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It’s Okay to Be Needy

I was recently telling a friend about one of my husband’s pet peeves. Often, as he tries to get ready in the morning, I feel a compelling need to be shown love and affection right. at. that. moment. He’s halfway through buttoning his shirt or straightening his tie, even mid-way through brushing his teeth, and I’m engulfing him in a hug or invading his personal space, lips puckered, waiting for a kiss. He is not amused. It does not seem to leave him with the warm fuzzies I feel during those moments. I guess I just have to keep trying!

This week, he is away getting some of our things we left in storage in England and meeting with his advisor in Glasgow. There are no morning routines for me to interrupt. At the same time, there has been a deluge of information parading around me about the importance of independence, but the blessing of community. In our hyper-individualized culture, we all crave community and connection, but the characterization of being dependent on others or needy? We avoid that like the plague. We all want to be strong, independent women who don’t need no man. Or whatever.

I am all about healthy boundaries (regardless of what my morning routine of compulsive affection-giving may indicate). I also prize the individual hobbies and interests Zach and I have and our ability to maintain a personal life that isn’t completely encompassed with the other. However, I also recognize that my husband makes me a better person. Beyond simply liking it when he’s around (which I do! A lot!), being apart from him for any extended period of time helps me recognize my need for him to keep me accountable with my goals, focused on the good in life, and committed to adulting rather than whiling away my hours on Netflix as I would otherwise be wont to do. Can I do these things on my own? Yeah, but it’s much more difficult.

My neediness extends beyond my marriage, though. I spoke last post about the women’s book study I have been able to be a part of this semester. Each week, I’m confronted with my need for godly women of varying backgrounds and ages to speak wisely and lovingly into my life. I need mentorship and the opportunities to converse, cry, and rejoice with women on various stages of their life journeys. I could sit at home alone and read my Bible, pray every day. In fact, I should be doing those things on an individual level. But if that’s all I get? I am missing out, and so are the other members of the church.

And if this weekly reminder of my need for others were not enough, this week our church held a special service focused on covenanting together as a body of believers. I had already begun writing this blog, but I was reminded once again in the sermon that God calls us to meet together, to share with one another the ways the Lord is working (or seeming silent) in our lives. We need one another to spur each other on to good works. God’s Word tells us that we need to be needy. We just can’t go it alone. We need the Lord and His grace above all things, but we also need one another.

So be independent. Be strong. Be productive and efficient and successful. But don’t be an island. See the needs of others and meet them if you can, but recognize your need for others, too. Learn to be okay with being needy.

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When God Is Quiet

Last week, I started a book study with some women attending or affiliated with the small Christian college where I received my undergrad. We’re going through the True Woman 201 group study, and I couldn’t more highly recommend it! This past week’s focus was on the need for discernment, and it was a timely lesson for me. I feel like my whole life is currently made up of large, looming decisions that need to be made.

I’m being a bit dramatic. Are we surprised? Not really.

The scary part of these decisions is that some of them are choices I have to make on my own. In the past, when these sorts of decisions have needed to be made, someone else has made them for me, or God has made it exceptionally plain which choice was best. Not so this time. In fact, rather than loudly and clearly proclaiming what my next steps should be, God has remained notably quiet.

It’s always seemed to me that life would be so much easier if God would give us each a book with all the main decision points laid out for our lives, like the one David mentions in Psalm 139:16. But that’s not how He works. Instead, He gives us His Word, with principles on how to live godly lives on whichever path we walk.

Principles, though, don’t tell you where to complete your practicum, or how many children to have and when to have them.

This is why I sometimes wish for a more clear-cut announcement from heaven on where to go next and how long to stay there. What I’m learning, however, is that when God doesn’t shout out the answers, I’m forced to well and truly listen. To seek out his voice. To be still. I said in a previous post that waiting is hard for me. Being still and quiet isn’t much easier – just ask my husband how often (and loudly) I belt out showtunes around the house for proof of this fact.

When I do force my body, soul, and mind to quiet down, I realize that even when God seems silent, He is not absent. He may not be giving me the clear-cut answers I desire, but He is giving me the strength and grace to continue to seek Him in the confusion. He’s provided me with so many wonderful sources of community as well from which to seek wisdom and comfort when I feel a bit lost. He’s also given me His Word, which is such an incredible gift when we stop to consider the vast source of information it is concerning who God is and what He expects, what He has done in the world and what His plans are for its future.

As I slow down to rest in Him, to see Him at work in the small things, and to speak with and rely on other wise and godly people around me, I see that even when I feel overwhelmed and confused, the Lord is at work. The question is, will I only allow Him to quietly work around me? Or will I quietly come before Him and allow Him to work in me, as well?

For even when it’s hard to see or understand, His hand is at work accomplishing His perfect purposes. And even when He’s quiet, God is good.

Bloom & Grow

A little over two weeks ago, my sister gave birth to beautifully stubborn baby girl. Sweet Lucy Marie chose to make her entrance on her own terms, demonstrating the strong will that had been present practically since her conception. Born two weeks early, she entered the world quickly, screaming, and with a head full of black hair.

She entered our hearts just as swiftly, though perhaps more quietly. My sister remarked to me a few days postpartum, “Isn’t it odd that it already seems like she’s always been here?” And it really does.

I was able to spend a few days with Lucy and her parents last weekend, and it was such a joy to watch the ways in which she is already developing. I pretended at being a photographer for an afternoon and captured a few photos of her sweet face, tightly-closed fingers, and stretched-out toes. My favorite part of the weekend, though, was the time I was able to spend holding her and singing my favorite songs to her. I sang quite a few hymns to her, but also incorporated a few quiet melodies from the secular sphere. On my last day with her, I rocked her in the nursery while singing Adelweiss, and teared up when I got to the lyric, “Blossom of snow, May you bloom and grow”.

I hope, little Lucy, that you do. Blossom into your own sweet, perhaps a bit stubborn, person. Thrive under the love of your parents, family, friends, and God. Bloom and grow, dear niece of mine. Bloom and grow forever.

 

Walkin’ in Cambridge

I feel like most of my blogs, journal entries, and phone conversations often begin with the phrase, “It’s been a while.” I am not so great at keeping to structured habits, but I do at least try to fight against the opposing pulls of busy-ness and laziness that often keep me from my goals. It’s certainly a challenge.

One of the things that has been challenging me lately has been a new, regularly-scheduled task that certainly has required my time, attention, and even willingness to be uncomfortable. Since coming to Cambridge, I have been volunteering with a charity organization called Christian Heritage, who operate out of The Round Church. When I began helping out, I simply came a few times a week to the Round Church, which houses a visitor’s center, and volunteered as a “doorkeeper” – taking entrance fees, answering questions, and explaining the purpose of Christian Heritage and the exhibits. I also informed guests about the guided walks of Cambridge offered by several tour guides who volunteered at the Round Church.

Then the fateful day came when I was asked to consider becoming a tour guide myself! I gave my fourth and final walk this week. It’s been a giant step outside of my comfort zone, but great fun as well! The walks tend to take groups around the Round Church, down by the River Cam and into several of the colleges before ending up in the city center. The tours tend to take around two hours, with the main theme being the tracing of Christianity’s influence in Western culture, particularly as it relates to Cambridge through its emphases on education, humanitarian work, scientific discovery, and law and politics. There’s also a lot of talk about the Protestant Reformation, and discussion on the part Cambridge played as the birthplace of the Reformation in England.

Learning the material well enough to give the tour has been a fascinating and enjoyable experience for me, as I hope it was for the individuals who came with me on the tours. There were certainly moments when I felt completely inadequate, particularly when trying to talk about English history as an American. On the first official tour I gave, I met a gentleman and his daughter who were so kind – but the father was the British version of my dad, which meant he knew TONS of information about EVERYTHING I mentioned. I left that first walk feeling fairly defeated after being asked what felt like a million questions to which I couldn’t even begin to find an answer.

However, things have really picked up since then, and now I find great joy in giving the tours, telling people fun facts about the history of Cambridge and England, but even more importantly, pointing out the blessings we enjoy today because of ordinary (and some extraordinary) individuals realizing that their Christian faith could and should affect the world around them in tangible ways. I’ve also been reminded again and again that God uses us in spite of ourselves, and have found such peace in knowing that His strength and Spirit sustain me when I tell others about Him and His people. He has also shown me through these trying experiences that I have an incredible support system in my husband, family, friends, and fellow believers who are constantly there, lifting me up in prayer and willing to give me a pep talk over the phone when needed (I’m looking at you, Mom!).

These beautiful lessons have been reinforced in other areas of my life recently as well, including struggling to finish up schoolwork when the online class meetings, being on Eastern Standard Time, require waking up in the middle of the night. We also have some huge decisions ahead of us about where we’ll be spending the next three years for Zach’s PhD, and we won’t have solid answers on exactly what our options will be until after we’ve returned to the States for the summer. It’s difficult to think that when I come home this summer, it might mean not returning to Cambridge in the Fall. But even in these stressful, uncertain times, God has reminded me of the rest that can be found in Him and the fellowship I can have among His people. The sweet fruits of Christianity that I share with tourists on my guided walk weren’t produced solely in times of antiquity – I’m seeing the abundantly good gifts all around me, even today.

Things My Morning Run Teaches Me About Life (Part Two)

Last week, I told you all about my new running habit, and how something as simple as a morning exercise routine is teaching me important life lessons. If you missed last week’s post, you can view that here. This week, I’ll talk about the last three lessons I’ve been learning as I continue to work at this new practice.

Lesson Four: Looking ahead makes me a better runner.

The route I run keeps me on some pretty uneven pavement, and sometimes it’s hard not to spend the whole run looking at the ground to keep from falling over a loose stone. But I’ve noticed an interesting thing: when I manage to shift my focus to further down the path, I tend to feel more motivation to keep going. I can’t explain how lifting my head and my gaze can have such a psychological effect, but I’ve noticed it again and again.

This concept has played out in my spiritual life as well. It reminds me of what the writer of Hebrews said when comparing the Christian life with running a race: “…and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…”

When I spend my days looking at all the possible things that might cause me to stumble or focusing on the difficulties and pain of this life, I can easily become overwhelmed with self-pity, worry, and frustration. However, it’s amazing the change that can occur in my heart when I lift my head, fixing my eyes a bit further down the road on Christ and what He has done for me, is doing in me, and will continue to do with me if I keep running.

Lesson Five: Joy and pain can occur at the same time.

I do not like pain. And because of this fact, I don’t really like exercise. I’d much rather have a Netflix marathon than run in one. So why do I keep at it? Because even in the pain, I have found joy. This may seem impossible, but it’s true. When I crest the final hill of my run and it times perfectly with the song I’m listening to (Go the Distance, anyone?), I feel so incredible knowing that I’m accomplishing things I never thought possible. When I feel the soreness in my muscles, I feel a bit of happiness, too, knowing that the pain means I’m getting stronger.

This paradoxical lesson is also true of life. I have experienced the truth of it in the past year, as my family experienced the death of my grandfather. The loss hurt us (and still hurts us) to the core, but we also felt inexplicable joy knowing our Papa was perfect, whole, and healthy in the presence of his Lord and Savior. We sing a song at our church here that says, “There is strength within the sorrow”, and we felt that personally. I’m so grateful to have experienced this paradox, and know that like I spoke of last week, sometimes pain shows us we’re growing, and even when that growth is undetectable to the human eye, there can still be joy in the midst of the process.

Lesson Six: I can’t get better if I don’t get out of bed.

This last lesson is one I have to repeat to myself over and over most mornings. My warm and cozy bed is so much nicer in those moments than the cold outdoors. But last week, I had to take a whole week off from running because of the snow and ice we had here in Cambridge, and let me tell you, my first day back at it was rough. I had done some inside cardio workouts during the week when I couldn’t run, and those had helped me some, but I am more sore this week than I was when I first started!

The truth is, I’d like to think that staying in bed for a day and skipping my workout won’t have an effect on my run the day after – but that’s just not true! My runs this week have been so much slower than they were before my week off, and I’ve had to really war with myself about whether or not it was absolutely required that I run to the landmark I’d set for myself rather than turning around early and trying again the next day.

The difficult truth is, change is hard work. And when we don’t put in the hard work of changing our habits and developing better ones, or put it off until a “more convenient” time, often we go backward rather than remaining at whatever benchmark we’d achieved. But the positive news is, when we get back at it, armed with the knowledge of where we were previously, we might have more motivation to more quickly reach that previous “personal best”, and even push past it. At least I’m seeing that to be true with me.

If you’re considering trying something new, or changing a habit you have, I encourage you to “get out of bed” and get out there. Learn those lessons, friends! And then remind me of all of them tomorrow morning around 7:30 am when I’m grumbling about wanting more sleep and less exercise.

Things My Morning Run Teaches Me About Life (Part One)

There is this incredible picture of me from about the third grade where I am finishing a lap in my school’s Walk/Run for Charity event. My shoulders are hunched in exhaustion, both arms hang limp at my side, and my tongue is literally hanging out of my panting mouth as I pull as much air as possible into my screaming lungs.

This picture was taken around lap 2 or 3.

The photo aptly sums up my general feelings toward all things related to exercise and particularly the beast that is running. At least, until recently. In the past two weeks, I’ve started back at a practice I’ve been (very inconsistently) attempting over the past five years or so. This time however I feel like I have turned a corner in my attitude towards running, and my chilly morning runs have, in turn, begun to teach me lessons dealing with issues beyond personal fitness. Hopefully, even if your attitude towards running is much more like third-grade Emily than my current appreciation for it, the lessons I’m learning will be applicable to you as well.

 

Lesson One: I can do more than I think I can.

Part of the reason I have hated running for most of my life, even in the times when I’ve tried to do it several times a week, is because I believed I would never be good at it. I have friends who can run a mile in six minutes (cough, cough, Zachary Adam, cough, cough), and other friends who ran competitively in high school. However, I tended to clock out after about 90 seconds of that awkward jog-walking that makes me feel like I must look to the world like an old man with debilitating arthritis. Then, a few weeks ago, something miraculous happened. I pushed through. I discovered that I could in fact keep going beyond that 90 second marker that I had set as a limit for myself, and my legs would not fall off, nor would I die from exertion.

Zach has constantly reminded me during my efforts at getting into shape, “The mind quits before the body.” I think sometimes, the mind quits before the heart, too. We convince ourselves that this task, this career, this goal is too difficult or too lofty, that we’ve maxed out, but there is so much more potential in us waiting on a bit more effort, a bit more perseverance, a bit more will to push through. For the Christian, too, this has another level in that we often limit what God wants to do in and through us because we think we’ve reached the end of our limits for growth, and we forget the extent of the Holy Spirit’s power to both strengthen and redeem.

Lesson Two: Pain can be a sign of growth.

I will not lie to you and tell you that just because I can now jog for 15 or so minutes at a time means my runs have become some sort of careless, pain-free, tiptoe through the tulips experience. False. My legs are normally very angry with me for most of my runs, and my toes do this weird achy thing for the rest of the morning. I will say that I no longer cough uncontrollably for hours after I run like I did when I first started back at running. This shows that sometimes the pain is a sign of better things to come. My lungs and heart are stronger now, better able to deal with longer stretches of exercise, and my legs are strengthening, too.

Sometimes the winnowing periods of life hurt. We experience emotional, spiritual, and psychological growing pains right along with the aching of sore, worked muscles. While sometimes pain is a sign that something is wrong, it can also be a reminder that we are getting better, stronger, and more mature.

Lesson Three: Beauty and positive thinking make difficult things more bearable.

I run a really beautiful route in the mornings that takes me along the River Cam and gives me a lovely view of several of the college backs. There’s this one point in my run where the trees clear and I get this incredible glimpse of King’s College chapel with the sun behind it. It lifts the soul. I also listen to some great music while I run to keep me in good spirits – normally it ends up being some fast-paced showtunes or Disney music, because, really, what else do you people expect of me? But when I listen to the lyrics of The Greatest Showman’s “This Is Me” or Moana’s “How Far I’ll Go” and push myself to believe that I can finish the run I started, when I let myself soak in the beauty that is Cambridge, and when I focus on feelings of gratitude that God has brought me to this place, I find it easier to focus on cresting that next hill rather than on the fatigue in my legs.

I’m going to try not to get too counselor-y here, but gratitude and positive self-talk can have huge effects on our mental health. When I encourage myself to push through the end of my run rather than telling myself to quit because I don’t have it in me, I find myself so much more capable of things I never dreamed possible (like easily running a ten-minute mile last Friday! What??). And then, because I see that I can do more than previously thought, I end up with more self-confidence and am more likely to try other difficult things that will enable me to grow further.

 

This series is not to pressure my readers into starting your mornings with a run like I do, although if you feel empowered to do so and want to talk through the stresses and successes of such a practice with me, that is wonderful! However, I do encourage each of you to find a hard thing to do and set out trying to do it. If a girl who has hated running with a passion since elementary school can take it up and enjoy it, you can tackle a difficult task, too. And who knows? Maybe you’ll learn some lessons of your own.

 

Earning My Keep

“Stop trying to earn your keep.”

Tears flooded my eyes as my brain digested that statement, straight from the lips of my slightly disgruntled, trying-to-comfort-a-crying-wife-but-not-fully-knowing-why-she’s-crying-this-time husband. This. This spoke to every single one of my relationships and the anxiety I was currently feeling about all of them.

I have a confession to make. If I’m not careful, I could spend 95% of my days in a crumpled heap on the floor, letting all the mean thoughts I think about myself fill my head until I can’t remember what’s real and what’s just a big ol’ failure. However, thanks to wonderful, supportive people in my life, better thought systems, some fun things I learned in counseling in undergrad, and then just the grace and mercy of God, I live and function and only crumple into that heap on really bad days, such as the one I was having when this aforementioned conversation took place.

When Zach said this statement, it was one of those proverbial “aha” moments for me. I often feel a need, perhaps not so irrationally, to earn my keep in relationships: in my relationship with my husband, with my parents and family, with my friends, and most often, perhaps even most tragically, with the Lord.

I’m currently reading through the book of Deuteronomy as part of my Bible reading plan. In it, Moses constantly draws the children of Israel’s attention to the fact that they are smaller and weaker than the opponents they will face on the other side of the Jordan, but that this is by design. He goes further in chapter 9, saying, “It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land” and “from the day that you left the land of Egypt until you arrived at this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD.” Not only were the Hebrews to remember that they were smaller in number than their opponents, but to remember that there was nothing about their own righteousness or religious efforts that commended them to this task. Rather, God chose them in spite of these things to accomplish His purposes and to bring Himself glory.

I think too often we believe that we have been chosen by life, God, or others because of some innate goodness within, some sort of characteristic or strength that commends us to the tasks that lay ahead. This sort of thinking led me to feeling the need to earn my keep and to a hyper-defensive posture in my conversations with others, where harmless comments could quickly be turned into direct attacks on my own capabilities.

But it’s not my own righteousness or good qualities that led me to be blessed with as good of a husband as I have in Zachary Adam, to end up in as beautiful a place as Cambridge, to have wonderful friends and family members, or in any way to be called a child of God. Instead of focusing on attempting vainly to earn my keep or trying to impress every single person in my life, I can relish the blessings I have been given and serve each of those relationships with the joy that comes from seeing the grace in them. I can be truthful about areas in which I fail or struggle, but those failures don’t have to lead to some sort of frenzied, let’s-make-up-for-all-my-problems-by-baking-a-cake kind of attempts for perfection or even perceived perfection.

The truth is, I could never earn my keep. But thanks be to God, His mercy says I don’t have to.

New Year, Same Me

During the month of January, the general public seems to become better people (or at least individuals who think they’re better people). Many people make resolutions. Some prefer to use the word “goals”. Others choose a word or attribute to make their own and on which to reflect in the following year. Gym memberships sky rocket. Social media has picture after picture of individuals in their workout gear with the caption, “New year, new me”.

But what if that’s a lie?

To figure out if I am a different person this year, I have to examine the person I was last year. 2017 was characterized by change. Zach finished one Master’s degree, started another. We moved out of our first home and into a flat on another continent. I learned how to meal plan, and then how to do it with a tiny kitchen (for more on that adventure, see What Not Having a Stove Taught Me About Myself). In April, I said goodbye to the first of my grandparents to pass away. In November, I came home again. In December, Zach followed. We both continued schoolwork. We cried, and laughed, and walked A LOT. We said goodbye to one church family and were welcomed into another. And through it all we grew as a couple and as individuals.

But does that mean I’m a completely different person in 2018 than 2017?

If my struggles with consistently working out this January are any indicator, the answer is no.

This doesn’t mean I don’t have goals for myself for this new year. I want to blog more often. I want to drink more water, exercise regularly, and be a more organized individual (I’m looking at you, bullet journal). I want to be serious and devoted in my daily Bible reading in a way that I lacked in 2017. I want to be a better listener, both to others and to the Lord. I want to spend my time wisely and productively.

In all these goals, however, I have to continually remind myself that change doesn’t occur overnight, not even on New Year’s Eve. I will not wake up one day and stop loving chocolate chip cookies or Dr. Pepper. Habits and personality traits take time to form and exhibit consistently. So maybe I am the same person as I was in 2017. But I’m also constantly becoming someone better.

What Not Having a Stove Taught Me About Myself

Autumn is upon us here in Cambridge. There’s a noticeable chill in the air, the trees are turning the most gorgeous colors, and – my personal favorite part – there’s a satisfying crunch that accompanies each step on the leaf-covered pavement. Being welcomed into our Cambridge life by cooler temperatures and the lovely hues of my favorite season has been such a blessing to me. And I’m enough of a lover of metaphor to appreciate how this change in seasons compares to the changes Zach and I are facing.

About a week and a half ago we were finally allowed to move into our new flat at Magdalene College. This was equal parts exciting and anxiety-inducing, because while we were ready to have a space to call our own, we had no idea what the space would look like! The college had no pictures of the interior of the flat, so we were walking through the door completely blind. And, it’s not awful. It’s very small by American standards, but we were prepared for that. I’m fairly positive our curtains were made from the same fabric as one of my Mom’s go-to 90s dresses, but those can be replaced. What hurt so personally for me was the state of the kitchen. Zach could reach out and touch both sides of the room, there was no oven, and only electric eyes (or what they call induction hobs) by way of a stove.

And I panicked. I am no Pioneer Woman or Paula Dean. My poor husband had to talk me down from a few pseudo-panic attacks the first few weeks of marriage because I was so terrified I would burn the house down or poison him with my lack of culinary abilities. And I had only just begun to really feel confident in the recipes I consistently cooked, even feeling less nervous when it came time to branch out and try new ideas. But I had a stove then!

This new change was not welcome in my mind and heart. But it has revealed to me quite a bit about myself in recent days. I seem to have been equating my culinary skills with my status as a “good wife”. If I ruined a meal, that reflected poorly on my ability to be a proper spouse to my husband. And this is just. not. true. Because I have ruined meals. And forgotten to make the bed, or pick up the dry cleaning. Even today, as I did our weekly grocery trip, I forgot the very first item on our list – bread. But this does not mean I am a bad wife. It means I am an imperfect one. It means I’m human. And that is 100% okay. Because my husband is human, too.

Standards are good. Personal growth is always needed. But when we equate our self-worth with some skill or unattainable, self-imposed standard, we will always feel unworthy. But the beautiful thing about Christian marriage is that, as it reflects Christ’s relationship with us, it is full of grace and truth. The truth that neither I nor my husband am perfect, and the grace to love one another through those imperfections, spurring each other on in good works.

The second thing not having a proper stove revealed to me was that I am a selfish, near-sighted individual. As we prayed over the first home-cooked meal I prepared via induction hob, Zach asked God to give us grateful hearts for even this place and this situation, and to help us be mindful of so many others who were not so fortunate. This prayer shook me. I have friends on my newsfeed and news stories constantly in front of me that should remind me how insignificant my adjusting issues are in the grand scheme of things. But to me, on that night, they had seemed to be the biggest problem in the world.

I was graciously reminded by my husband that this change would not be the end of the world for us, nor should it grant me license to wallow in self-pity. For I have much to be thankful for. We all do. And may we all seek grateful hearts and opened eyes to the blessings we have received from God. May we allow His goodness and grace to move us to help others whose current situations involve a lot more difficulty than the lack of a conventional stove.