November 28, 2014

Counting Thankfuls

Family time around the fire pit. 


Let me be thankful.
Thankful.
Like, really thankful.
Eyes squeezed shut, tongue sticking out a little, thankful.

What am I thankful for?

God, family, friends, and food. The classic G3F's. The important Thanksgiving rituals.
God, family, friends, and food. Repeat. I am thankful. Thankful.

Come on, Mandy, remember to be thankful.

Coughing. Hacking. Laughing. So very, very sacrilegious. The Thanksgiving pilgrims would be ashamed at my lack of Thanksgiving. It's just all so, covered in "Happy Fall Ya'll" banners and decorated with mason jars. Pumpkins and pilgrims and I can guarantee that those turkeys made out of brightly colored paper look nothing like the real deal right before the real deal becomes a meal.

I'm thankful. I really am. I'm thankful for the G3F's. God, family, friends, and food. I'm just...over-stimulated and over-fed. Desiring a detox almost as much as another piece of pumpkin pie. Pass the seconds, if I can't learn how to do a cleanse, at least I'll eat till my little heart goes out on me.

I hope, in some small way, you're catching on to my sarcasm. Even more importantly, I hope you're catching onto the small, thin, scraped too scarce layer of truth I feel in my heart.

There's too much food in my life, too many distractions, too many Instagram pictures blowing up my newsfeed for me to feel really and truly connected to the feelings of thankfulness instead of the emotions of Thanksgiving.

Today was a very unique Thanksgiving in my corner of the world. My handsome man flew off to Arizona to be with his dad for the weekend, my sister and her handsome man are spending one last day in Colorado before their big move (yipee!), and my grandma opted out of a get-together today in favor of one on Saturday. With a happy heart I drove the two hours to my parent's house, listening to music I haven't listened to since my freshman year of college, and I played the student card once more. Complete with a laundry basket full of dirty clothes.

Some things might never change.

With laughing hearts, we hopped over to my dad's hospital while he made a few rounds to wish his employees a happy Thanksgiving, and we ate the feast that the cafeteria staff prepared. While this may sound absolutely terrible to some people, it was an amazing experience. Not because I felt like we were doing good gracing the hospital employees with our presence, but because we had an absolutely delicious meal prepared for us, and we didn't have to cook or clean a single dish. All in all, the infamous Thanksgiving dinner took 30 minutes from start to finish. I was totally, 100%, okay with our lunch situation.

However wonderful our lunch event may have been, it was not very traditional. Neither was our afternoon, which was not spent playing football or watching (much) football or anything to that extent. Instead, the three of us played a few vicious rounds of Candy Land and then promptly fell asleep on the floor. It's been a long week (/year), and a nap is a beautiful cure for all ails.

And then...here I sit. Typing away and trying to compose some sort of aura of thankfulness to fit in with what everyone else is saying. I am thankful for so many things, truly, but my parents know how much I love them and my husband gets enough sappy text messages when he's away to know that he is indeed, missed. My level of appreciation for the people in my life goes beyond one day or one emotion to be summed up so quaintly in a, "You rock!" sort of thank-you card.

So, with scattered thoughts, here are the things I am truly thankful for in the here and now:

1. I am thankful for hard moments. The moments that make you catch your breath and whisper, "Don't cry don't cry don't cry." I am thankful for the intense pain that reminds you that you are, indeed, alive. Even more so, I am thankful for the people who surround you in these moments and remind you that despite pain, it is good to be alive.

2. I am thankful for hearts that break. To have a heart that can still be broken when I hear about children starving or growing up as orphans, to have a heart that weeps when incarcerated men and women die alone, to have a heart that feels another's pain as easily as if it were their own...that is to know that your heart still works the way it was intended to work. May we never grow so callous, so cold, and so guarded as to have hearts that will not break.

3. I am thankful for friends that challenge me. You know the types, the difficult to love friends. The friends that never seem to love you quite as much as you love them but you just can't give up. I am so thankful for these people. They remind me that friendship takes effort and it is never free. It costs time, emotional involvement, and vulnerability. It can cause pain, heartache, and sometimes it just doesn't feel worth the investment. But these friends, the hard to love friends, are so beautiful and so worth loving. I am truly thankful for them.

With a different sort of heart this Thanksgiving, I am truly thankful for the things that have been difficult to deal with this year. Hard moments, hard friends, and hearts that are able to break. Truly, these things, difficult though they may be, have opened the doors to enrichment in my life, and for that I am indeed indebted to their existence.

I suppose, in some sort of fractured closure, I should also mention that I thankful for the silly pets we allow our hearts to love. Like our sweet Sammy dog, who never caught a rabbit no matter how many she chased, but was very content to keep trying. It's always hard to come home to a childhood house without a childhood dog to greet you at the door, but silly pets like these are worth all the sad emotions and more. Cheers, little Sam.

November 26, 2014

Keeping This Covenant - 4 Misconceptions of Marriage


The white dress. An absolutely, completely in love, my cheeks hurt but I can't stop smiling smile. Handsome suit and a handsome man. Oh the wedding bells do love to ring in every season. This summer alone, we went to eight weddings and turned down invites from six more. Wedding season. Ring by spring. It seems as though everyone and their man is going to the chapel. 

Then, the honeymoon draws to an end and the dirty dishes begin to pile up. But who will wash them while wearing that white dress? Who wants to get messy while donning a tux? Who can truly dance in sync with pinching shoes and sky-high heels on their feet? Life is beautiful, but it's not always pretty. Marriage is sacred, but it's not always fancy. Love is treasured, but it's not always simple. Growth is necessary, but it's hardly ever easy. 

In modern society, we spend so much time dreaming of an event, that the marriage slips to the side. The allure of "true love" sparkles over the troubles of "real love." It's the real love that attracts me. Even during the hard weeks, and there are hard weeks, I am reminded that we chose this road. Even in the midst of the arguments, and I love a good argument, I know that at the end of the day, we will resolve the issue. Even when life gets rough, really rough, I know my husband is still on my team. We might be throwing golf balls at each other and swimming for our lives, but somewhere beneath it all, we're on the same team. There are these misconceptions that float around, dreamy ideas, romantic and sweet, but they're weightless and float away at the first sign of trouble. These are the misconceptions that trouble me and I fight against them every time someone asks me, "So how do you like married life?" 

1. You're marrying your soul mate. 

I don't believe in soul mates. I don't believe in "finding your true love" or the "Prince Charming" scenario. If Blake and I's paths had never crossed, I'm sure we would have been just fine. Callous? I don't think so. You see, I don't believe that Blake is my "soul mate". I don't believe that he "completes" me. I was a whole person before I met my husband, and I never want to put the pressure on him to fill up a part of me that was never his responsibility to fill. Is my life truly enriched and so much better with him in it? Well of course. Yet I hope that if something were ever to happen to me, he wouldn't spend the rest of his life alone. There are so many people in this world who can enrich our lives in so many different ways. We could have loved and married other people and lived entirely different lives, but we made a choice to choose each other. That's marriage. It's not always romantic and we don't always fit together like Snow and Charming, but knowing that a choice, not a fleeting idea of a "one true love" is behind our marriage, is beautiful. 

2. If you don't make each other happy, it's not working.  

Alright, folks, I am not a total cynic. Chances are, yes, you will make each other happy...but this not what marriage is about. You will feel mad, thrilled, ecstatic, lonely, warm n' fuzzy...if there's an emotion, marriage will bring it out. At the end of the day, those emotions, while important in how they're addressed and handled, are not the goal of marriage. If I got married on the sole reason that "Blake makes me happy." Oh what a sad moment it would have been, after those vows were said, when Blake...like it or not, did not make me happy.  Marriage isn't about how happy you make each other. It's about choosing the other person in happiness and in sadness. There's so much depth to be found beyond "happy", sorrow and anger and loss and joy bring so much more to the table then one single flat emotion. In happy moments, be happy...but in hard moments, recognize that this is where the true character of a godly marriage can shine through. In selfless acts of love, in kindness, in patience...marriage is more than making your spouse "feel" any certain way.

3. An argument is the sign of an endangered marriage. 

 I love to argue. Slowly (I dare not say "but surely"), I am trying to curb this pattern. Arguing for arguing's sake is time consuming and worthless. Still, healthy arguments can teach valuable lessons. If handled properly (and that is key), you can argue constructively. When there is a constructive argument, the end result can help your marriage far more effectively then an angry silent treatment ever will. Now, can I tell you how to argue effectively? Nope. This is where it gets tricky, and I proudly proclaim that I am no expert. This is where I pass the baton and say, "Go talk to a marriage counselor/pastor/mentor/anyone who offers solid, Biblical and healthy advice." I am simply here to say that there will be arguments, and when they come, they do not mean that your marriage is doomed to failure. If you learn how to be kind in disagreements, be patient, be understanding, and work together to find an end goal, then disagreeing can still have a positive outcome. Learn to argue with respect for each other, with calm emotions, and with love... and you'll begin to argue less.

4. You love the person you married. 

I loved Blake with all my heart when we said, "I do." Six months later, I loved him even more...but if I held onto the person he was when we met, it would be easy to let myself become bitter. One constant in life is change. Situations change. Jobs change. Homes change. Babies are born and our loved ones leave this earth. Life moves forward. And people change. When I think back to who I was five years ago, I am so happy to see the progress in my life and the ways I have grown. In five years, I hope I can look back on who I am now and think the same thoughts. Yet, if I held onto my husband, the one who was standing at the alter with me only a year and a half ago, I would be sorely disappointed. In just a short period of time, he has moved to a foreign country with me, relocated once more, started a new job, gone through an intense transition within his workplace, and comforted friends and family during hard seasons of life. To ask him to remain the same would be disrespectful to who he is. Likewise, if he only loved me for who I was when we got married, the "a little-bit-sweeter" college student who worried too much about getting all A's...well, he would come short every day. We have been sharpened and shaped since we said, "I do." Change is hard. Sometimes it's painful. I know there will be days when I don't like the person I see in the mirror or the person standing next to me. I'll love them anyways. I don't love my husband because of who he is or who he has the potential to be, I love him because I made a covenant to love him until death do us part. Love grows. It looks differently at different times of life. Sometimes it looks differently week to week. But I cannot hold onto what it was in the past if I want to completely live in the present. I loved the person who stood next to me not too long ago at the alter, but I know, for the sake of our marriage, that my heart has to love the man who is growing mentally, spiritually, and emotionally every day of our marriage. He might begin to look very different from how he used to, but I choose him. Every day. Every year. Every moment. 

~

I loved wearing that white dress. I loved seeing all my friends and family members in one place. I loved the moment when Blake turned around and saw me on our wedding day for the first time. I loved the wedding. Still, my heart doesn't leap out of my chest when I think about our wedding in the same way it does when I think about the years to come being married. We are striving to be holy within this union. That is our end goal, our purpose. As we keep this covenant, life begins to look differently. The moments are small, the joys are abundant. This is our journey. Filled with passion, joy, and faithfulness. Marriage forces the cynic in me to take a step back and acknowledge that with God, all things are possible. May we ever be on the road to understanding this more deeply and embracing the call laid before us. To love as Christ has loved us. No facades. No illusions. No tightly held grip to imaginary romances. Instead, with whitened fingers holding on to old battered truths, we cling to the sacrament of marriage, the real words, the real commitment, as we take each day for what it is...a chance to be Jesus to each other when the dishes are piling up.








Disclaimer:
 In no way do I support abusive or unhealthy relationships. These thoughts are gathered from my own experiences within a healthy relationship and are by no means offered as a solution to deeper issues relating to problems not discussed within the article.  

November 19, 2014

Keeping This Covenant - An Introduction

Marriage is such an interesting journey, one that is still so new in my life. A journey that, God willing, will last us for another 70 years or so.

While most of my thoughts stem directly from our adventures and lessons learned in marriage, I have felt, until now, that I should stay a little reserved in the blogging department regarding this union. We're been married 1.5 years, hardly enough time to qualify us for any sort of advice giving. Besides, I have trouble accepting "well intentioned advice" from people who give it much too freely. While we've been given some amazing words of wisdom from trusted friends and family members...we've also been given a good portion of rubbish advice that has left me scratching my head and more than a little confused. So often, the advice I have heard has sounded more like a salve to make marriage feel better, instead of instructions on how to get dirty and dig through problems until they're eliminated.

Salves are easy in marriage. Problem solving, real, true, problem solving...it's trickier and much more painful.

As we've begun to walk along side other young couples and as our pastor has emphasized the fact that marriage is a covenant, not just a contract...my brain has been spinning with a fragile, beautiful, tiny idea. I want to write about us, about marriage, about this road we travel. My goal is not advice giving, but simply to offer a peek into our lives and the insights we're gathering along the way.

This will be the place where our journey in keeping the covenant we have made will be told. I promise to be real, to be raw, and to never gloss over subjects that might hurt. Writing has taken a back-burner in my life over the past few months for so many reasons. For the first time in my life, as I've grappled with difficult events, I have turned to my friends, not just an open journal page, to hash them out. While it's been therapeutic and healing, I am ready to write again. Really write. I'm ready to share my life with the open eyes of the Internet and be as real as I can possibly be.

 Today, I am beginning a blogging series that will last for at least 10 weeks. Every Wednesday a new post will go live. Depending on the content, the responses, and the desires in my heart...it could go on for longer than that. Really folks, I just want to write words that you can relate to and latch onto because we're on this road together.

Here are just a few of the topics that I will be writing about in the weeks to come:

Misconceptions of Marriage 
Healthy Habits 
Approaching Change - Personal 
Approaching Change - External 
Loneliness in Marriage 
Forgiveness
Restoration 
Communication
Honesty 
Trust vs. Love 

So if this doesn't interest you, or you don't think it applies to your life, or you have a Thunder game to get back to...that's okay too. I'm not a terribly sensitive writer as long as you just don't tell me you hate my guts (kidding.) But my hope is that you stick around, offer feedback, and join my story by telling me yours. And maybe, just maybe, through all these ramblings... we will begin to see something beautiful.