Honoring Mom

“Do you want to take a photo to honor your mother?”

That’s the question my thoughtful, compassionate photographer asked me on my wedding day.

The dress was on. Hair and makeup, done. Chandelier earrings dangling by my cheeks.

I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t say anything at all.

Todd had decided to take a portrait holding his mother’s cowboy hat across his chest. Perhaps I wanted to do something like that?

“Maybe in front of one of her paintings?” the photographer offered.

I stared at my hands. I tried to focus.

It wasn’t that I hadn’t put plenty of thought into how to honor my mom at my wedding. I’d considered empty chairs and photographs. Special songs and moments of silence.

None of it felt right. None of it felt like her. Or me. So, I’d let it go.

“That’s okay,” I replied. “I don’t think I need to do that.”

Now I look back at the pictures from that day, and I know I was right. In shot after shot after shot, my face shows nothing except unbridled joy.

And that’s how I honor her.

By being happy. By finding the best partner for me. By living life fully. And always, always, always overflowing with love.

 

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I choose you,

as my husband and partner,

my companion and friend,

my forever and always.

Because I love you just as you are today

and I’m excited to see who you become.

I promise to always support and snuggle you,

to challenge and cherish you,

And to be honest and adventurous,

so that our love will not grow old, even as we do.

The Love that Built This House

When I wear white,

there will be no church or chapel.

Just the sanctuary we created—

a simple plot of fertile ground

where a sacred love could grow.

At the end of the aisle, we’ll plant our feet.

Hearts beating like two hummingbirds,

captured in cages of bone.

There we’ll test the limits of human joy—

pledging words that no one else has said.

Because we wrote them.

Together.

As we invite others in to join

the unending celebration

that began when we first met,

my heart will be as full as the moon overhead.

Standing beneath oaks that have lasted for centuries

and hoping—always hoping—

for a love that lasts just as long.

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Disprespecting the Dead

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Photo Source: Steve Marcus / Reuters

Do you know what’s actually disrespectful to the 59 people who were murdered in Las Vegas on Sunday evening?

Pretending it couldn’t have been prevented. Silencing a conversation that could have saved their lives. Believing that the right to bear arms is more important than the right to live.

The same people who say the national anthem is not the time for protesting racial inequality are the ones saying this national crisis is not the time for a discussion of gun laws.

And I’m here to tell you that kind of thinking has led us to exactly where we are.

Maybe if we’d had a discussion about gun laws back in 1999, when 12 were slain in a high school. Maybe if we’d opened up a conversation in 2007, when a boy with an assault rifle killed 8 at a mall. Or after 12 died at the movies in 2012. Or when 26 were slaughtered in an elementary school later that same year. Or once 9 were murdered during a Bible study in 2015. Or when 49 were killed in a night club in 2016. Or after countless others died in mass shootings somewhere—anywhere—in between…

Maybe if we had talked about it then, maybe if we had pushed for stronger legislation, maybe if we hadn’t been silenced by an outspoken minority group who cares more about an ideal than it does about the actual problem it creates, maybe then a disturbed 64-year-old man wouldn’t have been able to get his hands on semi-automatic weapons and unlimited rounds ammunition.

Maybe that country music festival would have run until completion—with applause and ovations and encores. And maybe everyone would have gone home to their families and friends—safely, wholly, happily.

But we were told it was not the time. And the conversation was muffled and muted. Again. And again. And again.

Now we have another black mark on our calendars. Another day of the year when our flags will fly at half-staff. Soon enough, those Stars and Stripes will stop seeing the top of the pole altogether.

You can keep sending your thoughts and prayers. You can pause as long as you want for a moment of silence.

But if you’re unwilling to recognize this country is broken…Our gun laws put our people at risk…America has a mass shooting epidemic that doesn’t exist in any other developed nation…

If you’re unwilling to fight for change…If you’re trying to silence those who are, your thoughts and prayers are not only disrespectful to the dead—they’re a complete hypocrisy.

Liberty is precious. But so is life. It’s time we find a way to protect both.

So, let’s talk about it.

In Defense of My Right to Be Me

I am the granddaughter of two southern preachers. Named after both.

Spiritual but not religious. Young but not ignorant.

Thoughtful with much to learn.

I’m a Gemini. Earth sign. Born the Year of the Tiger.

5’6”. 150 pounds. Brown eyes. Red hair. (Most of the time.)

Three tattoos…Four if you count the cover up.

I pose for an occasional selfie. I’m bad at taking pictures.

My mom is dead. My dad is amazing. My sister is my best friend.

I’m high school valedictorian. UGA alumni. Charleston resident.

The writer of my story. Sometimes, even the protagonist.

 

I write what I feel.

I say what I think.

 

I’m a white person who believes #BlackLivesMatter.

A hardworking Millennial.

A feminist who can’t wait to get married.

A democrat who didn’t care about politics until 2016.

An American who can see the United States is flawed.

A patriot who kneels with Colin Kaepernick.

 

I write what I feel.

I say what I think.

 

I’m afraid of North Korea, fake news, and hate.

I’m against the death penalty. I’m pro having a conversation about that.

I’m for vaccines. And human rights. And equal pay for women and minorities.

I don’t care what bathroom anyone uses. I think all bathrooms should actually be rooms.

I think gay people should get married. I think gay people are just regular people.

I’m for women having the right to choose what happens to their own bodies.

I’m not afraid to admit that black people aren’t set up to succeed in this country.

I don’t mind that some of my paycheck goes to help those who need it more than me.

I do mind that some of those people never had the same chances I had.

I struggle to understand Trump supporters.

I understand that Trump supporters struggle with me.

I think it’s hard to be a Muslim right now.

I have a hard time being a Christian right now.

I think gun control would help with gun violence.

I’m sad I missed the Women’s March on Washington for a bridal shower.

I think I’ll never stop regretting not being there.

 

I write what I feel.

I say what I think.

 

I believe this country will get better.

I believe my generation can help.

I believe #LoveWins.

I believe change takes time. And determination. And strength.

I believe change happens when people stand up for what they believe.

 

I write what I feel.

I say what I think.

 

This is who I am.

 

And this…this right here…this is where I share, discuss, support, console, lament, and grieve.

If you do not like it, unfriend, unfollow, or uninvite yourself from this space. My space.

But do NOT tell me what I can and cannot say here.

Do NOT tell me who I can and cannot be here.

Not here in this space that I created and YOU have stepped into.

This is who I am.

And who do you think YOU are expecting me to be someone else?

 

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The Answer to the Question, “Are You Changing Your Name When You Get Married?”

My last name is Shelnutt—like nutshell, only backward. (And spelled funny.)

That’s the way I’ve explained it my entire life: when giving presentations in school, putting my name on a waitlist for a table at a restaurant, and introducing myself to Comcast agents on the phone.

Throughout my school years, I wore my last name like a strange badge. I enjoyed hearing new teachers hesitate when reading it during roll call on the first day. (Never mind the fact that my first name, Jenna, is spelled with G, further adding to the confusion.)

I appreciated how rare it was. If you know another Shelnutt—which you probably don’t—chances are I’m related to that awesome human.

My days of roll call are long gone, and now I’m getting married in the fall. My dad will walk me down the aisle, but I will not play the bridal march. My dress is white, but I will not wear a veil. I’ll say the vows, but I will not change my last name.

I’m a Shelnutt. I’ve always been a Shelnutt. I like being a Shelnutt. I like that my name comes with a little joke that warms people to me when we’re first introduced. I like how it sounds following my first name. I like the disheveled look of my signature.

From a young age, I found it unfair that women lose their names when they get married, and men do not. Even when those women have obviously cool last names like Shelnutt.

When my fiancé, Todd, and I first started dating, I confessed to him that I had no intentions of ever taking another man’s last name.

“Good for you,” he replied without hesitation. “I wouldn’t have expected anything different.”

And that was that.

When we got engaged, the conversation re-emerged. Todd assumed we would both keep our names as previously discussed. I’d stay a Shelnutt. He, a Sevier.

I wasn’t happy with that either. To me, that seemed like getting married and nothing changing.

But when you get married something is changing. You’re coming together in a legally recognized partnership. You’re committing to forever together. Marriage has lasting impacts on both parties, and I wanted a name reflecting that.

I offered plenty of alternatives to the non-name-change. Sevier-Shelnutt. Shelnutt-Sevier. Or my personal favorite: Shelvier. (How gorgeous does that sound? Much better than Sevnutt; let’s be honest.)  I even suggested we take Todd’s last name but change the pronunciation from severe to sev-vee-ā, like we’re an adorable French couple.

Todd didn’t buy it.

We discussed, debated, and buried the whole name-change concept in the ground. Then, I dug it up from the grave, and we discussed and debated some more.

One night over dinner—somewhere between chicken parmesan and tiramisu—Todd brain-birthed a new solution: we could both take each other’s last names as our middle names. He’d be Todd Shelnutt Sevier. I’d be Genna Sevier Shelnutt.

And that was that.

When I explain our decision to those who ask, some are amazed, others perturbed. Some applaud our individuality. Others are made uncomfortable by it.

Maybe it’s annoyingly progressive. Maybe it’s progressively annoying. Maybe it’s audacious. Maybe it’s pretentious. Maybe it’s just plain stupid.

But it doesn’t matter. Because it’s us.

It’s reflective of our equal partnership. It’s reflective of our compromise. It’s reflective of us coming together. And it’s reflective of the change we’re both making together. It connects me to him and him to me without compromising our identities as individuals.

And best of all, it allows me to remain a Shelnutt—like nutshell, only backward. (And spelled funny.)

 

Genna & Todd Take Miami

 

Lessons in Accessorizing: A Childhood Traumedy

Milford Creek Lane was a straight, flat stretch of middle-class Georgian suburbia. The blue ranch house I called home sat about a quarter mile from the stop sign at the end of the street. During the school year, I walked that route twice a day to catch the bus in the morning and return home in the afternoon.

One morning in early winter, my breath clung to the frigid air in front of me as I walked—the grass still turgid and shimmering with overnight frost. I wore a navy wool coat and scratchy black gloves. On top of the gloves, I wore my newest prized position: a real, grown-up ring.

I had told my mother I wanted a real ring, and for reasons I’ll never understand, she allowed me this indulgence. She took me to Uptons department store where I peered in to the jewelry case on my tip toes. I picked out a small gold ring with a marquise amethyst and the tiniest of diamonds lacing over it.

The next day, I was so eager to show off my new ring, I couldn’t bear to cover it with a glove. So my eight-year-old genius decided to wear the ring on top.

When I arrived at the stop sign that morning, my fellow bus riders gathered in a loose mosh pit on the sidewalk. Older children and troubled children and stranger children all intimidated me, so I kept to myself.

I shoved my hands in my coat pockets and felt a wad of cloth. Pulling it out, I recognized my other pair of gloves. Not only did this set better match my coat, it also had sparkles woven in the fabric, giving it all the softness of a Brillo Pad.

Without a moment of hesitation, I peeled off my black gloves and put on the newfound haute couture pair instead.

I sat in my fourth-grade desk at school for no more than 10 minutes that day before the revelation occurred: my fingers were bare. The ring was gone.

Dread rose in my chest as my child-brain backtracked through the morning and realized the ring had popped off at the bus stop when I switched the gloves.

It could be anywhere now. It could have rolled into the sewer. It could be caught up in the blades of a lawnmower—yes, even in the winter! It could have been carried off in the talons of an eagle, swallowed by a jewelry-eating dog, found and kept by a vicious neighbor with excellent taste in rings.

My mother would never buy me another ring again. She might never buy me anything at all! I’d probably never have another valuable possession for the rest of my life. I hadn’t deserved the ring, and now I’d lost it in my first 24 hours of ownership. The thought of having to tell my mom what I’d done twisted my stomach in knots. Laying my head on the cool faux-wood of my desk, I tried not to cry or panic or simply bust through the school exit and sprint all the way home to look for it.

My nerves turned to nausea as the day ached on. Every bump and turn and squealing first-grader on the excruciating bus ride home forced my stomach farther up into my throat. As the yellow behemoth rounded the last turn to get to our stop, my entire body tensed.

By requirement only, I waited until the screeching brakes came to a complete halt before bolting to the front. I arrived at the door as it opened casually via accordion fold with its customary whoosh of air.

Darting out, I launched for the spot where I was standing when I switched gloves. I flung myself on the ground—aware of how strange I might look yet not caring in the least—and smooshed my hands frantically into the grass hoping to feel the hard metal against my soft palms.

Nothing. Nothing but cold dirt.

And then, amid my panic and dismay and guilt and terror and disappointment, I saw a glint of gold hope among the sullen green. I crawled over on my hands and knees.

There it was. Unscathed. Unaware of the anguish I’d endured over the past six hours. Bathing in the sunshine, just waiting for me to come home.

Even though I haven’t worn rings over my gloves since, I still don’t trust myself with valuable jewelry.

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