why I came out of hiding by Lizzy Roddy

Lizzy Roddy

Lizzy and I met my sophomore year of college. Both pursuing journalism at the time, we really bonded during a media study abroad trip to Ukraine.

Lizzy came out as a lesbian around Valentine’s Day of this year. She graciously agreed to share her story here–how she decided to be honest with her friends and family and walked with God through the process.

I’m so proud of Lizzy, especially of how she pursued God and didn’t neglect the Church, even when the majority of evangelical culture shames and stigmatizes LGBTQ Christians. 

Here’s her story:

As a teenager, when people used to ask me what superpower I wanted to have, I would always say invisibility.

Invisibility meant not drawing attention to myself. It meant being able to accomplish things without being seen.

But sometimes things change, and I definitely wouldn’t say that anymore. After about ten years of deeply working through my sexual orientation, I realized I didn’t want to be invisible anymore.

“Coming out” seems to be this big scary thing with lots of stigma attached to it. And it can be.

Most of my friends–upward of eighty percent–are Christians. I knew many of them wouldn’t agree with the conclusion I came to regarding my orientation.

“Gay” was the label I attached to being rejected: when I transferred schools just before middle school, I was relentlessly teased and called a lesbian. I promised myself then if that was why people didn’t like me, it was something I would NEVER be.

I denied and buried my attractions, not only for fear of rejection at school, but also at church.

A rising leader in youth group, I became a zealot and tried to get everyone saved—especially anyone I perceived could possibly be an LBGTQ person.

So, when I could finally say I was gay out loud to myself just a few years ago, it was a significant breaking point.

I expected to feel that same feeling of rejection from God. I was sure I’d feel estranged if the words ever fell off of my lips, if I ever “confessed over myself” that I was gay.

What actually happened was that I felt the presence of God like I hadn’t felt it for a very long time. And God covered me with love in that moment. I’ll never forget it.

So after realizing you’re gay, what do you do? You may not be able to choose your attractions, but you definitely have some choices to make.

What does this mean for your life?

How does your orientation fit into your theology?

Are you going to tell people? If so, when and how?

Is sexuality fluid, and what if this changes?

Is this the most important thing about you?

When Jesus asked people to follow him, he told them to make sure to count the cost first.

And although following Jesus and coming out are totally different things, I think LGBTQ people certainly know what counting the cost means.

Thankfully for me, I have an amazing mother who loves me fiercely. She’s my best friend, and no matter what I choose in life, I know her love will never change towards me.

I started my coming out journey with her, and then I told a couple of other family members and close friends. I had to feel it out: I wanted to test the waters with the people closest to me one-on-one.

After I spoke with each of the people I cared the most about, over the course of a year or so, no one else’s opinion mattered that much to me.

But in each of those conversations, I was counting the cost.

Will this person leave me or distance themselves from me?

Will they make every conversation from here on out about my sexual orientation?

Will they condemn me?

Will their objective for our relationship become more about persuading me to change than being my friend?

Most of the conversations went well. There were only a few negative experiences, and though they were very painful, I realized that coming out was something I personally needed to do.

I wouldn’t have to lie anymore when I was around people casually having conversations about their boyfriends or spouses or when people asked me if I was dating anyone or liked anyone.

When you just want to be yourself and act normal around people, but you have a secret that can potentially be so ostracizing, those simple conversations can destroy you on the inside.

That’s why it’s so important for people to respond in love even if they don’t agree.

Isolation and shame eat away at you until you disappear or hate yourself. And though well intentioned, many don’t realize how harmful and damaging their “tough love” approach can be. I didn’t until I was on the receiving end of it.

After posting my coming out letter on my blog, there was one person’s response stood out.

I knew about her attractions from conversations we had before, but she told me the struggle of only having one person she felt like she could confide in and how she wished more than anything that she could be out. The hiding and the covering up were eating away at her.

And I read that. And I cried. And I’ve read it several times since.

But before I responded to her, I wanted to be objective and honest. I thought about a another friend’s experience that has been very different from my own.

My friend who, when she counted the cost, saw that she would lose everything important to her–family, spiritual community, workplace respect, etc.

As much as I advocate authenticity, I realize coming out is not an option for everyone, and it is most certainly not the best option for everyone.

It is a choice, and it looks different for each individual. There are as many different scenarios for coming out as there are people who question whether they need to.

But if we are ever going to see the treatment of LGBTQ people change, especially within the Church, it’s very important for those who can share this part of themselves to choose to do so.

Honesty really does make a difference.

You can read Lizzy’s coming-out letter here on her blog. 

You can find the first post of the Sex/Gender/Identity 2015 series here.

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D I A M O N D S: a reflective invocation

graduationSo yes, I’m not dead.

Life has been a little crazy lately, and per usual, blogging takes a hit when I’ve got too much on my plate.

But I think I may have a legitimate excuse this time. In the last month, I finished my senior year of school, closed out a corporate PR internship, graduated university, moved back to my hometown, and … got ENGAGED to the most amazing girl (more on that later).

Finishing my college experience well felt insanely important to me, and as much as my Sex/Gender/Identity series was also monumentally valuable to me, we who tell our stories online sometimes have to take time away to actually live (or there will never be any stories to tell).

I also didn’t want to brush over the Sex/Gender/Identity series and give it less than my best effort. So now, in the void of post-grad life, I will be continuing to examine the relationship between the church and LGBTQ Christians.

But first, many friends have asked me for the copy of a one-minute invocation I gave during our “senior stories” chapel on campus. It was such an honor (and a surprise, tbh) to speak, and with the help of some major influences (Psalm 139, Brene Brown, Johnnyswim, and Beyonce haha), I wrote a piece to pray in chapel called “DIAMONDS.”

I’m passionate about transition: it’s how we find out what we are made of.  College is nothing but a cornucopia of changes, but these words can broadly apply to any change of season you might be facing.

Let us pray.

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D I A M O N D S : a reflective  invocation

God, this morning, I want to say thank you for the gift of transition.

Since the day we each sat foot on this campus, we have been on a journey of selfhood. Every moment, every step was a part of Your process.

You saw our substance when we were yet unformed but even then dared to call us beautiful and worthy.

Fashioned in the depths, You lifted us from darkness, stripping away layers of false identity and inauthentic narratives. Like flawless diamonds, we now shimmer in the radiance of Your truth. 

May we see ourselves as you see us so that we may love one another more wholeheartedly. And as our time here comes to an end, give us the courage to use what we have learned to remake the world in Your image.

Amen.

religious freedom and resurrection

“But why do you need to talk about this issue right now?” I was asked in response to my post this week introducing my annual series, Sex/Gender/Identity, that focuses on LGBTQ inclusion this year.

Well, this week was a perfect example of why I’m writing what I’m writing.

religious freedom and resurrection

I’m guessing you probably heard about the recent RFRA debacle.  I’m not a political science major, so I won’t try to explain the legal ramifications.  (This Religion News Service piece explains it all better than I can, anyway.)

But basically, the United States spent Holy Week arguing about whether or not businesses could deny services to LGBTQ customers.  What?!

Regardless of what you thought about the Chic-fil-A scandal, at least this Christian corporation had the decency to say they don’t refuse service to gay people.  The parallels to civil rights opposition in the 1960s, when black people were kicked out of bus seats and forced to leave lunch counters, are too obvious.

The fact that we were legitimately having a conversation about whether a Colorado baker should/shouldn’t make a cake for a same-sex couple grieved my spirit deeply.  Would this same baker refuse to bake a cake for a non-religious wedding?

I cried because my religious freedom was being used to infringe on the rights of others.

My Jesus, who comforted the meek and the mourning and the marginalized, was being used defend discrimination.  My religion, the one that preaches about the uniqueness of every human life and God-given identity, was being used to deny equality.

And then suddenly it all made perfect sense.

How appropriate it is that on the week that remembers his betrayal, Jesus’s teachings of non-judgmental love were sacrificed again by Pharisees.

That Jesus, handed to the angry crowds for Pilate’s political reputation, was used as cheap political strategy.

That Jesus, the critic of organized religion, was the pawn of evangelical commentators.

That Jesus, the outcast crushed under the power of an oppressive empire, was reduced to the mascot of an anti-gay, conservative evangelical Christian juggernaut.

That Jesus, the servant of sinners, was an excuse not to serve someone with whom a business owner disagrees.

That Jesus, who came to bring us into everlasting union with God, was the justification for people of faith to distance themselves from their LGBTQ brothers and sisters.

That Jesus, the Christ whose broken body and spilled-out blood are a feast to a hurting world, was the motivation for someone to refuse a neighbor a wedding cake or a photography session or a rentable outdoor pavilion.

So much for “do unto others.”

But dark as this Friday may be, I have resurrection hope that one day people will realize that their faith does not morally obligate them to exclude or disenfranchise or ignore or reject or, in any other way, discriminate against God’s children.

You don’t have to agree with someone to offer them a seat at the table.

Happy Easter, y’all.

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(Side note: As I best understand it, the nationwide Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects an individual from being forced by the government to participate in practices — for example, going to war — that conflict with his/her religious beliefs.  I could be wrong on this, but I believe pastors can legally refuse to marry couples for reasons of conscience, which I support.  But like these laws would do, I don’t support treating a corporation like an individual.)

sex gender identity 2015

there’s more room: discussing sex, gender, and identity

there's more room

One of my favorite of Jesus’ parables can be found in Luke 14.

While enjoying a dinner party, Jesus notices how many of the guests are posturing and vying for the most important seats at the table.  So what does he do?  Throws some major shade, calls them out, and reminds them that “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (v. 11 ESV).

Then he proceeds to tell the story of a wedding banquet.  If you’re familiar with The Revelation of St. John, you’ll recognize the imagery of a wedding feast traditionally understood as symbolism of the culmination of God’s kingdom in the union of the Son and the Church.

In this parable, a man holds a banquet for all his friends, but after offering a plethora of lame excuses, none of them show up.

To prevent the evening from being a total waste, the man asks his servant to go out into the streets and offer a free meal to those generally pushed to the fringes of society — in this case, the poor and the sick.

His servant returns and reports back “still there is room” (v. 22 ESV).  The master says, “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.  For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet” (v. 23-24 ESV).

I think this is a such a compelling portrayal of the gospel — an open invitation for those who need a meal to come and eat freely.  But what’s so countercultural about this gospel is that it is open to everyone, and the people you’d expect to be at the meal don’t always show up for abundant life.

This is evidenced in Jesus’ life.  It wasn’t those who were exalted by tradition and man-made religion that truly understood Christ’s merciful message.  God-fearing people trapped in the fog of their own perceptions and prejudices missed the Messiah and his wedding party.

But in this topsy-turvy kingdom, it’s the people that have been uninvited their entire lives who are welcomed as honored guests.

God’s presence is a home for the lonely, and the gospel is a safe haven for the marginalized.  Sadly, however, our churches are very much the opposite.

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Largely in the American evangelical church, LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, etc.) people are considered invisible.  Especially in the Bible belt believer’s mind, they exist only outside the walls of the church, and they live in deliberate, unrepentant rebellion against God.

Of course we as Christians say the invitation is open for all, but often sexual minorities are excluded.  Yeah, we may welcome gay people, but only if they “get healing” and turn straight tout suite.

For many believers, being gay and Christian are mutually exclusive.

So LGBTQ people attending church in conservative contexts are faced with very limited options:

A) sit it in a pew, stay celibate, and deny their gender identity/sexual orientation

B) leave the church and seek refuge in whatever other religious/non-religious context they can find

C) come out of the closet and try to stick it out at their non-affirming church, likely not enjoying the full sacramental rites or the ability to move up the ranks in church leadership

D) find a new affirming (supportive/inclusive) church

But staying in the closet can be hard.  Coming out of the closet can be hard.  Staying at your conservative church can be hard.  Leaving your conservative church can be hard.

Sacrifices abound as LGBTQ people have to jump through religiously imposed hoops just to be able to worship their God in peace.  Is this how we welcome people to the table of Christ?

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 In 2014, I premiered Sex, Gender, and Identity month (it ran over, so I use “month” loosely) on my blog, and we discussed a myriad of topics including Father’s Day, virginity, egalitarian relationships, biblical customs, gender stereotyping, intimacy, complementarianism, Greco-Roman house codes, and oversharing.

I also published my favorite post to date, “Man Up,” about living outside the rigid gender expectations of a patriarchal society.  The whole endeavor was such a growing experience for me as a writer, and the content really seemed to resonate with people since many of us struggle to feel man (or woman) enough.

sex gender identity 2015

So for the next month-ish, I’m bringing back this series with a bent towards queer topics.  We’ll discuss singleness and sexuality in a larger context as well, but the majority of the focus will be on broadening our perspectives on LGBTQ inclusion within the church.

I’ll be opening up personally about my own pathway to inclusion.  To help me out, I’ve invited a gay Christian friend to do a Q&A interview and a lesbian Christian friend to do a piece on her coming out story.  I’ll also be doing a post that congregates resources on LGBTQ and faith topics that have helped me on my spiritual journey.

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You may be unfamiliar or uncomfortable with these topics, but I hope and pray that you won’t give up on my blog.  The Train of His Robe isn’t becoming an LGBTQ blog; it’s a blog about various topics from life and faith.

The train of the Sovereign’s robe even covers the topics that religious people often ignore out of insecurity, fear, or shame.

I value your readership, but in my efforts to discuss topics of importance, I couldn’t ignore the diversity/equality conversation any longer, as social justice is a major component of a faithful life.

That’s all this is — a simple conversation between gay, straight, queer, and questioning people.  We’re just having a meal around a table, sharing the body and the blood between fellow believers.

It’s your choice whether you show up to the wedding banquet or not.  When we reject our brothers and sisters and refuse them an invitation to the unconditional love banquet of God, we run the risk of missing out on the feast ourselves — the kaleidoscope beauty of kingdom life.

Y’all, there’s so much more room at the table.

Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” // Luke 14:15 ESV

“Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” // Revelation 19:9 ESV

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College Creatives: Talking Music and Faith with Jessica Lamb

talking faith and music

Every once in a while, I’d like to start introducing you to wonderful people who are making a creative difference in the world — College Creatives.

Jessica Lamb and I became friends when we traveled across an ocean and studied abroad in the UK for a semester.  We had an unforgettable time, especially dancing and singing a night away with Beyonce at London’s O2 arena!

As a singer and songwriter, Jess is creating some awesome stuff and recently released an EP, Live Sessions. Her music is beautiful and poignant, and I can’t wait to hear more stuff from her in the future.

She agreed to stop by the blog and share some Q & A goodness on how she gets inspired and how her faith and love of music intersect.

How did you get involved with music originally?  Did you have a musical family or take lessons?

I took piano as a kid but ending up quitting.  I picked music back up around high school and started teaching myself guitar and piano.

My parents don’t play music, but their personalities and influence in general has a heavy influence on my songwriting.  The content of my songs comes from my mind and thought processes, much of which they helped form.

So, though they aren’t musical, I’d say they have a greater influence on my music than anyone else.

Jessica Lamb

What do you enjoy about music and songwriting?  How does it help you connect with God?

Ever sing I was young, I’ve felt trapped in overthinking.  So many times I become frustrated and discouraged by the thoughts that play over and over in my head, and eventually, I feel debilitated by them.

When I started writing songs, I was blown away by this process of taking the thoughts I wrestle with and crafting them into something of value.  It’s become a powerful picture of Christ to me — the fact that my messy, jumbled thoughts can turn into a song.

I love that I can see Jesus taking what I thought was my ultimate weakness (overthinking) and using it to drive me toward what I love.  That’s incredible.

What is your process of songwriting?  How much do your life experiences affect your writing?

I almost always write words before music. Melodies come pretty easily to me, but the lyrics keep me up at night. Most of my writing stems from my experiences. Even if it’s not something I’m currently going through, I’ll draw from past experiences and write about them.

I’d like to play around with that a bit more and think out of the box of my own life. I wouldn’t really know where to start, so we’ll see how it goes.

You write songs about faith and about life.  Why have you decided to do neither exclusively secular or religious music?

From a writing standpoint, it’s just because I want to write about the whole of my experiences.  As far as “marketing” myself as a Christian or secular artist, I think it’s becoming less necessary to box yourself into one of those categories.

So many artists these days — from Ben Rector to Michael Gungor to Carrie Underwood — are putting out music that’s reflective of their faith without being made for Christian radio.

I want my music to glorify God by simply allowing me to connect with others.  Ideally, someone hears my song and thinks, “I’ve felt that, too.”  That feeling could be religious, but it could also be romantic or depressed or frustrated.

From that connection comes conversation and a platform for me to build relationships and exemplify Christ in my world.  Even if all starts out with some chick thanking me for writing a killer breakup song.

For more from Jessica, check out her music on Spotify.

A Prayer For When You’re Overwhelmed

a prayer for when you're overwhelmed

I will not be debilitated by my feelings or my circumstances.

I recognize the limited nature of either the unnerving passion or crippling anxiety I am experiencing now, and strong as it seems, I see my feelings as they truly are — contextual and fleeting.

I refuse to allow my negative thoughts and emotions to box me in and close me off from abundant life.

If the situation I now face is stressful but ultimately will have no lasting consequences, I exercise my control to place my feelings on this matter gently to the side.

If the reach of this circumstance is longer, then I now choose to respond in love, not fear.

If this dilemma requires me to act further, I now ask God to grant me guidance to make the most authentic, compassionate, and bold decision I can.

I ask heaven for the courage to move from my head to my hands.

I accept the fact that my efforts can only go so far to change this issue, and at that point, I relinquish this imperfect circumstance to a universe creatively designed to yield my ultimate good.

Even in the struggle, I can feel God moving in, around, and through me.  As I set aside distractions and unnecessary clutter, I accept wise counsel and hear Holy Spirit’s whisper in my ear.

I give God permission to say the final word — to introduce peace into my restless mind by speaking words of truth.

Only love lasts forever, so I acknowledge that this situation will either resolve itself or God will give me the strength and leading to face what may come my way.

I will not be overwhelmed.

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Consent, Control, and Christian Grey

Before you read further, you should know:

  • I tried to read Fifty Shades of Grey.  As an ardent egalitarian and Jesus feminist, I vigilantly began reading on a mission to get to the dark heart of this whole Grey phenomenon.
  • Unexpectedly, I was somewhat compelled by it.
  • I stopped reading because I was actually starting to enjoy it.
  • I also didn’t particularly want to read about the painful stuff.
  • I dislike people who write about books they’ve never read.
  • By that standard, I’m not entirely convinced I should have written this post.
  • However, I guess I am 33% more qualified to write about Fifty Shades than most Christian bloggers.

If any of this irritates you too much to continue reading, I totally understand.  Cheers! :)

Fifty Shades

I. Grey

I’m guessing your newsfeed has already been blown up about this book-turned-movie.  You probably read enough articles and posts to know how risque Fifty is.  You likely know some of the NSFW details from the book’s extreme BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadomasochistic) elements.

I believe the real danger of Fifty Shades, however, is less in the sexually explicit material–which is a dime a dozen in Hollywood–but in the glorification of causing women pain.

Hopefully, no one would openly make light of domestic abuse or advocate the type of “punishment” Christian Grey dishes out.  Then this begs the question:  why would millions of women, strangely including grandmothers and conservatives, find their own degradation attractive enough to keep turning the pages of Fifty Shades?

What do women see in Anastasia Steele that they wanted to emulate?  What do they see in the abusive Grey that they deem worthy of worship?

Despite its many flaws, the book has a bizarrely seductive pull to it; somehow I found myself sympathizing with Anastasia and developing a curiosity about Christian.

Like I said, I only read a third of the book.  I didn’t stop, however, because it was so poorly written or too sexual:  I stopped because it was so utterly intoxicating.

Thankfully, I put the book down before too much of the weird stuff happened–that is if you don’t consider Christian pinning Ana’s cellphone, stalking her, asking her to sign a nondisclosure contract, or taking her virginity only moments after showing her his “Red Room of Pain” weird.

Not exactly the kind of stuff that usually makes an ideal Valentine’s Day film…

Still, as violently opposed to every ounce of the book as I should have been, I was somehow enticed.  When I realized how much I really wanted to keep reading, I knew it was time to put the book down.

The marketing of this franchise could be partially to blame.  Christian’s money and infinite resources give the book covers and movie trailers a ritzy vibe.  Accompanied by an incredibly well-done and decently mild soundtrack (that I admittedly haven’t stopped listening to), advertisers brought a glamorous Gatsby attitude to a film about control and subjugation.

II. Darker

Honestly, I think Fifty Shades plays into something so engrained into our cultural mindsets that we are almost blind to it:  sadly, our society still views relationships through a patriarchal lens.

If you are unfamiliar with this terminology, patriarchy is the strong bias toward male leadership prominent in almost every culture throughout almost all of human history.

It’s the notion that being a man makes one physically and emotionally stronger and therefore more apt to control a kingdom, an organization, a people group, or a woman.

And even though many of us have become aware of this form of prejudice that is sooooo prevalent in our religions, our governments, and our overarching cultural narratives, this belief system still sometimes subtly creeps into even the most justice-minded consciousness.

Why?  Because, despite the leaps and bounds into mainstream opinion that feminism has recently made, sexism is absolutely everywhere.  From our history books to our sacred texts, from the private sector to male-dominated legislatures, and from pulpits to the blogosphere, misogyny and objectification and inequality are pervasive.

To be honest, I’m not sure why Fifty Shades shocked so many people as the trilogy is the logical end of a patriarchal society and the systematically unequal treatment of women.

Many clergy and places of worship who demonize Fifty Shades are just as guilty of perpetuating a weak view of women–theology that paints women as dependent on and submissive to men.  In some Christian traditions, female leadership potential is frequently limited in relationships and in ministry using scripture.

We’ve been taught that it is noble for men to lead relationships and that it is romantic for women to submit.  This ideology doesn’t sound exceptionally dangerous in theoretical terms, but in the hands of broken and selfish humans, non-mutual submission teachings can easily be abused.

However, manipulation doesn’t have to look as grandiose as Christian Grey’s Red Room of Pain or as institutionalized as gender discrimination in the Church.  Sometimes it is much more subtle…and even consensual.

Fifty Shades supporters have argued that the series isn’t necessarily degrading to women because Ana consents (she literally signs an agreement) to her role as the “Submissive.”

But just because a relationship is consensual doesn’t make it healthy.  Someone can consent to being demeaned, used, or taken advantage of, and that isn’t sexual liberation.

It’s time that we start rejecting the whole dominant/submissive false dichotomy. Relationship isn’t about competition, ya’ll.  Real love IS NOT overbearing, unequal, partial, hierarchical, one-sided, demanding, possessive, exploitive, or belittling.

III. Freed

Fifty Shades of Grey wouldn’t be nearly as successful if people like you and me never felt lonely or unwanted or misunderstood or distant from the people we love.  The sexual brokenness that leads us to use or be used by someone is simply rooted in the need to be loved and wanted, and in this case, it has led millions to idealize a fictional sadist.

Chains and whips definitely don’t excite me, but feeling powerful and feeling desired does, so who I am to cast the first stone?

What if I am Christian (the controller)?  What if I am Anastasia (the controlled)?  Too often I have used others for my own selfish gain or compensated for my insecurities by allowing someone to give me a false sense of worth.

We’re spending so much time criticizing these literary characters, but I don’t think the Church is examining our own hearts and truly seeing the sexual dysfunction that has been overlooked or justified in our lives.

Basically I stopped reading the book because I was too overwhelmed by my own dark capacity to manipulate or be manipulated.  Maybe the path forward is in seeing potential for similar depravity within our own lives and deciding to stand for equality instead.

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P.S. This (click here) is BY FAR the best piece I’ve read on Fifty Shades.  Gets at the heart of why this series might be so interesting to folks, going all the way back to Edward and Bella.