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In Seattle

Alicia and I left Charlotte on December 19th and pulled up to our new apartment building in the rain on the evening of December 23, having crossed the continent and driven through thirteen states in five days. Much of the drive was spent surprised and thrilled by our surroundings, and I’ll remember driving through Montana for the rest of my life. But now we are here and settling into our new home.

Much of the first few days was spent getting the apartment set up and ready for us to live in. Multiple trips to IKEA, drives to other parts of the city to look for furniture, learning where the different Target stores are (including the one we went to our first night, right in the middle of downtown, in the pouring rain; oops). But those little trips allowed us to get our bearings of where we live in relation to the rest of the city; we live on the northwest side, across one of the many bridges from downtown. Our neighborhood has apparently just recently turned from a small shipping and boating neighborhood into a hip area for yuppies to live, a fact we’ve been told more than once and had confirmed by employees at a consignment store next to our apartment who were complaining about “people in the new apartments next door paying three times what I used here to for a whole house!” as we shopped and didn’t tell them that we, in fact, lived next door in one of those apartments. It seems like there is a divide in our neighborhood between people who wish it had stayed the same and people who welcome the change and the vibrancy it brings. We are able to go to multiple restaurants, coffee shops, record stores, grocery stores, boutique shops, and a movie theater within a two-block radius of our house. I’m glad for that and don’t feel any loss of the old neighborhood because, well, I wasn’t here then. But I imagine for some people I am the walking embodiment of gentrification.

After a week here Alicia and I both love it. We can be in multiple distinct neighborhoods in under ten minutes, the weather here has been beautiful and pretty sunny so far, and we have so much available within walking distance of our apartment. Our building is nice and so far fairly quiet because it’s so new and not full yet. Personally, I feel a new sense of vibrancy here that I didn’t have in Charlotte. I feel more creative, more alive, and more connected to humanity here, and I’m glad for that. The street intersections here are, outside of downtown proper, absurd, but we’re learning how to drive more comfortably. Even though it’s a big city it seems like people don’t rush around as much as they do in, say, New York, and are friendlier than I would have expected. It seems like people live here because they enjoy it, not because they have to. The apartment is small but the world outside it is really big; I’m enjoying finding out more about that.

Our Time Here Is Almost Over

We move in less than a week. We move in six days. I still have a hard time believing it, but we’ve sold all of our furniture and closed on the house, so it must really be happening. It will be hard to leave.

I have always been drawn to the south. I was born in Maryland, a proud descendant of people from the North Carolina hills. I have lived in the south for the majority of my life, and I have an ancestor on my dad’s side from the 1700s buried twenty minutes from where I live now. I have taken trips to other cities and long trips to other parts of the country and the world, and every time I felt myself become whole again when I returned to the ghost-riddled south. It has always had a hold on me. But in six days my wife and I are packing up the few things we haven’t sold and driving to the extreme other corner of the country, to The Great Northwest, to Seattle. I have cried over the things we’ll be leaving here enough; now I just want to get there. I’ll take pictures and write for you all along the way. We’re driving to Cincinnati where I grew up, then Chicago, then across the frozen north.

I was talking with a friend this morning about our lives. I’m always so pleased to see friends grow up, learn things, become more at peace with themselves, and start lives of their own. Part of our conversation this morning was about how we’d both grown up in Christian homes and in parts of the country where being a Christian is assumed, and how it will be nice for me to live in a place where it’s the opposite, where it’s assumed one isn’t a Christian. I told my friend about how even though I haven’t really been to church in more than two years, there is an undeniable part of me that is fulfilled by spirituality, and for me that’s found in my specific faith. I’m looking forward to seeing what that turns into when I’m living in a new place.

Last time I wrote about how Alicia and I felt like we’re leaving dreams and plans unrealized here. While I still feel that way, and always will, I’m feeling more and more that this move gives us the chance at a fresh start, to make life entirely into what we want it to be. It feels a little bit like the ultimate freedom. There are never any truly blank slates, but maybe this move is as close as we can get.

I was also telling my friend this morning, and another friend a couple weeks ago, about how I’ve felt over time that I have less and less to say. I don’t write much anymore, I don’t feel the need to be an activist for any cause even when there are things that sadden me about our world, and I don’t often feel a desire to do anything other than be kind to people I interact with, to be peaceful, and to not add noise and anger to an already too noisy and too angry world.

So this is where I am six days before leaving Charlotte and moving to Seattle: all I want to do is have a family, be a kind and loving person, and make peaceful places for people to come home to after spending too much time in the noisy, angry world. I’ve been working on the first two for a while, now I get to go work on the third. I’m looking forward to it.

A New Thing

You might have heard by now, but Alicia and I are moving to Seattle, Washington to begin a life there. I’ll be working for a modern residential firm, and so far it seems like my dream job. The opportunity popped up out of the blue and we decided that we should take this chance to try something new while we still have the freedom to do that. Neither of us have ever spent any time in Seattle, but we’ve found an apartment and are in the process of selling our house and almost all the things in it so we can go start over on the west coast.

We’re both excited to take this chance and sad to leave Charlotte. I try not to regret anything, but there is a large part of the past couple years I wish would have turned out differently. We bought our house and hoped to start a family there; to build a future. That never happened, and to be honest with you leaving everything behind feels like a little bit of a surrender. I don’t think I’ll look back in a few years and think “We never should have left Charlotte,” but leaving the house without a child after only living there a year and a half wasn’t how it was supposed to go. It’s possible that we’ll have kids in Seattle, although at this point I’m so discouraged and don’t know if that’s ever going to happen, but the plan was to have children in this house. It’s tough for a plan like that to not work out.

I don’t mean to make it all sound bad. Alicia and I both are excited about Seattle and the neighborhood we’ll be living in. It’s a place where I can walk to work and we can walk everywhere else we need to go; it’ll be nice feeling like city folk for a while. We’ll be living in a new apartment building with water views and we’re looking forward to traveling around the Pacific Northwest and seeing a new kind of nature. I’m also beyond thrilled about this job opportunity; I can’t wait to start. We’ll be leaving Charlotte right after Christmas and drive across the northern part of the country; I’m looking forward to seeing new states. We both feel like this is definitely the right move for us.

My dad’s dad was one of those people who was always fixing things; he would so much rather have fixed something himself than called a professional to do it. I somehow ended up with that gene too. When we bought our house there was a fair amount of work to do, and I’m pretty proud of the fact that Alicia and I renovated every room in the house and did it all ourselves. Out of everything we did we only had to call someone twice: once to fix the heater and once to have an electrician fix a problem that I didn’t know how to fix because the previous owners had wired it backwards. Everything else we did ourselves. We put so much effort and love into this house, and we’re selling it to friends who we think will enjoy it as much as we did. We’re also able to use the profit we’re making to pay off debt and start a savings.

We may not have built the kind of future we thought we would here, but I know we built something good. Now we’ll go build something good in a new place.

I Have Eaten Year-Old Cake and Enjoyed It

My wife and I married each other on May 13, 2012. In the euphoric rush of the day we forgot to make arrangements for cake to be frozen and stored for us to eat a year later. My ever-thoughtful parents , however, made sure to grab one of the multiple small cakes we had and freeze it for us while we were on our honeymoon. We came back to Charlotte, put it in our freezer, and most of the time I never even noticed it as I opened the door to pull something out.

Marriage can be the kind of thing that is easy to take for granted. Even in this first year, when things were still new and my wife and I were sometimes still struggling to find our footing as married people, there were many times when I would get home from work and just assume that she would be there, waiting. It’s easy to not notice someone when they’re always there.

But this past year also brought a lot of times when I was reminded of my much my wife loves me, and how much I love her, and that we are making a future together. Whether it was her support during my search for a job, her ability to be proactive when I am passive, her depth of feeling during the entire miscarriage process, or her confidence in me as we bought our first home, there are so many times she has made me feel so loved and reminded me that there is always a person who loves me and wants to create something with me.

There are things I’m not great at as an architect, but one thing I feel I do well is I can visualize things. I used to think of my future and it would just be me, living in a city and working, or having hobbies, or whatever I was into at the time. It’s hard to conceive of another person in your future when it’s just you at the time. But now there are times when I’m driving around Charlotte, or going to a talk with the city’s past mayors, or attending social events, or even hearing that an old woman I knew of who had a stroke has died, that I can see my whole future laid out before me like a road and I know how things are going to end up. Alicia is with me and we have a family and then grandchildren, and we are two old people living in a house confused about the new technology our grandkids are using.

It’s easy to take something for granted if it’s always there, but after Alicia and I got back from our anniversary vacation she took the cake out of the freezer (she’s always more thoughtful and notices things more than I do) and we cut into it hesitantly. It was surprisingly still good, and we ate it as our second year of marriage started, a kind of Eucharist shared between the two of us.

A Meditation on Easter Weekend, In Three Parts.

“And while He was on earth He mended families. He gave Lazarus back to his mother, and to the centurion he gave his daughter again. He even restored the severed ear of the soldier who came to arrest him — a fact that allows us to hope the resurrection will reflect a considerable attention to detail.” — Marilynne Robinson, in her novel Housekeeping.

My wife Alicia and I have been married for nearly a year. When we got married we told everyone we’d probably wait a year or so before trying to have a child. Within five months we had become so happy in our marriage and so excited about having kids that we decided to go ahead and start. We then found out that Alicia had already become pregnant a week or two earlier. We started telling everyone right away and planning for our child to be born this coming June. We both thought we were having a boy, and I started looking at baby clothes with my favorite sports teams on them.

After five weeks we miscarried. The grief built up in me for a few hours, and the thing that made it bubble over into weeping and hysterical sobbing was the thought that I wouldn’t get to teach my son to play basketball.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Kneeling
at the foot of the universe

I ask

from this body
in confusion

and pain (a condition

which You
may recall)

Clothed now in light
clothed in abyss, at the prow
of the desert
killed
Into everywhereness—

have mercy

Mercy on us all

–“Petition” by Franz Wright

As Alicia and I dealt with our loss it became clear that she was having a harder time with it than I was. I was able to move through the pain and grief fairly quickly, but Alicia, who was carrying the baby, had much more to work through than I did. We both entered a period of anger and doubt and while the loss manifested in me as a kind of quiet personal sadness that would overtake me every now and then, it came out through Alicia’s life in a more open, honest way.

If the day we miscarried was our Good Friday, the last four months have been our Easter Saturday, the day between death and resurrection. The day when I imagine the disciples and especially Mary were overtaken by grief and confusion and doubt. I can imagine what Mary felt and did after she buried her son because I’ve seen Alicia feel and do the same things. Easter Saturday was never a day I thought much about; Christianity often tends to jump right from the crucifixion to the resurrection without thinking about what was going on in-between. But this year I know what was going on in-between because I’ve been seeing it and experiencing it for four months.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

“It seems to me that the intent of the gospel writers is not to make the resurrection seem somehow plausible or credible – this could hardly be done without diminishing its impressiveness as miracle – but instead to heighten its singularity, when, as event, it would seem by no means unexampled. I believe it is usual to say that the resurrection established who Jesus was and what his presence meant. Perhaps it is truer to say that opposite, that who Jesus was established what his resurrection meant, that he seized upon a narrative familiar or even pervasive and wholly transformed it.

When, in the Gospel of John, weeping Mary Magdalene stoops to look into the tomb and sees angels, they ask her, ‘Woman, why weepest thou?’ The text creates the dreamy impression that the two angels speak together. Then she turns and sees a man standing behind her, Jesus, whom she mistakes for a gardener. He speaks the same words as the angels did, ‘Woman, why weepest thou?’ and he asks, ‘Whom seekest thou?’ Does he see and hear angels, too? Or does he know her thoughts? Or was it his voice she heard in the first place? Mary herself would not have known. Jesus seems to be teasing her toward delight and recognition, ready to enjoy her surprise, in something like the ordinary manner of a friend. The narrative asserts that he is a figure of unutterable holiness, only pausing to speak to Mary before he ascends into heaven, yet it is his very ordinariness that disguises him from her. Splendor is very well for youths and angels, but when Jesus takes up again for a little while the life he had wept to leave, it is the life of a plain man,”– Marilynne Robinson, “Psalm Eight,” from a collection of her essays.

I have been emailing with a friend about my current type of faith and the things I believe or disbelieve now, and in those emails I came to a conclusion which I had felt myself moving toward for a while: namely, that I am a person who is full of doubt and questions but still hopes that all of this is true. I do not know whether any of it is true in the way a fundamentalist might, and my doubts are always telling me that I’ll never know, but I have this spiritual part that is somehow filled, in spite of my doubts, by hope. I don’t know why our child died. I don’t know why things like that happen. But sometimes I find myself kneeling in a church, or taking the Eucharist, or saying the creeds, or bowing as the cross is proceeded past me, and in those times I realize that I can be open about all of my doubts, and I can let those doubts wash over me and through me and actually keep them with me instead of letting them go. In those times, and when I stop to think about what the resurrection means, that death is not the end, that I hope it’s all true.

There is a verse that says death has no sting and no victory. I can tell you by experience part of that verse is wrong. I know from these last four months that death stings an awful lot. But I can also tell you that there are stories of God mending families, of God having mercy, and of God coming back to earth as a human for a little while after dying. So families and mercy and human life must be important. And I hope it’s all true. Happy Easter.

Watch This Space

As you can see if you look at the post below this one, it’s been a long time since I’ve written anything here. A lot has happened since then. My life has probably changed more in the time since my last blog post than it ever had in the same amount of time before.

I’ve been feeling like I should start doing this again. I don’t know how often I’ll write something and I don’t know what I’ll write about. Over time you’ll learn more about me and maybe I’ll learn more about you. We’ll learn about each other. To be honest I don’t know anything about the form this blog will take from now on.

But I promise I’ll try to be sincere.

In Which This Might Be the Last Post For a While

I find myself having less and less to write these days. It’s not because anything is wrong, in fact it might be because things are good, but I just don’t feel like I want to be writing in this blog as much as I used to.

In the past I’ve kept up with things regularly and wrote about religion, politics, news, school, whatever has been on my mind. And I could keep writing about my personal faith, and how I’m continually reminded that I seem to find God most often in silence, calmness, and peacefulness, but I’d rather talk to people in person about that. I’d rather have real-life conversations about liberation theology, books we’re reading, what I think the central themes of the Bible seem to be, why Buddhism isn’t so incompatible with Christianity, what role women and homosexuals have in the modern church in spite of tradition, why there are things to learn from every religion, why I believe someone doesn’t have to specifically be a Christian to be redeemed but not even every Christian will be, what I believe about sin and guilt, and what I think Christianity does a good and bad job of talking about intelligently. I could write about all those things on here, but I think talking about them face-to-face, when you’re able to recognize emotion and depth of feeling and nuance, is better and more healthy. Even an email conversation is better than the kind of feedback blog entries provide.

I could write about politics, why I think people who are so disillusioned by Obama after voting for him need to calm down a little, why I think the Republican party is a joke that’s sold out its ideals to right-wing ultraconservatives, why I think religion doesn’t have a place in government, why I’m never happy with either American party, why it’s unfortunate that socialism will never work the way it’s supposed to, and why the fact that the majority of people don’t keep up with factual news is a big reason why politics in this country are so absurd. I could write about all those things in this blog, but it’s so much more interesting to have actual conversations about those things instead of just writing something and never knowing what people have to say about it.

I could write about my job, but the one I have is ending soon and every day is mostly the same kind of work. I enjoy it a lot, but I have to find another one soon, and who wants to hear about that anyway?

I could write about my fiancée and our relationship, but that seems too private for the internet. Suffice to say that I’m happy, and that every single day as I go through my daily questions of “Is this the right job for me, is this the right faith for me, is this the right city for me, is this the right person for me?” I find a new thing that makes me more sure she is good for me and right.

For whatever reason I’m just not feeling like writing these posts much anymore. My actual life is so rich right now, and so filled with friends and family and actual living that it feels a little cheap and inauthentic to be writing in this blog much. But if you want to talk, send me an email or something. Better yet, let’s go out and get a drink and talk about whatever you want to talk about. I’d be really happy to do that.

In Which Love Is Inward-Facing Also

There are so many things in modern society that make people feel unloved and unlovely. Ugly and unworthy of being loved fully. Fixated on supposed flaws and unable to see themselves as unbelievable human beings. Whether we feel guilty because we just ate fast food for the second time this month, un-beautiful because we’re not stick thin, unforgiven and fallen because we’ve committed some “sin” that’s been drilled into us from childhood, or alone because we cannot bear the thought of being social in our current state, it’s too easy to find faults with ourselves.

This feeling unloved, I think, makes us actually unable to fully give and receive love. We cannot completely believe that someone means it when they say they love us, and we are special, and we have nothing to worry about. We believe instead that they love only part of us, and we are common, and there are always things over which to worry. Because we cannot believe that someone would love us completely, and we don’t love ourselves completely, we cannot know what complete love is and so we cannot give it to someone else either. We are always holding back, always hesitant of truly being honest because we’re afraid it will make the other person love us less. We are afraid of sinning, afraid of letting go, afraid of being alone and unloved and unforgiven. Afraid… afraid… afraid.

But love and grace do not work like that. Full love is unconditional love, and it goes both ways. We must learn to love ourselves as we are, not only in the superficial way of “own your curves, girl!” and that sort of thing, although that is a step toward full love if that’s a problem for you, but we must be willing to see ourselves not as flawed, ugly, unlovable people but as beautiful and worthy of the best from ourselves and others. Yes, we always make mistakes. Yes, we always need forgiveness. But also remember that yes, we are human and that means that we are practically created to make those mistakes. We are a being that learns how to be itself through mistakes and through experiencing things, and through “sinning” every now and then. If we get too fixated on the things we think we’ve done wrong, or the things other people tell us we’ve done wrong, it only becomes a self-generated cycle in which we keep doing those things because we are human and feel worse and worse every time because we’re told to deny that humanity.

But… If we instead embrace our humanity, embrace our so-called flaws, embrace ourselves and the things which make us who we are, embrace our bodies and our minds and our relationships to each other, we can learn to love ourselves completely and see ourselves as an unbelievably great thing. The next step, then, is becoming able to fully love someone else. And it takes time. But it’s worth the time and effort, because if we are willing to be vulnerable enough to truly love ourselves and truly love and be loved by others, then we’ve transcended our humanity and begun to get a glimpse, however small, of something holy.

In Which I Think About This Past Year and What It Means For the Future

It seems hard for me to believe that last year I was finishing my thesis, ready to get out of Charlotte and go anywhere else, and about to travel to Nashville for my five-year college reunion at Trevecca and also to talk to a faculty member there about my idea for a minor in architecture (http://studymodel.tumblr.com/post/1488371323/in-which-im-inspired). I didn’t like being in Charlotte at all, and I just wanted to go somewhere that felt like home because Charlotte didn’t.

Then I went to a Halloween party and met a few people, then started going to church with those people and met a few more, then went to a New Year’s party and was kissed by a girl at midnight, then got a job and started dating the girl who kissed me six months earlier at the party, and now I’m here a year later and everything has changed.

I was watching a video today at work about the 2006 TED talks, and one of the people awarded a TED prize was the guy who started Architecture for Humanity. It reminded me of my idea about a minor at Trevecca, and made me wonder what happened to the me who started architecture school wanting to change the world through design. I started school in 2007, and something changed between now and then.

I was telling The Girl the other day that I’d still like to teach in college someday, and it’s still a dream to teach classes that do creative architecture for poor communities. Maybe that’s a part of my “change the world” attitude that is still around. But as I thought about it today I realized I don’t feel called to do something on a grand scale like Architecture for Humanity or that kind of thing. I could see myself working for an organization like that, and I’d be happy doing it, but I don’t necessarily see it being a part of my architectural future anymore. If it isn’t I’d be okay with that. I don’t know if I feel “called” to even be an architect; I don’t know if I ever have. 

Once I saw a quote from a professor at UNCC about how he was an architect first, and everything he does is part of that. I was kind of put off by that idea, because I don’t feel like I am, or want to be, an architect first. I see myself more and more lately as a person, a human, a future husband and father, and a part of this group of friends I’ve fallen into here in Charlotte. And no matter if I stay here, or move to L.A. to work at my firm’s head office, or move to Nashville and do that design minor, that is the kind of person I am first. My identity as an architect comes out of that, not the other way around, and the most important thing to me is to love. My design life, however it manifests itself, has to be an outgrowth of that. Crazy how things can change in a year.

In Which I Think About What Love Is

It’s interesting how suddenly life can change, isn’t it? I was talking to a friend from school the other day about how we’re both dating and have jobs now, and how when life changes it seems to do so in a big way quickly.

The church I’ve been going to for almost a year has a lot of young couples, and it seems like babies are being born all over the place lately. I also got to spend some of last weekend with some married college friends, and I don’t know whether it’s because of my age or because I’m seriously dating someone (probably both), but it seems like recently I’ve become more aware of how relationships work and how two people can make a life together and move into the stage of kids and careers. I’ve begun to notice more how relationship and parent dynamics work, and have begun to see some of those things cropping up in my own life. 

When I was growing up I had a lot of issues with rejection because of some harmful relationships I had with friends at school, and it took me quite a while to get over it. There are still times when I feel rejected if a group of friends is hanging out without me or I’m not invited to something, even though if I think about it logically I know I’m not being rejected. I feel like, over time, I’ve healed from it pretty well and become someone who is comfortable in his own skin. I know who I am and am confident in myself, and I feel like I’m generally a mentally healthy person. This growing into myself has happened fairly recently, though, and I hadn’t been in a relationship since becoming this “well-adjusted adult” kind of person; I’d been wondering how I would do in a relationship and what I would learn from it. 

You’d have to ask my girlfriend, of course, to get the true story, but I feel like I’m doing okay. I mess up a lot more often than I’d like to, and learning how to share a life with someone else is something I’m still learning, but I feel like it’s going well. Without sounding overconfident, I look at people who are married or have kids and think that I’m definitely growing into the kind of relationship that those people have. There are aspects of married and parent relationships that I can’t know yet, but for a serious dating relationship… I think things are going well. And I’ve discovered than even though I’m comfortable as myself and usually don’t feel like I need affirmation, it’s really nice to feel loved by someone. It’s nice to hear someone say they want to be with you and like spending time with you, and it’s really good to be able to look at other people who are married or have kids, and then look at this person next to you, and feel excited about ending up that way with her.

If there is anything in this world that can just be— just “is”— it’s love. It’s really easy to just tell someone you love them, but there’s a big difference between telling someone you love them and actually letting love exist. Love is and always will be, no matter whether we accept and propagate it or not, it exists in all places at all times outside of ourselves, but there are opportunities we’re given to take love and give it to someone else, and then accept the love they give us. Once that decision is made, I’m learning, it can grow and change every day if I let it. And for someone who really likes new things, really likes learning more about a person, that kind of constantly changing love is part of what makes a relationship so good.