Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Michigan Wedding!!!

Married at last...with a green moustache to boot!
So…I am married now. That’s new. It seems every few days I have this strange thought that, “Hey. I am married to Betsy. Huh?” Most of the time it seems normal; all of the time it feels right; it is just new, so I find myself in wonder at times.
Betsy and I had this grand idea that we were going to post something about being blissfully wed every day…last week. Since that did not happen, and I have not found an appropriate outlet for ALL THESE WORDS that need to escape, I present to you today’s post. What I am most focused on today is talking a little bit about what shook down in Michigan.
First, Michigan is the “official wedding date,” aka the one that must be remembered for antiquity when it comes to anniversaries. It was the one that, when all is said and done, we considered ourselves official. It is the one that changed things for us. Though other events helped us create new identities (e.g. the Valentine’s fight, our July trips, the Texas vows), the Michigan ceremony is what we mark as “the two becoming one” for us.
This is significant more on my end than Betsy’s. Early in the process I wanted two separate but equal ceremonies as we knew that significant people would be missing from a wedding by choosing either Texas or Michigan. My family (rightly) said Michigan was the logical choice. That stung, but the aftermath of that conversation was a major turning point for us. After that decision was made, we both learned the value of checking ourselves on any decision that was selfish to the point of the exclusion of the other. Ouch! Selfish! Yes...but you have to understand that I approach life by understanding that each of us is inherently selfish, meaning we think about our self first. That is not rocket science. When I ask you to do or for something your first response is normally, “Am I able to do or give that?” That is not a bad question. But the marker of maturity, and what I saw after this decision was that both Betsy and I were able to think, “I really want this. Is this something s/he will like, and if not, is it something that is worth fighting for?” We never had a big disagreement after that…which, trust me, I am QUITE thankful for.
So, all the planning came together. All the chaos ensued (such as me running lights, sound, figuring out a/v and clearing a stage at our rehearsal). The cool thing…the bride was part of the initial line up instead of the groom as I was quite busy! And Betsy has quite frequently joked, “Yeah. I married my uncle and my father the night of our rehearsal.” So…fun times, new jokes.
The day of the wedding it was 43 degrees and raining lightly, then heavily in about 15 minute cycles. This could have proved disastrous. Instead, it just made for fun stories. Pictures were fine, except I hate pictures so I got grumpy, not because of the photographers, but because…you know…I hate posing. I think at one point we had an exchange something like this:
Jodi: Soft lips James.
Me: (Anger seething about not having soft lifts, adjusts my face.)
Dan or Jodi: That is really more of a snarl than soft lips.
Me, internally: Ohhh…you think that’s a snarl do you…I will show you the wrath that cometh. My vengeance shall be swift and fierce.
My mom getting me to dance.
So, yeah. Pictures were great! Then something happened that I have NEVER seen happen at a wedding before, but I was absolutely enamored with. EVERYONE just hung out. It was fantastic. Family members, friends that were early, the wedding party, we all just hung out in back of the church telling fun stories, enjoying laughs. It was the best! We did that until about 10 minutes after the wedding should have started, because two closed streets and no parking lot led to lots of people walking. Again…fun stories, no anxiety. So, so thankful.
Our ceremony was equal parts cry-y and laugh-y. I sang a song I wrote when she walked down the aisle. We did vows we had written ourselves. We shared communion with everyone. We had lots of hugs and laughs. Betsy’s nephew received his reward for doing a job and showed his Hulk hands to everyone! It was just such a relaxing day, and remarkably unstressful.
Most people find me to be an extrovert. I understand that, because I can basically talk to anyone. Really…anyone. But, the thing people don’t realize is I hate being the center of attention for any length of time. It creates a lot of anxiety for me. So, when people dinged their glass wanting Betsy and I to kiss one too many times, I stepped outside the tent…and vomited. Yes. This glorious day was great, except I lost my lunch at the reception. Knowing this was nothing more than nerves, not true illness, I had a great rest of the reception by breaking everything glass that could be dinged. I kid. But, thankfully it did stop and I enjoyed the rest of the night.
Betsy's reception.
My friend Billy but two pictures up on the Facebook that demonstrated our two different receptions. It is here for you to see. This picture basically sums up much of the night. I enjoyed people with conversations; Betsy enjoyed people on the dance floor. Remember that not liking attention thing? That is what keeps me off of dance floors. I know it is a limitation. I know I need to get over it…but I also understand myself enough to respect limitations. If I (or Betsy) had pushed things to be different, it would have been a miserable night. And that is one thing I really love about us. Betsy knew that dance floor James equaled miserable James, so she didn’t ask it of me. (Thanks Mrs. Love!)

James's reception.
So, that is basically my take on Michigan. What an awesome day. What awesome time with family and friends. We are both so thankful for the many memories and stories from that day. If Betsy is up for it, I think she will write a little about her time in Michigan. We also want to share about the glory that was our honeymoon and the laugh fest that was our Texas shindig. And then I have something that has been kinda burning in me that I want to share. The only hint is that Janet, Rebecca, Ginny, Cari, Betsy, Dawn, Tammy, James, Aubrey and Evangeline, will probably be the only ones that share the memory that sparked it. That said, I think it is something so universal that the story will resonate with all of you. So, until later, hope you are well. Much love my friends.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Thoughts on the Monday before My Wedding

So…it’s the Monday before the wedding. What does that even mean? (Wow…that sounds like a bunch of philosophical, coffee-house, pretend meaning of life pretentiousness.) Scratch that.
So…it’s the Monday before the wedding. What am I feeling, what am I up to, what is kicking around the old mind grapes?
Well…by using the phrase mind grapes, I am obviously thinking of some 30 Rock. By the presence of Whitney Alexander in my house, it means I am still working my second job as a DMin editor. By the presence of James LeCroy in my house, it means I am still single and living with a roommate. By the text from Betsy I just got, it means preparations are still in swing approximately 800 miles nearly due north of me ahead of my arrival. By the phone call from my Aunt G last night, it means final planning for the Texas re-Wedding is wrapping up. By a good (albeit difficult) conversation with Betsy’s dad yesterday, it means that we have reached a point where Betsy and are to stick to a plan, even in the midst of life happening that will affect our new family. So, I guess at the end of the day it means this –
Getting married Saturday, although an event, is simply the next step of merging two lives into one. Granted it is a significant part of the journey, but it is simply, metaphorically, moving our left foots in front of our right foots, but this time holding hands as we move forward.

One of my heroes (Thomas Merton, of course), although not writing about marriage, puts it like this:

What I wear is pants.
What I do is live.
How I pray is breathe.

In essence, all of these things, these big events, these life-changing circumstances are part of a simple narrative of which we are a part. Yes, this wedding on Saturday is exciting. Yes, Betsy and I have made decisions that will make this day special. Yes, throughout the week family and friends will start arriving (and have already arrived) to make this a special day. Yes, Betsy and I hold that something special will come about because of the preparations that we have laid for the day.
But, today is Monday. And this morning I will go to work. And this evening I will edit dissertations and maybe even get to see my friends at small group if all goes well. And Betsy will paint some doors, hang out with Rachel Bliss and do other preparations that I will never really know about, but will be thankful for just the same.

And tomorrow I will go to work, and repeat much of what I did today, including editing dissertations. And Betsy will take on more preparations and hopefully spend time with other people and just enjoy being home in Grand Rapids. Hopefully she will be nice to Bella for me.
Then Wednesday, I will go to work. Then, Gaylynn Bittle will take me to the airport. Jay and Amy will board a plane in Boston, and somehow our planes, originating from different parts of the country will arrive within half-an-hour of one another. Apparently at that point a few of us will sit around a fire and enjoy each other’s company. Also, the Webbs will start their drive from Chicago.
Thursday brings about a whole other wave of travel and preparations. Friday brings more. Saturday brings still more. And so many of you will be making little preparations that Betsy and I cannot see. From John, Sheridan and Scooter driving from Chicago, to Deb flying from Colorado. From my family road tripping and hopefully eating some ribs in Memphis for me, to Betsy’s family erecting tents and putting in lights at the house. A few of you will lift up prayers. A few of you will be in a small church in Michigan or a tabernacle in Texas to be a part of our big days. Some of you will help us “warm” a house that I have already been living in for two years. Our roommates will be getting married. Other friends will be getting married. Friends will have babies. My friend Amy will grieve the loss of her sister. Other people will do the same.
But today is Monday. Today I will go to work. I will wear pants. I will breathe. I will edit dissertations. I will look forward with expectancy to things like a ceremony and a honeymoon. There will be dancing. There will be sitting and quiet conversations. There will be anxious moments. There will be heated tempers. There will be gentle tears. There will be big laughs. There will be unexpected moments of tenderness and grace.
Betsy will step into her dress on Saturday and feel different in a way she can’t explain, or even comprehend. Amy and others will help her with her make-up and hair. The guys will sit around for “getting ready pictures” when most likely we will all be dressed already and staging something that has already happened. I would guess a radio or a phone will be playing the Michigan and or Michigan State game while we wait…and probably at the honeymoon if I were to be honest.

On Sunday, the two of us will drive with Jerry to Detroit. He’ll go to L.A. We’ll go to Nova Scotia. We will land WAY past my bed time. We’ll take a cab to our first hotel. We’ll wake up late and go to the little tea shoppe around the corner, because Betsy likes tea. I will probably convince her to take a walk along the harbor market and drink a local beer at an Irish pub and eat some poutine. I will read some Wendell Berry. She’ll read some Tina Fey. We’ll drive up the coast to Cape Breton Island for the rest of the trip.
We’ll come back, do another wedding in Texas. Love on my family. Stay at the family farm. Drive to Alabama. Get back to work. Attend another wedding. We’ll do thank you cards. Betsy will apply for jobs.
But today is Monday. I will put on pants. I will go to work. I will breathe.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Thoughts on Wedding Fatigue

This might be an ornery face.
Yesterday I woke up, to use an old term that has fallen out of favor, ornery. When I get to a certain stage of orneriness I sometimes choose to wear a sign (my face and body language) that indicates: “You may not want to engage in traditional exchanges with me today…Unlike your last break-up it really isn’t you…it’s me.” Now before I go too much further, let me say that when I share something like I am going to share today, the thoughts that I share are not going to surprise Betsy or anyone else involved directly. These are things we have worked through. So, this is not a time where you have to say, “OMG!!! I TOTES can’t be live he said that. I hope Betsy is okay!”

Noticing my foul temper I quickly escaped the house to take stock of what was going on in my head. What I realized was that I had reached a point of wedding fatigue. Now those of you tracking at home realize something key here: “DUDE! Your wedding is still over a week away.” To which I would respond: “I know, right?” So before I go any further let me clarify a few things: This wedding fatigue had nothing to do with Betsy, nothing to do with fear of life with her, nothing to do with regret. It really had nothing to do with relationship…and that is key and also why I feel it is okay to share the things I am going to share. What my fatigue had to do with was this: weddings are now completely unnatural things. In other words, I had to perform unnaturally and make unnatural decisions.
Another face that indicates you may not want to talk to me.
Wait a minute now James. Hold your tongue man! (I don’t know whether 36 makes me young or old…so I will just use man instead!) What do you mean weddings are unnatural? What I mean is simply this: a budding relationship between two young loves is quite an organic thing. It is a beautiful thing for many people to see. Older couples often comment that it helps them renew their love. But all of a sudden the idea of marriage comes up and you insert an industry that has sprouted up around dream and fantasy creation for your big day.
Betsy and I decided early on (like one-month into engagement) that we had to define the wedding day for the sake of each other. The wedding had to be a true reflection of who we were and what we were about. The thing that sent us over the edge…well let’s be honest…the thing that set ME over the edge? Save the Dates. Betsy and I had a good talk where I basically said, “I worry that Save the Date cards remove us from our heart and allows an industry to dictate what our day is going to look like.” We had a good discussion and decided it would be best for Betsy to go to the beach, journal what the day is about and what her true expectations were. (We also decided I probably overreated to Save the Dates btw…I don’t want it to appear I am always right in matters…far from, as most of you would agree!) My point was this (and I think I would offer this to any couple getting married): I don’t care if you have flowers, or dancing, or alcohol, or a meal, or prayer, or a poetry slam, or parachuters delivering a ring to the altar through a retractable hole in the roof of a church. What I care about is simply: is this who you are? I would rather be at a simple wedding before a county judge followed by roast beef sandwiches at Arby’s, than a $100,000 shindig serving foie gras and caviar if that couple was living more from their heart than a checklist from whatever the latest magazines are.
This is more just a sick face.
We worked from there to create a day that we could both be happy with. I know people say that it is the bride’s day, but the truth is this: I didn’t want to be miserable the day of my wedding. So, I pushed back on things. I made it clear there were certain things I would do because I love and care for Betsy, but there were certain things she should in turn not expect of me. For instance, I will dance with her and maybe a couple of others, but I will not live on the dance floor. I love it that her friends will be there and having a great time, but the amount of nerves and noxiousness that brings me would make me absolutely miserable. Asking me to stay on the dance floor is tantamount to asking me to be a walking stress ball that could vomit at any given moment due to overwhelming self-consciousness.  Betsy on the other hand loves it. She loves dancing. It is one of those celebrated differences between us. I love that she loves that. I love that I will dance at our wedding for her. However, she should never expect me to push over the lines of things to the point of misery. It’s like I would never expect her to sit in a deer blind at 4:45 in the morning or live a week a year with monks. Do I think she could benefit from those things? Sure. But, I also don’t want her to be miserable. (Point of clarification: these days there is no gun in the stand. It is more just the beauty of creation arising with the sun that I am after.)
So, back to the point here. Yesterday I realized I had hit the point of fatigue. There was just too much to do. There IS too much to do. But because of how we decided to go about things one thing became abundantly clear: to simply say, “Betsy. I cannot talk about the wedding today” was unfair. We created space for Betsy to take care of all things wedding when we made our plan for transition. To stop at my above statement says, “What you are doing is not valuable, it’s not as important,” which is not what I wanted to communicate at all. So instead, I said, “Betsy. I appreciate everything you are doing, and I know without your efforts things would not go well, but I just don’t have the emotional space to talk about songs for the DJ that I have no intention of dancing to today. Also, I know that covering the drum shield was my idea in the first place, but with the patient load I have, and my second job stacking up, I just can’t think about what a good replacement for the antique doors we cannot find is right now.”
This is more like it. Just enjoying some Steve Martin!
So, what is the difference? Not letting fatigue bring me to a point of complete egotism. Instead it led me to a point where I affirmed Betsy and presented to her a vulnerable side of myself. This is not, “I hate what you are doing,” which could be inferred from, “I’m not talking about this.” Instead it is, “When I think about you and me, I know that I do not have the ability to do this well right now. I will do a poor job, which will make things worse instead of better.” In essence it is about saying, “The current event is way less important than our long-term relationship. And to support the latter, I need a break from the former.” As Betsy wrote about yesterday these are just the things that we get about one another. I get that if I say things in a certain way, she will (rightfully so) be hurt. I also get that if I do not give part of myself to her she cannot understand the “why” of the current situation. And friends, the “why” does something that we often times forget – it gives space for grace and mercy. By saying, “Betsy, I have so much going on that I might snap at you when I don’t want to,” gives Betsy space to decide, “This really is not about “James and I” right now. This is about James and his stress.” That is huge when doing relationship.
So, if I am going to wrap this up and put a bow on it, what is the lesson of the day? Simply this: when confronted with the stresses of life our response still needs to be affirming to others and include vulnerability toward them. When we close ourselves off to the point that we can only see “me,” we allow the stress of a situation to create undue tension into a relationship it never included. In other words, vulnerability and affirmation sings to another heart a soothing melody reminding them, “Not every emotion in my partner is sparked by the things I have done and said. They have things going on that I do not know about, and I must allow them that space, just as I will one day need that same space.”

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Some of Betsy's Thoughts

Seriously 4:45am is way early.
First of all, let me say that I am excited to be posting on the blog!  I’ve had a few thoughts swirling around and am eager to share them.

James and I have a different relationship than most people. Whether that is good, bad, or otherwise is yet to be determined, haha. I would say it works for us. We don’t have a formula or magic recipe that we follow and what works for us may not translate to other relationships. We also haven’t figured everything out…but what we do well, we do well.
When I was brainstorming what to write, I was thinking about the move. Loading up the truck, driving for days across the country, early mornings/late nights, unloading the truck, and unpacking all the boxes…any one of these things can be stressful and for me, stress exacerbates snarkiness. In thinking about the move, I was shocked and surprised that we didn’t have a fight or moments of intense snarkiness. In reflecting on what worked while moving, I realized we had hit a growth point. We reached a deeper understanding or point of connection.

We have grown a lot since a long January weekend.
Let me explain. Early on in our relationship, we would miss each other. I’m not talking about longing or hoping to be next to each other…I’m talking about completely missing the cues of the other. We would miss sacrifices that were made, invitations to explore deeper emotions/values, or expressions of affection. In thinking about the move, I realized that James and I have come to a place where we recognize the sacrifices of the other, more than our own. Everything about the move was far from sunshine and roses, but it was a lot more challenging to be frustrated or annoyed by the small things when I saw how James was working to support us. My agenda melted because I was able to recognize things in James, evaluate what to correct and what to accept, and how to promote the relationship rather than hurt it. Point blank, some things don’t matter. What does matter is my relationship with James. The move was less stressful and more enjoyable because we were able to focus on the other and our relationship. I was looking for ways in which James was working to support me and help out rather than pointing out how his ways were different than mine (note: I was successful at this most of the time. I mean, we’re all human,right? ;) )

FYI...Northern Arizona is desolate beauty at its best.
Granted some of this may be positive emotions because we are days away from our wedding, but I think there is still something valid in what I’m about to write. Being that I am an older bride, I have had the gift (though it didn’t always feel like that) to watch and observe a lot of relationships. My practice of being a marriage and family therapist has also taught me a lot. I’ve learned what not to do and what helps make a marriage strong. There is something to be said for appreciating something that you’ve waited for and hoped for. Frustration, annoyance, irritation…it’s a part of being in a relationship comprised of two broken people. The tough work of having a relationship that matters is finding ways to bring restoration and for me it is finding ways to be thankful for James by appreciating him, recognizing his efforts, and focusing on who he is rather than who he isn’t. That has caused a paradigm shift for me and the move highlighted it. Often times, I am too quick to focus on what isn’t working and it only makes the situation worse. This does not mean that problems are swept under the rug or issues aren’t addressed. It does mean that conversations and interactions are coming from the perspective of promoting the relationship, appreciating the other before anything else. In promoting the relationship, I work to highlight, accentuate, and enhance character by accepting and nurturing traits, gifts, and talents that are unique to the person. Love is complex and messy and deep and all encompassing. So why not make it a little easier by asking the question does what I am about to do, say, think, or express promote or inhibit relationship?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Thoughts on my Evolving View of Feminism

The world's most beautiful couple started me on today's path!
This morning I woke up with some funny thoughts. I pinpoint the start of these thoughts to reading the newsletter that my friend Sara and her husband sent out this week. But really that newsletter shed light on conversations that I had with Betsy over the past couple of weeks. What I realized is that my view of feminism is shifting. So, before I get into those recent shifts, let me give you the evolution of my thoughts on feminism from birth to age 35, uhhh make that 36.
Birth to about my sophomore year of high school – Oblivious. I didn’t know this was a thing.
Sophomore year until about my sophomore year of college – “All that ‘Girls rule’ stuff is kind of annoying.” (AKA I did not see or understand the heart of feminism.)
Observing some great women like Drs. Holcomb, Kemp, Howard, Keys, etc. I began to see the confident, successful woman that did not draw attention to what she was doing. Observing some great women like Ashley, Ashley and Bethany I began to see younger women wrestling through issues of feminism beyond “Girls Rule” into life application and empowerment of women. This shifted things until I got to seminary.
At seminary I observed several arms of feminism from aggressive, in your face messages, to passive, reserved confidence, from completely over turning power structures, to subversive  culture change, and from women needing to fight for every high power position to women having the right to choose whatever they wish. In other words I saw so many brands of “feminism” I myself had to wrestle with how I viewed things.
Dating changed things for me (obviously). I am a dude’s dude. Men just make more sense to me, so I preferred spending time with male friends. When I started dating Betsy one thing was readily apparent to me – by the terms of worldly success (aka money, prestige, power, rank, etc.) Betsy would be the power partner. Unlike me Betsy has real definitive goals and the drive to achieve certain things like advanced degrees, trainings, publications and such. My goals are more like, “I wanna be happy and love people. How I do that is of little account to me.” So, it was actually quite easy to say, “Betsy…you’re gonna be the high earner. You’re gonna be more successful. And I love that about us. Yeehaw!”
Kev and Steph have also changed my view of feminism.
But over the past few weeks as I have been listening to her there has been a change in some of that drivenness if you will. (P.S. I know drivenness is not a word, but for any of you who have been to seminary or law school, you know that we are taught to make up our own words, so I am just doing what I was instructed to do.) Now, that change was not so much that Betsy became less driven as it was a change in direction. I won’t go into details (because I know Betsy is not as “Hey, I don’t care! I’m an open book. I’ll say just about anything to anyone” as I am), but some of the shifts that are going on in her could appear very anti-feminist in some circles.
Which brings me to my point—to me the heart of feminism can be captured in four words: the empowerment of women. I think there are arms of feminism that believe that anything except extensive, institutional education and the obtainment of high-profile, power positions is just not good enough. To me however, the empowerment of women to choose the path that is best for them is amazing. If a woman chooses to be a stay-at-home mother and is able to work with the finances her significant other brings home to accommodate that, I think that is a success, not a bow of the knee to a patriarchal society that has inlaid values that are foreign to her true nature, so she succumbs to lesser dreams. To me a mother doing what she chooses to do is a better example to her daughters than one who is out to prove a point. My chief evidence of that is one Mrs. Stephanie Fox.
Stephanie and I have been friends for ages by now. She was this amazingly empowered, free-spirited, artistic blur of strength and energy that entered my life freshman year of college. If you had told me in the first year of our friendship that she would one day choose to stay at home and raise kids I would have laughed at you and asked if you needed to be institutionalized.  This woman was the real deal. She was strong; she was beautiful; she was going to blaze her own trail. The reality? She has done all of that by choosing what was true to her nature. And she is not only radically changing the lives of her family and community but parentless children that she and her husband bring into their home.
She uses that creative force, she uses her beauty and strength in ways that are beyond me…and she does it in the walls of her home…by her choice. To me that is the very picture of a true feminism. She COULD be out there shaking things up in corporate America. She COULD be pursuing advanced degrees and running up the corporate ladder, but it would not be true to who she is and where she is headed.
Then there is Sara. Reading her newsletter gave me an education on processes of child development that I never got in class. Her vulnerability in saying, “When I talk with my children these are the things they are going through” and then expounding upon things too foreign for me to grasp was amazing. Although she has advanced formal education, her wisdom of applying those same concepts to her own children, and then turning those observations into teaching points for others is amazing.
Eva Webb...about as strong as a woman can be!
Then there is Eva. Eva and her husband Matt have packed up their kids for a year on the road. During the year they will be continuing their education. Eva worked with the school to develop lessons that will not put her children behind when it comes to school, all the while providing alternative education in the form of introducing them to children who are changing the world in the sciences, arts, humanitarian work and combatting poverty. Her kids will be embracing those things every day. They will be changed because she and Matt had the strength to risk doing things differently.
Then there is my cousin Jodi (there are so many strong women in family that this was a tough choice to choose one!). Jodi knows what she loves. It just so happens to line up with what her husband loves, and a need that America has. So she and Chad own their own businesses. Chad has his own line of weightlifting equipment and is able to capitalize on his experience as an Olympic athlete, which allows Jodi the space to really take hold of their gym as her own project. Over the past few years seeing the emerging businesswoman in her is inspiring.
Finally, there is my Betsy. Betsy is taking stock of her own life right now. Though she has known the path ahead of her for a long time she is realizing that our relationship changes things. Now when I say that, don’t hear I have asked for these changes. Some of them shock even me, but the reality is this – she sees change, she assesses it and then she embraces it. And again, that, along with these other women express to me true forms of feminism. Allowing women the space to become the next Angela Merkel or the next lady you have never heard of. Sure, we have a long way to go in creating space for women to break through certain glass ceilings. But the other thing we have to do is learn to reevaluate success. Success cannot be calculated merely in material ways. Material success only measures a certain portion of who we are, and when we lay women on the cross of that form of success then we crucify them from their own measures of success, which in all honesty are far more important than the ones we place on them.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Thoughts on the awkwardness of living in liminal relationship space

Before I begin, let me say that I ran the idea of Betsy writing on here past her and I think she is down for that! So, maybe in the next few days/weeks you will see something(s) from her. I thank Sara Simons for that particular request…and the rest of you may thank Sara later as Betsy begins to share.

I think last week I made it readily apparent that Betsy and I had packed her life up and moved it across the country. Her things are now settled in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, while her person, at the time of this writing, is in transit to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she will reside until the time of our pending nuptials. This week was quite interesting for us. I think the best word to describe it was a “liminal” space/time. For those of you unacquainted with the word “liminal,” defines it as - relating to the point (or threshold) beyond which a sensation becomes too faint to be experienced.
That might sound like an odd way to define a week, but I think engagement, by nature, is quite liminal. Two people find themselves in more than a dating relationship and less than a marriage relationship. Questions about finances are just strange. Seeing someone mettle through YOUR things is quite strange. Finding yourself using someone else’s things…again strange. Seeing two lives merge together just before the long-term commitment was both a great preparation and also a bit unnerving at times.
And oh, did I mention my roommate James was right there beside us for this whole jaunt? Yeah. He was. And for the record he took the destruction and reconstruction of the house like a champion. Then again, he goes to The University of Alabama, so he lives the life of a champion every day. #rolltide
Betsy and I found ourselves in really awkward moments all week. I believe it was Sunday that we decided the next step in cleaning the house was to empty my closets to store some of her things that just did not have a home yet. Simple decision…not a simple outcome. Watching Betsy rummage through my things elicited emotional responses I was not ready for. I became on edge without being angry. Have you ever been there? You are thinking in your head, “WHAT ON EARTH IS SHE DOING? Oh…what I asked her to…But why am I watching her like a hawk? Why is this so strange?” So, she left for a moment, I took stock of the emotions and when she returned just said, “Hey. This is really strange.”
Which lead to one of our better conversations. Her response? “Yeah. I think I need to be doing something else. It is weird knowing that is yours and I am making decisions what to do with it.” The truth is that moment could have escalated into one silly argument, but because Betsy and I were both able to sense “something strange” we were able to step back and say, “This is not going to work.” It actually led to a really productive and happy afternoon where we got a lot of things done. In terms of my last post what worked for us was just honest communication. “Hey Betsy, this isn’t working.” “Hey James I know.” “Hey Betsy, why don’t we stop?” “Hey James, why don’t you keep going and I will do other things?” “Hey Betsy that sounds like a good idea.”
In reality, simplifying that conversation down to bare bones makes me realize how many times in my life I recognized this type of tension before and was too passive to do anything about it. Like the time Dr. Tony Martin came over for dinner with Busby, JVW and I. Busby became a kitchen tyrant so I just left instead of addressing what was going on between us. We had quite the awkward dinner whenever things could have been addressed and we could have moved on. Plus, who combines blueberries and bleu cheese and doesn’t call it a blue salad?
I think the issue of boundaries is what makes engagement such a strange thing. There are all sorts of ideas about engagement out there that couples have to address. Questions about sex, money, family, shared assets, rent, utilities, friendship, spare time, etc. loom when it comes to the engagement stage. Are you moving toward shared bank accounts? Does someone REALLY owe someone money when you are about to get married? What are the expectations regarding family time and events during this time? Do you go to everything? Do you skip out on certain things? For certain couples do you ramp up certain physical events or do you hold certain limits? All of these things whisper in the minds of couple, “You are not quite married, but you are sharing space.” It really is pretty fascinating.
Our last evening together ended up being quite interesting and even somewhat followed the plan that we had. We went out for a nice dinner and also spent time addressing wedding invites for Texas and filling out Thank You cards. In addition, we sold a bunch of stuff to a college student named Vlad. Vlad turned out to be a really good dude. We sold him a lot of things for a lot less money than we would have because he is a struggling college kid living on his own for the very first time because all of his roommates bailed and now he has to furnish an entire apartment himself. Why would I mention Vlad in the midst of the liminality of engagement? Because for this brief moment we passed the threshold and experienced making a decision as a couple – let him have all of this; it is better for us to be generous than to haggle. And that decision was not a discussion it was just a look in the eyes and a step toward understanding each other even in the silent moments. And that little act of generosity helped set the tone for the rest of our evening.
That little act also reminded me that in the midst of discovering the “emerging we” it’s not just the oddness that defines this period of life. It is these little things that could easily be discarded or overlooked. Isn’t it so easy to focus on what is not working to the exclusion of what is really beautiful? That little look to each other that communicated, “Let’s help this kid out,” did more for us than we realized or even I initially understood. It set the tone for what “we” were doing and how we were doing it…not just for a Monday night, but for the beginning of our joint life.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Thoughts on an Unconditional Relationship

So, for those of you who have somehow missed it, I got engaged. There is this girlie named Betsy who somehow is crazy enough to try and live a life with me. So, we have progressed through the normal hoops that many relationships go through without the luxury of, you know, time in each other’s physical presence. I know that sounds strange, and perhaps even a little alarming. What it has done for me though, is make me realize that the way relationships work in 2014 is radically different than the way relationships have worked throughout history. Therefore being a little unconventional is not as strange an ordeal as I thought it was in the past.

As much as any author out there tells you they have figured things out, the truth remains there is no proper or standard way that makes relationships work beyond this – you have to know each other. You can figure out love languages, and strengths, and schedules, and families, and strategies, and still find yourself in a terrible relationship. You can also blindly ignore all of those things and somehow end up with an enduring relationship that makes people marvel. (And as a side note – I list those specific things, because they are IMMENSE helps in learning one another and how the other functions and differs from you. Knowing Betsy is a touch person helps me understand that she has different relational needs from me. Knowing that I am an introvert helps Betsy know I am not so much withdrawing from her, as I am recharging because lots of people time can be quite draining for me.) The question is do you know that other person? Do they know you? Only then do you know what you are truly signing up for.

And what I mean by that is not the projected person that you used to reel them into your net, but the deep-down, hidden you that sometimes you don’t even fully recognize yourself. Are you able to bear open who you are, let them behind the curtain and expect the same from the other? In that sense it does not matter if you are marrying for love, in an arranged marriage, had sex before your vows, exchanged purity rings, or have any other specific defining characteristics of marriage. And in that sense it is also a lot of work. But…I am also getting ahead of myself as I am just engaged and not married.
What Betsy and I have is, in my guesstimation, quite untraditional. We have known each other for about 6 years, actually nearly exactly that long since she moved to California around September for school. We both had relationships while we lived in the same state. We navigated and processed those relationships together. We had a heckuvalotta fun together without any of the pressures of dating. And in that sense we got to just be ourselves around one another without any fronts.

I left California; she stayed. Three years passed and then, BOOM! We started dating long distance. Her uncle (GUB is pictured to the right) helped us see each other face-to-face the first time post-dating. It was terribly awkward. I said something like, “I think we are in two different relationships.” She let me know, quite contrarily, “No…this is just as terrible for me as it is for you.” Somehow that made things better. Somehow that let both of us know that what we were dealing with was not the same get-to-know-you adjustments that lots of our friends went through. What we were going through was the oh-I-seem-to-have-missed-these-parts-of-you-when-we-were-just-friends adjustments.
From that first weekend together we instituted weekly Skype dates…with terrible lag times. We had to be a hyper-structured couple, because unlike many of you guys and gals that got to do this thing in person, I couldn’t just stroll over and plop on a couch. We couldn’t just meet at the movie theatre or have her drive down to the beach. We had to be super intentional or we honestly would just not make time for one another. Why? We both had good lives. And as such, we liked what we were already doing.

But what this did for us, or at least for me, was make me a student whenever I was around Betsy. I did not have the benefit of lots of time, so I had to learn as much as I could on the fly in brief, intense weekends. So, we did that in January, March, April, May, July (twice) and August. The more we have spent time together the less I have been forced to be in observation mode, and the more I have been able to be in togetherness mode. I think this is what my buddy Matt Barber (to your left) was trying to say to me when he held my shoulders, looked me in the eyes and said, “Be present. Be present. Be present. Be present” over and over again to me. I think he saw the social scientist emerging and not the fiancé.
But the other thing that I learned from having to be so structured and intentional was this – I have to be structured and intentional. Relationships do not always unfold like a flower at sunrise. Sometimes they take a little coaxing. I say awkward things to Betsy like, “Ohh…I think you are trying to communicate to me that you need more affection right now. Though I get your cues, you know what would be helpful…words!” Sure…I am learning the cues, but a girlie reared in Michigan who really bought into SoCal culture speaks a different language than a lad who was raised in Texas and has spent four years in the Deep South. We have to work…and we have to expect to work.
Finally, the last thing that I have learned is this – I have to listen to outside observers. I cannot tell you how encouraging some of your words have been to us throughout this process. Whenever Betsy and I are “in it” sometimes we can lose focus of the things that make this work, because something small like, “What do you mean we aren’t going to share a bathroom” comes up. Just yesterday, two ladies came up to me and said, “I just love the two of you together.” One said that we had “Sympatico” whatever that means; and the other said she just loved the way we can flow off one another. Truth be told, in public I don’t think Betsy and I are at our best. At that party I was engaged in other conversations than she was. And maybe that is part of what they observed. We are comfortable enough at an early stage to not have to be like, “WHERE ARE YOU?!?” (Betsy and I are not always this engaged when at parties) I don’t know. But the fact is so many people have seen things that we just cannot see ourselves. And in the tough moments…it helps to hear those things. Other people can help you define strengths you just can’t see.

I have a feeling this will be part of a lifelong series if I keep writing on this here blog…which I plan to do more often. But for now…tell me about relationships. Tell me what you are learning and have learned at whatever station you are at.

Friday, February 14, 2014


I am starting to figure out that some days I just wake up angsty and/or philosophical. I don’t know when or why this started, but it has been occurring a little more frequently lately than not. This morning my mind has been tracking down a path I am not too familiar with—the path of identity development.

For some reason the question of my mind this morning has been something along these lines: How did the high school version of myself become the person I am today? It sometimes seems the person I’ve become bares little resemblance to that particular version of myself. Which calls to question, was I ever that perceived version, or is it some mirage I cling to, to make myself mourn something that never really existed?

Before we go any further my friends, let me say this: this is not a call for attention like, “Hey look, I am going through crisis,” or “Oh, woe is me, I have lost my identity and the only way to gain it back is to move back to my hometown and reestablish everything about my former life.” What this is instead is trying to put to words what I think many of my friends and family are going through/have gone through.

I think there just comes a place and time where one day we wake up and discover we are a bit emotionally detached. I assume it is pretty universal. There are enough movies about it, and heck even concept albums and songs. Some people recognize what they are going through, some people can simply identify that something isn’t right, and they don’t know what to do about it. I think I lay somewhere between those two camps.

I can tell you right now that I wonder how the sweet, compassionate kid of 16 became a man who is nearly entirely impossible to please. Sure, outwardly not a lot has changed. I still speak kindly and train myself to be courteous to everyone. I force myself to remain empathetic, but I find it harder by the year to naturally be kind. But it is a struggle well worth fighting for. Kindness. Kindness. Kindness.

Kindness is lacking today. In a world that has grown accustomed to spouting off the first thing that comes to mind we have become judges and critics that look for the right to freely express themselves. Now, for those of you raising the alarm in fear that I am going to denounce that freedom of expression is important, hold your pretty hats. We do need these outlets of expression, but my observation about that is this: freedom of expression has become less about self-discovery and expression, and more about permission to rail and critique anything that we aren’t pleased with.

Think about advertising lately. There have been a couple that have really bothered me lately. The reason? The premise of the entire campaign was product shaming. I think particularly about the one that bashes iPads and another one that does the same with some luxury car. Now if you notice, I didn’t mention the products…because I can’t recall what they are. I namely recall that they were bashing Apple and a competitor. I can’t tell you a single positive thing about the product because I can’t even tell you the name of it.

Those types of advertising feed into the way I approach my life. When people ask how I am, more often than not I express some displeasure in something. I don’t focus on how great it was to work from Atlanta for part of a week; I focus on getting stuck in the Snowpocalypse. I don’t tell someone about an artistic pursuit I am currently undertaking; I tell them about a relational woe that I am going through. And folks…that’s just not who I remember 16-year-old James being.

I remember that dude being insecure, but to overcome that he tried too hard to do things that would impress people instead of focusing on the negative things around him. When things weren’t going well he put forth a little effort to make them better instead of finding ways to explain away deficiency.

All of that said, what I am missing is the segue. What took place to change me? I often think about character transformation as evolution. Much like successful species, those who successfully acclimate to today’s culture are those that evolve; they change with each new presentation of society’s standards.

But this morning, I wondered if that is an inadequate metaphor or description. Maybe what I have gone through is a series of little deaths and rebirths. That would account for the distance between myself now and a kid who upon finding out he inadvertently hurt Leslie Bizzell’s feelings went out of his way to let her know he never intended for that to happen, a kid who changed seats on the bus so he could have that moment with her.

The problem, again, is not who I have become. Honestly, there are facets of myself I like way more than that younger version of myself. But there are parts that I hang onto, and I wonder if I should. In the process of becoming the 35-year-old version of myself things obviously had to change. That is the nature of the beast. But here comes the turn.

What I find myself doing today is mourning a version of myself that I don’t know exists outside nostalgia. It reminds me of Zach Braff’s Garden State. He says something along this line: Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people that miss the same imaginary place. And I think the same idea rolls over to identity. I wonder if development of character can be seen along the same lines. Maybe the things that we miss about ourselves are fiction…and that fiction keeps us from being able to accept who we are. Maybe critiquing the fire out of ourselves is our way of maintaining a beautiful existence that never actually played itself out. Maybe we just don’t know how to accept ourselves as we are, and these little games we play remind of us when we were a good person, because we don’t think we are anymore.

I don’t really have the answers, but I know this: I like parts of who I am today, and I don’t like parts of who I am. I also know this: there are things I miss about my remembered self, and parts I would never want to live through again. But as Albus Dumbledore once said: It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.

So, in other words…maybe I should get out of my head and onto living my life.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Uncle Leslie

Words seem woefully inadequate to describe a man who lived his life in the actions of love. How do you tell with your lips what you have felt in an embrace, a smile, a helping hand or a friendly word? But in moments like this, we rely on words to somehow capture what we experience in our relationships. So, here are a few of my words about Leslie Taylor.

On Christmas Eve I called Uncle Leslie and asked him if he wanted to grab coffee with me. He said he didn’t drink “that stuff,” but I should stop by and see him. I drove into town, grabbed my coffee, came back and sat down with him. It took me a while to pick up that he was getting ready for his kids and grandkids to come by for Christmas festivities. But Les was always like that; he was always welcoming. Whoever you were, you were certainly not an inconvenience. We talked for a while, but more than the words I remember looking into and at his face. I don’t know why. That is not a normal thing for me. I don’t typically notice the contours and lines of people’s faces, but as we talked, I noticed things I hadn’t really seen before.

A day or two later I went to see my cousin Emily, to get her to cut my hair. One of the first things she said to me was, “Wow! You are starting to look a lot like the Taylor men.” I shared with her my experience of looking at Les’ face. When I looked in his face I saw things I had forgotten, I saw people who have been gone for a while, namely my grandfather. I think losing someone like your grandfather at a youngish age you don’t take notice of things like what he looked like. He simply was. I remember him being tall. I remember that he kissed me every time he saw me. I remember that he farmed and ran a gas station/automotive shop, but I could not remember something as simple as what his face looked like. I have these vague pictures of what I seem to recall him looking like, but Christmas Eve with Les I remembered. I saw his face like I haven’t been able to do in quite some time, it was right there in those lines on Les’ face.

I was reading yesterday and came across something I have read many times over, but never jumped out at me like it did in that sitting. I found it appropriate to share this morning. Psalm 17:15 says:

As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness;
I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake.

I think when Uncle Les awoke to the face of God there were these vague recollections of something. He knew he recognized something familiar, but as Paul so cleverly penned, until that moment he had only seen through a glass rather dimly, but now he sees face-to-face. If I were to venture a guess that recognition gave way to understanding of a love that until now he could never fully comprehend; that which still holds deep mystery for you and me, is now his ever-living reality. The veil has been lifted, the glass has been removed and Uncle Leslie has seen the One who has whispered his name his whole life.

As I thought about Uncle Les and how I remember him several thoughts came to mind, but on Wednesday night as I spent time with family four characteristics in particular seemed best to share today. First, is he was so welcoming, and Sandy amidst everything she is going through continued that. She invited us into her home. She welcomed people in the midst of the chaos of everything going on around her just as Leslie did.

And then I thought about his determination as I looked in Tina’s face. Leslie accomplished whatever he set about doing. Tina is the same way. She is a fighter and will make a way even where there is no way just like her father did. There is not one thing that will slow her down when she determines what needs to be done.

And then I thought about how Leslie approached and viewed people. As I stood in the kitchen with Alan and heard about the way he engaged workers that he supervised I saw Uncle Les. Like Les, Alan accepts people as they are, not as they should be or even the way he would like them to be. He simply accepts you as you are in this moment.

And finally I thought about a trait that is often overlooked in today’s culture…kindness. Uncle Les has always been exceedingly kind. And whenever you see Mark with Parker and Bradyn you see that same kind look in his eyes that you saw in his father’s. I always remembered Mark being a sweet and sensitive kid, and seeing that turn into his father’s kindness is such an amazing legacy.

As I wrap up my part of the morning, I want to share a Scripture that immediately came to mind when I heard I would get to share. The Psalms have become a refuge for me in the past few years and this Psalm particularly always catches my attention because of a sentiment that we don’t think about often. Psalm 116:15 says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones.” We often talk about God comforting us in our grief. I think we sometimes limit God to that action in regards to the one’s who are left behind, but here in this Psalm we are reminded that God continues to love us through the transition of our passing. He abides with us as the end of our earthly days becomes the first of our heavenly ones, because even in death we are precious to Him.

Though I can’t begin to imagine what it looks like, or how it happens, I believe there exists this moment between God and His saints of dim recognition becoming clear reality. The God that Leslie sought all of His life cares enough to take notice of His passing and seeks him in return, or as Eugene Peterson translated this same Scripture:
When they arrive at the gates of death,
    God welcomes those who love him.

And He has and that gives me great peace.

Let us pray: