for such a time as this

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Image from Huffington Post

As an American citizen, the bulk of my education revolved around our country’s history.

We started at the beginning–or at least, what we were told was the beginning: Christopher Columbus discovers America. The Pilgrims come for religious freedom.  Did you know they became friends with the Native Americans on Thanksgiving?!

Soon after came the Revolutionary War. Later on, the Civil War. We were fighting over slavery, but we were also fighting over states’ rights. A century later, racism is still rampant and the Civil Rights movement is underway.  Oh, and don’t forget about Rosa Parks: the brave African American woman who did not give up her seat on the bus. She was tired, after all.

Obviously, Christopher Columbus did not discover America. There were already people here.

But I was thirteen when I learned that Christopher Columbus was not the first white man to step foot in the Americas. In high school, I learned that the Pilgrims and Native Americans did not celebrate the Thanksgiving we now hold so dear. I was an adult before I learned that Rosa Parks had planned on not giving up her seat. She wasn’t just tired. She was an activist.

I was an adult before I realized my education had sanitized the uglier parts of our history.

I have spent so much time re-learning what I already thought I had learned, but I know there is still so much work to do.

I am an American, but I am also a Midwesterner who now lives in the South. I lived mere hours away from Ferguson, Missouri. I now live in the vicinity of Confederate memorials, and hours away from Stone Mountain, Georgia. The NAACP recently issued a travel advisory for Missouri. In the South, there are conversations about taking down Confederate memorials. Both have opened my eyes, and I hope that knowledge and compassion can spark some progress.

But it shouldn’t have taken this long.

It shouldn’t have taken a white supremacist march and violence and death to realize that the way we talk about our history is hurting fellow Americans.

Listen: there is nothing wrong with being white. 

But it is wrong to be complicit. It is wrong to stay silent. It is wrong to stay ignorant. 

My whiteness is not something to be ashamed of, but it is something to deconstruct.

Charlottesville proved that we are re-living history, but we are also creating it.

Let’s start at the beginning. Let’s start with our own beliefs and prejudices. How did they get there? What can we change?

I have compiled a list of resources about race, anti-Semitism, and how we can respond. I hope that we read these articles while we drink our morning coffee or afternoon tea; I want us to peruse them when it is slow at work or when we need something new to read. I want us to revisit them when tragedy strikes–but more importantly, I want us to read them on the days that seem ordinary and otherwise uneventful. If racism and prejudice can become ingrained in us, then love, mercy, and justice can become ingrained in us, too.

If you have any resources (online or otherwise) that you would like me to include, leave a link in the comments at any time. This will be an on-going list–and they don’t have to be in reference to Charlottesville. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me

Resources

The Salt Collective: How To (and not to) Respond When Someone Calls You a Racist

Gala Darling  #blacklivesmatter and what we can actually DO about it 

Relevant Magazine: It’s Not Enough to Just Not Be a Racist

Glennon Doyle Melton: For Trayvon 

Teen Vogue: Women Have Always Been a Part of White Supremacy

Vox: The battle over Confederate statues, explained

Refinery29: We Need To Talk About The Anti-Semitism At The Charlottesville Protest

The Huffington Post: All The Swastikas And Broken Glass Since Charlottesville

Relevant Magazine: Why All Christians Should Celebrate the Removal of the Confederate Flag

The Salt Collective: How We Can Start Asking Better Questions About A Person’s Race and Identity

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Guest Post: Some Thoughts From a Former Charlottesville Resident

 Many of you may remember my friend Ben, politics and journalism extraordinaire!  He was kind enough to offer to write a guest post for my blog this week regarding the recent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Read his article below–if you have any questions, feel free to contact me. 

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I lived in Charlottesville, Virginia from 1996 until 2003, and attended the city’s Venable Elementary School from first through fourth grade.

I mention Venable Elementary because it is named for Charles Venable, who served on the faculty at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and as one of Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s military aides during the Civil War.

It was the controversy over the removal of a statue of Lee from a park in Charlottesville that brought chaos, violence, and hatred to my former home town in the form of a KKK, neo-Nazi, and white supremacist rally and various counter-protests to the town this past weekend that continue to make national headlines.

I say various counter-protests because I think it’s important to draw a distinction between the violent anti-fascist and anarchist elements attacked by President Donald Trump Tuesday as the “alt-left” and the peaceful protestors such as Heather Heyer.

Heyer lost her life when a neo-Nazi slammed his car into her and other protestors. In addition to Heyer’s murder, police officers Lieutenant Jay Cullen and Trooper Berke Bates died responding to the violence when their helicopter crashed en-route.

The violence, carnage and hatred has stunned the nation, and is a sharp reminder that lethal racism, bigotry and prejudice still exist in America.

The stark scenes of neo-Nazis chanting “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us” as they marched with torches down the streets and fields I grew up playing on is chilling to say the least. Unfortunately, the KKK-like scene Friday night at the University of Virginia was just the beginning. On Saturday, the protests moved into downtown Charlottesville.

After the dust has settled from a violent and disturbing weekend and a week of introspection, the big question going forward is what should be done about Lee’s statues and indeed, all the confederate statues across the United States?

Statues may been seen by some as just marble, but they have long been seen as more than that. I can remember growing up in Charlottesville reading about the protests against putting a statue of Lincoln up down the road in Richmond, the capitol of the Confederacy.

Lee himself recognized the danger, speaking out after the Civil War against putting up confederate statues by saying it would “keep open the sores of war.”

Yet Confederate statues continue to dot the South as reminders of the men who served in the Confederate army and their leaders, despite serving as painful reminders of a government and military that fought to preserve racially-based slavery. Many were put up long after the war not as memorials but as reminders of white supremacy.

Since the removal of the Confederate flag from the state house in South Carolina in 2015 (an event I attended), cities all across the country have re-examined whether and how the Confederacy should be represented. Should these monuments be seen as historical symbols for remembrance, or as statues honoring and glorifying men who fought for racist ideals?

Not to mention, there are Confederate generals and soldiers, and then there is Robert E. Lee. Lee is revered in Virginia, the state he chose to serve over an offer from Lincoln to serve as commander of the Union army. Lee’s birthday is still a state holiday in Virginia, for which we got off school.

In my personal opinion as the descendant of a Confederate soldier, Lee is the least morally repugnant Confederate general. But he is still morally repugnant, just like all the men who fought for the right for humans to own and abuse other humans. All these statues should come down.

These issues – the role of the Confederacy in our history, the role of race in our politics and our society and the role of our leaders in condemning racism and bigotry – are all intertwined.

Every American must wrestle with these issues, but those in southern towns take a special perspective and interest in them. It’s the reason why Charlottesville found itself in the crosshairs, and it’s part of the reason why the follow-up to this tragedy has continued the pain.

Charlottesville may be on the path to recovery, as students led a beautiful candle-light vigil to reclaim their grounds from neo-Nazis and the city has emerged as a community willing to stand up to bigotry despite a racist past. But the nation is still reeling, thanks in no small part to the president’s abject failure to address this incident appropriately.

Yes, Trump is right that their was violence on both sides of the protest. Yes, Trump is right that there are those on the left who are unfairly lumping in George Washington and Thomas Jefferson with Confederate leaders in wanting to see their statues removed.

However, despite owning a house near Charlottesville and claiming he understands better than the rest of us, Trump is dead wrong on everything else he has said related to this situation. No wonder Klan leaders and neo-Nazis like David Duke and Richard Spencer are cheering his remarks and CEOs and decent-minded Republicans are fleeing his side.

There is not blame on both sides, as Trump has suggested. There were no “very fine people” in the pro-statue rallies in Charlottesville last weekend. The neo-Nazis, KKK and their friends brought the violence and hate to Charlottesville they are solely to blame for the violence. The fact a president cannot condemn these groups is a new low in our political discourse.

Just because the president refuses to learn the lessons of the events in my old home town this past week doesn’t mean the rest of America has to.

Bigotry, racism, and hatred are alive and well in America and with the Internet and the rise of political figures willing to court their support, these evils very well may be on the rise.

The bright side is there are people willing to stand up against these forces. People like Heather Heyer, who gave her life. People like Susan Bro, Heather’s mother, now carrying on her daughter’s legacy by speaking out. And people all over the country who are willing to peacefully protest these evil forces and have these difficult conversations about race and American history.

I encourage Southerners and non-Southerners alike to hold elected leaders accountable on these issues, fight for the removal of these statues, and have difficult conversations on race. But take the time to learn the history, reject racism, and racist revisionism; as Susan Bro said to the president on television this week, “think before you speak.”

If we do these things, we can help to stop events like those in Charlottesville last weekend from happening ever again.

A Time to Mend

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A single man in possession of a good fortune may be in want of a wife, but he may not realize that the wedding industry kind of sucks.

That fortune is going to come in handy, Mr. Bingley.

If you follow me on Twitter or are #blessed enough to know me IRL, you know that I find the wedding tax extremely frustrating. Like the pink tax–which makes everyday items like razors, shampoo, and body wash more expensive just because they are marketed towards women, even though they do the same damn thing–the wedding tax charges more for…well, basically everything, because it’s for a wedding.

It’s a pain, yes, but it’s something I’ve (mostly) come to terms with. Weddings are just expensive. Like avocado toast.

But Drew and I are lucky. Our parents are kind enough to help with the bigger expenses, and our own bank accounts are in decent shape, so it isn’t the actual price tag that bothers me as much as the inherent consumerism of the wedding industry. Diamond engagement rings, for instance, are only popular because the diamond industry told us that REAL MEN propose with diamond rings that cost 2 months’ worth of paychecks.

Then there’s Pinterest. Do I need a shirt that says I’m about to get ‘meowied?’ No. Do I want it? Yes. Yes, I do.

In the end, I bought shirts for myself and my wedding party. But they have unicorns on them, and mine says that I’m a unicorn bride, so obviously I’m going to wear it until the end of time…even though I’m technically only a bride once.

Is that shirt completely amazing? Yes. Do I need it? Not really. No. I don’t.

I want our family and friends to celebrate with us, and I want to celebrate our future together during our honeymoon–so at the end of the day, I don’t mind spending money on these things, because they are important to us. The ‘extras’ that don’t impact our actual marriage are often harder to justify. Even if I end up buying these fun things, I feel a little guilty. There are real problems in the world (to put it mildly), and here I am, planning a wedding. There are countless people who don’t have the luxury of worrying about ties or cake; what right to I have to have an emotional breakdown because of wedding planning?

And yet, there is something beautiful about marriage that seems to make the world a better place.  My guilt began to subside when I listened to a recent episode (Book 3, Chapter 19) of my favorite podcast, Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. Vanessa explains that in Judaism, mercy is shown through action:

“There’s the famous idea of tikkun olam, which is the idea to heal the world…It’s a story in the Talmud that the world gets broken into infinite pieces, and that it is each of our responsibilities to try to mend those pieces. And there are lots of ways to mend those pieces. In fact, by falling in love with somebody… you help heal the world…And the idea is that even just by marrying someone, you are helping to heal them, because you are bringing them a benevolent listener and partner.”

It reminded me of a chapter in A Year of Biblical Womanhood, in which the author focuses on charity:

 “While the word charity connotes a single act of giving, justice speaks to right living, of aligning oneself with the world in a way that sustains rather than exploits the rest of creation. Justice is not a gift; it’s a lifestyle, a commitment to the Jewish concept of tikkun olam—‘repairing the world.’”

– Rachel Held Evans

If falling in love can help piece the world back together, can a wedding do the same? Perhaps consumerism is not the issue; perhaps it is the way in which we consume. And like I mentioned earlier, we consume a lot during weddings.

Let’s go back to jewelry: aside from the fact that the diamond industry invented the diamond engagement ring, the diamond industry is notorious for human rights violations. Drew is wonderful and found an engagement ring from Brilliant Earth, a company that uses ethically-sourced diamonds (including lab diamonds!) and recycled metals.  They also donate 5% of their profits to communities that have been harmed by the diamond industry.  And my hand is super sparkly! We just purchased our wedding bands from the same place, and I couldn’t be happier. WIN/WIN/WIN/WIN/WIN.

Drew also had the idea to ask our guests to donate to our favorite non-profits instead of buying us a gift from a registry (in case if you haven’t figured it out yet, Drew is a really good person). Pinterest, while leading me to shirts I definitely don’t need, also introduced me to a site that inspired me to ask if we could donate leftover food to a nearby homeless shelter. Even the pre-wedding parties can be a way to spread the love: my maid of honor kept telling me she was going to get a stripper for my bachelorette party, and I found out that she instead donated to BeLoved, a program in Atlanta that provides for women who have been victims of sex trafficking or looking to escape the sex industry.

Weddings are also an amazing opportunity to support small businesses and artists! Catalyst lists some amazing vendors and has plenty of resources for planning ethically-conscious weddings.

Thanks to Rachel Held Evans, I’ve realized I should strive for ethical consumption in all aspects of my life–not just my wedding,that  or holidays, or occasions when we tend to buy the most.

We aren’t perfect, of course; I’m sure that not everything at our wedding will be ethically sourced, and not everything we spend will go back to charity. Not everything I’ll buy after our wedding will be 100% ethical, either. And as much as that sucks, I know it’s a process. I am still learning. We all are–and maybe this awareness is the first step to mending the world, piece by piece.

Art, Activism, & Apathy

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I was once told that I have emotions seeping out of every pore in my body.

It doesn’t take a plethora of scientific studies to prove that artists are sensitive (though many studies have).

At risk of sounding incredibly cliche, I find my own sensitivity to be a blessing and a curse. If you are having a bad day, I’m a good listener; I’m also fairly decent at reading other people’s emotions. I feel deeply and fiercely, and most decisions I make are made with my heart.

Emotions are also kind of a pain in the ass. Sometimes, I am brought to tears just because Drew said something really nice. For instance:

Me: I’m afraid I’m going to trip while walking down the aisle.

Drew: That would be hilarious. 

Me: What the hell!? No, it wouldn’t! 

Drew: I mean, I’d laugh, but then I would just think, “That’s the woman I fell in love with.”

Me [eyes shining with tears]: AWWWWWW. 

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So, yeah. I have emotions seeping out of every pore in my body.

That’s why I write, and why others paint or make music or dance. Art has a funny way of helping us understand and appreciate this beautiful, messy thing called life.

Perhaps this hyper-sensitivity is also why art so easily lends itself to social justice. If sensitive artist types like myself are already FEELING ALL THE FEELS and then catch a segment of the evening news, we’re going to start feeling even more feels. And, like everything else buzzing around our minds, those feelings have to go somewhere.

That’s why I continue to write. There are plenty of stories that are just for me, and there’s something beautiful in that, too–but I will have truly answered my call to create if my words can help make the world a better place.

In the past, I wrote about social justice and politics sporadically; in other words, I wrote about justice when I didn’t know what else to do. Words were the best way–the only way–I knew how to change myself and the world around me. I took my anger, threw it back at the world, and said, “Ha! I made something beautiful. You can’t hurt us anymore.”

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”
― Cornel West

After the 2016 election, I vowed to do everything I could to stand for justice and social change.  I would march. I would call my Senators. I would write letters to Donald Trump every day.  I would stay educated on every single bill. Most importantly, I would write. God, I would write. Because that’s what I was put on this earth to do, dammit.

This is a promise that is impossible to keep, even for a girl who feels too much and too hard. You see, the problem with feeling so many things at once is that you are in danger of burning out. Fast.

Not that my exhaustion stopped me. I called my Senators. I prayed every day and started writing more articles about justice. I wrote letters and Tweeted up a storm.

But I had started to feel numb. Everything I did felt useless. I felt like I didn’t deserve to be called an ‘activist,’ because I was just calling politicians and writing on my blog that barely reached a hundred people. I hadn’t started writing any thought-provoking dystopian novels or anything, either. I listened to the news, and instead of heartache I felt hopelessness. I was angry, but I was no longer surprised. It was a familiar reaction, really–how many of us catch a news story about a shooting or a terrorist attack, shake our heads, and change the channel?

That might be the scariest thing of all: that tragedy and injustice strike, and we aren’t even surprised.

We should be. We should be shocked to our very core. This is not how the world was meant to be. 

***

A few months ago, my pastor taught a sermon on compassion fatigue. He explained that thanks to the Internet, we are bombarded with information every second of every day.  We can only process a certain amount of information at once, so our empathy fizzles out. We stop caring.

That Sunday, I realized how tired I was. I had stopped caring, and I didn’t feel like myself. Emotions may be a pain in the ass, but I would rather feel too much than nothing at all.

Rest was long overdue. I took a short break from social media, and listened to the news a little less. I was less weary, and I started to FEEL ALL THE FEELS again.

And, once again, this proved to be a blessing and a curse. This past week, I was in tears after reading the news and scrolling through Facebook. I was worried about healthcare and heartbroken for my transgender brothers and sisters; it had already been a stressful week without another blow from the government.  My empathy was back in high gear, but so was my hopelessness.

“I’m just so angry and sad,” I told Drew. “No matter how many calls we make or letters we write, it doesn’t seem to make a difference.”

Drew paused, and then in his thoughtful, wonderful, Drew way, he said something I will never forget: “Sometimes, you don’t fight to win the current battle. You fight to win the next one.”

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I do not write this little blog entry as a how-to, or an advice column, or even as a promise for myself–but I do write this as an encouragement to my fellow artists and hyper-sensitives.

We cannot afford apathy. We need your emotions–every single one. We need art to light up the world. We need fierce compassion so we can love the least of these. Stay sensitive. Empathy is indeed a blessing, even on the very worst days.

Pain is a part of life, yes; it’s unavoidable in this broken, brutal world. But we’re a part of this life, too, and that fact alone means that we are not powerless.

Listen to the aches of your heart and keep creating, whether you bake or write or paint or dance. The world may not need you in order to keep spinning, but it desperately wants you–because there are future battles to be won.

Quarter-Life Celebration!

 

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I don’t know if I feel like an adult, or if I ever really will, but I turned twenty-five the other day! That’s worth celebrating, right?

In honor of my twenty-fifth year, I have compiled a list of twenty-five things that I think and feel. There is no rhyme or reason to this list; I just want to remember what I was like after spending a quarter of a century on this earth. Enjoy, and feel free to write a list of your own in the comment section!

  1. I often feel like I am made up of contradictions. I hate crowds, but I love places that are typically full of them, like cities and theme parks. I want a cute apartment in New York but I also want a little cottage in the English countryside. I love to travel and plan adventures with Drew, but I also just want to stay home in my sweatpants and watch Netflix. I claim to hate religion and that I just want to love Jesus and love people, but sometimes I become the most religious person I know. But maybe I’m not a contradiction; maybe I’m just human, and that’s okay.
  2. Writing is somehow the easiest and hardest thing in the world. For someone who wants to write for a living, I sure spend a lot of time not writing. I should get on that.
  3. I had never thought of myself as a particularly materialistic person, but I’ve come to realize that’s only true when it comes to technology, cars, and jewelry. I’m more likely to spend my money on, say, a cute mug that I don’t need, while refusing to buy something I actually need, like shoes that don’t have holes in the soles, because what I have is fine and shoes are expensive. Fortunately, Drew is good at reminding me that I have plenty of mugs, and is sweet enough to suggest a charity wedding registry (He also bought me an air purifier to help with my allergies, another item that I would have briefly considered before balking at the price and convincing myself that being sniffly 24/7 isn’t that bad.). I know I need to practice resisting things, and I am forever grateful that I’m marrying someone who is helping me (whether or not it’s always intentional).
  4.  There are many ways to say, ‘I love you.’ It’s like learning another language; the more you get to know someone, the more you notice and understand.
  5.  Wedding planning is certainly stressful, but not nearly as stressful as I had expected. I also know not everyone has such supportive friends and family members as I do–and I’m sure my scatterbrain has found some rest because of it. I’m so grateful, because it also makes planning kind of…fun. Is this how organized party people feel all the time? Except I also feel like I need a Remembrall. So…probably not.
  6. I love children and want to be a mom one day, but I don’t think I’ve hit the baby fever phase of my life yet. However, I do have kitten fever, and would love nothing more than to adopt kittens and bottle feed them until they are old enough to eat real kitten food. I’ve tried to convince Drew and Kate that we need another animal. All my attempts have been futile.
  7. Cooking (or, in my case, trying to cook) is the worst. I just don’t get it when my friends say it’s fun and relaxing, because if I try to embrace my inner Gordon Ramsay, I feel like I’m going to burn our house down. For instance: Drew and I tried Hello Fresh for about a month. At first, we LOVED it. Then, after a few culinary mishaps, we decided it was way too hard to cook during the week. But when I sit down to eat a meal with my family or read about The People’s Supper or listen to stories about the early church, I start to understand–at least a little–why someone would rather cook and share a meal than order a pizza. Maybe I can start with simple recipes and work my way up.
  8.  I miss the days when I could read and write for hours without interruption or distraction. The Internet and Netflix are a part of it, sure, but I know I only have myself to blame.
  9. I often struggle to call myself a writer, or even claim to be a creative person, because I hardly ever finish the projects I begin. My blog is full of drafts. My Novlr and Scrivener folders are full of drafts. I’ve been a winner during National Novel Writing Month, but never made it past the editing phase. Right now, I’m struggling to finish this list; I seriously considered ending this at number 10.
  10. I fall more and more in love with Atlanta every day. While I claim Missouri as my home state, it’s not entirely true; my family moved from Texas to Maryland to Georgia to Missouri. Missouri always felt like mine because I had extended family there; when we moved, it felt like it has always been home. Cities were another matter entirely. We lived in Kansas City, but my mom is from St. Louis. I have family on both sides of the state and resent the rivalry between KC and STL. I couldn’t claim either city as my own. But Atlanta is starting to feel like mine, and it is so, so wonderful.
  11. One time, RuPaul retweeted me and I FLIPPED THE HELL OUT and told everyone I knew and it was the BEST DAY.
  12. I value hard work and admire people who have a strong work ethic (I am a Hufflepuff, after all), but I often resent the “hustle” that my generation has had to adopt. Obviously, there are people who are older and wiser who have done the same–but thanks to the Internet,  we are now at a point in history we are bombarded with messages every day about work and success. It’s as inspiring as it is exhausting.
  13. I never, ever thought I would move back to the South, let alone move there to be with a boy. But here I am. And I am so, so happy.
  14. I only allow push notifications from my Goodreads app. I’d like to think that says something about my bookish, anti-tech ways, but it doesn’t. I’m still on my phone all the time. I’m trying want to break my tech and social media addiction, but I’m not sure how to in a way that doesn’t cut me off from the world entirely. Sometimes that scares me; sometimes, I think that’s exactly what I need (especially with our current news cycle).
  15. I keep reading this list for inspiration. It’s from Glennon Doyle Melton’s blog; I have completely fallen in love with her work and have been reading her blog like another book.  I’m also in love with Gala Darling, whose blog is always full of inspiration and magic.
  16. Some of the most wonderful people I know are those who I have never met in person; I’ve only met them because of the Internet (such as my fellow staff members at Thistle and the Teacup Trail). I love how the Internet breaks down barriers we didn’t even know existed.
  17. Thinking about the future freaks me out–but not necessarily my future. Just the future in general. Whenever I think about the year 2020, or the year 2030, I have a mini existential crisis. I mean, think about it: self-driving cars! The Internet of Things! People born in the year 2000 will be adults and I will have no excuse to think that 1990 was ten years ago! People born this decade will literally not know a time before iPhones. Sometimes it just completely weirds me out that we are in the year 20-anything! Drew claims he has never experienced this. Then again, he is really excited about self-driving cars.
  18. I wish I had time to learn ancient Greek and ancient Hebrew, so I could read the Bible in its original language. Words are important. We miss so much beauty in our modern translation.
  19. I miss my blue hair.
  20. My first-ever published poem was about how much I hated working a 9-5 job, and I just wanted to write and make the world a better place. Looking back, I know I didn’t really hate my job that much; my heart and soul were just in a really bad place. I was horribly depressed, and battling anxiety like never before. Writing was a crucial part of my healing process, but pain is not a crucial part of the creative process. We all need to stop romanticizing the starving, heartbroken artist.
  21. I have the best best friends in the history of the world.
  22. I love the fact that Disney is releasing more princess movies, but it’s making me re-think all my favorites and it’s just another existential crisis waiting to happen. At least I know Jasmine will always be my #1 (followed closely by Belle and Rapunzel. And Moana. And Aurora. Dammit. They’re all wonderful, okay?).
  23. When I was little, all I wanted was a dog. I still love dogs–I love all animals–but cats have become somewhat of a personal mission. I’m extremely defensive of them (why do people expect them to act like dogs?!), and I volunteer at a cat shelter on a weekly basis. I feel like God knew that even though I wouldn’t become a veterinarian (my childhood dream, before I realized I don’t do well with blood), He knew that animals would be a huge part of my life. My childhood dream of helping animals is coming true–just not in the way I would have thought. Isn’t life incredible?
  24. “White Man” by the Michael Gungor Band  is my favorite song about God.
  25. My hope and prayer for this blog is that it becomes a safe place, where we can talk and love and learn together. I know I don’t always post here on a regular basis–sometimes not even a semi-regular basis–but I promise I’ll never abandon it.

 

Mirror, Mirror: Favorites in Non-Fiction

During the summer, my mother would take my brother and I to the library every single week. We were voracious readers no matter the time of year, but there is something especially magical about summer reading. The long days spent by the pool, the family vacations, the school-free hours–they all begged to have a book or two or three.

Some of my favorite books were discovered on these weekly outings. I would take novel after novel lovingly off their dusty shelves and ask, “Mom? Can I get this one too?”

Never one to discourage reading, Mom always said yes. In fact, she only had one library rule: we had to check out at least one fiction book, and one non-fiction book.

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I loved books, but I hated this rule. In my mind, non-fiction was boring. It had no creativity, no soul. Non-fiction books were textbooks on steroids. If it wasn’t about animals or mythology, I probably wasn’t interested–which is a shame, because I was interested in a lot of things. It was just that those things weren’t usually presented to me in an engaging way.

Or so I thought.

I’m happy to say that I’ve discovered some wonderful non-fiction books since the summers of my childhood. Some were discovered at the library. Others were found while I was working particularly long shifts at the bookstore. I listened to a few of them during long Atlanta commutes. And I love them all dearly. If fiction allows us to see ourselves and our world through another lens, non-fiction allows us to take a good, long look in the mirror.

Read about some of my all-time favorites, and be sure to tell me about your own!

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Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor’s Reflections on Race and Medicine by Damon Tweedy M.D.  

Now, I know I’m not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but I was drawn to Black Man in a White Coat immediately. The title struck me, as did the photograph emblazoned on the cover.

Dr. Tweedy begins his story during his first year of medical school, where he often studies diseases that are “more common in blacks than in whites.” From there, he examines America’s healthcare system and his own biases, and tells his patients’ stories. I read this within a few days, but is not necessarily an easy read; justice and medicine are so closely intertwined, and each chapter pulls at your heartstrings. It’s certainly a wake-up call, but it’s one that we all desperately need.

Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

This may be slightly sacrilegious, but there are a few religious leaders I think of as bros.

Pope Francis, for instance, is a bro. I would call Mother Teresa a bro. Jesus is most definitely a bro. And Rabbi Jonathan Sacks is totally a bro. Not in God’s Name is a beautifully written book that reminds us that the Abrahamic faiths are siblings. Unfortunately, we have often resorted to violence to fight with our siblings. Rabbi Sacks analyzes our shared stories, pointing out common mistakes we make when we read religious texts. I already knew that at their core, the Abrahamic faiths do not condone violence–but Rabbi Sacks makes a case for why they don’t, and it is completely fascinating.

Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate by Justin Lee

Same-sex marriage is finally legal throughout the U.S, but we have a long way to go–especially within the church. It’s no secret that sexuality and religion have butted heads throughout history; in recent years, many religious organizations have taken official positions on LGBTQ-related issues. In all the noise, we often forget that there are many, many LGBTQ people who are also part of the church.

This is more than theological disagreement. This hurts real people, and it hurts the church, and it hurts the God that Christians claim to serve.

Enter Justin Lee, founder of the Gay Christian Network. In his book, he writes about his struggle between faith and sexuality–and proves that there is a much better solution than conversion therapy or the common plea to ‘love the sinner, hate the sin.’

I can’t recommend this book enough. No matter your faith (or lack thereof), this is an important story to hear.

Yes, Please by Amy Poehler

The only thing you need to know about Yes, Please is that Amy Poehler is a goddess and everything she does is perfect.

her-overconfidence

Cat Daddy: What the World’s Most Incorrigible Cat Taught Me About Life, Love, and Coming Clean by Jackson Galaxy with Joel Derfner

I purchased Cat Daddy because I was looking for a new audiobook. Originally, my audibook app recommended A Dog’s Purpose, which I was this close to buying until I realized that I would probably end up sobbing in my car every day. But then  remembered that Jackson Galaxy, the cat behaviorist from the show My Cat From Hell, had written a book about cats! It was the perfect solution: I would still have a book about animals, but I could learn about cat behavior instead of getting punched in the feels.

Spoiler alert: I got punched in the feels. And I cried.

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Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans

Another excellent read for my fellow Christians–or anyone who has felt ever felt burned out by church and religion, really (I’m willing to bet that’s most of us).

Rachel Held Evans reminded me that faith, doubt, and anger are not mutually exclusive; in fact, they co-exist more often than we would like to believe, and it’s completely normal. It’s human. 

“The church is God saying: ‘I’m throwing a banquet, and all these mismatched, messed-up people are invited. Here, have some wine.”

-Rachel Held Evans

Searching for Sunday combines a bit of church history and culture with Evans’s own insights. It had been on my to-read list for a while, and I finally read it after snagging the digital version for two dollars. I don’t know if I have ever highlighted so many quotes in my entire life. I promise you won’t be disappointed (her blog is worth a visit, too!).

Never Have I Ever: My Life (So Far) Without a Date by Katie Heaney

This is the book I wish I had as a teen. I didn’t have my first boyfriend until my last year of college; before that, I just thought something was wrong with me. Naturally, I saw myself in these stories–and how could I not? The author and I even have the same name! Never Have I Ever is a wonderful reminder that romance is different for everyone. You don’t have to have your first kiss at thirteen or your first significant other at sixteen. You don’t even have to ever kiss anyone if you don’t want to. You just have to be you. Happy endings are for everyone, after all.

Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed by Glennon Doyle Melton

Even though I’m not a mother, I can relate to almost every chapter in this book.  You see, Glennon and I are kindred spirits: we are afraid of inviting people over; we hate all the same chores; we live with people who are obsessed with dental hygiene. And I can most definitely see myself asking my future daughter to push her doll stroller across the carpet to create lines that made it look like I vacuumed. I laughed so hard at these stories, but I was also moved by Glennon’s thoughts on life, faith, and love.

I’ve already bought the audio version of her newest memoir, Love Warriorand at this point, Glennon feels like a close friend. That’s why I’m calling her Glennon. We’re on a first-name basis and everything.

“… a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.”
― George R.R. Martin

For more book recs, feel free to add me on Goodreads! Talking about books is my favorite thing (after actually reading books, of course.).

What are some of your favorite non-fiction books? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter

3 Financial Attitudes You Need to Adopt After Getting Engaged to Keep Your Sanity

This article was originally published as a guest post on Britt & The Benjamins, but Brittney has kindly allowed me to post on Quills and Crystals as well. As always, feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section. I’d love to hear about your own wedding planning experience–or what you imagine it will be like! 

I guess he's stuck with me. 🙃

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On a scale of Pinterest-perfect centerpieces to spontaneous courthouse elopements, my wedding plans always fell somewhere in between (messy chalkboard art, perhaps). The closest I’ve ever had to a “dream wedding” was during a family trip to Disney World, where we spotted a bride and groom head towards their happily ever-after in a horse-drawn carriage. My jaw dropped. “I want to get married here,” I announced. I mean, why wouldn’t I get married at Disney World?

Of course, that was when I was about twelve years old—way before I knew how much weddings actually cost. Fast-forward ten years or so, and I didn’t know much other than the fact that I wanted an affordable wedding that was beautiful, but not too big or fancy. I scrapped the Disney idea (but if you managed to pull off a Disney World wedding, I. WANT. PICTURES.) and scoffed at the idea of spending tens of thousands of dollars on a wedding.

And that was before I got engaged. Initially, my fiancé, Drew, and I had a goal of spending no more than $10,000. The average cost of a wedding in the United States is around $30,000, so I felt pretty frugal in comparison.

I still think a $30,000 wedding seems a little extravagant, but after booking our vendors, I’m more understanding of how couples reach that point. I know now that some venues require that you use their own caterer—which means no bargain hunting for charming buffet dinners. You may want to invite all of your friends and family, which—surprise!—will cost more. You might have to travel just to get to your own wedding. And don’t forget about those deposits. And dress alterations. And postage.

Lesson learned: it’s very easy to spend more than you anticipated. We’ve had a lot of conversations about money—about wedding budgets, yes, but also in the context of our marriage—and I’ve had to adjust my financial philosophies accordingly. Here are three ideas I’m trying to put into practice before our big day.

  1. Decide what to prioritize. Before Drew and I even started looking at venues or vendors, we came up with a list of wedding must-haves. For instance, we both want incredible food and an open bar, but neither of us have particularly strong feelings about floral arrangements—so, we’re splurging on food and going the DIY-route for bouquets. Be equally upfront about who you want to invite. While I love the idea of a small, intimate ceremony, it ain’t gonna happen: my family is ginormous and incredibly tight-knit. Cutting out cousins, aunts, and uncles is simply not an option; cutting out favors or decor, however, definitely is.
  2. Don’t focus on the differences between your salaries. I’m a writer who has done my fair share of job hopping; Drew has had the same job in IT for several years. I realized long ago that writers don’t usually become millionaires, and I knew that I needed a steady source of income before I cranked out a bestseller (or anything, really, but I’m trying to be optimistic). What I didn’t know is how strange it would be to discuss finances with my fiancé, who might always earn more money than I will. Have an open discussion about your financial situation, but don’t let the numbers paralyze you. Remember: you are a team. No matter how you decide to combine finances—if at all—your ultimate goal is to have a better, more beautiful life together.
  3. Learn how to accept help—financial or otherwise. Full disclaimer: Drew and I are coming from quite a bit of privilege, and we are insanely lucky to have family and friends who are willing to help with wedding expenses and planning. For some (like me), money and pride go hand-in-hand. Generosity may be difficult to swallow if you are striving for independence; while independence is not a bad thing, this can be an opportunity to learn from people who are chipping in or offering advice. If your parents are able to pay for your wedding, how did they manage to save that much money? Even if you are paying for your wedding, there are a lot of people who are probably willing to give you advice. Ask questions about budgets, planning a honeymoon, and everyday married life. Listen to them. You’ll feel less alone, and you’ll be relieved when you learn you weren’t the only one who didn’t know dress fitting appointments were a thing.

Our wedding is still months away, and the thought of so much to purchase and plan can get overwhelming, to say the least. But I’ve realized that at the end of the day, our engagement is a time to celebrate. And better yet, we’ll soon be living our own fairy tale. No carriage required.