If you don’t have anything nice to say 

Best not say anything at all. 

Some old idioms do have meaning and wisdom – don’t they?

And hey, I’m all about public discourse, enriching conversations, and working to find spaces for disagreement. However, when it comes to a person’s individual life, I have yet to figure out why it has become culturally “okay” to offer unsolicited commentaries.

I won’t dance around the elephant in the room – I am speaking specifically to my experience as a lesbian. I came out several years ago and even today continue to encounter pushback in the form of texts, Facebook messages, and the like from individuals who are affronted by my “choice” to be gay.

The most recent message just came a few weeks ago; a scathing, loaded message that, quite literally, was “a message from God” from the person who wrote it. Included in this long note was comments about the surprise and shock that came with realizing that I was gay, specifically that I was touting myself as both gay and Christian.

This person wrote, “I was once again surprised and devastated to see on one of your recent posts that you still consider yourself to be a Christian even though you’ve chosen a lifestyle of homosexuality. That is not possible, Heather. Please believe me that it is not my desire to preach to you: my utmost desire is to obey God in reaching out to you in love and truth, and I do so because I care for you as a person.”

Mhmmmm.

You can imagine I had lots of thoughts about this. One, I didn’t choose this identity. What I did choose to be was a Christian. Also, homosexuality is not a lifestyle. IT IS NOT OKAY TO SAY THIS. A lifestyle is how a person chooses to live (i.e. “a lavish lifestyle” would imply lots of vacations and luxury travel). It is problematic to assume that an LGBTQ+ person has a specific kind of lifestyle. LGBTQ+ people are not robots and certainly do not live in one particular kind of way.

And lastly, it is probably best not to make presumptions about my relationship with God OR how God sees me. Nobody can say this definitively. We are humans. I am tired of communities or individuals thinking that they have their market share on who or what God stands for. The entire premise of faith is that of mystery. Faith is expounding on certainty; it is finding solace in the inexplicable. Faith is trusting something bigger than yourself. Faith is vested in hope, love, and humanity. Yet, so many of these kinds of messages reek of self-righteousness, doctrine, and a prescribed kind of religion.

I wanted to share some other comments, words, questions, and conversations I have had to have in the last few years since coming out. Many of these have been so uncomfortable. And so, I write this with the hopes that if you do know someone struggling with their identity or someone who has already come out, please please – don’t ask them these questions. I’ve listed them below for reference.

Whatever you think about LGBTQ+ people, understand that your opinion does not carry more weight than the right for that person to exist. Their story is just as important as yours. It is tempting and often the norm to feel as though you MUST share what you think about a person’s life experience. Here’s the thing: you don’t.

All you need to do is listen. Hold space. Make no assumptions. Be curious (but respectful). Be open. 

_______________

“Why can’t you change?”

This question assumes that a person a) should change or b) hasn’t already asked this question. I prayed at least a hundred times for God to change my identity. I wanted it so badly. I even tried to be straight. It doesn’t work. At one point, I even considered trying conversion/reparative therapy. The “therapy” works on a premise that having a non-conforming gender identity or same-sex attraction is a mental disorder. Conversion therapies are largely discredited by governing associations the psychological and psychiatric realm. Countless studies show that the therapy is ineffective and harmful.

But to the point – how would you feel if a core piece of your identity existed and someone asked why you couldn’t change that? Could you help that you were born with a particular skin color? Could you help what nationality you have?

It is offensive to postulate that a person must change to be “better” or accepted.

“Have you tried to pray or talk to God about this?”

See above. Yes. A million times.

LGBTQ+ individuals who also hold a faith tradition have likely explored this within a faith lens. It’s no wonder that many LGBTQ+ individuals leave or shift away from the church as an institution – if they are not welcome there, why would they go?

And after all, how do we know God hasn’t already created us as the people we are meant to be?

“But, Heather, it’s not possible to be both Christian and Gay.”

If you believe this, then fine. That’s your prerogative. However, your experience and understanding of faith and Christianity is bigger than you. Leave room for other ideas. Leave room for experiences you can’t necessarily understand. Christianity has not and could not look the same across the world. I am telling you – Christians in Rwanda do not look like Christians in the United States.

It would be important to then ask (to yourself), well, why do I believe this to be true? Why couldn’t a person have a different sexual identity and also be Christian?

Perhaps this will conjure up the six bible verses (known as the clobber passages) that mention this.

Is it possible the text was written for a different context? Is it possible that the writer could have been speaking to something else? It is possible that the text does not hold up today? I am not suggesting the answer to these questions, rather, these are the kinds of exploration a person who would make a statement about someone else’ faith should be asking themselves.

“You have so easily fallen into this lifestyle…carefully consider the choices you are making.”

To say that a person’s exploration and understanding of their sexual identity has been easy is ludicrous. More than anything, it’s also dangerous. According to the Trevor Project, LGB youth are 5 times more likely to consider suicide than heterosexual youth. That’s a big number. And, we’re talking about lives. We have to be more delicate than assuming the road for an LGBTQ+ person has been “easy.” It is anything but that. It breaks my heart to think about the isolation, anxiety, depression, fear, shame, and loss that comes with this process.

Stick by your person. It’s scary. They need you simply to love them, regardless of what you think.

“How do you know your gay?”

To that question, I can only ask: how do you know you are straight? Exactly. You just know.

I remember as a young girl thinking I was different because I wasn’t attracted to boys the way others were. I pretended, and of course I can objectively recognize a man’s beauty, but I was not drawn to it the way I felt I was supposed to be. I know I am gay because I am attracted to women. In the same way, I know I am a vegetarian because I don’t eat meat. I know that I have green eyes because I was born with them. Much of what makes us us, isn’t easily extracted with explanations. It just is. 

“Maybe you just haven’t met the right guy.”

Oh boy. I tried being straight for a number of years. I believed this. I thought that maybe I just hadn’t met the right one. And so, I went on a dating blitz and had dinner with boys from all over the place (Denver, Centennial, Parker, etc.) I dated some more seriously. And trust me when I say, it was not a fit. Even when I met someone who was everything I would want on paper, when it came closer to physical intimacy (or really, any intimacy at all), I balked big time. It felt so, so wrong. This is not about meeting the right man, it is about knowing which gender is the one I am attracted to.

______________

NOTE:

Full transparency: this was hard to write.

It is hard to revisit these painful wounds that I have experienced. Yet, when they keep happening, I know it’s then time to say something. I still struggle the residual impact of coming out. I wrestle with anxiety and shame. I fear I am doing something wrong, sometimes. But I am happy to say, that BECAUSE of my faith and trust in God (and myself) I know who I am is good. I know I am worthy. I know I am loved. No matter what questions or words come my way, this truth cannot be altered.

Thank you for reading. Keep spreading love.

IMG_0060

double engagement

 

A friend asked recently how I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Chelsea.

Reflecting slowly and wanting to give a full, thorough answer, I still found myself rendered speechless. Articulating the ways in which one falls in love or has the necessary intuition to know the person to spend their life with is a lot like putting words to picturesque mountain views, laughing without restraint, or times when pure, untamed joy strikes. It’s nearly impossible.

There are some experiences that transcend words and explanation; they just are.

Chelsea is the woman I choose because of who she is. Chelsea lives life, welcoming all experiences, while opening the hearts of people around her. She laughs fully, explores freely, and loves without reservation. She is intensely intelligent and is uniquely self-aware. Though I have known Chelsea for many years, she is the kind of person that you can learn something new about with each passing day. One of my favorite parts of Chelsea, though, is that she is silly and makes me laugh. She holds space for profoundly important conversations and ridiculously silly moments. The balance between the two is the key to a keenly rich life.

I also knew I wanted to share life with Chelsea because of the kind of woman she encourages me to be: my full, real self. I can be who I am without reservation. In our life together, there’s an ease, a grace that is immensely refreshing. It has been in this ease where we have found a rhythm and the space to let love grow.

I trust her when we drive together at night. She celebrates my dreams. We share duties in the kitchen. We discuss our strengths and weaknesses. She rubs my shoulder when I’ve had a long day. Big or small – there are corners of my life that are now forever different because of her.

For these reasons – and at least a million more – I said “yes” when Chelsea asked if I would marry her.

Certainly, “double engagement” was always a part of our plan. Our initial discussions of engagement in the summer of 2017 included the core agreement that we both wanted the opportunity to ask each other in marriage (and say “yes” too). Plans came to life. I asked her to be my wife just days before our 1st year anniversary. And, as snow turned to Spring, I wondered if Chelsea would be asking the same question soon.

Turns out, she was voraciously planning. Thick in preparations for the end of my first school term and working full-time, I was not caught off guard by the few signs that the proposal was coming soon. Randomly, I noticed that a particular mid-April weekend was loaded with special occasions: a massage for me, a day at the park, and a romantic dinner for two. Chelsea shared that because she had landed a big design project that she wanted to treat me. Cool, I thought.

I had no idea of what I was getting into.

On the morning of Saturday, April 14th, Chelsea and I slept in as the sun crept into our bedroom. We smiled as the day began. It was going to be a great day.

We grabbed a casual brunch with a friend before making our way to Washington Park. We go to the park all the time, so I thought this was just another standard park Saturday. In addition to wearing my go-to Patagonia jacket, I decided to wear my very loud Colorado hat. Additionally, I had packed a football and frisbee in the car but decided I would grab them after we finished our first lap around the park.

Ironically, as the walk began, I prompted an entire conversation about wedding planning. Washington Park is one of our top choices for a wedding venue and so it seemed fitting and appropriate to start dreaming as we took a stroll around. Oblivious to Chelsea’s nervousness, I suggested we stop at a bench near the North end of the park to take a closer look at the boathouse. Quickly, and probably with some surprise, she obliged. We sat, and I drank a free sparkling water that we picked up along the way.

After a few minutes, Chelsea cleared her throat.

“So, I thought I could show you some of the prints I told you about earlier this week.”

I was confused: why would we be looking at her prints at the park?

I asked, “are they on your phone?”

“No, I brought them with me.”

Opening up her backpack (which now, seemed completely out of place given the fact we were just taking a walk) she pulled out a black book with four prints inside. I opened the book and began taking the prints out, one by one. I tried to let each one sink in slowly. By the third one, I was pretty sure that something special was happening. I could feel it. And, the third print included a short lyric from one of “our songs” that we want to use at our wedding.

Chelsea prompted me on the last one, saying that, “there’s one more,” while turning it around (it was facing backwards near the end of the book). As she flipped it over, I read the simple, but powerful, emotion-laden words, “Heather, my beloved, will you marry me?”

Indeed, it was happening.

Of all the things, I had to ask: “Do you have a ring?”

Obviously, she did. She even had it in the most perfect tree ring box. Every small detail was planned.

My stomach turned to mush, and my heart felt like it was beating out of my chest. Tears brimmed swiftly, and I said an emphatic, “YES!”

She smiled and remarked, “I’m not quite done yet…”

I breathed heavily in and out. I wanted to hold onto this moment. Everything was happening so fast. We locked eyes and I felt time freeze as she read a letter she had written for the special day. She read each word with such sincerity. She told me she loved me. She shared the kind of joy she felt in doing life together.

Getting on one knee, she opened the ring box and asked again – “Heather, will you marry me?”

This time, I said a louder “yes” while also kicking my legs back and forth and hugging her tightly. This was really happening. She put the ring on my finger and I gasped. It was stunning. The shock commenced: how had she pulled this off? When did she talk with my parents? Where did she hide the ring? How long had she been planning? Who knew what was happening?

With glee and joy, we called, texted, and messaged family and friends to share the news that we were engaged – again. Double time.

Double engagement is much more than two proposals. To me, the value of two individuals – already whole – coming together and proposing is that we both are opting in. We are both committing. We are both saying “yes.” This is not so different from the real-life reality of relationship: on the tough days, we each have to show up for each other in different ways. We make the choice to be together and we feel that a double engagement symbolizes this important aspect of relationship.

The rest of the day was a dream. Immediately after the park we went to get our favorite kind of ice cream at Sweet Cow. The ice cream shop has been iconic in our relationship; we went there at least 15 times in the first few months of dating in 2016. For the evening, Chelsea had booked a romantic dinner at Dazzle, a Denver jazz club downtown. Sharing champagne, we finally took everything in and celebrated. It was lovely, and I was simply, so happy.

So, now doubly engaged, we are beginning the formidable task of wedding planning. It’s a new step in our relationship, and we’re doing our best to adjust and figure it out.

What I know for sure is that Chelsea will be my human forever. She will be the one I marry.

Life will throw us challenges, difficulties, and hardships – I know this because it already has. And while our life won’t be perfect, I am sincerely grateful that our faith, our love, our hope, and our commitment will be what can stand anything. I am relieved to believe in this kind of love. Chelsea has changed my mind about what is possible with love.

Before, I thought love was an ideal to strive for and a way in which to live a life.

Now, I know that love is power – it can transcend anything, withstand anything, and hold up anything. Love is more than just something to hope for, it is something to be felt, to be shared, to be cultivated. I do this better with Chelsea in my life and if that isn’t a reason to marry someone, I don’t know what is.

Cheers to love and forever and for tree ring boxes.

change & bowls of oatmeal

It is morning.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_de8

My fingers perch on top of the counter as the sluggish hum of the microwave swirls through the kitchen. The low, faint sounds of humans beginning their day start to flow as night ebbs away. Soon, and not a moment faster, my coffee will be ready.

The clock on the microwave counts down from 1:30, 1:29, 1:28… the perfect amount of time needed to cook the most divine bowl of oatmeal.

I have been eating oatmeal for breakfast for the last six years of my life. It is so habitual to eat oatmeal that when I don’t, I feel out of whack.

Indeed, it’s an art:

1 banana, a dollop of peanut butter, and a sliver of granola (for crunch) and you are on your way to breakfast heaven.

Today, as I groggily mixed my ingredients together, I had a flashback of when over a year ago, I began staying at Chelsea’s apartment and would prepare the same morning breakfast in her mod-sleek kitchen.

Things were different then: I would spend the night, bringing a packed bag (or three) and in the morning, we would wake up, share breakfast (as we read The Skimm aloud), and head into work. I was so giddy with love that I would beam with delight on my commute, almost like someone plastered a smile on my face.

That wasn’t the oatmeal (or the coffee) – I was falling in love.

Now, I still have the same oatmeal for breakfast, but I eat it in our home – usually before early morning calls to Rwanda. In our shared kitchen, I know where everything is, like a sweet song memorized, so I can do it with my eyes half-closed (and sometimes they literally are).

Chelsea and I, at the beginning of our relationship, were so routine about eating breakfast together. It was “our thing.” As I chewed my food this morning, it dawned on me: so much about us and about the rhythm of our life has changed.

These days, Chelsea starts work before the crack of dawn at Starbucks and so the start times to our days are stacked and unsynchronized. And, when she is able to sleep in, I am usually up, on a call, riding the train, or headed to class. I’m working and studying and so when it comes to mornings, there is not a minute to lose. When I look back, of course, I miss those early days.

But, you know what?

Though the newness of our love is fading ever so slightly, the trust, deep knowing, reliability, authenticity, and commitment are coming to bloom. The relationship, I think, is maturing.

For so long, I hated to spend hours (god forbid, days) away from my beloved. And still, I miss her, but now I know what I did not know before: she knows me, she sees me, she loves me – and she isn’t going anywhere. It sounds simple, but the fruit of building a strong foundation is literally just that – a strong foundation. That means that whether or not we are sharing breakfast, I know I get to come home to this spectacularly delightful human each and every day.

This is the woman who:

has taken me to the doctor when I’ve been sick, has run me hot baths on tough days, has stocked my favorite bottle of red wine, has edited my writing pieces, has encouraged me to follow my dreams, has purchased roller blades to accompany me on my adventures, has taken me to the airport at twilight hours, has driven in the snow when I was too frightful, has modeled incredible self-care, has shared her reading list, has sewed my clothing, has dared to be boldly vulnerable and brave, and more than anything, has shown up and loved.

She has filled the spaces of my life and it’s like glue in all the cracks, bringing it all together in a beautiful mosaic. Irrevocably, our lives are intermingled and that is the change I see the most.

We are not like we used to be.

Certainly, that is a common realization upon the process of personal self-reflection, however, it is particularly poignant in the context of a relationship. The relationship has changed, because we – both of us – have.

Our love has been strengthened, too, often by very difficult, challenging circumstances. I never knew that about love – that love doesn’t only grow and beautify because of good things. It grows because even in the murkiest of waters, you know (and choose) the person you want to walk through it with.

Where did the time go?

I think about the swiftness of the year, the months, and the days, as I eat my oatmeal, alone, on the couch before the business of the day arrives. I cannot pinpoint the moment we began to change because we are always in motion, always in progress, always, always learning.

That is enough to know, because I love where we are – whether we share oatmeal, or not.

 

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_b69

I Choose You

Like any refined, distilled whiskey, it takes time to process the really good, sweet stuff. That slow, aged flow is not unlike how we, as humans, process big changes in our lives, including milestones like graduation, sports victories, loss of loved ones, marriage, and new jobs. After all, I have often heard that in life we are guaranteed two things: change and taxes. Things will always change, and in turn, we will have to always adapt, pivot, and grow.

For the last week, I have been an engaged woman. Though this season is just a few days old, I can feel its importance and significance permeating all around me. I am preparing to commit my life to someone else, someone that I love deeply. That’s a huge deal.

Engagement has been an idea that Chelsea and I have been discussing for months. We have been together for over a year yet, in total transparency, I knew I wanted to marry her early into our relationship. There was something about her spirit, about her soul, that connected with mine. Early on, this was an intimate truth that I kept to myself until after we openly shared what was happening between us. While I do not believe in soul mates (at least in the traditional sense), our story unfolded in such a way that it felt like we were given a gift that we just kept saying “yes” to – again and again and again. I could not ignore the magnetism of our hearts – this was more than puppy love, fueled by amorous hormones. This was a deep knowing.

She was the woman I wanted and had dreamed for. Goofy, intelligent, driven, nerdy, patient, thoughtful, motivated, compassionate, faithful, self-aware, and also, just so beautiful in every way. Better yet, she has the best laugh of anyone I know. I genuinely believe that successful relationships hinge upon the presence of playfulness and laughter. She also holds a strong appreciation and love for books (especially from the library), God, nature, and creativity – much like I do. Confession: after a few weeks of dating, I checked my “list” of desirable qualities I wanted in a partner. She met every piece of criteria.

Much later, this past summer, we had a surprising but open conversation about where we were headed. Mutually, together, we decided that we wanted to share and do life together – always. Engagement was on the docket.

One of the (many) lovely things about being in a same sex relationship is that inherently, we are able to rethink tradition. This is not to say there is not a place for tradition, but instead, we are able to forge a path that does not follow one particular model. We can bring a newness to what commitment looks like, while still acknowledging that tradition can always be a part of the story. Originally, we discussed doing two proposals within a short time frame. We both felt it was important to ask and accept. However, by putting them close together, the mystery of when is lost. So, we decided instead I would ask first (in 2017), Chelsea would ask second (in 2018), and then we could begin planning for a summer 2019 wedding.

Never one to hold back, I initiated the planning process for a proposal for Chelsea quickly after this conversation, including the purchase of the ring. We had already gone together, with her mother, to pick out our designs, and because Chelsea’s ring was a custom make, it would need extra time to be created.

Screen Shot 2017-11-02 at 6.03.47 PM.png

As I began to plan for what proposing to Chelsea would look like, there were several priority areas that I wanted to honor throughout the process:

  1. Pray fervently and often. For so long, the idea of commitment (marriage or otherwise) felt out of reach. Now, a close, tangible reality, I wanted to prepare my heart in every way that I could to make sure that I was as ready as I could be to take the next step. I do not think you can ever be perfectly ready, but I do think you can prepare and reflect on what these big changes mean for your life and who you are.
  2. Include Chelseas family and friends. Asking for Chelsea’s parents’ blessing was never a choice in my plan. I recognized that being with Chelsea is an honor and I wanted her parents to know that I took that seriously. Moreover, a major part of Chelsea’s journey has been the unyielding love and support from her friends. I wanted all of that love in her life to be present when I asked her to marry me.
  3. Create a space for authenticity, intentionality, and thoughtfulness. I did not want to ask Chelsea to be my wife in a showy, over-the-top manner. I wanted every piece of it to mean something special and to show her how much she means to me.

Taking these into account, I aimed to pop the question around our 1-year anniversary (October 30th). As I brainstormed, San Francisco came to my mind repeatedly. This was a destination we both had expressed a lot of interest in visiting – so why not go all out for such a momentous celebration in our lives? Certainly, more questions followed: Should I propose there? When would we go? What would she want to do while we were there? How could I keep this a secret?

I knew if we went to San Francisco, she would anticipate a proposal during the trip. Let’s be real, it would be pretty obvious. Thus, it had to happen before. I booked plane tickets for our anniversary and planned to ask on the day prior to our getaway: Friday, October 27th. I found out later that this was also the same day of my graduate school interview (naturally). It would be (and was) one of the most intense days of my life.

As summer turned into fall, I had a date for the big day, and I had a celebration, too. However, I still needed to fine-tune exactly how the proposal would happen. I mused over countless possibilities. As the plan came to life, I knew unswervingly that I wanted to write something to Chelsea. Writing is an important part of who I am, and how I express myself. I began to draft versions of what I wanted to say. There were so many drafts that I was filling pages and pages of thoughts in my notebook. In that process, I fathomed how hard it was to find the words for something so potent, powerful, and moving.

In the end, because she had to work late on that Friday, I asked her at our home – which led me to transform our space into something romantic, calming, and intimate. On the night of the proposal, while she worked, I prepared everything. I lit the candles, I bought the flowers, and finalized a playlist that would play when she arrived home, beginning with our song, I Choose You” by Sara Bareilles. On the door, I left a sign that said, “read the card before entering” which had directions for her to leave all of her items near the front and to take deep breaths as she entered our home.

Engagement 1

When she opened the door, she saw hundreds of tea light candles (because, literally, there were 200). On our dining room table, she saw printed photographs and all of the wine corks we have saved in the first year of our relationship (yes, we love red wine). All over the table I spread colorful confetti, because if you know Chelsea, you know she loves colors.

Engagement 2

On the floor, I made a path of petals for her to follow.

On the second table, in our living room, Dove Dark Chocolates (yum) were placed all over, with more confetti, and a card that said on the front, “I cant wait to marry you.” Also on the table, I left printed tickets for our trip to California. Finally, she would know!

Engagement 3Engagement 4Engagement 5

As she discovered these items late into the evening, I heard her softly cry as she took in all that was unfolding. When I heard her weep, it took everything in me not to also sob loudly. However, I was waiting in the next room, and my heart was beating heavy, wanting to hold onto the moment to come.

The final sign in the living room said, Ready?” and when she was, she would come and find me.

Engagement 6

She turned the corner and there I was, waiting for her with candles, wine, cards from friends and family, and of course, the ring. We embraced and held each other as tears fell from both of our eyes. It was surreal and emotional. I asked gently, “are you ready for this?” and led her to the couch. We sat on our grey futon and I read her the most important letter I have ever written to anyone.

Dear Chelsea, my beloved,  

Its you. When we jumped in this together, a year ago, I could not have imagined where the journey would take us.

Darling, with you, we have celebrated and cried; laughed and wept; rollerbladed and walked throughout Denver. As days, weeks, and months have passed we have slowly, but intentionally carved out our life together.

Life with you is abundant in joy. Life with you is miraculously astounding. Life with you is what I have been hoping and wishing for.

When, a year ago, you told me that you liked me, I panicked.

Am I ready?

Should I really take this risk?

How do I know if I am ready for this? 

I was scared. I was afraid of loving, but also, what it would mean to really, wholly, authentically be myself.

 I took the risk because I trusted you. In turn, with you, I have known the deepest joy I have ever felt.

You see me. You know me. You celebrate me. We are dorks and yet dreamers. We are grounded and yet goofy. When I finish the day, there is no one I would rather hold. Forever, I will hold our walks in Wash Park, our shared meals, our travels, our reading in bed, our long talks, and our mutual affinity for ice cream close.  

This year has been peppered with many memories that build the foundation for who we are and who we will be.

I adore you. Your laugh makes me weak at the knees. Your smile reminds me of safety. With you, I know I am home. With all that I am, I cannot wait to continue our story together.

Today is the day! It is the day where I can in complete, total confidence declare that I choose you. It is you, Chelsea.

Come with me to San Francisco and lets celebrate the most profound, surprising, and special piece of our lives our love. And forever, darling, will you marry me and be my wife?

At the end, I got down on one knee to ask if she would marry me.

She said, “yes!”

We held each other again and confidently, I placed her ring on her finger. We did it.

The ring is stunning; it includes a diamond from her mother, as well as smaller diamonds from her late stepmother, all of which made the moment even sweeter. We took it all in. We sipped celebratory wine. We read beautifully kind cards from loved ones. We packed. It all felt like a dream – and it still does.

Engagement 7Engagement 8

My life with Chelsea will be many things – exciting, fun, empowering, and meaningful. She is the love of my life. I choose her. She chooses me. And we have only just begun.

I am in awe of her, of this, and the pure, deepening act of partnering with another human. Together, we will face the world with boldness, compassion, and love. Together, we can write our own story. Still, Chelsea does not complete me. I am enough all on my own. And yet, in my darkest of times, I doubted everything about myself. I wondered if I could ever love like this. I wondered if I would ever be enough.

Chelsea’s love lets me fully shine. If that isn’t true love, I don’t know what is.

“the list”

Keepers of wisdom, knowledge, and experience have often given me the same piece of advice as I have journeyed along in life:

Know yourself enough to know what you desire in another human being.

Lately, I’ve been dreaming, thinking, and yearning for another person to share my life with. I know I’m not alone in this desire; however, saying this aloud is rather, well, new for me.

For a long time in my life, I thought that marriage was a farce. I suppose that’s being a bit harsh, however, divorce has surrounded my life and I never, never, never want to go through that again.

I am not embarrassed to admit that commitment has often freaked me out.

Eventually, though, my heart has softened towards the idea of a life-long partnership. I suppose falling in love helps the cause. Once you have a taste of what love looks, feels, and is like, it’s hard not to desire this as a forever-kind-of-thing. Moreover, I’ve tasted, literally so much beauty, adventure, and experiences in life – but have done so alone. Frankly, I want to keep exploring all that life has to offer; yet, what sweetness it would be to share this.

I don’t think relationships (or marriage) make us whole. Definitely not. I’ve lived long enough as a strong, single, independent woman to know that’s not true. I’m a Christian, too, which matters because I so happen to believe that my wholeness comes from a deeper purpose altogether. Still, I think God created community for a very particular reason.

Our lives are meant to be shared. Among friends, among families, and also between life partners.

I’ve halfheartedly tried dating websites. I have taken part in church groups, sports leagues, and young leaders’ networking groups in hopes of stumbling upon the right person at the right time.

Yet, I have had to return to the advice given to me by so many. I’ve had to do a lot of “inner work” so that I can actually have my eyes open to who I am, and in turn, what I want. Counseling has helped, but so has re-configuring my own goals, time, and priorities. Preparing oneself to adequately engage in any relationships takes a lot of work. I don’t think people talk about this very much – but I think it’s really, really important.

So, I recently made a list of qualities that I am looking for in another person.

That’s a fun exercise, if for nothing else to see what is important to you.If you have never done this, I encourage you to do so.

I included things like, “will challenge me” and “loves to travel” and also qualities such as, “hopeful” and “easy to talk to.” The list is yours. It’s about identifying the qualities, characteristics, and attitudes you desire in a partner. It’s not an inflexible check-list; I don’t expect that in order to spend my life with someone that they have to have every bullet point. But, it’s a good compass in a map of wonder, I think.

In addition to “the list”, I also wrote a poem. It’s about what I want in a person. What I hope for. What I pray for. In some weird tension of waiting and searching, I have my eyes open to whatever may come my way.

“What Is It That I Want”

Never ending maps as mere compasses illustrating our boundless exploration –

The freedom of the sunshine;

The liberation of the pen.

 

Stories are made and told;

Inspirations are defined as boldness is revealed.

You aren’t who I thought you were.

 

Creating of community sparks magic.

In wilderness, we go together and find treasured jewels.

Coffee lines our books and we ask,

“What are we all doing here?”

 

My dear, existential, lover, we share this.

Explore this, experience this, our eyes are

Open to the divine of it all.

 

Fear is quelled; kindness triumphs

And the possibility of a better society is

Allowed.

Envisioned.

Begun.

 

By our bootstraps, we pull up this kind of place –

We are the keepers, haven’t you heard?

Stewards in God’s delectable majesty.

Companions in the offerings of grace.

 

I dream for peace, for an unscalable love.

I imagine stories bursting forth from the rocks below –

 

Behold! A tapestry of hope.

Let us rejoice.

empowered, to empower.

Friends since 2007, Rachel and I together have ventured through the intensity and magic of Disney World, the coast-lines of Ghana, and questionable neighborhoods in New Orleans.

This last weekend, however, we had one of my most favorite adventures to date.

12494011_10154569587623902_1747448338386142315_o

Montgomery, Alabama.

On Sunday, we sat in the pews of Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church. A center point for the Montgomery Bus Boycotts and where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. began to exhort the African-American community in non-violence and agape love, I couldn’t believe we were hearing the Gospel in such a rich, history-soaked place. Bah. 

On my birthday, the day before, we trekked 50 miles to Selma, Alabama where the famous Selma-Montgomery march took place in 1965. Nonviolent demonstrators, led by King and a band of other strong, resilient, and visionaries, walked for four days to the State Capitol of Alabama to increase efforts for registration of all voters. To say this was my favorite birthday ever would not be an exaggeration; I have spent years reading about the Civil Rights Movement and yet, here I was! 12469445_10154569586913902_2271018059112534330_o.jpg

The thing is, I’m reminded, is that truthfully, the struggle is real and the struggle continues. Not only for groups in our country, but for people around the world. People don’t have choice; people don’t have a voice in their own lives.

Just in the last week, as I’ve heard about failing school systems in the Deep South, I’ve also been re-connected with friends in Rwanda who are unable to feed their families. I’ve read statistics telling me that only 2% of land in the world is owned by women; and I’ve perused reports of violence and emigration coming from the Middle East. We live in a broken world. Then – and now.

I thought about these places, these movements, these efforts as I sipped coffee this morning. Researching empowerment methodologies, I couldn’t let go of the hot-button question in development work:

 how do you literally empower another human?

The Civil Rights Movement would never had traction without the empowered individuals – and thus an empowered community – to stand up for what was right.

Nor can we live our lives un-empowered.

If we do, how can we expect to make the right choices for ourselves? How can we instill unity in our communities? How can we nurture our families? How can we know things like grace and forgiveness – essential components to the human experience?

Where we recognize injustice, we must do something.

InjusticeAnywhere640

It could be in our own lives, within our very own communities, or an issue that is happening a million miles away. That problem in Burundi? It’s our problem too. That issue in Syria? Yep, it matters in our lives. And obviously, the gun-violence down the street or even the tensions of racial misunderstanding – they affect us also. We are only unaffected if we choose to be. If we really believe in micro and macro-scale empowerment, these things, they must matter.

That’s what I think we have to do. It’s more than designing a project to fit projections, grant requirements, or assumptions perfectly. Instead, real empowerment is enabling a person to realize the capacity, value, and how to act upon it in their life. And goodness, it’s hard. It’s a lot more complex than handing out a worksheet and saying, “you mean something.” Instead, I think we have to start on a more fundamental level. You have to engage in a relationship with someone, learn about them – and their culture – and empower livelihood from a point of awareness and then to a point of action.

I love thinking about these things.

While researching this morning for The Women’s Bakery, I spent time learning about Acumen, a non-profit that invests in scale-able global projects. Acumen emphasizes the need for dignity of others as they make patient, wise, and practical investments in the skills of individuals around the world. On their website, they have their manifesto posted, and it’s a beautiful piece, highlighting the power behind doing what is right, and the humility to realize that though we might make mistakes, we still must try. The power of us even having the choice to help, well, that’s the beauty of empowerment – we can be empowered to empower. Boom.

A Manifesto. 

It starts by standing with the poor, listening to voices
unheard, and recognizing potential where others see
despair.

It demands investing as a means, not an end, daring to go
where markets have failed and aid has fallen short. It makes
capital work for us, not control us.

It thrives on moral imagination: the humility to see the world
as it is, and the audacity to imagine the world as it could be.
It’s having the ambition to learn at the edge, the wisdom to
admit failure, and the courage to start again.

It requires patience and kindness, resilience and grit: a
hard-edged hope. It’s leadership that rejects complacency,
breaks through bureaucracy, and challenges corruption.
Doing what’s right, not what’s easy.

Acumen: it’s the radical idea of creating hope in a cynical
world. Changing the way the world tackles poverty and
building a world based on dignity.

“I’ll be 100”

I had two important conversations last week.

One was like a perfect glass of orange juice on a Saturday morning, glazed with pulp and fine laughter too. My Sunday small group sat comfortably in a circle, grazing on hummus-infused sandwiches and crunchy tortilla chips when one of my newer friends remarked, “I’ll be 100,” before sharing an innate part of her life. She meant that she would be transparent, honest, with a bit of “you get what you get.” Grinning all around, our discussion was real, or “100” and it always is there in our little church family. It has been the expectation set and the expectation that has continued; we share life.

Days prior, I had the other talk, only this one was a far cry from OJ; instead it was more like a sloshy, artificial, lukewarm 7-Eleven slushie; a hot mess.

We, this person I trusted and myself, sat at the coffee brown high stools of a local Starbucks nervously grasping our warm cups of Americano. Pursing my lips, I waited. He told me of his appreciation of my “courage” to share my story with him but that ultimately, the revelation was not enough for us to, well, frankly, stay together.

A melting slushie is even worse as the flavor dissipates and becomes diluted with water, and this exchange was not different.

I’m going to be “100” here and write this because it needs to be written.

The details do not matter but it was painful; it was rejection.

If you have shared your story; your truth; your experiences; your heart; your struggles; your secrets and you have been rejected, I am sorry.

I am sorry because that is the last thing we should be doing. As neighbors or family, or friends, or within any kind of community, acceptance, mercy, and love no matter what is both the pinnacle and foundation of relationship.

Personally, I have seen enough of the opposite of these kinds of reactions and it is time we move intentionally in a different direction.

I shared my past. My past is full – isn’t that typically the case for any human, for all of us?

Try this. Go walking down your street, turn the corner, look around. The people you skim over? They have been through something. That’s the truth and there isn’t any other way around it. The life we build, the things we go through – it makes us who we are.

If you have struggled with healthy eating, sexuality, broken families, people-pleasing; stand up because I have been there too. Life is messy and it is no use pretending otherwise. My hope is that by sharing, others feel inclined – free – to do so too. Presenting a past relationship on a silver platter in this conversation was risky. It holds stories, feelings, and memories that are some of the most important in my heart and in my life. But I did it. I pressed the imposition of vulnerability because much like facing an overbearing monster in life, you just have to set your own fears aside.

I told him of a woman that I did love and what it was like to go through a relationship like that. The good, the bad, the surprising, the difficulty, and mostly, the isolation of a mostly joyful experience in my life.

Grace, depth, and kindness exited the front door and fear and misunderstanding, with a basket of judgment, sat down and made themselves at home.

Worst of all, he admitted his own lack of knowledge on that part of my life and when pressed, I don’t think he even wanted to know more. Rejection and self-righteousness. Ugh. What’s uglier than that?

How do we bring our stories to the table, connect and dig deeper to find how God has uniquely created us and uses everything in our life for an ultimate good? How do our relationships and experiences serve in a larger picture of refinement and growth?

That question probes me, guides me, and has fueled me whether I have been in Colorado or far outside these boundaries. It’s also a major reason I write; it’s in books, pens, and ideas that we see patterns and experiences that prove there is something more to all of this.

It’s here where I feel called most into ministry – particularly in cross-cultural contexts.

The church needs to be safe.

I hope – I feel called – to be a part of that.

I want to enter ministry and discipleship training to develop further my relationship with God so that I, along with my friends, family, strangers, whomever, can feel safe with whatever their life has looked like.

Shame is not from God; it should not have a place in our church. It’s existed too much in my own relationship and understanding of God, and I am anxiously excited to give that away and replace it with something far more meaningful, truthful, and long-lasting. The ministry training will positively impact, I hope, the way I may work within and outside the church walls down the road.

But, honestly, it will also deepen, change, and challenge the way I understand God. As the training is only one month away, my prayer is that my heart is ready to leave the guilt, shame, secrets, and lies behind. It’s time to embrace truth. It’s time to seek how God sees me. Not how the world defines me, the way I envision my life, or the way the people I love most see me. Those things pale in comparison to being a daughter of God himself. When I left Rwanda in December 2013, I jumped right back into this American life. I took a job. I went back to Rwanda. I came back. I took the same job again. Not once did I really process in a healthy way, and before I get back to my roots in working with an organization that promotes women’s business and empowerment in East Africa, I really do need time to invest in God and my spiritual development.

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. –Micah 6:6

If you are interested in learning more about what I will be doing this summer, please feel free to comment or contact me via email or phone. I would be happy to share.

If you are also interested in contributing to my fundraising efforts, you can visit this link here:

http://kbm.donorpages.com/TheExperience/HeatherNewell/