Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A Real Love Story: When Life is Hard

The #RealLoveStory series is not done! I'm shifting away from discussing relationships specifically and talking about personal details that will affect relationships.

If I know nothing else about life, I know this: it is hard. It doesn't matter what stage you find yourself in, there will always be hardships, there will always be pain. And when there is an unknown to why bad things are happening, it can make you want to give up.

I've never been a quitter, it's just not in my nature. The first time I thought about suicide was in high school. I didn't think there was any end to the pain that I felt. At that age I was dealing with more things than the majority of people realized. Inside, I was depressed and confused, I felt invisible, unlovable, like I was drowning and couldn't come up for air. Outside, the smile and sass hid the knowledge that I was ugly, geeky, and dealing with abuse from classmates. I contemplated ways to end it. Who could live like this?

The first time I felt real, complete rejection from someone I thought I loved was in college. It was one of those rejections that came without an explanation. The attention and relationship just stopped in silence. It felt like searing pain to see this person, and to walk away without knowing what was wrong. Was it me? It must've been me. I wasn't pretty enough or good enough, and he didn't want me.

The first time I felt truly, completely alone, was after I moved to Colorado. I got dumped two months into moving there and I had no one. No family to fall back on, no one to help take care of me. The pain of losing a relationship I thought would lead to marriage was compounded by the vastness of my separation from all that was familiar. Like the mountains I passed every day, I felt like I was alone in a wilderness of confusion and pain. I looked for ways to numb it because who cared what happened to me now?

Life has been a series of painful pricks, like a needle repeatedly pressed into my skin. Whether it was betrayal by members of the church body, bad choices that led to worse decisions, rejection by those closest, or the feeling of being unacceptable, there has always been pain. And the reality of life tells me, there always will be pain. But somehow, I'm still here. It's a choice to live life in the midst of hurt, it's a choice to go on when you want to quit, it's a choice to overcome.

I don't like to let a bad experience go without getting something good out of it. One little shred of goodness, that's all it takes. I have to learn from it, I have to grow. I have to find the redemption. Maybe it takes years, but I am determined to always make the bad produce something good. These are some of the things I've learned from pain.

Don't give up.

Life can seem really bad at any given time. Friends and family will fail you, your spouse will fail you, and sometimes, you will fail. Life may feel like a dark pit you can't climb out of and it may seem like it's been years since you've seen the light of day. There will be seasons of desolation, of depression, of loneliness, of pain. Unfortunately, that is the nature of life and humanity.

But no matter how hard it gets, I'm telling you now, in writing: you are never  allowed to give up. It's easy to just see what's here, what's now. We can only see this moment and what is past, but we can't see what's ahead. There may be even harder times ahead, it's true, but there will also be things that you won't want to miss, that you shouldn't  miss. It's true that this world needs you, the people in your life need you. You have something to give, to contribute, and a story to tell.

I know it's not easy, but resolve in the good moments to fight through the bad. Hold onto that resolve. Know that you are strong, you will overcome. Life will change, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse, but you can do it. Find a small group of close friends to come alongside you in all that life brings. Friends who will remind you of your worth and value, their love, and that life will get better again.

God uses broken people. 

I think a lot of times we put pressure on ourselves to get things right, to look like we have it all together. There's this unspoken belief that we're "better" if we have a handle on our lives, if we project an image of perfection, and if we don't have any big-time screw ups. But if you dive below the surface, you'll see that's not really true. The truth is that broken people can be used for big things.

There are a lot of really screwed up people in the Bible. They're some of the most prominent characters--King David slept with another man's wife, then had him killed; Abraham passed off his wife as his sister; Rahab was a prostitute in a pagan city; King Solomon was a sex addict in love with many women. I think these individuals show us that God has used and continues to use imperfect people. David was called a man after God's own heart. God made a covenant with Abraham, and Abraham's belief in God was credited as righteousness. Rahab became one of five women included in Jesus' genealogy. Solomon asked God for wisdom and was given insight greater than all of Egypt. These people weren't perfect, but that didn't negate them from great things in service to God.

Don't let your past mistakes keep you benched. The best thing you can do is learn from them and let that knowledge equip you to help others and to live a holy life. God can use you, no matter where you've been, no matter what you've done, and no matter what's been done to you. You're never too "far gone" or too broken to do great things.

Understanding can come with time.

Sometimes we will never know why a bad thing happened. I don't have specific answers for why certain things happened to me in my past. In some cases I've just accepted that the sinful choices of others led to them inflicting pain on me or trying to use me. That's the nature of having freewill and the ability to choose wrong. It's painful, but I'm thankful not to be a robot.

In other cases, I've been able to see some good come from the bad or at least reach an understanding for why something happened. Sometimes it's the ability to connect with and encourage another person, or the opportunity to see that it was a good thing a relationship ended. It comes back to that decision to work hard to find the good in the bad. If I make a mistake, I want to learn from it. If something happens to me, I want to find even a tiny spec of good that could come from it. It's a choice to not let the bad things win.

Don't expect to find good or understanding right away. Don't ignore the pain or try to avoid being sad. But don't stay in sadness forever. Let people in who can help you and who need you. Look for something you can learn. Begin to search for the good that you can take back from the bad. Maybe some things will never make sense, but don't let that stop you from making the world a better place for someone else.

Thanks for checking out the #RealLoveStory series. If you have an idea for a topic, question or comment, please leave a comment below or email me.

Friday, February 12, 2016

A Real Love Story: About Marriage

In this post I'm continuing the #RealLoveStory series by writing about marriage. This isn't a post about MY marriage, but what I've learned about marriage throughout my life. I feel like I wrote this post for myself as much as I wrote it for anyone else. I need to remember what I've written here as I walk through life. 

Leading up to writing this post, I kept questioning what I should say about marriage. I'm not an expert. I've got two and a half years under my belt and that's it. Not much of a resume. But I do have a knowledge of the Bible, which is where I think we can get the simplest and best marriage advice.

We get input on marriage from all kinds of sources--family, friends, media, entertainment, the list goes on. I feel like a lot of information is misguided, or just straight up wrong. A lot of times the potential or imagined negatives are highlighted over the positives. Marriage is often downgraded to a boring life stage in which people struggle with child-rearing and a non-existent sex life.

In reality, marriage is the opportunity to partner with another person to exemplify God's design for relationships and family, and to also model Christ's relationship with the church. It's an opportunity to make your life a living picture of sacrificial love, humble servanthood, unconditional respect, and life-long commitment.

So in short, marriage is quite possibly the hardest thing you will ever do for all the right reasons. It can turn you inside out, changing you into a man or woman dedicated to God's call to live out a model of the Gospel. It can change your life in places you never knew existed and become about more than society's view and definition of marriage. The challenge is to keep the main thing, the main thing.

Marriage is an enormous responsibility.

When you enter into an institution ordained by God, you have the responsibility to honor that institution in the way God has designed and instructed. When it comes to marriage, couples have the responsibility to know what God says about marriage and to exemplify His commands through their relationship. And should you think that's simple, easy, or possibly boring, check out what Ephesians 5:22-33 says about it:
Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of the body. Now as the church submits to Christ, so wives are to submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word. He did this to present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless. In the same way, husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own flesh but provides and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, since we are members of His body. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church. To sum up, each one of you is to love his wife as himself, and the wife is to respect her husband.
This is the type of lifestyle married couples are called to by God. A life marked by selfless acts of submission, love, sacrifice, care, commitment, unity, and respect. It's a life against our natural inclinations, truly opposite of ourselves. But committing to a godly marriage means committing to God's instructions for marriage. It's committing to living out marriage as defined by God to the absolute best of our ability.

Marriage is selfless.

You can't exemplify the marriage described in Ephesians 5 and live selfishly, it just doesn't work. Those acts of submission, love, sacrifice, care, commitment, unity, and respect are all selfless actions. In fact true, Biblical Christianity is a call to selfless living, from submission to Christ to the building up of the body of believers. That's why the Bible talks so much about dying to self. To live as Jesus lived, to honor God, we have to put ourselves aside. It's no different with marriage.

Society does a good job of helping us focus on ourselves. Even the way marriage is presented is selfish. It's about what we want--to spend our life with the person who makes us happiest, who adds the most to our existence. And if that doesn't work out, scrap it and look for someone who is better. There's no challenge to move beyond selfishness, to be more concerned with the needs of our spouse than our needs. But that is exactly what the Bible calls us to--to live counter-culturally and selflessly in marriage and in life.

Marriage is serious business.

A wise person once told me, "Marriage is like a business transaction." I think that's a great picture for capturing the seriousness of marriage. It's not just a fun, flippant thing. It's a serious decision that will affect you in more ways than you'll know. It's a decision to merge two lives of two individuals in a life-long commitment and union. This will be the person with whom you will do life, who you'll share a bank account with, who will be a parent to your children, who could squash your spirit or elevate your worth.

It can be easy to act on your feelings, but when it comes to marriage, it's best to think logically, just like you would in a business transaction. Take the romance and sentimentality out of it and decide if this is the person with whom you truly want to become one. Ask yourself if this is a wise decision, one that will bring about the best for you and this other person. Are the qualities and character of this other person ones that you want to see lived out in your life together? Take the time to think seriously about marriage before you enter into it.

Marriage is not an island.

I've watched a lot of people get married in my life. I've watched a decent amount shut out many of their friends after they got married. Unfortunately, some couples adopt an "us against the world" mentality. Or think they don't really need friends any more. While your marriage and your spouse are huge priorities, and your spouse should be your closest friend, I think it's a mistake to shut others out of your life.

People are designed to be relational, we need  each other. We don't stop needing other people when we get married. Things may shift, but we still need strong friendships to help us navigate life. I am so thankful for friends--single and married--who have helped keep me focused, encouraged me, been there to listen, and challenged me with different perspectives. Each friendship is so unique and valuable, whether it's another couple walking a similar road or a single girl friend I've bonded with over shared experiences.

Friends can help keep you accountable to your marriage commitments. Friends can give you that outlet you need when times get tough and you need to talk it out. Friends can remain more objective than family can when you and your spouse are having a disagreement. Friends keep life interesting. And your friends need you. After you get married, they don't check you off their list. They want to maintain that friendship; they need you just as much as you need them.

Marriage is a journey.

Marriage isn't just a picture-perfect wedding. It's not constant romance, a piece of cake, or an instant success. It's not about sex or the perfect house or never having an argument. It's made up of two imperfect people, which means that struggles, fights, issues, and disappointments are going to happen. You're going to do something wrong, you're going to fail at something, you're going to make mistakes, and so is your spouse. Marriage will include hard times because it happens in real life.

Marriage is a journey, for you on your own, for your spouse on his or her own, and for both of you together. It's a journey toward becoming the best spouse you can be, and remembering that the only person you can change is yourself. It's about forgiveness, constant  forgiveness. It's about patience, attentiveness, growth, and being willing to adjust yourself and your way of thinking. It's walking alongside someone, whatever may come, and vowing to stay beside that person at all times.

You don't have to try to be perfect and do it all, because you can't be perfect, and you can't do it all. But you can work on one little piece at a time. You can learn from others; you can put aside your selfishness; you can focus on your spouse; you can make time to do the big, important things and the small, special things. You can work toward the person you need to be and the marriage you want to have. The biggest key is to never give up. Never stop working on yourself, on your marriage, on your journey.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Real Love Story: Friendship First

This post is a continuation of the #RealLoveStory series in which I'm telling the truth about love, relationships, and marriage. As we're heading into a holiday focused on romance, I want to write about love in real life.

I die a little bit inside every time I hear someone dismiss a relationship because they're "too good of friends" with someone to start dating them. Whoever sold that lie should be forced to publicly rescind it. It was probably the same person who coined the terms "fall in love," and "follow your heart." These ideas have been misguiding people for years and it's time to make it stop.

I grew up hearing that you should marry your best friend, but I never really understood what that meant. It can be hard to comprehend something when you can't get a solid picture of it. Society makes love look like sex, romantic helicopter rides, and unreal moments that take your breath away. It's a pretty sad picture when you hold it up to real love. Sadly, real love doesn't get the representation it deserves.

The first time I finally, fully understood what "marrying your best friend" looked like was on a trip to Dallas to visit my best girl friend. She had recently married her best guy friend from college, a relationship that was platonic for a long time before it finally turned into a romantic relationship. That time of friendship set a solid foundation on which they could build their marriage. And their marriage was hands-down one of the most desirable marriages I've ever seen.

Strong friendships are the most underrated determinant for lasting relationships. The world instead likes to look to appearances, chemistry, and again, feelings. All things that are nice, but can and will fade with time. Friendship, however, spans oceans and decades, fights and family crises, beauty and pain. It is through friendship that we learn how to be there in the best of times and the worst of times. It's where we learn to give of ourselves for another, despite their deepest, darkest secrets and hidden wrongs. It is where we can know and be known for who we are right down to our soul.

Friendship is a level beyond romantic feelings and pretty faces. It takes us to deeper levels of intimacy than sex alone. It is stronger and more fortified than temporary attraction. I maintain that friendship is the singularly best way to build and form a relationship that leads to marriage, and this is why.

Friendship leads to knowing and understanding someone.

Who doesn't want to be known and understood at their core by the person they're going to spend their life with? Friendship is the gateway to truly knowing someone for who they are. Friendship often removes the barriers that we put up in romantic relationships because we're not worried about impressing anyone. We're just ourselves, and when a friendship forms, we're enabled to continue being ourselves because we know we're liked for who we are.

In my friendship with Nick, I felt free to admit to who I was. I knew if things ever turned into a romantic relationship, I'd rather he know about my past mistakes before things got too serious. I figured he should know what he was getting into. Having six years to get to know each other, we didn't have a lot of questions going into marriage. We knew we were like-minded on important things like family and marriage, religion and theology, life goals and expectations. It was an awesome transition to go from being long-term, close friends to being in a relationship.

Friendship leads to reliability and loyalty.

I don't know about you, but I am loyal to a fault to my friends. I don't care what the situation is, I will stick up for any friend who is being mistreated. I am always going to be on their team, supporting them to the best of my ability. Friendship teaches us how to consistently be there for someone, not just in the good times, but also the bad.

Having that as a foundation will absolutely help in marriage. You want to marry someone who will always be in your corner, loyal and dependable. You want someone who will show up, everyday, and fight for your relationship. Loyalty in friendship can be stronger than loyalty in romance, when feelings can fade and desires can change. Friendship can help you weather those storms.

Friendship leads to commitment and dedication.

Similarly to the point above, friendship compels us to remain dedicated to the people we are close to. There is a desire, not a compulsion, to remain a dedicated and true friend. That leads us to sacrificing some of our wants and desires for the betterment of our friendship. Friendship can help you stay committed to your spouse in the hard seasons when you may feel tempted to stray. If you can't walk out on a friend, you can't walk out on your spouse who is your friend. That close, friendship-level commitment can help you keep the vows that you make on your wedding day. The ones that go, "for better or worse, in sickness and in health."

Let's be totally honest here for a moment. Life can get boring. Marriage can get tiring. It's not always exciting and full of romance and good feelings. There are absolutely dry seasons where you're just waiting for something good to happen. There are days when all you do is watch TV on the couch in your pajamas and never see the light of day. In those times, you want to be spending your days with your best friend. You want to be able to enjoy life as it is, stripped of all the excitement and hoopla. Regular old life is still special when you get to spend it with your closest and dearest friend.

Friendship leads to acceptance.

Friendship teaches you to accept someone for who they are, not who you want them to be. There's typically no pressure to try to change for someone because in friendship you can simply be yourself. Granted, there can be times when you want to impress a potential friend, but usually that's not a solid, deep friendship. Solid friendships typically form around the people with whom you are most comfortable, and able to show your true self. These types of friendships enable us to be vulnerable, to open up about struggles, fears, and insecurities. They teach us how to be present, to care for others, and to listen, all qualities that contribute to a solid marriage.

Friendship is solid in the midst of trials.

Hard seasons and difficult times are often what rock marriages. And it's understandable, many of life's hardest experiences can come about during that season of life. It can be hard to communicate, to understand, and to stay strong in life's hardest times. A foundation of friendship can help you weather the impending challenges you will face. You've already learned how to communicate, how to remain loyal and committed, and how to understand your spouse. No, it won't be easy, but you can come out stronger as a couple.

Nick and I have only been married for a couple years, we haven't faced huge, earth-shattering challenges yet. But we have had to overcome some obstacles early in our marriage that would be tough for anyone to deal with. We had to tackle getting married, moving in together, losing a job, getting a new job, moving to a new city, losing two more jobs, financial struggles, health issues, and getting another new job, all within the first year of marriage. It was challenging most days and I struggled with identity a lot that first year.

I was thankful that Nick and I had already learned how to be there for each other in challenging situations. We had spent a majority of our relationship long-distance, which taught us how to communicate well. We had helped each other tackle different problems that sprang up in our lives when we were just friends. And with the time that it had taken for us to finally reach the point of marriage, we knew this was right and were ready to fight for each other.

I don't think our lives will be perfect from this point on. I don't think we'll be a perfect couple and never encounter marital problems. So please don't read that in what I've written. But I firmly believe that friendship, after God, has been the biggest factor for the good that has happened in our marriage. I want other people to experience the benefits of a marriage built on friendship, which is why I am and will continue to advocate for it.

Thanks for checking out the #RealLoveStory series! As always, I welcome your feedback and questions. If you have a topic you would like to see covered, you can suggest it below or shoot me an email.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A Real Love Story: Single and Sitting Here

This post is a continuation of the #RealLoveStory series. In this series I'm sharing the truth about love, relationships, and marriage around Valentine's Day. Today I'm writing on the topic of singleness.

I think I've come to my blog over a dozen times to write about singleness. Some posts have gotten published while others have been scrapped (mostly because they were too snarky, go figure). I think this is a sensitive topic, one that can bring a lot of pain, and also carry a lot of misunderstanding. I'm coming at it today with the following perspective:

First, I hated singleness. I was always on the lookout for a new relationship, vowed to never turn down a date, and even tried online dating on three separate websites. I always thought I would marry young. As a kid, I told my mom I was going to get married at 18, she told me I could marry at 35.

Second, I married "later" than the majority of my friends. I was one of the last in my friend group--at that point in time--to marry and I married at a later age than many people I knew. (For those who are wondering, I was 27.)

Finally, now that I am married, I think I can bring a unique view to the discussion as one who walked the road and can now look back on it. I haven't forgotten what singleness was like, and I haven't forgotten the feeling of married people talking about singleness. So I'm asking that you give me a chance to present my point of view as shaped by my experiences.

When you look at singleness from a Christian perspective, there are lots of different views and voices adding to the noise. Some people think singleness was the thorn in Paul's flesh, even though he elevated singleness. Then there are those who believe if you have a desire for marriage, you will eventually marry. Still others say that if you are called to singleness, it doesn't mean that the desire to marry ever goes away. Then there are the married people who talk about how great singleness is, that it's a high calling, an opportunity to be a better servant of God. But it's always hard to listen to them because they're married.

Here's what I know about singleness, the place where I've spent the majority of my life up to this point. Singleness is, at any given time, the hardest place in life to be. It can be lonely, scary, and depressing. It can also be liberating, fun, and exciting. It can keep you trapped in fear, or freed to pursue new adventures. Singleness can be whatever you decide to make of it.

I don't want to ever diminish the challenges and pain of singleness, but with this post I hope to encourage you. I'm writing what I would tell myself, if I could send a letter to the past. If I could just impart a little bit of wisdom to the me that a few short years ago was single and sitting there, waiting for something to finally happen.

Don't wish for someone else's story.

There was one girl I knew in college who had seriously the best  relationship story ever. It was perfect, from the handsome guy, to the dates he would take her on, to how he proposed. Perfect. I would constantly catch myself wishing her story could be my story. Wishing, as in praying to God to please, please, please  make something like that happen to me. I wanted her story to become my story.

Looking back on that, I can honestly say I'm so thankful that God said no to my desperate pleas. Because as good as her story was, having my own story is even better. And that's the beauty of how God works; He weaves together so many different stories for each of us, full of their own unique beauty and wonder. While we're walking them, they're often confusing and hard and we can't see an end to the pain. But there are little moments in life where God enables us to see a piece of what He's doing.

I love my story not just because it involves love, romance, and my husband, Nick. It also includes some really bad decisions, pain, heartbreak, and depression. But I can honestly say I wouldn't wish any of that away. It's what makes my life unique. It enables me to connect with people in new and varying ways. It enables me to relate to the struggles of life and offer encouragement. It helps me build up a community, to give of myself, and to hopefully encourage the people I encounter.

You have an amazing story and only you can tell it. Embrace that--flaws, disappointments, triumphs, and all. Don't wish it away, and don't try to change it. Simply seek to live it well and come alongside others who need to hear what you have to say.

Make the most of your time.

Some of my best seasons of personal growth came about because relationships ended. (See this post from five years ago for some of the details.) I was forced to become self-reliant, to adapt to real life and it's challenges. In those seasons, I learned a lot about myself as a person and became more independent. I refocused and reminded myself what I truly wanted out of life and where I wanted to go.

Singleness can be a great season to find out who you are and become who you want to be. It can be a time to take risks, tackle new challenges, and venture out on your own. You have the space and freedom to really do whatever you want to do.

I spent a lot of my singleness focused on the future: seeking new relationships and hoping for marriage. I was always expecting what could be waiting around the corner. The few times when I simply lived my life were truly sweet times. I wish I had focused on that more. I wish I had been a little more invested in knowing myself and my life as it was. At the same time, looking back, I'm thankful for that season of my life.

It's hard to appreciate singleness when we don't want to be there, or when we don't see an end in sight. My advice is, as much as you are able, look for ways to enjoy and make the most of that season, however long it may be. Just like Annie Dillard says, "How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives." I urge you to spend your days well. If you're not sure where life is going or where you should spend your time, seek God on that. He will direct your path.

Don't rush into marriage.

I feel like I've made this clear, but let me just state it again, I spent all of my singleness longing to be married. From childhood I looked forward to when I would finally get married. I was pretty single-minded in my pursuit of and desire for marriage. So just keep that in mind while you're reading this.

I am a huge supporter of getting married "later" in life. And not by choice, but by circumstance. When you experience something for yourself, you get to learn first-hand the benefits. And because I got married later in my twenties, I could experience and appreciate the benefits of marrying at an "older" age than many of my peers.

The benefits of getting married later, for me, included having time to really get to know myself. That helped me learn what I truly wanted and needed in a spouse. That helped me make better decisions when it came to relationships. It also helped me transition into married life when it came to expectations, hopes, and plans. It also helped me not look to my spouse to fulfill me or complete me, because I had time to learn that I was already complete and fulfilled in Jesus. I also had time to learn practical life skills, like how to pay rent, manage a bank account, care for my car, pay my taxes, and generally be an independent adult, not relying on family for help.

I'm not saying you can't learn or do these things if you marry young. I'm also not  knocking getting married young. But I am saying that if I could go back and do it over, I wouldn't change a thing. My marriage with Nick was, praise God, a seamless transition. I don't think that was completely due to our age at marrying, but that certainly helped. We were more mature, wiser, kinder, and more loving than our 22-year-old selves that had dated back in college. We had an understanding of ourselves and life that enabled us to move into a strong marriage focused on a common goal. (I'm planning to write more on our marriage, so check back for that later!)

Regardless of when you marry, I do want to advise you, don't rush into it. Take the time to discern (with your brain and logic over emotions and feelings) if the person you want to marry is the person you should  marry. If this is what God has for you, that person won't go anywhere. If you need an example, look at Nick and me. It took six years from when we met for us to finally realize that we were supposed to get married. Patience in relationships is never a bad thing and can lead to blessings down the road.

Don't give up hope.

If you are desiring marriage, I want to encourage you to not give up hope. I do believe that God gives us desires for a reason. I don't think it's sinful or wrong to want to be married. Just don't let that desire take the place of God in your life. It can be easy to put our wants on a pedestal and focus on them solely. Don't abandon hope, but don't make it your idol.

There's no quick-fix for singleness or marriage. People like to throw around little sayings like, "When you stop looking, you'll find the person you're meant to be with." Those are a load of garbage, sorry to say. There's no magic formula to ending singleness. In my experience, time was what it took for me to be ready and for marriage to become a part of my life. There were days I feared it wouldn't happen for me, but there was always that spark of hope. Don't stop hoping for the things you desire, you never know the moment they will enter your life.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

A Real Love Story: Debunking Relationship Myths [Part 2]

Today I'm continuing my "myth debunking" in the #RealLoveStory series. If you missed part 1, you can find it here. I'm tackling some of the myths we believe or that culture sells us about love, relationships, and marriage.

I'm not good enough for anyone. (Or because of my past mistakes no one will love me.)

I don't have to know you to tell you that's a lie straight from the pit of hell. You have immense value and worth that isn't based on appearance, performance, or past mistakes. (Please see this past blog post for more on that.) Not only is this fact, but I know because I struggled with this myth for years.

I always thought there was something that made me "not good enough" to be in a relationship. Whether it was something physical that I just knew no one could look past, or a slew of past mistakes, I thought there was a good chance no one would love me. But over time I learned to accept who I am and I chose to learn from my mistakes, which changed me for the better.

This is another great opportunity to surround yourself with friends who will build you up and walk with you through difficult times. I had some awesome friends who lifted me up when I struggled with mistakes and helped me see that I could overcome them. And when it came to dating and eventually marrying Nick, one of the ways I knew he was the right one was in how he responded to my insecurities and mistakes. He didn't hold them over me or cut me down, but encouraged me and loved me with grace and kindness.

If I give into his/her demands, everything will be okay.

Um, no. First of all, if someone is pressuring you to do anything  that you don't want to do, that is wrong. They're not respecting you or your boundaries and that's not going to change if you give in. These types of people are typically manipulative, and can be really good at it. So good that you might not even realize you're being manipulated. But if you're at all feeling like you need to or should do something you don't want to do, that's not okay. It doesn't matter what you're being told (like, "If you love me, you'll do this"), you should never compromise your boundaries.

The truth is that the right person, the kind of person you want to be with, won't push you to compromise. He or she won't pressure you do to anything you're not comfortable with, but instead will respect your boundaries. What type of person would you rather be with, someone who accepts you for you who are, or someone you pressures you to compromise? Don't sell yourself short. Stay true to who you are and in the long run, the right person will absolutely appreciate that about you.

Marriage should be easy. (Or a good marriage is easy.)

I'm not one of those people who goes around saying marriage is hard. I feel like enough people complain about how hard marriage is, I don't need to add to that noise. But I also want to be realistic and tell you that marriage takes work. It's a fallacy to think that marriage is simple or easy or that you can just skate through. A good marriage take time, care, and lots of effort.

Think of marriage like a garden: the more time you take to care for it, tend it, and water it, the more beautiful it will become. It will grow, flourish, and thrive. But it's not without work. You'll have to remove weeds, things that will creep up in your marriage that shouldn't be there. You will have to invest time that you may want to spend elsewhere. And you will have to be vigilant against people and things that may want to harm your marriage or tear it down. In short, marriage is what you  make it.

When I find the right person, I'll always feel in love. (Or I'm waiting for a certain feeling.)

I was totally a feelings-based person for a long time. I put so much stock in how I was feeling that I would start or end relationships based solely on that. But here's the thing, feelings are always changing. Love--real love--is not a feeling, it's a choice. It's a decision you make when you find the person you want to spend your life with, you choose that person as the one person you'll love for the rest of your life.

When you enter into marriage, you make vows. In those vows you promise to remain with someone throughout life's uncertainties. I've never been to a wedding where people promised to love each other as long as they felt like it. But the sad thing is, that's how a lot of people act. I know a lot of factors go into divorce, but a big one is people claiming to have fallen "out of love." You don't fall in and out of love, you choose  to love or not to love. You don't stop loving someone just because one day you don't feel especially loving toward them. To stop loving someone is a choice you have to make.

This brings me back again to the fact that marriage takes work. Since love isn't a feeling, it takes effort to love someone. It takes time, dedication, sacrifice, selflessness, and sometimes hard work. It means putting more stock in your vows and decision to love than in your feelings or lack thereof. It means tending that garden of marriage, watering the grass where you are, not looking for something better on the other side of the fence. If you're not ready to do that, then you're not ready to get married.

I hope to unpack some of these topics further within the #RealLoveStory series. Stay tuned for more upcoming blog posts! In the mean time, if you have a question, comment, or myth you think I should tackle, send me an email or leave it below in the comments.

Monday, February 8, 2016

A Real Love Story: Debunking Relationship Myths [Part 1]

If you missed the introduction to the #RealLoveStory series, you can find it here. In short, I'm vowing to share the truth about love and marriage around Valentine's Day. To start, I'm tackling some of the myths we believe or that culture sells us about love, relationships, and marriage.

I think our view of love and relationships often gets distorted by the myths we buy into. We learn about love from those around us, and usually the loudest voices are the ones getting it wrong. Whether it's TV and movies or our childhood friends, growing up our sources on love aren't always the best.

Take it from me, I grew up on Disney and even that's not safe. I had two awesome parents with a strong marriage, but I wasn't there for the beginning. So I looked to the examples I found in the films watched endlessly. They were full of stories of beautiful people suddenly stumbling upon the person of their dreams, with whom they sailed off into the sunset. Ahh, romance!

It took me a while to adjust my thinking. I wasn't actively aware of my belief in the "Disney relationship," but over time I came to realize just how much it had affected my ideas of love. I was always looking for the beautiful, perfect person to complete my world and validate me as a woman. Thankfully time and some unignorable wake-up calls drew me away from that mindset and toward the truth.

I know I'm not the only person who has been fed a myth about love and marriage. No doubt our preconceptions play a larger role than we realize in how we view relationships. So today I want to take some time to debunk a few myths that I have believed or observed.

A relationship will complete me. (Or make me a better person, make me happy, etc.)

I think one of the most important things you can do before getting into a relationship or getting married is to know yourself, well. Because here's the thing, who you are before  dating/marriage is who you'll be when  you're dating/married. So if you're not happy with who you are, if you aren't complete as a person, or if you think you need to improve yourself, a relationship won't do that for you. It will simply magnify those issues over time. And they will come out.

My advice is to take time to really get to know yourself and appreciate the things that make you who you are. Honestly, that was one of the best parts about getting married later than most of my peers (even though that wasn't really by choice). I had time to experience life, to grow up, to learn some important lessons, and to become content in who I am, just me, by myself. It was a gift that I didn't ask for and definitely didn't appreciate until after I got married.

And after marriage, you don't go away. You're still you and you need to make time for yourself. Full disclosure: I had a mini identity crisis after getting married, moving, leaving one job and losing another all within a few months. The best thing I did was take some time to focus on and do the things that I loved. It helped me realize I'm still the same person, I still have the same passions, interests, and talents and I need to take time to do things I enjoy.

I have to find the perfect person and when I do, our life will be perfect.

I definitely bought into this lie (thanks again, Disney). But in reality, we can't expect anyone to be perfect because no one  is perfect. And two imperfect people together can't expect to have a perfect life. I think sometimes we get this idea that "happily ever after" is real and once we're married life becomes this amazing, wonderful thing. Don't get me wrong, there are some really amazing, wonderful aspects of being married, but life is never perfect.

Rather than looking for someone perfect, I think it's more important to work on yourself. Become the type of person you'd want to marry. At the end of the day, we can only change ourselves. And like the first myth, no one can make us happy by being the perfect spouse. So work on the qualities you want to possess and wait for someone who also embodies those qualities.

And since life is never perfect, I recommend choosing someone who will be able to take on the challenges and struggles of life with you. If life is challenging before you're married, it will be challenging after. Bad things don't stop happening, in fact sometimes they get worse. So rather than hoping for a fantasy land of perfection, look for someone who will support you, fight for you, and tackle life's difficulties with you.

I can change the person I love. (Or he/she will be different after we're married.)

This ties right in with the previous myth; unfortunately, you can't change anyone but yourself. So expecting that marrying someone will make them better, or that you'll be able to change them over time, is a myth. In fact, it's more realistic to assume that whatever you don't like about someone will actually get worse with time. I know it sounds harsh, but I think it's better to have a realistic picture of what marriage will look like than to enter it with unrealistic expectations.

The truth is, when you're married, you can't hide your faults any more. When you're dating it's easy to project your best self and try to mask your flaws. After marriage, you're spending virtually all your spare time with this person, you're living together, you're using the same bathroom and sleeping in the same bed. Besides not having the time and space to try to disguise faults, they're typically magnified by increased interactions, conflict, and problems that will arise.

So while no one is perfect, if there is a major issue you notice in someone, don't ignore it and don't fool yourself into thinking you can fix it. To be totally honest, it may be time to move on, because you should never convince yourself of the next myth...

No one else will love me. (Or I'll never be able to find anyone better.)

Two words: never settle. Ever. It doesn't matter if you think there's no one else out there or even if you've been told that, it's not true. If you know this person isn't the best person for you, if you're even a little unsure of whether you should get married, don't do it. At least give it time and don't make a rushed decision.

Culture and even the church has done a bad job of putting marriage on a pedestal. Granted, it is a really great and amazing thing, but so is singleness. There are challenges to both just as there are positives to both. If you're willing to settle just so you won't be single, I think we need to have a chat. (Also, please revisit the first myth.) Settling for someone who isn't right for you is a huge mistake. It will affect you in ways you can't begin to imagine and will lead to a lot of heartache.

If this is you--or you think it could be you in the future--I recommend surrounding yourself with friends who will speak truth into your life. There is no better way to tackle the lie of "no one else will love me" than by filling your life with those who know you and love you. They will lift you up and give you honest feedback on your dating choices. Plus their outside, unbiased opinion can help give you balance.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

A Real Love Story: Sharing the Truth About Marriage

Recently I came across this post on the Humans of New York Facebook page. It contained a photo of an older gentleman holding a copy of Shakespeare's sonnets, and his thoughts on love. I read it, liked it, and didn't really think much more about it. The words written there resonated with me, but it wasn't until later--after reading a blog post about divorce--that I returned to it.

There was truth written there. It wasn't overly profound; it was simple, yet beautiful. I realized that parts of what this gentleman had said were true of my marriage. I could see our lives in what was written there. It was real, every-day life, and I loved that.

I've only been married two and a half years, I fully admit I don't know much about marriage and love, but I am learning. I walked a long road leading up to marriage in which I needed to correct my skewed view of love, formed by what culture had painted for me as "normal" or "expected." I'm glad I had that time, that I married "later" and was able to correct my ideas and views before entering into marriage.

I think we do a lot of disservice to marriage, and to singles, in the pictures we paint and the stories we write about love. It's always so unrealistic, so picture-perfect, so necessary. We set people up to feel like failures when their marriage doesn't mirror the "perfect ideal" of love, or when they don't marry. And where does that lead? Frustration, anger, disappointment, fractured relationships, identity crises, maybe even divorce.

I don't want to be one of those types of people, who pretend it's all roses and aren't honest about real love and marriage. I don't want to paint you a picture that looks perfect, but isn't real. I want to be honest, I want to write truth, I want to stand up for real love and marriage. Because real life is what we all live, and though it is messy and scary and hard, it is also beautiful and amazing.

So this year as Valentine's Day approaches and our culture focuses on love and relationships, I'm vowing to honestly  write about marriage and love. I'm vowing to go against culture and share the truth from what I've learned, seen, and experienced when it comes to relationships. And I'm encouraging you to do the same.

Stay tuned as I continue the #RealLoveStory series and share some more posts on this topic in the coming days. If you have questions or a topic you'd like to see covered, let me know! You can leave it in the comments, or email it to me. (If you don't want your name tied to your question, let me know and I will share it anonymously.) 

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