Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Do you and Shaun fight?

“Do you and Shaun fight?”

People ask me all the time if Shaun and I fight and honestly I struggle to answer because the question itself is a vulnerable one and I feel pressure not to say the wrong thing. I can’t help but try to guess why they are asking. Maybe they are in a relationship of their own that involves a lot of fighting and they are trying to determine whether or not fighting is okay. Maybe their parents fought a lot growing up and so now they would rather stifle their relationship issues than end up yelling about them. Maybe they strongly value fighting as an important part of relating and if I say that I don’t fight then I am revealing an apparent flaw in my marriage. I also wonder if they use the word “fight” to mean “disagree” or “argue”, because to me those terms are very different, but to others they can often be one in the same. When I imagine fighting I picture yelling, screaming, name-calling, storming out of rooms, the “silent treatment”, ignoring each other, and saying hurtful or malicious things. So to answer the question of whether Shaun and I fight. No. We don’t. We haven’t “fought” yet in our almost 7 years of dating, engagement, and marriage. We have disagreed plenty of times, and we have hurt each other’s feelings plenty more, but we have not fought. 
Shaun and I are naturally pretty laid back people, so exploding isn’t really our style anyway, but the main reason why we don’t fight is because we decided long ago that we wanted a healthy loving marriage and so fighting just doesn't fit our vision.  This understanding has motivated us to be intentional about the way we go about our communicating, and it has helped us to navigate our way through times of conflict. 
There are a few practical things that have helped Shaun and I maintain a healthy, loving, explosion-free marriage and I thought it could be fun to share them with you. I am not writing as a professional wife or a professional counselor. I just share this stuff the same way somebody shares a yummy recipe, knowing that in a couple years the recipe will be modified a little upon discovering newer better ways, but for now what we have here is something great and it is my delight to pass it on just as it is. I am speaking in the context of marriage but feel free to pull this stuff apart and apply it to your friendships, dating relationships, and even the way you relate to family members or coworkers. 
Always Assume Love.
A few days before we got married in 2009, Shaun’s older brother Jason gave us the advice to, “Always assume love,” and that little piece of wisdom has proven to be incredibly valuable to us. Assuming love is significant because it goes against our natural tendency. When our spouse says or does something hurtful, our initial reaction is to assume the worst, we immediately conclude they meant to hurt us or that the reason behind their action was something negative like selfishness or laziness or a lack of love for us. But when we are committed to “assuming love” then instead of jumping to conclusions we are able to respond to our spouse’s action with grace and calmly communicate what hurt us. Assuming love gives our spouse the space to explain themselves and even to make mistakes, as opposed to assuming the worst which puts them on the defensive and causes the situation to escalate quickly. This principle allows for conflicts to be resolved promptly and it also diffuses potential fights before they happen. I try to live by this principle in all of my relationships, not just marriage, because I am convinced it makes everything way better.

Let God be God.
This part might be the most important advice I can give you, but I’m putting it on here second because I learned it second. Obviously if you know me at all then you know I’m a believer in God and more specifically a follower of Christ. I strongly believe that God is the One in whom we are to place our trust
Well before getting married I knew that it was my responsibility to trust God with meeting my needs, but something tricky happened after Shaun and I tied the knot, it became extra tempting to look to Shaun, instead of God, to be my source of fulfillment. When I felt insecure I wanted Shaun to make me feel beautiful, when I felt unhappy, I wanted Shaun to make me feel better, when I was scared or upset or struggling with anything, my initial response was to look to Shaun to provide relief. This is a problem because Shaun, like me, is just a person. He has issues like I do, and even on his best day, he can’t be everything I need. As much as Shaun’s encouragement and support is vital in our marriage, if I revolve my feelings around his words or actions then our relationship quickly becomes imbalanced and unhealthy. The other problem with me acting like this is that I start to assume that Shaun should just know what I need or what I feel, and since he doesn’t (because he isn’t a telepathic mind-reader) then I end up offended most of the time because he keeps failing to meet my expectations. That’s no good. 
God knows what I need. God knows my thoughts. God desires to be my source and His design is that both Shaun and I look to Him to satisfy the longings of our hearts. As His love permeates our individual lives, then we will both find strength to love each other in the best way possible. When we aren’t relying on each other for peace or security then we can enjoy each other and really support each other when one of us is struggling. If my peace and joy come from Christ then when Shaun is stressed I can encourage him, pray with him and even help him to get organized, because I am not relying on him to make me feel good. But if I am looking to Shaun for my joy then when he is stressed I end up stressed too, simply because I am reacting to his attitude. 
Letting God be God means that we live in response to who God is and we love in response to how God loves. “We love each other because he loved us first.” (1 John 4:19)

Take Care of Yourself.
I won’t take long on this point because it’s obvious and because this is a blog post, not a novel. So my point here is simply that we love better when we are healthy - physically, spiritually and emotionally. This means that we do our spouses a huge favor when we take care of ourselves and communicate our needs. Sometimes Shaun needs to skate because he has spent all day working on a computer or sitting in meetings and by the time we are having dinner he feels like he might go crazy. Sometimes I need to read and write because I feel emotional and need time to process what I feel. Sometimes we need a nap, or an extended break from hanging out with lots of people. Sometimes we need to read the Bible and get real perspective on our current circumstance. Sometimes we need a date or time to have sex, other times we desperately need to be around family. Whatever the needs are it is important to recognize them, talk about them, and help each other get them met. 

Friendship. Romance. Sex. 
These three elements are extremely important in marriage and if one of them is lacking it is highly likely that one or both of you will feel it. If there is a romance deficit in the marriage then it is usually the wife who feels it first, if there is a lack of relating sexually it is typically the husband who will notice, however it’s not always like that and really my point is not who feels it first but the fact that all three are needed to sustain a healthy loving marriage. 

Communicate Clearly.
I’ll close with this one because I really hope you don’t forget it. Remember earlier when I said that Shaun is NOT a telepathic mind-reader? Well it will serve us all very well to realize that none of us are able to read each other’s minds. Did you get that? You do NOT know what the people around you are thinking and they do NOT know what you are thinking either. You may be able to guess some of what they feel, you may even be able to discern a bit of what they are thinking, but mostly you do not know anything unless they have communicated it. Assuming that someone else knows what you think is a dangerous and unfair expectation. It is also an immature way of relating. Mature relationships require that both people involved openly talk about what they feel, need, and desire. If one of you has been hurt then it is not okay to assume the other person should know what they did wrong, because again, that reflects a lack of maturity. The hurt person is responsible to share specifically about what happened and allow space for the other person to explain themselves. Communicating clearly does not mean communicating loudly, yelling is not necessary in telling someone how you feel, even if you feel angry or hurt. Passive aggression is also not the same as clear communication. For instance if you continue to make plans to hang out with someone and they continue to cancel last minute, it is not clear communication to post a vague Facebook status about how much you hate being stood up. That is passive aggressive and it is not helpful in resolving your issue. Clear communication would look like calling your friend and letting them know directly that it feels hurtful or disrespectful when they cancel plans with you. 
I should also note that texting is not the best method to use when attempting to resolve conflicts. In fact I think its a really poor way to go about it. The same could be said about emails and facebook messages, any form of communication that keeps you from looking into each other’s eyes or hearing the sound of someone’s voice will be largely incomplete and leaves a lot of room for misunderstanding.
Clear communication in my marriage looks something like this- if I am feeling neglected because Shaun is out with skaters all weekend rather than hanging out with me, then instead of ignoring him or being irritable with him when he comes home, I can help us both by letting him know how I am feeling. Also if I “assume love” then I can assume he doesn’t know he is hurting me and then I can speak more gently to him when I am expressing why I feel badly. If I am really on top of my feelings I can actually tell him before the weekend that I desire to spend time with him. At that point he can tell me directly that he desires to do some skating. By sharing our desires we can make weekend plans that meet both of our needs and by Sunday night we can be snuggling each other and celebrating what an awesome weekend we just had. Sounds good right? I know. I think so too. 

Well that about wraps up “Relationship Advice 101 with Jess Hover.” I hope you are having a great week and if you have any further relationship questions feel free to holler at me by leaving a comment or emailing me at beautyarise@ywamla.org. Also for those of you on Instagram I hope to see photos of how you are choosing to #makedecemberbeautiful with @beautyarise! It’s only Day 2 and we are already having so much fun! Don’t miss out! 

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

some ramblings about a marching band and unity.

This morning I woke Shaun up by shaking him and excitedly squealing, "Wake up, wake up! It's almost a month until Christmas!" He laughed and called me a crazy lady and there is really no reason for me to tell you this other than just my sheer excitement about my favorite time of year. Don't worry for all of you Thanksgiving folks out there who think I'm moving too fast, I love Thanksgiving too and plan to thoroughly enjoy it, but for me Thanksgiving is just another thing to love about Christmas time. Ho Ho Ho. (Insert Santa emoji.)

Meredith and I are going to be spending Thanksgiving in Korea with our Dad this year. Crazy right? Thanksgiving in Korea! We only just found out about it earlier this month and couldn't be happier about our very own sisterly adventure to visit our good old Dad at his house. (PS. Dad, I know you read this blog and I don't really think you are old. Just good. :) ) Anyway my Dad has lived in Korea for years but I haven't gotten the opportunity to visit him yet, until now. I think there is something extra special about understanding what someone's life looks like close up. Especially someone you love with your whole heart. Shaun and David are going to be holding things down here in L.A. while we are gone. Shaun pretends he is sad about me leaving, and I know he really is, but I also know that he and his new brother-in-law (aka. one of his favorite friends ever) are going to have an awesome time eating way too much food and skating day and night with our jolly Calling All Skaters family. I threw "jolly" in there in an effort to start making things sound a little more merry because like I said before, Christmas is almost a month away already and there's no time to spare. 

On my way to the coffee shop today I walked by a high school marching band practicing outside their school. It was wild and squeaky and I literally burst out laughing when I heard the sound because it was so... eclectic. The sound wasn't pretty, not even a little, and I tried to imagine what they were doing. Maybe they were warming up? Or maybe they were instructed to make an ugly sound as loudly as possibly and they just happened to be following directions when I walked by? Maybe they were deaf? Am I even allowed to wonder that? ... So after I scolded myself for the whole deaf thing, I tried to listen more closely to see if I could figure out what was happening.

They were each playing a different sound. Some were playing songs, others just repetitive notes, and if I could focus in on one player at a time then it was actually really nice noise, though it was hard to separate the good sound from the chaos of every other sound. They were all playing their own song which made for one really bad symphony. but I could see that these band students were actually talented, which almost surprised me because of how awful they sounded at first. They obviously  knew how to play and the sounds they were making as individuals were really pleasant, but despite their personal gifts and abilities, their overall sound was a bad one. I'll even say more honestly that their sound was a repulsive and obnoxious one, one that made a normally kind-hearted person like me laugh out loud and rush away quickly before my poor ears started bleeding.

However when I got a little distance from the school and could hear myself think again, I realized something really valuable and it made me want to run back and hug each of those squeaky little band students. (I didn't, just in case you got nervous for them.) "Life! It is just like that marching band!" That's what I exclaimed excitedly in my heart. We are all talented and gifted and we all have the potential to make beautiful noise! But without relationships and unity and learning to collaborate with one another, we just end up being a crowd of sounds, an ugly herd of individuals attempting to play something lovely while those around us are feeling repulsed by the lack of solidarity in our efforts. We need each other! That's what the marching band reminded me. We function best with each other! When we remain disjointed individuals seeking our own gain and pursuing our own end, we miss out on the gift of relationship and ultimately other people miss out on the gifts we can give through our dynamic unity.

Not only do we need each other but we need a song! That was the other part of what I realized. We need a song to play, a rhythm to align our lives to, and oh how exciting it is to realize that we have been given one! We've been given clarity from heaven about what each of us is here to do! We have been given the song and it's the gospel itself! Our job here as believers is to magnify our God. We are to be little Christs on the earth, examples to the watching world of what it looks like to follow Jesus. We are to be healers and lovers and peace-makers, we are to be givers and encourages and hope-bringers. We are to live the Kingdom of God right here on the earth. That is our song and every single one of us has a role to play, we are not to do it alone, but together! Like how those band members played different instruments, we have different gifts, but the design is that we would use our gifts to make the song better!

Excuse the multitudes of exclamation points in this post but there has been some genuine excitement as I have realized again the importance of unity. Disunity is repulsive, like the sound coming from the out of sync marching band, but unity is attractive and wonderful, like the sound of the N'Sync Christmas album. Right? Anybody?

Anyway I'll finish with this. In 1 Corinthians chapter 12 God likens believers to a human body and states that each of has an important part to play. Scripture shows that God even knows we will be tempted to want to play someone else's role but He reminds us that our role is our own and it is desperately needed. He reminds us that no role is to be separate and disconnected from the rest, but they are to function together, working in one accord to accomplish the same goal.

God is so smart and His design is a good one.
We work together. We honor each other. We embrace our place. We make unity a priority.
And we buy the N'Sync Christmas album. Just because it's awesome.

And now for the trusty Bible...
"The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ... Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. 15 If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? 18 But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. 19 How strange a body would be if it had only one part! 20 Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. 21 The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” 22 In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. 23 And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, 24 while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. 25 This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. 26 If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad." 27 All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it." 
1 Corinthian 12:14-27

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And some photos from our recent trip to NYC & Connecticut! 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

My sister's wedding video.

Meredith and David got married this August and our friend Kate Cook made this gorgeous video documenting the day. She finished the video this week and I am SO excited to share it with you! 

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

a He & She list.

The other day Shaun and I were sitting together in a meeting and I started doodling this "He & She" list in my journal. He decided it was pretty fun and started contributing too. After we finished I liked it so much that I decided I would share it on my handy dandy blog.
And so here we are! I hope it is as fun for you to read as it was for us to make! 

He & She...
He is 28.
She is 26.
They met when she was 19 and he was 21.
He was born in Rochester Hills, Michigan.
She was born in Great Falls, Montana. 
He is a night owl.
She is an early bird.
He is logical. She is emotional. 
He is hilarious.
She thinks she is too.
They both love sushi and public speaking.
They also love breakfast burritos.
She walks. He rolls. (Get it?) 
She loves to throw parties.
He loves to attend them. 
He is afraid of spiders.
She is afraid of heights.
He is not afraid to tell a company when he is disappointed in their product.
She is not afraid to do outrageous things in public.
He has been excited about having children since they got married.
She is coming around to it.
She loves all things Disney. 
He thinks Disney is overpriced.
He loves getting a great deal and is excited about practical gifts.
She loves going to pretty places and is excited about extravagant gifts. 
They both love to talk about leadership.
They both love to travel. 
They both think cats and dogs are just okay.
(Actually he might hate them. But she is in denial about that a little bit.)
He loves to be active. She really does too.
They both love the movie The Santa Clause. 
They both love to do life with friends.
He drinks iced coffee with milk and one pump of hazelnut. 
She prefers sipping hot lattes through a straw.
They live in a church. But they are staying with family in Huntington Beach tonight. 
They both think you are pretty amazing for reading this all the way through. 

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photos by @sarahgrunderphotography. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

"hungryangrylonelytired." a word on contentment.

Every week I look forward to "Writing Day Friday". I think because it feels like an opportunity to make something beautiful, and after an especially strenuous week I find myself extra hungry for beauty. This week I am coming off of a Fashion Week outreach which, as always, is a glorious combination of total excitement and complete exhaustion. In Alcoholics Anonymous they have this thing called "H.A.L.T." which stands for "Hungry. Angry. Lonely. Tired." AA warns that if you find yourself feeling any of those things then you need to halt and use caution, because you will be more likely to be tempted towards bad decisions... which for the alcoholic is obviously drinking.

Shaun and I use "HALT" too. Whenever I am in the type of mood where my mind and emotions feel mushy like oatmeal and all I want to do is dissolve into the floor and stay there until next year, Shaun usually asks me if I'm feeling "Hungryangrylonelytired". Because for us it has become a one word thing. Sometimes we say it jokingly, sometimes for real, and this week has been a "Hungyangrylonelytired" week... for real.

I have this thing where every night I lay in bed and daydream about escaping. I don't know if that is right or wrong but I appreciate the comfort it brings me as I drift into sleep. I picture myself living in a home instead of a church. I picture shiny white walls and vases of lush pink flowers.  There are pretty paintings and a big chandelier and happy photos on the walls. I imagine a fun family and fun guests coming for dinner and I imagine that after dinner we all go for a walk. Some nights we walk to the beach, other nights we walk to an ice cream shop. I imagine having a tidy home in a beautiful location that smells good and feels good and looks good in photos.

Unfortunately waking up from sleep is slightly less comforting. When my eyes open I still live in a room at a church. My walls aren't white and my vases are empty most of the time because we travel too often for flowers to fully be enjoyed. The family in my home is made up of me and Shaun and anyone else who happens to be residing on the church floor at the time. Our meals are typically eaten on the go or at the Youth With a Mission campus and we don't go for walks after dinner because my skater husband would rather roll than walk, and because if I'm honest I'm usually lacking the motivation to face the traffic near our church. I think it's safe to walk where we live, but I prefer to do it when there aren't speeding LA drivers racing to get home from work. My room is rarely tidy and if we were birds then our room would be less like a nest and more like a branch that we stand on in the evenings to relieve us from the wing-flapping of everyday life.

Most days I really do like our home in the church and I really do like our life. I normally genuinely enjoy being the gypsy couple who travels often and has the gift of way too many friends. I also feel sincerely proud to have mastered the art of packing light because I remember how grueling that process used to be for me and it's not grueling anymore. But about once a month (hormones anyone?) I forget what I love about my life and all I can see are its apparent flaws. I want to see my wonderfully-hilarious-and-so-gorgeous husband but all I can smell are his yucky skate shoes. I want to see the adorable creativity in our almost entirely thrifted home decor, but all I can see is how cute my friend's houses are and how much I long for a space of our own. I want to see how cool is it that we have experienced so much of the world, but all I can feel is the chaos of not knowing whether I'll be spending next week in LA or somewhere else... or what country we will be in next year.

If you are rolling your eyes at me I understand. Why would I complain when I have so much to be grateful for? But it's always like that, isn't it? Other people are always longing for the things we take for granted.

The thing is that I know too much about God to wallow in my discontentment for too long. I know too much about His mountain moving power and about His "I-called-you-by-name" personal love and about the way He left Heaven to meet us in the depths of our brokenness to offer us a way out. Even though I am somebody who is quick to talk about God... which may also have something to do with the fact that I am somebody who is quick to talk in general... when I am going through my "hungryangrylonelytired" weeks I find myself doing less talking and more listening. My mouth glues shut, my ears perk up and my weary eyes look to Heaven pleading silently for some resolve.

"Remind me of Truth Lord. Remind me of Joy. Remind me You are near. Remind me that the God who saved me from the weight of my sin, can also save me from the weight of this week's burdens. Remind me what I love about this life. Remind me what I love about you. Remind of me everything beautiful around me. "

I don't speak the words, but my heart aches them, and I know He hears.

Faith that is detached from everyday life has never been interesting to me. Having a relationship with a powerless God who only cares about my church attendance and whether or not I stay married is not interesting either. I have already let myself down enough in this life and I would prefer not to acknowledge that I'm letting the Maker of the universe down too. But "hungryangrylonelytired" weeks remind me that the God I follow is better and nearer and more interesting and powerful than I even have the capacity to understand. The posture of my heart this week has been a bent over one. Like I'm a little child trying to carry something heavy and I'm falling down under the weight of it. But just as a mother rushes to the aid of her little one in pain, Jesus, the God called "Emmanuel" meaning "God with us", desires to be our ever present help in time of need. (Psalm 46:1)

All I really probably needed this week was a nap, or a day to rest and regroup, but it's comforting to realize that even before that happens, I serve a God who can handle my funk. He understands me. The Bible says He even knows the number of hairs on my head. He knows my dreams and my desires and though they may not all come true exactly as I imagine, I can be certain that His plans for me are good and my future with Him is full of hope.

My life is not my own. I was handcrafted by a Maker who calls me to contentment. He calls me to it regardless of my circumstances because He has made a way for it in Himself. Last night I asked my younger sister if she had advice for a "hypothetical person" struggling with "hypothetical discontentment" and without hesitation she gave me great advice broken down into 4 steps. Better even was that she spoke them compassionately, as a fellow struggler, which is my favorite type of advice-giver.

She said that her first step and last step are the same, be Grateful. She said it is most important to be thankful because usually being discontent is tangled up in being ungrateful, and God says in the Psalms that "we enter His gates with thanksgiving," which means gratitude is a sure way to enter the presence of God.

Next she said we need to assess why we are feeling discontent. Are we "Hungryangrylonelytired"? Are we being lazy? Are we heartbroken and need someone to talk to about it? Are we doing something that we know is disappointing the heart of God (aka sin) that we need to turn from (aka repent of)? Meredith said it helps to reflect on how we are feeling because processing it helps us to see the real need and be able to meet that need specifically.

Thirdly she said we need to do everything we can practically do to make the situation better. She suggested things like talking to a friend, stopping the cycle of envy we may have developed when we look at other peoples' lives, getting offline for a week... or longer, going for a jog, changing up our diet, getting plugged into a church, and disconnecting from the people or places that are making the discontentment worse.

Finally she ended where she started. "I think we need to be grateful again," she said matter-of-factly after going through steps 1-3. "Gratitude is the opposite of discontentment. Gratitude invites contentment."

What a smart little sister. So now I am taking my smart little sister's advice and turning this "Hungryangrylonelytired week" into a week of "Everything is okay." I still dream of living in a home one day, but for now our sweet little room at the church is perfect and cute and I love it. I still dream of lots of other things too, but today I choose to focus on making what I already have better and more beautiful. Envy won't get the best of me. Neither will stress. I'll probably still take a nap, and I'll probably use tomorrow to rest and recover, but I hope more than anything that I will choose contentment over escape. Being right here is good, even if right here is not exactly how I wanted it, because everything I need is here and His grace is sufficient for me.

May we have eyes to see the beauty that is all around us.

"Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." Philippians 4:12

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

some free relationship advice.

Last week was fashion week LA so my days were full and my "Writing Day Friday" was postponed. However in light of some recent conversations I have been having with some wonderful friends I want to share some free relationship advice. My advice is short and less than profound, but it's important and so I think it is worth sharing.

Be the type of person you want to date. 

Seems obvious right? If we want a person who is faithful then we ought to stop being the type of lady who flirts with everything that breathes, because a faithful man is looking for a faithful lady too. If we want a person who prioritizes family and has good morals then it's very likely he isn't the drunk guy hanging out at the club, which means we can go ahead and stop being the tipsy girl at the club, because "family & good morals guy" is looking for "family & good morals girl" and he knows she isn't the girl twerking in the club.

I am not encouraging us to base our lifestyles around looking for a significant other. Not even a little. But I am saying that singleness gives us an opportunity to become the very best versions of ourselves. We can take the time to develop our gifts, look for opportunities to serve others and pursue God like crazy. We can take risks that require great faith and we can jog and write letters and go to school. We can tell great stories and make gorgeous dinners for no reason and invite too many friends over for a girly movie and Thai food. We can do all kinds of wonderfully satisfying things that don't involve a special someone at all as we are being intentional about becoming the type of person we would want to date.

Anyway I'll finish with this... the idea of being the type of person you want to date doesn't stop at marriage. As a wife for over five years now, I am still trying to be the type of spouse that I would want to have. I want to have a husband who listens to me, prays for me, helps me fulfill the vision God has given me, reminds me of truth when my mind is bombarded with chaos, helps me with mundane life stuff, makes me laugh, and affirms me regularly... so instead of sitting around waiting for Shaun to do this to me... I do it for him first... because I still want to be the type of person I would want to date.

So that's my free advice on this Thursday. I hope it blesses you.

"Writing Day Friday" will commence tomorrow. I can't wait!

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Friday, October 10, 2014

trusting beyond chapter 2.

Ever since I learned to read I have loved to do it. I was the first one in my first grade class to read an entire chapter book and get my name on the wall. Remember that girl? Yep, it was me. Before I tried out for the volleyball team in 7th grade I went to the Colorado Springs library and checked out a book on volleyball. That's where I learned that the term, "shag your balls" wasn't actually sexual and didn't have anything to do with Austin Powers. When I was going to audition for Kathryn Grant's Dance Company at 15 years old, I went back to the same library and got a book about dance. Since it helped so much with my middle school and high school volleyball career, I was certain it would help with dance too. I ended up making the dance company before I finished reading chapter one, which was convenient because it started going into the history of ballet and I'm sorry to the historians and ballerinas... but it was completely boring. When I was 19 and wanted to learn about Jesus, I read books about Him. When I wanted to learn about marriage and leadership, more books. Today my preferred reading materials have expanded to include both books and blogs and I read more now than ever. I read for fun and I read for the sake of learning new things. I love it.

I am a particular kind of reader. I'm what you call a "read-the-last-chapter-of-the-book-if-it-gets-too-intense-to-make-sure-I-can-handle-this-part-of-the-book" type of girl. Did you get that? It goes like this, if I am on chapter 2 and the story is getting all twisty and my emotions are getting all twisty with it, I skip ahead to the end and read the last chapter, then if I like what I find back there, I return to twisty chapter 2, but if I don't like it, I set the book down and go look for another. Horrible right? A little bit. But it's my favorite way to do it. I think its because I am a deep feeler so the words on the page quickly become my reality, and if I am going to give myself over to experiencing something really intense, I need to know it will be worth it in the end.

There is something interesting I observed about myself recently though. I've found that its easier to not jump ahead to the end of the book if I trust the author. Take Shauna Niequist for instance. I think she is so great. Everything I have read of hers has blessed me like crazy. So now I am at a point where I am not even tempted to rush to the end of her stories because I am confident that she will not leave me hanging as a reader. If she introduces me to sadness or those twisty feeling I told you about, I know very soon she will also lead me to a place of hope, because that's what she always does and I like it very much.

Anyway I've noticed that my reading style is not so different from my lifestyle. I am extra good at enduring tough stuff when I can see the ending and understand why it will be worth it, but I'm prone to giving up if I can't see a promise of hope in what I'm going through. When I face something hard, all I want is to read the last chapter and know if the struggle I'm experiencing will lead to something redemptive and beautiful. The problem with life though is that most of the time the end of the story feels beyond reach, and when that happens I end up wanting to just close the book and start another, different, better story altogether.

I know that our favorite stories always involve struggle. The struggle makes the celebration at the end all the more exciting. We find ourselves rejoicing tearfully as the couple finally gets to be together, or the underdog finally wins the game, or the bad guy finally gets the justice he deserves. We endure those twisty feelings of chapter 2 when we believe that the ending will be a good one.

As I find myself walking through my own struggles without access to the last chapter of my story, I begin to consider my Author. Do I trust Him?  Enough to endure this? Because if I don't trust Him then my only alternative is to attempt to take his job, I move from being a character in the story to acting as the author of it. "My life, my story." Right? This mentality works for a little while until life inevitably reminds me that control is an illusion and at the end of the day I don't have the power to decide if my health will remain or my loved ones will live or even if the economy will be on my side. And if an "author" can't even control the variables in her own story, then she is not a very good author anyway. Which brings me back to determining whether or not I believe that the Author of my story is trustworthy.

The way I learned to trust Shauna Niequist was by reading her work. So naturally if I am going to decide if I trust my own Author, I am going to need to get familiar with His work.

His work. Genesis. The woman who endured decades of infertility finally had a baby. She was over 90 years old. The brother who was wrongly sold into slavery and unfairly spent years in prison, was eventually set free and made the leader of a nation. Exodus. Slaves miraculously set free from slavery. Their enemies defeated. Psalms. The pure-hearted man who is being attacked by a crazy, jealous, insecure leader finds peace, protection and promise. Isaiah. The people who disobey their Maker over and over and over again, are offered forgiveness and a new beginning. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. New beginnings. Always, always new beginnings. The dead girl miraculously restored to life. The slutty girl, given respect and dignity. The sick woman healed. The hopeless woman prone to hiding is given purpose and brings life to her community. Acts. Sick people healed. Dead people raised. Ephesians. Identity. Broken people restored. Poor people experience the riches of a meaningful life. Rich people experience the joy of generosity. Revelation. Every tear wiped away. No more sickness. No more heartache. New beginnings. Again.

All of that and I didn't even mention the part about sending His Son as Savior of the world.

His work invites me to trust. When I am tempted to close the book and start again, or when I wonder whether there is even really an Author at all, I remember His work and I choose trust. I choose to trust that nothing is wasted. I choose to trust that new beginnings are everywhere. I trust redemption is coming. I trust that struggle and heartache are opportunities for glory. My Author writes meaning into the mundane and purpose into the chaos and I trust Him. My Author writes peace into storms and life into barren places and I trust Him.

When I am tempted to give up and start again I remind my soul, or perhaps the Author reminds my soul, "Stay with it Jess. The page will turn. The twisty feelings in chapter 2 will be worth it. Trust."

Our Author promises hope. Always hope.

So we keep on keepin' on and believe together for an ending that will make the middle worthwhile.

In the words of everybody's favorite fish,

"Just keep swimming."

"Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." Hebrews 12:1-2

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(Photos by Sarah Grunder Photography.) 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

a little thankful list.

Because it's good to be thankful.
And I'm just in the mood to focus on the good stuff.

I'm thankful for:
1) Little sister Meredith. Last night we played tennis with our husbands and then we took on the adventure of going through her closets (yes plural). It's the best to hang out with her because she thinks I'm funny and I think she is funny and so we spend most of our time laughing at things that other people aren't laughing at. I hope if I ever have a daughter that she will have a little sister like Meredith.

2) The pumpkin treat section at Trader Joe's. What a delightful place. It helps me know that it is fall, even though it is 95 degrees outside. Also I should note their free sample section. We love those free samples.

3) Flowers. I just love them. Sunsets too. I think beautiful things that are created solely for the sake of beauty are the perfect reminder that our God is good. If He takes such care in forming the details of a flower, or in blending the perfect shades of pink into a sunset, surely He will take care of me and the details of my life. Pretty flowers and sunsets have sustained me on days when I'm feeling weak.

4) "Window shopping" on pinterest. It's so relaxing to mindlessly scroll through dream-homes and dream-outfits and dream... everything. I don't do it too much because I think I could accidentally waste my whole life on there, but from time to time it's my favorite.

5) Hearing my little 4 year-old God daughter Lily talk like a grown up. She doesn't always know what she is talking about but she still says everything confidently like the older people do. She started T-ball on Saturday and seeing her in uniform melted us. Her little sister Ella loves to shout "Shaun" when she sees him now. She also shouts it when she sees me and when she sees a skateboard. She says "Jess" occasionally too, but we think she has a crush on Shaun because his name is always followed by an exclamation point when it leaves her lips. It's okay with me. I have a crush on Shaun too.

Okay that's all for tonight. Time to go pick up Shaun from the skatepark! See you Friday!

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Saturday, October 4, 2014

poison & the f word.

Last week I Face-timed with one of my very best friends who is living across the ocean in a culture that is very different from my own. In updating me about her life and marriage and the various challenges she is facing in adapting to this new place, she said something adorable. I thought it was extra cute because English is not her first language and so she was trying to explain something very common but with her limited English vocabulary it came out like this, "Jess, I feel like there is poison in my heart. It came in there because people have let me down. They keep making promises to do things and then not following through on them. I know I need to get rid of the poison, but it is so painful."

a substance that is capable of causing the illness or death of a living organism when introduced or absorbed.

I never want to be someone who communicates ideas without living out what I say, which I happen to think is a very nice value and I respect others who share the sentiment, however I would have been just fine talking about the "poison" this week without having to experience it in my own life. But God doesn't work like that does He? He knows that real authority in anything comes not through talking about it, but in actually walking it out, and so this week the "poison" and I have been doing some walking together. Oh the joy.

The "poison" as my friend so sweetly put it, is the experience that happens when we have been hurt or offended. Whether the one who harmed us was intentionally malicious, or accidentally insensitive, it stings our hearts and we want to retaliate or hide.

That's what happened to me this week.

It wasn't just one venomous situation, but a series of almost unnoticeable ones working together like a slow drip IV leaking toxic ugliness into my system. The poison invited a mean skeptic to rise up in me. When they would say something nice to me I would question their sincerity. When they would say something insensitive I would take it personally and relive the moment in my mind over and over again, making up fake comebacks to put them in their place. Even their attempts to love me felt irritating and painful, like when your shoulders are sunburned and someone gives you a hug.

I've experienced the poison lots of times before this week too. Like when my exboyfriend made out with another girl during our relationship. Poison. Or when I overheard a family I loved talking badly about my little sister. Poison. Or when I found out a "best friend" was gossiping about me and spreading rumors. Poison. Or when I heard people making fun of my husband and accusing us of being dishonest. Poison.

There are worse ones too but you get the idea. The point is that when we get hurt by somebody the poison invades our hearts. Did you see that? It invades OUR hearts. Meaning the poison does not access the heart of the person who hurt us, but it most definitely gets inside our own.

It's the resentment that tempts us to stay silently offended, adding little tally marks to the secret sheet in our mind keeping record of everything they do wrong. Its the bitterness that causes us judge their motives and character, making us quick to assume the worst about them. It's the insecurity we feel, the hopelessness of "this always happens" and "people always treat me like this." Its the loneliness of being let down by someone we love and admire. Its the temptation to leave or hide, to give up on the relationship without an explanation of our pain. Its the desire to retaliate, to gossip, to slander, to yell at or seek revenge. That's the poison my friend across the ocean feels. That's the poison I have felt. But the trouble with poison is that it only destroys the one who has ingested it. Which means that as long as I am the one with the poison in my heart, I am the one who will be destroyed by it.

So how do we get rid of this horrible thing that is capable of causing death in us? The answer is....
the F word.


The other F word.


Forgiveness is not saying that what they did to hurt you was okay. Because in many cases it was absolutely not okay. Rather, to forgive is to release them from something they owe you. Essentially it is saying that you are no longer going to take responsibility for the justice of the situation. Shaun and I talk about forgiveness as something you are giving over to a higher authority, trusting that the authority will take care of it and you no longer need to ensure they get the penalty of their messed up actions. As believers in Christ we recognize that God cares about everything we go through and is passionate about justice. Therefore we can trust that when we surrender a situation to Him in our hearts, and practice forgiveness towards those who have hurt us, He will be faithful to work everything out.

Forgiveness is the only way to free us from the poison.

That's probably not new information for you. It wasn't for me either. But it was a reminder I needed. You have heard the quote, "Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die." You have also seen what happens to the person who holds a grudge against someone else: It consumes them. They talk about it. They think about it. They wonder what the other person is going to think about their latest instagram post or facebook status. They gossip. They slander. They secretly stalk the person's social media feeds and then try to live a cooler more photogenic life as a form of revenge. I have even seen it happen where the two people haven't spoken to each other in almost a decade but one of them is still convinced that the other is doing everything possible to destroy her life. Poison. Absolute poison.

But Jesus calls us to forgive. More than that, He commands us to forgive. I think He takes forgiveness so seriously because of the lavish, mind-boggling, absolutely crazy forgiveness He extended to humanity by dying for our sins. I also think it is because He is passionate about life. All throughout scripture, anywhere He went, life happened. Blind eyes opened. Dead bodies raised. Lonely people loved. Shamed women given dignity. Children valued. It's everywhere. He even said, "I have come to give you abundant life." It's no wonder then that he calls us to be people who forgive. If unforgiveness is like a poison that causes death, then forgiveness must bring life, because Jesus only commands us to do things that bring life.

Sometimes forgiveness requires us to go directly to the person who offended us and talk it through with them. Other times, when things like abuse are involved, it is safest to stay away from the offender but to extend forgiveness in our hearts through prayer and with the help of loved ones. Often for me, forgiveness involves lots of journaling so I can make sense of my scrambled thoughts and sort out whether or not the person actually did something harmful to me or if I was just being insecure and easily offended. In those cases I may still need to forgive them in my heart but it may not be necessary to talk with them about it because they didn't actually do anything wrong.

Let's do everything we can to be free from the poison. Let's love extravagantly, forgive quickly, and seek to understand each other. May people see Heaven in the way we do relationships. May we be people who assume the best and protect each other's reputations, and when we don't understand what they meant when they said that thing that hurt our feelings.... let's ask them instead of judging them for it.

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And how about another couple of F words??
Here's to fun & family! 
A couple great photos from the #batesweddingbash.
The bottom one is gold.

Friday, September 26, 2014

alive is beautiful.

It was almost 9ish in the PM and he was ready to go out. I had to remind myself to enjoy the spontaneity of it because the planner in me already had the night on lock and there was no ‘adventure with husband’ anywhere on the agenda. There were other things like: tidy up bedroom, go for a jog, and watch some of new friend Carly’s youtube video’sbut I thought husband would be with the skaters last night so I strategically planned a night to get things done. Anyway I put my plans on hold so I could go out with Shaunny which was much better anyway, and it really didn't matter except for the fact that I had been sitting most of the day so I had really wanted to jog. 
I started quietly thinking about my body while we were driving to the store. I had eaten a lot throughout the day. I recounted it, which is what usually happens in my brain on big eating days, it's like all the food I ate stares me right in the face, shaking its head and pointing its finger at me for eating so much. Big bowl of cereal for breakfast. Bigger than normal. Extra snack. Big lunch. Extra bread at lunch. Chips. Big dinner. Chips again after dinner. I didn’t mean to eat so much but I felt unusually hungry so I just kept going. Being on my period is probably most of the reason for my monstrous appetite this week, which answers the question that some of you were thinking... no, I'm not pregnant.... but regardless, the big eating day had my mind whirling.... "big eating" means "big body".... the fear was starting to settle in. 

We stopped at Rite Aid and Lay's BBQ Stax were on sale for a dollar, the kind that come in the Pringles type can, Shaun bought them excitedly because of course it was a great deal, and he gave me a few chips. I ate them and silently regretted it. I was thinking to myself, “...I was supposed to be jogging now, instead I am eating Lay’s...” 

Then after a few more errands Shaun decided he was in the mood for pizza. I know he sounds like a teenage boy, and he kind of is, or at least he would definitely eat like one if he didn't have a wife. He was extra sweet though and despite my obvious hesitation, he insisted that it would be fun to have a late night date. He was right.  So at almost 10pm we found an awesome pizza place in Montrose and each of us ordered a slice. I felt anxious about more food, but tried to relax and enjoy being with him.

The slices were New York style so “one slice” was actually more like 2 or 3 normal slices anywhere else. Mine had spinach and ricotta on it, my favorite. I had to keep to reminding myself how much I loved it because the fear of getting fat was growing louder and louder in my head. 

We found a bench outside by the street because the pizza place was closing. I ate most of my pizza, leaving only a little piece to take home. Shaun and I had a great conversation. We laughed a lot and talked about important things and silly things and I chose to be present. I chose to enjoy him and to enjoy the creamy ricotta and the fluffy crust and the perfect California weather. It was a choice and I knew it. A choice to quiet my fear of getting fat and to be alive to Shaun in that moment. Thankfully I did it.  

When we got home I went for a walk around the parking lot of the church. I listened to music and prayed and I surrendered my body to God, again. 

If you have spent much time on this blog you know that I am someone who values health. We only have one body and it is important to take care of it, physically, emotionally, spiritually. You know that. But my post today is not about that. I don’t need to remind you to eat well and exercise. I don’t need to tell you that drinking water is important and vegetables are important, and the occasional ice cream or late night pizza date is important too because health is holistic, and emotions and relationships with people are just as important as our diets. No, you already know all these things. 

Today I simply felt to remind us that being beautiful is about so much more than our appearance. If I could make you a coffee and tell you this stuff in person I would, but since we are here and I'm staring at a screen instead of into your gorgeous eyes, I'll trust that you will hear this like I feel it.

New mama. I could see you rocking your new baby last night on your front porch as I was walking around the parking lot of the church. It was beautiful. I wanted to tell you that it’s okay if your body doesn’t look like it did 10 months ago. Give yourself grace. You will get the hang of this mom thing and your body will adjust to her new role sooner than you think. You are working miracles right now in nourishing that little one with your very being. You may not look like you wish you did, but I see you, and I think you are exquisite. Beauty is not about having a tiny waist. Beauty is more alive than that. It nourishes and blesses. It comforts and soothes. It loves tenderly even when no one else sees. 

New bride. I hear you. You worked so hard to feel beautiful in that dress and then on the honeymoon you relaxed. The only trouble is that relaxing felt like “getting fat” and now you are home and he wants your body but you want to hide it because you are mad at it for getting bigger. I know sweet one. You’re okay. You are beautiful. Beauty is not perfection. Beauty is more alive than that. It welcomes and invites. It radiates with joy and allures with the authentic self, not the perfect self, but the broken self that is dearly loved anyway. 

Girlfriend. I know. All the songs make it seem so good to be you. "Feeling 22". But mostly you feel lonely and confused, smiling on the outside, aching on the inside. No dinner again tonight, because you’re “not hungry.” So hungry. Painfully hungry. Hungry for encouragement. Hungry for someone to see you and know you and remind you that you have what it takes. So you skip meals hoping that even with all those other things missing, at least if you have control, you will feel better. Pretty girl. Beauty is not controlling. Beauty is more alive than that. Beauty confesses. Beauty acknowledges the need to be loved and it is a lover too. Beauty dreams and believes and tries and fails. 

We all long to be beautiful. We were created to be beautiful. But we are daily bombarded with this idea that beauty is an outside thing relating only to our size and skin and hair and clothes. So we get anxious on days when we eat more than we wanted too, and we get deceived into seeing our wonderful seasons of life as our "fat seasons". We find ourselves anxiously trying to rush through them rather than slowing down and soaking them up. 

But beauty is available to us here and now. It is not something that will happen to us once we change this or fix that. It's not a number on the scale or a smaller pant size. Beauty is more alive than that and we have the opportunity to choose beauty today. Exactly where we are. Exactly how we are. We can eat the pizza. We can rock the baby. We can invite people into our story. We can allow the good stuff and the bad stuff and the everything else stuff to just be. We don't have to hide, because hiding isn't protecting us anyway, it is stealing the joy that could be ours by poisoning us with fear. Like the fear of getting fat. Let's reject that fear and choose to be present in this moment. 

Let's come alive friends. Because alive is beautiful. 

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in light of fall arriving, a photo from last fall taken by the ever lovely Sarah Grunder. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Letter Sparrow

Happy Tuesday Friends!

I wanted to write you because of something wonderful that I think you should know about! It's called Letter Sparrow and it is a shop on Etsy that my friend Kelly Hollstrom started! Her work is seriously beautiful and since I've already purchased some gifts for friends and seen how adorable the stuff looks in real life I think its time I spread the word. Especially since today is the first day of autumn which means its only a matter of time until we are listening to Christmas music and wrapping gifts and eating cookies and drinking hot drinks and watching Santa Clause movies and...
oh my heart is getting SO exciting just typing about it!
So since you'll be buying gifts for loved ones here soon anyway you might as well get a head start and swing by Kelly's shop to order something lovely! 

You can find her stuff on Etsy by following this link: https://www.etsy.com/shop/LetterSparrow
& you can also see her latest creations by following her on instagram: @lettersparrow

((The photo at the top of this post is from @ohmyprep who was doing some Letter Sparrow giveaways too so you should probably check her out while you're at it!))

Ps. She also designs my blog signatures!

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Here are some photos from Kelly's instafeed 
along with a few items I bought for friends!