5 Years and Counting…

There are many aphorisms about marriage. It is an ancient custom, and yet still people debate its meaning, its value, its purpose.

In light of the gospel, it is an image of the unconditional and perfect love that God has for us, portrayed by two imperfect souls. It is through marriage that I have found how complicated and deep and painful and wonderful love is.

Love means trusting each other long-term. It is having your partner text someone back while you are driving with no fear of what they might see (a real shocker for my teenage students). It is not freaking out when life gets difficult and you have every reason in the world to freak out except that your partner asked you to trust him.

I see love in the simple things Chris does for me, such as killing spiders or taking out the trash, and in the selfless things that seem big to me, but he makes seem simple. He supported me in getting my allergies and my spine figured out, even when we were on a limited budget. When we got a new car, he insisted that I drive it. When I’m overwhelmed by work and life, he holds me, feeds me, and tells me it’s okay to feel those things. He managed our finances so well that, despite my doubts, we were able to purchase a house, shortening my commute to work and increasing my sense of safety when he has to be away for work.

I see love in the way he recognizes the things I do for us, acknowledging that I chose to follow him to a new state, and supporting me building my career by staying in Arkansas for his doctorate, although we did consider moving again (and it would have been easier for him, had we done so). He is grateful when I help him with car maintenance, shopping, and keeping up with our social engagements. He tolerates my dorky, punny humor, and feels like home when everything else doesn’t.

Yes, we have disagreed, yelled, and cried, but the important thing is, we have always done so knowing that no disagreement could ever separate us permanently. Love is a choice we make each day, to choose each other over everyone else.

I love when people notice we are for real life partners. It makes me smile when others are encouraged because of how we treat each other. We may seem “boring” to some people in the way we live our life together, but that’s because we are setting the marathon pace; true love is not fast, easy, or flashy, but rather steady, strong, and ever-brightening.

These first five years have set the trajectory of our marriage, and I’m delighted to say that we are both pleased with the direction in which we are going.

I love you, Chris Topher! Happy 5th Anniversary!

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You are ’16, Going on ’17…

Happy New Year! I’m apparently addicted to cheesy titles, especially if it’s an allusion to a musical, so you are welcome!

Since last year, I realized that I did 15 things for 2015… and then did 15 again last year for consistency. Therefore, I will learn from my errors and do 17 things, still categorized and briefly presented for your perusal (and to try and keep the years straight).

5 Cool Things I/We Did This Year:

  1. Traveled to Puerto Rico for a work conference for Chris in February. We snorkeled, hiked the rainforest, and ate amazing food, all with wonderful friends. #friendcation2016 was a blast!
  2. Traveled to Dallas for our anniversary weekend (4 years already!), traveled to Tennessee for my cousin’s wedding, traveled to Iowa for the family reunion, and hiked around Arkansas in the Spring and saw some awesome waterfalls. I also went back to Dallas in September for a bachelorette party and had a blast. I feel like I’ve spent the majority of this year in a car, going somewhere!
  3. We had our first garden since we now own a home! The tomatoes took over, I found out lettuce in a box is work-intensive in Arkansas heat, and we had so many cucumbers!
  4. I mostly got the hang of long-boarding (skateboarding) over Christmas break with my husband and his siblings. This is impressive if you understand my default level of coordination. Maybe I will work on surfing more next year haha!
  5. Remember that gym I joined last year? I spent this year struggling and getting back into a gym routine. It was suuuuuuuper slow and difficult getting started (May, June, July), but I’ve been fairly consistent since August and am loving it again. We go early in the morning, but I have adjusted… mostly.

5 Things I have Learned This Year:

  1. Cut out the things that cause you excess stress and/or change your perspective. Let go of things you can’t fix. If someone you love is not ready for change, love them anyway and pray they will come to the conclusion on their own. You can absolutely love someone and not agree with their life decisions. Leave work at work and unapologetically ignore your phone/email in favor of family if necessary. Stand up for yourself if you are being overtaxed. It is OKAY to have boundaries, and just because someone else is sacrificing more does not mean you have to do the same. Be you. Be happy with being you because boundaries allow you to be your best self. Be grateful for what you have and continue to work hard without stressing.
  2. Rejoice with those who are rejoicing, mourn with those who mourn. Everyone is on their own, perfect life schedule. Don’t compare, just be happy where you are and connect with others wherever they are, and whatever they are learning. Still be content with what you are learning, even if others can’t relate or don’t want to hear it. BE PASSIONATE AND AWESOME ANYWAY!  Related: send out New Year’s cards if that project you were supposed to finish in November takes over your life… start projects sooner and focus more on doing rather than deadlines all the time.
  3. Enjoy the glorious now! It can be painful or beautiful or both, but live it for yourself; after all, the present only happens exactly once… as it happens… and then it’s gone (according to our chronology anyway).
  4. I am much happier with a workout routine. It reduces my stress and anxiety immensely. Also, please be my fitbit friend. I like the motivation to move more frequently!
  5. Teaching is terrifying and also the best thing for me. I had a rough last school year and spent some time over the summer reevaluating my life decisions and taking a break from everything. I didn’t teach summer school (as I had the past two summers), and I seriously considered a different career path. What I ultimately concluded was that the year was awful and that, as much as test scores and society would like me to believe, students do not always reflect what teaching they have received. There are many times I am concerned that I’ve overlooked a student or said the wrong thing at a crucial moment out of my own weakness and frustration, but what’s awesome about teaching is that I get to know students over time, and by getting to know each other, we build a trust and a bridge for learning. I frequently feel paradoxically that I am comfortable teaching and have soooo much to learn. Ultimately, however, I still feel as though teaching is my calling, and I am in education to stay. Working through those things is a wonderful affirmation.

7 Goals for 2017:

  1. Keep going to the gym.
  2. Practice Yoga 2+ times a week
  3. Incorporate more brain breaks or small fun things that complement students’ learning
  4. Accept that I don’t know a lot about what the next few years will look like yet, and that is awesome if you really think about it.
  5. Attempt a garden again, only plan a little better
  6. Enjoy the last full year we are for sure in our awesome house in Arkansas.
  7. Discover new perspectives by observing, asking questions, and doing new things.

I made it to 17 and it’s only 1 AM! Happy New Year!

Spring

Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you furious? And why do you look despondent? If you do what is right won’t you be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door, its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.’ -Genesis 4:6-7

This verse has been written on my heart lately. In my latest season of winter, I have been furious and despondent in seeing how others flourished when I did not, despite knowing full well that I was not doing what is right.

Sometimes moving toward spring is slow. You would think a native Iowan (even southern transplanted) would know about this. It does not happen overnight. I began by trying to read the Bible again. I am really bad at it.

But I’ve kept on crawling toward God’s Word. This passage was from the first day I tried again, and it showed up today in my reading app as well (I’m going through the latest series from http://www.shereadstruth.com).

Today was the first moment of clarity I’ve had in a long time. It is as though many pieces were revealed to me at the same time. There are still so many things in life that are chaotic, concerning, and irritating, but there is a peace beyond it all that has spoken to me once more.

Here is to hoping for many more springs and moments of clarity to come.

Pep Talk

Now is the summer of your life (both literally and figuratively)!

You should go to the gym. Not because you’re fat, but because you’ll feel better. I promise.

You pay for the gym (regardless of how little you have used it lately).

Don’t be sorry. Be proud you are making a comeback.

Yep, Zumba class can be a comeback.

 

If it’s not a good fit, there are other gyms, classes, options. It’ll be okay.

But seriously- you are out of excuses not to get out and enjoy your life!

Go get it, girl!

UPDATE: I did it! Loved it! Remembered how encouraged I feel post group fitness classes.

 

And it wasn’t Zumba; it was a sub. who did Pound. Yup, I’m still coordinationally challenged, but it was fun using plastic drums sticks to hit stuff while working out.

Teaching Myself

Below is a post I wrote on Facebook on May 24th, 2009. I was 20 years old. It is wonderful how God knows that I am the most effective person to persuade future me. Perhaps 7 years did not hold what I thought they would, but I am willing to love God without my terms. I am grateful for His pursuit of me.

When people talk about fasting, the first thing I think of is abstaining from food to spend time praying. I think of the people in the Bible described as putting on sackcloth and ashes and looking tortured, or of the kind of monks that torture themselves to be “truly penitent.”

However, this morning when I opened up to Isaiah 58, I got an entirely different picture. (see text here).

Verses 2-4 describe Israel as “eager to know my [God’s] ways,” yet they aren’t following God’s ways. They have the same initial concept of fasting as I did, yet it doesn’t really affect their lives. Instead, on the same day they are supposed to set aside for God, they pretty much do what they want, quarrel, and treat other people poorly.

I think of all the times not spent in prayer that I’ve argued with my siblings, or snapped at people for nothing they have done.

” 4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.”

Ouch. You ever have those days where you feel like God isn’t listening? I have found time and again that usually that means I have some sin in my life I haven’t dealt with. Even time spent praising God can be silly if your heart isn’t in the right place or there is someone with whom you have unfinished business (think Matthew 5:23-24).

So what does fasting mean, if we’re to fast to grow spiritually? We are challenged in verse 5 to consider our standard definition of fasting, with what God actually intends for us to gain from fasting in verses 6-7:

6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?

7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”

wow. These are some bold statements. “loose the chains of injustice,” “set the oppressed free and break every yoke.” They’re not even proper statements, but questions, begging Israel, begging anyone who professes to follow God to evaluate how we are living.

Are we living for the kind of freedom God provides? Is it a lifestyle or a lip service? Is this choice to follow God reflected in your daily life? Are you ignoring your own family when it comes to serving others?

That alone should challenge our mediocrity, but one of many amazing things that God does is to promise benefits to living this way.

8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness [a] will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.

9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.

11 The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.

God sincerely wants to be there for you- He loves You unbelievably, but He doesn’t want to love you on your terms, when it’s convenient, or in the ways that you might like because He wants to EXCEED all of your expectations! The question is, are you willing to let Him work in your everyday life?

Untruths and Truths

Let’s have a little chat (I use this line on my sophomores all the time).

Realizations of untruths:

  • Sometimes, you are not the kind of person who is meant to think like many other people.
  • As much as you would love for your mother to be right, not everyone wants to get along or be your friend.
  • If you are searching for fulfillment in friendships and relationships, they will be uncommon, but cherished.
  • If you are looking for affirmation from peers, you will not be satisfied.
  • Not everyone wants to hear hard truths; in fact, this is difficult even with very close friends.
  • Maturity will make you boring to many people. Smile, accept the bliss of boringness, and rest assured that you will have a lovely long life (and enjoy retirement), even if you and your husband drive vehicles that total 43 years of life and love each other.
  • It turns out, your dad also was incorrect in saying that all adults are expected to be responsible; there is no such standard, but it is helpful for you to be an adult.
  • If you find yourself feeling isolated, remember that no man is an island, and every great mind worries about connecting with the universe.

Some truths:

  • It probably doesn’t help that on top of having an odd personality, you are aware of the truth of a higher power, and cannot escape its reality or implications in your life if you tried (which you have; He won that battle of will).
  • People will misunderstand you, despite your attempts at explanation. It’s okay. You tried.
  • Don’t doubt the call of your life, even if it seems mundane or simplistic. It is not a matter of what you do, but the heart you put into it that impacts others.
  • Be introspective enough to figure out the root of your frustration, and bold enough to address it head-on and banish it from your life.
  • For goodness’ sake, LET PEOPLE GO! Do not demand the same from them as you do from yourself. Accept change. Trust that good people will come and go from your life and love them freely.

Gatsby Green

I’m teaching this novel right now, and Thursday is St. Patrick’s Day, so all these random thoughts in my head seem significant and connected.

Gatsby Green: is it money? Is it the evasive light at the end of the dock?

I am green with envy. But all I can think of is that I don’t want to live a life that is overwrought by my expectations. I am not willing to sacrifice my personal integrity in pursuit of ill-gotten gains. I am not willing to pin my hopes on the ephemeral.

A little less cryptically, I have been thinking a lot about how often things that we intend for good become corrupt when we are reckless in our pursuit of them. But I am so passionate that I tend to run toward everything when I need a good marathon pace.

Ironically enough, I have been running toward everything but Christ lately. Sometimes it’s a simple track like this that is enough to slow me down and help me focus: https://soundcloud.com/olivia-mckinstry/transfixed

Truly, apart from the Lord I have no good thing. Green is also symbolic of growth; it is springtime when things leave dormancy and come alive.

Psalm 16

Protect me, God, for I take refuge in You.
I[a] said to Yahweh, “You are my Lord;
I have nothing good besides You.”[b]

The sorrows of those who take another god
for themselves will multiply;

Lord, You are my portion[c]
and my cup of blessing;
You hold my future.
The boundary lines have fallen for me
in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

Sweet 2016!

Nothing says New Year’s celebration like a gimmicky moniker! I just read last year’s post, and I’m pleased to inform the general public that I am slightly less jazzed and have noticed a shift in this first year north of 25.

In keeping with jazzed Rachel’s spirit of tradition and improvement, here are 15 things total about 2015.

5 Things I did this year:

  1. We bought a house 🙂 I cannot extol the benefits of breathing room and adequate windows enough!
  2. I traveled on a train for the first time from Iowa to Chicago to see my dear friend Peggy and her family.
  3. I was a personal attendant in my brother-in-law’s wedding (and Chris was a groomsman). We are thrilled to have another girl in the family!
  4. I went to Florida twice (in August and December, the same as last year)
  5. Joined a gym. Now I need to start going again haha…

5 Realizations:

  1. It is so important to make time in marriage to catch up on business (both financially and emotionally). I need to say what I need to say.
  2. My husband is still amazing. He takes care of me when I’m sick, always wants to problem solve and move forward, helps clean the house (especially during the school year when I’m swamped), figures out how to financially coordinate our incomes to get a house despite my doubts, and impresses me with his diligence and humility. He earned his Masters degree this year, but took it in stride and will not be walking until his doctorate in a couple of years. I love him more deeply daily.
  3. Overall, this past year has just seemed like a difficult season for me and moreover, for many of my friends. What encourages me, however, is that it is often these times that lead to greater growth. I am looking forward to that and patiently pressing onward.
  4. I work with some interesting and awesome people! I love my teacher tribe at SHS! It is great to know people who have your back and are willing to help out in times of trouble. In many ways, my co-workers have been virtually my best friends in Arkansas because they are friendly, loyal, and hilarious.
  5.  Chris also works with some awesome people! What a blessing it is to have co-workers (and their significant others) who are in the “We’re all still in school/grad. school and not having kids yet” stage of life. We are so looking forward to traveling together for an upcoming conference!

5 Goals for 2016:

  1. Live in the now. Accept each day and make the hours work for me. This means making time to accomplish chores, working out, planning things for others by strategic living. It is not an accident that I woke up alive today.
  2. Stop saying dumb things. Easily said, difficult to attain.
  3. Start saying more things when they matter to me. I’m surprisingly adept at being stunned into silence when overwhelmed.
  4. Hit the gym, but don’t be shocked that I’m not 20 anymore. I’m still doing great, but healthier eating/muscles are always a plus.
  5. Grow a garden and master basic home canning. Come at me, backyard!

Some thoughts on Christmas and Examination of Self

It is still December 26th, so I am still processing Christmas while in my far-removed from snow Floridian location.

I am not Lutheran, Catholic, or Presbyterian(or any other Advent-celebrating denomination), but I love the season of Advent. It is filled with joyful expectation of the celebration of Christ’s birth. It reminds me that there is One worthy of expectation, and that God’s love is faithful and complete, even over centuries and to present-day. It is that He promised and then gave His Son, Jesus Christ, as a complete gift to the world.

If you have time, I’d watch the WHOLE ENTIRE THING, but if not, enjoy just this selection from Handel’s Messiah:

I love choir music because it is one of the most eloquent forms of musical expression. It is timeless and bigger than oneself; a lot like my view of God. It is very difficult not to respond to the music once enveloped in it.

This year has still been a part of one of the most difficult seasons yet. Although Topher and I are accomplishing things (buying a house, building a teaching career, completing a Masters degree), we are still struggling with this land that is both the majority of our married life together so far and not yet completely settled down into careers and beginning a family.

Not having kids yet is extremely difficult some days because I feel that it is something I have been meant to do since birth and am so close to it (yes, I’m the more ready of the two of us). It also doesn’t help that 3/5 of our small group is pregnant with their first child or are contemplating subsequent children or that I am surrounded by friends who turned into “SUPER EXCLUSIVE MOMMIES” who forget how to talk to non-childrened friends.

Not having kids yet is extremely convenient because I can spend roughly three weeks of my summer traveling footloose and fancy free while my husband works in the broiling fields of Southeast Arkansas. I can take lots of naps, enjoy my 20-something figure, take up new hobbies (canning is next), teach summer school for half-days for 3 weeks, enjoy a reasonable amount of disposable income, and decorate our new home with NON-child friendly decor. This is the golden season. It means we can travel to exotic locales, sleep in, and eat pancakes on weekends. It means I can get sick and ignore EVERYONE and EVERYTHING and miserably recoup on the couch in solitude. You guys, we don’t even have a fish or a dog to hold us back.

All in all, I am blessed. I have an excellent job. My husband is literally getting paid to attend graduate school. God’s love is constant when I am moody, irrational, and sad about being babyless. God’s love is constant when I have had enough; He doesn’t get fed up, He just keeps accepting me under common grace.

 

This, my friends, is enough to be utterly thankful for.