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New year, new word

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For the past three years, I’ve picked a one-word focus for the 12 months ahead of me, and at the end of that time, I evaluate how it went.

I started off with the word “humility” in 2014, followed by “simplify” in 2015 and “calm” in 2016.

Throughout 2016 (it’s weird to talk about it in past tense already), I felt like I wasn’t doing a great job of sticking to my word. I would forget about it many days, despite it being taped next to my bathroom mirror, and there were many times I didn’t feel very calm, either on the inside or outside.

But today as I thought more about it, I decided there have been some changes.

  • There were several times I wanted to get upset about something but remembered my resolve to stay calm and let the upsetting thing pass.
  • I altered my work schedule a bit so I don’t get so crazy in traffic, which has helped me stay calmer on my commute.
  • When a couple of unexpected things came up last year, I tried not to freak out about them (in either a bad or good way), but slowed myself down to process it all and give a more level-headed response.
  • When people annoyed me, I made a more conscious effort to be patient and not get snippy.

I don’t know if I’d call 2016 a success as far as my word goes since I think I could’ve done much better, but at least I saw a little improvement, which is better than nothing.

By early fall, though, I’d already started thinking about my next word and was pretty positive what it should be. I actually thought about using the word last year, but I think 2017 will be a good time for it.

My new word is “balance.”

There are too many days that I feel like my free time just slips by. Too many times I feel like my priorities are out of whack or like I’m barely keeping afloat with all of life’s commitments. I did tackle a bit of this when I focused on simplifying a couple years ago, but now I need to round it out.

I again taped my word next to my mirror, and this time wrote out, in order, what my priorities should be to find that balance: God first, followed by marriage, then family and friends, then work and everything else.

Even though I work for a ministry that starts each day with devotions and prayer, it’s no substitute for my personal time with God—something I’ve gone back and forth with this past year. I’ll get into a routine of reading my Bible every day or praying regularly, then it tapers off, then I do it again, then it tapers off. There’s a huge difference between putting Him first in my life and not, so this year, I’m going to try my best to do it consistently.

Here’s an excerpt from a devotion I read just before Christmas:

The world has become too much a part of us, and we are afflicted with the idea that we are not accomplishing anything unless we are always busily running back and forth. … We believe in having “all our irons in the fire” and that all the time we spend away from the anvil or fire is wasted time. Yet our time is never more profitably spent than when we set aside time for quiet meditation, talking with God, and looking up to heaven. We can never have too many of these open spaces in life—hours set aside when our soul is completely open and accessible to any heavenly thought or influence that God may be pleased to send our way.

Someone once said, “Meditation is the Sunday of the mind.” In these hectic days, we should often give our mind a “Sunday,” a time in which it will do no work but instead will simply be still. …

Time spent in this way is not lost time. A fisherman does not say he is losing time when he is mending his nets, nor does a gardener feel he has wasted his time by taking a few minutes to sharpen the blades on his mower. …

—from Streams in the Desert

After God comes my marriage. I do devote a considerable amount of time to friends and work and other things here and there, but I need to be sure marriage comes before all that. Sometimes that’s easy, sometimes it’s not, so again, I’m going for consistency here.

Here’s my game plan for achieving balance this year:

  • img_6679Pete and I are going to start reading YouVersion’s Verse of the Day as our devotional time together. We weren’t crazy about the devotional book we went through last year, and the verse will be good because we can access it on our phones no matter where we are.
  • I’m going to go through A Passion for Purpose, which gives you a one-page devotional each day. I started it once and really liked it, but never finished.
  • I want to create a Gratitude Jar. More on this later, but my hope is that it’ll keep me focused on all of life’s little blessings and remember what’s important.
  • I’d also like to finish reading Margin. Mom and Dad got me this book maybe two Christmases ago, and I’m ashamed to say I haven’t finished it. I think I have 4 unfinished books at the moment, but this one is all about balance and I’ve already underlined lots of stuff in the parts I’ve read.
  • img_6676I want to be more diligent about praying for my friends and family. I just got a new planner that came with a small dry erase board where you can write down your prayer focus for each day of the week. I already wrote down friends’ names in each space for the first week of January.
  • And finally, to build on my goal of simplifying from 2015, I want to give more thought to things I say yes to. I can’t do it all, and I don’t want to spread myself so thin that I do nothing well.

Although I think all of these are good goals, I’m not going to beat myself up if I miss a couple of days of devotional reading or forget to pray for so-and-so on Tuesday. I don’t want to be so lax that I’m not working toward balance, but I also know I’ll need grace now and then.

Let’s see how it goes!

What’s So Great About Marriage?

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A single friend posed this question to me several weeks back, concluding after a few recent interactions with married couples that maybe she doesn’t want to get married after all. She’d witnessed a disagreement, a snarky remark behind one spouse’s back, some compromises in action, and perhaps rightly so began to wonder about the good parts of marriage.

I was taking the trash out at the time of our phone conversation and listed the first things that came to mind. Since then, I’ve had more time to think about it—while also experiencing my own marital hiccups—and came up with a top 10 list of reasons marriage can be wonderful.

I say can here because I’m not sure any marriage has ever reached its full potential—no one is perfect, you know—and it does take constant effort to make it work. I’ve known several marriages to come to an end and know it can be complicated. Nevertheless, I think there’s something beautiful about the husband-wife relationship that you can’t quite replicate with anyone else.

Here’s what’s great about it:

  1. A teammate for life. Friends are one of God’s most precious gifts, but a spouse takes it to the next level. Together, you tackle day-to-day affairs: grocery shopping, yard work, vet visits, parenting, car repairs and so on. You find out who’s good at what and split your couple duties. (He fixes things; I write thank you notes.) It’s someone to get into a rhythm with. Someone to complement. Someone to cheer on.
  2. Love despite the unlovely. When you’re dating, you try to put your best foot forward. Look your best, smell your nicest, be your most charming. But when you see someone every day, morning and night, year in and year out, things get real. You’re going to get moody, be childish, make mistakes, have bed head, get sick, say things you don’t mean and just be human. But eventually, you forgive, you laugh about it, you get through it and move on. Knowing someone can love you at your worst is not only incredible but makes you want to be a better spouse.
  3. Sharing breaking news. Whenever a new work trip comes up, Pete is typically the first one I tell. When there’s good news in the family, I can’t wait to tell him about it. When something exciting or unexpected comes up, I look forward to sharing it with him. He’s my go-to person for all things newsy.
  4. Sharing life’s ups and downs. This one piggybacks on the previous two. Your spouse gives you a shoulder to cry on and someone to share the joys of life with. Your spouse walks with you through all stages of life. Yes, friends can be there, too, but your husband or wife is typically closer—both physically and emotionally.
  5. Becoming less selfish. Being married means another schedule to consider. It means giving up some of your free time and preferences and emotional capacity to meet the other person’s needs. It means serving someone besides yourself. This is one of the hardest, but also one of the most rewarding because it slowly but surely whittles away your selfishness.
  6. A stand-in date. Want to go see that new movie? Try that restaurant? Finally visit that other country? Your spouse is probably the first person you think of having new experiences with. I don’t have to find someone to go with because Pete is usually around.
  7. Familiarity. The first time you hold hands with someone or kiss someone, it’s electrifying. (Assuming here that you like the person.) When you’re with one person over time, it can still be that way, but there’s also something comforting and familiar in the way you fit together. One of the best parts of my day is getting a hug when Pete gets home.
  8. Someone to care for and to take care of you. You and your spouse take care of each other and balance each other out. He’s my protector; I’m his encourager. He keeps my car safe; I pack his lunches.
  9. Knowing someone better than anyone. You know things about your spouse no one else knows, and your spouse knows things about you no one else does. You know each other’s likes, dislikes and pet peeves. You know what that person is thinking before the words are spoken. You can be vulnerable and safe at the same time.
  10. Understanding God’s divine love. You’re going to do stupid things. You’ll mess up over and over because you’re a flawed individual, but the up side is that your spouse isn’t going to walk away and disown you. You’ll (hopefully) ask forgiveness and (should) receive it because you’re in this together, linked for life. And God is the same way. He offers second, third and fourth chances. He hits the reset button and gives you a clean slate each time you come to Him, hanging your head because of something dumb you’ve done. He loves unconditionally and gives us the capacity to love the same way. What better way to test that love than in a marriage?

While friendships should never be taken for granted—I cherish my girlfriends beyond words—a marriage takes the one-on-one relationship even deeper. Pete is one of my best friends, but so much more than that.

The more we experience together, the more our flaws are exposed, the more I love him because he still loves me—despite the occasional crankiness and shrunken shirt.

Why Married Couples Should Attend More Weddings

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In the past 30 years, I’ve been to 22 weddings (that I can remember), the most recent one just last weekend. Thirteen of those weddings came after my own.

As I sat through this latest ceremony, I thought about how good it is for married couples to attend weddings.

All I remember from my first wedding is how my white dress twirled at the reception. At another one a few years later, I remember eating too many creamy mints off the food table outside and feeling sick afterwards.

But as I got older, I started paying more attention to the actual service—what was said, the way the couple looked at each other, how excited everyone was for the start of their new life together.

Since my own wedding, the ceremony has come to mean even more. Every wedding after mine has served as a kind of refresher—a restart button on my commitment to my husband.

We attended quite a few weddings within our first year of marriage, and during each one of those, I was thinking something like, “Now they get to have what we have!” Or, “Now they can experience all the blessings of marriage themselves!”

Six-and-a-half years into marriage, I still have those thoughts, but I also look at the couple up front, all dressed up, holding each other’s hands and getting lost in each other’s eyes, and think, “There’s so much to come.”

Overall, Pete and I have had a smooth ride with no major catastrophes. But we have had our share of losses, disagreements, snags and failures. There’s a lot to learn in marriage, and I’d say I learn something new—or maybe relearn it—about every week.

The thing about attending weddings as a married couple is that it reminds you of your own.

For me, I start remembering why I got married. I remember how ready I was to walk down that aisle and give myself to another person. I remember how fortunate I felt that he wanted to marry me and how committed I was to be the best darn wife I could be. I’m reminded not to be selfish, but to love the man beside me in a visible, intentional way.

In the stress, fatigue and frustration that comes with everyday life, I’m not always that selfless, gung-ho person I want to be. Weddings, though, make me want to be that kind of bride. They challenge me to renew that commitment I made before God, family and friends.

The night before our wedding, Pete and I wrote our own vows to each other which were later framed and now sit in our living room. I read them from time to time and get the same feeling I do at weddings.

During each wedding Pete and I have attended together, I’ve noticed that we get a little reminiscent, a little sentimental and hold hands a little tighter than normal. (Especially this last time during an outdoor December wedding.)

I think it’s good for married couples to have those times of remembrance—to pull away from the demands of daily life for a moment and see your spouse as that man or woman you were so excited to marry—the one you chose to commit your life to.

The Kid Question

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I’m 30 years old, married and don’t have kids. Shocked? You’re not alone.

Pete and I have been married 6 years now, and for the past 5 years I’ve been asked a quarter of a million times about having kids.

“Do you have kids? … Do you want kids? … Do you plan to have kids anytime soon? … When do you think you’ll have kids? … So, any plans to start a family?”

(Technically, Pete is family so I’ve already started that process. Next question.)

I expect close friends to ask about these things, and that’s perfectly fine, but often the curious party is made up of complete strangers, or at least people I don’t know well enough to discuss reproduction.

Case in point: Pete and I were at a party one time, sitting across from another couple about to welcome their first child into the world. I wasn’t even done with my tiny plate of chips before they asked The Kid Question: “Have you discussed having children?” the husband asked.

I just met you 5 minutes ago, I thought.

Plus, what if we haven’t discussed it; you’ve just put us on the spot. Or maybe we have talked about it and it’s become a point of contention. Either way, it’s an awkward position from where we’re sitting.

Once people find out we don’t have children, I can almost guarantee the next question: “How long have you been married?” Because apparently there’s an acceptable number of married years before you’re expected to procreate.

Or, if they don’t ask that, another option is the halfway sympathetic, “Oh not yet?” As if it’s a sure thing.

Occasionally, I’ll run into gutsy people who pry even further when they realize there are no children in the mix.

“Why not?” some have dared to ask bluntly.

“How long are you going to wait?” a few have wondered out loud.

Oh, you know, 10-12 years should be good. … I mean, really, what am I supposed to say here?

On the flip side, I once had someone completely drop the conversation and start talking to someone else after finding out I don’t have kids at home, even though there’s a plethora of other things we could have talked about. Sorry I couldn’t discuss breastfeeding and daycare and whether they’re sleeping through the night, I thought. Maybe I should have a kid so I’ll be fit for public chit chat.

With each passing year of marriage, the comments have gotten less lenient. At first, people were reassuring: “Well, you’ve got time. Don’t rush.”

Now people aren’t afraid to let us know that time’s a wastin’.

Just last fall, I had a friend point out that my 20s were almost over with 30 fast approaching. There’s that clock thing you know.

Really? I thought for sure I was getting younger …

A couple years ago, I actually had someone tell me I “better get on it,” and from a man no less, which pretty well ticked me off.

Are you going to birth this child and raise him and pay for him and spend time with him and rearrange your work schedule for him? I thought. No? Then kindly take your comments elsewhere.

What’s really fun is when someone skips the questions altogether and makes a straight up declaration about my future child.

“You’re next!” I’ve had women tell me at a baby shower.

Am I? That’s news to me. 

Then there are the ones who imagine me with child and tell me about it.

“Your kids will be so cute!” Or, “When you’re pregnant …”

I get that women traditionally love babies—especially when all they have to do is coo over them—but unless you have some word from God, please withhold all prophecies.

Now don’t get me wrong here; I like children. I grew up with two younger siblings and know how much fun they can be. I spent years babysitting, and I’ve volunteered to spend time with them during vacation Bible school and neighborhood events. I look forward to visits with our nephews five states away. I have lots of friends with kids and I love seeing pictures of them, hearing stories about them, holding them and playing with them. I’ve offered to watch their kids if they ever need someone.

I know they’re a blessing, I know they change you for the better, I know it’s hard but worth it. I’m not anti-kid here.

What I don’t like is the constant quizzing about our childlessness. I know people mean no harm, but frankly, it’s none of their business.

Not only that, but you never know what a couple is going through. Maybe they’ve had a hard time getting pregnant or experienced a miscarriage. Or maybe, just maybe, they don’t want kids for one reason or another. We’ve known plenty of couples in each of those situations.

I’m immensely grateful that neither set of parents has pressed the issue with us, and I’m thankful for our friends who ask us about travel, hobbies, work, church, house projects, our families, TV shows and so on.

And yes, if you really want to know, we have discussed the kid thing many times and do have an idea about the future. But that’s between me and Pete.

So, if you find yourself bursting to ask The Kid Question anytime soon, here’s another question to consider: Is it really necessary?

I’ve wondered myself about couples’ plans for kids, but I’ve also come to find that if they want you to know, they’ll tell you. And that’s a much safer place to be than drumming up any potential frustration, tears or blog posts.

Opposites Attract, but Similarities Keep Us Together

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Pete and I are a lot different:

  • I prefer hot weather; he prefers cold.
  • I like red; he likes blue.
  • I’m from the South; he hails from the north.
  • I refuse to own a van or station wagon; he wants both.
  • I talk a lot; he doesn’t.
  • I love books; he owns zero in our combined collection.
  • I’m terrible at recalling movie plots; he’ll remember minute details.
  • I love the beach; he’ll take the mountains.
  • I like pumpkin-flavored anything; he doesn’t.
  • He’s techie, I’m definitely not.

You get the idea.

I think there’s weight to the whole “opposites attract” thing, but without some core similarities, we’d be in trouble. I call these non-negotiables. Here are my big three:

1. Our Faith

Faith is at the foundation of who we are. It drives our morals, what we value, our worldview and how we interact with people. That’s not to say we don’t differ on a few aspects of our faith, because we do, but the heart of our beliefs remains the same.

I know couples where each person claims a different faith or spiritual outlook, and I gotta say, I personally couldn’t do it. Asking two people to do life together can be challenging as is, but I think throwing in competing faiths would be difficult because of all the areas of life it impacts. Even my past boyfriend/girlfriend relationships got hairy when conflicting religious views entered the mix.

2. Love and Respect for Each Other’s Families

Another biggie we have in common is love and respect for each other’s families. My family hasn’t always liked the guys I’ve chosen to date, and I can say there’s a huge difference between them liking the guy or not. There’s a difference in the atmosphere and in the relationship between me and them.

Now that I’ve acquired in-laws, and become an in-law, I can see why people warn newlyweds that you’re not just marrying your spouse; you’re also binding yourself to your spouse’s family. If Pete didn’t treat his family well, that could make things awkward on my end. If he had a rocky relationship with my family, I probably wouldn’t see them as much. And vice versa. Thankfully, that isn’t the case.

3. Money

Expert after expert, though, will tell you that neither faith nor in-laws are the main source of tension in a marriage. They say the No. 1 offender is money.

Pete and I occasionally vary on what we’d like to spend money on, but over the past six years, we’ve pretty much been on the same page financially. We’ve set goals and hashed out any differing opinions. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen backlash from couples being off-kilter on this, and that’s one boat I don’t want to be in.

What Are Yours?

Billy Graham’s wife, Ruth, used to say, “If two people agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary.”

Marriage doesn’t mean you’re a spittin’ image of the other person, that you have to mirror every action and thought, but for me anyway, the similarities seem to be the glue in the marriage. It’s one thing to balance each other out with your differences—he’s level-headed when I’m moody; I’m peppy when he’s had a bad day—but it’s another thing to be out of step with each other when your views on the big players in life don’t align.

No marriage is perfect, of course, but why make it harder?

What things do you and your spouse need to have in common to make your marriage work? What are your non-negotiables?

More than a relationship status

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The Huffington Post recently published an article called “Getting Married Is Not an Accomplishment,” written by a woman who got engaged a few months ago.

Here’s the gist: of course marriage is something to be excited about, but so is furthering your education or landing a great job. Marriage is exciting, and staying married is for sure an accomplishment, the author writes, but a successful woman isn’t defined by a ring on her finger.

I scanned hundreds of comments on the story—some applauding the author, some vigorously disagreeing—but what really caught my attention was this nugget from the story:

In general I have noticed that I tend to be questioned much more about my relationship, engagement, or wedding than my job or related accomplishments. And, this didn’t just start in the last three months. It has always been the case that I was more likely to be asked “So, when are you getting engaged” or “How’s everything going with Craig” than “How’s your job going?” or “What have you been working on lately?”

By nature, women tend to be more interested in relationships, so it makes sense that we get quizzed on that more than school or jobs, or that we focus more on relationships when talking to other women.

Most conversations I have with my female co-workers—besides the ones that are explicitly work-related—revolve around relationships. Not just boyfriend/girlfriend, husband/wife relationships, but relationships with family, within our churches or other friends. Even in talking about travel plans, cooking disasters, kids, how one friend is getting her master’s or how another is doing with the nonprofit she started, many of the conversations hinge on our relationships—the people in our lives who play a role in all of the above.

I also know I get more excited when a friend gets married than when a friend gets a pay raise. Graduations and promotions may signify a new chapter in life—and that’s certainly worth celebrating, but jobs and education aren’t typically as final or life-altering as uniting two people for the rest of their lives.

At the same time, I know how annoying and frustrating it can be when people only want to talk about relationships—and this time, I mean the boyfriend/girlfriend, husband/wife kind—especially when you’re single.

Before I was married, I had a few friends and relatives who seemed interested only in my relationship status. Did I have a boyfriend? Why not? Was I interested in anyone? There’s more to me than that!, I’d think, faking a smile. Can’t you think of anything else to talk about?! Ask me what I’m reading, what movies I’ve seen lately, if I have any trips planned, what I think of college, how my car is holding up, what paper I’m writing, where I got my fetching new bag, any number of things.

(Post-marriage, the questions keep coming, but with a slight variation. Do I have kids? Why not? Do I want them? … But that’s another article for another time.)

As for the Huffington Post piece, I agree that a woman shouldn’t be defined by a piece of jewelry on her left hand, and neither should a man. As a Christian, I think our worth lies in Who created us, not in what we do or who we marry.

But instead of discussing whether marriage is an accomplishment or not, I think we can take a broader look at how we see people. Is she your “single friend” or your tech savvy friend? Is he “unsettled,” or does he just have a fierce passion for travel? Is she a soon-to-be wife, or did she also just publish the best book you’ve ever read?

Are we putting so much weight on one aspect of a person—like relationship status—that we neglect seeing that person as a whole?

Think about how you characterize your closest friends. Is there another way to look at them?

Farewell 20s, hello 30s!

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Dear twentysomething me: You have a lot to look forward to.

On January 23, I turned 30.

I know some people freak out at the turn of every decade, with thoughts of getting old and the fear of a swift downward spiral, but I truly love birthdays and my 30th was no different. (It also doesn’t feel so old once you get here … despite my 13-year-old sister calling me ancient.)

I will admit that in the weeks leading up to the milestone, I was a bit sad to see my 20s slipping away. But as I thought about all the things I’d done and all the places I’d gone, I felt like I really made the most of it.

Now that I’m a few weeks into my 30s, I’m taking advantage of the opportunity to reflect on the past decade—and to make a list of things I look forward to in the next 10 years.

In my 20s, I …

  • Studied abroad in Australia where I
  • Met my future husband.
  • Finished college and
  • Put myself through grad school.
  • Had 11 roommates.
  • Moved 6 times, including dorm rooms, apartments and a house,
  • Which I bought.
  • Held 6 jobs—
  • One selling expensive cutlery,
  • Another working for a newspaper, where I reported on everything from crime scenes to farming.
  • Totaled a car (not my fault … at least not all of it).
  • Cried at my first speeding ticket (my fault but still unfair).
  • Had 3 dogs.
  • Made 2 road trips to Minnesota.
  • Camped in Canada.
  • Made lots of new friends.
  • Took up running at age 28.
  • Ran three 5Ks.
  • Interned at a performing arts center
  • And a public radio station.
  • Saw numerous friends get married,
  • As well as my kid brother.
  • Tried to start a garden,
  • And determined I’m terrible at growing things.
  • Took an Alaska cruise with my grandmother.
  • Visited North Dakota, New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, D.C., Kentucky, Colorado, Washington, New Hampshire, Brazil and Japan.
  • Went skydiving.
  • Changed my hair color 4 times, from red to blonde to dark brown to light brown.
  • Gained wonderful in-laws
  • And 2 nephews.
  • Hosted Easter lunch
  • And Thanksgiving dinner.
  • Took an all-girls trip to Charleston, S.C., with the women of the family.
  • Road tripped to Miami with the coolest co-workers ever.
  • Bought real furniture.
  • Read the entire Bible (twice).
  • Kept 4 blogs.
  • Went snowboarding and skiing for the first time … and don’t intend to ski ever again.
  • Celebrated 5 years of marriage with a bike trip.
  • And took thousands upon thousands upon thousands of pictures of it all.

Last night, as I browsed those old photos and blog posts, half of me wanted to go back and relive some of those moments. The other half didn’t, since going backwards would mean missing out on all that’s ahead—the fun, the challenges, the crummy things that still make you stronger.

So, here’s what I’ve got so far.

In my 30s, I look forward to …

  • Running my first 10K in April.
  • Visiting Hawaii … next week!
  • Learning to drive a manual. I mean it.
  • Finally going to Ireland!
  • Seeing Emily graduate from high school.
  • And completing anything else on my bucket list, in no particular order.

What about you? What was/is the greatest thing about your 30s?