Monday, June 19, 2017

The Down and Dirty Truth about Marriage: All the Break-Ups

If it isn't already clear by the rolled bangs and baby face, Josh and I were, by almost every definition of the term, "late bloomers." We were church kids. Fly under the radar kids. Do the right thing kids. It's just who we were and how the chips landed for us. Or rather, it's how God laid the chips out for us. Let it be said, though, that I've always had a bit of a rebellious - streak feels like too strong of a word - itch. I've always had a rebellious itch and, quite frankly, it had never been scratched upon meeting Josh. Let's be real - it's never really been scratched.

All that to say, there came a day in high school when I began to feel restless in Josh's and my relationship. It wasn't that I ever stopped liking him or enjoying his company or thinking he was all around a really great guy. It was simply that I grew bored with being "Josh and Emily." I had never dated anyone else, really, and I liked boys. I thought there was something appealing about a great deal of them. In some ways, it is for this very reason that I feel grateful for a magnet-like attraction to Josh - who doesn't have a rebellious bone in his body...well maybe a tiny little toe bone or something. In this way, I think God protected me from being a boozer and a floozy. I'm just being honest.

Regardless, I broke up with Josh several times in high school. I don't really remember a lot about those because they were short-lived and happened mostly just because we were getting on each others' nerves. Not long after we married, I got so frustrated with him I (sort of) jokingly said, "If we weren't married, I would so break up with you right now!" Over the span of about a year, I was all, "Josh is cute but so is that other guy over there. La, tee, dah!" I broke his heart into pieces because I wasn't as invested as he was at the time.

Like a stay at home mom and her yoga pants, though, I couldn't stay away from the comfort and perfect fit of Josh. Getting back together, after all, was the MOST fun!

By the end of our senior year, though, I was all in. I was wild about him - probably too much so. He had become my entire world, and we were both planning to go to LA Tech. Obviously we were going to get married. Obviously. He would join me while I babysat for our youth pastor's kids. I would imagine all sorts of scenarios that involved him as the father of my children. I kid you not. I so wanted Josh to be my baby-daddy beginning at the age of 17. He, however, was oblivious that I had such plans. He just liked hanging with me and the Fiscus kids.

Sometime during the late fall of our senior year in high school, it became clear to me that I really wanted and needed to be at Ouachita Baptist University. It is one of the only decisions I remember making separate from Josh. I knew what making that choice meant - that he would go to a different college and our relationship would get very tricky. Still, I felt a very clear pull to attend OBU. So, one night on the phone I was gearing up to break the news when Josh said, "So, I've been talking to mom and praying about it, and I think I need to go to OBU." I could've died. DIED. Well, it was all set. We would date through college, get married, and live happily every after. Hooray!

Sugar lumpkin.

Sophomore year. In the era of boy bands, Josh very clearly was on his A-game. Ammiright?
Remember that bit about being late bloomers? Well, Josh got to college and BLOOMED. Suddenly, he was no longer awkward-but-pretty-cute-in-a-goofy-way Josh. He was becoming sort of beefy and very dreamy. He was carrying himself differently, and he had friends apart from me. There were girls - so many girls - that begged for his attention without any effort of his own. He very clearly did not need me, while I felt that I very much needed him. It ultimately culminated in a nasty break-up in which I asked him if he loved me, and he said he didn't know. I was devastated. My sister, Molly, and my dad both offered to kick his butt. It's what we do for each other in times of devastation - we offer to wail on the offending party without actually intending to do so. Well, except Molly. She really would do it.

Regardless, we were broken up for about six months. We dated other people. Watching him with other girls is, to this day, one of the most painful things I've ever experienced emotionally. But, as God always does, He used that time of brokenness in me to breed something new - a vibrant, honest, growing relationship with Him. Suddenly, I found myself desperate to know Jesus more, and willing to let go of Josh if that's what He wanted for me. I reached a point when I was able to pray that Josh would find someone better for him than me, and that's when I knew - this beautiful business of knowing Jesus beyond what I could offer Him, and beyond what He would give me, was something I wanted more than I wanted Josh, and that felt enormously freeing and empowering.

Really, that's what everything comes down to in every piece of our relationship today. Do I want to know my God and make Him known more than I want anything else? More than I want an easy marriage? More than I want my own way, dad-gummit? Really, really more than anything? Because if that is true, marriage is still crazy hard, but staying in it isn't a hard choice. Staying in it is the only choice.

I'm so glad for those 6 months of heart-breaking loneliness - when I almost transferred schools but didn't. When I built incredible friendships and scratched just a teensy bit of that wild itch and laughed hard and sang loud to songs about my Jesus, all without Josh. He would always matter very much to me, but God gave me a grand gift when He forced me to discover Emily apart from Josh. I would need those glimpses for later on down the road.
Sophomore year with some of my dearest forever friends - Vanessa, Christen, and Katy. We built a friendship that looked and felt more like a sisterhood that remains to this day!

Remember that wild itch? This is about as crazy as I got...playing in the Ouachita fountain with Sarah and Katie. Bless it. I don't even care. We laughed until we cried that night!

Now, lest you think that I was - or am - the poor wronged party, we BOTH dated other people and had fun doing it. And next week you'll get to see Josh in all of his romantic glory! He really is a champ at grand gestures. The way he won me back will impress you...promise!

Can you see the way God has woven threads of HIS faithfulness through your marriage story?

New to this saga but want to read all of it? I'm so glad. You can find the rest of it here!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Book Review: Real Artists Don't Starve

It's Book Review day!

I have read each of Jeff Goins' books. I started with You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One)It came as a recommendation from my friend, Stacey Thacker, at a time when I was just beginning to explore writing with intention instead of just as a sort of online journaling practice. At that time, I had one two year old, and that is all. How different life was then! If only I had capitalized on all the time I didn't think I had! Regardless, Jeff's words gave me a good, forceful kick in the pants. I began to play with what it would feel like to actually CALL myself a writer.

Every book of his after that has inched me forward in my knowledge and calling of being a creative and, specifically, a writer. Wrecked helped me process passions and "discovering yourself" while still developing responsibility. It helped me think about a sense of calling and the things that I am inexplicably impassioned to do. The Art of Work helped me think about my life as a whole - and how every piece of it - even, maybe especially, the stretches that feel like stumbling around - are contributing to my calling and place in this world.

When I discovered the title of his newest book, Real Artists Don't Starve, I immediately placed my pre-order. We are at a place when I really need to contribute to the family income but I also still need a flexible schedule that allows me to be available to my kids. Additionally, I want a job that I don't hate. I'm doing a few odds and ends things, but I really want to be able to create for a living. So, if Jeff had a plan for helping me do that, I was game.
The point is not to make a fortune or become famous, but to do the work. We are all looking for a way to share our gift with the world without worrying about making a living. That means getting paid more than once for our creations. It means building a life that allows us to keep creating. - Jeff Goins, Real Artists Don't Starve
The reason I love Jeff's writing style is that he manages to motivate without sounding like a motivational speaker. I don't have anything against motivational speakers, but they really aren't my jam. Jeff manages to weave compelling stories with helpful advice, creating a very easy read that makes you honest-to-goodness want to get moving...and have a reasonable idea of how to take the first step. This, as a writer, I know to be a rare gift set!

In this particular book, Jeff takes us on a journey through the centuries, uncovering the stories of ancient, successful artists from all sorts of fields as well as "average Joe" creatives who have managed to make art and not starve in today's "New Renaissance." It's enormously interesting and inspiring - as well as unexpectedly practical.

If you have ever wanted to be a creator in any form or fashion - or suspect that you just might be a creative deep down inside - go get this book. It's a fun, inspiring, and most importantly, thrillingly practical. You will fly through it and then want to get started making art and not starving!

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Down and Dirty Truth about Marriage: My Best Friend

The interesting thing about our relationship is that after that first "he picked the other girl" hooplah, I only remember Josh as part of my life. I don't remember a lot about how our relationship progressed. We were sixteen - still so, so young, still learning so, so many things. Sometimes I wonder if our attending different schools in those early days is what wove us together so tightly. We never grew weary of each other because we weren't together all day. We wrote one another notes at least every day, which we would deliver at church on Wednesday nights.We talked on the phone nearly every night.  It was simple and pure, really - we just dove head long in knowing each other - not because we knew to intentionally do that in a budding relationship - but because we liked talking to each other. I was a big Josh fan, and he was a big Emily fan. This, I think, is the beauty of high school sweethearts. We grew up together and learned one another as we went. We didn't try to analyze where the relationship was going or what the future held. We liked each other, and that's all there was to it.

A few weeks after we began officially dating, we took a weekend trip out to Toledo Bend to stay at our friend, Leigh's, lake house. It was an annual thing, and it was the most fun. The girls slept upstairs in the loft area while the boys slept downstairs on the living room floor. Yes, we all actually slept in our assigned spots. We spent our days walking the beach, throwing the frisbee, playing board games, laughing until we cried, eating all the food, and napping as much as we wanted. We spent our evenings eating more and sitting around a campfire. We talked and laughed and laid a lifetime foundation, without even realizing what we were doing, for what friendship should look like. 

On this particular trip, while the boys were sitting around the campfire and the girls were snacking in the kitchen (let it be said that teenage girls eat every bit as much as boys!), Josh and I stole away to the dock. I'd been waiting as patiently as possible for that first kiss. Have I mentioned that I was really into Josh? And also that I really liked boys in general? And, for the love of the land, I really wanted this particular boy to lay one on me?

This was a foreshadowing, just like everything else, of the way I run ahead like a crazed maniac shouting wildly, "Hurry up! Let's get on with it already! Patience is for the birds!" To this day, I leap without looking and lay dead down on the rocks below while Josh is still analyzing the path behind me, taking his time, cautiously observing each step. We are in a constant pull against one another, and while this can be infuriating for both of us, it also saves us both from either never experiencing anything or...lying dead on the rocks. 

We stood on the dock, looking out over Toledo Bend, the moon blanketing us in vague, shimmering light and the cool Louisiana fall air casting a vague dampness over our skin and hair, making us shiver and shove our hands in our pockets. (Yes, it is exactly that romantic in my sixteen-year-old memories...whether it was ACTUALLY that romantic is pretty much irrelevant.) We talked and talked - standing looking out over the water, sitting criss cross applesauce on the ground, lying side by side on our backs - good grief alive will this boy ever kiss me? - and then silence. He reached over, turned my head toward his, and kissed me...short, simple, sweet. All the butterflies, y'all. All of 'em flying all over the place. I could've stayed there all night until, approximately 2 seconds after we kissed, Josh, "Okay! You ready to go back?" That was that. Homeboy had done what he set out to do. He walked back to the fire to tout his victory to his friends so that they could acknowledge it shortly and move on to more important topics like sports stats or the latest guitar chord they'd learned. I, however, walked inside to be greeted by gushing and cheering all around!

From that night on, Josh and Emily just kept being Josh and Emily - but with kissing. In the spring of that school year, I came down with what we affectionately refer to as, "the mono". The case was so serious that I found myself in the hospital for a night and out of school for nearly a semester. I'm not kidding. I would get so tired that I would fall asleep at 8 o'clock at night, sleep through the night, and not wake up until 10 the next morning. It was during this fiasco that Josh became more than just a boy that I really liked and really, really liked kissing. He would come to my house as often as my parents would allow (What do you MEAN he can't come over EVERY night? Can't you see that we're in LOVE?!...bless my heart) and sit with me. I would throw a pillow over on him and sleep on his lap while he watched TV. This often meant that he missed out on spending time with our other friends, and I began to see how self-sacrificing he was - how tender-hearted and compassionate he was, how much he really cared about me.

Those few months of focused, isolated together-ness might've seemed unhealthy to some - I'm pretty sure to my parents without a doubt - and I imagine in some ways they were, but they also transformed Josh into my very best friend and, I think, me into his. We were able to be ourselves with one another - to let our freak flags fly high - without fear of rejection or judgement. We laughed hard and often. We watched movies and ate dinners and (I'm slightly embarrassed to admit) fell asleep on the phone with one another.

This is the most important thing, when I start to wonder if we are really good for each other, I can remember. Our relationship was always about far more than sexual chemistry, although that would become a significant, and quite frankly, crippling issue, later in our relationship. Once, early in our marriage when I found myself sorely disappointed with what the holy grail of "I do," had handed me, a dear friend and mentor of mine listened to my long list of grievances and said, "Okay, well what DO you like about Josh?" And without having to think too long or hard about the answer I shrugged and said, "He's my very best friend." She didn't need to say much after that because to be bound to the man who has been your best friend since you were sixteen - a man who loves God and cares about you - it seems like maybe that really IS the holy grail of "I do."

So today, go ahead and do it: mentally list your grievances with your spouse. We all have them...and if you've been in it for long, grievances may not be a strong enough word. Then, after you've listed all that out, stop and consider what you DO like about your spouse. If you're going to take the time to list the rotten, it's only fair to take inventory of the redeeming, too. 

Next week come back for the break-ups. All the break-ups, y'all! And coming up on Thursday is another book review. Get you some sun and some rest and some happy this week!

Friday, June 9, 2017

Book Review: Where'd You Go Bernadette

I promised you a book review this week, and a book review you shall have!

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? made its way to my "To Read" list more than a year ago. I had heard it recommended a few times but the clencher was on The Happy Hour with Jaime Ivey podcast. She was doing an interview with Jen Hatmaker who, without hesitation, recommended this as one of her favorite books at the time. She makes me laugh so if she finds a thing entertaining, I take it seriously.

The book, particularly the first half, is primarily written in the form letters between A LOT of different people. So, it takes a little getting used to at first. I kept thinking, "Wait, who is this person again?" But Semple does a good job of keeping things interesting without overwhelming you with characters. There is an air of mystery in the plot, but nothing terribly gripping to tell you the truth. I mean you really want to know where Bernadette went, but don't go into it expecting some sort of nail-biter.

The truth is, I love a good character. I care far less about plot lines and climaxes. Give me a character I can love and relate to and believe, and I am putty in your hands. I'll read until you stop giving me words. Bernadette is a fantastic character. She's just the right amount of crazy - the amount that you are pretty sure you have within yourself, and her daughter, Bee, whose voice is the primary one in the story, is this sort of perfectly adorable, pure, and appropriately snarky fourteen year old who takes life as it comes until her mother goes missing.

It is a story about finding yourself again but doing so without abandoning what's already there. I think you'll enjoy it so very much. You can borrow my copy if you want!

Don't forget to come back on Monday for The Down and Dirty Truth about Marriage. The first kiss is on the agenda for Monday, and you will, without a doubt, enjoy that one thoroughly! See you then!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Down and Dirty Truth about Marriage: Celebrate the Beginning

I went to high school in the late nineties. My dad has always worked in technology and computers, and at that time he owned his own company. So, we had a lot of computers at our disposal. When I was a sophomore in high school, my parents allowed me to have one in my room. Honestly, there wasn’t much to get into at that point in time. Once, I entered a chat room with other teens – I am laughing out loud writing about this – just after the Columbine shootings. (I’m not at all laughing about the Columbine shootings.) A boy – I guess he was a boy. Who really knows? – asked me where I lived and went to school. I panicked, clicked out of the chat room immediately, and sprinted to my parents bedroom, where the door was locked, which could only mean one thing – they were otherwise engaged and I was going to have to deal with scary chat room boy all on my own. I tell you this to give you an accurate picture of how very unadventurous I was and how very reasonable it was for my parents to allow me to have a computer in my room.

Except for AIM.

Ah, the glorious sound of that, “Bling.” A chat coming in, popping up on the screen from barcenaux82, suz81, or jblack83 – oh how thrilling. I would leap from my floral printed, Laura Ashley sheets into my desk chair with glee and anticipation. It was just a foreshadowing of what was to come. I chatted with people on AIM that I never would have initiated conversation with in person. Technology was already closing the accessibility gap, and also, it allowed me to carefully craft my flirty words before I delivered them. My cool factor could not be contained.

I guess it was about August of our junior year in high school when Josh and I began chatting regularly. What I know about Josh now is that he’s a friendly guy who doesn’t think much about things before he does them. He likely just saw me online and figured he’d give me a shout. We had one fun conversation in which I laughed at his goofy humor (so many LOLs) and he caught my sarcasm, and that led to another and another. I started thinking that I might really like this guy. Like, really, but I felt silly about it because he was Josh – goofy, not cool, Josh. But every time we talked, I found that he didn’t make me feel the way other boys made me feel – awkward, unsure, and not enough. When we talked, I felt at ease, free to be myself, and like I was talking to a friend – because I was.

The first dance - pre-"Josh and Emily". Bless our lumpkin hearts.

There was a back-to-school dance every year in early September. Josh asked me, and I gleefully said, “Yes.” We were on the fast track to our first real date. I just knew it. I mean, we HELD HANDS on the couch in James’ pool house. What further evidence did anyone need of our forever love?

Let’s remember that part about Josh not considering things much before he did/does them. One night after the dance I was sitting at my desk, possibly playing solitaire or something else gripping on the computer, when a “Bling” came through. I leapt into action upon seeing that it was from Josh. Before we got far into our conversation, he had conveyed that he had a new girlfriend.

I’m sorry, what?

It’s the truth. Some other girl had asked him to go out, and he’d said, “Yes.”

Who the aych was this chick? I had never even heard him mention her. She didn’t go to church with us. She was not our friend. She had no place in his life. He was very clearly already mine, thought a very disappointed me.

I need to stop here to tell you that so much about our first miscommunication points to a great many of the issues we have had about once a week since. Josh had his own life, his own world apart from me. He was president of the FCA at PHS. He played tennis and ran cross-country and dated other girls, apparently, all of which had not a thing to do with me and my life. Every piece of my life, however, was connected to him. For one, I’m a female, which means I thought and talked about boys far more than they ever thought or talked about me. It’s a sad day when you realize the magnitude of this truth. For another, most of my friends were directly connected to Josh. He consumed my thoughts and my feelings and my conversations while I only affected his while we were together – and sometimes not even then.

This is still the case. If I had learned not to take offense to it, to tell him directly what I wanted and needed sooner, if I was better at it now, gosh the things we could have avoided. Sigh. Tomorrow is another day.

Wounded, I avoided him for a week or so, but he kept “Bing-ing” me (that sounds mildly dirty and I’m getting tickled at it). He started coming to my swim meets in the afternoons. I knew – I just KNEW – he wouldn’t do that if he didn’t have feelings for me. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. Regardless, he still had some girlfriend, which I apparently only acknowledged as partial reality. When I want something, the whole world better move outta the way because I am going after it. (Josh would probably tell you that if he’d learned THAT early on, we could’ve avoided a great many additional fights…like the one we had two nights ago.) What I wanted, friends, was Joshua Wesley Blackwell.

Within a month or so, "other girl" – who as it turns out was perfectly nice – was out of the picture and, through a great deal of finagling by my friend Susan, our first date was on the calendar. Funnily enough, my parents were out of town for this transaction. I haven’t a clue where, but I was the only person in my house that night – have I mentioned how very NOT wild I was? My friend, Kate helped me pick out my outfit: pinstripe pants and a white button up with some sort of very chunky heels. Oh that sweet, lumpkin, late nineties fashion. He took me to Logan’s where we ordered salads and my stomach hurt so bad I thought I was going to have to spend some time in the bathroom because of my nerves. We went to see The Sixth Sense, and held hands THE WHOLE TIME (surely this was a done deal). He brought me home and that was it. By mid-November, we were officially “Josh and Emily.”

There are other stories from that first year, of course – the first kiss, all the break-ups, the mono, how he literally became my very best friend in a way no one ever had before. We’ll save those for next time because they matter in our story – and they’re pretty funny, too.

How’d you end up with your person? Do you remember the subtle nuances of your start? I, for one, find myself getting all the feels about a man who is, quite frankly, still a very, very good one, despite all our differences – simply because I’m taking time to remember. So, tell us. How’d it all start for you? Tell us on the social media platform of your choosing (I'm an Instagram junkie, myself) and use the hashtag #tdadtamarriage (The Down and Dirty Truth about Marriage) so we can all follow along...and also pictures. Pretty please with the pictures! Let’s celebrate the beginning so we can gain some perspective on the right now.

Come back next Monday for the continuing saga. Same time, same place. Love y'all like crazy!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Book Review: The Road Back to You

The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile

I feel like I need to begin by saying that I find self-discovery fascinating. To understand myself better is like an exciting treasure hunt that leads me around bends and into, admittedly, some dark, frightening spots. I emerge, though, in the end with the prize of awareness, better coping mechanisms, and a clearer understanding of my strengths and weaknesses. Through the years, these have granted me the freedom to be who I am, not who I think I am supposed to be. Additionally, I prize understanding people - where they are coming from, what makes them tick, and why they behave like they do. It's the first thing I set about doing when I move to a new place. It helps me feel connected when I understand people.

This is because I am a two on the Enneagram (The Helper). For those of you who have read the book, that means I'm the most relationally driven number on the nine point circle. This is the quote that began my chapter:
I want you to be happy, but I want to be the reason. - Unknown
If you aren't looking to feel very uncomfortable in your own skin for a chapter; if conviction and facing your most hidden (to you) sin tendencies is not what you want to do, then don't read this book. If, however, you want to wade into the waters of being made more whole and more holy, while also, surprisingly, finding yourself entertained, go get this book and read it ASAP. It's easy and fun to plow through aside from the chapter that pegs you. That chapter IS prickly but also freeing. For example:
At their best, Twos are warm and generous, and at their worst they're resentful martyrs. 
Ouch. Alternatively, I discovered I'm a Two with a Three wing:
Twos with a Three wing (2w3) are more ambitious, image-conscious and competitive. Extroverted and sometimes seductive like the Three (the Performer), they are more concerned about relationships and connections than Twos with a One wing. These Twos are more confident, so they achieve more; being seen as successful is a close second to being known as loving and generous. In this space Twos with a strong self-image can shape-shift like Threes to become whatever is called for to achieve the desired result.
After a thorough and easy to read chapter on what the Enneagram is and how to read it, Cron dives into each number. He provides a list of self statements that identify the number at hand, a story or two about real life Numbers played out, the Number's biggest sin tendency, what the Number looks like in relationships, at work, and as children, and what the Number looks like with wings (or Numbers around it whose traits it takes on) then he provides positive steps toward spiritual transformation for the Number.

In the end, it's helping me dig deep in my own life to identify where I've gone wrong over and again, and how I can avoid those same pitfalls again and again. It's also helped me hone in on how God has wired me individually, in positive ways. In the end, though, I feel most excited to employ this new knowledge in relation to Josh, my kids, and the people I'm in close relationship with.

I'll leave you with this quote from the final chapter that sums up the heart behind the whole book:
The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them. - Thomas Merton
I love, loved this one. I honestly believe it is beneficial to anyone who is looking for ways to improve as a human being, friend, and/or follower of Christ. Add it to your list!

If you read the book and have trouble identifying your number, you can take the test here and it will help you narrow it down. I took the test before I read the book and it pegged me EXACTLY!

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Down and Dirty Truth about Marriage: An Introduction

Stay struck a chord. Your response was unexpected and has pushed me to move forward on a project I've been thinking about for a while. Marriage is hard. It's one of the most challenging climbs any of us will make in this life. It's chocked full of surprises, disappointments, challenges, and victories. Mostly it's just chocked full of life, and life has a way of making us forget why we said, "Yes," in the first place. 

Last night, just after dusk, I found myself driving down the streets of our neighborhood for an errand. The houses shadowed beneath vague darkness and the smell of a summer storm rolling in, I could've made the drive blind folded. And I was stirred because those streets and that neighborhood, this neighborhood where we now live with our three kids and a dog, where we find ourselves frustrated and unsure about how to best navigate life together - it's where Josh's and my story unfolded, it's where we fell in love.

In the Bible, God reveals Himself the most extravagantly through life stories - not necessarily through events and moments that seem enormous at the time, but through a steady stream of faithfulness sprawled out over a lifetime. So, I thought maybe I'd give you a peak into our story - how it's probably a lot like yours in some ways. From our dating days to that torturous first year to adventures and career changes and babies - what we've done well, and what we've done terribly - God has faithfully been writing our story, and He isn't done yet. I think maybe remembering it all will be good for me. Maybe it will be good for you, too. Maybe, just maybe, it'll help you remember and enjoy the, "Yes," that launched your own crazy, beautiful, hard, holy journey called marriage.

So, here we go:

Josh Blackwell was a boy. He was skinny with blue green eyes and a quiet smile. He was kind, humble, and a little awkward around girls. He was unassuming, not yet striking in looks, and a good, loyal friend.

We met in the hall at the church I grew up in.

I knew who his family was. Everyone knew who his family was. They were the five gorgeous, exotic missionary kids that had just returned from Brazil, where they’d grown up on the mission field. Not only were they beautiful people from a foreign land, but also they had just lost their dad in a tragic car accident. The whole youth group honestly wanted to be their friends – out of curiosity, compassion, and good old-fashioned crushes. When they walked in the doors of the sanctuary, we all stopped and stared.

He was standing, funnily enough, with my ex-boyfriend - Joe. We were fourteen – freshmen in high school – entirely awkward and very ambitious. I walked over feeling pretty good about my bright red Gap sundress decorated with giant white poppies, sweet-action rolled bangs, and shimmery pink lip-gloss. I tried not to think about my braces. I said, “Hi!” with as little awkwardness as possible since Joe and I were still navigating the waters of being “exes”. Joe quickly said in his less-than-enthusiastic-but-nice-all-the-same tone, “Hey. This is Josh. Josh, this is Emily. Josh is new here.” I confidently stuck out my hand, “Nice to meet you! I’m glad you’re here!”

And that was it. Josh quickly settled into our group of friends at church. We were together every weekend of the school year and nearly every night of the summer. We were “boyfriend and girlfriend” for a very brief five or so days during our freshman year. I can’t be sure whether it was because we were both present and available and attainable to one another or because we were genuinely into each other. Sometimes, when you’re fourteen, it really doesn’t matter. That love affair abruptly ended when he told me he loved me and put his arm around me in church after a week of dating. I ran for the hills.

Still, weekend after weekend, night after night, we were together in a group setting. I learned his personality without even realizing it was happening. I thought he was a little nerdy, said, “Yes,” out of pity when he asked me to the Mid-Winter dance our sophomore year – as though I had other options banging down my door, and firmly settled him in the "friend zone." 

The truth is, there was another boy, still navigating what it meant to be a man, who flirted skillfully but treated me terribly. He and I had a relationship not unlike many other high school relationships, in which he dictated all the terms. So, most of the time we were off-again, but while I was navigating what it meant to be a grown-up girl with standards and a will of her own, I hoped desperately that he’d want to be with me forever.

I’m so glad that never worked out.

Tune back in next Monday for the next chapter. Love y’all like crazy!
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