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.

528839_4402533466832_372378743_n

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.

Advertisements
marriage · writing

What Romance Really Isn’t

stocksnap_qjmnepvsam

We went to bed at eight o’clock Sunday night.

Not for any reason other than I’d already been in bed all day battling flu-like symptoms no doubt shared with me by my flu-ridden preschooler. We’ve been married fifteen years this summer and while the romance is plenty alive, there’s also many a time we go to bed early, and he puts in earbuds to watch a show he likes and I read a dogeared paperback I bought at the library book sale.

Last night I curled into his side because I was cold and my head hurt and even though I wanted to go to sleep, I wanted to talk more. About nothing. He told me about this show he’s been binging on Netflix about thieves who stick it to the rich, and I told him in Once Upon a Time, he’d be Robin Hood.

He laughed because he knows Regina is my fave (I gush about that a little bit here), and because we both know it’s true. He’s the one who sacrifices, who always believes, who never loses hope.

He’s the reason I know what romance really is–and what it really isn’t.

Romance isn’t always the big gesture. Most of the time it’s the mundane, everyday endurance of doing the small things over and over. Like making the coffee. 

Romance isn’t always candles and roses. Sometimes it’s energy saving lightbulbs and seedlings because the house got bigger and so did the bills and he still wants to save for an anniversary trip.

Romance isn’t always the handwritten love note. A card, carefully plucked from the masses, that probably took him his entire lunch break to choose, truly is as meaningful.

Romance isn’t a fancy dinner. It’s being surrounded by our little people and having a backup when I say no and they beg for yes, then doing the dishes, and falling into bed beside each other for that Netflix binge and sharing the hidden cookies.

Romance isn’t just for Valentine’s Day or anniversaries or birthdays. It’s for the each day rise and fall and fight and love and do it all over again. 

Romance is the choice.

And I’m so very glad he chose me.


 

Here’s one of my favorite posts about Valentine’s Day:

Mardi Gras, Aqua Notes, and Marriage

Aqua notes… still our favorite form of (mis)communication.

And this post usually tops the list of blog favorites:

What Makes a Marriage

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.

IMG_7423

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.

IMG_7439
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.

IMG_7442

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.

faith · family · Home · marriage · writing

What Happens When You Move 10 Miles Down the Road and Everything Changes

IMG_7333
New living room. Perfect for dance parties and silly boys.

I know things have been quiet around here since I revealed what happens when the three year house becomes the ten year house becomes the sold house. There’s still a lot to say about that and God’s timing and sense of humor and my incredible lack of patience and grace, but y’all… I’m really tired.

Moving is no joke. Can I get an amen?

Ten miles. That’s about how far we went. Far enough to jump the county line and need a new school situation. Far enough to make me choose between my familiar Ingles with the bag boys who learned how to write complex sentences under my tutelage. Far enough to make me understand why this stretch of rural highway annoyed my husband every afternoon for five years.

Somehow we moved into a bigger house with less dedicated space. One less bedroom, a basement in need of a true finish, and a family room big enough for our family of six and all of our friends who are just as outnumbered in this parenting gig as we are.

IMG_7375
New obsession with items I  have wall space for. Well, porch space actually.

That’s why we bought this house. So everyone can come over and drink sweet tea on the back porch and the kids can run wild on our almost-four-acre subdivision lot without us having any real worries.

But this different space means everything is different. I can’t put the same furniture in the same places. My Ikea tables are woefully out of place. There’s nowhere to plug in a lamp next to my couch. Our master bedroom is ginormous which is good because my kids like to play hide and seek in there. For the first time ever, there’s room under the bed because, hello? Basement = lotsa storage.

It’s a little like living the dream. Really. Even though it’s not my dream farmhouse with a wrap around porch.

(Joshua says he’ll build me one. He’s a much better person than I am in case you’re wondering.)

Yet we’re still wandering around. A little uncertain about things like end tables and dining room chairs and pictures to hang. My friend Brooke said I’m not allowed to hang my beautiful wall art from 163 Design until it truly is Well With My Soul.

So I’m sipping coffee and the Word on the back porch. Soaking up the sounds of birds and cicadas and squalling kittens who won’t leave the dog alone.

Because you should always get new kittens when you move.

 

IMG_7268
You should also knock off from unpacking and climb a mountain with your Florida friends.

Here’s another life lesson about moving. Somehow ALL the kids stuff–including scraps of paper and toys you intended to throw away–will make it to the new house and get unpacked. However, their daddy and I still can’t find:

  • the alarm clock
  • the printer
  • his shoes
  • the Wii console

So this is where we are right now. Big changes. Little changes. And a whole lotta Jesus being spoke over me by blessed friends who love me through my crazy.

And a husband who is willing to put up with me for another fourteen years and beyond. Here’s to a new house and a new life.

just write life · marriage

What Makes a Marriage

A few weekends ago, we gave away my nineteen year old sister.

12190798_10208274736611325_8693646819068934414_n
When you’re the youngest of seven children, it’s perfectly normal to have ten nieces and nephews participate in your big day.

Young, and  as innocent as she is worldly, she’s known for a long time her heart belongs to a four-wheeling country boy I’ve hardly ever heard speak. So my daddy walked her down an aisle of grass amidst a backdrop of autumn, and gave her over to a young man who must have been shaking in his boots when he asked permission.

Because respecting your wife sometimes starts with respecting her daddy.

IMG_5521

I declined the title bridesmaid; after all, there are six of us sisters and I wanted to choose my own dress. But when she asked me how I’d like to participate, I didn’t hesitate.

While the sun shone and the wind blew, with the sky for a cathedral, I spoke about the sacredness of promises made.

Love is patient. Love is kind. Even when Monday morning is running late, and one kid can’t find her shoes, and someone forgot to wash the socks.

Love is not jealous or boastful. Even when you’re right, and he’s wrong.

Love bears all things. Yes, young couple, remember that. Love puts up with temper tantrums and ugly fights that can’t always be undone. Love bears the load of worry and fear and panic when the gurney holds one of you

Or one of your children.

IMG_5520

Love believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. I told them they think today is the happiest day of their lives. Today they’re committing to a physical and spiritual intertwining, and they’re surrounded by family and friends, so today love is easy. Today hope is easy.

But a wedding is really just an ending of the lives they’ve known and the beginning of the one life they will create.

A wedding is not the happiest day.

Instead, that happiest day will come upon you in the most ordinary of moments. That’s the endurance of love. When you wake up and look around and realize you’re surrounded by little people and loads of laundry and life.

12185269_979805842062642_265660025408713117_oOn that day you realize this is what a marriage is. It’s not fancy flowers and yards of lace. It’s not white chairs and first dances.

A marriage is not “I do”. A marriage is “I will.”

A marriage happens because you get up every day and promise that person you love (but sometimes dislike) that you will, all over again. You will when the bills are overdue, and the dishes stack high, and you can’t remember the last time he brought you flowers.

Love never fails.

11699024_979806325395927_5123616842011968395_o

Because love is an action, a conscious doing, not a state of being. Love requires work, sacrifice, the molding of yourself to another person. That is how you build a marriage. That is how you create a life. That is how you make your happily ever after.

But these three remain: faith, hope, and love. An endless circle, like those rings exchanged. Love begets faith, and faith begets hope.

And the greatest of these is love.

12189372_979806515395908_8608000624599457014_o

A version of this originally appeared in The Northeast Georgian, October 23, 2015.

Professional photography courtesy of Candice Holcomb Photography.

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.