I think it’s silly how so many of us took to the blogs when the Church gatekeepers wouldn’t listen to us, and how so many of us are now so invested in policing each other.

To counter that, I’d like to talk about this year. This year has been terrible, you all know that. My going away gathering in DC before I moved to LA (appropriately) was one where my friend strung a banner over the doorway that read “Fuck 2013.” I loved her for it.

a room full of reasons why I actually love 2013

a room full of reasons why I actually love 2013

But the other thing about this year is how beautiful it’s been because of the good people who have been there for me. I’ve gotten to meet so many of my blogging friends, I’ve lived out this year almost entirely in other people’s spare bedrooms and on their couches, and I have not lacked anything.

Do you remember those Xanga posts people used to do where they’d write a post with five little somethings to five different people, without naming those people? It’d be like: Things I Wish I Could Say To You! and then they’d write out those things and just leave it open to interpretation who they were talking about. [Probably all of Taylor Swift’s songs started this way, let’s be honest.]

I’d like to do that for Thanksgiving, but as a thank you, not as a bitter-ex-friend-message. If you’ve been touched, healed, held, changed, loved, heard, supported by good folks online, real-life friends, authors (or even books, articles, movements, or movies you found through the blogosphere), join me for a link up on Friday where we don’t name names, don’t patrol the borders of our favorite community, and don’t judge each other if we realize someone is thanking a heretic, a misogynist, a politician, or an Autostraddle author. Everyone’s journey is different, and we each have things we’ve learned and been grateful for that may have originated in odd or socially non-Kosher places.

Here’s a sample of what I want to see, a real-life thank you to someone who’s been a huge part of this year:

Thank you for letting me cry in your kitchen, for dragging me to your in-laws, for buying my favorite beer and sharing your ice cream, for giving me space when the noise in my head got too loud, for letting me say all the most inappropriate things that popped into my head, for helping me pack and unpack at least three times, for picking me up at the Metro in the cold and rain when I called at the last minute, for venting about the internet with me, and for always answering the phone when I needed you, even if if was after you just had a car accident. Thanks for your real friendship when we were both reeling from years of charades. <3

Join me on Friday and let’s link up together to each share at LEAST five unidentified thanks to those who have made 2013 a better, more whole, and more healing year for us.

There’s no limit on who or what you can thank. But let’s take a moment to appreciate the good that this community is capable of doing for a hurting soul.


I’ve been quiet here since I’ve been traveling, driving solo from DC to LA, but the other night I had the happy experience of an evening with Sarah and Micah Murray, and we talked a lot about our stories and processing the conservative Christian world we’ve come out of. And I had a flash of epiphany this morning as I drove away, so you’re getting an Immodesty Rail post instead of a happy-Hannah travelogue post.

***

When I started courting, I was hyper aware of how everyone else I knew had done this thing, what the stories in Josh Harris’s books showed as the “godly” ways to “walk out” their courtship in “good faith,” and what was necessary for having a healthy romantic relationship. Or at least, I knew what I thought a healthy relationship should look like and I had a pretty good idea of how to make mine look like a happy, godly thing for others to later emulate. This wasn’t conscious — this was just SGM culture.

See, the overall focus of everything in SGM (for me) was: be a good example for others. Every piece of my teenage and college years was set up in reaction to either 1) what my elders would think, and 2) what those younger than me would interpret as license to mimic if they watched my behavior.

Welcome to legalism.

And my ex, being who he is, was also really aware of what was and wasn’t socially acceptable in these circles. As a result (because, luckily for me, I was also aware that I was dating a person), I was tuned into this, too.

Given what we saw modeled for us in courtship culture (and, honestly, serious/”mature” Christian dating culture overall), his initial behavior as my boyfriend was much like this:

From xkcd

And it seemed like the reason he did this (well, the primary reason), was because of the culture in our Christian community where everyone assumed responsibility for policing each other (accountability) and thus you had to behave a certain way to assure everyone that you were being “above reproach” and “mature” and “godly” with your relationship choices. It was basically dating as social performance art.

Being uber happy with your new relationship — in a verbal performance sort of way, because physical demonstrations were too risky/sinful — was the best way to keep everyone off your back. I think, maybe, I engaged in this a lot more than he did. I’d be aware of the social expectations and talk up the positive things in our relationship and try to gloss over or tone down the negative elements. I felt compelled to talk about things that were too intimate to appropriately share (swapping dirt with your girl friends is one thing, but it’s entirely another to share that stuff with everyone to try to preemptively keep them from being “concerned” about you), and it drained me a lot. I felt like I was always on the defensive, needing to justify my relationship and my choices.

I’m not actively assigning motives here, but after all of that I tend to wonder a bit about why courting (or newly dating post-fundy life, or even newlyweds from this background!) couples tend to frequently feel the need to spam social media with announcements of how happy they are, how grateful they are for their bf/gf, how blessed and undeserving they are in/of the relationship. And I don’t really care about PDA if it doesn’t seem like a performance to make a statement.

But that all brings me to the problem with this defensive reaction to accountability in a legalistic atmosphere. Your simple motives aren’t good enough, and you are forced to second-guess yourself and over-think things to the point of cultivating insecurity and codependency. Decisions are made by committee — you talk yourself blue in the face telling everyone you know about your decision dilemmas, and ask endless questions about motives and fears, and then take steps based on where you are at the end of the accountability gauntlet. And advice from mentors and peers and parents is great, but this isn’t that. It’s losing yourself and appropriate sense of boundaries and privacy for the sake of fear, and you often forget to enjoy the ride of a new experience because you’re so afraid you’re doing the wrong thing.

I missed a lot of the joy in various “firsts” because I was so busy over-thinking everything and tense and afraid of doing the wrong thing. And that’s just silly. Dating is supposed to be about learning, not getting everything right the first time.

Why are Christians so afraid of making wrong choices and learning through mistakes? If we’re a practicing a faith that’s centered in grace and redemption, we shouldn’t be obsessing over having the Instagram-perfect, thoroughly “accountable” relationships like in the glossy courtship books our parents handed us. We should be enjoying learning about the beautiful things that can be had in community and learning about ourselves and each other, without fear.

***

All that said, I doubt I’ll ever recommend a relationship book to anyone ever again. Instead, I’ll shove a copy of Daring Greatly in their face and grin and say “this will change your life.”


Advance warning #1:

Do read up on the concept of privilege a bit before reading this post if you’re not already familiar with it. The short definition is, essentially: the power given to you because of your identity by various established cultural structures, or even more simply, the social place of power you don’t know you have because you were born with it. Some people call it “the invisible knapsack.”

If you want to come here and tell me that privilege is a made-up idea used by feminists to oppress men, I really don’t have time for you. Go do your homework.

***

Advance warning #2: 

I feel a little uncomfortable writing this [because I am “a person of privilege” in this discussion]. But I feel more uncomfortable with the idea of not writing this, because sometimes it’s okay to [very very carefully and very very cautiously, with lots of peer discussion and sensitivity] use one’s privilege to speak out about something wrong, knowing that you will be heard just because of your privilege. 

***

Yesterday was National Coming Out Day, a day that is a big deal on the vulnerability front for a lot of people. Coming out is a daring thing. And straight folks like me who care about our LGBTQ friends should appropriately respect and honor the strength, courage, and vulnerability it takes to come out and name your identity without shame.

And I know that for those of us who grew up in the conservative Christian bubble, acknowledging that we support LGBTQ rights is a scary thing. We care, we’re habitually vocal about our beliefs (thanks, worldview seminars and evangelism trainings and high school debate!), and we want to systematically renounce the harmful assumptions that we once naively embraced and now understand to be toxic. So speaking up to say that we love our LGBTQ friends unconditionally and want to see them treated without shame and as full equals in the Church feels like a big deal. To us, it feels like risking a lot. It feels brave. It feels like we’re doing our own “coming out.”

But it’s not the same. At all. 

And to use National Coming Out Day as our own personal blogging segue to tell the whole internet that we want to learn how to be allies and we are renouncing the fundamentalist beliefs we grew up with is an obtuse act of privilege. It’s like if someone is announcing at a breast cancer awareness event that she has breast cancer and we decided to respond to her announcement by turning to the room and saying “oh, hey guys, that reminds me that I wanted to tell you: I’m okay with vaccines now!”

Bush is concerned about your irresponsible use of privilege. Don’t blog under the influence, kids.

Having privilege means that you’re more likely to get listened to by other people of privilege. That is a fundamental element of how privilege works. So it’s not a good idea to steal your LGBTQ friends’ thunder by trying to make yourself feel better about what everyone you admire thinks about you and appropriating their day to be YOUR day.

It’s just a little…self-centered and overly dramatic.

Let ME tell you how I FEEL!

We’ve all learned this lesson in one form or another, or we wouldn’t be renouncing fundamentalism and trying to learn all we can about living humbly and practicing our faith with nuance and integrity. We should know better. But just to be sure, let me remind you:

It’s not okay to upstage someone’s vulnerability to make ourselves feel better. 

and

Taking on a label (“ally”) is only meaningful if we practice integrity in how we live it out. 

Don’t say you’re an ally if you’re not checking your privilege and listening lots, lots, lots more than you talk.

Don’t say you’re an ally and then appropriate something that doesn’t belong to you and you don’t fully understand.


at LACMA

While I don’t have photographic evidence to prove most of it, I assure you that I have been thoroughly introduced to LA culture, including drives up Coldwater Canyon, finding a church to attend (in Beverly Hills), visits to the LA County Museum of Art, the La Brea Tar Pits, Pink’s hot dogs, the Griffith Observatory, and a comedy improv show.

And that’s just this week. My cat is somewhat chagrined about the lack of quality time she’s getting.

Fetal position indicates loneliness

In other news, I got to go over to Micha’s blog to join her series and talk about my “One Good Phrase” for this year. You’ll have to go there to find out what my phrase is.

I also got to meet up with fellow blogger Elizabeth Esther not too long ago! It was so good to finally meet this sister in real life.

EE & HE

And, I got some work! I’m doing marketing for the Equal Rights Amendment Education Project and their kickass film idea, “Equal Means Equal.” We’re in the last 9 days of fundraising, so if you want to see a funny, smart movie about the Equal Rights Amendment (and why the hell it hasn’t gotten passed yet), check out the Kickstarter.

Finally: I’ll be heading back east at the end of the month to drive my car out (doing this move in phases), and if you want to do a meet-up with me along the way or just want to urge me to live-blog the trip, let me know!


“is this real life?” – email from a college friend [who ended up writing about this, too]

I’ve sat quiet through the mud-slinging on Millennials, listening to the church people and the academics as they threw out heated comments and retorts about our work ethic, our social media habits, our group identity and desires, our student loans, our moves back home with relatives, our unpaid internships, our cynicism, our return to liturgy, our questions and labels.

This past weekend, I drove to my hometown in central CA, returning to our little yellow house for the first time since that night in 2000 when we drove off in a van. “Childhood homes are always a disappointment,” said my dear friend before I left to finish my pilgrimage. “I know,” I told her. “But I just need to go.”

the little house

I finished reading Cheryl Strayed’s Wild last Monday night and laid it down on the bed next to me. I’d finished it because I didn’t have anything better to read, which is a boring reason to finish a book. I liked parts of it, but overall I felt like I was watching Piper Chapman go on a hike and be physically challenged and do shit, but not fall in love with the land or the hike or even, really, herself. I wanted to love her and love the hike with her, but she didn’t have Karr’s self-deprecating groundedness or Muir’s love for the Sierras.

I’m applying for jobs like crazy. Modeling calls, marketing gigs, publishing internships, service jobs. My housing situation fell through due to some unforeseen factors. I feel disconnected and aimless, which is restful in some ways and infuriating in others. Pretty much anything my buddy RR wrote about looking for work in DC = me looking for work in LA.

Objectively, though, I’m pretty okay. Complaining about this is like Strayed complaining about losing toenails on her hike. Well, duh, honey. And: that’s all you have to complain about? Life’s pretty good.

So I’m catching up on sleep after months of insomnia. I’m doing a lot of fiction writing on a project that’s been sitting dormant for oh, maybe three years. I’m working on putting myself out there and meet new people, despite all my INFJ tendencies to hide instead.

And I’m watching a lot of my friends and peers deal with under-employment and unemployment and reflecting on what this new economy is like post-recession. How multiple streams of income is the most viable way to live. How 9-5 jobs with salaries, benefits, and retirement packages are ill-suited to sustainability for my generation and the economic situation in America.

Millennials like me are entering adulthood and the working world with every choice available to them (a curse, according to Walker Percy) and with few real opportunities (thanks, Baby Boomers, Wall Street, and student loans). We’re told we’re immature and lazy and the wonks are dissecting our lives and gawking at how slowly we’re accruing wealth in comparison to our parents.

We’re also really great at taking selfies with our pets.

And I look around in the grocery store and I watch people check out while on their phones, and I read about the unsustainability of the McMansion neighborhoods, and I listen to my friends struggle to feel like they’re “worthy” of having stability because they studied what they love in college and present themselves in a way that integrates their personalities with their public face in a holistic way (aka they might have tattoos!) . . . and all this together makes me both uncomfortable and excited. Because we’re reinventing our definitions of fulfillment and satisfaction and putting value on connection and honesty rather than stuff and presentation. Which is, maybe, (in some ways) the needed antidote to American entitlement and capitalism.

But in the meantime, it’s that weird awkward teenage-like years of a generation finding their identity outside of their parents, outside of mere reaction to the status quo. We want to create, to thrive, to love and not be taxed for pursuing creative fulfillment in life.

I’m not entirely sure what I’m saying here, but maybe it’s just this: the Millennials are hitting a climax in their search for identity and things like the Great Recession and the government shutdown and the student loan crisis and the ACA . . . all these things are pushing us to ask hard questions and we’re starting to find a voice. And I’ve started listening to it, for real now, and it makes me excited.

There could be some really great stuff happening in the next 10-15 years once the Millennials, you know, pay off their student loans, and like, find stable jobs. You know, “real” life.



Christian fundamentalism and Christian patriarchy hurt men too. I’m sobered and thankful for this guest post by my friend Tim. -h

1237095_529799885936_2005592848_n

***

I have been avoiding this all day. All week. In one way or another, I’ve been avoiding this all my life.

Some of you may think you know me, but you don’t, not really. You know a version of me, meticulously maintained, that I’ve spent my life pretending to be. And I am afraid — so very afraid — that if I let that image fall, you won’t like what you see. I’m afraid you’ll laugh at me, that you’ll think I’m weak, foolish, unworthy of respect.

I’m a coward. I conform to what you expect of me. In middle school, I borrowed Les Miserables from the library and read it under the covers with a flashlight. I was caught up in the love of Marius and Cosette, immersed in the burning light of Jean Valjean’s redemption, broken at his justice and his sacrifice. When Valjean had his moment to kill Javert and be free, and spared him instead, my heart beat faster and my breath caught, my eyes filled with tears.

But I was a boy, and boys don’t like love stories.

When my hormones kicked in a few years later, I’d go back to the library for other reasons. I was homeschooled and had no internet, so I’d sneak copies of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition into the very back and covertly page through them, using a big atlas for cover. Once, my mom caught me at. She was silent all the way home, but it wasn’t five minutes after I got back to my room that my dad came knocking on my door.

“Men …” he said, standing awkwardly on the other side of my room, “are visual.” He paused, considered. “So be careful.”

In youth group, we’d periodically be divided up into boys and girls and get a talk from the youth pastor. Men are weak, I was told. If a woman shows any skin at all, we can’t help but think sinful thoughts, and so we should avert our eyes, flee temptation. The girls, I learned, were getting talks about purity and modesty. Our sin as men, they were told, was their responsibility. They just didn’t know, the pastor would say, what kind of effect they had on us.

So I went out into the world terrified. The first time I was ever in a room alone with a girl — at the tender age of eighteen — I couldn’t speak for fear of having lustful thoughts about her. My years of religious upbringing had taught me that all women were potential objects of lust; for me, that made all women actual objects to fear. If a girl had the nerve to wear a two-piece swimsuit or a low-cut top around me, I’d get tense, then ashamed, then cold — my whole upbringing told me that women dressed for men (‘why would you even wear a bikini,’ the arch old church ladies would say, ‘if you weren’t looking for attention?’), and that meant that my lustful thoughts were being done to me.

I met my first girlfriend at a little Evangelical university on the east coast. We never had sex, but we made out and fumbled in the dark like teenagers, and I was ashamed. Not because I felt it was wrong — no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t quite bring myself to believe that it was — but because it was improper. Because it would be frowned upon by my community. Because it would make them think less of me. So I distanced myself from my girlfriend, cooled my feelings for her. When we broke up over Christmas break, I told myself that the wrench in my heart was only temporary, that I didn’t care that much one way or the other. I settled into a comfortable numbness, the crash of feeling fading to a niggling static in the background of my soul.

The following year, I went traveling for three months on my own, and my world fell apart around me. My faith crumbled. I had sex for the first time, with a beautiful black-haired girl in a sunlit room above a theater, and despite my efforts to keep my distance, a bit of my heart tore away with her as well. When I left on a ferry a week later, I sat for hours watching the sun sink into the Mediterranean, and wrote a poem to her, cramped by my awkward self-consciousness, that I never sent. A week after that I’d justified it away again, rationalized it away with chemicals and hormones and all of the catch-phrases we use to hide from human connection when we’ve lost our belief in sin.

I found new things to be ashamed of. I was afraid of impotence, of being too quick, of not being good enough, of the nakedness of my mind and my soul that comes with sex, and again, I blamed women. If I felt bad, it was because they were making me feel bad. If I felt insecure, it was because they were failing to comfort me.

When I got back, I declared my apostasy and got kicked out of school for it. A friend came to me, tears in her eyes and voice unsteady, and stammered that though it broke her heart to lose me to eternity, she understood and still liked me, and I looked at her pain and felt helpless, then cold. Who was she to care about me, and about the choices I made? I gave her a hug and said goodbye.

Telling myself I was building a new life, that I was open and adventurous, a free-thinker, I continued to repress my emotions, continued to be afraid of women and what they could do to me, continued to be afraid that people might not like me or respect me. If I couldn’t conform, I’d become arrogant; if they were beneath me, their judgment of me was irrelevant. Emotion was for the weak, and religion was for suckers.

Eight months later, I sold everything I owned, moved out of my apartment, and headed east, to travel full-time. My life was a comfortable emotional flatline; I just didn’t feel much, I told myself, outside of the excitement of intellectual pursuits. Friends couldn’t care about me, women couldn’t touch me, and I was protected from any genuine connection by impregnable inner walls. My persona was impressive, bolstered by a few well-placed real talents, and I enjoyed introducing it to new people and new places, grew uncomfortable the longer I stayed, afraid that they might see the real me under all the pretense.

Then I met someone who, for the first time, challenged me. She could see through the pretense, could see the emotion under all my careful repression, and she called me on it. She infuriated me, in a bemused kind of way, and deeply unsettled me. It wasn’t until we parted ways at a bus station that I realized I was in love with her.

It was six months before I saw her again, and during that time I thought about her every day. I constructed a story of my life, wrote a part for her; this emotionally brilliant, beautiful, talented girl who could drag me out of my impassivity, who I could show off (I must be great, I would think, in my fantasies, because I’m with *her*), who I could tell my ideas to so that she could tell me how great they were. She was my imaginary Heinlein girlfriend, talented enough to be worthy of me; she was my manic pixie dream girl, destined to set me free.

We met again in Paris as friends; later, we started dating. She was gentle with me, easing me ever so slowly out of my sexual and emotional insecurities, and I was happy. She was fulfilling her role exactly as scripted.

But, as the months passed, she began to become frustrated, and then angry, for reasons I couldn’t understand. Our fights would leave me baffled, hurt, afraid, small, and no matter how hard I resisted, I’d hate her a little for it. She was ruining everything. She was pushing me away. I loved her so much that I cried, and I hated her, too, for making me feel so much.

She began to tell me that maybe she wasn’t good for me, that maybe she was hurting me by staying, and I’d get angry, then ashamed, then cajoling, saying stay, stay, I’ll figure it out, I’ll fix it, and then we’ll be happy. Thinking to myself, I’ll figure out whatever it is you want, and do that. I’ll do emotions and vulnerability, if that’s what you want from me. And then I’d find myself failing, feel ashamed, grow cold and distant, the same old cycle playing itself out in its most soul-tearing iteration yet.

And every so often I’d open my eyes, just briefly, to *her* experience, and it would break my heart. She was in so much pain, and I had no idea why. I hated myself for that, and that self-hatred took me and pulled me back into my self-absorption, leaving her alone once again.

I found myself becoming increasingly insecure around her. She was so strong, so confident, so *alive;* she made me feel small and afraid just by being, and smaller the more I hurt her. The same things that had made me fall in love with her now terrified me, so that I flinched away from them, tried to pretend they didn’t even exist.

At the same time, began trying more and more to control everything. If she wanted to do something, I’d say it was a bad idea. If we went anywhere, I’d want to lead the way. If we talked, it’d be about what I wanted to talk about, and if she offered anything other than unquestioning support, I’d feel insulted and insecure and I’d shut myself down to her, giving her nothing but the unfeeling blankness of my walls. It didn’t matter if she cried or if she shouted; I was so closed to her I might as well have been squeezing my eyes shut and clamping my hands over my ears. It felt like my heart was breaking every day, a chisel pounded in by every fight and every bout of my depression and self-hatred and resentment.

I came to think of myself as a split person; my emotional self, a child, hidden behind the protective wall of my persona, banging to get out but as unable to breach the walls from within as she was from without. It wasn’t until she gave up, until she said she was leaving, that I managed to break free and run to her, to cling to her, trembling, terrified of losing her and terrified that I couldn’t do anything about it. I would cry, kiss, love, and the world would be full of feeling and sensation and beauty, and as soon as the danger passed, I would clamp down again with a vengeance, ashamed of my openness and my emotion.

Every time it was worse, and every moment of openness was shorter than the last. I was so afraid for my perceived self that I couldn’t open myself to her, and so afraid of losing her that it broke me not to.

And finally, finally, in a conversation that lasted until sunrise, my persona began to break down. I began to see the cracks in it. I began to understand, truly, that I was a coward, afraid of living my life, afraid of showing myself to her or to anyone else. I saw that, for our whole relationship, I had been thinking of her as an adjunct to my life, a sort of sidekick, there to make me look good and feel good. I had been thinking of her as less than me, and I had been terrified that maybe, in fact, she was much more.

I realized, in a heart-breaking flash of open conversation with her, that despite all my talk of feminism and liberality and egalitarianism, I was deeply insecure, and deeply sexist. If she criticised my ideas as a friend and an equal, if she talked to me about money, if she questioned my approach to realizing my dreams, if she questioned what I had, even as an atheist, always assumed was my God-given authority, I would resent her for it.

I fell in love with her for her strength, her independence, and her authenticity, and I had fantasized about showing her off for those same reasons — as a conquest, an achievement, a mark of status by which I could earn respect from other men. But she was strong. She was independent. She was authentic. And if it killed her, she would never submit, to me or to anyone else.

When I saw that, as the sun was just beginning to lighten the eastern sky, I broke down with love for her. I told her how afraid I was that I couldn’t be strong, couldn’t be real, in the way she was. I wanted desperately to love her as an equal; to walk the world with her, to lend my hand to her dreams as she lent hers to mine, to twine our independent lives together rather than trying to graft her onto me.

All of my pent up resentment of her, hatred of her, boiled away in that flash of understanding. I was left humbled in its wake, naked and ashamed, my eyes open to what I had been, to what I still was. Weak. Cowardly. And this time, I held nothing back. There were no false words of comfort, no false promises. No hiding from myself. I had spent my life behind walls, behind a facade of competency and professional distance. I told her the truth; that I didn’t know if I was strong enough to let them down.

We parted ways the next day with a last kiss on a train station platform, neither of us sure what would happen next, holding each other tightly in a little pocket of us as a hundred people moved past us. I watched her board, and I was broken inside, brought down to dust on the foundations of my soul. She looked back at me for an instant and my heart caught, and then she was gone.

I stood there alone, wanting to push the emotion of it away, wanting to distance myself from it and from her, but instead I let myself feel, let the tears flow, let the fear of my failure fill me alongside my hope. And I knew at once that I wasn’t sure if I was strong enough to live a true life, but that one way or another, I would die trying.

My name is Tim Raveling, and I am a sexist. I am a coward. I am a conformist. I am broken inside, more capable of pettiness and spite than anything noble. I am terrified to live, terrified to show myself to the world, terrified to feel deeply and uncompromisingly. But my eyes are open, and I know one thing to be true: what happens next is my choice.

Who am I?

I am human.

I am free.


I wish I had a picture of that last sunset on that last night.

It was one of those cloudless Valley haze sunsets, where the sky filtered evenly from yellow to blue to twilight dark behind the mountains. There was a small parking lot with a few guests, halfway to LA from Reno, unloading their SUVs and trickling in. A tall streetlight lit up the corner of the lot and interrupted my sky.

Everyone had gone inside. I was stalling to breathe, to take a picture in my mind like Laura Ingalls Wilder would have done. I looked west, thinking that this would be the last time I’d see the sun setting toward the ocean. And I turned and looked at the mountains and the stars piercing through the skyline above them and turned over and over the thought of an abstract future in the yet-unknown Virginia.

I’d said my goodbyes to my best friends the day before. We’d had our homeschool group friends over that day to load the truck. We piled into the rusty blue van, blankets and books tumbling around our seats, arguing about who sat where. We waited in the car at a friend’s house while my dad went in to pick up my sister from her last birthday party tradition with her childhood playmate. She had cake on her face and smelled like chlorine, and in the heat of August, we wished we did, too.

Then we drove — not far — to the hotel for our first night on the way to Virginia, and our last night in California.

I tried to collect in my mind my favorite California sensations. The smell of orange blossoms in April (I have now forgotten what they smell like, to my dismay). The smell of dairy farm country in the morning air. The sounds of the blue jay and the mourning dove and the walnut tree harvesters. The sights of Mineral King and Three Rivers. Sledding in Sequoia National Park and rumbling up the mountain with chains on the car’s wheels. The silky feel of Valley dust. The cool shade of orange groves and the soft, rotting soil below the trees. The taste of Christmas tamales, the taste of salt rub BBQ, and Sunday lunches at In-N-Out Burger. Sunday morning worship in the park under a tent. Shooting off rockets in a field behind a school. Rollerblading on sidewalks in the sun. Neighborhood chatter and gathering to set off fireworks in the street, to marvel at the rarity of a snowfall at 5am. The feel of chalk on my hands at the gym, the stretch and poise and soft thuds of ballet routines on wooden floors in a sunlit room with a record player. Walking the St. John’s river parkway and playing on sandbars with my siblings. Artichokes, fat and fresh, steamed and dipped in butter. Climbing skinny trees barefoot and smelling eucalyptus on the wind.

I clutched my bag with the journal inside for storing up everything I wanted to write about the trip, and walked into the hotel.

But I wouldn’t write about those things, for fear of losing them.


Divorce is hard. This year has been hard. The hardest part isn’t the logistics, the moving, the financial untangling, the stress, the aching, or the loneliness. It’s the fact that I still disassociate my self from the fact that divorce is now part of my story. It wasn’t supposed to go this way. I followed the rules. I did what I was taught was “right” and practiced integrity in how I lived and loved. I loved him and sacrificed unquestioningly for him, and it still ended with him telling me “I don’t miss you. I’m happier than I’ve ever been without you here. I want a divorce.”

The shock of that statement, coming about three weeks after I moved out to acquiesce with his sustained requests for a separation (and to keep me from being left alone in a tiny basement apartment I hated), and just days before our second anniversary, was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to learn to accept.

This is my new reality, not that, that happy marriage teamwork and cuddles and inside jokes and serious talks and road trips and dinners and coffee and naps and home. Everything I had known was true, but also wasn’t. Everything had been real, but everything had been a lie. And now it was gone.

In the following weeks I fell into grief and a loneliness of a peculiar sort that I think maybe even widows/widowers can’t know–not just “this love/r is gone,” but “this love/r is gone and is not what/who I thought he was and now despises me.” I’d run into habits of the heart that left me reeling with the shock and despair of my new reality–I couldn’t go to him with ideas, weariness, excitement, inside jokes, whatever, and I’d have to accept once again that the man I’d loved was [functionally] no more.

Halfway through the subsequent depression, my counselor opened our session really excited. “Hannah, Hannah, I have another client with the SAME sort of story and she recommended this book and OH you have to read it. It’s called Runaway Husbands.”

Dutiful me bought it and started to read it, and found it incredibly hard to read. Everything* was my story. Everything was familiar. I couldn’t forget reality and I had to face it. And that was so good for me. And so hard.

Maybe the most healing thing for human suffering is to know that your experience is not isolated. That you are not alone. That someone else has walked this road before you and hears your pain. Runaway Husbands played that role for me, and I’m sure for countless others, and it made me feel a little more sane and a little more sure that I was going to make it to the other side of this grief in one piece, with my sanity, and with some joie de vivre left over.

Runaway Husbands is not an explicitly Christian book, and it doesn’t give you “five steps to wholeness after your husband bails on your marriage,” either. It doesn’t try to fix you or your situation, but rather provides story after story that shows you that your experience is common, your reaction is normal, and give examples of what others experienced and felt as they dealt with similar situations.

While this book is written by a woman, for women, and frames the discussion in terms that are stereotypically feminine, I think that this book would be a great resource for anyone who’s had their spouse abruptly leave the marriage and become seemingly cold toward their spouse’s shock and grief. This book teaches you to unclutch the shards of the relationship and accept that answers are cheap and unsatisfactory, and that recovery will be slow (but it will happen).

I’d love to hear from any others who’ve been through similar things–what books helped you? What other resources did you appreciate? What was cathartic? What was healing?

And, if you’re in a similar situation, but too newly into this experience to comment and haven’t yet accepted reality for what it is, message me and I’d love to mail you a copy.

***

*Editorial comment: “everything” is, of course, not literally accurate in every sense. The overall analysis, despite a few details that didn’t match because of courtship culture or personalities, was spot on.


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source: pinterest

“I just don’t feel heard,” she texted me.

“I know, but I hear you,” I thought.

***

Awkward silence was the norm in the kitchen at one place I worked. You’d slip in for coffee or water or your lunch, and shuffle around each other with cringing politeness and fumble for what you came for in silence.

The old fellow with dancer’s feet and bright eyes walked in with me, silent. Then: “Did you see that new zombie movie?”

I hadn’t, but he saw me. We talked. I wasn’t invisible that time.

***

She was eloquent, but no one responded. She voiced her frustration, but she still felt marginalized. Two words on the screen made all the difference. “I’m listening,” she read.

***

We all struggle with this, I think. It’s human to want to be heard. “Hey anybody!” says a kid, and we all know what he means. Hear me. See me. Feel this with me.

Being unheard and feeling alone is the most miserable place. I think maybe Lewis was right in The Great Divorce that hell is a state of mind that creates the most ultimate isolation.

It’s what motivates us to blog, to tweet, to commune, to write, to gather. Tell me I’m not alone. Tell me you hear me. 

When I had been at my old SGM church for about nine years — after serving in Sunday school since I was 14, after raising $4,000 in bake sales ever Sunday for a year for the church building fund, after my dad played on the worship team, after attending every Sunday service and every weekly care group, while the church grew from about 200 people to 800 or so — I was in a van going to a church conference and the pastor was driving. He turned to me, and called me “Hannah” with a short a. (It’s pronounced with a long a, like in “father”). “So, Hannah,” he said, “how are you?”

And I cringed, and for the first time I realized: when I left town for my freshman year later that summer, I was going to be glad to leave that church. I’d poured my life into it, and they had no idea who I was. I was invisible. He didn’t even know my name.

That isn’t what the church is supposed to be like. The image of the church as the Body of Christ makes me think that the church is supposed to be a place where we are intimately known, heard, seen, and cared for. When one part of the Body suffers, we all suffer. We rejoice and grieve and grow and hurt and heal together.

***

After that, I was set adrift for a while, but everywhere I went that wasn’t KingsWay, I was met with more pastoral care and kindness than I’d ever experienced. Even those places where the theology was twisted and bordered on spiritual abuse, and I maybe wasn’t really heard, they tried to care for me better than I’d ever experienced before.

I left school and moved to a new area and got married, and promptly found myself in the tailspin of a faith and identity crisis. The church we were at had abstracted faith in such a way that there was no life there, and I spent our Sundays there evading detection by volunteering in the nursery or reading Harry Potter in the church office or outside in the sun.

And then. This year. This bizarre year. Where so much change has left me feeling exhausted and excited and cracked open and nomadic.

I find myself receiving the kindness of near-strangers at church, because they know. My pastor sits across from me in his office and I’ve only scratched the surface in my storytelling and he stops me and asks me about his preaching, how he can make sure he’s being intersectional and show how much he cares by not marginalizing people. And asks for book recommendations. And then prays for me and prays for unspoken things that he heard in between the lines of what I told him, and I sit there and choke back tears because I have been heard.

***

I wake up to an email from a girl who used to be afraid in her church, who’s now landed in a new church and has found love and isn’t afraid to show her face to God there anymore, and in all this crazy  mess of change I’m forced to be still for a minute there and give thanks.

Because this, this, this beautiful listening-talking-praying-holding-each-other-up mess? This is what the church is supposed to be. It’s not a unicorn fairytale wishful thing. It’s magic, sure, but a real kind.