Celebrating Four Years, and So Many Seasons

Today Paul and I have been married for four years.

In those four years we have lived a fair amount of life. To be totally honest, I’ve had a blast. Somehow I still can’t get enough of him, like I literally never get tired of him. Sure he may frustrate me, and I may just be burnt out on life, but I still want to hang out with him, all the time. He left on a work trip yesterday, and we’ve talked approximately 10 times over the last 36 hours. I just really like him. So, I suppose we have that going for us.

He is still the first person I want to tell my good news, and the first person who wants to hear my bad news. He points me to God in ways I didn’t know possible, and has modeled sacrifice and selflessness to depths I couldn’t have imagined. I am incredibly blessed to be his wife.

I am a girl who loves an excuse to celebrate. Anniversaries are such milestones of remembrance and celebration. But like many things in life, we don’t like to celebrate and remember the hard parts of the journey. It feels safer to simply praise and provide glowing accolades for the final destination.

If I’ve learned anything from our story, it’s the importance of celebration for celebration’s sake. Our relationship, while fantastically fun and beautiful, has taught me to find joy in all seasons, to choose celebration, and to find thankfulness in trials.

Four years, and so many seasons of growth and deepening love.

AE2C9F61-CE87-442D-8066-F1A59FFEE58E.jpg 1. A season of un(der)employment

Paul graduated in April of 2012 with degrees in Political Science, International Studies and a minor in German. (Michigan had a fancy way of saying it, but that’s what it boiled down to). When he talked to my dad about proposing, in March of 2013, Paul genuinely thought he might say no as he had no way to “provide” for me, working at a coffee shop, living in his little sister’s bedroom. He moved to Nashville and yet again couldn’t find a job. He soon began working at a coffee shop. In July of 2014 Paul was offered a temp position that later turned into a full time position in April 2015. Yes – you read that right, almost three years after graduating he finally became employed full-time.

The idea of a female bread-winner has been a gentle ribbing in our household our entire marriage. The majority of our marriage, thus far, I have “brought home the bacon.” I say this not because I have a massive ego, but to demonstrate the equality we operate in. Paul told me early on: “Your gain is my gain,” and that seemed to be that. When I dealt with the guilt over loving my job, while Paul struggled to find purpose and direction, we returned to that statement. When finances were tight and somehow God always made our ends meet, we returned to that statement. When Paul was frustrated by yet another rejection, we returned to this statement. Paul’s under-employment was hard, most definitely, but I celebrate all that was forged in us through it. Because of this season, our marriage is one of teamwork and sacrifice. 

2. Seasons of anxiety

For a large chunk of our first and second year of marriage, I battled intense anxiety. While I would not say that I am completely devoid of anxiety, as I have my moments and days, I have not returned to the dark place I once found myself in. When I think about that season of our marriage I am humbled. I am humbled by the God that we serve, and the man He chose to walk through it with me. In the midst of one of the worst days, a friend prayed that our marriage would be galvanized through the fire. Those words, drenched in hope and promise, were a respite to my soul. This thing that we’ve got is too good to keep to ourselves. I held onto the promise that God would galvanize us and use our story as an example of His faithfulness.

Love is a choice. It takes guts. It is not for the faint of heart. That season, at my weakest and most vulnerable, I was not an easy person to choose. But each and every day, my husband showed up looking my ugliness in the face and calling me beautiful and chosen. What God fortified in that season in our marriage, our relationships with Him, our story, our future and our purpose is too sweet to put into words. He made something beautiful out of something really ugly.  I am grateful He saw it fit to use something so difficult for His glory and to bless us with so very much. Celebration is easy when you have a hope that is eternal. Because of this season, our marriage is one of eternal hope. 

3. Seasons of spurring on the other’s dreams

I heard a Shauna Niequist say once that there was room enough for two callings in her house. Her entire talk is incredible, but that particular line brought tears to my eyes. It is so encompassing of the types of people I want to be. I wrote the following about a year and half ago when Paul started grad school:

This practice is woven deep into the fabric of our little family. And I say practice because it takes repetition and messy trial and error to form the habit. Like anything worthwhile it is not a discipline that you arrive at quickly, but it was that we are committed to mastering no matter how long it takes. I have found that it gets easier and more second nature as time goes by, but it is a continuous effort and conscious thought. But for us, it’s worth it. It ranks high up on our values, and it plays into almost every decision that we make as a unit.  

Paul and I decided long ago that as two parts making up a whole, each person’s individual calling and purpose was just as valuable as the others. We bought into the notion of individual and collective destiny. We became convinced that not prioritizing two callings was to rob the world of something necessary and of the highest value. We set out on unchartered territory with passion and purpose as our guides.

Having two callings in one marriage is not always easy. It’s messy and sacrificial, and exhausting at times, but it is worth it. Last year Paul took a big step. He said yes to going back to school. I didn’t bat an eye at the impending change and disruption to our rhythm that lie ahead. It involved sacrifice on my part, doing more dishes than I’d like, creating space and grace for studying. It’s been difficult, must mostly it’s been incredible. The reason I had no qualms is that Paul has done the same thing for me time and time again.

He has said yes to making our home a place of passion, purpose, exploration, adventure, and creativity. He has pressed me to get outside my comfort zone and pursue the things that make my heart come alive. He calls out things in me that I can’t see. There’s always room for us both to be pursuing dreams, no matter the logistics. Because of these seasons, our marriage is one of impact, creativity, and purpose. 

4. Seasons of transition

Change has remained the only constant in our marriage. New has marked much of the last four years. With each new transition, I find that we tackle it with more ease and grace. But change is hard, transition is hard. I like to start new things, but I simultaneously have a tendency to become overwhelmed in the midst of transition. Paul once told me that our bodies react to stress in the same way, no matter if it is good stress or bad stress. New jobs are often good stress. Moving out of our first home together was a GOOD stress. Moving across the country, getting engaged, planning a wedding, getting married and starting a life with someone all in 4.5 months is good…but tiring stress. Changing jobs, changing churches, changing dynamics and each time facing new challenges.

I am not my best self in the midst of transition. It seems each time to trip me up, and come as a surprise. I rarely anticipate it well. I get upset and frustrated and feel my least favorite thing – weak. I am reminded YET AGAIN, the beauty of grace. Paul gets laser focused and a bit aloof as he’s walking through something new. Adjusting to transition and walking it out is an area that I long to grow and mature in, but thankfully we have a lifetime ahead of practice. Because of these seasons we are given opportunities upon opportunities to practice grace. 

There is so much to celebrate!

So thankful for the last four years of doing this thing called marriage.

 

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A Road Trip With Anxiety

All day long I traveled with a familiar companion named Anxiety. No amount of head knowledge today could quite do the trick to shake the heavy feeling. It accompanied me to meetings, it crept in on lunch, and it made itself known as I sat down to write.

The difference between this day and the many proceeding it, is the wisdom and tools that I now carry. I have learned to acknowledge anxiety when it comes around. It refuses to be ignored, and that’s fine. But you see, I’ve decided to stop allowing Anxiety to drive. It is never invited, but some days I can’t keep it out the car. On those days, I simply tell it that if it insists on sitting in the front seat, it must do so silently. It doesn’t have access to the road map and it’s not allowed to touch the radio. No, it doesn’t get any input as to where we go.

There are several others that I would have rather had sitting in the front seat today. Joy, Laughter, Excitement just to name a few. But alas, it was Anxiety that sat next to me. Other emotions may have taken a slight backseat, but they too were invited on the trip and their input was welcomed and encouraged. I’m learning that Anxiety’s presence on the road-trip does not have to keep Joy, Laughter, or Excitement from joining the conversation. 

Joy spoke up from the backseat during my meeting this morning. I was surrounded by incredible men and women, seeing several pieces of a project come together in the coolest way. I thanked God for the umpteenth time that I work for such an incredible organization getting to do work that matters. Anxiety was there, but Joy got to do the talking.

Laughter erupted from the backseat sitting at lunch with my team. We shared stories and welcomed our new teammate. I felt known and seen and accepted. Laughter can bring such a feeling of belonging. I sat at the restaurant with a feeling of gratefulness bubbling below the surface as I giggled and conversed with some of my favorites. Anxiety was there, but Laughter repeatedly burst into the conversation.

Excitement settled in as I sat down at this table to write. The blank page and blinking cursor extended an invitation that I knew I couldn’t leave unanswered. Best laid plans fell through and I eagerly decided to fill the time with something that replenishes my soul. Anxiety is here, the punk, but Excitement directs my fingers on the keyboard.

Today, I didn’t want Anxiety to tag along on the trip, but I didn’t let it keep me from taking part in the journey. Sometimes, despite my best efforts I can’t thwart the presence of Anxiety. Instead of letting it consume me, I’m learning to give myself the grace to acknowledge that it’s in the car with me and choose to partake on the journey anyway. It is the not voice that I am tuning my ear to.

I’m learning that the best way to adventure is simply to do it anyway. I’m saying yes to new, yes to hard things, yes to doing it afraid. I have places to go. 

Why I Force Myself To Do Yoga

“Four seconds in, four seconds out…” 

“Good. Five deep, full, breaths…” 

“For these last two breaths I want you to focus on holding the pose, no fidgeting, no adjusting, just breathe into it…” 

It is the same every time. I hear the soothing voice of my yoga instructor and will myself to stand there, holding the pose, focusing all of my attention on the task at hand. Inevitably by the exhale portion of the second breath, I’ve lost my focus.

My mind begins to wander and I remind myself to return to the “intentions” I set at the start of class.

Be present. 

Give myself grace. 

I find that the first requires the latter.

Occasionally I dream of a reality where I am the zen, flexible and fit yogi. Now, of course, I fully recognize that my current commitment to the practice and overzealous and distractable personality impede this dream a fair amount. But yet, I force myself to return to yoga again, and again.

I’m not good at yoga. 

If you attended class with me you might think that I am good at yoga. I attempt all the poses, I am somewhat balanced, I can do a headstand and that full bind thing we do, but I’m not good at yoga. You may find me at a 6am yoga class and I may be fooling you. Don’t be fooled.

I’m not good at yoga because I try to win yoga. 

You can’t win yoga. I like activity that has a clear, attainable goal – running, weight lifting, volleyball, football, hiking, Circuit Blast or Body Pump Classes… you get the picture. Almost all other physical feats affirm that broken part of my identify that longs to be the best and strives to put off an air of proficiency and strength. Not yoga.

I’m learning that yoga is more about truly connecting than it is about performing. It’s slowing your breath in order to open up your body in a way that is uncomfortable on several levels. It’s easing into a challenge and working up to the grandiose and showy postures. It requires patience and delayed gratification. Yoga is slow in a world where speed rules all.

Yoga disrupts my desire to produce and instead offers me the opportunity to find stillness. It’s not my favorite.

But I force myself to return none the less. When I am tempted to choose sleep, I drag myself out of my warm bed because I know it’s important to put myself in a position of discomfort.  When I feel the urge to choose a more “tangible” workout, I walk into the Y, yoga mat in hand because I know that the parts of me that choose productivity, chaos, and busy, are not the parts that make my heart come alive. Those parts are not what I want to be known for.

I long to be present. I long to be where I am both mentally and physically. I long to communicate attention and love in my most valuable relationships. I want to always love where I am, without feeling the guilt of where I am not.

So, I force myself to do yoga, because it is one small step in practicing and living out my values.

 

The Ever Elusive Idea of Sabbath

We are not called to rest from our work, but rather to work from our rest.

– Pastor Chris Brooks

I heard this statement at my company devotion this week and it hit me in the gut. As is often the case with God, I felt like I’d stumbled upon a divine appointment. I’m not good at resting. The irony of hearing this sermon, on this day, was not lost on me.

I entered devotion that morning with a heavy heart. My back was hurting, a lot. My chiropractor told me the day before that my muscles were fighting the recent progress we’d been making to straighten out my vertebras and level my hips. The remedy? Rest. I’d spent the evening on the couch rotating between ice and heat. I did not like it one bit. In fact, it brought up my least favorite, but ever returning emotion, shame.

I felt weak, exposed, vulnerable, incompetent, and unproductive. These are the adjectives that I try to avoid through my constant activity and utter disregard for the concept of true rest. I live my life around to-do lists, tasks, and shoulds. I go from one thing to the next, constantly looking for something to accomplish or produce. Paul and I, we’re realizing, have created a culture in our home where that is not only celebrated, but expected. Grace for the opposite is a bit slim. We have trained ourselves to run ragged all week until we finally collapse in exhaustion to “rest” and most likely watch Netflix.

Watching Netflix is not resting. It’s become an act of desperation. A shoddy substitute when we are denying ourselves the grace and opportunity to pursue genuine and authentic sabbath. True rest, I know in my heart, is not what I am currently engaging in.

I strive to be intentional in the tasks I pursue on a daily basis. In my work day I am regimented and go about my responsibilities on purpose. After work, I keep our house running, meal-prep, and regularly schedule in exercise to my routine. Why then am I unable, or unwilling, to pursue rest and sabbath in the same manner? Why would I not schedule and block off time to pursue genuine rejuvenation? Why do I only settle to rest when I feel as if my body and soul are about to give out? Why is it only then, and only for short moments, that I allow myself to stop and pseudo-rest?

Ultimately, I don’t actually believe I deserve rest. I feel valuable when I am producing. This is something I have noticed in myself for a while, and it comes up in many areas of my life. My need to produce comes in stark contrast with my soul’s desire to create. For the last few months I’ve returned to this idea and danced around it again and again, without resolution. Every time I get a bit more clarity and step into a bit more vulnerability and risk, and I think that is okay.  But today, I’m confronting it in yet another facet of my life.

I had every intention of sabbathing completely today. I failed by 8:30 am. After church Paul and I talked for a long time about our lack of sabbath and intentionality toward self-care. In the Vought house we have created a culture that doesn’t prioritize self-care. We prioritize keeping our home and yard cleaned, organized, and kept up, so that it is a place of ‘rest,’ but seldom allow ourselves to enjoy that rest. Our unspoken rule has somehow become ‘You can only rest after you’ve “earned it.”‘  We may live busy lives and have a lot on our individual and collective plates, but we’ve allowed our busy to define us. Stopping feels scary. Silence and stillness are vulnerable. Pursuing rest and creativity challenges a control idol that both of us cling to more tightly than we’d like to admit. Instead of stopping and enjoying the rest that God calls us to, we trudge on in our own strength.

It’s not somewhere we’re content to stay. This is not the culture and rhythm we want our family to be known for. We’re not okay with where we are. We’re not a hundred percent sure where to start, but we’re starting. 

So today, we pursued more rest than we would normally on Sunday. We both answered the question if you had no obligations, what would you do today? We took a few hours and answered those question with action. It was a start. We took a nap, like an hour long, out like a light, nap! I tackled a project that has been on my mind and desk for a few weeks. It was a bit scary and vulnerable, but I let God prod me to create space and try something new. Paul worked in the yard doing projects and taking part in something that feeds his soul. When he began to cross the line from refreshing to doing, he stopped.  I then finished writing this blog post that I’ve been writing in my heart for a few days. It’s refreshing to put my hands to the keyboard. No matter how small the audience, it is a test of faith to push publish and brings accountability.

After pushing send, Paul and I are going to have dinner and take part in Sunday Movie Night – a new rhythm we’re starting with dreams to someday involve our kids.

I did a quick google search on scripture surrounding sabbath, and it appears to me it’s not something God takes lightly. It is a gift, but also a responsibility He has placed on us, as those whom His spirit dwells in and those that bear His image.

I’m starting with rest, and trusting that He will help me accomplish more than I can do in my own strength this week.

So this week the question is: what would it look like to actually rest, and to work the rest of the week FROM that rest? 

I Am Hungry For 2017

There is something so exhilarating about the start of a New Year.

It feels fresh, untainted, and full of possibilities. Each year I look forward to the new year with optimism and hope in my heart.

This year is no different. I am doing similar activities in preparation and reflection as the calendar leaves 2016 and enters 2017. I got a beautiful new planner, I took some intentional time yesterday to break out my variety of journals, and I set new goals.  Paul and I made a list recapping 2016 in our “Vision Journal” and then made a list of our collective New Year’s Goals for 2017. I spent time with the Lord and prayed through a “word” for this coming year. I set a few fitness goals and connected with my sister in law to keep me accountable as we delve into a reading challenge.

While the activities feel similar, there is a noticeable difference in my heart. I’m hungrier than in years past. I want more. My goals and vision this year feel weightier, that what I decide to pursue has the potential to have an impact larger than I can imagine. There is a compulsion deep inside me yearning to step out. I feel a stronger conviction to take bold action and to dream bigger.

God has been working on my heart in the last several months, challenging me, unsettling me, prodding me. I am unsure of the destination or even the course, but in 2017 I am choosing to take the next step. It seems only fitting that I feel like the word God gave me for this next year I’m embarking on is brave.

So with that friends, I am committed to be brave.

I don’t know how being brave will play out. But I have a feeling it is going to be a daily decision to say yes to the unknown, scary, new, and purpose while simultaneously saying no to fear, despair, doubt, and stagnancy.

Here’s to 2017 and all that it holds, friends. I encourage you to ask God for a word for yourself this year. It has been INCREDIBLY impactful for me in other years to have a word to hold onto as I walked through the year. I shared a bit of that story on the Mercy Multiplied Podcast MercyTalk this past week. Check it out! 

I love you all and know God has good in store for you this year!

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Three journals, three books, a planner and fresh pens…the tools to prepare for 2017

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4 things I love about the fall

It’s my very favorite season, kind of.

You see, fall has yet to really arrive to the south, the high today was 87. So as it’s October 17th, I’ve decided to go ahead and begin pretending that it’s fall. It may not have made it’s grand entrance to the south, but fall has officially arrived in the Vought house. I purchased decorative pumpkins and honey crisp apples. Paul insisted we purchase Halloween candy for trick-or-treaters despite the fact that I’m pretty sure we won’t have trick-or-treaters, and instead I’m just eating a lot of Almond Joys and Reese’s pumpkins.  We even carved Pumpkins on Saturday night while watching Hocus Pocus. EEE….I love the fall y’all! See what I did there?

So in the fall spirit here are four of the things I love about fall:

1.The clothes

Fall clothes are the absolute best. Scarves, boots, jackets, hats, sweaters and my new holey black jeans. Let’s talk about my new black jeans. I bought them at Forever 21 for $7, and distressed them to PERFECTION. Despite the high 80s we’ve gotten a few glimpses of “sweata weatha” (referring of course to this amazing SNL sketch!) I love fall clothes because they more often serve an aesthetic purpose over function or utility. Winter clothes serve the function of keeping you warm over keeping you cute. Summer clothes exist to keep you as cool as possible without actually being naked. Fall clothes simply exist. With fall clothes, the temperatures are on your side…which leads me to point two.

2. The weather

At its truest sense, fall weather is the epitome of perfection. However, we only get a finite number of those perfect fall days. I firmly believe that because it is so very fleeting, we I place fall on a higher pedestal than it deserves. I’m not alone in this. It’s the season we lust after, welcoming it with open arms much sooner than it’s ready to greet us. I have been known to break out my boots and scarves and the first sniff of a break in the summer heat. And then all the sudden it’s leaving me, much before I’m ready. I find myself clinging on to it as it tries to make a graceful exit. I don’t let it gracefully exit, I hold onto its ankles as it tries to leave me, making side glances and apologizes to all the people staring at us. I begin throwing out all the bargaining I can muster. “DON’T LEAVE ME” I whine, but alas it always leaves me and the cold is more than happy to come in it’s place. You see, fall weather is a beautiful reprieve between weather extremes. The crisp nip of fall is never here long enough, and it seems to always leave you wanting more. The world is a better place in the fall, everywhere you look there are rich colors and beauty. I love that leaves crunch beneath your feet and that there is a tingle in the air only associated with fall. swoon.

3.The activities

There are far too many amazing fall activities for me to adequately explain in detail here. Bonfires, hayrides, apple & pumpkin picking, baking, Michigan football, bike rides, grilling, and the list continues. Perhaps I love fall so much because the activities and memories for me always seem to revolve around people. Some of my favorite moments in college happened in fall. Some of the best moments we’ve had since moving to Nashville have happened in the fall. Football Saturdays in Ann Arbor are religious and indescribable. Community. Good Food. Excitement. Tradition. Sigh. To this day there is a Woodchuck Hard cider that I describe as tasting like football. People gather in the fall, There are conversations that only happen around a bonfire, vulnerability shared as the light dims in the sky and the fire illuminates the faces around you. Donuts are best eaten with cider, giggling with friends. Pumpkins are more fun to carve when there’s a large group of you and a bit of competition involved. Lastly, I’m partial to the fall activities because  Paul and I fell in love in the fall. On our second date we went to Salvation Army and bought flannels. We then snuck into the Arb with Arnie Palmers and lay staring up at the stars until the night became too cold and the dew from the ground seeped into our bones. For another date we bought pumpkins just to throw them off a parking structure. The allure of fall activities for me has always been more about the people that I share them with, then the actual activity.

4. The food

Don’t get me started on fall food. I bought way too many things “pumpkin” flavored from Trader Joe’s this weekend simply because I could. Fall is the only time of year where you can add a pumpkin adjective to any food you dream up without receiving scoffs from those around you. I take full advantage of this fact. Apples, second only to pumpkin in the fall, are a versatile staple in any diet in this glorious season. From drinks, to baked goods, to simply cut up and eaten with cookie butter, they are delectable. I bought two bags of Honeycrisps last week, pretending that I was in Michigan and simply picked them up on a trip to the Cider Mill along with some donuts and cider. (Cider mills don’t exist in Tennessee, a fact I shockingly discovered my first fall. wah. wah.) I find that fall is my cooking sweet spot. I experiment more in the fall. I try new recipes, I can FINALLY break out my crock pot again, and I get enticed by all the gourds, soups, and warm your belly foods! If I continue on I will get up off my couch and make a mess of my recently cleaned kitchen, or worse eat some of the Halloween candy tempting me on the counter. So with that I’ll end by saying: fall food feeds more than the belly, and is best enjoyed in the company of your favorite people, before partaking in your favorite fall activity in the glorious fall weather donning your fall clothing.

Happy fall y’all!

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adventures in resting.

Paul and I had the loveliest getaway to the mountains last weekend. Seeking adventure, rest, and a chance to recharge, our little trip checked all the boxes. It was technically a belated anniversary celebration, but was mostly just a great excuse to turn off our phones and have some time together.

I LOVED that we had, quite literally, NO service in Great Smoky National Park, where we camped and spent the first day and half of our trip. As my job keeps me so tethered to my phone and the internet on and off most weekends, my priority was to keep myself removed as possible from social media, my phone, email, and work. I even had Paul take all of our pictures on his phone, so I wasn’t tempted when opening my phone when we spent an amazing two and half days in Asheville!

A few highlights of our trip, apart from space for conversations, dreaming and scheming sans phones were:

Climbing Chimney Tops in the Smokies!

 

Camping in the park and hiking Andrew’s Bald & Clingman’s Dome

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Catching Michigan Football in our Airbnb

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Wandering around Asheville, great food at Biscuit Head, writing in a great little coffee shop and finding a Champagne & Used Book store!!

Vortex Donuts & New Belgium Brewery

 

It was a delightful trip, and hard to return to real life. Adventurous rest.

I’m a huge fan of being married to Paul, but in recent months it’s been hard to prioritize one another in the ways we’d like to. Paul starting school shook our rhythm more than we’d planned. We have not been consistently doing church or pursuing God together. We’ve just been missing. There are a variety of reasons, but as we’ve begun to unpack it a bit we’re working on it. We’re walking it out and feel like we’re missing less often then we were. We’ve committed to calibrate, to recognize areas that we need to grow, and choose the other person when it’s not convenient or easy.

This little four days away from real life was just what we needed.

I think this is perfect summation of my life with Paul – found outside a hole in the wall gas station/gift shop/ice cream parlor in the mountains of North Carolina – picture credit the old woman who accidentally took a burst on my camera and gave us 25 images to choose from!

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