Little Dresses

I used to claim to be a city girl at heart. Having grown up in a city of 13 million people, it really wasn’t far from the truth. Chicago is one of my favorite cities, New York a close second. And now, I live just a few miles south of the thriving metropolis of Denver. Of the many things I expected to encounter after moving down here, I didn’t expect the subtle uneasiness that has crept into my days.

I don’t feel safe here.

In my favorite little comfortable town of Fort Collins, I never thought twice about my safety. I wasn’t oblivious to my surroundings, and if anything were amiss, I tried to get myself out of the area as soon as possible. But my safety didn’t dictate when I went out, what I wore, and how much I had to drink. In fact, I was frequently out riding bikes at eleven p.m., I lived in little dresses all summer long, and I smiled at strangers.

Not here.

It’s winter now, so my attire consists mainly of jeans, boots, and coats. I don’t look any different from the next girl, and on really cold days, you can barely even see my face underneath my hood. Yet even though we have many months to go before the summer nights roll in, I’ve already started worrying about my safety here. I see the looks I get on the light rail when all they can see is my face. I’ve already gotten approached by a few men on my various adventures around town. And there’s this ball of dread growing in the pit of stomach, making it difficult for me to be comfortable anywhere that isn’t my apartment.

In the summer, I live in dresses, wear red lipstick, and drink a good amount of beer. I worry that I can’t be that person and ride the light rail home; that someone will inevitably accost me; that I can’t be pretty and safe. I’m thinking about taking a self-defense class. I rarely venture out after sunset without giving myself a pep talk about how God is my safety and I have nothing to be scared of. But I do have things to be scared of.

And I hate that with every fiber of my being.

I hate that I constantly have to be on guard, ready to defend myself, ready to run. I hate the fact that my gender makes me a target for attack. I hate that I feel like I have to change who I am to to be safe, that I can’t be seen and secure. I hate, above all, this societal mind frame that makes it my responsibility to not get assaulted, making the men the victims of my “innately seductive ways”.

The thing that saddens me the most is that most of the “good guys” tend to distance themselves from the situation. They don’t fight for us. They retrospectively discuss the general ideas of chivalry and the unfairness of society, but when faced with a situation that desperately begs for a hero, they shrink back.

A long time ago, there was a story being spread around my group of friends like wildfire. It was about a guy we all knew, who pushed another guy up against a wall at a bar and threatened him because he grabbed one of the girls’ butts. I wish our friend knew how much we talked about that story, and how much we cheered and applauded and felt validated. We probably should have told him. And then there’s my little brother from another mother, who intentionally places himself between you and traffic/threatening people, and is constantly on the lookout for your safety.

These men exist. They do. But it makes me incredibly sad that they are the minority, because for as many of them that I know, there are just as many who would look away in situations that call for a hero. It irks me that society (and the Church) spends more time teaching the ladies how to protect the men and keep them from “stumbling”, telling us what’s too short and too tight, yet no one is teaching the guys how to protect us. How to help us feel safe. How to be able to appreciate a woman’s beauty without objectifying her. Who is teaching them that? Why isn’t that part of the conversation? Who is telling them that if they ever feel like a woman is “asking for it”, the problem lies 100% within them? Instead they’re validated for being inherently unable to control their sexual urges, while we sign up for self-defense classes and buy bottles of mace.

It is exhausting to constantly be on guard. But more than that, it is disheartening to know that this has become a part of our cultural expectations of women and men. When I’m a mother, I plan to spend more time teaching my sons how to respect and honor women rather than teaching my daughters to fear men. And I pray, for the sake of the young souls coming behind us, that I’m not the only one.

Stinky Poop & True Love: A Different Kind of Fairytale

Is it just me or has the process of getting older and wiser become synonymous with a slight aversion to marriage and kids? When I was at the incredibly mature age of fifteen, I made a life map for myself that included me being married and pregnant at twenty-four. I mean, I understand that twenty-four seems like a lifetime away to a fifteen-year-old, but dear heavens, no. That life map also included me becoming a self-made millionaire by thirty and retiring by forty. I’m failing my fifteen-year-old self hardcore.

I’ll be twenty-four in less than two months, and while everywhere I look there’s a newly engaged or newly married couple, I don’t find myself wanting what they have right now. I’m not the bitter friend who has to pretend she’s happy for her friends who are finding the loves of their lives. I really am genuinely happy for the people I love, and I feel lucky to have a front row seat to witness selfless, sometimes messy, mostly beautiful, love. I love the sanctity of the marriage covenant, and all it symbolizes. Marriage is beautiful, weddings are beautiful, and I – like many other women – have daydreamed about my own special day.

But do I want to be planning a wedding anytime soon? Listen, I like my space. I like sprawling out in my bed without concern for someone else’s sleep cycle. I like eating when I’m hungry (which is all day, most days), and not at some appointed hour that works for two people. I thoroughly enjoy talking to myself alone in my apartment. I like the fact that my apartment has a “Clothing is optional” policy, and I’d love to keep it that way. I like making decisions on my own. I also really like knowing that when I feel like I’m triple my size and begin to wonder if there’s a karate club renting a meeting space inside my uterus, it’ll all be over in a mere five days – instead of a consistent, gradual, explosion fondly referred to as pregnancy. And those cute little buggers who are just so stinkin’ adorable even as they suck all the nutrients and sleep and normalcy from your life? Man, I just really like the fact that they don’t exist in my world quite yet. So no, I don’t want to be planning a wedding anytime soon.

The problem is that I feel weird admitting that, like I’m committing a sin against the twenty-somethings of my generation. Most of us want to be romanced and we want it now. Although, I’ve noticed that the numerous conversations about wanting to find the right guy and settle down are no longer as frequent or as earnest as they used to be a few years ago. Maybe I’m not the only one feeling this way? I’m all for finding the right guy, and then dating him for a good, loooong while.

Maybe it’s because I’m less of an idealist than I used to be. Wanting a husband and kids was easy when the picture in my head was of marrying the epitome of perfection complete with a year-round beard, and sassy little geniuses who came out of the womb potty trained and already hard at work on their next children’s book series. Who wouldn’t want to be married and pregnant given that scenario?

But the thing I’ve come to realize is this: I’m going to spend the rest of my life living with just a regular guy. He’ll have stinky poop, and will leave traces of toothpaste in the sink, and will get mad at me for very good reasons, and won’t always say the right thing, and won’t always let me warm my cold feet with his body heat, and won’t always be gracious or patient, and may forget my birthday, and won’t always think my body’s the most beautiful he’s ever seen (especially after what those future babies will do to it), and won’t always know when to hold me and when to give me space. His love won’t fix me – I’ll still be me in all my annoying quirks and flaws. Except all my flaws will be right there in the center of our living room, up for debate. I won’t suddenly become perfect as soon as I say, “I do”. In fact, I’ve heard it said that marriage doesn’t exist to make you happy as much as it exists to help you grow. And growth is a beautifully difficult process.

I grew up dreaming about a guy who would always know what I was thinking, and would know just what to say and how to say it. But in reality, I’ll probably have to tell him what I’m thinking. And sometimes, I’ll have to ask him to hold me. And that’s okay, because he’s just a regular guy. Besides, that takes more courage than living in la-la-land where everything is handed to you and you never have to find the guts to ask for what you really want.

Picture two messy people who love each other like their lives depended on it, but who are also unequivocally human. It’s like being regular roommates on crack – the crack being sex (and hopefully lots of it), and making every.single.decision together, and eventually, little tots in diapers. Forgive me, but I’d like to spend a few more years reveling in the beauty of my autonomy, the glory of first dates, and my clean bathroom sink.

How Sweet the Sound

I’m thinking about stories a lot these days. I’ve had copious amounts of time since I moved, and I typically spend at least half of my days getting lost in a book. Yesterday, in one sitting, I re-read Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. If you haven’t read that book, you might want to put all else on hold till you do. It just catapults you from wanting an ordinary life to wanting to live a great story. Every time I read it I cry, and fist pump, and make declarations about how my life is going to be a fantastic story.

I’m also trying to read through the bible chronologically this year. I say trying because I’m not as much concerned with making it through the reading plan as I am in being transformed by the grand story. Some sections require a couple days to digest, some others tempt me to skip a few chapters. I just finished the story of Joseph a few days ago (and now we’re in the alarming/depressing tale of Job). It made me think about stories again. The redemption of stories. Did you know it took thirteen years from the time God showed Joseph his destiny until it was fulfilled? And in that middle space, he was sold as a slave by his brothers, wrongfully accused of sexual assault, imprisoned, and forgotten? Thirteen years of a life nowhere close to what he’d been promised.

A beautiful thing happened this past week. In a very brief phone conversation, an old friend told me she had a friend whose struggles and brokenness reminded her of my story. She asked if I’d be willing to talk to her about how I found healing. Seeming to have no control over my tongue, I heard myself say, “Sure! Yeah, I’ll talk with her.”

And the very next day, I got a message from someone whose heartache takes me back to who I was only a few years ago. Suddenly, I was playing therapist with two weeks still between me and my first Counseling class. I immediately felt terrified, overwhelmed, out of my depth. What do I say? How do I help her? Where do we even begin? How did I begin when the roles were reversed? Why do I have any credibility to talk to this stranger about her issues?

But then the idea of story came back to me. In a moment of clarity, I saw the most breathtaking picture of redemption. I once was living in a story of brokenness, anger, unforgiveness, and emotional imprisonment, but now I’m embracing healing, unconditional love, forgiveness, and freedom. I once hid the hard parts of my story because I didn’t want to be that girl everyone stared at because they couldn’t believe she was that messed up. Hell, I didn’t even want to admit my own brokenness to myself. But now, people know who I am and who I used to be, and believe that my story can help others. I once was lost, but now I’m found.

I think that those thirteen years were years of preparation for Joseph. Years of pruning his dead branches, and strengthening his naive shoulders to carry the weight of the honor that would one day be bestowed on him. Seventeen-year-old Joseph couldn’t have handled being lord over all Egypt, you know? And twenty-year-old Joseph wouldn’t yet have acquired the perspective necessary to readily forgive his brothers. He didn’t know all that at the time, but God did.

And when his dream of authority and honor was finally fulfilled, when the awful brothers who sold him into slavery realized their idiot kid brother was now essentially the king of the known world, when they begged for forgiveness and cowered at his feet, you know what he said? Thirteen years and countless tears later? “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

Oh, sweet redemption. I wished for a normal childhood for most of my life – one like my friends had, with two parents who loved them and siblings who would fight for them. I hated my story and the characters in it. Not anymore. My daddy issues and my assault issues and my boundary issues have found their redemption. I get to say, “You feel numb right now, but once you start mending, it’ll hurt like hell. And you’ll want to hide under a rock and just die in peace. But it gets better. I know because I got better. Here, I’ll light a match and show you the way out of this hole.”

What the enemy of my soul intended for harm, God intended for good to accomplish what is now being done, the redemption of one wounded heart. And hopefully many more. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.

 

On Aesthetics & Attraction

There are certain people who make the world better just by being in it. My bestest lady, G, is such a one. She’s the best combination of hilarious and down-to-earth, an observant listener and an excellent participant. She’s understatedly brilliant, and just all around my favorite person. Which makes it easy to spend two hours on the phone with her, chatting about everything from the absurdity of Colorado weather to love and relationships.

Which brings me to the topic at hand (sorry G, this isn’t actually an ode to you). Relationships. More specifically, attraction. Even more specifically, a guy’s wardrobe. I don’t do the Top 50 Qualities My Future Husband Needs To Possess lists – at least not in the way most girls do. I have very few nonnegotiables, which makes me feel a little more well-rounded than most. But when I mention that the way a man dresses is one of those nonnegotiables, people look at me like I’m crazy.

G and I talked about this at length today. I said that a well-clothed man was most definitely in my top three. She said it was more of a bonus for her and less of a necessity. [The nice thing about G and I’s relationship is how different yet compatible we are.] I mean, can I help the fact that when a well-dressed man walks into the room, I’m unable to focus on the proper formation of thoughts or words? I can’t, in fact.

It’s less about body type or fitting into a stereotypical look, like the hipster, or the working guy, or the mountain man. (I find all three attractive, in case you were wondering). For me, putting together an outfit is just as enjoyable as writing music – it’s a creative outlet, one that let’s me express who I am through what I put on my body. That’s how I observe people too. I like to think that I can almost accurately decipher a person’s personality based on what they’re wearing, most especially their shoes. If you wear chacos, I immediately think, “Here’s another outdoorsy acquaintance to add to the list.” If you’re wearing a pair of these, I immediately have a crush on you. I fall asleep thinking about what I’ll wear the next day (and what I’ll eat for breakfast). Sometimes, I stand in my new walk-in closet and giggle with joy, because all my clothes are hanging neatly, and are color coordinated. Seriously, that makes me happy.

So is it so incredibly shallow to want a man who values his aesthetic enough to put effort into it? And maybe even enjoy it? Shouldn’t you want to spend the rest of your life with someone you’re attracted to in more ways than just their amazing heart? People always say in response, “Well, you can always change him once you’re in a relationship!” That, I think, is pure madness. If you don’t like who a person is before you start dating them, then you shouldn’t date them. Period. Otherwise, you’re dating your imagination and not the real person in front of you.

Lest you think me completely superficial, my other nonnegotiables include things like being a man who values quiet and space, and being a man with vision and ambitions not just to better himself but the world around him as well. These are the things I’m the most drawn to, but in equal amounts I’m drawn to the guy who can look crazy good without my help much more than I’ll ever be attracted to the total sweetheart over there in chacos. I just want us to look good while we change the world together.

My mom thinks I’m shallow. My friends think I’m just being funny. What do you think? Shallow or legitimate?

P.S. The one exception is being a reader. If you look amazing and don’t like to read, I want nothing to do with you.

There’s Room For You Here

I moved into my new apartment earlier this week with the help of a few good people, and four days later, I’m still marveling at the place I’ve been given. It is the answer to many whispered prayers long forgotten. I halfheartedly stated a year ago that I didn’t want to live with another roommate until I got married, and that I never wanted to live in a garden-level or underneath anyone else in an apartment again.

And here I am, sitting in my apartment on the third floor, watching the snow fall while I drink a cup of tea and write this post. I wouldn’t have complained about having another roommate or living on the ground floor. I wouldn’t have complained about a room the size of a closet. I didn’t even know He was listening when I said those things. But I am again convinced that He is more concerned with the littlest desires of our hearts than we let ourselves be. If there’s anything the last few months taught me, it is that.

I spent the week between my old lease and my new lease at an old friend’s house. There are six people who live there, four of whom are married couples. For the introvert who has fantasized about living alone her entire life, that just sounded like the worst situation. Yet where I expected chaos, I was met with peace. Where I expected clutter, I found a comfortable orderliness. Where I expected to feel caged and overwhelmed, I found myself breathing easy. I found room to breathe, to replenish what was depleted, to rest, to be.

I fell in love with the Remington Family House.
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When I envision myself as a woman well advanced in years, I see myself as that house. Spacious, welcoming, light. I see a woman at peace at her very core, one in whose presence you find yourself breathing deeply and resting easy. There’s no comparison or striving; no derision or judgment. You’re given permission to be who you are, and you’re loved where you are. You’re free to break and mend, to laugh and mourn, to feel all your feelings and think all your thoughts.

I feel so incredibly blessed to have this space of my own – to stretch out, to breathe, to be me in every single room. It is a gift of which I feel undeserving, and so I’m giving it away in the same measure. I want this place – already lovingly dubbed “The Breathing Space” – to mirror the Remington Family House, and the woman I’m becoming. I want it to be a place of light and joy, of intentional relationships and unrestrained love, of hope and peace. I am a steward of the gift; I refuse to hoard it. So if you’re ever in need of a place to stay around the Denver area, my home is yours (within the boundaries of good sense and safety, of course).

Come breathe a while – there’s room for you here.

Gardens in the Desert

Every day of this brand new year, I’ve marveled at the person I’ve become in comparison to the person I was a year ago. The differences are outstanding. Remarkable. Almost unbelievable. 2012 was the hardest year of my life in terms of the challenges and pain it brought me, and the relationships it cost me. But the character it wrought, and the growth it brought are things that have marked me irrevocably. And I am wildly excited about this new year simply because I am such a new person.

I start my first semester of graduate school in twenty-three short days. I admit that I love school and acquiring knowledge, but I’m not counting down the days because I’m a nerd. I’m counting down because in twenty-three days, I’ll be one step closer to making the dream in my heart a reality.

I’m going to be a therapist. If accurately transcribing the smile on my face were an option, I’d do so.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a teacher. Then, I fell in love with the idea of being a musician. Soon after, I was determined to run a successful event planning company. It took me twenty-three years to find the purpose hidden within the fabric of my story: I was born to work with women who’ve suffered trauma and abuse. Nothing breaks my heart more. Nothing makes me want to wield a sword more. I feel powerful and broken, helpless and capable. I am the most beautiful oxymoron.

Maybe it doesn’t come up in every single conversation I have, but I am the most passionate about helping people find their worth because I never knew mine. Only within the last year did I accept at a heart level that I am worth knowing, worth choosing, worth loving. Nothing strips you of your sense of worth like sexual abuse. Nothing makes you feel unheard, unwanted, unknown, unclean, and unloved like having your innocence stolen from you. I would know – mine was stolen at thirteen by a trusted family member. So even though I wasn’t sold into sex slavery, I know the damage just one encounter can have on your soul. I know how hard it becomes to trust anyone ever again, I know the feeling of being constantly on guard, I understand the temptation to appear hard and untouchable, I’m well acquainted with the lie that it was somehow your fault, and that you’ll never be good enough for a good man. I understand the difficulty of the path to healing, and the allure of the old chains when freedom seems unattainable.

But I’m also well acquainted with the unrelenting, infinite Love of a good God who sought me and brought me from darkness into marvelous light. One who taught me to breathe again, to feel again, to trust again, to live again. This journey didn’t happen in isolation; rather, it involved many people who showed me time and time again that I was worth choosing, knowing, and loving until the truth sunk into the depths of my soul and echoed loudly from within. I know how glorious it feels, having walked through the hardest months of your life with a therapist, to hear him say, “Your heart is healthy and beautiful and free.”

So that’s all I want to spend the rest of my life doing – partnering in this redemptive work, watching brokenness be transformed into beauty, and documenting the phenomenal stories I get to be a part of. To have found my purpose so young is a blessing I do not take for granted. To have the opportunity to begin pursuing it full-time without the constraints of a husband and kids or enormous student loans, I can’t even fathom.

I believe that beautiful things can arise from even the hardest earth. I believe that everyone’s story is worth telling. And I believe that no one is beyond repair. I’ll gladly give the rest of my life in the pursuit of creating and telling beautifully redemptive stories.

So while I think new year’s resolutions are laughable, I’m setting a goal for this year: to live an incredible life, because I serve an incredible God who has wrought an incredible work in my heart. 2013, here I come.