The Measure of a Man

My husband turns 30 today. Over the past few weeks we’ve had some really great conversations about this past decade of his life, what he wants to achieve in the next, and have laughed about some of the more ridiculous memories and moments from his life. I have 3 takeaways from reflecting on his life:
1909941_516673594967_5122_n1. There is a lot of wilderness in your 20’s but it can be a fun wilderness if you’re in it with the right people. Your 20’s are so often about trying to figure out who you are yet it makes it challenging when you graduate college in your early 20’s but it takes you several more years to actually shake out what you want to do for a living. If you’re in your 20’s and still confused as to what the heck you’re doing with your life – you are in such good company! Just don’t assume it’ll never work out. My best advice would be to try stuff. Just try it. If nothing else, you’ll figure out your strengths and weaknesses through trial and error. Also – personality and strength assessment tests are my FAVORITE! John and I have taken several and they are so helpful in affirming your best and worst qualities (everybody’s got both let’s not pretend otherwise).
2. If you can look back on mistakes you made without an overwhelming sense of guilt or shame, you’re becoming comfortable with your humanity and the grace of God. John made mistakes in his 20s, just like you did/are doing! But what I love about remembering them with him is remembering how he handled them. Sometimes life is messy and finding your way out of the mess can be difficult – but man, I’m so proud with how John handled not only mistakes but real challenges in his 20s.
3. At the end of the day, it’s people we remember. People who shape us and 183498_1831365553179_2236008_nbreak us and build us up. While talking about many memories from John’s first 3 decades of life, so many of them involved people that I am so incredibly grateful are in his life. Men and women who know how to get John to laugh, who don’t hate on him when he cries, and who value him as a person. No matter how old you are, strive to be someone who errs on the side of loving people. You may find yourself getting hurt more often than those who choose to close themselves off from others but OH will your life be so much richer and deeper. We are all flawed. We are prideful, overly judgemental, and ultimately insanely insecure. So work on being comfortable enough in your own skin that you are willing to allow other people into the softer, more vulnerable and most precious places of your heart. When you find people who know you and love you in spite of yourself, you are richly RICHLY blessed.
Last night John and I watched the GOP Presidential debate together (which counts as part of my birthday gift for him, by the way. 2 HOURS OF MY LIFE.) While parts of the debate were entertaining, the overall impression I got was desperation. Men who are desperate to be the best, most perfect, most powerful, most polished man on stage. I mean, I get it. You’re presenting yourself as a candidate to be President of the United States. It’s a very big deal and you have to be confident. But there is a difference between being confident in who you are as a man versus being confident in how unreliable and petty everybody else is. When I looked over at John while we were watching this debacle (half giggling and half shaking our heads in disbelief) I was struck with how truly and completely grateful I am for him. For the man that he is.
DSC02660More than just turning 30 (age ain’t nothin but a number) and more than just having fancy bachelor’s and master’s degrees and more than just the money in our bank account – I have a man who is immeasurably more than I could have asked for. He has integrity, he lives out of his convictions when it’s hard and unpopular, he weeps for people who are hurting, he gets so much life from encouraging people. When he sees something you’re doing well – he loves celebrating that and challenging you to take it to the next level. He’s my biggest cheerleader! He has embraced his role as daddy with gusto – and Samuel is soaking it all in.
My husband is a man I am proud of and a man I am crazy in love with. I have only been in his life for 8 of the 30 years and I am grateful to every person – family and friend – who has loved him and encouraged him to be who he is along every step of his 30 years.
I love you, John! 30 is the new 40! Oh wait.. woops. Whatever. Any decade looks good on you, babe! Just remember, I will ALWAYS be younger. ❤

Soil and strollers and a God who makes it all work.

Its 6:40pm on Monday night and the mailman rings the doorbell. I open the door, expecting to see another Amazon box filled with cliff bars or theology books (welcome to my world) and instead I find a USPS box addressed by dear friends in New York.
I rip open the package and almost immediately find myself swallowing sobs and smiling like an elf on
Mustache pacifier, y'all. I LOVE IT!

Mustache pacifier, y’all. I LOVE IT!

Christmas: little boy onesies and a myriad of baby accessories spill onto the kitchen counter as I fish in the box for the little envelope knocking around. I read the words of our dear friends sharing in our excitement and I cry harder because these people are so precious to us. They’re cheering for us and praying for us and believing for us that God will make all of the unknowns of first-time parenthood, surmountable and doable. The timing of this package couldn’t be more perfect.

The day before, my pastor had preached on a parable that addressed how our hearts receive the Word of God (Luke 8:4-15). One response to the hearing of God’s Word is to accept and begin to grow in faith but then have your growth and maturity stunted by all the cares and riches and pleasures of the life happening all around you. Basically, life gets in the way of your faith. Or rather — life convinces you that your faith in God cannot possibly satisfy, provide, protect, or sustain you.  As I took notes, I heard a soft voice ask, “Do you care more that I am real and present?… Or about what you’re gonna put on your baby registry?”
I swallowed. Hard. Because He never asks questions to be vindictive or spiteful, He always asks questions to guide and direct (and re-direct) me to Himself. Lately, I’ve been pretty overwhelmed by all the millions of details that have to fall into place for baby’s arrival or oh my gosh he’ll be sleeping in a cardboard box and ALL OF THIS IS GONNA BE A TRAIN WRECK.
Also, hormones are a thing during pregnancy.
I confessed my anxiety and asked for a heart that was willing to be brave and believe. I want a faith that scorns the thorns and digs deep into the promises of God. A thorn-scornin’ faith. How’s THAT for a song title?
Anyways, I have a sneaking suspicion/affirmation from dozens of mothers that this worry over your child is one that needs to be constantly placed back at the feet of Jesus. If we’re not careful, we will be lured into the chokehold of worry or lust or greed or whatever idol Satan slides into the weak parts of our heart. 
I’m realizing if I continue to operate out of a place of fear, I’m gonna miss some pretty special fruit. I’m gonna fuss over all the this-and-thats of preparing for my son and forget to enjoy the fact that he’s been given to me and John as a gift.
My face says it all. This is how I feel about being halfway through my pregnancy. ;)

My face says it all. This is how I feel about being halfway through my pregnancy. 😉

My Heavenly Father longs to help me become an earthly mama. Imagine! The Creator of my little boy longs to commune with me, and guide me through this next chapter. And here I am, eyes glazed over as I scroll through endless websites filled with innumerable varieties of car seats and strollers and cribs etc. Missing it… missing HIM.

I’m still going to do my best to prepare well for this little rascal. I’ll still read articles and seek advice and by golly we WILL get a baby registry together! But I need to do some thorn-scornin’ work in my own heart first. Beginning with the lie that I have to figure all of this out on my own and I better do it perfectly OR ALL IS LOST.
Literally, 12 hours after realizing my need to surrender control over all of this STUFF I received texts from two different people offering a variety of helpful baby gear I could borrow/have and then BAM! a package of faith-building love lands on my doorstep. So I may be all weepy over a bunch of onesies (to be expected) but I’m also sowing new seeds into good soil for this season.
This isn’t to say I’ll never worry again, but rather by the grace of God, I will be quicker to remove myself from the chokehold of worry and slip into the open arms of a God who gives courage to the weak-kneed expectant mother and offers perspective in the face of an ever-growing to-do list.
What about you, reader? Are there thorns in your heart that are choking out your faith? How can you begin the process of breaking free from their grasp?
It’s time to get our hands dirty in some serious thorn-scornin’ work, y’all.

My Valentine is 29!

Let's grow old together, shall we?

Let’s grow old together, shall we?

John —

Happy Birthday! I am so grateful to be your wife and watch you grow into someone who is becoming more like Christ. I am so grateful for the beating of your heart that pulses life into your body — and for all the times I snuggled close and just listened to it. I am so grateful for the days that have added up to another full year of life for you. 29 years! Woo! That is OLD. You are a wonderful gift to me.

Also? I know you aren’t perfect. You aren’t a perfect son, or brother or friend or husband. In your past you have said and done mean things that hurt people, you have thought bad thoughts and acted selfishly. You have been driven by insecurity, motivated by fear and pride, and consumed by the darkness of your own sin. (If you’re anxious for me to reach my point, I promise it’s coming!)

I guess I wanted to remind you of all of those things, of your own imperfections, so you can know that even though I know about them… gosh I love you times a million. I haven’t been around for all of your mistakes but after almost 6 years of marriage, I’ve been around for some of them. When it comes right down to it: I’ve seen you at your worst and ugliest and you know that. You know that because you’ve seen me in the exact same places – ugly, dark, and selfish places. Yet every morning when we wake up to tackle a new day, I look over at you and whisper a thanks to God that He has given me you.

You and all of your OCD cleaning techniques. You and all of your spreadsheets (heaven help me). You and all of your terrible jokes. You and your ability to get away with everything because of your stupid mischievous grin. (related: I’m gonna leave all the disciplining of our son to you ok?)

When I think about our friendship over the past several years, I don’t quite know how to sum it up. You don’t complete me because we’re all created in the image of God and we each have all we need by the grace of God through Jesus — with or without a spouse. You don’t complete me, but you’re slowly becoming a part of me. In some ways, the fingerprints of your love and influence in my life show up in quite obvious ways — I have trained for two half-marathons and successfully completed one! The chances of that happening without your incessant guilt trips accountability are slim to none. I’ve started using phrases and adopting some of your mannerisms; which, I’ll be honest – is creepy. Also, I haven’t turned into a bowl of ice cream! When left to my own devices, that would have probably happened within one year of graduating college. And, most obviously and recently — I’m carrying our first child! So, I mean. There’s that.

But your influence in my life goes beyond just the tangible, physical things. You inspire me by the way you live and work. You have incredible insight into the world around you and the people in it. You see needs and you solve problems and you pray for wisdom and you remind me of how important it is to have integrity, take initiative, and love people even when it’s awkward and messy. Because, most of the time, intentionally loving people IS kind of awkward.

Sometimes when we’re just kind of humming along in life, one ordinary day after another, I’ll come home to you sitting on the patio or listening to music on the couch. I’ll sit down next to you, hold your hand as our stupid cat jumps into my lap and you remind me for the millionth time, “We live like kings. God has given us way beyond what we could ask or imagine.” I know you aren’t just talking about stuff. You’re talking about our lives — the people in them, the gifts we get to share, the memories we cherish, the hard moments that have shaped us, the promises He has made to us that we always underestimate. I love when you slow down and give thanks. It never fails to teach me and challenge me.

When God gave me you, it HAS been more than I ever bargained for asked or imagined. As you begin living your 30th year of life, as we prepare for the arrival of our son, as we continue to plan and dream about the future, I will be right next to you. We move forward together, we fall backwards together, we mess up together, we forgive together, we cry together and sing together and, by the grace of God, we die together.

Happy birthday, valentine. And thank you. Thank you for loving me.

Sorry, not sorry for this. It makes me laugh every time.

Sorry, not sorry for this. It makes me laugh every time.

 

The Best Parts of Life

IMG_3222

Last night we said goodbye to close friends we’ve walked through life with over the past several years. For John, he was saying goodbye to someone he’s been in community with for 10 years. And that’s hard.

After all the festivities of the goodbye celebration and putting away all the leftovers of their fridge into ours (what are good friends for right?), John and I sat on our patio to soak up the remainder of the unusually cool evening. It’s in moments like these when the pain that’s been throbbing in the back of your heart finally gets the attention it’s been craving. When life grows quiet we naturally find ourselves looking on the inside and assessing how we’re really doing.

We had sent our friends off with absolutely zero question in their minds of how much we loved them and are so thrilled for their new adventure. Our appreciation for them has grown from a place of countless gatherings, many tears as we stood by them during deep and dark waters of grief, and hours of laughter and encouragement. As I was processing this transition with John last night I recognized in me this compulsion to push aside the feelings of pain welling up in my heart and force myself to think of all the ways this move is wonderful and God-honoring etc.

I am a stubborn optimist but sometimes I can’t get out of my own way and just grieve. I struggle to let myself sit in the reality that I can’t pop in for a visit or spontaneously spend a Friday night with them anymore. It hurts to go there, you know? To let yourself think about it.

I’m learning that there really is no reason to be unnecessarily brave when your heart is breaking. Let it break. And over time, watch as it fills up with an appreciation for your life and the people in it that wasn’t there before. 

As a Virginia girl falling in love with the Lonestar State, as a sister embracing the role of “crazy aunt Rachel in TX” , as a friend learning to make sporadic emails and phone calls count for something, I am amazed at the resiliency of relationships. All of our hearts are so fragile and yet we willingly enter into each other’s lives because we need each other. All of those ugly cries in the car and quiet streaming tears on the back patio, are proof that you have chosen to invest yourself in something more important than your own happiness. Love is a beautiful, difficult giving away of yourself.

I have become too familiar with the throbbing pulse of “I hate this” in my throat as I enter into each new chapter of sending/ leaving/missing. Yet I have also experienced the balm of genuine friendship, laughed until I cried, held a brand-new human being and carried loved ones in prayer through those chapters. New chapters have always lead me to new loved ones because God is in the business of making sure we share what He has given us. The more of myself I have given away, the more I have experienced the best parts of life.

Last night I scooped up my rambunctious 3-year-old godson for the last time for a long time, planted a big kiss on his cheek and said, “Buddy? Do you know that I love you?” “Yes!” he responded, with joy sparkling in his eyes, “And I love you too!” As I watched him run off to play, I let my heart break. I admitted to myself that this was hard but I realized I didn’t regret one moment I spent loving that little booger or his family.

Love has a funny way of filling us up even as we pour ourselves out.

 

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  – 1 Corinthians 13:7

 

Change: An Opportunity for Worship

Exciting things happen when your life changes. I remember when I discovered I had met the guy I wanted to share the rest of my life with. The realization both thrilled and terrified me. I remember that feeling when I watched my parents drive away as I stood outside my college freshmen dorm. I felt new freedom and a profound loneliness.

The nature of change is that it creates new limits, it brings new character to the surface. We reach new heights and taste deeper disappointments when life changes. Without change, where would be our milestones? When would we celebrate? Why would we celebrate?

And yet, lets be real. I despise change. My knuckles tighten on the known and my heart begins to pound and tremble as it is slowly broken open to reveal a different story than the one I had imagined. Change is also often shrouded in tears, whether happy or sad or fearful. This seems so appropriate to me because change puts heavy stress on the heart. Not necessarily in the “watch your blood pressure” kind-of-stress. It’s the “you can’t contain this moment” kind-of-stress. So, your heart breaks with joy, or sorrow, or pain, or relief. And the tears spill down your cheeks.

I spent a few minutes home alone this afternoon having imaginary conversations with some dear friends who graduated from seminary today. I tried telling them how much I loved them and specific ways I had been inspired and blessed by them. Every single one of those conversations faded into a blubbering nose-blowing Rachel and I got frustrated. Until I realized that maybe it was ok to just cry. To stand before my friends say, “THANK.YOU.” and collapse into a puddle of tears. Because that’s how I feel. That deep, abiding, aching, unapologetic love for those people. It’s a GIFT.

Even change that comes from loss or hardship becomes a building block in our lives. We look back on it and think, “That was hard… but my life didn’t stop there. I’m a different person because of that experience. Good, bad, or indifferent, that has shaped me.”

So, for better or worse, change is here to stay. People will move to different cities, lives will be transformed, hearts will break, babies will be born, loved ones will pass away, memories will be made, and it probably won’t look anything like what you expected. But it will be right. Because your life is not a mistake, friends. No joy you’ve ever celebrated or pain you’ve ever grieved is wasted. Take time to remember the changes in your life. Mark in your hearts the times where you encountered a crossroad and made big decisions, when you achieved great accomplishments or encountered crushing disappointment. And I invite you to turn it all into worship.

Worship the One real thing in this world that will never ever ever ever ever change. Worship God with a wide open heart. If you haven’t let Him in yet, friends… Would you? He is knowable. He carries you through every change with the same hands that formed the stars and the deserts and the oceans. He has scripted your future, He is not surprised by your past. He sent His Son to be slaughtered for you, so that you could have a chance to change. Not so that you could be a “better person” but rather to set you free. He did it for anyone who would believe that He really does love us that much. He deserves all power and honor and glory and yet He still wants you.

Yes, He will change you. No, it isn’t always easy. But when your circumstances change, you will always have a Rock on which to stand. And your overwhelmed heart will always find refuge in His unchangingness. That’s where I went this afternoon – straight to my Heavenly Father. In worship. And before I knew what had happened my tears of sadness turned to gratitude. For He is good, even when life is hard. And that will be the same today, tomorrow, 2 weeks from now, 10 months from now, 38 years from now and throughout all eternity.

Hallelujah!

 

GNO

We piled into one Honda civic; all five of us happily squished and feeling like we were back in college as we made our way to a favorite restaurant in Dallas. We chatted about nothing and everything and eventually made it though the perilous pot-holes despite our self-proclaimed “terrible” driver who was an angel for not losing her mind while we told her to turn into an alleyway as wide as a ball-point pen and “oops make a U-turn” etc. She’s fearless and not at all terrible, unlike yours truly who loses all hope for mankind when she’s behind a steering wheel.

When we arrived we were told it would be a 45-minute wait, which is only OK because their Chicken Cobb Salad is the closest thing to perfection. As we waited outside I got someone to take our group photo (because I’m *that* lady, minus the fanny pack) and we continued chit-chatting while reading a billboard about mosquitoes and the West Nile Virus. It was fabulous but eventually we were swayed by the doomsday billboard to retreat indoors where we would be out of reach from the disease-spreading ankle-biters.

Once we finally sat down at our table and ordered our individual plates of perfection, something awesome happened.

It began with one girl talking about her life, and then our future plans came into the conversation and sprinkled into all of this was an open admission to our fears and imperfections and insecurities. We laughed at the absurdity of our fears while acknowledging that we had them. I had failed to notice I was wearing a mask of “it must just be me” until these girls gently began to peel it away. They didn’t know what they were doing or how our conversation affected me but I began to see it.

When one girl shared, the others listened. It was simple but it left an impression on me and I found myself thinking, “Why don’t we do this more often?” I knew the biggest obstacle was busyness. Life was in a hurry so relationships had to wait. But that philosophy lost all reasonableness when I was in the company of these women. I need these moments — these people. We all do. It doesn’t have to be while eating tasty food at a snazzy restaurant. I observed the same phenomenon while sitting around a coffee table in my sweatpants later that night, munching on brownies.

Between the five of us we wear the hats of wife, mom, nurse, nanny, and 8-to-5-er. All of us are busy with 1,000 responsibilities that make up our days and occupy our hours. We were all looking forward to this night but I didn’t really realize why until now.

I thought having a Girl’s Night Out would leave me feeling happy and girly (success!), but it did more than that — it revealed to me the remarkable people around me who I might not always live 15 minutes away from. I was reminded that I need to fight for this, not just be pleasantly surprised when it happens. I need to tell people that they matter, pray for them, and change my list from “things to do” to “people to love.” Not because I’m an extrovert who loves people but because I’m a person who can’t do it alone and the same God who created me to thrive in authentic community also gave me the means to find it and contribute to it.

If you haven’t made time to connect with “your peeps” in a while start planning a night out, a lunch date, a phone call, a skype session TODAY. It may be a few weeks down the road, with 2 people or 10 people, but guard it like your life depended on it because it kind of does. And take note: my intent in sharing this isn’t to encourage you to over-commit and burn out (been there, done that, no thanks) — it’s to make time for the people who will make sure that you won’t.

When you wish upon a mountain, you just might miss the sunset.

VA landscape

John and I just enjoyed a whirlwind weekend visiting friends and family in VA. 🙂  As usual I came with my heart wide open and was cheerfully swept up in the magnetic pull of the East Coast, occupied by so many people I love.

I wish I could record and re-play the moment of holding my brand-new nephew Cade and happily crying as I prayed over him on the back porch of my childhood home. I wish I could keep all the kisses from my 80-years-young grandmother in my pocket and pull them out when I’m lonely or scared. I wish I lived closer to my adorable niece, Emma so I could run with her and march with her and chase after her with a broom while laughing at her silly screams of delight. I wish I could babysit the kiddos that were born to dear friends, and be a familiar face instead of a passing traveler. I wish I could bottle up the warm welcome we received at our old church home on Sunday morning. I wish I could squeeze their hands again and invite them over for lunch. I wish I could have danced the night away at a beautiful wedding reception instead of driving the night away to another hotel. I wish I could step outside and smell the sweet summer rain that wakes up the soil on the mountains and rinses off the patient hills. I wish TX wasn’t so far away from VA.

But, as my mom so matter-of-factly states, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride!”

The reality is, that’s not my reality. And you know what? That’s OK. A part of me will always be tied to the hills of VA but there is another part of me that is being shaped and influenced by the sweeping plains of TX. The part of me that had to put on my “big girl” pants and get a full-time job, that has to commute to that full-time job, that pulled out the crockpot and put away the cereal box because “Man cannot live on Fruity Cheerios alone!” It’s a newer part of me and one that I’m just starting to get comfortable in. I’m sure that once I get comfortable, something else will change and another part of me will stretch unused muscles and make new mistakes. That’s just growing up, I guess.

When I think about leaving the sweet friends who have made the Lonestar state not-so-lonely for us, I just wanna punch a wall. I don’t like knowing that when John graduates, we’ll have to say goodbye (AGAIN) to people we wish we could live next-door to, share Saturday mornings with, and lean on when life throws a mean curveball. Yet I know that there are some friendships that don’t give a rip how many miles apart you are because as far as they’re concerned, you’re stuck with them for life.

And if there’s anything I’ve learned each time my heartstrings are yanked in a hundred different directions, it’s this:

Wherever you are, it’s worth the pain and the risk to love people back.

It’s so good to visit the house I grew up in, the friends I went to school with, and the family I treasure. But it’s also good to be home again, enjoying the panoramic sunsets and delightful friendships we could have only found deep in the heart of Texas.

TX sunset at WRL