Pacing

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Let me set the scene.

The year was 2009. Jon and I were a young married couple with no kids. I had just started my third teaching job (at my third school) in three years, and I desperately needed something bigger than myself or my classroom to fill my mind and my energy. Jon was in grad school at Stanford, which meant he was away in classes or studying for approximately 23 hours a day. And, because I was young and foolish, I decided it was the perfect time in life to run a marathon.

About a year earlier, right after we’d moved to Palo Alto, I had joined a weekly running club. This tight-knit group of people made up of grad students, Silicon Valley techies, and millionaire housewives became my second family during those long (and often lonely) years of grad-student-wife-ing and young teacher-ing. Somewhere along the countless hours and miles I spent running with these friends I realized that I actually had it in me to train for and run a marathon. It had always been a goal of mine and I figured “If not now, when?”. I roped one of my run club friends into coaching me for my first marathon, and I signed up for a December race. Done deal.

When race day came, I was ready. I had trained hard, I had a few of my run club friends by my side, and I knew I could do it. And I did. I ran the crap out of that marathon, and I finished 1 second faster than my goal time in 4 hours 29 minutes and 59 seconds. Running that marathon taught me a lot about myself which alone could warrant several blog posts, or maybe even a memoir (The title would probably be something along the lines of “Consume Enough Electrolytes During A Marathon or You’ll End Up In The Hospital The Next Day With a Kidney Infection”). But running the marathon also taught me something else of importance to my bigger life story: Pacing.

Pacing is essentially finding your groove and pushing yourself just the right amount so you can make it for the long haul. Pacing is consistency. Pacing is making smart choices early on so you can make it to the finish line.

At this point in the global Coronavirus pandemic, I think we’ve all realized that we’re going to be in this thing for the long-haul. This is a marathon, not a sprint. And since we’re in a marathon, pacing will be essential. If we over-exert ourselves too much now, in the early stages of the race, we’ll never cross the finish line in one piece. Based on what I know about marathon pacing, this is how I plan on pacing myself through the months ahead as we cope with the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Pacing Miles 0-3: Adrenaline Rush
The first few miles of a race are a blur of excitement. People line the streets cheering, the running pack is thick, and the miles fly by. Without even thinking about it, you are carried through the first few miles on a burst of adrenaline.

We have already been through the Coronavirus adrenaline rush. Everything changed so rapidly that the last three weeks are simply a blur of confusion and exhaustion. The mad rush to the store to stock up on supplies, the flurry of cancelled activities, the swift paring down of my world. I don’t know what day or week or month it is any more. I just know that the world is fundamentally different Now from how it was Before.

Pacing Miles 4-10: Finding Your Stride
After the initial rush in a race, you start to find your stride. You remember your training and you start to find a steady pace that you can maintain. In the running world, we often call this “conversation pace”: the pace at which you can still coherently have a conversation with someone running next to you–not so fast that you’re breathless and jumbled, but not so slow that you’ve lost sight of your end goal.

I think this is where we’re at currently in the Coronavirus Marathon. We need to remember our training: What is most important to me right now? Maybe it’s maintaining a routine and a schedule with your family. Maybe it’s returning to academics after a prolonged break. Maybe it’s setting reminders on your phone to drink enough water and exercise every day. Maybe it’s purposefully setting aside a block of time each day to do something that you want to do, not that you need to do. Maybe it’s logging off of social media for a time. Maybe it’s cooking comfort food. Whatever it is, I need to find a pattern for living that will be sustainable Now, for as long as this lasts.

Pacing Miles 11-20: Pull Deep
Most marathon training regimens include at least a dozen “long runs” that take you up to about 20 miles before your race. These long runs are training for the distance you’ll have to cover–not only physically (Can my body do this?), but also mentally and emotionally (Can I make myself do this even when I want to quit?).

We didn’t have much warning that we would be entering this Coronavirus marathon. Sure there were stories coming out of countries on the other side of the world, but that was There and I live Here. Had I known I’d soon be entering a marathon, I would have used those early months to practice some of my “long runs”: I would have stocked up on a 3-month supply of essential food and household items. I would have spent as much in-person time as I possibly could with the friends and family I wouldn’t be able to see for months on end. I would have gone to all of my favorite places and done all of my favorite things. But, alas, I did not.

Instead, I’m going to have to pull deep to make it through this long stretch of social distancing and physical isolation. Along the way I’ll probably get painful “blisters”–trying times and plenty of “I Quit” days. I’ll feel lost and unequipped because, well, I’m lost and unequipped. NOBODY in the history of the world has ever had to do what we are attempting to do right now to the scale at which we are attempting to do it. There is no course map or proven best practice. So I will have to rely on those ahead of me and those above me to help me make wise choices along the way. This is the long run, and it won’t always be easy.

Pacing Miles 20-26: Hitting The Wall
There is a point in every distance race that runners know well: The Wall. This is the point where–despite your training and adrenaline and preparation–you just hit the point where everything sucks. Your feet don’t want to move. Your lungs don’t want to breathe. Your legs feel like lead. Your mind starts playing tricks on you. You think you can’t go on. And yet you do.

I imagine at some point during this Coronavirus marathon I will hit the wall. There will be some straw that will break my camel’s back. Maybe it will be some flippant thing someone says or some stupid Facebook post or my inability to find some item I’m craving at the grocery store. I don’t know what it will be, but there will be some point where I get to the point where I’m just done.

And that, my friends, is the point where you just start chanting the mantra (out loud if you need to): Breathe. One foot in front of the other. You can do this. You will do this.

And once you push through the wall, you have nearly made it.

Pacing Mile 26 – Mile 26.2: Strong Finish
The last 0.2 miles of the marathon are by far the hardest “miles” of the race. Often times you can literally see the finish line, yet somehow it feels so. Far. Away. And this is where you quit relying on yourself or your own abilities, and you just finish as strong as you can.

In my Coronavirus marathon, I will need to seek help outside of myself if I want to finish strong. Keeping myself and my family healthy, helping my kids learn and keep up with school, maintaining joy, developing patience, finding hope each day–I can’t do all of that on my own. Nor should I. So during those .2 miles that feel like a lifetime, I will lean heavy on my faith, God’s Word, and His promises. And that, my friends, is the strongest finish I can hope to find.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2

So let us run hard, friends. Let us set an example for our children, our friends, and our neighbors about how this race should be run. And when the going gets tough–as it surely will–keep your eye on the prize. No race lasts forever.

I’m Not Cut Out For Marriage

wedding photoNext week Jon and I will be celebrating a milestone anniversary: 13 years of wedded bliss! Thirteen. Thirteen YEARS! I hear that number–THIRTEEN–and a lot of thoughts go through my mind: Where did the time go? Why does that number sound so big? Does this mean that I’m getting old? How did we get here, and where do we go from here?

And the truth is, thirteen years is both a long time and not very long at all. Thirteen years is a teenager, which seems kind of old. Yet at the same time I joke with Jon all the time that he’s still got another 50 years or so left with me if we’re anything like my grandparents, so he’d better get comfy and enjoy the ride. And whether 13 is a long time or a short time, it is a time…and with time, you tend to come out on the other side knowing a bit more than you did going into it.

If I have learned one thing in 13 years of marriage it is this: I’m not cut out for marriage.

You see, marriage is tough. No, tough is too soft of a word…marriage can be grueling. Marriage will challenge you and push you and test you in ways that nothing else on this earth can. I am not cut out for the grueling nature of marriage.

Marriage requires supreme sacrifice. You must sacrifice your time, your energy, your finances, even your very body to the mate you choose in marriage. I am not cut out for the sacrifice that is required of me.

Marriage requires vulnerability. You have to be willing and able to share your strongest hopes, your deepest fears, and your most desperate longings with your spouse. You have to share the thoughts and desires that you thought would be safe harbored in your own mind forever. You have to be willing to hear and support your spouses hopes, and fears and desires–and they may not always be the same as your own. I am not cut out for the raw, honest vulnerability that is required of me.

Marriage requires repentance–gut-wrenching, true-to-the-bones repentance. Sometimes I screw up. Sometimes he screws up. Sometimes we screw up together. And we have to admit that: to ourselves, to each other, to our friends, to our family, to those affected by our actions. Confessing your own wrongs, and supporting your spouse through theirs, is painstaking work. I am not cut out for the repentance that is required of me.

Marriage requires forgiveness. Sometimes I screw up. Sometimes he screws up. Sometimes we screw up together. And yet we have to forgive each other and move forward in that forgiveness. In marriage, grudges and vendettas are outlawed. I am not cut out for the forgiveness that is required of me.

Alone I am fully unequipped to enter a successful marriage, let alone continue in one for over a decade. I 100% can not do this on my own.

But here’s the good news! Even though I’m not cut out for the challenges or the sacrifice, the vulnerability or the repentance, the forgiveness or anything else that comes up in marriage–I don’t have to be. I don’t have to be because I can’t. But together with Jesus? Ahhh…that’s where it all comes together. Jesus has already faced every challenge and lived a life of perfect vulnerability. He made the supreme sacrifice in order to offer forgiveness. And through Him, the One who is perfect, even my own marriage can get a little closer to perfection.

Alone–even together–we are not enough to make a marriage succeed. It turns out that two people who make mistakes on their own don’t suddenly quit making mistakes once they’re together. But with Jesus even two imperfect people can get a little closer to perfection.

I’m not going to sugar-coat this and say that once you have Jesus and make it to your 13th anniversary everything is all sunshine and roses. In fact, this year has probably been the most challenging year we’ve ever had in our marriage. Amidst the triumphs and the joys, there have also been struggles and unforeseen circumstances. This year we have been blindsided by the unexpected so many times that I’ve actually come to expect the unexpected. There have been tears and questions and worries and now-named fears. Yet through it all, there has been hope.

Just as iron is refined in fire, this year “within the fire” has sharpened and strengthened our relationship. Without a doubt, this year has made us stronger than ever before. Stronger because we have each other and, more importantly, because Jesus has carried us through when we were simply to exhausted to carry ourselves any longer. We have learned to support each other better because He has supported us. Even though I am not cut out for marriage, He is. And with Him, our marriage is stronger today than it ever has been.

So, like an awkward 13-year old 7th grader who is finally discovering who they are as an individual, I feel like this year we are finally discovering who we really are as Mr. and Mrs.. It hasn’t come without some bumps and bruises and missteps along the way, but that’s just part of normal development. And with the growth comes maturity, and with the maturity comes more freedom. Freedom to love and to nurture and continue growing together.

I may not be cut out for marriage, but I sure am grateful to be stuck with another person who isn’t cut out for marriage either. Together we make a pretty awesome couple. For 13 years already, and forever more!

Out of Control

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This week at MOPS we started something called “The 28 Day Challenge”–basically a month-long truth or dare game for grown-ups. It’s awesome. On the first day of our challenge, the “truth” was to tell about what ways you feel out of control in your life.

Ummm…hold up. Are there any ways in which I actually feel IN CONTROL in my life right now? The jury is in, and the answer is a big fat NO.

This past month has been a bit of a whirlwind. Literally. January started with a series of storms that left us stranded, isolated, cold…and completely out of control. Those four days that we were trapped in our house with no electricity and no means of escape were some of the most “out of control” feeling days I have ever experienced.

Then Inauguration Day happened and…well, ya know. Out. Of. Control. (I want to keep this about me here, so we’re going to just mosey around all of this political mumbo jumbo for the time being. Moving on, now.).

And then there is my personal life. Let’s just say that there was a huge decision out on the table that was going to affect every aspect of our family’s life. It was monumental. We spent months praying about God to open doors so we could have some sort of discernment when making The Decision. A few weeks ago we finally made up our minds and committed our hearts to The Decision. Right when we were patting ourselves on the back for making one of the biggest decisions of our life and getting excited to move forward with everything–BAM! The door shut. Out. Of. Control.

This month has taught me that my world is actually quite small, and it doesn’t take much to move from hunky-dory to earth-shattering. I have spent a lot of time praying and crying and questioning everything over the past few weeks. It’s been terrible…and wonderful.

I’ve had a lot of time to think this month (turns out, sitting in a dark house with no electricity for four days allows for a lot of thinking time). In all of my thinking, I’ve realized something. This is important, now, so pay attention:

The World and my little world are not mine to control.

THEY ARE NOT MINE. None of it is mine. The world? Not mine to control. The weather? Not mine to control. Political leaders and their decisions? Not mine to control. The Decision and it’s outcome? Not mine to control. Not. Mine. To. Control.

And, guess what?  I’m fine. Weary and confused and with an aching heart many days, but fine. Because someone else who is far more capable and compassionate and omniscient than I am IS in control.

Out of control, I have realized, is an opportunity to live out my faith. If I say, “Yes, God, I trust you!”, then I have to actually TRUST Him. I have to trust Him in the storms and in the answers to prayer that aren’t the answers I wanted to see. I have to trust Him in the good times AND the difficult times. When I feel out of control, I have to trust Him that what He says about himself and who He is and what He can do is true.

Control is not ours for the taking. The irony of control is that the only way to actually gain control is to release it–to sacrifice my false sense of control to the One who actually IS in control. Only after I release control can I experience the peace and the hope that comes from trusting God.

As mind-blowingly difficult as “out of control” feels, it is actually a very good place to be. I don’t like out of control, not even a little bit, but I’m going to allow it. I’m going to take a step back and just sit with my out of control for awhile. I’m going to take my doubts and my worries, and I’m going to turn them into prayers. I’m going to look for the blessings around me and celebrate the good that still happens in the out of control. I’m going to trust God.  And then? I’m going to watch in amazement at what happens on the other end.

So, if you’re joining me in the out of control club, welcome. Welcome to the chaos and the confusion and the craziness. But more importantly, welcome to the hope that comes through trusting the One who is in control.

Moving Forward

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Yesterday morning I woke up to the results of one of the most divisive elections this country has every labored through (and, having gone through a combined total of over 80 hours of childbirth labor myself, I can attest that labor is the most accurate term for what we have all just gone through here). Now that the results are in, a winner has been called: Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States of America.

I did not vote for Donald Trump. There are a million and one reasons why I could not vote for him. However, despite my own feelings or convictions or efforts to make my voice heard, the truth remains: Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States of America. And so, we have a choice to make. Are we for him, or are we against him?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking over the last 24 hours, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I must be for him. I must be pro-Trump and move forward with acceptance. Because for me, for us, for them it is the right decision.

I will move forward with acceptance because he will be president.
Living in a democratic nation means that sometimes who or what you choose wins…and sometimes it doesn’t. That is the beauty (and the beast) of the democracy that our nation has fought so hard for. No matter how I feel about any of this, nothing will change the outcome of the election at this point. On January 20th, Donald Trump will stand on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and he will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. Trump will be the leader of our nation and the free world. With leadership comes a huge responsibility. Leaders need support and guidance if they are to do their leading well. So, for that reason, I will offer my support.

I will move forward with acceptance because unity is better than division.
There have been a lot of Big Feelings across our country and around the world this week. This election has shown me that people are feeling broken and scared and rejected. And right now? Right now we all need love. And kindness. And hope. We need to come together, not break apart. We need to support one another and hold each other up. We need to walk forward as friends and neighbors and families and fellow citizens.

I will move forward with acceptance because my reaction is teaching my children.
My children are watching my every move and word and attitude. They are learning from me how grown-ups handle the real world, how adults handle tough times. My reaction today will teach my children how to be a good loser. My reaction today will teach my children how to respect authority, even when I disagree. My reaction today will teach my children to put their hope and trust in Jesus, not on the fleeting decisions of this earth. My reaction today will teach my children how to be the kinds of grown-ups I hope they will be some day.

I will move forward with acceptance because I reject bitterness.
When we don’t get what we want, sometimes bitterness can seep into our hearts. We dwell on the past, on what could have been, on what we wish we could have had. But bitterness is like poison. It can utterly ruin a person. Instead, I will choose hope. Because in every situation, there is good to be found. Find the good, and cling to hope. That, my friends, is life-giving.

I will move forward with acceptance because Trump was made in God’s image.
God created Donald Trump. He did! God loves Donald Trump. He does! Jesus commands us to love our neighbor, and that includes our neighbors in the White House. There are no contingencies of “Well, love thy neighbor unless you disagree with them or don’t particularly like them or if you’re just too jealous of their incredible hair…”. No. We are called to love all people, because God loves all people.

I will move forward with acceptance because Trump is not my ultimate authority.
Here’s a shocker: there was not a single candidate on my ballot that held true to every conviction that I hold dear in my heart. There was not a single candidate that met my impossibly high standards for perfection as a leader, because no person could meet those standards. Jesus is my benchmark and, sorry fellas, but y’all fall short.

Regardless of who is running our nation or our local government or my own household, my ultimate authority is God and His Word. The world is a very broken place, filled with and led by very broken people. But God is perfect. He is just. He is all-loving. He is all-powerful. He is sacrificial. He is generous. He redeems that which is broken. He is never-changing. He is everything I could ever want or need from a leader, and He is my ultimate authority. God can use any situation to His glory–He sees the whole story, not just the messy parts in the middle. So no matter what happens in the world, there is hope in the steadfast love and leadership of God.

In the end, I get to make a choice. This choice is bigger than an election, bigger than the outcome of a presidential race. Because this choice is for me. I get to choose how I will live my life, how I will lead my children, how I will move forward with the Truth of Jesus. And that choice? That choice is mine. No swing state or electoral college can take the power out of my choice for how I live my own life. So I will choose to move forward. To move forward in love, unity, humility, and grace.

Because choice is a beautiful thing.

 

The God-Claw

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My boys have been obsessed with the movie Toy Story for the better part of three years now. And when I say obsessed, what I really mean is that their very hearts beat to the rhythm of Buzz Lightyear’s lasers and Woody’s lasso throws. They eat, sleep, and breathe the mantra that toys are a kid’s best friend. They dress up in Toy Story costumes and go about daily life as if they actually are the movie characters they idolize and adore. They have memorized every line of every Toy Story movie (including the lesser known spinoffs such as Toy Story of Terrors and Toy Story That Time Forgot).

All this to say, I have seen a lot of Toy Story. A LOT.

For those of you who may be *ahem* less familiar with the movie, you should know that a critical point in the first Toy Story movie centers around a toy claw. Andy (the boy who loves his toys with all his heart, soul, and strength) goes to Pizza Planet (Pixar Chuck E. Cheese’s) where there is an arcade claw machine full of little squeaky green alien toys (Which, by the way, Disney does not manufacture for consumer consumption. They have about 50 different versions of alien toys available through various retailers, but none are the exact size, squishy-ness, and squeaky-ness as the aliens in the movie. I know, because we have bought and tested all 50 alien toy products that are currently available. But I digress…).

At one point in the movie, Buzz Lightyear (the hero toy) gets trapped inside the alien claw machine. In his moment of greatest need, the aliens speak to him. They explain how The Claw is their master, The Claw chooses who will stay and who will go. In short, The Claw is boss over their life.

So a few weeks ago when a friend of mine compared her life to that of an arcade claw machine, I immediately thought of the aliens in Toy Story. I thought of The Claw that is master, that chooses who will stay and who will go. Only in my life, the claw is not a mechanical metal pincer that drops from the sky–it is God. The God-Claw. God is my master, and He chooses who will stay and who will go. The metaphor made perfect sense, and it’s stuck with me.

There have been so many times in my life where I look back and can see how “The God-Claw” has swooped in and moved me to the exact time, place, and position I needed to be in. Like when He put me in this little Bible study in college, and that’s where I met my husband. Or when we got married THE DAY AFTER WE GRADUATED COLLEGE–without a job or a home or a savings account–and we returned from our honeymoon to a job offer and the most perfect student teaching placement I could have ever dreamed of, in the same city as the new job. Or when He carried us a thousand miles away from home to a graduate school we were not qualified to attend and could not afford–but then we got there, and every missing piece of the puzzle came together at the exact right time. Or when He transplanted us halfway around the world to experience life and a culture that would shape our lives and our family forever.

And here we are now–living, working, serving in the place where The God-Claw has deposited us for the time being. I never know how long I will be in a particular place or doing a certain work, and that’s fine. Because I am not the Master. He is.

As long as He is the Master–which, by the way, is forever–I will be His little alien, doing the best that I can where He has placed me, and being willing to go when He calls me. Whether it’s a new job, a new skill, a new parenting method (or two or three…I’m finding that each child may, in fact, require totally different sets of parenting methods), a new surrender (We’ve recently hired a house cleaner because I’ve recognized that I simply can’t do it all. I have to surrender my pride in thinking that I can do everything and be everything. That was a humbling realization.).

Whatever it is, I need to be willing to go where He’s calling. And if He’s not moving me? Then I need to stay. To stay on and continue in the work He has already called me to, and do that work the best way I possibly can.

So that is my hope–that I would be attuned to the movements of “the claw” and that I would be willing to allow it to move me. That I would fully trust God, my master, and hand over the reigns: contentedly, willingly, faithfully, obediently.

 

 

 

 

10 Lessons I’ve Learned In 10 Years of Marriage

Our Wedding 0425We’ve been celebrating for the better part of a month now, but today is the actual day: our tenth wedding anniversary. TEN YEARS. Holy moly, how did that happen? I swear, just yesterday we were mere babies (seriously, at 22 years old we WERE mere babies) walking down the aisle and swearing our forever love for each other before God and everyone. Then I blinked, we had two babies of our own, we moved NINE TIMES, and here we are today: ten years older and wiser.

These past 10 years have been a roller coaster of ups and downs and exciting twists and turns that we never anticipated in our wildest dreams. They’ve been wonderful years, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. Yet, as I look back at our 10 years of marriage, I realize that the roller coaster has also been full of learning.

We’ve learned about each other, about ourselves, about what it means to be fused to another human being…for LIFE. So, yes, these first 10 years have been wonderful, but they’ve also been incredibly humbling. In the scheme of things I’m still just getting started on this whole marriage gig, but here are a few lessons I’ve gleaned during my first decade as a wife:

1. Pray together every day.
I received a simple piece of advice at my bridal shower, and it stuck: Pray together every day. We took this counsel to heart, and we have never missed a day praying together–even if we’re tired, or cranky with each other, or the kids drove us bonkers that evening, or whatever–we always end our day in prayer together. For 3,650 days in a row, we have come together in prayer. And you know what? It’s done wonders for our marriage. Some of our biggest decisions and greatest joys have come as a direct result of our daily prayer time. Simple, yes, but profound.

2. Set your priorities: Jesus, spouse, family, everything else.
Here’s the thing: life is BUSY. And the longer you’re married, the busier it seems to get. It helps, then, to set your priorities straight from the beginning. Number one has to be Jesus–this is the firm foundation upon which your marriage can be built and stand the test of time. There is nothing–NOTHING–that a marriage can not overcome as long as Jesus remains at the center.

After Jesus comes your spouse. This is the one person in the world who you have committed your entire self to, and that takes an extreme amount of sacrifice. This means that you support your spouse, you stand up for your spouse, you love your spouse, you choose your spouse–even when you don’t want to. They are yours forever–cherish them!

Next comes your family. Notice that “family” comes after “spouse”. Kids are wonderful, important, life-changing additions to a marriage. But they are not THE marriage. In a flash, your kids will grow up and move out and begin independent lives. And you will be left with–you guessed it–your spouse! Even though children are seemingly all-consuming (of your time, your energy, your money, your food, your sanity) they must take second seat to your spouse. Nurture your children, but never neglect your spouse at their expense.

Finally comes everything else: your job, your hobbies, your (dis)comfort with noise/mess/obnoxious eating habits. ‘Nuf said.

3. Be honest.
Without a doubt, this has been the greatest lesson I’ve learned in our marriage. So much confusion, hurt, and anger could have been avoided if we’d simply been honest with each other.  This goes from the trivial (Saying “I don’t care” when he asks you what movie you want to watch tonight…even though you’re hoping he remembers that you already mentioned 4 days ago that you’d love to see that new Bradley Cooper movie…) to the über-serious (your baggage from your past, your finances, your fears and dreams). In marriage as in life, honesty is the best policy.

4. Have fun together!
Oh, what a drag marriage would be if you weren’t having any fun! On a scale of 1 – awesome, I’d rate our marriage as EXTREMELY awesome. We try to find fun in the mundane (like when we crank up the music and have a dance party as we clean the house). We laugh together. We go fun places together. We look for opportunities to sneak in fun where it really doesn’t belong. After all, life is a lot more enjoyable if you’re…well…enjoying it!

5. Don’t always win the argument. 
Truth: Jon and I don’t always agree on everything (probably because I’m pretty much always right). In the end, though, it usually doesn’t matter who’s right or wrong (or righter or wronger). Some things are just not worth the battle. Peace in your relationship is worth more than being right (even if you are almost always right).

6. Honor your spouse’s differences.
This is one that I keep re-learning, pretty much every day. As much as I love him, Jon is NOT me. He thinks differently, behaves differently, has different preferences and aversions. He likes beer, and I like NOT-beer. He could spend every waking moment of his life tinkering with electronics, and I don’t even know the basics of a circuit board. He likes to relax after dinner, and I like to let nobody relax until the dishes are washed and put away. You see? We’re different. We were created different, and we are supposed to be different. I’m working to learn what makes him different so I can let him be him, without trying to make him be me. Bam.

7. Learn his favorites.
Nothing screams love like giving someone their favorite whatever. When you remember someone’s favorites, it shows that you are paying attention to them and that you care about their personal enjoyment. This can take on many different forms: making his favorite breakfast on the weekend, stocking his favorite brand of facial tissue (this is kind of a big deal in our house), tucking his favorite treat into his work bag, buying a few extra pairs of his favorite jeans when they go on sale. Related to this is learning to speak your spouse’s “Love Language”–which may be quite different from your own.

8. Be the kind of souse I want him to be.
This definitely falls into the category of “easier said than done”. Seriously, though, it’s crucial. If I want him to be patient, I need to be patient. If I want him to spend his weekends working on x, y, and z around the house, then I need to be willing to help him achieve those goals. If I want him to happily send me off for my mom’s nights out, then I need to let him enjoy those beer bashes after work (without making him feel guilty for abandoning me in my greatest hour of need: dinner time with two cranky children).

9. Carry your weight in the relationship.
Imagine a teeter-totter: on one side there is a child, and on the opposite end there is a grown man. No matter how much each of them teeters and totters, that teeter-totter will never find balance. The same is true in a marriage. If one person is doing all of the giving, and the other is doing all of the taking, there will never be balance. You do your share, and help your spouse to be successful in doing their’s.

10. Tell him you love him. Often.
Word.

So, there you have it: My sage advice from a decade of “I do’s”. I hope that you have found some encouragement in these words, and may God bless your relationships as He has blessed mine!

Now excuse me while I go find some cake to shove in my handsome husband’s face.

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The Important Thing About My Son

There is this boy.
He’s loud and silly.
He has an incredible memory.
He is a ball of infectious energy.
He’s usually vaguely sticky and covered in dirt.
He dreams about attacking gummy bears that he fends off with nun-chucks.
He’s feisty and passionate.
He’s strong and fearless.
His name is David. He is my boy, my baby, my son.

When I look at David, this is what I see. I am his mama, and I love him deeply. He is truly unique and wonderfully made. He doesn’t fit a mold, and I kind of like that. And it kind of makes me crazy.

This year has been–how shall I put this–challenging.  Throughout the course of this year it has become apparent that David learns differently from many of his peers. A lot of what we’d always done just wasn’t working any more, and it’s been frustrating. Preschool has been difficult. Our little Bible study group has been difficult. Discipline has been difficult. Even so-much-fun T-Ball has been difficult. We have shared our concerns with his teachers and specialists. And it’s all got me doubting. Doubting every decision I’ve made in the past that has led us to this place, and questioning every decision I’ve already made for our future.

The fact is, David has been weighing heavy on my heart lately. Sometimes (most of the time) I just don’t know what to do. So I pray, and cry, and pray, and laugh, and try something new, and pray again. And you know what? Something miraculous is happening.

God is changing our hearts.

He is changing my heart to be more compassionate about the struggles David is facing. He is changing my heart to embrace the person who David is, not who I want or expect him to be. He is changing my heart to accept that I may need to give up some of my own comfort to help David succeed. He is changing my heart to be more like His.

He is changing David’s heart to be more attentive to Him. To listen. To ask questions. To pray to Him. To tell others about Him. To love Him. He is changing David’s heart to be more like His.

A couple of weeks ago we were doing a family Bible study leading up to Easter. We were talking about the significance of the cross, and David was really excited about the story. He was attentive and asking heartfelt questions, and we could tell that things were starting to click for him. At the end of our time together, Jon asked David if he would like to pray and ask Jesus to come into his heart. David said yes–and in his sweet 4-year old boy voice, he asked Jesus to be his forever friend.

In that moment, I knew that the only specialist who actually matters is the One who created him. The One who intimately knows his heart and mind and soul. The One who knows David’s past, his current struggles, and the man he will some day become. The One who knit him together in my womb, who loves him deepest, and whose beautiful thoughts about David outnumber all the grains of sand in all the earth (Psalm 139). And suddenly all of the doubts and fears and confusion I’d had melted away and were replaced by joy. 

There will be challenging days, and challenging phases and challenging seasons in this adventure called parenting. But in the scheme of things, none of the challenges really matter. No matter how difficult things might get, no matter how tightly I’m grasping the end of my rope, only one thing really has lasting significance: Who is my son in Christ? Who am I in Christ? The answers to those questions change everything. We–my son, myself, and the collective whole of humanity–have been saved by grace, and the assurance of that truth never fades.

So, yes.
My son is loud and silly.
My son has an incredible memory.
My son is a ball of infectious energy.
My son is usually vaguely sticky and covered in dirt.
My son dreams about attacking gummy bears that he fends off with nun-chucks.
My son is feisty and passionate.
My son is strong and fearless.
My son has challenges.
But the important thing about my son is that he loves Jesus.

He is my son and I am his imperfect mother, but we are both secure in our Father’s hands.

And nothing will ever change that.

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DIY Easter Resurrection Garden

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Easter is coming! Easter is coming! Easter is coming!

Easter is the holiday I look forward to all year, and I can hardly contain my excitement. The time of preparation and waiting is coming to an end, and soon we will celebrate the greatest joy in our faith: Jesus is alive! I want to be really intentional with my kids during this season–I want to teach them and include them in as many activities as I can so that they will experience the joy of Easter for themselves.

Awhile back I came across this idea for making an Easter garden. The idea behind the Easter garden is to have a concrete illustration of the events of Easter. It is also a “talking point” to spur on further discussion with your kids about the meaning of Easter. Plus, it involves digging in dirt–so of course we had to make it. Here’s the how-to:

What you need:
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-Bible (we like the Jesus Storybook Bible for kids) or a printed version of the Easter story
-Large pot
-Small pot
-Dirt or potting soil
-Small, smooth stones (you’ll need as many stones as there are days left until Easter)
-1 large stone
-Permanent marker
-Plants or flowers (real or artificial) or seeds

*Note* I bought all of my supplies at the dollar store and spent a whopping $5 on everything I’d need for about 5 gardens. Gotta love the dollar store!

What you do:
Start by reading the Easter story to your kids so they will have some background on the story. As you’re reading, ask lots of questions and encourage your kids to share their thoughts with you.

After you read the story, it’s time to build your garden! First, fill the large pot up with soil to within 2 inches of the top. Place the small pot in the dirt and bury it partway down so that the opening of the small pot is still open and accessible (this will be the “tomb”). If you want to, you can now cover the soil with moss or ground covering plants.
IMG_2806Now for the rocks. I had the boys collect rocks from our yard and then we counted them to make sure we had enough (1 rock per day leading up to Easter). On each rock we used a permanent marker to write one word relating to the Easter story. I started by letting them come up with words on their own that stood out to them from our recent reading of the Easter story (cross, friend, tomb, 3 days). Once they ran out of words, I suggested my own (grace, hope, resurrection).
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We placed our rocks upside down in a pathway leading to the “tomb” (the small empty pot). Each day leading up to Easter we will turn over one rock in the path and discuss how it relates to the Easter story and to us personally.

Next, we placed our final two rocks. Inside the tomb we put a stone with the word “Jesus” on it. Then we rolled a large stone across the entrance to the tomb to seal it off until Easter.
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Finally, the boys decorated our garden with flowers (I was using artificial flowers because, let’s be honest, the real ones wouldn’t fare too well under my care. If you decide to use seeds or real flowers, however, you’d want to plant them way back in step 1 right after you put the dirt in the pot.).

We placed our Resurrection Garden on our dining room table as a center piece. Each night at dinner we can turn over our stone and have some conversation over our meal.
IMG_2818On Easter morning we will roll away the stone to the entrance of the tomb, but–surprise!–it will be empty (so long as I remember to empty it the night before…). This will be a visual for the boys that Jesus is no longer in the tomb. He is alive! And now the real party can begin 🙂

The True Story of St. Patrick’s Day

Tomorrow we’ll celebrate one of my new favorite holidays: St. Patrick’s Day–and it’s not because I have a strong affection for leprechauns and green beer. As with most holidays today, St. Patrick’s Day has become a commercialized celebration of silly nonsense. And I get it–it’s fun. I love fun just as much as the next person–and there is certainly a place for fun in all of our holidays–but what gets to me is that up until very recently I didn’t even know the “true” story of St. Patrick’s Day. In fact, I didn’t even know there was a true story.

In fact, the true story of St. Patrick’s Day is one of deep historical–and spiritual–significance. Far more than celebrating pots of gold and wearing green, St. Patrick’s Day is a vivid illustration of God’s power and redemption. For me personally, the day is also a reminder of the singularly beautiful place that I got to call home for a short time: Ireland. The Emerald Isle will always hold a special place in my heart, and I want people to know her story.

This week I’ll be going to David’s preschool to share my rousing rendition of The True Story of St. Patrick’s Day. It will go something like this:

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Last year our family lived in a country far away from here called Ireland. When we were living in Ireland, we learned a lot about the country and the people who live there.

 

 

 

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You know how in fairytales there are princes and princesses and castles? Well, in Ireland there are real castles! The castles in Ireland were built a long, long time ago. We got to visit many castles in Ireland to learn about the stories of the people who built them and lived in them. Although plenty of castles are still standing today, people don’t live in them any more.

 

 

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Not everybody in Ireland lived in castles. A long time ago, people built other kinds of houses to live in. This is called a beehive hut. It is made from small stones stacked on top of each other to make a kind-of rock igloo. Grass has grown on top to make a roof. Does this look like the house you live in?

 

 

IMG_4768Quite a bit later, people in Ireland built another kind of house. These houses looked more like the houses that we live in today, but most of them were still built entirely out of stone. The people who lived in this village all left during a time when many people in Ireland were very poor and sick. In just a few years’ time, the entire village became deserted. Many of the people who left this village boarded ships that were going to America. They hoped to find a better life in America. Today in America, there are many people whose families came from Ireland long ago.

IMG_2822This is called the Dromberg Stone Circle, and it is a very, very old statue. There are several stone circles like this in Ireland. Nobody today knows exactly why people long ago built the stone circles, but they think it had something to do with the gods they worshiped. Throughout history, people in Ireland have worshiped different things. For a long time, though, people did not worship the one true living God.

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Over 1,000 years ago, in about the year 400, a man helped to tell the people in Ireland about the one true God. He was not the first or only person to be a missionary in Ireland, but God used his words and his work to change many peoples’ lives. Today, we know this man as St. Patrick.

 

 

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Before St. Patrick was called St. Patrick, he was a boy with another name. He was born in a country called Scotland that is just north of Ireland. When he was 16 years old, he was captured and sent on a ship to Ireland as a slave. The young boy was scared and alone.

 

 

Sunny Sheep Pastures near Kingston

Once he arrived in Ireland, the boy was given a new name: Patrick. He worked each day as a shepherd, taking care of his master’s sheep. Patrick would be alone outside all day, every day taking care of the sheep. While he was alone, he came to know the one true living God. He started praying to God, and asked God to protect him.

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God answered Patrick’s prayers and, a few years later, Patrick escaped to safety. He left Ireland and didn’t think he would ever return. But God had a different plan. God changed Patrick’s heart to love the people in Ireland, and Patrick knew that he had to return to tell the people there about the one true living God. When Patrick returned to Ireland as a grown man, he spent the rest of his life teaching the Irish people about God. He used shamrocks, a plant that grows everywhere in Ireland, to teach people about the trinity. He would point out that each of the three heart-shaped leaves is unique, but part of one unit. In the same way, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit work together as one.

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Patrick would also point to the rainbows in the sky–and there are many of them in Ireland!–and tell people the story of the flood and God’s promise to protect His people.

 

 

 

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Partly because of Patrick’s work teaching about God, many people in Ireland came to know the one true God. Today, there are many churches in Ireland where people can go to worship God.

 

 

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Because of his work in Ireland, Patrick became known as St. Patrick. Today, we even have a special holiday named after him: St. Patrick’s Day. On St. Patrick’s Day we dress in green to remind us of the green hills in Ireland where Patrick used to live and teach.

 

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Today we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with fun activities like games and parades. Now when you see green and shamrocks you’ll know the reason why we celebrate this special day!

 

 

 

As I was putting together my little preschool presentation, I was struck by how significant St. Patrick is. Yes, Patrick was just a person, but God used him mightily. In his day, Ireland was widely considered to be the most heathen corner of the planet–and, yet, God broke through. Using the voice of an obedient man, God spoke Truth to a people who so desperately needed it. More significantly, however, there are many ways that Patrick actually points to the work and life of Jesus.

Patrick was a slave to his master. We are all enslaved to sin, yet Jesus came to conquer sin once and for all.

Patrick was given a new name and identity upon his arrival in Ireland. God gives His sons and daughters a new identity in Christ Jesus.

Patrick was a shepherd. Jesus was the lamb of God.

Patrick was obedient to God’s call on his life to rescue the lost. Jesus was obedient to His Father to the point of death on the cross and resurrection.

Patrick has been immortalized as a “saint” who we celebrate once a year. Jesus is a Saint who we worship every moment of every day, for now and forever.

So now when you’re eating corned beef and cabbage or setting leprechaun traps with your kids, you’ll know that there’s something more to the revelry. We can all celebrate because God is, and always has been, GOOD!

 

 

Surrendering Your Story: Reflections on “Called” by Ryan J. Pemberton

“Being called means surrendering the story we’ve been fighting to tell, and to instead accept the story God wants to tell with our lives.”
–Ryan J. Pemberton, Called: My Journey to C.S. Lewis’s House and Back Again

I first met Ryan during my junior year of college. We were both attending a campus ministry group called The INN and I was co-leading a small group Bible study called a CASA there (coincidentally, the co-leader I got paired with that year, Jon Peterson, later became my husband–but that’s another story for another day). Ryan was one of the core members of our CASA group way back in 2003.

Before we began the “official” study in our CASA, Jon and I decided to go through a book with our group that we both shared an affinity for: C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. If you’ve never read it, you should. Today. Like, right now go to Barnes & Noble and pick up a copy. Besides the Bible itself, no other book has ever spoken to me so clearly and deliberately about the Truth of God’s person and work. It was the perfect springboard for a group of college students seeking God’s will for their lives as we entered the brave new world of adulthood and independence.

Mere Christianity struck such a chord with Ryan that he began spending his free time studying Lewis’s works and theology. After college graduation, Ryan married his high school sweetheart and was working a “safe” job in marketing. It was then–in the midst of his comfort and security–when God interrupted his story and called him to something totally new and unexpected: to study theology at C.S. Lewis’s former teaching grounds, Oxford. Ryan was called to leave behind the very things he had worked his whole life to achieve and follow God in faith.

In his first book, Called: My Journey to C.S. Lewis’s House and Back Again,  Ryan explores what it looks like for the Christian to truly surrender and follow God’s calling–wherever that may lead them. Even if that means trading a steady job for the life of a poor college student halfway around the world.

Called is the story of Ryan’s journey to Oxford (where he actually got to live in C.S. Lewis’ house!) but, more than that, it is also the story of what it means to truly follow God. It is the story of the peaks and valleys, the triumphs and the disappointments, the joys and the struggles that come with following God. It is the story of listening to God’s calling on your life and following without abandon. No matter what the cost.

And as much Ryan wrote this book about his journey, it also took me on a journey of my own. In turns, the heartfelt stories made me laugh and cry. They transported me to the hallowed halls of Oxford and the unpretentious quarters of C.S. Lewis’s home, The Kilns. More importantly, though, the stories also caused me to reflect on my own life. Where is God calling me, and what would it look like if I truly surrendered to that calling?

As I was reading Called I was convicted of what it looks like for me to personally surrender to God’s call. You see, I suffer from this disorder called control. In this disorder, I have the misconception that I am entitled to control over my own life and that, in fact, I am currently in control. The side effects from this disorder include, but are not limited to: disappointment, fear, regret, anger, stress and frustration. Thankfully there is an anecdote available for people like me who want to control themselves, their world, their story. Called reminded me that the solution to my “problem” is one seemingly simple act: surrender. We must lay aside control over our own plans and surrender to the calling God has in our lives.  Then, and only then, is when the most beautiful story of our lives can finally be written.

In the midst of this most difficult season that I find myself, I would like to surrender my story to God so that He might write the beauty into my pain. As a writer, I know that the author has a purpose in their writing–a goal they are hoping to achieve. So as I go through this journey called life–with the peaks and valleys, the triumphs and the disappointments, the joys and the struggles–I will trust in God’s plan for my story. After all, I am the main character in this story, experiencing as I go, but only God knows the ending.

I am humbled that I got to witness part of Ryan’s journey as he followed God’s calling. I am equally grateful that he wrote it all down in his book for so many of us to benefit from. It is my hope that you, friend, will find the beauty that God has written into your story. And if you need a little inspiration, pick up a copy of Called–you won’t be disappointed!

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**The Goods** 
Look for “Called: My Journey to C.S. Lewis’s House and Back Again” by Ryan J. Pemberton on Amazon (available on Paperback or Kindle) or BarnesAndNoble.com (available in paperback or Nook). You can also learn more about the book and follow Ryan’s blog at calledthejourney.com