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.

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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! 

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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.

Rethinking Animal Advocacy

Like many young girls, I used to dream of being a veterinarian. Then, of course, I learned that vet school required far too much math, science, and handling blood–none of which I consider my strong suits. I later realized I wanted to be a writer, but I still love animals and often wish that our house could become a sort of animal sanctuary.

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Not that we could responsibly care for so many animals. Drew and I are already the proud parents of Constable Chubs. She’s been a part of our family for over a year, and even though I may act like an overbearing mother (“Constable Chubs, you are so cute. You are a literal angel. GOD HAD THE BEST DAY WHEN HE MADE YOU!”), I cannot imagine life without our sweet feline friend. Our roommate, Kate, also has a cat named Sam. He and the Constable usually get along, but I don’t think they would be too thrilled to share their food with another cat.

The best snow day/reading/napping buddy around. #catsofinstagram #constablechubs #crazycatlady

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I’m lucky to be with someone who understands my soft spot for animals. For instance, we have a strict no-kill policy when it comes to spiders, but Drew and I are both extremely afraid of spiders….so releasing them back into the wild is always a very dramatic process (BUT IT’S WORTH IT. Live your life, little spider. Just…please don’t come back inside, okay?).

“Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That’s the problem.”
― A.A. Milne

A few months after I moved to Atlanta, Drew and I started volunteering at a local animal shelter. It was wonderful, but like many wonderful things, it soon fell out of our weekly routine. Once I found a steady job and a regular schedule, I started volunteering at another shelter.

Even though I love all animals, I signed up to work with cats. I have more experience with kitties, and I (usually) know what to do if a cat gets frightened or stressed. I didn’t want to work  at the front desk or provide adoption counseling, either–I’ve had enough of customer service jobs, and didn’t want my introvert self to get burnt out from something that was supposed to be fun.

Of course, that’s where I went wrong. Caring for animals definitely relates to caring for people, but it goes far beyond adoption fees or customer service. The goal of any shelter should be to find permanent homes for each and every animal; with that kind responsibility, how could we not extend our love anyone who passes by?

After all, I know how my pets have changed my life. I want everyone to have that chance: the children who visit and read to the cats; the mom who is trying to decide which cat to bring home; the couple who has too many pets but wanted to say hello. Adopting an animal is a win-win situation for everyone–you get a friend, and an animal finds a home.

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There are a lot of awful things in the world that we cannot change. But maybe we can learn to care for a lost puppy, or save a spider from being crushed. Peace starts with empathy; empathy starts with us. If we can learn to take care of tiny creatures, how much better will we be able to take care of each other?

Has an animal ever changed your life for the better? How have animals helped you become more compassionate towards people? Let me know on Twitter or in the comments! 

 

Change the World, One Step at a Time

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For every tragedy or major political event, I spend hours reading the news. Headlines and Twitter threads become my bedtime story; my heart breaks for people I will never meet, and they become my prayer.

And so often, that’s where it ends. I whisper kind words and send happy thoughts out into the universe, and then they are oh-so conveniently forgotten. Our paths split as soon as they meet on my wishful spiritual plane, because the world is too damn big, and there is nothing I can do.
If there is anything I have learned in the past year, it is that I have bought into a horrible lie: that, in order to help others, I need to do something drastic. Growing up, I heard stories of environmentalists and imagined what it would be like to handcuff myself to a tree. Now, I see people going on strike or going on hunger strikes. They’re running for office or becoming billionaires and donating every penny (okay, that’s basically just Bill Gates and J.K Rowling. But you get my point).

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

-Anne Frank

If you’re watching the news and feeling a bit discouraged, take heart. The fact that you feel this way means that you care, and there can never be a surplus of love in the world. Politics are important, of course, but our own circle is an excellent place to start. Here are a few activism-inspired habits that I’ve been putting into practice–and some tips you can use, too!

Practice self-care. Too often, the concept of self-care gets watered down to coloring books and taking a bubble bath. While there is nothing inherently wrong with bubble baths or coloring, we all need to consider what truly restores our souls. If you are burnt out, stressed, or feeling scatter-brained, you probably won’t have the energy for anything other than watching Netflix. Remember the basics: do the dishes, eat a good meal, stay hydrated; then, take a day just for yourself. You deserve it.

Be kind. Be kind to your cashier. Be kind to your barista. Be kind to the homeless man you pass on the street. Be kind to the receptionist. Be kind to your neighbor. It’s not that hard. Really.

Speak up! Contact your Senators and House Representatives–calling their office only takes a few minutes, and every phone call is tallied. If you are like me and absolutely hate calling strangers, websites like 5 Calls  provide scripts you can follow. You can also download Countable to learn more about various issues and send your reps a message.

Share informative and encouraging posts on social media. Whether you get caught in a heated debate or realize you’ve spent hours reading news articles, it’s easy to get stuck in the black hole of despair that is social media–but the Internet can still be a force for good. Share posts from a variety of (accurate) sources, and say something inspiring to go along with it.

Read. Aside from the all the fascinating things you’ll learn, reading can reduce stress and make you more empathetic. If you’re already a bibliophile, change up your reading habits: support indie authors or add more diverse books to your reading list.

Speaking of which…support artists! Writers, painters, photographers, musicians, filmmakers–they all make the world a more beautiful place, and they all need to eat. Check out Patreon and consider donating to an artist you admire. If you are unable to donate, spread the word. Share their posts on social media. If you love their work, TELL THEM! It will make their day, and your support will help them share their work with the world.

Start using apps and browser extensions that make a positive impact. Put all those hours online to good use! Install Tabs for a Cause to donate money to various organizations; ditch Google (gasp) and plant trees with Ecosia. If you’re an obsessive Amazon user, try AmazonSmile.  See? The world’s looking brighter already.

Adopt an animal. If you’ve been looking for a four-legged friend, visit your local shelter. There are millions of homeless animals in the United States alone; you are bound to fall in love with at least one, right?

Be generous. If you are financially able, donate money to your favorite organizations or non-profits. If you are on a tight budget, give your time instead; most non-profits have  volunteer programs. Find something you are passionate about–it doesn’t have to feel like work in order to be helpful!

Listen. Until we listen to someone else’s story, we will only ever see the world through one lens: our own. No one just decides what they are going to believe, and no one magically  becomes woke. It’s a process, and open dialogue can go a long way.

Pray. I know not everyone shares my beliefs, but I have found that just saying my intentions out loud can work wonders. Change starts with us, after all.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list of good deeds, but for me, they have become a manageable starting point. Together, I think we can accomplish just about anything.

How do you incorporate activism and kindness into your life? Tell me on Twitter or leave a comment!