the life and times of a twenty year old designer

Archive for February 2013

ashen valentines

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On Wednesday, followers of Christ around the world gathered in public meeting places for a time of quiet, stillness, and reflection, preparing for a forty day journey of repentance. Ash-marked foreheads bore witness throughout the day, reminding us that we are dust, and to dust we shall return.

On Thursday, an awkwardly American holiday called forth extravagant displays of romantic love, outpourings of friendship, consumption of sweets and celebration of our interconnectedness.

And somehow, experiencing the two one after the other was stunningly harmonious.

Hear me out on this. Nobody ever said love made sense.

Here’s where I’ve been, going in to this week.

A year ago, Wedding Season was a beautiful opportunity for me to open a constructive dialogue on the role of the single soul in the life of the community.  I had no idea at the time how far the journey would take me. I even spent a few months dating near the end of last year. I can absolutely say my perspectives have been challenged to the fullest. I have celebrated some beautiful weddings, grown in friendship with married couples, seen the selfish underpinnings of my own perspectives, walked with dear friends through the seeming valleys of their own singleness, and learned to advocate with greater clarity and understand more personally the deep blessings of vocational singleness. In essence, the struggles I wrote of in Wedding Season have only grown deeper and more complex. But the rewards of engaging deeply have multiplied beyond what I could have expected. 

So, why bring it up again? Is this just my “chew toy,” my pocket subject, my identity-defining different-ness? I’d like to hope not. But lately other things have been making me feel the way my singleness used to make me feel. Sure, some of it’s being excluded from couple-centric dialogue and events, especially with other women. (seriously folks, we all have more in common than boys and babies…) But there’s a lot of things that make it hard for me to relate to other folks. Or for other folks to relate to me, maybe.

I’m the post-grad who still lives and hangs out with college students.

I’m the twenty-two year old managing, leading, designing, and teaching with colleagues who should be my mentors and students who should be my peers.

I’m the bookish, philosophical academic who spends her days in a world of sawdust, paint drips, and welding wire.

I’m the aspiring world changer who faces deep conversational unease in a group larger than two.

I’m the banjo-picking lover of good headphones and multifaceted compositions, at odds with a culture where four chords suffice.

I’m the advocate for radical living who works a 9-5 and has a retirement plan.

In essence. There are things about me that don’t fit. Points of disconnect from the expected. Parts of me that seem especially hard to love, especially to those following any sort of formula. Things I don’t talk about for fear of seeming too different. Actually, it’s scary how good I’ve gotten at not talking about myself. Some folks will tell you I’m a good listener – what that really means is that my own self is so far guarded that it’s easy to create space in the room for someone else’s story. Somewhere along the way I’ve learned that my mess, when shared, will only hurt me (or worse still, whomever I ask to share it with). And so, because of all of these differences and inconsistencies, I’ve almost grown resigned to the idea that i’ll never quite be connected or understood.

Ash Wednesday was beautifully soul-crushing. There, I felt understood all too well. 

What a picture of love. 

To look at us and say “I want you to remember something. I want you to remember who you are and where you came from. You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Sitting in the sanctuary, going through a communal prayer of confession, my own disconnection and unworthiness seemed to ring through the room in rippling echoes. Having just experienced a deep and powerful act of personal reconciliation, my healing heart was still tender, vulnerable and open.

And in response, I was given the gift of being able to look around the campus or across the table, and see a dirty cross distracting me from the face of a friend or loved one, reminding me that no matter what sort of facades we’ve constructed, dust is the summation of our being.  What a powerful common thread. No matter our age or social status or knowledge or power or wealth, we were all raised up from the dust and will someday leave our bodies behind in the dust of this earth. And the great hope we yearn to celebrate on Easter is only powerful in relation to it’s role in lifting us out of ashes, creating beauty from the dust. If we were so very worth loving, Christ’s love for us would have no miraculous or transformative power. 

How powerful, then, to celebrate our love for each other on Valentine’s day?

To take this opportunity to look each other in the eyes and say “I’m thankful that we’re living life together.”
To say “I saw the ashes on your forehead, and I know the darkness in your heart, and I still choose love.”
To say “Let us keep walking together the journey from ashes to ashes.”

Isn’t this all exactly what Christ has said to us?

As a wise, dear friend said to me yesterday, “Sometimes we feel love the best when we are in repentance.” Accepting our own deep brokenness, owning the cry of our souls that rings of desperation, loneliness, and unworthiness, somehow opens the door to forgiveness. As we learn to accept the love we know we don’t deserve, it pours out of our hearts and makes such communal sentimentality as we saw on Thursday possible.

This acknowledgment somehow allowed my lonely, crazy, single, guarded heart to smile yesterday. To taste, and see the goodness overwhelming the bitterness. To see communities connecting in spite of  vast social differences. To hope, in spite of every broken inclination, in a love bigger than my imagination, stronger than marriage and friendship combined, and deeper than the world’s topsoil of ash and dust.

In this time of repentance, may we be compelled to love stronger and deeper than ever before. Thank you all for continuing on the journey with me.


Written by Taylor Webster

February 15, 2013 at 9:15 pm