Ceaselessly into the Past: A Look at Journals, Conclusion: A Troubled Heart

Do you remember how it felt to move into college? It almost felt like going away to summer camp. You’re put in this tiny room where you’re going to live for an extended period of time with a complete stranger who kind of weirds you out and are directed around for a week-ish of orientation and mixer games until BOOM. Classes start and you feel like you got hit by a truck.

I did that twice.

Yes, friends. I’ve talked about it a little bit, but not in too much detail. In August of 2014, I moved into Hillsdale College. Five days later, I moved out. I was terrified, alone, homesick, and having existential crisis after existential crisis.

(Audrey, calm down. That’s how everyone feels when they move into college…) Well, I guess I just wasn’t prepared. Was it fear that motivated me? Probably. But would I make the same choice again? You bet your bottom dollar.

I wouldn’t trade the experiences I’ve had since I made that fateful decision. In September of 2014, I moved into Cornerstone University. One day later, I started classes. Three years later, I’m starting my senior year. No regrets.

But freshman Audrey, 18 years old and tossed about on buffeting waves of choices and their consequences, wouldn’t say the same. She spent her first fall semester of college crippled by fear and anxiety (like most freshmen, am I right?) She thought about transferring multiple times. She thought about changing her major (she did. I have a semester’s worth of music classes under my belt, in case you were wondering.) She thought she would be married by the time she graduated (HA. She fell prey to the Christian college mentality.)

And somewhere in there, she started to journal. Ish. So here we go:

Journal #5: No name (I wasn’t that creative anymore. It was just a red composition book from Meijer.) October 2014 – July 2016 (I think. It is rather unclear.) 

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The quote at the bottom is from Frankenstein the Musical. Yup. You read that right. There’s a musical. About Frankenstein. And it’s actually pretty legit so don’t judge me. Ok judge me.

So here we are in October of 2014. It’s chilly and Audrey has found a moment to pour out her thoughts. She’s sitting in the lounge of Pickitt Hall (I remember this part but not much else) and finds time between homework to jot something down:

24 October 2014

It’s been a long time since I’ve journaled. The first time was when I got this thin little journal from my aunt (was it my aunt? I think so. There was a sparkly pen with it. It lit up when you wrote something.) (Good memory, kiddo.) It had this cartoon angel on the front (Remember?) I think I was nine? Ten? (Eight.) …I kind of stopped [journaling] in high school because I couldn’t find any time. I should find those journals and read them (What a great idea! Then share them with the Internet, ok?) I was a weird child (yes.) Er, creative. Both. Whichever one. (Both is good.)

For years people have been telling me “You should journal! It will help you organize your thoughts/reduce stress/help you figure out your life!” Well, maybe, but

1) My thoughts are just as messy on paper as they are in my head; 

2) Journaling feels like an obligation and therefore a stress-producer;

3) My life has never been resolved through writing things down. Maybe that will change. It’s cheaper than therapy, anyway. (Cue laughter.)

So what do people usually journal about?…I think [famous writers] have an innate sense that they’re going to be famous so they make sure everything they write is elegant and extemporaneous. Or they are just innately good writers and therefore get famous. (The rest get blogs.)

So there’s your introduction to 18-year-old Audrey at a turning point in her life. You can tell that from October 25’s entry:

How about I start with this: Who am I? Good question. I don’t think I can answer that. I was just thinking how weird it is that we define ourselves by who we are when who we are is constantly changing. Can one be defined by that which always changes? Maybe that’s the answer. Who are we? Constantly changing things. Who am I? That which is never the same. 

Someone get this girl a blog. She’s hopeless. And she’s feeling the weight of 18, apparently:

I’m learning a lot in college. Not just conventional things like what I’m paying to learn, but other things too…For example, I’ve learned that eighteen may possibly be the most insecure age there is (oh honey it gets worse.) That’s why everyone feels they need to be in a relationship or talk about all the great things they’ve done. They’re starting to feel the pressure of adulthod. I know I am. Seeing people who know exactly what they want to major in make me feel like I should know too. People who are in relationships make me feel like I should be in one (story of your life.)

So here’s what we know about Audrey so far: She’s confused and she wants a boyfriend. Is that what I’m getting here? She’s also paranoid. October 27:

I feel as if there’s never a time during the day when I’m not being scrutinized. There’s never a time when I’m completely alone, without fear of someone walking in or watching or staring at me (that’s called living in a dorm.) Just now someone looked at me, smiling and laughing in my direction. Why? What’s wrong with me? 

On October 28 I wonder if I’m attractive. Who doesn’t? Image is still a difficult thing to handle in college. You can still feel the judgment of high school seeping over (I know I did.)

On November 4, 2014, Audrey fell in love. She would stay that way for two and a half years. She met someone, and in her insecurities, latched onto him, thinking he was her only shot. (You can imagine how that went.) But she’s real excited on November 5. Everything seems to be falling into place.

She talks about Hillsdale on November 10. She’s still having dreams about it, but claims that the doubts are gone (they never go away.)

And then a little introversion –

11/15/14

I went to a dance tonight. I always go out thinking I’ll have a great time, but I always stand to the side and watch awkwardly. This was the first time I went with extroverts who wanted to dance. I just wanted to dress up and look pretty. My outgoing friend pulled my arm all night so I would dance. I said I didn’t like the song. “No one does,” she said. That really hit me. Is everyone as uncomfortable as me?

And on 11/22 –

Sometimes I think of myself as an F Scott Fitzgerald character: a narcissistic, restless, overly-romantic youth…I feel displaced. Restless. Confused. Bored, sometimes. Hopeless other times. Scared. Childish. Recently, lovesick for someone I’ve only known for three weeks and only seen three times. But you know me, making a big deal of little things. (that won’t change any time soon!)

So we find our little heroine troubled. She longs for something that she can’t have, but she still has hope. She’s about to enter one of the most stressful times of her life. Winter of 2015 was not a good one. She had an overload of classes, a lovesick heart, and a mind full of anxiety. I remember a lot of painful, bitter tears being shed during that time. Life just did not seem to be coming together for me.

But looking back, I realize how much all of that taught me, and I couldn’t be prouder of myself for enduring that and becoming the woman I am today. She still has a long way to go, but she’s made leaps and bounds in the right direction.

So I’ll conclude this short series with a little tidbit of knowledge from our heroine. Where will she go from here? No one knows. She doesn’t journal anymore (she blogs, which might be a mistake, but we’ll see.)

3/15/15

The heart is the harbor of love. If God is the author of love, then the heart must be God’s harbor. But what if the heart is not full of God, full of love – what is it filled with? That is a dangerous, tempestuous harbor, one that no sailor would find refuge. Let your heart be the refuge of the sailor Love, who tosses wearily from wave to wave in hope of a safe haven. Why not calm the waters of your heart and whisper, “Author of Love, you are welcome here. You who calm every storm, calm my troubled waters.”

a. w.

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How to Succeed in Crushes Without Really Trying

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What’s it like to have a crush in your twenties? It sucks.

I developed a small crush at the beginning of the summer. But you know how “small” crushes go. I mean, there’s a reason it’s called a crush. We were chatting online and I found that our similarities (and our differences) were attracting me to him. I was excited to meet him – y’know how those butterflies can be. But a few weeks after sporadic texting, he dropped the bad news (bad news for me, anyway) – he was into someone else and they were going to start dating.

I felt like any dramatic teenage girl at that moment, completely floored. (I responded with a “that’s ok” but YOU KNOW it wasn’t the truth.) In short, it hurt. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, it just wasn’t meant to happen.

But do crushes go away once that happens? Aw heck no.

I think it’s safe to say we’ve each had a few crushes in our lifetimes. The stupid elementary school ones, the even worse “I’m-gonna-be-alone-forever” high school ones. College ones are tricky. I’ve had a few flash in the pan crushes, but on a small Christian college campus, everyone knows everyone and they can give you the low-down (“oh he’s got issues,” “he’s dating someone” – usually they are cuz it’s a Christian college campus, haha.)

Having a crush utilizes every corner of the spectrum of human emotions – or at least it seems like it when you feel yourself developing one. Elation, joy, hope, despair, rage, Netflix binging, water faucet tears (don’t leave me hanging, here.) It feels like insanity.

Because it is!

I bet that made you feel a lot better about your current crush, didn’t it?

But for real – insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. You develop crushes on a rolling basis and expect a different result, but the end of the road is usually disappointment – unless you have really good luck.

Before I go further, I’ll tell you that it is totally okay to have a crush on someone. In fact it’s pretty normal. We want to feel wanted by someone we want, so it only makes sense.

It’s when it becomes all-consuming that it gets risky. Take it from someone who’s been there multiple times.

In short (short?) having a crush brings out a nasty little monster called idealization. We think that if we could just be with that person, everything would be swell. Girls especially (men, chime in if you do this too) idealize all day long. We picture cute dates, fun pictures, even weddings (yup, weddings.) Because at this stage we don’t have much to go off of about our crush, because chances are we don’t know them all that well. So our brains fill in the blanks (also called the Halo Effect. Pretty tricky stuff.)

The last big crush I had was in high school. I was pretty dead set on marrying the kid, because I was 15 years old and definitely knew what I wanted. Inevitably, it didn’t work out because it simply wasn’t meant to be – a hard concept to accept, but a good discipline to adopt nonetheless. In fact, that ordeal taught me something, and like I’ve said before, if something teaches you a lesson, it wasn’t a waste.

So here I am, still in the process of getting over a hyper-idealized crush. When you’ve made a crush into an idol or ideal in your mind, it’s a hard thing to shake. So don’t feel guilty if it doesn’t just disappear instantly in a puff of smoke. It’s almost a daily struggle. How do I divert my attention off this? What can I do to lessen this idol? I confess I haven’t gone about it in the best or most mature ways – emotions, am I right? But every step is a step in the right direction.

So take a tip from your friendly neighborhood coffee shop blogger – don’t let a crush crush you. You’re too good for that. Take it a step at a time. I look at it this way – you are a person worthy of being loved and cherished, and if you end up not finding that in the object of your desires, then let it be. You don’t have to get bitter or Taylor-Swift-crying-mascara-tears about it.

“When I find myself in times of crushes, Blogger Audrey comes to me, typing words of wisdom, Let it Be.”

– The Beatles, maybe

a. w.

Not How you Are, but Who you Are

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I laid in my bed feeling like I was going to throw up. I wasn’t sick, but I was certainly queasy. My heart was pounding out of my chest and my stomach felt like a rock. It was nearing midnight after a long day, and I had gotten home late only to log on to my computer and find out I needed to buy a textbook for my summer class – a textbook that cost almost $200.

You’d think the computer had punched me in the stomach. That’s almost half my savings. So at 11:30pm I shakily entered my debit card number with a limp index finger and smashed my head into my pillow with thoughts racing.

Why did I decide to take an unpaid internship this summer? Why didn’t I try to find a higher-paying job? Why am I even taking this class? I’m paying off loans, shelling out cash for parking every day, and just scraping by with a minimum wage job.

I could take on another job. There’s got to be something I could fit in to my schedule. How am I going to pay for my apartment in the fall? 

And then the racing thoughts got deeper. Why did I decide to go to a private college and live on campus? I’m up to my eyeballs in debt. I’m never going to get a job that will pay it off. I’m gonna be homeless. This is a disaster. 

(It’s amazing how money will make you regret every decision you’ve ever made. But that’s a discussion for an entirely different blog post.)

Summer is a weird limbo period for most college students. You have a heck ton of time that you didn’t have during the school year, so you have lots of time to think. Instead of cranking out homework, you’re probably working a wage slave job to scrape up a little money for the semester to come.

And trust me, when you have time to think, you think. A. Lot. And your thoughts can turn on you fast.

This has been one of the most stressful summers of my life. I spent a month (and a lot of my money) in Europe on a school trip, which was three weeks of physical, spiritual, and emotional intensity. I returned broke and exhausted and threw myself into a part time job at Starbucks, a play, an internship, and a summer class. My gas gauge and my bank statements descended quickly. I overdrafted three times in the month of June. I still try to make it each week with a tiny paycheck (thank heavens I live with my parents. I’d live in a box if I didn’t.)

I made the choice to take an unpaid internship and rehearse for a play back in April. I, being the idealist, didn’t see the harm. Until I started paying for gas after driving across the city for rehearsal every night, and sticking coins into a parking meter every morning (and getting a ticket…) And months before then, I made plans to get an apartment with my friends before school starts in the fall. Idealism, am I right?

I’ve struggled with myself this summer. I feel like I’m one of those second graders that’s getting held back (remember how scandalous that was when it happened? It was basically jail.) I’ve never felt like more of a hapless child, even moreso than when I was a hapless child.

I’ve been asking “how come I…” a lot, with the emphasis on “I” because a lot of our worries stem from ourselves. How come don’t have a boyfriend? How come didn’t get that paid internship? How come decided to do all of these things for free? How come feel stuck and like I’ll never amount to anything?

And then the even more dangerous question: What’s wrong with me?

So what’s the answer to that?

Nothing.

Nothing is wrong with you.

Parents and counselors will be the first to tell you that, but let me tell you that as a fellow human being, and maybe someone who is around your age. There is nothing wrong with you. In fact, keep asking those questions. But instead of wallowing in them, answer them.

Why did I decide to take an unpaid internship? Because it’s in a field I’m interested in. It will help me learn what I want to do, and I won’t just be doing it for a paycheck. I’ll have to keep showing up because I want to. It will grow me as a human and as a professional.

Why did I decide to be in a play instead of working more? Because I love creating art, and I’ve made something beautiful with a group of people I love. Because life isn’t just money. Life is experience. And no experience is wasted if you decide to learn something.

Why do you feel stuck? Because maybe you’re not supposed to be where “that person” (someone comes to mind, don’t they?) is right now. You’re supposed to be where you’re at, spending a summer with kids at a camp, bussing tables for 60 hours a week, getting married, preparing for the birth of your first child. None of these things are small. And you can learn something from it if you decide to. And something good can come out of everything if you decide that.

Life is more than gas money. Life is more than the number of zeros on your paycheck. It’s more than your relationship status, your friend’s Instagram feed, the number of messages in your inbox. It’s about who you want to be now, in a week, in a year, in ten years. It’s about how you greet your coworkers on a Monday morning. It’s about how you treat the stranger sharing your seat on the bus. It’s about who you are and not how or what you are. The kind of friend, sister or brother, husband or wife, mother or father you want to be. It’s your eulogy at your funeral, the words on your gravestone.

Life is Patience. Not merely standing by, but actively waiting and seeking. So be patient. You’re not there yet because you’re supposed to be here. So while you’re here, learn. Grow.

Be patient. Wait expectantly for the sunrise in the middle of the storm. Walk in the rain instead of rushing through it with a newspaper over your head. A year from now, look back at the storm. Instead of thinking about how it was or what it was like, think about who you were then and how you changed. Don’t let it be a regret and don’t let it be a waste.

Let it be something that, no matter how difficult it was, made you who you are. Not everything has to be a period, conclusive and final. Maybe right now, your life is at a comma. Because you’re not sure how this short story in the anthology of your life is going to end.

But I promise you that when it does come to an end, it will make sense.

a, w,

 

My Adventures in Online Dating, Part 2: If You’re a Christian, Swipe Right

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Give me a little time and, take all my money, take all my money

You’ll come around and someday, I’ll be the one you love.

– “Broke,” Bear Attack

Hey!

According to most men on dating apps, that’s not how you should begin a conversation with them. But I think I can say hey to all y’all, instead of thinking of a witty pickup line. (I mean, what do they want other than ‘hey’? A deep question about systematic theology? Very confused.)

But I’ll get to “what men want” in another post. What do Christians want?

In other words – should Christians use dating apps?

Well, my obvious answer is probably “yes,” since I’m currently using one myself. BUT like most topics, different people have different opinions about it.

The Bible isn’t cut-and-dry about dating apps…obviously. We all know Hosea didn’t have an awful marriage because he accidentally swiped right. Ruth didn’t get Boaz’s attention with…well…~pics.~

And then there’s Song of Songs.

BUT ANYWAY

Dating is different now than it was in Biblical contexts. It’s more different than it ever has been before. Until the later part of the 19th Century, most women were still given away by their fathers and/or the patriarch of their family – sometimes to someone they’d never met. ~Love~ really didn’t come into play all that much. It was more mutuality or convenience that drove most courtships and marriages. (Not always…I mean, we’ve all read Jane Austen. I hope.)

What I’m trying to say is, the dating game has changed. But the name of the game is the same. (Lame.)

So has Christian dating. There was that whole courtship phase we all collectively went through in the 90s, until that was overruled by both Christians and non-Christians alike. Courtship is a bit stressful, with a little bit too much commitment far too soon. (It was so bad that the guy who wrote the book apologized.) And we have our ideal, “celebrity” Christian couples, like the Duggars or the Robertsons, who we then found out each have their own fair share of problems just like the rest of us.

So now what? Now what phase are we in? If we’re not being given away, or being courted, what are we doing?

Are we being swiped? 

Well, in a word, yes.

The game has changed, and I don’t think we need to sit idly by and let it change without us. Of course there’s dangers to online dating, but there’s dangers to live dating too. And I’m not even saying you have to limit yourself to an exclusively Christian dating website. Put yourself out there.

So that’s kind of my answer. Yes. Of course a Christian can date online. But, like all aspects of living in a fallen world…you have to be careful.

Actually, I would encourage Christians to date online. The great thing about dating online is you’re spreading your net further than if you simply mingled among your work, school, or church friends. (Because to be honest, sometimes the pickings are slim. Especially at church. Everyone’s already married. Or maybe you go to an old person church.)

So yeah, definitely set up an account on a site you deem appropriate and go on dates.

But here’s the “no-duh:” only if you actually want to. 

If your female relatives keep asking you why you’re still single, that’s not a good enough reason. If your guy friends are telling you about their amazing wives, that’s not a good enough reason. If you’re just plain lonely and want someone around, that’s not a good enough reason.

The church definitely puts undue pressure on single Christians to get married. (You can’t graduate from your 20-something small group into a couples group until you do.) So if you’re seeking a partner just because you feel like you have to (or your grandma keeps asking) don’t do it. That goes for both offline and online dating. Just don’t do it. Wait til you are ready.

And only you can know if you’re ready.

That took a much more serious tone than I meant it to. But the song remains the same: I invite my young, single Christian friends to check out the online dating scene. I’ve had more interesting conversations on these dates than I normally have. And I’ve met other Christians who have different opinions than me (gasp.) So even if you don’t find your soulmate, you’ll probably meet some pretty darn cool people that you wouldn’t have met otherwise.

One last thing before I let you go. When entering the dating scene, whether it’s for the first time or after your last-breakup, remember this (another no-duh clincher:) If you like someone, don’t change your convictions for them. This can come into play especially in online dating. You see a cute guy’s profile and see what he’s interested in, and you might be tempted to, well, change. Maybe he smokes marijuana, and you’re not comfortable with that. Maybe he doesn’t mind sex before marriage. Maybe he has vastly different political opinions – or even some opinions about the Bible that you disagree with. Even if he (or she) is a Christian, that does not give you a free pass to change who you are in order for them to like you “more.” Seriously. It’s super easy to do online. I’ve definitely done it a few times.

So, my Christian brothers and sisters, go on dates. Talk to people. Swipe left. Swipe right. Remember what you believe and why you believe it. If it doesn’t work out, it’s okay. God has something better in mind for you.

Now you kiddos go have fun.

a. w.

 

 

Falling in Love With Marriage.

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A week and a half ago, I came across this on my Facebook newsfeed. I almost thought about sharing it after only reading the title – “You don’t have to get married to be happy.” I thought, “Yes! I’ve written almost the same thing in other blog posts of mine! Christians understand that marriage isn’t a varsity sport that every Christian has to reach in order to achieve the pinnacle of the Christian life!”

A few days ago, I decided to actually read the article. (Confession time: I often only read the titles of things and the first few sentences…I mean, who has time to sit down and read a full Atlantic article? Those things are like novellas.) I read it, and I was still satisfied. This guy was very honest and real about the Christian single life. Nothing I haven’t heard before. You can’t rely on a spouse to fulfill you because that’s impossible for humans to do. Heartbreak happens as a result. A song from the great band Jimmy Eat World says, “If I don’t lean on you, I fall.” Well, sometimes, you lean too much and you both fall over. Which is why you need to lean on the Rock. (Not Dwayne. You know Who I’m talking about. I’m just using a lot of Christian-ese.)

 

The gentleman who wrote the article is now married, so he’s seeing it from the other side. And he did a great job outlining our human yearnings and our absolute need for the love of Christ. But…haven’t we heard all this before?

That’s what some people in the comments section of that post were saying. I scrolled through the comments for a bit to see if there were any that stuck out (if it were not from a Christian website, I probably would have found some more colorful ones). None really did specifically, but a lot of them said something very similar, which I already mentioned.

Haven’t we heard this before?

It can seem like kind of a cop-out for the people who have waited years for a spouse to come into their lives.

“Oh, you just need to love Jesus more first. You can’t rely on someone else to do that for you.”

“Marriage isn’t really that great. Jesus is better!”

“Just pray about it!”

And the unmarried person, who might have that deep longing for companionship, will say, “Yeah, but…” And that’s totally okay. I remember sitting in a restaurant with my parents once, sobbing inconsolably, and just saying between tears, “I’m lonely.” That’s okay. God created Eve for a reason. Because it’s not good for man to be alone.

I decided to gauge the reactions of some of my friends as well. I talked to a couple who didn’t read the article in full, but understood the gist of it. One of my friends is vehemently single, and the other is in a relationship with my roommate, so you can imagine their opinions might differ.

“If you’re an unhappy person, getting married won’t change that. It can enhance your happiness, but it can’t change it.” That’s how my single friend put it. “I think Christians treat singleness as a plan B.”

My roommate’s boyfriend had something very interesting to say about it. “If you’re losing trust in God because you’re obsessed with finding a partner, and you start making deals with God, you have much deeper problems,” he said. “You just have to say, ‘okay, I don’t know why you’ve put this desire in my heart, but help me deal with it.”

As human beings, we have a fundamental need for companionship. I’m an introvert, but I yearn for the companionship of my friends. If I come home and none of my roommates are there, I get a sinking feeling that only goes away when I hear a key turning in the door. Since we were created, we were innately programmed to want people in our lives. 

If you’ve ever watched The Twilight Zone, the premiere episode features a man who wakes up in a deserted town. There’s literally no one there. He walks into a drugstore, he steps inside a phone booth to call someone – nothing. In the course of the twenty-minute episode, he goes all but crazy. (Then the twist happens, which I won’t tell you about in case you want to watch it.) That man had everything he needed: food, clothes, a car, everything – but no people. And that drove him nuts.

People need people. And that’s okay. And marriage is one of the ways we manifest our need for companionship (there’s also the whole “be fruitful and increase” thing, but your parents can talk to you about that one.) Marriage isn’t just any relationship. You’re not just roommates who will separate once the lease is up. You’re not just best friends who meet up for coffee every Saturday afternoon. You’ve made the vow to spend every day with each other for the rest of your life, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, through bankruptcy and stomach flu and love handles and hospital bills.

I think the writer of that post got it right – marriage isn’t the ultimate fulfillment, and many Christians have decided to devote their life to Christ instead of marrying (there’s this guy named Paul who did that a long time ago.) And that takes a lot of discipline in a world that’s saturated with love and romance. People might look sideways at you if you take a vow of singleness (and celibacy, in this day and age), but it’s possible to be happy without a lifelong partner.

But I want to address something that the writer didn’t quite address in his post, and that’s idealization. Are we just more in love with the idea of marrying than with the actual person? If you’ve ever read or seen the play Our Town by Thornton Wilder (if you went to American high school you probably did) one of the characters notes that people like to “make sure the knot is tied in a mighty public way.” And holy crap is that an understatement. People spend thousands of dollars and sometimes more for one day of their life to be “perfect,” sometimes not taking into account that there’s still fifty more years or so to go with the person they’re sharing it with.

Seeing all of those beautiful “fairytale” moments (they’re called weddings, in case I wasn’t clear) can make you kind of…want it, right? I’m not gonna lie, I would love a beautiful, romantic wedding. I cannot confirm or deny that I have pinned (multiple) wedding dresses and themes on Pinterest, without having any idea of when this special day is going to be. Raise your hand if you played wedding when you were little. Yeah. That’s what I thought.

Stock photos don’t help, either. This is what I found when I typed “love” into a stock photo search:

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Look at how happy and comfortable they are in that very awkward position!

And this is what I found when I searched “single” at the same site:

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I can hear your heart breaking through the screen.

Love and marriage is an ideal. It’s been instilled in us from a number of sources: tradition, stock photos, 80s slow-jam love ballads – but wherever the source, it’s undeniably there. And the main problem is we think it’s going to be perfect. We think it will be exactly what Johnny Cash said it was, “This morning, with her, drinking coffee.” How does your heart not melt when you hear that, how can you not yearn for that picture he’s painted? Of course it’s good, but it’s not like that every single day. And if we go into marriage thinking it will be perfect, that’s a bit of a tall order, isn’t it?

I think a lot of single people (including me) make out what we think marriage will be for us. And usually, we’re not right. It’s like what happens any other time you picture how something is going to play out – it usually doesn’t happen exactly the way you hoped. At sophomore homecoming, I was absolutely certain I would spend the evening slow dancing with my crush. Instead, I didn’t even see my crush at all, and stood in a hot room full of grinding adolescents for two hours wondering what the heck to do. Way less than perfect. Marriage is a little bit more serious than teenage musings, but you get my point.

And remember that it’s just as easy to idealize people as it is to idealize marriage. And if you end up marrying that person, it can lead you down a very messy road.

“Audrey, you’re being just like that guy. This isn’t anything we haven’t heard yet.” You might be thinking this. And maybe you’re right. Marriage is a topic that Christians like to mull over often. If we didn’t, there wouldn’t be singles groups at church that were basically free eHarmony sessions.

But maybe what I’m trying to say is, marriage isn’t easy, but neither is being single. Especially a single Christian who really isn’t sure if marriage is in the cards for them, no matter how many people tell them it is or it should be. Single Christians go to Christian colleges where it seems like everyone gets married after their sophomore year. Single Christians get pelted with advice on finding a good Christian man or woman. Single Christians have to deal with the tension and occasional social awkwardness of being a virgin at twenty-five, or even older. Or the guilt of being a single Christian and not being a virgin. Sometimes all of those urges together make us desperate. We’ll all but throw ourselves to the next Christian guy or girl who comes our way, because everyone is saying it’s the right thing to do. Because you need to put “happily married” on your Christian resume, or else your faith stands for nothing.

So I guess I want you to leave you with this, if you’re a single Christian and feel guilty for wanting someone: don’t feel guilty. If you have a yearning for a spouse, that is a beautiful yearning. It’s a fundamentally human yearning. Don’t think that just because you want a partner, it means that you don’t want God enough.

But I would encourage you to let God in on your yearnings. Don’t hide them from Him. “God, I want a husband.” “God, I want a wife.” “I want to know intimacy with another human being.” “I want to live my life with a companion.” These prayers are 100% valid, even if they seem strange. God wants in on your yearnings. If you let Him in now, He’ll guide you in the future.

I’ll also leave you with this, which is probably something you already know, and quite possibly a thought you’re afraid of: I can’t promise you that God will answer that prayer the way you want him to. My prayer for you is that God gives you the strength to accept that answer.

Because the choice to be content with being alone is one of the bravest things you’ll ever do.

When You Go to College in Your Hometown.

“You’re living far away from home; and you’ve traded everything for a stone.”

– “Everything for a Stone,” The Belle Brigade

Before I get into the actual topic of this post, I’ll begin by saying I wasn’t planning on going to college near my hometown. I’ve talked in previous posts about how my college plans changed rapidly (see post Growing in Struggle.) I ended up at a small university in a decent-sized metropolitan area near where I grew up. I was born and raised in a very small town with a lot of cows and cornfields. Drive twenty minutes one direction and you’re in the city. Drive twenty minutes the other direction and you’re in the middle of nowhere. The area is a very odd, somewhat jarring hybrid of country, suburban, and metropolitan settings. It’s equal parts quaint and cultural, rural juxtaposed with urban.

My hometown is about a half hour from downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan – if you’ve never been there, GR is like a very small Chicago. A very, very (very very) small Chicago. My friend described it as a “Holiday Inn Express” for hipsters – it’s neither East Coast nor West Coast, but there are definitely strong hipster vibes in the city (everywhere you turn there’s a farmer’s market – one of the benefits of a metro area surrounded by fields.) My college is located on the “north end” of town, and I was raised on the “south end.” If you’ve lived in a metropolitan area, you’ll understand when I say that “north-enders” and “south-enders” are very different. Same overarching culture, but different subculture.

Like I said before, I didn’t plan on going to school in my hometown. I only applied to two colleges because I basically had my mind made up – but then, in true teenage fashion, my mind was changed, and very quickly. As a result, I ended up at this small, private, liberal arts university on the north end of Grand Rapids.

It was fairly convenient – I know not everyone grows up in a college town or even a town that has any college at all, which means they have to move away if they want to pursue higher ed. The other college I was considering was two hours away and a true college town (the college was literally the town. Other than that, there were Amish people and a Burger King.)

“So Audrey,” you might (or might not) ask, “What has your experience been like, going to school in your hometown?”

Well, Nameless Imaginary Inquisitor, it has been wonderful. I have loved going to a university that is so close to a large metropolitan area where there’s lots to see and do. And it’s been great being close to home (I mean, free laundry and food, am I right?!)

“But Audrey,” you continue, “don’t you feel like you’ve missed out by staying close to home? Aren’t you sheltered now? Isn’t it just the same as it was when you were growing up? Are you ever going to have the courage to move away?”

Whoa, now, don’t get ahead of yourself, Imaginary Inquisitor. I’m not saying that going to school locally is the best idea for everyone, or that it’s perfect, but I am saying that it’s certainly not a bad thing. And here’s why:

You’re staying close to your roots. College is going to hit all of your ideals, beliefs, and opinions right between the eyes, no matter where you go. Whether it’s your professor or your roommate, someone is going to disagree with you and possibly shake up some of your predispositions. Sometimes, these things are hard to grapple with. When you’re far from home and where you grew up, you may feel lost, maybe somewhat marooned, like you’re on a ship without a captain. When my beliefs were somewhat shaken in college, my roots helped me shape my own opinion of what was being taught to me in college – I wasn’t allowing myself to be directly spoon-fed information without first approaching it with opinions of other people whom I trusted. Having roots close to you can help with that.

You know the area. It’s easy to feel isolated in college because you don’t know anything about the city it’s in. In the case of that college-town school I was talking about, there literally wasn’t anything in the area except farmland. And at a remote college like that, most students are also from out of town so they know as much as you do. Going to a local school I had the benefit of knowing some things about not only Grand Rapids but the surrounding communities. I also found myself learning more about the area than I’d ever known before (like the dearth of coffee shops GR has to offer.) I got more connected with my church, explored new areas, and made connections in the city that I had been totally unaware of up to that point. It’s kind of nice to go into college with some background knowledge of not only the school, but its city.

You’ll have a new perspective. Although you’re in the same place, you’ll see it through different eyes. With college comes freedom to be independent and think for yourself in more ways than you ever have. I learned more about my city in college than I ever did growing up near it. I explored more towns in the outlying area than I ever had before as well. In the fall, I explored uptown with my roommates, which was a place I wasn’t too familiar with. I auditioned for shows at the community theatre. I volunteered at an inner city school. Sometimes the best opportunities are right under your nose for eighteen years and you never realize it because you’re too busy grinding through the American school system (not bitter.)

All of this to say – if you’re searching for colleges right now, don’t rule out the ones that are twenty minutes down the road. It doesn’t mean you have to live with your parents (unless you want to – I mean, free food. And your pets.) People might hardcore judge you, but that’s okay. They just don’t understand, because they were taught their whole lives that they have to go far away for college. Or they didn’t have the amazing privilege of growing up in an awesome spot like you did.

So don’t take your hometown for granted. You might just realize that it’s where you really belong.

Things that Bring Us Together.

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If you haven’t noticed, this week hasn’t been great. For anyone. For various reasons. And if you thought I wasn’t going to talk about it, you’re wrong. Things don’t change unless you talk about it.

If we don’t talk, we become islands and we become bitter and overprotective of ourselves. If we don’t remind ourselves of what we have in common, we’ll become fixated on what we don’t. If we don’t realize we’re more alike than we think, we’ll spend our entire lives believing everyone is out to get us.

And it’s true. We’re more alike than we are different. Only a few strands of DNA separate us, but those strands carry traits that make us each unique – our hair, our skin, our laugh, our talents. And that’s beautiful. But, as you probably can tell, it’s also not sometimes. Because people forget that, other than those few strands of DNA, we are equal. We are all humans.

And for the sake of humanness, I want to remind everyone that we’re not all that different. That there are universal experiences that bind us together. We all experience happiness, sadness, joy, pain. These are all things that every human on earth can relate to. But I also think there are things beyond static emotions that unite us.

I’m going to list a few human experiences that I hope relate to most people. I hope you can relate to at least a few of these, and realize that we can relate through shared experience.

  1.  The quiet that comes right before the sunrise. When it’s cool and still smells like nighttime, when everything feels clean and new, when the world is just starting to wake up.
  2.  The smell of an old house. The feeling that people have been there before you. The mystery of what they might have been like.
  3.  Your best friend’s laugh.
  4.  The point in autumn where the leaves fall all by themselves, like nature’s confetti. And when you look down, the ground is carpeted in color.
  5.  Warm summer rain. The smell and the warm dampness afterwards. The distant thunder that gives you a little thrill every time you hear it.
  6.  When you sit and cry with someone you love. No words exchanged, only hands held, prayers whispered, support given. A beautiful kind of pain.
  7.  A hug from your favorite person in the world.
  8.  A kiss from your favorite person in the world.
  9.  A summer evening after the sun has just gone down, the world is warm and drowsy. A few birds are still singing, and the sky is slowly turning dark blue, insects beginning to hum a lullaby.
  10.  The touch of a toddler’s small, soft hand in yours. The way they look up at you with so much trust and hope.
  11.  A conversation that you didn’t expect to be long, but went on for hours and left you feeling enlightened and refreshed. The connection that’s made. The mutual understanding.
  12.  Sitting in a room full of people singing a cappella.
  13. The pearly glow of a cloudy sky on a winter evening. Everything is gray, but it’s a luminous gray, not dull or dragging. It’s so gray it’s almost silver.
  14. A warm shower or bath after a long day.
  15. The sound of lapping waves on a beach. The smell of wet sand, of leftover campfires, of coffee. The feeling of memories made.
  16. The sound of your mother’s voice.
  17.  A blanket straight out of the dryer, or straight from the clothesline. The way it feels like the warmest thing you’ve ever felt.
  18.  Cloudy, windy days where the cloud patterns are more beautiful than a blue sky.
  19.  Getting a compliment. Not just “nice shoes” or “I like your haircut,” but “I love your confidence” or “you are just such an amazing person.”
  20.  Hearing someone’s heartbeat. Whether it’s that of an unborn baby, your father’s as you snuggled up to his chest as a child, your lover’s as you lean on them for support. That reminder that there’s Life.

And where there’s life, there’s love. And where there’s love, there’s hope.