Gone Out

There are about six weeks left in this year, which is just nuts. Thanksgiving is next week, and yesterday we got our first real snow. A layer of white knitted the tree branches into delicate lace, while thick layers of white velvet draped on prickling pines. People complained. It was a great day.

This first snow filled me with a feeling of ridiculous hope. There was just something about the fact that something so beautiful can come from wind and cold, and that if that can happen, anything can.

These past few months, I’ve had a good season of writing. But I’ve decided I want to finish out the year being more thoughtful, more contemplative, than productive. I want the space to really notice the beauty and joy of these last few weeks, and to enjoy them without stress, without hurry.

There are some projects I’d like the space to to work on without an immediate need to share. And I want to get back in the habit of producing good work which I share because I love it, not producing just to share.

All this to say, I’m taking a blogging break for the rest of the year. It’s a little retreat, a self-conference. Have a lovely rest of 2018, as we look forward to the new year with joy.

Thinking Generously: How One Mental Tweak Made Me Richer

One thing my husband Alex and I decided to do at the beginning of our marriage was to commit to being generous. As two newlywed college students, of course, this was a lofty goal. But we made the commitment to, at the very least, be a couple who tithed.

If you’ve never heard of tithing, it’s a practice in Christianity in which you set aside ten percent of your income to give away. Typically, this means giving to the church, although it can also mean just giving to someone in need. It’s a practice commanded by God to reinforce perspective about money: that it’s not the most important thing in life, that we are always fortunate enough to be generous to others, and that all our blessings—not just the financial ones—come from God and are important. Setting aside our money is a physical representation and reminder of these things.

Alex was especially excited for us to do this together, because he’s an incredibly generous person, and the chance to get in the habit of giving to others was a big life goal for him. While I wanted to be generous too, I wasn’t as enthused. I’m a worrier, a very practical person. I need to know how we’re going to accomplish what, and I have a hard time trusting that everything will turn out okay.

Our mission to give generously, even when it was hard for us, was a bumpy road at times, but thankfully we’ve been able to give the ten percent (and at times, even above) that was our goal. Even better, this mindset of being generous has bled into a few other areas of life, and I’ve learned several lessons from it:

Our culture operates on a scarcity mindset. This is the opposite of a generosity mindset. Scarcity says, “There’s not enough,” “We won’t be okay,” and “We have to gather and hoard so we have enough resources to spare.” This mindset operates well in the American Dream, which is all about upward mobility and increasing wealth. While those values aren’t necessarily bad goals, it’s interesting how our quest for abundance leads us to be obsessed with having enough, and how some of the most fortunate people in the world (us), end up so unsatisfied.

When you put on a mindset of generosity, you feel richer. Like I said, I’m a worrier. I tend to have that scarcity mindset, and I justify it by telling myself that I’m thinking wisely. But a generosity mindset offers true wisdom by putting things in perspective. Generosity says, “I don’t need to scrounge and hoard; we’re gonna be okay.” Generosity says, “I am truly blessed, and I have abundance—however small—to give to others.”

Scarcity and generosity aren’t just about money. This is truly important. When I started challenging myself to think generously, it bled into so many other things. I learned to think generously about my time: when someone asked me to take time to help them out with something, a generous mindset helped me feel more rich in time instead of fretting that I’d not have enough time to get other things done. A generosity mindset also helped me with forgiveness: it reminded me that there is so much grace and love to give, and I don’t have to be stingy with it. In my relationships, I don’t have to worry about keeping score, thinking, “well you did this, so I do that, and because I did that, you do this.” No, with a generosity mindset, I can be lavish in my relationships, and leave the emotional math at the door.

Thinking generously actually helped me be more disciplined. You’d think that being really generous would make for a less than happy bank account. But miraculously, that’s not the case. Thinking generously takes the desperation out of managing my resources; it shifts everything into perspective. I am free to make decisions based on the needs I have and the needs I want to help others with, instead of trying to scramble to prepare for a theoretical famine down the road.

It may sound like a lot of mind games, but getting in the mindset of abundance, rather than scarcity, truly makes me feel like I have more at my disposal. Because I feel richer (and not just in money), I feel satisfied, more taken care of, and more peaceful. When we realize that every blessing we have, whether it’s time, money, relationships, skills, etc., is a resource and a form of power, we can feel better equipped to use that power for good. We don’t have to feel like we’re at the mercy of these things; we can think generously, and give willingly and freely.

Soon we find that generosity never reduces what we have; it only multiplies it.

Finding God in the No Man’s Land

I’m not proud to admit it: I’ve become ostrich-like when it comes to the news. Whenever there’s political or social turmoil, I want to bury myself in the sand.

This isn’t because I don’t want to be informed, or I don’t want things to change, or that I prefer to look at the world through a rose-colored monocle. It’s because I’m just overwhelmed. I’m tired of violence and pain, tired of media, tired of Facebook debates.

I’m tired of the little light bulbs of random opinions, each shining a different color, until the air is ablaze with blinding, dizzying, vitriolic reactions. I’m tired of the arguments being wrung out like clothes in a washing machine, twisted and stretched and flung round and round.

I’m a peacemaker by nature, which I think is why I get so especially exhausted. I’m naturally inclined to see both sides, to try to find common ground, to reach compromise. I dwell in the no man’s land.

So when something like, say, a shooting happens, when children die because they happened to be in school, when a highschooler is so riddled with nihilism he commits homicide, I am pained not only by the event itself but by the tsunami of reactions that inevitably arrives. Two discernable sides emerge, as if on cue, and tragedy instantly becomes politicized. I find something to agree with in every side, threads of cause and effect in every opinion, a common ground in every argument. And I feel sick.

It happens over and over again, every time this happens, in many similar things that happen. The opinions ping back and forth: should we pass stricter gun laws? Should we pass looser gun laws? Would this happen if kids could pray in school? Would this happen if no one prayed at all? But the talk doesn’t accomplish anything, at least where it really matters.

I’ve been pondering these things, and I’ve been trying to figure out what the Christian response should be. Sadly, Christians can be found on both sides of any given argument, both sides of the culture war. But the more I think and pray on the subject (I don’t think thoughts and prayers are completely worthless), the more I become convinced: Christians are not to fight in the culture war at all. God calls us to be peacemakers.

God calls us to the no man’s land.

I find a worrying trend for Christians in conservative circles to focus on protecting our political rights above all else, even at the cost of our credibility and our witness. I wonder if maybe God calls us to be citizens of His kingdom first, to give up our earthly rights in order to better show love to the people who need it. I wonder if maybe our allegiance should not be to the flag of the United States of America, but to Jesus, first. Always.

We are called to be above the petty squabbles of the political sphere, because Jesus made it very clear that His kingdom is not dependent on the systems of the world. We are called, instead, to love, to make disciples, to be known for how we cherish each other (John 18:28-40, 13:34, 35).

This realization has taken a long time to retool my brain. I’ve dwelt and prayed and meditated on its implications for a long time. And the more I do, the more I become convinced that our Christian response to socio-political issues should never be to dig in and root down in our preconceived cultural ideals. Rather, we need to cling to Jesus, because He is the only truth we are guaranteed. We need to think about the ways we took on the values of Americanism and the world at large, and how we baptized those values until they became woven into our religious belief. We need to let God unravel these ideals, little by little, until we hold them loosely, as we should.

We will never affect change by voting for a “Christian” president or lobbying for “moral” laws. We will never maintain peace by clinging to our rights or hearkening back to the “good old days.” Rather, we maintain peace in the no man’s land, getting down where it is ugly and messy, and loving the casualties of war who need it most. And maybe this means we give up our earthly rights so we can love better. Maybe it means switching political parties or belonging to no political party at all. Maybe true, sacrificial love is the only way to stop the violent cycle.

And maybe that’s the point.

Foolish Love

I really love Valentine’s Day. I know to some people it’s magical because of the roses and chocolates and candlelight, and for other people it’s repulsive because of those very things. But I love it, because it’s the one day everyone sets aside to love each other. We can gripe about the capitalistic plot to make us buy Hallmark cards, or the hypersexualized cultural atmosphere, or the overpriced chocolate, but we are missing the point when we do that. Holidays aren’t a dictation of our love; they’re a reminder for us to show it. They are a mark on the calendar that says, “This day is special from all other days. Go make it so.”

And this is why I love Valentine’s Day.

Now that my PSA is out of the way, I want to talk about God. Sorry if you feel a bait and switch. But lately I’ve felt very drawn to the concept of the love of God, which I find poignant given the time of year.

The Bible tells us that God speaks in a still, small voice. A whisper. Lately I’ve been trying to grow more quiet and still so I can hear the whisper. But I’m not very good at it. I don’t talk much, but my internal chatter is loud. So I ask God a question, and He answers, but it’s in a whisper, and like a deaf grandmother I shout, “I can’t hear you!” but then I let my mind chatter more, so when God answers again, I have to warble, “What?” And He refuses to play this game, so I have many painful days of feeling that God doesn’t speak to me at all, and then I finally get the hint and start to turn down the internal chatter notch by notch, and then I hear God. And geez, does He talk a lot.

God: “Let me tell you about how much I love you.”

Me: “Oh I already know all about that. I was homeschooled.”

God: “I know. So let me tell you about how much I love you.”

Me: “I told you; I know all about it. I asked Jesus into my heart when I was like seven.”

God: “So then I assume you know all about how you can’t do anything to make me love you more than I already do? And you can’t do a thing to make me love you less? And that when you feel most weak and ineffective, that’s when you are most resting in my love?”

Me: “Well I have to do a little. I mean, there’s the whole bootstrap mentality.”

God: “F–k the bootstrap mentality.”

I’ve never heard God actually say the F word, but sometimes there’s a sense of Him damning an idea so heartily that the only English equivalent is the F word. Sorry if that offends you. If I knew more languages, I could do better.

Because the truth is, I know very little about God’s love. Not despite my Christian upbringing, either. Often because of it. As Christians, we get very used to the basics of Christianity. Saved by grace through faith, yada yada yada. We move on very quickly, because the gospel is simple. Ridiculously simple. Too simple. It makes us feel better to start squabbling about details. What words are okay to say. What music to play at church. How short a skirt should be. Whether to let a woman talk to people about God.

Little by little, we turn salvation into the exact opposite of what it was meant to be: works-driven. And when you grow up in the church, or spend extensive time in the church, and learn that [good behavior]=[people being happy with you]=[you are loved], it’s incredibly easy to transfer that same equation to the love of God. You learn that doing well in your Christian school satisfies the Christian school’s values of excellence, so that must satisfy God too. You learn that following the rules satisfies your parents’ values of a godly family, so that must satisfy God too. You learn that voting a certain way satisfies the popular paradigm of faithful Christian politics, so it must satisfy God too.

On and on we go, subconsciously learning that God’s love depends, or is at least enriched, by our good behavior.

A few months ago, I had to quit a job we desperately needed, because of some anxiety issues. Despite the peace I felt in God calling me to other endeavors, I still felt riddled with guilt. When money was tight and opportunities were limited, I cried out to God, but my mind beat me down.

What right do you have to ask God anything? It taunted. God doesn’t owe you any help until you start pulling your own weight. You got yourself into this mess; get yourself out.

This is the voice of sinful, works-driven human nature. This is the voice of the success-driven culture. This is the voice of American capitalism. This is the voice of legalism. This is the voice of the devil.

This is not the voice of God.

God asks me, pointedly, if doing stuff is how I got my salvation (it isn’t). God asks me why I’m trying to work for the wages of a house servant when I have the inheritance of a daughter (Gal. 3). God loves me with an everlasting love, which is never contingent on my action or inaction (Jer. 31:3, Eph. 2:9-10). God damns, quite harshly, anyone who preaches a gospel different than one based on the love He gives because He wants to (Gal. 1:8-9).

F–k the bootstrap mentality, indeed.

It sounds too good to be true, because it is. That’s the point. If anyone tells you there’s more to it than that, they are wrong. If anyone tells you, “well according to this one verse we found here, we actually have to also—” they are wrong. If anyone tells you there are structures and dogma you must also adhere to, they are wrong. Run so far.

God’s love is a welcoming love. God doesn’t wait for us to get cleaned up before He lets us into the house. God does the cleaning afterward, and yes, that’s not always fun. Sometimes we have layers of gunk that have to get washed off with a sandblaster. Good times. But that comes later. God never stands in the doorway, barring our entrance, pointing to the outdoor shower. God has no outdoor showers. God lets us in and sits us down and gives us something to eat and sends us to bed and gives us rest, and He doesn’t get mad as us for sleeping in (Matt. 11:28-30).

God’s love is simple, rather juvenile. The Bible actually calls it “foolish” (1 Cor. 1:24-25). It’s a love that enjoys, not because it’s obligated to based on our merits, but because it wants to based on His nature.

And this is why I really love Valentine’s Day.

 

 

In My Dreams

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I come from a family of dreamers. And no, that’s not a cute thing.

We’re literally dreamers. We have weird, psychologically deep, physically exhausting dreams.

My mom was the first one. She dreams in sagas. And they’re just true enough to be disturbing. When I was a teenager she dreamt someone had cut off one of our chickens’ heads and was running around the house with it in some pagan ritual dance. This was just around the time Grandpa had come over to butcher some roosters (a disturbing event in its own right) and so bloody, still-moving chickens were on all our minds. Add that to the Biblical idea that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood” and Mom was concerned. I was concerned. I’m sure her dream had some kind of sequel, because all her dreams do, but I don’t want to know what it was.

And then there’s my husband. My dear husband, who fights wars and monsters and once jumped out the window in his sleep. At least once a week I’ll greet him with a “good morning! Wanna know what you said to me in your sleep last night?” I used to worry he’d think I was an enemy and try to lop me off, but he recognizes me in his sleep. So while he’s screaming and cursing and thrashing and waving through the air trying to fight attackers, he’s doing it to protect me. And I think that’s sweet.

I have recurring dreams. They play like video games, in which I know what will happen because it did last time, and it’s just a matter of being prepared this time. Then the volcano erupts or the demon attacks before its supposed to, and I grow irate. “You weren’t supposed to do that for another five minutes!”

One recurring theme in my dreams is choosing between two people I love. For years now I’ve regularly dreamed that I have to choose between Alex and another suitor. And all throughout the dream I’m conflicted: they’re both so endearing. I made a commitment to Alex, yeah, but this other guy is so dreamy (pun) and so nice and has many of the qualities Alex has too. Then I wake up and realize: BOTH THE MEN WERE ALEX.

This week I had the same dream, but about someone else. I dreamt that I had to pick between my best friend and a new friend, and it was a rush against the clock because I knew if I didn’t choose which friend to keep, my best friend would choose, and I just knew she wouldn’t choose me. I’d be friendless. It was the silly, childish thing where you can only have one friend, and it was reject or be rejected. Then I woke up and realized: BOTH THE CHICKS WERE MY BEST FRIEND.

This interesting variation on the love triangle dream set me thinking. (I’m becoming my own dream psychiatrist.) In both the love triangle and the friend triangle I’m afraid. I’m trying to hedge my bets, trying to make sure I won’t be stuck with someone who won’t love me forever. I’ve felt this very same thing in real life, in both making friends and getting married. Putting people in your life and committing to them is a terrifying gamble. There are so many sides to a person, so many sides to yourself, and some days they’re more happy with you than others, and vice versa. And there is nothing keeping anyone in your life but sheer will. Nothing keeping anyone in your life but sheer love. I can’t think about it too often. It’s terrifying.

But apparently my brain thinks about it even when I don’t. It dreams about it. It stresses me out for hours a night, until I wake up and realize there never had to be a choice in the first place. Both the men were Alex and both the friends were my best friend. On both bad days and good days, it’s still the same Alex, and on bad days and good days, it’s still the same friend. And the choice is not which side of the person to love, but to love all sides equally. Just as I want to be loved for the many sides of myself.

I got Alex some dream dictionaries, mostly for laughs. “Now we can figure your brain out,” I told him. But since he hasn’t jumped out of any windows recently, perhaps he doesn’t need the books. Perhaps I should start reading them for myself.

 

A Confession of Feelings

I’ve spent most of the past few months being really angry.

It started with some family crap, and finished with some church crap, and neither crap really needs to be explored here. All the crap is more or less being resolved. God has a way of making crap beautiful. Kudos to Him; it’s hard work working with crap.

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And although I’ve been more of a close observer than a direct victim of it all, the result of everything has been a lot of personal growth and also a lot of personal anger.

I’ve been angry at others for guiding me too much or not guiding me enough, angry at myself for being too strong or not strong enough. Angry at all the foolishness we humans are so gifted at performing.

Thankfully, I haven’t found myself angry at God. Plaintive, yes. Incredulous, frustrated, and feisty, uh-huh. But not angry. I just can’t logically be angry with God when it’s the perversion of His law, not His law itself, that causes so much crap. It’s not you; it’s me.

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I came across the tail end of 2 Peter 3 the other day. One verse stuck out like one of those horrible jumping cactus needles that lies in wait like a bandit and leaps from the sand to lodge itself into the sole of your foot. In this chapter, Peter encourages his loved ones to watch out for false teachers who twist the Scripture out of ignorance and instability.

And then he says this: “You, therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability” (vs. 17).

This cactus needle stuck out because it is the crux of my anger. While I’ve had the gift of being surrounded with Godly people my whole life, I’ve shirked the responsibility of my own stability. Godliness, for most of my life, has meant following this teaching or soaking in that Bible study or laying out a spiritual cookie cutter and lopping off God-given parts of myself so I can fit into the mold of “Christian living”.

I’m angry, because I didn’t recognize the bullshit.

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I thought never standing my ground was being flexible and “led by the Spirit.” I thought never voicing my needs and desires was being “Christlike.” I thought feeling at peace in my walk with the Lord meant I was stagnant. I thought being uncomfortable meant I was listening to His still small voice.

And sometimes, yes sometimes, that is absolutely the case. But when you find yourself guilty for feeling feelings, when you can’t make a decision because you’re striving to discern whether your emotions are fleshly or spiritual when you’ve never known the difference, you might have a stability problem.

I think it’s telling of our Christian subculture that we perpetuate these unstable ideas as Godly. I think we coil ourselves up in shame and confusion so tightly that we go numb and we can no longer recognize the bullshit. And I think we’re wrong, because Jesus Himself said that his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matt. 11:30). What right do we have to add weight we were never supposed to bear? To do so is terribly blasphemous.

A relationship with God is harder than fitting into a spiritual cookie cutter, but it’s much more simple. It’s constant, it’s daily, and it’s beautiful. It’s living out the kind of childlike faith we were always meant to have. It’s cutting your own spirit-led path in the woods instead of deepening a rut that hundreds of well-meaning souls have followed.

When you learn to do that, you’re just not angry anymore.

 

 

 

 

Happy Birthday

Tomorrow is Alex’s birthday. He’s not a huge fan of celebrations, but I’m hoping that this year is an improvement. Last year at this time we were on our honeymoon, and I had grand aspirations of being the best new wife.

We were all alone in a condo on the beach, I had the cleverest present already wrapped, and a delicious homemade cake was planned. It was going to be so awesome that he’d finally realize how fun birthdays can be and start to treat his own like a national holiday (like I do).

Unfortunately, this all came to naught when I got violently ill on his birthday. He spent the day mostly by himself while I stretched out semi-conscious on the couch. So much for being the best new wife.

It all works out, though, because this year we’re in the beautiful Arizona desert, I have another clever present, and I think  cake is also on the horizon (sh, don’t tell). And last year’s wonderful festivities ended up being excellent material for a short story.

So happy birthday, luv.

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Work Zone

Alex’s driver’s license expired during our honeymoon. We left our rented condo on the Outer Banks at five in the morning. He wore a black Nike shirt with the words drive fast emblazoned across it in neon yellow, and I was sick in the passenger seat. We were driving a borrowed car.

“Lord, I better not get pulled over with this shirt,” he said.

The last few days of the honeymoon had passed in general misery. Three days earlier, on my new husband’s birthday, I had started feeling ill. At first it was dizziness and chills, but soon it progressed to vomiting and a high fever, creating a state of complete uselessness. Alex got to experience the full meaning of his “in sickness and health” vows less than two weeks into the agreement by cleaning me up, gathering our luggage, locking up the condo, and packing everything into the car. It was ten hours home.

All was going well until Richmond, Virginia. Traffic was thick – five lanes wide in each direction. He wove in and out of the mass of cars, leaving the slow movers behind and being urged on by the faster ones.

The car in front of us changed lanes and Alex sped up to replace him. “Oh crap,” he said, touching the brakes. Red and blue lights flashed behind us from a previously unassuming white car. We pulled over.

He pulled out his wallet. We looked ruefully at the expired date on his license, but said nothing. Soon the officer, a Virginia State trooper with a light khaki uniform and a hat atop his shaven head tapped on the window. Alex rolled it down.

“Are you aware of how fast you were driving?” the officer asked in a solid Virginia drawl, every r dutifully pronounced.

“I’m sorry; I don’t know sir,” Alex said.

“You were going eighty-seven miles per hour in a fifty-five mile an hour work zone,” the officer replied.

“I apologize, sir. I was just trying to go with the flow of traffic.”

“In the state of Virginia, anything over eighty miles an hour is considered reckless driving. I’m gonna have to write you a ticket.”

Bullcrap, thought Alex. He had seen no indication that it was a work zone, people were flying past him, and he wasn’t driving recklessly by any stretch of the imagination. He silently cursed our out-of-state license plates.

“Can I please see your license and registration?”

I’d been rooting through the glove compartment this whole time, a job made much harder by the fact I couldn’t even sit upright without my eyes crossing. When our neighbor had leant us the car, he hadn’t told us where he kept the registration. All we found were coupons, endless coupons.

“I can’t find it,” I whispered to Alex. My head was spinning and my stomach twisted. I had started crying. Part of me hoped the officer would see how upset and sickly I was and let us go. This would be a really great time for my stomach to make good on its promise to reject everything I’d put into it in the past twenty-four hours. I was prepared to throw up now, over all these coupons, if it meant taking one for the team.

Alex finally found the pale blue registration card and handed it to the officer, who went back to his unmarked car and ran everything through. I envisioned the discovery of Alex’s expired license, accusations of a stolen car, detainment in a Virginia police station, and a huge fine. And I was so sick.

The officer soon returned with some papers. We held our breath.

“If you could sign here,” he said, “and take this, you can be on your way.” He handed Alex the license and the registration card along with a piece of yellow paper. After a final warning and a polite goodbye, he drove off to entrap some other unsuspecting honeymooners.

We carefully got back onto the highway. I laid my head back onto my soft leather seat and focused on the ceiling.

“Well, crap,” said Alex.

“How much is the ticket?” I asked.

“Four hundred and fifty. How did he not notice my expired license?”

“It’s good he didn’t.”

“Of course I’m wearing this stupid shirt! That was a funny one, Lord.” He laughed in spite of himself.

Five hours later we finally made it to our home exit off I-80. Just a half hour to our new apartment. Just thirty more minutes until a soft bed and fresh water and ibuprofen.

It was then my stomach decided to make good on its promise.

 

To My Russian

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I love you
for being myself
and getting to grow
into someone else.

I love you
for inside jokes,
morning kisses,
vanilla cokes.

I love you
for silly faces,
karate fights
and swimming races.

I love you
for crying tears,
for working sweat
and wrestling prayers.

I love you
for what I needed,
I love you
the unexpected.

6 Things I’ve Learned from Being Married in College

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As you know if you’ve read this blog in the past few months, I got married last June. My husband and I, however, are both still in college. I have less than a year to go for my Bachelor’s degree while he has over two.

Married college students are a rare sight. I know a few classmates who are in the same boat, but it’s unusual in our culture. Unfortunately, young marrieds are largely ignored or even chided as culture embraces young  unhindered singleness. While I agree that the single college years can be incredibly fulfilling, today I want to share six things that can be learned from being a young married student.

 

1. Life is Not the Same for Everyone.

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Our society has road-mapped life to a T. Go to college, get a job, get married to your soulmate. But this is neither fair nor realistic. For as vocal as we are about individuality, why do we allow such a cookie-cutter life schedule to be imposed upon us?

I’ve learned that there’s not one life plan or lifestyle that’s inherently perfect. What’s a good choice for me isn’t a good choice for the next person. It’s okay to come to a point in your life where you decide that it’s the right time for something, not popular opinion. For us, it was getting married. We didn’t have everything planned, but we knew we loved each other and wanted to marry each other. It was the next logical step for us, and we took it.

 

2. Love is Not the Same for Everyone.

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Our generation has this grandiose view of love in which you meet someone who gives you perpetual butterflies and after much angst you finally decide to marry them and live happily ever after. Cue harps and singing birds.

For us – and for a lot of people – love is simpler and stronger, bolstered by a deep friendship, commitment to shared convictions, and a healthy dose of Mike and Ike’s and Netflix.

Marriage, although it does radically change your life, does not signal the heavenly end of your life. You are still you, with your same faults and hopes and dreams, and so is your spouse. Life goes on.

Just because our life might not look like everyone says it should doesn’t mean something’s wrong with us, nor does it mean our life is less valuable. It simply means we have to figure out what marriage looks like for us in our unique situation.

 

3. I Need People So I Can Be Myself.

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In our hyper-individualized society, admitting you need people is considered overly dependent, especially if you are a woman saying it of a man. We say things like “I just need to find myself” or “I need to love myself before I can love others”. While these attitudes may have a place, I think when taken too far they create isolation and selfishness.

The truth is that I cannot be a whole, well-rounded person without other people. Other people shape me, sharpen me, and soften me into an ever-better version of myself. This is especially helpful if, like me, you have trouble being yourself.

In marriage, having another person to show you a different perspective in life is rejuvenating. Now I have a built-in best friend who loves me unconditionally and encourages me to be myself. He shows me how to push myself and embrace life, and now I get out and try new things more as a married person than I ever did while single. I have the courage to explore the world because I know at the end of the day I will come home to my favorite person and we will talk about our discoveries together.

 

4. College is not designed for married couples.

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This is a fact of life, one I’ve noted with resigned disappointment. The undergraduate system as it is now takes for granted that its students are unattached to anything but itself. It takes for granted that I live on campus and don’t need to clean up a house at the end of the day or that I will eat my meals in the dining hall instead of running home to cook. It demands that you be there for events, practices, and trips at the drop of a hat when you are trying to build a separate, independent life as a married adult.

That’s just the way it is, and acknowledging that puts us in a better place to work out how we juggle our various responsibilities as a couple. It gives us the chance to learn how to draw boundaries, manage our time, and to consciously make our relationship a top priority.

 

5. Money Will be Tight, and That’s Okay.

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This is not a fun lesson, but in a way it’s kind of liberating. When you’re newlyweds in college, you just don’t have a lot of money. That’s what deters a lot of people because again, as a society we expect to have the lifestyle of forty-year-olds – complete with a house, car, and picket fence – as soon as we receive our college degrees. People don’t want to get married until they have a decent job and have paid off a decent amount of college loan.

For us though, getting married streamlined everything. His money and my money became our money, his savings and my savings our savings, his debt and my debt our debt. Instead of striving as individuals to make it financially, we can come alongside each other and work together toward a common goal. That helps us to stay responsible and accountable to each other and to learn together that life’s meaning is derived from relationships, not possessions.

We live simply, but comfortably, and we are sustained in ways we don’t fully understand. People have told us we’re lucky to be able to live so independently, and they ask how we do it. Honestly, we can’t answer. Each week, each month we find ourselves provided for by God in ways we never expected. We could try to be more logical and worry about it, or we could just live in peace in His provision. So we do the latter.

 

6. It’s totally worth it.

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I’ll be honest; I was a little terrified when we got married. Vowing to commit the rest of your life to someone else is huge. But each day I grow in certainty that this was absolutely the best decision to make at this time in my life. I feel like I was born to be married. I love putting together a cozy home and cooking yummy food (apparently I’m pretty good) and sharing my life with the kindest, goofiest guy I know.

When people ask what it’s like being married in college, I most often say “it’s really fun!”, which is an odd way to put it. But it honestly is. You can’t live a life of fake martial arts face-offs, stuffed animal obsessions, and Disney movie character impressions and not have fun.

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And I know, as I’ve always known, that married life isn’t always fun. There are hurt feelings and misunderstandings and pet peeves and tears. Ironically, we seem to most hurt the people we most love. But it’s that amazing ongoing lesson of Christ’s love, that picture of God and His people that marriage is meant to sketch, that keeps our perspective steady. We respect and love each other as people, which allows us to love each other as a couple much more fully.

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Obviously I wouldn’t encourage someone to go out and get married for the heck of it. But if you are at a point where you feel ready and yet society is squeezing you with its worries and expectations, know that you aren’t alone.

Getting married young isn’t for everyone. Staying single isn’t for everyone either. And that’s the point. There should never be pressure one way or the other, whether marriage is better or singleness is better. There should never be rolled eyes and raised brows. There should only be encouragement and respect in the myriad ways God chooses to plot out our lives.

Which, I suppose, is the seventh thing I’ve learned.

I Will Love Winter

Almost a year ago I wrote a post called “How to Survive Winter (in Eleven Easy Steps)“. While I appreciate the sentiment in which I wrote it, I feel I’ve matured in a year, and now I am ready to tackle the monumental task of actually loving winter.

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As a kid, I loved the cold, ice, and snow of Western PA’s longest season. My winter memories are filled with snow forts and snow men, pine trees, hot cocoa and bundling up on the couch to watch Peter Rabbit. These memories have left me with a deep-seated affinity for late-90s long wool coats and fluffy hats.

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(My oldest friend and I, before any consciousness of fashion.)

Unfortunately, I’m an adult now, which means I can drive. Winter’s no fun at all when you have to drive in it. I also have a tendency to be glum when the weather’s glum. So last year’s goal to simply survive winter was an attempt to not give into seasonal despair.

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But why should half the year serve as fodder for grumpiness? Why should we automatically kick into survival mode when snow starts to fly? Unfortunately, this is the Pennsylvania way. As a Pennsylvanian, I protest. This is not doing winter justice. It’s not doing nature justice. And, if you’re inclined to take it further, it’s not doing God justice either.

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Winter is beautiful, and yesterday was the perfect winter’s day. The sky was pearly, cloudy baby blue, and the snow fell in thick clumps, blanketing the trees and rooftops. It’s the kind of weather I used to spend watching Peter Rabbit after hours of cold, flushed sled-riding. Winter, I’ve found, in all its icy, cozy, wet and slushy glory, is a part of life. If we ignore or try to simply survive giant chunks of life because we deem them less than ideal, we miss out on the incredible beauty and blessing that can be in them.

Sometimes it’s genuinely, horribly, not fun to go through a winter, whether it be literal or figurative. (find me in March; I’ll be complaining then.) But when we approach our winters with an open mind and a determined heart, we find the beauty in the cold. And at the end we appreciate the season for what it was.

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I came across a Norwegian saying in my winter studies. Norway, as you know, is much colder than Western PA in the winter, but from what I’ve seen the Norwegian people are much less grumpy about it than Pennsylvanians. They say that “there is no bad weather, only bad clothing”. It sounds trite and quirky, but it’s actually an excellent game changer. When we actively prepare for and purpose to enjoy the colder season, we find we can focus on the glittering snow and stark tree branches instead of our wet toes and frozen ears.

The Norwegians (apparently) also value community, and winter means a chance to ski or toboggan and cozily socialize with friends and family. This year I’ve started an (admittedly nerdy) knitting group in my home, and this will keep me and my friends connected while the days are dark and cold.

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(these are not the friends to which I was referring.)

If you’re interested in joining me as I re-learn to love winter, take a look at my Pinterest board (if only to reassure yourself that winter is indeed pretty). If you find something that could contribute to the cause, suggest it to me! Together we will not just survive: we will take joy