November 25, 2014

The One Thing I Want With the Time I Have Left

Tomorrow is my 30th birthday.

It's hard to believe I've lived three decades, but I have. Time flies, and yet it feels like I have yet to accomplish so much. But unlike many people who bemoan the fact that the big 3-0 has arrived, I tend to look at things a little differently -- in many ways, because of the fact my mom only lived to be 46.

Today, I'm praising God for another day, another year.

And today, I'm also getting contemplative. The holidays and turning another year older tend to have that effect on me. Since I'm turning 30, Tim McGraw's song "My Next 30 Years" has been playing over and over in my head.

In the song, Tim talks about all the things he's thankful for, but all the things he is going to focus on for his next 30 years. I considered making a list of "goals" for myself -- things like getting healthier, getting published, doing this, doing that. I'm a list-maker so that appeals to me.

But as I really thought about what would make my next 30 years better than the first 30 I've had, I realized something.

There is only one thing I really want.

This thing -- if I really focus on it -- will make my whole life better. And it will have a trickle-down effect into every other area in my life.

What I really want for my next 30 years, for whatever time I have left on this earth, is to love God more.

If my focus can become drawing closer to Him, loving Him, loving His ways, then inevitably I'll become more like Jesus. I'll love His people better. I'll focus less on myself -- and more on others. More on being a servant. Which, as a soon-to-be mom (less than 3 or 4 weeks and counting!), is something I know I'll struggle with!

I'm not sure how I'll accomplish this. A lot through prayer. A lot through making time with Him a priority.

Guess I have a list to make after all. :)

Your Turn: What do you want your next 30 years to look like?

November 18, 2014

Four Tips to Make Your Marriage Stronger

November 18, 2006
Today is my eighth wedding anniversary. I'm blessed to be married to my best friend -- a guy with whom I'm survived disappointments, graduate school, debt, disagreements, and much more.
But we've had a lot of good times, too. We have many reasons to smile. One of these reasons is the upcoming birth of our first child, a boy. He's due 12-13-14.
We have survived what many call "the seven-year itch." Instead of declining in happiness and joy, I think our marriage has increased in it. I give all the glory to God for that, but I also thought back over the ups and downs and some lessons I've learned along the way.

Here are four things I believe changed my marriage for the better:

1. Brag on your husband. Nothing is off limits. 
Too often, women gather together to diss on their husbands and complain about all the stuff they don't do right. When you take time to brag on him instead -- both privately and publicly -- you show your husband he is respected and esteemed. You also shape your own perception. The more you talk about his virtues, the more you'll start seeing them instead of any weaknesses.

2. Ask what three things you can do to be the best helpmate possible.
It's impossible to do everything we think a "good wife" should. A lot of those things might not matter to your husband anyway -- they're simply a means of comparing ourselves to other women we know. I mean, my husband couldn't care less about whether the kitchen is clean (that's my pet peeve!). What's most important to him is that I make his lunch every day, do the laundry often enough for him to have clean undershirts, and take care of feeding the dogs. These things might change, so check in with him on a monthly or annual basis. Doing this will help take off some of the pressure you feel, and make your marriage less stressful overall because you know where to focus your energy.

3. Let him help you solve a problem.
In other words, don't be so independent! Our husbands want to feel like they are a help to us and that we respect their opinions. But don't ask for help unless you're truly willing to consider what he has to say. Not that you have to do exactly as he suggests, but it wouldn't be very uplifting to him to have his opinion asked and then disregarded completely.

4. Give him 15 minutes to himself when he gets home from work.
Many guys need time to transition from work life to home life. That can be difficult for us to understand if we've been home all day or busy with the kids. We see him getting home as a win for us -- "yay, he can take the kids so I can finish up dinner without interruption!" But giving him that little bit of space when he returns home -- after a quick kiss and hello, of course -- lets him decompress and switch modes without feeling overwhelmed.

Your Turn: What things have made your marriage stronger? If you aren't married, what have you seen in other marriages to make them healthy and vibrant?

November 11, 2014

Face Me Blog Tour: The Real Face of Pregnancy

When my friend Jaime Wright first brought up the idea of a blog tour featuring posts on beauty -- requiring blog authors to post a picture of themselves without makeup -- I said, thanks but no thanks.

I'm 35 weeks pregnant and let's just's not been so kind in the face department. In other words, I've struggled with acne throughout my pregnancy. So the idea of posting a pic of myself without makeup to hide these imperfections from the world was...well, scary.

Because I want the world to see me like this:
A cute pregnant girl with flawless skin.

The truth is, makeup covers a lot of imperfections. And so does Photoshop.

But as I saw more and more of my friends taking up the challenge -- saying, "yes, I'll do this...even though it makes me nervous!" -- I wondered what my excuse was. Because really, pregnancy isn't an excuse (to avoid this, that IS an excuse to eat lots of ice cream! Hehe).

In fact, pregnancy is one of those times in a woman's life when she feels particularly vulnerable. If you've been pregnant, you know how weird it is to not feel comfortable in your own skin -- which is always stretching, by the way. Your body does things you didn't know it could both bad and good ways.

There are kankles. Stretch marks. Love handles. Acne. Tired, puffy eyes from lack of sleep.

None of these things show in the picture above. Photoshop and makeup have the ability to whisk all of that unpleasantness away. It presents a false image. And no, there's nothing inherently wrong with wanting gorgeous photos to remind us of this special time in our lives.

But...what about authenticity?

If makeup and Photoshop cover up our true physical appearance, might we also be covering up our true spiritual and emotional states? Whether you're pregnant or not, many of us rarely share our true selves.

Why? The same reason we love makeup.

Because we're afraid of rejection. If we show our true selves, will people still love us?

Because we compare ourselves. If we show our true selves, will we look as good -- on the inside and outside -- as so-and-so?

Because, ultimately, we are valuing the wrong things.

God created each of us -- He created YOU -- as a work of art, a thing of beauty. His Word says, "I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well" (Psalm 139:14).

That's not talking about the made-up you or the "you" that you allow others to see. Because God? He sees everything: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

And He loves you anyway.

You don't have to fear rejection from God. He will never reject you.

You don't have to compare yourself to others for God to love you. You are a unique creation He cherishes.

Let's start valuing the RIGHT things. Let's stop caring about how we look on the outside and realize that EVEN WITHOUT MAKEUP, WE ARE BEAUTIFUL...especially without makeup. Because without it, we are real. And real is beautiful.

Because this acne and these tired eyes I'm dealing with? This. Right. Here?
I'm choosing to embrace them. Because it means there's a little person growing inside of me. Someone who God created. A mother is a warrior -- and these are my battle scars.

Embrace what you see as your imperfections.

Embrace who YOU truly are.

God has...and He loves you in spite of them. He loves you FOR them.

Bottom line -- He loves us. It's time we start loving ourselves.

Your Turn: I'd love to see a photo of your pure beauty -- without makeup, without fear! If you don't feel comfortable with that, that's okay too. Let's talk: why do you think women have such a hard time embracing their own beauty? And if you've ever been pregnant, what physical aspect of that made you the most uncomfortable with your body?

For more Face Me Blog Tour inspiration, check out posts by these amazing authors!

Gabrielle Meyer
Nick Kording
Joseph Courtemanche
Jaime Wright
Carrie Wisehart
Emilie Anne Hendryx
Andrea Michelle Wood
Sarah Baker
Kristy Cambron
Rachel Britz
Cara Putman
Stacy Monson
Laurie Tomlinson
Katie Ganshert
Katherine Reay

November 4, 2014

How to Become Dissatisfied Overnight

This time last month, the beloved car I'd had since my senior year in high school bit the dust.

The 1996 Ford Contour was in decent shape on the outside, but its insides decided to give up the fight. It was going to cost way more than it was worth to fix it.

Dilemma time. See, we'd been hoping to eek a few more years outta the old girl before upgrading.

Ever since my husband and I got married, we've driven old beat-up cars with one glorious thing in common -- they were paid off. My Contour and his 2001 Toyota Corolla were the only cars I'd ever driven on a regular basis. But we didn't care. They did what cars were supposed to do -- got us where we needed to go.

And yeah, our friends teased us about how old they were. I mean, the locks and windows were manual in one and didn't work in the other. But like I said, we didn't care. We didn't know any different.

But when the Contour died, we decided (after thought and prayer!) to purchase a van. I'm thirty-four weeks pregnant and we have two big dogs, so the extra room made sense for us. And when we did the math, we decided to purchase a new vehicle since we plan to keep this one for awhile.

Thus began a journey toward something we didn't expect: dissatisfaction. Let me explain.

We got our new van, which came equipped with all of these features that are "basic" on the vehicle, but "like, whoa, this is amazing" to us. We didn't even get the top model! When we first bought it, we loved taking it out for rides and figuring out all the gadgets and gizmos.

Then, we took a road trip in it. It was such a huge blessing to have! I was way more comfortable than I would have been traveling in my third trimester in a small car, I can tell you that.

Yesterday, for the first time since the road trip, we drove the Corolla -- which, remember, was perfectly fine to us just a month ago. In fact, it was our "nice" car.

And we couldn't believe how much our perception has changed already! We started seeing all the flaws of the Corolla and comparing it to the nice, new van.

Whoa. How did this happen? Did we become materialistic overnight?

Thankfully, my husband and I recognized this in ourselves and are still too practical to go out and buy a new car to replace one that still runs perfectly fine. But still. It speaks to something in our human nature -- something potentially frightening. And it speaks to something much bigger than my feelings about a new car.

Because I don't want to be someone who just sees the flaws in something -- or someone. I want to see the best. I want to see how something fits my needs just as it is, right now, without feeling the need to wish for something "better."

Because that definition of "better"? That's a perception thing too.

Today, especially as we head into the Thanksgiving season, I want to be GRATEFUL for what I have and where God has me. In some ways, I want back that naivete I had before buying a new vehicle. Sometimes, it's not possible to go back. And if that's the case, I want to be grateful for that too.

I guess, no matter what, I want that contentment Paul talked about -- to not always be looking ahead for the "next thing" but to be happy with what God has given me here and now.

Your Turn: Have you ever experienced a shift in perspective that showed you just how human you really are?