the view from the branches

A cold front seemed to come out of nowhere this weekend.

It was like a car in front of me stopping suddenly, causing me to brake and brace for the jolt that comes with sudden change in motion. Yet instead of grasping for potentially airborne coffee mugs and cell phones, I found myself piled with scarves and blankets and flannel, staring out the living room window as if eyeing an opponent before battle.

As one who thrives in fall but despises winter, I need to be slowly coaxed into coats. Easing me into it is the best way to keep me happy, just like I prefer to start submerging toes in the shallow end of a cold pool before I am ready to go all the way under. The weather will be getting warmer again (thank goodness for Arkansas’ southern ways), but this taste of winter was enough to push me into hiding.

And it wasn’t just me who experienced the shock of quick change. Pretty leaves once fanning out and showing off colors shriveled up on branches as if in fetal position, begging to be shielded from the wind. I watched Saturday morning as flurries of leaves fell to the ground, giving up the fight to cling to trees.

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Over the past few years, this dramatic seasonal change from September to December seemed to mirror my life during those months — from starting to date Eric to getting married to job changes for us both, this time of year in the past has involved a lot of transition. The past six or seven months, though, we have been experiencing something new: rest. By no means is life perfect, and by no means are we always content with this rest, but it’s an answer to a prayer that we have been praying for awhile. Our marriage is in a good place. Eric’s job is stressful, but he has figured out how to cope (most of the time). I feel like I am finding my role in ministry with Cru. Even our mischievous border collie has been content with cuddling on the couch or chewing an antler (rawhide is bad, people!) instead of chasing deer in the woods across the street.

However, I enjoy change and trying new things (albeit slowly, like the getting into a swimming pool situation), and I easily get restless if I am in the same place too long. I would be a leaf that fell off a tree not because I lost strength to hold on, but because I wanted to see what it was like on the ground. I have found myself several times over the past couple of months wondering what type of big change we could make to add some excitement to our lives, and from that grows a discontentment with a clear answer to our prayers.

In the midst of busy seasons, or hard seasons, or seasons of change, we desire something consistent, something secure. But when that constancy is present, we – or at least I – grow bored. I am constantly warring with that discontent, and there is always something new that I am longing for.

I am making a decision, though, to embrace the rest. To not let my guard down when it comes to the flirtations of wanting more of this or something other than now. To rejoice in God’s grace during this season, yet to not grow independent and distant from still needing Him.

When it’s time to let go of the branch and experience the fall to the ground – which happens to us all – I will trust the Lord in a new way. That fall means death is near — the kind of death that causes leaves to crunch under feet and crumble to dirt so that new green life can come in time.  But my time now is to rest in the current life and not grow weary of the view from the branches. Because it really is a fantastic view.

marriage letters: seeing you come alive

Dear Eric,

My dad is a man of many hobbies and talents. From restoring an old car to planting a garden to riding dirt bikes to building bunk beds, my child-self was fascinated with the projects he could accomplish.

It’s not surprising that I married a man who is the same way.

Whether it is building a coffee table or installing new shifters on your bicycle or planning out our next camping spot, you’ve always got something new on the radar. Something else you want to accomplish or learn or start.

You come alive when you know you are capable of something. 

photo (2)I watched you last weekend as you competed in your first Cat 5 cycling race. I watched the detail and attention you paid to your bike as you prepared for the event. I watched you talk to other riders, seeking advice and tips to set you up for success. I watched your eyes, hard and determined, after you passed me on that first lap, pushing through after the crash that slowed you down – but didn’t stop you. I watched you finish strong, already thinking about the next race, since you now knew you were capable of competing.

You had proved yourself.

As someone who played competitive sports throughout my life, I remember the thrill of the moments before the whistle blows and the rushing adrenaline and the attention to detail and the pre-game rituals. The thrill of your efforts and training finally about to pay off.

You came alive in experiencing that thrill.

I have always known you to be someone who persevered, someone who refused to give up. That determination still shines through, and I hope you see yourself as capable.

The best part about a husband who dares and tries and does not shy away from challenges is that you want to involve me. You let me help you sand and stain that coffee table, even if you had to go back over my work. You ask for my hand when you replace brake pads on our car. You encourage me as I try to pedal hard up hills, helping me feel capable to keep up with you on the bike.

You come alive when you see that you are needed in this marriage – when I need you as a shoulder to cry on or advice on spiritual issues or someone to open the pickle jar. You spring to action (usually going to prayer first) when things are wrong, ready to prove yourself once again. Ready to prove this marriage.

And that proving gives me a sense of security that I never dreamed of.  Even when things are harder than expected, you have what it takes – for your hobbies and personal goals and, most importantly, for this marriage. 

And I love watching you come alive as you realize at the end of each day what you are capable of. I know God has equipped you with what it takes, and I believe in you.

Love,
me.

_______________________________

marriage letters logoOn the first Monday of every month, I’ll be writing a letter to participate with Amber Haines in the “Marriage Letters” series on her blog. Though it’s only been two years for us, I want to develop this practice of blessing my husband and our marriage. You should also check out Amber’s most recent marriage letter and the others that are linked up to her post.

it’s more than moldy cheese and janky SUVs

Marriage is hard. I could never deny this fact. There have been too many tears and silent car rides and earnest prayers to do so.

But that’s not the end of the story. And in talking to a dear unmarried friend today, who is looking ahead at the next year and the possibility of it including marriage, it came up that this is the central message given to those who are not married. The reference point of the conversation was, of course, a super spiritual discussion on a point in Mindy Kaling’s book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

“I don’t want to hear about the endless struggles to keep sex exciting, or the work it takes to plan a date night. I want to hear that you guys watch every episode of The Bachelorette together in secret shame, or that one got the other hooked on Breaking Bad and if either watches it without the other, they’re dead meat. I want to see you guys high-five each other like teammates on a recreational softball team you both do for fun.”

I’m never going to stop telling people that marriage is hard. It’s definitely one of the hardest things I have ever done. There are days that the unexplained tension won’t leave and seasons when sex is hard and times when prayer is the only thing left to cling to. Life doesn’t stop being hard when you get married. You not only experience your own storms but also someone else’s.

But at the same time, and to an even greater extent, marriage is the best. In fact, it is so good, that it makes all of the hard things so worth it. I would walk on hot coals to be with this man, and we are best friends. You have to be to get through – and laugh about – gray Februarys and janky SUVs (he just wants to drive it over a cliff most days) and overdrafted checking accounts and moldy cheese in the fridge because someone didn’t close the ziploc all the way.

It’s the daily things that keep that our friendship alive. This might all seem sappy, and it is not intended as bragging, but hopefully as an encouragement to single friends that marriage is fun, even with the frantic, and I would love to see my married friends ponder similar lists to appreciate this aspect of their own relationship with their spouses. Find the glue that holds you together when external things come crashing down.

Eric and I ride our road bikes through back country roads to chase the setting sun, and he is so good to encourage me to keep pedaling the whole way home.

We play Uno after dinner because he had some sort of deprived childhood where he never learned to play it, and I introduced him to it a couple of months ago. Last weekend, we played it with some friends, and he couldn’t believe the difference between a two-player game and a four-player game.

We don’t have cable, or any TV channels for that matter, so we watched through all of How I Met Your Mother on Netflix to catch up with the current season, and now we anticipate Tuesday nights, so that we can eat dinner on the couch and watch the most recent episode online.

We take long drives when we are bored on a Saturday afternoon or evening – or when one of us is upset and can’t figure out why. Some of our most important processing and decision-making has come through drives where the only option is to talk things out. And we bring the dog a lot of times, just to get him out of the house in case he is bored, too.

We find any and every excuse to drive through Shipley’s for donuts on a weekend morning. Woke up 10 minutes later than planned on a Sunday? Or out of cereal on a Saturday morning and too lazy to make eggs or oatmeal? Donuts are obviously the only option. Plus Shipley’s is like 0.2 miles from our house.

He laughs at the drawling way I pronounce oil and tomato and cities ending in -ville (“ohll” and “tomatah” and “-vuhl”), and I make fun of the way he says Colorado (“ra” as in “radish” instead of “ra” as in “rock”).

We play Wikipedia games, making the other person start on one topic and find a way to click through to another topic (i.e. start on Bill Clinton and find your way to fluorescent lamp).

He randomly pins pictures on my Pinterest boards of ideas for our bedroom or our front door color. We daydream a lot about house projects and “one day” ideas.

When I drank coffee one evening a couple of weeks ago and was too wired to go to bed, we built a pallet on the floor in the living room and I watched episodes of Gilmore Girls for three hours while he slept on my shoulder.

Any farts that may or may not be sourced by one of us are blamed on the dog.

We sing Taylor Swift while cleaning up after dinner, and he wears my floral apron to wash dishes.

We dream of new ways to destroy that janky 4Runner – his favorite and most-often suggested is to toss a grenade inside and run for the hills.

He gets frustrated at how often I am able to guess the surprise he has planned, and I tell him it’s just because I know him so well. He is my best friend, after all.

What are the daily glues that hold your relationships together, whether it is a spouse or a roommate or a sibling? 

my guest post for the newlywifed life

my sweet friend jordan co-writes for the newlywifed life blog, and she asked me to write a post on the “10 things i have learned since i have gotten married.” it was such a fun process of thinking through the past two years or so, and i loved getting to share it with her readers.

hop on over to read my post, then take a look around at their photography and recipes and other fun things!

http://thenewlywifedlife.blogspot.com/2014/02/newlywednesday-sam-eric.html

marriage letters: once upon a time

Dear Eric,

Once upon a time, there was a girl confident in how to handle every situation that came her way, except when it came to boys. I don’t know why you chose me as the object of your pursuit (especially when I turned you down for six months), but you did. Your persistence bothered me then, but now I know it is one of your best qualities.

Remember that November Night and the moonlit field? I don’t think we had even held hands yet, but I knew I wanted to be with you, and the feelings grew after that. We daydreamed of a life of ministry together, maybe seminary too, and I remember thinking that this was why we fit so perfectly together. My hopes and dreams for our future were wrapped up in the idea of where we thought our lives were headed.

Once upon a time, we got married in another November under a gray sky and gold leaves. I remember the autumn breeze toying with my hair and the way your eyes overflowed with tears. I remember how right it all felt, how safe.

People told us the first year of marriage would be the hardest, and I prepared myself for arguments and annoyances and slammed doors.

I didn’t expect the difficulty to be from outside forces instead.

I didn’t expect to both have jobs which were not only not “in ministry” as we planned, but jobs we didn’t like. The late nights you worked by lamplight while I curled in our bed missing you were not planned. I despised that your job was taking away your life.

Then you lost that job. We laid on our porch hammock in early spring, and you told me they didn’t need you to go back to work anymore. I could see the fear in your eyes, uncertain of what the future held and uncertain of how your new wife would react — so I kissed you.

And we prayed.

Jobs have since changed, and we have a faithful God who provides, but on this snowy morning we sit together at the kitchen table, and you are participating in a conference call about dog treats. I know that you are “in ministry “even when it comes to discussing chicken jerky, but I know your heart is not engaged in the way it was designed. Yet you are faithful to where you are right now, so you spout off facts about Facebook fans and new packaging shipments.

I bet you never planned to raise support while also working 45-50 hours a week in a corporate job. Even when we started this new journey, I never planned to break down this often, allowing my emotions and my fears to get the best of me. I never thought it would be this hard to get to where we wanted to be, where we thought God was calling us, even.

But you are persistent. You let me cry and you speak truth to my faltering heart. You are in it for the long haul – both with the fundraising and with me.

Just over two years in, I know more trials are ahead. I know we aren’t even done with today. But I have seen how adamantly you refuse to give up. And I won’t, either.

Love,
me.

_______________________________

On the first Monday of every month, I’ll be writing a letter to participate with Amber Haines in the “Marriage Letters” series on her blog. Though it’s only been two years for us, I want to develop this practice of blessing my husband and our marriage. You should also check out Amber’s most recent marriage letter and the others that are linked up to her post.

a reflection after two years of marriage

earlier this month, we celebrated our two year anniversary. time just flies.

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disclaimer before i begin: this post is not meant to be like one of those blog posts being spread around facebook which tells you the secret behind a happy marriage. or the top ten things to look for in a spouse. or anything like that, which someone will inevitably write a rebuttal to.

those rebuttals are written because every relationship is different, and everyone wants their own word in the conversation. every marriage is different. every story is different. there is no cookie-cutter way to find marital bliss. please don’t take this post that way, but as a reflection on what i have learned after two years into this adventure.

the most important aspect of our marriage, after reflecting on our past year, is a strong relationship with Jesus on the part of both of us.

john and stasi eldredge write the following in love and war:

the greatest gift you can give to your marriage is for you to develop a real relationship with Jesus Christ… We are not simply talking about believing in God. There are many good people who believe in God, but for all practical purposes they still look to their spouse to make them happy… We’re talking about a relationship where you are finding in God the life and love your soul so desperately needs.

and after the past year of marriage, this is more true than ever.

the first year of marriage was easy, as far as my relationship with eric went. we endured our share of hardships and learning curves, but all in all, the difficulties came from outside our oneness.

the second year of marriage has had its share of career changes and  financial woes and stress from sharing a car for half of it. life isn’t going to just stop. but more than that, it seemed to add a new level of weight to my relationship with eric. the things we were going through outside our oneness crept inside our oneness. one example is making a life-decision which affected both of us – joining staff with cru – which not only invited in all sorts of doubts and stress in simply trying to be on the same page with this decision, but also seemed to open up a whole new field of spiritual warfare.

the enemy doesn’t quit. if you are a believer, he is always finding new ways to get his foot in the door in your life, and when you get married, it affects both of you. when eric is wrestling, i am wrestling and fighting alongside him – whether i choose it or not. that’s the thing about getting married and becoming one.

and i am not here to brag. we don’t have this thing down all the time. but i can see growth in our relationship, in how much more quickly we realize that we need to pray, and that things aren’t right with God. we aren’t always consistent with our individual quiet times. but when we are, it makes a difference.

and it is most definitely a we thing. my walk with God is not – and cannot – be enough to sustain eric in the long run. when he is struggling, i can be a strength for him, but it will not be the solution (and visa versa, because, i’ll be honest, i feel that i am weak more often than he).

i don’t know how we would make it through marriage if we weren’t individually walking with God and growing in that walk. i don’t know how anyone would make it.

it is that relationship, with Christ, from which everything else is born and cultivated. 
servant attitude. intimacy. selflessness. truth. healthy community. love. friendship. patience.

and praise the Lord, we each had cultivated our personal walks with Him before we got married. before we met, even. not that it can’t be done after you get married, and not that God isn’t glorified in that, but i think the path might be harder.

so, dear single friends, don’t settle. don’t allow your emotions to justify that a boy will figure out a relationship with God later and that building the foundation of the relationship between the two of you is what matters right now. and don’t tell yourself that you will be satisfied in God after He give you a boy, because that won’t happen (at least it hasn’t for me). don’t put off growing in your walk with the Lord because it doesn’t affect anyone else right now. it will.

and dear married friends, give the best gift to your spouse that you can – make time for Christ above all else. it is more important than laundry and a clean house, more important than a well-stocked bank account, more important than a successful career, more important than passion and romance. He will give you what you need to love your spouse “for better or for worse.” when you walk with Christ, it will affect the success of your marriage in a greater way than anything material can, and it will produce a Christ-centered marriage.

which is not going to be perfect, by the way, but it is worth it. so worth it. 

 

**thanks to our sweet friend hilary cranford for our two year anniversary/christmas card photos!

it’s the thrill of the {moment before the} fight

there is something exhilarating about the moment you realize you are headed into battle.

like in middle school, when we would play capture the flag – those few seconds right before the whistle blew, when we were each planning our strategies and eyeing the other team and anticipating the yell to “charge!”

like in high school, right before basketball games – we would be standing in a line at the entrance to the gym, and the first notes of “eye of the tiger” would play, signaling us to run out on the court for our warm-up routines. i still can’t hear that song without feeling adrenaline rush through my system.

like in my first year of marriage – i got home from work, found eric on the porch, and heard him say that he had been let go from his job. i still look back and claim that as one of my favorite moments of our first year together.

you know something is about to happen. you are bracing yourself for the worst but hoping for the best. you don’t have clear expectations, but you know there will be both victory and defeat. and – as in the last example – you know that you have no choice but to move forward and trust that God knows what He is doing.

it’s moments like that when i have to surrender to the sovereignty of God. i can clench my fists and grip my planner and say, ‘this isn’t what i had in mind,’ but it won’t change the circumstances. it won’t change the plans God has for my sanctification and for His glory – despite what the enemy says.

because we do have an enemy in the battle.

i never want to give the enemy too much credit, as he is not necessarily the one who has instigated the battle. but i never want to underestimate him, because i know he will use the battle as a catalyst for his plot to destroy the kingdom of God.

satan wants to get in the last word when it comes to who God is and what He is doing. he wants to tell us that ‘God is not loving’ and ‘God is not worth fighting for’ and ‘God is not really on your side.’ he wants to wear us down with lies to exhaust us and remove us from being effective in the fight.

the good news is, our God has already won the battle. we have no need to fear – we are called to press on. to counter the enemy’s attack attempts with truth. to move forward in faith that God is taking care of everything. to hold fast to Him.

i am not afraid of the battles to come. i am not strong on my own, but i serve a victorious God, and i will rejoice in that moment before the battle begins, because it is a new opportunity to see what He can do.

and, especially in marriage, i will rejoice that i am fighting the battle with my husband by my side. there’s something romantic and empowering about being in it together, and it gives me continued confidence that the Lord knew what He was doing when He joined eric and i. not only to fight for each other, but to fight together.

so if you find me dancing around to survivor and practicing punches in the air, don’t be alarmed – i am in that moment before the battle begins, and i am preparing to fight.

love affair

I confess, this is the season of a love affair.

As an October baby, it’s almost destiny that it happen this way. The first few brightly-colored leaves flirtatiously catch my eye, and from there, it’s a domino effect leading to weakened knees. The breeze ruffles its fingers through my hair. Wool socks cuddle close to my feet, hidden beneath boots. Morning fog whispers to come chase it through the dew. Cricket songs join with the symphony of falling foliage, and a certain pleasant chill sweeps through open doors and windows to settle on our wood floors.

My God woos my heart through each piece of this season. He catches my attention, teaches me to slow my steps and smell the scent that is distinctly autumn. His presence meets me as I zip up my fleece and take a walk with Him. There is no time of year where I know His presence so clearly as I do now. He is always faithful to capture my heart.

And it’s only fitting that He also provided this as the season I fell in love with my husband.

With walks through the park and collecting leaves and drinking hot chocolate, God began to weave our romance throughout an October and November setting. Our first date – carving pumpkins underneath strung twinkling lights. The first time I told him, “I like you.”** The first time we held hands. The first time I looked into his eyes and thought about forever. It was this time of year.

Then a full year later, our love story was once again turning a page, and we got married beneath a canopy of red and brown and orange.  That same breeze rustled through our vows, and the symphony of falling leaves celebrated our kiss. We were pronounced man and wife, and a gray sky held off rain to witness our union.

My heart quickens at the thought of each new day and the magic I will find therein. I know I have a God pursuing me, drawing me to Himself and to a celebration of Who He is as Creator. It’s the best kind of party, with crunchy leaves and apple cider, and I am dizzy with His love.

 

**I actually was too embarrassed to tell him, so one night we were playing Mad Gab, and after he left to go home, I sent him a text in Mad Gab form : “Aisle Haiku,” and let him translate it.

magic purse – a post on intentionality in our marriage

Several months ago, Eric and I found ourselves consistently wondering how to be more intentional in our marriage. Last summer, we read a book together, going on weekly coffee dates to discuss each chapter and how it applied to our marriage. This was so significant for us, but we recognized that the season we were/are in is not as conducive to keeping up with a book together as it was last year.

When we were dating, we went through a book called 101 Questions to Ask Before You Get Engaged. After you get past the cheesy cover, this was so much fun for us to pull out on road trips or over dinner on a date. We would take turns picking random questions to discuss, such as, “How do you want to spend holidays when you have a family?” and “What were finances like for your family while you were growing up?” and “What do you see in your parents’ marriage that you want/don’t want?”  These questions helped to give us a picture of the other’s past, as well as how that might translate into what their marriage and family would be like in the future. I highly recommend it for couples who are seriously dating, as it is a good resource for questions you might not have thought to ask, and it prepares you to deal with these decisions in the future.

So I decided to bring this question-asking tradition back. I put together a list of questions I found from various places on the internet, printed them off, then cut them into strips and stuck them in a pocket of my purse. In the middle of a date, I randomly exclaimed, “Magic purse!” and told a confused Eric to stick his hand in. He pulled out a slip of paper, unraveled it, and read off the question. I don’t know where the phrase “magic purse” came from, but it stuck, and on various dates or road trips or even sitting at home in the evenings, we would take turns pulling out a question or two and discussing them.

This has been a key to keep us talking, and if we have had a rough week and are feeling mentally exhausted, we don’t have to put forth a whole lot of effort to think of good questions. It keeps us daydreaming about the future and having a family, or even just continually being a student and learning about each other. Some of the questions are silly and fun, while others require more thoughtful input.

If you want too start this question-asking tradition, feel free to use this compilation of our questions to start with, and let me know if you come up with any good questions of your own! Click here to download the list.

Another resource for questions is from one of my favorite blogs, Today’s Letters – their weekly questions require vulnerability, but also provide room for specific growth in understanding your spouse and how to connect with him or her.

of storms and canoes and the adventures of marriage

The cliche is that your first year of marriage is the hardest.

For Eric and I, our first year was hard, but not in the sense of our relationship. That seemed to be the easy part – and could have been intentional from the Lord since we went through so much with jobs and finances and decisions. We were definitely in the “honeymoon” stage of our relationship for the entire first year.

Then, week one of year two hit, and all of a sudden we were in the middle of a storm. We fought against this odd disconnect between us for several weeks. We were constantly frustrated at each other – usually for little things that never seemed to bother us before. Like my irritation at the crunching sound when he ate un-popped kernels at the bottom of his popcorn bowl, which then caused me to . Silly, right?

Marriage is like paddling a canoe. When you encounter storms, one of you can’t paddle alone to get through it. If a canoe is paddled only on one side, it will start to spin. And spinning in the midst of crashing waves and pelting rain never made anyone feel better.

We fasted and prayed (even though praying together was awkward and never what we wanted to do). It would be better for a day, then come right back. I wanted so badly to make things better, but at the same time my pride convinced me that Eric was the one who needed to apologize. That month and a half – from our one-year anniversary until mid-December – was harder on our relationship than our whole first year combined.

We are not out of the clear. I don’t think any marriage is ever 100% “safe.” The God-ordained goal of marriage is to reflect His relationship with His bride, the Church – and we have an enemy who wants to destroy anything having to do with God’s glory. But the fact that we will have storms to face – together – is part of the adventure of marriage.

Paddling is a canoe is about teamwork. You have to paddle together, on opposite sides, to keep the canoe straight. You have be in unison. Both travelers need to do their part to steer and speed the canoe. Otherwise, it’s easy to become bitter at someone for being lazy, and one will wear himself out before the other.

Ice Skating

Unity is one of the greatest needs when encountering storms. If only one spouse is willing to lay down personal pride and work through it, then they will not succeed together. Eric and I both had to decide to fight this storm, to admit faults and to choose vulnerability. Oftentimes, I have noticed that the problem starts in my flesh – I am choosing to hold on to hurt because he said something I know he didn’t mean. Or I am annoyed that he didn’t do something. I think, though, that the Enemy knows how to use these little ticks and turn them into fuel for the fire – Eric running late in the morning turns into “He is always running late. He knows that being on time is a big deal to me, but he chooses to ignore that. He probably does it on purpose. I can’t believe he doesn’t care about my feelings or about our reputation. People will never rely on us.”

All of a sudden, a missed alarm turns into a husband who is out to destroy our reputation! Yeah right, Satan.

Whether it starts out with your flesh or is direct spiritual attack, you have to expect storms when it comes to relationships – whether you are married or single. It means 1) that you are human (therefore, imperfect) and 2) that you are doing something the enemy hates. Which, in my mind, is affirmation for my marriage.

Not that I want to taunt Satan to “bring it.” But, at the same time, I have a husband who has proven he wants to fight for us, and I have a God who is on my side.

We will just keep on paddling together, choosing to live by faith and not in fear of what might be coming ahead of us.