My Sleep Challenge (Abundant Life)

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I envision a well-rested future for myself.

If I put my mind to it, I truly believe that I could go to bed earlier, sleep longer, and eliminate the exhaustion that fogs my days. Naysayers, I have a song to sing for you.

May this blog post be my challenge to live a more balanced life. I am determined to get more sleep. Feel free to act as my accountability partner.

So many problems lie outside of our control, but I choose my own bedtime.

So many problems lie outside of our control, but for the most part I choose my own bedtime. You may have small children or homework keeping you awake, but I do not. If I want to get more sleep, I can! Starting today, I want to set aside the vague complaints about sleepiness that often slip from my lips because I am not a victim of circumstance. I have the power to choose how many hours of sleep I get each night.

Every decision comes with sacrifice. I may not have as much time to watch The Office with my husband on the couch before bed, scroll through Instagram, or sing along to audition videos on YouTube. Change requires discipline, a quality I need to develop.

Instead of staring groggily at my computer screen at work, I long to look with fresh eyes at the world around me and the tasks before me. Recently the Holy Spirit has been whispering the phrase “abundant life,” and whenever He repeats the same message from multiple sources, I try to listen. Perhaps He plans to reveal a new layer of abundance.

I want to be awake for that!

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

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

Why I Am my History

My mom meets me at Starbucks to watch old home videos.

She has recently taken a step into the 21st century by converting them to DVD, so we share earbuds and play them on her laptop, laughing so loudly that the other coffee drinkers stare at us.

They’ll get over it.

Viewing scenes from my past – many of which I don’t remember – a strange feeling swells in my chest.

I see my smaller self curl on the lap of my grandpa, who passed away a few years ago. A pacifier protrudes from my mouth; I’m wearing pajamas with feet in bright primary colors.

Suddenly it’s Christmas, and I hold an armful of plastic animals, surrounded by wrapping paper. A giraffe drops from the couch, so I turn to the camera with round eyes to pronounce, “Uh-oh!” Auntie Ann crouches next to me so we can play zoo together. My grandma comments off-screen.

A few moments later and many years older, I stand in a crowd of children singing the soundtrack to Mulan. A taller kid partially obscures my pale, nervous face. My little sister twirls nearby in a floral dress, oblivious to the performance. After the final song, I approach the camera to hear my mom’s praise, concern melting into a smile.

Jump to a wedding. The camera sways wildly before focusing on my fat baby brother. He’s unsteady on his feet, dressed in a little blue suit. He approaches a pair of skinny legs – mine – and lifts his arms, wanting to be held. I heft him onto my hip and wave his chubby fist, instructing him to smile at the camera.

The DVD ends in a few moments of visual fuzz. I allow the sounds of the coffeeshop to wash over me, considering the feeling that has been expanding inside of me since we hit play. It’s as if the little knots in my stomach have loosened. The tasks ahead; the conversations behind; these small cares that I carry with me have momentarily evaporated.

I am so loved.

In every home video, family surrounds me. As the first grandchild, my babyhood constitutes the sole focus of a large group of devoted adults. As the oldest sister, my childhood fills with firsts: the first student; the first performer; the first friend to my two sweet siblings. At the time I took it all very seriously. Observing the scenes years later, I notice something new.

There has never been anything to worry about.

All the events that consume my thoughts become nothing more than memories captured in film. One day, this moment will slip away, too. The fear will fade. In its place will linger the deep affection that marks me like a thousand fingerprints tattooed on my skin. I am precious. I am noticed. I am loved.

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There’s a word for this feeling: perspective. When I witness my life from a distance, I recognize the consistent theme woven into every season. I am still the small child curled in my grandfather’s lap. I am still the nervous singer onstage. I am still the bossy sister ordering a baby to smile. Above all, I am the beloved daughter with a camera pointed at my face because I matter.

I leave the coffeeshop refreshed, alive to the details of this day. If I am my history, then I am something warm, safe, and happy. Therefore I may enter adulthood fortified by a past rich with tenderness.

Thank you, Mama, for reminding me.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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When Your Spouse Goes Back to School

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I figured out the source of my blues from last month, and once again the blame lies with my least favorite word: transition.

This time, though, the transition wasn’t mine.

A few months ago, my husband quit his full-time job and went back to school to study computer science. We both knew – or at least trusted – that it was a good move for our future. Thanks to God’s provision and the generous support  of family, we were (fairly) confident we’d be able to pay our bills. Still, it was a big leap of faith for my husband. I don’t think I realized how big.

I’ve always been the worried one in our relationship. I over-think small decisions. I am swift to consider potential problems, to the point that I sometimes squelch happy dreams. Any transition, even the positive ones, tend to leave me trembling with anxiety. This particular change, however, didn’t bother me.

I knew my husband was nervous about his first week of classes, and I was vaguely sympathetic, but I was far more interested in my own career. I had a good job; he would be fine. In fact, my main worry was that his homework might interfere with our hang-out time in the evenings.

A few weeks into his classes, I started to notice a change in our home life. We began quarreling far more frequently. It bewildered me. I’d come home from a great day at work, and we’d end the night with tears and angry silences. The fights were silly ones, but the mood between us had noticeably shifted.

I remember thinking, Maybe this is the hard part everyone warned us about.

I remember thinking, Maybe this is the hard part everyone kept warning us about when we got married. Maybe we just don’t like each other as much. The thought had barely formulated before I rejected it. We were still crazy about each other. We always would be. There must be a reason for the sudden tension.

The fact that I took so long to trace the source proves how clueless I was about my husband’s emotional life. Ever since graduating from college, he has tackled adulthood head-on. I’ve never known him to hold fewer than three jobs. Even now that he’s back in school, he works part-time for our church and  runs his own business from our basement. Financial independence is hugely important to him, as is his vision of “success.” He frequently worries that he hasn’t achieved enough — that he’s progressing too slowly.

I don’t remember how the conversation started, but I finally got around to asking him how he felt about quitting his job. I quickly discovered that he felt he had taken a step backward — even though he knew this degree would benefit his future. In one clarifying moment I realized the tension I had sensed wasn’t about me. My husband was understandably stressed by a major life change. Perhaps if I had taken a more active look outside my own emotions, I would have recognized it sooner.

As I write this, my husband is totally rocking his classes. We’re paying our bills every month, and we still really like each other. The change continues to carry its stressors, but next time I feel the strain, I’ll look for practical explanations instead of assuming the worst.

I still hate transitions. I’m learning, however, that identifying the source of my blues can sometimes help cure them.  Hopefully I’m learning a little something about empathy, too. Most importantly, this blip on our marital radar has reminded me that I’m not the only one facing uncomfortable adjustments. It’s nice to feel like a team again.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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In Search of Joy

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The last few weeks have felt a little heavy, and I’m not sure why.

The weird thing is, a lot of wonderful stuff happened recently. A friend of mine accepted Christ and was baptized. I got to be part of her decision. My husband played a gig in Vail, so we stayed for free. We spent an entire Saturday wandering in and out of shops, surrounded by mountains. I successfully produced a few live radio shows at work. During one show, I got to shake the hand of a WWII veteran who just finished an incredible sculpture — at the age of 94.

Seems like life would be feeling pretty good right now. For some reason, though, I’m having trouble shaking these depressive feelings.

The other night I got into bed feeling sorry for myself. My husband was up late with homework, so I was going to bed alone. Instead of turning the lights out and moping, I opened my dresser drawer and pulled out a book I’ve never read, one that I got for free. The first chapter was about reading God’s Word and applying it to my life.

It’s been a while since I spent regular time in the Word. Last year, when everything was so difficult, I read the Bible and prayed obsessively, begging God for answers. I think I wore myself out a little. This year I’ve backed off, trying to give my heart a break. I may have missed the happy medium.

Placing the book back in my nightstand, I opened Numbers and took a stab at application: reading a passage and then asking myself, “How can I obey these words?” It was one of those chapters about sacrifices, in which God told the Jews exactly how many goats they needed to slaughter every month. I had to use my imagination, but I decided my version of a daily “sacrifice” could be reading a brief Bible passage every morning and evening. I went to sleep feeling surprisingly refreshed.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

– Psalm 51:12, NIV

I believe God uses every piece of our lives to teach us about Himself. He’s using my job and the time I spend in church and the numbers in my bank account . . . all of it. I can still grow in the Lord when I’m not studying the Bible every day. Still, staying in touch with the Holy Spirit makes a difference.

I’m needing refreshment right now. A day off might help — and I was thankful for the three-day Labor Day weekend — but more than that, I need some refreshment of the soul. Reading a few Bible verses twice a day may not cure my blues, but it could help shift my focus. After all, I have a lot to be thankful for.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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