What if we’re wrong about love?

What if we were wrong about love?

What if it’s not black and white and it has a larger grey area than we thought? What if love isn’t about you and it’s about the other person? What if it’s not about your happiness, but about unselfish actions? What if it’s not just a robotic choice, and not just butterflies in your stomach, but both? And what if true love means choosing to love someone even once the butterflies are gone? Even when that person is making you angry, and you’re fighting constantly, and they’re driving you up a wall, and they aren’t holding up their end of the deal in this relationship?

What if we stopped being afraid of being the one who loves more in our relationship?

I was talking to a friend, and I said that “I’m not happy anymore” is not a reason for divorce. He said, “But isn’t that the point of love? To be happy?” And I thought, That’s a love of pressure to put on one person for the rest of your lives. Think about it. What that’s saying is, “I’m going to entwine my heart and soul with yours, become one with you, and promise you the rest of my life. But I just want you to know that if you don’t make me happy for the rest of my life then I’m leaving you.”

Talk about pressure.

But that’s what almost every marriage or long-term relationship has evolved into. It’s all about the other person giving you something. It’s a contract with them. “I’ll make you happy, and you’ll make me happy, but when either of us stops doing that, we’re done.” What it was meant to be is a covenant. Which says, “I’ll give you myself until I die, and even though you’re pledging the same thing, I know that some day you probably won’t hold up your end of things. And that’s okay. I’ll still be here, I’ll still love you.”

And I think that that pressure that we put on each other, the pressure that we put on naturally selfish beings, to constantly give to us, to fill our ever-lasting need, even when they’re possibly getting nothing in return, is what breaks relationships. It’s a totally unrealistic expectation.

Happiness, joy, excitement. These are all by-products of a loving relationship. But in and of themselves, they do not make up the entirety of love. I feel that that’s what we’re saying when we equate being in love to being happy.

The happy times are what people share with their friends, what they post about on Facebook, what they take pictures of. Nobody wants to take pictures of or post about (okay, people do post about it, but that’s a different issue) that huge fight they just had where he stormed out the door and didn’t come back for three hours while she sat at home crying. Nobody seems to want to share that date night that went horribly wrong, or the total lack of date nights they’ve been having.

People want to share smiles.

But any relationship in your life, whether it’s a marriage, your family, or your friends, isn’t only composed of smiles.

I just have to wonder: we have the “all smiles” expectation for romantic relationships, but then when it comes to friends and family, we are much more lenient and we are much more expectant of hardship, tears, and pain.

Maybe that’s one of the biggest problems.

Fearfully and wonderfully made?

I’ve heard this a lot. Not, “You look great,” but “You’re so skinny.” It’s like a subconscious thing that people do, for whatever reason, where they notice your weight before most other things about you. I’m guilty of it too. Don’t worry. I do it all the time. And it’s my observation of this both in myself and in others that made me start thinking, how much does it really matter, and why am I noticing this about this person and myself?

I honestly don’t know how to respond when people tell me that I’m skinny. Do I say “Thank you?”

But, thanks for what? An observation was made, and that’s all. It’s not, “You look good,” which implies that I did something to myself to warrant some kind of compliment that I should be grateful for receiving. Or maybe I didn’t do anything, and I should say thank you because they’re complimenting my natural appearance. But neither of those applies to the measurement of my waist.

Not really, anyway.

What’s more, this usually happens when someone hasn’t seen me in a while. Like, I know I weighed more when I was in high school, and then I guess I naturally trimmed down. I have been exercising more as well, but it’s only about a ten-pound difference that happened over the course of four years. It’s not that big of a deal.

But here’s the thing. In the past four years, so much more has happened than ten pounds disappearing.

Here are just a few:

I had a baby.

Like, I created a human being.

Inside of my body.

And then he came out. 

Like, into the world.

I also placed that baby for adoption.

I started promoting my blog.

I started writing a book.

I declared my major to be English.

I decided that I want to be an author.

My son will be celebrating his fifth birthday this year.

I also met the man I truly love and got married last August.

Speaking of which, I am also coming up on our first anniversary! (AND I’M SO FREAKING EXCITED!)

But people mostly notice that there’s some body fat gone from my hips. Now don’t get me wrong. I think complimenting people’s looks is fine. There are many attractive people in the world, and I’m flattered if you think I’m one of them. It’s not bad to think that someone looks good, and to tell them. But I think we need to get away from the idea that weight loss or gain is one of the only things worth noting about a person. What if I had gained fifteen pounds instead of losing ten? Would people then be saying as I walked away, “Oh my God, she gained so much weight!” Would people say anything at all? Would I maybe get a, “So what’s up in your life?” after the “Oh wow, I haven’t seen you in so long!” comments subsided, and have someone who’s genuinely eager to listen to what’s going on in my life because they’re not distracted by my “skinniness?” Truth be told, I don’t even think that I’m skinny. I mean, I don’t think I’m fat either, I just really don’t think I’m thin. And like I said before, I think that it’s subconscious. I don’t think that anybody is intentionally ignoring huge life events, or that they truly couldn’t care less about what else is happening in my life. At least I know that when I comment on someone’s waist-line that my intentions are not, at least consciously, superficial.

But maybe, just maybe, this says something about how we view ourselves. Maybe it says something about what we believe about bodies, and maybe it says that we don’t have the exact values that we claim to.

I recognize that body image is a struggle for many, many people. The reasons are many. Too many to count. Society, family, friends, advertisements, the list goes on.

Maybe we should start wondering who people are as people and not as numbers on a scale. What do these observations and our voicing them above others say about our belief in God? About our supposed belief that we are beautiful and valued and cherished and wonderfully made, just as we are? And how deeply ingrained are those beliefs, really?

Maybe these are questions we should be asking ourselves.

My Dad is Mr. Incredible

“You must call me Mr. Incredible,” is what my dad used to tell us all the time. So of course, my brother and sisters would giggle and refuse, because it was a command, and a silly one. We thought it was hilarious for my dad to request something like that. As I got older, I thought that the request got old too. Why continue, knowing it wouldn’t happen? And why would you want us to call you after a balding, middle-aged superhero with a huge belly who runs around in red spandex (like, ew, please don’t, Dad). Well, Dad, this is me, finally calling you Mr. Incredible.

My dad is pretty awesome. He’s kind of a badass, but he’s also one of the nicest guys I know. It took me a long time to see it, but my dad is a much more complicated man than just what’s on the surface. I mean, we all are more complicated than our outer self would suggest, but I think my dad is more so than most. He’s both a nerd and a jock. He’s an intellectual who loves really stupid comedies. He can talk about the details of economics and calculus, or create awesome artwork. When we’re young, we’re taught to see things in black and white, even if we don’t realize it. But we’re all grey. My dad is grey.

My dad is Robin Hood, and Mr. Incredible, and The Iron Monkey, and Superman. Which is pretty cool, when you think about it.

As a kid, I only saw Superman, and this one had no kryptonite. But as I grew older I saw things like kindness, generosity, and compassion that I had never even thought to look for. I think I refused to call my dad Mr. Incredible, but I may have called him Mr. Crabbs at some point. Crusty on the outside, soft inside. (Love you, dad.)

My dad taught me that everything is not, in fact, black and white. He taught me to think about things on my own and not to take everyone else’s opinions and ideas at face value, even if they seemed to make sense at first. Even when they had evidence to back it up. I learned to ask questions, of everything. To observe, ask, and then find answers. I learned to analyze. He would talk about politics and other people and science and books in a way that I never heard other people talk about them. He talked about faults in people’s views, even when he agreed with most of what a person was saying, and talked about books that he liked, but also why he liked them, why the main character annoyed him, why it was a good story, and what he wished had been different. I heard him talk about things calmly, rationally, and without making the other person feel stupid if they disagreed.

Through this love of learning and discussion and analyzing, my dad was also the one who taught me to love books. When I was younger, we didn’t have cable TV. My dad didn’t let us sit in front of the TV very often, so we’d read. Ultimately, this has led to my ambition to be an author. He didn’t get upset if I stayed up until 6am on Saturday morning because I just didn’t know time was passing as I read a book. Because, hey, his kids love to read! I read everything I could get my hands on that had horses or dragons in it, and it was not long until I started trying to write my own stories. I didn’t show many of them to my dad, I don’t think, not because I was trying to hide them, but because I started writing just because it brought me joy, not because I wanted or needed others to read it. But when I’d show my writing to my dad, he always encouraged it. He told me I did a good job, but also told me when things didn’t make sense or were wrong. Whether it was artwork, writing, riding horses, or anything else, my dad was always there telling me that I was doing well, telling me to keep going, and that I should do something with my talents and dreams, even if they sounded crazy. It was always, “Of course you can do it,” along with a practical, “But you’ll have to work for it.”

Though my dad isn’t generous in the same way that my mom is, giving large things often, he is generous in other small ways that really do matter too. I didn’t realize how much those ways matter until I was on the receiving end of many of these actions as I prepared for my wedding day, and prepared to move out of my parents’ homes. My dad has worked hard all of his life so that he can give like no one else, and he does. My dad is generally quiet, both in speech and in action; in the sense that he’d rather be at home with a book than out partying (I got that from him). But he’s the kind of quiet that is approachable. It’s a steady quiet. I may not always have known it, but I can count on him to be there. I know I’m always welcome into his home, and I know there will always be a hug and a cup of tea and a silly comedy that we can laugh at way too hard. Not because the movie is that funny, but because the others’ reaction to some part of the movie or another will be priceless and we won’t be able to help ourselves.

I really don’t think that I’ll ever fully comprehend what fatherhood is like, because I will never be a father, but I am very proud to say that my dad influenced the type of man that I chose to marry (my husband is also incredibly smart and creative and opinionated and well-read and motivated and…so much more) and so I hope that one day when my husband and I have kids, I will get to witness fatherhood from the perspective of a wife, and maybe I’ll see something of what it was like for my dad.

If I’ve learned anything, it’s that fathers really do matter, because I’ve seen the imprint my own father has left on me. I may not always understand it, but I can see it, and feel it. And for better or for worse, that imprint is with me until the day that I die, influencing and changing me.

Regardless of what else my dad is to me or to others, some part of me will always see the Mr. Incredible that I refused to acknowledge growing up.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

Love,

Your oldest (and favorite) child.

When we ignore the least of these.

There is a story circulating about the children from South America that are being transported from Oklahoma to Arizona. There are thousands of these children. Border patrol is overwhelmed. Lately, it’s filling the newsfeeds and minds of my fellow Arizona residents. As a resident in Tucson, Arizona, only one or two hundred miles from the Mexico border, we hear about illegal immigration constantly. It’s what politicians use to gain votes, it’s the issue that everyone is pissed off about, it pops up in casual conversation, and chances are you’ve hired an illegal immigrant (either knowingly or unknowingly) to do yard work or to clean your house or to remodel your home.

I used to think, as many do, that illegal immigrants are just a bunch of drug smugglers and thieves, rapists, escaped convicts, murderers, just criminals of the worst kinds. But through the years, I’ve come to see that this is a mostly false but still widely accepted stereotype. I’ve heard stories of people who live on the far outskirts of town, next to the open desert (both beautiful and deadly, especially to immigrants travelling with little water), who have heard knocks on their doors in the middle of the night. They opened the door to find poorly dressed men and women, dirty, hungry, speaking little to no English, just looking for water or some scrap of food. Some people just find them in the night drinking from the hose, and they run away when they see they’ve been spotted. I’ve heard stories of people chasing these families away with guns and/or calling Border Patrol to have them deported on the spot, and I’ve also heard of people finding it in their hearts to help. But here’s the thing: aiding them is punishable by law. So many people would like to do something, but are afraid of the consequences. There’s also the fact that if you help one of them, they send word to other illegals that you’ll help, and you end up with more of them at your door, which increases the chances of you being caught.

Were these men, women, and children (often families) that showed up in people’s back yards, sometimes on the verge of passing out from dehydration and looking for a hose, all criminals? No. They were just families, looking for security, safety, and a home. Mexico is a place where there are only two main social classes, upper and lower, with only a very small in-between. Basically, you’re either wealthy and able to afford to live, or you’re living in a cardboard box trying to keep rain out, trying to keep your children cool and fed, taking any work that you can find. Usually children are sent out begging. Often these households (if you can call them houses) are abusive or neglectful, with many children and a lot of sickness due to lack of resources. And so they cross the border in Texas, Arizona, California, and wherever else they can in order to get away from it. Don’t get me wrong, some of them are legitimate criminals, but that is not always the case. More often, the criminals lure honest but desperate people into smuggling drugs for them in return for taking them across the border. There are horrific stories about women being forced to carry drugs inside their bodies, or being brutally beaten and raped by the criminals (called “coyotes”), along with their daughters, all while simply trying to get to the United States. Many men, women, and children are even sold into sex or labor slavery by these same coyotes.

Now, regarding the thousands of children that are being shipped from Oklahoma to a shelter in Nogales, and being “dumped” in Arizona. These children are not from Mexico, but they are part of the same issue: illegal immigration. They are  mainly from Central America (Honduras, Guatemala). With Mexican immigrants, Border Patrol are allowed to just transport them to the other side of the border and leave them there. But when you have a bunch of minors (all age 17 and under, some as young as one year old) all coming from Central America, you can’t just throw them in Mexico.

A few years ago, I would have said, “Just have them come over here legally.” And that would be it. I would have had no other opinion. I would have told you that I don’t care about immigration, as long as they’re not illegal. Until I began hearing about people who were stuck waiting for 15+ years to get their Visa. All Haitian, Hispanic from Central and South America, or African. (While Europeans and Canadians have a comparatively short wait time of months to years). They did it the legal way. Often only one family member (usually the father) would be able to get into the United States, and so would be legally living here and working, saving money to send to his family, while leaving his wife and kids in Mexico.

Now, regardless of how you feel about this issue, regardless of how you feel about our money leaving the economy and going to a foreign one, and regardless of how you feel about “legal” versus “illegal,” I have something to say about this.

These stories, all of them, break my heart in two. These are not the drug lords and rapists and evil people that we were told they are. They’re families. Many are teenage mothers with children as young as one year old. These are children as young as nine years old travelling from Central America all the way to the United States by themselves. Imagine your children, parentless, penniless, and starving, living in a war-torn and poverty-stricken country and travelling to the United States where they’re not even planning to try to hide from authorities, but rather turn themselves in, because they “heard they help kids.” Does that not shred your heart?

If you can look at their situation and see only politics and “secure borders” rather than an opportunity for service and compassion, rather than a system that needs serious revision, then I pity you. We’ve lost all compassion if we can turn our backs on children just because they are not from our country and were unable to obtain citizenship before the age of twenty-five or thirty years old. The Christian community especially should be stepping forward, because infinitely more important than being a United States citizen is being a citizen of an eternal Kingdom, and being subjects of a King that commands us to “make disciples of all nations” and to care for “the widow and the orphan.” This is a God who calls us to care for the least of these, and says “that which you do unto the least of these, you have done unto me,” but all we see is Republican versus Democrat, liberal versus conservative, border issues, and politics and who we should elect next, and we do not see people with huge needs. And that is what’s heartbreaking to me about all of this, is my brothers and sisters in Christ who can look a starving children who made their painstaking way by themselves across half of a continent, and say, “Send them back, we don’t want them.”

When thoughts won’t sit still and be quiet: random thoughts on God, books, and writing.

Anybody who knows me at all knows that I love books. In fact, I will buy them just to have them, the way some girls buy shoes, or makeup, or clothes, or whatever. Because I might read them one day. I want a life-library like Alaska Young. I want the library from Beauty and the Beast (the Disney version, because that’s the version that I remember seeing as a kid). I just love the feeling of holding a book. I don’t know that I could ever explain why, or how come, or why I don’t just buy the Kindle version (I do have a Kindle, and those versions are much cheaper even for brand new books).

There’s just something about holding a book in your hands and seeing words. To me, it is proof that humans can do magic, and proof of a very creative, very intelligent, very wonderful God. To me, books and writing represent something other than symbols on a page. They represent a Creator in Who’s image we were created. He has to be incredibly imaginative in order to have come up with all that we see around us. Just as He created the world and the universe, we unknowingly attempt to imitate that through exercising our own imaginations and sharing it with others.

I’m thinking about books a lot today in particular, because I just bought 27 new used ones from a huge Bookmans sale at their warehouse. Yeah, 27 books that I’ve never read before. You know the feeling of butterflies in your stomach, that almost makes it feel like you’re choking while nothing is anywhere near your neck, that excitement and adrenaline and almost-but-not-quite-nervous feeling that you get when you’re apprehensive but super unbelievably happy about something that’s happening? That’s how I feel when I get a new book to read.

And I currently have almost 30.

I just bought Henrik Ibsen, Robert Louis Stevenson, George Orwell, and Jodi Picoult. I don’t even know where to start, especially considering that I’m already in the middle of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Which is, by far, one of the best YA books I think I’ve ever read, and I highly recommend it. It’s artistic and almost every page has some jewel. Like this one:

“They say war is death’s best friend, but I must offer you a different point of view on that one. To me, war is like the new boss who expects the impossible. He stands over your shoulder repeating one thing, incessantly: ‘Get it done, get it done.’ So you work harder. You get the job done. The boss, however, does not thank you. He asks for more.”

I love books like The Book Thief, and I would honestly love to write one. In fact, I’ve started to do so. It’s coming along, slowly but surely, word by painstaking word. But many days, I get discouraged and start to feel overwhelmed with the sheer amount of work, the amount of writing it involves. Sometimes I can ride a wave of inspiration for over twenty pages, and other times I will sit for an hour and nothing comes. But I’m learning. As I keep writing, I’m learning that “a writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people” (Thomas Mann). I realize how true that is when I hear other people say things like, “I could have written that.” And I think, Well, why don’t you try? Or when people say something along the lines of “Being an author would be so easy.” And I think, How do you know? 

I see authors who pump out books like most of us release carbon dioxide and I wonder, How good could that book be? They wrote it too quickly. But then, as I sit down to write my own, I realize how much time and effort they must have put in, how many visions and revisions.

Sometimes I wonder if God did the same thing with earth, but then I also realize He’s not human. He doesn’t have a human brain that needs to work things out. He already knows. He doesn’t need the backspace key when He’s writing our stories, and that’s comforting to me, because real life has no backspace, no ctrl+z. (For you non-techie people, ctrl+z is a shortcut on your keyboard for “undo.” You’re welcome.)

Right now, I don’t even really know what this blog post is about, much less how my own life will end. I don’t even know how the life of the character in my own book will end.

It’s a daunting task, authoring lives and deaths and worlds, maybe universes, into and out of existence. I have 27 of them sitting in a box next to me on the couch. That’s scary (but exciting, because they’re, you know, books).

And I’m thankful for a God who’s capable of it.

I’m also thinking that I probably used too many parenthesis in this piece, but who’s counting anyway?