So grateful for all the lessons I learned from my mom. Thought I’d share this with all of you (from my personal blog).

Just wheat

“TV rots your brain.”

I don’t actually recall my mom saying this. But I know that she believed that spending too much time parked in front of the television was not healthy or productive. We had a TV set in the living room; we just weren’t allowed to watch more than one hour of TV each day, except on Friday nights and Saturday mornings. Each Friday night, my stepdad handcrafted homemade pizza for us, and sometimes doughnuts, and we’d all pile into the living room to watch T.G.I.F. on ABC.

Growing up, we didn’t have many battery-operated toys, either. She encouraged us to use our imaginations and to entertain ourselves with Barbies, skates, and forts made with old sheets and dining room chairs. We never owned any video-gaming equipment, even though all our friends owned a Nintendo gaming system. When my stepsister Sarah brought a Nintendo set home with her…

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Grateful for a lifetime

*Special thanks to my friend Erin Smith, soon-to-be Erin Jennings, for serving as today’s guest writer.*

Some dream of a wedding of elaborate elegance,
A church filled with family and friends.
He asked me what kind of wedding I wished for,
I said one that would make me his wife…..

This is all that I want; there are no need for whistles or bells.  I don’t require a fancy dress or even a church. The only thing on my mind the last two days is that I want the love my now fiancée and I share together to be recognized by God and stitched together by vows that I know in my heart will never be broken. Some may say when they think of marriage that you are “tying yourself down,” but this is nowhere near how I feel. I could not be happier right now if someone bought me a llama (don’t laugh–it’s been a lifetime dream since childhood). Honestly though, what could feel better than finding someone who makes you a better person, who listens to your fears as they are their own and comforts you likewise? What could feel better than running around with no makeup on and having someone tell you that you’re more beautiful then than any other time? What could possibly make someone feel more “free” than knowing that they are loved simply for who they are and exactly how they are? I can’t think of one single thing.

Can you sense my excitement? I can! My face hurts from smiling (seriously). I feel so very lucky to have found such an amazing counterpart. Seeing that this is not a first marriage for either of us, I have already encountered a bit of speculation as to what makes this different from before…. EVERYTHING. I am nowhere near the same person I was three years ago, or for that matter ten years ago, and I am very proud of this fact. There have been so many things that I have learned in the last few years, and I am certain in saying the same goes for Josh. The biggest thing that both of us acknowledge is that God put us on the path to meeting, and if we continue to make Him a strong presence in our lives, than there is nothing that we can’t handle. Also we both know that trust and being open with each other is a BIG thing. When you are able to talk about anything like best friend, that takes so much pressure off the other person and opens a thousand doors to feeling secure and happy. I might have had to learn some of these things the hard way, but I am so very glad that I have used those experiences to mold myself into a much better person who understands finally what is important in life.

I am so grateful that I have made it to this place. I have never been more comfortable with who I am, and even though I am a continuous work in progress, I now have this amazing man by my side to cheer me on and to whom I hope I am the same bright light and inspiration too. Wow, what a great feeling!!!! What’s even better than the fact he and I are starting a new chapter to our lives together is that it is not just us. We both have the most wonderful children (together it will be three boys and one girl) and supportive families to go along with us. Our families have accepted our engagement with open hearts and arms. I get the feeling that they share equally in our excitement to start our lives together, and this is a major thing for everyone. I am so honored to be able to add a sister, mother, and father in-law to my family soon. These people have made me feel like I am exactly where I belong. I breathe a great sigh of happiness every time I think about it. Not only do I get the most amazing man as my husband, but I also get to inherit this fantastic group of people to add even more support and love to my life. I will get two new nieces as well…… seriously, just color me happy!!

Now I know and am fully aware that no relationship is all roses and butterflies, but with having all these building blocks in place, I also know I am well on my way to a very fulfilling second half of my life. Not only am I getting to marry the person who has quickly become my best friend and closest confidant, but I am getting to add a whole new and wonderful layer to my entire family. I am so grateful to be able to say all of this and mean it from the bottom of my heart. I am so grateful for a love that cares nothing about the past, trust that will lead to a stronger future each day, and a faith that when things get hard I have someone who will hit their knees right next to me. Grateful?….. That just doesn’t seem strong enough a word.

 

Unlocking freedom

We planned our recent honeymoon around visiting my long-time Chinese friend, Brandon*. It might seem like we bent over backwards to visit him, but since he had gone through the trouble to come work in the States for a while, and was already spending a ridiculous amount of his own money to fund his stay here, it seemed like the right thing to do.

So the first night on our honeymoon was spent touring a small town in the South, eating local Chinese-American food, and reminiscing about the three times I’d been to China while in college as part of a cultural exchange team. Brandon was also a college student at the time, and he served as one of our tour guides/interpreters during much of the trip. In addition, we became great friends in a short amount of time. We shared a common belief in Christ, and we learned a lot from each other.

While we share a common faith, we don’t share the same abilities to express it freely. Being a Christian in China is a very different experience than being a Christian in America. In many parts of China, those who proclaim to adhere to any sort of faith or belief system face various levels of persecution, ranging from limited job opportunities to imprisonment or death. While my friend Brandon lives in a relatively tolerant area of the country, he still doesn’t have the same kind of freedom I have to express my faith, worship, and share my beliefs with others. In a sense, in order to survive and maintain the safety of himself and his family, he must bury his faith within himself at times and keep what is most personal under lock and key. He must quiet the song within his heart from reverberating too loudly.

I pray for him and others like him across the world who, because of political restrictions and lack of basic freedoms, must constantly monitor their words and actions–not to avoid offending people, but to avoid facing persecution. As cynical as I am about the government and as little faith as I possess in its ability to change for the better, I’m still grateful for what precious freedom we do have in our country. I’m grateful for the individual people who willingly sacrificed their lives, time with their families, and their own freedoms in order to preserve mine.

Maybe someday, Brandon’s faith can sing out loud.

* Brandon’s name has been changed for privacy  purposes.

Washed away

On our first day of vacation at Gulf Shores, we decided to hit the beach, take pictures, and cool off. James is always more adventurous than I am, and he jumped into the water and started swimming out into the ocean past the breakers right away. I timidly stood at the shore and slowly moved further out.

He grabbed my hand and told me to follow him past the breakers into calmer water. I didn’t really want to, but I decided to give it a chance, so I followed him. A few minutes passed, and a gigantic wave crashed into me, submerging me for a moment and knocking my very expensive prescription sunglasses off my head.

“Where are your sunglasses?” James asked, frantically looking around in the water.

“Gone,” I said. “That’s several hundred dollars just gone.”

I headed back to shore.

“Why don’t you stay out here? There’s nothing we can do about it. They’re gone. We’ll just get you some new ones,” he said.

“I know there’s nothing I can do about it, but it makes me sick to lose something so expensive. And I don’t feel like swimming when I’m upset. That’s not fun to me,” exclaimed an emotional, water-logged, pregnant wife.

I headed to the beach and laid on my towel, contemplating how to get a copy of my prescription while two states away and get prescription sunglasses made in a timely fashion. James came to join me and comfort me.

“Babe, really it’s okay. It’s just money. And luckily we can afford to replace them, so we will just do that. Let’s go back and take care of it right now,” he said.

So we did. And of course, it all worked out fine. Sure, we had to alter our plans that day and the following day to accommodate my lack of sunglasses and the time it took to make new ones. But we found other fun things to enjoy and used the time to shop and rest together. Everything was fine.

I’m not sure how James maintains such composure most of the time, or how he can almost always see the horizon in spite of the crashing waves in front of him, but I’m grateful he does.

And I’m grateful I lost my sunglasses that day. Maybe every time I put my new sunglasses on, I’ll remember that things are only as big a deal as I let them be.

Paying it forward

*Thank you, Henry Petty, for serving as today’s guest contributor!*

One day, Bethany posted something on here from her friend, which led met to her post about a friend in need of trinkets and charms – it was a crafty web site, definitely man-card revocable content.  Anyways, I responded by getting a neat angel trinket from a small Christian supplies store up the street from where I worked and mailing it to the address as requested.

Fast forward a couple of months later . . .

This package arrives on my doorstep much to my surprise and shock:

Because Bethany’s friend has a crafty website, she sent me a bunch of crafting books as a thank you.  I really wasn’t expecting this at all.  It didn’t take much pondering on what to do with the books, as I have a good friend, Jennifer, whom I work with that makes hand crafted jewelry.  I left it on her desk, which completely took her off-guard.

She asked me if they were on loan, and I said absolutely not–they’re yours.  I’m just paying it forward.  To MY surprise, she came back shortly afterwards and showed me a beaded handkerchief holder she made inspired by the books.  Then, she gave me a necklace and earring set to give to my girlfriend.

My girlfriend was graduating soon, and I needed a really good present to give to her.  It very well could have been the best gift I’ve ever given. 

I had never intended to receive anything back from the little trinket I sent Bethany’s friend in need, and almost feel bad because the rewards I received were almost far greater than what I have given.  I take consolation ib knowing Jennifer will take those books and expand her knowledge, thus creating some awesome jewelry for others to use.  And my girlfriend graduated with her Master’s degree in style.

Isn’t it funny how things work out?

*For more from Henry, check out his blog.*

Manic migraines

Today is my seventh day in a row with a migraine.

I swear its onset is related to our return from our honeymoon to the beach. About four hours from home, the migraine reared its nasty head. Despite medical treatment and an array of other attempts to decrease its severity, it’s decided to stick around, teasing me with a few hours of relief occasionally.  I’ve suffered from migraines since college, but I’ve never had one last for seven days.

I know it’s hormone-related, and even though I feel terrible, I’m still grateful for the hormones because without them, I wouldn’t be pregnant with our precious child. Still, it’s difficult to maintain a positive outlook and pleasant disposition when my head is pounding and aching incessantly.

A few days ago, while reading my devotional book My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers, I came across a paragraph about our moods.

“There are certain things in life that we need not pray about— moods, for instance. We will never get rid of moodiness by praying, but we will by kicking it out of our lives. Moods nearly always are rooted in some physical circumstance, not in our true inner self. It is a continual struggle not to listen to the moods which arise as a result of our physical condition, but we must never submit to them for a second. We have to pick ourselves up by the back of the neck and shake ourselves; then we will find that we can do what we believed we were unable to do. The problem that most of us are cursed with is simply that we won’t. The Christian life is one of spiritual courage and determination lived out in our flesh.”  -Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, May 20

I needed that.

Lying around with a cool rag on my head in a dark, air-conditioned room doesn’t help to improve my migraines, and it certainly doesn’t improve my moods. It doesn’t calm me down; it frustrates me because I lie there thinking of the day wasting away and passing me by. Relaxing? Meditation? Yoga? No, these things do not rid me of my migraines, unfortunately. Do they improve my mood? Try meditating with a real migraine, and you will have the answer :).

So how can I make any changes to my mood if I can’t change my circumstances? If I can’t control or alter my physical condition, and my mood is directly related to my physical condition, how can I improve my mood?

For me, the answer only lies in my relationship with God. I can choose to talk to Him while I’m lying in the cold, dark room and use that time to pray for people who need it most. I can attempt to smile when I’m at work even though I don’t feel like it, sharing a little joy with people who might benefit. I can keep in mind that no one around me causes the pain I’m experiencing, and it’s not fair to take that pain out on them.

And last but not least, I believe it’s important for me to remember to be easy on myself. I don’t have to smile constantly. I don’t have to pretend to feel great when I don’t. And if the laundry sits in a pile for two more days because I’m still suffering from this migraine, life will continue without any major catastrophic consequence.

In the mean time, maybe I’ll start planning our next trip to the beach.

It’s about time!

Photo by Sarah Crowder of Phoopla Photography

For the first time in four years, I’m going on vacation.

Four years is considerably too long for a person to go without taking a real break from real life for a really long time (well, at least for a week). But life happens–at least, my life happened to me, and I found myself pinching pennies, getting divorced, and working multiple jobs to make ends meet.

Thankfully, when James and I moved in together, he decided that I’d spent way too long taking care of other people and working myself into a tailspin. When I searched for a job after relocating back to my hometown, he suggested that I look for something that would give me flexibility, a lower level of stress, and bring me some level of happiness.

It took me a while to climb aboard the S.S. Wallace, kick up my heels, and hold onto a tall glass of lemonade (or a nice cold beer) and let go of the ingrained notion that if I weren’t making more and more and more money, I must be doing something wrong. Choosing to make less money–by choosing a job which brought me happiness and plenty of flexibility–proved to be the right decision for me at the time. Later, when I started working part-time instead of full-time, I decided to spend the extra time going back to graduate school.

Now, having just finished my first semester of school and feeling pretty darn proud of myself for pulling excellent grades, I’m heading off to the beach with my new handsome husband to kick up my heels and grab a glass of lemonade (hold the beer. . .  I’m pregnant :).

I couldn’t be more grateful.

P.S. Please forgive the temporary lack of posts while I build sandcastles, fish right along the beach, and consume as much delicious seafood as possible.