A Farewell to Blogs

A lot of things have happened since we talked last. The United States has elected its next President, who will take office in January. And stating that fact is the limit of the attention I can bear to give him. Because every time I see his face, or hear his voice, or think about him at all, my heart and mind and soul and body and spirit and guts do something like this:

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I continue to find much joy in my marriage to John, and any time I get to spend with his family. [We’re enjoying an extended visit to Portland at the moment, and have gotten to see them an unprecedented three times in one  year.] My own family and friends–terms I often find interchangeable–continue to be the joy of my life on this twirling blue spaceball that we call home.

I’ve been enjoying my work as a copywriter and blogger for professionals. I work with some amazing people who have great, strong voices; and I love helping them come through, loud and clear.

I get to write up a minimum of 35 blogs a month these days, as well as proofreading, copy-editing; and donating writing services to some awesome grassroots efforts here at home. If I were to blog about my life over the last several months, it would amount to: Guess what: I wrote a blog today.

So things have been awfully quiet here; too quiet, in fact.

Which brings me to my news: this will be my last blog post on In Case of Fire, Use Stairs (as far as I know now, anyway).

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I am leaving an open door. A couple, actually. The blog won’t be deleted. The Facebook page for the blog won’t be deleted. I don’t want to close myself off to the possibility that this blog, like so many things in life, may re-emerge–like a verbose phoenix–from the ashes of silence to imbue the Internet with newfound revelations.

But as you can see–from my multiple absences stretching for months at a time–I can’t give this the regular attention it deserves. I want creative writing to continue to be a joy, not a burden.

The fact is, writing for me now–creatively, or otherwise–doesn’t take the same shape as writing for me 8 years ago (when this blog began). I still love to write. But  I take solace in doing so more privately nowadays [especially for the creative, introspective expression that is so characteristic of good blogging]. I don’t feel as compelled to share my thoughts and opinions with whoever cares to hear them. Occasionally that does happen on social media. But even there, not often.

And I don’t want to feel an undue pressure, guilt, etc. about that. I want to feel free to dig into writing and see where it takes me. If it takes me back to blogging: wonderful. If it leads me to write a book: excellent. If it turns out that journaling and work are the best ways for me to write, but that I uncover some new creative outlet along the way: sounds great.

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What I’m getting at it is: this isn’t bad news. I’ll miss blogging, of course. But this is the first time in more than 8 years that I’ve given myself this kind of permission: that I’ve simplified my life in a way that allows me to explore other possibilities creatively (and make room for new ones). I feel nothing but gratitude and joy and humility and the good kind of fear when I think about just how sparkly and special that is.

So I want you to know, I’ll be fine. I’ll be happy. I’ll find joy. I’ll learn new stuff.

And  I want to say thank you. To everyone who has ever commented, read, shared, or disagreed with my blog. You have taught me so much about myself and others, and have opened my mind to new perspectives. [And I would be remiss if I didn’t especially thank our pen-pal in the US Army, who connected with us through this blog. We can’t wait to hug you in person someday.]

If you want to keep up with me, don’t be afraid to keep an eye on my website (linked above), email me, or follow me on social media. I’m by no means disappearing, just simplifying. Just taking the first, big, scary step into a new adventure: figuring out more about just what kind of a writer I am now.

And I don’t know if any of you ever really came to this blog for advice (at your own risk, I might add). But if you did, here’s my parting wish for you: do what you need to do to find your true self. Start small, pray, and love real big, and you’ll be just fine.

Thank you for a marvelous eight years. You’ve finally convinced me I’m a writer.

Now, to do that– and perhaps, more! Off I go!

God bless you and yours, unto ages of ages.

Love, Beth

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I’m Not Dead! and Other Small Victories in Managing Mental Illness

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Hey, guys and dolls. I’ve been gone a while. I’m sorry. It’s been rough in patches, but I’m ready to talk about it. I think it’ll help me to do so, and maybe it’ll help somebody else.

Many of you know that writing regular blogs is not my strong suit. I cringe every time my news feed refreshes and I see that people with far busier schedules and far more demanding routines than mine are cultivating a thriving blog and stirring the social media pot with a deft hand. @#$%, I think. I can’t even remember to eat lunch every day.

Don’t worry, I’m not anti-lunch. It’s just part of how my depression and anxiety manifest themselves. Other parts of it include exhaustion or being quick to fatigue, sleeplessness, hypersensitivity and propensity to sadness, fear, or dread, and over-personalizing/taking on responsibility for problems that are beyond my reach and control. Because the depression and anxiety are clinical, it is an ongoing physical and emotional reality. But it ebbs and flows, and in an environment where anyone would be anxious, afraid or depressed, it gets turned up to eleven.

The long and short of it is that I don’t blog when I’m in a depressive low, or when I have been having a lot of panic attacks, and both of those things have been happening on what feels like a continuous loop for the past several months. Here’s part of the reason why.

When the hours at my previous  job started to decline near the beginning of this year, I began searching for something else. But being faced with  ongoing rejection and uncertainty, coupled with the stubborn reality that the hours I did have were not enough to fulfill or sustain me, the job-hunting-while-working was really taking a toll on my physical and mental well-being.

For reasons that are unclear to me, my mental health issues manifest themselves strongest after dark. So, night after night I would feel like the walls were closing in on me. I would get short of breath. I would be nauseated and curl up into the fetal position, weeping and hyperventilating and asking the Virgin Mary to comfort me. I would rage at myself, filled with hateful thoughts about how weak I was, how I was a fraud: I was not the strong, confident, happy self-advocate that so many of my friends and family were proud of. Everything seemed impossible as I lay there in the dark. I would think of job descriptions my friends and coworkers sent me, and I would feel my stomach drop and then say to myself, “I can’t do that job. I’ve forgotten what I’ve learned. The stress would be too much,” and on and on.

So, when I was finally offered something new, at a time when we were really struggling financially- I accepted, thinking I could adapt and thrive in the new environment. What I got instead was a constant spike in anxiety and panic attacks that was so debilitating I couldn’t eat or sleep, and would have to take frequent breaks from my work to avoid coming apart emotionally. So I had gone from having a job, to being under-employed, to resigning to accept a job, to quitting a job, in a relatively short time. Ever since then, it has been a constant- and I do mean constant- battle to remind myself that there is something better out there. I have been rebuilding my confidence, and taking care to measure progress in whatever metric I can.

You’re probably wondering when I’m gonna get to the progress part, because, let’s face it, I am kind of bumming you out and stuff. Don’t worry. Here it comes.

If you have never done so, please read Hyperbole and a Half (at hyperboleandahalf.com). Always hilarious, she does an amazing series of webcomics on what her depression is like and how she copes with it.

First, I had to take responsibility for where I was and who I was. I had to acknowledge that- while I can’t cure my mental illness, and while not every negative thing in the universe is my doing or my responsibility, there are things about my life that I can change, and things about my mental illness that I exacerbate when I don’t take action. There are things that I do and say- and that I neglect to do and say- when I am wallowing in my depression and anxiety, that I can easily change by acknowledging that these out of control emotions aren’t who I am, and that they don’t define me. Yes, they help explain things about me. No, they are not the sum total of all things about me.

Another major step in the right direction was the decision to go back to counseling. I have always been a big believer in getting help when you need it. I just seem to forget I need it every now and then. I was doing “okay” for quite a while there. But when it got to the point where my life was being halted and my relationships affected, I had to do something. I am still early on in my relationship with this therapist, but she has an expectation of change and growth, so I am holding myself to that standard, and have been thankful for the results so far.

I had to get spiritual direction. Therapy is great. But when religion, faith and spirituality are a part of your worldview, a qualified spiritual guide such as a priest, rabbi, etc. can give teachings and coping strategies that can bring a whole new level of peace and clarity, and my conversation with my priest was no exception.

He helped me to understand that  I had to make priorities and set boundaries regarding what I exposed myself to mentally/emotionally, and what parts of my thoughts and emotions I exposed. This meant stepping back when I really wanted to bare all on an issue or event on this site or via social media. I plan to go into greater detail on this in a future post, but the crux was that the things we feel strongly about are often things that make us feel vulnerable to share, and doing so on a public forum rarely if ever guarantees a kind response.

So all that work means I’ve been away for a while. And the fact that the work is constant, and the foe unpredictable,  means I have no idea how things will be a month or two or three or six from now, but I’m still here. And so are you. You’re worth fighting for, and I’m in your corner.

Til next time. Which will hopefully be soon.

Edit: The steps discussed are intended to provide ideas and strategies only. They are not meant to replace or usurp any treatment that has been recommended by your doctor, psychologist, therapist, or psychiatrist. Please keep all helping professionals in the loop of any changes to your routine.

Also, it is possible that they may be helpful guidelines for people who are experiencing short-term sadness, stress or melancholy, and I hope that’s true. Sharing my experiences is not meant to serve as any kind of diagnosis or comprehensive list of symptoms. Mental illness, stress, depression and anxiety are different for everyone, though there is some common ground. If your systems or struggles are consistent, chronic, and long term [beyond a difficult or stressful circumstance], please seek the opinion of a qualified professional to figure out what’s best for you.

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P.S. For those reading this post who face mental illness, I encourage you to read/bookmark a Self-Care Checklist such as the one linked here [if you want a more language-neutral one, there are plenty out there, but this one is simple and straightforward]. It might also help to show it to a friend who can hold you accountable and make sure you’re okay.

Love, Needs, Giving: A Partner’s Perspective on Disability [Guest Post by John Thielman]

Happy spring! Today the blog breaks its unintentional (but by no means surprising by now) silence with a special treat. Yesterday marks 3 years since one online exchange began a friendship, which grew into a relationship, and is on its way to becoming a marriage. Since May is the month John and I met, I am honored and proud to share his guest blog with you, which offers his perspective as the partner of someone with a disability. I am sure his kindness and honesty will encourage all of you, as it does me every day.  Enjoy!

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K Summers Photography, 2014

Beth often shares stories with me of her odd encounters with well-meaning, but socially awkward, strangers. One of the questions she gets most often is: “So is your fiancé in a wheelchair, too?”

It’s tempting to try to laugh that question off, but the more I think about its implications, the less I like it.  Nobody asks me if my fiancé needs glasses too, or if she is also Caucasian, or is also going grey at the temples.  Everyone seems to recognize that a woman wouldn’t have to share my bad eyesight (or any other arbitrary, superficial characteristic) to be interested in marrying me, but for some reason it’s very common to assume that only a man who also has a disability would be interested in a woman with one. It’s as if people believe “typical” cannot love “different”. And this assertion that is not only false, but painful.

So, how does a relationship work when one of the participants has a disability?  Truth to tell, I don’t know how a relationship works when neither does (I was in a relationship once before, with someone without a disability, but I can’t say the relationship actually worked).  Ours is like any other relationship: we talk to one another, we listen, we try to help.

As far as I can tell, everybody needs help with something in life.  Some people are bad at doing their taxes, some are late everywhere they go, many have insecurities and some have legs that don’t work properly.  So just as Beth doesn’t think anything of helping me with my insecurities and the challenges I face as a student in a foreign country, I think absolutely nothing of helping her get up and down stairs, preparing a meal for us to share, or helping her around the house.

In fact, it is this act of helping that brings us closer together.  In order to allow her to help me, I have to make myself vulnerable to her emotionally, which is never easy (well, by now it’s easier because we’ve been doing it for so long), and in order to allow me to help her, she has to be very vulnerable to me physically.  It all requires a lot of trust, but our trust in one another is always rewarded.

Honestly though, it is the distance between us (not her disability) that has always been the biggest problem to overcome.  We have never lived in the same city, and never less than 800 miles apart.  Now it’s more like 4,600.  But we talk every day on skype, often for hours, sometimes more than once. [Since starting our relationship in September 2012, we have only gone 2 days without Skyping!]  We’ve been told that we talk more to one another than do some couples who live together.  This is no surprise, since we can’t do much more than exchange words, so we exchange lots and lots of them, and we weigh them carefully.

So, distance has become our teacher, helping us learn to communicate honestly and lovingly with one another.  And because being apart forces us to find a silver lining, each of us strives to discern the best and most loving interpretation of the other’s words.  When we can’t find that right away, we push through any negative feelings, and ask for clarification.  We do our best to understand each other’s needs and to help fulfill those needs.   And it turns out not to matter so much what [or even whose] those specific needs are; the remedy is still the same. We speak, we listen, we understand, we give and take, we help each other. We love each other. That’s really all there is to it.

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Originally from Menomonie, Wisconsin, John is earning his Master’s Degree in Historical Linguistics from the Humboldt University in Berlin, and holds a B.A. in Classics from Gustavus Adolphus College. He enjoys tailoring, cooking, and all things Tolkien. His favorite pastimes are reading, sipping fine whiskey, and shooting the breeze with his Intended. 

Don’t Let the Bastards Get You Down

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A few weeks ago, I found out that myself and 11 other coworkers will be losing our jobs after December 31 [Happy New Year!] The agency that we subcontract with is backing out of the contract 3 months early for their “convenience” and as a direct result of our constant advocacy for systems change in a program hampered by bureaucracy and disconnect. The way our organization has been treated makes it harder and harder to get up to go to work as the end of the year draws near. It was, and is, an infuriating example of callousness. 

Around the same time, there were people very dear to me [including my Someone] whose friends weren’t acting like friends. Multiple stories of unkindness, judgmental attitudes, and impatience were in the air. With all that, a busy schedule of work and teaching, and the constant ache of Transatlantic lovesickness, morale on Team Beth has been at an all-time low lately.

But through it all, I have found solace in some advice my stepdad gave me several years ago, during my 3-year-long struggle to find a job, after yet another rejection letter had left me angry and in tears at the kitchen table.

Illegitimi non carborundum,” he said cryptically.

“Huh?”

“Don’t let the bastards get you down.”

People can, in fact, be mean just for the sake of it. People hurt each other, even when given the benefit of the doubt. People are unkind, even when they have been shown kindness. It is normal to let it frustrate me. But I can’t let it get me down. Because when I stop at anger and begin to carry only anger around, no one wins. When I let it get me down and believe the things their words or actions are saying about who I am, they win. 

When I choose to be kind: I win.

Before you call me a Pollyanna: I can tell you right now that I am not always kind as I should be [or kind at all] in the moment of offense, and it is not always possible to go back and be kind to the same person who was unkind to me.  I also can’t [and shouldn’t] pretend like nothing is wrong when I’ve been hurt or mistreated.

So, when confronted with outright meanness, what’s a girl to do? Here are three things I will try my hardest to do going forward to help get myself through the end of the year [or at least through tomorrow]:

 

  • Shut my mouth. It is entirely possible I won’t have anything nice to say, and shouldn’t say it at all.
  • Pray for that person [or more accurately my lava-hot anger towards that person], and for something or someone else to focus my attention and energy on. After all the Good Book tells me that “Love Your Neighbor” does, in fact, include my enemy.
  • Be kind to someone else, the next chance I get. 

The truth is, no matter how mean someone is to me, no matter how small that the behavior of a Jerky-Jerkface makes me feel, being mean back does nothing but mirror their behavior and make me angrier.

And as soon as I let unkindness keep me from being kind, the Bad Guys win.

So don’t let them win.

Be kind, as best you can.

Don’t let the bastards get you down.

Let them make you kind of person the world needs: a better one.

 

How I Learned to Stop Worrying (and Love the Pop)

I didn’t mean to become a hipster [I know, I know, that’s just what a hipster would say]. But it’s true. It happened so gradually, I hardly noticed. Part of it is being a Nashville Native. When every third friend of yours is in a Band You’ve Probably Never Heard of, but Omigod, They’re Seriously Amazing, then that’s the kind of music you listen to most. When you don’t have cable because it’s too expensive, you don’t watch cable. When your friends work at the local radio station, you listen to the locals. Never mind the fact that there really are scarves made to be worn when it’s not cold out, and that skinny jeans actually flatter your [chicken-y] legs. It’s too late: your friends already think you smoke locally grown tobacco out of a corn cob pipe and drink only from Mason Jars.

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Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind being seen as out-of-touch-in-the-cool-and-mysterious-way most of the time, but there was one time that being hip was a big mistake.

Several years ago, Justin Timberlake, the Dapper Dan of Pop, came to our fair city to promote his astronomically popular Futuresex/Lovesound album [Sorry, Mom. That’s just what it’s called. I can’t help that]. And I didn’t go. Not because I was busy. Not because I didn’t love the album [I both owned it and knew all the words to the Three-Six Mafia guest track]. I didn’t go because I decided JT was pop. And since I listened to NPR, ate granola, owned a record player, and shopped at thrift stores, pop wasn’t my thing.

Though I felt a pang of guilt every time I listened to “Sexyback” after that, it has taken me years to realize why: not going to a pop concert didn’t mean I was cool. It meant I was insecure. It meant I was a stick in the mud. It meant I didn’t get to see Justin Timberlake [worst part. I mean, hello?!]. And it meant I was being a giant doofus.

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This? I could have seen this? Yeah. I’m an idiot.

This year, Justin has released two albums with the help of his band, The Tennessee Kids. They are ubiquitous, unapologetic, dance-y, pop masterpieces. They have each been in my CD player since I bought them, and I all but sing into a hairbrush in front of a mirror when they play.

So, when Mr. T [can I call him that?] announced his triumphant return to the Music City, I was among the elated throng who immediately bought a ticket. Yes, it cost about as much as my whole life, but it will be oh-so worth it.

It’ll be worth it because it will be more fun than I or anyone else can shake a stick at, because I know JT will be happy to see me [obviously], and because I like the music. I listen to a lot of music that makes me feel and think. But sometimes, you just need to dance now, think later.

I’ve realized that for me, pop music is dessert. It’s candy. It’s a day off. Too much dessert without anything substantial does tend to make one a little woozy. But sometimes, at the end of a long, terrible week, you inhale a chocolate bar thinking it will make things better. And in some small way, it does.

I still buy organic sugar for my locally roasted coffee, and I’m still planning my Halloween costume around my favorite Wes Anderson movie. I’m just happier now.  I’m not worried if some American-Spirit-smoker at the 5 Spot will think I’m cool anymore. I’m only hip when I want to be, and that’s the way I like it.

i am a terrible blogger.

I have a confession to make, you guys. Well, two.

The first is that I cannot stop listening to the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis album [the Heist], and I don’t care who knows it. Seriously. I listen to it once a day right now. Not only is Sir Macklemore  excellent at the hip-hoppery, he is smart. And I love a smarty.

The only better pop album to come out recently is Justin Timberlake’s opus of smooth, the 20/20 Experience [obviously, i mean, who are we kidding?]. Do yourself a favor and get both of those albums right now and listen to them. Yes, they’re commercially popular, but so is food, and everybody’s gotta eat. 

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My other confession is. . . I am a terrible blogger. I started off the year like the over-achieving boyfriend in an 80s teen romantic comedy. I had grand plans: wooing you all with flowers, rides in my convertible, and promises of weekly posts. But I’ve only managed to let you down over and over again with [maybe] monthly offerings [if you’re lucky].  

I love writing, and I think there is something beautiful about the ease with which I can share my writing in this format. I also want you all to know what’s going on, and I want to share the love through my writing whenever I can.

I like giving pause, making people think, and reminding them they are loved. I know that when I’m not writing, it is harder for me to help others in those ways. That’s really why I’m a blogger in the first place. But without blogging, I can’t accomplish any of that- at least not in a way I can see easily.

So, I’m sorry I’m a terrible blogger. 

ImageI’m sorry. But I’m not.

With working, teaching ESL twice a week, and taking an ESL certification class 3 weekends in a row, I have been slammed this month. I have spent the better part of the last 4 weeks exhausted, cranky, and probably one step above hallucinating a hot dog riding a unicorn across a rainbow bridge on the Delirium Scale.

On top of the physical and emotional demands of that schedule, I was forced to miss Church for most of July due to the fact that the Sunday classes were all-day, so I did not have my normal solace of receiving Communion and praying with my friends on Sundays.

It has not been easy. And I haven’t been writing a word.

But I have been learning. I’ve been learning how to be a human: how to be tired, how to lean on others for support, how to ask for help and prayers, how to make mistakes and learn from them; how to bite off more than I can chew, and what to do when that happens. I’ve been so focused on being a living, breathing, surviving, regular, normal human being. I just haven’t had time to be a proper blogger.

It’s been fantastic. Not because I didn’t write, or because it was fun and carefree. It’s been fantastic because- through God’s mercy and the love of my Someone and the people in my life- I’ve made it. 

Now that I know I can be an employee, a friend, a girlfriend, a student, a teacher, and a human all at the same time, maybe I can get back to being a blogger, too.

Maybe.

DOMA: One Christian Speaks

With the DOMA decision hot off the presses this week, my Facebook news feed has been fascinating. I just sit and watch the screen refresh with anticipation; waiting for the gloves to come off.

One minute: OMGRAINBOWTEARSOFJOY.

The next: OMGWORLDCRASHINGDOWN.

And about every half hour: Something about Jesus, churches or the Bible, and how they feel about “The Gays” getting married.

As an Orthodox Christian, I view marriage [which my Church defines as being a physical and spiritual union between a man and a woman] as a Sacrament. Something spiritual and supernatural happens during a wedding for an Orthodox Christian: Christ is the Celebrant, He joins the couple together. And in a Mystery, they become one person. Because of this, sex is meant for marriage because it is a participation in that oneness. It is meant to be experienced within the context. So, taken together: having a wedding, being married, and having sex are beautiful, holy, and sacred.

Marriage is also known as the White Martyrdom within the Orthodox Church: you are giving your life for your spouse before God; this is represented by the “crowning” part of the marriage ceremony [Yep, those are Martyrs’ Crowns. Intense, right?!].

I cherish this view of marriage and sex as a healthy, full one. I look forward to experiencing it; I believe it is truth, and I believe this because I trust my Faith. It’s not an easy thing to believe, wait for, or live by, believe me. [White Martyrdom does not exactly come up as a topic of conversation at most parties these days.]  But I know it’s worth it.

However, I don’t expect every single person in the United States of America to have the same beliefs I do about marriage any more than I expect them all to show up at my Church on Sunday morning.

To follow the teachings of Jesus or the Church is now, and always has been, a choice, not a legislation or ruling. Jesus has never been shy; He has never been a shrinking violet, but He has never been a politician, either. He loves, He teaches and lives from Love; we choose how to respond.

Jesus never ran for President, and America is not now, nor has it ever been, an exclusively Christian nation. The Founding Fathers did not all go to the same Church together. They did not pen the Constitution at a Small Group at Bible Camp, and they never intended for a particular brand of religion to be legislated from Capitol Hill. In fact, the need for Freedom of Religion [any, not just mine] is what brought those rowdy ex-Brits here in the first place. That’s why it’s [still] in our constitution [right now, actually]. So, because the Constitution is what guides our law/political process, DOMA shouldn’t be discussed in terms of religion, because Church and State are separate here. And that’s where it gets tricksy, my little hobbitses.

See, within the American political sphere, marriage can’t be viewed as religious, because there is a legal component to it [and Church and State are separate]. So, the real question behind whether or not the Supreme Court should’ve upheld DOMA is not “Is it Christian for people who are in same-sex relationships to get married?” it’s “Should they have the Constitutional right to do so, based on what the rest of our law and Constitution says?” When marriage is being debated in politics, it’s a civil issue, not a theological one.

As much as I love my Church and my Faith [a lot, you guys, it’s changed my life in the most beautiful ways possible], I cannot find within it anything that says I should impose or enforce my own moral code on someone who is not choosing to be a part of my Faith. And  as an American citizen, I can’t find a place in the Constitution where it says I  have the legal right or civil obligation to do that, either.

So, yes, I am a straight, heterosexual Orthodox Christian. That means a someday I will marry a man in my Church: we’ll put on Martyrs’ Crowns and kiss dramatically in front of all our relatives [awkward!], and then we’ll dance the night away. And you’re all invited. Because it will be a beautiful, real experience, with a great party to follow.

My devotion to my Faith and its teachings about marriage does not mean I have the right to make anyone else’s faith or marriage illegal. And it doesn’t mean I should be unkind, rude, or unloving toward anyone, whether my theology agrees with their lifestyle choices or not.

I pray I have spoken the Truth in love, and that I can live it the same way. And I hope for your patience and respect as I spend my life figuring out the best way to do so.