‘There’s Too Much Butter on this Popcorn:’ Series Part III

Brandon, Nathan and Brent at our wedding.
Brandon, Nathan and Brent at our wedding.

When I was a kid, my family lived out in the Western New York country — miles from city life, and at least 1,000 feet from the nearest neighbor. Our tiny ranch house was boxed in by fields — of corn, of weeds, of wheat and of grapes.

Each week, we’d go into the city for church, then to my grandparents’ house nearby. They had a big in-ground pool with chaise lounges, beach towels, a radio and lots of beach balls. Some Sundays, we weren’t allowed to swim — either we forgot our swimsuits or we weren’t staying long — and I was swamped with this feeling that I can’t describe.

I just remember being there, cinched up in my Sunday best, saddle shoes, white tights and 80’s boy-cut-hair, deeply saddened about the matter.

The feeling wasn’t so much about the swimming as it was about not being able to be like my cousins, aunts and uncles — diving into the cool water, playing beach volleyball and tanning on the side of the pool. They were having fun, and my sister and I were stuck inside, able only to watch longingly from the sidelines.

Have you ever gone to bed as a kid before the sun went down? Especially on those long summer days, bedtime would come around before sunset, and it grieved me. I’d lay in bed feeling outstandingly alone, discouraged, rejected, regretful and desperate all at the same time. I would learn in later years that I was feeling the first throes of the depression that would own me as I aged.

More Lovely Days

There were times when I was also very buoyant, confident and empowered. As a youngster, those times involved containers of salsa, nacho cheese and a bag full of tortilla chips while my sister, dad and I watched a double-header on the VCR at his house. We’d heap scoops of ice cream into bowls, drowning it in chocolate syrup and settling in for our second movie of the night. And we would go to bed full of life.

Sometimes, our dad would make microwave popcorn — Act II, or some variety — and we’d substitute that for the chips and dip. It was always so salty and buttery — and I thoroughly enjoyed each crunchy bite. It’s funny, because now I catch myself buying the plain popcorn, wiping off excess butter on a napkin or tossing it out if it’s too loaded. “There’s too much butter on this popcorn,” I said to a colleague recently.

Why can’t I just enjoy the popcorn for what it’s supposed to be — that sloppy, buttery, unhealthy food that requires napkins only to smear the butter around your fingers instead of actually cleaning them?

Must I always see each day as a catalog of events to be parlayed into something greater? Can’t a day spent dressed in my Sunday clothes just be one spent sitting in the cool air chatting with my grandmother?

My wedding day was perfect because it was — not because of who showed up or how the church was decorated. It wasn’t special because it was a rite of passage, or a statement of my independence from my family of origin. The nuptials didn’t transform me into a superstar or automatically garner accolade as though I had finally arrived.

The depression that choked the first week of my marriage was borne out of my attempts to make my commitment to Brent more about me than about him. I married him to give myself away and spend the rest of my days caring about this wonderful man. God knows we’re worth it.


Why Nothing Is ‘Normal after Your Wedding

We had so much fun snapping photos of us as newlyweds.
We had so much fun snapping photos of us as newlyweds.

After our honeymoon, it was difficult for me to get back into my routine.

Most days, I wake up around 10, tend to my yellow Lab, have my coffee and read that day’s Beth Moore devotion, then suck down some water and head outside for a long, tough walk.

The Louisiana heat kills me so I generally have to “recover” for about an hour when I get back, alternating gulps of water with stretching and deep breathing to relax. A cool shower, a kiss for the husband and a pat for the dog, and I’m out the door, back to grinding out news articles until 11 p.m.

For some reason, everything I came back to seemed foreign, from the staircase to our apartment, to the algae smeared creek slithering beside it, to the busy road and bad intersection running out front. It was a strange feeling, gone only 10 days but somehow so far removed from the humdrum we’d left.

I didn’t expect a simple ceremony to change my world, but it really did.

My first day back at work, a colleague from Texarkana called into my line. I told him I’d just returned from getting married and he grinned, his eyes sparkling. Well, at least that’s what it sounded like over the phone lines.

He told me how much he loved and valued the institution of marriage and asked me what my married name is. I glanced down and noticed the message on my jeans — “I love Brent” was embroidered on that particular pair. I smiled, thanked Fred, and said, “I love him so much. He’s such a great blessing.”

Each day that goes by, nothing can compare to that moment when Brent held my hand and answered Rev. Kim Broadstreet with, “I do.” That ultimate commitment is really the point of marriage. It, however imperfectly, reflects the supreme loyalty God has for us.

I was never a complete pariah growing up, but I wasn’t exactly always picked first during each gym class. I have a distinct memory of the 6th grade — history class — where we had groups of desks instead of rows. I got to sit with my my friends, the popular girls, every third day. There were a few other outsiders who I rotated that seat with.

I’ve always wanted to be accepted without having to prove myself worthy. I found that great validation in Christ, and He reveals it to me each moment I remember my sweet husband’s words on our wedding day.

So maybe feeling like I’m walking on clouds through regular old life isn’t all that strange after all.

The Dreamland My Youth Pastors Glorified : Series Part II

I love wearing two rings now on this finger.
I love wearing two rings now on this finger.

I wanted to get married in my 20’s — my early 20’s, — have kids early and be a forever career woman.

Oh, and be a professional singer.

As a girl, I may have watched too much “Gem,” but I never considered my lifelong dreams to be unreachable, or unreasonable. My grandmother told me my dream of singing would change as I got older, and I deeply resented her not taking me seriously. But in a way, she was right.

It never occurred to me that I would have to take life by the horns and shake it until it fit my purposes. I thought it would just happen to me, much like it must have happened to my vocal heroes, Point of Grace, 4Him, Margaret Becker and Michael English. In fact, I thought that I was more likely to fulfill my purpose if I let God do all the work.

A friend commented on the first post in this series, saying perhaps I was depressed following my wedding because our society dupes women into believing that finding a man to marry is the ultimate goal in life. I think he may be on to something there, but I also think the Christian culture has something to do with why we expect to find dreamland when we reach adulthood, but instead we find regular old life.

It’s fairly typical of evangelical Christians to hear that platitude, sitting in cushioned pews during church youth group meetings. They were usually fairly solemn events, at least they were back in the early 90’s. Everything was so serious — the lights were dimmed, we watched “human videos” to Michael Card ballads, lifted our hands in worship so high we nearly lost our balance and spent so much time crying altarside that we’d walk away light-headed and with a headache.

“Let go and let God,” they told us. And so we did, or at least we tried. And we never felt like we tried quite hard enough, because we still wanted summer love, rock music and to shake our booties wearing high heels and big hair. We wanted to fit in, to be like “normal” kids our age. But our church leaders said, “Go against the grain,” coarsely reminding us to “be in the world but not of the world.”

But these same people were products of the 1960’s and 70’s, decades rife with plenty of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. In their hippie days, I wonder if the youth leaders attended every church service a week had to offer. I doubt they hedged their future careers on the bet that God would (or that He should) take up the not-yet-woven threads of our lives whip them into a tapestry. They had jobs — factory workers, dentists, construction workers, lawyers, secretaries, teachers — and they had already built their lives. Surely they had no fear in telling us (with all the best intentions) what to do because they didn’t have it lying ahead of them.

We’d been taught to set ourselves up for the dreamland, to come with great expectations. And so we grew up to be lazy, reactive and much like the drifting waves on the sea we were urged not to be. We heard “Go West young man,” when the colleges, coaches, therapists, counselors, neighbors, friends and family were going East.

And when reality hit (and we were too old to attend youth group anymore) my generation did a total face plant into the sludge of everyday normalcy. Wannabe singers settled for the occasional karaoke night or a joining the church choir. Pastoral hopefuls turned into beer slinging bartenders. And all those cute little girls that all the boys liked ended up pregnant before they could legally drive a rental car.

So, it is possible that the downward slide I felt on my honeymoon was due to societal delusions. But I think it had far more to do with situations like this one:

I was about 20, went to church by myself and was part of several ministries there. I was also in school full-time and working a part-time job nights and weekends. One Sunday I was sick. The next Sunday I was traveling with my family in Arkansas. And the next Sunday, a senior sister in the Lord who I will call Ruby, found me in the lobby after church.

What she did next was unbelievable.

Ruby literally grabbed two handfuls of my collar and pushed me into a dark, unused room by the sanctuary. I tried to leave but she blocked me, demanding to know where I’d been for the past 2 weeks. I told her what she wanted to know and made it very clear that all was well — I hadn’t “gone secular” or anything.

To that, Ruby replied: “Well, I just wanted to make sure you weren’t away with a boyfriend or anything.”

At that, I left the room. The next time I saw Ruby was at the mall a couple months later. She and a friend came into the store where I worked and said hello. I mentioned that I was very tired and a little out of it. When Ruby asked why, I gently and promptly informed her it was because I’d had a few drinks the night before.

Her previous pious posturing had backfired.

I never heard another nasty word from her again (though she did once accost my older sister after service, demanding to know where I was, because I “should be up at the altar”).

It’s people like Ruby who steer young Christians wrong — with their bitterness and legalism. They practically shove you into the dorm room at Bible college and expect you to play Stepford Christian. But somewhere in between the “thee’s” and “thou’s,” you realize that the Rubys in your life have never watched an episode of “Gem.” They never had any real dreams of their own, or they are still desperately clinging to them, wishing they could rip off their old lady wig, trade their flight-attendant-like church garb for cutoff jeans and and a tube top, and reenact the river scene from Dirty Dancing.

Ah, but they don’t, and they are miserable. They tell you to God where God leads, but they’ve never had the courage to step a low-heeled-closed-toed foot outside church.

I am a professional writer. Not because I went to the altar, and not because I went to Bible college. I’m a writer because God made me to be, and He strategically put people in my life to suggest and encourage me in my dream.

This may not be what the Rubys in my life would have liked, but my writing career started out much like that of a Las Vegas showgirl (or so Ruby would have said). After all, I penned my first song at age 8, in my bedroom, and sang it to my parents, who drank champagne and played cards at a round table.

The wedding isn’t that important

10442349_10152566769654596_8813970002903536565_nA woman at work is getting married to her fiance in September, and we have been tossing wedding ideas back and forth over our shared cubicle wall for the past 6 months.

She’s getting married in the next parish over, but the location is home to neither her nor her husband-to-be. They will have family traveling from the east coast and the gulf coast, and she is trying to make sure everyone’s needs are met. We were both in that spot prior to my wedding 2 weeks ago. And then I learned — the wedding just isn’t that important.

Let’s stop for just a moment, Reader, so I can clarify that statement. I’m not saying that a wedding isn’t a sacred, special and solemn event. I’m not saying nuptials aren’t amazing, full of awe and anticipation. Nor am I saying that vow-taking is a flip, passe, or nominal experience. Quite the opposite: the wedding is all about the sacred, the overwhelming — that moment when your nearly newly-minted spouse pledges the rest of their life to you.

I walked down the aisle tripping on my massive gown, hanging on my dad’s arm while he clung to his walking cane with his other arm. I nearly tripped going up the stairs to the platform. My feet ached so badly in my bridal shoes that I stepped out of them while the pastor spoke and hid them under my gown until the recessional (It was kind of cute though, just two little silver sandals setting where the bride once stood).

Everything else went pretty much as planned, but I missed most of it because my head was in the clouds the entire time. It’s tough to gaze at the most handsome man alive, in his USAF dress blues, his blonde hair perfectly coiffed and his blue eyes deep with care and love, and focus. I remember us clinging to each other’s hands — as though our lives depended on it — for the entire ceremony.

I’ve been told that my parent’s cried, but I didn’t notice. I know my mother and his father lit the family candles, but I wasn’t there to see it happen. I bought the aqua rose petals tossed by the flower girl but at the end of the day, I had to ask someone if they had been thrown.

I came home and found all the bubble packs still in their cases, unused by those decorating the church. Just today, I remembered the little plastic boxes with white jordan almonds I’d so perfectly put together and packed. They are probably somewhere in the back of my truck. The veil and tiara I spent hours picking out are still in their box in a closet. My sister had to run out and grab me a veil and head piece just hours before the wedding.

All those hours, months even, spent planning our wedding were moments I won’t get back to spend with my husband. The few days I had with my family before the wedding that I spent panicking over minutiae are forever gone as well.

So to my friend about to tie the knot, I say let the vows be the focal point of your entire day. Don’t miss the important things being tortured over things you won’t even remember — or care about — the next day. Enjoy your wedding, your spouse and your guests, and leave the rest to love.

Series: Post-wedding depression (Part 1)

I was feeling especially depressed when I took this photo. Brent was napping beside me, and all I could think about was "How will I ever get out of this cage?"
I was feeling especially depressed when I took this photo. Brent was napping beside me, and all I could think about was “How will I ever get out of this cage?”

I’ve been dreading writing this post. I don’t want my new husband to feel discouraged or in any way like this is his fault. We’ve talked about it, gone through some really deep and dark moments this week, and I think it’s finally time to talk about it in public.

My wedding made me depressed.

During our honeymoon (it began late on our wedding night, long after Brent had dozed off and I was wide-eyed, gazing out our 18th-floor window at the moonlit Dallas skyline) I experienced several bouts of major depression. At first I blew it off as pure melancholy, but inside I knew it was much darker than that.

I was so devastated at my feelings and desperate to make sure my husband didn’t catch a case of the blues from me. But the depression was difficult to hide. On July 13, the day after our wedding, I slept until 2:30 p.m. — a sure sign of that soul cancer — and I suspect Brent knew something was amiss.

Curled beneath the blankets on my bed, I tried to soothe myself with thoughts of our coming adventure through Texas. I kept up a steady mantra of “This is going to end soon,” but I couldn’t fool myself. That first day dragged slowly into the second, and that evening, the anguish lifted. Brent patiently kept pace as I dragged my leaden soul around the Southfork Hotel, through dinner and a couple hours of therapeutic journaling.

The next day began with anger, antipathy and an apathetic view of my husband. It wasn’t his fault, Reader. Sure, even our most cherished ones let us down from time to time, but the fire that came roaring out of me en route to a Dallas ranch scared me.

Mostly, I was terrified of my ambivalence.

God wasn’t done with me though, and He was most definitely not ambivalent to my agony, and the fireballs I had hurled at my husband. The wisdom of the Almighty and a silent drive through the Texas hill country dulled the edge of my disgust.

(Stay tuned for Part 2 in this 3 part series)

Hemingway’s room

I sat on a pillowy duvet, back braced up against a walnut headboard and tried to soak in my surroundings.

The sweet deck off our bed and breakfast suite in San Antonio
The sweet deck off our bed and breakfast suite in San Antonio

The bed & breakfast we were staying at was like something out of a Hemingway novel. We had the penthouse — with a large bathroom including spa tub, a sitting area with French doors that opened outward revealing a third-story terrace.

Another door afforded us a second entrance onto the deck, which showed the river snaking through enormous live oaks.

Each dainty piece of decor must have been specially chosen to compliment the room. A walnut clothes cabinet … sweeping mahogany rockers … buttery warm chocolate curtains flanking gorgeous white woodwork on French doors … a cream bed cover, wrapped with scrolling coffee-colored embroidery …

…A full-length floor mirror, resting soundly on wooden hinges … and blue Victorian throw pillows stitched with soft, golden rope and embossed with pearl and golden designs.

They all formed a silent template for the outstanding pistachio walls, arching over the sitting area and buttressed by exquisite white crown molding. This room could have easily been transported from Key West to South Texas.

The soothing shades seemed to actually cool down the outside heat and bring fresh air into an otherwise unbearable humidity.

Brent had a dozen roses in an outstanding bouquet waiting there for me when we arrived. Each cream flower was etched with fuchsia at the edges. Matching fuchsia carnations and dark purple asters stood next to lime greenery.

A couple-size wedding cake was perched atop a beautiful stand beside the roses. A bottle of champagne was chilling in a stainless steel ice chalice between the flowers and cake.

My new husband made everything serenely romantic.


Wishing I could do it all over again

I have a new ring, now added to my engagement diamond. Brent chose very well!
I have a new ring, now added to my engagement diamond. Brent chose very well!

Over lunch at Pat O’Brien’s, Brent and I wished each other a “happy 4-day anniversary.”

I can’t believe it’s been that long already. It seems like just a few moments ago I was carrying my maiden name and wearing only one ring on my left hand’s fourth finger. I couldn’t wait to see our nuptials arrive, and already they are in our past.

There’s something surreal and depressing about the day I’ve waited my whole life for having blown right past me.

At the same time, our days have passed so deliberately and magically that I feel as though I’ve been blasted years into the future. I don’t remember the details of our wedding weekend — they have slowly drifted into the history of Mr. and Mrs. Brent Bays.

I’d give anything to take those 50 or so slow steps down the aqua aisle in Ponder.

As much as our parents caution us to not be in a hurry to grow up, we usually play tug-of-war with our futures, aching for the highlights to hurry down history’s halls. I’m 33 — not too young anymore — and this is my first (and I pray only) marriage. I have no children yet, don’t own a home of my own and still have plenty of hallmarks to hit.

Yet I wish I could redo my wedding day a few more times, just to savor the anticipation of the pastor’s pronouncement a little longer.


Honeymoon in Dallas

Our wedding colors were various hues of aqua and seafoam.
Our wedding colors were various hues of aqua and seafoam.

It might seem low class that I’m blogging while I’m on my honeymoon, but I hope it doesn’t.

For me, blogging and journaling is how I process and work things out. So much has happened over the past week — I can’t possibly take the time to catalog it all right now (I do have a hottie groom waiting for me to climb into bed so he can wrap his big ole’ bear paws around my shoulders). Tonight we’ll have to settle for an update from today — Monday.

I woke up to a sun-struck skyline — 18-stories up — and a soft, husky Texan voice calling my name. My groom wrapped his arms around me and began to gently stroke my curly hair. He nudged me awake, made me a hot cup of coffee and away we went.

Together, we took an elevator (yikes!) up 400+ feet above the Dallas pavement and out onto a catwalk circling around a cross-hatched orb bolting up from the Hyatt. Reunion Tower afforded us a view of all the Big D skylights, including Dealey Plaza, just a block away.

After checking out of our glam hotel, we met up with my new brother-in-law Brandon and his friend Craig. Brandon delivered a two-thumbs-up meal when he took us to Smoke, a barbecue joint pushing toward Dallas’ west side. From the outside, Smoke looked like a dump. But inside, it was trendy and Texan, the crush of barbecue caused me to literally gasp when I Brent opened the front door.

A quick drive to Plano (just outside Dallas) found us at SouthFork Hotel — a haunt laden with memorabilia from the TV show Dallas, both then and now. We grabbed a bite to eat at the Cattleman’s Cafe, then I took a dip in the hot tub underneath the Dallas moonlight.

It has been a wonderful day — just me and my new husband.

Honeymoon: SouthFork Hotel

Sitting in the car waiting for my new groom to whisk me away.
Sitting in the car waiting for my new groom to whisk me away.


Reader — I married him.

On July 12, just 2.5 days ago, I married the best man alive. I’m Mrs. Brent Bays (or as my new brother-in-law would tell me to say, “Mrs. Sarah Bays”).

I’ve now been called Mrs. Bays and printed and signed as Sarah Bays. I’ve even changed my name on Facebook — so it’s official — and I have updated my email signature.

I’m a married woman.

I won’t kid you, I don’t “feel” married yet. Sometimes, I don’t even feel like I’m not single anymore. I’ve awoken recently to the thought, “This can’t be my life.” But it is my life, and it’s a whole new life.

I remember calling Brent my boyfriend and it felt odd. Calling him my fiance was even stranger. Now this — calling him my husband — is the most wild, unreal thing of all.

I’m sure that in a month or two, everything will settle in. But for now, I sit here stunned and nearly in shock that this is the 2nd night of my honeymoon.

Unchained Melody

It’s the love song of my life — the anthem of of romance since 1955 — and is featured prominently as the soundtrack to every peak of love I’ve ever had. So it’s only fitting that this beautiful, fantasy-laden power ballad would be the lead song for my wedding.

The first time I heard the “Unchained Melody,” was while watching the movie Ghost with my dad and sister back in the early 90s. I’m fairly sure I’d heard it before then, either on the radio or on one my dad’s hundreds of LPs by way of an old record player or an even older Victrola.

(I’ll admit it, as a girl I simply adored Patrick Swayze, whether in Ghost or Dirty Dancing, the man was an absolute 1980s heartthrob).

The track picked up again later in the 90s, during a dinner my dad and I were invited to, in honor of my uncle, who was a local police officer. There was a small dance area and a dee jay and this song rolled out of the speakers, swelling the small room with romance and legacy — more on that below — in a way I don’t remember feeling before.

The “Unchained Melody” was written in 1955 by a couple men who needed a track for a prison film being produced at the time. The melody had been crafted especially for the movies, but the lyrics are the words of a lover pining for his beloved from behind bars. Perhaps because of when it was penned, I associate it with the 1950s, when the world was a lot freer and romance was true and deliberate, not just an afterthought after doing the deed.

My parents grew up in the 50s and 60s in Niagara Falls, NY. I think of them when I watch Grease, or mobster flicks or sit down at one of two specific homegrown Italian restaurants in our downtown. The fantasy that I created in my heart grew into an idealistic, make-believe dreamworld — one that didn’t exist. But in my mind, with the radio on and the windows down, driving down Main Street was like flying on the wings of that, unchained romance.

The song came back around in 1997, when I danced with someone I met at my junior prom. The dee jay pumped the first few notes into the candlelit night and I grabbed the closest person I could find. It didn’t hurt that I found him irresistible, and could sense he felt the same way about me. I tossed my arms around his neck and he set his hands on my hips, he stared at me while I pretended not to notice — and I feel madly in love for the first time.

After that, sometimes I’d just play the “Unchained Melody” just to conjure up memories of that night — when romance was deep, rich, wild and just a hairs breadth away from being real. And today, I still associate the song with my first unhinged dive into love.