The Art of Side-Hugs

I can sometimes tolerate a side hug. But I still hate them. I hate the idea of letting you wrap your arms around me and put your face close to mine. I hate the tangibility of my awkwardness when we’re close.

But mostly…I hate knowing that for a few seconds, I have no choice but to let you tell me what I already suspected: I am important, worthy, loved. In an embrace, I haven’t any room, physically or emotionally to argue my way back to the way I see myself. I will have to believe you love me, and this will change everything. I will want to hug you back.

When you hug me, I have to question my own notion of what it means to love. I must acknowledge an uncomfortable truth: love is not a feeling. Feeling affection is easy, but so cheap. This is the kind of “love” that compels me to write you letters or send “I love you” texts. Eventually I do this so much that I begin to excuse myself from the other implication of love: proof. I could say, “I love you” all day and really mean it. But it’s all a load of shit if I can’t show you. Sometimes I have to ask you, “Is a side-hug okay?”

Love has become disgustingly abstract in our culture. I could make it mean just about anything, good or bad. But the kind of love I’m talking about here is physical without the creepiness. Admiration and affection embodied. This is the kind of love I cannot say. This is the love that confesses my need for you and the kind when you decide you probably need me, too. This is the love that has no conditions. You don’t have to meet my criteria, and I’m begging you to not make me meet yours. We both know we’re only human. This is the part when I’m awkward and you feel uncomfortable. This is a special love—nestled in the art of side-hugs.






Marriage Obsession: Could we not?

Disclaimer: I will be using the word “sex” and “damn”. Gasp.


I think marriage could have some serious perks. Sex, little niños, friendship, team spirit, double the income (maybe, but probably not), and more sex (maybe, but probably not), etc. And then, of course, Christians get all excited because we’re Christ’s Bride (and it’s true. We are). Marriage is one of the Sacraments. One man and one woman.  (Yeah, this is the part when we force our ideas about marriage onto everyone else outside the church.)


I get it. I really do. But could we not? Could we not talk about marriage all the time? Please?


Confession: When I walked into the kitchen this summer and saw the legal document that said my parents’ marriage was “irretrievably broken,” I decided I didn’t really give a damn about marriage anymore. Right then and there, with that stupid packet in my hand that referred to me as “the daughter,” I decided I would be perfectly content never saying “I do” to anyone ever.  I also decided, “Wow, I’m bitter!” and found some source of caffeine. But that’s another story for another day…

So, I would be lying if I said my thoughts on marriage were entirely objective and outside my emotions. But I would also be lying if I said I haven’t been annoyed with the average evangelical’s obsession with marriage for quite some time.


What was I saying? Oh….could we not?


Could we stop telling women to “wait for the right man”? And seriously, what is the deal with telling teen girls to write letters to these imaginary husbands in colorful journals? Could we maybe start telling them that marriage actually won’t mark the height of their development as a woman and Christian? What if we started preparing them for the equally beautiful possibility that they will never marry? Wouldn’t it be okay if we gave young women permission to say “I don’t need a man to complete me!” ? That’d be great. Hey, they wouldn’t even have to burn their bras to get branded (by zombies) with the feminist label!


Could we stop whining about the divorce rate and start thinking about how the church might actually be a contributing factor—what with our constant jibber jabber about marriage being beautiful and important for every Christian in her early twenties? I mean, could we not? I’m almost 20 and I have no idea who I am. If I’m anything to go by, marriage is probably an idiot choice this early in life.  


Could we stop talking about “sexual purity”  and “waiting for marriage”? All.The.Time. Please? Because this actually 1) makes me think about sex more than I normally would and 2) makes me feel like most of my identity and existence centers around this marriage I may or may not even want.  

Could we not?


Let’s clear some things up before some of you flip out, and before I regret posting this.


Do I hate marriage? Absolutely not. Am I opposed to having my own family some day? Nope. Do I believe marriage can be a beautiful representation of Christ’s love for the church? Absolutely!


But I do not believe it is the only representation of that Love. I do not believe I will be incomplete if I an IWU guy doesn’t wash my feet in the fountain and pull out a shiny ring. I do not believe my spiritual development leads me toward some fairy tale marriage. Because who said it’s leading me toward marriage at all?

So as much as we love combining Christianity with idealized romance stories, could we not?

Hi, I’m Religious

Indiana Wesleyan University isn’t a “religious” school. We’re “spiritual”.

When I was a saint, I used to tell people, “Christianity isn’t a religion; it’s a relationship.” And that made me feel really superior to all ye of little faith who couldn’t quite get that. I sometimes went on prayer walks to invite the Holy Spirit on campus. I never needed to cross myself or kneel at the altar for the Eucharist. I sometimes asked my professors if I could pray at the beginning of class, and that made me just like everyone else. God’s presence in my life wasn’t something I questioned. I knew Jesus was in my heart in the same way I knew squirrels were eating large nuts in Elder lawn. Duh. I had no questions. Things made sense. God was real, and I needed no further elaboration. I was spiritual.

And then one day, everything seemed so much more complicated. Getting out of bed and finding something to wear was problematic enough. And I certainly didn’t have the energy or desire to kneel in the prayer chapel and discern the Spirit’s movement—because I was no longer sure anything was happening in my spirit. I didn’t close my eyes during my favorite worship chorus or place my hand over my heart as I sang..because I didn’t know where my heart was anymore.


The Nicene Creed says, “We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty.” I say it every Sunday just past 10am— when the dew in the church yard starts disappearing along with my doubts. At the altar, my laced-up shoes dangle awkwardly behind me as I tap the tips of my fingers on my forehead, down to my chest, across my shoulders, and back to my heart again. “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

Every Sunday, when the dew is fading, I am religious.

I try to find ways to tell the people I love why I’m no longer spiritual. I want to tell them, “I need to participate in ‘religious’ activities like the Eucharist and liturgy to supplement the last bit of faith I have.” But that would sound an awful lot like “jdjienasdaslkdgjlkasjdff” to my spiritual friends, who feel God moving in the music of the worship band or the words of a Psalm. They do not understand. Creeds, physical movement, and holy water are the crutch I lean on to maintain my mustard seed faith when I cannot feel anything.

My good friend and mentor, Dr. Toland, told me last Spring to “lean into the Body” when I could not believe. I thought she meant only to ask for prayer, which I did several times. But I think she might also have been alluding to the traditions of the historical church, which could handle my weak faith and apathy. I never realized that this is Grace. Religion, when it’s pure, is an extension of the Grace of the Cross.

So, I guess things haven’t changed all that much. I’m still a doubter daily. Jesus still seems far away, and my feelings range from nothing at all to everything all at once. But my participation in the Church has never been so important as it is today. In my pew, I confront my questions with creeds, fold my hands during the Lord’s prayer, invite the Word of the Lord into my head, mouth, and heart. Just past 10, religion saves my faith and makes me think that maybe,  just maybe, I might be a little spiritual after all.

Not Ever, Not Once

My Creative Nonfiction class makes me feel uncomfortable.

Our professor assigned us the most awkward assignment on the planet: draw the name of a random classmate, creep on them to find out who they are, and craft a portrait essay. Oh, and don’t tell them you’re writing about them. Good luck.

And because I’m lucky, I drew the name of a perfect stranger…who also happens to be a writing genius. So I spent hours and hours panicking. Then it was the night before class, and I spent hours and hours typing something up that I thought would maybe, possibly, hopefully be ok.

And then it was 2:20 on Friday, at which time I entered the room and panicked again before rushing to the bathroom to panic some more. One after another, my classmates read their essays. Then I thought to myself, Damn it, why am I in a 400 level writing class? More panic because my paper was..yeah. Nicht so toll. 

Everyone was looking at me, waiting for me to read my own. And I was shaking my head, saying “Nope!” instead of crying, which would actually have been my first choice aside from vomiting or knocking over desks in a fit of “Why am I such a bad writer!?”  

I panicked a little more at the end of class when Dr. K said I had to read the essay Monday. I ignored her encouragement, and walked away dramatically to the nearest piano, where I played Debussy and cried.

My name is Jessica Dugdale, and I’m a whiner.

Maybe it’s because I just spent a solid 24 hours off campus with other reflective individuals, but I’ve got the sense that I seriously misunderstood and undervalued that experience.

Not ever, not once did I stop to think about how I was making other people feel when they said, “Your paper is probably good” and I flat out rejected them, snapped at them for trying to help. Demolished their credibility as peers and friends.

Not ever, not once did I stop my whining long enough to appreciate the nice things a classmate said about me in her paper, and the brilliant ways she said them. She had totally captured everything I try to be, and not even 30 minutes after she announced them to the class through her creativity, I had refuted them with my actions.

With the help of cowardice, insecurity, and stubbornness, I showed every person in that class that I’m not open to growth. That I’m prideful.

Not ever, not once did I think to weep about that, and maybe I should have. 

My Creative Nonfiction class makes me feel uncomfortable, but Lord help me if ever I behave so disgracefully again.