An Object in Motion

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Daniel Swanson Photography

One healthy habit encourages another.

I decided to try cutting desserts out of my diet for a time, and initially the idea seemed daunting. Honestly, I doubted my own self-control. Once I had determined to begin, however, my coworkers’ treats in the breakroom no longer held any allure. I didn’t agonize over the question of whether or not I should grab a donut at church because I had already made up my mind to refuse.

In her study on the book of Daniel, Beth Moore says this about the word loyalty: “It’s something we already were that surfaces in the test.” The original Hebrew word involves a certain amount of “initial preparation or formation,” meaning that an act of loyalty stems from previous resolve, not a spontaneous decision. In other words, what we set out to do affects the end results.

Loyalty is something we already were that surfaces in the test. – Beth Moore

For a few weeks, desserts held no power of distraction or temptation for me. The simple mindset, “I’m not doing that right now,” protected me emotionally and mentally. For someone who does not typically exhibit much self-control around sugar, the power of prior determination came as a surprise. Best of all, I began to find other small acts of discipline easier to accomplish.

Not only did I successfully eliminate ice cream, cookies, cake, and candy from my diet for a number of weeks, but I also began to run the dishwasher more regularly and keep dirty clothes inside the laundry basket instead of tossing them onto the floor. Astonishingly, I even considered continuing the habit of avoiding desserts after my period of abstinence had ended. Instead of feeling burdened by the challenge, I felt motivated to reach for higher goals.

I didn’t make it all the way to Easter without desserts, but I’m delighted by the discovery that a little self-discipline generates a little more. Hopefully some of the practices I have developed over the past few weeks will continue long-term. Even if they don’t, I feel empowered to know that the Lord Jesus has designed my spirit to want more of something good.

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life. . . .For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control. . . .For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. – 2nd Peter 1:3-8 (emphasis mine)

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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3 Reasons I Feel More Stable Today

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The ground feels steady under my shoes today.

I had been in survival mode for months, barely breaking the surface long enough to breathe before stress and exhaustion dragged me into darkness again. I had stopped enjoying my job, my stomach tightening every time I approached the parking garage at my office building. My talented, ambitious, hardworking husband filled evenings and weekends with homework, live gigs, and recording, so loneliness often tainted my hours at home. As for the state of my house, when I could no longer see an inch of clear space on tables or countertops, I sent a pathetic text message to my grandma, asking her to help me clean (which, of course, she immediately did). I lost touch with friends, stopped blogging, skipped church, and rarely read the Bible.

Today feels better — and not just today, but the past many days and weeks. I see a definite trend toward personal and professional improvement and significantly higher levels of emotional stability. I’d like to pinpoint the exact cause that led to this highly desirable effect, but I think the truth involves multiple variables.

1. A toxic person dropped suddenly and permanently out of my life.

I find it disturbing that a single negative influence can wield such destructive power; I didn’t realize how much I had been affected by regular contact with this individual until our interactions ceased and the sun resumed shining.

2. I started exercising regularly again.

For six consecutive weeks I completed three cardio workouts and one yoga workout per week. Sometimes they only lasted ten minutes, but I never missed a day. Thanks to a little discipline, I bid headaches goodbye at long last.

3. My spirit (finally) adjusted to a full-time work schedule.

Took me a little longer than I anticipated, but after a year and a half of 40-hour work weeks, I no longer feel constantly overwhelmed by my daily life. For the first time in recent memory, I have actually begun to experience boredom again!

Sometimes the process of transitioning seems unbearably long.

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Sometimes the process of transitioning seems unbearably long and my small improvements so unimpressive. I still don’t go to bed early enough; dirty laundry lies in heaps on my bedroom floor; and my attempts at meal prep are far from consistent. More than anything else, the past two years have clearly revealed to me my own weakness. Hopefully I’ve learned a little humility. With the assistance of the Holy Spirit, I pray that I would also develop compassion for others struggling to develop healthy habits.

Since our good God offers grace to us, the least we can do is extend it to one another.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. – 1st Thessalonians 5:11

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. – 2nd Corinthians 12:9

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My Never-Ending Migraine: A Summer of Grace

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This has been the summer of doctors for two reasons:

  1. I’ve been mooching off my dad my entire adult life, and since I’m about to turn 26 and lose his excellent insurance, I’m trying to fit as many appointments as possible into the next few months.
  2. The first week of May I got a migraine that never went away.

Every year I get a couple of migraines that begin with vision loss in my left eye. If I lie down quickly in a dark place and take ibuprofen, I typically escape the terrible pain that other people describe. This time, though, the visual aura lasted way longer than usual.

After about a month of shadows across my vision, I visited my family practitioner. (I had already seen an ophthalmologist prior to the migraine, so I knew my eyes weren’t the issue.) She sent me to get an MRI. When the MRI came back normal, my mom made an appointment with an OBGYN in case my symptoms related to a hormonal imbalance. The OBGYN referred me to a neurologist. At this point I had spent a fair amount of money to discover that I am, overall, an extremely healthy person. Go, me.

Just when I started to wonder, “How much do I really need my left eye, anyway?” the Neurologist, an adorable Asian woman, informed me calmly that I have been experiencing a continuous migraine for more than three full months. Now I’m on a daily regimen of natural supplements, and she asked that I up my cardio workouts to three times per week. Supposedly it will take 4-6 weeks to get my brain un-stuck.

I think God weakens our bodies sometimes because he wants to take care of our hearts.

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I think God weakens our bodies because he wants to take care of our hearts.

My entire life, the Lord has treated me with such tenderness, but I don’t notice until my physical capacities fail. The most vivid illustration occurred during my semester in Oxford, England, when I nearly collapsed beneath a burden of crippling anxiety.

I remember sitting with my back against the door of the shared bathroom on my dormitory hall with my knees drawn to my chest, trembling with sobs. The strain of an incredibly difficult academic semester had kept me from sleeping; I had lost so much weight that my clothes had started to fall off; and an ocean separated me from the people who normally calmed me down. I had reached the end of my ability to “push through.”

Suddenly, just moments after whispering a desperate prayer, a physical tingling sensation washed over me from scalp to toe. I had never felt palpable peace like that before, and about a minute later I realized that I had stopped crying. The light buzzed above my head while I rested my chin on my knees, completely calm.

He’s so gentle, friends. When my emotional turmoil reaches the breaking point, and my body buckles beneath the weight, He cradles me. This summer His hands have appeared in the form of bosses who remain lenient with hours missed due to doctors’ appointments, family members who sit with me in waiting rooms, kitties who purr on my chest, and paid sick days that give me time to sleep.

Maybe I needed this migraine to remember how much Jesus cares for me.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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You have not given me into the hands of the enemy but have set my feet in a spacious place.
 – Psalm 31:8

Known

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For Memorial Day weekend I bump along a dirt road to my parents’ mountain home where my mom and I sort bookshelves, stacking piles for me to take home.

Among them we discover journals stretching back to my seven-year-old self. Much to my embarrassment, my mother begins to read passages aloud — but before long we’re both laughing in delight at the memories. We even call my aunt on the phone to relay our favorite segments from our trip to Scotland, funny encounters with natives I had forgotten. To think I nearly told my mother to throw these books away!

It’s a steady, secure feeling, being known. Almost every time my mother and I survey the past together, whether through photo albums or scrawled notes from my younger years, I reconnect with this person named Marie — the girl captured in ink and graphite — and remember that she is someone worth being. Breathing the air of today, riding the current of daily events, trapped in the thoughts of the moment, I tend to forget. [. . .]

I’m honored to be featured on Greer Ohara’s lovely blog, Stories Toward Wholeness as she explores the concept of identity. Please visit her page to read the rest!

Something to Remember when You’re Sleepy

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I’m tired almost all the time.

Depending on the day it ranges from bleary-eyed mornings kind of tired to tripping over nothing, stumbling into walls, blurting nonsensical phrases kind of tired. So, so sleepy . . . and I have absolutely no excuse.

My husband makes fun of me for prioritizing sleep so highly. Rarely do I get less than seven hours, usually more. I’m not raising small children who keep me up all night; I’m not working three jobs to pay my way through school. Every morning I wake up at the same time, drive 40 minutes to work, stay nine hours if I take a lunch break, and drive 40 minutes home. My weekends feel restful, rejuvenating, and relaxing.

Nevertheless, there are many evenings I feel like I could lie down the moment I walk in the door and not wake up until morning. I’ve actually done this a time or two, and whenever I visit my parents’ house, I nap for hours. My body craves sleep like — I don’t know — like a cat craves tuna.

Sadly, I have a hunch I’m not alone. I see your posts on Facebook. I hear the yawns trembling in your voices. We’re all walking around with eyelids drooping and brains buzzing, wishing we were still in bed.

In high school I had a few friends who gave the same answer every time I voiced the perfunctory greeting, “How are you?”

“Tired,” they’d say, until the regularity started to bug me. How can you always be tired? I’d wonder in annoyance. Why don’t you try getting more sleep? Even in college I never pulled all-nighters like some of my classmates. Now, however, I appear to have joined the ranks of the sleep-deprived.

I don’t have an answer for this weariness that seems inherent to adulthood. Instead of wasting screen space searching for a cure, I’ll share one simple lesson that carries me through sleepy days on those occasions when I stop to remember.

You can be thankful and tired at the same time.

You can be thankful and tired at the same time.

When I’m sighing sadly on my bumper-to-bumper commute to the office, my mind wanders to the words of Ann Voskamp in her beautiful book A Thousand Gifts: “All is grace.”

Thank you for trees, God. Thank you for shadows. Thank you for branches waving. Thank you for cool air blowing from my vents. Thank you for diamonds sparkling on my hand.

This is a lesson I must repeat often to myself. I’ll admit that historically, sleepy equates with grumpy for me. When I pause to thank Him, though, I’m surprised to discover that I can experience happiness and sleepiness simultaneously. Feeling tired doesn’t need to defeat me. Instead, my simple refrain of gratitude lifts my eyes from the grogginess of my physical body to the sweetness of each moment that meets me in this day.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits. – Psalm 103:2

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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“Give thanks in this one small thing. The moments will add up.”
– Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts

When the Wedding Day Is Over

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Fifteen months into our marriage, we’ve left the honeymoon phase behind us.

Like any normal human beings, we get grouchy. We nurse hurt feelings, pouting on the drive to the gym. We get confused, conveying rejection unintentionally. He retreats to the basement to edit songs; I jog to the park to cry.

Most recently we sat on opposite ends of the bed, Evan facing the wall while I clutched my knees to my chin. I’d been praying for a breakthrough, but this didn’t feel like an improvement. I couldn’t stand another angry night. Tugging open the drawer in my bedside table, I started tossing books onto the floor until I found the one with the teal cover, a marriage book we’d purchased during engagement but never finished.

“Put your phone down.”

“Why?”

“Because I asked you to.”

I started to read out loud, my voice tight with emotion. This author — a Christian marriage counselor — would certainly set my husband straight, illuminating his mistakes while solving my frustration. A few sentences into the chapter, however, I experienced the uncomfortable prickle in my throat that accompanies conviction.

The author addressed wives directly, using words like laziness that felt unpleasantly pertinent. Tears trembled in my voice while I finished the final paragraph because, according to this wise man, my husband’s “unreasonable” responses over the past few days stemmed from a legitimate grievance. After wrestling with my pride for a moment, I mumbled an apology.

The next morning, we discovered that God had sent a breakthrough after all: a little humility had softened my heart enough to erase the sting of previous conversations. We spent the weekend gobbling donuts on the couch while binge-watching Parks and Recreation, totally in love.

Maybe as the newness fades, the real growth begins.

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Maybe as the newness fades, the real growth begins.

The trees outside my office flowered on Friday. Breathtaking white and pink blossoms coated every branch. I strolled beneath the trees on my lunch break, brushing pollen with my fingertips, leaning close to inhale — but the flowers only lasted for the day. When I returned on Monday, petals carpeted the ground. In their place peeked fresh green leaves.

Fifteen months ago, we filled my parent’s small mountain church with flowers — yellow roses, baby’s breath, deep purple carnations — so many we couldn’t find enough vases to hold them. White lights twinkled through yards of fluffy tulle. A lace train trailed behind me wherever I walked. We initiated our marriage extravagantly because love is worth celebrating, but we haven’t lost anything now that our wedding day lives only in photos. Instead, we’ve gained a smidgen of experience.

Hopefully we love each other a little better because of it.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! – 1st John 3:1

How to Handle Happiness

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These days there aren’t any life-altering decisions looming in my future.

I’m not grappling with fear, doubt, or uncertainty. God hasn’t thrown any major trials my way recently. Instead, my days overflow with interesting conversations, pleasant people, manageable tasks, and the ordinary weariness of a forty-hour work week. Weekends are even better: late mornings cuddling with my husband; snowy mountain excursions with our parents;  trips to the movies; restaurant dinner dates; hours of making music in church.

In short, I’m happy — and I’m not sure how to deal with it.

I’m not sure how to deal with happiness.

During a recent sermon, my pastor opened the altar for prayer. “Whatever you’re facing, no matter how big it seems, God can handle it. Trust him.” I saw people kneel, weeping as they poured out their pain before the Lord. I remembered the tears that dripped from my own eyes not so long ago when I felt like God had abandoned me. I recalled the desperate prayers and the hours spent searching the scriptures for answers. I pictured the 4×6 index cards that I once carried in my purse in the event of panic attacks: “Do not be anxious in anything . . . . How great is the love the father has lavished on us . . . . There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

There was a time when a pastor’s prayer drew me to the altar, needy and hurting. Now, when I examine my heart during quiet moments of contemplation, I find it whole. During such moments my happiness sometimes worries me.

As I see it, there are two problems with happiness:

  1. God doesn’t tend to reveal himself clearly during the good times.
  2. Happy times lead to sad ones.

As for the first problem, any Christ follower will acknowledge that they have experienced God’s presence most potently during their worst trials. Looking back on the milestones of my spiritual journey, I inevitably glimpsed glory through pain. As my sense of urgency  faded, however, my connection with the Spirit seems to have dwindled as well.

The second problem saps some of the sweetness from my days by whispering, “This too shall pass. You won’t always feel cheerful and confident. Someday, you’ll endure troubles again.” Since no season lasts forever, this one must eventually end.

What I seem to be forgetting is that the same God who carried me through suffering also orchestrates my pleasure. Just as he brought pain into my life because he loved me, so now he offers me joy because – you guessed it – he still loves me!

The same God who carried me through suffering now orchestrates my pleasure.

I don’t need to feel guilty about my lax in spirituality as if I somehow control my relationship with God. Of course I should continue to seek him through prayer and scripture, but I don’t need to carry the burden of measuring my spiritual progress. Neither do I need to fear trials in my future because as James reminds us, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (1:17, NIV).

In other words, this season comes to me straight from the hands of a good God who loves me lavishly. If he has given me a job that I like, a husband who showers me with affection, and a family that supports me, I’d better doggone well enjoy it. And when this season trails into another, that will be alright, too, because the same God will be there.

My prayer for this year is that my soul will remain alive to the movement of the Spirit even while my heart rests from the troubles of yesterday. Above all, I want to overflow with gratitude for the good things that fill my days because there are so many of them.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap . . . . – Luke 6:38 (NIV)