“Why is my reflection someone I don’t know?” (or Mulan, Fundamentalism, and Me)

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It was 1999 and I was twelve-years-old as I sat on my bed listening to Christina Aguilera’s self-titled debut album on my Walkman to prevent the parental units from hearing some of the racier lines that weren’t exactly church-sanctioned—“Hormones racing at the speed of light / But that don’t mean it’s gotta be tonight … I’m a genie in a bottle baby / Gotta rub me the right way honey.”

I was an extremely sheltered Christian homeschool kid whose only real friends were other Christian homeschool kids at our church. The closest thing I ever got to sex ed., even while in high school, was when I was assigned to read I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Passion and Purity. The basic premise of the books when it came to sex: Just say no. We never even talked about anatomy, that was the Forbidden Zone.

But despite being so isolated even I knew that some of Christina’s songs could get her added to the ever-growing Banned List—the list that included things like Pokémon, almost all fantasy worlds besides Narnia, some Disney movies, computer and video games and movies that had magical components, and anything and everything that seemed to be going against my parents’ conservative Christian beliefs. Even I knew “rub me the right way” didn’t exactly fit with my family’s abstinence-only and no-dating/courting-until-you’re-old-enough-to-get-married rules.

Christina was my little secret. But what that album showed me as I sat in bed listening to her sing through my crappy Walkman headset was just how many secrets I had hidden.

I cried every time I heard her sing Reflection from the movie Mulan.

I will never pass for a perfect bride, or a perfect daughter.
Can it be,
I’m not meant to play this part?
Now I see, that if I were truly to be myself,
I would break my family’s heart.

I was hiding so much more than some sexy lyrics on a Christian Aguilera CD.

Earlier that year my mother had confronted me regarding my clothes. The modesty teachings at church and home were already underway. I’d already began to feel like my body was wrong because it had the power to cause men to sin, so it needed to be covered up and hidden. However, when crop-tops are in it’s extremely hard to find anything in the Juniors’ Department that meets the modesty guidelines, and middle-school femininity felt so foreign and uncomfortable to me (lip gloss, glitter, and the works—although I did make an exception for butterfly hairclips because, after all, it was the 1990s). So I’d started dressing more androgynously, buying unisex t-shirts and cargo pants.

But it turned out that wasn’t okay, either.

“If you didn’t have long hair, you’d look like a boy,” my mother said one Sunday afternoon once we were home from church.

My frizzy hair was nearly to my elbow. But I would’ve chopped it off if it’d really been an option. I was told I’d have to wear a hat to church as sign of my submission to God, but it had felt more like it would have been a sign of shame. And I was instructed that I would have  to carry a hat everywhere I went because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to pray. Getting a haircut had sounded like a lot of work and a lot of guilt, so I kept it long. But I hated it every time I looked at my reflection.

After the comment about my clothes my mother asked: “Are you a lesbian?” In our world lesbian wasn’t a word used in polite company.

She asked if I’d been sexually assaulted, to which I responded no. I’d been taught homosexuality was a form of sexual perversion. There were degrees of perversion, but having a crush on another girl was just one step away from making love to a cow. At home I’d been taught that homosexuals had become perverted as the result of trauma; their sexuality was broken. Perverted. My mother thought I was perverted. Broken. My mother thought I was broken.

She said my clothes were ugly and that I looked like a dyke, a word I’d never heard.

I began to cry. “I’m not a lesbian! I’m not a lesbian!” I didn’t know if what I was saying was true but it didn’t matter.

My mind raced and the world felt swimmy as I thought of the time earlier that year when Misty, a girl from church, had grabbed my journal, refusing to give it back. Terror had surged through my whole body at the thought of her seeing the page of doodles I’d dedicated to brunette at church’s name.

I was terrified Misty would know what I couldn’t even put into words; what I didn’t even know yet, myself. I was terrified she would tell people what I couldn’t find the words for. But as she held my diary out of reach she flipped right past the incriminating evidence without knowing what it meant.

But can you be a lesbian if you still like boys? I’d only learned that “gay” could mean more than happy the year before, so “bi” was nowhere in my vocabulary.

“I’m not a lesbian!” I cried again, unsure if I was telling the truth. But it didn’t matter. I couldn’t be one. I couldn’t be that word.

My mother began to get angry. She said I was lying.

“I’m not lying! I’m not a lesbian.” I wasn’t sure if what I was saying was true. But it didn’t matter because I planned to make it true. Or at least I would make everyone believe it was true.

She called me butch, an unfamiliar term I could tell was intended as an insult so it stung even without a definition. She called me an ugly lesbian.

Ugly. Lesbian.

And at that moment I decided that if this is what happens when you’re a lesbian, then I would never be one. I would do whatever I needed to do, say whatever needed to be said to avoid ever being called that word again.

She said I disgusted her. She said I made her physically sick.

I needed to get away from the accusations so I pushed past my mother, throwing my bedroom door open so quickly that it shatters the mirror behind it with a crash.

I ran down the hallway and out the front door.

I didn’t even notice that I’ve forgotten my shoes until I was already halfway down our street.

Now I see, that if I were truly to be myself,
I would break my family’s heart.

I chose to be a good Christian girl. I eventually got rid of my secular music, even Christina. I didn’t go on a single date in high school, or even for years after high school. I didn’t go to prom. I said I only liked boys. I said I loved being homeschooled. I read my bible and prayed every day. I was actively involved in my church. I said I was theologically and politically conservative. I tried so hard to squeeze myself into the box that everyone said was mine, but I’m not a contortionist so I got pretty bruised up as my arms and legs knocked against the walls of my prescribed identity.

They want a docile lamb,
No-one knows who I am.
Must there be a secret me,
I’m forced to hide?

I hadn’t listened to Christina’s song Reflection for years, but heard it by chance not that long ago. It brought 1999 back in all its butterfly-hairclip, crop-top, Christian Aguilera glory. It brought back the tears as I remembered the identity question Mulan and I were both so quietly whispering that no one even heard.

Can it be,
I’m not meant to play this part?



Halfway Out of the Dark: Candles, Christmas, And the Winter Solstice

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[Trigger / Content warning: A deadly shooting, and a scene involving child abuse]

It was 32 degrees that morning as I stood at my regular bus stop next to 7-Eleven. I’ve never done well with cold temperatures, so I pulled out all my winter gear: down vest, black water-proof jacket (a wardrobe staple in the Seattle region), thick socks, winter hat, and gloves.

Right below the bus stop sign there were glass candle holders with pictures of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. The weather hadn’t been great that week—lots of wind and rain (it’s Washington, so mostly rain). But the four candles were burning.

There was a balloon on a stick stuck into the ground reading, “I love you.” Another read, “Thinking of you.” There were flowers strewn on the ground. The artificial ones were still standing up smartly, still holding their color. But the bouquets of real flowers hadn’t survived all the rain and had turned into a soggy mess of petals, stems, and tissue paper on the concrete.

I’d brought flowers, too. I’d written a card. I’d made a sign reading that the regular riders of our bus route remembered. That I remembered. But now it was all gone, just a part of the water-logged mess.

But the candles burned on.

I hadn’t known the victims—a seventeen-year-old boy and his father. They’d been sitting at the bus stop around five in the afternoon, right at peak when they charge you an extra 25 cents. They’d just been sitting there at their regular stop. At my regular stop. And someone drove by and shot them right there.

The younger brother was there too, but news report said he wasn’t hit. But that’s not true, not really. He wasn’t hit; he was shattered. His world ended at five o’clock in the afternoon as the rush hour traffic was just beginning to form.

Lives were taken. Lives were shattered. Evil left its mark. Darkness entered our bus stop and our neighborhood.

But the candles burned on.

Candles like that don’t keep burning forever. They have to be lit, and relit. It was morning. It was cold. But someone had already been there to light them. Someone made sure that they burned on. There were puddles of wax around the candles. They had obviously tipped over, spilling hot wax onto the cement. But someone had righted them. Someone had relit them.

The candles burned on during the longest nights of the year.

As a small child I didn’t even know when the Winter Solstice was but I’d been warned against it. I imagined pagans dancing around bonfires, casting spells, and playing with tarot cards as The Satanic Bible peeked out of their back pockets. The Winter Solstice was spiritually scandalous. It was the time when all the dark things crept out from under that dusty, cluttered spot under your bed; all the mischief and mayhem that lurked in the shadows, afraid of the light, beckoned to one another to come out and play.

But now, as an adult, I’m beginning to find a tremendous amount of comfort in the Winter Solstice. It’s a time of darkness but not dark doings. It’s a time for light to shine. It’s a time for the candles to burn on when we need them most.

Every time I stand at my bus stop I’m reminded that somewhere, very nearby, a family is mourning. For them this festive time of year is undoubtedly a time of anguish. Their hearts are grieving, hurting. If the Wise Men showed up at their home, they’d bring myrrh.

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes of life of gathering gloom
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb

I have two friends whose fathers passed away recently. They’re living in the shadow of death as Jingle Bells pays on the radio; living in the isolated valley of grief and loss.

There were four warm, friendly white-haired women who sat in front of the husband and me at the little church we sometimes visit—I think of them as our Lutheran grandmothers. Despite my religious trauma, these adorable older women have helped their church feel safe. And I found out this Sunday that one of them passed away. Her funeral service will be three days before Christmas, on the longest night of the year.

I had to call 911 last week because of a domestic disturbance across the street. I looked out the window when I heard scared children screaming, “No, Dad! No!” to see an angry man waving a large kitchen knife aggressively as his children jumped into a car that quickly pulled out of the parking lot, driving them to safety. I feel like I haven’t even recovered from the scene, so I know the children haven’t.

So much darkness. So much hurt. And that’s only looking at the small sliver of humanity  I have access to. When I turn on the news or read articles online I’m greeted with more darkness, more bleakness. So much violence. So much pain. So much sorrow. So many people in need of shelter and safety. So many people who are afraid, and rightfully so.

I don’t know how to handle it, this darkness. So much death and grief and brokenness, so much pain. The darkness is so thick that sometimes it makes me feel like I’m chocking. And December, despite all of the holiday lights and super sales, has a way of making that worse.

December is a time of year that can bring with it great joy and also great sadness. It’s like the Great Multiplier. Whatever feelings you’ve been experiencing already are multiplied, accentuated, and accelerated. When you’re already feeling an ache in your chest, tears are already threatening you at gun point, it makes it even worse. So much worse.

One of the most comforting moments in this month for me is on Christmas Eve. Even though I no longer identify with the religious tradition of my childhood, midnight Christmas Eve services still bring comfort and hope. I hold my red pew hymnal and my candle while singing Joy to the World. And in that moment, there’s light.

The candle burns on.

I have a thing about candles. They can be symbolic or spiritual or sentimental or sensual or scented (and I’m sure all sorts of other alliterations I can’t currently think of). They’re a little bit of light in the dark.

This little bit of light doesn’t fix everything. Or anything, for that matter. It doesn’t mean death hasn’t touched our lives; it doesn’t mean that existential crises have come to a close; it doesn’t mean healing has finally been achieved; it doesn’t that we’re feeling all sappy and sentimental every time we hear Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Last Christmas playing over the noise of people shopping. It doesn’t mean things are fixed. It doesn’t even mean things are okay. It doesn’t mean we like the holidays, or any of this.

Candles don’t fix things. They don’t heal things. But they provide just a little bit of light.

To me the light—symbolic and literal—this week of the Winter Solstice and Christmas reminds me that I did it. It reminds me of a line from my favorite Doctor Who Christmas special, a sci-fi retelling of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: “On every world, wherever people are, in the deepest part of the winter, at the exact mid-point, everybody stops and turns and hugs. As if to say, ‘Well done. Well done, everyone! We’re halfway out of the dark.’ Back on Earth we call this Christmas or the Winter Solstice.”

The holidays can be an extremely hard time of year for a lot of people. And if you’re feeling that way, may the longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice, remind you that you’re halfway out of the dark.

In a few days the holidays will be over. In a few days we’ll be changing out the calendars. In a few days you take down the holiday wreath, burn the tree, and never be forced to say merry fucking Christmas for an entire year. In a few days the sun will begin to resurface. In just a few days.

Well done. Well done, everyone. We’re halfway out of the dark.


I’m tired of being a Christian

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I’m tired. I’m tired of being a Christian. People say it’s only a term, only a word but that word feels like the lead apron at the dentist’s office. It’s pushing down on me from all sides, clipped tightly around my neck. It carries the weight of the hearts that have been wounded and the spirits that have been broken in the name of Christianity.

It carries the weight of teenagers who have been kicked out of their homes — gay teens and unwed mothers. It carries the weight of women who have been told to submit to their abusive husbands. It carries the weight of women who question their value, their worth, because they were raped or had sex with someone they loved before they were married. It carries the weight of so many tears that have been shed after someone was verbally accosted by a Christian. It carries the weight of scars and wounds that run so deeply they’ve latched onto people’s identities and sense of self-worth.

And I’m tired. I’m tired of being a Christian. This isn’t irritation or angst; it’s exhaustion.

I’m tired of being a Christian if it means I have to believe that I have a monopoly on ethical living or spiritual truths. If my personal creed needs to be forced on or applied to anyone other than myself, than this isn’t for me. I’m tired of the policing in the name of righteousness, which really just starts sounding a lot like I’m-more-right-than-you-ness. If enforced, unasked for “accountability” is the rule, then I’m tired of being a Christian.

I’m tired of being a Christian if it means I have to be certain. I want to be comfortable with “I don’t know.” I want to relax into it. To deeply breathe it in and out like the fresh, salty, restorative ocean air. I want to welcome my doubts, to open the door when they knock, rather than trying to hide them out of sight. If I have to know for sure or debate every little theological point until I can present a list of tenets worth defending until death (be it mine or my opponent’s), then I’m tired of being a Christian.

I’m tired of being a Christian if it means spouting theological bumper stickers when life is crumbling, cracking all around like a house under demolition. If saying “Life is really shitty now” would be inappropriate for a Christian or somehow unfaithful or if it’d be expected that I add in a trite little “But God will work it all together for good!” at the end to ease the discomfort of my listeners and to showcase my faith in redemption, then I’m tired of being a Christian.

I’m tired of being a Christian if it means that it would not only bring dishonor to the name of God but that it would also be a sin if I were to stand in front of a crowd on Sunday morning and proclaim my love of God. My teaching would bring shame. My praises would be sin. If being a woman is so shameful that my words of homage would bring scandal and humiliation, then I’m tired of being a Christian.

I’m tired of being a Christian if it means that referring to God as Mother is heresy. A God who mothers; a God who kicks down the door to the Theological Boys’ Locker Room; a God who understands and welcomes me. If insinuating that maybe the Creator of the Universe is a little like me, a woman, is sacrilege, then you can let me off at the next stop. I’m tired of being a Christian.

I’m tired of being a Christian if it means damning love to Hell. I want the outgrowth of my faith to be love not protesting someone else’s family. I want to encourage, support, and defend romantic and familiar love. If I’m expected to picket and condemn loving, happy families, then I’m tired of being a Christian.

I’m tired of being a Christian if it means spiritual practices are strict and ridged. If writing instead of going to church doesn’t count; if reading poetry or coloring in the morning instead of reading the bible isn’t good enough; if praying with color, scissors and glue, and quiet, overwhelming feelings when there are no words doesn’t count as real prayer; if the fact that watching a sunset fills me with more peace and awe than reciting liturgy isn’t religious enough, then I’m tired of being a Christian.

I’m tired of being a Christian if it means saying that every fiber of my being is wretched, tainted, depraved. At the beginning of the world God looked at her creation and declared it good. And I’m part of that creation. There’s fire and magic in my personhood; there’s a holy hellion in my heart; there’s a wild mystic in my soul. If believing there are sparks of the divine in me and every person I come in contact with is heretical, then I’m tired of being a Christian.

I’m tired of being a Christian if it means silencing those who have been hurt by the church. If we’re just expected to read the bible every day despite the panic attacks; if we’re just expected to go to church every Sunday despite the scars; if we’re just expected to keep our mouths closed because our church experiences were traumatic and less-than-stellar, then I’m tired of being a Christian.

It might only be a word but it carries the weight of so much pain and sorrow. But somehow, despite it all, I still find myself clinging to Christ. As a child sitting in children’s Sunday school he seemed to say: “It’s okay, you’re welcome here. Come sit down right here next to me.” And now God calls again, she calls, Mother calls, welcoming me to sit down next to her. And I do. But I’m worn out. I’m exhausted. I’m tired.


A Sunflower for Gilbert (Or, that Time I went to Hungary)

Flickr CC Rachel Samanyi

Flickr CC Rachel Samanyi

Honestly, I’m not sure we were supposed to be up there in the first place. Or even out of bed for that matter because the school, in order aid in the celibacy of the students, had a strict curfew. But there was something about quietly sneaking through a dark castle with towering ceilings and great windows that felt, to use an Anne word, romantic.

We weren’t kindred spirits to begin with. It’s not that we ever fought, but common ground seemed to be in scarce supply.

I’d only graduated from high school a matter of weeks before. Only spoke English. And was living and traveling on my own for the very first time.

Hermina, on the other hand, had grown up in Serbia, but after attending a university in Hungary had decided to call it home. She was very well traveled and spoke multiple languages fluently.

And we were roommates.

My ex-denomination had a bible college in a tiny rural town in Hungary. During the summer the old Hungarian castle — yes, it was a castle — served as a conference center for pastors and missionaries throughout Europe. And in 2005 Hermina and I found ourselves living together for three and a half months as we volunteered during conference season doing dishes, making beds, working in the coffee shop, and enjoying our one day a week off work.

As an “on fire” Evangelical youth I’d gone to Hungary with the goal of aiding those who were sharing the Gospel. However, what I actually ended up doing was converting someone to the Gospel of Saint Anne of Green Gables, patron saint of romantics and misfits everywhere.

One of the American staff members at the college owned all of the Anne films on VHS and Hermina, to my horror, had never even heard of Anne. So we located an old TV in a finished section of the attic that was used during the day as a classroom for the teachers’ children.

We didn’t have a lot of time for movie watching, so it took us a while to get through the films. But every night that we could, after the Hungarian castle was asleep and the lights were off, we’d tiptoe through lonely rooms that in their previous lives may have held grand balls but now, only a few hours before, hand been bustling with conference guests.

We’d climb several flights of spiral staircases with wrought iron handrails. And then, when we got to the top floor, would open a small door that looked like a closet but was  another set of stairs leading to the attic. Once there, we’d sit on the rug in front of the TV since the furniture in the children’s classroom was all on the small side. Hermina would lay on her stomach, taking in every moment, as I sat there feeling proud of my new convert.

The Canadian films were very foreign to Hermina. And some aspects about the historical context and word usage required a little translating.

“Why does Anne have such a strange last name?” She asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Of Green Gables — What kind of last name is that?”

“‘Of Green Gables’ is more of a title,” I explained. “It’d be like if I called you ‘Hermina of Serbia.'”

But one thing translated just fine: Gilbert Blythe. We may have been different when it came to age, education, and the section of the globe we called home but we both couldn’t help falling in love just a little with that steadfast Canadian. We fell in love with the idea of a romantic someone encouragings us in the pursuit of our dreams rather than standing in the way. The idea of being loved for both our mind and our daydreams. And the idea of being loved because of, not just in spite of, our quirks and faults and even the beauty we couldn’t see (like carrot red hair).

He wasn’t some rugged bad boy tamed by the love of a woman. Or a two-dimensional Prince Charming. Gilbert was the character, the man, who showed us what it meant to be cherished.

I loved watching Hermina react to the story that was by this time very familiar to me. It made it feel new again. She was annoyed with Gilbert when he had the nerve to call Anne carrots and pull her braid (and appropriately shocked and proud when Anne responded by cracking a school slate on his head). And then when Gilbert started to grow up and his admiration and love for Anne became increasingly obvious and endearing, she lamented Anne’s long-held grudge. She’d routinely ask, “Is she ever going to like him?” And I’d just laugh but wouldn’t say a word.

Hungary will always remind me of Anne and Gilbert, not just because I had the chance to share their story with Hermina but because Hungary would’ve suited them so well.

Anne would’ve loved spending a summer in that castle; she would’ve imagined the love affairs that had transpired there, and the ghosts that couldn’t bear to leave. She would’ve loved strolling through the little town past a small Catholic church with an overgrown, forgotten cemetery; the petite cottages that lined the street and were practically overrun with flower gardens; and the bright orange sunsets.

She would’ve loved the summer storms that seemed to roll in out of nowhere, and how the lightning would be so close that during the night it’d light up the entire castle like something out of an old horror film and how the windows with their old locks would sometimes blow open during an especially hard gust. She would’ve loved Budapest: the architecture, the vastness of the city, and the romantic but not-so-blue Danube.

Anne would’ve loved my favorite part of Hungary, too. She would’ve loved the fields of yellow as far as the eye could see, so bright it hurt my eyes. When Hermina and I’d drive in to Budapest I’d point out the window like a little kid who’d just spotted the gates to Disneyland for the first time. Look at that! It was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. “Kelsey, they’re just sunflower fields,” Hermina would laugh. But there will never be such a thing as just sunflower fields. And Anne would’ve understood that.

And Gilbert would’ve loved how happy Hungary and the sunflowers made his Anne girl.

Like so many fans of the books and movies I’m heartbroken about Jonathan Crombie’s death (the actor who played Gilbert). But he will always live on in the movies and my memory as the one and only Gilbert Blythe. I’d leave a sunflower at his grave if I could. My memories of sunflowers and Hungary and late nights spent watching Anne finally, slowly, fall for Gilbert are all so closely tied together that no other flower would seem appropriate. But this will have to do, instead.

Wishing you fields of sunflowers, Gilbert.


Reflections on a Month of Marriage

If my life were a romantic comedy, the Mr. Man and I would now be exactly one month past when the credits would’ve begun to roll, indicating that the goal, marriage, had been reached and that there just wasn’t much more to tell.  After all, how much real excitement could happen if everything else can be summed up in “happily ever after?”

The Mr. Man and I just a few hours before our wedding.

The Mr. Man and I just a few hours before our wedding.

Because real life often isn’t like the movies though — well, maybe some dark indie comedy but not really the they-rode-off-into-the-sunset blockbuster variety — I’ve made a habit out of asking newlyweds whether married life is what they expected. Now, because I obviously have a lot of insightful things to say given my four whole weeks of experience, I thought I’d write a blog post answering my own question: Is marriage what you expected?

Marriage is Hard

The most common thing that friends have said surprised them about marriage is how hard it is, which always surprised me because it seemed that since they could still count the number of days they’d been married it shouldn’t really be hard yet.  After all, they should still honestly be in the mists of believing that the sun shines out their spouse’s butt, right?

Well, I feel like I get it now.  Or at least I’m starting to.

Marriage, even only the first four weeks, really is hard. There are so many changes, especially for couple’s like the Mr. Man and I who also moved in together for the first time after the wedding. I love the fact that we waited to move in together but it did make for a lot of changes. New apartment — I’d never lived in an apartment before. New name — or at least I’ll have a new one once the paperwork is finally all figured out.  New immediate family — a husband is so much more than a roommate because, unlike with a roommate, I don’t even have my own closet or bed or anything, really.  We share everything (okay, well, not everything because my toothbrush will always be off limits).

In addition to all the changes, there’s also a lot to figure out together.  How much money will we budget towards food?  Do potato chips count as “food” or does that come out of the piggy bank dedicated to random crap? What time should we eat dinner? If we eat soup every other night would that be “too often” or simply fantastic? Which way are mugs stored in the cupboard — up or down? How many evenings a week do we watch TV or a movie together? How many evenings should be screen-free? How much time do we dedicate to our introverted need to recharge individually? What time do we go to bed?  Do we go to bed at the same time? What temperature should the thermostat be set at? Are we eating enough veggies? What are we doing for Christmas? And so on.

So many changes, so much to figure out.  And in the midst of it all, life still happens.

Life’s Still Messy 

As we drove away after the wedding, family waving and hugging and wishing us well, I felt elated. Despite anxiety and grief leading up to the wedding for a variety of reasons, things had gone smoothly. I’d enjoyed myself and, while it might not have been perfect, the wedding was beautiful and I loved it. As he drove to our apartment, I sent out a mass text I’d written earlier that day announcing to friends (our wedding only consisted of immediate family) that we were now, officially, hitched. So happy.

When we got to our apartment, we carried my last couple of bags and a few wedding presents upstairs. I waited on the porch, shivering but happier than a kid on Christmas morning, as he brought everything inside. “Your wife is getting cold!” I called in after him. At that, he came out and carried me in fireman style.

The day was lovely. But, to no real surprise, I also ended up crying later that evening because my daddy hadn’t been there. While the grief certainly didn’t ruin the day, I was aware of the hole where my dad should be — especially during family pictures — and I still cried once I arrived at my new home. Life’s messy; sometimes it’s happy and sad all at the same moment.

The Messiness of Adjusting 

Things have continued to be messy in their own right as we’ve gotten more adjusted. I was sick most of the first week and had to go to the doctor.  You know, going to the doctor for bladder infection medication less than a week into married life is one of those things they seem to leave out of the films. We both had the stomach flu over Thanksgiving. And my anxiety disorder made things interesting for the first two weeks as I began to relax from all the pre-wedding stress and get used to the apartment. I’d wake up in the middle of a panic attack almost every night because the neighbors upstairs were vacuuming at 2 am again or sometimes because I wasn’t sure where I was, which meant that neither one of us got a decent night’s sleep until I’d gotten at least a little used to sleeping in the apartment.

And, when I finally thought everyone was well and things were going a bit smoother, I knocked myself unconscious by running into the side of the bathroom door. Yup. So, currently, I’m home from work with a concussion (please note, if there is an abnormal number of typos in this post, that’s probably why).

Things Are Beautiful, Too 

Mr. & Mr. Munger

The new Mr. & Mrs. Munger

In addition to the messiness, we’ve had a lot of fun too. He took me to the Seattle Symphony for my Christmas present, introduced me to the BBC show Sherlock (and, next, I’ll introduce him to Doctor Who), and we started reading The Princess Bride and Jesus Feminist before bed. We’ve gone grocery shopping, unpacked a few more boxes, practiced saying my two new favorite words — husband and wife — and bought Christmas presents for our families. We’ve listened to Christmas music while doing the dishes, discussed feminism while cuddled up on the couch, and talked abut theology and modern American Christendom as we drove home from a Christmas-y date in Seattle.

He’s also reminded me again and again of exactly why I married him as he’s had plenty of opportunities this month to live out the “in sickness” part of our vows. He’s brought me breakfast in bed when I was sick and continues to now that I have a concession, cleaned the entire apartment when my to-do list was longer than my stamina, and held me tight when I needed it.

It’s been quite a month. We’ve planned and dreamed. Cried and giggled. Kissed and apologized. We’ve learned new things about each other as our own insecurities and fragility and, sometimes, brokenness becomes more evident. And we’ve learned new things — or at least I’ve learned new things — about ourselves, too.

Yes, marriage is messy and it’s hard work. And life seriously doesn’t go according to plan sometimes (concussions, for example). But, nonetheless, for whatever my few weeks of experience is worth, I think being married is beautiful.

Copyright 2014 Kelsey Munger. All rights reserved. For reprint permission, email me at KelseyMunger1[a]gmail.com. Stay up to date by following me on Facebook or Twitter


An open letter to my Mr. Man

Punk'n huntin' with the Mr. Man.

Punpk’n huntin’ with the Mr. Man.

I’m not very good at expressing how much I care about someone — always afraid it’ll sound trite or just really annoyingly mushy — but since we’re getting married in exactly 9 days, I thought I’d try my hand at an I-like-you-so-gosh-darn-much letter.

To My Love:

New lovers talk about how the world now feels brand new, as if bright, shining rainbows shoot out of all the formerly dark nooks and crannies of their lives and the entire world has been drenched in rose peddles and glitter. They make declarations of love based on the feeling that they can’t live or breathe or think or even put on their deodorant without their love by their side. Declarations that sound like symptoms of a bizarre medical condition: butterflies in the stomach, inability to eat, sleeplessness, and a newfound urge to compose torch songs.

Sure, infatuation is a pretty enjoyable high. I remember how after we started dating we stayed up texting until 2am comparing notes on our awkward “Does she/he like me too?” dance. Like the time you were getting together with a girl from school and I was jealous — really jealous — but wasn’t willing to admit it, not even to myself, so I tried to casually ask how your “hot date” had gone. You responded that if you were to go on a date with anyone, it’d be me.

Then, when I didn’t respond to your text message for half an hour, you thought it meant I wasn’t interested or that the idea of us dating made me uncomfortable. But, in reality, I’d burst into tears because I thought we were incompatible due to ideological differences, that it wasn’t going to work or maybe even shouldn’t work, and it’d taken thirty long minutes before I could take another stab at pretending to be calm and collected again.

Putting in Some Work 

You know, it really is amazing that we managed to work things out despite a decent amount of social awkwardness on both sides. Not to mention a decent amount of ideological differences that we spent literally months discussing on a weekly basis — we read books and watched lectures, had disagreements and discussions, and finally decided that we were compatible — prior to me being willing to finally decide that, yes, we could date.  People thought we were being slow or in denial about making it official, but we were wading our way through some pretty sticky stuff. And we really weren’t sure how it was going to turn out.

Sorting through all of that was enjoyable — you’re so thoughtful and brought a fresh prospective to ideas and beliefs that I hold dear — but also terrifying because I didn’t know if we’d be able to figure it out.  I remember crying in the car that Christmas Eve as I told my mom how I thought that if we could figure out that ideological stuff, I wanted to marry you.  But I was scared we might not be able to and that maybe it’d be a deal breaker, after all.

Just a few days later we finally worked it out. Everything wasn’t completely starched and ironed but we’d decided we were compatible on the major issues and were willing to be gracious on the minor ones. It’d been a year since we’d met, six months since you’d first made noises about wanting to date, and we were finally there. I cared about you so much that I even gave you my first kiss — something that was extremely precious to me — and told you that I loved you.  Once you got home, you texted me and said you felt like you were walking on air.  And so did I.

Then, Love Grows Up 

It was fun texting until way after midnight, setting all those messy stories straight and being grateful we’d actually managed to figure things out enough to begin a relationship. Infatuation is fun. But there’s something almost childlike, perhaps even a little self-absorbed, about new lovers. “I love you because you make me happy” or “I love you because we’re completely perfect together and everything comes so easily, naturally” seem to be the main gist of the declarations. And I know we did it, too. I honestly thought we already had the whole communication thing down pat by the time I finally started introducing you as my boyfriend that December—but we had oh so much left to learn! In fact, here we are, going on three years later, we’ve even started reading books together about communication and relationships, and we’re still slowly but surely figuring it out.

For a little while, I felt like maybe we needed to get everything all neat and polished before finally tying the long anticipated nuptial knot. I felt like we should’ve read more marriage books by this point and had who would handle what chore all ironed out. But I realized that’s what’s so wonderful about marriage: it’s a commitment to see this complex relationship business through, to keep on learning, growing, and messing up together.

‘Til Death Do Us Part 

That’s what you were saying that sunny spring day in Seattle as we strolled through the cemetery on the hill. As I nerded out about the evolution of death-related practices in America and admired the urban view, you looked at a gravestone of a married couple—his and her headstones—and said that’d be us someday. The level of commitment in the comment caught me up short. You weren’t being morbid or sad. You were saying that you wanted it to be only me. Forever. Until death do us part. You were saying that you loved me enough to give your entire life to me alone.

When I think about the future, I can echo your hope of being together until the grave.  In fact, what scares me most when I think about the future is the harsh reality that some couples aren’t given the luxury of growing old together due to frail bodies and a beautiful, frightful thing called mortality. And I hope and pray — like most, if not all, almost-married couples do — that we are lucky in that regard because I could spend every day of the rest of my life with you.  And even then, I feel like it still wouldn’t be enough.

When Broken People Say “I Do” 

Things won’t be easy once we’re finally pronounced husband and wife; they already haven’t been easy, you know that.  You’ve held me as I’ve cried as if my heart was going to die when the grief and loss from yet another Father’s Day slammed into my chest like a supersonic jet. You know how broken and scary I am. You know when I’m wearing my brave face in order to just get through the day. You know my insecurities—like hidden landmines, you’ve accidentally stepped on a few—and you try to make them better.  And very slowly, with lots time, it helps.

You see me as braver, smarter, more beautiful, stronger, and kinder than I see myself. But you know I’m not perfect either and that I’m no fairy princess offering to grant you a life of ease. You know how well I can choose exactly the right word that’ll hurt and shock like jamming your finger in an electric socket when I’m feeling angry and especially when I’m hurt. You know my deepest heartaches that leave me shaking like a lost, scared little girl. You know there are scars on my heart of hearts—you’ve touched them, kissed them, cried over them. Even when I’ve felt like maybe you’ll give up on me now, maybe I’m too screwed up or too broken, you’re there. Steadfast. Loving. Unmoving. As you’e told me before, you’re not going anywhere.

When I was afraid the I-miss-my-daddy-so-gosh-darn-much-it-hurts feeling was going to intrude on the wedding day, you told me that you wanted me to be able to be open, honest about how I was feeling, especially with you. And that you were glad that soon we’d finally be married, so you could be there for me even better by holding me, if necessary, while I balled my eyes out on our wedding night. Sexy? Not in the least. Romantic? Absolutely, because it showed how much you care for me.

And I want to show you, m’dear, how I see you, too. Help the insecurities to fade a little — even though I can’t ever erase them just like you can’t erase mine — and be there to ease the worry lines. I want to act like your mirror by showing you what I see: you’re intelligent, compassionate, and loving. And I’m lucky to have met you.  And even luckier to call you mine.

It’s Going to Take Work and Guts 

I know that sharing a life together isn’t going to be easy, m’dear.  Some horrible day in the future, one or maybe even both of us might even want out and we’ll have to hang on for dear life to each other. I know we’re both hardheaded and opinionated, so we’ll have our share of arguments (the silly and the not-so-silly kind). I know we both have hurts that are hidden so far inside of us that most people never even know they’re there, so sometimes we’ll accidentally hurt each other. We both have insecurities, so sometimes we’ll need reassuring. And, sometimes, we won’t be gentle or kind and we’ll need to forgive and learn to handle each other with more care.

We’re not airbrushed Hollywood actors staring in an epic romance—we’re real, we’re broken, we’re committed, and we’re in love. It’s not perfect but it’s beautiful in all its complex messiness. And we’re willing to put in the work. Lots of work. And that doesn’t mean that our love is less romantic than the new lovers. Sure, there’s still some glitter left over from the puppy stage but love — real love — a love that’s willing to work and willing to sacrifice has replaced the infatuation.

Marriage is the biggest adventure I’ve ever embarked on and it’s exciting and overwhelming all at the same time. But there’s no one else, m’dear, whom I’d rather share it with.

I only have one life to live, and it’s yours.

All my love,

Kelsey