November 6, 2019No Comments

Audacity

Every couple of weeks or so, I seriously consider whether or not I know anything about relationships or human beings. Conceptually, sure I probably know some things. But every so often I am reminded of some flaw in my logic that plays itself out in my real day-to-day. It’s one thing to sit in my office theorizing and pondering. Part of me believes that if I think hard enough, I will crack the code and find the one-size-fits-all formula that will allow me, and by extension you, to relate to other humans perfectly. And then I go out and relate to actual humans, whose behavior does not lend itself to formulas. Rude. 

Just such an existential crisis occurred this week. Monday, in fact, in therapy. Yes, I am aware that it is only Wednesday. Every week, Dr. Therapist lets me into his office, I fix the pillows on the couch because whoever is before me always leaves behind a disheveled atrocity, and I sit as Dr. Therapist asks me how I am. Existential crises are a bit of a hobby of mine, which is fitting as a twenty-something writer who spends way too much time in her own head.

The past couple of weeks, however, have been jam packed with socializing. I’m recording the third season of my podcast (nine interviews down, two to go), I went on a bachelorette weekend, and my calendar of activities doth overflow. ‘Twas a lot for this 93% introvert, even though I loved everything to which I said yes.

By the time I arrived at Dr. Therapist’s on Monday, my derp brain had internally yelled obscenities at each and every human whomst crossed my path. And, as I live in Manhattan, ‘twas a lot of internal screaming. It didn’t matter what they were doing; it was all wrong and deeply offensive. 

So when Dr. Therapist asked how I was doing, down the rabbit hole we went. One of the main issues that had me imploding was a fun character trait that has made its way to the forefront of my awareness. Over the course of some of my interviews, I found myself returning to this idea of achievement-based relationships. This theory posits that there is a right way to do relate to other humans, and that if I work hard enough, I’ll be able to do it, thereby winning at relationships. In hearing myself explore the idea over and over, I realized I was operating off of faulty logic. That can’t be how relationships work. 

Over the past 7 posts, we’ve looked at several defining characteristics of love. Trust, revelation, kindness, humility, sacrifice, forgiveness, and endurance. In all of them, I endeavored to turn the idea on its head. Sometimes we need that slightly altered perspective to see ourselves clearly.

And that’s what happened on Monday. Dr. Therapist listened to my thoughts and stories from the week as he always does. Then he said our actions are motivated by one of two things: to gain reward, or to avoid pain. In making a conscious or subconscious decision, it’s more natural for me to think of all the things that could go wrong and completely disregard what will happen if it all works out. 

And that brings us to this week’s theme. I’ve spent the past eight weeks talking about some of the ways we derp up this love thing, even when we have the best intentions. There is merit in examining our motivations, to be sure. But shifting the focus to the benefits of love knowing the potential cost takes audacity. Even though, as they say, “Love is like oxygen; love is a many splendored thing, love lifts us up where we belong” (yes, that’s from Moulin Rouge. No ragrets).

Giving and receiving love in its many forms is the lifeblood of what it is to be human. There is always a risk. And to some people, including your girl more often than I’d like to admit, the risk doesn’t feel worth it. And, of course, with an achievement-based filter, why would it be? 

Perhaps you have read this quote before. It’s from C.S. Lewis’ book The Four Loves. “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket - safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.” 

Mayhaps the point of love isn’t to never be hurt and to never hurt, though of course we should endeavor to not hurt each other. Mayhaps the point of love has nothing to do with winning and losing and achieving. Mayhaps the point of love is that we simply cannot live without it. We can’t have the joy without the hurt, and mostly we get them both at once. And mysteriously that is a good and beautiful thing. 

In all the lack and plenty of this life, love in its forms is an experience to be lived, not a problem to be solved. In a commentary on the quintessential passage from the Bible on love, which I referenced last week, the author opened with this quote from G. Campbell Morgan, “examining this chapter is like dissecting a flower to understand it. If you tear it apart too much, you lose the beauty.” We learn how to love by loving. For this high-achieving perfectionist, that is not the most appealing prospect.

The word “audacity” implies a brazen boldness, one that knows the risk but presses on regardless. In my fretful overthinking, I forget that love’s mystery is part of what makes it beautiful. That doesn’t mean we experience and express the same kind of love and commitment to everyone we meet. But no matter how much we ponder and consider, we won’t get all the variables up front. And even if we did, we would never be caught off-guard or surprised by love. Perhaps for those of us who are motivated by avoiding pain, the most audacious thing we can do is say yes to the people who have been brought into our lives. Perhaps the biggest risk is believing that our focus can shift from all the potential hurt to all the inevitable joy. And maybe grace will cover the rest. 

October 30, 2019No Comments

Love Endures

I met my first and hitherto only boyfriend when I was sixteen and was almost instantly convinced that we were going to get married.

Bless. 

Marshall (not his real name) moved to my wee hometown the summer before our junior year of high school. He asked me to be his girlfriend during a sunset stroll along the beach on August 27. Things could not have been more perfect. 

Until they weren’t. 

Marshall and I fell hard for each other. He was unabashedly all about me, like complimenting me and expressing his feelings and stuff. I am not what one might call effusive, so my version of being all about Marshall manifested as a stoic and reserved respect. Until Marshall told me that he wanted to get me a promise ring. Though we had been dating for less than a year and I assumed he meant the pre-engagement type of promise ring. Wow, I thought, he must really love me. It turns out that he meant one of those “True Love Waits” promise rings, alternatively known as purity rings. But still, at the time, I took it at a statement of commitment. And we were planning to wait to have sex anyways, so sure I wore the ring and signed the little card that came with it. 

I don’t know why we were so gung-ho about getting married so quickly into things (it was absolutely because of the whole waiting for sex thing). We even talked about getting married right after high school. As I was sixteen, I thought that, upon turning eighteen, I would miraculously become an adult ready to commit to what might end up being eighty years of marriage. Then I turned eighteen. 

We ultimately decided that we should wait until after college to get married. Four years would be hard, especially as we were at different schools, but we believed our love could endure. After all, we both loved Jesus and therefore we could endure anything. It would totally be worth it once we graduated and could get married. 

Approximately four months after leaving for college, Marshall started expressing doubts about our relationship. And by that I mean he sent me a text that said, “I’m having doubts about our relationship.” I was shocked. Sure, things had been tense for a little while. We were having trouble maintaining the physical boundaries we had set. We went to vastly different schools. I can’t speak to what all was going on with him, but through our separation I realized that I had lost a lot of myself in that relationship and was trying to make changes. But, I thought, we can work it out. We just have to try a little harder. 

In April of our freshman year, we broke up. More specifically, I broke up with him. And yet, even after that conversation, during which he took a phone call from his mother, part of me believed that we would get back together. 

We didn’t. He started dating someone else five months after we broke up. They are now married with at least two kids. 

Love is a funny thing. At several of the weddings I’ve been to recently, the officiant has said something about love being a choice. I get what they’re saying, because when you’re with someone for a long time, you’re bound to drive each other a little nutso. But love endures all things, as Paul writes in the quintessential passage on love (1 Corinthians 13:7, ESV). I looked up the word “endure” in preparation for writing this blog, and Google said, “suffer patiently.” Really selling it, Google. The second definition listed said, “remain in existence; last, " which has a less masochistic connotation. 

In my relationship with Marshall, I thought it was noble and right to endure in “loving” each other. But the way we were “loving” each other was actually hurting both of us. I now realize that in Marshall, I wasn’t really looking for love as much as I was looking for a sure future and stability. I was looking for someone to tell me I was ok. 

I don’t know that there’s a hard and fast rule of when to tough it out and when to walk away, the obvious exception being abusive relationships. There are probably some good guidelines, as there have been a plethora of books written on love. For Marshall and me, it was a little bit of listening to our intuition and a whole lot of Jesus opening our eyes to how unhealthy things were between us. Neither of us could build endurance in love by perpetuating our toxic habits. But it turns out there were other people with whom we could work through a better understanding of love. Mine has been with friends, mentors, and really good therapists so far. In the end, enduring in love has looked more like building endurance than stoically suffering when a thing isn't right. And I think that's closer to what Paul was talking about anyway.


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October 23, 2019No Comments

Love Forgives

In a sheriff's office four hours away, a warrant was issued for my arrest.

I was a junior in college at the time. Seven days earlier, I was leading a Bible Study for a group of high schoolers like I did many Thursday nights. My boss was there, along with a couple other leaders, the family hosting us in their home, and roughly twelve teenagers. Afterwards, I went over to a friend's apartment. I had recently returned from a study abroad trip focusing on social entrepreneurship in Honduras. Our group had gotten close, so some of us were meeting up that night to hang out. I swiped into my apartment building around midnight, and went to sleep.

The next afternoon, I was studying in the on-campus coffee shop when I got a phone call from my dad. "Your brother is in trouble and you need to know that your name is on a warrant. You'll be getting a call from our lawyer soon to sort this out." I didn't know what to say. It was too absurd. My dad explained that my brother and a female friend had gotten in an altercation with a third person. The third person ended up filing charges, and told the sheriff that the perpetrators were my brother and "his sister." So when my brother went to the station to turn himself in, the deputy asked for my name and information. He gave it to them. And now here I was with my name on a warrant for something that happened four hours away while I was teaching high schoolers about Jesus.

After talking to the lawyer, I needed to secure alibi statements from people who could verify my whereabouts at the time in question. As an introvert, it is miraculous that I wasn't, "in my room, making no noise and pretending I [wasn't] there," to quote Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I then had to call my boss from the Bible Study and ask if he'd be willing to vouch for me. I could have asked anybody in attendance, but he had recently become an official reverend, and could sign his statement as such. A reverend makes for a pretty unimpeachable witness in the Bible Belt. I then needed to email my friend who hosted the get together and ask if he would also send in a statement.

With my alibi secured, I had to wait and trust that the lawyer would do her job, that the sheriff wouldn't do his, and that if I were arrested, the truth would come out. I also had to wrap my brain around the violation of trust that roped me into this mess in the first place. I could very possibly go to jail and have a permanent record for something I couldn't have possibly been involved in. I would have to explain it on every job application, loan application, anything official. 

Though the lawyer was working diligently to clear everything up, one week after the incident, I got another call from my dad. He said that I shouldn't drive anywhere for the foreseeable future. The warrant was finally out in the system, and if Alamance County Law Enforcement pulled me over, the warrant would pop up when they ran my license. And I would go to jail. 

Forgiveness is tricky. In many ways I feel inadequate to write about it with any authority, because I don’t know that I am especially good at it. And yet, forgiveness and love are so inextricably intertwined, I can’t exactly write a series on love without talking about forgiveness. To be in a loving relationship of any kind requires forgiveness, because we humans have a propensity for hurting each other both intentionally and absentmindedly. It’s all well and good when the situation is relatively straightforward and the offense is minor. But when the betrayal or the hurt is deep enough to have life-altering consequences? When my anger is completely justified? And what about when the other person isn’t even sorry? 

Forgiveness requires acceptance, and I used to think that acceptance meant pretending that what happened was ok, or even pretending like it didn’t happen. I used to be a master at burying my anger and pain because they didn’t line up with my understanding of forgiveness. And yet even though I wasn’t expressing them on the surface, they were still there and they festered into a deep bitterness. This has led to passive aggression, avoidance and isolation, and a lack of communication skills in conflict. 

I think that a lot of the work of forgiveness is internal and spiritual. I think that acceptance means being able to acknowledge that the wrong happened and that I can’t change that. Anne Lamott writes that, “Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a different past.” No amount of guilt-tripping, passive aggressive comments, or even acts of atonement can change what happened. And yet it is amazing how often I believe that it might. It is a fruitless endeavor, but sometimes I think that if I say or do the exact right combination of things, I will be met with righteous vindication. And once that happens, then maybe I can move on. But there is a part of me that knows that not to be true. 

I’d love to leave you with a tidy ending of joyful reconciliation, but the truth is it's more complicated than that and I still struggle to forgive my brother. There was a moment that week when I was talking to my boss/alibi in which I expressed compassion due to my recognition of how much forgiveness I need on a daily basis. I think that I really meant it, but also my feelings were more complicated than I was able to reckon with at the time. It is, in many ways, a story still in progress. But I think that might be how forgiveness works. Maybe there are times when we are reminded of a wrong we thought we were done being mad about and we have to forgive all over again. Maybe it’s not as linear as I think it should be, that we let go of the hurt once and it’s gone forever. Maybe it’s more about learning to hold sadness and pain in one hand and forgiveness and hope in the other. 

I got a call from the lawyer later that same day. She said that all the charges had been dropped and totally expunged from my record. From the perspective of the law, it was like it had never happened. As I rode to Bible Study with my friend and fellow leader, I breathed deeply for the first time in seven days. 


Picking up what I’m putting down?

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October 9, 2019No Comments

Love Sacrifices

When I moved to the city, I swore I would never get back into food service. Six months after I moved here, I was, of course, back in food service. I was auditioning for shows regularly at the time, and restaurant work is flexible enough to accommodate last minute auditions. 

The high-pressure, fast-paced nature of a restaurant does not naturally engender itself to healthy boundaries, particularly in someone who already has poor boundaries.* On a given night at the restaurant, I was simultaneously managing relationships with the guests, my fellow servers, my assistant server, the food runners, the bartender, the managers, and the kitchen. In an ideal world, I would also be managing my own personal, emotional, and physical well-being. Like, for example, taking 2 minutes to pee even though it meant that table 23 would have to wait to place their order. And yet, something had to give and for me, it was always my relationship with myself. I wanted to be loving and considerate in all of the other relationships, and I thought that meant never saying no. Love is, after all, sacrificial. 

It might seem odd to you that I am using the word “love” to describe these relationships. Maybe it is. I use this word partially due to the nature of my faith, which talks a lot about loving people. In one Bible Study group, I heard a story of a frustrated server who shifted her attitude by silently praying for every one of her tables while she was waiting on them. I never remembered to do this, but it sounded like a nice idea. 

I also use the word “love” because the intense nature of the restaurant industry can foster an environment of close relationships among the team. Call it what you want--a family-like environment, trauma bonding--many of the humans I have worked with in restaurants over the years quickly became close friends. We have to rely on each other, learn to trust each other, and work together even when we’re having one of those nights where nothing is going right. I always wanted to be the person that everyone could rely on. 

Cut to a series of 14 shifts in a row that started to upend my boundaryless understanding of sacrifice. 

A couple of coworker/friends had asked if I could cover their shifts, which was a normal enough occurrence. Wanting to be the picture of gracious martyrdom, I said yes and didn’t even insist that they take one of my shifts in return. I ended up on the schedule every day that week, which wasn’t a big deal. Assuming I had a normal schedule the next week, I’d have some time off then. I thought of all the money I would make and decided I could power through. Besides, one of those days, I was “on call,” meaning that if there weren’t a ton of reservations on the books, I wouldn’t have to come in. 

Then, the next week’s schedule came out and I was assigned to work every day that week as well. The manager had copied and pasted the current week’s schedule and had not noticed (or possibly had noticed and didn’t care) that I was now scheduled to work 14 days in a row. 

This would have been a great moment to reach out to my friends/coworkers and see if any of them would take a shift or two so I could have some time off. I could have also reached out to the manager and said, “Umm do you think you could do without me one of these days? That’s a lot of shifts in a row.” I did neither of these things, because I thought I could handle it. Part of me has always believed that sacrificing my physical and mental health for the sake of an unpleasant task is somehow noble and loving. Plus, I reasoned, my on-call shift was a random weeknight; there was no way they would need me. 

The fateful day of my on-call shift arrived, and I called the restaurant at 4PM to ask the manager if they needed me. He said that they did not, have a great night off. I was overjoyed. The new Star Wars movie had just come out, and you’d better believe I was going to go see it accompanied only by a tub of chemically seasoned popcorn. 

Then my phone rang, the restaurant’s name on the screen. 

No, I thought. No, no, no, surely not. 

I picked up the phone. It was my work husband saying that the assistant server had called out and the manager needed me to come in. “Is this a joke?” I asked. Manager Dude didn’t even have the stones to call me himself. Not only was he asking me to come in, he was asking me to work well below my pay grade and expertise. 

And yet, the boundaryless thoughts said, you technically are available. You were on call. You can’t let the team down. They need you. You’ll just have to sacrifice

Irate, but bound by my own warped sense of duty and the thought of my friends/coworkers under extra stress, I said, “Alright. I’ll be there at six.” 

The moment I walked through the doors, my body started to do what my words could not. It said no. I was tired. I was resentful at the manager who dangled a precious night off in front of me, only to use a person I cared about to yank it away from me. What ultimately set me off, though, was how I was greeted. As I walked in, a different manager asked what I was doing saying yes to an assistant server shift, that they really didn’t need me, but if I was there I might as well stay. There was no grateful acknowledgement of my sacrifice. There was only confusion as to why I had agreed to the ridiculous request of the scheduling manager. 

I went downstairs to put my things in my locker and my steely resolve began to melt. As I came back upstairs, I was horrified when I realized that tears had started escaping from my eyes. I grabbed a coworker/friend and asked if she had a minute. We went outside and I completely lost it. I sobbed and gasped for air. I tried to articulate my thoughts, to explain and justify my feelings. She said, “Mary B. just go home. You don’t have to be here. We will be fine. Honestly, it’s not worth it.” 

“I’m fine,” I lied, “I just need a minute to compose myself.” 

“Mary B., find the manager and tell him you’re going home.” 

So that’s what I did. 

In their book Boundaries, Drs Cloud and Townsend write, “People with poor boundaries struggle with saying no to the control, pressure, demands, and sometimes the real needs of others. They feel that if they say no to someone, they will passively endanger their relationship with that person, so they passively comply but inwardly resent.” I had convinced myself that sacrifice to the point of sacrificing your very self is what love is all about. When my sacrifice was not met with the appreciation and adoration I thought I deserved, I had nothing left but the simmering rage. And on a certain level, I was afraid that if I said no and nothing bad happened, I would lose my value as a friend/coworker.  

At the beginning of my shift the next day (yes, you are reading that correctly. I made absolutely zero changes to my schedule after my breakdown), Manager Number Three called me over. He said, “I heard there was some sort of incident last night and you needed to go home. Is everything ok?” I explained what happened, and that I was on the schedule for eight million shifts in a row. He said that that was clearly a mistake that could have been addressed; I should have drawn their attention to it. I said I was feeling much better after my cathartic breakdown and watching Star Wars. I was ready to finish out the rest of my shifts provided my schedule went back to normal the following week.

 Looking back, I realize that by “much better,” I meant that I had purged all of those pesky feelings and was ready to once again completely set aside my own personal needs for the good of the team. I couldn’t seem to shake this feeling that everybody, including God, demanded this kind of sacrifice. I told myself that I was doing it all for the sake of love and service. But really, I was doing it to feel important and valued. I realized that my desire to play the hero had nothing to do with true loving sacrifice and everything to do with the affirmation that comes from feeling needed. I believed my value came from the extent to which I was needed, not from who I am as a person created in the image of God. 

Even to this day, I have to contrive a really good reason to justify my “no.” My therapist says that I’m allowed to say no for the mere reason that it is not something I want to do. I am not entirely convinced. I mean, I think he’s probably right, but it’s hard for me to wrap my brain around it. What he means, I think, is that “yes” does not need to be my default response, and he wants me to understand that in everything I have a choice. So I can choose to say yes, but I need to get to a place where I also believe that I have the option to say “no” without the world coming to an end. If I were still working in the restaurant, that would mean recognizing that the restaurant will not grind to a halt if I were to take an unexpected day off.

My current challenges are different than they were at the restaurant. There is virtually nobody around to notice and applaud the sacrifices I make here. So that’s substantially disincentivized this habit of mine. I wrote last week about how I am trying to build a loving relationship with you, my readers. I am learning that I can neither serve or love y’all if I don’t also learn to say no to some things. I can’t say I’m especially good at it yet. I frequently fall into the idea that I’m never doing enough. I could get up earlier and work longer hours and take less time to socialize and maybe then I would be able to do it all. But that mindset only keeps me frantic and that model of work is not sustainable. In fact, my work suffers when I don’t pace myself. In order to love and serve y’all in a way that is more about your wellbeing than my need to feel important, I am learning that working more is not the best approach. Maybe sometimes saying no is the most loving thing I can do for both of us. 


*A boundary can be physical or conceptual, but basically it distinguishes one person or thing from another. It says, “This is where ______ ends and ________ begins.” So when work thoughts and problems bleed into my time off, that is an example of a compromised boundary.


Picking up what I’m putting down?

Comment below and let me know what you think! If you're ready to dive in with both feet, head to the "Join the Conversation" page and subscribe to my newsletter. This gets you access to exclusive essays and guides, then moving forward a short bi-weekly message designed to make you laugh and think. Otherwise, feel free to reach out via the contact page, social media (IG: @maryb.safrit), carrier pigeon, smoke signals, whatever floats your boat.


October 3, 20192 Comments

Love Be Not Proud

An open letter to my readers


Dear Reader, 

Being a writer does not always lend itself to humility.

There are moments when I sit here at this keyboard and write words and marvel at the brilliance of them, the uniqueness, the ingenuity. Surely I have unlocked a secret of the universe hitherto undiscovered. Caught up in my own magnificence, I send the words off to a friend and wait anxiously for them to eagerly open the gift of my precious thoughts on their screen, then reply in complete awe of my wit and insight. They will say that they laughed, they cried, they thought about life and faith in a new way. And all because of some words on a page. I would humbly reply with gratitude and modestly attribute any perceived brilliance to God, from whom all blessings flow. 

It never goes down like that. Shockingly, my thoughts are never as good right out of the gate as I think they are. If writing does not always lend itself to humility, editing is the remedy.

I have a few friends who have been kind enough to give me feedback and free editing. I mean “kind” like how I talked about kindness in last week's blog where they honestly point out what's not working in my story. Don’t get me wrong, they are also supportive and encouraging. But sometimes, they ask me to give up the things in my writing that are most connected to my pride, the things that make me look clever and insightful. And at first, it can be annoying.

Writing is a labor of love. I love you, my reader. I also love the ideas and words I have been given. I love crafting an excellent story. Part of that creative work is known as “Killing your darlings.” I suppose a less morbid way to phrase it would be some sort of sifting for gold metaphor. But this is me we’re talking about; of course I'm going to use the dark one. To kill your darling is to be willing to let go of the part of your creation that you are most emotionally attached to. For me, those parts are generally the ones that are an attempt to cover up something I don’t want the reader to see. Sure I messed up but look over here at all the things I’ve learned and how put together and smart I am now. In short, they are things that bolster my pride. 

Once I recover from my initial reluctance to accept feedback, I start to realize that my editors are generally correct. I realize that I cannot serve you, my reader, by making myself look better. I start to realize, Maybe I don’t need to use this page to prove my brilliance or my wisdom. Maybe I am not loving the reader well in doing so. Maybe the best way I can serve my reader is to humbly tell them what happened and let the rest take care of itself. It might make you angry or frustrated or sad or happy. It might make me look like an idiot. But the best parts of a story are the ones that hit you, the reader, in your humanity, that connect you to a part of yourself you might not have looked at in a while. I do you a disservice when I try to manhandle that process. 

Pride says that I am capable of manipulating you into feeling a certain way about me and these words. Arrogance tells me I can control your perception. Pride gives you advice before taking the time to get to know you, your fears and your hopes. Arrogance presumes that by writing a certain way, I can wrestle my sense of worth from your approval. 

It is a job for which I am unsuitable. But thankfully, it is a job I was never supposed to be good at. 

Dear reader, I want you to believe I have some answers so that I can legitimize the time we spend together. And yet I also want to be able to serve you humbly. I want to be self-deprecating and human without discrediting myself. There are things I know, things I study, things I ponder. But there are many answers I do not have for you. There are answers that you have to find for yourself, and answers that you will never get. I cannot tell you why that hard thing happened. I cannot tell you why the deepest prayer of your soul has not been answered. I cannot make you believe that you are worthy of love. I can’t even do those things for myself. 

But I can tell you stories that I think will help. I can ask you questions that challenge your assumptions. I can point you to books and voices that have helped me. I can encourage you to dive deep in your life and relationships. I can assure you that it’s ok to feel frustrated and angry and sad. I can stay with you while you wonder if any of this faith stuff is even real or worth it. 

But that’s about all I can do. The rest is up to God. And I believe that God is far more qualified than I am. What I can do, and will endeavor to continue to do, is sit here with you every week and share bits of myself with you, and trust that that is enough. 

All the best, 

Marebs

P.S. Friend editors, if you are reading this, I appreciate the heck out of you and your willingness to be honest and kind. Thank you for keeping my feet on the ground and my heart in check. You are the best.


Picking up what I’m putting down?

Comment below and let me know what you think! If you're ready to dive in with both feet, head to the "Join the Conversation" page and subscribe to my newsletter. This gets you access to exclusive essays and guides, then moving forward a short bi-weekly message designed to make you laugh and think. Otherwise, feel free to reach out via the contact page, social media (IG: @maryb.safrit), carrier pigeon, smoke signals, whatever floats your boat.

September 25, 2019No Comments

Love Is Kind

We were riding in the back of a covered pickup truck in Chang Mai when I finally worked up the nerve to tell Sage what had been bugging me. After a week of fretting and praying and consulting other friends, this was the moment, here in the songthaew on our way back from the mall on our day off. In that moment, I was balancing a desire to bring up a sensitive subject with a close friend and the deeply ingrained instinct to never make anyone uncomfortable for any reason. I had noticed a behavior in Sage about which I was concerned. The organization with which we were traveling was big on feedback. Never let anything fester. When you’re living and working closely with a group of humans, you have to air grievances out or your team will quickly turn toxic. 

I took a deep breath and said, “Uh, Sage, there’s, uh, something I’ve been, uh, meaning to talk to you about, uh, if now’s an ok time.” She agreed, and listened to a painfully circular, vague description of her behavior, ending with the basic sentiment, “I don’t know though, do what you want.” Because Sage is kind and immeasurably more patient than I am, she thanked me for voicing said concern and said she would think about it. 

In my approach, I was afraid of being too blunt, putting Sage on the defensive, and being totally off in my assessment of the situation. Because I was so afraid of her reaction, I was not clear. And so, even though my phrasing and approach was obsessively nice, it might not have actually been kind. In contrast, Sage, though she had no preparation for this encounter, saw how uncomfortable I was and how earnestly, albeit awkwardly, I was trying to be a loving friend, and was kind enough not to use my discomfort to give herself the upper hand in the conversation. 

You’ve probably heard that love is kind. But maybe, like me, you have conflated the ideas of “kindness” and “niceness.” The distinction is subtle, but the effects of each can be vastly different. In Kelly Shi’s article for the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, she writes, “The distinguishing factor seems to lie in the motivation of a person or act.” Both can have a pleasing effect on the other person, but kindness is distinguished by benevolence. Whereas niceness can have a pleasing effect, but is often used to disguise all sorts of nastiness. I have used niceness to mask anger, fear, discomfort, insecurity, and, in the above story, annoyance. 

Perhaps it’s my Southern upbringing. Southern ladies are taught to be polite and to put others at ease as if it’s our purpose on this earth. It’s like in the movie Mean Girls, when Regina George goes out her way to tell a girl in the hallway that OMG she loves that skirt, then the moment the girl walks away saying it’s the ugliest skirt she’s ever seen. If we bottle up strong emotions like anger, fear, or jealousy, they’re going to find their way out, or we will have a nervous breakdown. In the film, Regina’s character learns to channel her rage away from passive aggressive compliments and into field hockey. 

In confronting Sage on this particular issue, I was nice in that I wanted my words to have an overall pleasing effect on Sage so that I would not have to bear the discomfort of a potentially negative reaction. Instead of putting myself in the vulnerable place of clearly stating my thoughts, I danced around the issue and framed it in a way that I thought she couldn’t possible get mad at me. Ultimately, I was trying to make myself comfortable more than I was seeking the best for my friend.

It’s difficult for me to be honest with myself about my motives. I want to believe the very best of them, and yet I most often find in myself a mixture of motivations. It can be tricky to tell which is steering the ship. On the one hand, maybe I do want the best for my friend. On the other, maybe I’m also annoyed by my friend’s behavior and would prefer it to stop to make myself more comfortable. Then there’s the hyper-analytical part of my brain that fishes for potentially dishonest motives and adds those into the equation, whether they were really a factor or not. In the end, my brain feels like a snow globe with potential motives swirling around, along with the understanding that the real motive might be something I’m not even aware of, a reflexive instinct that I haven’t yet noticed. 

In the most famous passage on love, “kind” is listed as its second attribute, right after “patient” (1 Corinthians 13:4). So, I guess it’s important. When I look at stories about Jesus, I notice how nuanced and particularized his expression of kindness seems to be. As much as I would like to learn a formula for kindness, Jesus’ interactions don’t seem to lend themselves to such an algorithm. For one person, he heals their blindness, with another he calls out their pride and hypocrisy, with another he weeps with them in their suffering, with another he has a respectful discussion about theology. 

At the end of the day, it would seem that nice is an easy way to mimic kind. It would seem that kindness is something that emanates from deep within us, as opposed to a manufactured version that merely seeks to cover up what we don’t want to admit or express. It’s something that I’m going to have to continually learn and seek to embody, not a list of robotic actions to imitate. Kindness can’t be faked.


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September 18, 20192 Comments

Love Is Revealing

It was my second first date of 2019, the year in which I decided that I needed to put myself out there and go on some dates. I met a dude whomst shall be known as Carl at a tea shop in Soho on a Saturday afternoon. Unless you are exceptionally skilled at social extrication, I would not recommend this scenario for a first date. Always have an out time.

I was running a solid twenty minutes late. As much as I would like to blame public transportation, it was more due to my 10 panic-induced wardrobe changes. Inevitably, before any social occasion, I have an idea of what I’m going to wear. Then, when I put it on, I look in the mirror and think, Oh my gosh, I am a human turnip. I then try on a myriad of top/bottom combinations, throw myself dramatically on my bed in frustration, then decide to wear whatever I initially picked out. On the day in question, I did not allow enough time for this particular eventuality on top of the weekend train schedule. So there I was, speed walking from the Prince Street station to the tea place, arriving sweaty and panting even though it was below freezing outside. 

There’s an awkward moment when you meet someone face-to-face with whom you have only interacted online. It’s even more awkward when you find yourself on a date with this stranger. Slightly feral farm child Marebs generally can’t handle this discomfort. I reacted in this particular situation by talking non-stop for three hours. Your girl's an introvert, so this is highly irregular behavior. I did ask a couple of questions to try to curb my running mouth, but he didn’t disclose much before turning the conversation back to me. In my defense, he seemed genuinely interested. The whole thing was an out of body experience. Part of my brain kept saying, Oh my gosh you must stop talking, why are you telling him all this stuff? And yet, that rational part of my brain seemed to have disconnected itself from my mouth. 

Perhaps the least helpful part was that, with everything I shared, this dude didn’t seem to have much to add. Perhaps his response to the awkwardness of the situation was the opposite of mine. The world may never know. 

This habit of over-sharing when I’m uncomfortable doesn’t just infect my fledgling dating life. My platonic relationships fall prey to this tendency as well. Self-disclosure is a key component of getting to know someone and entering into a mutually loving relationship of any kind, and this requires vulnerability. Disclosing information about ourselves--our desires, our pain, our hopes, our past--can demonstrate trust and even increase it. But it is not appropriate to disclose everything immediately. I conceptually know that disclosure should be in proportion to the depth of the relationship and the amount of trust that is built up. But the conceptually smart part of my brain seems to go for lunch when my social anxiety enters the picture. This might shock you, as I have filled this blog with the many tales of my social prowess. 

In her foundational book on vulnerability, Daring Greatly, Brene Brown writes,

“Vulnerability is based on mutuality and requires boundaries and trust. It’s not oversharing, it’s not purging, it’s not indiscriminate disclosure, and it’s not celebrity-style social media information dumps… That’s not vulnerability. That may be desperation or woundedness or even attention-seeking, but it’s not vulnerability… Vulnerability without boundaries leads to disconnection, distrust, and disengagement.” 

I have a friend whomst we shall dub Amanda. As an introvert, I have a few close friends whom I love, and a larger segment of people who are friends but I don’t have the bandwidth to develop into closer friendships, but still like and respect and spend time with. I also have some relationships that I have realized are not the healthiest, and I have since realized that we would both benefit from taking a step back. In the early days of our friendship, Amanda asked me to clarify a vague comment I made about working through some mental health issues. When she asked, I felt uncomfortable saying no. And thus, uncomfortable, oversharing Marebs took over and I confided some deeply personal struggles, the kind I’ve only talked about with my therapist and a handful of long-standing relationships. Divulging that much that soon created a premature intense emotional connection that was disproportionate to the level of trust that we had established up to that point. It also established a pattern that has been difficult to break even as I have decided that I no longer wish to disclose that kind of information to Amanda. 

In hindsight, I can tell the difference between healthy and unhealthy self-revelation. But in the moment? How do I connect that part of my brain that knows I should stop talking with the part of my brain spilling my soul to someone who has not earned the right to it? 

I think the first step is acknowledging the issue, then digging to the root. Are there any commonalities between the situations in which I find myself oversharing? Why am I unable to sit with discomfort? Mayhaps when I am uncomfortable, I seek to make the other person uncomfortable. Mayhaps I have some personal boundary issues that I need to think and pray about. Mayhaps I’m uncomfortable with saying no to the other person or myself. For me, even the acknowledgement of this less than healthy habit of mine happened over the course of several stories told in therapy sessions, conversations with friends, and lots of prayerful reflection. It’s hard to recognize a pattern without an outside opinion.  

Carl and I ended up going on a second date then mutually ghosting each other. Was it the emotionally mature way to handle the situation? No. Was it for the best? Unclear. I have no doubt Carl and I were never destined for a whirlwind romance, or even a tepid one. It is probable that he has forgotten all about me, unless he too has a blog on which I am featured as the weirdo who couldn’t stop talking. Moving forward, the best I can do is give myself room to learn from the mistake and time to form new patterns. 


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If you liked this post, you'll love this interview with Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter Elise Mas!

September 11, 2019No Comments

Love Always Trusts

I stood in the murky, shoulder-deep water, nine-years-old and naked as a newborn, my swimsuit at the bottom of the sound and lost for the rest of time. As the depth of my predicament washed over me, panic took over and I started to cry hysterically. 

On the list of terrible ideas feral farm child Marebs has had, the decision to switch swimsuits with my friend while we were a twenty-minute kayak ride from her house is particularly confounding. For several of my elementary school years, my best friend was a girl named Amy. I would go over to her house after school and we would do homework, listen to the Spice Girls, and hang out by the water. Her house was on a channel off of the sound, so we would periodically take out her family’s kayaks or small rowboat. At the mouth of the channel, the beginning of the sound, the water was shallow enough for us to tie our vessels to a piling and hang out either in our boats or in the water. We would talk about boys in our class, our lame teachers, which Spice Girl we were. Occasionally we would have a brilliant idea. 

On the day in question, I was wearing a one piece, and she a bikini. I wasn’t allowed to wear bikinis yet, or spaghetti strap tank tops. I was bemoaning this fact when we came up with the brilliant idea that she and I should switch bathing suits right then and there. The idea of wearing something I knew I wasn’t supposed to was, like any act of rebellion, equally thrilling and terrifying. The exchange was to be simple. The water was opaque, so we just had to get into the water and any potential passing boats would be none the wiser. We separated ourselves by a respectable distance for privacy and set our plan into motion. 

She tossed me her bikini bottom as I tossed her my one-piece. After I had gotten the bikini bottoms on, she said, “OK, now toss me your suit.” 

My gut clenched as I looked at her and said, “I did… did you… did you not catch it?” 

Her eyes widened and she shook her head. 

In my anxiety over the idea of defying my parent’s express wishes for abdominal modesty, I must have overshot my mark. I did not account for the fact that she had two pieces to deal with, and mayhaps I should have made sure she was paying attention when I tossed her my bathing suit. We had no goggles and the water was too salty and sediment-filled to open our eyes underwater and search for my suit. Even if we had been able to see underwater, the current could have carried my bless-ed one-piece a significant distance on its way to its watery grave. 

Amy blindly searched the bottom of the sound as I wailed over the prospect of my imminent naked kayak trip back to her house. Then a boat appeared at the mouth of the channel. In the boat, her parents, my saviors, sat all but enrobed in a halo of light. We should have been back thirty minutes prior, so they came out to look for us. I was crying too hard to say anything, so Amy explained what had happened to her parents. Her mom was wearing a baggy t-shirt, which she immediately removed and gave to Amy to hand to me. We had learned our lesson about tossing items of clothing. I put on the shirt and climbed into my kayak. Amy’s parents escorted us back to their dock. I put on the change of clothes I had brought with me, and Amy’s parents lectured us on the moronic nature of our ill-conceived swimsuit exchange and how worried they had been when we hadn’t come back at the appointed time. They didn’t use the word “moronic,” but it was an apt description of our half-baked plan. 

Amy’s fumble was accidental, and it was partially my fault for not making sure she was ready to receive my incoming suit toss. And yet, it felt like a betrayal. I had trusted her to catch my hap-hazardly flung suit. She hadn’t, and I had been left totally exposed with no options. Even though she felt badly about what happened, that didn’t change the results of our actions. 

Trust and I have a tenuous relationship at best. In a situation that demands trust, like making a new friend, deepening an existing friendship, or thinking about possibly maybe dating someone at some point, I often find myself raising an eyebrow and skeptically saying, "I don't know about that." What is the difference between naive, blind trust, the kind that hurls swimsuits at and unsuspecting friend assuming she will catch it, and for real built-in-the-trenches trust? How do we know who to trust when so many of our motives and agendas are hidden? What if, in a crucial moment, it's actually the wrong time for a leap of faith and everything falls apart? Where is the line between wise and cynical, practical and paranoid?

We humans are going to derp up this trust thing at some point or another. Many times it is accidental or absent-minded. Sometimes it is intentional and vindictive. And with some humans, it is habitual. And yet there’s no way to know if a person is truly trustworthy without giving it a shot. Not blindly and all at once (we’ll cover over-sharing next week), but incrementally like little trust breadcrumbs. For example, you can learn a lot about a person’s trustworthiness by how they talk about other people and how readily they share private information. Another indicator is paying attention to how this person responds to feedback when they have betrayed someone’s trust. Do they become defensive and blame the other person? Do they hold wrongs over our head? 

Trust is, of course, a two-way street. We can’t expect our friends to whole-heartedly trust us if we do not behave in a trustworthy manner. Do I receive confidences from friends without judgment? Do I demonstrate care with information that is entrusted to me? Am I open to hearing how I have wronged a friend? Do I do what I say I will do? Is my behavior consistent with my professed ethics? As much as I would like to believe I always catch the metaphorical bathing suit that’s tossed my way, I don’t. 

Trusting another human means opening ourselves up to the possibility of being hurt and betrayed, of being left swimsuit-less twenty minutes away from your nearest clothing option. But I think that it is such a foundational characteristic of love because you can only experience so much of one without the other. It is helpful for me, when wading into the murky waters of trust and love, to try to remember that I am not expected to be perfect in this. It is not possible for me to know everything and therefore never make any mistakes. It’s always going to be a risk. Sometimes it will be worth it, sometimes it won’t. Either way, I am given the grace to learn and grow. One crucial lesson I learned that fateful day? Double check that your friend is paying attention before hurling your only piece of clothing in their general direction. Or, better yet, keep at least one item of clothing on when in public. 


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August 28, 2019Comments are off for this post.

What Is Love?

Welcome to the brand new, extra fresh, oh so amazing blog series I’ve cooked up just for you.   

For most of my life, I have equated love with niceness and doing whatever anyone asks me to do. Either that or it’s this sappy, over-the-top romantic feeling that makes you kind of insane. Bless.

In true Marebs fashion, I have decided to dig into it in the most endearingly existential way, with plenty of winsome humor and thought-provoking questions. Many have covered this topic, so how is my approach any different? How could this slightly feral farm child contribute to what’s already out there? 

First of all, thanks for asking that question. Prouda you for being an inquisitive and discerning consumer of content. 

Each week, I will focus on a specific quality associated with love and help you think more deeply about how we express it in our everyday lives. To me, love can feel like this big, amorphous idea that we assign meaning to depending on the context. How we see and experience love can easily be influenced by how we have experienced it in our lives and relationships. (Just as a reminder, in all my work, I define “relationships” broadly to encompass romantic relationships, friendships, professional relationships, family dynamics, etc.) Have you ever been hurt by someone who thought they were being loving? Have you had someone reject an expression of love? Who hasn’t, honestly? 

So, for the next 8 weeks, I’m going to lead you through some stories of yours truly whiffing it and what I learned to ask myself and my relationships in the process. I’ll posit questions for you to consider, and we will all come out on the other side with a more nuanced understanding of these big ideas we use to describe this even bigger idea of love. 

Can’t wait to dig in with y’all starting next week!  


Picking up what I'm putting down?

Comment below and let me know what you think! If you're ready to dive in with both feet, head to the "Join the Conversation" page and subscribe to my newsletter. This gets you access to exclusive essays and guides, then moving forward a short bi-weekly message designed to make you laugh and think. Otherwise, feel free to reach out via the contact page, social media (IG: @maryb.safrit), carrier pigeon, smoke signals, whatever floats your boat.

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