Why I Loved 2016

Despite public opinion of the year 2016, for me the year could have been much worse. About this time last year I was anxious to start a new year and put 2015 behind me. I had plans to write up a post about 2015, because it was one of my hardest years yet. I know time has a way of making things seem not as bad as they were, so I like to write stuff down to try to capture the reality of it all. But here we are, just hours away from 2017…and I never did write that post.

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2016 was not without challenges for sure. More job changes, financial strain, marriage strain, being home alone with the boys all week while my husband works 3 hours away – it hasn’t been the easiest year. So, this isn’t a post about how 2016 was the best year ever. It wasn’t. But it’s about the good parts. The things I did, by God’s grace, that I am so, so thankful for. Challenges and all, 2016 has been a sweet year for me. The Lord has shown us so much kindness, as He always does, but He has made His blessings really evident this year, and has shown me that He cares for me (1 Peter 5:7).

D-GROUP
I joined a D-Group (discipleship group) in the Fall of 2015, and started leading a group in February of this year. I can’t say enough about this. This is easily one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’m thankful I don’t even have to think about what this year would have looked like without it. The accountability that D-group has provided has helped me to create good habits in spending time in the Word, memorizing Scripture, and applying what I am learning through study each week. I have developed deep, meaningful friendships and beautiful community as I have studied, been stretched, and wrestled with Scripture alongside others. I have gained a deeper understanding of the God of the Bible, and a deeper love for Him, because of my time in D-group, and have constantly been challenged to live out the faith that I profess. D-Group helps me to remain focused on eternal things. Everyone has seasons where they are slack in their relationship with the Lord, where we don’t spend as much time with Him. Those times will inevitably come, but those periods definitely don’t last as long, or have as detrimental an impact when we are walking in community with other believers.
#ilovemydgroup so much, and think every believer should be involved in this type of study. I’m learning that it isn’t entirely normal for churches to provide this type of discipleship, so if you’re looking for something like this there are D-Groups all over. Check out the website and join a group near you, or START ONE!

WE JOINED A CHURCH
This is, hands down, my favorite thing we did this year. The last time we were members at a church was in 2012. We moved away from that church family, had 2 babies, and were very unsettled over the next several years in terms of location. We struggled to find a church, and just when we thought we had found somewhere to call home we moved again. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. This drained me. This was hard and heavy on my soul. The local church is my heart. Not being committed somewhere and serving somewhere left me restless and uneasy. When we moved to Florence, we were sure the struggle would continue. Thankfully, God was so kind to quickly lead us to our new church and we joined this past May. It is far from perfect, but it is our home and our family now. My soul is at rest. It brings me to tears when I think of it. And maybe if you’ve never felt homeless, you don’t understand why it’s such a big deal, but I cannot think of the Church at Sandhurst without thanking the Lord for bringing us here. Not only do we love it, but our kids love it, too. I have been very intentional about teaching our kids the gospel in our home since the day they were born. Interestingly enough, one of my kids seemed to harbor some sort of animosity toward God. He was not only uninterested, but seemed to not really like God. I wouldn’t have believed a kid (who was 2, 3 years old, mind you) was capable of this if I hadn’t seen it. But since we’ve been at our church, all that hostility has disappeared. I’ve been amazed how much both of my boys have grown in knowledge of God and the Bible. It’s been so sweet to see how much our kids need community, too, how it actually takes a village. Consistently having what we teach them at home reinforced by others has made all the difference. Now, I work part-time with the children’s ministry, and we are partnering with D-Group as one way to get the church body involved in discipleship. I’m sure I’ve leaving some other great things out, but anyway, finding a good church home is so important, and I’m so grateful for God’s kindness in providing us a place to settle down, for now.

MOPS
I’ve been in MOPS (mothers of pre-schoolers) for several years now. There have been times I’ve loved it, and times I haven’t, but the past year has been really sweet. Having two young kids is really hard. Having a group of people that know what I’m going through and are in the trenches with me has been like a life-line. The struggles of motherhood are unique and universal all at once, and the support and encouragement that these ladies have offered me and each other is a breath of fresh air. To be surrounded by women that are truly for each other (instead of busy judging each other) is something special.

I CUT OUT SOCIAL MEDIA FOR A WEEK
A week isn’t a long time, but that week was easily one of my most productive weeks of 2016. I used to feel bad for people who couldn’t keep their social media lives in check…then I became one of those people. Picking up my phone and checking feeds has become so impulsive, and I waste so much time on social media. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love social media. I have learned so much from others, and consistently enjoy seeing other peoples’ lives and hearing others’ perspectives. My world-view has been stretched and challenged thanks to social media. I don’t see myself ever cutting it out completely. At this point, it isn’t necessarily a struggle with jealousy or comparison, or that it makes me cynical, but it is a major distraction from what is going on in front of me. I am going to cut out social media again, this time for one month at the beginning of 2017, with hopes of entering back in with clearer boundaries, and more clarity about the effect it has on me.

Obviously, this list isn’t comprehensive. We did some fun stuff with the boys, they grew some more, we saw some victories in our marriage, there’s more I’m sure. But these are some of the things that have had the largest impact on the year.

I used to not be one for resolutions, but this year I’m actually excited about some of the goals I’ve made. Among them my temporary leave of social media, working out (somewhat) regularly, trying out Whole30. I’ve been able to tell this year more than ever how unhealthy I am getting, how much my lack of healthy eating and exercise has been affecting me. I’ve felt more tired and sluggish than ever, so hopefully this time next year I won’t be saying the same thing. I’m also planning to read through the Bible again, and fast once a month, a goal I set for myself this year – but failed miserably, so it’s going back on the list.

I used to be rather thoughtless about the new year, but I’ve learned that I literally have no idea what the next year may hold. My plans are always changing. But my highest hope for 2017, is that I would love the Lord more, love His people more, and serve them both well.

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A Letter to College Students: This Is The Real World

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After graduation, there’s a lot of talk about “living in the real world”. I think this is really referring to the world of 9-5 jobs and professional attire. The world of going to bed at a reasonable hour. I understand these things may be different from the life one typically leads as a college student, but the references to post-college life equaling the real world leave us to infer that college, indeed, does not qualify as the real world. Now, there are some major differences in schedule and responsibility as a college student, as opposed to someone working a full-time job. Most college courses are set up so that only you will suffer if you decide not to show for class. In some cases, there is no accountability at all. Many college students don’t have anyone depending on them for anything, and you have more free-time and flexibility than pretty much everyone else. There are certainly some big differences between the two.

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I went to college alone. My mom helped me move in to my dorm room, but after that it was just me. Most of my friends from high school had gone off to Clemson. You would think when you go to school only an hour from your hometown, that surely there would be some built-in friends on campus. Of course, several people from my high school had also come to the wonderful University of South Carolina, but none of them were people I would spend time with.

On top of not knowing anyone, I’d spent my whole life being shy, and didn’t know how to introduce myself to anyone without the help of a more outgoing mediator. I’d spent all of high school with an “I can’t wait to get out of this town” attitude, only to flip the switch half-way through senior year, when it started to sink in that my time at West Florence was coming to an end. I was nervous all summer about leaving behind all I’d known, but it hit me like a ton of bricks when my mom drove off. I was scared, overwhelmed, and alone.

I did not feel like I was hidden away on some college campus, oblivious to the stresses of “real life”, real responsibility, real burdens. I didn’t feel like I had just landed myself in one four-year-long party. No. Sitting on the 4th floor of Patterson Hall in the heart of a city much bigger than the one I came from, away from the comforts of home and familiar faces, roads, places to shop and eat, I felt like I was in the real world for the first time in my life. Unprotected, exposed, on my own.

That first week was rough. I later realized I understood college to be the place where you meet the people who will be your best friends for the rest of your life. I somehow believed this would happen right away, that they would just happen to come introduce themselves to me the moment I arrived. I spent a good chunk of the first semester of my freshman year contemplating whether I should transfer back home, or to Clemson. Not that I was bored, I wasn’t. I managed to make some friends and spent most of my time with other people. I was still lonely, though. I was craving real, meaningful friendships. I didn’t know that it would take time, that it would get much, much better.

I spent the next 4 years meeting and getting to know a very diverse group of people. Rich, poor, homeless, gay, religious, depressed. I knew people who had been raped, abused, dealt with eating disorders, lost loved ones. The people I came to know during my time at South Carolina didn’t get to press pause on life. We didn’t get to ignore reality. Life still happens, no matter where you go to school, no matter whether your campus is on a hillside or in the city.

Despite what our culture would tell you, this is not the time to “get it out of your system” and do whatever the heck you want (unless whatever the heck you want is honoring to the Lord). These aren’t years that should be wasted, and these years aren’t just about your education. These years can be so full if you handle them well. College is a gift, a unique experience and time in your life. No other period in life will look the same.

For Christians, it may be tempting to jump into whatever community you find first (which can be good or bad). So many of my friends spent their first semester (or longer) making decisions they would go on to regret. And thankfully, grace was there to meet them then. But what if we recognized the importance of these years? What if we treated them as though they matter? Wouldn’t it be incredible if we used our college years for glorifying God and furthering His kingdom? These years will be a part of your life forever. You can fill them with whatever you want. But if there is one thing I learned in college and in the years since, it’s that living for the Lord is the best, most satisfying use of our time. How you spend your days matters, so let’s not let the world convince us that it’s okay if our lives look a little meaningless for a few years. This is special. Different? Yes. But, this is the real world, with real people, real souls. You can use this time in a million different ways, but there is true, full life in Christ, and using these years to seek Him, love Him, and live for Him will be one of the best decisions you ever make.

“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:39

Photo credit: Tulane Public Relations via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

What Do You Mean By Self-Care?

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I’m not totally sure whether it’s a good idea to make blog posts out of my personal preferences, but I’m going to do it anyway. We’ll see if I regret it later.

I’ll be honest. I cringe a little when I hear the words self-care. Have you ever sat around and done absolutely nothing on a Saturday? Or even just an evening after work, maybe watched a few shows, scrolled mindlessly through social media? Or gone on a vacation? If you’re anything like me, these things in and of themselves don’t leave you feeling refreshed.

The term self-care implies that we care for ourselves, clearly. But further than that, that we sustain ourselves, that we are self-reliant, that we know what is best for us, and that we provide for our own needs. But we know this isn’t how the Christian life works. We know we are to be dependent on our Heavenly Father, to rely on Him to get us from day to day, to sustain our souls. We know that He is the One who gives every breath, much less every physical provision. I think deep beneath the surface of “self-care” the real meaning behind it, is rest, or Sabbath, if you will.

Truthfully, we spend our lives working towards something. Most of what we do is work. Raising kids, pleasing clients, or friends, or bosses, pursuing relationships and the list could go on forever. We are stressed because of this work.  We feel the need to rest from this work, but the cure to our stress and tiredness is not self-care. It is true rest.

This has nothing to do with the activities that encompass self-care and rest. They can look quite similar. Rest for one person isn’t rest for another. The issue is the mindset behind it; where we are turning in those moments that we want to feel refreshed. The problem is the source.

The whole idea of the Sabbath is to remind ourselves that nothing depends on us. That God is the One who holds everything together. Not pointless rest, or resting for the sake of rest, but God-focused rest. I am bent towards independence and self-reliance, as I think many of us are. But as Christians, we know we don’t take care of ourselves. We can try, of course, but over time this won’t be enough.

In our culture it’s totally acceptable that “there’s a time to be selfish”, a time to lookout for yourself. Like we take turns caring for other people and then caring for ourselves, and I so easily buy into this. I think that’s where this whole idea comes from.

Just after Jesus was nailed to the cross, John 19:26-27 says “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.”

In the midst of His suffering on the cross, hanging on a tree, He notices these two people he loves, and cares for them. In my own suffering, I tend to turn inward, to even allow myself to think it’s my turn to be served. But we don’t get this idea from Scripture. This isn’t the life that Jesus models. He constantly pours Himself out throughout Scripture. Retreating to pray and spend time alone with His Father is not the same thing as self-care. It’s the opposite. It is coming to the True Source for rest, counsel, intimacy. Our time alone with the Father is not self-care, it is looking outside of ourselves for true care. And when we come to Him as our source for rest, He can give us wisdom and peace that enables us to face our lives with an appropriate, eternal perspective. He reminds us that He is good, and that He is sovereign.

There’s a Charlie Hall song with the lyrics “Sweet Jesus Christ, my sanity, sweet Jesus Christ, my clarity.” And those words are perfect; exactly true. HE is my sanity, my calm, my peace of mind. No amount of pampering, of bubble baths, or running, or wine or chocolate could give me the true rest that He provides. Sure, some of these things can point us to Him, but we have to remember that HE is the wellspring that satisfies every need.

So I motion that we move from calling “self-care” to rest, or better yet, Sabbath. I know myself well enough to know that I am easily tempted to believe I can do things on my own. This is just one way I can remind myself that’s not true. We can keep the focus where it should be, on the Provider of rest. We, as Christians, can claim to the world, each time we say we are going to Sabbath, that we are turning to the One who knows how to care for us, not mustering anything up on our own.

We wouldn’t have had to come up with this whole self-care thing if we knew how to properly rest. It’s something I’m working on this year, and I am praying that the Lord would teach me what it means to come to Him as my source and my Sustainer. Because I can’t even do that on my own.

The Case For No Santa

 

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Every year I have a few conversations about this whole no Santa thing. I’m happy to write about it because I think it’s a conversation worth having. Lots of people agree, lots of people disagree, lots of people “understand”. For us, this was an easy choice as soon as we put some actual thought towards it.

I used to not question things. I used to just do what was considered normal, without consideration. There was a time when I assumed my kids would believe in Santa; that it would be a normal part of our Christmas. Like I said, I actually didn’t even think about it…it was just stored somewhere in my brain, and any envisioning my family at Christmastime included Santa. He was just there, because that’s what I knew, and what everyone else did. As I’ve grown and realized not everything that is “normal” is good, I’ve learned to question things. To stop and evaluate why we are making the choices we make. This is a decision we made well before having kids, and one we would hope other people would respect.

Jones is 3. He doesn’t know who Santa is. Sometimes we pass by a gift bag with that bearded face on it, and I ask him if he knows who it is…just to see if he’s picked it up somewhere. He hasn’t yet. Not because Santa is voodoo, but because we just don’t talk about him. But let me tell you what he does know about. Presents. I realize this is partly my fault, and I haven’t focused enough on celebrating the miracle of Jesus coming to Earth, to dwell with His people, and perfectly atone for our sin in His death on the cross. But let’s be honest. That isn’t super interesting to my 3 year old. I mean he can hold like a 3 minute conversation about it before changing the subject. But presents. He remembers that part. He remembers the Christmas trees, the lights, and the presents. And he really loves and enjoys each of those things. On Christmas morning, when he is surrounded by 15 gift bags (he has lots of loving aunts and uncles), he is not missing out on the “magic of Christmas” or whatever. I promise. He does not need Santa to get excited about Christmas, and he doesn’t need Santa to distract him from Jesus. He is plenty distracted as it is. I understand, because I’m just as easily distracted, even though it has nothing to do with a man in a red suit. My point is that it is difficult enough in this season of gifts, family, traditions, busyness, hustle and bustle to “remember the reason for the season”. We do not need another distraction. For myself or my kids. I hear all the time “we do Santa, but we teach our kids that Christmas is about Jesus” in some form or another. But I think we should know as adults, that Santa is a bit more appealing to children. That if that is part of our Christmas, that is where the focus will be for our kids.

As a Christian, I am called to honor the Lord with my life, and to point others toward Him. It is my responsibility to raise my kids in knowledge of truth and love for the Lord. The most basic reason my kids won’t believe in Santa is because we will never tell them that he is real. Because he isn’t, and we will not lie to our kids. Can we all just admit that telling our kids Santa is real is a lie? Sure we could go into all the history about St. Nick and where the whole idea came from, but Santa has been hijacked and he and St. Nick are not the same guy. We aren’t so attached to Santa that we need to look for a reason to make him okay to include in our holiday. Lying to our kids isn’t honoring the Lord, and it isn’t teaching them what is good and true. Lying isn’t something I want to model for my kids. Kids don’t intrinsically know who Santa is, they are taught to believe in him. Santa is talked about and treated as though he is a real person. We won’t encourage our kids to believe something is real when it isn’t. We don’t do that with any other fictional characters, why would we with Santa?

I know people say it’s harmless, but I disagree. And maybe some people never actually tell their kids Santa is real, but I don’t think there is much of a difference in saying it and leading them to believe it. A lot of it has to do with the kind of relationship we want to have with our kids. We want them to trust us in everything, but most importantly, when we tell them who Jesus is and what He has done for us in dying a death that we deserve, allowing us to be in right relationship with the Father, and spend eternity with Him, we want them to believe us!

We aren’t like super-spiritual, or think we’re better than everyone else because we REALLY love Jesus, and we’re really gonna focus on the true meaning of Christmas, and everyone who does Santa says they love Jesus but really they don’t love Jesus that much. We know there are godly people that do the Santa thing. I can’t say I understand it, but I know that my way isn’t the only way. We aren’t searching for some deep purpose in everything we do (not to say that we shouldn’t). We have a Christmas tree for the first time this year (because it didn’t quite fit in the budget other years, and this year my father-in-law bought us one), we do presents, we drive around looking at Christmas lights. We do all of those things because we enjoy them, and think it is beneficial to enjoy this holiday season, but we can’t say the same for Santa.

I do think the fact that many people can’t separate Santa from Christmas is pretty telling. Santa equals fun for so many. Santa equals a special part of childhood and fond memories. Literally, people have made comments to the effect of “Christmas must be so boring for y’all.” Some people actually go so far as to say it is beneficial for kids to believe in Santa. All that mumbo-jumbo about teaching them to believe in something they can’t see. But it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me to teach that lesson using someone who is not real, when we can teach them about God, who they can’t see, who is real. There won’t be disappointments at age 8 or 9 (or whenever kids learn the truth about Santa), because God will still be real.

Some people use their parents/families as a case for doing Santa. My family probably thinks I’m pretty weird at this point, so they probably weren’t too surprised when I mentioned this decision. But opinions of my family members are not enough to cause me do something that I believe is not beneficial.

“Well, what about if they ruin it for other kids?” you ask.

I’ll be honest with you, I don’t really care. I’ll probably lose friends for saying that. Of course, I will do my best to teach them to not talk about it with other children, duh. Unfortunately, they will be 4 and then 5 and then 6 and they probably will still not do everything I say. But I think we have to understand something. If our kids believe in Santa, who is not real…at some point, someone is going to ruin it for them. At some point, the truth comes out. So it seems to me that if someone ruins it for your child, you should be mad at the person who made them believe something that wasn’t true in the first place. (I know, do I even want people to read my blog anymore?!?!) Because they wouldn’t be upset that Santa isn’t real, if they hadn’t ever believed he was. We are so used to blame-shifting that we’ve found a way to fault others for a mess we got ourselves into. I find it extremely backwards that we would take our anger out on someone who tells the truth, be it parent or child, when we’re the ones who set them up to be disappointed. Unfortunately, I cannot control that anger, so again, believe me, I don’t want my kids to be the ones running around yelling “Santa isn’t real!” so we’ll do our best, but we made this decision knowing we can’t control everything that comes out of our kids’ mouths. And if you are making the decision to teach your child that Santa is real, then I think you should accept that with it comes a risk that they will find out the truth, and that there are people in the world that are not going to cover for you, and even that there are people that will accidentally say something in front of your child that gives it away. Of course, for some parents it’s not about their kids being upset, but about the death of Santa in their house. Sometimes, the parents are more attached to the whole idea, and more upset about them realizing he isn’t real, than the kids are.

I grew up with Santa. I wasn’t upset when a friend told me their parents had said he wasn’t real. I don’t think kids who grow up believing in Santa will be scarred for life when their little hearts are crushed. They will get over it. Of course, people can say we’re making this big deal out of something that isn’t really a big deal. But if it isn’t pushing us towards Christ, isn’t it pulling us away? Is an added hindrance really worth it? If we can’t imagine Christmas without Santa, aren’t we proving the point that celebrating the birth of Christ is not our supreme focus?

It feels like there is this immediate backlash towards those of us who have chosen to leave Santa out of our Christmas. There is this immediate justification of why Santa is okay and even good. But I hope we can stop defending our stance long enough to actually consider whether it really is the most beneficial thing for our kids. If we come away deciding Santa is essential to celebrating Christmas, then at least we’ll have taken the time to think about it, and can incorporate him into the holiday with a clear conscience.

Photo credit: pipnstuff / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

To Engaged And Newly Married Couples Everywhere

My husband and I recently celebrated 4 years of marriage, and by celebrated I mean said “Happy Anniversary” over the phone from different cities. With just a few years under my belt, I am hardly an expert on the topic.

There’s something I’ve noticed recently. I’ve seen and heard it a lot from engaged/newly married couples. The complaints about people complaining about marriage. I know exactly what they are talking about. I felt that way once, too. I even added to the noise. The warnings grow old, you get annoyed. Everyone hears it at some point. If you’re engaged or happily married, undoubtedly, someone will warn you about the doom you are facing. Many will talk about marriage as though it’s a death sentence. Talk about “the ol’ ball and chain” or signing your life away, or all the freedoms you are giving up. And it makes you want to scream about how your marriage will never be like that. How you will always be happy and you will love and cherish your spouse forever. I get it.

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I’m at the age where a lot of my friends are married, and a lot of them aren’t. With a million articles running across my Facebook news feed each day about “Mr. Right” or “How You Know You’ve Found The One” I think it’s obvious that many people are really confused about the realities of marriage. The way people post on social media makes it sound like marriage is one long romantic date. Or that even the mundane “sittin’ at home watching a movie” is always awesome when you have the one you love by your side. Don’t get me wrong, I mean I would much rather wash the dishes with Johnathan in the room…or even in the other room for that matter…than not at home at all. But that idea that everything is wonderful all the time when you’re in love paints a pretty incomplete picture.

There’s this idea that the emotional high you’re on when you’re dating/engaged/newly married should never die. Which is appealing enough when everywhere you turn there are married couples that don’t even seem to like each other. But I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think that kind of emotion is sustainable between work and laundry and taking out the trash. Throw kids in the mix, and there is nothing exhilarating about dirty diapers. Some people say the first year is the hardest, but in my experience, the first year was the easiest. Not without it’s challenges, for sure, but in comparison, the old expression “the Honeymoon Stage” sure fits. The euphoria fades. But love, like people, evolves. It changes over time. It grows deeper than emotion and much more intentional. After a while, it’s less of something you’re in, but more something you choose.

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For myself, I thought the easy times would outweigh the hard times, but when the hard times came…because I knew there would be some…that I would be prepared, that I would know how to work through it. For Christians, I think as young, passionate, college kids, we romanticize what our marriages will be like. How we’ll pray together all the time, always communicate well, put our phones down and spend time together, how we’ll do ministry together, and “keep dating your spouse”, and always give grace when it’s needed, always putting each other before ourselves. It’s like before I got married I imagined this heroic version of myself. I knew in my head what it would take to be a good wife, and therefore thought I would have the…I don’t know…willpower to apply my knowledge. For me, in dating, it was always pretty easy to be gracious and selfless. As a friend said the other day, “I was a real good Christian before I got married.” But something I’ve found now, is that marriage forges a much deeper connection. Sure, when your boyfriend or girlfriend does something crappy when you’re dating, it feels personal and it hurts. But when you’re married, it is a whole other level. Something about the oneness of marriage makes everything more personal, makes everything feel more. The good and the bad. And when everything feels so personal and so painful, being gracious isn’t as easy as it sounds. Of course, the Holy Spirit is powerful and fully capable of equipping me in the tough moments, the problem is I get in the way. That’s how being human works. A LOT of the time, I fail. Hero Me doesn’t show grace, love, patience, or whatever is needed in that moment, and things get messy. Oh, and not to mention, my husband fails, too. He isn’t always patient. He isn’t always kind. Even though “Mr. Right” is always patient and kind, and tells me I’m beautiful in my sweatpants.

So I empathize with those who make these complaints. Those who don’t understand where the old(er) married couples are coming from. I had no clue.

The truth is marriage should be wonderful. It should be God honoring. It should be deep connection and intimacy. It should be a picture of Christ’s relationship with the Church. It should be iron sharpening iron, mutual encouragement, pressing on toward the goal, together, for the rest of your lives. But for a lot of people, it isn’t. And yes, it happens to Christians, too. And for others, it just isn’t like that all the time. At this point, I wouldn’t be one of those people to discourage you and warn you about how your life is about to end. But, I also wouldn’t be all marriage is love and bliss and we’re best friends all the time and everything is great. Because, it is not. I would tell you that some conflicts never get resolved, that my husband and I don’t see eye to eye on so.many.things. That there will be moments that leave one or both of you ready to get a divorce right then and there. That there will be times you will look at the person you love more than anyone else, and be more angry than you have ever been before. There will be times when you can’t express what you need to, and there will be times of deep pain, and times when you’re at a loss for how to move forward. Maybe I sound negative, but I don’t think I need to convince anyone that there are tons of amazing things about marriage, too. If you don’t already believe that, then you probably aren’t getting married anytime soon.

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I’ve learned over the past 4 years that Johnathan and I aren’t nearly as alike as I originally thought. We have some similarities, but we have some huge differences. Really, if we’re honest, we aren’t all that compatible, something that’s seen as a necessity in our culture. As we begin year 5, there is still a lot about our marriage that is really hard. We haven’t overcome all of our struggles, and most days it seems like we haven’t moved an inch. It doesn’t make marriage a death sentence, but it does make it hard lots of days.

So when someone is negative about your engagement or marriage, you don’t have to get angry and self-righteous. Again, believe me, I really do know what it’s like to feel the way you do, and I say this with the most care. Try to see through their warnings, and recognize that marriage is truly hard. That it takes a lot of work. That if you don’t fight for your marriage when it gets tough, it will go to crap. Those people who get to the place where they say “oh, just give it a couple years” got there because they are human. They were in your shoes once. So, you may think you are better than them, because in your inexperience you think you know what it takes to have a good marriage, but you aren’t. You’re human, too. And if you don’t take serious consideration to the fact that almost half of marriages end in divorce, and many of the people who remain married are miserable, then it’s possible you will find yourself in their shoes one day. You should resolve to not end up like them. But know that it takes a tremendous amount of grace, patience, love (the action kind), self-control. It takes A LOT of dying to yourself, A LOT of laying down your pride, your need to be right, your everything. It takes a lot more than affection, compromise, compatibility. Those things aren’t enough. But thankfully, Jesus is. Even in marriage, He is our only hope, the only thing that is ever truly enough. Cling to Him, and He will give you what you need.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

Photos by Erin Drago Photography

What Being A Christian Is Like

I say all this through the lens of American Christianity. As one who has many, many freedoms to live out my faith. One who has never faced a death threat for claiming Christ. One who faces intellectual persecution in the world I live in, minor compared to what other Christians around the world are dealing with, but persecution nonetheless. At this point, there really is not much we have to give up to be a Christian in America.

Some days walking with Jesus is easy. Some days it takes every ounce of focus and energy I have in my body. Some days I am so satisfied in Him, and I feel and believe the truth that I need nothing else. Some days I succumb to worldliness and get wrapped up in caring about things that don’t matter. Sometimes it is a struggle to choose holiness, sometimes it comes naturally (through the power of the Holy Spirit). Some days there is nothing else. Only Jesus. Sometimes I am overwhelmed by how much I need Him, and filled with thankfulness that He is there. Most days it is unexciting, mundane, blind faith. Most days it is choosing to believe what I cannot see and what I cannot know.

It is not guilt. It is not shame over sins I’ve committed. It is not following rules. It is growing, changing. It is fullness, wholeness. It is disciplining my kids and trusting God to change their hearts. It is reading the Bible and praying that He will make me more like Him. It is walking in His favor, clinging to His promises.

I cannot imagine living in this world without knowing Jesus. I’ve been called a pessimist (I prefer realist, but you know, whatever). I know some people only want to see the good in the world, but the bad is so daunting. So painful and depressing. I am continually grateful for my salvation, for a faith that believes there is life after death, that the best is yet to come. I’ve heard that some people think Christianity is for the weak. That it’s a way of coping with evil, to believe there is some nice place called Heaven where nothing bad happens. However, being a Christian doesn’t allow us to escape the world we live in. We still have to deal with it. We still have to endure suffering, and hope doesn’t make pain hurt less. So, I don’t see how someone having no hope makes them any stronger than me.

One of the beautiful and mysterious things about this faith is that it’s different for everyone. Don’t get me wrong, sin is still sin, and the Bible is still the authority no matter who you are. But my relationship with the Lord is uniquely my own, my journey deeply personal. There are lots of freedoms within the confines of Christianity. I hesitate to even use that word, confines, because I think that understanding of Christianity is why many people reject it. But you should know, it’s a really big room we’re in, with lots of space to work out our own salvation. Once you are in the faith, once you have walked with Jesus for a little while, you realize the walls aren’t limiting us, they are protecting us, they are good for us. The things the world values, you realize those things don’t give life. They are not ultimately satisfying. Choosing those things again and again doesn’t fulfill. God knows that life to the full is really found inside the walls. That is where the best is. And it is worth staying inside. The outside really doesn’t compare, once you’ve experienced what’s inside. In fact, eventually, the outside isn’t even appealing anymore. Eventually, it just looks like searching. Maybe if you’re not a Christian you think that sounds arrogant, but when the emptiness comes, when you get weary, when the boredom comes, I hope you’ll consider what I’m saying. Christ really is enough.

Perhaps the even more beautiful part about it all, is that I get to share my unique, personal journey with other people. I get to walk alongside others in this faith, that are on their own journeys. We are all going to the same place. And there is a destination. That’s why we’re walking, or running, or crawling, or maybe even being carried. There is an eternal home at the end of this whole thing, where we get to forever be with Jesus.

Being a Christian is hard…really hard, but it is fresh mercies each day. Jesus is the best friend, the best everything. He knows the darkest, most ugly parts of me, and He loves me like crazy regardless. Following Christ is confidence that I am loved, accepted, known, that His grace covers my sins. That I’m never alone. He is my comfort. He is my satisfaction.

Following Jesus is worth every single thing that it costs.

 You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
 You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
 You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
 Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
 You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

 Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
  If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
  If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
  even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
  If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
  even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

  For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
  My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
  Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
  How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
  Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.

  Psalm 139:1-18

Why I Carried My First Child 42 1/2 Weeks

As I’ve mentioned before, I didn’t know a whole lot about pregnancy before I entered that stage of life, but if there is one thing that I picked up somewhere along the way, and that you can’t possibly get through pregnancy without a million people telling you, is that you “can’t go past 42 weeks”.

I had a normal, low-risk pregnancy with our first. I was sick and awful tired for the first 16 weeks or so, didn’t gain a whole lot of weight, but I totally made up for it after I started feeling better. There were never any indications that we should be worried about anything. It honestly did not occur to me that I might not go into labor within the “safe” 37-42 week window. Even at 40 weeks, I remember sitting in my midwife’s office and thinking, “The baby will come before I hit 42 weeks. It just will.”

If you’re not aware…it’s not really super popular or common for anyone to go past 41 weeks. So everyone was pretty cool about everything until oh, about…40 weeks and 5 days. Then, friends and family started getting stressed out. I think this happens to everyone who still has a baby inside their body on their due date, but the texts and calls asking if the baby was here yet, or any signs of baby, were constant. When you’re told as long as you can remember that you don’t go past 42 weeks, it starts to get a little stressful as that day approaches. I’m sensitive and if you remember, I didn’t feel like I had a whole lot of support throughout this pregnancy about the decisions we were making. And if you know ANYTHING about pregnancy, it’s that it causes you to be all sorts of hormonal and emo. I could not handle everyone expressing their worry to me about my baby. Didn’t they think I cared more about my baby’s health than they did? Several people actually said things along the lines of “this isn’t good for the baby.” I was hurt by others’ assumptions that I wasn’t caring for my baby, or concerned about the possibilities. At 42 weeks and 1 day, I turned my phone off. I knew I couldn’t handle any more questions or (what felt like) accusations. I was beyond stressed as it was, and I didn’t need anyone else contributing to it. It’s been said that stress can delay or stall labor, and while I have no research to back this up, I really believe the anxiety I was dealing with slowed things down. Which might go right along with why my labor lasted for 3 days. Anyway…

The basis for the decisions we made regarding pregnancy and childbirth were not just about doing things “naturally”, it’s more than that. It’s deeper than the newest trend. Our decisions had everything to do with the Lord’s design and His sovereignty. We chose to trust that He created my body to give birth, and that His design and timing is perfect. My midwives said all the time, “there’s never been a woman who didn’t go into labor!” We really believed that the Lord was in control, and that He was completely capable of bringing a healthy baby into the world outside of the time frame that has been deemed safe by medical organizations. Now I know about The Fall and how sin and brokenness has entered the world. But we believe that the creation and bringing forth of life belongs wholly to the Lord. This was not a process we were okay with interfering with. Induction was never on our radar. I can’t say what we would have done differently if there had been signs that something might be wrong. But there weren’t, and we recognized that if our baby happened to not be perfectly healthy, that it would be within the will of God. Not that God brings about brokenness, but that He does, in His sovereignty, allow it, and that He could allow these things to occur at 39 weeks or at 43 weeks. We have research and a little bit of knowledge, but His ways will always be higher than ours. He is not bound by our knowledge of how things work, or what’s normal.

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” 1 Corinthians 1:25

It was pretty evident through all this that a lot of people have issues with trusting the Lord…and issues with other people trusting the Lord. It was apparent that A LOT of people put a lot of faith in the medical industry and in the wisdom of man. So much so, that it seemed incomprehensible to them that we wouldn’t do the same. I realize there isn’t much we have to wait for in America. We can easily take matters into our own hands pretty often. But what about when people don’t? Is there really anything wrong with that? Is there anything wrong with waiting on the Lord?

Thankfully, I eventually went into labor when it felt like I never would, a beautiful, healthy baby boy was born, and we named him Jones. We had a couple wonderful, peaceful, uninterrupted hours with him before we announced his arrival to anyone. He is sweet, outgoing, loving, defiant as all get out, and I praise God often that he is happy and healthy all the while praying for his rebellious soul.

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I know my friends and family had the best of intentions, and were genuinely concerned. But here’s to hoping that next time we find ourselves disagreeing with the decisions of those we love, that we can evaluate why it makes us uncomfortable, where we are putting our trust, and if we’re giving them the space to follow the Lord where He leads them.

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” Philippians 2:12