Survivor’s Guilt

Friend A – we’ll call her Ashley – has had two healthy pregnancies that resulted in healthy babies. She has never had a miscarriage or any difficulty conceiving. She told me that during her first pregnancy, two of her coworkers had miscarriages, and she tried to hide herself from them so that they wouldn’t have to see her and be reminded that she was still fine while they had lost babies.

Friend B – we’ll call her Bonnie – had a miscarriage the week before I did and told me that a pregnant coworker was being really weird and avoiding her, and it hurt her feelings.

Friend C – we’ll call her Candace – has also had two healthy pregnancies and no miscarriages or difficulty conceiving. She emailed me the other day to express her sympathy, but we also had a really good discussion about the guilt she feels about so many things regarding her kids. When so many of her friends have lost babies, she feels guilty for getting pregnant easily and never miscarrying, for having her tubes tied when she and her husband felt that their family was complete, for experiencing joy when so many others are experiencing pain, for feeling frustrated with her kids when she knows how incredibly lucky she is to have them, for posting Facebook statuses about her kids, and for being unable to relate to her friends who have experienced the heartache of miscarriage or infertility.

When Bonnie told me about her miscarriage, I was still pregnant, and I said to Will that I felt a little guilty that we had conceived so easily (without meaning to, really) while she and her husband had been trying for several months, and that things had been going so well for us while they had had a terrible loss. And then the next day, my water broke, we lost our baby, and I felt guilty for that too.

Here’s the thing: You can feel guilty for so many things, whether everything is going well or you wonder if you did something to cause a tragedy, but the truth is that there’s no need for guilt. If you had babies without ever having to deal with miscarriage or infertility, you didn’t do anything wrong by having healthy kids, and you aren’t doing anything wrong if you share your joy with others in person or on social media. I didn’t do anything wrong in my pregnancy, and I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong by sharing my pain. People are meant to live in community and share their lives, both good and bad. My hope in sharing now is not that people would feel guilty for never having gone through a miscarriage, but that people who have suffered in silence would feel less alone and more a part of a community.

But now that this has come up, I feel like we need to talk about it. Communication between women breaks down completely around the topics of miscarriage and infertility, and I think there are a few things going on:

  1. Women who have had miscarriages or difficulty conceiving feel ashamed or embarrassed, or they simply don’t want to bring everybody down by shedding light on their misfortunes, so they don’t talk about it (like the dozens of women who have told me privately about their miscarriages over the past couple of weeks).
  2. Women who have only had healthy pregnancies are trying to be sensitive toward their friends who have had difficulties (like my friend Ashley and possibly Bonnie’s coworker), and they feel guilty for their good fortune (like Candace).
  3. We stop talking because we don’t know what to say, or we think saying anything at all will cause pain.

So let me just address all of that now. There is nothing for any of us to feel ashamed of or guilty about. Can we please just love and take care of each other instead of worrying about how we’ll be perceived?

Friend, if you’ve lost a baby, I promise you that people who love you are not blaming you for it. People who are idiots will say stupid things because that’s what idiots do (and even good people are idiots sometimes), but people who love you will only want to hug you and be there for you. They may not know what to say, and everyone will feel awkward standing in your living room while you can’t stop crying, but it’s ok. It’s really ok. Your tears are appropriate and good and beautiful. And I know you feel guilty (and ashamed, embarrassed, confused, angry, hopeless, sad, and lost). I know. Feel it, but don’t become it. You are not at fault, you are not less than, and you are not hopeless or lost forever. You just feel that way now. And you are entitled to your feelings.

Friend, if you’ve never lost a baby, I am so happy for you. Seriously. In the midst of all of this horribleness, I am nothing but thankful that you have never had to go through the same horribleness. Seeing babies makes me sad sometimes, but some friends’ babies are so darn cute, they actually cheer me up. I can’t help it. And seeing pregnant friends is hard for me right now, but their friendship is so important to me. It would make things even harder if they avoided me without any explanation. If you are pregnant and have a friend who is dealing with a miscarriage, it’s ok to ask what you should do. And if your friend isn’t up to seeing you just yet, don’t take it personally. Just give her time.

We need to keep talking. A few days after we lost Ella, we had a doctor’s appointment, and the doctor said that no matter what people said to us, it would probably hurt for a while. Even if people said very nice, comforting, loving things, they would sting. He said it’s like an open wound, and no matter what you do to it – even if you’re doing healthy things like cleaning and bandaging it – it just hurts. And he was right, but that doesn’t mean we should stop talking just because it hurts. That’s like saying you shouldn’t touch a wound – even to clean it – because it stings. Yes, it stings, but it’s necessary for healing.

The Honest Guide to Pregnancy – First Trimester

In case you haven’t heard, I’m pregnant! I know, I know. It’s weird for me too, and most of the time, it still doesn’t seem real. I don’t have that great a bump going on yet, and I can’t feel the baby or anything, so it’s kind of just like I’m bloated all the time and can’t get enough pickles…which, now that I think of it, might have something to do with the bloating.

Aaaaanyhoe…some of the early signs of pregnancy are well-known – morning sickness, food cravings, tiredness. If you had asked me 4 months ago what pregnant women experience in the first trimester, I might have given you those three. Maybe. But I am here today to tell you what it’s really like, or at least what it has been like for me with this baby. I know from being on an expecting moms message board that no two pregnancy experiences are alike, so I won’t presume to say that my experience is universal. But here is what I have learned about pregnancy so far.

Morning Sickness Is a Lie

If by “morning sickness,” you mean nausea throughout the entire morning with possible vomiting between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m., then a more sinister nausea with almost inevitable vomiting between 5:30 and 7:00 p.m., and a slight queasiness anytime it’s been more than an hour since your last snack, then yes, that is accurate. But the term “morning sickness” implies that this is an early-in-the-day phenomena that will pass after a certain hour in the day. Lies. So many lies.

The worst part about morning sickness (once you get over the deception of its name) is that it’s every freaking day for WEEKS. Nausea is the worst. Throwing up feels terrible. But usually when you have a stomach bug or food poisoning or something, it’s awful, but it only lasts for a few days. When you feel terrible every day for a month or more, it really wears you down, and you feel like you’re never going to feel good again. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, though. Even though you can’t imagine ever reconciling your relationship with your stomach, there is hope. The vomiting incidents start happening less frequently, and one day, you walk out the door to go to work and realize that you aren’t worried about puking in the bushes on your way to the car. It’s a good feeling.

You Don’t Know What Boobs Are Until You’ve Had Pregnancy Boobs

**TMI Alert**

I don’t think I’ve worn anything smaller than a C-cup since I was about 13, and honestly, I have no idea what size I am now. I found these amazingly comfortable bras a few years ago that just come in sizes small-extra large, and I’ve been wearing them ever since, but when you get pregnant, your boobs decide to get really ambitious. It starts out as a horrible sort of discomfort – we’ll call it “pain” – that makes sleeping on your stomach impossible. Also jumping, running, descending stairs quickly, not wearing a bra, and anything other than very gentle bathing are out. Then you notice that each boob weighs about a pound more than it did last week. When we went to our 2nd doctor’s appointment and I hadn’t gained any weight from the first one, we were surprised because we thought surely my boobs would have tipped the scale, but I guess all the vomiting evened things out.

Why the boobs need to get bigger now, I do not know. It would make sense around month 8, when the baby will be coming soon, and the milk is preparing to come in. But at week 8? I’m at a loss. On the bright side, my husband has no complaints.

Tiredness Is Nothing

Tiredness is what you feel after a day at the state fair, after a long day’s work at the office, after staying up too late and getting up too early. Everybody experiences tiredness at some point. Exhaustion is what you feel when your body is making another human being. I imagine people who work outdoor heavy construction jobs for 10 hours a day in NC in August feel the same thing. For the first couple of months of pregnancy, I slept for 11-13 hours a day, and I have never been more thankful for my part-time job. After sleeping for 9-10 hours at night, it was still all I could do to get through a 4-hour class and eat lunch before napping for another 2-3 hours. I don’t know how women with full-time and/or physically demanding jobs do it. Or moms with other young kids at home. They must have some kind of super power.

I Pee 500,000 Times a Day

I knew that pregnant women peed a lot, but I always thought it was only toward the end of the pregnancy when the baby is huge and stepping on your bladder. Nope. It starts immediately and with enthusiasm (if urine can be enthusiastic). First it has something to do with the fact that your body is making extra fluid in general. By week 6 or something crazy early, you have like 50% more blood in your body. I figured out how much that would weigh and factored it into my first trimester weight gain, but since I didn’t gain any weight, I guess we’re back to the “morning” sickness offsetting things.

I Can Smell Everything x 10

This, they really should warn you about, so I’m here to do it now. I had to switch to an unscented body wash because my regular one made me gag. My sweet husband couldn’t put his face too close to my face because despite his excellent oral hygiene, I couldn’t stand his breath. He could have just brushed his teeth and used Listerine, but my super-sniffer would only detect the half-digested food coming directly up through his stomach and esophagus from his intestines. Speaking of food, the smells of most of them made me sick, so we have gone through cereal at an alarming rate over the past few months. I don’t know how I made it through the worst of it without having to change deodorants, but maybe my brain instinctively knew that my own natural odor would have made me sicker than my fruity Dove deodorant. Thanks, brain, for sparing me from the torture of my own B.O.

Oh! And I smell a phantom smell that follows me sometimes. Mostly, I smell it at home, but I have on occasion smelled it in the car and at work. It’s a terrible, sour milk smell that Will can’t smell at all ever. Fun times.

Food Cravings/Aversions Are Serious

It’s not that you just really want Bojangle’s fries with honey mustard dipping sauce from Chick-Fil-A and a Wendy’s Frosty. It’s that that is the only thing you can even conceive of eating without hurling. And it’s not that the smell of chicken-flavored ramen makes you a little queasy. It’s that should your husband have cooked it in the last 24 hours, you have to open all the doors, turn on the fans, and leave the house for two hours so that you don’t hurl. He has been amazingly supportive and refrained from cooking things we’ve discovered cause a vomiting incident, bless his precious heart.

You Have Pain in Body Parts You Didn’t Know Existed

Ladies, did you know you have something called the round ligament of the uterus? I did not, but I am well acquainted with it now. As your uterus grows, the ligament stretches, and you feel it. Hoooboy do you feel it. You feel it when you’re walking, when you’re sitting, when you roll over in bed (that’s the worst), and when you sit up or stand up. And when you first start to feel it, it freaks you out because any pain in the pelvic region is cause for great alarm, but I’m told it’s quite normal, so whenever I feel something new, I always check first to see if what I’m feeling is connected to the round ligament. It very often is, and the other times, it’s usually gas.

Not Telling People Is HARD

We found out I was pregnant on a Saturday. That night, we went out to dinner and a movie with some friends. The next day, we went to church and lunch with Will’s mom and sister. The next day, I went to work. We told his mom and sister because we HAD to tell somebody, but when I wasn’t telling people, I had one thought running through my head just behind every other thought and conversation: “I’m pregnant. Holy crap, I’m pregnant. There is the tiniest of tiny human beings growing inside my body. Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh I’m totally pregnant.” We told family pretty quickly, and close friends followed, but we didn’t tell everyone or make a Facebook announcement right away, and I’m glad. I feel like the news has spread at a pace I’m comfortable with even though not telling people was really, really hard.

Perhaps harder than not telling people is figuring out how to tell them. We just blurted it out for most people. Maybe we should have planned something more elaborate, but did I mention the exhaustion? If I had been awake for more than 4 hours when I told you, blurting it out was probably all I could muster. Whitney got the best announcement we did. She sang us the most amazing toast at our wedding – yes, sang…live – so we thought she deserved something similar. Will had given me a ukulele for Mother’s Day, and I learned how to play Jim Croce’s “I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song,” and I changed the lyrics to give her the news. Maybe not my best performance, but it was received very well.

The Internet Is Very Helpful…Sometimes

I’ve read what the whole internet has to say on every tiny little thing I’ve experienced so far, and it can be very helpful, but it can also be completely terrifying. Say you Google “first trimester bleeding.” You’re going to get a bunch of people who say it’s completely normal, and unless you’re also having terrible cramps, you’re probably fine. Then you’re going to get a bunch of people correcting those people, and saying that it’s not normal, but it is quite common, and while you’re probably fine, you should talk to your doctor anyway. Those people are my favorites. But then you’re going to get a bunch of horror stories about miscarriages, at which point you have to just stop with the internet because the more you read, the more stressed out you’re going to get, and that’s not good for anybody.

My Husband Is Amazing

As I mentioned before, I’m on an expecting moms message board, and bless their hearts, some of these women have terrible husbands/boyfriends/fiances. Just terrible. One woman said that the smell of beer makes her sick, but her husband still brings a beer to bed with him and then wants to kiss her with his beer breath. Other women say their husbands won’t help them around the house, but actually complain that the wives aren’t keeping things as tidy as they should. And in one unbelievably sad story, a woman told us that her husband had punched her in the stomach. I mean…really, really terrible.

When I read stories like these from other women, I can’t help but be extra thankful for my husband, who has been a complete champ so far. He does the dishes because the food on them makes me sick. He brings me a bowl of cereal in bed because it helps my stomach if I can eat before I have to get up. He goes to the grocery store because I don’t have the energy to walk that much. He doesn’t cook foods that make me queasy. He doesn’t get upset when I can’t talk to him face-to-face because of his breath. He doesn’t get scared when I start crying for no reason whatsoever. He doesn’t complain that there are three times as many pillows in the bed as humans. He tells me every day that I’m beautiful, and that he loves me like crazy. He doesn’t mind that I went two whole months without folding any laundry. He rolls with the food cravings. If I couldn’t get enough Life cereal last week, but this week it must be Cinnamon Toast Crunch or nothing, that’s ok. And he doesn’t judge me if I eat 10 pickle slices in one afternoon (purely hypothetical situation, of course).

So if I’ve made pregnancy sound terrible so far, then I’ve done a pretty accurate job describing it, but that doesn’t mean it’s all bad. I’ve also gotten to see just how lucky I am to have a husband who is so incredibly perfect for me and who loves me so much, to have a body that is capable of supporting the growth and development of a whole other body inside it, and to have friends and family who have bent over backwards to love and support us. Seriously, it’s been wonderful.

And now that I’m in the 2nd trimester, I’m getting over the exhaustion and the morning sickness, so I’m able to enjoy it all the more!

Dana’s Truth

Dana is a friend from church. Sort of. We went to the same church for a while, and we knew of each other, but we weren’t really friends until this past year when she joined the mentoring group you’ve heard tell about. She also went to high school with my husband, which is weird sometimes when I hear stories from back in the day. Dana and her sister own a wedding planning business together, and they’ve been building a wedding venue over the past year, which has proven to be…challenging. She is a brave woman, to say the least. Here she is to tell her truth.

I was asked to contribute to this series and I immediately said Yes, Of course! Why not? Well, not even a minute goes by after I hit send and I immediately had that sinking feeling. You know that feeling when you realize that you have to dig deep inside to admit something? Whether I was 12 admitting that no, I did not put on deodorant this morning, or when I was 17 and said “I love you too.” I always, my entire life, struggled with the truth.

From the time I could remember, I found myself winding these stories to either explain away a behavior, or to make myself look better, more compassionate, more loving, and more desirable. I struggled from the depths of my soul with disappointing people. I never understood those people that just said “to hell with them! I can do whatever I want!” That idea scares the literal crap out of me.

So, to admit my truth, to dig down deep to what I know is true and clear, was hard. I spent weeks journaling, thinking, and playing around with “my truth.” I would come up with a good one, and then shoot a hole straight through it. I always came back to this one, undeniable truth – My husband loves me. Okay, you can all start gagging now – but I really started to meditate on this simple fact. I started to think about the time when I was 17 and I admitted that yes, I do love this kid. The facts were spilling out of me and I just had to sit to write it all down and contain this waterfall of emotion and truth in my life.

Sam and I met in high school. We dated through college and got married 6 weeks after we graduated. The first few years were bliss. We had normal squabbles, but truly some of the happiest times of my life were the first few years we were married. Even then, I still struggled with who I was. I felt somewhat secure in who I was in my husband, but who was I in God, in my family, in my job, in my skin, in my friends? I found myself slipping back to the unrealistic vision of who I should be. I wanted to create a more exciting life, a more spiritual one; I started working out a lot and strived to be the skinniest I ever was. I felt like I had to put on a mask with everyone. This only got worse when I had my daughter.

We decided I would finish out my year and then quit. I was so excited. I had these grand ideas about my days home with this sweet baby. It was hard. I lost a part of me. I lost the part of me that studied for years to be a teacher, who dedicated their time and energy to sports and after school activities. I saw fewer people, talked less like an adult, and just felt out of sorts. I couldn’t shake it. I made up a schedule to keep the house clean, to cook perfect meals, and to look like a person (i.e. showering, brushing my teeth – you know – being human), and I would fail.

I would fake it so well on the outside, I smiled in my MOPS group, I posted pictures of my kid who was screaming two second before with the caption “isn’t she perfect?” I would gush about staying at home and no one was the wiser. My husband would get home; I would look at him and hear, “What are we having for dinner? What did you do today?” I was hearing the lies I was telling myself. I convinced myself that he just loved the idea of who I was. The real me, the mess, the disaster, and the lost me, he did not love and he desperately wanted the idea of me back. I spent years believing this. I tried to impress him, make him see my worth, my value to this family. I never let him in on my true feelings. I kept walking through life that I was happy. To admit that I was not over the moon about being a stay at home mom, made me feel like a failure and a disappointment. I wanted to so desperately prove to him that I was the perfect mom and wife.

It took this last year to really see the man I married. We have had a tough year, lots of downs, lots of stress, and lots of honest to God depression on my end. When I listened, when I looked, I saw this man standing before me as I am blubbering away that I am so sorry I dragged us into this. And he would respond, “its okay, I love you.” I would throw my hands up saying I just can’t do this, I can’t be around this 2 year old for another minute, nothing I do is right, nothing works! He responds, “its okay, I love you.” I would sit in the bed and cry that I was terrible mom who can’t even find time to make Valentines with her daughter, that this path we are on has cost us so much and I just don’t even see the value. Instead of agreeing or getting upset that I did indeed bring us down this road he responds, “I love you Dana, always will.”

It was then that I realized I could be a mess, I could be a straight up disaster with a month long of unshaved legs and he would look at me with the most genuine smile and tell me I am beautiful, that I am loved, that I am valued. I think back to when I stopped feeling the need to lie. To start being honest – I feel crappy. I feel angry. I feel so tired, so lonely, and so.. and it was with him. I could dig down to the ugly parts of me and serve it on a platter and he would take it and say, “but, I love you – YOU Dana.”

There is something freeing about finally believing a truth you have so desperately been praying and seeking for. It is a sense of peace, of knowing how perfect the world actually is. When I curl into his arm at night and we fit perfectly like two jigsaw puzzle pieces, I know that this was God’s perfect and ultimate plan for me. He gave me a man that is able to give me something no one in my life could ever give me. The comfort to speak truth and believe I am not ugly for it. I am not considered a waste, a disappointment, or even tossable, but I am loved. His simple words, simple actions brought me to my knees with God. If my husband can love me this much, how much does Jesus love me? How much does he desire to see my ugliness, take it and tell me I am loved? The thought is unfathomable. I will never really know. But what I do know without a shadow of doubt, as sure as I am that God laid down his life for me, my husband loves me. And that my friends, is my truth.

For more from Dana, here is her business blog. Check it out, and if you are getting married, HIRE HER IMMEDIATELY. If I could go back and change one thing about my wedding, that’s what it would be. She and her sister ran my wedding day, and it was the best thing ever. I just wish I had hired her to plan the whole thing.

Elaine’s Truth

I have only met my friend Elaine a handful of times in person. We both happened to be available on a weekday once, so we took a road trip together to WILKESBORO!!!!! to see Zach Galifianakis lead story time at the Wilkes County Public Library. It was awesome. We were also briefly involved in a writing group together where I admired her honesty and courage with words. Other than that, we’ve just stalked followed each other on blogs and social media for the last several years. Here she is to tell us her truth.

When I was invited to write a “That’s my Truth” blog post, at first I thought I might write something about motherhood. But life intruded with a more pressing issue: The question of the Law, and how much of it we as Christians are expected to keep.

Here’s the thing. I’m not going to make a theological argument. Paul did that very eloquently 2000 years ago, and wise and intelligent people have been dissecting his argument ever since. When I was in high school, reading the New Testament, I couldn’t reconcile Paul’s arguments with what my church was teaching me. Free from the law? How could that be? Everyone knew that you had to be a good person – no illegal activities, no sex, no smoking, no lying, etc. So what on earth did Paul mean by being free from the Law? It didn’t make sense because Paul was teaching something very different from what my parents and church were teaching.

I chose to avoid my confusion by doing the “safe” thing and obeying the Law, at least the parts of the Law that I had been taught applied to me. That meant I could eat bacon, but I couldn’t have premarital sex. I could drink alcohol, but I couldn’t get drunk. I could go out in public while menstruating and not worry about making a bunch of people unclean by sitting in public seats, but I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to be in authority over men.

But after college, as I meditated again on Paul’s words, I came to a startling conclusion: He really meant them. We are free from the Law. And not just the parts of the Law that Jesus addressed (like food), or the parts of the Law explicitly mentioned by Paul (like circumcision). The whole shebang.

The very first church council ever recorded was about this very issue – how much of the Torah were non Jews required to follow? (An aside: At the time, this meant the first five books of the Bible, along with all the rabbinical laws, known as the Mishnah. It didn’t just mean the 10 Commandments, or the literal Hebrew text in isolation.) In Acts 15, we see a group of new Christians struggling with this issue. And after much thought and prayer, they decided to pick 3 laws for the non Jews to follow. Three. Out of over 600 written Hebrew laws and countless additions and interpretations. And they weren’t chosen from the 10 Commandments either. Just avoid food sacrificed to idols, don’t get involved in sexual sin, and don’t eat meat that was strangled and still has blood in it.

Here’s my truth. When Paul said we are not under the Law, he meant all of it. We live under grace. The Law is valuable because it gives us insight into God’s will and God’s preferences. But it is no longer binding on Christians. We can choose to disobey any Law we wish, because we are not under it. We are not slaves; we are free heirs with Christ. We have already been purified and are holy in God’s eyes.

When we pick and choose which laws to follow and which ones to disregard, we are committing idolatry. Instead of putting our faith in the Holy Spirit and developing a sensitivity to His voice, we put our faith in a system of rules interpreted for us by other fallible humans. We seek knowledge rather than wisdom. Wisdom is life by the Spirit. It requires us to meditate on God’s word (yes, even on the Torah), and to spend time in prayer, and to learn how to hear God’s voice.

Many Christians are threatened by this and I have been condemned for it. But thank God, I live under grace. So even if I’m wrong, I am forgiven, I am free from condemnation, and I will stand justified in God’s eyes, no matter what. THAT is the good news of Jesus. That we are truly free from the entire Law. We live under grace.

To read more from Elaine, check out her blog or her other blog. Thanks, Elaine!

That’s My Truth

A few weeks ago, I was texting with my buddy Dallas, and I forget the exact content of the conversation, but she started out a text with, “Here’s what’s true…” And I loved that she said that and not, “Here’s what I think,” because we need to hear truth. We need something solid to stand on. We need friends who will break the banter of a conversation to tell you that something necessary is coming at you, and you should be prepared. Dallas is great for that sort of thing, which I hope you’ll get to see for yourselves, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Here’s my truth: We are all in a life-long process of learning, and we all understand and explain things to ourselves differently. Some lessons, I pick right up, some lessons take me FOREVER to learn, and some I feel like I’ve had to learn fifty-eleventy-million times. Sometimes it helps me to retreat and process on my own, and sometimes I need to hear somebody say, “Look BP, here’s what’s true.” I love hearing other people’s lessons and stories because truth is truth, and we all need to hear it. I want more of it in my life, and in the process, I’d like to share it with y’all.

So what’s happening is Onward Hoe! is inviting guest bloggers to share their truth. I have no idea what they will say, but I’m excited to find out.

Oh, and if you’re wondering where the title came from, there’s a scene in the movie Waitress (that I wish I could find a video clip of, but I can’t) where the main character, Jenna, asks her boss, Cal, if he’s a happy man. And his reply is:

“Well if you’re asking me a serious question, I’ll tell you: I’m happy enough. I don’t expect much, I don’t give much, I don’t get much. I generally enjoy whatever comes up. That’s my truth, summed up for your feminine judgment. I’m happy enough.”

What’s your truth? What are you figuring out about life these days? What do you know that you know that you know for 100% sure? What matters? Feel free to sum up for my feminine judgment.

Nothing But the Truth

Maybe it’s because we didn’t put an engagement or wedding announcement in the paper, but I feel like I haven’t gotten my invitation to the Secret Married Ladies Club yet. You know, the one where they tell you to lie to all your single friends about how great singleness is and how hard marriage is. Or maybe I just haven’t been married long enough yet to understand.

Well, when the difficult time comes, single friends, I will tell you how hard it is, but both then and now, I will not lie to you. And right now, the truth is this: Marriage is awesome.

I don’t say that to make you feel bad about being single. Singleness is awesome too. Some of you have heard me say recently that if I’d known how amazing being married would be, I would have been a lot more upset about being single. This is not entirely true. “Upset” is the wrong word. I would have looked forward to marriage a lot more, but I wouldn’t have been upset. I really loved being single. When I was single, I didn’t have to juggle two families at the holidays, I could always retreat to my bedroom for alone time, I could sleep until 11:00 on my days off if I wanted, and I could stay up until 2:00 a.m. on the nights before my days off. I never had to ask for anyone else’s opinion or input, and the only mess I had to clean up was my own. I only did my own laundry, my own dishes, and my own shopping. When I was bored, I decided what I wanted to do. I didn’t have to consider what anyone else wanted to do or didn’t want to do. I could spend my money on the things I wanted to buy without having to think about how it would affect “our” budget. I was completely independent, and I loved it.

I loved it. Like, really loved it. I loved spending all my money on trips to Europe and spending lazy weeks off watching multiple TV series in their entirety on Netflix. I loved quiet nights in my apartment reading a good book. I loved having long phone conversations with friends I hadn’t talked to in a while. And I loved being able to choose when to hang out with people and when to be alone.

I loved it, but I don’t miss it.

I don’t miss it because I also love waking up to snuggle with my husband even though I don’t have to get up and go to work. And I love talking and laughing about the day with him before we fall asleep. I love spending all my money on a functional new washer and dryer. I love hanging out with my in-laws. I love bouncing ideas off of each other. I love learning how to work together, how to cooperate (literally, operate with someone else) to create order and sanity in a home of two people prone to clutter. I love learning to function as one while also learning to love each other more deeply for who we are individually. I love growing together while encouraging each other to chase individual dreams.

I know there will be hard times. I know that. And I think this really good time is a sort of training ground, where we are learning to work together in easy times and get lots of practice. That way, when hard times come, we will know how to stand hand-in-hand and face it together.

I wish this were a lesson we learned more in singleness too. Singleness doesn’t mean that you are alone. In fact, most single people I know spend almost as much time with friends as I do with Will. And many of those friendships have the potential to weather the worst of times. You just don’t feel the same kind of commitment to your friends, but why not? Why don’t we commit to our friends anywhere near as fiercely as we do our spouses? I know it won’t be exactly the same, but as it is, it’s not even close.

As single people, we long for the community and connection that we see in marriages, but why has it not occurred to us that we can have deep connection and community without being married? I don’t have any answers or lessons learned on this, so I’m tossing it out to y’all. What do you think?

  • Have you experienced this kind of depth in friendships?
  • Do you think it’s possible for people who aren’t married to be as committed to each other as married couples are?
  • Do you think that’s a realistic and/or healthy kind of friendship?
  • How can we cultivate non-marriage relationships wherein both parties feel loved, supported, protected and connected on a level not entirely like but somewhat comparable to the feelings associated with marriage?

The Deva Cut

Several weeks ago, I wanted to get my hair cut. Curly hair, though, is tricky because when you wash it and then cut it wet, you have no way of predicting what it will do after it dries and curls back up. To get around this problem and save some money, I used to cut it myself back in college. It was extremely short at the time, so basically what I would do was pull a curl from the back around to the front, and if it was long enough to see it, I cut it shorter. I had a hair stylist friend at the time who shouted at me about it, so eventually, I went to a salon. The stylist looked at it dry, and I told her I’d been doing it myself. Her response was, “Well it doesn’t look bad.” I know, right?

Then she washed it, combed it out, saw how uneven it was, and said, “Oh…”

But here’s the thing: If you wear your curly hair curly, nobody ever sees it wet and combed out. If it looks good curly, that’s all that matters. Why do we feel the need to cut all hair types the same way?

Enter the Deva Technique.

I’ve heard it pronounced “deeeva” and “deh-va,” and I don’t know which one is right, and I don’t care. What matters is that it makes sense for curly hair. Here’s how it works (just imagine the tree is my head):

See how he’s just cutting branches all willy-nilly? Yeah, that’s how the Deva cut works. Of course, like any artist, the stylist has a vision in mind for what the hair will look like in the end. The rest is just removing the unnecessary hair to fit the vision. So you go in with your hair styled as usual so they can see how it curls and how each curl lies. Then they get straight to it, cutting it dry so they can see the style take shape as they go. When they’re done with that, they give you the fancy head-massaging wash treatment. After that, I sat under a dryer for a while, and when my hair was mostly dry, she did some touch-ups.

There’s a dude in Raleigh who does this for like a million dollars a pop. It’s not really that much, but I would be just as likely to pay a million dollars as I would be to pay what he charges, so he was immediately out. I found another salon (a cool one in Durham…because that’s where cool things are) that charged less than half of what the fancy guy was asking, so I made an appointment.

I enjoyed the experience and appreciated having my hair taken care of in a way that seemed more fitting than the way it’s normally done (the way straight hair is done). But on the way home, I thought, I just paid her to do to my hair exactly what I used to do to it myself in college. I could be doing this for free. And y’all know how cheap I can be.

Well then, as if to encourage me further, my hair dried the rest of the way and curled up in a real funky manner on the sides of my face. I didn’t like the length it was right there once it was completely dry, so when I got home, I took my own scissors to it and was much happier. See, I said to myself, you can totally do this.

So my verdict on the Deva cut is that it’s good. Curly hair and straight hair are different, and they should be approached differently. But I don’t know if I will pay for it again. I mean, I would have to screw it up ROYALLY before I’d pay someone to do what I can do for free. And now, I have a curly-haired friend who understands and can help me to the back! Bonus!

Conclusion: Expect some exciting hair experiments in 2014, y’all. This is going to be fun.

The Very Worst Mary Kay Lady

Background #1

Some of you may be familiar with Jamie the Very Worst Missionary. If not, the short story is she and her husband were missionaries in Costa Rica (they’re now in California), and she’s awesome. She is only about 3% what you’d expect a Christian missionary to be, and that 3% is just that she’s a Christian. The tagline on her blog says, “inappropriate remarks, embarrassing antics, and generally lame observations from a Christian missionary,” and her latest post is a picture of her cat in a neglige. Not what you’d typically expect from a missionary.

Background #2

Some of you may know that right out of college, I was a Mary Kay consultant. If not, the short story is that I was a Mary Kay consultant. Also, if you look at pictures of me from that time, my skin looked AWESOME.

I never considered myself to be a very good Mary Kay lady, partly because my mom was my only real customer, partly because I felt duped into spending a whole bunch of money on a whole bunch of products that I never sold, and partly because I just didn’t feel comfortable with myself in the role. I had to wear a suit and pumps and pantyhose, and I had to chat people up – complete strangers – and give them eye shadow samples. It just wasn’t me at all.

I don’t blame anyone for any of this. The friend who got me to sign up wasn’t manipulative or pushy at all. She was a very sweet friend who simply believed in the product and the business opportunity, and she wanted to offer me that opportunity. I still appreciate her for that.

I was never successful as a Mary Kay lady, though, and when I moved to New York for grad school, I sold all of my product back to the company and got out of the business.

Background #3

I consider my time in New York to be the time when I really started discovering myself and becoming who I wanted to be, who I truly am. Back when I had an eHarmony account, one of the profile questions asked me to tell about a person who had influenced me the most (besides my parents). I said that rather than a person, I would have to say the whole of New York City had influenced me the most because it’s a safe place to experiment with who you are and make decisions about who you are becoming. If you want to wear a Spiderman costume every day, NOBODY CARES. The tourists will look at you in wonder, and the locals will look at you with amusement if they notice you at all, but no one will judge your fashion choice. New York was where I started slashing up my t-shirts and wearing hats. It was where I started cuffing my jeans. It was where I started experimenting with more unusual/daring hairstyles. It was where I got my nose pierced. These were all pretty tame experiments as fashion/lifestyle experiments go, but for a girl from Wilkesboro, NC, they felt risky.

I am eternally grateful for my time in NYC because it helped me to discover who I am, and to be comfortable with myself. If I could go back and do it again, I would, and I would push myself even further out of my comfort zone because I loved who I became there (in spite of my sour subway face).

Foreground?

I say all of that to lead up to this. Back in May, a friend who was also engaged won a free Mary Kay mini-facial and was allowed to bring friends. She invited me, and I went. It was the first time I’d used Mary Kay in about ten years, and I loved it all over again. The product, that is. The sales pitch, the business opportunity, the scripted feeling of it all, I could do without, but the product, I absolutely love.

And since I’m cheap, and as a consultant, you get 50% off, I signed up again to sell.

Well, not really to sell. Just to get the discount.

But I keep feeling like there’s something more to this thing. Like now that I know myself better and am more comfortable in my own skin, and now that I know my limits and am REALLY good at saying “No,” now I might be the Mary Kay lady that people who normally hate Mary Kay ladies like. Now I might be able to set my discomfort and ego and the pressure of “should” aside and let people make their own decisions about a product without it affecting my own personal approval rating. And now, I might be able to have some fun with it.

Beth, the Very Worst Mary Kay Lady

Here’s what I propose and promise. If you’ve ever been curious about Mary Kay, or if you think it’s grandma makeup that you would never in a million years use, or if you had a traumatic experience in a Target fitting room with a pushy MK lady trying to give you her business card, an eye shadow sample and a Tootsie Roll, or if you just love pretty things and feeling good about yourself, hit me up.

And I promise I will:

  1. NEVER use the word “pamper” (beyond this sentence).
  2. NEVER call you all cheerleader-excited and tell you about a great opportunity I have for you (unless that opportunity involves squirrels on water skis, concert tickets, auditions for So You Think You Can Dance, booze, a scavenger hunt, murder mystery dinner theater, or meeting a famous person).
  3. NEVER push you to purchase anything. If you like it, and you want it, you can buy it. Just like at Target. If you don’t want it, don’t buy it. Simple as that.
  4. ALWAYS answer all your questions about starting/running a MK business honestly. Completely honestly.
  5. NEVER coerce you into giving me your friends’ names and phone numbers and then harass them to host a party.
  6. ALWAYS work with you to have a party if you want to.
  7. ALWAYS wear something I’m comfortable in to your party, which probably means jeans. Shoes optional.
  8. NEVER be upset if nobody comes to your party, or if you host one and nobody buys anything.
  9. NEVER speak to you from a script.
  10. NEVER attempt manipulate you in any way.
  11. ALWAYS work with you to make you look however you want. If you want something classic, done. If you want something punk, I would LOVE to make that happen.
  12. ALWAYS be completely myself.
  13. ALWAYS encourage you to be completely yourself.
  14. ALWAYS respect you and think you are beautiful no matter what.
  15. NEVER put my business or money ahead of authentic connections with people.

These promises may make me the very worst Mary Kay lady, but they may also make me the most content.

This One Goes Out to A.C. (Not Slater)

Dear Quarter-Life Crisis Girl,

You’re 25ish, which means you’ve been out of college just long enough for you to feel like you should have it all figured out, and just not long enough for you to actually have it figured out. Actually, no. That’s not even true. I’m 32, and I’m starting to think no one ever really has it figured out. I think the best we can do is be ok with not having it all figured out and just enjoy it.

Here are some things you should be enjoying right now:

  • Your ass has not yet slid down the backs of your legs.
  • You still get a youth discount at hostels and museums all over Europe. GO TO EUROPE.
  • Your face skin is all taut and bright. Moisturize that mess. (I was a Mary Kay lady fresh out of college – weird, I know – and that was the best lesson I learned, and probably why people still don’t believe I’m over 30. Also I got good genes, but don’t let that minimize the importance of moisturization.)
  • You have a LOT of energy. Run. Play. Frolic. Fly kites. Dance at concerts late into the night on a school night. I can’t think of any more fun things. Just the thought of that last one wore me out.
  • You are fearless. I know you feel a lot of fear right now about the future, about who you are and who you’re becoming, about what you’re supposed to do in life, about what your passions are and how you’re supposed to use them, about what people will think of you if you do something crazy. But the truth is you still feel invincible enough to do the crazy things, and I say do them. Never stop doing them. Take opportunities when they come, and love every minute of it. Run a marathon, go skydiving, backpack Europe by yourself, try to eat a spoonful of cinnamon, do open-mic nights, teach English in Taiwan, participate in a flash mob. If it intrigues you, excites you, makes you feel alive, or scares the bajeebers out of you, do it. And remember the feeling.
  • You have an incredible amount of freedom. This is for those of you who are not married yet. Do you realize how much freedom you have to do…whatever the heck you want? Girl. DO IT. Live in a big city just to say you did. Go to grad school. Take road trips with your friends. Take road trips alone. Send postcards from all the random little towns you stop in for gas or Taco Bell. Drive to the beach just to watch the sunrise. Have sleep-overs. Invite me.
  • Jesus likes you. You can always enjoy this, but I think it’s important to hear when you feel like you’re doing everything in life wrong. God’s not just a cosmic score-keeper marking down all your successes and failures and making you feel guilty about the latter. And he’s not like your mom, who has to like you no matter what. He straight-up, legitimately likes you and thinks you’re awesome and is proud of you.
  • Boys make you feel giddy. Not gonna lie – boys still make me giddy, but married people seem to think this is just a phase I’m still in, so let’s all enjoy the giddiness while we’ve still got it, eh? Crushes are fun (until they’re crushing, but even then, you get to enjoy listening to really horribly sad music, eating mint-chocolate-chip ice cream and watching The Three Amigos with me, sooooo…win-win). I just looked back at my own blog from when I was 25, and I wrote a LOT about boys. And it was fun.
  • There are lots of people to love. And loving them is not always fun, but it’s worth it.
  • You fall in love really easily. Maybe not with people, but with restaurants, music, jobs (that don’t suck), activities, movies, places, ideas, books, catch phrases, oddities, stories, plans, beers, hobbies, you name it. At one point, when I was younger than you and not as wise, I said I didn’t want to throw the L-word around flippantly because I was taking love REALLY seriously and wanted to give it the weight it deserved. Now I think I probably missed out on experiencing some love because I was afraid of calling it that. I was afraid to really enjoy things because I thought I needed to be more serious and grown up.

Don’t do what I did, Quarter-Life Crisis Girl. Love the crap out of life.

I sometimes look back on my time in New York and think about how much fun it was, how I was always having adventures and seeing crazy things, but really, my life wasn’t that much different. I worked, I went to school, I went to the movies, I hung out with friends in my living room. It wasn’t all that exciting. I was just living there with a greater sense of wonder and expectancy. I was open to adventure, so I had adventure. I was captivated by love, so I felt it a lot. I was curious about people, so I was amused more often than I was annoyed.

I think these are things we can cultivate and continue throughout our lives. Maybe I’m a hopeless romantic, maybe I’m naive, maybe I’m a complete lunatic, maybe it will all come crashing down around me. I don’t know, but I’m having fun. Grab a sparkler and join me!

Life After College

This is a bit of a follow-up to last week’s letter to college girls. Today, I’d like to talk specifically to college seniors and recent grads. Let me just warn you up front. It’s going to be pretty grim, but I hope you’ll read all the way to the end because there is a light at the end of the crap tunnel. I’m going to start with the seniors, then talk through my year-after-college experience, then go back to offer some advice to both seniors and fresh graduates. Here we go.

Get pumped, y’all! It’s your SENIOR YEAR!!!! Raise your hand if you’ve got the Senioritis already. Yeah, I remember. I want to walk you through what you’re going to experience over the next two years, and recent grads, back me up.

Excitement

And why not? You’ve been working your butt off for a long time to get here. You’ve been in school since you were five, and now FINALLY! You’ll be finished with it all and can move on to living LIFE. But first, you’ve got some partying to do. Maybe your partying involves loud noises and Solo cups, or maybe it involves sleep-overs and silly, sober shenanigans. Either way, you want this whole college thing to end with a bang. As well it should. Live it up, still-in-college girl. And take lots of pictures while you’re at it.

Worry

At some point your senior year, you’ll start to realize that it’s all ending, and that’s not just exciting. It’s kind of terrifying. “Oh my gosh,” you’ll think, “I’m only 21. Do they seriously let 21-year-olds live on their own and have jobs and pay bills all by themselves?” Some of you will add, “Oh my gosh, I’m getting married. Do they seriously let 22-year-olds be married and live on their own together? To fend for themselves? And buy HOUSES?” Lucky for you, you’re 21 (or 22), and at that age, you still feel invincible enough to keep groping your way forward in the world pretty optimistically. This wears off a bit later on, which I think is a bit of a tragedy because I really want to learn to skateboard, but I’ve never broken a bone (knock on wood), and I don’t want to start now.

So you’ll get flashes of worry, but usually the excitement and just total lack of foresight will wash them away, and you’ll be back to the partying.

Graduation!!

CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!!! YOU MADE IT!!!!!!! I remember two moments from my last week of college very clearly.

  • The first is me walking home from turning in my last college assignment ever. All my exams were over, and I’d just turned in my last paper. And I DANCED down the street and up the hill to my dorm.
  • The second is me standing backstage at my departmental graduation. They handed everyone an index card and told us to write down what we wanted the announcer to say about us as we walked across the stage – people we wanted to thank, future plans, etc. And I was all, “Wait, wait, wait. We’re supposed to have a PLAN?! What the cuss do I know about who I am and what I’m going to do and what they should say about me?” Here’s what I wrote (and I am not even kidding):

“Following a two-month mission trip to Honduras, Beth plans to pursue a career as an educational singer/songwriter.”

BECAUSE I HAD NO PLAN FOR AFTER THE SUMMER. None. Whatsoever. No job, no clue what kind of job I wanted, no clue where I wanted to live or who or what I wanted to be. And in that moment, holding that index card, it was like I was holding the blank page on which I would write the rest of my life, but I had suddenly become illiterate.

Ever-so-Brief Respite from Reality

Maybe you’ll get the summer to rest and sort some things out. Maybe you’ll get to work with deaf kids in Honduras, or maybe you’ll backpack through Europe (I wholeheartedly recommend both). Maybe you’ll move back home and let your mom do your laundry while you figure it out and look for a job. Or maybe you’re one of those on-the-ball people who has a job lined up already before graduation. You won’t get a vacation, but you will get a short honeymoon phase in which “real life” is as awesome as you always imagined it to be. Enjoy this time, however it looks. Enjoy it as much as possible.

Total Crap Time

My whole first year out of college was awful. There were good things – I was living with my sister, which was a lot of fun, I took a stab at what I wanted to do and got into the grad school I wanted, and I developed a few really important friendships – but I remember that year as being just terrible. I cried a lot, I felt very alone and confused, and worst of all, I couldn’t figure out why it was so hard. I’ve had several years to work on it, though, and now I can explain it to you.

My goal in this is not to scare or depress you. I want you to know what’s coming so that you feel less alone and confused than I did, which might keep you from crying as much as I did. I can’t guarantee that, but I also want you to know that when you’re in this time, if you need to cry, you can call me to do it. That way, at least you won’t be alone.

Here’s what’s happening:

  • You don’t know who you are any more. Your whole life, you’ve been a student. I went to preschool, then K-12, then college. I didn’t know anything else, but I knew REALLY well how to be a student, and I was good at it. Then suddenly, I was a barista, and I didn’t know how to be a barista, and I wasn’t sure I was any good at it, and I kind of hated it because they made me wear polo shirts and khakis (double barf). Without realizing it, I had based my entire identity and self-worth on who I was as a student, so when I wasn’t a student anymore, I was lost highly suspicious of my value.
  • You don’t know how to relate to people because your identity is lost. It’s like you’re looking at a big, crazy, people/relationships map, but there’s no X telling you, “You are here.” When you don’t know who YOU are, you don’t know how to be you with anyone else. Every relationship is confusing and hard.
  • You don’t know who God is. You’ve heard all your life (and you believe) that God doesn’t change, and it’s true, but in the Old Testament, people are all the time giving God new names based on how they’ve just experienced him. Hagar calls him “God who sees,” David calls him “God my shepherd,” and Abraham calls him “the Lord will provide.” Through different experiences, people see different aspects of God’s character. So far, you’ve experienced God as a student, and you’ve probably seen many aspects of his character, but now you feel like most of those don’t apply, and you’re left wondering if this God who doesn’t change is still relevant now that you have.
  • Your friends have scattered. Remember when I told you to enjoy college because you get to see your buddies all the time? Here’s why I told you that. Either you are going to move or your people are. You’ll likely know a few folks wherever you are, but it just won’t be the same. People are meant to be with other people, and all the people who know you and love you best will be somewhere else. Total crap time.

Figuring It Out

Friends, it gets better. Just hang in there. Making friends outside of school will be weird for a while because you’re still figuring out who you are, but it is doable because your core identity hasn’t actually changed, and the people you meet will see who you are and like you even while you’re still trying to work it all out. You, like the people in the Old Testament, will experience new aspects of God if you keep looking for him, and you’ll realize that he doesn’t change, but there’s SO much more of him than you ever imagined. And at some point, you’ll get a spark of revelation about what you want to do with your life, and you’ll move forward with courage and ambition because you’re excited about what lies ahead.

*   *   *   *   *

SO.

If you’re just out of college, and you are currently in “Total Crap Time,” seriously, it does get better. Email me if you want to chat. You can come over for dinner and alcohol, and I’ll look you in the eye and tell you it gets better. It really does. But in the meantime, it’s ok for it to be crap. It doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong.

And if you’re a college senior, I have a few ideas for how to make “Total Crap Time” just “Crap Time.” I have a feeling it’s going to be hard either way, but still, these may help:

  • Make a plan for after college as early as possible. I know this is going to be hard for some of you. My college advisor asked me once what my 5-year plan was, and I laughed at her. I’m still not good at long-term planning, and I think that might just be how I’m wired, but the earlier you can make a plan, the better-off you’ll be for the next tip.
  • Start investing now in relationships/organizations/activities you’ll want to be involved with after college. It will make your transition into the real world MUCH easier if you’ve already got a toe (or foot or whole leg) in while the rest of you finishes up school. If you’re going to stay in the city where your college is, get involved in non-university things with non-studenty people. If you’re going to move, go ahead and establish contacts, get in touch with Meet-Up group organizers, ask around about the best places to live, get people to keep their ears open for possible roommates for you. Finish strong where you are, and enjoy the present, but also, start moving your life (even if it’s just mentally) out of college and into your future world so that when you get there, you can hit the ground running.
  • Seriously consider who you are, completely apart from school. How do you relate to people? How do you express love? What makes you really excited? What makes you really angry? What part do you play in your family/your group of friends/the world? What do you wish existed in the world? What do you wish didn’t exist? What makes you get off the couch or out of bed willingly, eagerly?

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got for you, 21-23-year-old girl (or guy?). Well, that’s all I have in writing. I also have the aforementioned dinner and liquor, and I also have The Three Amigos, which makes everything better. Come on over.