5 Tips for Making Tough Decisions

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I hate making decisions so much that I almost didn’t marry the love of my life.

So when I tell you that I have a few tips about making difficult choices, trust me–these lessons were hard-won. Please know that I sympathize with your inner angst.

1. Take your time.

This is a weird one for me because, historically, I have taken way too much time to make decisions. Take my engagement as an example: almost a year and a half of agonizing thought, prayer, and discussion.

Ever since getting married, however, I seem to have swung wildly to the other extreme. Now I attempt to skip the entire experience by making decisions swiftly and at random, which is not a great alternative.

It’s OK to slog through the painful process. Pray. Search the scriptures. Talk with trusted friends and family. You’ll come out of it wiser. Hang in there.

2. Talk to future you.

Sometimes I like to stage imaginary conversations with myself six months in the future. Pretending that I have already picked a certain option, and I ask, “Do you regret your choice?”

My boss recently asked me to travel once per month to a radio station out of state. I’d meet with new clients and write new ads, which would mean a bigger workload and a larger commissions check each month.

Monthly travel sounded daunting, but we’d been going through a slow season with the local stations. I had a heart-to-heart with future Marie, imagining that she had declined the opportunity. She regretted missing the chance to grow. She felt bored. So I said yes.

3. Just make the decision.

Once you’ve carefully weighed each option, pick one. Acknowledge that you cannot predict every outcome, let go of your need for control, and take the scary step. In my experience, even a wrong decision will turn out better than no decision at all.

In fact, I’d estimate that the majority of choices don’t fall under the category of moral dilemmas. Often, either alternative could lead to some favorable results. Commit yourself to one path, and you’ll typically find both trials and successes.

In the rare case that you do make a horrible mistake, and disastrous consequences ensue … at least you’ll learn from the experience and make a better choice next time. Remaining in a state of permanent indecision gets you nothing but a tummy ache.

4. Stick with it.

Once you have made up your mind, don’t revisit the decision. Commit yourself fully to the path you have chosen. You also shouldn’t be too hasty to judge whether you made the “right” call or not. Give it some time; see how it goes.

A couple of years ago, my ENT recommended sinus surgery. He hoped that it would help me to breathe better at night. The financial cost was significant, however, and I would  need to take time off work for the recovery. After deliberating, I took my doctor’s advice.

The recovery ended up being much worse than the surgeon had anticipated. I had to take more days off work than I had planned. The pain was, frankly, horrible, and I didn’t respond well to the pain medication. Clearly, I had made a terrible mistake …

… except that I can actually breathe through my nose now. And, in retrospect, the nine-day recovery doesn’t seem so terribly long. Sometimes I need to give myself a break and have a little patience before labeling myself a failure.

Action cures fear. Indecision, postponement, on the other hand, fertilize fear. – David J. Schwartz, The Magic of Thinking Big, 1959

5. Trust yourself.

Right now, you don’t trust yourself. You don’t really trust God, either–not if you’re honest. That’s OK. Go ahead and do something scary.

Here’s the unpleasant reality: in order to develop trust, you must first risk failure. It’s going to feel awful the first few times. You’ll want to throw up, and you’ll feel certain that you’re going to ruin your entire life. You won’t.

And once the world hasn’t ended a couple of times, you’ll slowly start to become more confident in your own ability to make good choices. You’ll also be able to look back and observe how God was working undercover the whole time. He seems to prefer at little secrecy at first, for some reason.

I’m sorry that it’s scary right now.

I wish you didn’t need to feel afraid. I also believe that you can do this.

Because I did.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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Daniel Swanson Photography

3 Reasons I Feel More Stable Today

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Daniel Swanson Photography

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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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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What Normal Feels Like

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Something hit me at work today: I’m not afraid of my job.

I’ve spent most of my life being afraid of ordinary things. I hated giving people hugs as a kid, and I never wanted to say hello to acquaintances at church. Calling people on the phone scared me. Swallowing pills scared me. When I learned to drive, I was afraid of turning left. Studying for tests scared me – not the test itself, but studying for it. Having a boyfriend scared me, thinking about marriage scared me, and getting engaged scared me so badly that I almost didn’t do it.

Now my job is to ask people – really capable, interesting people – about their passions. My job is also to form paragraphs beginning with a hook and ending with a call to action. I am not afraid of those things.

My Junior year of college I spent a semester studying at Oxford University in England. While I was there I attended lectures that blew my mind, entered libraries that were hundreds of years old, and wrote poetry for homework. I also learned something about myself: I don’t particularly enjoy solo adventures.

I don’t particularly enjoy solo adventures.

All those hours alone in grand, silent buildings made me terribly lonely. This was a startling discovery because until that point I had considered myself an introvert who needed her “alone time.” I decided I could never do research for a living because I needed to work with people.

Fast forward to the present, and I’m participating in something I didn’t know existed. I do research, but it’s in-person research. Instead of taking notes in a library, I ask questions face to face, and I’m usually accompanied by a more experienced salesperson, so there’s not as much pressure.

Not being afraid is kind of weird. The same thing is happening with my marriage. I’m not nervous about our relationship; instead, being with my husband makes me happy, confident, and secure. Of course working full-time is an adjustment, and I’ve been exhausted a lot the past few weeks. Nevertheless, large parts of my life are beginning to feel … normal.

I like the feeling of normalcy, especially when I was expecting a scary transition. It’s nice to know I can be calm about the two most prominent features of my life, work and family. In fact, it feels a little like a miracle.

I’m realizing that I can’t always predict what will scare me and what won’t. The best I can do is accept each event with the emotions that accompany it and do my best to remember that God is involved. He knew I would be afraid of getting married. He knew I wouldn’t be afraid of this job. He let me go through both with my good in mind.

I still get nervous about ordinary things like waking up early or asking my boss a question over the phone. I’m thrilled, though, by the blessings that have begun to feel commonplace. Thank you for helping me enjoy them.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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Adulthood for Beginners

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I consider myself a beginner adult.

As such, there is a limited number of responsible activities I can (usually) handle on a daily basis. This list includes:

  1. Eating
  2. Going to work
  3. Spending time with my husband
  4. Sleeping
  5. Exercising a little
  6. Brushing and flossing my teeth

Not included on this list are:

  1. Dishes
  2. Weeding
  3. Picking up prescriptions from Walgreens
  4. Returning library books
  5. DMV appointments
  6. Daily showers

I would be interested to see what items make it onto your list of can-do activities. I would probably gain insight into both your personality and your priorities. In my case, the above list reflects the current scope of my emotional stamina.

Being a beginner adult means that I generally know what I’m supposed to be doing but don’t feel much hope that I will do it. I read emails reminding me that my book was overdue last Tuesday and that, if I don’t pick up my prescription today, I’ll have to re-order. I watch the prickly green monsters in my yard approach knee-height and wonder how long it will be until the neighbors complain. I build precarious towers of bowls in the sink, and I braid my hair in the mornings hoping no one can tell that it’s a little greasy.

A dear friend of mine once received mockery for keeping her Christmas tree months beyond December. She did not want to keep it. Its needles had long ago died – although they somehow remained attached to their branches – and she had packed away all the lights and ornaments. Still the tree sat, bare and faded, in her living room.

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At the time I laughed at her a little over the phone, but I totally got it. Like me, this friend was adjusting to married life for the first time. Her brand-new job was physically and emotionally exhausting. She was fresh out of college and unused to home ownership. It was just . . . a lot to handle.

I’m sure those of you who have been adulting for decades will back me up on this: the little stuff can be tough. Sometimes I observe people like my mother who continuously accomplish feats such as grocery shopping, putting dinner in the crock pot, taking children to dentist appointments, and scheduling emissions tests, and I feel slightly panicked. It looks so easy for them, I think.

Chances are good, however, that it was a learning curve for them, too.

My hope is that adulthood will be like driving on the freeway: it will take practice. I remember a time when merging onto I25 terrified me. Now I change lanes without thinking. (Except in downtown Denver. Please don’t ask me to drive downtown.) One day cooking dinner for a family of four won’t seem like a big deal, and neither will driving to the pharmacy.

For now, I’ll try not to get too frustrated about the dishes and focus on what I am accomplishing. I love my husband, and we spend lots of time watching The Office in bed. We usually have clean laundry (even if it stays piled in the hamper instead of going in the drawers). We cuddle with our kitty and, when we can, prioritize time with parents and grandparents. I’m learning a lot at work. We’re growing and stretching, and I will get better at this stuff.

Until then, I’ll take adulthood one step at a time.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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Daniel Swanson Photography

When You Get what You Prayed for

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About a week ago, I got an amazing job.

This job promises to develop my strengths – writing and learning – while addressing my weaknesses (worrying and accepting criticism). It affirms my Christian values and surrounds me with strong, like-minded people. Furthermore, it came right when I needed it.

As of last month, my husband and I were approaching an uncertain financial future. Although I enjoyed my job at the coffeeshop, I wasn’t contributing much to our monthly bills. Meanwhile, he was crumbling beneath the strain of 3+ jobs. Something had to give. It occurred to me (last minute, as usual) to pray for a higher-paying job. A week or two later, I got the interview.

God doesn’t always work quickly, but when He does, it’s hard to miss the message. When my interviewer told me over the phone, “We’d like you to work for us,” I responded before he could take a breath: “Yes, I accept.” I would have been a fool to refuse.

But I wasn’t excited.

I didn’t hang up the phone doing a happy dance; I didn’t give anyone a hug. Instead, I prayed for courage before calling my old boss to give notice. I sent Facebook messages trying to get shifts covered and started cancelling plans that conflicted with my new work schedule. I shared the news with the necessary people (my husband, my mom, my girlfriends) and absorbed their congratulations perfunctorily, breathing deeply to combat the tightness in my stomach.

You see, change – even good change – is scary. Even when I clearly see God at work; even when I anticipate myriad practical benefits; even when I receive exactly what I asked for, I get nervous.

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My mother, who knows me better than most, guessed how I was feeling. “Marie,” she told me, “you can trust God because this is what He has for you.” I replied that I did trust Him. I knew perfectly well that this job was part of His plan.

In a rational sense, I don’t have a problem trusting God. His active presence is the axiom to my theological proofs. (See, Mom? I retained something from geometry.) I do, however, struggle to embrace challenges with exuberant faith.

My laptop’s built-in dictionary defines trust as the “acceptance of the truth of a statement.” According to that definition, trust could happen at the cognitive level without extending to the gut: “Yes, Lord, I believe you – but will it hurt?” True faith, by contrast, reacts with joy to whatever future awaits. It takes a person of real courage to say with confidence, “I know Your plans are worth the pain. Bring it on, Lord.”

True faith reacts with joy to whatever future awaits.

Two days ago, my new job flew me to Philadelphia. I stayed in a hotel where the cleaning staff left chocolates on my pillows; I dined for free at three different restaurants; I attended a lecture on How to Listen; I filled an entire notebook with tips on effective communication. I even enjoyed it. Still, my primary emotion regarding the home trip was nervousness: what would the company expect from me when I returned? Could I really apply what I had learned?

My prayer for the upcoming months is that I would enter wholeheartedly into the work God has given me. While there is plenty of room in God’s kingdom for hesitant believers, I’d rather not remain one of them. Join me if you like.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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