Dear Future Daughter

Dear Future Daughter,

At the time of this writing, I am not very old. I don’t have reams of life experience to hand you, neatly stacked and organized. I don’t have much direction to offer you, as I am just starting to find my own footholds. But I have observed. I have collected scraps of wisdom, personalities, interpretations, and successes from women around me. I have sculpted a model of the woman I want to be. And though I am young, I am old enough to have known what it is to lose, love, struggle, and triumph. I know what it feels like to despair and what it feels like to find peace.

And before you set out, attempting to learn all of life’s choreography on your own, there are a few basic moves I can teach you, however imperfectly I might currently be dancing them.

Move #1: Love yourself.

I know this might be difficult at times. Even though I know I will see you as distinctly beautiful, one hundred percent deserving of every inch of space you take up in this world, you may not always feel that way. I hope you inherit the confidence and courage of my mama, your grandma, or of my sister, your aunt, but if you are wired more like me, this particular move will be hard to learn. You might find yourself comparing yourself to others, analyzing the differences and left feeling inferior. You might find your mind wandering to dark places, lonely places, where thoughts become tangled and ominous and you lose the way home.

Though it might take practice, find every reason to love yourself. Figure out how to embrace your you-ness. Don’t even think twice about piling fifty million sparkly clips on top of your head because you think they’re pretty. Don’t listen someone tells you it’s weird to wear one lime green water shoe and one bright orange water shoe to school. Don’t get anxious that you’re doing something wrong if you’d rather read before all your K-12 and college classes rather than face the terrifying notion of talking to people. Don’t worry if your coworker thinks it’s strange to have a picture of a shih tzu that is neither yours nor anyone else’s you know tacked up on your cubicle’s bulletin board (yes, honey, I am speaking from experience on all of these and I turned out…fine).

Your quirks and anomalies will make you you, and even though you don’t exist yet, you are a masterpiece, “fearfully and wonderfully made”.

Move #2: Let others love you.

Here’s the thing: It is very tempting to try to do it all on your own. It’s comforting to be in control. It feels right. You are beholden to no one and everything can be done your way.

But here is the other thing: Doing life that way sucks. You will inevitably let yourself down, and you will have alienated the people who might have extended a hand to pick you up. It’s not possible to do it all on your own.

At some point in your life, you will think that other people couldn’t possibly understand. You will think you are alone, battling in the dark: vulnerable, armorless, and disoriented. I will try to save you the painful, angry process of waging war against yourself: The people who love you get it. They know you – sometimes better than you know yourself. And when you’re not strong enough to fight your own battles, they will take up arms and do it for you. Let them.

And then when the people you love are struggling, help them fight theirs.

Move #3: Question.

Drink in all the information you can. Listen to people in authority, and follow the rules when necessary. But know when something’s not right. If you conform to everything the world and the communities around you say you should conform to, you will be sorely disappointed.

Move #4: Look at the big picture.

In school, in work, in life in general: Try really hard to step back sometimes. We all get caught up in the details, in the minutiae. Our brains take comfort in patterns and routines, so we let them get into routines. We go back and forth, back and forth, building our one little section of the hive without ever realizing how we’re contributing to the intricate structure of the hive – and the honey, the sweet decadent product of all our labor.

If we miss the big picture, we become complacent. We trip and drop the purpose and the drive, the things that comprised our map, and we are suddenly lost. You can get bitter that way. You can burn out. Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture, whatever it is to you: God, family, people, work, mission. The world is larger than your fleeting anxiety.

Move #5: Choose to be happy.

My generation is a restless one. Maybe it’s not necessarily unique to my generation – I find people of all ages wishing for that next thing that will make them happy. It might be an event, a place, a job, a person, or something else. Perhaps it’s simply because my generation has so many more options than previous generations did that so many people seem to be having existential meltdowns over their lives. But I don’t think that event or place or job or person will single-handedly improve your life. You are responsible for that. You can choose to be happy in any place or situation. You can choose to count your blessings rather than your misfortunes. Happiness is a matter of sheer will. Just as there will always be reasons to be unhappy, there will always be reasons to be happy. So why would you be anything but?

Move #6: Pray.

I know that when it comes to faith, you will have to find your own way. I can tell you that I believe there is a God who sent His Son to die to save me and to save you, but I also know that is a very personal thing and you will have your own spiritual explorations and doubts and revelations. But if you want to see a higher power at work, try praying. You will be amazed by what you witness.

Move #7: Stay humble and work hard.

Believe that nothing is deserved and everything is either given by God or earned through hard work, because it’s true. It will be a sad and bitter existence if you constantly feel cheated out of something you think you deserved.

Move #8: Laugh. A lot.

Life is hard work. No one is disputing that. And sometimes people around you will focus on that. Sometimes you will focus on that, because unexpected and tragic things happen. But so do joyful things and hilarious things. There may be a time to cry, but there is also a time to laugh and a time to dance. Sometimes those joyful and hilarious things are big, and sometimes they’re small, and the small things can be the best things. For instance, I might get mad at your dad Jamie for something and be tempted to let the situation get heavy and serious, and then he might play Muse’s song “Mercy” and in falsetto sing the chorus: “Show me MEEEEERRRRRRCCCYYYYY” when I’m dropping him off at law school on my way to work. And suddenly I can’t help laughing and things are solved.

The best cliches and dumb metaphors I’ve ever known have been about laughter. You know, “laughter is the best medicine,” “laughter is wine for the soul,” “the human race has only one really effective weapon and that is laughter”, blah blah. But it’s true. There is nothing better than laughing except for maybe one thing, but we’ll talk about that when you’re older.

Move #9: Read.

Yeah, okay, I sound like my mom/your grandma. But seriously. I swear it makes you smarter. And reading will leave you dazzled with all the incredible people and stories in the world.

Move #10: Love.

Yes, 3 out of 10 of these moves have been about love. So that should tell you that I think it’s pretty important. Even if you’re bad at it because you know you can be selfish and egotistical, keep loving. Keep listening to and learning about the people around you. When people are different from you, embrace them because that’s what makes humanity so weird and wonderful. Because there is nothing more profound for a human being than knowing you are deeply loved.

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Becoming an Adult (And Other Disasters)

adulting

The older I get, the better I like myself and the more I feel at peace with what God has in store for me. There are no more sleepless nights with the little Me inside my head running around in panicked circles trying to make sense of it all. I’ve come to realize I will never make sense of it all, and I’m okay with that. I can try to grasp a little bit at a time, quietly piecing it together until a pattern starts to emerge.

The older I get, the more emotional I get. For those who know me well, that might seem inconceivable but perhaps I should explain: I get emotional about WEIRD things now: the kind of things that used to make me laugh when I was younger and grown-ups got emotional over them. Things like breaking a bowl make me cry (“WHAT IF I HOST PEOPLE AND I ONLY HAVE THREE MATCHING BOWLS INSTEAD OF THE FULL SET OF FOUR AND SOMEONE HAS A BOWL THAT DOESN’T MATCH AND IT’S AWKWARD AND OUT OF PLACE LIKE ME AND THEY SEE RIGHT THROUGH ME AND REALIZE I CAN’T KEEP MY LIFE TOGETHER?!” – to which Jamie responds carefully, “When do you ever host people?” Oh. Good point). Things annoy me that never would have before, like Jamie’s growing pile of unlaundered clothes in the corner of the bedroom, which I point out huffily to him before freaking out (OH MY GOSH I SOUND LIKE A NAGGING WIFE – HOLY CRAP, NEVER MIND, THROW THEM EVERYWHERE! DECORATE THE HOUSE WITH THEM! I AM STILL CARELESS AND FREE AND TOTALLY UNWIFELY!!!).

The older I get, the more meltdowns I have. I have breakdowns over things like the toilet plunger, against which I waged an epic battle last weekend. Before our wedding, we registered for this sleek toilet plunger and brush set in bronze holders. At the time, I was quite pleased with how lovely they looked, but then I tried to pull the plunger out of its pretty bronze holder and realized it was suctioned to the bottom. Fortunately, Jamie was gone, but naturally I was embarrassed about clogging the toilet, and I was absolutely determined to fix it before he got back. I yanked and tugged and shouted curse words (hopefully my neighbors weren’t listening too closely?).

I am SO GLAD Jamie was absent and thus did not witness the crazy. I was so frustrated I had tears running down my cheeks and finally got myself so worked up that I ran outside to the sidewalk with the bronze holder and banged it as hard as I could against the sidewalk to dislodge the plunger.

Our apartment complex houses a lot of minority students, and I kind of picture them peeking out their windows and raising their eyebrows at each other like, “Oh my, that is one crazy ass white girl.”

In the end, I didn’t get the plunger out even though I banged the bronze holder so hard against the sidewalk that the bottom of it came loose (but NOT THE PLUNGER). I was so mad that I ran to the dumpster, hurled the plunger in, and stomped over to Big Lots across the street. I bought a new plunger with a nice open plastic holder. People at Big Lots, including the cashier, were staring at me a little strangely (was it the tear-stained cheeks or the frizzy hair or the fact that I was quite deliberately and unashamedly stalking to the register with just a plunger in hand?).

Once back home, I, exhausted, fell asleep.

The older I get, the easier I fall in love. I fall in love more and more with my husband, which never ceases to amaze me, since I loved him enough before we got married to decide I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. I fall in love with books and pretty metaphors and the satisfying sound of the keyboard when I have a breakthrough on a work project and start pounding away furiously. I fall in love when I hold my little nephews and look at their smooth, pure faces, utterly unmarred by worry or sadness. I fall in love with my two families, mine and my husband’s.

The older I get, the more I worry. Or again, rather, the more I worry about different things. Instead of worrying about whether or not I got that question I was agonizing over right on the test a week ago, I worry whether or not I should be spending more time researching the mutual funds our retirement accounts are invested in, or for that matter, whether or not we should be contributing a little more to those accounts. Then I worry about the retirement crisis in America and the fact that all of our currency is fiat currency and one computer virus could wipe out all our wealth and all the work I’ve ever worked on up to this point.

Then I have to remind myself to calm down a bit.

The older I get, the more plans change. My mom laughs when I muse about what having kids someday might be like: this from the girl who swore there was No Way she was Ever Having Kids until she was at least 35, if at all. And speaking of worry, sometimes I worry about that. Like seriously: How do mamas do it, work 40+ hours a week and keep themselves and their children alive and fed and do the administrative tasks that living simply requires, like cleaning and running errands? I can barely feed myself and keep a 600 square foot apartment clean. Sometimes I suspect older adults either have some sort of secret I haven’t yet discovered – or maybe they’ve simply built up endurance running through life so long; their legs have gone numb, like halfway through a marathon. They can just keep going.

The older I get, the more excited I get. I am excited about where I am now, where I work and the people I work with, my friends whom I adore, my partner in all of life, the future, the things God has yet to teach me. Life is crazily, furiously, heartrendingly, joyously freaking beautiful, and I am ready for it all.

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Routine

I used to hate thinking about the routine of the everyday. I used to cringe, bury my head in anxiety, thinking about the collection of seemingly meaningless tasks that make up a life. My sould used to grate against the inevitable truth of the mundane, grow worn and weary as it trudged through the fear of insignificance. I fretted all through college. I worried that at the end of my life, I would have stored up a myriad of dusty trinkets representing the tiny, dull tasks that fill a lifetime: that I would never be able to hold a gleaming trophy of triumph, a hallmark of some great achievement, of some world-changing accomplishment. I was afraid of drowning in anonymity, of sinking slowly and comfortably down, down into obsolescence.

I was looking at life all wrong.

I asked Jamie about his favorite moments in the past six months of marriage. His answers surprised me. They weren’t big or impressive moments like climbing the Smokies together on our honeymoon. They were small moments, ones no one else would even care about, like our car rides in the early morning when the sun is still yawning mellow pink rays and shyly peeking over the horizon. I am only dropping him off at the law school before driving to work – an everyday necessity, a repetitive task – and yet he loves those ten minutes together in the morning (dreaming about the future or belting Adele, whichever suits our fancy) before we separate to conquer our individual tasks for the day.

Then I started thinking: What do I feel when I climb into bed at the end of the day? Do I feel monotony and impotence pressing on me? Do I feel useless and insignificant? No. I feel satisfied: another day full of conversation, learning, work, contributions, love for my husband. I may not be curing cancer, but I am part of something bigger in every task I complete.

And I matter. I matter to my family, my friends, my husband, and the creator of the universe. And I can rest in that. That is enough.

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Begin

Comfort
is an old friend
who knows his way in
through the back door.

It’s been a while.

He kicks his feet up high
with a haggard look
and a tattered smile
and a glint in his eye

And I sigh,

For he knows.
He knows
how I yearn for him.
We go way back.

Oh, he’s got sense
and poise and tact and

He tells me what I want to hear,
that I’m safe by his side and
he’ll take care of me and
I’ll be at ease

But

I know deep down that
he’s no good for me.
He hates when I set out instead
of keeping him company.

He kills me slowly.

My spirit and drive
sputter and die
as I curl up
by his side

And I know

I know when he shows up
that it’s about time
to pack up,
move on, catch the next line,

Get away.

Because if he stays,
I’ll settle with him,
let him settle with me,
forget what I wanted to be,

Forget to be me.

There’s a whole world out there
waiting to be seen
if I leave his warm empty
promise of safety,

And I will

Say farewell to my old friend,
get ready, get going, yes,
there are a thousand
reasons to sing

Of the next new beginning.

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Faith | Doubt

“…I looked but I couldn’t see anything
through its dark-knit glare;
yet don’t we all know, the golden sand
is there at the bottom,
though our eyes have never seen it,
nor can our hands ever catch it

4.

lest we would sift it down
into fractions, and facts
certainties
and what the soul is, also
I believe I will never quite know.
Though I play at the edges of knowing,
truly I know
our part is not knowing,
but looking, and touching, and loving,
which is the way I walked on,
softly,
through the pale-pink morning light.”
-“Bone,” Mary Oliver

Both Faith and Doubt dwell within me, and I am not ashamed to admit it. I’ve found myself wandering both landscapes: climbing the arduous hills of Faith, confused and exhausted, my brow dusted with sweat, just about to quit when suddenly the mist clears. And I am privy, sometimes for a fleeting moment, sometimes for a long stretch of time, to the kind of view that makes me stagger. I see sunset fires raging atop the purple torches of mountain peaks, or I see the inside of a volcano’s crater, striped white and black and red and smoking like a great dragon curled beneath my feet. Or I see a sunrise fist gripping the spire of a skyscraper as if to remind it who’s really in control. Or maybe I simply meet another traveler along the path, someone who has taken a break from the whirling busyness of the everyday to speak to me about the things that matter.

But I’ve found myself also in Doubt, a deceptively similar landscape. Doubt houses the same roaring oceans as Faith, hurdling toward me with foaming mouths open wide, the same torrential rains and malevolent winds, battering me this way and that. Sometimes it’s hard to know where one land ends and the other begins; the fog rolls in and my vision is obscured.

But ultimately there is a convergence. The two collide at a point of no further passage, an abyss. The science of Doubt, the logical questions and corresponding answers, and the art of Faith, the hope and resounding tenets of truth, can get you no farther in the earthly realm. There is a limit to human understanding. We can rage and debate, pound our fists and advance our arguments, trek closer and closer to the answers, but the truth is there is not one soul on Earth who can understand this world in its entirety.

And that is the point at which the decision is to be made. If you choose Doubt, extrapolate it, decide there is no higher power and life is yours for the taking to do with it what you will, there is some freedom. If religion is the “opiate of the masses,” then you may also believe there is a relinquishing of some peace of mind in choosing Doubt in return for the harnessing of your own will and human strength. You gain control over your own pursuit of whatever it is you want to pursue and achieve. I’ve often thought of giving in to Doubt; it does seem the most persuasive at times.

But ultimately I keep coming back to Faith, and the reason is this: I see a glimmer of Something More in everything on earth, something too massive for Doubt to tackle…I sense my own weakness, my own utter confusion. And I feel – even in the midst of sorrow, even while seeing the pain that is in this world – an unshakable love, and there is no greater love than what was written about Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for the swarming multitudes of people who turned their backs on him.

I know I will continue to roam through Faith and Doubt, seeking my final home, but when I reach the breaking point – the point of no return – Faith is what will lead me there.

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Angst & Music

Angst is an old familiar friend of mine. He used to come visit me often, usually at night when he had me all to himself. He would fold his lithe lanky legs on the end of my bed and whisper things that made my head lurch spastically, brushing all the corners of my mind like the frantic tail of a startled squirrel. It was infuriating. I would hiss at him to get out, to retract his inky black seething thoughts, to pack up his gleefully bestowed existential crises – but he would only grin at me. He fed upon fear.

I’ve had very little reason to let Angst enter my life, comfortably take it over the way he did for so long. Or maybe it’s because I had very little reason to wallow in him that he found me easy prey. He’s not very rational after all, not at all helpful or productive. He loves to ponder lugubriously, loves to sap the meaning out of your days, make you question what exactly it is that you’re doing.

The key, I’ve found, is to make a truce with him: to let him challenge you, prompt you to question, lead you into the kind of doubt that ignites a fierce desire to find out rather than a cold sense of defeat.

Also music. That’s the other key. For all my fellow thought-wanderers:

1) Seasons (Waiting on You) – Future Islands

2) Always Gold – Radical Face

3) Shake Me Down – Cage the Elephant

4) Adieu – Enter Shikari

5) Motorcycle Drive-by – Third Eye Blind

6) Slow It Down – Lumineers

7) Hate Me – Blue October (If that’s too intense, Into the Ocean also works)

8) Moth’s Wings – Passion Pit

9) Hand Me Down – Matchbox Twenty

10) Lost In the Flood – Bruce Springsteen

11) Ode to Sleep – Twenty One Pilots

12) Sail – AWOLNATION

13) Pursuit of Happiness – Kid Cudi

14) Slow Motion (Third Eye Blind)

15) Chapel Song – Augustines

16) Towers – Bon Iver

17) Wait – M83

Then, this is an absolute MUST: End on “Good Morning” by Chamillionaire and I tell you – you will have discovered the ultimate panacea for angst. 🙂

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Summer Wedding Roundup: In Defense of Men

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Our wedding photography: Openview Weddings; videography: Drew DeFosset

This summer, Jamie and I attended five weddings (including our own). All of them featured brides and grooms under the age of 25; all except one bride had just barely tossed their undergraduate cap in the air before donning a suit or white dress. Each of these weddings brimmed with smiling family and friends who had given their wholehearted love and support in addition to their time and their killer dance moves (some fueled by perhaps a few glasses of wine).

If you read my post on young marriage, then you are already aware of my thoughts on marriage, and specifically on marrying young. But what I want to delve more deeply into is one particular half of the marriage: the man.

In college, I was constantly aware of the way women attempted to portray themselves to the opposite sex. It was apparent in the Valley Girl cadence of their voices, their chosen topics of conversation, their style. If you think we’ve evolved past the era of girls playing dumb in order to appear more attractive, I’m sad to report that’s not the case. Because of my own self-esteem issues in the past (ones against which I’m still on guard, ready to whack into the dark recesses of my mind when they come slinking back again), I don’t necessarily blame anyone for the act. Something about playing that part makes them think they’ll be recognized, validated, commended for their oh-so-carefully constructed guileless feminine charm. But I also think it speaks to a bigger self-worth problem among women and a grave underestimation of men.

No matter how many male buffoons culture parades around in sitcoms and movies, no matter how many scathing commentaries on rampant misogyny, no matter how many tales of male dominance and abuse of power, the fact remains that there are many good men out there. And trust me – you can ask my college roommates of four years if you don’t believe me – I am a feminist to my core. But because I am, it pains me to watch women squander their true selves in pursuit of some fleeting sense of self-worth based on the affirmation of the kind of man they shouldn’t trust to store and cherish that self-worth. More than likely they’ll misplace it or carelessly let it crash and shatter.

There are so many good men out there. There are five of them pictured above. But good men don’t (necessarily) seek out women who haven’t learned to love and value themselves first. I believe in these simple things: that it’s hard to love people well in the absense of God, and that it’s also hard to love people well in the absense of a sense of your own value.

This is what I found beautiful about every wedding we attended this summer: the sight of the groom, either shamelessly misty or beaming at the sight of the one person in the world he loves most of all – and his look mirrored in his bride’s. There was no self-consciousness between them, no anxiety or worry or self-absorption: only the other person. I am no stranger to anxiety, worry, or self-absorption, which is why I know all three are the silent, unctuous killers of a relationship if you let them in the door.

I’ve learned to make peace with myself. It took me a long time, and it was a harrowing road, one on which numerous people in my life labored on in love. But in making peace with myself, I found I was able to love much better the person who meant the most to me, and I still can’t believe my fortune, that he chooses to stand by my side.

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