Monday, August 7, 2017

The Down and Dirty Truth about Marriage: The Call to Ministry

In Orlando, FL pre-babies. Emily...or Britney Spears? That is the question. 
We sat across the glass top table in the dining room at my grandmother's house, which we were renting at the time. Sweet Gra'ma let us paint the whole house whatever color we wanted. And rip up the carpet to paint the slab. I honestly credit a great deal of my decorating sense to the freedom she granted me to make her little blue house my own for those few years we lived in Ruston. In some ways, that little blue house was my saving grace because Ruston was not an easy season for me or for our marriage. Don't get me wrong, Ruston was lovely. Ruston is lovely. And the church we were a part of was full of wonderful people. And I had a bit of a dream job for the bulk of our time there, but my heart was not in a dreamy sort of place. I was young and selfish and gripping tightly to what I thought life was supposed to look like, as if there's any such thing.

So, amidst mustard yellow walls (I didn't say my decorating sense at the time was great) Josh told me that he thought God was calling him into vocational ministry - that several people had verbally affirmed him in that calling and that he wanted to go to seminary. 

I can't remember what my response was at the time. I'm pretty sure my initial response was to be supportive. If grown-ups (which we very clearly were not in my mind) were telling him to go into ministry, obviously he should. And my knee-jerk is always to give a grand, supportive, I'm-all-in, "Yes." Later, after I've gleefully walked into a thing, I realize that I am just not up to the task. So, I appear to be changing my mind constantly when the reality is I said, "Yes," before I even knew what my mind thought about it. 

Within a month or so, Josh had quit his job at the bank, started part time as the Men's Minister at our local church, and applied for seminary. I had been working at a local Collegiate Ministry - and I felt like I was the right amount of rough around the edges for that, but the more I thought about functioning as a pastor's wife, the more I wanted to run for the hills. 

I cuss a little. And I'm sassy. And I don't play the piano. Josh is way nicer than me. And he likes to be at church all the time. And he grew up in ministry. I feel a lot more at home with people who wear their ugly on the outside.

So, I made a decision about me and about "the church" - and it was that we didn't belong together forever. It took me so, so many years of frustration and bitterness and wrestling to realize that we absolutely do. We do because if we claim Jesus as our Savior, we belong with the church. Josh's vocation didn't change that fact.

We wound up in Orlando, FL within a year. I was sure this was going to be our grand adventure and then we would be back in Louisiana. God had other plans. We spent the next 7 years there. Josh grew and thrived in ministry. I could see that he was called to it, but I couldn't see that I was.

Can I tell you something? I failed Josh for a great many years. I didn't know how to support him - truly I didn't. I wish someone had told me how or showed me how or made me snap the heck out of it - I know people probably tried, so I wish I had been tenderhearted enough to be changed. I wish I had embraced it and even been grateful for it. I wish I wasn't so sure that I was all wrong for the job of pastor's wife. I wish I had rested confidently in God's sovereignty. I wish a lot of things about those 8 years.

The good news is, I got there eventually. The bad news is that although Josh bore my selfishness with a great deal of grace, we both learned to silo our hearts in the arena of passion and calling. We didn't share the same passions or callings - we don't still - but we never learned to let our passion for one another to spill over into our respective areas of calling. We are still struggling to do this well. Today.

What I hope you have heard over the course of this series is that life was (is) still happening, we were (are) still making memories and building our union. We have done (are doing) it imperfectly but we have done (are doing) it unequivocally together. So the life the we have built , the joy, the tears, the bed, the babies that we share - every day is another day we have done together, another day we have stayed. God honors this, y'all. It isn't for nothin'!

Can I encourage you today? It's usually not too late to fix it. All those missteps that add up to some pretty significant holes in our marriages, they can be mended. It just requires a great deal of very uncomfortable honesty - mostly with ourselves, and the grace that only our Father can extend to heal up and seal up all the cracks and broken spots - and day in and day out work - and commitment, always commitment. There is hope, friend. There is always hope in Jesus!

Writing this series has been such a joy for me! It has been a gift in my own marriage. I hope that it has encouraged you, too. Thank you for showing up and reading the words of our story week after week. It's an honor the be able to share them!

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Down and Dirty Truth about Marriage: The Proposal and Wedding

One weekend on a trip home for my twenty first birthday, Josh took me out on a date to celebrate. He elaborately planned for us to relive our firsts: First date - dinner at Logan's Steakhouse. I felt like this was a little lame for my twenty first birthday. Then he had procured our church theatre through connections in the right places so that we could watch The Sixth Sense all over again - just the two of us. Then he drove us out to Toledo Bend, to that very same dock - where we danced and talked and generally floated on a cloud of bliss.

Back then, I wasn't so great at bliss. I tended to control the life right out of it. I'm not perfect at it now, but I've learned so much about control - that I never really had any to begin with and even if I did, there's not a whole lot of joy or adventure in holding things so tightly anyway. So, on the way back to the car - thoroughly annoyed that Josh hadn't proposed in such a beautiful, perfect setting - I mentioned that this really would have been the perfect spot for him to pop the question. Josh through raised eyebrows and in a slightly annoyed voice said, "Sorry." I tried to laugh it off and then got very carsick on the way home. So lovely.

He still proposed...homey really loved me.

Then he pulled back up to the church - our church - the church where we'd grown together, spent so, so many hours together, identified essential common interests for any thriving relationship - common interests and convictions like faith and family and God's good, good Word. And also the place where we played wildly as children, really - silly and free and safe. Our foundation was laid there in so many ways both as individuals and as a couple. Of course he took me back to Calvary.

We walked into the sanctuary that was lit only by candle light on the stage. Josh got down on one knee on the stage where we had worshipped over and over and over again and asked me to be his wife. He said a lot of sweet things, all of which we have on video thanks to Jacob Upshaw and his gang - but the thing that I remember most is this, "If I serve you and you serve me and we serve God, we will have a good, happy life."

I squealed emphatically, clicking my little kitten heels all over the stage wildly, unable to bridle the sheer joy that coursed through every vein in my blissfully naive twenty one year old body. This man - heaven help me - this man - he was finally going to be mine and I his forever and ever. It was truly a spectacular dream.

Let it be noted that Josh can pull out some serious romantic big guns when he wants to.

We were engaged and our senior year generally just flew by from that moment on. There were a few little hiccups here and there, of course. Like when Josh forgot to show up for my Senior English Project Presentation - the thing I spent the entirety of my last semester of college (okay, okay - the last 3 weeks...tops) working on. It was kind of a big deal. It was a Pass/Fail sort of thing - and I needed to pass to get my degree. I arrived back at my house to find him sitting on my couch with flowers. He'd forgotten. Oh what a foreshadowing that was of things to come.

There was one significant fight just a month before we got married. I grew up with an explosive temper that only tortured the people in my immediate family. By this point, I had mostly learned to control it by removing myself from the situation until I could chill the stink out. So, Josh and I were moving our stuff into our new apartment about a month before the wedding. We had never really had to work together on anything. Our lives were so separate in so many ways that working with one another on projects and life in general was new for us. Thus - moving did not go so well that first time around. Clearly God wanted to teach us a thorough lesson about being good at moving together because we have found ourselves doing it rather often! I found myself on the verge of a full on ballistic yelling show. So, I got in the car and went for a drive. It's what I did. Josh was appalled. Appalled I tell you. He thought that this was a sign that I was a runner. He even brought it up in our pre-marital counseling during which I received a literal slap on the hand for my actions. I hold to this day that my stepping away for a bit was a grand gift, a highly protective act of love. Twelve years later, Josh would likely say the same.

Our wedding was lovely and meaningful and terribly fun. I loved planning it. I loved the ceremony. I loved seeing Josh standing at the end of the aisle. I loved our officiant, Jack, because he and his family knew and loved us both so very well. He married us, and he was rooting for us - and he's proved it over and again all these years later. Like the proposal, I don't remember a lot of what Jack said in his message except these two things (my paraphrase):

  1. Emily, Josh loves you. He will never intentionally hurt you with his words or actions. Trust him. 
  2. Josh, Emily has big plans for this family. She wants to see God move and work through it. Listen to her. 
And to this day, those two things can nearly dissolve any argument. Trust him. Listen to her. Gosh, I needed to remember them tonight. 

Next week come back to read about Josh's call into ministry, how I responded to it, and how it all shifted the course of our life! Click here to read our story from the beginning.

Monday, July 10, 2017

What Wonder Woman Taught Me about Marriage

I'm going to take a brief pause from our story this week to tell you about how Wonder Woman made me cry. 

Josh and I love super hero movies. We know, we know. The plot is predictable; the stories essentially repeat themselves over and over again; and the scripts are always borderline cheesy. But this is why we love them, friends. I love to watch good triumph over evil again and again and again - in a world that is not real full of people who are pretty. Superhero movies comfort me, quite frankly. And Josh likes the battles scenes. 

As a result, Wonder Woman was an easy choice for us on our date night the weekend it opened. Before arriving, I knew little to nothing of the story of Wonder Woman. I never saw the sixties version starring Lynda Carter. I knew she wore red and blue. The end. I had no idea what to expect.

Can I tell you that from the moment of the opening shot on the island of Themyscira as the Amazon's trained with one another and then a bit later fought in legitimate combat, I was transfixed? Here were all of these beautiful, muscular, curvy women fighting with intentionality and fierce, robust, strength. For one, the big-boobed, big-hipped, big-thighed, all around curvy girl inside of me breathed out in utter gratitude and awe. For another, to have it communicated to me from the big screen that there is a warrior nature inside of me, gosh it was empowering. 

And as much as I loved all of that, I was preparing myself for this to be a "Woman Power" movie. You know the kind - that says that women really don't need men, that we are self-sufficient and men are really just dumb props. I was prepared to feel really bummed about that because I don't agree. Men are as important to women as they are different from them - and vise versa. 

Then Steve Trevor appears (Chris Pine) and by his every action emits a deep sense of respect - albeit surprise - toward the Amazon women, particularly Diana (Gal Gadot). He doesn't demean or gawk or condescend. Neither is he stupid or weak or incapable. He practices restraint when you expect him to make a move, empowers Diana when you expect him to take over, and demonstrates determination to protect her when you expect him to display her as a trophy. 

On the flip side, Diana is somehow able to remain deeply compassionate and forcefully strong. She asks questions of Trevor that she doesn't know the answer to, receiving his knowledge with humility and grace. She doesn't discard him or push him away believing she can live without him. Instead, she approaches him with honest curiosity and unashamed affection. She doesn't jerk away when he places his hand on her back. She isn't determined to appear stronger even though, in this movie, she IS physically stronger. Simultaneously, she refuses to shrink away from her calling in order to fall in line with men alongside her. 

They fight long and hard and smart and desperate under a deep sense of responsibility. 

He is strong. 

She is strong. 

He is driven by honor. 

She is driven by compassion. 

He is fighting in the physical realm. 

She is fighting in the "spiritual" realm. 

He sacrifices his body. 

She sacrifices her control and clings instead to hope.

Friends, this is what marriage can be. 

I know women who are fighting battles their men know nothing of. Spiritual battles that wage in the heavenlies against the hearts and souls of their marriages, their children, their friends, their churches, their cities, their countries, and their own selves. They are fierce and strong and compassionate and fortitudinous. They come in the form of little old ladies, young, single women, mamas beside cribs, and kick butt career women. Do not underestimate the power of compassion, prayer, and sheer will in the hands of a woman.

I know men who are fighting battles their women know nothing of. Physical battles of provision and sacrifice in a world that demands they be either passive or barbaric. They are fighting hard to be strong and kind, to lift their wives, their children, their friends, their churches, their cities, their countries high above themselves and their own desires. They are bold and sound when the world is loud and confusing. They come in the form of retired men, millenials seeking to be more than what the world has labeled them, daddy's beside cribs while the mamas get some much needed rest, white collar corporate bosses and blue collar tradesmen. Do not underestimate the power of honor, prayer, and self-sacrifice in the hands of a good man. 

In the end, the world needed them both. In the end, they needed one another. God stitched us together - man and woman - on purpose. In order for us to win the battle that wages against our homes, our churches, and our world we must all - man and woman - be willing to pick up the weapons God has given us and fight with every fiber of our being. It isn't either or in our marriages, friends. It's both and.

So, as the movie came to a close, I was moved to the point of tears - mostly just because I saw a glimpse of what I think God created marriage to be. And that encouraged me and challenged me and made me tender toward my man. For that, thanks to Hollywood - but mostly, thanks to a God who weaves Himself into the hearts and minds of humanity, who takes whatever He wants and speaks through it to whomever He pleases - to a God who possesses all truth and all creativity and all goodness. 

Also, if you are looking for a good date night movie, this is your ticket. It's clean and moving and well-acted. And Chris Pine. Good glory. And Gal Gadot. Sweet heaven. There's something for everyone. You're welcome.

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Down and Dirty Truth about Marriage: Spain, Peru, and a Hot Springs Wedding Chapel

Josh and I fell right back into our relationship, but in a new and better way - at first. I started sending him a "Question of the week." There were things, I realized, that we still didn't know about each other. Real and important things that we needed to learn and know. So, I started thinking of questions. I wrote them on the blank side of an index card and wrote my answer on the back. Then, I'd drop it in the campus mail and wait for his reply.

I need to stop and say that God really is generous and kind. He led me to do something that is a pretty important part of pre-marital counseling without me even realizing what was happening. He also began to reveal an important part of my and Josh's communication styles. To this day - if there is something important I want to know from Josh or need to discuss with him, I email him about it first. This gives him time to process it before we have a verbal conversation about whatever it may be. This, 9 times out of 10, helps us avoid frustrating arguments with one another. Now, some people think this is weird - that we have to write one another and communicate through lists and such - but I say, "You do you." Marriage is no joke, and you do what you need to do to make it work. We write one another - that works for us.

We also very quickly fell back into our struggle with sexual sin. Now, first I want to tell you that Josh and I were virgins when we married. That wasn't necessarily because of our desire to obey God as much as it was our genuine fear of getting caught. We were in love. We had been in love for a lot of years but this get-back-together was the final one and we both knew it. This was the person we were going to marry, but graduation - and therefore marriage - was still a long way off. And, quite frankly, we just wanted to sleep together already.

This picture makes me swoon to this day. That man - glory he's always made my heart beat fast. We were just so smitten with each other - and entirely unaware of what the real world held for us. In some ways, that was a gift, one that tied us together.
But, we kept living our separate college lives - going on dates and enjoying each other's company, laughing and studying and talking - of course - but also absolutely incapable of not stumbling for the two and a half - almost three - years we dated after that final reunion.

Sexual temptation and sin is hard to talk about because I want to be clear that the things that we did, the sex that we wanted so desperately to have - they were absolutely God-given desires. They are ordained, blessed, and applauded by Him after we say - "Yep. Me and you. Forever. Promise," spiritually and legally. So, when I say "sin" I'm not talking about sex or any of the stuff that goes with it within the confines of marriage. I'm also not talking about the desires. I'm talking about our failure and inability to control our physical bodies from doing all the things that God says to reserve for marriage. We were at fault here. We did not make good choices about being alone and about accountability, etc. We weren't helpless. We were wrong. BUT the Bible also speaks to this - and not being tempted beyond what we can bear is a thing.

That being said, the struggle led to nothing surprising for anyone who has ever dealt with sexual entanglement: over-attachment on my part, tension between the two of us, constant frustration, and just a general and overall focus on sex - doing the things, talking about how we needed to stop doing the things, talking about how great marriage was going to be when we could do all the things we wanted to. It became exhausting.

Nearly once a week we would drive the winding road to Hot Springs, AR, to eat at Chile's or On the Border, and on the way back, with our bellies full and every piece of us wishing that he didn't have to drop me off at my dorm room, we would pass this little side of the road wedding chapel. And sometime during our junior year, I began saying - every single time, "Let's just stop. I will absolutely marry you tonight. We can still have a big wedding later, but let's just get married tonight." Josh being the ever-responsible, ever-sensible one would always chuckle and say, "No, you would be so sad if your family wasn't at our wedding." And he was right, but I also still remember that ache - the desire just to be with the one my soul loved.

Josh and I aren't in full agreement about this to this day, but parents, coming from a girl who lived it, if you see that your children are in love with one another and also committed to honoring God through their marriage and their life together, would you at least consider praying about helping them marry before they graduate? I firmly believe this is a case by case situation, and I understand the practical wisdom of making sure they can support themselves. However, the consequences of three years of sexual struggle contributed to our first year(s) of marriage being enormously disheartening. Marriage had become our idol - and it's no secret that idols always disappoint.

During those years, I moved to Spain for three months to study abroad. What I can tell you is that my over-attachment to Josh because of our sexual struggles led to a very miserable trip overseas for me. That is the bottom line. I wanted to be with my other half because, aside from a technicality, he pretty much already was. This makes me so sad for a number of reasons but mostly because I missed out on so much due to my desire to be with him. He never demanded those things of me, but I couldn't sort it all out. I needed him and had no idea why I needed him so desperately.

At some point during those two years, Josh headed to Peru for a mission trip. I remember seeing something come alive in him through the stories and pictures he had to share. I also remember feeling something very much like envy at the time - because he was able to live so full in those moments that were separate from me, and I was not. To this day, Josh lives each moment as it comes. Also, he's a man - a highly independent, self-reliant man that isn't much for all the feelings. I always knew he loved me when we were together, but I never was sure he thought about me much when we were not. This isn't to say he didn't think about me, but he couldn't quite communicate it in a way that I could understand well.

I know it probably sounds like I was this weak little co-dependent girl who had no life of her own. That wasn't the case. I did. After that last break-up, I woke up to myself again. I had friends, held positions, went on trips, and generally enjoyed life - even if Josh wasn't part of it all. There was something inside me, though, that was warring, and I didn't know quite how to cope with it.

Today, we still struggle with the very same things. I have learned to extend Josh some grace in the "think about me during the day" department. He just doesn't do that a lot, and when he does, he doesn't think to tell me about it. He lives full and complete where he is, which is away from me most of the day. This isn't a testament of his love (or lack thereof) for me. It's just who he is. And to be fair, when he's home with his family, he is fully and completely home with us.

Josh has learned to extend me some grace in the "make sure she knows you're still into her when she's covered in spit-up and rocking the mommy pooch" department. About a year and a half ago, after a pretty significant confidence blow from outside sources, Josh scattered sticky notes all over our house for the span of a month citing specific things that he loves about me. I can guarantee you he set an alarm on his phone to remind him to do it, but I don't care. He made the effort, and that is blissfully romantic.

Please also notice that the last thing I can remember him doing was a year and a half ago. Please also hear me say that I got pouty about him not calling me during the day - like, two days ago. This is life, y'all. Marriage is work, true, but also it's grace and staying whether you're getting the good end of the deal or not.

Come back next week for the engagement and wedding - and how even among all that brokenness, God was still helping us make space for one another through it all.

Want to read the whole story? Click here.

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Down and Dirty Truth about Marriage: The Final Reunion

Three to six months passed. It's all a little fuzzy because we fizzled more than we split. Josh dated around and scratched whatever wild itch HE had. I dated - I don't really know if you can call it that. I spent time with other guys. One of them was smart, kind, and quietly funny - not that different than Josh when I think about it - except that he wasn't Josh. The other was a bit of a wild card. He liked a lot of the same things as me, was enormously flattering, and called me up for late night drives to the truck stop with him and his buddy for coffee and grilled cheese sandwiches and bacon. (Oh, college life.) I liked that he was unpredictable, but in the end, it just never clicked - and I never was sure that he really liked me or the thrill of the chase.

I can't tell you a lot about the girls Josh dated because I really didn't want to know them. From what I know of them as adults, though, they were and are perfectly nice women. I'm not sure that he was much different than mister thrill-of-the-chase at that time in his life.

All of that to say, we went on as separately as we could on a campus of 1500 students. You pretty much run into everyone attending classes there at least once every other day - which is one of the things I loved most about it, but it doesn't make for easy break-ups. My daily routine almost always consisted of a trip to the Student Center. I had Chick-fil-a every Tuesday and Thursday for lunch, and checking my mail on the way to one of my classes (usually in the same building on the same route because I was an English major and lived pretty much in the same few classrooms - the glory of small colleges for girls who dig routine). I opened my mailbox to find a single letter with Josh's handwriting on the envelope. Heart racing, I ripped it open to find a three page, single-spaced, typed letter.

Because I had class, I put it in my sweet action American Eagle messenger bag and sat through a very long lecture that I heard none of because that letter was thumping loudly inside of my bag. I ripped it out as soon as I exited the building, reading it while I walked my familiar path through the quad, in front of Berry Chapel, Cone Bottoms, and then across the street to my dorm. In it, Josh said all the good things. He said he'd been watching me (in a very non-creepy way), that he liked who he saw me becoming, and that he wanted me back. While the letter was extraordinarily romantic, it wasn't meant to be gushy or over the top. It was honest and pure and kind and...he wanted to meet and talk.

I'm sorry, what? Here I was praying for him to find the love of his life - who was not me - and now the most romantic love letter of all time lands in my mailbox?! Can I tell you what I did? I very nearly sprinted back to my dorm room, curled up criss-cross-applesauce on my lower bunk cave, and highlighted the sections I needed clarification on and jotted little notes in the margin. Over and over again I read it. Then I blacked out the portions that bared Josh's soul in ways that no one but me should ever be allowed to read, and I showed it to my best friends. What should I do? The unanimous answer was, "Be careful." This was because they saw that Josh and Emily could be great, yes, but they could also be toxic.

Man, oh man, how true that still is today. We still get in cycles that send us reeling round and round - me dripping with words and explosions because I am desperate for him to connect and show me that he's still into me, him wearied from all the neediness and all the words and therefore retreating further into silence. As we have grown, we have learned to be better about giving one another what we need. I try to grant him his silence without demanding explanations. Try...I try. He tries to tell me that he really does like me and why, what he's thinking and feeling and why. Try...he tries. And when it's good - it's glorious because not only are we getting what we need, sharpening one another and pushing one another toward Jesus, but we are also so blissfully different that our chemistry is explosive.

All you need to know about this picture is that I was wearing a shirt with iron-on letters that read on the front - "All I want for Christmas is..." and on the back, "Josh." This is true life. All the chemistry, y'all. All of it.
Ultimately, I called him and said it would be okay for us to meet. He offered to pick me up that evening to go for a drive. At our private, conservative, Christian college, there were a limited selection of places to be alone. We, of course, knew every one of them. We found ourselves at the upper dam where I literally peeled myself against the passenger side door, unfolded my letter, and began asking questions. Josh's presence had always been intoxicating to me. I knew that if he kissed me or even held my hand, that would be it. I would lay out a big fat, "Yes," to whatever he asked, and I was not willing to surrender my fresh and growing relationship with God for a make-out session in the 'Stang. To his credit, I don't think he would have made any advances toward any such thing that night, but I was intensely aware of my own weakness and therefore taking the appropriate precautions.

He listened with humility and responded with grace as I told him, "I'm not saying we can't get back together, but you're going to have to pursue me, and I don't want you to pursue me unless you are sure this is what you want forever. I'm not interested in breaking up again."

He said something along the lines of, "Fair enough," and then dropped me off at Flippen-Perrin Hall so that I could go in and digest every word with my girls. Over Mint Oreos, Root Beers, and Ruffles with Ranch Dip, I'm sure I talked until they could not bear to listen to my words anymore. Christen was probably doing homework while Vanessa, Katy, and I sat on the couch and giving "Oooo's," and "Ahhhh's," and "Nooo's," at all the right moments.

Pursue me, he did. He started sending me cards in the mail ever week (one of my very favorite things EVER). He'd get one of the girls behind the counter to leave me a bottled IBC root beer in my mailbox. He smuggled roses into my room with the help of my friends. He took me to Little Rock to see Cats. He took me to see How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, and then Chicago. He dropped by to say, "Hello," and called often and generally just made it clear that he was really into me.

All the while, we still didn't kiss. It was such a sweet time for us because for nearly four years of our dating life, we had struggled enormously against our human desire to have the sex. I don't want to get too detailed or awkward with this, but anyone who has ever been in a relationship in which you are smitten with the other will know what this is like. An enormous, God-given magnetism is literally flinging you toward one another but because we live in a world where success is often valued over purity, and we literally felt like marriage at an early age wasn't an option, we struggled all of the time. More about this next week because I have a lot of things to say about it and the damage this ongoing sin-struggle caused us during our early years of marriage, but for now just know that the sweetness of just being together for that first little bit was a grand gift.

And so was that first kiss, when it did happen. He asked if he could kiss me, I remember. And for two people who had been so enormously comfortable with one another for such a long time, there was a touch of awkwardness that made it all feel new all over again. We never really said that we were Josh and Emily again. We just - were.

See you next week for those last two years pre-marriage, which included a trip to Spain for me, a trip to Peru for Josh, and a middle-of-nowhere wedding chapel between Arkadelphia and Hot Springs.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Down and Dirty Truth about Marriage: All the Break-Ups

If it isn't already clear by the rolled bangs and baby face, Josh and I were, by almost every definition of the term, "late bloomers." We were church kids. Fly under the radar kids. Do the right thing kids. It's just who we were and how the chips landed for us. Or rather, it's how God laid the chips out for us. Let it be said, though, that I've always had a bit of a rebellious - streak feels like too strong of a word - itch. I've always had a rebellious itch and, quite frankly, it had never been scratched upon meeting Josh. Let's be real - it's never really been scratched.

All that to say, there came a day in high school when I began to feel restless in Josh's and my relationship. It wasn't that I ever stopped liking him or enjoying his company or thinking he was all around a really great guy. It was simply that I grew bored with being "Josh and Emily." I had never dated anyone else, really, and I liked boys. I thought there was something appealing about a great deal of them. In some ways, it is for this very reason that I feel grateful for a magnet-like attraction to Josh - who doesn't have a rebellious bone in his body...well maybe a tiny little toe bone or something. In this way, I think God protected me from being a boozer and a floozy. I'm just being honest.

Regardless, I broke up with Josh several times in high school. I don't really remember a lot about those because they were short-lived and happened mostly just because we were getting on each others' nerves. Not long after we married, I got so frustrated with him I (sort of) jokingly said, "If we weren't married, I would so break up with you right now!" Over the span of about a year, I was all, "Josh is cute but so is that other guy over there. La, tee, dah!" I broke his heart into pieces because I wasn't as invested as he was at the time.

Like a stay at home mom and her yoga pants, though, I couldn't stay away from the comfort and perfect fit of Josh. Getting back together, after all, was the MOST fun!

By the end of our senior year, though, I was all in. I was wild about him - probably too much so. He had become my entire world, and we were both planning to go to LA Tech. Obviously we were going to get married. Obviously. He would join me while I babysat for our youth pastor's kids. I would imagine all sorts of scenarios that involved him as the father of my children. I kid you not. I so wanted Josh to be my baby-daddy beginning at the age of 17. He, however, was oblivious that I had such plans. He just liked hanging with me and the Fiscus kids.

Sometime during the late fall of our senior year in high school, it became clear to me that I really wanted and needed to be at Ouachita Baptist University. It is one of the only decisions I remember making separate from Josh. I knew what making that choice meant - that he would go to a different college and our relationship would get very tricky. Still, I felt a very clear pull to attend OBU. So, one night on the phone I was gearing up to break the news when Josh said, "So, I've been talking to mom and praying about it, and I think I need to go to OBU." I could've died. DIED. Well, it was all set. We would date through college, get married, and live happily every after. Hooray!

Sugar lumpkin.

Sophomore year. In the era of boy bands, Josh very clearly was on his A-game. Ammiright?
Remember that bit about being late bloomers? Well, Josh got to college and BLOOMED. Suddenly, he was no longer awkward-but-pretty-cute-in-a-goofy-way Josh. He was becoming sort of beefy and very dreamy. He was carrying himself differently, and he had friends apart from me. There were girls - so many girls - that begged for his attention without any effort of his own. He very clearly did not need me, while I felt that I very much needed him. It ultimately culminated in a nasty break-up in which I asked him if he loved me, and he said he didn't know. I was devastated. My sister, Molly, and my dad both offered to kick his butt. It's what we do for each other in times of devastation - we offer to wail on the offending party without actually intending to do so. Well, except Molly. She really would do it.

Regardless, we were broken up for about six months. We dated other people. Watching him with other girls is, to this day, one of the most painful things I've ever experienced emotionally. But, as God always does, He used that time of brokenness in me to breed something new - a vibrant, honest, growing relationship with Him. Suddenly, I found myself desperate to know Jesus more, and willing to let go of Josh if that's what He wanted for me. I reached a point when I was able to pray that Josh would find someone better for him than me, and that's when I knew - this beautiful business of knowing Jesus beyond what I could offer Him, and beyond what He would give me, was something I wanted more than I wanted Josh, and that felt enormously freeing and empowering.

Really, that's what everything comes down to in every piece of our relationship today. Do I want to know my God and make Him known more than I want anything else? More than I want an easy marriage? More than I want my own way, dad-gummit? Really, really more than anything? Because if that is true, marriage is still crazy hard, but staying in it isn't a hard choice. Staying in it is the only choice.

I'm so glad for those 6 months of heart-breaking loneliness - when I almost transferred schools but didn't. When I built incredible friendships and scratched just a teensy bit of that wild itch and laughed hard and sang loud to songs about my Jesus, all without Josh. He would always matter very much to me, but God gave me a grand gift when He forced me to discover Emily apart from Josh. I would need those glimpses for later on down the road.
Sophomore year with some of my dearest forever friends - Vanessa, Christen, and Katy. We built a friendship that looked and felt more like a sisterhood that remains to this day!

Remember that wild itch? This is about as crazy as I got...playing in the Ouachita fountain with Sarah and Katie. Bless it. I don't even care. We laughed until we cried that night!

Now, lest you think that I was - or am - the poor wronged party, we BOTH dated other people and had fun doing it. And next week you'll get to see Josh in all of his romantic glory! He really is a champ at grand gestures. The way he won me back will impress you...promise!

Can you see the way God has woven threads of HIS faithfulness through your marriage story?

New to this saga but want to read all of it? I'm so glad. You can find the rest of it here!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Book Review: Real Artists Don't Starve

It's Book Review day!

I have read each of Jeff Goins' books. I started with You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One)It came as a recommendation from my friend, Stacey Thacker, at a time when I was just beginning to explore writing with intention instead of just as a sort of online journaling practice. At that time, I had one two year old, and that is all. How different life was then! If only I had capitalized on all the time I didn't think I had! Regardless, Jeff's words gave me a good, forceful kick in the pants. I began to play with what it would feel like to actually CALL myself a writer.

Every book of his after that has inched me forward in my knowledge and calling of being a creative and, specifically, a writer. Wrecked helped me process passions and "discovering yourself" while still developing responsibility. It helped me think about a sense of calling and the things that I am inexplicably impassioned to do. The Art of Work helped me think about my life as a whole - and how every piece of it - even, maybe especially, the stretches that feel like stumbling around - are contributing to my calling and place in this world.

When I discovered the title of his newest book, Real Artists Don't Starve, I immediately placed my pre-order. We are at a place when I really need to contribute to the family income but I also still need a flexible schedule that allows me to be available to my kids. Additionally, I want a job that I don't hate. I'm doing a few odds and ends things, but I really want to be able to create for a living. So, if Jeff had a plan for helping me do that, I was game.
The point is not to make a fortune or become famous, but to do the work. We are all looking for a way to share our gift with the world without worrying about making a living. That means getting paid more than once for our creations. It means building a life that allows us to keep creating. - Jeff Goins, Real Artists Don't Starve
The reason I love Jeff's writing style is that he manages to motivate without sounding like a motivational speaker. I don't have anything against motivational speakers, but they really aren't my jam. Jeff manages to weave compelling stories with helpful advice, creating a very easy read that makes you honest-to-goodness want to get moving...and have a reasonable idea of how to take the first step. This, as a writer, I know to be a rare gift set!

In this particular book, Jeff takes us on a journey through the centuries, uncovering the stories of ancient, successful artists from all sorts of fields as well as "average Joe" creatives who have managed to make art and not starve in today's "New Renaissance." It's enormously interesting and inspiring - as well as unexpectedly practical.

If you have ever wanted to be a creator in any form or fashion - or suspect that you just might be a creative deep down inside - go get this book. It's a fun, inspiring, and most importantly, thrillingly practical. You will fly through it and then want to get started making art and not starving!
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