joshua · just write life · marriage · writing

Dear Twenty-Two (a lesson in marriage)

561065_4402535546884_1042303218_nDear Twenty-Two,

Look at you, so flush with love and naivety in your crinoline and Scarlett O’Hara curls. Wedding day dress up. But you don’t know, twenty-two, what I know now. Thirty-seven and fifteen years later. You don’t know anything about marriage or motherhood or making every moment count.

You don’t know about mortgages and missed opportunities and meeting in the middle. You think you do. That’s the lovely beauty of youth. The endless idealism and optimism that rides the top of the waves, cresting right into the shore of adulthood, so certain and pure.

Bless your heart. You’re only twenty-two.

Fifteen years will pass quickly—in a blur really. You’ll have four different homes and four different children and the constant love of a steady man. You got that part right, twenty-two. You picked a man who’ll stick it out through the thick and thin and threadbare years of lean tables but baby-plump waistlines.

Fifteen years later you’ll understand a smidge more about the mystery of a good marriage. But only a smidge. Because there’s folks like grandparents and church leaders and pillars of the community who’ve been sticking it out for much, much longer, and when you tell them it’s your fifteenth anniversary on that hot July day, they’ll smile with knowing.

Fifteen is barely beginning in the long journey to fifty or sixty or seventy-five.

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Oh, twenty-two, you thought that one day was perfect and nothing could be more right, more true, more content. But more is coming.

More blessing. More sadness. More love.

If I could have told you then what I know now, you’d never have believed me. You’d never believe you’ll make selfish decisions or impractical ones; you’ll say hurtful things you nurse into the night on your side of the bed. You’ll say proud things too, and brag about how he loves you even when you’re broken, even when you’re wrong, even when you’re ridiculous with fatigue and deadlines.

Twenty-two, you believe all the right choices add up to a just right life. But standing on the other side of fifteen years, you’ll learn it’s not about right or wrong decisions. Making a life is about handling the choices you weren’t given—like the child with the neurological disorder or the job he believed in until the bitter end or the responsibilities that come with melding two families into one.

You’ll learn, sweet twenty-two. But when you do, promise me, you’ll never lose that spark of naïve idealism—that eternal, hopeful belief everything will all work out in its own time. That dark days can only get brighter and bright days will shore up your soul for the ones to come. Marriage is hard; life is difficult. But the journey through these years, the beauty of growing old with the one person who knows you inside out? More than worth the bumps along the way.602545_4402534626861_359516234_n

Keep smiling, twenty-two. That look of joy on your face? I want to see it there in another fifteen—or fifty—years.

Originally published in The Elberton Star, July 26, 2017. 

 

P.S. My debut novel, Still Waters,  is available for pre-order! It’s a Lowcountry love story about the power of family and forgiveness.

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family · joshua · just write life · marriage · school · writing

Yes, We Are Homeschooling This Year

I’ve been skirting around the proclamation for over a month. Dancing around the possibility for a few years. Making peace with the decision since we decided to jump the county line.

Yes, we are homeschooling this year.

Never thought I’d really say those words. Much less about having all three of my girls home a the same time. I figured if we ever did it, I’d be their middle school teacher for a few years and then back off to the land of textbooks and powerpoints where your teachers have more advanced degrees than I do for impossible subjects like chemistry and trigonometry. {insert shuddering at the idea of teaching that}

But they’re all home with me and homeschool is why we’re playing Barbies and drinking coffee in the middle of the day. Actually, no more coffee. I’m getting to that old age where caffeine after 2 o’clock makes me unable to sleep and I dearly love to sleep.

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School around here started the first week of August. Friday for one county. We went to the waterpark. Monday for another. I took Gus to preschool and worked all morning. They played games and Madelynne read Divergent for the second time.

Yes, Gus is going to preschool. I know my strengths and colors/letters/numbers/rambunctious boy while I’m trying to write aren’t in my quiver.

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I mean look how happy he is to be in PreK.

So we haven’t started yet and everyone keeps asking how it’s going, so it’s pretty easy for me to say, “Great!”

Yeah, I haven’t actually taught them anything yet.

Unless you count entrepreneurship because Annabelle and Amelia made homemade strawberry smoothies and went around the neighborhood last week selling. Half our neighbors are retired and home all day so they made $4.50. That capped off earnings for a new American Girl (Target knockoff) kitchen set.

Value of a dollar. I’ll jot that down as done.

The truth is we aren’t homeschooling because I think I can teach better than all the teachers who stuck it out in public school when I couldn’t anymore.

We aren’t homeschooling because I felt a religious conviction to give them a Christian education.

We aren’t homeschooling because I felt called to be their first and foremost influence.

Those are all great reasons if they’re yours. But ours is simpler.

We’re tired.

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The run around of four kids in so many places plus my freelance work and Joshua’s travel schedule and our volunteer commitments has meant school’s rigid schedule couldn’t bend to accommodate our needs. Our kids were going to bed too late, getting up too early, and our family time was always compromised.

Between the move and Amelia’s relapse of symptoms and our desire to travel outside the confines of spring break and summer vacation, we knew keeping them home this year was the right choice.

In some ways, the move made it easy. I don’t think I’d ever have left my safety net of a school system I know and love if I hadn’t been forced. And while Joshua ultimately left the decision up to me, and I all too often remind him he’s not the one saying no all the livelong day because our kids want to snack every fifteen minutes, the truth is my tipping of the scales came from him.

Because the person who will pick up my pieces on a bad day, who will  review the math I don’t understand, who will bring home the proverbial and literal bacon so I can feed it to these hungry children–is my husband.

If I’ve learned anything from this decision making process it’s that I was seeking opinions from all the wrong people. My friends are great. They’re supportive of me–which means some said go for it and some said I was flipping crazy.

But my husband supports our family and from the beginning he thought this choice was right. And I discovered there is great freedom in submission to my God-seeking husband.

Which I’ll remind him when he comes home to find us having an Anne of Green Gables marathon (literature) and eating popcorn for dinner.

In case you’re wondering, we do have an actual plan. We’re using Sonlight as a guide for Amelia’s reading, Math U-See because I have no skills there, and I’m teaching a middle grades language arts class for homeschooled students that will guide my big girls through grammar, writing, and literature. We will fill in science and social studies from a variety of sources, with our main focuses being American history, geography, and earth science.

We’re going on lots of field trips and I’m talking everyone into a cross country trek to visit my sister in Utah. I’m sure we will reassess almost daily and “regular” school might come back to us next year, but this is our year to embrace change.

Hopefully without losing my mind.

joshua · marriage

Mardi Gras, Aqua Notes, and Marriage

Last week I told you what’s saving my life right now. This week there’s a “holiday” around the corner so I thought I’d tell you what’s saving my marriage.

Not that it needed saving per se–but a good marriage is like a faithful car. It needs a little maintenance and every now and then, deserves something more exciting than the same mundane trip around the block.

Photo courtesy of Kimberly Brown, The Northeast Georgian.

Enter Mardi Gras. Now, we’re not French. We don’t live in New Orleans, and we’re good Southern Baptists who usually don’t make a big deal about Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday ushering in the season of Lent. (More on that later and how we’re invoking some of our own family traditions.) But our little hometown, that reminds an awful lot of Stars Hollow most days, has a big fundraiser every year. Proceeds support the Downtown Facade Grant for improvements to small businesses, and you know we love to support a small business. It’s kind of what Joshua does all day long and why he sometimes can’t answer my text messages about potty training in a timely manner.

We have friends who own small businesses and sponsored some tables for this year’s event and invited us along for the fun. Here’s the part about marriage: he didn’t want to go. Fancy dinner and dancing and socializing are not high on my introverted husband’s list of a good time. But he knew I wanted to go, and he figured it was a good excuse to see me wear something other than my favorite tunnel-neck sweatshirt.

Marriage is so often about compromise and sacrifice. Even if all you’re sacrificing is another night of Netflix and take out Chinese.

Then the worst thing possible happened to the man who is a self-proclaimed wallflower. That Mardi Gras tradition of finding the baby in the King Cake making you king of the feast? Yup.

Photo courtesy of Kimberly Brown, The Northeast Georgian.

He tried to trade it out with a friend who instead convinced him it would be fun (and I’m pretty sure mentioned something about how it would make his wife happy.)  Here’s the thing–I would never have asked him to keep it. I know he hates spectacle and attention and he’s no good at accepting compliments. But he decided publicly making me his queen was worth the embarrassment. And the front page of the newspaper.

That’s when I know we have something special. He tries so hard to put my needs, wants, and desires above his own. Which makes me wonder? How often am I reciprocating?

It’s so easy to get caught up in my everyday chaos of our four kids and doctor appointments and chorus rehearsal and impossible 3rd grade homework. It’s so easy to feel like I’m giving it my all while he’s trooping off to work everyday in a quiet office where no one uses the juice box as a weapon. It’s so easy to forget the man he is when I’m just focused on myself. 

It’s so easy to lash out instead of take a deep breath.

I firmly believe it’s not money or relationships or decisions that tear marriages apart. It’s communication. It’s like we forget how to navigate and listen to one another, so we bottle up frustration and pretend we’re keeping the peace, when really all we’re doing is getting ready to blow.

I’m a pursuer of words, a writer, a reader. But I’m not always a good listener. I miss the cues among the conversations because I’m so busy moving on to the next thing. I’m too busy thinking about myself. And add four really loud kids to that mix and we’ve got a recipe for communication disaster. Conversations start and stop because someone needs juice or toilet paper or a signature. We forget what we haven’t said and don’t always have the time to say what we really need.

He bought me these for Christmas.

Click image to purchase via Amazon.


 Aqua notes–a waterproof notepad for the shower. He found them on a list of great gifts for writers, and he got them because he knows the shower is my quiet place. I get fifteen minutes to shut out the world and think. Then I forget the plot points or the dialogue I’ve composed because I didn’t write it down. Voila! Now I can.

But these notes have morphed into something else for us. I’ve started scribbling down my worries and fears–mostly about our daughter and the unknown journey we’re on–but also the stress points that have pushed me back to medication. I write down the words I can’t quite say, and I leave them for him to find.

He writes me back. We make decisions. We breathe a little easier. We communicate a little better.

Marriage maintenance shouldn’t be like taking in that faithful car and discovering a host of problems you didn’t know existed. It should be like getting the oil changed and hearing the engine purr again.

Then you can leave a love note in the shower and take that marriage out for a night on the town.

joshua · marriage

The Man I Met in Denver

It took a three hour plane ride and a two hour time change. It took a list of who goes where when and a casserole in the freezer.

It took more than just a few changes of clothes in a carry-on. It took an unpacking of guilt that we would spend money just so I could have some time and you could have a companion.


It took three cocktail parties, two dinners–one fancy and one just down home, and more than one person’s words for me to grasp just who you are when you put on a polo or a button down or the full suit and leave the house every morning.

Too often I’ve let you be the one who just didn’t get how hectic my days are. You come in juggling grant requests and loan closings and American dreams that don’t always respect a 5 pm EST ending, and I throw someone or something at you.

The dishes. The laundry. The unswept floor. The uncooked dinner. The baby boy. The strong-willed middle. The flunked spelling test. The rejection.

I want you to get everything about me. How every moment of my everyday is wrapped up in motherhood and words and tantrums and it’s so very important because I’m here with these little people who share our eyes and tendencies and flaws.

I forget that what you do all day is important too. Not just because it pays the bills and makes the Friday night pizza happen and gives you joy. It’s important because what you do is an extension of who you are.

And how many people really get to say that?

They whispered in my ear at this national trade conference for your industry. How you’re so knowledgeable, so kind, so straightforward, and easy to understand. How you can answer all the questions the new CFO attendee came with and give a presentation that people actually learn from. How you’re incredibly gifted at what you do with numbers and constraints and ideas.

And even though they told me surely I was more–I was happy to be just your wife.

I was proud to say I stay home and take care of our kids and our household so you can do what you do and ACE it everyday.

I was ashamed to realize I could do more to make it easier.

Not more dish scrubbing or towel folding or casserole making. But more leaning in rather than on. More listening. More recognizing that your job is not where you spend a few hours everyday so you’re gone from me and these kids, but is in fact a place where you are respected, encouraged, and needed.

You’ve changed and grown and developed into a leader and an advocate for small businesses, and the people who answer your phone calls and emails told me how much they appreciate you.

I appreciate you.

I don’t say it enough. Not nearly. You’re our family’s sole provider right now, and if you’re ever scared, you don’t show it. You hold me when I throw fits and tell me it will all work out. You do your best to leave stressful days at the office, and even when you’ve wanted to walk right back out after walking into pure chaos at 5:30 in the afternoon, you’ve sat down on the couch and watched mindless cartoons or read an umpteenth round of Llama Llama just so I can finish dinner in peace.

People tell me they don’t know how I juggle it all. The kids. The writing, The theater. The ministries. The volunteering. The house listing.

But I know how it’s possible. And it’s time I told you the truth.

I wouldn’t be anywhere close to where I am or who I’m becoming if it wasn’t for you. You gave me the life I always wanted.

Now, I pray I can do the same for you.

birthdays · joshua · marriage

You’ll Always Be Enough {especially for his birthday}

Today is your birthday and we’re both 34 years old and feeling it in the arms and legs and hands that tangle together in a second-hand bed you bought to be big enough for us and four dark-eyed babies who, no matter their age, still crawl in to snuggle on early mornings.

Last night the baby fell out of his bed, and I put him in ours, tucked safe between us with his damp curls and belly-splitting laugh that was mercifully quiet at 2 a.m.

You bought that bed even when I figured it wouldn’t fit in our room just so there’d be room enough for them all. Even though you don’t like to share your sleep with nightmares about crocodiles and a four year old’s snores.

Sometimes I feel like we’re so far removed from that pair of naively starry eyed twenty-year-olds that I’m not sure we were ever really there. But we have friends who remember us from that time, friends who were there when you first brought me cough drops in that light booth of the old EH Young Theater, people who aren’t at all surprised that we’ve grown up to raise four kids and learn to love each other in new and different ways.

Sometimes I miss being that young with you.

But I never regret that we’re slowly, patiently growing older together.

Time thinks it’s flying by, and I measure it in moments of childhood that I never want to end. I’d freeze it here, you know, right here, with a terrible two and a baby girl on the verge of double-digits. I’d stop and never let us get a second older, just let us revel in the here and now that is the wonder of parenthood and adulthood and never-ending mortgage payments.

But you wouldn’t.

You see the gift in the moving on. In the days that are far, far ahead in our future when we’ve held them tight and let them go and are settling back into a routine of just us.

I think you wonder if I’ll find you enough. If, after the days of mundane mothering are over, and I have hours to fill without the constant company of one who is half-you and half-me, if I’ll be satisfied with just the company of you.

When I was only twenty years old, you were plenty company enough. I pretty well imagine that come twenty years from now–

I’ll be happy to have you all to myself again.

Happy Birthday with all my love.

Friday Five · joshua · marriage

His Hands {Five Minute Friday}

On Fridays the writers gather at Lisa Jo’s. We write in five minute increments like ones scared braved.  We’re not supposed to edit or backtrack or overthink, though everyone confesses to at least once and that’s why there’s grace for even the most ordinary or writing tasks.

Except on Fridays five minute ordinary becomes extraordinary. Link up here and give us your five minutes. Today’s prompt is…

Hands

Your thumb rubbed small circles on the base of mine the whole time the preacher spoke the words. Soothing away my nerves and leading me to a place of fine calm where there was only us.

We were barely twenty-two and the ink had barely dried on the diplomas that tipped in our fingers a few weeks before.

Fingers stroke the tiny curls that spring forth from behind my ears whenever there is rain and let go of the wheel to hold my hand and force away distractions when we drive winding roads or busy interstates or mountain passes. You hold tight when we bless our food and sometimes you don’t let go even though you know that makes me crazy because I can’t eat with my left.

Whispers soft in the dark night and hands rub circles on the backs of babies and toddlers who curl tight between us in the bed you’re always reaching across to find me.  Stroking gently on all the places where I feel least beautiful, over stretch marks where I grew our babies, and wrinkles where I crease my head with worry.

Hands that crunch the numbers and wash the dishes and fold the tiny laundry and hold the newborn kittens. Hands that are stronger than our weaknesses.

It was dark and cold and maybe even a snowflake or two was falling from the sky when we walked around that mountain chapel one college night and you took my hand.

And led me home.

family · Home · joshua · linkups · one word 365

One Little Corner of Sanity {Behind the Scenes}

We’re rearranging.  Again. Either we’re furniture moving junkies or incredibly indecisive.  Or both. But really, it’s just that we keep trying and trying to figure out how to live best in the space we have (that whole contentment struggle) and so that necessitates constant motion until we get it right.

Or until I get a new idea from Pinterest or the IKEA catalog and it’s back to the moving we go. Thank the Lord I have a tolerant husband who actually agrees with me about most of these projects.  Except when I change my mind halfway through.  Then he gets a tad frustrated and there might be some yelling strong discussions.

I was tempted just to show you the one picture.  Because it appears from that little corner that we might actually have a plan that is organized and working.  But that would be false advertising. Like telling you how there’s less than a 100 calories in a serving of Oreos.  That’s only true if you only eat one and who does that?

We do have a plan.  It’s just that each step scaffolds upon the other, and I can only handle so much chaos at one time. So for now, we have a corner.  And a couple of several messy closets. And rooms that really look like this.

Linking up with Crystal today to tell the story Behind the Scenes.  Join us over here!