Week 5 reflection: him

Holy Himalayan deliciousness! We decided to have a change of scenery this last week with our talk by going to a Himalayan restaurant. Neither of us were familiar with the type of food or the people, but like our discussion, we were happy to try. We talked about “What does looking for a church look like?”. Much like trying a new restaurant, there is much to consider. For this reflection, I though it would be fun to set it up like looking for a restaurant.

Ambiance

Ambiance in a restaurant is the same as one at a church. We both agreed that when you look around, we should feel welcome. A church can be difficult to join if age, culture, or attitude are vastly different. While many attributes can be mitigated, we generally came to the consensus that politically charged churches or ones with a terrible agenda, were not for us. Bad ambiance is walking into a restaurant or church and wanting to immediately want to walk out.

Entertainment

Most people I have met will bend their decision on a church based solely on the music. Really, this makes sense. The average Sunday service will have 1/3-1/2 of the time allotted to music. We can attempt to move past this if the sermons are amazing, but both of us get a real energy boost from music. Like a restaurant with live music, if the music is bad, the food better be outstanding.

The Food

Speaking of food, the messages must reflect a mutual doctrine. While most people don’t really know or understand doctrine, we both felt that a church with an overused “bad ingredient” would leave a bad taste in our mouths. For instance, a church that believes women to be subservient to men (and uncomfortably reminds you each week) will not be our church. Really, this is a questions of extremes. It’s not about going to a steak house and saying “we don’t want steak they have too many steaks”. It is more like going to a steak house and finding out that they cook all their steaks well-done with ketchup. You are what you eat and you are what you believe.

Service/service

The word “service” takes on two separate meanings when in comes to churches vs dinning establishments. Service at a church means going out and doing good for the community, while service at a restaurant speaks more to the quality of being a wait staff. They are really more the same than expected. Both require doing a job that no one wants to do, but we feel compelled. Notice how I loosely use the word “want”. In any case, choosing a church and restaurant based off their service is very common. Invariably, if a church lacks service, it really makes you wonder why they exist at all. The same thought goes for a restaurant.

That conclusion

I didn’t realize I could go this far with two metaphors, but it has been eye opening.

When she and I talked, we realized something special and unique. Some of these topics, that we cover every week, will require us to-do as opposed to talk about the question at hand. Half way through we realized that we will have growing to do together, later. We will need to check out churches and find what we like together. This is a major change from each of us bringing what we have and seeing if our current selves are compatible. So, when choosing a restaurant, a church, or a partner, remember that the food is the most important.

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Week 4 reflection: him

I’ve been avoiding writing this post. Mostly, my issue hasn’t been time. I can find time, but I can’t always find the energy. That is a major issue that arose this last week. The topic by the way was our personal meaning of weddings. While weddings are joyous occasions filled with family, fun, and frivolity, they require energy and a ton of it.

Now, I feel fairly firm in my belief that weddings, like marriage, take coordination, commitment, communication, work, time, money, etc. I understand that the “et cetera” I just provided is a big one. However, before a couple jumps into the “et cetera” of life there needs to be a definite line between dating and marriage. Like right-of-passage ceremonies, graduations, and birthdays, weddings are a seminal part of life. These moments need their own time, but how much?

In my mind, I would enjoy a long engagement. A year would be most ideal. Right now feels more like a pre-engagement and I have no idea how long that will take, but we will see. The thing is: right now her and I’s relationship is matching up to the effort that we are putting into it. That should remain true throughout our relationship, but with certain big steps coming up in our careers, a wedding seems almost out of the question. It would be easy to just get the piece of paper and be done with it.

My reflection has me a bit more stumped than articulated. I have learned that having a wedding is a fight between what is easy and what is right. That’s not to say that those terms are mutually exclusive either. I know myself well enough to know that I would put more strain on our relationship than needed. I know my timing is terrible with talking about stressful topics and that I don’t want to make her residency harder than it needs to be. Planning a wedding, as we have established, takes a lot of “et cetera”.

I don’t know then. I don’t know if we should wait or rush. Both of these choices have pitfalls that can leave the relationship broken or strained. We can’t be afraid of making a mistake together. I know we could heal and work it out, but I would like to avoid the relationship ER for as long as possible; indefinitely, would be a good choice for any ER. We will have to make a decision at some point and we will be tired. I have no doubt in my mind that we can pick up each other’s slack. I’m very certain that we will make the right choice for us at the time we need to make it. God is on our side.

Week 4 Reflection: Her

A party without a cake is just a meeting. -Julia Child

Cake1

We’re all a little weird. And life is a little weird. And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall into mutually satisfying weirdness—and call it love—true love. —Robert Fulghum, True Love

“Many couples spend a great deal of time planning their wedding, but little time planning their marriage.”
― DeBorrah K. Ogans, How Do I Love Thee: Food for Thought Before You Say “I DO”

cake fail

“We can’t go through life assuming the people around us understand what’s going on in our minds. We have to have those open and honest discussions. We have to communicate.”
― Abby Rosmarin, In the Event the Flower Girl Explodes

Was that too many quotes? Just a little excessive? Kind of how I have always thought about weddings. This week’s topic was “What does a wedding mean to you?” I wont go in to how I read that wrong and thought we were going to talk about cakes and colors and locations and frills and how much I hate being stared at and how that’s why I hate the thought of a wedding ceremony and jump straight to what happened after I re-read the prompt the day of the conversation and suddenly realized what we were really talking about was why they are important and my revelations from there. Once I was on the correct page, I started trying to think of why weddings are important. Marriage I totally had an answer for- what does it mean, why is it important. But weddings have always seemed like a spectacle of pomp and circumstance that women were supposed to like but always seemed to hate by the end. I have been involved in a lot of weddings for someone who gets terrible anxiety about them. Don’t get me wrong, I have never begrudged any of my friends and family their “big day,” but it always seemed unreasonable that it was just that- a day. One day, one party, one set of traditions and nonsensical hoops to jump through (and pay for!) that becomes the focus of everyone involved. Perhaps that is where my true aversion has come in. Not all of the couples (or even most) that I have been around but far too many, seem all too caught up in the “magic” of the wedding and seem to forget entirely about planning and investing for the marriage. Subsequently, my thoughts on the topic revolved around slipping off quietly with the man I love and plunge into life together with little fan-fare but great preparation and love. I hate having people looking at me, I hate formality (which I see as simply an opportunity to fail to live up to expectations) and I just couldn’t see drawing so much attention to something so personal.

Then I sat down with my beloved. I believe in marriage for many reasons. I was reminded of one of my favorite reasons in our talk. When I think on a topic I draw on as many sources as possible to develop a well rounded view, however, I can only see through my eyes. When you have a partner, you share perspectives. Through our talks I began to see a different, fuller picture of what a wedding means. Specifically what a wedding means to the man I love. As we talked, a new world unfolded and I learned a whole new respect for the art of a day.

Probably the most interesting point for me was his view on why planning the wedding is important. He pointed out that it is the first large scale, complex joint venture that is undertaken. This thought had never occurred to me. Perhaps since there is a cultural expectation that women will be exceptionally concerned with the tiniest of details and that men will simply check out and then show up that I had never really seen wedding planning as a co-endeavor. Planning a massive formal event by myself sounds like a sacrifice at best and at worst my actual personal hell. But something about the idea of really working with my man to get things done and make choices together doesn’t sound so bad. As he talked I was surprised to find myself thinking, “That could be fun.” He pointed out how much compromise and commitment it takes to stay present and make decisions together that reflect both of you. The idea of the wedding being a microcosm of marriage in general- a picture of how you will handle planning your life together from the grand ideas, to the financial compromises, to the inevitable unexpected twists and mishaps that life throws at you- had never occurred to me. I delight in learning new things and finding this gem was no exception. I was enamored for days with it’s newness, so much so that it took me a while to determine how to even approach my reflection. After all, how do you process a 180 degree turn on a subject (or at least a significant pivot?).

We also talked about the wedding being the gateway, a marker denoting the beginning of something new and special. This idea was less ground shaking in that it was something I had thought of before. In fact, of all of the points he made, this one most closely resembled thoughts I had already thought. Every girl (or almost every girl as I dislike making grand all-encompassing statements) will, at some point in her growing up, whether she wants to or not, be forced into the corner of thinking about what she would do with her wedding. Some women take this and run with it, planning great elaborate events down to the smallest detail. Others are like me and the whole idea kind of made them queasy. So instead of planning colors and flowers and food menus, I thought about how I could arrange for the fewest people possible to bother to show up. My conclusion was this: Sunrise on a mountain. Why? Well, I may not like people staring at me and I hate formality, but if I am going to do something ceremonial I want it to be full of symbolism. For me weddings at sunset never really made good symbolic sense. I don’t want my wedding to be the close of something. It should be the beginning, bursting with all the newness of the dawn. Besides, how better to ensure that only the most devoted of friends and family bother to come than to make it at the most inconvenient time imaginable (sorry to all the loved ones that are going to do the unthinkable and come to my wedding even if I make it insanely inconvenient. I don’t hate you, I just don’t want 500 people staring at me and I can’t think of any other way to pare down the list without hurting feelings. And also symbolism.).

The idea of the wedding as a gateway into marriage, the threshold or doorway through which you pass into the next season of your life, a new chapter, seems oddly perfect to me. Transitions and the space in which they occur are very important to my partner (and everyone if they are honest) and this one specifically, is very significant to him. Much more than it has been to me in the past. I began to wonder in myself if, as my love suggested, this gesture would help us transition our thinking more than a simple party. Could cake choices be about more than just what flavor tastes best, could color choices and venues help set the tone for a marriage? Actually, as I sit here thinking about weddings and who would actually be there (arguably the single most stressful concept for me- people who are all looking at me all day) I began to think along another line. In the church we have several ceremonies that are public declarations (specifically I am thinking about baptism and baby dedications) and they are incredibly moving and beautiful for several reasons. In baptisms, as in weddings, the people involved are making public their commitment to join an new family and live in that family with all of its responsibilities and privileges. In being baptized you tell the watching world, I am a Christian, I belong to Christ and He to me and I commit to living with and for Him. By the same token, weddings then are a proclamation to a world that takes love lightly that we are forever joined, we are one unit now, one family. The people invited to these events are part of the family for the most part (either spiritual, emotional or blood) and serve as witness to a commitment. The same is true of the congregation at a baby dedication with one key difference- at the baby dedication in contrast to the baptism, the pastor will not only ask for a commitment from the parent(s) but also from the congregation. Those gathered for the dedication are not simply witnesses or loved ones there to celebrate with you, they are asked to also dedicate themselves. The pastor will turn to the congregation and ask them to come alongside the parents, to support and help them, to contribute to the faith journey of this child and to offer wisdom, prayers and partnership as needed as the child grows. The parent(s) are still the ones ultimately responsible for raising the child, but the congregation commits to being a part, being the village that makes that raising possible. I see a similar opportunity in weddings. We ask the guests, the attendants and the pastor not only to bear witness to our commitment, but also to commit themselves to come alongside us, to support our marriage, to encourage us to pursue God and each other as we enter this dedication of our own lives. It calls those present to protect the sanctity of our marriage as they can by supporting us together rather than pitting us against one another, to be a part of what we are committing to by not only being a part of that day, but our lives going forward. A wedding like a baby dedication is about committing to watch over and pray for that marriage from that day on.

I don’t think I will ever attend another wedding in quite the same way again. I cannot look at it as simply a party nor as an elaborate formality. Even as an attendee, weddings have changed for me. Even as a guest they are a commitment. Interestingly, I think that this revelation has made other peoples’ weddings more scary for me at the same time as making my own less scary.

So, to the love of my life, thank you so much for giving me new perspective. Please never stop challenging what I think I know and feel and want. Thank you for being you, for having the courage to have a culturally unlikely perspective and sharing it with me. Thank you for asking such a simple yet complex question. Thank you for riding out my insecurities and my conflicting feelings. I will probably need to be talked down a million times in the process, but I am so excited for the day we embark on this escapade of taffeta and cake tasting together. No one else could have gotten me excited about this the way you have. I love you with all of my heart.

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Week 3 Reflection: Her

Security is not found in the absence of danger, but in the presence of Jesus.

-John and Staci Eldredge- Captivating

Nothing can bring a real sense of security into the home except true love.

-Billy Graham

Security means a million things to a million different people. What I wanted to know was what it means in our relationship. What do each of us think of when we think of being safe and secure? What makes us feel that we are? What makes us feel that we are not? And how important is that sense of security. Initially, I will be honest, I had this question in the context of intimacy. In her book “Rising Strong” Berne Brown explains that for both men and women some of the most consistently identified areas of insecurity, vulnerability, and fear were surrounding sex and intimacy. Even the way we talk about it reveals that it is a subject of great delicacy. Because it is so vulnerable to be that physically and emotionally open with another person it is both a source of great connection, emotional honesty and expression and bonding but also pain, disconnection and misunderstanding. This is why I wanted to know how each of us could feel the most secure in that connection when the time comes and also what things we might do inadvertently that might make each other feel less secure. Alseep 3

That was really important to me, and we did go over that, but we also expanded beyond that context to security in life in general. As I was thinking over the question before our conversation I tried my best to contemplate what it looked like for me to feel secure? What is happening in my heart, mind, body, and life at those times? How about when I feel insecure? What do I do as a result of feeling secure or insecure? How important is that feeling to how I live my life? All these questions lead me back to just two things- my spiritual health and my mental health. When these are in order and well tended, regardless of the circumstances around me, I feel secure. As a result I take risks- I love big, I give big, I live big. But when my spiritual health or mental health are out of wack, when I get out of sync with God or when I let my depression or anxiety go untreated and unaddressed, I flip into survival mode. I get as small and compact as possible. My movements are reserved, I don’t risk offering opinions or encouragement, I don’t let the people around me into my life. I am concerned only with mitigating pain at those moments and I lose all sense of adventure, purpose and hope. In other words, I become a self-absorbed control-freak who is no fun at all to be around. Conclusion- as my partner, I need you to check in with me and remind me that I need to be tending these areas for both of our sake.

As we shared these thoughts and feelings with one another we hit some really raw areas. I knew we would, but what surprised me was how raw they were. I think we both anticipated last week’s conversation being hard but for some reason I found this much harder. I don’t know why exactly, but this week was harder for me. Maybe it was that last week was very specifically about marriage itself and while that hit on some of my gremlins, this week was all about them. What makes me feel secure or insecure has to do primarily with what voices I am listening to. That means talking about what undermines my feelings of security means talking very frankly about the malicious gremlins that I fight with on a daily basis. That, for me, involved a great deal more vulnerability and exposure. All my worst insecurities laid out on the table. In truth, we were basically laying out a “if you wanna hurt me bad, here is how.” If either of us chose, we could pick up what we learned and wield it as a weapon to manipulate or wound. The choice to share was one of ultimate trust.

I left the conversation feeling very exposed. But if I am honest, I don’t think I have ever felt closer to anyone. It was a bit like handing him a knife and saying “Here, there is a splinter over my heart. Would you please take it out, but please don’t kill me by plunging the knife between my fourth and fifth rib about midway between my sternum and my axila.” It was both necessary and alarming, both exhilarating and risky. The truth is we will inevitably hurt one another along the way. I believe in us, that those hurts will be spaced as far as we can and that they will not be inflicted intentionally. It is a risk I am willing to take.

So, to my love and my friend, my calm and my passion, my wonderful, amazing, gracious companion, thank you for meeting me in this vulnerable place. Thank you for taking this journey of self discovery with me. Thank you for making me feel like I can fly. Thank you for all you do to ensure that my gremlins don’t eat my lunch.  I vow never to use what you have confided in me as a weapon, but I apologize in advance for the mistakes I will make that will hurt you. I promise to always do my best to fight at your side against the things that want to bring you pain, to protect you in all the ways I can, and to make you feel my love and support as consistently and strongly as I am able. You mean the world to me and I am so utterly grateful for you.

Week 3 reflection: him

Last week we probed what scared us about marriage. It was a hard hitting topic that really pushed us to confront fears of our future together. It is only appropriate that we asked what makes us feel safe and what threatens that safety. When God speaks, we listen. When the hat asks, we answer.

I tried to capture the feeling the best I could. Listening intently, I wanted to know her bodily language, tone, and word choice when talking about stressful situations. This conversation, more than the previous ones, was more about recognizing immediate needs versus the big-nasty-relationship-breaking fears. If anything, it reminded me that the day to day is just as important than the philosophical relationship stuff.

That feeling, of which I mean the empathetic understanding, hurt. I could feel anxious for her and felt anxious when describing my own issues. For me, personal space is important. Avoiding clutter and people is sometimes all I can do to avoid stress. Time is the factor that helps the most after a fight or a fit of anger. Guilt will always control me in any of those situations that merit space or time.

There were several pleasant surprises. When we talked about our safety nets, I felt comfortable. I felt like I could really be there for this other person. I want to be there for this other person confidently fighting off any demons that may present themselves. My issue, and her issue too, is allowing the other person to be there and to comfort. I will have to learn how to rely on her, but I’m sure it can and will be done. I already complain to her like I’m sitting at a DMV. Se la vie.

We also brought forth topics that we will need to add to the hat. We have started talking about our concerns with intercourse and the inevitability of living together. That will be a challenge not going to lie. On the other hand, I would love if she got to brag the rest of her life. I want that for her and for us.

I’m excited for our discussion next week where we talk about weddings, but I already know she is scared witless. So, I will try my best to not scare her too much. In the meantime, I’m going to try and survive Thanksgiving without her. Again, se la vie.

Week 2 reflection: him

At a deep level, one that pushes me further to be myself, the topic for this week still pulses in the back of my head. A fear revealed is awareness: a fear shared is vulnerability. However, fear has a way of sneaking up on you. I wasn’t expecting to feel so raw from sharing my fears about marriage. I especially didn’t think to feel raw after sharing them with a person I am considering one day marrying. I could feel my heart race whenever my mind wanted to process. Often times I felt angry and something unrelated or emotionally nude with an overactive self-awareness.

The list of fears compound on one another. I’m grateful for this post. I can make a stopping point to reset. My stomachs still churns. My arms still ache. I can feel a flare coming any moment. I’ve learned that true vulnerability comes at a cost and I’m grateful that I can feel all these feelings.

Yes, I’m grateful. Earlier this year, I was a rock, a shield of faith raised to protect me from a scary situation, but my emotions were a study and unmoving as my disposition. I had to defend myself against someone that I had shared a few vulnerable topics, but they had decided to take them to unwarranted extremes. You can see why I would be nervous when, here I sit, going through the process of revealing layer after layer to someone else.

We may be the sum of our experiences, but the experiences we reveal to others reveals our character. Who we are, versus what, is more important. I may have a series of feelings based entirely in my experience, but what I choose to do with them constitutes more of my being than the experiences themselves. Plain English: this year sucked, but how I address it of the rest of my life is more important than being in fear of it.

I guess what I’m attempting to say is that my biggest fear was being vulnerable. Yes, the task was to be vulnerable about my fear, which is to be vulnerable. I think recognizing where the initial fear stems makes the world of difference. If anything, I’ll be more aware in the weeks and months to come and knowing is half the battle. I can and will confront this head on. Both her and I deserve that much.

Week 2 Reflection: Her

Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more so we may fear less. – Marie Curie

fear

“What scares you most about marriage?” Can you believe that was the first thing we pulled out of that ridiculous hat! Nothing like ripping off the band aid and diving right in. I think it was perfect though.

Fear is one of the most misunderstood things in all of life. Some people want desperately to banishes completely while others dare not even look directly at it. It drives a myriad of choices made on a daily basis and yet most of us never sit down and talk about what it really is and why.

As I was preparing for this weeks convention I wanted to be intellectually honest as well as emotionally honest. To me that meant not just listing off what scares me about marriage but really looking at it long enough to understand why that scares me. For example- one of the things that scares me is that we would have a breakdown in communication. Why is that scary? Well because for me, one of my deepest insecurities and pains is that I am not worthy of connection and thus end up isolated even while lying next to someone. I have seen couples who let communications break down and it undermines their entire marriage and they wake up one morning and have no idea who they are married to.

We talked through our fears. We laughed a little, I cried because… yeah, that’s what I do when things get real. And we connected in a way I have never connected to anyone before. I shared what hurt and shaped and terrified me and got support and understanding and love in return. We hit some really raw topics, and neither of us turned away. I think for me that is the ideal of what marriage should be- seeing the real you in all your mess and sifting through it with you instead of turning up your nose and leaving.

So my dear, in all my mess and all my flaws, despite the fact that standing in a white dress at the end of an isle with everyone staring at me still makes me feel like I’m going to jump out of my skin, if you are there with me, I’m not scared or at least I’m willing to face my fear and conquer it. With you by my side I feel fearless. I love you.