It’s Who You’re With: 25 Years of Marriage, Baseball, and Faith

You’ve heard that old cliché, “It’s not where you go or what you do, it’s who you’re with”? My parents are living that to the extreme.

Today, people are remembering September 11, 2001. I respect that; it’s important that we never forget what happened 17 years ago.

But I want to talk about September 11, 1993 – the day my parents got married.

That’s right; 25 years ago today, Kevin M. Renckens and Cyndi J. Kamp tied the knot.

(There weren’t wedding hashtags back then, but I like to think theirs would have been #GoneKamping. Other options include #HappyKamper and #StairwayToKevin.)*

So, what are they doing for their silver anniversary? Renewing their vows? Enjoying a romantic dinner? Revisiting the spot where an Ivy league grad from New York first met a bubbly systems analyst with big, brown eyes?

Nope.

Tonight, they are dining on Chipotle burritos, and in two weeks, they are flying to Ohio.

Because, you know, why settle for Paris when you can always have Cincinnati?

My parents are celebrating their 25th anniversary at the Great American Ballpark, watching a Reds game and chowing down hot dogs. Over the past few years, they have been on a mission to visit every MLB stadium, their navy Rays caps popping up in a new one every few months or so.

If you want to know where baseball ranks in my family’s priorities, my cousin Luke didn’t tell us when he got engaged, but as soon as the Rays officially announced the Logan Forsythe trade, my phone almost dropped dead of exhaustion.

It’s kinda funny; even though Mom is one of the biggest baseball fans I know, she really didn’t take any interest in sports before she met Dad. Now, she keeps up with the Lightning, she can talk about the Bucs…she even tells me about the latest round of the PGA tour.

In that way, Dad completely changed her.

But Mom changed Dad, too.

My dad wasn’t a Christian when he met my mom. In fact, on their first date, when she brought up Christianity, he told her how he could never give up control of his life like that.

He hadn’t figured out yet that Mom is usually right. And even when she isn’t…she is.

Now, he’s taken seminary classes, leads a mission trip to Africa every year, and has helped me, my sister, and so many others learn what it really means to have the heart of Christ.

I’m not here to say which is more important (sports fan or Christ follower), but I think we can all agree they both changed for the better.

(Ok, fine, Jesus is more important than baseball. But you can’t tell me He didn’t play a part in me getting an apartment right next to Tropicana Field.)

You might think that after spending 22 years around what’s been a pretty successful marriage (so far, knock on wood), I could crank out an article on what, based on my observations, is the formula for a strong relationship. But I don’t know if there’s some big secret to a long, happy marriage; I’ve never tried it. Heck, I’ve never even been in a relationship that lasted a full month (not counting when I was five and got married in my sandbox).

But I have learned something about how you know it’s the right person.

A lot of times, when we think of love, we picture someone we’re comfortable with. You know, sitting on the couch together, oily hair coiled into a messy bun, watching Netflix, and eating ice cream straight out of the carton, knowing that he’ll still kiss you goodnight and text you in the morning. Someone whose should you can cry on, who you can open up to about everything.

Feeling relaxed, comfortable, and safe around someone is definitely an important part of a relationship, but true love is more intense than that. It’s caring so deeply about someone, you can’t leave them where you found them. You don’t want to change who they are; in a way, you want them to be more who they are. You want them to be the best version of themselves.

That’s what Jesus did for us, right? God meets us where we are, but He never leaves us there. And no matter how many times we squirm ourselves out of His protective embrace, turn our backs to Him, and run back to the mess He saved us from, He always comes back for us, cleans us up, and brings us home like His beloved bride.

When I imagine what it’s like to be in love, I always think of someone who pushes me to try new things, to grow in some way, whether it’s finally mustering up the nerve to send my short stories to a literary magazine or even something dumb, like pulling me up on stage at karaoke night or just making me put on real clothes and leave my apartment once in a while. (No small feat, lemme tell ya.) I imagine someone who encourages me to do things I would never have done by myself.

Here’s what I have learned: in a healthy relationship, both people are unselfishly, earnestly working to help the other person grow and bring out their best qualities. My parents taught me the importance of being with someone who loves me not just for who I am, but who I can be, and is excited to support me on that journey.

And, of course, who’ll take me to every MLB stadium.

And Chipotle.

So, I guess the old cliché is true – it is about who you’re with, because the right person will take you where you need to go and help you with whatever you do.

If you want more reflections on relationships and advice from someone who has never actually been in a long-term relationship, type your email into the “Stick Around” widget on the top right of the screen! We can figure this out together, friends.

*I kind of just realized that my mom planned their entire wedding without Pinterest…like, how do you pick a dress when you haven’t been digitally hoarding photos for years? That’s probably why so many women wound up picking dresses with sleeves the size of balloons. I firmly believe the entire fashion disaster that was the 80’s could have been prevented if Pinterest had been invented 30 years earlier.

If you’re still reading this, you may be interested in my opinion on weddings (i.e., why I will never have one).

 

“Having Gifts, Let Us Use Them”: The Equality of Career Women and Stay-at-Home Moms

This the third article in a series of responses to the blog post, “Men Prefer Debt-Free Virgins (Without Tattoos).” Over the last couple weeks, I’ve discussed the double standard for Christian men and women and the problem with building an identity around men (or anything other than Christ).

Hours before the sun rose on Erfurt, Germany, Martin Luther would awake on the floor of his spartan room, a table and chair the only furniture in the cell-like space. His monastic life consisted solely of worship, work, and prayer. Upon enclosing themselves behind the stone walls of the monastery, men renounced all earthly pleasures, taking vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. As he dedicated his simple life to the Lord, Luther was taught that monks and nuns had a higher, nobler calling than anyone else.

Then he read the Bible for himself. And he realized that was a lie.

Yet we continue to affirm it.

More than 500 years after the start of the Reformation, we still consider certain work “holier” than others. Specifically, while the secular world often applauds career women more than stay-at-home moms, Christians tend to praise stay-at-home moms over career women – even though favoring either devastates the mission of the church and drains our potential and power as women.

“For the body does not consist of one member but of many,” Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, comparing Christians’ different gifts to various body parts. “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as He chose…As it is, men can act as many parts. Women, on the other hand, were intended to all serve the exact same purpose. Because the God who invented 440 species of sharks and specially designed hummingbirds’ eyes to detect predators’ movements while beating their wings 80 times per second – that God couldn’t think of anything else to do with women, so He gave the body of Christ four billion arms.”

Oh, sorry. I hallucinated there for a second.

Paul opens the chapter, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone” (I Corinthians 12:4-6).

In other words, God designed each of us to glorify Him in a unique way. As David praised, as God shaped us in our mothers’ wombs, He saw our futures (Psalm 139:13-16) and crafted us – our personalities, our talents, our dreams – with a specific vision for our lives.

We know that “every good and perfect gift comes from above” (James 1:17), so all human skill must come from God. Why would we believe He didn’t intend for women to act on the abilities and passions that He gave them? Why, if He gave women the gift of intellect, the capacity for reason, a passion for learning, and placed them in a society and financial position that allows them to attend college, would He forbid them from taking advantage of that opportunity? Or if God gave them talent and ambition, why would He demand they refrain from pursuing a vocation?

The only explanation, if you want to contend that women shouldn’t go to college or pursue careers, is that either everything I just listed is evil (which I don’t think anyone in their right mind would argue) or that, for some inexplicable reason, all women are just supposed to suppress the gifts and passions that God has given them.

Again, that irrational line of thinking is rooted in the idea that certain callings are noble and others are inferior.

The Bible does not imply that women’s role in society is fundamentally different from men. In fact, the much-lauded Proverbs 31 woman is industrious outside the home, buying fields, helping the poor, and even running her own business, making and selling linen garments (#GirlBoss). In the New Testament, Christians actually empowered single women. While Greco-Roman culture dictated that widows remarry within two years, Christians provided widows the financial resources and assistance they needed to live independently.

Some might argue that when we become Christians, we are supposed to present ourselves as a “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1), relinquishing our own desires. But dedicating ourselves to God means striving to be the people He planned us to be before sin twisted the world. It means becoming more like the unique individual He originally intended us to be – not a copy of what well-intentioned legalists say we should be. C.S. Lewis addresses this in The Screwtape Letters: “When [God] talks of [people] losing their selves, He means only abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever.”

God not only calls us to good works, He designed us for them (Ephesians 2:10). Evangelist and author Jack Taylor once observed, “Our adversary would divide us by leading us to suppose…that the Holy Spirit deplores personal motivation.” When we root our identity in Christ, our drive to excel in our craft or industry is the greatest way we can glorify Him, because in doing so, we reflect His workmanship and character.

The persona of God is complex beyond our comprehension. He is an artist who brushes the sky with a fresh palette of colors every morning, but He is also a scientist who calculated the exact tilt and position of the Earth to sustain and nourish life. Jesus is the Prince of Peace who rode into the city of God on a donkey to negotiate an impossible peace treaty, ending thousands of years of division between sinners and a just God. But He is also a warrior who armored Himself in a feeble human body and struck a fatal blow to all the powers of Hell with the cross they nailed Him to.

As flawed, sinful beings, we cannot encapsulate these paradoxical aspects of God wholly or perfectly. But He still fashioned us to reflect these qualities, so together we can project a picture of our Creator. To suppress our gifts is to censor the image of God. It doesn’t matter if it’s an artistic ability, like dance, drawing, or theater; an intellectual pursuit like chemistry, philosophy, or law; an quality like leadership, organization, or peace-making; an “unskilled” position that lays the foundation for society, such as housekeeping, food service, or child-raising. There is value and dignity in all work, and we need to embrace our responsibilities with exuberance, knowing that we do so “for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23).

Because all work is God’s work when He has called you to it.

And if all work is God’s work, then, at its essence, no job can be “nobler” than any other.

That was what Martin Luther realized; all jobs are “masks of God.” To borrow his example, God may not send angels to surround the city gates, but He uses guards to protect the citizens. God may not rain down manna from heaven, but He has equipped farmers with the knowledge to produce crops.

That means that a neurosurgeon is no more valuable in God’s eyes than an automechanic. Ultimately, being a stay-at-home mom isn’t any more dignified than scooping monkey poop at the zoo. (And, based on my babysitting experience, some days it doesn’t feel all that different, either.)

This probably seems extremely uninspiring right now. But I would argue that recognizing the inherent equality of all work is both essential for the mission of the church and incredibly empowering.

For one thing, it liberates us from others’ expectations. We haven’t missed some divine calling just because we aren’t living the “traditional Christian life” of being married and raising a family. By the same token, not being part of the workforce does not equal a less significant role in society. It simply means God has called you to something else, at least for now. Knowing this allows us, like Paul, to be content whatever our circumstances (Philippians 4:11-13).

It also allows us perceive and approach all work – career, parenting, or otherwise – as just work. It is a means of survival, a way to glorify God, and/or (hopefully) something that we personally feel joy and a sense of accomplishment in, but it isn’t the essence of our identity or worth.

Finally – and possibly most importantly – recognizing the equal value of work builds unity.

We are the body of Christ, and as Paul points out, all the members serve a vital, irreplaceable purpose. We are a community of equal members, which means that there is no division – male or female, Jew or Gentile, career woman or stay-at-home mom. It abolishes our right to look down on anyone. It decimates our self-righteous hierarchy.

Sisterhood, and especially sisterhood in Christ, is one of the most precious blessings God has given us. The devastating thing about the “career woman vs. stay-at-home mom” mindset is that it pits women against each other, obliterating the power that we find when we come together, sharing in each other’s lives, rejoicing in each other’s accomplishments, sympathizing with each other’s struggles, offering each other advice, encouragement, help, and love.

Belief that God endows only some Christians with a “holy calling” negates the idea that all believers are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession” (I Peter 2:9). It creates division, not only between “work life” and “spiritual life,” but between believers. Between women.

It defeats the purpose of a God who came to Earth to bring unity, ripping from top to bottom the veil that obscured His face and welcoming His estranged people back to Him.

God has blessed Christian men and women with a diversity of gifts, passions, dreams, and callings. Let’s stop bickering and ostracizing each other like God only calls us to use them in one specific way.

Let’s just use them.

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“If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.” (I Corinthians 12:17-20)

The Identity Crisis of “Men Prefer Debt-Free Virgins (Without Tattoos)”

Author’s Note: For the next few weeks, I am publishing a series of essays responding to a blog post, “Men Prefer Debt-Free Virgins (Without Tattoos).” In the article, the writer basically argues that Christian women should not go to college, get married, or even move out of their parents’ house (until they’re married) because it might distract them from their sole life purpose of raising a large family. Last week, I discussed the double standard for Christian men and women that the article exploits.

I would like to announce that the writer of “Men Prefer Debt-Free Virgins (Without Tattoos)” has rethought her position and admitted that she was incorrect. She said that the title of the post should have been “Godly Men Prefer Debt-Free Virgins (Without Tattoos).”

That’s all.

Good. Because that was the glaring problem with her theology.

But, as someone who struggles with pride (I mean, sure, I have a lot of good qualities, but humility isn’t one of them), I really respect it when people admit they were wrong. So, let’s phrase it her way.

It actually does kind of address the problem I wanted to talk about: leaving out God.

Now, changing the title to “Godly Men Prefer YadaYadaYa” doesn’t fix the issue at all, because the overarching motivation expressed in the piece is still the same: women should lead godly lives (and we’re ignoring her perception of how women live a godly life) to please men.

If this was a video, I would put a record scratch right here.

Not doing things to please other people is a very popular idea in modern mainstream culture. Disney teaches us to wish upon a star and follow our dreams no matter what anyone says. Pop stars croon that you only need to love yourself. You don’t live to please other people; girls don’t need to pander to men; live your life however you want; you do you, babe. #GirlBoss

All that is true, but it’s not the whole truth. And, as my mom likes to say, a half-truth is a whole lie.

Here is part of the truth: not only do we not need to live our lives to please other people, as Christ-followers, we shouldn’t live to please other people.

In church, we talk a lot about how we need to be passionate, “on fire.” We are shouting in the streets, dying to ourselves, conquering kingdoms, extinguishing flaming arrows (Christians love war imagery), crying out loud in the desert, eating wild honey and locusts, and beating our camel hair-clothed chests.

But when it comes to the declaration that “[anyone] prefers [anything],” God allows us to respond with lying-in-our-PJs-watching-golf-after-a-turkey-dinner apathy.

I Corinthians 10:31 says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Christians are still human beings. We experience human wants and needs. In some ways, how we live our lives is no different than the rest of the world – we work, we eat, we sleep (not as much as we should or would like to). The difference in the day-to-day lives of Christians is our motivation for living and, by extension, everything that we do in life. We live to glorify God, because we find our identity in Him and boast in knowing “nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:2).

Here’s another part of the truth: we all find our identity in something.

Our identity is the very core of who we are. Do you know the biblical term for finding our identity in anything except Christ?

Idolatry.

Pastor Tim Keller describes idolatry as “anything in your life that is so meaningful to your life that you can’t have a life if you lose it…in your heart of hearts, you say to it, ‘If I have that, then my life has value, then my life has meaning. And if I lose that, then I don’t know how I would live.’”

That makes for a pretty bleak future when your idol is a temporary object of a fragile reality.

Here’s a third truth: there is nothing intrinsically wrong with wanting to please other people. In fact, we should be serving, encouraging, and caring for others. The problem is when it becomes the consuming purpose of our life.

Here is the truly twisted and insidious truth about modern idols: most – if not all – of them were created by God.

In his book, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis writes that, try as he might, Satan cannot create a single pleasure; the concepts of joy and happiness defy his very essence. Instead, he uses pleasures that God has given us – love, food, money, for example – and subverts them – lust, gluttony, greed. That is what makes sin so alluring and (at least temporarily) pleasing; it was originally designed for us to enjoy.

The problem isn’t that the idols themselves exist or that we enjoy them; the problem is the level of importance with which we regard them and the amount of control we allow them to wield over us.

God gives His children three things: blessings, callings, and an identity. The first two tend to be closely related; for example, God blesses us with a spouse, He calls us to be a faithful and loving wife or husband. He blesses us with a successful career, He calls us to work hard. However, blessings and callings come and go. They do not affect our identity. Our identity is constant. It is always Christ.

Idolatry is when we mistake the blessings or callings that God has given us for our identity. It’s what St. Augustine called “disordered loves.” Suddenly, instead of just making money so we can afford necessities (and the occasional splurge), we base our self-worth on the shape of the dried ink on our paychecks.

And that is absolutely heartbreaking, because here is the final truth: what makes Christianity radically different is that it is the only religion that does not require a performance. Every other religion dictates that you act a certain way, follow a certain code for a deity or whatever the highest power may be to deem you “worthy.”

We don’t have to do that. Our liberated lives are no longer a performance, a succession of rituals to placate a god who views us with indifference. Yet, when we find our identity in anything other than Jesus, we are placing that idol in the judge’s seat. We have no choice but to act out a desperate charade and present our case, hoping for mercy from something that by its own nature demands unceasing drudgery.

Last January, The New Yorker published an article titled “Improving Ourselves to Death.” The writer, Alexandra Schwartz, explores some of the ways that people try – and fail – to mold themselves into the pinnacle of human perfection. Two of the men she writes about, both business professors, spent a year delving into all the popular methods of self-improvement: Crossfit, therapy and life coaching, yoga, drugs, cleanses, stand-up comedy…the list goes on. Every month, they tried to achieve a different virtue: creativity, intellect, athleticism, productivity. At the end of the year, one of the men, André Spicer, realized that his self-focus had ruined his relationship with his wife, who was due to give birth in a few days. Schwartz summarizes what he discovered after a year of striving to perfect himself in every possible way: “On the other side of self-improvement, Cederström and Spicer have discovered, is a sense not simply of inadequacy but of fraudulence…[Spicer] writes, ‘I could not think of another year I spent more of my time doing things that were not me at all.’ He doesn’t feel like a better version of himself. He doesn’t even feel like himself. He has been like a man possessed: ‘If it wasn’t me, who was it then?’”

He lost his sense of identity.

In his famous commencement speech, “This is Water,” writer David Foster Wallace says, “If you worship money and things…then you will never have enough…Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you…Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.”

Wallace concludes, “In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.”

It truly hurts me to say that Wallace was not a Christian, and he committed suicide three years later. Despite his objective realization that all humans worship, he never chose to anchor himself to something that wouldn’t destroy him.

If this seems really depressing and hopeless – you’re right. It is. That’s the point. Our idols will always “eat us alive.” They are insatiable. They will always demand more from us, because when fulfilling our identity depends on our actions, we can never rest.

The good news is that we do not have to submit to them. Jesus is already sitting at the right hand of God – He doesn’t have to sit on the judgement seat anymore. The hammer that nailed Him to the cross acted as the gavel for God to declare His final verdict on those who claim their identity in Him: not guilty.

Paul writes, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20, emphasis added).

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (II Corinthians 5:21).

Court adjourned.

So, let’s try this headline: “Godly Men Prefer Women Who Could Not Care Less What Men Prefer.”

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“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

The Double Standard of “Men Prefer Debt-Free Virgins (Without Tattoos)”

The sounds of jostling and angry murmuring rolled from the back of the crowd gathered at the temple. Pushing their way through the rapt audience, the religious leaders threw a woman, barely clothed and smelling of a telltale pew-y scent at Jesus’ feet as they formed an accusatory circle around her.

“Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery,” they told Him. “Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” (John 8:4-5)

They were itching for an excuse to accuse Him and discredit His teachings. It was a trap, and Jesus knew it. Why? Because if they were sincerely asking His opinion on the Christian response when two people – two – were caught in adultery, then the man would have been thrust into the scorching desert sand, too.

In answer, Jesus challenged the man who was without sin to throw the first stone.

For a moment, nothing happened. Then, one by one, the defiance seeped out of each man’s shoulders, and he turned away, convicted by the depravity that saturated his own upright, religious life.

And from then on, since Jesus seems to have the same set of standards for everybody, Christians vowed to hold each other – male or female – to an equal level of accountability.

Oh, wait. Sorry, I got confused with how the story should have gone.

Recently, a blog post went viral. It’s titled “Men Prefer Debt-Free Virgins (Without Tattoos).” The writer espouses a myriad of unbiblical doctrines, and the fact that she tries to discourage Christian women from going to college or having careers because it distracts them from their sole life purpose of raising a family is an issue that I won’t even tackle. (In this post.)

For now, let’s focus on this: the blatant double standard when it comes to men and women.

Don’t get me wrong; I think that economic responsibility and sexual abstinence are both biblically founded and healthy, practical ideals. But why do we act like these virtues are more important for women than men? Or, maybe more to point, like Christian women need to act as the body armor of God for men?

I wish I could say that the writer of this blog post was just one misguided voice in a sea of reason, but the fact that the post has been shared on social media numerous times with supportive captions disproves that theory.

And I’ve seen it myself. I’ve heard well-meaning women scold girls for wearing tank tops because it “spoils the mystery.” (First of all, does anyone really believe that there is a man in modern America who has never seen a woman’s shoulders? And second – sorry to spoil it, boys – but female shoulders look a lot like a male’s. Are they really that erotic?)

Growing up in church, I learned all the guidelines for dressing modestly: place your hand on your collarbone, and if your neckline is lower than the width of your hand, it’s too low. Shirt sleeves – at minimum – should be as wide as your pointer, middle, and ring finger together. Hold your arms down at your sides; shorts and skirts should be longer than your fingertips. (Does anyone else find it a little ironic that we use other parts of our body to determine how much of our body to show? I’m just saying, it seems like an inconsistent unit of measurement.)

Every summer on the first day of church camp, camp leaders would separate the boys and girls. The boys were told not to fool around with the girls. The girls were told not to dress or act in a way that would entice the boys, enforcing the idea that they are responsible for another person’s purity. If a boy slips up, then it is, at least partly, the woman’s fault for not covering up more.

(It also enforces the idea that the only reason for modesty is to protect boys from temptation, but I don’t have space right now to explain why that’s wrong.)

Here’s the thing: we can’t trust other people to act as our shield of faith. We have to rely on God.

In his book, Gospel, Pastor J.D. Greear uses this example: a guy and girl are alone, sitting on a couch in the girl’s living room. Things start heating up, and the boy feels overwhelmed by his desire. Abruptly, the girl’s Army Ranger father bursts through the door.

Instantly, the boy’s libido crashes.

What happened? His desire didn’t exactly lessen, but his fear of her father (and death) suddenly outweighed his sexual impulse.

It’s the same concept with any sin. The only way to withstand temptation is to be more submissive to God’s authority than our own desires. And that is something no one else can do for us. The world probably isn’t going to change to accommodate us; we need to learn how to live, work, and interact with it without being coaxed away from our Christian walk.

Don’t misunderstand; as believers, we absolutely should strive to help each other stay fixated on Christ and away from temptation. If your friend struggles with alcohol addiction, you wouldn’t be a great friend to constantly suggest hanging out at a bar. But Jesus said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away” (Matthew 5:29, emphasis added). He did not say, “If your eye causes you to sin, go rebuke that thing you’re looking at, because clearly it’s the problem, not you” (Nowhere in the Bible 10:1).

That would be futile advice. We can’t control the external world. We can’t change other people. We can only govern ourselves, and that means we need to take responsibility for our own actions.

I mean, aren’t we over the whole, “This woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave the fruit of the tree to me” thing? (Genesis 3:12)

Adam was a victim, but not of Eve. Of his own desires.

As a result of their choices, they were thrown out of paradise and condemned to a lifetime of physical, emotional, and spiritual anguish as God’s plan to bring mankind back to Him began to unfold.

Of course, before casting them out of the garden, God told Eve, “Since this guy who just totally threw you under the bus clearly needs some help staying holy and upright, I’m sending you along as his spiritual service animal. Go, and make sure that he sins no more.”

Oh, sorry. I got confused again.

So, why does this issue even matter? To use the old adage, kids are starving in Africa, Christians are being massacred in the Middle East, drug addicts are sleeping on the concrete just outside our church buildings. Why waste time griping that Christians judge women too harshly and go too easy on men?

Well, for one thing, it mattered to Jesus. He spent a large portion of His ministry with some of the most marginalized and despised people in Jewish culture: Samaritans, beggars, tax-collectors, prostitutes, cripples, and women. He didn’t do it on accident, either. He was proving a point: being united in Christ means being equal in Christ. In Galatians 3:28, Paul affirms this idea, writing, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

This whole blaming women thing has been a problem since sin was invented. The bigger question is, why do we still do that? Why are we shoving the woman into the dirt while letting the man stay in bed? Just like when the religious leaders threw the adulterer at Jesus’ feet, it must be a trap, but what are we trying to accomplish? The only possible answer is that we are trying to ambush and disparage each other.

Here’s the crux of the problem: until we stop looking for excuses to blame one another, we can never unleash our full potential as the church. We can’t lead the world to Christ when we’re busy accusing half the people on earth of using pink spaghetti straps to drag the other half into sin.

We need to acknowledge that we all fall short of God’s perfect glory. We all struggle with sin and temptation. We all kinda suck.

When two people sin, they are equally at fault. They both need to be at Jesus’ feet, and we shouldn’t be circling them, stones in hand and arms flexed. We should all be at His feet – debt-free, virgin, non-tatted, or not.

Maybe that’s what Jesus was getting at all along.

Throughout the next few weeks, I plan to talk about other issues with “Men Prefer Debt-Free Virgins (Without Tattoos).” Next week will be on idolatry of marriage and family. If you want to stay in the loop, type your email into the “Stick Around” widget on the top right of screen!

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10, ESV)

Smith Corona typewriter

Moving In

It wasn’t anything dramatic, I just didn’t know where to put my keys.

“I’m going to try not to be sad,” Mom had told me about an hour ago. And to her credit, Dad did not have to physically pry her clinging arms off me and lead her away like he did when they dropped me off at college for the first time. We hugged, said goodbye, and then I left.

As I backed out of our driveway, the sun crept down toward the Alafia river. I had planned to leave earlier, but the rain delayed me.

This was my first time moving into an apartment all by myself. No family, no roommates, not even a pet. (Unless you count my Baby Groot chia pet, whose little clay tree trunk head had yet to see the outside of the box. I’d been waiting to plant him until I had found a place to live and settled in.)

The next day, I would start my first post-grad job as communications coordinator at a product solutions company.

The sky shone pale yellow, tires kicked up clouds of pale of daffodil-colored mist as I drove to my new apartment.

It was only an hour from home; no big deal, I told myself. Until I unlocked my apartment door and walked in, keys jangling as they swung from the fob around my wrist, and I realized I didn’t know where to put them.

It’s one of those small, daily rituals, so routine you don’t even think about it until you walk into a new apartment, walls smooth and blank as an eggshell, and realize that you don’t know where to put your keys, hang up your purse, or plug in your phone, and there’s no one to tell you.

I didn’t have to beat away a bramble of clothes to reach to my bed, no dishes in the sink “soaking.” (I.e., hanging out until either I give in or they develop their own ecosystem.)

There was only one familiar item within 400 square feet: my bed.

I’ve had the same bed for as long as I can remember: a full-size with a white coverlet embroidered with a floral pattern. When I was in elementary school, the bed ran diagonal to the far right corner of my room, meaning the headboard and two sides of the yellow walls formed a triangle just the right size for an 8-year-old kid. I used to drop behind the headboard and write on it with my “spy pen.” You couldn’t see the ink unless you cast the purple light on the other side of the pen over it.

I like to imagine that the ink is still there, that if I bought a blacklight and shone it on the smooth white boards, childish scribblings would appear, glowing pale purple, like futuristic hieroglyphics.

I used to like leaving words around. I can’t remember how, but I somehow managed to chisel the word “detectiev” (“detective” – I could never remember how to spell it) into my desk in fine, pointed letters. “Cat” was penciled onto the baseboards.

And I guess I still like to leave words all over the place…although now I generally use pens or my laptop and leave the furniture alone.

On the walls of my college dorm, I hung prints of our college magazine layouts – the cover of my first magazine as editor-in-chief, stories I wrote, dummy copies with mistakes circled in pink pen. Growing up, I never hung pictures of pop stars or movie posters in my room. They always seemed confrontational – hands on hips, looking flamboyantly into the distance against obtrusive gusts of wind. They never invited me to get to know them. They never offered to tell me a story.

Realizing I couldn’t just stand in my kitchen all night, I stuck my keys in my purse, which I hung from the bedpost, next to my invisible scrawls.

The next morning, I covered the walls with magazine pages. And I planted my Baby Groot chia pet.

Baseball Gods and Fantasy Football

When I looked at my phone and saw 11-8, my heart dropped. I clicked “My Team” and scrolled through my players, looked at Team Smith’s roster, and consulted ESPN. Then, being home for Thanksgiving break, I ran outside, where my dad was mowing the lawn. I made him stop and showed him my phone, pointing to where I was projected to lose 123-126.

“I wouldn’t worry about it until after the first quarter,” he said.

I joined the crazy world of fantasy football because Ted Kluck, the faculty advisor for our school newspaper, walked up to the table where my friend Lydia and I were eating in Cobo, pointed at me, and said, “Caleb [the sports editor] and I are making a fantasy football league. You need to join. There’s an email in your inbox.”

I grew up in Tampa. We have three major sports: hockey, baseball, and football. But we’re not known for our football. Or our baseball. (In a good way.) For me, though, the difference between football and baseball is that I enjoy baseball.

I have never watched a televised football game. I have watched a lot of high school football games…using the word “watched” loosely. I ran the concession stand, talked to my friends, and called quarters “innings”.

Even as I agreed to join fantasy football, I knew that my competitive nature would take over. I started running crosscountry in middle school. My first meet, I was in fourth place, mere feet from the finish line, when I stopped. I couldn’t see straight. I could barely walk. My flushed red face contrasted with my dead white lips. Following my dad’s voice, I kept lurching to the finish where I swooned and threw up. I still finished seventh in a race with more than a hundred runners, but it the fact that I could have been fourth or possibly even third bugged me well into high school.

My first two weeks playing fantasy were not great. I lost both. My first week, I played the team that led the league for nine week on his best game of the season. My second game I only lost by seven points. Then I buckled down.

I started reading about football. ESPN, Sports Illustrated, CBS…anything that could give me an insight into this world of tackles and touchdowns. I started consulting with my dad. I checked my line-up and stats over and over and over.

And the Alley Cats started winning. After those first two games, I went on an eight-game winning streak. By week 11, I led the league in points. I led the western league. Only Ted, whose team was 9-1, was ahead of me.

Week 11, my team played Team Smith. It was three weeks to the play-offs and I if I won, I would only need one more win to clinch a spot in the play-offs. Plus, I like to win. Sunday, I checked my phone constantly. My defense had played Thursday and almost gave me 15 points, but they allowed 17 points in the 4th quarter, leaving me with eight.

I was projected to lose, then win by 12 points, then we were projected to tie, then she was projected to win, then me. Then tie.

If art and creativity do come from pain, the next few weeks may result in the best writing of my life.

I took my laptop down to the living room. To watch a football game. On TV. For the first time. Ever.

The Bucs were playing the Kansas City Chiefs. (Until maybe an hour before, I didn’t know that Kansas City had a team other than the Royals). According to an article by Tom Jones, the Bucs reporter for the Tampa Bay Times, the Chiefs are arguably the best team in the AFC. (I also didn’t know what the AFC was.) They were at an NFL-best 17-2, an 11-game winning steak, and 16-4 at home since the 2014 season. Sports Illustrated ranked them No. 3 in their power rankings. The Bucs were No. 21.

Jones wrote, “If you’re an NFL team, there are three types of games: Games that you are supposed to win. Games that you are supposed to lose. And games that could go either way. Today is a game the Bucs are supposed to lose…But sooner or later, if you’re going to take the next step as a franchise, you have to win games you’re not supposed to. You need to pull off an upset that makes everyone go, ‘Whoa!’”

When I joined fantasy football, I knew that I would probably lose. How could a girl who never had any interest in football possibly compete with a bunch of guys who have been watching the sport their whole lives?

But if ever the baseball gods were smiling on their downtrodden worshippers, they were this year. The year that the teams with the two worst records in the MLB faced each other in the World Series. The year that people yell-sang “Go, Cubs, Go” all the way down Lake Shore Drive and threw blue streamers in the air. Maybe – just maybe – this was the year that a baseball-loving football novice from Tampa could win a fantasy football league.

11:30 p.m. Team Smith was finished with 134 points. I bit my nails, watching my last three men, none of them earning me points. Washington kept trying to run for extra points (I forget what that’s called) instead of using my kicker. Then, when my fantasy score was 133-134, they used my kicker. And instead of tying the game for me, his kick sent the football into the side of the goalpost.

I screamed.

I screamed again, less than two minutes later, when Adams caught a pass and earned me five points.

The Bucs won that week, too. Sometimes you do win games you shouldn’t.

(And, hopefully, the baseball gods will at least wink at Tampa next season.)

2016-06-17 12.24.48-2.jpg

Get Lost…or Not…

My cross country coach delighted in misdirection.

Three days a week, she rounded us up at the crack of dawn for a workout at the Dover Horse Trails, a network of paths leading through woodland, field, and Florida scrub at different stages. (If you don’t know what Florida scrub is, I’m sorry, but I won’t try to explain it.) I had to wear two pairs of socks and wrap my feet in bandages to prevent the dew from soaking through my shoes and socks and leaving gaping blisters on my feet.

Getting lost on those dew-soaked, godforsaken trails was practically a rite of passage for the cross country team. It brought Coach Laura a certain level of sadistic satisfaction. She said that when we got lost, she got to see how far we could really run. (Because, for some reason, no wrong turn led to a shorter route. It was just endless miles of scrub…which you can Google, if you’re so curious.)

Well, I just finished my second week of living in Birmingham. I moved into my apartment on Monday, May 30. And on Tuesday, June 1, I started my summer internship, working as a full time reporter.

Suddenly, not only was I living in a strange city – a strange state, actually – I had to write about a city that consists of five different regions, find my way around it/them for stories, interviews, and photos.

Let me tell you – I have gotten lost a lot in the past week.

I have missed turns, taken wrongs turns…made more mistakes I won’t talk about because the people who pay for my car insurance read this blog…

And as I miserably blundered my way through Birmingham traffic for so long I heard the same song play on the radio three times, I could not help but dolefully reflect on the philosophical implications of getting lost.

It is easy to have a devil-may-care attitude about getting lost when you have a safety net. Namely, Madam GPS. I apologize to her when I miss turns after she has patiently informed me that my turn is one mile…three quarters of a mile…half a mile…a quarter of a mile…900 feet…500 feet…250 feet…100 feet in back of you and two lanes away, you bumbling idiot.

Actually, she has extraordinary patience. (Which is why I wish all people were like phones: calm and easy to put away. There’s never any drama with a phone.) But it also makes it easier for me; I know that if I make a mistake, she will almost instantly compensate for it and steer me onto the right path.

I know that we grow by making mistakes (which is probably what Coach Laura was getting at, in addition to her perverse thrill) but we shouldn’t be careless about it. Mistakes happen so that we can learn how to not make that mistake again.

And yet, I still turn when she says I have 800 more feet to go because I’m not actually paying attention to the street signs.

Which is probably the bigger lesson here: take advantage of the resources you have to prevent yourself from making that stupid mistake.

Heurism is an effective teaching method, but it’s also a dangerous one. Mistakes don’t just affect us. It’s a miracle I haven’t killed someone abruptly turning without my signal or screeching across multiple lanes to get to my exit.

And we should be grateful when we have directions.

Right now, my directions end at the edge of a stage, clutching a diploma – an empty roadmap that assures the world I am qualified to set out on my own, but doesn’t give a single hint about which way I should go. I don’t know if I’ll step left or right or keep going straight. I’ll probably just take a swan dive and land on my face.

But my feet will hit the ground, too, eventually.

I guess we if we use our heads and stop blindly following a robotic voice, we’ll all emerge stronger from our time wandering in the Florida scrub. (Seriously, look it up.)

Where Spring Begins

baseballWe paid ten dollars to the lady wearing a Home Depot apron and neon traffic vest for the honor of parking at the Good Earth Crematory, right next to Bradenton Propane, across the street from Top Gun Towing. We piled out of the car and followed one of the golf carts driven by a security member (as denoted by his red collared shirt with the yellow “P” embroidered over his heart) to the oasis of tall palm trees poking out from the surrounding yards of rusty chain-link fence.

This was my last night in Florida. The next day, I would fly back to Jackson, Tennessee. The day I left, it was 48-degrees with fierce winds blowing across a landscape of brown grass and gray skies. Growing up in the Sunshine State, I struggle to understand why it still feels like the dead of winter in March, but that isn’t what prevented it from feeling like spring; it was the sense of not honoring one of our beloved traditions: spring training.

Outside McKechnie Field, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ spring training field, one man holds up helmets with Pirates’ and Tampa Bay Rays’ logos, calling out, “Ten dollars! Ten dollars!” Two men hold fistfuls of tickets in the air and cry with raspy voices, “Tickets! Tickets! Tickets!” They stare us down with dollar signs dancing in their vulture-like eyes even though we’re holding our large, pre-printed entry passes to scare them off.

It’s only 15 minutes until game time and a sizable crowd is meandering into the stadium, a mob of black and yellow Pirate jerseys, blue and white Rays jerseys, and gaudy Hawaiian prints. The crowd narrows into four lines, passing by security guards who scan passes and glance into bags for contraband (weapons, drugs, and opened water bottles).

We finally squeeze through. Even though I’ve been coming to ballparks for as long as I can remember, I am still hopelessly incapable of finding seats. Trusting my dad’s confident stride, I follow my parents around the back of the grandstand.

The tops of palm trees reach higher than any of the bleachers. Green, perfectly manicured grass grows around the trunks of the trees, like small squares of the perfectly manicured lawns of the expensive houses by the bay. People recline in plastic lawn chairs, sipping large cups of lemonade in the shade.

Fried foods, grilled onions and peppers, hotdogs, and ketchup scent the open-air stadium. Smoke rises from some of the food vendor stalls, not black smoke, but a delicate, whitish smoke that promises something delicious and fattening is about to come off the grill. Although the food vendors wear black caps with yellow “P” on them, branding them for Pittsburgh, their tanned arms and easy-going smiles have a distinctly Floridian vibe.

I used to have a system for eating at the ballpark. After the third inning, while the groundkeepers tidied the field, I would get a foot-long hot dog, ketchup oozing over the meat and a thin line of mustard down one side. I never added mustard when I ate a hot dog at home, but the baseball diamond seemed to require a special touch, like trying to dress up an old t-shirt with a statement necklace. After the sixth inning, when the groundkeepers again magically re-emerged, pulling their rakes, I would slowly consume a pretzel larger than my fist, cholesterol levels flaring as I bit into the chewy dough wrapped in a chrysalis of salt. My gluten allergy and health consciousness (read: calorie counting) prevent me from eating those foods now, but the smell still makes my mouth water and heart beat a little faster.

It’s almost 6 p.m. on the last Saturday of March and the Florida sun, while not oppressive, shines brightly. My dad and I are wearing shorts and a Rays shirt, but Mom wore jeans, an elbow-length Tampa Bay Lightning shirt over a camisole, and a baseball cap with the logo of the company my dad works for.

“I didn’t realize we were playing the Pirates,” she says regretfully, adjusting the black and yellow hat. Dad reminds her that this is their stadium.

Mom removes the Lightning shirt soon after sitting down. I pull down the brim of my hot pink Rays cap just over my eyebrows so I could see home base without squinting. Over the course of the game, the sun slowly dropped out of sight, warming the left side of my face. This is probably the only spring training game I’ve been to that I won’t get a sunburn.

The players are still warming up, rolling on the ground with resistance bands, throwing a ball back and forth, and running with strange, skipping steps, kicking their knees high and wringing their waists like a wet towel. A few jerseys don’t have names on them, signifying their minor league status.

Mom nudges me and points to kids crowding the fences, holding balls, notebooks, and Sharpies high in the air. “Remember when that was Ryan?”

We used to come to games three hours early so that my cousin Ryan could collect autographs. However, now that he’s 6’4” and captain of the high school football team, players overlook him (or look under him) in favor of younger fans.

We’re sitting in the grandstand near the Pirates’ dugout, surrounded by black and yellow shirts. We’re less than an hour away from Tampa Bay, home of the Rays, but these interlopers have acclimated themselves nicely to their sunny environment, growing like an exotic plant, trying to choke out the native flora.

I don’t actually have anything against the Pirates or their fans (unlike the Red Sox or Yankees). Nevertheless, I feel a mother-bear protectiveness whenever my team is playing.

I’m too far away to hear the sounds of the game: the taunting whistle of the ball as it jauntily flies over home plate at over 90 mph; the desperate whoosh of the bat as a nameless jersey wildly beats the air; the low, satisfying thump as a fly ball securely nestles itself in an outfielder’s outstretched glove; the scuffle of cleats as a player slides onto a base; the emphatic, guttural declarations of the umpire.

The noise surrounding me drowns out what is happening on the field. My ears hum with cheers when a beloved player steps up to bat. The child behind me tries to intelligently discuss the game. (“Can he steal the base now, dad?”) A couple can’t figure out where they’re supposed to sit and keep getting booted out from their seats complain complacently. The loudspeaker echoes with announcements. (“Now, stepping up to the mound, third baseman, Evan Longoria!”) The food vendors impressively extend monosyllabic words as they climb through the stands. (“Bee-eer! Get yer ice-cold bee-eer!”) Sometimes, I can’t see the ump’s sharp hand signals, but I almost always hear the response from the crowd, whether they’re applauding an excellent call (which, coincidentally, benefits their team) or demanding his head while waving torches and pitchforks (i.e., hot dogs and soda bottles).

There’s no Jumbo Tron, no cameras scanning the crowd, no boisterous fans in heavy face paint, no walk up music to rev up the crowd as players swagger to the plate. Seagulls glide over the field, extending their wings and emitting small cries, as though they’re gunning for the best view of the game and cheering on players. In the spaces between the stands on the other side of the stadium, I can see an automotive building and cars driving past. In the seventh inning, a drunk man jumped onto the field and threw beer cans at the Rays dugout. There’s a distinct lack of the extravagant glamour and sleek intensity that we’ve come to expect while watching professional sports.

The only thing that doesn’t change from preseason to regular season is the people: the little leaguers with major league dreams; the men whose faded caps cover balding heads filled with the stats of every player on the field; the families raising their kids to love the sport and know who to root for (“Not the Yankees, Ali”); the people who don’t seem to know what’s happening or even who is playing, like the woman sitting in front of me wearing a Yankees shirt, Yankees cap, and Yankees headband. (Just…why?)

The famous quote from the movie Field of Dreams holds true: if you build it, they will come. Whether you build a multimillion dollar stadium or build it in a city neighborhood beside a crematory and a towing company, we always come. Because the red dirt of the infield spells out something more valuable than most things written in Expo marker on a classroom whiteboard. Because here we find friends and nemeses (here’s looking at you, Yankee Doodle lady). Because spring doesn’t enter like a lion or a lamb or with a balmy breeze and kaleidoscopes of flowers. Spring begins here. With the thump of a leather glove.

Toto, We’re Not in Florida Anymore

2015-02-16 07.13.28-2It didn’t begin with the sirens, but with a beep from Lydia’s phone. Then, all our phones started ding-ing and I ended up crammed into the bathroom (our “safe zone”) with two of my roommates, our friend Rachel, and two of the girls who live above us. Scrunched into our shower, I remembered being back home when I was little, snuggling up in my closet with a flashlight and books while a hurricane raged outside. Funny. This is the closest to my hometown (Tampa Bay) I’ve felt in a while.

For the past few weeks, I’ve battled icy conditions with youthful vigor and the charming naivety of a baby playing with a rattlesnake. The first time I saw my windshield coated with an armor of thick ice, I had no strategy for counterattack. I wrenched my car door open and turned on the heat and the windshield wipers, which didn’t help. After a hasty retreat to my dorm, I returned brandishing glass cleaner and paper towels. (Spoiler alert: they didn’t work.)

As a tow-headed third grader, I got an entire week off because of the imminent threat of hurricanes. I’ve run three miles along the beach in rain, thunder, lightning, and hail. But this was my first tornado. I’d imagined it would start with a dark stillness in the sky, then cyclonic winds would tear shutters (that magically appeared for this fantasy) off the dorm windows…something like The Wizard of Oz.

Instead, it looks and sounds like a thunderstorm, except that I can hear the warning sirens and feel the cold, smooth bottom of our shower while we wait for our RA to give us the all-clear.

Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.

I think there’s a reason that’s one of the most famous lines in cinematic history. It expresses a pensive sense of displacement. It was obvious that she was far from home, but there’s still a sense of hesitancy, uncertainty, and innocent bewilderment as Dorothy wonders where she is. And this simple statement implies a poignant question: can we return home?

They say “home is where the heart is,” but what the heck is that supposed to mean? I divide most of my time between college and where I grew up, about a 900-mile difference. When I’m at school, I miss my family, usually calling them a couple times a week and texting constantly. Then again, homecoming isn’t like a parade across the football field wearing a sparkly crown and holding a bouquet of red roses; it’s more like precariously walking a tightrope, attempting to balance the freedom I have at school with that fact that I’m back in the room I’ve had since I was eight. And no matter where I am, I spend a lot of time planning where to go next. For instance, right now, I’m planning on moving to Birmingham this summer for an internship.

Each one of these places has my heart somehow; I love my family, I love my friends, I love school, and I love my work. It would be so simple if I could just click my heels and magically be transported to one place where everyone and everything I care about exists in perfect harmony. Instead, I’m sprinting down yellow brick roads, hoping they’ll carry me to my dreams.

Saying that I don’t know where home is sounds heartbreakingly mournful. But I don’t think it is. It’s only sad if there’s nowhere to go or no one to be with. There’s something wonderful – scary and beautiful and bewildering – about facing a world full of open doors, hearts willing to welcome you in, and suitcases ready to travel to every corner of the globe.

Maybe that’s the idea. Maybe home doesn’t have to be one, single place. Maybe a central facet of maturity is the conscious decision to find joy in any situation, love for new neighbors, and beauty in foreign surroundings, so that wherever we are, we can sincerely and confidently say, “There’s no place like home.”

 

Why I Celebrated my 20th with Darth Vader and Hello Kitty

2016-01-04 06.47.16.jpgThis morning when I walked out of my room, I almost ran into Darth Vader.

Well, not the actual Darth Vader (although I would be pretty psyched and a twinge creeped out to find James Earl Jones wandering around my dorm room). It was a piñata head dangling from my doorway, framed in white streamers.

Maybe I should mention that it’s my birthday.

Which prompts the question: what have I learned from the 20 years I’ve spent on earth?

Well, the first few years, I mostly spent mastering the fine arts of talking, walking, feeding myself, etc. I am proud to say that my efforts in these areas were successful. For the most part. 

In the third book in the “Anne of Green Gables” series, Anne turns 20 and remarks, “Miss Stacy told me that when I was 20, my character would be formed for worse or for better.”

As I’m sitting here, wearing Star Wars pajama pants, surrounded by superhero posters, Hello Kitty streamers dangling from the ceiling, a Wonder Woman cape hanging from my door, facing our dartboard, which has a place of honor across from our Xbox and GameCube, attached to our TV, which is currently playing “Lilo and Stitch,” I have to wonder…really, how much have I grown?

Frankly, this isn’t exactly how I imagined life would be at 20.

But is it a bad thing? I don’t think so.

When you’re 20, no one really expects you to have your future figured out (although they keep asking you about it) or even be able to keep your clothes off the floor (except your parents…they never lose hope). As I’m madly scribbling papers and desperately skimming test materials, I check my email for responses to my numerous summer internship applications and play episodes of old Disney channel shows.

Even though I still enjoy the same things, now I see different things in them. For example, in “Lilo and Stitch,” I realized how protective Nonnie was of her sister, despite their fighting. I almost cried when Stitch as looked for his ohana.

On some level, maybe these are things I always understood. Maybe what we call “maturity” is just being able to put into words what we instinctively felt as children.

Going back to Anne, immediately after making this comment, she decides to go for a walk in the park, where a tall, dark, and handsome classmate rescues her from the rain, sends her flowers the next day, and they date for the rest of their time in college.

I doubt that will happen to me today. Or ever.

But did Anne’s friends hang a Darth Vader piñata from her doorway? Or fill her living room with Hello Kitty streamers?

I think not.

In fact, I never thought about it until today, but Anne’s friends didn’t even spend her birthday with her. They went to a football game, leaving Anne curled by the fire with the cats and her friend’s great-aunt.

So, who really had the better birthday?

I’ll probably have a boyfriend eventually. But right now, I have the best friends and family ever. And that’s a pretty great way to start the next decade of my life.

Although meeting James Earl Jones would also be fantastic.

hk