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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.

Fig Trees and Texts from Home

This past Saturday, I received a text message from my mother:

“Have daddy in ER- they are transferring him to Greenville- think he is having heart attack…”

Zach and I had gone to London for the day, and I had just paid my 50p to use the public toilet (yes, they make you pay for that here, and no, they don’t use the word restroom). And now I’m sitting in the stall, slightly hyperventilating, trying to figure out how in the world Zach can convince the worker outside that he needs to enter the women’s toilet to carry me out of there since my body seems to have stopped functioning. Somehow, I managed to pull myself together and get back to where Zach was waiting to fill him in on what was going on. He held me while I cried from the realization that England was actually quite a long way from where I wanted to be in that moment.

To quickly summarize the next few days, after several tests it was discovered that my dad did not have a heart attack, but did have two partial blockages in the artery often referred to as “The Widow Maker”. Scary stuff, but something that would not require surgery, just medication and healthy lifestyle changes. The Lord seems to have orchestrated these events to let us know there was an issue in time to fix it, and we were so grateful for His sovereignty and grace in this situation.

It’s ironic that I was visiting London on the day this all occurred, a place that was my go-to answer for years if I was asked, “If you could go anywhere in the world right now, where would it be?” Upon receiving that text, London wasn’t quite the answer I would have given if asked that question again. But we pushed through and were met with good news after our waiting.

The Sunday night after our London trip, we went to the church we’ve settled into here in Cambridge, Eden Baptist. Matt, the assistant pastor, was finishing up a sermon series on Habakkuk. It was such a timely message, and as He often does, God used His people and, even more importantly, His Word to speak to my heart in loving and convicting ways. The following verses especially resonated with me:

Though the fig tree should not blossom

And there be no fruit on the vines,

Though the yield of the olive should fail

And the fields produce no food,

Though the flock should be cut off from the fold

And there be no cattle in the stalls,

Yet I will exult in the LORD,

I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.

Habakkuk 3:17-18, emphasis added

Sometimes, even in your favorite place on earth, it’s hard to see the fig tree’s blossom. Sometimes it’s just not there. There have been times in this journey that I find myself feeling guilty over my “sad days” because, after all, Emily, this is what you wanted. This is your favorite place in the whole wide world. But sometimes, it just doesn’t feel like it. And other days (perhaps even most days), I can see the fig tree’s buds and the vine’s fruit and I am just so happy to live in this place. But whatever the morning brings to my eyes, I can still say with Habakkuk, “Yet I will exult in the LORD”, because He deserves our rejoicing, no matter where – or how – we are.

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.

Just Keep Pedaling

Zach and I have been in England for over a week now. Long enough to get over jet lag. Long enough to explore the area, get lost a few times, learn our way home, make friends, try fish and chips, go to church. And long enough to buy bicycles.

In Cambridge, cycling is one of the most common modes of transportation. Bikes are a very important purchase, because in a large part of the city centre, roads are restricted to cycles, taxis, and buses. We’re also temporarily staying with some new friends who live about three miles from the city centre. So cycling is a necessity. Thankfully, the cycling path is so picturesque, with most of the journey taking you by the River Cam and through some lovely fields. Although yesterday Zach had to cycle off the path to avoid being plowed over by a cow, so the scenery is not without its dangers.

All this to say, I have probably cycled more in the past week than I have in my entire life. The first day of cycling into town, I thought I would just keel over and die, right there on the bike path. When I got off my bike after FINALLY reaching the city centre, my legs almost gave out from under me. I told Zach a few days ago that muscles in my waist were sore. Who knew you even had muscles in your waist?! Well, now I do. Because mine are all angry at me.

Then, Sunday afternoon on our way home from church, I was trying to catch up with Zach and Mark, our host for these in-between weeks before we can move into our apartment. We were over half-way home, and I was completely done. But then we hit a part of the path that had a slight downward slope, and I thought, “Here’s my chance! Now I can catch up!” So I pedaled with everything I had. I was doing okay until it was time to make a hard right turn at the bottom of the hill.

With some sort of odd screeching sound – that couldn’t have possibly been me? – I toppled over onto the pavement, scraping up my arms and dirtying my dress. This kind older gentleman walking behind me ran over to help me up, but I really just wanted to keep lying face first on the pavement where I’d come to a stop. Zach and Mark were there, too, grabbing my (now slightly scuffed up) purse and righting my bike so I could get back on. But now my elbow hurt as well as my thighs, and I was very concerned that I’d ripped a hole in my brand-new leggings (good news! They’re fine!).

So I took a breath, thanked random-stranger-man and assured him I did, in fact, know these people who were holding my purse, and got back on my bike to finish the trip home. I was convinced my elbow was broken – I’ve always had a flair for the dramatic – but just kept repeating to myself what had become over the weekend my cycling mantra, “Just keep pedaling, Emily. If you stop, you won’t be able to start again. Just keep pedaling.”

Thankfully, I did not break my elbow. And, after many more miles on the cycling path, my legs don’t start screaming at me now until at least mile 2.75 of 3. I’m even beginning to pedal faster. But when I do get a bit behind Zach, or when every part of my body aches from cycling all over creation, I just remind myself, “Just keep pedaling, Em. Just keep pedaling.”

This transition will not always be easy for us. I am sure there will be moments where everything within us screams for us to just stop, turn around, and go home. Try again some other time. Or never. But then we will remember that this journey is all part of the Lord’s purposes for us. And we know that through His strength, we can find it within ourselves to just keep pedaling.

A Face to Call Home

A few weeks ago, Zach and I attended a John Mayer concert. Since Zach has been a John Mayer fan a lot longer than I have, he made a playlist of all of John Mayer’s albums and put it on Spotify, since I am the type of person who feels the need to “study up” on an artist and their work before attending his or her concert.

During my attempt to learn all the lyrics to all the songs, I stumbled upon one that had me in tears on the ride home. The song shares its name with this blog post. Growing up as a pastor’s kid, I’ve grown used to understanding home as a group of people rather than a location. During this transition to England, I have had to once again rethink my concept of “home” as something set apart from a specific location.

As I type this, I’m sitting in an airport, preparing to board a flight that will send my husband and me across the world. We’ve packed up some of our belongings, but sold and stored a lot more. We’ve said goodbye to the first house we shared as a married couple, spent time with family in three different states, weighed our suitcases more times than is probably normal, and said our “see you laters” to family and friends. But although we are going to a place where we know no one but each other, and even though our lives have more questions than answers as the moment, we’ll still be home.

Because for me, Zachary Adam is my face to call home. He keeps me sane in the craziness of this transition, he ensures that we have as many answers as we can, and he even carries my (too heavy) carry-ons all over the airport. I know I am sheltered and loved here, both because of the man he is and the One he reflects to me.

So, welcome home to me.

Childhood Dreams, Adult Responsibilities

I was apparently no good at geography as a child.

I distinctly remember watching A Little Princess (not the Shirley Temple version, mind you, the other one) and crying big, fat, elementary-school-girl tears at the plight of poor Sarah Crewe as she was forced to work in the streets outside her orphanage. I cried for Sarah, but also for all the poor children who were faced to live and work and beg on the streets – the streets I thought were in England. In fact, I was so moved that I began to tell others that one day, I would grow up and be a missionary to England and save those poor street children.

Imagine my surprise when, while watching the movie a few months ago, I realized that Sarah Crewe lived in New York City! In case you’re no good at geography either, New York City is not in England, dear reader.

The “missionary call” to England did not last into adulthood, but perhaps this childhood dream of moving there, of immersing myself in the culture, of becoming personally acquainted with their griefs, hurts, and joys never quite left me.

So when Zach began to realize that the best schools for his area of study were in the U.K., I had to work hard to contain my budding excitement at the possibility. To squash the hope threatening to well up inside at the very thought of this childhood dream becoming a reality. There were so many steps to take before a life abroad could even be considered. Even as I type this post, only a little over a month before the date that our plane tickets tell us we’ll leave, there are still so. many. steps. Bureaucracy is no joke, y’all.

Through this whole process, though, I have been reminded over and over again of God’s faithfulness. He is faithful in all things, big and small. He is gracious enough to turn our childhood dreams into adulthood responsibilities; what we may see as the silliest of whims, He can use for His purposes and glory. He has been and will be with Zach and me every step of this journey.

He was already working in my geographically-confused, overly-emotional, childhood heart to mold me into the woman I am today, the woman who is about to become a Cambridge wife.

“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we could ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”
Ephesians 3:20-21