“I need to write this blog post for the Fellows by Thursday but I can’t think of anything to write about.” “Write about what you learned from confronting us!” Tammy generously offered. “But that’s scary,” I replied, to which Tammy retorted “that’s exactly why you should do it.”
I’m not going to sugar-coat it, this year, tied with my freshman year of college, has been the most difficult of my life. I have struggled with the distance I feel from my friends and family, I have struggled with the lack of direction I feel in my life post-graduation, and I have struggled to live with a host family.
While the first two of the previously listed struggles are mostly out of my control, the third is one I have learned to embrace and find joy within. However, it took several months of bottling up all my frustrations to reach this point of joy. I was born and raised in South Carolina, a place where hospitality and manners are practiced with fervor and a place where, when you are a guest, you endure any and all circumstances with a smile on your face.
From August until January I considered myself a guest in the Stevenson’s home and therefore placed restrictions on myself. I couldn’t ask the kids to come down the stairs more quietly in the mornings because that would be rude, I couldn’t cook in the kitchen while others were around because I didn’t want to get in anyone’s way, I couldn’t eat meals with the Stevenson’s when I had a rough day because I didn’t want them to see the grouchy, tired side of me. I felt imprisoned within a house from which I had removed all senses of comfort, sanctuary, and love.
A home is a place where you feel free to be yourself, where you can watch Friends with the volume all the way up, where you can make mac and cheese at midnight if you’re feeling snacky. It’s a place where you don’t have to worry about putting your best foot forward because it’s yours.
My desire to make myself the best guest the Stevensons ever had began to cause me stress, and this stress soon turned to anger, and finally bitterness. Rather than acknowledging that this stress was self-imposed, I began to blame the Stevensons. The months of sitting in my room and hiding from my host family out of fear of seeming ungrateful or unhappy in their home began to eat away at me. I assumed my only option to escape the situation was to move out.
One Sunday afternoon with a plan set in place, I sat down with Tammy, Loren, and one of the directors of the Fellows, Rachel, and began to explain how I had been feeling. The second I began speaking, tears began to fall. I couldn’t make eye contact with anyone and I felt more guilt than I ever have in my entire life.
After I finished voicing all of my struggles, Tammy gently asked why I had never brought up any of these issues with them before this point. I burst into tears, realizing my desire to be a perfect house guest had kept me from any and all types of confrontation. “We love you and we want you to be happy,” Tammy and Loren both said in their own words. “If you need to move out we understand, but is there anything we can change that might help you stay with us?”
These words shocked me. I thought this was going to be a simple conversation where I told them I was moving and they said okay. Instead I was met with the resistance of love. I had never considered the possibility that the Stevensons cared for me as someone other than a house guest. I began crying even more because I knew I didn’t deserve their kindness - I had been selfish and completely blind to their desire to see my flourish.
Flash forward several months later and the Stevensons have continued to embrace me, and now I them. We laugh together, share our frustrations, and check in on each other to make sure everything is going well both in and outside of our home. This openness did not come easily, but I cherish the ability I now have to walk through the door and complain about a rude customer at work or jump for joy at good news from a grad school.
Our Fellows directors Ben and Rachel have continuously encouraged us to lean in to conflict rather than shy away from it. While I’m still not great and confronting others about my hurt and anger, I have learned a powerful lesson this year about the need for honesty in any type of relationship, even if it isn’t fun or kind. I have Ben, Rachel, and the Stevensons to thank for my newfound appreciation for conflict. Even though the thought of confronting someone still makes me cringe, I now realize that my desire to avoid uncomfortable situations at all costs is one I need to learn to fight against, and that honesty truly is the best policy.
SLF Class of 17-18