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The Wonders of Vacation

7 Nov

You guys, I’ve been living on the very fine line between utter exhaustion and sweet victory that accompanies successfully managing your life when spread almost too thin. I love the way my life is going right now and I’ve had some refreshing breakthroughs in the past few months but it hasn’t been without work. Adjusting to a new job, pouncing all over grad school (and owning it!), running a household and keeping two dogs happy all without my favorite person in the world coming home every day is…tiring and inspiring all at once. I feel like I must be some kind of amazing to be doing so well right now so excuse me while I give myself a little pat on the back. Also, I’m sorry that I haven’t taken time to write here in the past month but I just got back from a vacation and I feel as good as new.

Most of you, I think, know that I went to Vegas last week to spend my first anniversary with the boy. Let me just say, it was magical and exactly what I needed. It gave us much needed time to focus ourselves on each other again and think about all the things we’ve conquered, dragged each other through, or lost entirely. Being away and doing new things together gave me perspective to talk about new goals and adventures that I’d like to take on together. We woke up every day and did something different and fun and that’s kind of the magic of vacations, right? They renew your love for possibilities and give you the confidence to try things together or individually.

They’re also a bit addictive like a caffeine rush that gives you a boost and then drops you on your face a few days later. For me, it was hard to come home and settle back into my life here. I always feel like I need to be working towards a goal and after coming back from such a happy week, I felt like I had so much more work ahead of me. It wasn’t so much the school work or the job situation or any of the small things that I’ve set as goals on my list. Instead it was the big things that made me anxious. Things like finding a better place to live, in a city that’s more our speed and in a home that’s more functional for us. It also inspired some smaller improvements too, though.

Since we’re saving to travel this year, we decided it would be best to stay in our current rental home. This means we’re planning some upgrades that we wouldn’t have bothered with otherwise. The first priority is our barely functional kitchen where I’m aiming to paint and add more storage. I’m currently doing some research on how to do this with a tiny budget but I’m excited for it. Who doesn’t love a challenge?

The trip to Vegas was an important milestone for us not just because we celebrated our first year together but because of what it taught us about vacations. I came away from it feeling like we should make our getaways more of a priority because not only do they give you something to look forward to, but they charge us as individuals and in our relationship. I’m ready to tackle things all over again and of course, missing my partner like never before at the same time.

Lately (Meeting the Jordan)

21 Sep

There’s been lots of reading–scholarly reading at that. (And do you know how much it drains your brain to read around fifty pages of research each day?) Lots of learning to skim and discerning what pieces of information to keep and discuss. I’ve been figuring out things on my own as well as drawing from a forum of clamoring, discordant voices. I’ve planted my feet in fresh soil and begun a new kind of growth as I become enamored with the world of the library and the possibilities it opens for the community. I realize now how amazing people can be when we come together with open minds, offering everything freely without any regard for power.

So if I’ve been silent lately it’s because I’ve been overwhelmed in the very best way. I’m exhausted and simultaneously refreshed in a way I can only describe as spiritual. It’s continually amusing to me how much I thrive when I’m pushed beyond what I know into unexplored places. These days I laugh and cry at the smallest things and smile even when I’m trying to sleep off a headache. I’m writing and downloading new music and being unusually outgoing. This fall has been a spring of sorts for me.

A few months ago, I felt God telling me that I needed to read the book of Joshua. When I got the message, it was one of those weeks when I couldn’t help feeling a little defeated. The past six months or so have a been a bit depressing for me. After my first attempt at grad school fell flat, I felt like I was banging my head against the same brick wall day after day. I continued looking for meaningful part-time work and started volunteering at our public library. I was tired, though, and unaccustomed to feeling unsuccessful. My creativity was shrinking and eventually I just couldn’t motivate myself anymore. I came to the edge of my human ability to encourage myself and belly-flopped  into a pool of need. All my endless positivity couldn’t hide from God my dire need to have some reassurance that good things would happen. I got up the courage to ask him for–or should I say demand–good things and he responded with a homework assignment.

In Joshua, the Israelites have been wandering the wilderness for around forty years while waiting for the generation of Hebrews who were delivered from Egypt to die off. When Moses dies just before reaching Canaan, Joshua takes over as leader and is given a promise from God that it’s finally time to cross over to the Promised Land/Canaan. There’s a few problems with that plan, though, from a human perspective. One, there’s a giant, raging river between them and their new home and two, the people of Canaan aren’t just going to hand over the country and leave. They’re fierce warriors and there’s many more of them than are Israelites. Joshua must have thought God was out of his mind but all God has to do is promise him again and again. He tells Joshua not to be afraid for he’s already given them the land. He’s prepared the way and the people and nothing could stop them now. So Joshua takes him at his word and prepares the people to cross the Jordan. In typical God-form, the waters are parted and the Israelites cross on dry land, rejoicing. From there, the kingdoms of Canaan systematically (though, you know, not-so-seamlessly) crumble and bow before the God of Israel. Some people are brought into the Israelite family but others are…slaughtered mercilessly down to the last child. Yeah, Old Testament is pretty brutal.

The point is, the book of Joshua embodies the end of a long dry spell and a time of spiritual exile for God’s people. He renews his promise to bring them grace and bounty and they are ushered into a land that has already been given to them and it all starts with the river Jordan. When I began reading, I felt that I was on the wilderness side looking into the land of milk and honey and not knowing how I could ever make it across the rapids to that shore. Then I realized I wouldn’t be doing the swimming because all I had to do was surrender and ask. I’m not a big believer in wish-fulfillment-type prayer but I felt God telling me it was time. And, uhm, I was okay with that. 😉

A few weeks later, I was attending the orientation for my new school and feeling absolutely peaceful and happy about it. I knew that I was not only in the right place but that I was going to flourish there. I started asking God to prepare a place for me to work and to shape the hearts of the people who would employ me to make room a place for me. A few days after I started praying for that, a librarian approached me while I was volunteering and asked if I would be available for some part-time work. Of course, I calmly nodded and smiled. Today I interviewed for the position and should start training for it in a week or two.

Don’t you love it?

Trying on Churches

10 Jun

Happy Friday, friends!

Keeping in line with my “keep trying” theme this week, I want to share my experience on finding a good church. Hunting for the right spiritual home can be more than daunting, especially if you’ve spent a large portion of your life involved with one church and then find yourself looking for another. It can be emotional and exhausting and confusing to accept a new group as your home and your family, but really, that’s the way you need it to feel.

Now I’ve moved a few times in the past few years and I haven’t always been great about keeping up this particular hunt. When I moved to Wilmington, Will and I tried a couple churches before I resolved just to go to my parents’ church when I visited home. For some reason, when a church isn’t what you hoped, it’s disappointing in a way that can stop you dead in your search. Don’t be like me, though. Don’t ever settle for a now and then, once a month church. I did that for a couple years and I think my faith really suffered from the lack of a close community with similar beliefs and struggles. It’s important to continue trying to find that community, no matter how hard it seems or however apathetic/resentful you begin to feel on the way. If your beliefs change, embrace it and challenge it. Ask questions and seek answers, just don’t stop when something isn’t the right fit. If you wonder why, read this: http://moreintelligentlife.com/story/david-foster-wallace-in-his-own-words

That said, finding the right group is often as easy as self-examination…which is to say that it’s very hard. You have to be truthful with yourself about what’s important to you and what things have the greatest spiritual priority. For me, religion has to not be about me. Once I chose Christianity as my religion, I split my hunt for a church into three major categories: love for God, love for followers (being me), and love for others. Once those things were established as the most important, I thought about how those are traditionally represented in a church experience. This is tricky because most activities fit into multiple slots. Here’s roughly how I would break it down, though:

Worship: Time spent loving God. For me, the style of worship is extremely important. I don’t always worship best by singing but I like a variety of music. I mostly want to feel that a worship leader has a good connection with what God wants to say to me that day. Have you ever been in a service and every song ministered to you? That’s a good fit for you. That’s what you want to look for, but it doesn’t happen every single Sunday.

Sermons and life groups/ministries: Time spent developing understanding among followers and relationships amongst them. For me, a sermon needs to have a strong scriptural basis so that I’m reassured my pastor knows his material. I don’t particularly enjoy a pastor who only preaches from the New Testament, either. Lots of people do that and I think it skips some of the most profound insights. I also look for people in my age range and recently I check for military groups too. Finally, I like to make sure that there are a variety of classes to take. All this should ensure that I’m growing in my understanding and also learning from others.

Outreach: I don’t necessarily believe in converting every possible person but I always check into what outreach is being done. Scripture is plenty clear about what the church should be doing to help the less fortunate and that is something I can definitely get behind. I especially like it when these things are announced every Sunday and followers are encouraged to participate in many ways.

You may have other priorities as well, but I think if you make a checklist consisting of these things, you’ll always find yourself headed in the right direction. It also helps to really spend some time in prayer, asking God to open your heart when you try something new and allow you feel at home when it’s right.

Good luck to you. 🙂

The Big Question

27 May

Some of you may remember that I mentioned my husband is getting a promotion. Well, last week he finished his preparatory training and there was a graduation ceremony for him and his classmates that I got to go to. I was swelling with pride the entire night until the thing was over when a complicated kind of sadness settled in.

I’ve written before on how I feel about his military commitment and how it is and isn’t a sacrifice at the same time. On one hand, I’m happy that he feels successful in his career and that it’s for him to accomplish things and gain recognition. I know too well how rare that feeling is outside of the military atmosphere. On the other hand, though, I have a lot of anxiety for not being able to control the direction of my own life. I try my best to be endlessly supportive and I genuinely revel with him in his achievements but there’s always a moment afterward when a little voice inside asks, “when is it your turn?”

Being unemployed and in limbo land with school has been harder on me emotionally than I let on. I struggle all the time with feeling like I’m failing at something and I have to wonder why. Neither thing is within my power to control and both are bound to improve eventually. I remind myself constantly that if I keep at it and have patience, I’m very likely to have success at some point. Still, when things don’t come together as you always planned they would, it’s very common to ask yourself if it’s something you should be bothering with at all. If my first attempt at grad school didn’t go well, is it really meant to be? If I don’t get hired onto a company the first time, is it worth trying again or is it just not in the cards?

They’re not questions anyone else can help you with. No one on earth can answer questions of destiny and as much as I believe prayer helps, sometimes I really think the answers are ours to discover. Not every direction given to us can be a result of divine intervention. A lot of what we choose, I think, comes from following our own loves and passions and just being too stubborn to accept less than utter happiness. The question is how do we choose how to feel in the meantime, when things are still slumpy and gray? So much societal pressure says that our significance lies in what we do for a living and how much money we make. I personally hate that ideology but I have to say that it definitely affects me. It’s been a long road for me to feel unashamed to say that I’m unemployed. I also had to learn to pridefully state that I’m a writer and own my talent as my profession. I’m working on the day job thing, I tell people. But even now, I have to tell you that I have a hard time feeling significant.

So the biggest question is: If not our jobs or our wealth, what makes us significant? What reassures us that we are in line with God’s will or our fate in the universe? How can we feel that we’re doing the right thing when nothing is working out as planned?

For me, the answer is that I keep trying. I find ways to make myself happy by helping others and giving whatever we’re able to give. I contribute art to the world but I also try to love as much as possible. I try to pass on my blessings and accept others as part of my universal family. I move forward, even if blindly, because sitting still and waiting for the answer to come to me definitely feels like the wrong answer. If I can’t know what’s right, I have to try not to do what I know is useless.

What is a Real Girl, and Can I Ever Be One?

22 Apr

It’s Friday again? This week has gone by so quickly. I hope you have fun and relaxing plans for your weekend. Personally, I’m looking forward to having some much needed quality time with Hubs. He’s been working hard on training for his promotion and we could both use some old-fashioned dating time.

On to our topic today: the question of what it means to be a girl’s girl. It’s not something I’m very good at and often, I feel like a terrible female when I try to befriend other girls. Those of you who have known me for a long time have probably noticed that I’ve historically had more male friends than girls and marriage has really stopped that trend for me. Something about my nuptials has completely ended the era of lingering in my comfort zone with guys. Not that I’m no longer friends with the guys from before my marriage, I am. It’s just that suddenly guys don’t come up to me and I don’t go up to them.

Of course, it makes me wonder if all my friendships with the opposite sex were initially based on attraction but then, it doesn’t really matter. Whatever the motivation for first contact, I’ve wound up with a small handful of really meaningful friendships with guys. Also, judging from my discomfort interacting with other ladies, I genuinely seem to have more in common with men. Outside of sports, I have a better understanding of their interests than those of most girls: video games, humor, tv shows, music…I know what things most guys like and turns out, I like them too.

When I try to find out what girls like, they’re usually things I care nothing about: clothing designers, fancy nail polish, various love stories/life happenings (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to pretend to be interested in either someone else’s engagement tale or in sharing my own), reality TV. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate listening or being a part of girly conversations. I do honestly care about other girls and take their interests and concerns very seriously…they’re just not usually things I would take seriously in my own life. And I can pace with them. I sometimes paint my own nails and ask them where they bought something that I kinda-sorta like…but I usually feel like I’m faking it. I feel like maybe I missed out on some female code because I never had a sister and my closest friends growing up were the boys across the street.

The truth is, I’m just not a typical girl. I don’t converse easily with others, not even my hairdresser who is basically paid to make me talk to her about my life. I like to talk about the latest documentary I’ve watched, or my newest creative project. I spend an embarrassing amount of time watching SyFy channel and playing RPG’s. I find myself consciously holding back on my very aggressive and protective personality. I have a sense of humor that most girls would probably find mean so I hide that too.

My question is, does pretending to be like other ladies make me a faker or is there always some element of pretending in making new friends? Do we all fake it with each other and is that a good thing?

EDIT: Again, please do not take this post as my way of saying, “don’t talk to me about girly stuff.” Because although I may not entirely relate, I care that it matters to you and I do try my best to be as interested as you are. That seems to be what you do when you love someone. (Remember I am the girl who sat through every Carolina game with my husband even though I just liked poking fun at the players.) My point in writing this post is that I wonder if we’re all hiding things in hopes of meshing better with other people. I’m betting that even the people I perceive to be great at making friends have reservations and I’m curious about the things we don’t say and how fulfilled we feel in relationships because of that.

How Does Your Garden Grow?

4 Apr

Just to update anyone who was worried: it appears that my medical problems are a result of a vitamin D deficiency. It’s a strange conclusion since I actually get a pretty healthy amount of it in my diet between my cereal in the morning and yogurt snacks, but it explains some things and it should be easy to fix. Vitamin D is produced by your body as it processes sunlight so it’s not a stretch to say I just need to photosynthesize a little longer and maybe take some supplements. Anyway, I have a follow-up exam on Friday to discuss my test results and some options for treatment… which means I get to have another degrading talk with my doctor. Hooray.

So! With the results in hand, I’m even more glad that Hubs and I got started on our garden this weekend! I’ve been excited for springtime since we moved in and have been too paranoid to plant before the unexpected freeze we always seem to get when we least expect it in this state. Now that it’s passed, we both set to work on prepping the yard.

Will planned:

Then while he was shopping for materials, I dredged a couple bushes that didn’t want to be dredged:

Then the materials came and Will started building our two raised beds while I continued digging things up:

And Marco helped:

And at the end of the day on Saturday, we had two raised beds and half the yard uprooted:

I was tired but so happy that we finally accomplished one of my major goals from our home improvement list. It was work but the weather was lovely and I didn’t get even a little dirty–something that shocks even me– and we had some TCBY afterward as reward.

What I like about gardening is that the process is always a surprise, you can change your mind as often as you can afford, and the results of your hard work are growing, gorgeous things that everyone can see and appreciate.

You don’t always know what to expect when you’re digging in unknown ground. The soil could be terrible, you could have a pest problem, or you could be pleasantly surprised with rich dirt and a cool breeze. One day the going could be good and the next day you could hit a tree root under one of your planned beds. You just never know exactly what to plan for and mostly, you improvise. You recognize that you can’t control or fix everything but there’s always space somewhere else for you to plant.

My favorite feeling from this weekend is how nice it is to be able to pull up the remainders of last year and plant new and fragrant flowers. Some former plants, projects, goals may have deep roots that just aren’t founded in the things you want anymore and it’s beautiful to sweat and work and dig up something you’re ready to heave over the fence. It’s nice to be able to get rid of the things that just aren’t doing any good.

A leftover hole.

I’m getting ready to have talk with all of you about getting rid of the things that are clogging up your life–your garden. We all need to let go of the eyesores that are blocking our path and weed out the things that hold us back. We have to learn to fill the holes with things that are right and encouraging. If we believe in ourselves, we can start something new and fresh and…well, pretty.

So come back later for talks about minimizing your junk and moving forward. Here are some more pictures for the fans:

Marco loves smelling flowers

But then I caught him:

“That Girl” Is You (In a Good Way)

28 Mar

I have to go on a bit of a rant and tell you what’s inspired me to talk about today’s post. So, without further ado: Bridal competition shows and how much I loathe their very essence.

I’m not talking about Say Yes to the Dress or even My Fair Wedding (as ridiculous as that one is). I’m talking about shows that invite brides to judge each other on their wedding days, or, worse yet, pursue plastic surgery for the occasion. I think they’re despicable and heartbreaking because they take something that all girls have known since their teen years– that feeling of looking in a magazine and wishing you looked like that model or maybe watching someone you knew and wanting to be like her– and twists it into an insecurity to plague you on what should be a day of unconditional love and acceptance. What’s even more sad to me is that the brides on these TV shows care more for what other women are saying and how they’re judging their day than how their grooms feel about them. I mean, what drives a woman to look past someone who loves her and supports her with all his heart? How can it ever be more important to please women who don’t even know them or to fulfill some screwed up body image issues? What is it that’s brainwashed us into thinking we are never, ever good enough?

I’d like to say that I’m completely immune to that thought process but I don’t think anyone can ever be that thick-skinned. My insecurities are placed more in my intellectual weaknesses than my appearance, though. Just pick on my extremely poor math skills and see how quickly I descend into a deep, dark depression and fits of high-pitched weeping. I’ve never been particularly fond of my legs or my teeth but actually, it doesn’t really stop me from dressing whatever way I want or smiling with all my teeth bared because, truthfully, having a good time is more important to me than having someone think I’m beautiful. So…I’d like to think that I’ve done a pretty good job of overcoming those middle school body image issues.

I’m actually a little proud of the way I handled my wedding day. I picked a dress on my first visit, after trying on only five. I didn’t work out or tan…at all. In fact, I took a job to help pay for the wedding that had me working inside, behind a desk for eight or nine hours a day, so I was a little softer and paler than usual. I didn’t even have time to shave or put on deodorant before the wedding. Really, I think it would have been pretty easy for me to feel ugly. Instead, I took in all the love around me and meditated on the joy I felt in the meaning of the day.  All day long, I really think it was the surprising thickness of God’s presence that made me glow and gave me energy to get through everything.

But this post isn’t just about how to handle your image on your wedding day because, really, it’s an every day struggle, isn’t it? When you go to get dressed, do you have a brief moment when you say, “I’d like to put together an outfit like the one in the magazine,” but then immediately think, “No, I could never pull that off?” When you see someone wearing a jacket or some shoes you wanted to buy, do you ever think, “it looks good on her but it would never work on me because I’m not that cool?” I do it occasionally.

And because this entire blog is about being the best person you can be under any circumstances and doing things that make you happy, I feel like it’s time to share some vulnerable things that really help me overcome self-doubt.

1. Train your thoughts on the people who love you. Just forget everyone else– the strangers on the street, the people in your past, your jerk of an ex-boyfriend– and think about how little they care about what you wear or how much money you spent on something. Think about how they care more for your personality and your heart than those material, silly things. Do this every single day. Ritualize it if it helps. Wake up in the morning, go to your closet or your bathroom, and just focus on how good it feels to be loved and supported by your friends and family as you get dressed and ready for the day.

2. Think about the things you want to change and why. Because sometimes when you really understand why you want something to change, it becomes less important–less monumental. Maybe someone in high school made some stupid remark about your arm hair that scarred you for life. Maybe confronting that in your mind and mentally telling off that bee-yotch will make it feel less hurtful. (Wait, what was that? You don’t think you can do that? Don’t let some punk make you feel bad about who you are. Don’t give his/her comments merit by letting it eat at you forever. What did he know anyway? I saw him picking his nose in the school parking lot one day. And she had elbows like ostrich legs, I remember.) If it’s something that’s really bothered you for as long as you can remember…well, maybe it’s time to have a stern talking-to with yourself and really come to terms with that thing. Remember that the less you care about something, the less other people are likely to notice it.

3. If there’s something that bothers you and you can do something about it, do it. Just don’t let it control you. Make a reasonable plan with yourself. If you want to lose weight or tone up or maybe just get a little sun, there’s nothing wrong with that. It shouldn’t take up a significant amount of your time, though. You shouldn’t be thinking about it EVERY time you sit down for a meal or get dressed or go out with friends. Let nothing take away from how much you enjoy your life.

4. Every time you think you’re not good enough in some way, immediately remind yourself of the things you are good at. So what if you have ugly toes? You have great abs and that’s all anyone focuses on when you’re at the beach. Just be careful not to turn this into bashing someone else to make yourself feel better. Remember that everyone struggles with things and part of breaking the cycle is being honestly supportive of other people, especially among women. Too often we rely on mentally or vocally bringing down another girl because we’re having a tough time dealing with something. I’m telling you, you feel so much better about yourself after lifting someone up than tearing her down. I got to show a Lowe’s attendant how I did my hair a couple days ago and it made my week. Anyway, keep your virtues rather than your vices in the forefront of your mind.

5. Take an evening out of every week to just take care of yourself. Paint your nails, take a bath, exfoliate those toes. You will be surprised how much you feel better about yourself after giving your body some attention. It’s probably my favorite part of my week and I usually follow it with time for prayer and meditation. There’s something about taking those tiny steps toward self-improvement that makes every part of you feel more beautiful.

And above all, remind yourself every day that you are the only you in the world and you can be anything you want. You absolutely are “that girl.” So wear the outfit you’ve always wanted, ask out that boy you like, or just leave behind some insecurities. Live as well and happily as you dare.

What are some things you do to feel better about yourself?