blinds and putting up the chairs for the night. I could tell by the way he treated me and listened to me that he wasn’t dating anyone else. I was pretty sure he was interested in spending more time with me, too. When he dropped me back off at my car, just before I got out of his truck, I gave Tyler the tupperware container full of cookies, feeling badly that he wouldn’t have actual cake on his birthday. He just sat and looked at them for a minute, but I could tell it was a good kind of silence. Wednesdays after he got out of Bible study became out regular date night.

When did you know you were falling in love?
Not long after we started dating in 2017, I asked Tyler to take me to his favorite restaurant. Unfortunately, we arrived at Medi’s on Bass Road right at closing time. We offered to come back another day, but DJ and Darshawna insisted on serving us. So we insisted on taking our dinner to go. Tyler’s apartment was closer than mine. He hadn’t had time to clean or tidy, and I could tell he was a little embarrassed about the dishes in the sink and his unmade bed and the piles of books and receipts on the table. He had exactly one candle, for emergencies if the power went out, and lit it for us. After dinner, he gave me a tour, and we sat on the floor of his spare room as he showed me coins he’d collected from all over the world and his Lego sets, some of which were the same ones my brother David and I had played with as kids. He had a home I felt comfortable in. It was cozy. His earnestness about the things that interested him was so endearing. That night, I knew I could fall in love him. And I knew part of me had already started.

What is the most embarrassing/awkward moment with your partner? One of those moments when you knew it must be love if this person still loves me after this.
There were a lot of awkward, embarrassing moments, including Looney Tunes. (If he could still want to date me, and I him, after that, it must be serious.) The one that comes to mind, though, happened on March 10, 2018, the day Tyler proposed. We were visiting my parents in SC for the weekend and I’d known Tyler had procured my parents’ blessing the night we’d arrived. We’d designed the ring together months earlier, but I hadn’t thought he intended to ask me to marry him that same weekend. I had suggested the beach, after all! I was the only one who brought it up. My parents didn’t let on at all as they handed us bottles of water and encouraged us to have fun. Hunting Island, the beach we went to that day, had experienced massive damage during Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Irma in 2017. Sand had been pushed into the parking lots in some areas and swept out to sea in others. Hundreds of trees had been snapped by the wind and bleached white by the salt water in the air. The blue sky of the morning had grown overcast as we pulled into one of the recently cleared parking lots. I zipped up a thin jacket and we took off down the beach. I told stories and pointed out features like the lighthouse and the campgrounds. On the way back, we were walking into the wind. My ears ached and my nose ran because of the cold. Between the lighthouse and the parking lot, Tyler suggested we head up into the trees. He wanted privacy to propose, but I thought he might be trying to give me a break from the wind. We trampled up the little sand hill, emerged into the trees, and stopped. It was a dead tree cemetery. White, bark-stripped trees lay in rows as far as we could see. Many were the tops of the dying trees around us. Tyler said, “Well this is kind of depressing.” I answered, “Yeah, but it’s kind of cool, too,” and tramped on ahead. After warning Tyler about snakes and mud—so romantic—he caught up with me and hugged me. His face was so full of love, it startled me. Then he wiped the snot from under my nose and kissed me. And if I hadn’t known before, I absolutely knew then that he loved me.

When did you realize this is the person you wanted to spend the rest of your life with?
During Hurricane Irma last year, my house lost power for 4 days. Morgan, my roommate and bridesmaid, had to be at work for almost 48 hours straight. I grew up on the coast, so I know what hurricanes are capable of, even far inland. I also remember seeing my cousins’ houses after the Mother’s Day tornado here in Macon in 2008. Tyler lives in a second-story apartment. I lived at the time in a house on the side of a hill with a half-basement. Of the two, the house is far safer in the event of a tornado. But for the first time, I didn’t wanted to be in the safer place as much as I wanted to be wherever Tyler was. I would rather be in Tyler’s second-story apartment, knowing he was okay, but possibly being in more personal danger, than in my basement without him. And I knew that feeling wouldn’t change. I wanted to be wherever Tyler was for the rest of my life.

What is the most loyal / endearing / sacrificial thing your partner has done for you?
Last summer, Tyler and I went to visit his friends Colby (a groomsman) and Tina and their daughter Harper for the weekend. We all went to the Atlanta Zoo together, then Tyler and I planned to go downtown to the Georgia Aquarium and, after, to a Persian restaurant Tyler used to enjoy eating at when he attended Georgia Tech. I had a migraine that day, but my symptoms were different than usual so I didn’t realize it. I was exhausted. I had a terrible headache. I threw up three or four times throughout the day (always in a bathroom, thankfully). And Tyler was so incredibly patient and attentive. I felt so badly that our fun day together had turned into such a fiasco. I was quiet, hardly talking with his friends, who I hadn’t met since college. I kept having to sit down. The Advil I always carry with me wasn’t doing anything. Even Harper could tell something was wrong. She was only two, but she noticed I was hanging back and took my hand to lead me up to the glass at the panda exhibit. I didn’t want to ruin the day, so I said I felt okay to stay, then okay to go downtown. We braved the CNN Center crowds to get me a smoothie after I could only eat a couple of fries at Johnny Rockets at lunch. The moving sidewalk at the GA Aquarium gave me vertigo. I had to physically lean on Tyler to keep my upright while we waited to see the sea lion show. I was miserable, and sure I was making him miserable. Of course we didn’t even try to go to the Persian restaurant. The smell of my potato soup at dinner sent me running for the bathroom (and I barely made it). Tyler did not complain. Not once during the day. Not once since. He didn’t express any frustration with me or let me feel guilty. He spent the entire day focused on what I wanted and needed. He insisted that he only felt sorry that I felt so badly, and didn’t care if we went to the aquarium or his favorite restaurant or went home to Macon immediately. Anything to help me feel better. So even though it was a horrible, miserable time in a lot of ways, I have really good memories from that day, too.

What do they do that drives you crazy?
I’m not going to publicly criticize Tyler, so I’m not going to share anything he does that drives me crazy. Instead, I’m going to talk about baseball. It’s Tyler’s favorite sport and his favorite team is the Atlanta Braves. The first time I saw him and the first time I met him, he was wearing a Braves hat. Before we started dating, I’d watched exactly 4 baseball games in my entire life: two college baseball games, one Braves game at Turner Field, and the game when the Cubs won the World Series. That was it. And, honestly, I could probably go back to that life pretty easily. But Tyler loves it. Even though baseball is played outside. In summer. In Georgia. Even though there are 162 games a year. That’s a 4-hour game almost every single day for an ungodly number of the hottest months of the year. 162 games a year. One hundred. And sixty-two. Not including playoffs, spring training, or the All-Star game. For every single team. When the game is really good, it could only be 3 hours long. When it’s bad, it could be 4. Or 5. Or 6. Or 3. At least in football there’s a clock. But I’ve learned to enjoy baseball. I’ve learned to recognize the Braves players in their batting helmets and in the dugout. I’ve memorized their positions. I pretend to understand when Tyler starts complaining about the Braves’ home record. I loudly criticize the Indians’ racist logo and name and have developed an unreasonably strong dislike of the Marlins and the Nationals. I know the only place in SunTrust Park to get a funnel cake is the 300 level by the elevators. I’ve learned to recognize a balk! I take a lot of naps now. Tyler loves baseball and I love to see him enjoying it. And I’ve learned to enjoy baseball, too. Which is good, because the Braves are still in the playoffs, Tyler will be spending at least 4 hours every day of our honeymoon in the hotel room watching them play. (Don’t worry, I packed a lot of books.)

What qualities/attributes do you see in your partner that you most admire?
Tyler loves learning about other cultures and languages. He’s curious about how other people live and appreciates all the differences he finds. He’s patient. He listens. He makes me feel safe. Although I’m a words person and he’s a math person, he assumes that I can understand his work and takes the time to explain it. He’s tender-hearted and trustworthy. He makes me laugh. He’s a good cook and baker. The people he lets into his heart, he’d do anything for.

What is attractive to you about his relationship with Christ?
Tyler’s curious. He wants to learn and will go to great lengths to do so. Sometimes he focuses on learning Korean so he can better chat with his former supervisor when we run into him at Publix. Sometimes he focuses on prayer, or why the church is structured the way it is, or stories about God’s role in others’ lives. He loves God deeply and wants others to have the hope that we do, but he also wants those who don’t share our beliefs to know they are safe with him and appreciated by him. When we pray together, Tyler holds my hand and leans his head to touch mine, reaffirming that we’re a team and a family and connected, whether we’re blessing a meal or praying for our families or listening to someone else pray. He spends a long time pondering things in his heart before he acts, and I have confidence in him as a leader and partner.

Emails to My Senators

I haven’t been writing blog posts lately because
1. I’ve been planning my wedding,
2. I’m in the process of moving,
3. I’ve been calling and emailing my Senators regarding Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings.

I believe sexual assault survivors of all genders. I’m sick to death of men deciding that crimes against women don’t matter, particularly if the culprits are straight white men, the wealthier the better. And I believe a great deal will be lost if Kavanaugh is confirmed. I am increasingly convinced that most people who support Kavanaugh’s appointment believe Dr. Ford. They just don’t care. They don’t think sexual assault matters. If they did, Trump wouldn’t have been elected. But he was, and Kavanaugh was nominated, and here we are. Women are still less than human. Powerful men can still shout and rant and interrupt Senators and lie under oath and be appointed for the highest court in the country. (Although I pray and pray that he won’t be.) Therefore, I have been contacting my senators, including Lindsey Graham on the Senate Judiciary Committee, multiple times a day.

Below are two of the emails I wrote to my Senators today.

To Senator Tim Scott:
I am calling on Senator Scott to demand the White House ask the FBI to reopen the probe into the three allegations of sexual assault brought by Dr. Ford, Ms. Ramirez, and Ms. Swetnick against Brett Kavanaugh. This is a job interview process for a permanent position on the highest court in the country. We cannot risk putting an ill-qualified judge into that position.

Kavanaugh has already lied under oath during these proceedings. If his word cannot be trusted about the legality of his past actions—such as whether it was legal for him to consume alcohol in Maryland when he was a teenager—his overall character and all allegations against him must be subject to the closest scrutiny.

During the past few days, Senator Graham has demonstrated alarming partisanship while threatening to abuse his power in “revenge” against Democratic candidates. I am relying on Senator Scott to uphold the integrity of the Senate, the Supreme Court confirmation process, and South Carolina by demanding the reopening of the FBI probe. Until that time, I urge the Senator to call for the delay of all votes.

To Senator Lindsey Graham:
I have placed multiple calls to your local and DC offices over the past 24 hours and your voicemail inboxes remain full. It is obvious that you do not want to hear from your constituents. However, your outrageous displays of partisanship cannot go unanswered by the people you represent.

Considering your previous service in the Air Force, I expected you to put the interests of your country above that of your party. Considering your position as the senior senator representing South Carolina, I expected you to uphold the integrity of the Senate and our state. As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I expected you to uphold the integrity of the confirmation process. Instead, you undid all your work with Senator Durbin on the Dreamers bill, impugned the reputation of our state, betrayed the best interests of the country to appease the Trump base, and threatened to abuse your power by taking “revenge” against Democratic candidates. In short, you have behaved shamefully.

The only way to begin to make this up to your constituents is to demand the White House ask the FBI to reopen the probe into the sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh and to delay all votes until that probe is complete.

Your state is watching. We will remember in 2020.

Finding Comfort

The wedding is planned. We have a few odds and ends to put together, but the main thing we have left is just confirming the number of attendees for the chair rentals and caterer. (Have you sent in your RSVP yet? We really need those.)

Now, we’re focused on packing up my things from the house where I’ve lived for 5 years and moving them into Tyler’s apartment. We’re doing so gradually but making large strides. All my books and two bookshelves are already set up. My winter clothes, scarves, blankets, and boots have been sitting in Tyler’s guest bedroom for months.

Along the way, we’re doing our best to clean out clothes we don’t wear or that don’t fit anymore, books we aren’t enjoying, and knick-knacks that no longer spark joy. I find myself most prone to doing so when I first get up and at the end of the day, putting off going to bed in favor of closing up one more box.

My late grandmother and I are nostalgic and sentimental and have a talent for squirreling away letters, cards, bookmarks, and “dust catchers” as my dad calls them. This weekend, I rediscovered several birthday and Christmas cards from her. I found one my late aunt had also written in. And my late great-aunt. And friends I’ve long ago lost touch with. I’m getting rid of a lot, but I’m also grateful to have squirreled away so much. Like photos in frames that I can now use to reserve tables at my wedding reception. And a set of 4 hand-crank music boxes I bought in Paris, Barcelona, and Madrid almost ten years ago.

In college, I displayed them on my bookshelf and desk, ever ready for my fingers when I felt sad or lonely. I would take one—maybe the one whose box featured a detail from Klimt’s “The Kiss”—and sit on the edge of my bed, slowly winding the cool silver crank. At some point, perhaps when I moved in five years ago, I lined them up in a padded bag and tucked them behind the journals on the shelf in my bedroom to be organized later. And there they stayed. No batteries to corrode. No dust to taint. Just waiting, their location sliding out of memory.

Saturday night, I carried the bag to the sofa and drew them out, one at a time, keeping them in the order I’d originally packed them in. I turned each crank, remembering the tune as the notes sounded in the dark room. Then I played each again. The same solace soothed my heart as the first time I’d ever heard them, in noisy, echoing gift shops at the Palace of Versailles and the Prado Museum and the Gaudi Museum.

I had also listened to them the day I dropped my first college class. And the morning I started drafting my first book. And the afternoon I realized one of my best friends found me dispensable. And the night before the first day of my internship. And the evening my grandfather died. They were lost by the time my grandmother, and then my aunt, passed. So I played them again with those women in my mind.

Because today is September 11, I think it’s a fine day to take comfort as I remember.

Several years ago, I discovered “Boatlift,” a 12-minute documentary about the hundreds of ordinary people who brought their boats to evacuate lower Manhattan after the first tower fell. It was the largest maritime evacuation in human history.

The story reminds. It draws one in. And it focuses on goodness and courage and our shared humanity. If you haven’t yet seen it, today may be a good day to do so.

I also recommend the Broadway musical Come From Away, which tells the story of Gander, the small Canadian town that hosted thousands of passengers who were stranded when the US airspace was closed. I saw the musical in New York more than a year ago and have listened to the soundtrack countless times since. A performance of the first song, “Welcome to the Rock,” is here:

If you aren’t sure how deeply you want to wade into the painful waters today, I hope you find the comfort you need.

The LORD is my Shepherd…

My sleep schedule has been a little off lately. I’ve struggled to stay awake at 3pm and lain wide awake at 3am. Around midnight last night, as I waited (and waited) to fall asleep, I enjoyed a good long talk with God. Somewhere in there, I took out my phone and used voice-to-text to rewrite Psalm 23 one line at a time. In the daylight, I’ve enjoyed my midnight brain’s insights and priorities. Instead of continuing the shepherd imagery, I named simple ways that God cares for and blesses me.

It’s not my intention to belittle this gorgeous and beloved song of praise. This was simply an exercise in thinking through a familiar passage in an unfamiliar way, personalizing a Scriptural prayer while giving a formal structure to my own prayers of thanks. (Additionally, I’ve been trying to step away from using male pronouns for God in my personal prayers, as God is neither male nor female, so I avoided them here.)

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not starve for anything.
God encourages me to lie down and take a nap,
God reminds me to drink water,
God restores my soul.
God guides me toward righteousness paths
because that’s God’s character.
Yea, though I walk
through the darkest news cycles,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
rom coms and my roommate’s dog,
they comfort me.

You prepare chicken casserole for me
in the presence of the racist Twitter followers I had to block.
You bless me with cat videos;
my laughter overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will find me
all the days of my life,
and I will call the house of the LORD “home”
forever.

What would your version of Psalm 23 look like? What comforts you? What does God prepare for you? Who are your enemies and when are you most afraid? I’d love to hear your variations!

Weekend Watching and Summer Reading

Weekend Watching Recap

1. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (Netflix)
A 16 year old’s secret letters to her crushes, some years old, get mailed. Including one to her first kiss and one to her neighbor, who her older sister just broke up with. Yikes. A soon-to-be-classic teen romance starring an East Asian protagonist.

2. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Netflix)
Just after WWII, a London writer begins conversing with a member of a book club on Guernsey, an island in the English Channel which was under German occupation. The writer travels there to meet the club’s members, including her handsome pen pal, and begins uncovering the mystery of what happened to the book club’s founding member.

3. Crazy Rich Asians (theater)
An NYU economics professor is invited to join her boyfriend on a trip home to Singapore for a friend’s wedding, where she discovers he’s the “crazy rich” Prince Harry of Southeast Asia. And almost no one—from his mother to the bride’s friends to strangers on the street—are happy about him choosing a “commoner”. A modern Cinderella retelling with an all Asian cast.

All three movies are based on books! Speaking of books…

Summer Reading Recap

Furyborn by Claire Legrand
If you don’t like fantasy, this book is my best hope for changing your mind.

The Day of the Duchess by Sarah MacLean
A compelling, complex, nuanced love story that begins with a petition for divorce.

The Woman on the Orient Express by Lindsay Jayne Ashford
A novel about the real journey that inspired at least 3 of Agatha Christie’s novels, including her most famous.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
One of the best Agatha Christie’s I’ve read yet.

Jackaby series by William Ritter
Sherlock meets Grimm-style fairytales in an alternate 19th-century NYC.

Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant
While filming a mockumentary in the Marianas Trench, the crew discovers real (murderous) mermaids.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
I’ve written about this book before. Basically, it’s a novel in prose and you need it in your life.

Tropic of Squalor by Mary Karr
A short but deep collection of poetry by a best-selling, hilarious memoirist.

The Martian by Andy Weir
I’ve read this 4 times in as many years.