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.

A Single Woman’s Valentine’s Day

If you’re a single woman, Valentine’s Day probably goes something like this.

Wake up, wear red or pink. It usually doesn’t matter what you wear, but you want to be festive. Plus, you don’t want people to think you’re bitter or lonely or pining (especially if you are). I remember the Vtines day in high school when I accidentally wore black. I wear black all the time, but that day my outfit got looks and questions. Thankfully, I’m an adult now, but it’s still the sort of thing people notice and read in to.

Go to work. It’s a normal day, after all. When someone asks your married and dating coworkers what their plans are for the day, the married usually shrug and mention going out to dinner. They might talk about the Daddy-Daughter dance at church. The dating are more likely to have elaborate plans. They may or may not ask you about your plans, because you are single, and everyone around you seems to feel a little uncomfortable with that today.

The thing is, you do have plans. You are a single woman on Single Awareness Day. You are cooking your favorite chicken marsala or marathoning Jane Austen movies or getting together with your cohort of single female friends for excessive amounts of ice cream. One year, my roommate and I watched Fried Green Tomatoes with the biggest sundaes Baskin Robbins offered. The next day, we took a day trip to Juliette, where the movie had been filmed, for antiquing and lunch at the Whistle Stop Cafe. Another year, I babysat friends’ small children so they could go out. But you, like I, definitely have plans.

On your lunch break, you may buy yourself flowers or a new candle and stock up on cheesecake and cookie dough. You’ll come in for the half-priced candy tomorrow, but you need a plan for your break, too. So you go shopping. Or meet a friend at Panera. Or start a new book, something sweet and swoony or maybe a murder mystery. You do not scroll through your ex’s timeline. Not even once.

When work is over, you refuse to look at Facebook or Insta or Snapchat. You might even turn off notifications before your feeds are taken over by people live-tweeting their fancy dinners and snapping kissing selfies. A swath of big-rocked rings will appear before midnight. You’ll have to say something nice about those—and you are happy for those couples—but you can do that tomorrow. Tonight, it’s you and your plan of choice, which you embrace with gusto.

It’s not a sad day, but it is kind of an eggshell day. And the hardest part is bedtime. You laughed so hard during your marathon of The Good Place, or your chest broke open during A Walk to Remember, and all those emotions have exhausted you. Maybe you were comforted by the kids (or girl friends) who cuddled with you on the couch. And now it’s quiet. Your friends aren’t here. And no matter how worn out you are, no matter how much fun you had, it’s still Valentine’s Day. And you still didn’t have the kind of day you’re supposed to have, whether or not you even want that kind of day.

It’s hard. It’s not the hardest thing, but don’t beat yourself up for feeling lonely or annoyed or angry. Try to be generous, with yourself and others. Try to have fun. But remember: you aren’t “sad” for not having a romantic partner today and you aren’t “pathetic” for not having a gaggle of friends to spend it with, either. You’re having the best day you can, and you are awesome.

Fear Then, Fear Now (Updated)

Note: Based on some feedback I’ve received since posting, I realize that my initial goal in writing eight months ago and my ultimate goal in writing last week both got a bit lost in the proverbial weeds. I’ve tried to tighten this post to make my points and goals more explicit.

About 8 months back, I wrote the following.

***

I rarely sink into a rage among this group of friends. All are people who care very deeply and who I’ve known for months, if not years.

However, last week I found myself seething, forcing myself to sit silently in my chair and listen respectfully to person after person describe their fears. Now, I realize that fears make us feel highly vulnerable, and so they can be very difficult to share with a group, especially if you aren’t very close to every person there. I realize that many people probably have deep-seated fears that they would not ever share with another person, let alone this little group of nine Baptists. Instead, person after person talked about terrorism, “people over there” and “crazies”. Next, someone brought up the presidential candidates. One person confessed trepidation at the idea of ISIS gaining access to a nuclear weapon.

At least no one started talking about spiders.

I studied terrorism extensively in college, so I know I have a different viewpoint than most. And I don’t deny that ISIS is a serious problem, and a daily concern. But I wanted to talk about fear. The most recent time I felt fear was the previous evening. I went to a friend’s house to play board games, and as I was coming home I realized I was coming home to an empty house. My roommate was away for the weekend, my neighbors were all probably asleep, the dog wasn’t alive to bark, the light was on in the carport but I couldn’t see into the darkness past the gate or in my neighbor’s backyard. Before I got out of my car, I had my house key in my hand, angled so it could slide into the lock as quickly as possible. I scanned 360 degrees before I got out and again when I stood straight. I listened carefully for footsteps, breathing, anything amiss. I unlocked the door and still knew I wasn’t safe. Not until the door was shut and locked behind me. And maybe not even then.

I am far more likely to be killed because of someone else’s road rage than I am to be killed by a terrorist of any kind (and there are so many kinds). I am at a much higher risk of being followed into my house and raped than anyone in the world is at risk of dying from radiation exposure due to a nuclear attack by ISIS.

Of the seven of us in this conversation, five were men. Up to that point, only men had been talking. While trying to tamp down my rage at all these fears that have so little bearing on how I live my life and what I worry about, the other women in the group spoke up, describing the moral ambiguity rising in our society and expressing her worries and fears for what her children will have to face, what they will fear as they grow up, how they will be safe and happy and good people in a society like the one ours is becoming.

Finally, something practical.

I built off of my friend’s fears for her children, describing how, in our society,people don’t do right for the sake of right. Here, freedoms and rights are not preserved for many, many people. I pointed out that, as a single woman, I am a more vulnerable target to random violence (not the most vulnerable, certainly) than men who share so much with me, including religion, skin color, socio-economic status, and geographic region. I described my fear of making eye contact with another driver because he might decide on that alone to follow me, to harass me, to hurt me. (It’s happened to me before, and I thank God that he never got out of his car.) I mentioned choices I make every day because of fear, like avoiding filling up with gas at night, like not walking between large vehicles in parking lots, like not going to the neighborhood park alone without texting someone else to let them know where I am and when I’ll be back.

My fellow Christians heard me. Their eyes softened. There was a pause.

One of the men started resumed talking about the “moral decay of our country” and brought up a presidential candidate. And accompanying my rage this time was disappointment. Isolation. I wanted them to be honest about their daily fears, even if they were different from mine. But no one had mentioned cancer or car accidents. No one did.

[Before I go further, I want to point out that every single one of us was white. Every one. Every one, as far as I know, is heterosexual and abled and neuro-typical. We are draped in privilege, swaddled in it from birth. I have real fears related to being a woman, but my fears as a white woman are nothing compared to the fears of people of color, and specifically of women of color. People with disabilities have entirely different and entirely valid fears. And we weren’t even addressing those depths, just the gender discrepancy in the fears.]

I wanted to ask these men, “When was the last time you felt fear? Maybe it was over a news headline but did you ever consider what you would feel if you were a refugee who no one wants to help because they think you might be part of the same terrorist group you’re trying to escape?” I wanted to scream, “Are you thinking about other people’s lives? Are you really more worried about Hillary’s emails than whether someone is going to target you just for existing? Are you really more concerned about Sanders’ socialist policies than whether your father’s cancer will come up in you?”

I might have been letting my anger carry me a little ways, but I don’t think I was being unreasonable to want these Christians to be personal, to match vulnerability with vulnerability as we talked about our lives. Why else are we here, anyway, but to share and support one another as a community? That’s the kind of living Christ encourages.

Again, I don’t mean to imply that terrorism and politics aren’t important concerns, aren’t daily threats for many, many people. They are. These issues and these hurting people should be prayed over fervently. The fears my friends shared valid. And I know they care deeply about their loved ones, friends, and the state of our country and world.

But when I think about fear in the Bible, I think about a son dying, a sinking boat, a terrible storm, a troubling message, a dead spouse, a flood, and standing in the very presence of God. Were more people afraid of Caesar or of the single armed centurion? Of a mass conspiracy or of being recognized by a servant in the firelight? All are worthy of fear, though we Christians are not called to fear but power, and yet I still feel frustrated, angry, disappointed by the way the conversation played out.

***

My relationship with fear has changed since I wrote this. I better understand now that people can take the words of their elected (and not-yet elected) leaders as license to do or say to you whatever they want. To threaten you. To hit you. To try to kiss you. And worse.

The people around me that day eight months ago were right to fear the election and the candidates, and I wish I had better understood the connection between these macro issues and individuals’ personal fears. I felt so frustrated then, but maybe my friends knew what they were talking about better than I did.

Yet I still find it disturbing that there was such a difference between what my female friend and I were willing to admit as daily fears and what the men were. I think this is a problem. But I’m most disturbed that, filled with so much anger, such frustration, I didn’t ask more questions. I didn’t say, “This is what I think you mean. Is that right?”

In the months since that conversation, let me tell you some of what I’ve been doing. I’ve been listening to marginalized people describe the harassment they face at rest stops and in restaurants and in the checkout line. I’ve been reporting Neo-Nazis who are photoshoping the faces of Jewish people into photos of gas chambers. I’ve been retweeting stories of brutality and terror. I’ve been sharing others’ words about how useless, worthless, hated, inhuman they’ve been made to feel. I’ve been sharing ways to support and help people being harassment in public. But I’ve been doing this almost exclusively on Twitter. Few people in my life are on Twitter, and if I see a problem in my reality, I need to address it in the places where my views might do some good. That includes Facebook. That includes a dinner out with friends.

I didn’t say what I was thinking then, but I’ve have eight months to think about it and to see the truth in my friends’ words, as well as realize some related truths.

I still fear the single centurion more than Caesar, but my fear of Caesar is greatly increased because of what people who think of themselves as centurions have done and said as a result of Caesar’s words and actions. They feel justified. And Caesar doesn’t have to deputize every such person to make him or them dangerous. That is the link between the macro and the personal.

Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and that the second greatest commandment is to love others as we love ourselves. For most people like me (white, abled, heterosexual, etc.), our civil rights weren’t under threat this election. I wish I had urged my friends to listen to people who aren’t like us, to hear their fears and find the macro connections and meet their vulnerability with our own.

I wish I’d made my opinion more plain, so I’m doing so here: I believe that loving others means be afraid of what marginalized people are afraid of, then using your vote and voice to fight for their rights as if they were your rights. I believe that is a significant way we white, abled, heterosexual Christians need to love our neighbors. I believe that I have been failing miserably at loving other people.