A Long & Winding Love Story

We met years before I ever remember him.  It seems like he gradually came into my life, and then suddenly he was there, integrated, and had been there for ages.  He was four years younger than I was, and so the husband-hunting section of my brain didn’t even register him as an option.

He attended the youth group that I had graduated from and was volunteering with as a leader.  Because he didn’t have a car, my family often picked him up and drove him home from church events.  He spent the night on our couch, and I would sit up late at night with him and my siblings, talking about God and life and anything else that came to mind.

I grew to appreciate his perspective.  I liked the way that his mind worked, and the conclusions he came to.  I enjoyed the easy banter we had.  I knew that I was excited to see what God ended up doing in his life.

And then, one day, we were watching a movie with the youth group.  There must have been at least 20 people stuffed into a small living room.  We ended up squished on the couch together.  And suddenly, I realized that he had muscles.  Like, manly manly musicles.  And they were very attractive.  This sudden flip shocked me.

Over the next months, I repremanded myself for being attracted to an 18 year old.  But I had had plenty of crushes in the past, and so I decided that this would pass like the others did.

It didn’t pass.

One night, he was staying on our couch, and my siblings had gone to bed.  He reached over and held my hand.  At 22, it was the first time in my life that someone had held my hand.  He told me that he liked me, and I admitted to liking him too.  Looking back, it seems like such a middle school scenario.

We decided that we wanted to date.  He was my first real boyfriend, my first real kiss.  He holds just about every milestone in my life as my first and only.

But our age difference created tension with my family.  My parents had concerns about our relationship, and I felt caught between respect for them and the excitement of this budding love with someone I truly wanted to be with.  I desperately wanted them to love him the way I did.  This underlying tension continued for years, and it has taken time and prayer to heal the rifts that it caused.

We found encouragement other places, with mentors at church and Christian friends who encouraged us in our faith.  We spent most of our time together volunteering at youth events.  A few years into our relationship, we both knew that we wanted to get married.  But though we were in a much better place with my family, they still felt that we weren’t in a good place for marriage yet.  It was starting to become obvious that we needed to get married or break up, the relationship felt stuck with no good resolution.  We decided that we needed to separate.

I felt that it was the right decision, even though it was incredibly painful at the time.  I decided to take my brother up on an offer to visit him in Guam, and a few months after our breakup, I was flying to the other side of the planet for 6 months.  We had decided that if either of us felt God’s leading with another person, that we were free to pursue it.

The entire time that I was in Guam, he kept in touch with me.  Even without the romantic aspect of our relationship, our hearts were interconnected as friends.  I spent a lot of time praying about other young men that I was meeting, but God seemed suspiciously silent on the issue.

When I finally came home from my travels, I had concluded that some decisions God leaves up to us.  I needed to be able to choose a path that my life would go down, and be confident in it.  I had spent too much time fearing that I would miss God’s perfect will for my life, and it was causing me to second guess everything that I did.

We slowly started spending time together again, going out in groups and seeing each other periodically.  We had decided that if we were going to be together again, we would be engaged and get married quickly.  So we really just needed to decide the time frame for that before we moved forward.

One Sunday afternoon, stopping by his apartment on my way home from a quick trip to New York, he proposed to me out of the blue, and I said yes.  We were married less than 3 months later on a hot July day amidst family and friends.

I still find myself wishing that our love story was prettier.  That we had made different choices, that it wasn’t so discouraging and painful in places.  I have seen other couples who progressed neatly from milestone to milestone, but for us it was a dark and twisty road to where we are now.  I have also struggled feeling that we don’t “fit” together well.  Our personalities, physical appearance, and upbringing are very different.  At one point we were told that we looked wrong together, and my mind fixates on that at times.  As a teen I remember visualizing my husband, and it is hard to tear down that hypothetical ideal and embrace the flesh and blood man that God gave me.

Regardless, God has always been faithful to us.  Every year that passes, I learn more about how to rely on God and how to love and respect my husband.  He is the man that I needed in so many ways, and I am so grateful to walk through this life at his side.

I think that my advice to young women would be to trust God enough to let go of what they want so desperately.  We know, deep in our hearts, what the right thing is to do.  But it is easy to convince your love-struck mind to ignore God’s prompting.  There may also be a time in your life when you just have to choose a path and move forward, and I would encourage you to do that confidently.  Know that God’s will for your life is to trust and obey him, but sometimes he leaves the choices of where and who we end up with to us.

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A Drought of Friendship

Over the past 5 or so years I have been living in a drought of friendship.  I’m not sure how it happened, because I had many close friends in my late teens and early twenties, but as life happened and people moved around I found myself without much fellowship.  I had a few people that I would call on the phone or talk to online, but I lacked in person female bonding.  I remember traveling through Oklahoma and spending a few days with a friend from school there, and we spent the whole time curled up talking about life and God, watching sappy tv shows and drinking cocoa.  My heart needs that connection.

I worked with women that I talked to a lot, and I married and had a beautiful baby, so my life wasn’t devoid of human interaction.  But something is different.  Sometimes you need a friend that clicks with you at the heart.

Something that I had taught myself years ago was to go to God first with my feelings.  I am apt to emotionally vomit on people and never get around to prayer, so it is good for me to work things through with God before I talk them over with someone else.  During the drought I went to God a lot, and I worked on investing in my relationship with him.  I prayed about this lack of friendship and asked for him to fill the dry cracks that I felt in my life because of it.

Another thing that I struggled with was overlooking opportunities for friendship because they didn’t fit my preconceived mold of what I was looking for.  God has always paired me with weird people, but for some reason it is hard for me to let go of wanting “cool” friends.

Eventually, I reached out.  I stopped hoping for a friend to come to me, and instead I decided to be that friend.  I realized that I have a lot to offer, and that my strengths are perfectly suited for deep and meaningful relationships.  And I stopped looking for friendship where I expected to find it.

I now have a few women that I see regularly and consider close friends.  I also have a few women that I see infrequently but I have purposed that when we visit I ask intentional questions and share my true heart because I love them and refuse to live in a shallow place with them.  I have also let go of a lot of past insecurity and am trying to build relationships with people that I was intimidated or irritated by before.

If you are going through a friendship drought, be encouraged.  First, you have the ultimate friend in Jesus, and maybe this is the time that you need to build your reliance on him.  Secondly, stop looking for the type of friends you want and start praying about being a friend to the people God has put around you.  The weird ones always make the best friends.  And when you find that person that your heart clicks with, it is like a drink of fresh water in the middle of a long drought.

10 Ways to be Content Instead of Stir-Crazy

The original title for this post was “How to Survive as a Stay at Home Mom of a One Car Family in a Tiny Apartment with no Dishwasher”.

That’s catchy, right?

If any of that made you cringe or nod your head in understanding, let me tell you about my life right now.  I am a stay at home mom with a one year old daughter, I run a daycare and watch 3 other kids part time.  We went down to one car when our 2nd car died on the side of the highway 6 months ago.  We live in the 2nd story of a big farmhouse in a 2 bedroom apartment that has no laundry facilities and no dishwasher.  And there are days when any one of those things (let alone all of them at once) make me want to scream.

By the grace of God I am learning to love my crazy and cramped life.  Let me share with you some practical tips for if you ever find yourself in my shoes.

  1. Keep it clean.
    There is nothing as depressing as living in a tiny space that is dirty and cluttered.  It makes you feel like a failure.  Like the clutter will eventually cover your floor and the children and you’ll be cast in that Hoarders show on TV.  RESIST THE DEPRESSION.  Pick one thing or spot and clean it.  If that means the countertop or the toys or the kitchen table, just do one place.  It makes you immediately feel better.  Then keep going!  Living in 5 clean rooms sure beats 5 messy ones.
  2. Prioritize kitchen gadgets & counter space
    I have two tiny counter spaces.  One has a dish drainer and one used to house my bread machine and toaster.  I just bought myself a coffeemaker and rearranged everything to give it the top priority spot of honor.  This serves two purposes: first, to look inviting and give me wonderful hot coffee every day, and second, to discourage me from allowing dirty dishes to pile in front of it.  It helps me keep my promise to wash dishes every time the dish pan is full, which in turn keeps me sane without a dishwasher.
  3. Get outside & rearrange occasionally
    If you stay at home and your family only has one car, you go a little stir crazy.  Especially in an apartment out in the country with no stores or friends in walking distance.  The best remedies for that are to get yourself outside as much as possible just to breath some different air, and let yourself rearrange some furniture.  My kitchen rehaul made me love the space all over again, and I just did some moving around in our living room too.  Rearranging gives you a new perspective.  And when you are home as often as you are, you need to love it.  Take some time to think about how your space works and how your family uses it.  We ended up switching around our living and bedrooms last year because we realized it just works better that way.  The biggest priorities are to get rid of unused items and find a home for everything else.
  4. Keep play spaces out of high traffic areas
    Duh, right?  It took me months to realize that if I moved the toys to the far side of our living room they wouldn’t obstruct the doorway.  Sometimes you miss the most obvious things!  Try looking at your space as if you were an interior designer.  Leave your preconceived dislike of the space at the door and think about what would make it flow better.  Think about what pieces of furniture you aren’t using or what weird spots aren’t being utilized.
  5. When you have the car, GET OUT.
    Sometimes I don’t think my husband realizes how much I need to get out of this house.  Don’t be afraid to leave him on his own for dinner and go visit a friend or even just drive to a park or the store.  I am guilty of getting angry about times I can’t use the car when there were 6 other nights that week it sat unused from 4pm-6am.  If you need to get out, GO.
  6. Like your husband
    No matter how big or small your house is, liking the person you live there with makes it 100x better.  Marriage has stages and seasons, and all relationships have ups and downs, but if you can strive for a place where you enjoy each other’s company it will make any other circumstance much more bearable.
  7. Use your kitchen
    One of the most welcoming things that I have found is to be baking fresh bread or have soup simmering in the crock pot.  I LOVE being in my kitchen when there is yumminess on the stove or in the oven.  If you don’t want to make anything right now, try lighting a candle.  A great smelling home is welcoming and friendly, no matter what size it is or how bored you are of it.
  8. Invite people over!
    When your house is pretty and clean, invite some friends over for coffee.  Plan a Bible study or a crafting day, depending on their interests.  I bet every one of your friends has projects they need to finish and this may give them an excuse to do it.  If you have artsy friends you can ask their opinion on rearranging, or you can forget about your house for awhile and just live your life.
  9. Become a DIYer
    Do you like Pinterest?  Go search for apartment living, small kitchens or DIY decor.  You can deck out your tiny space on the cheap and maybe find solutions for the areas that were stumping you.  There is something soothing about breaking out the power tools and attacking a project that has been sitting for a long time.  Install that coat rack!  Hang those pictures!  Flip that Craigslist freebie!
  10. Be intentionally content
    It is so easy to dream away your days by wishing you had a bigger house, another car, more money or a different set of circumstances.  By utilizing these tips you can learn to be content in the home you have right now, even with the flaws.  Contentment is all about trusting God in your current circumstances, and trust is all about how much control you are willing to give him in your life.

Maybe someday we will have a house with a laundry room and a yard.  Maybe someday we will get another car again.  Maybe someday a magic box will clean my dishes for me.  Until then, I choose to believe that washing dishes is therapeutic & I do it with a smile.

Don’t Wait to Get Caught

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In today’s world, we see Christian leaders fall into sexual sin all the time.  Each time a name comes to light, it becomes more and more obvious that Satan has a huge foothold in this area.  And if sexual sin is this common in our leadership, it has to be rampant throughout churches everywhere.

What I believe is at the root of this problem is a fear of confession and a lack of trust that God’s way is better than our own way.  I believe this is the root of the problem because it was the root of the problem for me.  I also believe that the church needs examples of confession and accountability.  We need stories of people who choose God over their temptations on a regular basis.  We need to be reminded of what we believe and why we follow Christ.  And so, to that end, I’d like to tell you my story.

I was introduced to pornography at a young age and instantly, something inside of me woke up that I have not been able to put back to sleep.  You may have heard of people who take one drink and are addicted to alcohol, well, I took one look and I was addicted to sex.  My addiction went unchecked for almost 10 years, escalating to include masturbation and cybersex.

At the same time, I was growing up in a Christian home and building a relationship with God.  I desperately hated these urges that I was not able to control.  I was disgusted at my body’s reaction to things that my heart knew were damaging, both to me and to the other people involved.  I educated myself about the realities of the sexual exploitation industry, trying to convince my mind that this was a horrible thing.  I wanted God to magically heal me and take the temptation away, and I prayed for that constantly.

When I read verses like Colossians 1:22 “..to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation..” those words made me cringe.  I related to passages like Jeremiah 2, Ezekiel 16 and Hosea.  I was the child bride who rejected her husband and went out to seek sex like a whore.

But that was all on the inside.  That happened in the dark and behind closed doors and in my cleared browser history.  In my visible life, I held a position as youth representative on the church board.  I was a trusted member of the youth group leadership team.  I led the drama team in our church and started a worship band.  I led two lives, and I had conditioned my heart and mind to accept this.  Sin had an iron grip on my heart, and Satan whispered to me that only men struggled with porn, that I would be humiliated if I ever was found out.  It was only when the Holy Spirit got through my defenses that I cried out to God.

When I was 17, I gave myself the ultimatum to either get help or get out of leadership in my church.  That fall, I entered an intensive discipleship program where I confessed my secret sin issues and got the accountability that I needed.  I hoped that after the big confession that I would be healed, but that isn’t the way God worked for me.

Even with the help of my advisers and close friends, I had a decade of sin with roots that had grown deep into my life and habits that had to be unlearned.  I needed regular and intrusive accountability to maintain a clear conscience for years, but the peace of living without the fear of exposure over my head, of knowing that I am forgiven and that my life is open to God’s prompting and plan, it is the best feeling I have ever experienced.

It has been another decade since I finally confessed and got help.  There have been times when I failed, times when I backed away from accountability and ended up justifying small indulgences.  But God used the decision that I made in my junior year of high school to build a foundation for repentance and pave the way back to a clean conscience.  Just as it is easier to continue in sin after you have done it once, it is easier to confess and repent once you build that pattern into your life.

My prayers for miraculous healing were not answered.  Instead, I was given enough grace to take each step that was put before me.  God’s way has drawn me ever slowly closer to his heart through the years.  And because of this decade of learning to discipline my mind, I am softer when he convicts me.. I am stronger when he challenges me.. I am braver when he asks me to change.  It is both the mystery of his grace and the daily walk in his will that have worked the miracle in my life.

As a body of believers, many of us have lost the discipline of confession.  We are so afraid that we are alone in these temptations, and so afraid of the disgust that we see slung around on social media when a sinner is caught.  But if we confess our sins he is faithful and just.  He will forgive us from our sins.  Don’t wait to be caught; give yourself up.  Turn yourself in.  You have the choice of wallowing in your invisible dirt or walking into glorious freedom.  I bet you would be surprised who all has been wallowing beside you.

I was meant to be holy in his sight.  Without blemish.  Free from accusation.  Should someone point the finger at me and name my sins, I do not need to cringe.  Satan doesn’t hold anything over me that has not already been confessed and forgiven.  As the song says, sin’s curse has lost its grip on me.

If you are reading this, please do one of three things:  

If the Holy Spirit is convicting you of sin right now, tell a trusted friend that you need to talk to them.  Even just setting the appointment is a huge step on the road to confession and freedom.

If you have dealt with secret sin in your past and are now experiencing freedom in Christ, share your story with someone.  The church needs examples of how to deal with their sin, and you can contribute to that cause.

And if you are not in a place that you feel able to do either of those things, please pray.  Pray for yourself and for others to have the courage to give themselves up and finally be free.  Pray for God to give us all the grace to triumph over seemingly impossible trials and that we would trust that his way is truly better than our way.

A Husband-Shaped Hole

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The first time that my new husband hurt my feelings, I sat on our front steps and cried my eyes out.  It was a warm night at the end of the summer, and as I sat there I asked God how it was possible that just weeks after the wedding I could be this crushed by my loyal and loving (and oblivious) husband.

It was one of those times that God answered me very specifically.

It isn’t his job.

What?

Filling all of your needs.  It isn’t his job.

The tears dried on my cheeks as I thought about that.  I had this erroneous idea that was probably born in my childhood or early teens that marriage was the ultimate goal and would make me happy.  Even knowing intellectually that it wasn’t true, it was a hard reality to actually encounter.

Christian dating/courtship books encourage this idea, though they probably don’t mean to.  Even most of the conversations that I have had about marriage make it seem like singleness is a long hard journey and the reward is marriage.. much like we look forward to heaven at the end of the journey of life.  But marriage isn’t a goal; marriage is a continuation of the journey.  Marriage is acquiring a running partner.  Marriage is the decision to make the hard journey of life with a loving and sinful spouse who is also a novice at the whole thing.

There’s an evangelistic concept that we all have a God-shaped hole in our hearts that only he can fill.. only I feel like as single women we were all subtly told that it is actually a husband-shaped hole.  We long for marriage, and so we imagine that a husband will make us secure or cure our loneliness or fix our brokenness.

It isn’t a husband-shaped hole.  It is definitely a God-shaped hole.  Don’t make the mistake of trying to saddle your spouse with responsibilities that actually belong to Jesus.

Even after 2 years of marriage, sometimes I have to stop and evaluate where I am placing my trust.  Am I expecting things of Jason that are not within his responsibilities (or capabilities) to fulfill?  Am I trusting Jesus to be my Savior and trusting Jason to be my partner?

That night, I got up and climbed the steps back into my house.  I gave my hurt feelings to God and responded to my (still clueless) husband with love.  And I let the hole in my heart be filled by the only one big enough to fill it.

From Winning the Bread to Baking it

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I came into marriage with a well established job in a cushy office and a decent paycheck.  During the first year Jason’s job fluctuated, but my steady income kept us afloat during the rough patches.  Then, when our daughter was 7 months old, I tried to make a career change and ended up unemployed.

The situation had done a number on my confidence and I felt completely inadequate to jump back into the workplace, but I knew that we couldn’t function on one income.  I finally decided to try starting a home daycare, and have slowly been establishing that.  But it has been crazy, going abruptly from dressing for success and rushing the baby to daycare every morning to wrangling rambunctious children and finding the best recipes for homemade bread.

In one sense, I am happier.  I feel like I actually live in my house, the dishes get washed, I make supper most nights, I actually spend significant time with my daughter that I felt cheated of before.

In another sense, it is really hard to go from consistent paychecks to sporadic families paying for childcare.  It is stressful to know that I’m not yet making enough to fill the gap that my old income left.  I am the type of person who will ruminate and agonize over money until I am wallowing in a miserable pit of despair.

There are days when I snap at the kids because I am so busy wondering how we will pay the next bill, there are days when the parents don’t pay me and won’t answer my calls.  How can I find contentment here?

There are days when I have no idea how to be competent at being a homemaker, when my brain is completely blank and I get nothing productive done all day.  How can I accept the grace of God to be sufficient for my inadequacy?

There are days when I feel that staying home was a selfish decision and I wonder why I ever thought I could make enough money without a traditional job.  How can I recognize that my worth is not in what I can bring to the table?

I stumbled upon Psalm 127 and read this:

“Unless the Lord builds the house,
    those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
    the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
    and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
    for he gives to his beloved sleep.”

I felt God speaking into my heart and reminding me of who he is.  He is the one who establishes my steps, he is the one who sustains me.  He does not need my anxiety to accomplish his work in my life, he needs my daily discipline, my cheerful obedience.

He promises to give me rest.

And so, when I am living in this day and I feel like I am failing at adulthood, I set aside my anxious toil and I bake bread.  I gather the kids and we make cookies.  I pull out the crayons and the play-doh.  I wash the dishes, do the laundry, clean my house and cook dinner for my husband.  I make sure that my daughter’s life is full of love and laughter.  I sit quietly and read my Bible, turning every aspect that I am not able to control over to the Father.

And in this daily obedience, I find that he gives me the rest and contentment that elude me everywhere else.