Saturday, August 12, 2017

Ultimate Utah Vacation: Making it through the clouds at Zion

We woke up the next morning to pouring rain and radar full of green, yellow and red throughout the entire area.

It was 5:30 a.m., and it didn't look like it was going to get better, so our plans to head early to Zion National Park were put on hold and we went back to sleep for a few hours.

By 10 a.m., the radar hadn't cleared and we just weren't sure what to do. Our plans were to go to laundromat at some point and wash our hiking clothes, and we couldn't find one in Brianhead, so we headed into Cedar City to do some laundry and figure out what to do from there.

It was about 1 p.m. when our laundry was done, and the radar was still lit up with color.

"What's the worst that can happen? We wear our ponchos and get rained on? That's not too bad," I said. "If we drive to Zion and can't do anything, we're not out anything anyway."

So we drove an hour, and by the time we arrived the weather had slightly cleared. It was still cloudy, but at least it wasn't raining.

However, due to wet conditions, we were a little concerned about hiking Angel's Landing and its steep trails with sheer dropoffs, so instead we decided on Observation Point.

We had read about this trail, and it was one that Nate wanted to do, and even though it was 2,100 feet up and an 8-mile roundtrip, I thought I was a little more mentally prepared for this trip than we were the day before. Plus, we had our MREs with us this time.

Switchback after switchback after switchback. The trail began with steep climbs and turns, and although I was quickly sweating and breathing hard, what I had read was that this trail started out steep and gradually evened out.

When we reached Echo Canyon, approximately halfway point from what I read, we oggled at the behemoth rock face before us.

The rest of the hike reflected a much more positive similar to the day before. Although I sweated and needed periodic breaks, Nate was sweet about it, and I tried to rest longer and continue longer instead of breaking every switchback.

It was near the top of the cliff that I was puffing and soaked and leaning against the rock face beside me, when Nate looked at me and I smiled.

"You're beautiful," he said.

I laughed gently, knowing that I looked ridiculous, red and just dripping with sweat that I could no longer wipe off because my soaking wet shirt wouldn't absorb anymore.

"You're so sweet."

That is one of those moments that I save up in my heart, because it wasn't just my husband saying something like that but the sincere tone of his voice that meant he actually thought I looked beautiful in that moment --- in sweat, in a T-shirt, in a dirty hat and puffing. That's a moment to absolutely treasure.

At one point, we had climbed high enough to reach the level of the clouds on that slightly dreary day, and the skinny trail was suddenly engulfed. I could see in front of me, but I could no longer see anything to the side --- and my heart entered my throat as I hugged the cliff wall beside me.

"My mom wouldn't like this," Nate said, turning around to look at me.

"I'm not super happy at the moment," I said, keeping my eyes straight ahead on the trail and not looking to sheer dropoff that I knew was in the cloud to my side.

He came back and started walking beside me instead of in front of me, giving me a more comfortable feeling that the trail was a little wider than it appeared to me and that he would keep me safe.

We actually hiked higher and ended up coming out of the cloud and reached the plateau at the top of the hike, following the red sand trail to Observation Point.

Wow.



Clouds still hung on, showing just how far we had climbed, and we could see the switchbacks from our original trail so far down, so far in the distance. The trees were a deep forest green, the rocks silver and burnt umber. The plateaus continued for what seemed forever in the distance, and the road below wound like a snake through them.

The view was gorgeous. We felt accomplished and were pleased that we hadn't given up on this rainy day and had completed this amazing hike.

We found a little spot to eat our meals and decided to share one MRE to start and open a second if we were hungry enough.

We shared a piece of dehydrated bread with peanut butter while the Chili Mac cooked, and we soon realized we were starving and would need to make the second meal. I ate my "canned" pears while Nate started to cook his "pork rib" and potato soup. We shared his appetizer --- bread with cheese spread --- and then sampled our entrees. Both were quite scrumptious considering we were eating them on the side of a mountain.

We packed away our desserts of a protein cookie and M&Ms, drank our vibrant purple electrolyte powdered drink and headed back down the cliff.

Majestic beauty. A great accomplishment. Sweet compliments. A simple meal.

In short, an absolutely perfect day.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Ultimate Utah Vacation: Bryce Canyon Fairyland Loop

I woke up, and the room was still dark but my husband wasn't in bed anymore and I could hear him moving around in the kitchen on the VRBO condo we stayed at in Brianhead, Utah.

The green numbers of the clock at my bedside read 4:40.

We were supposed to leave at 5 a.m., and yet I hadn't heard Nate's alarm go off at 4:30.

I got up and went out to the kitchen, where Nate was already dressed and was zipping up his backpacking bag.

"Did the alarm go off?" I asked.

"No, I woke up early."

I quickly moved to put on my hiking clothes, eat a bowl of cereal and drink the Sumatran coffee we had found at the grocery store the night before.

We got in the car while it was still dark outside and found the GPS directions to Bryce Canyon National Park. I quickly slid down the directions and noticed one of the roads we needed to get to was called Fish Hatchery Road.

That's funny, since we live near a fish hatchery.

It turns out, it was good that I quickly looked through those directions and logged them away.

Because soon, we were driving through the mountains and lost cell service. We still had the directions up on our phone, but it took us to a gravel road which we didn't want to test with the brand new Camaro that we had rented, so we continued on the paved road.

Which meant that our original directions no longer worked.

So it was now up to me to use the map that was still on the phone to somehow guide us to the direction that we were going. Which is easier said than done in Utah, because when you're driving through the mountains, roads don't go straight.

The roads that were going east to Bryce Canyon actually started out going south, and then curved west, and looked like they were going the wrong way, until they started to curve south and then east again.

I found where Fish Hatchery Road was and kept us going toward that destination.

Curves, darkness and hopes that I was right. That's all there was.

Oh, and jackrabbits.

But we did find the right road, and the GPS once again found a satellite as we came a bit closer to civilization, or at least as close as Utah gets to civilization in the mountains.

The sun started peaking over the horizon, and made a beautiful picture behind the plateaus that lined the road. We followed the signs to Bryce Canyon --- now clearly marked --- and stopped at an overlook to get a picture of the first glimpse of sunlight that shone over a plateau.



We pulled into Bryce Canyon, and few people were awake at 7 a.m. We passed a bunch of mule deer, which I exclaimed over in delight, and then we went to the lookout that Nate had found online to start our first trail.

The colors were brilliant. Oranges of all shades created the hoodoos that make Bryce Canyon unlike any other place.

We hiked our first loop and were quickly back out.

At 8:15 a.m.

An hour? And we're done? There has to be more.

So, we went back to the map and found a loop that no one had written about online --- the Fairyland Loop. It started at a trailhead just north of the Bryce Canyon park entrance and appeared to be segmented into a couple of chunks that totaled about 8 miles.

It turned out that Fairyland was beautiful and quite deserted. One couple passed us within the first 20 minutes, and they appeared to be quite used to such hikes because their pace was about twice what ours --- mine --- was.

We did leave the trail at one point --- shhh, don't tell anyone --- and climbed up about 30 feet to a little hill that gave us a clear view right down the center of the canyon. The morning sun was lighting up the orange rock like it was ancient times and no one had ever entered this desolate yet beautiful place before. You could see for miles in the distance, straight down the center of the canyon.



We kept hiking, weaving in and out, up and down, and my stomach started to growl. It was going on about six hours since we had eaten our cereal breakfast, and we had purchased MREs to eat for lunch but had left them back in the car to eat when we got done hiking. We figured our hike would take us until about noon.

It was still early, but we found a gorgeous spot high above everything else and we figured we were close to done.

"This would have been a perfect place to eat," Nate said.

"Yeah, I'm hungry. Oh well, we can eat when we get back."

But that turned out to be much longer than I had anticipated.

When I thought we were reaching the culmination of our hike, we went back down a slope to the bottom of the canyon and came across some people coming from the other direction. There was a sign pointing them to a cross-trail, and then a sign pointing us to the direction out of the canyon.

1.7 miles.

My heart kind of dropped.

I thought we were almost done, and I was tired. 1.7 more miles to get out?

Ugh.

But then the worst part came.

We started hiking uphill.

And more uphill.

And more uphill.

I mean, I knew that we were in a canyon but the fact that our hike would end with us hiking out of that canyon hadn't really crossed my mind, and I was pooped. My calves began to scream at me, and my throat tightened up.

I can't do this.

I have to do this. There's not really a choice at this point.

I hadn't hiked before, other than going for a walk in parks as a kid, but this, this I hadn't experienced.

Nate jovially continued on, the calf muscles tightening on the back of his long legs with each step and I jealously watched as he climbed without as much of a puff.

Every switchback it seemed like I could push through, but I reached the turn and I couldn't make my legs move anymore, and I was out of breath. The sweat was pouring down my back at this point, and I tried to smile as people passed so I didn't look as out of shape as I felt.

Each time I stopped, I could feel Nate starting to get annoyed. He always called Novie a fat kid when she would hurry up and then stop for a breather, hurry up and then stop for a breather when we were on a walk. That's about all I could muster though.

"I would rather we just sit for 20 minutes and break and then continue on without stopping so much," he said. "Did you know that when your body tells you to stop and give up it's actually only used about 65 percent of its energy. It just wants to conserve energy."

Ok, I'll try.

So I sat down and tried to regain my strength. I drank a bunch of water, and when I felt replenished I started again.

I can do this.

Ten steps in.

Oh my gosh. I've never been so exhausted in my life.

It's hard to even recount here, but this was a trying moment in our lives. Nate was annoyed at my lack of strength, and I was incredible embarrassed that I was dragging him down. I could feel myself getting emotional each time he looked back and I was lagging behind once again.

I'm giving this literally everything I have. Lord, please help me through this. Help me to do this for my husband without whining. Give me the strength to finish this!

We made it to the top. It seemed like the longest climb of my life, and then we reached Sunrise Point, the observation point just one down from the Fairyland Loop point that our car was parked at.

A sign was along the trail.

Fairyland Point --- 2.5 miles.

Noooooooooooooo! I can't do this!

"Do you want to stay here and I'll go get the car?" Nate asked.

"No."

I can do this. I'm not going to quit.

We started walking, and about 200 yards in, we saw a shuttle leave from a parking lot.

"Do you want to take the shuttle?" Nate asked.

"No, it's fine here."

The trail started to curve upward.

"OK, let's take the shuttle."

So we hopped off the trail and headed through a campsite and to the visitors center to hop on the shuttle to our parking lot, only to find that our car was parked just north of the entrance, where the shuttle did not go. Walking on the road was just as along as walking on the trail.

"We have no choice," I said dejectedly and we headed back the way we had come. "I just wish we had known that so we didn't walk an extra half-mile to and from the trail. We could have at least saved ourselves that."

Nate tried to pick his way through the unbeaten trail to find a shorter way back to the trail to Fairyland Point. He was doing his best to be kind to me, but I still felt awful about how terribly this hike was going. It was all my fault.

We found the trail and started in once again, and about 500 feet later the trail went straight up to the rim of the canyon. We walked 20 feet into it when I snapped.

I bent over and about yelled. I was so frustrated, so mad at myself, so embarrassed. I took a few more steps and then stopped and told Nate I needed a break.

I looked off into the distance, facing away from him like I was just enjoying the breeze for a second when I actually was trying to not let him see me cry. I knew that he was just shake his head and think Crying isn't going to solve this. I didn't want to cry, but my emotions and my strength were about at their limit. But tears were coming fast, and my sight began to blur. The sharp rocks in the distance were smudging together as I blinked back tears.

They started to spill over, so I breathed deeply, wiped them away in a way that looked like I was just wiping my face of sweat, pulled myself together and moved on, keeping my head down so Nate wouldn't know what had just happened.

That actually did turn out to be the last hill. From the top of the rim, it was still a long walk but it was pretty much flat the rest of the way so I didn't have quite the tough time.

The black Camaro finally came into view, and we had done it. We had made it.

Lessons were learned though. I learned that I can push through more than I thought. I learned that it was a mental game that I wasn't prepared for, because I had thought the hike was ending early my brain shut off early and gave up. If I had more mental stamina, I could have gone much farther much easier. And Nate said he could have been a little more compassionate. I thought he was sweet, because he could have been way meaner to me but he was patient with me, and I appreciated that.

I always knew canoeing was a marital test and provided plenty of lessons in teamwork, who would have known that hiking could be a marital strengthener as well?

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Ultimate Utah Vacation: Vegas Vacation

Walking around MGM, which we found was actually attached to our condo via a series of indoor walkways --- could have used that information when we were sweating our butts off earlier that day --- we decided to grab some dinner.

Nate and I are usually ones to go for something different when we're on vacation. We like to find interesting restaurants with items that we just can't find at home, but we followed our friend to a burger place.

Side note: My dad loves burger places. We constantly make fun of him for traveling to exotic places and coming home to tell us that he had an awesome hamburger. Like Hawaii --- he came back to tell us he ate at the same burger place seven times over vacation, and we railed him for it. And here we were on vacation at a burger place, but anywho...

Looking over the menu, my eyes floated to the PB Crunch Burger. A hamburger with bacon jam, peanut butter and crumbled potato chips.

It sounded gross.

So I ordered it.

I have seen so many TV shows talk about peanut butter burgers, and I have always thought it sounded just disgusting. But I am committed to my goal of trying new food items when on vacation, and this sounded like the weirdest thing on the menu so I thought I'd try it.

It was so good.

That first bite, the peanut butter just added an earthy/nutty flavor to the meaty patty, and crunched up Ruffles potato chip and bacon jam added the perfect amount of salt. It was incredibly balanced, and so delicious that it's not on my menu for the month. I'll let you know how that goes when I make it.

The next night we planned our fancy night out after a day at the pool. It was to begin with a nice dinner at an Italian restaurant followed by our first experience with Cirque du Soleil.

Dinner started out pretty simple with a bottle of wine and a caprese salad appetizer with a side of delicious bread.

Looking over the menu, two items were on my mind --- the short rib raviolini and the lobster gnocchi. The raviolini had black truffle oil, and I just wasn't sure I would like that flavor, since I know it's supposed to be pretty earthy. The lobster gnocchi sounded like the better choice, so I ordered that while Nate tried the raviolini.

When our entrees arrived, I tried mine, pretty good, and then offered some to Nate. He tried mine, and I tried his.

"Yours is better," he said.

"Yours is better," I said.

We smiled and switched bowls while our friends looked on with grins.

After dinner, we headed to Ka, the Cirque du Soleil show in MGM. I really wasn't overly excited. Cirque du Soleil always looked weird to me, and the only description we had from the concierge --- other than it being her favorite show, but that didn't hold a ton of weight since I'm sure she tries to sell it --- was that it was the only Cirque du Soleil with a storyline. The story was that a Japanese brother and sister were separated during a war and were trying to find each other again.

We walked in, and the theater was impressive. We were told it was nine stories, and it was crazy to set the massive set in front of us. It didn't even look like it would fit inside the MGM Grand.

There were pillars of gold and walkways above us, like we were looking at a giant ship. A few minutes before the show, people in full dress began to swing from the different levels, jumping off of them without fear and climbing like they were born to do it.

The show started, and we were quickly amazed. Nate and I just kept awing over things to each other. I think our conversation went something like this:

"Holy cow."

"Oh my gosh."

"That's insane."

"Wow."

We're great theatre reviewers aren't we?

A live ship rocked back and forth in the fog on stage. People jumped off of it and disappeared into the sea. Then we watched one of them sink into the ocean, and I thought we were all literally underwater.

But then wait, we were on a sandy beach, and a giant turtle, crab and sea star were there messing with the people on the beach.

And then the greatest thing I have ever seen happen in a theatre happened.

The stage tilted, and all the sand on the beach began to slide off --- to who knows where.

"What is happening?"

The sand slid and slid and slid until there was no more sand on the beach, and then what was a beach turned onto its side and stood up at an angle until it was a mountain that people were climbing. And then it turned into a sheer rock wall that people were sitting on!

Holy cow, this was the most awesome set I have ever seen in my life.

From shadow puppets to rappeling to giant wheel stunts --- this show was absolutely amazing.

(You can see the promo here https://www.cirquedusoleil.com/ka, but it doesn't do it justice.)

The only bad thing about the show was that we attended the 9:30 p.m. showing, but we forgot to take the time change into consideration. So throughout, I would look over and see Nate's eyes closed and rub his hand or gently nudge him to awaken him so he didn't miss it. Apparently he did the same thing to me.

Our friend Nate said he at one point looked over to his side and his wife, Nate and me asleep.

"Good use of our money," he said.

So even though we may have dozed once, or twice, or three times, this was the most amazing theatre production I've ever seen.

And I've seen "The Lion King" on Broadway.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Ulimate Utah vacation: We made it...

I haven't blogged in a few weeks because it was vacation prep then vacation and then a week of vacation blues trying to get back into real life.

So today was a local parade for work, a little relaxing and now trying to get into my laundry list of things to finish before a new week starts and I'm already behind.

But, like always, I want to try to recap the amazingness that was our vacation again this year. So let's begin at the beginning, a very good place to start.

We arrived in Las Vegas at about 3 p.m. local time, and hoofed it through baggage claim to the bus that took us to the rental car area. We talked to someone at Hertz --- an interesting experience in itself since the person we talked to was on video chat instead of actually at the rental car place --- and then made our way to the numbered parking space that held the black Chevy Camaro convertible.

The gorgeous car looked like it was almost brand new. I walked around it to document any scratches or dings before we took it out and couldn't find anything wrong with the vehicle, even the black fabric interior looked immaculate.

I was supposed to write down the beginning mileage on the little chart that they gave me, and I asked Nate to find it on the dashboard information. He pushed buttons and scrolled through information, finding the engine temperature, the 87 miles that was the latest trip, the fuel gauge...no total mileage.

Five minutes he scrolled through every possible piece of information about the vehicle before we realized the mileage was right in front of us all along.

87.

The vehicle had 87 miles on it.

Wow. OK, well guess we have to be especially careful with this one, because if anything is wrong when we get back, it will obviously be our fault since NO ONE HAS DRIVEN IT!

Although we had friends waiting at the VRBO condo we booked, we were starving, and that meant the first thing to do was to find food. I got on the map and started to look in the direction of our condo to see what we could pick up to eat quickly. Nothing was popping up. Pretty much everything from the airport to the condo was solid freeway.

But then as I scrolled a little farther east, I found it. The mecca of every hungry person near the west coast.

In 'N Out Burger.

Every time we head west, we know that we have to stop at this perfect fast food joint that has perfected simplicity, cleanliness, friendliness and deliciousness. We picked our meals from the very expansive menu including the choices of hamburger, cheeseburger or double cheeseburger, and onions or no onions.

We took our food outside, and giggled as we enjoyed our meal in the 110-degree heat. We knew people inside were most likely looking at us like we were crazy, but it's a dry heat, right?

The most comical part was that a hungry pigeon was meandering next to us, and as we dropped a few fries for him, we realized he obviously survived on nothing but In 'N Out. It was obvious not because he was fat, but because he looked like a cartoon character with his mussed feathers going every which way and an almost oily look to him, complete with crazy eyes.

So, maybe In 'N Out Burger really isn't all that healthy...

We made our way back to the MGM parking garage, and after finding a space --- which was a story in itself, as we drove around thinking we had an assigned spot and realized we could actually park anywhere --- we grabbed our luggage and headed on a walk to the nearby condo.

However, when we exited the garage, the sidewalk that we needed was closed for construction. Not exactly sure where to go, we decided to simply head to the next sidewalk and walk toward the shiny gold buildings we could see in the distance. We knew where we needed to go.

Block after block in the boiling hot sun, Nate carrying our 35-pound folding burrito bag and me wheeling our blue and yellow overstuffed suitcase, and we were both sweating. There seemed to be no entrance into this mass of buildings that would lead to ours. All we could see were workers with laundry carts and maintenance vehicles going in and out --- no public entrance.

A mile into the walk, the sidewalk ended. We still hadn't found an entrance, and there was nowhere to go but back the way we came or jump into oncoming traffic.

With the look on Nate's face, I think he was considering the latter.

Another mile back, sweat pouring down us, and a smile still plastered to my face as I tried to be positive enough to be sweet but not so much to annoy the bejeebers out of my husband, we took the "closed" sidewalk that at least led into a building.

A woman inside told us we would find escalators. Our friend, also named Nate, said they were waiting by Top Golf --- if we would just go outside once more.

So we walked.

Past a pool. Past more entrances. In more sun.

In the distance, we saw our friends walking toward us, and I laughed knowing how sweaty we looked. The sundress I was wearing was almost completely soaked, and the back of Nate's gray shirt was two shades darker than the front.

We made it.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

A common judgement

At Cottage Grove Church this morning in Des Moines, and a friend --- the pastor --- is speaking on Matthew 7 1-12.

It's a familiar passage from the Sermon on the Mount, and it starts with a oft-spoken phrase, "Jusge not lest you be judged."

I loved his metaphor --- imagine running cross country and a dad on the sideline drinking pop and eating cookies and telling you how to make it up the next hill. "You have never done this before, and you can't do it. Stop telling me how unless you do it yourself."

We use the wrong standard --- a sinful standard --- when we judge others. We aren't perfect, and we can't expect others to be. We are actually unable to judge, because we have such issues within ourselves. We look through foggy glasses, through a log, through sin, and that means we can't see that speck in someone else. We aren't objective.

"You're foolish. Your sin issues are larger than the person you're calling out."

Instead, approach others humbly and look at yourself as just as much of the problem in a conflict than the other person. When I do blame myself for something, I often feel like the culture is instead telling me, "No, you're the victim. It's not your fault." That's not how I should be looking at it. I should be humble and realize I have a sinful nature that is preventing me from being objective.

Verse 5 says to take the log out of your own eye and then you can help take the speck out of your brother's eye. So you are allowed to address sin, but to help, and after you have humbly looked at the situation. There's a right way to judge sin --- from God's viewpoint, and with the understanding that we are also sinful and want to help.

The verse about not casting pearls before swine, means don't throw valuables to filth. Trying to share correction with a scoffer, an evil person --- not only will be a waste but it will also harm you. Sometimes we must step back and let God do the heart change. However, it does not mean to give up on people. Maybe it's best to pray first and speak second. I forget the prayer part a lot.

Basically, the point is that God has given us grace, has taken our judgment. We need to treat others in a way that shows we understand this.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Satan just wants us to fail

Satan wants us to fail.

I think we overlook this fact far to often in our lives, thinking if we just try hard enough that we will accomplish what we want, forgetting that someone is actively working against us.

Think about if you're at work, and you have a new project. You are working hard and trying to get everything perfect, but you're working on your own and planning for your success.

Now, think about that situation if you have a co-worker who hates you and is actively trying to get you to fail at that project. Not only are you working hard and trying for success, you're also covering every other possible base that your co-worker might use to make you slip up. You're much more conscious about overcoming all the details that you normally wouldn't worry about.

I've been working on finishing the "Cherish" book on marriage that I started a few months ago. The other day I started out by reading some wonderful lessons on marriage and was determined to start putting those lessons into play. I was thinking how wonderful my marriage was, and these things were going to make marriage even better.

I normally don't think bad thoughts about my husband. I'm normally pretty easy going. But for some reason that day, a lot of what Nate did irked me. He said a passing comment about my hair being crazy that would usually make me laugh. Instead, it hurt my feelings, and I came back with, "When is the last time you scraped the house? I haven't done my hair because I've been working hard."

Then I went on to start thinking how he should be cherishing me and not making fun of me, and I took that hurt into my hurt for a little while.

There was something else later that I honestly don't remember that irritated me, and then I realized that the things that were bothering me that day were things that normally didn't bother me at all.

Why was that?

Satan and his stupid demons.

When Satan and whatever demon he has working against me saw that I wanted to make my marriage better, the plot began to fight against that. A godly marriage is obviously not what Satan wants, and so the temptation to be irked by my husband instead of cherish him came flying at me.

I failed miserably.

But that's because I wasn't prepared.

I forgot that there is someone out there that doesn't want me to follow what God wants, that wants our marriage to fail or that at least wants it to be stagnant.

It's not just about choosing to cherish my husband, but it's about being on the lookout for ways that Satan wants me to fail and asking the Holy Spirit to help me fight off those advances. It's about not only playing offense but taking a stand and playing defense as well.

So today, again, I choose to cherish my husband. I finished the book, but I have a feeling that I'll have to check it out again. These are lessons I'm going to have to read over and over again.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The first night on our land

It's been 10 years since I was last camping.

It was my sophomore year of college and Nate and I made a trip from the small town my college was in up to a local tourist area with lakes. We camped for a weekend along the larger of the lakes and had a wonderful time.

Flash forward 10 years and we're married and actually living in the area where we camped that weekend that seems like forever ago. But I haven't been camping since.

I had to work this weekend, so I took Thursday off to even up my hours and we decided to spend the night at our land for the first time. After I got off work on Wednesday, Nate had everything packed up and I giggled at how much stuff we brought to camp about a mile away from where we currently live. But it made the event more comfortable, so I'm all for that amount of stuff.

We arrived and went to work for a little while. Our mower broke, so I was in charge of weed-eating the driveway while Nate worked on chainsawing some dead limbs off of a gorgeous walnut tree that we could use for the fire that evening.

Sweaty and covered in grass about an hour later, we put up the tent, popped in the air mattress we blew up with the help of the outlet in our SUV --- thank you technology --- and started a fire.

Nate found a couple of old metal fenceposts that were in the broken down building on the acreage and put them over the burning coals with a powder-coated grill grate for a make-shift grill for the brats that he bought for dinner.

The rest of the evening, we just relaxed and soaked in the calm around us. Birds chirped. Dragonflies perched in the mulberry tree overhead and darted out every now and then to grab a mosquito, and we cheered them on. Monarch butterflies fluttered around. Novie mosied around dejected that she had to be outside instead of on a soft couch or bed.

As dusk approached, lightning bugs started to twinkle their little behinds. More and more appeared the darker it got. Soon, the nearby corn field was inundated with twinkle lights.

We had watched a documentary on Netflix a few nights before that which had a segment about glowing beetle larvae, and we were amazed at the brightness these beetles had. How cool would that be to see? we thought.

But as I looked at these lightning bugs blanketing the world around us, I thought How cool is this?

It was another one of those calm times in life when I look at the man next to me, the dog beside me and the simple world around me and I say a quiet prayer, Thank you Lord. Help me to remember this. Help me to store this treasure up in my heart.

We fell asleep in our tent, knowing that we'll remember that first time that we spent on our land. We have dreams that someday we'll sit on our porch with our kids and say, "Remember when we first camped on our land? Look at where we are now. That seems like so long ago."

But we'll remember the coyotes howling and yipping at us at 3 a.m., the sun rising so early that when we woke up at 7:30 it seemed like 10 o'clock, the eggs and toast and leftover brat we had for breakfast, the joy at finding all those thorn bushes we were annoyed with were actually raspberry bushes.

We'll remember, because those moments are stored up in my heart.

Friday, June 16, 2017

He still surprises me

We have been working hard to stick to a tight budget, and we know we have a long haul of it. We're on a three-year plan to build a house on our acreage, and we have specific financial goals we're working to meet.

Yesterday I had the day off, because I have to work this weekend, so we were driving around and running errands. I so wanted to do something fun, stop at the local microbrewery or wine bar or grab a caramel apple at the amusement park, but I knew we just didn't have much flexibility left in the budget this month after car repairs and saving for our vacation.

I longingly said that to Nate, but we made our way home.

I picked up the heat gun on the porch and started scraping the floor, and Nate went in to change his clothes.

Five minutes passed, and I went in to grab a drink and see what he was doing. He was still upstairs, so I headed back out.

Another five or 10 minutes passed, so I went inside again and saw him with his Bronco in the driveway, putting a cooler in the back.

Did someone invite us to go boating? I wondered, thinking why he was packing up.

"What are you doing?" I asked him as I stuck my head out the mud room door.

"Packing a picnic for us at our land."

I smiled. Awww. That's sweet.

So I put on a pair of jeans and headed out to the car with him. It was stocked full of everything we would need.

When we arrived, he started unpacking while I gathered old field stone to build a small fire pit. We built up a fire, settled back in lawn chairs with a glass of wine, and I just smiled and thanked him.

"I guess surprising you still sometimes is good," he said.

We cooked bacon and eggs over the propane torch for dinner and just enjoyed relaxing for a few hours as the sun made its way west.

After we packed up and were headed back home for the night, he asked, "So did that fulfill your urge to do something?"

"It couldn't have been better."

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Good work

"Christians are so different from the world around us because we seek to honor our bosses."

Most of us think of work as a necessary evil, and we look forward to retirement years, even if that is decades away. However, humans worked even before sin. Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden to work it and farm it. It was good to work. It wasn't until the Fall that work became frustrating as thorns and thistles grew up.

Work is still a huge part of our lives, and it will even be part of the new creation after Jesus comes back and restores the world.

1 Timothy 6 talks about how we are to work and address our bosses. Even if you have a non-Christian boss, like I do, you are called to honor the person in authority over you. It is not an internal feeling, but it is a directive of action. You don't mock your boss, undermine your boss or disrespect your boss. You respect the position even if you don't respect the person.

This attitude reflects well and honors God. It shows we are different. It is so we "adorn the doctrine of Jesus Christ."

If you do have a Christian boss, serve all the better, Paul said in 1 Timothy. Don't take advantage of your boss' good graces and forgiveness, instead work even harder for someone who is serving God. You are helping to benefit a Christian brother or sister, and then means helping forward the kingdom of God.

Take a look at what you do at work. Are you on social media wasting time? Are you reading the news when you should be working? Are you waiting around for the next project instead of finding something positive to do in the downtime? We should be making the most of every minute, even when people aren't looking, even when the boss isn't looking. Because Jesus is looking, and he will reward your hard work.

The way we work, the quality of our work, the attitude of our work --- our lives should reflect Jesus, especially at work. The goal of our work is to be a witness and an example of a good Christian.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Being exceptional at one thing means being not-so-exceptional at others

Nate and I watched the new "Bro Science" video on YouTube about dating a fit chick --- you know, one of those girls who Instagrams her trips to the gym and does a pull-up with her BCAAs sitting next to her.

It went through the pros and cons of dating such an exceptional athlete.

I takes a lot of commitment to be a fit chick. You can't miss a workout. Gym trips take longer when you're vlogging everything you're doing. You have to spend a lot of money on supplements. However, you're exceptional at looking good and having the perfect body.

Our lives narrow down quite quickly to one key thing --- we're exceptional at what we commit our time to. Being exceptional at one thing means you're not exceptional at many other things. There's just not enough time in the day.

I still remember the day that my mom told me to pick one extracurricular in high school. She told me to give myself 100 percent to one thing instead of piecing myself together for a variety of activities. I chose dance.

Then in college, I gave up dance to give my all toward my studies and working on the newspaper, because I knew that would forward my career more than my dance hobby.

I still give high schoolers the same advice that my mom gave me, to give yourself wholly to something that you truly have a passion about instead of wasting your time half-assing *sorry for the language* a whole bunch of things.

I don't get involved in a lot of stuff. It's hard for me to say "yes" to activities, because I don't want to overextend myself. I truly believe in giving yourself whole-heartedly to what you want to be, and I've tried to narrow that down in my life. I serve at the coffee bar at church, and that's about all that I care to have take my time from home.

You see, I've narrowed down my life to what I want to be exceptional at --- and that's being a wife. It's what I've always wanted to be. It's what I'm passionate about being the best at.

That doesn't mean I have no other hobbies, but I think my hobbies help me be a better wife. I want to be a better Christian, and I know that will also lead me to being a better and more loving and selfless spouse. I want to eat healthier and be more fit, because I know that will bring me confidence in life and will ultimately lead to a healthier relationship at home. I continue to work on my baking skills, because I know my husband loves cupcakes, cookies, homemade bread, and especially, biscuits. I work in the garden so we can save money on groceries and have more money for our future together.

What do you want to be exceptional at in your life? Because that might the most important decision that you ever make. It should guide everything you do and every moment that you spend.

Be exceptional. At the right thing.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Catching bids

My husband gets a new gun.

He starts telling me about it, and some of what he says I don't really understand. It's numbers and letters that I don't always get.

He hands it to me to take a look through the scope.

It's heavy, but I take it and look through it.

"Cool. That has a great picture," I say.

He's not looking for me to understand every detail about that gun, but he is looking for someone who will share in his joy at that moment of getting a new weapon.

I had never heard the phrase before, but the author of "Cherish" calls this catching bids. He used the example of a man who loves birding pointing out a finch in the yard. How will his wife respond? Will she go to the window to see it? Will she look up from her book for a second and acknowledge his sighting? Will she tell him to stop bothering her?

The bid is the need for connection at the moment, sharing something he loves. Will his wife catching it and respond?

The books says that couples who divorce within the first six years of marriage catch only 33 percent of bids. Couples who are married longer catch up to 87 percent.

It's not about what you find interesting. It's about supporting your spouse in what he or she finds interesting.

I know that Nate doesn't care about what deals I got on groceries or what I baked that day. But I want him to express interest in what I do and say. I get excited when he is excited over what excites me. I want to get excited over what excites him as well.

Let's catch those bids today. Let's be intentional about supporting our spouses in what interests them.

I really need to renew "Cherish" so I can get through the whole thing. This book is just full of awesome tidbits that I know I won't remember unless I write them down and think through them on this blog!


Outdo your spouse

While reading "Cherish" this weekend, I took a passage about how a spouse should take care of an introvert.

I wanted to send it to Nate to tell him how he could support me, but I didn't want to sound bossy or make him feel like he was doing anything wrong. So I just took a picture to use it when something of that topic came up in conversation.

Then I flipped the page, and it talked about how showcasing our spouses means we let them have what they need because it makes them happy, even if that something doesn't make us happy.

And I realized as I was reading the passage I was thinking all about myself and not at all about how I could showcase my husband. I mean, I even took a picture of a passage that was about how to showcase me!

Earlier in the chapter, the author had written about husbands who play video games. I have blogged before at how it has taken me a long time to be OK with my husband spending time playing video games. It's just something that doesn't make sense to me.

However, yet again, showcasing him means letting him do what makes him happy, even when it doesn't make sense to me. The fact that it makes him happy should make me happy.

Romans 12:10 tells us to "outdo one another in showing honor." We are to try to outdo our spouses in showcasing each other and honoring each other. We are to try to outdo each other in making that person the best he or she can be and giving he or she what he or she needs.

The author of "Cherish" even wrote that we should go so far to appreciating every detail of our spouses that we think, "I'm kind of glad he sets the bar a little lower; otherwise, I couldn't be faithful to the command to outdo him." 

Who thinks that? When will I be so set on honoring my husband that I'm glad when he doesn't go quite as far in showcasing me as I wish because then it lets me outdo him?

Wow.

I think that is quite a statement. It is truly a fulfillment of being a good husband or wife when we're excited to be able to outdo the other in loving and cherishing instead of wanting more love and cherishing for ourselves.

That's selflessness to strive for.

Marshall and Lily aren't as cute as they think they are

We watch a lot of "How I Met Your Mother," and since we've had Netflix I think we've already gone through the series twice.

It's a nice show that we can put on and get a good laugh out of but not have to pay all that much attention because we know the storyline. Shows like that are nice to stream while I'm doing chores, because if I walk away I don't miss anything of pertinence.

The other day I was listening to it while I was showering before work, and it was the episode where Marshall and Lily get married. When everything was going wrong at the wedding, they decided to have an intimate outdoor ceremony just with their friends before their big indoor ceremony, just so when everything went wrong inside the day was already perfect because they were already married.

When they started though, neither of them had their vows.

"You don't need them. Just tell each other why you love each other," their friend Ted said.

That's not really a vow then, I thought.

Marshall and Lily go on to say why they love each other, not actually promising anything. Lily ends her speech with, "The most important reason that I love you is because you make me happy."

I know that is the moment that people melt. That is supposed to be the big culmination to Marshall and Lily's love story, but really? "I love you because you make me happy" is what she brings out at the wedding?

What happens when your spouse no longer makes you happy? No one can make another person happy every minute of every day, or even every day. A wedding vow is supposed to be a sacred promise to love the other person, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. Not because the other person makes you happy.

Happiness is infatuation. It's wonderful when you're infatuated with your spouse. It's wonderful when you have those lovey-dovey feelings, and I think that Nate and I are blessed with that probably more than many other couples. However, that's not what marriage is based on.

Marriage is based on a choice to love the other person, to stay committed to them every day. It's not a choice based on how you feel. It's a decision based on a promise before God.

So, I'm sorry Marshall and Lily. I didn't melt at your wedding "vows." I felt sorry for you that your life and your love is based on happiness and how you feel. I hope it goes deeper than that.

Disclaimer: Yes, I know this is a TV show and Marshall and Lily aren't real. However, people often base their lives and decisions off how "perfect" people's lives are on TV. Let's remember basing our lives on happiness is not as awesome as it sounds on a TV wedding.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Prepared for the future

We were at our land, and I spotted a tall plant amidst the long grass. This plant had green spokes on the stem, and a few white flowers were starting to bloom.

"Oh no," I said.

"What?" Nate asked.

"Garlic mustard!"

I had just spent a day at work pulling the invasive species from one of our county properties, and I knew this invasive liked to get out of control quickly. We certainly didn't want that happening on our land with so many other things to do there already.

So I used a pair of work gloves that were in the car and started pulling all the garlic mustard that I could see.

"I think my job probably was the best preparation I could have had for being a land owner," I said to Nate. "God knew what he was doing."

I would never have pictured myself working for our local conservation board. My writing and rhetoric degree certainly didn't push me in that direction, although it has turned out to be the perfect fit. I love what I do, and I love who I'm becoming as I spend more time outdoors.

Plus, the fact that I learn what is good and what is bad in the environment is perfect for our future lives that we want to spend outdoors.

I have seen in a variety of areas ways that God has prepared me for the life I now lead. I have seen that my issues with anxiety in my younger years taught me how to trust God, and for the most part, be able to control my naturally worrisome spirit which has been exactly what I needed for my current life. Plus, my job now is preparing me for being able to take care of the acreage that God has blessed us with.

We don't know where God will lead us, but it's nice to see every now and then that he has been carefully planning my life and preparing me for exactly where I am today, even when I couldn't see where I would end up.

What a relief it is to know that God can see the future and is preparing me for it, even when I have no idea what it is!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Graduation Sunday goes beyond congratulations

It's graduation Sunday, and that always starts with a little disappointment for people without seniors. It seems like a worthless morning at church.

Our youth pastor started talking about transition, trying to make the sermon a little more applicable to all the people in the service. Because, really, how many people aren't in a period of transition? Life is always changing, always evolving, always moving.

The passage was in Mark, when Jesus was preaching and the crowds were crushing in. It was exciting for the disciples. They saw miracles and hearings. The first stage of transition is like that, you're emotionally involved and excited.

Then Jesus and the disciples left on a boat and the storm came up, and the disciples were terrified. We think that's ridiculous that they were worried even after they saw all the miraculous things Jesus could do. They were surprised that Jesus could calm the storm. Wasn't it obvious at that point?

When we go through transition and enter the second stage of worry and fear, shouldn't we also know that Jesus is powerful and completely in control? We can run around, pan if, try to keep the boat from sinking, or we can run to Jesus and ask him to save us. It's an obvious solution, but we often forget Jesus, the all-powerful, is with us.

I have struggled with so much anxiety in my life. I have since I was a kid. The times when I run to Jesus, when I make a decision and then let God handle the rest, have been the most peaceful moments of my life. When I don't trust, those are the moments when it feels like the storm really is drenching me, when I'm terrified the boat is going to sink, when I try to go forward but the waves keep moving me back and in circles.

"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?" Matthew 6:25

The pastor said that anxiety often stems from a lack of understanding of who we are. We are God's children. We are the prize jewel of creation. He takes care of the birds and the flowers, and we forget that he sees us as treasured creation, more valuable than anything else.

You have value simply by being created. If God didn't see value, he wouldn't have created you. He chose to put you on the earth.

That's awesome.

Transition times, scary times, comfortable times --- anxiety has no place. God is in control and he's there, because he loves you and values you. Keep that in mind.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Treat your elders with respect, not patronizing them

A volunteer at work told me a story about her part-time job.

She was watering plants and watching all the teenagers walk around, chatting and not really doing anything. She suggested that they come help her do some watering, trying to get them to do their jobs.

"I'll help you sweetie," one 19-year-old said, patting her on the shoulder.

Smoke started coming from my volunteer's ears.

Sweetie?

This teenager thought she was being nice, offering to help an older woman. But this woman isn't an invalid. She is completely capable and wasn't asking for help because she couldn't do something. She felt completely old and patronized at that moment.

How often do we treat older people like they are "special" only to really treat them like they are useless?

I think it's so important than we respect our elders and treat them like they are valuable, contributing members of society instead of like they are on their way out and really just an inconvenience.

The pastor this Sunday also addressed this issue, saying we are to respect our fathers and mothers, and this isn't just applying to children. This is often applying to how we treat our parents as they age. He is taking care of his ailing father, and people praise him for it.

"That's just what you're supposed to do," he said, with a confused look on your face.

We are supposed to take care of our parents with respect and honor, not like they are an inconvenience. And that goes beyond our parents and our grandparents to all elderly we encounter. These are important people with important experiences and important lessons to teach.

They are valuable.

Treat them as such.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Focusing on Christ instead of being a good Christian

"We focus less on the life of Christ and more on the life of a Christian."

I thought this was an interesting statement when the youth pastor said it during his sermon on Sunday, and I wrote it down to contemplate a bit later.

When we read the Bible, what do we look for? Rules, regulations, directions on how we should be living and acting. We need to be peaceful, content, not worrisome, trusting, giving. I guess those are the ones that come to me immediately, because those are the ones that I struggle with and seek to get better at.

But are we losing the meaning of being a Christian when we focus on how we are supposed to live?

The Old Testament Jews had to live strict lives, filled with regulation, so that their sins would be forgiven. However, Jesus died for our sins and rose again to beat death, giving us freedom from such stringent lives.

When we read the Bible, everything in it focuses on Jesus. It tells the story of people needing redemption, needing a savior and is filled with prophesy about the Messiah's coming.

The whole Bible points to one thing --- the fact that Jesus is God, and he came in the form of a human to die a horrific death, being the perfect sacrifice for all sin that had ever been and ever would be. Should we only accept him as our savior and ask for forgiveness, we will spend forever in heaven singing praises to his name.

We focus on this twice a year --- Christmas and Easter.

The rest of the year, we focus on how we're supposed to be living as Christians.

However, if we put our sights on God and the life of Christ perhaps we would be less concerned with how perfect we are supposed to act and Christ's love would flow through us naturally. Perhaps we're focused on the right goal but the wrong way of going about it.

What do you think?

Monday, April 24, 2017

No big deal?

God individually gifts us.

But we might not even realize it.

Nate was struggling with a writing assignment the other day, and I offered to help. I sat down and popped out several hundred words while he prepared our steaks to grill and tagged him back in.

He worked while the meat cooked, and then after dinner I tagged back in and reached the necessary word count pretty quickly.

When I said the assignment was done, he just looked at me quizzically.

"What?" I asked, eyebrows upraised.

"I can't even comprehend," he said.

To me, writing is no big deal. I can write a press release in a solid 10-20 minutes, and I've heard from co-workers that it would take them two hours to put together. When I finally find a topic, a blog takes minutes to whip together --- although thinking of a topic can be a little slower going.

I don't really understand when people think it's cool that I can write so quickly. To me, it's no big deal. That's just the way my mind works. I can't speak worth a darn off the top of my head, but if I can just write it out it flows from my fingers.

What's no big deal to me is a big deal to other people who are gifted in a different way.

For instance, my husband is a logical thinker, and he would rather write a paper that is a structured debate with concrete ideas. He would rather think through science or mathematics. To me, that's just incomprehensible. Ick.

What I stare at confused and what takes me hours to understand, he gets in minutes. What takes me minutes to write takes him hours.

It's so interesting in marriage to see the differences that God creates in people that seem so similar. Nate and I have always known we're different, but our values, the things we enjoy, the things we dislike have grown very similar. Yet, we're still completely different people blessed with completely different gifts.

And it's nice to have someone else point them out once in a while. What I think is no big deal is truly a gift from God, and I should cherish that. We should call that out in others as well so they can see how God has worked in their own lives.

No big deal? God thought it was a big deal when he created me. I'm thankful for that, even when I overlook it.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Do I really want to be hospitable?

In a sermon a few weeks ago, the pastor was talking about how we are to love people in the community.

There is a difference between hospitality --- opening your home and heart to strangers --- and fellowship --- opening your home to friends and family.

In the sermon, the pastor mentioned that we should not only be hospitable out of obligation but that we should do it because we genuinely care about strangers and want to be with them, want to listen to them, want to spend time with them.

I struggle with that.

I struggle with the desire to want to be with people. I am an extremely introverted person, and although I have the ability to converse and spend time with others, there are very few people that I truly want to spend time with.

There is a person who used to volunteer at my work, and I always felt like I should befriend her and try to take care of her because her family isn't around. She is a coarse-type person but I know that she just needs some love.

Every couple of months, I try to call her and see if she needs anything and if I can bake her something. I called her on Saturday and left her a message inviting her to our Easter service and called again on Sunday but she didn't answer.

The thing is, I'm not sure I really wanted her to accept. I would have gladly brought her dinner, but did I want to actually sit down and chat? Not really. Did my heart pound at the thought of talking to her on the phone? Yes.

I know the right things to do most of the time, and I try to do them because I know that's what God wants, but as for the desire to spend time with people who I don't know all that well, it's just not there.

So where is the line of doing what's right and truly wanting to do it?

I guess it's the heart.

I truly do care about this woman, and I want her to know that. Maybe it doesn't take me sitting down and talking to her. Maybe it's enough to just reach out and know that I'm here.

Oh the struggle of an introvert. I guess God created me the way that I am. I pray he can do something with this self-centered, quiet mess.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Easter Thanksgiving

I am a bit behind in life.

The laundry piled up. The cleaning was put off. Church work that I volunteer for was sitting un-looked at on my computer.

So this morning, I started to dig through the list. I was reading through a church sermon that Nate and I missed while out of town. It's on materialism, and the importance of us enjoying the blessings that God gives us. It's interesting.

I think it strangely applicable to this time of year. At Easter, isn't it all about appreciating what God has given us. From the saving grace of Jesus who died on the cross and rose again to save us from our sins, to the cherished life we have after finding our Lord, to celebrating this time with family --- Easter is a time of thanksgiving just like Thanksgiving.

I am so thankful for what God has given me and my family, so I thought a thankfulness post might be the topic of the day.

1. I'm so thankful for a husband who doesn't look down on me when I don't get my work done when we get busy. Yes, the laundry piled up and the cleaning was put off. There were days that I didn't cook dinner and my usual baking was not completed. But not once did he make me feel bad that when I did have a free moment I sat down and relaxed. In fact, he encouraged it. What a blessing he is for giving me the freedom to be me, to relax, to enjoy life and not get caught up in what isn't done on the list.

2. I decided to not go back to teaching dance next year. What had started out as a joy still had joyful moments but had turned quite stressful. I would lay awake at night second-guessing everything I had done wrong when talking with the kids. I rarely do that for my regular job. I have confidence in what I do at work. I love my job. I'm thankful that my full-time work is happy, fulfilling, fun and relatively worry-free.

3. I'm so thankful for a bright future that has all my hopes and dreams in view. I have all I need, and I am completely content. When I was a kid, though, I had a dream of having an acreage with animals and raising my kids in the country. We are certainly on our way to recognizing a dream that I never really thought would happen even though I hoped it would. We are so blessed to have all our hopes and dreams in sight.

4. I'm thankful for times of year like Easter that make me remember the importance of life and what we are to concentrate on. In busy times, I often put off reading the Bible and praying. I'm too busy. That's a terrible way to live life. I'm glad that holidays and worship services keep me grounded and remind me of who I am to be living life for --- it's not me, it's Him.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Marriage is a covenant, not a contract

I have a passion for marriage.

I love love. I love seeing people in love, and I hate it when I see issues in people's relationships that could be so easily fixed if they would just take the time to do it.

However, I realize that marriage is not easy. Relationships are not easy. Not everyone is as easy to love and get along with as my husband is! So I also love learning about relationships. I like Focus on the Family's podcasts about how to strengthen your marriage. It seems like as strong as I think Nate and I are that I always find some way that I can be more intentional about being a good wife.

I wanted to read a book called "Cherish" that I heard about on Focus on the Family, but our church library didn't have it. The librarians said they would order it but showed me the other marriage books in the little church library.

I chose a book called "Beyond Ordinary," by Justin and Trisha Davis. It's really for people who are struggling in marriage, but I figure if these people can show me what goes wrong in a relationship I can learn from it before going through it.

I took down a note on my phone that I wanted to blog about: Marriage is not a contractual agreement, it is a covenant agreement. When we decide to get married, we don't fill the agreement with clauses and exemptions. We swear to love the other person in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer, for better for worse.

Yet, especially in this society, we so often live our marriages like contractual agreements. If you provide me with this, I will give you this. If I make you happy, you must make me happy. If I cook you dinner, you must clean up. If I go to work and you stay home, you better get all the chores done before I arrive. If I bring you home flowers, you owe me a favor later.

If the other person doesn't fulfill our expectations for the contract, then divorce is the obvious answer.

"But they didn't live up to the agreement."

Is your spouse still alive? And you agreed to love and cherish until death do you part? Then, your spouse is living up to the agreement.

Marriage is a picture on earth of what our relationship with God should be. God also has a covenant relationship with us. No matter how badly we screw up, he loves us. We enter into the covenant when we accept Jesus as our savior, and that's it. There's no stipulations that would negate the covenant. Often we live as a contract with God --- I have to live a perfect life; God is supposed to bless me; life should be better when I'm a Christian. But that's not how it's intended to be, just like that's not how marriage is intended to be.

Contracts are broken all the time. There are consequences but we deal with them and move on.

Covenants are meant to last. Marriage is meant to last. Let's live like it.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Taco splurge

I started a book on marriage that details an "ordinary marriage" gone terribly awry.

However, the point of the book that an "ordinary" marriage is one gone awry. We shouldn't have ordinary marriages; we should have extraordinary marriages.

The book is aimed at people who are struggling, and we most certainly are not. I just am passionate about seeing how marriages often go wrong and working on not allowing ours to go there.

The first point that hit home with me was the fact that when we're dating, we're super intentional about making life awesome for our mates. We stop by and buy them coffee. We surprise them with their favorite candy. We buy tickets for them so we can go out to their favorite concert or a movie they want to see. When we're married, we stop that. I usually look at the budget and think, "We can save that money instead of spending it."

Where we live, a seasonal restaurant opens this time of year, and it's usually packed when it does. I was driving home from a radio interview for work and realized that the restaurant had opened. It was 11:45 a.m.

"I'll stop and get lunch for Nate."

"No. That's not in the budget."

"If we were dating, I would stop and surprise him with lunch."

That wasn't a conversation with someone else. It was the debate that went on in my head about 500 yards before the turn off.

I turned the corner, gauging traffic in the parking lot to make my decision.

It was busy. But I pulled in.

You know what, that lunch that we shared when we both came home from work that day and ate tacos we haven't had in months, that was an awesome lunch. We smiled and laughed.

I have to say, $17 in tacos was a splurge.

And it was totally worth it.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Mrs. Potatohead eyes



Sometimes women are like Mrs. Potatohead.

The pastor this morning was talking about qualifications to be a deacon or deaconess in the church, and one of them for women was the importance of being sober-minded. He said women should not live on an emotional roller coaster, comparing it to which eyes we have on, like Mrs. Potatohead.

I thought it was an interesting analogy.

There are many times when I can feel myself getting short. When people talk to me, I just bristle. For some reason, I woke up with my angry eyes in.

It could be that time of the month; it could be a bad night's sleep; it could be situations have put me on edge that day. Honestly, it could be for no reason at all. Sometimes women just have grumpy days.

However, I think the important lesson for us is that we have the choice which eyes we put in. We have a bank of facial expressions and eyes, just like Mrs. Potatohead does. If we wake up with a frown and our angry eyes in, we need to stop, take inventory and then go through our facial expressions to pull out our kind eyes and replace them.

Women naturally struggle with emotions, but we shouldn't see that as an excuse for bad behavior. When Paul instructed deaconesses to be sober-minded, emotionally stable, it's because it is an option. We can live by how we feel, but we can also choose to logically look at life and why we feel what we do, and we can change out our expressions and get off the roller coaster.

Next time your angry eyes are in, maybe thinking of Mrs. Potatohead will help you smile, take a step back and change out your expression for something a little nicer.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Paul's take on women in 1 Timothy

Normally, when we read 1 Timothy 2:11-15, we would skip it as an out-of-date passage about keeping women down, but the pastor this week took a deeper look into the culture and the original meanings of the passage, giving it new life.

"Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing --- if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control."

First, this passage was actually encouraging women to learn at church. In a time when women were allowed in the synagogue but were not encouraged to be there, telling women to learn was actually progressive. And the fact that they were to learn quietly in the original text simply meant to not be unruly. That seems fair enough.

The phase "in all submissiveness," meant to fall in line. It wasn't a demeaning phrase for women. In fact, those same words were used in Titus 2 when talking to a congregation and also in Philippians for how we are to follow Jesus.

The pastor also noted that when we look at the world, the places where women are actually valued and can go places are the places where the gospel has reigned. In places where Christianity is not prominent, women are covered, treated as property, used as sexual slaves, have no rights. Christianity is what has valued women through the generations.

The next part of the Bible passage about women not being able to lead and teach, well, that apparently is still self explanatory even in the original text. However, it was meant only for family and church life. Women are allowed to lead at work, in home Bible studies, in women's and children's ministries and can contribute through prayer and other service work. It just means pastors and elders are off-limits, and I think that is just fine. Well, it doesn't matter what I think if that is what God directs.

The question always comes up when women are limited of "Why is this so hard? Why do we rebel against these directives?"

Because that is what sin caused.

When sin entered the world, woman was cursed with pain in childbirth as well as "your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you." Women have had to deal with the desire to lead their husbands since the beginning, but that is not what we were created to do. We were created to be helpers. So as much as we desire to rule, that's just not who we were created to be.

There was a lot to unpack in these four verses, and I think they are verses we often gloss over, thinking they are out of touch with the world today. But when we look a little closer, we see so much more value.

How much are we missing in our Bible on a daily basis when we just gloss over verses?

Monday, February 27, 2017

Cherish Your Spouse...Take a listen

For today, I'm going simple --- listen to this podcast. It is a wonderful podcast about cherishing your spouse, and I was convicted by a lot of things in it and part 2 of the show.

Focus on the Family podcast
Podcast part 2

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Bro time

So many times when we were dating and first got married I was a terror when Nate wanted to spend time with his friends. I remember the night that I bawled on the floor by the bed when we got married and he was playing video games instead of cuddling with me.

Yikes.

The poor man so often let me crash his boys nights, and he still does, because I truly do enjoy hanging out with his friends. There were nights that his family or friends were over, and his parents were playing games with Nate and his friends and then his mom would go up to go to bed, leaving Nate's dad on his own. I truly thought she was selfish not staying up and hanging out with her husband. I thought I would never do that.

However, now, I've realized it probably had little to do with her. I think she knew that her husband needed some time on his own, with guys, even if it was just family or his son's friends.

The other day, Nate told me that it has been proven that men who have time with male friends, guy time, man time, were actually happier and more satisfied. I have realized that in the past few years that sometimes he just needs to talk to his friends. It's not usually anything serious, and it's not like he's keeping out of the loop so he can hang out with them. He just needs that bonding time.

So I truly have tried to get better about giving him his guy time without making him feel bad about it.

He did let me crash his family/friend ice fishing guy time this weekend a couple of times, but last night, I was sitting with them at 8:30 p.m. and I did something I never thought I would do when I was 16 years old. I pulled a 'mother-in-law.' I decided to head home.

It wasn't because I was tired. It wasn't because I didn't want to spend time with him. It was because I just thought that they wanted to play cards and be with the guys, so I said good-bye and headed out.

Live and learn I guess.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Moments around the fire

The same podcast that I wrote about last time had another point that I added to my notes on my phone to write about later.

The Smalleys mentioned that it's important to spiritually share together, and we do struggle with that sometimes. I wish that we would be able to do more devotions together, and I hope that's something we will work on in the future.

However, Gary Smalley mentioned that it's important to naturally bring up spirituality. We should look at our spouses and see where it is that they usually open up spiritually and then intentionally go to those places and use those situations to grow together.

Take my husband and put him by an open fire at night or on a porch as the sun sets, and boom, there you have it. It's in those moments that Nate opens up and contemplates the universe. It doesn't matter if it is with me, with his family, with his friends, the deepest conversations that I have been a part of with him have been in one of those two spots.

I guess this summer is going to include a lot more porch time. And we've already planned some camping trips on our land, so I'm looking forward to more moments around the fire.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Serving your spouse

I have had a lot of time in the car the past few days, and I actually enjoy those moments away from the office when I can listen to podcasts in between stops.

I have a small set of podcasts that I listen to on a regular basis: The Way I Heard It with Mike Rowe, the Dave Ramsey Show, Focus on the Family, and I used to enjoy Planet Money but like everything it has turned political and was dropped from my list today.

Focus on the Family had special guests Gary Smalley and his wife, Erin, on yesterday, celebrating Valentine's Day, and I had to note a few tidbits of wisdom they had about marriage.

The first was, "Never ask the question, 'How can I have a better marriage?' because that focuses on the other person. Instead, ask, 'What can I do to be a better husband/wife?'"

I think on Valentine's Day and anniversaries, we always hear that we're supposed to have a talk with our spouses about "How can we improve our marriage?" Usually, that includes telling the other person how they can be better. How often do we look at ourselves and actually note how we can instead serve our spouses better?

I actually do try to intentionally look at life in a way that I illuminates areas I can improve in, but on those days when I don't try to intentionally do that, my go-to is to blame my husband.

It's something small, but I remember thinking the other night that instead of asking my husband what he wanted to drink with dinner that I would pour my own glass of water, and he was a big boy, so he could get what he wanted himself. By the time I got into the kitchen, I realized that was a selfish way of thinking and I wouldn't want him to do that to me, so I did ask him, although he still ended up pouring his own milk.

Often, I am doing really well at serving my husband, and then it might come up in a conversation with our friends that I fix his plate and often bring it into the living room where we usually eat dinner. If they laugh, my first reaction is pride that I serve my husband, but later it comes up when I'm making plates, "Yeah, why can't he serve himself?"

The answer is, he can. He's a grown man. He could even cook himself dinner. We could each fix our own meals and eat when it was convenient. I don't have to wait for him to get home from work, and the nights that I get home late, he doesn't have to wait for me.

We could also go to bed when we're tired, even if that means going to bed at different times.

We could completely take care of our own needs and let the other person take care of theirs.

But that's not what marriage is about. That's not partnership. Marriage is about serving each other. Marriage is a picture of Christ and the church, and Christ served the church. He made himself low and in return was made the highest of high. We are to follow his example and make ourselves low in our marriages, to serve our spouses, and in return, we will be the greater.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Do what your priorities are

A friend on mine posted a meme on Facebook that basically said that whatever you prioritize in life will come first.

I realized, if you looked at my life, you probably wouldn't realize that I prioritize God by what I put first in life. It's been one month, and I already am way behind in my Bible reading. My thoughts usually go like this:

Morning
"Just one more snooze."
"I'm tired. I'll read it tonight."

Night
"I really need to get up and do my Bible reading in the morning."

So, obviously, it doesn't get done.

I decided that I actually need to complete the things that are important to me and put them at the top of the list, even if those aren't the easiest things to do. This morning, I actually did wake up 15 minutes earlier --- that might not sound like much, but those who know me know how I LOVE to sleep --- and I read a chapter of Matthew. I even had enough time to put the coffee pot on before I went to work.

Score for day 1 of new priorities.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Hawaiian Fried Rice

I don't like Hawaiian pizza.

That sweet meat combination never appealed to me, and I have never understood why someone wanted to ruin perfectly good ham with an orange glaze at Thanksgiving time.

However, my husband likes it, and I found a recipe a few years ago on Pinterest for a Hawaiian fried rice recipe, so I decided to try it.

Surprisingly, I loved it! I didn't think I would like the sweet meat combination, but the salty ham and soy sauce, the spice in the sauce, the sweet pineapple --- it was all delicious.

That's when I realized it was never the ham and pineapple combination that I didn't like. I went back to try Hawaiian pizza and still didn't like it, coming to the conclusion that it is the combination of pineapple and pizza sauce that I actually don't enjoy.

It never hurts to try some new things, even if you think you won't like them. 


Hawaiian Fried Rice
4 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. hot sauce
1/2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 cups diced ham
1 red bell pepper
6 green onions
3 garlic cloves
5 cups cooked rice
3 large eggs
1 cup pineapple pieces, canned or fresh

Stir soy sauce, sesame oil and hot sauce. Set aside.

Heat vegetable oil, diced ham, red bell pepper and white parts of the green onion. Stir in the garlic.

Heat remaining oil and cook rice. Push rice to one side and lightly scramble eggs. Add ham mixture.

Pour soy sauce mixture over. Turn off heat, add pineapple and green onions.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Good-bye cuddles

It was last week that we received a note from the Humane Society that someone was interested in meeting our foster dog, Jax.

We set up a get-together so he could meet this couple's other dogs, and that evening, all went well. We discussed the possibility of signing the adoption papers on Saturday at the Humane Society and parted, awaiting word from the staff there on timing and how to proceed.

It turned out I did not have to work the next day, a Friday, because I had to pick up an extra shift on Saturday. Knowing that our time was getting short, I decided to spend most of Friday with Jax. We cuddled together on the living room chair and then he napped on my lap on the bed.

I knew that I had things to get done --- laundry, cleaning, baking --- but I just couldn't get up. I wanted to remember those sweet moments with him, and so I procrastinated and enjoyed the time with his head nestled on my legs.

It was about 10 minutes after he woke up and I was downstairs in the kitchen starting some banana bread that I got a call from my husband telling me that instead of tomorrow, we were going to give Jax to his new owners that afternoon.

We discussed the details of what we would supply the new family with to make Jax' transition easier and then hung up.

And then the tears came.

I pulled myself together as I got a few things done, and my husband came home to help me load his kennel into the car.

And then the tears came.

As I was stirring the banana bread, I kept looking at Jax sitting so pretty next to me, and I couldn't help but keep crying about how I was going to miss him.

That continued on pretty much the whole afternoon as I told him what a good boy he was and kissed him on the head. I held it together as we brought him in to his new owner and kissed him good-bye one more time.

And then the tears came as I got back into the car.

Even the next day, my heart ached as I thought about him. I wasn't sad that he found a wonderful home, in fact, I'm extremely satisfied with the people that adopted him. I just miss him.

It was Saturday when I was driving home from work and thinking about him when I realized how much God had been at work in this whole situation, especially those last moments. Not only did God provide a wonderful family for him, but he provided us a last day together.

I realized, it was random that I had to work that Saturday, meaning that I took Friday off. We were supposed to give Jax to his new family on Saturday, but had I had to work on Friday and then we ended up giving him up that afternoon, I would not have had any last moments with him. I would have had to work all day, come home, load him up and take him to his new owners. Instead, I had a whole day to love on him and cuddle with him and create some last memories before saying good-bye.

I realize it made no difference to him I'm sure, but those last moments were exactly what I needed to say good-bye, to conclude our time together. I needed those last cuddles and kisses, and God provided enough snow that we had to open our tubing hill, so I had to work on Saturday at the last minute so that I had to take Friday off so I could have those last minutes with him.

Thankfulness flooded through me.

"Wow, thank you Lord for working out all those minute details so I could have exactly what I needed to say good-bye."

Once I started focusing on the things to be thankful for, it made me thankful for the time we had together and thankful for what God provided so Jax could have a fur-ever home with the perfect family.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Quiet dreams

We went back to our hometown this weekend and spent time with family and one conversation made me ponder something about myself.

We were joking about the fact that we're aggravating my mother-in-law by not having children yet, and my mom said people often ask her if I'm pregnant or planning on having kids soon.

I said, "We have a plan. We're following the plan."

"But you haven't told anyone your plan," she said.

"That's true."

"I tell people that I don't know what Kiley will do. I won't know until she is pregnant and probably pregnant for quite a while."

"That's absolutely correct."

I kind of stopped there. That sounds terrible. It sounds like I don't share anything about my life with my family. It sounds selfish. Why wouldn't I tell anyone our plans or share when we would start trying to have a baby?

I thought about that for a while yesterday, and I realized it's because I keep my dreams really close to the vest. I take my dreams into my heart and I count on them. It takes a lot for me to even admit dreams to myself in case they don't come true. It takes even more for me to talk about them with my husband.

Beyond that, I don't really tell people about my dreams. It's too hard to talk about them, because dreams are plans to me. So if they don't come true I'm upset and disappointed. I don't want others to be disappointed or see failure in my life. So I just wait to see what happens. Then if things work out the way that I plan, I will share.

I know that God is really in control, so as much as I plan or wish something, it could change. I like room for change. I don't want someone to count on me doing something because I said that was a plan. I don't want to have to explain. I like to leave room for life to change and God to work.

I've seen that in my life a lot more than I realized. I didn't tell people we took in a dog because I wasn't sure we were going to keep it, so I just kept it quiet until plans were more finalized. I didn't tell people we were planning on buying land to build a future home, and a lot of people --- those I'm not close to --- still don't know. I don't talk about it on a daily basis.

Children are even more important, so I guess that's why I don't share. We have talked about it, and we have a plan, but so does God. So until I see what that turns out to be, I'll probably stay quiet. That's just who I am. That's just how my dreams work.

Another way situations and questions help me ponder who I really am and why I work the way I work. Always thinking, always contemplating, always discovering who God created me to be.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Our careless words really say something

I've been trying to keep up with my church's year-long commitment to read five chapters of the New Testament a week. It doesn't seem like it would be that difficult, but twice already I've ended up reading all five chapters on the weekend instead of doing one per day during the week like I'm supposed to.

Oh well. At least I'm caught up!

Today, in Matthew 12, it said "For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks," and "...men will have to give account on the day of judgement for every careless word they have spoken."

I think I've mentioned before that I'm a naturally quiet person, but when I get to know someone I tend to get chattier. And when I get chattier, I tend to regret about half of what comes out of my mouth. OK, maybe not quite half, but it's terrifying how much I regret.

I've come to realize that my natural tendency to stay quiet is probably the best thing for me. I've never once regretted not saying something but only have I regretted things that I shouldn't have said. And for all those words, I will have to give account.

So often we say, "It just slipped out. I didn't really mean it."

But Jesus said that even those "careless" words we will be accountable for, and that's because those words might reveal the most about us. When we take the time to calculate what we say, we can make sure it sounds good. What just "slips out," that is the true overflow of our hearts.

So watch what you say, but also take a deeper look into what just comes out. That might reveal more to you about where your heart is really at than you realize.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Eat Rocky Road cookies like a Gilmore

I was excited to receive the "Eat Like a Gilmore" cookbook for Christmas.

A gimlet. Macaroni and cheese in a jalapeno-chipotle cream sauce. Chilaquiles.

The pages and meals brought back so many memories!



Yesterday, I looked through the recipes I had marked to see if there was any dessert to try, and I wanted to sample the Rocky Road cookies. Remember when Rory took some Rocky Road cookies from Sookie's kitchen. That was the moment we all knew Rory liked Dean, because she didn't like Rocky Road cookies but they were Dean's favorite.

Seriously, how could anyone not like Rocky Road cookies? I had never had them before, but holy cow, yum.

If you like chocolate, these are for you.



Rocky Road Cookies
From "Eat Like a Gilmore" by Kristi Carlson, tweaked to my preferences and with directions shortened because I've been in a kitchen before and know "cookies are done once they turn a bit darker brown (not too brown!)"...

2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 cups chopped pecan
3/4 cup mini chocolate chips
1 cup mini marshmallows

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream butter and sugars. Add cocoa, eggs and vanilla. Mix until smooth. Add flour and baking soda. Fold in pecans and chocolate chips.

Using a tablespoon cookie scoop, place rounded scoops onto cookie sheet. Bake 8-9 minutes. Place mini marshmallows in soft/warm cookies and let sit approximately five minutes to set. Place on cooling rack and cool fully before storing.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Coffee and pasta

I don't really even want to write this post, because I don't want my husband to read what a terrible wife I am in my brain even if I don't show it on the outside, but it's probably good to confess.

This morning, Nate was going fishing, and I went downstairs to remote start my car. I saw that he was making French press coffee.

My first reaction was disappointment. Although French press coffee is good, it doesn't make more than 3-4 cups, so I figured he had made enough for himself to take fishing and I would have to make coffee at work.

I thought it was kind of selfish that he didn't make coffee for me too.

About five minutes later, I was upstairs brushing my teeth and he poked his head around the corner, "Here honey."

He handed me a travel mug of coffee.

Instead of taking all the French press coffee for himself, he selflessly took less fishing with him and gave half to me.

OK, I felt like a butt for thinking anything bad about him.

On the way out the door, I grabbed the leftover pasta from last night's dinner. There wasn't really anything else for lunch except Ramen noodles, so I just grabbed the Rubbermaid with about a half-pound of pasta left in it.

At lunch time, I got a text message, "You must be eating a lot of pasta for lunch."

Hmmm...well, I probably should have thought about our lack of groceries and left some pasta for Nate to eat. Otherwise, he was left with cereal or Ramen noodles.

I ran home for lunch so I could share the pasta with him, and he smiled as I came in.

"Did I guilt you into coming home?"

"Yes."

When I was driving back to work after lunch, I thought about how complacent I've become in some areas of our relationship. I expect Nate to be thoughtful and share his coffee and am annoyed when I think he isn't going to, which he did anyway, and then I don't think at all about sharing lunch with him. I have been pretty selfish lately, knowing that Nate won't mind if I am not perfect. However, I should be striving to be the best wife I can be, no matter his expectations.

So, honey, if you're reading this. I'm sorry for thinking badly about you this morning. You blew my expectations out of the water, and I'm sorry for not thinking about you for lunch. I'll do my best to be more thoughtful and considerate!

And I appreciated the coffee. :)