Conversations with Emily

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There are 16 years between me and my sister. I was a freshman in college when she turned 2.

With such a big age gap (my brother claiming the middle spot seven years behind me), Emily and I have a lot of interesting conversations. Two years ago, I posted this on Facebook:


If you haven’t talked to a 12-year-old girl on the phone lately, this is what it’s like, courtesy of my sister:

On math

Me: “Do you like math?”
Emily: “I have mixed feelings about it. I like it when I get the answers right.”

On revealed secrets

Emily: “I like unicorns.”
Me: “I used to have a diary with a unicorn on it.”
Emily: “I know.”
Me: “What? … What do you mean you know?”
Emily: “…”
Me: “Did you read my diary?”
Emily: “Yes! Hahahahahahahaha!”

On watching My Little Pony

Emily: “I’ve seen all the *psssshhhhhhhh* episodes on Netflix.”
Me: “You what?”
Emily: “I’ve seen *pssshhhh* My Little Pony *psssshhh*”
Me: “I can’t hear you; you’re muffled.”
Emily: “Oh wait, let me change my position. I’m upside down.”

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Just last week, I had another fun conversa … well, really I was listening in on a monologue. Emily is 14 now and a freshman in high school.

On boys

“I have boy problems. There’s this guy named Ben who messaged me on Instagram and asked if he could eat lunch with me. I didn’t even know who he was! … He doesn’t have any pictures of himself on Instagram, but he said he sits near me in lunch in the blue hoodie. And I was like, ‘Oh, Lord, he’s the one who’s hunched over.’ … I asked my friend to sit next to me at lunch so he couldn’t sit there.”

“Then my friend Dillon, he’s super muscular now. He was showing me his calf muscle and it looks really weird. It looks like a plateau! Uuuuggghhh!”

On gym class

“We have to run around and I always get sweaty. I don’t know what to wear!”

On school in general

“We have to make a PowerPoint about zombies for Career Exploration. It fits into the lesson somehow.”

“Mr. Ford is my history and geography teacher and he’s really cute. I think it’s because some of his family is French. He kinda looks like an elf. To me, elves are really cute.”

In response to my phone call to double check the above facts

“Are you blogging about my life?”

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Calendar flip flop

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I’m obsessed with flipping my calendar.

Yesterday morning, I was itching to flip it to February even though February was still a day away. The same urge crops up every last day of the month, so I’m constantly fighting the temptation.

Am I alone in this?

I think the obsession goes along with my love for planners and office supplies. I like to be organized, prepared and accurate, so being in the right month is pretty important. I’ve even been known to flip others’ calendars if they’re a day behind. (That I blame on being the oldest child.)

It’s like when you’re a kid and want to grow up ASAP. When you’re older, you can stay up late. When you’re older, you can have your own phone. When you’re older, you can drive and eat what you want and sit at the grownup table.

As a kid, you want to get there as quickly as possible, but once you’re there, you often wish you were a kid again—and that you had fully appreciated childhood when you were in it.

Sometimes I’m in such a rush to get to the next phase that I don’t fully enjoy what’s in front of me. It’s great to look forward to things ahead, but if I’m so focused on what’s happening a month from now or next year, I can miss the now moments. I may be so eager to begin a new day or month or season or chapter in life that I’m not reveling in today.

I admit I’ve wished for a difficult day to be over, but even in the tough times, I can find small things to be grateful for or take time to grieve or learn from mistakes instead of wishing the day would hurry up and be done already.

Older and wiser folks have told me how time seems to speed up with each passing year, and there’s no going back. Today is the only Feb. 1, 2017, there is, so I might as well make the most of it.

Besides, March will be here soon enough.

 

Stealing my grandmother

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An Alaska cruise with Mamaw in 2009. She got up early during our vacation, saying she’d need more time to get ready in case her hair “doesn’t lay right” in the morning.

I’ve been in clean-out mode the past few weeks, rummaging through my closet, emptying out drawers and putting my life’s possessions in piles as I declutter. There’s the throwaway pile, the giveaway pile and the keep pile, and since I haven’t been feeling very sentimental lately, the last pile keeps getting smaller.

Part of my minimization efforts include tackling four shoeboxes full of cards—birthday cards, anniversary cards, thank you cards and so on. I’m a words person and love reading what people have written to me, but after years and years of collecting cards, I decided it’s time to pare it down, keeping only the really special ones.

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“I’m ready!” Headed to D.C. in 2011.

That’s how I came across a couple of letters from my grandmother, dating several years back.

As I read the first letter, I was caught off guard. I started crying just a few sentences in, and within a couple of minutes could hardly catch my breath, like someone punched me in the gut. It reminded me of what used to be and what never will be again.

I’m fortunate that both my grandparents on my mom’s side are still around and that I’ve always been close to them. But in the past several years, my grandmother’s mental health has declined.

At times I get angry—at this aging process, at the fact that she doesn’t try harder to take care of herself. Other times I’m amused—at her no-filter comments, at her quips about getting older. And sometimes I’m disheartened. It won’t get better. It won’t get easier. And it scares the bejesus out of me that I might find myself in the same boat someday.

Mamaw was valedictorian in high school. She was a math whiz and kept the books for my grandfather’s business for over 30 years. She taught Sunday school for what seems like forever and loved to write just like I do. She was a fantastic cook. I remember waking up to the smell of bacon, eggs, biscuits and gravy.

Now I have to mentally prepare for our conversations. During one of our recent ones, she told me it was raining four times during our 30-minute chat. She’ll talk about all the things she has to do even though she doesn’t. Or the contest she’s about to win although we all know it’s a scam.

She doesn’t cook anymore or teach Sunday school. I can’t remember the last time she wrote me a note.

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A safety run pre-departure on our cruise ship to Alaska.

I always looked forward to visiting my grandparents and still do. I want to sit in their living room with no particular topic of conversation as the grandfather clock ticks in the background.

But it’s hard.

Reading her letters brought back memories of the Alaska cruise we took in 2009—just the two of us. She called it “the trip of a lifetime.” She wrote about the Sunday school lesson she had to prepare and the beans Papaw brought in from the garden that she needed to cook.

In a letter she sent while I was studying in Australia in 2007, she shared how happy she was that I was traveling but asked me not to make a habit of skydiving. She told me about her new Kodak camera and how she was learning to zoom. “I’m still trying to learn all the ins and outs and what all the different buttons are for,” she wrote. She told me about the creative writing class she was taking, too: “I’ve been working on my first short story. … If I have to shorten it much more it will lose some of the interesting parts and I don’t want it to be dull.”

She wrote about things that I’m thankful for, but that I’m sad are in the past. Dementia is stealing my grandmother away from me.

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Taking a ferry in Charleston, S.C., in 2012.

Next week I’ll celebrate my birthday, which I’ve always loved. I know some people get depressed when they’re a year older, but so far, I’ve enjoyed it. What I don’t like about aging is that certain memories get farther and farther away.

Mamaw still knows who I am and is still happy when I call or visit. We carry on conversation and laugh. Over Thanksgiving, I showed her pictures from my trip to Ireland as she commented on how beautiful it was. She always wanted to travel more (Papaw is a homebody), so I’m beyond grateful for our trip to Alaska, as well as subsequent trips to D.C. and Charleston.

But it’s different.

And as much as I like to change things up, there are some things I wish could stay the same.

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“Sometimes yet, I am still awed at how everything just fell in place.”
—A Dec. 16, 2009, letter from Mamaw about our Alaska cruise.

The Gratitude Jar

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In my last post, I talked about my one-word focus for the year: balance. One way I hope to achieve that balance is by staying focused on what’s most important in life. And one way to do that is to acknowledge all the little pluses that come along.

And so we have The Gratitude Jar.

Sometimes I can get so caught up in what isn’t going right that I completely overlook all the good things. Then I start complaining, which takes too much energy and sucks the life right out of me.

This year, I decided to make something tangible to encourage me to think about the positives in life—an actual place to put the things I’m grateful for. I knew I wanted to call it The Gratitude Jar, but browsed the internet for ideas of what it should look like. I came across this thankful jar tutorial, then copied the basic idea on my own.

First I got out an old (applesauce?) jar because it was the largest one I had on hand. I wrapped it with some leftover green and white polka dot material that I used to cover the gray panels of my cube at work, then dug out an old black ribbon to tape around it. I could’ve used glue or Mod Podge, but this way I can change it more easily if I want to.

Next I used Canva (I have a free account) to create a simple graphic that I printed out and taped on the front. I wish I had used card stock the first time around, but I might take some I have at home and print it out again so the pointy edges are more sturdy.

I was going to cut a slit in the jar lid, but it’s a little difficult since it’s metal, so for now, I’m leaving it as is. I didn’t want to leave it open, but that would be an option.

Originally, I was making the jar to leave at home, but ended up taking it to work so others could add things to it if they want to. I put it on the table behind my desk (sort of a community space), then put strips of construction paper in an old iPhone box with a pen. I put it out last week and already have a handful of papers in there—some from me, some from others.

I don’t know what others have written, but one thing I added was that I’m grateful for the man in Food Lion who let me go ahead of him when I only had two items. 🙂 This was a few days ago when everyone was calling for snow and people freaked out, buying up the whole store.

Anyway, the plan is to empty the jar and read all the entries at the end of the year!

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.