Love (can be) a Many-Splendored Thing

 

Aaaah. The intro song to Grease. ❤

In less than a minute Danny and Sandy demonstrate love in all its splendor. The scene is a picturesque and (somehow) completely isolated beach. The young lovebirds frolic and play together all day, laughing and smiling and kissing and holding each other. Their hair is always perfect, and I can’t imagine either of them had to use the bathroom even once. (There is nothing romantic about using the toilet… absolutely nothing splendored going on there.)

Splendor is defined using words like brilliant… magnificent… grandeur… glory… bright… gorgeous. I think Danny and Sandy definitely lived up to their intro song.

The question is, does my love?

I love my husband to the depths of my heart. He’s my soulmate, my lover, my best friend. But if love is a many-splendored thing – and if Danny and Sandy can demonstrate that in less than a minute – then my marriage of nearly 14 years should most definitely demonstrate it, too.

Last April, Jay and I went out on one of our date night adventures. (Read about others here, here, here, here, and here.) We had decided to go on a scavenger hunt through the mall, and we had a great time hunting for things on our list and checking them off as we found them. Then we went out to dinner, where we laughed and talked and reconnected after Jay’s previous 2 weeks of travel.

And then things went sour. As the night went on and we talked more, we started becoming at odds with each other. Feelings were hurt, and for a few weeks following it seemed as though irreparable damage had been done. We began to realize that like most newlyweds, our love was brilliant and glorious in the beginning… but over the years it had slowly lost its splendor. The magnificent brightness of our love began to fade as walls went up. My walls were a result of his constant travels and me operating as the only parent in the home. His walls were a result of my bitterness at his freedom and my envy of his “escape” from responsibilities at home. It was bad.

We hadn’t even realized it was happening. We’d learned to adapt our relationship to accommodate those walls instead of forbidding them to even enter our hearts and our marriage. It got so bad that at one point I was sure he wanted to leave me and he was sure I wanted to leave him – even though neither of us had ever for a moment considered leaving the other at all. But that’s what walls can do. They have the ability to take away the splendor.

I watch a lot of HGTV, and one of the things I’ve noticed is that everyone seems to want an “open concept” floor plan. Homeowners want to knock down the walls and create a much wider line of sight. They want to feel more connected to the other areas of their home and anyone who may be occupying those spaces. Knocking down walls also allows light to flow more freely through the home. A lack of walls can make a home feel airer… less cluttered… open… brighter. You could say that removing walls in a home makes the home a more splendored thing. Removing walls in a relationship can have the same effects as removing the walls in a home.

And it took a long time, but we managed to tear those walls down. It wasn’t easy – just like removing walls in a home isn’t easy. At times it was even painful. We just took it one step at a time, always returning to the agreement that they had to come down and never be put up again.

I’m proud to say that those walls have been gone for nearly a year now. The result is that our love once again feels like a many splendored thing. It’s brilliant. It’s grand. It’s magnificent. ❤

That doesn’t mean we don’t argue. I snapped at Jay just this morning because I thought he was trying to get off the phone too quickly and was too busy to talk to me (he’s out of town for work again). So stupid; so silly. But I didn’t snap at him out of jealousy for his “freedom.” That wall doesn’t exist anymore. And he’s not going to be afraid to call me out on my moodiness when he gets home later tonight – that wall is gone, too.

Love isn’t always a splendored thing. It takes work. But it can be everything that Danny and Sandy have… just don’t get your hopes up for the perfect hair and toilet-free days.

❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤

Video credit: theamigoamor, You Tube

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The Movies I can’t WAIT to Watch

Jay and I have a list of movies that we are dying to share with our girls. Movies we can’t wait to share with them – to laugh with, to cry with, to discuss with, to debate with. Emily’s a little older now, and the list of movies she’s seen has increased dramatically over the years. We are loving the special late-nights with her, especially now that they aren’t full of cartoon characters and super basic plot lines. (Sorry, Disney). 😀

As Emily’s grown we’ve started allowing her to watch movies with more adult story lines and intense action scenes. We are still pretty cautious of what she’s viewing, but we know our daughter and know what she’s able to handle. For example, she was completely fine to watch each Harry Potter film after reading the corresponding book, but we’re a little wary of letting her watch the Lord of the Rings series because it might be a little intense for her – even though we know other 9-year olds who have seen them all without a problem.

But even though we feel that she’s finally old enough to see more grown-up movies like Jurassic Park and the Star Wars saga, there are still a few that we are waiting to enjoy with her – and Julia – in the future. Some of these are classics, some are personal faves, and some are just movies I’ve watched since I was a kid and I want my girls to have the same childhood memories I did. 🙂

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Although some of these movies have a PG rating, we feel that some of the material (language, drug/alcohol/sexual references, etc.) might be inappropriate, and if the movie is fairly free of those then our reason for holding out is that we feel it’s just going to be over their heads altogether – and then really, what’s the point? We want to enjoy these movies with our girls at a level where we can use them as conversation pieces, not just as random fun things to do. So we will wait. Sigh.

Between you and me, a teeny part of me can’t wait for them to grow up… but don’t tell anyone I said that or I might get thrown out of the Mommahood Club forever! 😀

Thankful for the Captured Moments

Kids can be a total pain in the butt – especially when you pull out the camera. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t give birth to children who know how to look into the lens with super sweet and genuine smiles on command. I don’t blame them that their mother doesn’t have the slightest clue about angles or backdrops or flashes or anything photo-related – those are completely my fault. But I do blame them for thinking that “freeze” means “dance around wildly”, that “say cheese” means “give me the most annoyed look ever,” and that “hug your sister” means “please hug her so hard you knock her into that massive mud puddle on the ground.”

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No, in our house beautiful photographic moments are almost always immediately ruined by the arrival of a camera. We have fun with it though, and even though most of my photos are blurry, out of focus, and full of weird faces I love knowing that who we are has been accurately captured forever.

But every so often I manage to snap a photo that freezes a perfect moment for all time. Usually this means the girls aren’t aware that a camera was present, and so the image collected is one of absolute genuineness – the definition of a candid.

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While I love all the photos in this post, the following are my absolute top favorite candids ever, with a little backstory on each. Be warned, these photos might melt your heart… they sure do mine.

❤ Julia had colic as a baby and cried constantly. She quieted down before I got to her room one morning, and when I peeked in I saw that Emily had brought in the stool so she could give her sister the pacifier. I think this is one of first candid photos I ever took of the girls together, and I love that you can’t even see Julia in it.

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❤ On a family vacation to Savannah we stayed in a hotel room that was a bit too small for the hotel-provided crib and Emily’s cot. We were worried that the girls would play all night and that none of us would get any sleep, but especially that Julia would bother Emily all night since their beds were bumped right up beside each other. Shortly after getting them both settled down, we looked over to see that Emily was already passed out. But instead of bothering her sister and waking her up, we saw Julia’s little arm extended out of the crib, offering Emily a pacifier. Yes, I died in a puddle of Mommy Mush.

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❤ Emily is a natural-born nurturer, always looking out for Julia and wanting to protect her. The girls rarely get sick, and when they do it’s almost always completely out of nowhere with very little indication an illness is on the way. When I went into Julia’s room to wake her for school one morning I found the girls like this and rushed to my room to get the camera. Julia had become sick during the night, and when Emily had gone in to read to her in the morning Julia passed right out in her lap, exhausted from her sick bug.

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❤ This last favorite is just more evidence of Emily’s love for Julia, who had just received a couple of shots at her doctor’s visit. Julia didn’t want me to comfort her, she only wanted her big sister.

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I’m thankful for these moments more than I can express, and I’m sure every mother out there completely understands why. The girls are 9 and 4 now, and as their interests begin to differ and they begin to grow more independently from each other the opportunities for these beautiful moments will begin to dwindle as well. I know there will be fewer and fewer photos on my camera as the girls grow and live their lives, and more and more photos on their cameras of people I won’t know and places I won’t be with them. And that’s okay – it’s part of letting them grow.

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But for now, I’ll take as many pictures as I can – both candid and cheesy-posed. And I’ll cherish the moments I’ve already captured – for myself as much as for them. ❤

How a Song Changed my Feelings on Temptation

Temptation pisses me off.

I have struggled with accepting the idea of temptation’s existence my entire life. I’m not talking about being tempted to eat a glazed donut when you know you should eat a banana or being tempted to buy a cute pair of fringed boots when you know you’ve got to pay the electric bill.

I’m talking purely about the temptation to stray while in a committed relationship.

I have no idea why this has been such a hangup of mine, but ever since I was a kid I’ve found myself ridiculously angered whenever I’ve heard that someone has been unfaithful to the one they swore to be faithful to. I’ve never considered myself a romantic or one to have “fairy-tale dreams” about living happily ever after, but I do believe – very strongly – that if you vow to spend the rest of your life loving someone then you darn well better keep that vow – and not put yourself into situations where you’ll be tempted to be unfaithful.

Now, I understand that people sometimes fall out of love. And I’ve watched enough Lifetime movies to know that feelings for another person can sneak up on you and develop without you ever seeking them out – especially if things are not well in your primary relationship. I know that people change, tragedies happen, mistakes are easily made, and the day-to-day monotony of life can make you crave something more exciting.

But I still can’t stand the thought of someone actually going through with it.

I have always been an insecure person, and I spent the first 8 or 9 years of my marriage convinced that one day Jay was going to find someone better than me and decide he’d rather be with her. Someone kinder (I can be quite snippy), someone more beautiful (I still get huge ugly pimples), someone cleaner (always barefoot = dirty feet), someone smarter (I taught Kindergarteners… not an easy job, but not exactly the same intelligence level as a neurosurgeon). I know now what a stupid thing that was to let myself dwell on. Feeling like I wasn’t worth his love began to heighten my awareness of the physical temptations that are absolutely everywhere: miniskirts, high heels, perfect skin, big boobs. Jay finally told me that it hurt him that I didn’t see myself the way he did, that I thought so little of him that I didn’t think he was capable of keeping his commitment to love and be faithful to only me for the rest of our lives. Seeing how my fears were hurting him, I decided to let them go.

But it’s still hard to not be afraid from time to time when temptation is everywhere, and enjoying its presence in our everyday lives is completely normal: movies… TV shows… songs… books… checking out and enjoying someone else while in a committed relationship is inarguably prevalent in our society, and it’s more abnormal than not to consider the potential consequences for indulging in temptation… even if nothing is “actually” done.

Please don’t misunderstand, I am completely aware of human nature, of how men are “wired,” and that women have emotional needs that sometimes men just have no idea how to fill. But it’s hard for me to believe that we can face sexual temptation over and over and somehow manage to never cave. The Bible teaches us to lean on God to help us fight temptation, to pray for the strength to turn away. But it also points out that the flesh is weak. I was starting to feel like everywhere I looked I saw more examples of weak flesh than strength in action. When you see friends, celebrities, and pastors cheat or be cheated on, it’s even harder to believe that any of us has the strength to say no.

So here’s where the song comes in.

Lately I’ve been hearing Andy Grammer’s new song, “Honey I’m Good,” on the radio a lot. Catchy lyrics, a kind of hoe-down-y beat – I found myself singing along almost immediately. The song is about a guy who’s out at night, having a drink or two and noticing the girls in the bar around him. He notices their legs, their nice tushies, and even acknowledges that they would probably be a lot of fun to spend the night with. But, unfailingly, he chooses to go home to the love of his life.

I struggled with the message behind this song for a while (though I was always singing along). Even though he remains faithful to his girl, I hated that he even mentioned the pleasing appearance of the other women there. I didn’t understand why he would even allow himself to be somewhere – drinking almost to the point of giving in to temptation – if he loved his girl so much. In my eyes, if he really loved her he wouldn’t be there in the first place. I really wanted to see the good in this song, but I couldn’t tell if it was about him being faithful to his wife or wishing he didn’t have to be.

Then I saw the video.

And I get it now. At least, I think I do.

I can’t keep allowing myself to notice and focus on the failings of others. Their lack of resistance to temptation is no reflection of my marriage or Jay’s commitment to me. Despite the fact that I’ve always known this (I wouldn’t have married a man I didn’t trust my heart with), seeing this video gave me the visual I needed. Made me realize that there are still lots of people out there who are determined to remain true. Dedicated. Loyal.

Faithful.

It’s not that they’ve been faithful because they were never tempted and it was easy. No. These couples made a choice – a choice to fight temptation and maintain their commitment. And they aren’t upset that the temptations exist, because the truth is, they do exist. And all we can do is make sure we don’t give in. For Jay and I, that means leaning on Christ to help us remain forever loyal to one another.

Which we have. And will continue to do. Hopefully until we can hold up a sign saying we’ve been married for 71 years… or longer. ❤

Grandpa Bill

There are some people in this world that you just have a connection with. Miles don’t matter. Infrequent interaction doesn’t matter. Commonalities don’t matter. What does matter is the joy you feel when those miles are crossed… when the interactions occur… when the commonalities are discovered. That’s when you know that a magical connection exists. You feel your soul light up with just the thought of them. And you feel an enormous hollow space in your heart once they are gone.

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That’s how I feel about my Grandpa Bill. He passed away this July, just a few days shy of his 84th birthday. He didn’t have a funeral, so he didn’t have a eulogy. There was no memorial service, so there was no one listen to stories and memories of how he impacted their lives. But I want to share what he meant to me, share the memories that are working to help fill the void that’s now there.

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For as long as I can remember I’ve been told that I take after him, and it’s always made me a little proud. To me he was someone who confidently knew what he did and didn’t like; someone who loved my grandmother very deeply; someone who’s respect was hard to earn, but for me it was one of the best feelings in the world to know I had it. His approval meant everything to me as a child, and whenever I worked towards a goal throughout my life I did it knowing in the back of my mind that he’d be proud of me when I succeeded. High school, college, teaching, marriage, kids – I wanted to be someone he could brag about. I wanted him to be proud of who I was and the choices I made. When I started dating Jay I remember thinking how much my Grandpa Bill would like him. And when they finally met and he told me that I’d found a good man – well, let’s just say that Jay became even more attractive that day once I knew he’d met Grandpa Bill’s approval.

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I’ve never lost anyone that I felt a real connection to, and I was surprised at how quickly my head and heart flooded with memories. Memories like the small planes he flew right off his own property (he’d even mowed his own runway!) and the stories he’d tell about flying and shutting off the engine mid-flight to test his emergency skills. The rusty oil tank on his property that was no place for children, yet he allowed my brother and me to climb the rickety ladder and sit on the top, feeling like royalty looking over our domain. Watching the Long, Long Trailer with him, and listening to him talk about Snow White, his favorite Disney princess. Laughing while he chased pelicans on the beach, trying to capture a photo in one of the cameras he’d bought on one of his frequent pawn shop excursions. The cave tour Jay and I took with him that led us on a 4-mile subterranean journey throughout Mammoth Caves while a tornado passed over us above ground. The surprise wedding album he had someone make for me because he knew I enjoyed scrapbooked albums.

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But my favorite memories are the ones that occurred on my wedding day. ❤

The night before my wedding I put everything I’d need to get ready at the church the next day in my mom’s van, including my wedding dress. The next morning my mom and I grabbed our purses and stepped outside to leave… and noticed the van was missing. Gone without a trace. We freaked out, thinking maybe it had been stolen, until my Grandma Skip walked in and told us that Grandpa Bill had taken the van to check out some pawn shops. This was before cell phones were common, and as my grandpa had no idea my dress was in the back we had no way of getting in touch with him and no idea how long he’d be gone. Fortunately, he showed up in time for us to get there with plenty of time to get dressed, although I’ll admit we were a bit panicked for a while!

He more than made up for hijacking my wedding dress after the ceremony though. Jay had rented a Rolls Royce to whisk our newly married selves to the reception, and it wasn’t until we were about to get in the car that we realized our driver wasn’t going to take us anywhere until we paid the $300 remainder we still owed him. We’d completely forgotten about it and didn’t have any money to pay him. At the exact moment we were about to send the driver away and bum a ride with someone, my Grandpa Bill walked up – not knowing our predicament – and said he wasn’t sure when he was supposed to give us our wedding present. He put something in Jay’s left hand while shaking the right, and when we took a look we saw that he’d given us exactly $300. In cash. We turned around, handed it to the driver, and headed off to our reception. (Then he commemorated the event in the wedding album he’d had made. 😀 )

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When I was in my early teens my grandpa sent me a special birthday gift. Along with the gift from him and my grandma, there was a small package with a note in his blocky handwriting. It was a silver chain bracelet, and he’d written that when he saw it he thought of me and wanted me to have it. I don’t know if my grandma knew about this extra gift because the note was signed just by him, but I always felt like it was something just between the two of us. I wore it every day, and when it broke I bought another to replace it. When it broke too I went years without a replacement – until Jay took me to Tiffany’s to pick out my Christmas present. I chose a simple beaded bracelet with a Tiffany Blue heart to stand in for the silver chain my grandpa had bought me all those years ago. I wear it every day and think of him whenever I look at it.. ❤

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I’ll miss his determination to make sure I was safe – which usually involved his belief that I needed a gun. (We’d had long phone conversations about why teachers should have concealed weapons in classrooms, and once while we were driving he even pulled out his gun and tried to stuff it in my glovebox. I’m pretty sure he just wanted to see what kind of gun would fit in it, but I’ll bet if I’d decided to get one he would have been more than happy to take me shopping.) I’ll miss that blocky handwriting. I’ll miss the way he smiled at me, conveying just how proud of me he was and how much he loved me.

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Rest in peace, Grandpa. Gobs of love to you forever. ❤

Running, Rainbows, and Relationship-Building

Back in May Emily and I participated in our second Color Run together. We’d had so much fun at last year’s run that there was no way we were going to miss it – especially when we found out that they were not only going to have sparkle-filled dust pouches, but they were also going to be handing out medals! Color us excited!
IMG_7568The day before the race we had to pick up our race-day packets. This year it was at our local Kohl’s store, which was a huge improvement over last year’s craziness at Sports Authority. It was much more open and much less crowded than last year. Plus they gave the girls some free cotton candy. Cotton candy makes everything better. 🙂

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That night Emily and I laid out all of our clothes in our downstairs bathroom so that we wouldn’t wake anyone in the morning. When our alarms went off at 5am we got up, got dressed, and stealthily snuck out of the house like the Color Run ninjas that we are. On our way we happened to look out of the car window and saw a fellow runner, which Emily thought was hysterical. Gotta love those silly headbands!

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The event was otherwise pretty much the same as last year. Emily and I were closer to the start line this time though, and it was pretty awesome being right in the thick of the crowd. There were bubbles everywhere, and everyone was just so happy! We sang the anthem, the start gun fired, and we were off!

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The route took us through the same tunnel we’d written our names in last year, but this time Emily didn’t want to stop running to do that again. Unfortunately, it might have been better for her if we had, because she had a pretty bad fall while running in it. A motorcycled officer was trying to get through the crowd behind us but was having trouble because even though he had his siren on, the echo in the tunnel made it impossible to pinpoint where the sound was coming from. I only happened to see him because I’d turned around to take a photo of the tunnel entrance behind us. When I finally got Emily’s attention to get her to move, she turned around to see what was going on. He zipped by, she stumbled while running downhill and looking backwards, and I thought for sure that would be the end of our fun together. One of her bib pins stuck her in the belly pretty bad, and her knees and palms were scraped up too. But that girl of mine got back up and said she wasn’t done running, and ran almost another full mile before deciding to walk a bit. I was so proud.

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The rest of the race was pretty uneventful – at least, accident-wise. We were definitely pelted with color, of course! We walked and ran to the finish line, holding hands as we crossed. ❤ They gave us our medals and our glitter packets, and Emily and I headed over to the stage area to celebrate in the after party and toss some powder in the air.

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We didn’t last too long though – people were a bit aggressive when trying to grab the freebies the MC was tossing out into the crowd, and Emily was almost trampled a few times. Not to mention the fact that we could barely breathe whenever the MC had everyone toss their powder in the air at the same time. That stuff gets thick – just check out our selfie below!

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Instead, we found a table, drank some water, and enjoyed watching everyone walk around like a big rainbowed mess. Emily ran around hunting for leftover powder in packets (everyone just dropped their color packets on the ground after opening them and tossing their powder), and she actually managed to score a couple of unopened packets in colors we hand’t been doused in. Of course, she remedied that immediately.

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And it wasn’t long before she looked like this:

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My best friend Sanne was there with her family again this year, and even though we didn’t complete the course together we made sure to meet up for a picture. 🙂

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At the end of it all as we walked back to the car, Emily looked up at me and told me that this was the most fun she’d ever had, and that she was so happy she got to do it with me. And for us, that’s what this is all about. Sure, we love the medal and we love the theme of this event. But doing it together is the part that we cherish the most, and we can’t wait to do it again next year. ❤

IMG_7630PS Is it just me, or does it look like I’ve created a medal junkie? 😀

New Beginnings

My best friend’s eldest son and Emily share a birthday. It’s actually the reason she and I met – on a fertility/pregnancy/parenting community website, of all places! Her son, Benjamin, is a couple of hours older than Emily, and as she and I posted and commented on things relating to our pregnancies and growing infants, we also stalked each other’s comments and posts. It was pretty normal behavior though, everyone was curious about how everyone else’s kids (and bellies) were doing. When Benjamin and Emily were nearing three years old, she reached out to me directly because her husband was offered a job in my city. We decided to try and meet in person, and a short while after her family moved down she and I met up at a local park with our kids. Six years later we are the best of friends – and still talking about our pregnancies and infants. 🙂

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We’ve talked so much about our kids and our experiences raising them (she’s got two other boys, too) that even though we didn’t really meet each other until that first playdate at the park it almost feels like we’ve been comparing notes since the day we gave birth. Which, I guess in a weird way we kinda were through the website, but for me it makes her the only friend who has not only “known” Emily from day one, but has also been moving down the parenting road at the same pace I have.

And now our birthday twins are 9.

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A few months ago she sent me a link to a blog post she’d read from a mom to her 9-year old, giving advice to her daughter on the next years of her life. The post was beautiful, highlighting key points that I also hope my daughter learns and embraces and eventually lives out herself. She called this time in her daughter’s life “halftime.”

I’ll admit, I’m a little nervous now that we’ve officially reached halftime. I’m not sure I’m ready to handle the next stage of raising-her-to-adulthood. You know… get her through her tween years… pre-teen years… TEEN years… then send her off to college to start figuring things out for herself.

Nope. Definitely not ready.

Years 1-9 were easy. Babies are basic, toddlers are cute. I’d taught Kindergarten and First Grade for a while, so I wasn’t worried about those years either. Raising Emily up to this point has been fun – arts & crafts, playdates where I get to hang with the other moms, splash pads, picking out her clothes for her, fixing her hair into pigtails. A colorful, character-filled Band-Aid made any boo-boo feel better.DSC_0426-3Now she does crafts on her own. Playdates are drop-offs, and I’m not needed beyond getting snacks every 15 minutes. Splash pads are now much larger water parks, where I’m lucky to get a glimpse of her waving at me before shooting down a huge tube slide or as she darts past me headed to another area of the park. And forget picking out her clothes – I have a general sense of what she does and doesn’t like, but for the most part she just throws together a cute t-shirt and jeans. Accessories are a distant blip in her past, and she won’t let me do anything to her hair but brush it.

I’ve been told that now is where raising a daughter gets tougher (although I’m confident that raising a son comes with it’s own challenges). There’s boys and independence, self-expression and the scary, scary “P” word. 😉 There are peer pressures to avoid, opinions to form, and experiences I’m not sure I’m ready for her to have but that might be essential for her to become the woman God wants her to be. Her first job, her first car, her first love, her first heartbreak. And not a Band-Aid in the world that can fix that kind of pain.

I’m as ready as I can be though. I’m just going to do everything I’ve already been doing: listen. Model. Give space. Protect. Teach. Guide. Love. Be present. Be firm. Be fair. Encourage. Care. Advise. And above all, pray.

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And, of course, I plan to keep leaning on good friends who are also going through this new stage of parenting right along with me. After all, misery loves company, right? 😀

My Favorite Part of the Day

When I started this blog, my tagline was “Finding Smiles in Everyday Life”. I wanted to write a blog about finding those sliver linings, those beautiful and joyful moments that occur if we just take the time to look for them, acknowledge them, and allow them to be absorbed.

In the end though, it just didn’t seem like me. It was a little too perky, a little too chipper. I definitely make it a daily practice to look for those sunshine-y moments, but I didn’t want anyone to think I walk around with a permagrin. I’ve also got a cynical, sarcastic, realistic side that refuses to shut down no matter how huge my smile. As Jay says, I’ve got a sassy side. Fortunately for me, he likes it. 😀

But that doesn’t mean that I can’t see life’s highlights when they occur. Despite all those lovely qualities I mentioned above, there are still a number of daily occurrences that are sure to cause me to smile: getting the kitchen cleaned before taking Emily to school in the morning… Julia’s spontaneous kisses… Jay walking in the door at the end of the day… finishing a running event… scheduling a night out with a friend.

But if there’s one thing I had to pin down, one thing that earns the trophy for being my absolute favorite thing in my day, it’s picking Emily up from school. I’ve mentioned before that I love sitting in the car line, and that a big part of the enjoyment I get from it is that I’m able to utilize that time to get things done. But to be honest, getting to the school early means that I’m already parked at the dismissal gate… which means I get to see Emily even sooner.

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Now, I am NOT that mushy momma. I like my “me-time,” I hated baby-wearing, and I’m not offended if my girls would rather play on their own or with a friend than be with me. It doesn’t bother me if we don’t snuggle during movie time, and when they get hurt I have no sympathy if it happened after I warned them a million times to be careful before that exact thing happened. I don’t even think about Emily all that much during the day (or Julia if I’m not with her), because I know that she’s safe and having fun.

But when the end of the school day rolls around, something lights up inside of me. Knowing that she’s about to get in the car and that I’m about to be reunited with part of my heart just makes me so incredibly happy. I’m sure it helps that she ‘s a good student and genuinely loves school, but to be honest I think even if I knew she wasn’t a big fan of it I’d still be just as excited to see her.

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Next year Julia starts Pre-K, which means I get to do a second pick-up everyday. The following year she’ll be in Kindergarten, and the girls will be at the same school and I’ll be back to just one pickup again. But to know that I’ll be getting both girls back with me every day, well, I think my heart might just bust with joy. ❤

Date Night Tips

Over the past few months our date nights have become much richer. We almost always end the night feeling closer than before we started, and more eager to have another night out together than we used to. We’ve learned that anything that gets us talking – and listening – to each other is sure to result in us feeling more connected. I started reflecting on the best date nights we’ve had and I realized that along with building in opportunities for conversation, there were other factors that helped us feel more connected when the date was over, and that most of them actually took place well before the date night even began.

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Lower Expectations
I cannot tell you how much I’ve struggled with this (and still do). Unmet expectations are like death to a date night. For example, I spent years thinking that if Jay wanted to spend time with me then he’d contact the babysitter and plan out a night. You can guess how often that happened – at the end of the day he wasn’t thinking about anything but relaxing on the couch with me. Now, if I want a night out with my man, I book the babysitter. Jay is just as happy to be out with me regardless of who planned the night, and when there’s a special occasion he’s ready to take over the planning so that I still feel special and loved.

Dressing a certain way is another expectation we needed to let go of. Date night doesn’t have to mean dressing up to the nines, unless the night’s activities call for it (which also is an expectation that we needed to let go of, and why we started enhancing at-home date nights). Don’t expect your significant other to put on that sports jacket or those high heels just because you’re going out. Yes, going out should always feel special, but you should also be able to enjoy each other’s company without the frills. Expecting each other to look a certain way means that you are putting your wants before theirs, and that means you’re entering the date thinking more about yourself than your significant other. Trust me, that’s usually not a great way to kick things off. The best date nights will occur when both parties are accepted and appreciated (and visually enjoyed) just for being themselves.

Plan Ahead
One of the most effective ways to sabotage a date night is to enter without any sort of plan. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve walked out of our house, sat in the car, and spent 15 minutes in the driveway just trying to figure out where we want to eat and what we’re going to do after dinner. Sometimes we spend another 15 minutes at dinner looking up movie times on our phones, only to decide not to see a movie at all. For us, indecisiveness opens the door for frustration: “Just pick a place to eat already!” One of us inevitably settles for something we really didn’t want just to make the other happy, and things just won’t be quite the same after that. Now, I’m not saying you have to plan out every detail – there’s definitely something romantic about spontaneity – but at least have a short list to work from. We try to get at least a general sense of what we’d like to do and usually we’ll choose the restaurant in advance. That way, even if we haven’t planned anything else we can at least head to the restaurant and talk about the rest of the evening there.

Part of planning ahead for us also means what we want to talk about. Obviously you want conversation to flow as naturally as possible, but sometimes you get stuck in a rut and revert to always talking about work or the kids. That’s why we like to have something conversation-stimulating planned, whether it’s a silly game or simply saving date night for conversations like where we’d like to go for our anniversary or what we’d like in our dream house. It helps keep things moving along, and prevents us from just staring at each other (which is perfectly fine if you’re having a lovey-dovey moment, but not so fine if you’re just out of things to talk about).

Find a Good Sitter
This is the last thing that helps enhance our date nights. We’ve been blessed with good babysitters we’ve met through our church, and it has definitely allowed us to just focus on each other during a date. We walk out the door and have absolutely no worries about anything. We still think about our girls and talk about them, but knowing they are in good hands certainly makes the night more enjoyable.

No date night is perfect – we recently ended a great date night arguing over something silly for days later. But going into a date ready to talk, listen, compliment, and focus on each other increases the odds that no one will be sleeping on the couch that night. 🙂

Now go out and have fun! ❤

PS – You can check out my other date night posts here!

Be Real

Sometimes I feel like I am drowning. I’m frantically trying to keep my head above the water, but it’s just too hard. There are worries tied to my ankles; insecurities that make it impossible for me to stay afloat for long. My girls are nearby – watching everything I do – so I try to stay strong and put on a brave face for them so they won’t see me struggle. I know they would help if they could, but they are just too little and have no experience in matters of the heart. Dry land is just too far away to reach by myself. I need help, and quickly.

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When I start to go under, I do three things: I wallow in self-pity and misery (obviously a really dumb first step), I find a friend to confide in, and then I pray.

As a believer in Christ, I know that the prayer should come first. But to be completely open and honest, I don’t always feel like I deserve God’s help. I feel alone in the world, and it’s difficult to imagine that God wants anything to do with me when I’m moping about. And I don’t always know how to go about it either – it just feels selfish to ask God to do anything for me, especially when I have so successfully convinced myself that I deserve whatever trial I’m going through at the moment.

That’s when I know I’ve hit bottom, and I need to talk to someone. But talking to someone requires being real. It means opening up and risking being “that friend” that always seems to be unhappy about life. It means moving into a glass house, where all of my problems are laid out plain as day. It means risking judgement and pity… and it also means giving up my pride. But it also means that I might start healing. I might find out that someone shares my pain. I might learn ways to get past it. I might start to tread water more easily.

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My faith in Christ is what gives me the strength to fight the weights that are pulling me under, and, if I let it, my faith is what unties the knots on those weights. And my friends – all of whom I consider to be a blessing in my life and a gift from God – are my life preservers. They listen to me, love me, encourage me, and set me straight. They aren’t afraid to tell me what might hurt, and always do it offering their full support when I need it. They tell me when I’m wrong. They tell me when I need to let it go. And sometimes they even offer to watch the girls for a few hours, just to give me the space I need to feel however I need to feel… to cry as hard as I want to… to pray in peace.

But the trick is to be real with them. I’ve learned that giving fragmented information in an effort to save myself from embarrassment doesn’t result in the same level of advice, support, or compassion from my friends. They’ve all got their own insecurities, their own struggles. They understand, because there is no “perfect.”

But the key to true healing is to pray. Pray and pray and pray some more. Anytime I feel like I’m going under again, I need to pray. Anytime that drowning sensation begins to return, I need to pray. When I feel my burdens are impacting my daughters and my husband and the people around me, I need to pray. When I don’t think I need to pray, I need to pray.

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Things will get better, I know they will. I know that being a believer doesn’t mean that I won’t struggle or have difficulties in life. But hiding behind my problems or putting on a smile to help me pretend they don’t exist won’t make anything any better. Being real and prayer – LOTS of prayer – will. ❤