the day i started wearing dresses again.

Today I wore a dress to work.

What a weird sentence.  A year ago, the dress part would’ve driven me nuts.  Three or four years ago, the work part would’ve.  (Me?  Having a job outside of the home?  In a non-Christian environment?  The horror.)

I’ve been reading a lot of exposé-type blog posts on the Quiverfull/ATI movement (and conservatism as a whole) lately, and a few particularly jarring posts about modesty have gotten me into a weird funk.

I never knew what kind of a niche environment I grew up in until recently.  This subculture of Biblically-endorsed patriarchy.  This baby mass-producing, holier-than-thou legalism.  Luckily, my family wasn’t as entrenched in it as others, but it’s still affected me in ways I’m still trying to work through.

When I was twelve, my sister and I went shorts-shopping with my mom.  We’d just been through training to be summer missionaries with several of the youth in my church.  We needed new shorts to wear as we traveled around our city ministering to kids that summer, and I found several options, including some adorable plaid ones that went down to my knee that I couldn’t wait to wear.  It wasn’t until we got home that my dad told us we’d be wearing skirts outside of the house from then on.  I distinctly remember slipping the plaid shorts under a massive, layered jean skirt a few times, and enjoying their secret existence.

From the time I was twelve until sometime when I was eighteen, we wore skirts whenever we left the house (and sometimes when we didn’t, because I had a younger brother).  It was a modesty thing, it was a deference thing, and it was an umbrella thing.  It pointed to my father as an authority in our home – how I was honoring him by keeping my brothers in Christ from stumbling.

I was always a tomboy when I was younger.  Climbing trees and playing football with my guy friends were some of my favorite activities.  I soon learned that doing these things in a skirt was incredibly difficult (and, at times, less than modest).  I remember riding in a go-kart with a guy friend (my best friend for most of my early teen years – but I never told anybody that).  We rounded a curve and my skirt flew back, exposing the (again, adorable) plaid shorts.  I was grateful to have worn them that time.  Another time, on a family field trip to Charleston, we toured a battleship that had been involved in WWII.  It was a windy day and I was wearing a lighter, linen skirt that day.  As I climbed the stairs up to the top deck, in front of most of my family and other guests, a gust of wind flew up underneath my skirt.  No shorts that time.  I was mortified.

Growing up, I was taught that modesty was about not drawing attention to yourself.  But then I’d go outside my small, conservative bubble and notice that we were drawing more attention to ourselves and my like-minded friends with our skirts that reached the top of our shoes and that the only skirts were cute, cut below or above the knee.  I wanted that.  I didn’t know why my skirts had to sweep the floor or be straight denim that reached my mid-calf.  I just knew my growing curves had to be hidden.

It was probably because of this that I never made the connection between modesty and beauty.  I’m not sure there was one, besides the notion that “modest is hottest.”  (Tangent: What does that even mean?)  I heard Bible verses that were used to teach against jewelry and short hair and makeup.  Authorities in my life always said that natural beauty was best, but I never felt comfortable in my red, splotchy, acne-dotted skin and experimented with makeup for special occasions.  The shapeless skirts just made me feel more fat than I already thought I was.

I never felt pretty in those skirts or dresses.

When I was eighteen, we were ever-so-slowly allowed to wear shorts and pants outside of the house again.  I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m the one who started this trend.  I didn’t see the point in wearing a skirt solely to pick up the twins I nannied before bringing them back to their house for the afternoon.  I started wearing shorts and it was such a fascinating mixture of delight and nervousness and guilt and wonder.  If I needed to run an errand beforehand and wore shorts, I’d walk through the store as quickly as possible, feeling a twinge of guilt whenever I passed even a younger boy.

One day, I distinctly remember deciding to wear a skirt, mostly out of guilt that I’d bent my standards so much.  I picked a shorter one with lace at the bottom and an adorable flower print.  I finally felt cute in something that was in line with my standards (although I’m fairly sure a comment was made about how short it was).  Some men were working at the house where I was nannying, and I spent my afternoon simultaneously trying to keep the kids from riding down their incredibly steep driveway on their bikes and holding my skirt down because wind was, again, an issue.  I think that was my last time wearing a skirt to my nannying job.

After we left our church, I wore skirts for several weeks as we church-shopped.  The first time I wore skinny jeans to my new church, I felt so rebellious but, at the same time, strangely enough… free.

Years of legalism and I was finally getting a taste of grace.

I kept most of my skirts, mostly because some were cute and because I felt like I should, but it took a long time to finally be able to wear them again, pairing them with boots or a cute top to make myself feel better about it.  I still shied away from more full or longer skirts that made me remember those days in ways I didn’t want to.

When I got a job where the dress code was business casual, I bought my first dress since those skirt-wearing days.  It stopped a few inches above my knee, was cinched at the waist, and had straps.  The most important part was that it was my favorite shade of forest green.  I loved it.

So today, when I wore that dress to work, you can start to understand why it was such a big deal to me.  I thought very little of it – I just wanted less items of clothing to match.  The green dress plus tights, a mustard cardigan, and short boots, and I was set.

It made me remember the weekend before, when I cosplayed with a friend as Anastasia and felt like an actual princess in the flowing skirt, pearl beads, and long hair (almost as long as my hair was before I cut it at the end of my skirt-wearing days – and got shunned by the girls at church).  I was so hesitant to wear it at first, because it dredged up all the old memories of feeling lumpy, formless, fat, and told that my curves were something to be hidden.  But when I tried on the skirt for the first time and pulled on the sleeves – before the bodice was even cut – I nearly cried.  I actually felt beautiful.  In a skirt.  The morning of the actual event, when I put on the whole ensemble for the first time, I teared up when my friend pinned the crown on my head.  For the first time, I actually felt the connection between wearing a dress and feeling absolutely gorgeous.

And it was incredible.

It took four long, painful years to get past these memories and such a poisoning frame of mind, but I’m finally well on my way to freedom.  I’m so much better off.  I don’t regret any of the decisions I or my parents made, but I’m so glad I’m past those days.

All this to say, something I’ve learned is that your convictions shouldn’t be the result of guilt or fear.  Do what you do out of your love for Christ.  Period.

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the problem with purity books.

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{for le blog aesthetic // not mine}

As some of you may know, I started re-reading Before You Meet Prince Charming by Sarah Mally last year. It’s taken me a long time to get through it, and I’d wanted to finish it before I wrote this post, but I have too many thoughts on it (and other purity books) to wait.

Plus, why SHOULDN’T I rant about why I always felt so alone on Valentine’s Day today?! These books are one of the main reasons I felt so single on this day of every year as far back as I can remember!

Buckle up, because these thoughts have been festering in my mind for years and I’ve just learned how to express them over the last several months (and they’re all over the place so bear with me).

If you grew up in a conservative bubble like I did, you grew up hearing about, reading, and being heavily influenced by these books. You looked up to the Botkins sisters, secretly wanted to be Jasmine Bauchum, wanted to marry a Harris brother, and maybe even traveled several hours to a Bright Lights conference. (Check off all of those for me.)

I grew up entrenched in this system. My parents had their legitimate and valid reasons for encouraging this mindset. I don’t regret anything I learned while in this phase of life because it shaped me into who I am today, but I do still have some scars and even struggle at times with the lasting consequences that I continually have to deal with as a result of this mindset.

The biggest thing that influenced this purity trend in conservative Christian circles were the books written, starting with I Kissed Dating Goodbye and lasting through newer additions such as It’s (Not That) Complicated and Joyfully At Home.

These books are written mostly by young women who had no personal experience with the real dating world. (And still, in their mid thirties, have no experience. Still unmarried, still living at home. Jasmine is the only one who has some semblance of a normal life. She’s my hero and my hope.) The only things they know about it come in the form of horror stories from older people who want to keep them away from it for one reason or another. Starting a book with only this knowledge is a major recipe for disaster. Well-intentioned, of course. But still a disaster.

These books started an “us against them” mentality – courtship versus dating, Christians versus non-Christians (or better Christians versus less enlightened Christians). They made it a fight, with strong feelings on each side. Anyone who thought differently than us was wrong, with no exceptions. Saving yourself was obviously the best way to go about this, and thus would yield the best results (right???), so why shouldn’t we be confident that we’re right and our everyone else down?

In reality… courtship is not the only way and it absolutely will not guarantee a perfect (or even great) marriage. You can’t make a blanket statement and say something like “all dating is evil” because you also can’t say that all courtship is good. And that’s the kind of mindset that these books encouraged.

I also think it’s such a tragedy that these books shamed girls into being afraid of their feelings – that, just because they have a crush on someone, they’ve given away bits of their heart. So not only are girls afraid to admit that they have crushes, but they feel like they’ve already lost.

I’m sick and tired of the notion that purity is something that can be irrevocably lost.  These analogies about sticky notes, chocolate cake, suckers, and roses – they’re all incredibly and horrifically wrong.  The whole point of the Gospel is that Jesus took what was dirty and made it clean.  Period.  He took the broken and made them whole, and all that remains is a beautiful, flawless testimony of God’s grace and forgiveness.  That testimony isn’t “ruined” by mistakes made.  Once repentance is reached and forgiveness is given, it’s done.  Over.  The mistakes we make are lessons to be learned, not something to be held over our heads for the rest of our lives.

I’m also sick of this thriftstore Jesus Who is somehow bound by what conservatives say about Him and about grace and about purity – that you’re damaged goods if you didn’t immediately jump towards and end up with the first thing that came towards you. That girls are supposed to sit around and wait for guys to come along so we can fulfill our ultimate purpose as a wife and mother. (Hooo, boy, better stop that train before it leaves the station. That’s another post for another time.)

Listen. It’s okay to have feelings. It’s fine to feel disappointed and even sad that you’re not in a relationship. More than that, it’s completely normal.

Just don’t stay there.

Being single is hard. I know. (I was there for twenty-two years before a guy showed interest in me.) There’s no way around that. But being married is hard, too. Every season of life has hard parts. But faking a smile, ignoring the feelings, and saying, “It’s okay! I’m single because I’m waiting for someone God has for me!” is neither productive nor honest. And it’s about dang time someone takes an honest look at relationships – dating or courting or whatever the crap you want to call it.

I’ve toyed around with writing a purity book, but I wouldn’t even seriously consider it for a while because, even with a lot of guy friends and my current dating experience, I don’t think I have enough knowledge – even though it’s a lot more than these girls can say. (For that, go to Leslie Ludy. She has the experience to back it up – and the marriage to prove that it can work and last!)

If I were to write a purity book, though, I’d say this – stop. being. so. serious.  Yes, this is one of the most important decisions of your life and yes, it should be seriously thought about.  But you don’t have to stress over every single facet of your relationship the entire time.  It’ll only bring added stress. Bringing this full circle to what I started to rant about, as the writer of one of a new favorite blog says, “The average neurotic [conservative, quiverfull/courtship] adherent … has been taught that everything is a sin and that they are corrupting every male simply by being alive.”

Don’t be so intent on “finding the one” or “staying in God’s will” that you miss out on actually living. Because there’s so much more to life than someone’s hand to hold.

Precious girl, you’re worth more than that.

{Bonus thoughts: Someone who views everyone as a potential spouse is someone to be wary of. We should look to see everyone as a potential friend. If a guy only saw me as Wife Material and didn’t want to be friends with me first, I’d run. FAST.}

year in review: 2017.

After organizing my shoes on the new shoe racks I requested for Christmas (insert “I’ll never get pregnant before marriage” joke here), ya girl is back at it again with the blogging.  One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to continue blogging on a regular basis, and I’m going to start with this, my annual year in review post.

Honestly, this post holds a special place in my heart, as do all of the others, and I really do it more for myself than anyone else.  It’s amazing to be able to look back at the last year and think about everything that’s happened in my life and how crazy how much can happen in just five hundred, twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes.  (Because that’s how you measure a year.)  ((In addition to measuring in love.))

I knew going into 2017 that it would be a crazy busy year, and one full of change, but I don’t think I could’ve imagined all of the change that would happen outside of the obvious.  One of the biggest and most life-changing things happened when I least expected it (isn’t that always how it goes?) and I can’t wait to see what happens with it in 2018 (and onward).

Anyway.  Let’s go.

January

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i’ll always look back on these days of running errands and visiting the library with these two little munchkins with fondness.  {1-26-17}

After my first actual Christmas break since I was in high school, I started back on school with my final two courses – my Liberal Arts Capstone and a Jane Austen course.  I thought both would be fairly simple.  Turns out Jane was a breeze (thanks, years of watching period dramas for fun!!!!!).  The Capstone, on the other hand…  *laughs through tears*  To be completely honest, it was the hardest semester of school I’d ever experienced.  I cried more in those three months than ever before.  Due to stress, I ate way too much ice cream and got incredibly bad acne.  For the first time ever, I considered quitting and dreaded getting up in the morning to study.  The only thing that pushed me through it was the fact that I was close, and if I could just finish, I knew I’d be able to conquer anything.

And I did, praise the Lord.

In addition to this, I discovered a lot of new things.  Dear Evan Hansen came early in the beginning of the month.  Life.  Changing.  Listen to the soundtrack – and watch a bootleg, if you can find one.  I also discovered a brand new show (Teen Wolf – hello, you weirdly beautiful show) and, through obsessing over said show, found my best friend.  The show was a gateway to conversations about growing up, maturing, being a young adult while still living at home, and relationships – all incredibly easy because we’d known each other for almost eight years and had the same upbringing.  After drifting away from someone who I’d previously called my best friend, it was so heartwarming to find someone new.  Since then, we’ve created so many memories together and have stretched each other in so many ways and I can’t imagine myself without her.

I also blogged about how scared I was to start writing, which turned out to be not so scary after all.  After that, I worked on my novel several times a week at Starbucks or at home or in my car or wherever I could find a power outlet (because my laptop battery suuuuucked), until finally finishing it at the end of March.  (And then starting up again as I started submitting queries.)

Minor notable events: I met Veronica Roth and got a signed copy of her latest novel, Carve the Mark, and started going to a college age Bible study that was one of the highlights of my semester.

February

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the true marker of the beginning of our bestfriendship – geting each other matching hoodies.    {2-24-17}

I got a Facebook account during this month and I’ve never been more disgusted and intrigued.  It’s like a car crash – you’re horrified but you just. can’t. look. away.  I take frequent breaks from it and rarely scroll through my feed because of it, but it’s led to many good things (I wouldn’t have a few of the best people in my life if I didn’t have it).

I also struggled with a long-time crush during February.  (Stupid love month.)  It’s hard being so sure that you and a guy would be a great couple when he barely knows you exist.  After several prayers and seeing him way too many times, it finally went away.  It was for the best, after all, and I learned a lot about myself and relationships through it.  I wish I hadn’t gotten so obsessed and let him take over so much of my brain, but it’s all over now and we’re friends.

I also cried over my Capstone a lot.  Dang that professor.  He told me not to worry about my grades (after not grading my papers for literally weeks) because that was “childish.”  I’ve only close to legitimately hating someone once before (a teenage girl who made such a horrific impact on my younger sister that she still lives with the consequences years later), and I don’t want to ever come that close again.  He taught me a lot, though – like to always remember that people have feelings, that people are always capable of rising above impossibly dreadful situations, and that self-care is something that everyone needs.  (Meanwhile, my Austen professor was an absolute gem, and the entire class enjoyed a very lively discussion of Austen’s works and other historical novels – complete with memes.  It was an easy A course and I adored every moment of it.)

I did take a weekend off to go to a retreat in the mountains with my WITAlive friends and it was a blast.  I made so many new friends and developed deeper connections with friends I’d made before.  It was phenomenal and I’ll cherish those memories forever.  I also started volunteering as a small group leader at my church and grew to love all of my little sixth-grade girls dearly.  Other things of note: I attended a 20’s themed 20th birthday party for two of my dearest friends, one of the highlights of my year.  I also saw Newsies in the movie theatre with my friends (twice) and it slayed my life.

March

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making salads and watching a tv show over lunch became my safe place – my haven in the craziness of school.  {3-24-17}

March started off with a bang – my first royalty check.  For the first time, my career as a writer finally felt real.  People had bought my book and I heard from a lot of them that they enjoyed it.  WHAT A CONCEPT.

I also got Rather Existential™ about finishing college.  As the schoolaholic I was, I had no idea how to have a life outside of school.  Especially in that last semester of college, where all of my time was devoted to finishing my capstone, I clung to the hours I spent in my room on my laptop, writing pages and pages of this massive final paper.  It was so hard and took so much time and stressed me out so much, but I didn’t want to let it go.  After eight years of finding my identity in my schoolwork (because I didn’t have too many friends in high school and sunk much of my time into being the best at school that I could), I didn’t know how to be myself outside of it.  I distinctly remember letting myself sink into fear and God revealing through His word that I shouldn’t be afraid of the future – three times in one passage after a particularly hard day of letting go of the reins.

And then, before I realized what was happening, it was March 24th and I was submitting my final paper and then going to a friend’s house to shoot his guns.  I remember unloading a semi-automatic rifle (with impeccable accuracy, I might add) on a certain target while screaming, “This is for you, professor!!!”  That was a good moment.

Also during March, I went to DNOW with my group of sixth grade girls from my church and enjoyed it immensely, and saw my first play at the massive theatre in my little town (Tarzan) and fantasized with a friend about acting.  (Little did we know, we’d be on that same stage with some of the same people only a few months later.)

April

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some of the sibs and i at james’s state robotics competition.  {4-7-17}

This month started out with two of my best friends surprising me by driving all the way down from Virginia to hang out with me and my siblings.  We drank too much coffee and played April Fools Day tricks on people and they consoled me when I started freaking out about not getting a passing grade on my big final paper.  (I ended up passing, though.  It just looked like I hadn’t passed because he still hadn’t graded papers that I’d submitted a month ago.  Classic.)

My brother started competing with his robotics team, and I watched like the proud mom friend/sister I am as his team went all the way through to the world competition in Houston.  (They ended up getting third in the world.  Yeah, he’s pretty smart.)  Another time I felt like a mom was when I took the twins I’d been nannying for two years to their Easter party at a farm, complete with bunnies, an Easter egg hunt, and adorable clothes.

My world was slightly rocked when I found out that a good guy friend liked me and wanted to see what would happen if we explored being more than Just Friends™.  After twenty-two years of never hearing that any guy had even the slightest bit of romantic interest in me, it was a lot to handle.  (I actually got the text as I was telling my parents – half jokingly, half seriously – that I repel men.)

Towards the end of the month, my entire family went to Houston with my brother for a week for his robotics competition and I volunteered to stay home, hold down the fort, watch our new puppies (!!!), and cover both Katie’s and my own nannying days.  I was a little disappointed that I could only watch the competition via livestream, but it was honestly one of the best weeks of my life.  I saw Matilda with my grandma, invited my best friend to spend a few days with me (watching movies and episodes of Teen Wolf and being awful influences on one another and basically being way too domestic), dyed my hair blue, and spent many hours talking to aforementioned guy.

I also submitted my first query letter, went to another author event with my best bookish friend, and declared my best friend love for my bestie (who’d just done the same in a totally separate conversation).

May

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my sister and i at the twins’ preschool graduation.  so many happy tears.  {6-11-17}

Continuing my inclination to be a mom with no children, I spent several hours in early May helping one of the twins pull her loose tooth out.  It took an entire afternoon of both Katie and I assuring her that it wouldn’t hurt, promising her candy, and hugging and kissing away her sobs.  The tooth finally came out and the little girl told us she wished she’d done it earlier.  (Smh.  Listen to me, child!)  As this was the last month of picking them up from their preschool – as Katie and I had done for the last three years – I held moments like this close to my heart.  I’m not ashamed to say that I sobbed at their graduation along with the other moms I’d gotten to know over the last three years.  I still miss getting parenting and relationship advice and obsessing over This is Us with those moms and can’t wait to have that again with my own kids.

One of the most exhausting weekends of my life – mentally, emotionally, and physically – happened during this month.  I ended things with the guy after a month of getting to know each other, helped my family move out of the house we’d called home for the last six years (the longest my siblings and I had ever lived anywhere), and unpacked boxes and cleaned and organized a few rooms in the new house while my mom was gone the afternoon after we’d moved in for our Mother’s Day present for her.  After barely getting any sleep, I remember crashing on the couch for a few hours after cleaning the new house, completely dead to the world.

One of the best things that has ever happened to me happened during this month.  When my family moved into our new house, my sister and I moved into the basement (which we would later start paying rent for).  We each have our own room, a shared bathroom and closet (which my parents were able to copy exactly from the master bathroom – perks of building a house, even though it took over a year – #BLESSED), and our own living room/kitchenette.  We decorated the kitchenette like Luke’s from Gilmore Girls (complete with an adorable coffee mug shelf just like his that holds thirty mugs), and just got open shelving installed by a neighbor this past week.  After living on the first floor, directly off the kitchen and living room, and sharing a bathroom with two sisters (which doubled as our guest bathroom), living down here in the basement has been nothing short of heaven.  Sure, I can hear thumps from the school room directly above me, but it’s infinitely better than what I had before.  We still don’t have wifi at the new house (and probably won’t for several years), but it’s so gorgeous and has so much potential.  My family is so happy here and we’re all incredibly blessed.

I also organized my college graduation party, and was so happy that all of my best friends came – even some friends from out of town, who we explored Atlanta with in the days after.  One of my favorite things was sitting in a circle with the 20+ people who came (I’ve never been one for big parties and firmly believe in quality over quantity) and hearing about their first impressions of me.  (One was actually sad that I was so in love with Captain America… looking back on the last few months of my life makes me want to laugh and say “Joke’s on you!”)

After moving to our wifi-less house, I started downloading episodes of shows off Netflix while I was at church so I could watch them during the week.  I made it through several seasons of The Office this way, which I’ll forever link to mornings spent drinking coffee and bingeing shows, happy to not have the stress of school or a full-time job (yet).

June

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krispy kreme drive-thru after mamma mia with these crazies.  {6-14-17}

So began another month of watching shows in the morning, nannying in the afternoons, and questioning my existence.  Looking back, I realize how blessed I was to have those peaceful moments before starting a full-time job in November, but, in those weeks, it was a struggle to see the good.  I applied for jobs and never heard back, wondered if I could find another nannying job (as the one I’d done for the last few years was swiftly coming to an end), and wished I had the structure of school.  In my hours of unexpected free time, I read books, edited my novel (The Art of Letting Go), got tons of constructive criticism on it, and finally – finally – started submitting query letters to agents.  That, by far, was one of the best things I did last year, and something I’m still very proud of.

I also met my long-time friend Heather from Australia that I met through this blog (hey, girl!), and am currently looking forward to spending a few days with her next month (!!!).

During this month, I was able to enjoy visits from several different friends who lived in different states.  I also went to our old house to steal the wifi and watch the Tony awards (feeling incredibly inspired by the fact that all of the nominations for best play were debuts and sobbing my eyes out when the cast of Dear Evan Hansen – especially Ben Platt – swept the awards).

My sisters and I won lottery tickets to see the touring production of Mamma Mia!, and we dragged my brother along (although he later admitted he enjoyed it).  I had a bite of a Krispy Kreme donut for the first time in seven years and nearly cried.

One night, I went to visit a good friend at a local theatre and watch her work on a play – a kids’ summer program put on by some of Katie’s theatre friends.  I brought a book to read if I got bored, but was asked to fill in for one of the actresses (who, a few weeks into rehearsals, still not shown up).  I was happy to oblige.  I worked blocking with this friend, read the other girl’s lines, and kept having to correct “we should do this” to “you guys should do this.”  At the end of rehearsals, the director looked at me and said, “You know you’ve got the part, right?  Is that okay?  Can you do it?”  And that, my friends, is how I got into theatre.  I was an outlier – five years older than the oldest person in the cast and one of the minor characters, with only five lines of my own – but I had such a blast.  I warned them that they were literally never getting rid of me after that, and, judging from the last few months, it’s been insanely accurate.

I also got my diploma and tassel in the mail (perks of getting my degree online), bought my first (five) succulents, started re-reading Before You Meet Prince Charming (Lord Jesus give me strength), got a Peter Pan phone case, watched Band of Brothers over a week with my brother, finally started losing weight (!!!!), started watching Riverdale (the soapiest of soap operas and yet I was so obsessed), had the first of many sleepovers with two of my best friends, and hosted my first immersive Clue night (where my cousins and siblings and I dressed up as Clue characters as we played Clue – still one of the best ideas I’ve ever had).  All in all, a packed month.

July

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me and some of the baby cast of beauty after our last show.  {7-30-17}

In July, we spent a week at my grandparents’ house for our annual cousin camp – give or take a few days because of work.  I finished the last few episodes of the first season of Riverdale while snuggled up in my sleeping bag and also worked with my grandma for hours on cardboard cars so we could have a “drive-in” movie.  We watched one of my grandma’s old high school math students reprise his role in Beauty and the Beast in a local production after first seeing him play Lumiere ten years before, which was incredible.

My sister and I also spent nine days working at a vendor during AmericasMart in Atlanta.  After waking up at five-thirty every morning, driving an hour, staying on my feet from eight in the morning to six or seven at night, then driving an hour back home… I think it’s safe to say I almost died of exhaustion.

Later that month, some friends drove up from Florida for the weekend to see my brother play the Tin Man in a local production of The Wizard of Oz.  I also went with one of them to the Fox Theatre to see Idina Menzel in concert.  She’s such a diva but it was so worth it!  I also kept working on my novel and sending out query letters, but faced more and more rejection.  Now I no longer feel better whenever people tell me that “J.K. Rowling submitted to twelve publishers before getting one!”  Yeah, come back when you’ve submitted to more than thirty and only two have asked to see more (before turning it down).

In the end of July, Beauty of the Century (the kids show) opened, and I spent every night at the theatre for a week (tech week, but often we’d just sit on the stage after the kids left and talk for hours).  Four shows in one weekend, then it was over.  I will never forget that experience.  Trying to keep thirty kids quiet backstage while the show was going on affirmed that, but it was more than just the craziness – it was the family that formed in those weeks, which was something I hadn’t experienced in such a long time.  I was a backstage mom for those kids, and I still love each and every one of them.  And there’s just something so exhilarating about being on a stage and being part of a story that plays out, in real time, before an audience… which is why I started to think seriously about auditioning for a that a new friend was a part of, especially after he said that it involved stage combat.

August

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baby bestie & i.  {8-1-17}

I ushered in this month by spending three days with my best friend, getting my hair cut seven inches shorter, and going to a baseball game at the new baseball stadium in town with friends.  My bestie also introduced me to bubble tea, and after looking through pictures, I’m craving it again.  (Thanks, Karlee.)  We also went to see a production of Midsummer Night’s Dream, which was put on by the production company that would later do Treasure Island.  (The cast included a few people who I’d met during Beauty, and some people who I would later consider some of my best friends, even though I didn’t even know their names at the time.  Crazy how that happens, isn’t it?)  In line with theatre stuff, I also attended the awards show for the theatre that had hosted Beauty, since my brother had been nominated for an award as the titular character in The Pied Piper of Hamlin, the kids show from the previous year’s summer program.  (Again, people were nominated that I barely knew and would, in less than three months time, become more dear to me than some people I’d known for years.)

The twins started kindergarten and attended an after-school program during the days I usually nannied, so I inadvertently found myself with even more free time.  It was a struggle to let go at first, because hanging out with these adorable small children every Tuesday and Thursday had been my routine for the last two and a half years.  I’d lost my little buddies… and my only source of income.  To say that the months following were downers would be an understatement.  To make up for it, I started babysitting at a Classical Conversations co-op once a week.  It wasn’t much, but I took what I could get.  Meanwhile, I looked for a new job.

To distract myself from this aspect of my life, I decided to audition for Treasure Island.  If I couldn’t have a job, I could at least have some structure, right?  It helped knowing that several of my close younger friends were auditioning as well.  I prepared a monologue (the opening scene of Dear Evan Hansen, plus a little more from later on) and did it.  My hands shook the entire time and for several minutes afterward, but I did it anyway.  After the monologues, we read selections from the play.  I got to read the part of Doctor Livesey and instantly connected with the character.  Two of my younger friends and I had plans to go rock climbing afterwards, so we had to leave early, but I left wishing and hoping and praying that I could get the part.  To my complete and utter shock, after an entire afternoon and most of an evening of waiting with my fingers crossed… the cast list came.  I’d gotten a part.  A supporting lead (the doctor character I’d read for) with ninety-two lines for my second play – not too shabby!  And not just lines – the way the play was orchestrated, most of it was narration by Jim, Captain Smollet, and, yours truly, Doctor Livesey.  I had massive paragraphs of narration, facing the audience, in a spotlight, including the opening monologue of Act 2.  I instantly freaked out, wondering if I could even do it.  But I was determined to try – and, more than that, incredibly excited.

My siblings and I also started hosting a movie night sleepover every few weeks with some friends to introduce them to Harry Potter.  It’s been super fun, especially since we were never really allowed to do sleepovers when we were younger.  It’s also pretty great having a space of our own to do this!  I won more lottery tickets to see the touring production of An American in Paris (making it the third professional musical I’d see this year – #blessed), so my sister and I went with some of her friends.  It was more ballet-focused than I’d thought, and absolutely stunning in every way.  I also started learning French, killed four MASSIVE spiders within the space of two weeks (I’m not kidding – they were about four inches long and I’ve got the pictures to prove it), spent another week watching action movies with my brother, and sat on the roof of my Volvo wagon to watch the eclipse.

An agent also asked to see my entire manuscript and, although he later turned it down, it was a great feeling.

September

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look at these small children.  {9-7-17}

Rehearsals for Treasure Island continued – including the amazing Saturday combat rehearsals – and I started making more friends from the cast.  Going through my pictures to remember what happened in those months reminded me of those first texts, friend requests, Instagram notifications, and little things I’d tell my best friend about them.  I also started asking for advice on how to subtly flirt with a certain cast member because of his Captain America shirt.

I started taking my younger friend to and from rehearsal every week, and we’d sit on her porch swing at night and talk.  Those hours spent talking with her until I had to drag myself away built up our friendship more than it had in the last six years that I’d known her and formed some of my favorite memories in this season of my life.  She’s seven years younger than me, but she’s one of my best friends.

Halfway through the month, my family went on our annual beach trip – something we’d skipped the year before in order to go to Disney instead (meaning we hadn’t gone in two years and were long past due for a trip).  We had so much fun sitting on the beach, reading, watching TV shows and movies, and just spending time with one another.  My siblings and I also took a few afternoon excursions by ourselves and felt super basic with our frappucinos and quality Instagram pictures.  During this beach trip, a friend from church decided to set me up on a blind date, which I hesitantly accepted and scheduled for a few days after I got home.  (That story is too long to share here, but suffice it to say that the date went well but then he ghosted me.  Oh well.  I’d finally had my first date.  Check that off the bucket list!)

I distinctly remember texting a friend that, in the hours before, I’d (1) gotten an email from an agent asking for the first fifty pages of my novel, (2) started prepping for an interview the next week, (3) scheduled a blind date, and (4) memorized lines because “on top of all of this craziness hey why not star in a play.”  The agent later turned down the novel (recently, actually) and the blind date flopped, but I successfully memorized all of my lines and (three interviews and many tears later) got the job.

October

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our gentility trio.  {10-12-17}

Ahh, yes.  The month where everything changed.  In this month, I got asked out for the first time, successfully co-starred in a play, auditioned for another play, and got a job.

My friendship with my theatre friends deepened, we had a night that will forever go down in Elliott Family Lore as the Bonfire of Love, and a friend (and former castmate) was killed in a car crash and I found out about it right after being sick and right before auditioning for Miracle on 34th Street.  (I’m not kidding – being sick, finding out, and auditioning all happened in the space of about an hour and a half.)  Because of that (and because I was mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted), I thought I’d bombed the audition.  There really wasn’t even a part for me, as the lead called for a woman in her thirties and the other female parts were very minor “elves.”  I’d promised my mom a few days before that “even if I auditioned,” I wouldn’t have to be at every rehearsal.  The next morning, I woke up to an email with the cast list.  I’d gotten the lead.  This time, I had a hundred and fifty-four lines.  Again, not too shabby for something I’d done on a whim.  This time, I freaked out for a solid week (during tech week for Treasure Island) before finally deciding that if I’d gotten myself into this mess, I might as well try my hardest to make it through it.

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bonus pic bc i still love and adore this cast.  {10-13-17}

Rehearsals for Miracle started three days after Treasure Island closed, which was quite the whirlwind.  I hated leaving my Treasure Island friends I’d grown to love so much, but I was happy to make new memories.  A few of my favorite memories from Treasure Island include my Sexy Ben Franklin outfit, eating pizza at 2am with my new theatre besties after closing night, and listening to “I’m Still Here” from Treasure Planet at least once on the road to every rehearsal.  (There’s also that time I chucked my gun into the audience on closing night… but we won’t talk about that.)

Other random favorite memories were shopping with two new theatre friends, visiting the Atlanta Shakespeare Tavern to see MacBeth with my sister, a theatre friend, and my Miracle director, meeting my love interest for Miracle in a roundabout way (and hiding from him, obviously), going on a date, and enjoying a fun Halloween party.

November

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rehearsing the final scene (feat. our makeshift bench, my post-work outfit, and several onlookers who wanted to experience the adorbs).  {11-17-17}

Ahh, yes.  NaNo.  I started the month with such high hopes, thinking I’d be able to participate again.  But, sadly, no.  I got ten thousand words in, then started working full time (with an hour-long commute – without traffic).  There went that idea.  I’m still going to finish that book, though.  Slowly, surely, over the next few months.  Looking forward to it, actually.

In the space of a weekend, I drove down to Florida with my sisters, participated in the most stressful wedding ever, visited several friends, came back to Georgia, hammered out six thousand words of my novel in an afternoon (before going to the Fox Theatre to see the cast of The Avengers do a benefit read-through of Our Town – ALL THE HEART EYES BECAUSE MY LIFE. WAS. MADE.), and started training for my new job – a receptionist position at a car dealership.  It’s been almost four months and it’s been a struggle sometimes but I mostly love it to death.

Other than working ten hours a day, my life circled around rehearsals for Miracle, Christmas prep, maintaining my social life, and deepening friendships.  The last week of November was ridiculous because I’d get up at 6:30, leave for work early to beat traffic, work ’til 5pm, fight traffic for an hour and a half all the way up to the theatre, rehearse for three or four hours, drive thirty minutes home, sleep for six or seven hours, and get up to do it all again.  It’s a testament to how amazing my theatre friends are that they would still hang out with me after seeing me stressed to the point of tears.

December

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my best friend and my wifey.  {12-10-17}

December was a whirwind.  Miracle opened and was a rousing success, much to the relief of myself and my costars.  I was able to get all of opening day off, so I spent it at the theatre figuring out how to do my hair, finishing the set, buying flowers for all of the backstage moms, and trying not to have a nervous breakdown.  Saturday gave me a real taste of what it’d be like the rest of the time, with leaving for work at seven in the morning, working 8:30-6, booking it to the theatre and only making it an hour before curtains, and then doing the show.  Craziness.

There were so many little stories of things that happened during Miracle that would take an entire blog post to tell, but by far my favorite is when I literally ended the very last show with a bang.  After the most romantic scene in the entire show, the lights went dark and everything was completely black.  One of the tech guys hadn’t been there, so the table in the apartment set was on the wrong spike tape.  Not a big deal – during the scene, I’d just skirted around it.  This time, however, I’d forgotten that there were chairs.  Instead of going in front of it like I had the entire rehearsal process and every single one of the six shows before, I went around back.  Tragically, since I’d forgotten the chairs, I ran straight into one, knocking it over before tripping over it.  I held in my laughter as I crawled offstage, then fell in the wings, laughing hysterically and trying to explain through whispered gasps what had happened.  What a memory.

Another favorite memory of December is when my best friend from Iowa who I’d met on Pinterest a few years before but hadn’t met in real life yet flew over and spent an entire weekend with me.  Even though she brought the snow that cancelled all of my birthday plans, two shows, and knocked out the power aND WATER FOR OVER FORTY-EIGHT HOURS… I still love her.  We had such a blast hanging out together ranting, draining our laptop batteries to watch movies, reading books, and FaceTiming friends.  We ate my birthday cheesecake by candlelight – a lot less romantic when you remember that you can’t brush your teeth afterwards… or flush the toilet… or wash your hands…  Anyway, the events surrounding my birthday were pretty fantastic, even if my actual birthday wasn’t that great (minus Natalie, of course).  We did end up getting to do an impromptu sleepover with my other best friend, and it. was. amazing.  (Mostly because we had light and heat and queso and a John Krasinski movie on the big TV.)  If anything, it reminded me that people who see me at my absolute worst and still love me are worth keeping around.

Other favorite memories from December include keeping our Ben & Jerry’s ice cream outside in the snow to keep it from melting completely, showering at a friend’s uncle’s house (because they had both power and water – PRAISE THE LORD), doing a photo shoot with my two bestest friends in the world on our last day together, knowing I’d made it through one of the worst days of my life on my second-to-last show day with applause (affirming my love for that famous Wonder quote – “I think there should be a rule that everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their lives” … especially on that particular day), absolutely crushing the last weekend of Miracle, getting bOTH A TRAMPOLINE AND A TOASTER OVEN FOR CHRISTMAS LIKE HELLO BEST CHRISTMAS EVER, and enjoying much too much time with my best friend eating pizza, ranting about life’s problems, and encouraging the h*ck out of one another.  Oh, and I also went on more dates than I can count (with the same guy obviously who do you think I am), so that was also very fun and also a story for another time.

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hello, annual picture-in-the-bathroom-mirror tradition.  (feat a new bathroom and a new crochet’d whale keychain.)  {1-28-18}

All that said, this year was incredible.  I started off the year knowing it would be a year of change but I had no idea just how much would happen.  I went from not knowing what the heck I was doing and yet moving forward anyway to realizing that I’m on some sort of sled going down a snowy hill and it’s just getting faster and faster but I don’t actually mind because it’s super fun???  Sorry for the weak metaphor but that’s what it feels like.

I asked for character development and got it in 2016.  I asked for story progression and got it in 2017.  So, in 2018, I’ll ask for more of both, because Lord knows I need both.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you.  I love rereading these posts over the years and I’m more than happy to share with whoever’s still out there reading this blog.

Excelsior.

what christians get wrong about mental health.

There’s been a lot of talk about mental health in recent years, usually in reference to those dang millenniums and their diddly darn safe spaces.

To people who don’t understand, it seems like people with mental illnesses are just coming out of the woodwork.  Suddenly, there are all these people with self-proclaimed PTSD and anxiety and depression.  It doesn’t make sense to them.  It’s almost – almost – as if people are figuring out what’s wrong with them so that they can help.

And then people who don’t understand get all offended for some reason, as if that’s a bad thing.

Listen, I get both sides of the argument.  Completely.  But lately, I’ve been siding more with the people who are finally finding labels for the unknown monster that’s been plaguing them.  Because wouldn’t taking tests to find out if you have cancer be better than shoving down the symptoms and pretending like it isn’t there?

And yet people still keep denying it.  It’s almost as if they’re saying, “You don’t really have cancer.  You’re just overthinking things.  You need to be more chill.”

Now, I know that cancer is on a completely different plane than a mental illness.  But I think the reasons why the two should be treated differently are rapidly deteriorating.

A lot of Christians like to wave off the issue of mental illness with an admittedly well-intentioned “If you’re really suffering from (anxiety, depression, insomnia – you fill in the blank), pray and God will make it all better.”

There are two things wrong with this – first, that they’re ignoring a problem, and second, that they’re assuming that, if it’s a real problem, that God can just take it away.

Sure, God can take it away, but sometimes what even Christians forget is that God is not a vending machine, nor is He a wish-granting factory.  We don’t understand why He allows us to go through trials that He has the power to take away.  Sometimes it’s to better us, sometimes it’s simply to teach us how to rely on Him for strength.

And to assume that mental illness is something that God can and will just take away with a simple prayer is blatantly and horrifically wrong.

I can go into all the reasons why mental illnesses shouldn’t be ignored – from chemical imbalance to issues resulting from childhood trauma – but I’m sure you have people in your life who you can talk to, because the fact remains that one in five adults in the US suffer from a mental illness.  The statistic is the same for children, and for teenagers aged 13-18, the statistic is almost one in four.  (See NAMI’s statistics.)

Even if these statistics weren’t true, your response to your friends dictates how you actually feel about mental illness.  It’s one thing to lovingly care for your friends and ask what you can do to help – it’s a completely different thing to essentially tell them that they’re lying (excuse you?), that it’s “not that big of a deal” (just because it’s not a big deal to you doesn’t mean that it’s something they’re daily affected by), or that it’s “just in their head.”  (“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”)

There is absolutely nothing wrong with people trying to find out what’s going on inside their heads.  How else would they figure out how to deal with it?

Instead of arguing with their findings, I’d challenge you to be a good friend and help them with whatever they’re going through.  After all, God loves us all equally despite all of the reasons we think He shouldn’t, so, since we’re called to be like Him, why should we act any differently?

coffee session: on expectations.

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(for le blog aesthetic / not mine)

You know the drill.  Grab a cup of coffee, listen to some music, and let’s have a chat.  (My side of the conversation is below; feel free to share yours in the comments!)

*sips coffee*

Ohhhh, expectations.  Don’t you just love them?

It’s one thing to have expectations and standards for yourself… and another completely different thing to realize that others have expectations for you.  It doesn’t matter if they’re lower or even equal to yours – it’s still ridiculously daunting.

Because of Recent Events (which, for the time being, will be referred to as simply that), I’ve been feeling especially aware of these things.  We want to do the best we can, and holding ourselves to that – daily – is, more often than not, intimidating.

If anyone else read Do Hard Things religiously in their teens, you’ll know what I’m talking about.  We want to be more than mediocre.  We want to do things with our lives – which often unintentionally translates to “big” things.  (I once read an essay somebody wrote about this, and it’s definitely worth reading if you made the same assumption.) (Don’t feel bad if you did because I did, too, and sometimes doing hard things is working through the daily grind of school or work or unemployment {*waves*} with a cheerful, optimistic spirit.)

*sips coffee*  (Today I have some weird “roasted southern pecan” coffee my dad bought and it’s… interesting.)

Adulting doesn’t help with this.  You start out so excited and ready to conquer the world, and then Real Life hits and you’re left staggering under the pressure.  (This isn’t personally relatable at all.  *nervous laughter*)

So how do we avoid getting daunted by the expectations and standards?  What do we do when they feel too high?

In all honesty… I don’t know.  I’m still working through this myself.

I don’t like disappointing people.  I really don’t.  And all it takes is someone dropping a responsibility or opportunity on me for my confidence to crumble like a poorly-made gluten-free cookie.  (Seriously, if anyone has any gluten-free cookie recipes they can share… please.  I’m dying over here.)

The only answer I’ve come up with is to just… do your best.  (And let God do the rest.)

And that sounds stupidly cliché and I’m insanely sorry, but it’s all I have right now.

So… turning this conversation over to you guys… what have you found to be the best answer to this?  What do you do when you feel like you’ve been given too much and struggle with holding to everyone’s expectations of you?

on body image.

I was never a clothes shopper. It’s true – ask anyone who knows me.

(I was never a shopper, period, but I did buy books. A backbreaking amount of books, as I learned after moving them all to our new house. #noragrets)

Growing up, I usually just wore whatever my mom got me for Christmas or my birthday. I didn’t have many new clothes, and I couldn’t care less.

In this inability to care less, my appearance suffered. My go-to outfit in my teen years was a t-shirt and jeans, with a skirt if we were going to church. Before our Skirts Phase, that is. Aka The Dark Days. Then, it was t-shirts and skirts. Denim skirts.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to look put-together – I did. It also wasn’t that I didn’t have many clothes to wear – I did. It was just that… I didn’t care.

For a long time, I was uncomfortable in my skin. For most of my teen years, I had an undiagnosed medical issue that caused weight gain. I didn’t know why I didn’t look good in certain things anymore, and, more than anything else, I wanted to cover up. Plus, it’s not like I had anyone to impress. (Moving two states away right when I was supposed to start liking guys made sure of that.)

It was only recently that I started buying clothes that I wanted to wear, with money that I’d earned.

Looking back, the only discernible thing that had changed was my outlook. I stopped viewing my body as an enemy or something that I shouldn’t put too much pride in. God gave me this body, dang it, and I should be happy with it – proud of it, even!

I didn’t start losing weight until I realized this, and accepted my body for what it was – mine.

If you’re struggling with what you look like, please know that it’s okay. We’ve all been there. Some of us are still there, sometimes.

Today, I was there. I needed clothes for a temp job next month, and I felt all the lies I’d believed about myself come screaming back as I looked at myself in the mirror. But I didn’t let the thoughts take root. Instead, I just left. In another store, I put on a cute outfit and danced to Katy Perry and Ben Rector in the changing room. Needless to say, the thoughts were gone. (Totally because I knew I looked super cute.)

It’s okay to hate your body sometimes. Just please… don’t stay there.

It’s okay to love your body. It’s okay to put clothes on it that are inspired by a style that is uniquely yours. It’s okay to be proud of it. It’s okay to love it. And if you don’t, you’ll get there someday.

I’ve heard that the way to get over a crush is to focus on one of their flaws, until you can’t see why you liked them in the first place. Today, I challenge you to do the opposite. I challenge you to find something about your body that you love. Maybe it’s your nose or your legs or your elbows. It can be big or small – just something that either you love or something that others have complimented. Tomorrow or next week or next month, find something else. Keep doing this until your list reaches from the top of your pretty head to the bottom of your adorable heels (yeah, the same heels that are encircled in yucky dead skin sometimes). Whenever you look in the mirror, repeat these things over and over again. Soon, your perspective will change. If not, keep working at it. And hopefully, you’ll soon realize that you’re a beautiful, unforgettable, unique person made in God’s image, for His glory, because He delights in you.

the greatest oxymoron.

I used to go to a church where we had communion every Sunday.  I didn’t understand why at first.  Then I worried that it would become rote, with a weekly occurrence robbing it of its sacredness.  But after a few months, my family and I embraced it.  It brought us closer as a family because there were always recent events that we needed to apologize to one another – instead of trying to wrack our brains once a month for stuff to say sorry for.

The same can be said for the Easter story – all of the events surrounding the crucifixion, the burial, and the resurrection.

If you’ve grown up in the church, you’ve heard this story.  A lot.  You’ve been to multiple services on Easter weekend, all touching on some aspect of the story, and maybe you’ve even been to Passion City Church’s Good Friday service with Louis Giglio (which, if you haven’t, is a must because it’s unparalleled).

Easter, in a sense, can also become rote – obvious and dull for all of us who have grown up listening to this story over and over since it’s so essential to the Gospel.  In the midst of meals with extended family members, egg hunts with small children, and making sure your outfit is finished by Easter morning, it can even be forgotten.  This same struggle happens around Christmastime, when the true meaning for all of the celebrations is pushed aside by the chaos and distractions.

This is true for me.  In the past, I’ve had to repent for focusing more on traveling to see family members than on Jesus’s precious gift to me.

That’s one thing I never want to lose sight of.  It’s the greatest oxymoron I’ve ever known – that by His wounds, He gave me healing.  I’ll never get over that.

But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.
Isaiah 53:5

This Easter, spend time with your family members and enjoy the egg hunt (it’s perfectly fine to be scared of the Easter bunny, though it’s too big why I don’t understand), but take the time to get alone with God.  Sit in your room or take a walk in the woods or drive on a random road in the mountains – whatever it takes to get rid of all of the distractions and outside chaos.  Think about what He did for you, and thank Him for it.  I know I’ll be doing it, because I’ve been awestruck by His grace and love – the love that saved my soul.