Four years and 2,700 miles separate the top two photos and the bottom two photos. The top photos (I just realized Tim is wearing the same shirt – ha!) were taken while Tim and I were dating – one at the Flower Fields in Carlsbad, CA and the other in Yosemite. The bottom two photos were taken this Winter after we moved to Pennsylvania.
This little collage holds an ocean of emotions in its four boxes. There’s joy, gratitude, anticipation and love mixed with exhaustion, anxiety and fear. Sometimes I have a hard time looking back at photos from when Tim and I were dating. Not because they bring back bad memories; quite the contrary. I look at that carefree couple and envy their stage of life.
Their weight of responsibility was lighter. Less of life’s worries filled their minds. (And, because I’m particularly missing California right now, they had the beach at their fingertips.)
But that couple was just two pieces of rope inching closer and closer together. Their connection was just beginning. With every bill they paid together, with every move they made, with every tough decision, and who gets the car today discussion, those two ropes made a knot. Knot upon knot have made those two people closer, albeit more complicated, couple.
Every little thing that makes this stage of life complicated makes our relationship stronger, deeper. I’m over on Kindred Grace sharing about the power of complicated…
Since I didn’t date much before I met my husband (and by much, I mean barely at all), that particular season in our relationship has always been a favorite. Dating was fun. The thrill of getting to know someone can be intoxicating.
I’m not a naturally talkative person, but I loved staying up late discussing our families, our college experiences, and our faith. I also loved the doing of dating. We had season passes to Disneyland, so if we weren’t exploring our favorite beaches, roaming Barnes & Noble, or eating frozen yogurt, we were making memories at the Happiest Place on Earth. It was a fun and easy time, punctuated by increasing depth of attachment and possibility.
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Selling the majority of your possessions, quitting your job, and embarking on a 50-state road trip may not sound like a jolly good time, but that’s exactly what Allison Vesterfelt did. Allison, a teacher turned writer, and her musician friend, Sharaya, gave up security and comfort to travel around the country for six months. They lived off of talent, prayers, and the generosity of others all in the name of “chasing dreams.”
Allison chronicles their adventure in Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage. Her narrative is an engaging memoir/travel log peppered with poignant reflections on faith, relationships, and the baggage we tend to accumulate. She is honest and funny, allowing her own experiences to speak truth and challenge. One aspect of this book that I loved the most was how Allison wove the rich young ruler‘s story in with her own, illuminating some of the baggage he must have been carrying around in his search for eternal life.
I “read” the audio version of Packing Light. The great part about listening to an audiobook is that I can do the dishes, walk on the treadmill or fold laundry while “reading.” The bad part is that I can’t underline or go back and revisit the thoughts and ideas that stuck out. While I enjoyed listening to the author narrate her own adventures, I missed having a physical book to mark up. I’m not an auditory learner; so, despite the fact that I love listening to lectures and sermons and the like, my retention is a bit stunted when I don’t have paper and pen in hand to take notes. I feel like I didn’t squeeze as much juice out of this orange as I could have had I read a physical copy, but I appreciated getting an overall gist/vibe/takeaway from the book that may have gotten lost amidst my focus on the particulars.
Just in case you’re wondering… I will probably go to Barnes and Noble with a notebook and skim for the quotes I would have written down in my journal had I read a hard copy.
My overall takeaway (as in, what I was thinking about after I read the book):
For me, packing light looks like shedding my expectations. Much of the baggage I carry around comes from expectations. It’s not that reality sometimes falls short of my expectations or that people don’t meet my expectations, it’s that expectations distract me from the present.
Christmas, for example, can be a source of distracting expectations. I have expectations about what the house should look like, what activities should happen leading up to the holiday, and what the actual day should feel like. I don’t think I’ve ever had a Christmas that met all my expectations. Even at the end of the best of Christmases (and I’ve had plenty), there’s still a niggling hint of what didn’t go quite like what I expected. Mary didn’t react to her gift the way I wanted. The grandkids stayed past their nap-time and things got a little out of control. Mom invited a lonely church member over to share dinner and now it’s not just family. As they crumble, those expectations distract from all the wonderful things about the day or the moment.
And this doesn’t just happen with celebrations or activities. Expectations weigh down relationships – with family, with friends, with spouses. I have allowed expectations to distract me from finding joy in so many relationships, even my relationship with myself. My expectations for how I look and what I do distract me from enjoying the body God gave me (which is pregnant and round right now) or maximizing the time I have to rest and recharge before our son is born.
[pullquote position=”right”]We miss out on joy when we let expectations crowd our hearts and minds.[/pullquote] Expectations weigh us down and cloud our vision with perfection when what God has set out for us is right there in front of us. He’s inviting us to leave our expectations behind and grab hold of the freedom we have in His perfect plans.
Sitting back in my chair after a pleasant dinner, I watched our friend’s 8-month old twins scarf down their dessert – delicious looking, homemade energy bites. After inquiring about the recipe, I was informed that the chocolatey, peanut buttery Pinterest find was partially healthy because quinoa was the main ingredient.
“Have you ever had quinoa?” she asked. No sooner had, “I haven’t, but I’ve always wanted to try it” came out of my mouth did Tim pipe up with an enthusiastic, “I have!”.
For a guy who doesn’t like mushrooms, I was rather shocked. I’m sure the surprise was written all over my expression. As a culinary enthusiast and avid eater, I consider my palette well informed, so I was surprised Tim had tried a food I hadn’t. The surprise didn’t stop there. When I wondered out loud what restaurant he had tried quinoa at, Tim informed our little gathering that he had made it at home once or twice. I was so impressed that, as a bachelor, my husband had cooked quinoa, a fairly obscure grain, for dinner more than once.
That casual conversation around the table led to a fun discovery and an important reminder: [pullquote position=”right”]getting to know your spouse isn’t a one-time accomplishment. Husbands and wives should be life-long learners[/pullquote] – about each other!
Once the basics are out of the way – family, hobbies, goals, personality type – it’s easy to let learning take a back seat. You know you love the person, so much so that you chose to spend the rest of your life with them, but in the long run, that love isn’t a substitute for intimate knowledge.
My dating relationship with Tim started with hours and hours of conversation. Now, more than 18 months into our marriage and endless conversations later, I’m still learning new things about him. Some are fun facts, like his cooking habits; others are serious, like fears and past pain. All are worthwhile new discoveries.
Sometimes I feel bad when I find out I didn’t know something about Tim, but I’m realizing there’s no reason to feel like a bad spouse when you discover new things about the person you married. People change and there will always be more to discover about your bride or groom. That’s part of what makes relationships exciting.
Life-long learning can be passive, a la my quinoa discovery, but the benefits will be richer and more meaningful if the pursuit of knowledge is purposeful. Build time into your schedule to ask questions, try new things, and dig deeper into the person you married. Actively listen and engage when they speak. Study. Notice. Don’t forget to share the fun things you discover. It’s affirming to know someone appreciates your nuances and is excited to learn these new factoids.
All the new things I learn about Tim (the good, the bad, and the ugly) make me love and admire the man I married even more. So, why would I not continue to actively pursue learning about one of my favorite topics?
Life-long learning requires communication and conversation. If, like myself, those things don’t always come easy to you, check out these resources for jumpstarting your path to new discoveries:
(affiliate link) Table Topics – Makes get to know you questions seem more like a game than an interrogation. Great for families too. (My family has used them for new significant others and to stimulate good dinner conversation).
What are some fun things you’ve learned about your spouse lately? How are you a life-long learner in your marriage?
P.S. I finally made quinoa for the first time last week! (I used this recipe for Broccoli Quinoa Casserole and it was delicious.)
What a journey you have ahead! In your small (and by small, I mean tall and semi-chubby) self, you have no idea what joy and pain, triumphs and failures, love and heartache, adventures and mishaps are waiting for you.
I don’t want to alter your path too much with my words from the future. I am grateful, though vexed at times, for the lessons I learned from your choices. I would, however, like to offer some encouragement, and maybe a pointer or two, to make the coming years less of an emotional roller coaster.
Life got a lot more enjoyable when you began to embody who God created you to be. Unfortunately for you, it wasn’t until college that you really started to act like yourself, and even then, you had days so driven by the whims of other people, Emily was nowhere to be found.
I realize it takes time, and trial and error, to discover who you are. The process of discovery never really stops; but, the more you look to the Lord – the author of the life you live – the more confident you’ll be that YOU are speaking, acting, thinking, believing, not other people.
With that in mind: embrace your height, wear lace, start a book club, get your groove on, speak up in class, bake for everyone you know (and don’t know), share your faith boldly. Indeed, people will judge, but at least they will be judging the real you, not who you think they want to judge.
Teenage love is swirling around you in all its hand-holding, texting, and movie going glory. The idea of a guy liking you is a heady thought, especially that guy you’ve liked since 6th grade and will continue to like all through high school.
Baking his name in cookies, toilet papering his house, and endlessly instant messaging him may seem like good ideas, but probably come off as a tad bit overeager (desperate, maybe?). The triumph of getting him to admit that he thinks you’re pretty isn’t worth the endless hours you obsess and journal about him.
God seems a bit cruel, not allowing some romantic action to develop over the years. Yes, a date to just one school dance would be nice, but deep down you know you only want to go for the dress. Don’t fret, you’ll get to wear a beautiful dress when it really counts. God isn’t being cruel; He’s keeping you all to Himself until both you and the one who will cherish and care for you is ready.
I don’t want to give too much away (just wait until you find out where your “meet cute” is…), but know that your future husband meets everything on the list you so diligently made and has qualities you didn’t know you needed.
In light of all that, you won’t have a boyfriend until you’re 24 and that boyfriend will become your husband. You saved your first kiss for him. You saved your whole self for him.
It was worth it!
Friends don’t make themselves. Your dependence on others to create friendships for you is unnecessary and puts strain on the ones that matter the most. I know there are others around you who have the same difficulty moving past “Hello. How are you.” Those people are friends in the making!
Shyness is not an excuse. Come to find out, you aren’t shy. Reserved, yes. Introverted, yes. Shy, no.
Look beyond yourself and reach out to those around you. Not everyone you meet needs to become your bosom friend, but love and caring without prejudice should go without saying.
Reach out to the girl who gleefully pointed out the mating moths before 4th period. Reach out to the foreign exchange student who’s too smart for his own good. Reach out to the forlorn girl in PE who obviously has “sadness in her heart,” as mom would say.
I am hesitant to say much on the topic of beauty and self-image, not because you don’t need encouragement, but because I am so vastly in need of the same encouragement. I don’t know what to say to keep you from negative self-talk and strict food intake. You have already begun to build your self perception around a worldly standard.
Your family, your friends, your husband will spend many hours affirming you. Their encouragement will all be for not if a confidence in Christ’s unconditional love for you doesn’t remain strong.
If you internalize anything from this letter, let it be this: You are valuable. Your value isn’t directly linked to any sort of physical attribute or personality trait. Your value is given by God Almighty.
Put your God goggles on and believe what you see.
You will begin to notice a theme develop as God molds and shapes your heart and your path. He never works when or how you want Him to work. Initially, that’s quite frustrating and works directly against your perfectionist modus operandi, however, you cannot deny that God knows. He just knows…
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
For the good test taker and the strict list maker. For the rule follower, the fear wallower, the messy, and the misunderstood. For the self-critic, the silent judge, and the girl who feels invisible.
For the girl who is tired of trying and the one afraid to fail.
You don’t have to be perfect, but do you trust the One who is? The God who came to save you also came to live with you, in you, today.
She encouraged others to remember what it was like to be a teenager again. Many of us took that challenge and turned our reflections into letters to our young souls. You can find a link up of other letters on Emily’s website Chatting at The Sky. She has even created a wonderful video to spread the message of Graceful.