Things I Need to Improve On: A Comparison on How to Improve in These Areas at Age 14 and Age 27

When I was 14, I wrote a lot of my adolescent thoughts, sorrows, and dreams in this little journal.

Not gonna lie, I’m still super proud to say I drew the dragon on the cover.

Sometimes, I like to take a little trip down memory lane and re-read some of my old entries. Usually this results in me wincing at my own teen angst and wishing I could explain to this kid how all those “end of the world” scenarios were real trivial, and to encourage her to believe in herself every once in a while.

During one of those recent trips, I stumbled upon this little excerpt, which I call: “Things I Need to Improve On: A Brief Excerpt from the Journal of Lindsay Mustafa Davis, Age 14, Dated August 27th, 2004”

I was astounded to find that the list of improvements I made at age 14 is startlingly accurate to the one my 27 year old self would make.

I also laughed when I thought more about what I considered “being responsible” and “doing my best” at 14 compared to 27.

So I decided to do a little remix of this list, and take into account both my own adolescent thoughts and my grown up thoughts, both riddled with their own anxieties and desires to be seen as “having it together,” because funny enough, that didn’t seem to disappear after 14 years.

I call it: “Things I Need to Improve On: A Comparison on How to Improve in These Areas at Age 14 and Age 27”

1. Being responsible

Age 14:

  • Pay attention in class so you get good grades and have a good future.
  • Complete homework before 9 PM because that’s what responsible students do.
  • Clean the bathrooms every weekend without Mom asking more than once because you’re a good daughter!
  • Load and unload the dishwasher as needed because, again, you’re a good daughter and the only one who helps your mother around this house, darn it!

Age 27:

  • Balance a budget without going broke each month, even though this budget also includes Northern Virginia rent.
  • Wash the dishes right away instead of letting them pile up for a week like a gross person.
  • Meet quarterly goals at work to avoid the boss’ wrath and the crushing sense of defeat.
  • Make time to call your parents at least once a week, then fail at it and worry your parents don’t think you appreciate them enough.

2. Being honest to myself

Age 14:

  • Understand and embrace both your strengths and your weaknesses a la The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens, which was required reading for all incoming freshman of the James Wood High Class of 2008.
  • Realize when you are taking something too seriously and need to apologize for something you’ve done wrong because your friends already don’t like you and you need to grovel to maintain their good graces.
  • Tell your parents and teachers the whole truth all the time no matter the consequences because if you don’t, your mother will find out, and you don’t want that.

Age 27:

  • Tell people when you are too anxious to deal with shit, even if admitting you struggle with a mental illness is still stigmatized.
  • Apologize to your husband when you hurt him without getting indignant about it or spiraling into a panic over whether or not you’re being too “submissive.”
  • Understand when you are acting out an unhealthy pattern and choose to either be the stronger person and break the habit or keep going down that path, because sometimes acting enlightened is too fucking exhausting.

3. Doing my best in everything

Age 14:

  • Don’t turn in half-assed assignments because instead of doing your best work, you spent more time talking on the phone with your 3 crushes.
  • Even though it seems everyone could care less about the tenor sax section in Concert Band, resist every urge to not play the difficult parts in band class and let the brass, flutes, and clarinets carry the load instead.

Age 27:

  • Spend an hour a day writing without taking a Facebook and/or YouTube break every 5 minutes.
  • Make regular three-to-five day attempts to eat well and excercise before taking the path of least resistance and eating pizza three times a week while binge-watching Hulu.

4. Ignoring taunts

Age 14: Let the bully’s comments slide off your shoulders.

Age 27: For the literal love of Jesus, STOP ENGAGING WITH INTERNET TROLLS.

Epilogue: What I’ve realized about self-improvement lists that is true at age 14 and age 27:

  • Making these lists is easy.
  • Living them out is tough.
  • And I’m still loved whether or not I “succeed” in them.
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A Letter to my 20 (and a half) Year-Old Self, From My 27 (and a half) Year-Old Self

20 yrs

Earlier this month, I found a note I wrote when I was 20 1/2 (because those 6 extra months matter). It was a letter I wrote to my 17 year old self, how even though she felt stuck in a rut, she would grow closer to God, do amazing things, and become a stronger person. It’s a good note, and I’m glad I wrote it. At that point in my life, I needed to tell myself those things.

But that 20 1/2 year old girl, who was so optimistic about where God was taking her, would have the very same faith of which she was so proud shattered several months later, and picking up those broken pieces would be some of the hardest work she would ever do. All these years later, I’m still processing that time in my life and wondering how much I’ve really moved on from it.

So this letter is for that spunky, passionate, on-fire child of God from 8 years ago, blissfully unaware of what was to come. 

I doubt she’d listen to it if I actually read it to her.

But I write it to remind myself that 20 1/2 year old me is still worthy of love and respect, and maybe if I make some peace with her, I can make peace with myself here and now.

*****

Hey kiddo,

It’s me. Well, it’s you…who is also me…only several years older. It’s wibbly wobbly, timey-wimey stuff. Not that you know what that phrase means yet.

Look at you: re-reading Captivating and remembering your younger self, preparing to study abroad in New Zealand, nervous in your new relationship with your best-friend-turned-boyfriend. But mostly, you’re proud of how far God has brought you in this life, from the dramatic, insecurity-riddled teenager you were to the more confident and bold Christian leader you are now.

It’s pretty great, isn’t it?

Part of me is envious of you: your steady faith, your simpler worldview, your significantly less hostile political environment (trust me on that, sweetheart), the fact that you’re in school studying and stressing about exams instead of bills.

Another part of me chuckles at your naivety: the super simplistic theology which you find so deep and nourishing, the mediocre taste in music, the narrow-mindedness behind which you hide your deep, beautiful mind.

After all of these years, I hate to say that part of me still finds you pathetic. And yet, I find you so lovable and charming. Our relationship is a lot more complicated now, dearie. I wish it could be different.

Then again, I wish for a lot of things when it comes to you.

I wish I could tell you the ground on which you walk will remain firm beneath your feet, even though I know it will sink so fast you are only able to grasp a small, hardly sturdy remnant in your fingertips to save you from drowning.

I wish I could tell you that you’ll look at the old journal entries and Facebook notes without feeling brainwashed and misguided. But for a long time, you will not be able to read a single verse of Scripture without skepticism or fear of becoming that person you were once so proud to be.

I wish I could tell you the fire you have for God will never extinguish, that you will never doubt your faith or regret being raised by the people who loved you into it.

But I know one day, you will rush out of the backdoor of the church without a second glance. You will become a runaway who didn’t even leave behind a note.

You will see your church family as strangers in a strange land. You will distance yourself from and completely fall out with them, because you do not understand how the people who taught you about the God of Love could turn such a cold and callous shoulder to the most vulnerable in society.

Your youth group buddies. Your mentors. All the pastors and people you once aspired to be.

You will run away from every single one of them.

Some days, you will wonder if this was the right choice to make. Other days, you will swear you should have left sooner than you did.

You will abandon the theology. You will read the old entries and favorite books and wince at the problematic and downright harmfulness of their content. Your heart will break when you read the passages used to silence you as a woman who wants so badly to be strong and bold, and the notions of “purity” which continue to be a root of so many of the struggles in your romantic relationship.

In short, you are going to lose a lot, girl. And it is going to be painful and downright fucking awful.

(Did I mention you curse like a sailor now? Because that’s a thing. I blame the Bridgewater theater department for that one, though.)

It’s not all bad news, though, at least from this side of things.

You won’t love Captivating, John and Stasi Eldredge, or even Donald Miller like you once did. But you will love Rachel Held Evans, Glennon Doyle, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Lin-Manuel Miranda. They will disciple you in ways you never imagined. They will unsettle and disrupt you and make you confront the evil systems into which you were born. They will bring tears to your eyes and make your belly hurt from laughter.

And they will make you think. Kid, they will make your brain hurt with the questions they bring up and soothe you with new understandings of wisdom and grace.

In the midst of intense questions, you will find yourself in a community of believers who hold the holy tension of belief and doubt, who wrestle with God while engaging in the holy work of serving those on the margins. You will preach and accept that maybe, just maybe, this really is your calling, and it will scare you, but not because you’re worried you’re a woman going against the will of God.

In the midst of living on your own and struggling to pay bills, you will find yourself in seminary. You will be compassionate to those wrestling with whether they want to follow this path called The Way anymore. You will think you have it all figured out, until your Missions professor starts talking about white privilege and supremacy and your place in it, until you take CPE and find yourself bringing a fraying family together over the comatose body they hold in common in the ICU on a late Friday night, until the person you were convinced had a backward theology comforted you in a way no one else knew how. You will love the community you find, in the academic halls and the black box theater, with pastors in training and wandering thespians, and it will be an oasis for your soul.

In short, it’s gonna be tough, but you’re gonna be fine.

I know there are moments in this letter where I sound cross with and disappointed in you, but it’s because I know the pain you felt, and I do wish I could have stopped it from happening. I wish I could protect you, or bring all of this to your awareness in a gentler way.

I know you will want me to say sorry, for the questions and the trials, when you will want me to take it all back and return to the way we were, when things were simpler and happier.

But I won’t. I will not apologize for where the journey has taken us, nor will I negate it. I couldn’t do that to you.

Remember this: You will wrestle with God. Each time you walk away from the struggle, you will come away limping like Jacob.

But you will grow, and you will keep opening yourself up to the Spirit’s calling.

And you’re still the loud, passionate, firey, anxious person you’ve always been (but now you have medication and counseling to help with the anxiety. You’re welcome for that.).

Love you,

Lindsay (Age 27 1/2)

PS: Be good to Bryce. He’s already been the best of friends to you, and he’s a great boyfriend, too. And a fantastic husband. He’s pretty much the greatest gift of grace you’ve received in this journey of faith and life, so hold onto that when things get real rough.

Kneeling for the Kin-dom of God

On Shrove Tuesday, (or Fat Tuesday for those adverse to fancy liturgical language), I slid down a slick ramp and busted my left knee open.

I was working in a parsonage office, and my boss brought to my attention that it had started raining, and I’d left my car windows down. I had taken the recycling and trash to the dump on my way to work, and without the cracked windows, my car would have been real ripe for the drive home.

Heeding his words, I grabbed my coat and went a little too fast out the door and onto the small, descending ramp attached to the house.

And I went down. Hard.

As I recovered from my embarrassment, I bit back curses and gingerly pushed myself up from the soft ground. I could feel the wet blood sliding down my leg and seeping through my favorite pair of jeans, which had, of course ripped. Nevertheless, I hobbled to my car, rolled up the windows, limped back inside, and asked my boss for a first aid kit.

This nasty cut bled through the 3 Band-Aids my boss gave me and 3 more at home.

The next day, Ash Wednesday, my knee stung and prickled as I knelt in front of the altar and the deacon smeared ashes on my forehead in the shape of a cross, muttering, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

On the first Sunday of Lent, after days of replacing bandages and applying Neosporin, small amounts of pus replaced the blood. Kneeling for prayers at my Episcopal service was unbearable, and I was in a constant state of adjusting myself on the kneeling altar.

By the second Sunday, getting on my knees for prayer was a bit more bearable. A hard scab covered the worst parts of the wound, but a small remnant of exposed skin remained open to the environment.

I began to regret being part of a denomination in which most of our prayer time was spent on our knees. We made our confessions crouched over rickety altars. We partook of our holy meal while kneeling. Whenever we asked to be made right with God and for the world to be renewed, we did so in the most submissive position a body can take. And I did so with physical pain simmering in my body.

When you spend a lot of time on your knees asking for renewal, and you’re already in some type of pain or discomfort, the desire for said renewal to happen becomes much more urgent.

*****

I’ve been thinking about my knee and kneeling in light of the American athletes bending down on football fields, soccer arenas, and basketball courts across the nation.

I think about how I knelt in reverence, and how these athletes knelt in protest, and I can’t help but think they’re somehow connected.

When I knelt in painful awareness of my busted knee, I did so out of submission to and reverence of God, with a sense of humility, smallness, and even defenselessness.

I knelt in preparation for, during the receiving of, and while returning from the Eucharist, a communal meal symbolizing Christ’s nourishing presence within us.

I knelt during prayers of confession, wondering why the One who made us and the universe would entertain the notion of letting us approach with our tiny pleas for forgiveness.

I knelt to lower myself before God, in order for the Kin-dom of God to be made real, first in me, then in the world.

Back in 2016, Kaepernick began kneeling down during the playing of the national anthem to protest the system that this country gave birth to, one that allows the police to brutalize and destroy its citizens with no consequences. He knelt, not because he’s not a patriot, nor because he disrespects veterans, but because he cares about the people deemed unworthy and disposable.

Other athletes began to join him. They, too, knelt in defiance of the corrupt ways of our country, and they hoped that in their kneeling, others would be inspired to make a different world possible.

Instead, people lashed out. Instead of clinging to justice, they clung to their star-spangled idol.

Those who are against this movement say they care about respecting the flag and the country, and about revering the lives lost to protect it.

But I don’t think that’s really why they’re upset.

They’re not mad that Kaepernick knelt or that others joined him. They’re mad that he wouldn’t stand to honor the country that disproportionately mutilates and murders black and brown bodies, bodies like his. They’re mad because these “sons of bitches” broke a code of conduct for an inanimate object that idolizes an idyllic lifestyle that exists at the expense of black and brown and other marginalized lives.

Like the Pharisees with their tithes of mint, they give their fair share of salutes and attention but neglect the more important matters of the law: “justice, mercy, and faithfulness.”

But standing for the flag isn’t the reverence those who seek a more just, merciful, and faithful nation need to show. If we are serious, like Kaepernick and his supporters are, about making America a more just nation for all people, we need to show reverence and submission to something greater.

This requires us not to stand, but to kneel.

We need to show that reverence to God’s Dream for the world, in which justice rolls down like water, the wolf and the lamb feed together and a little child leads us all, and we will no longer need written laws, creeds, anthems, or codes of conduct, because the love of God will be engraved into every heart and soul.

It is to God’s Dream that we pledge our ultimate allegiance. Not America. Not the American Dream. Not even the flag.

And it’s an allegiance we show by getting on our knees.

We show that allegiance by kneeling and confessing our complicity in a corrupt system, even when it is extremely uncomfortable and even painful to do so. We show that allegiance by kneeling in front of our siblings of color in submission to their leadership, since they know the way forward better than we ever could.

We kneel to make ourselves open to discomforting change and transformation.

We kneel to say God’s will, not America’s, be done.

Because the truth is, God’s Kin-dom isn’t something we stand tall and proud for as it enters. It’s one that is ushered into the world as we kneel down in submission to its presence and in defiance of the empires of the world.

We kneel, because we owe our allegiance to this Kin-dom, not an prideful, idolatrous, exclusionary, supremacist Empire.

Joy As A Middle Finger

Content warning: mentions of attack in Charlottesville

“Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the LORD Almighty has spoken.” Micah 4:4

McGuffey

McGuffey Park in Charlottesville, VA

When I think of Charlottesville, the terrorist attack I was mere inches from obviously comes to mind.

But I also think about chanting and standing in solidarity with my black and brown friends as the white supremacists trudged down the street, remnants of pepper spray dripping in purple streaks down their once pristine white polo shirts. I think about the red-clad Antifa marching up behind us in a sea of red shirts and black and pink helmets, and the relief I felt when our group cheered them in, finally understanding what everyone meant when they told me “Antifa will keep us safe.” I recall the clergy arriving and linking arms to form a human blockade to stop the “parade” in their attemp to perform a very physical and literal exorcism of the streets.

And I think about going back to McGuffy Park after seeing the last of the “alt-right” leave. I reminisce on the time spent lounging under shady trees, sharing fruit snacks with my new BLM friends, trading stories about theater rehearsals and loved ones, meeting fellow activists, enjoying the sweet summer breezes and laughing at the Charlottesville citizens walking their dogs and going on jogs as if their city leaders hadn’t declared a State of Emergency.

And it made sense, because at the time, it really didn’t feel like a dire situation.

For a glorious half hour, it felt like a normal summer day.

It was a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.

It was pure joy, bliss, and contentment. It was safety.

It was resting on the ground beneath us and actually believing it might be level for everyone. It was vulnerability without fear of destruction. It was trust and love.

It was holy, holy, holy.

After that blissful half hour, we began marching on the Downtown Mall after hearing reports from fellow activists of renewed Nazi activity at another location. Even though we knew we were walking into more threats, the rush from our earlier victory over the neo-Nazis coursed through our veins, giving us hope that we could keep them at bay again.

When we marched those streets, we did so in victory. We did so in joy.

*****

When I think of Charlottesville, I still remember the joy. Oh, how I cling fiercely to that memory of joy.

I do not remember the joy in spite of the moment of terror that snatched it all away. I don’t remember those sweet moments to escape the reality of the pain, terror, and trauma from which my friends, fellow protesters, and I continue to recover.

I remember the joy because of the terror and the turmoil.

I cling to those joy-filled memories in a desperate effort to reclaim them from the terror that plagued that whole day and culminated in a terrorist attack by a white supremacist.

I keep that flicker of joy we had at the park safe and alive with all my might as a middle finger to those terrorists who would seek to destroy black and brown bodies, and those bodies that stand with them.

I remember the joy as a way to say to white terrorism and white supremacy, “Fuck y’all. You won’t win. Not this day, not this movement, not these lives.”

It’s this “Fuck y’all” joy that makes us laugh at insults like “race traitor” and whimpers about “Jewish privilege” and “reverse racism.”

It’s this “Fuck y’all” joy that got us back on our feet to march to our people in need.

It’s this “Fuck y’all” joy that gives me the audacity to plan a wedding in the midst of this chaos and hatred.

It’s this “Fuck y’all” joy that is keeping me going today.

I pray it’ll last.

I Haven’t Been to Church in Four Months, and I’m OK

Church

Outlook Mag

Next week will officially mark four months since I’ve gotten myself out of bed on a Sunday morning to attend a church service.

I’ve kept myself otherwise occupied.

I played card games with Bryce and our roommate. I visited my mother and helped her with yard work. I watched a lot of TV and read a few books. I spent Mother’s and Father’s Day with my future in-laws. I added to our wedding registry. I fasted from social media.

I slept in.

But I haven’t been with a traditional community of believers.

I have become what I once feared: a non-church attending Christian.

The congregation members I grew up with attached a lot of adjectives to people like me: lukewarm, backsliding, and hedonistic are probably some of the nicer ones.

You can’t be a Christian without a faith community, they insist. If you’re not part of a gathering of believers, you will follow a God in your own image and become idolatrous, they warn. Why must you be one of those pesky Burger King Christians who has to have everything their way, they fuss.

But guess what?

I’m OK.

I’m well-rested, emotionally stable (to an extent), and still in love with the Church, the Bible, and the Holy Trinity.

This being said, I still struggle to read the Bible. I find following Jesus into the difficult places harder than ever. I find God to be more mysterious than I could have imagined. And I am more annoyed by the Spirit’s non-stop calls to lay everything down and open myself up to love.

I still talk about theology and what it means to follow Jesus, although I’m even less reverent than I’ve ever been. I partake in communion, but I break the bread of gigantic slices of Manhattan Pizza with my co-workers and gluten-free, vegan rolls with racial justice co-conspirators. I pray more than I have in some time: for peace, for my loved ones to get through their days, for mercy and justice, and for people to just listen. I look for God’s presence everywhere and in everything, in the breaths I take during a run, in my fiance doing the laundry for me, in protesters as cops beat them, and in writers who share their stories and trust they will mean something to someone.

I know there will be people who will read every single thing I’ve just said and see it all as lies and heresies, more evidence of my backsliding ways.

But in reality, I feel more solid in my faith and more confident claiming a Christian identity than I have in a long time.

It could be because I’m living with my fiance and not afraid of anyone’s nosy judgment, or because I’m politically and socially engaged with no fear that a theological higher-up is breathing down my neck, waiting for me to make a theological mishap and tear me down. Maybe it’s because I have more freedom to actually ask a variety of people a lot of interesting, difficult, uncomfortable questions without having the authenticity of my faith put on trial.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting more sleep.

I’m not saying I will never attend a traditional church again. By no means. In fact, I can no longer pass an Episcopal church without feeling a tremendous pang in my heart and an intense longing for choir anthems and collects.

I also have to admit there are some drawbacks to not having a faith community right now. I miss the communal life of choir practices and youth Sunday School. I miss long, deep conversations with clergy. I miss coffee hours after Sunday service and lunch time gatherings around the seminary table.

But I can’t say my lack of a “real” faith community is completely awful either. And I definitely can’t say I will regret this time in my life, or that I feel like a failure and a backslider in my walk with Christ.

For once in my life, I feel OK with where my faith journey has taken and is taking me, even if it’s the non-traditional route.

And I’m going to soak that up for all it’s worth.

Goodbye/Hello

Choir

On Sunday, I processed with the choir. Somehow, I found myself at the head of the procession, and I freaked out a bit. I never lead this part. I always follow. After seven months in the choir, I still didn’t feel confident leading us down the aisle, up to the front of the purple tule covered cross, and to our seats.

But on my final Sunday, I led the way.

On Sunday, I heard the story of Ezekiel and the dry bones, how the Word of God brought the bones, sinews, and flesh together, and finally breathed life into them.

With the choir, I chanted Psalm 30, a plea to God to hear Israel’s cry for mercy, a thanksgiving of God’s grace, a prayer for God to continue to draw near.

I heard the story of Jesus weeping over the death of Lazarus, a death he could have prevented but instead chose to undo, and how Lazarus walked out of the tomb when Jesus called his name, still bound in his grave clothes.

And as I sat in the choir loft, one final time, I thought about the dry bones and the garments of death.

I wondered if I reeked to the high heavens of death like Lazarus, if my bones and body were without the breath of life. I wondered if, in saying good-bye to my two jobs in the span of four days, I was surrounded by the stench of death, and I wondered if anyone else could smell it on me.

Despite the financial hardships which accompany working two part-time jobs with no benefits, ties are made. Routines are established. A sense of normalcy, including the panic which comes at the end of each month when bills need paying and the numbers aren’t adding up, brings with it an odd sense of comfort.

Now that I am entering a full-time position, with a salary and benefits (health insurance! retirement! paid time off!), I am able to move into a new life, something I always imagined but never thought would come to fruition: stability.

But at what cost?

On Thursday, I had to leave a friend who gave me a job fresh out of seminary, someone I bonded with after I gave his wife a meal before she entered an operation to remove her breast cancer, someone with whom I had weathered the early struggles of his first pastoral job out of seminary. On Sunday, it was difficult to listen to the prayers of a friend who shares my Doctor Who obsession, and to bid farewell to the teens I had mentored, .

I never realized how hard it would be to print and fold my final bulletins and turn off my office computer for the last time. I didn’t think I’d struggle not to tear up when one of my students handed me an orchid in front of my congregation as I said farewell to my congregation.

When I accepted these jobs, I knew they weren’t permanent positions. I knew they were stepping stones to other opportunities.

But I didn’t know they would become so close to my heart.

In youth group, I remember my youth pastors teaching us to set physical and emotional boundaries with romantic partners, because they told us too much physical intimacy could make unmarried people “too close” and result in more heartache when the relationship ended.

I wish they’d told me this kind of extra heartbreak isn’t limited to the physical and the romantic.

I wish they’d told me about the pain you experience when you receive the broken body of Christ from your pastor’s hand and wonder if it’s the last time it will ever happen. I wish they’d told me how much a simple touch of my hair when receiving the blood of Christ from a dear choir member would undo me. I wish they’d told me how heart-wrenching it is to have to pull up your roots from the place you’ve called home for so long and plant them elsewhere.

I wish they’d told me less about setting up boundaries and more about how to love as fiercely as God loves us, even and especially when those upheavals happen.

If we are to live as God’s children, as people who want to connect more with God, we will touch the souls of the people around us in deep and profound ways, and they will touch the depths of our hearts, too. They will leave their marks and imprints, and the scars will remind us of their presence forever.

You can’t avoid it. To avoid it is to be the dry bones in the dessert, to be bound by the grave clothes and reeking of death.

I don’t reek of death. I reek of love. Beautiful, deep, painful love. That love is why I chose to sit with the pain of these losses, to insist that they mean something to me, and their losses demand to be felt and honored.

So I sang our final hymn, “The Bread of Life,” for the last time. For the last time, I hung up my choir robe. I gave out final hugs as I ate snacks from my final coffee hour. For the first and last time, I went to the house of my choir director and her daughter, a member of my Sunday School class, and made my farewells over plates of ravioli.

I said good-bye to the congregation which housed me.

Now, I can say hello to the next home which has found me.

Anxious and In Love: Our Story

bryce

My fiancé Bryce and I have been together just over 6 years now and engaged for 7 months. We met 8 years ago at Bridgewater College after a group of friends and I awkwardly greeted him with an Anna-Farris-from-The-House-Bunny-inspired salutation, and he was gracious and crazy enough to want to be my friend afterwards. We bonded through long-distance runs, 7-11 trips, and long walks on campus discussing faith, relationships, and dreams. My mother loved him when she first met him, his Dad thought I was awesome after I single-handedly moved a recliner into Bryce’s dorm on Junior year move-in day, and we finally admitted we liked each other over an awkward silence in his dorm kitchen in November 2010.

He’s the best, y’all. He’s a goofball with big dreams and deep thoughts. He’s a liberal Baptist who takes the commitment he made at his baptism seriously, even through doubts and questions. He loves video games but doesn’t like watching TV all the time (unless it’s anime). He got me into running and comic books, and my mom accuses him of turning me into a liberal (even though he’s now a bit more conservative than me). He gives me big bear hugs and an obnoxious amount of kisses, and he will sleep without blankets if it means the kitty curled up on them doesn’t have to move.

He’s been my most consistent companion and true partner in crime (I even identified him as such on an Emergency Contact form).

And through it all, we’ve lived with a third wheel: my anxiety.

bryce10

Being in any kind of relationship as a person with anxiety is tough, but romantic relationships seem to have their own special struggles. We began dating almost 2 years after I ended an emotionally abusive relationship, so while I entered our relationship with strong feelings and a foundation of trust, I worried he would turn into someone I no longer recognized. My anxiety can latch onto anything that could possibly be interpreted as attacks on who I am and what I believe: jokes, opinions, faith, life stories.

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We’ve been through boughts of poor communication and snap judgments. Because my anxiety flares up in times of conflict, there are times if he expresses his opinion or asks me to stop doing something which irritates him, I fear being controlled and push him away. If we roughhouse too hard or in public, I might retreat out of fear that he is abusing me or someone will interpret our actions as such. If we disagree on a matter of theology or a social issue, or if I become convinced we don’t have enough common interests, I fear we aren’t compatible enough. I have exhausted both of us on numerous occasions with my suspicions, “what ifs,” and false assumptions over something he has said or done.

My anxiety even flares up when I realize that, out of my fear and pain, I have caused him pain. When Bryce tells me my anxiety is difficult to deal with, that he is exhausted with all the effort he puts in only to have me distance myself, when I seem to be putting in little effort and he has to pick up the slack, I want to hide away and internally beat myself up.

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I’ve realized the importance of counseling, support systems, medication, a healthier lifestyle, and good communication. I continue to learn how to tell him what makes me anxious without assigning blame to him, how to tell the thoughts in my head that they aren’t real and don’t get to call all the shots, when to talk with another friend or family member about my anxiety when he needs time to decompress, and how to look into the gentle, kind, and mischievous eyes of the man I love and know in my deepest heart that despite what my fears say, I have found an amazing man with whom I can share my life.

We’ve had to acknowledge the difficulties in dealing with each other. We go through times when he puts more effort into communication than I do. We confront our issues head on instead of pushing them away. Sometimes he struggles with why I can’t let things go or why I get upset over seemingly meaningless and illogical issues. Sometimes I get upset when he’s less than understanding and tries to make things better when there’s no way to do so.

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Being an anxious person has made us deal with some hard things, and we have loved each other through them all.

We’ve learned to talk with each other in open and honest ways, even when the vulnerability hurts. We’ve learned each other’s quirks and how we accept feedback, insight, and assistance. I’ve learned to put my own anxiety on hold to support him in difficult times. He’s learned to hold me when there’s nothing left to say.

We’ve learned to be a couple, a pair of people doing life together. We’ve learned to do tough things and journey through them with smiles on our faces and tears in our eyes.

Despite what the movies and stories may say, finding the one I love didn’t fix my anxiety. In some ways, it made anxiety more difficult, because it no longer just belonged to me; I had to share it with another person.

But this journey has given me someone I know will not run away on the bad days and will celebrate with me on the good ones. This journey has made each of us into people who can, as my counselor says, “bump up against each other” without the other one falling.

Neither of us are perfect humans (despite whatever else we may tell you), and ours is not a perfect story (despite being told on a regular basis that we are #relationshipgoals). But we do our best to be supportive, understanding, and present partners, and that’s more important and attainable than perfection anyways.

Here’s to us and our ongoing story, my love.

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