Thursday, December 28, 2017

What is Love?

Today my parents are celebrating their 49th wedding anniversary. It seems insane for me to have parents who are entering their 50th year of marriage. I wasn't always a cynic, but now in my late 20s, I'm constantly wondering if marriage is Worth It. Whatever "It" is. If we look throughout history, we see hundreds of thousands of marriages that have worked (by our own personal standards of course), and marriages that haven't, (Henry VIII, am I right?).

But I've never been a cynic when it comes to Sandy and Andy. Yes, those are my parents' real names, and my mom always adds "Ain't that handy?!" Before I go on, I would like to add the disclaimer that this post is not intended to suck up to my parents. But hey, if that happens, it's an added bonus. I guess I'm writing this to alleviate my own skepticism. And to thank them for showing my siblings and niece and nephews what love is.

My parents have known each other since they were 10. First of all...that's a long time. That means they've known each other for over 60 years. Think about your longest friendship. Now imagine promising your entire life to that person. It's so daunting. And yet, somehow, they've done it. And they've done it well.

When my dad was in undergrad at Penn State he worked hard during the week so he could spend time with my mom on the weekends. When he was getting his DVM, they were married at living in Ithaca and he would have a full day of classes and studying, and always set a time limit for when he would be finished for the night. And then they would spend time together. Time Management=Love.

Not only are they husband and wife, but they are also business partners. My dad got his license to practice veterinary medicine, and in 1973 they found a farm in south central PA, and set up shop. My mom has been his office manager ever since. Answering phones, building relationships with clients, organizing client cards and files...literally anything you can imagine. My mom has the true heart of a servant, and the patience of a saint=Love.

My dad has worked so hard to provide for all of us. As a farmer, businessman and father, his first priority has always been family. I remember when I was little, he would be called out late at night to go on farm calls. I sometimes would see his tail lights going out the lane from the window in my room. My mom, sisters, and now my brother in law and niece and nephews, and myself, never wanted for anything. I feel so blessed, even in my moments of bratty, selfish behavior. The hard work and dedication of my amazing father=Love

It's not a secret that I love food. I get that love from my family 100%. Growing up, one of my favorite smells was my mom's kitchen-molasses crinkles, pumpkin pie, tuna noodle Aunt Honey's ham loaf. Hundreds of other recipes that she has passed along to my sisters. Meals were, and still are, a central part of our family. Just the other night my sister asked why stranger's baked goods didn't taste as good as the ones from our family. I replied "Because they aren't made with love." And as cheesy as it sounds, I really believe it. My mom loves to be in the kitchen, and she adds a special element to cooking, and I really think that ingredient is Love.

One thing I've noticed about Sandy and Andy is their consistent willingness to help out others. They have always donate to causes they believe in, have helped local families in need, and for heaven's sake, they adopted me, and before that they were foster parents for many years. For as long as I can remember, our home was always a warm and cozy place for our family and friends. My mom would always remind me that selflessness is a way to show love because Jesus first loved us. Charity/Hospitality= Love.

I think that as my parents enter their 50th year or marriage, I will be more intentional in how I view love and marriage. Less cynicism, and more optimism. The hope that I will be able to show love the way my parents have shown it throughout the course of their relationship.

So, here's to you J. Andrew and Sandy Lee: Thank you for loving each other and us so well. I love you guys and wish you more decades of happiness.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Here We Are. Again.

The last 48 hours have been insane. I thought all day about emotional labor, and how people expect it; how it's hard and awful, and how I tend to give it freely. Because of those thoughts, it seems counterintuitive to write this post, but, clearly, it's necessary. Racism is heavy you guys. I don't talk about it to be divisive. I don't talk about it to be lauded as an expert. I don't talk about it to hear myself talk. I talk about it because if I don't, I become emotionally and physically ill. So here we are. Again.
Dear White Friends: You might read my posts, and assume that you know my tone, intention, or my heart. But you don't, and you won't until you ask me. And when/if you decide to ask me, come to me privately. Not because I have something to hide, but because that shows me you are ready to close your mouth and open your ears to hear my experiences and my stories. If your attitude is to come to me prepared to argue, that shows me that you aren't truly ready to listen. And I want you to know that that's okay. There's a learning curve. I've been on that journey my whole life. I'm still breaking down stereotypes and internalized assumptions I have about people of color or other marginalized groups. It's not easy. You will be uncomfortable. But at some point, this pathway is going to catch up to you, and someone who is less forgiving than me is going to confront you. And it's not going to be pretty. (See my last point below.)
Emotional labor is real. It's hard, and it's intense, and honestly, POC have been doing so much Work for people who have the internet at their fingertips. If you have a broad question, Google it. There are hundreds of articles on racial reconciliation. Those are good places to start. Those folks are worth your time, but also worth your money. We talk about the socio-economic divide between caucasians and POC. When I say "support a business that's owned by a person of color!" that isn't furthering the is literally a small way to close the economic gap that is so present in our communities. To suggest that it's divisive is ignorant at best. If you're worried about furthering the divide, do your part to close it, and support businesses owned by POC. It's pretty simple.
Really think about what you want to say or ask before you say or ask it. I know that's rich coming from me, possibly the most impulsive person you know...but it's so worth it. A good way to check this is to say: would I say this to or ask this of my black coworker/friend/cashier at the supermarket? If the answer is "no, I wouldn't," Google it. There's an answer out there on the internet, I promise.
Prepare to get educated. If you do say or ask something on a post from a POC, just know that we have an army of friends who will educate you. It's not going to be pretty. They'll probably be petty, and frustrated...and that's because this is the emotional labor that we do all. the. time. And for that same reason: Prepare to not have your questions answered right away.
If you've found any of this helpful, let me know. If you want to discuss any of this further, buy me coffee, or have me over for food, and we will chat. Most importantly, prepare to get uncomfortable, because that's where the real work starts.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

A Return to The Page

A year has gone by since my last blog post. It wasn't the nicest thing I had ever written, but it was my Truth at the time and I needed to say it. I don't regret it, and it's linked right there if you want to read it. This is not an apology for that piece. this is explanation of a transition. 

A lot has happened in the last year. Because of my family, my therapist, and my dozens of friends, I have managed to almost completely heal from a heartbreaking end of a relationship, which is HUGE, and not something to discuss here. (Most of you have heard it all already...that I am actually apologizing for. So boring.) 

But also in the last year, I've started writing my book, I've managed job woes and real-life adult responsibilities, I've tackled some tough medical challenges, I've done a few shows, and as we are currently in a touchy political climate, I have found my voice and haven't shut up. (Definitely not sorry about that. #BlackLivesMatter) 

Friends have come, and some friends I considered to be my closest are no longer in my circle. I feel like our generation gets shoved out to a stormy sea in a flat bottomed boat with a bucket, a rain jacket and the wish of "good luck, and Godspeed!" and that's about it. We navigate life and relationships with very basic tools, the tides ebb and flow, and somehow, we manage to stay afloat. 

I turned 29. I am far less panicky about 30 than I was when I was turning 28. I've considered lying about my age, but it catches up to you pretty quickly. I've avoided the existential crisis of "What have/haven't I accomplished that I said I wanted to do before I was 30?" Because times, and the culture, have changed. We (millennials) aren't getting married younger, we are waiting to have kids, or we've decided to skip that altogether. We want cats, dogs, careers, adventures...all things we could have while in a committed marriage relationship, but we've seen so many fail that we just give up. or decide to Try Less Hard. But that's a different topic too. 

In January I went to New York to visit the Atlantic Acting School. Atlantic was founded by David Mamet and William H. Macy. As I walked through Chelsea, the cold air hitting my face, I felt nervous, but there was a familiar feeling in the air-anticipation of investing my time into my craft. Even just for a night. I walked into the building, got a security clearance and shared the elevator with a young actor who was headed up to Atlantic for a first read through. He asked if I was involved in the project, and I said no, that I was just visiting. He told me he loved Atlantic and hoped I would consider applying. The open house was amazing...we had an info session with the executive director who was also one of the founding members. We had an improv workshop which was far less scary than I had expected, and then we had an on-camera audition workshop. I wasn't that great, but that solidified my belief that I need on-camera training ASAP. As I talked to the admissions director while simultaneously shoving expensive New York cheese into my mouth, I realized how much that room felt like Home. Creativity, talent, promise, on the walls of TONS of actors we know and love that studied there. I talked to one of the girls on my way out, and told her I was torn. Do I uproot my comfortable life and my big girl job that provides me with health insurance that I need to survive and move to the city to follow my dream? She looked at me and said, "It sounds like you already know what you want to do." She smiled, said goodbye, and disappeared into the night. I cried as I passed the Chelsea Market, imagining coffee breaks with my new Atlantic family. Picturing our pre-showcase ritual knowing that agents would be in the audience to watch our hard work; thinking about our final project of forming a theatre company...exactly how Atlantic Acting School was born. "Yes. This is what I want. This is My Thing. This is My Dream."
It's been 8 months since that trip. and I haven't started the application. Fear is holding me back and I've acknowledged it. I'll do something about it...each time I think of that night my heart aches for that familiarity again. 

But this isn't about that either! (But it kind of is because look at how much I loved it!) 

This is about transitions. And being ok with sitting in them. Look around at where you are. If you're having a Good Life right now or an Ok Life, or a Sad Life, acknowledge it. Allow yourself to be vulnerable in that spot. it's's so so so difficult, and sometimes it hurts. And that's ok too! As cliche as this sounds, growth and progress and transitions happen in the Dark Times.

How do you get through the Dark Times?
1. Develop a plan. Have friends that you trust keep you accountable. Strength in numbers!
2. Have a healthy outlet for releasing the tension. I had my first massage this summer and I went directly to therapy afterwards. The release of physical tension allowed my brain to be clearer and helped me to be more vulnerable that day to my therapist. 
3. Cut out the negative. Surround yourself with likeminded people that you trust. 
4. Intentionally make time for things that make you happy. Go out on a Friday. Stay in on Saturday. Brunch on Sunday. Doing chores, visiting friends, cooking. Whatever your "thing" is, schedule a time for you to do it. Your brain knows that you enjoy those things and it releases endorphins and those cheer you up. (I learned that from Legally Blonde. Thanks, Elle Woods/Reese Witherspoon)
5. Love yourself for exactly who you are. Tell yourself your Truths in the mirror. You are strong. You are beautiful/handsome. You are unique. Write them down. Repeat. 

Some of these might be helpful. Some of them might not be helpful. These are very simply based on my experience the last year of my life. I want to share them with you, in hopes that I can get back to being authentic through my writing. 

It's been a long year, y'all, but I have a lot of faith. There's a lot of work to be done, that I'll write about later, but I know we're gonna be alright. After all, we have each other. 

Shine Bright. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

To The People Back Home

For so many years I heard “you’re not really black.” “You’re the whitest black girl I know.” “You’re such an Oreo-White on the inside, Black on the outside!”

I laughed and went along with it for so many years. Because I felt it was true. And not because I hated the color of my skin, but because I didn’t know to be offended. You all expected me to be a certain way. After all my parents were white so how would I know what “being black” really was?

Being around you all shaped my own prejudices. For years, four years specifically, anytime a new black person came to our school I viewed them through YOUR lens. “Ghetto. Loud. Those earrings are so big, her clothes are too tight, doesn’t she know we don’t dress like that around here?”

There’s an image burned into my mind from Junior Year. It was the end of the day and everyone was heading to our lockers. Right in my pathway I saw a white guy and black girl screaming at each other. “SHUT UP YOU BITCH” he yelled. “GET OUT OF MY FACE.” She screamed back. “I’M GOING TO TEAR THOSE EARRINGS OUT OF YOUR EARS.” “GO AHEAD. DO IT.”

I swiftly walked past them but my heart was pounding out of my chest. He was rude. But so was she, right? She should have walked away, I decided. I gathered my things and went to the bus. Something didn’t sit right. I didn’t know why, but I was bothered by it.

Let’s back up. I lived 5 minutes from school, but I always rode the bus. Bus 25. Blanche was our driver, and a family friend. It was 7th grade and I had taken the bus home after school, but this particular day I had lugged my tenor sax with me. I was sitting on the bus and I can’t, for the life of me, remember how it started. But suddenly the boy two seats ahead of me was yelling. I’m sure I said something...I wish I could remember what. I know I asked him to please leave me alone. And he yelled at me. I said “Please, leave me alone. I just want to go home.” More foggy memories...then suddenly: “Ugh. I hate niggers. This is why I should start carrying a rope and chain with me to school.” I started to cry and when I got off the bus, I screamed. My sister had picked me up on our moped and I threw my jacket against it and screamed and sobbed. It took her and my mom to calm me down to get the full story. My mom immediately called the superintendent. He was on our side of course, and said there was no room for racist behavior and death threats. The boy was suspended from the bus and also got in school suspension for a day. He also was told to apologize. I don’t remember that, but I remember being terrified to ride the bus again. Shortly thereafter he started to drive to school and I was so thankful.

Senior year, two popular football players were sitting on the Senior Benches. I was walking from the office to class and suddenly I heard an all-too familiar, and very outdated tune.
“Is he whistling Dixie at me?” I furrowed my brow and chuckled. They looked at me, I stared right back and thought “You idiots. My parents are WHITE. My dad takes care of your animals. You know me.”

But they didn’t.
None of you did.
You thought you did, because I was friendly, and nice, and outgoing.
But you didn’t know the stories of how even I was treated by some of our classmates.
You didn’t know that I tried so hard to differentiate myself, and failed over and over again.
You didn’t know that when I called one of my friends a “cracker,” I didn’t know it was a negative term. But everyone who heard it was shocked, and one of you tattled. I felt awful. I almost cried in front of you.
I would never “be black.”
I would never “be white.”
I would always just be an Oreo.

Thankfully, my sister finally cleared something up for me. “What do you mean ‘act black?’ A color doesn’t act a certain way. You mean act/talk ‘urban.’” It struck me like a bolt of lightning. “Oh my gosh, YES. That’s what I mean!” She rolled her eyes at me, like all big sisters do and we went about our business.
But now, I’ve changed. Yes I’m still adopted and my family is still white. Yes I still shop at Target, and Gap and American Eagle. I listen to country music, and pop, and I’m a sucker for acoustic covers (what I’m listening to as I’m writing this.). My boyfriends have all been white.
I went to a very white private college. I am constantly self-conscious about dancing in clubs. (Like..really, I’m black AND a theatre person so where’s my rhythm when I’m just having fun??)

I struggled with singing a soulful slave tune in one of my dream shows this summer because in the back of my head I heard “You’re not really black. You’re not like Patina Miller, or Renee Elise Goldsberry, or Jasmine Ceaphas Jones UGH. You can’t do it. You’re not black enough.” And you know what? I freaking NAILED that song. I shut down the demons and I didn’t try to be like my favorite black actresses. I dug deep into my own darn soul and found Star and what she was going through, what so many minorities in our country are going through, and what our ancestors went through while trying to escape to freedom.

Escape. How do I escape? How do I escape your cop apologist posts? How do I escape you telling the world that you “don’t see color” because it’s not important? How do I escape you posting memes of “black people who listened to the police,” or “here’s a black celebrity going against the majority of his black peers,” or “here’s a successful black woman, be more quiet and unassuming like her.” It’s crap. It’s all crap, because you want these people to be flawless.
You want safe black people. Yet, you don’t want Michelle and Barack. I don’t know why, because they ARE successful, and I’m sure in the past they have been pulled over, and they do go against the majority of their black peers. I mean for heaven’s sake they’re the First Family, but God forbid you praise a black man becoming the Leader of the Free World. That’s too much, right?

You want relatable black people.
You want me to keep wearing clothes brands that you think are appropriate for me. I shop where you shop, so I’m safe. I like Panera, and going to fancy restaurants and pubs, so I’m not like “those other black people.” I don’t “talk urban” so you aren’t threatened to start a conversation with me. I chemically straightened my hair for 15 years, so it’s not “nappy and unprofessional” like those girls with braids and Senegalese twists at your jobs.
Oh, but I did just cut my hair, and really it has nothing to do with joining a movement, and it has everything to do with the fact that I look like a badass with short hair, but now you probably see me as unrelatable.
I danced for 3 hours in a club the other night with some friends, with other black and Latinxs, and white people, and mixed people and Natives, and this is probably never something you expected Star to do, so now she’s not safe. Not approachable, because she’s becoming too much like “those other black people.”
I post things that should be common sense, especially if you consider yourself pro-life (which I know a lot of you do.) Yes all lives matter. But guess what- I can say “Black Lives Matter” and still know in my heart that all life matters. But not all lives are threatened right now. But the people with my color skin? Whether you consider them to be safe or not, their lives are threatened and they MATTER. And I will continue to say it.

Someone recently asked me if a certain relationships are worth salvaging. I daily, hourly, minute-by-minute ask myself that as I’m scrolling through my newsfeed. Some of you are willing to dialogue, but the majority of you are not. Those relationships to me, are not worth my emotional energy.
And I don’t say that to offend you. That’s simply to show that as a black woman in America, I’m exhausted. I’m so tired. I can’t comment on every post, no matter how much I want to. Because I know 98% of you won’t answer back. You’ll say to yourself “Wow. She’s not the girl I remember from back home.” And you know, I’m not. I left. I grew. I gained more friends of all colors and cultures, and I LOVE it. I broadened my world and my circle, and I learned, sometimes painfully, how to dialogue with people who don’t look like me.

We all need to do this. If you truly want racism to disappear (which by the way it won’t), you need to leave your bubble. You need to travel, grow, gain more friends of all colors and cultures and broaden your world and your circle. Growth does not happen inside of your comfort zone, but I promise you the second you sit with someone you don’t feel is safe, you will grow and you will learn.

You need to teach your kids that their brown friends’ lives are as important as theirs. Teach them that God made people with different skin colors and that diversity a beautiful thing, not a hindrance! Teach them about African American, and black, and Latinxs, and Native history. If we don’t learn from our past, it’s going to repeat itself, and it’s already happening. You keep posting that you want change. You keep posting that you want to pray for change. But the only way to actively see change at a small level is to talk to your black friends. Talk to your minority friends. Meet them for coffee, and ask them how they are, and what their thoughts are on the events of this summer. But more importantly: listen to their answers. Take notes. Ask them how you can bring change into your home, church, and community. Ask them to join you in being the change you so desperately want to see.

We, as minorities, need your help. We want to dialogue. But we can’t if you aren’t willing to talk. Stop shutting down. It’s clear you have opinions. But maybe set them aside to hear the opinions of others and then talk about them.

I’m still Starleisha. My family is still white. I live in a city now, and not my parent’s farm, and I still don’t talk “urban.”

But I am no longer safe. I’m done being safe. I want change, and that’s dangerous, but I’m willing to go after it.

Join me?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

To the Class of 2016, from Someone Who's Been There

Your senior year is a time for celebrations. Your big class trip; your last musical; your last baseball game; your last orchestra concert; your last art show. Even though everyone is headed in different directions, you never look around at your friends and think “this is the last time I might see them,” because there is always Summer. Summer is for bonfires, riding around with the windows down, getting ice cream at Milky Way.

You never think that your class will bond over something tragic as losing a classmate. But sometimes, and only God knows why, that brings you closer as a group.
Quite frankly, losing a classmate sucks. It’s inexplicable. It’s hard. It’s unfair. It’s sad. It’s all of those things plus a million more emotions you didn’t know you had.

As someone who has Been There, here are a few quick things I wish someone would have told me about losing someone you love.

First of all, I want you to know that everything you are feeling is valid. You are not being overemotional, or overdramatic. Allowing yourself the space to feel and grieve is okay. It’s necessary. It’s your body’s way of releasing stress and tension. Let it happen. If someone tells you that you are being overemotional or overdramatic, it’s ok to disagree with them. Only you can assess how and what you are feeling, and that’s ok.

Secondly, grief is strange, and everyone grieves differently. Some of you will cry, others will be silent. Some will be callous and say “I don’t care that much” because they are confused about what they’re feeling. Others of you will gather and tell stories and laugh at the silly things she said, or the way she used to joke, or remember how smart she was, and honor how beautiful she was inside and out. Again, let it happen, and don’t discount anyone’s form of grief. The beautiful thing about every one of you is that you feel and process things differently. And that’s okay.

Grow in your grief. Figure out how you, as the wonderful human you are, process these emotions. Talk to someone you love. Parents, friends’ parents, a counselor, a teacher, a coach, youth pastor, whoever. Your mental health is too precious to tackle this alone. Please talk to someone.

Lastly, it’s important to joyfully remember your friend. What happened was tragic, yes. But the life she led was anything but that. Get together and celebrate who she is, and the fact that you know she is healed and whole and with the God she loved so much. Joy is also strange. It’s strange to feel so incredibly sad yet so incredibly joyful at the same time. I think of the movie “Inside Out.” Riley’s emotions and memories finally work together to form her different Personality Islands. Sadness and Joy pressing the button together is the perfect example of allowing our emotions to blend together, but not control us.

It’s hard, but as one of my favorite writers says “Together We Can Do Hard Things.”
Spend time together. Spend more time together than you ever thought was humanly possible. Be amazed at how you support each other, and take pride in how your community has come together during this time. Remember that even though you’re in a small town, each person has shown that they have a big heart. Don’t take that, or anyone you encounter, for granted.

And always remember: Love Wins.

(Flckr: slgckgcBy: slgckgc  )

Monday, October 19, 2015


This morning I had coffee and colorful conversation with my dear friend Lizz. She's a writer, and has recently become a Kindred Spirit to me. As we were discussing our lives and our various quirks she presented me with a fairly normal question. "Star...if your life could be anything right now, what would it be, ideally?" I paused, opened my mouth, and then paused again, Lizz anxiously awaiting my answer. My head was immediately flooded with all of the things I've wanted to do. Oh, easy. I'd move to New York. Oh, I'd have a boyfriend. No...wait...I'd...uh... "Oh my gosh, I have NO idea!" was my super deep response. Lizz laughed and said "EXACTLY. Because no one knows what our lives would be like if we could ideally do anything."

Her statement sparked my brain, but I found it incredibly frustrating all at the same time.
I was instantly plagued by the thought that I'm not doing "enough" with my twenties. What am I doing?

Is working a full-time job in my field, chugging 3 cups of coffee a day, and not acting part-time really what I would ideally like to be doing?

No, it's not. But it's where I am right now, and there's so much to be grateful for.

The more I think about it, the less I stray from the idea of having an "ideal" life; I inadvertently begin to seek what my life would be if it were "perfect." I'd be acting (for money! what a concept...), I'd have a Godly, sexy boyfriend who supports my love for theatre and whom I support wholeheartedly (he's owns a start-up and serves in our church, by the way), I'd have a steady income from my day job, and we would have a kitten named Sasquatch.

But God didn't design our lives to be "perfect." If we were meant to lead perfect, spotless lives, then God's grace and Jesus dying on the cross for our messy, messed-up, silly sins is pointless. I'm inclined to think that we aren't even to strive for "ideal" lives either. Ideally, I wouldn't struggle with perfectionism to the point of being sick to my stomach...ideally, I wouldn't sass my mother after we both have had long, taxing days. Ideally...ideally.

Friends, we're all sinners. We mess up. But there is enough grace for us to receive over and over again.
I think having endless grace is the closest we will ever get to having anything "ideal" in life.
And for right now, I'm ok with that.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Dear Christians: We Need To Talk About Broken Engagements

By now, I think everyone knows my entire life story. Usually upon meeting someone new, I don't bother to use a "don't spill your guts!" filter. "Hi I'm Starleisha! I'm adopted, my family is white, I have two cats, Tater-Tot and Cricket, a beagle named Sweetie and until the end of this past January, I was engaged!" 

At this point, if the poor person's eyes haven't already glazed over, I can usually predict their next facial expression. It's a shifting mix of shock and compassion and concern. For the first few months after my relationship was over, the most common response was, "Wow! You are so brave." "That was such a brave decision." "I could never be that brave!" It finally got to the point where I turned to a friend and said "I swear if someone says brave one more time, I'm going to punch them in the face!" 

To me, my decision wasn't brave. It was simply a necessary decision; for our collective and individual preservation. In a sense, it was as if you gave the keys of a car to a stunt man and said, "Okay, Rod. Two options: no protective gear, or all the protective gear we have. But either way we are going to light the car on fire. What'll it be?!" If Rod is thinking clearly, he'll at least take some of the gear so when he has to bail out, some of his bones stay intact.

For the sake of this analogy, I am Rod. My engagement was the car. My impending marriage was the inevitable fire; wearing no gear was walking down an aisle towards divorce lawyers and a year of tears and hurt, and taking all the gear and bailing was breaking the engagement.

No one faces fire without doing something to keep themselves and the ones they love from getting burned.

Right now you might be thinking "Okay, but how did you know?" "What if it was the wrong choice?" "What if D was the right guy for you and you were his perfect match and you RUINED EVERYTHING FOR THE REST OF FOREVER?!"

I'll tell you, honestly, the answers to those questions.

1- How Did You Know? How do you know that you don't like jalapeños? I'm assuming that at some point you tried them accidentally (or on purpose, you psycho. why would you do that?!), and you didn't like them. They burned. They hurt. They weren't pleasant at all. You learn what you like and dislike, tolerate and hate, love and loathe through the same process: personal experience. I'm not saying that you should go accepting proposals willy-nilly, but what I am saying is that being engaged is recommended before marriage for a reason.

All of a sudden, two people who think they know each other have to agree on how one single day, The First Day Of The Rest Of Their Lives, should look like, sound like and taste like. No one tells you this, but planning a wedding is hell. I know people who have done it and escaped seemingly unscathed, but they will eventually come clean and tell you that there were fights over napkins. Literal pieces of cloth almost ended a lifetime commitment. That's terrifying. No one wants to be known as the couple who couldn't agree on napkins. 

But that's what happened. Things weren't falling into place. We couldn't find a venue. We couldn't agree on a time of year. There was a lot of "number crunching" and ice cream eating to avoid the bigger issues. The issues that, as we sat on our counselor's couch that July afternoon, I could feel, she could see, and D was avoiding.

I didn't think I was strong enough. I didn't have closure from a previous non-relationship. I didn't this, I didn't that, all while on the inside I was screaming that I COULDN'T. But the months went on and these fears were shoved deeper because "we are planning a wedding, we can't just stop!"
But I knew. We both knew, because the experiences we were having were hurting us. Burning. Not pleasant at all. Just as we thought it was all falling apart, it got better. We found a kick-ass venue, we began to communicate better, he got a job, I got a job, and then the single spark that would eventually illuminate the bigger problem, caught flame. 

2-What If It Was The Wrong Choice? You know that stupid saying "if you love someone, let them go."? I'm here to tell you that while I think it's the most cliché thing anyone could say during this situation, it's also one of the more welcomed and "reassuring" things people can say.


I grew up in the age of purity rings, and "save yourselves until marriage," and "pass this chewed gum around and that's what you are if you don't save your self/love/heart for one person," I've recently realized that there was one big part that was left out of these teachings. And that part is, "What To Do When You Obey God's Will And Things Go Wrong."

Because of course all Christian couples go through hard times, but if you marry someone who has lived by the Red Letters and has never even THOUGHT about glancing at porn, nothing will go wrong. I'm here to say HAHA BULL. It's utter crap, you guys. We are ALL sinners. I don't care how devoted you are to the Lord. You're still going to screw up.

And the well-meaning, possibly unknowingly manipulative, adults who taught you that "married sex will be perfect sex" might say "well, maybe you weren't trusting God enough. Maybe he had a 'rough past.'" (Which we all know is Christianese for "he had sex once.") And that will make you feel ashamed. It will make you want to hide under your covers on Sundays and attend Church of the Box Spring. 

But what these adults are missing in their youth group lessons is the fact that shame is not from God. This summer I heard exactly what I needed to hear on this subject: "Guilt says 'I did a bad thing.' Shame says 'I am a bad thing.'" If you've ended a long-term engagement with a mixture of turmoil and shame, listen:

You did the right thing. You are not a bad thing.

You have not wasted yourself or your heart or your love. You are not a chewed up and spit out piece of gum. You are God's masterpiece. Whether you believe this or not doesn't make it any less true. In fact, I'm inclined to say that those of us who have loved so deeply with our whole hearts, and haven't been afraid to be vulnerable are probably the most beautiful. Usually we are artists, and we are mishmashed anyway, so what's a broken engagement? It's just another part of the mosaic of events that make us who we are.  

*Don't read me wrong here, friends--I do think that God blesses obedience/hard work/etc..., but I don't think that just because someone couldn't stay engaged or married it means God is punishing them for past or present inequities. Sometimes staying together isn't the right or obedient thing to do. Sometimes God is more subtle than we expect him to be. It's more proof that He can't be put in a box. I think many of us, myself included, want God to be bigger and louder in our lives. But sometimes it's the tugs in the corners of our heart, the Still Small Voice, that we should be paying attention to more and expecting more readily. 

3-What if D was the right guy for you and you were his perfect match and you RUINED EVERYTHING FOR THE REST OF FOREVER?! He wasn't. I wasn't. I didn't. But occasionally, almost 8 months to the day later, I still ask myself these questions. Some people might read that and think "Well she obeyed God so she should just let it go. The past is in the past!" To that I say: YOU ARE NOT QUEEN ELSA STOP IT. And, just because I think these things doesn't mean I'm not trusting God. 

And that brings me to the heart of this post. (You thought I forgot!)
As Christians, we need to stop trying to fit our expectations of marriage and couples into a box.

I will say this until I'm on my deathbed: No one is perfect. We are humans. 

After I accidentally found out about The Ring, but before we even began planning our glorified Fancy Party, I was researching videographers. I stumbled across a video of a Picture Perfect Christian Couple. I recognized this PPCC because I had seen their wedding in The Knot magazine. I fell in love with the venue that was close to where we lived, the cute groom's sweater and the beautiful bride's furs that she and her maids were wrapped in. It was late and I was supposed to be studying, but I HAD TO click their video. I wept like I had never wept before. Perfect music, snow, candles! THE FURS YOU GUYS. But what got me were The Vows. They promised to lead one another in Christ, to submit to each other in Christ, to be an example, to love, protect, serve, pray for, and honor each other purely... No joke, I cried for an hour, and watched the video eight times. After doing some creepy Facebook stalking, I found the bride's business website and sent her a long email detailing every.thing.I.felt about their Vows. I never heard back and was crushed, but showed the video to my sister who cried with me, sent it to all my friends, and to D, who promptly said "oh I know her." It was the typical small town Pennsylvania response. I huffed and told him that I wanted our wedding to be exactly like that PPCC's wedding. 

It wasn't until after The Ring and after I met people who were at that wedding (one person, who I now know and love dearly said to me "it wasn't that special...."), that I realized that I was idolizing their wedding. Intrigued, I dug deeper and realized what it really was: I idolized their relationship with each other and their relationship in relation to God.

 These perfect strangers had become my gods for how I wanted D and I to feel about God. But we weren't there. Because we weren't right for each other and because the whole thing was wrong. We didn't rely on the Still Small Voice for anything in our lives. I was waiting for the Winds and the Fire and for some Disaster to force one of us to end it. 

Sometimes the Still Small Voice comes in the form of your Mom. Sometimes the Fire is in the form of SisterDear who you fought with relentlessly which ended in a panic attack and regrettable words and slamming doors. Sometimes the Winds are your best friends...your Council who have held their tongues until they've bled and they are forced to finally break their silence with love and honest words. Sometimes the Disaster is finally taking the ring off before you end things, and praying you don't see anyone you know so you can avoid answering the dreaded question that comes after the Left Hand Wedding Band Glance: "Is everything okay with you and D?"
Sometimes it's laying in each other's arms in moments of vulnerability and sacredness and exhaustion and knowing in your heart of hearts that this isn't Forever. It's just Right Now. And that's what I think we Christians don't talk about. That sometimes Right Now is okay. It might not be in God's long-term plans for our lives, but this is the path He has led us on, and sometimes Right Now is all you have to remind you that God is in control. Sometimes Right Now ends and becomes Not Anymore. And that's okay too. 
God has gone before you, into every place you will step foot as an engaged person, a married person, a divorced person, a single person, a mother, father, sister, brother, etc...he blesses your obedience but in order to be obedient you have to let go of the shame that we as Christians, for whatever reason, carry around surrounding the issues of broken engagements or long-term relationships, and truly listen to and feel and acknowledge the areas of your life where God is asking for your obedience. 
It's hard, but it's good.

It's hard to talk about, but it's good to talk about. You wouldn't believe the amount of women I've run into over the last 8 months who have said "I was engaged too. I understand what you're going through. It's hard, but it's good." It makes me wonder how many people we miss in our daily encounters who, no matter the event, can lend a truly empathetic ear.

What if we gently normalize broken relationships? What if we say, "Sometimes life doesn't go as planned. Sometimes you think you're following God's plan but he gently leads you down another path, and that's okay. It's hard but it's good." How many of us would find a companion to walk through the storms with us, if we were willing to just be okay talking about this openly? 

Truthfully, I've found that sometimes not having a filter pays off. Sometimes all we need is a little too much information to make a solid connection. I'm open, and I'm asking you to be open to the idea of telling your story as well. Don't worry about it being messy. It's important and beautiful. Let's share them with each other, together. 

Photo Credit: Svatia Michelle Photography