The Beaver in the Basement and Other Unexpected Pitfalls of Marriage

IMG_0178.jpg

When you’re young and in love and looking forward to marriage, people who have been married for awhile flash you a knowing smile as they warn you about some common post-honeymoon irritations--men leaving their socks on the floor, women nagging husbands to take them to the ballet, and the like. But there are some things they don’t warn you about. I’ve gathered here for you a collection of unanticipated pitfalls of matrimony, based on three and a half years of field research, i.e. marriage to my husband, Greg. You may find comfort in identifying some parallels to your own experience, and if you’re not married and would like to be, knowledge is power, my friend. To be fair I’ve given an equal number of “his” and “hers” trials and tribulations, aided by my assistant, Greg, of course.

1. Hers: Backhanded Compliments

While discussing women and makeup, my husband says to me, “Your no-makeup face is a joke!” I blinked. Do I want my face to be a joke? Is this a good thing? Should I say “thank you?” He means, of course, that he thinks I look great without makeup. It just takes a bit of generous listening and suspension of offense to get to the actual compliment.

2. His: Food Sharing

When we go out to eat, no matter what I order—steak, pizza, tacos, pasta—or how hungry I am, she wants to taste it. “Could I just try a little bite of that, please?”, she asks sweetly. “You can have a bite of mine!”, she adds enthusiastically, as if that makes up for it. In what universe is a bite of arugula salad with goat cheese for a bite of bacon cheeseburger an even trade?

3. Hers: Startling Noises

I’m minding my own business, lost in a quiet reverie, when a noise so ear-splitting it has to be an explosion cuts through the silence. I’m so startled I immediately burst into tears (a reaction to sudden fright I’ve only experienced since being married, by the way). A split second later I realize that our Kansas home is still as it ever was. My husband sneezed. I hear that men’s sneezes grow louder and more powerful as they age, and I’m more than a little concerned about where this road ends for me.

4. His: Safety Precautions

My normal turbo speed work mode is hampered by her insistence that I wear chainsaw chaps, “put on some leather gloves if you’re going to be moving tree limbs around all day,” and “be careful!” She says she’s prolonging my life, but these safety shenanigans are costing me time in the present, so I guess it’s a wash.

5. Hers: Under-communication

He says in passing, “Hey, Babe, are we good to go on that thing I signed us up for/thing I need you to make food for/thing we’re going to?” “Huh? This is the first I’m hearing about it!”, I say. “I told you about it,” he says confidently, and then realization dawns on his face as I bore holes into him with my eyes…He did tell me…telepathically.

6. His: Over-communication

She’s talking, and I’m listening. I’m interested in what she’s saying, but I’m trying to determine if there’s a main point here, something I should be latching on to. My eyes are starting to glaze over, and she raises a skeptical eyebrow at me, letting me know she noticed and that there will be a test at the end of this monologue. I refocus in hopes of passing the test, but there are just so…many…words…

7. Hers: Strange Possessions

Thanks to my husband's lengthy childhood Daniel Boone phase, I am now the proud owner of a giant taxidermy beaver, who was most assuredly roadkill in his former life before his fortune changed and he became a much-loved Christmas gift. Justin Beaver, as he has been affectionately dubbed, lives in the laundry room, keeping me company while I work and terrifying unsuspecting guests who open the door to throw their sheets in the washer.

8. His: Personality Fluctuations

She might be the sweetest girl on the planet, but if I accidentally wake her up in the middle of the night, I meet her evil twin. She’s spitting mad, and sometimes I’m tempted to flip on the light to make sure this is the same woman! But that would send her through the roof, and it’s just not worth it. I hold my breath and hope she’ll go back to sleep soon.

9. Hers: Extreme Heat

Sure, we compromised on the nighttime thermostat temp. Nonetheless I’m sleeping in an arid desert.

10. His: Extreme Cold

Sure, we compromised on the nighttime thermostat temp. Nonetheless I’m sleeping in the Arctic tundra.

11. Hers: Tone of Voice Misinterpretation

On the rare occasion that I call him at his office, he answers the phone with such a somber tone of voice that I’m instantly preparing to receive really bad news. “Are you okay? What’s going on?”, I ask, gathering steam. “Did something happen?” He chuckles, and I realize—again—that nothing is awry; he’s simply using his “office tone of voice.” Apparently the animated and affectionate tone with which one greets a beloved wifey is different than that used to greet a farmer who’s calling his banker. Go figure.

12. His: Wardrobe Takeover

Despite her insistence that she’s “expanding my color palette” by introducing shades of jade, emerald, and chartreuse, I know what’s really going on here: She’s replacing the pre-existing variety in my wardrobe entirely with her favorite color—green.

There’s one more aspect of marriage I didn’t see coming, and that’s how absolutely wonderful it is to share life with my husband! Our differences keep things interesting, amuse us, and make us one heck of a great team. There’s no one I love, respect, and like more than my husband. Even though there’s a beaver in my basement.

Did you identify with any of our pitfalls? What would you add to this list? Want more day-brightening content like this from me? Subscribe to my email list here.

You may also enjoy:

Fun Tools for Fresh Quiet Times

IMG_0146.jpg

I still remember my first experience with the Christian practice known as a "quiet time." I was twelve years old, had just made the cut to attend church camp with my youth group for the first time, and was having the time of my life there. I was rooming with two of my besties, and there was a pool and a cave and a soft-serve ice cream machine! The music moved me, and it seemed like the campus pastor was speaking directly to me every night. Each day after breakfast we were scheduled for half an hour of "quiet time." My youth pastor explained the concept this way: "Find a tree to sit under, read your Bible, pray, and listen." Ah-ha! This sounded like what I'd seen my mom do in the mornings--only she didn't sit under a tree. I found my tree, read a few chapters in Psalms, said some simple prayers, and sat there and stared at the lake. Nothing profound happened, but in a way I couldn't explain I knew God was there with me. That fit with what my youth pastor taught--that the purpose of a quiet time is to spend time with God, to build your relationship with Him.

My quiet times have evolved over the years as my relationship with God has grown, and I've discovered a variety of tools that help guide me and some that are just plain fun! As you think about your own relationship with God, whether you want to get back to the basics, dig deeper in your study of God's Word, grow in your prayer life, get creative in your time with God, get caught up in the story of the Bible, or infuse your faith with a little fun, I've got some product recommendations for you, all tested by yours truly.

Do you need special "tools" to build your relationship with God? No, you do not! You need Jesus in your heart and a Bible in your hand. These days you can even access the Bible online, and many Bible websites offer reading plans to help you approach this awesome--but intimidating--book in a way that makes sense for you. It's never been easier to obtain the information you need to get going! However, for me there's nothing like a physical book that I can mark up and make my own. Some of the Bibles and notebooks I've used over the years have become meaningful visual reminders of my personal history with God, and these build my faith! Plus, if you're an adult who annually laments that you don't get to pick out school supplies for yourself anymore, your spiritual life is a fabulous outlet in which to redirect this passion, speaking as one who knows.

Without further ado, here are my favorite fun tools for fresh quiet times, organized by aim:

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means that I may receive a small commission if you make a purchase through one of the links I've provided here--at no additional cost to you. Please check out my disclosure policy for more info, and thanks for your support!

 

I want to get back to the basics.

Don't underestimate the power of simplicity in your relationship with God. Remember my youth pastor's advice to "read your Bible, pray, and listen." (You decide about the tree.) The first thing you need is a Bible, God's written Word to us. This ESV Bible is cute and compact, without a lot of extra frills, while this CSB She Reads Truth Bible contains some additional study materials and pretty typography. Both the English Standard Version (ESV) and Christian Standard Bible (CSB)  balance accurate translation with readability.

If there's one other quiet time "essential," it's a place to jot things down--prayers, answers to prayer, what you're learning, verses that stand out to you, how you see God working in your life, etc. On occasion I've simply used the margins of my Bible for these notes, but other times I've needed more space; enter the cute journals! Any notebook will do, but here are a few I especially love.

And, of course, you need writing utensils. In case it hasn't already become abundantly clear, for me the more bright and colorful the better! I like a pen with a fine point, and the three brands shown here are my favorite. Note: These pens are suitable for most journals but will bleed through thin Bible pages. I use colored pencils to write and highlight in my Bible.

 

I want to dig deeper in my study of God's Word.

If you want to take your Bible study to the next level, check out these three fantastic reference books, which earned a spot on my "faves" list because of how easy they are to use.

The Rose Book of Bible Charts, Maps & Time Lines is full of colorful charts and illustrations covering a variety of topics, such as the names of God, Old Testament feasts, the miracles of Jesus, and Paul's journeys. I love this resource because it helps me to put together big-picture info I might miss if I'm focused in on a smaller chunk of Scripture.

A concordance helps you to find specific words in the Bible, while a Bible dictionary defines those words in the original Hebrew or Greek language; these works are especially handy when taking a deep-dive into a specific topic. (Concordances and Bible dictionaries are also available online; the best web version I've found is at Blue Letter Bible. This site is a bit cumbersome, but its tutorial videos are helpful!)

Finally the Holman Illustrated Bible Handbook gives fantastic background and summary information for each book of the Bible, perfect for enhancing a book study. It also contains interesting photos and QR codes one can scan to access relevant video teaching via smartphone.

 

I want to grow in my prayer life.

Prayer is having a conversation with God, simple as that! I believe that the more we pray, the more God helps us to know what to pray for and how to pray. In other words you don't have to figure out the "right" way to do it before you dive in! (Do you worry about the "right" way to chat with your best friend on the phone? No! You just do it!) Jump in, fill your mind with God's Word, and listen, and God will guide you.

That being said, there are some tools that have helped me to take that first step, including these Sticky Prayers, which remind me that I don't need to be long-winded or fancy, and this tin of prayer cards, which each have a passage of Scripture or excerpt from The Book of Common Prayer on one side and lines to write your own prayers on the other side.

There's an abundance of books out there if you'd like to hone in on a specific prayer focus. I enjoyed Thirty One Days of Prayer for the Dreamer and Doer, which presents readings and prayers to guide girl bosses and ambitious gals like myself. I also highly recommend Pray for the World, which suggests ways to pray for every country in the world! A new edition is released every few years to attempt to keep up with current events and, consequentially, prayer needs. This is a fantastic tool for those--like me!--who want to pray for the world but feel overwhelmed by the task and need a jump-start.

 

I want to get creative in my time with God.

In the past few years a new movement has begun that pairs Bible study and prayer with art! Those desiring to add creativity to their quiet times can dip their toe in the water through devotional coloring books or go down the rabbit hole with paints, stencils, washi tape, and all sorts of artsy mediums meant especially for Bible journaling. If you'd like to venture down the rabbit hole, your Wonderland is Illustrated Faith. (You're welcome.) I love looking at other peoples' intricate Bible art, but my eyes start to cross when I think about actually doing it myself. If you feel the same way, I think you'll appreciate these recommendations: 

First, check out this drool-worthy coloring Bible. It's the New Living Translation (NLT), which attempts to express the original text's intent in the most accurate thought-for-thought modern English. It's in a one-year format, and sections of Scripture are arranged chronologically instead of by type of literature as in a regular Bible, allowing you to get a good sense of how everything fits together. It has wide, lined margins for note-taking, interrupted every few pages by a verse, word, or drawing to color. Next, take a look at this interactive journal. Each activity prompts you to take a look at a passage of Scripture and to engage with it by coloring a picture, journaling your thoughts, or doing some simple drawing (the only kind I do).

Don't forget the colored pencils, and easily take them on-the-go in a cute canvas pencil wrap, available in many adorable designs.

 

I want to get caught up in the story of the Bible.

We tend to read our Bibles one chapter at a time, but the first Christians read large portions of Scripture at once, in part because chapter and verse divisions were added much later! It's a good idea for us to do the same--to remember that the Bible is one big, amazing story and to read it as such. Perhaps the most accessible Bible translation for doing so is The Message; it converts the original languages into contemporary speech thought-for-thought. It draws the reader in and makes them want to keep reading! Perhaps my next suggestion is unconventional, as I'm pretty confident its target audience is twelve year-old boys. Nevertheless, I must admit that I, a thirty year-old woman, have recently enjoyed reading The Action Bible, a 700+ page full-color comic book Bible. If you'd like a quick and interesting tour through the Bible, I dare you to grab a copy...Then give it to the twelve year-old boy in your life!

 

I want to infuse my faith with a little fun.

Sometimes you just need to shake up your routine with a little whimsy and fun! Use this stamp in your Bible to date special verses along with notations like "prayed" or "wow God." Then when you flip back through the pages of your Bible, you can easily locate passages you wanted to remember. These stickers can be used in your journal, planner, or wherever you'd like, and they include snippets of verses, messages we all need like "bless this hot mess" (Ha!), and short lists for prayer requests and to-do's.

There's just something delightful about having all your tools together in one curated "kit"--perhaps this hearkens back to those school days when my heart rejoiced at a cute and well-ordered trapper keeper. I keep all of my quiet time tools in this pink Craftsman tool tote. It's very heavy-duty, and it has lots of compartments for organizing all of my things. Similar sturdy fabric bags and plastic totes are available where craft supplies are sold.

 

Whether or not you found a new tool you'd like to pick up to integrate into your quiet times this year, I hope your imagination was sparked with some ways to freshen up your quiet time routine, and I hope you're excited to spend time with God. May your time with Him be fresh, intimate, and fruitful!

What are your favorite quiet time tools? Are you implementing anything new this year? Tell me about it!

You may also enjoy:

Wigs, Black Orchids, & The Only Thing That Makes Me Want to Exercise: 7 Fave Reads of 2017

unnamed.jpg

My reading life at age thirty looks different than it did at age thirteen. Back then I'd lay on my bed all day long engrossed in a book. Not so much anymore! However, this past year my husband and I--doers by nature--recommitted ourselves to actually resting on Sundays (Revolutionary, I know!), and with that new focus came a revival of reading in our household! I read a variety of books this year, most of which were recommended to me by friends. I'm recommending to you the following seven, my most enjoyable and helpful reads of 2017:

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means that I may receive a small commission if you make a purchase through one of the links I've provided here--at no additional cost to you. Please check out my disclosure policy for more info, and thanks for your support!

 

1. Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl

Memoir

Ruth Reichl tells her engaging story of the time she spent as the restaurant critic for The New York Times. Upon beginning this job, she soon realized that chefs hungry for good publicity were rolling out the red carpet for her and that she may not, in fact, be receiving the same treatment as the average diner. In order to be dealt with as a "normal" patron and thus give voice to the experience of "every man" in her reviews, she developed several elaborate disguises, complete with wigs and personalities to match. These disguises drew out different versions of herself and elicited various reactions--positive and negative--from others. This was fascinating to read about, and Reichl is a delightfully descriptive writer. I also enjoyed hearing how her stint at the Times ended and how her next opportunity providentially presented itself at just the right moment.

 

2. Spark by John J. Ratey, MD            

Health & Fitness/Psychology

My relationship with exercise has been on-again-off-again at best, so the fact that this one made it into my faves is no small miracle! My bestie told me that this book was blowing her mind, and soon I could see why--it's main premise is that exercise has a huge effect on the brain. It has been proven to be as effective as medication for treating anxiety and depression, and it helps the body and mind deal with stress. Of most interest to me is that exercise produces a chemical necessary for learning and the formation of new thought patterns. In other words, exercise is an effective weapon in getting mentally unstuck! I'm a bit of a mental health nerd, so while fitness solely for the sake of my physical health isn't moving me to action, the prospect of an infusion of power into my mental health efforts is! I know you're wondering--I'm not training for the Olympics over here, but I have resumed a regular jogging routine, and I'm feeling quite good, mentally and otherwise.

 

3. The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines with Mark Dagostino          

Biography & Autobiography

My husband and I enjoy watching Fixer Upper, the popular house-flipping show on HGTV, so I really liked hearing about how Chip and Jo got to where they are today. They had many ups and downs over the years, which was encouraging to read about--it's tempting to look at an adorable and ridiculously successful family on TV and think that they have and always have had it easy! Not so! Chip and Jo were in tough spots many times, especially financially, but they also experienced tons of instances of God's providence. Jo talked about the quiet but sure way that God led her to make several big decisions, and Chip talked about how he'd learned to trust her with those things--what a lovely blend of faith and marriage! Jo also described how her family thrived in a new way when she decided that beauty wasn't her only decorating aim; instead she began to assemble spaces that everyone could enjoy and in which kids could be kids. Others resonated with this as well, and this pivot in her business caused her following to skyrocket. 

 

4. Brenda Starr Reporter by Dale Messick

Comics

It's not often a comic book makes it onto my bedside table, but I'm glad that this one did! My mom and aunt had been talking about the Brenda Starr Reporter comics that enthralled them when they were young, so I grabbed this book, which contains several storylines from the Brenda Starr comics that ran in the early 1940's. Brenda is a larger-than-life heroine in the best way; she's constantly getting into and out of wild adventures in pursuit of a good story. She's smart, sassy, and self-sufficient. Men fall at her feet, and on occasion she's rescued by a mysterious man who sends her black orchids. What's not to love?

 

5. Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown

Non-Fiction

What a timely message Brené Brown has written to us as individuals and to culture as a whole with this fantastic book. In Braving the Wilderness, she suggests that true belonging--something that all of us desire--requires being oneself while fitting in requires being like others. She talks about how sorting ourselves into groups of people who think mostly the same as we do is caused by fear and fosters disconnection, which in turn allows us to dehumanize our fellow man. Because of this crisis, leaning in to perspectives different than our own is more important than ever. I appreciate that Brown encourages all sides of the political spectrum to display empathy and kindness; she resists today's seductive temptations of blanket condemnation or condoning of one "side" or the other. People are complicated, and today's issues are complex, and Brown is willing to sit with the tension, giving the reader strategies to do the same.

 

 

6. The Yada Yada Prayer Group by Neta Jackson

Fiction

I loved this book and can't wait to read more in the series! The main character, Jodi, is a female, white, middle class Christian (raising my hand here) who attends a women's conference at which she connects with a group of ladies who are ethnically, religiously, and in every way diverse. Jodi is intrigued by the powerful way that some of these women pray, and at the same time she raises an eyebrow at their family drama and regular smoke breaks. The group decides to continue meeting together after the conference ends. Their relationships deepen, and they pray for and support each other through a variety of circumstances.  Over time it becomes apparent to the main character and the reader that the ladies in the prayer group with the messiest lives are the ones who have the best understanding of grace. Jodi comes to a new realization of grace herself when she faces a personal tragedy. I loved this book's focus on heart-change as opposed to behavior modification.

 

7. Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

Self-Help/Personal Growth

This book is about habit formation, and the reason I loved it is because it argues that there isn't one right way to form a habit! This is a relief for those of us who've done something for the standard 21 days, only to find that the habit didn't stick. (Anyone else?) Gretchen Rubin suggests that how you form a habit should be based on you. She gives the reader numerous questions to ask in order to know oneself better, such as, "Am I a familiarity lover or a novelty lover?" (Familiarity for me, please, in case you wanted to know.) She then details many creative strategies for habit formation, such as monitoring, accountability, and convenience. Thinking outside the box about habits I'd like to form has helped me to get moving on my most important tasks in the morning, get back into a regular rhythm of posting on my blog (Ta-da!), and--I admit it!--finally floss my teeth regularly. 

 

Bonus recommendation: In Better than Before, Rubin introduces her Four Tendencies personality framework, which is detailed in her more recently released book, The Four Tendencies. The tendencies categorize people based on how they respond to both outer and inner expectations. This knowledge is extremely useful for motivating oneself and helping other people. I'm an Obliger; I easily meet others' expectations, but I have a harder time meeting my own expectations, so my secret sauce for accomplishing my own goals is outer accountability.

 

What was your favorite read this year? Leave me a comment and let me know!

You may also enjoy:

4 Faith Films for Your Next Girls Night

IMG_0075.jpg

Christmas is over, and we're swiftly approaching January, the most boring month of the year. (Sorry, January.) While I love the fresh possibility of a new year, I'm as affected as the next person by the post-Christmas let-down. I've learned to combat this by getting some fun events on my calendar, and in my humble opinion January's cold weather and dark days naturally lend themselves to girls movie nights! Chatting with friends, munching on hearty snacks, cozy-ing up with a soft blanket, and getting lost in a good movie--my soul needs these things.

Because I'm a believer in Jesus, I love the idea of watching a movie that will inspire my faith, but frankly the Christian movie scene hasn't always delivered--or at least not without an extra layer of cheese. I'm happy to report, though, that I believe that trend is changing! In the past few years I've seen several new faith films that I loved because they managed to weave together powerful stories, humor, and motivation for my own journey. The four I'm presenting to you today will both entertain and encourage you, and they'll spark fabulous discussion between you and your girlfriends--perfect for your next movie night.

I've given you a brief synopsis of each movie, some reasons why I love it, and some talking points for you and your friends. Click on the movie title to watch a trailer on IMDb. Here we go!

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means that I may receive a small commission if you make a purchase through one of the links I've provided here--at no additional cost to you. Please check out my disclosure policy for more info, and thanks for your support!

1. Miracles from Heaven

Synopsis: A little girl contracts a serious illness, which causes a crisis of faith in her family. An accident incites a miracle, which influences the girl, her family, and community. 

Why I Love It: It affirms both that God sometimes does big, crazy miracles and that small miracles happen every day, making the viewer want to look for miracles and be a part of other peoples' miracles. Jennifer Garner is fantastic as the girl's mom, and in her character we see a real person struggling with legitimate doubts and fears. The movie in no way condemns her for this battle but instead shows how her faith became stronger because of it. Queen Latifah makes a welcome, funny appearance. And this movie is based on a true story! At the end of the film one can see footage of the Beam family whose story inspired the movie.

Talking Points: What kind of miracles--big or small--have you experienced in your life? In what ways could you facilitate a miracle for someone else?

2. War Room

Synopsis: A family living the American dream is actually falling apart behind closed doors. Through an unlikely friendship with a stubborn older woman, wife and mom Elizabeth begins to battle in prayer for her family.

Why I Love It: The tagline for this movie says it all: "Prayer is a powerful weapon." The viewer gets to watch the connection between Elizabeth's prayers for her husband and what's unfolding in his life. This is so compelling because we don't have the perspective of an omniscient observer in our own lives; often we have to wait for visible answers to our prayers, and sometimes we never see the fruit of our prayers! This movie causes me to ask the question, what might be happening that I can't see in response to my prayers, and what might I miss out on if I don't pray? Priscilla Shirer plays the main character in this movie, and Beth Moore makes a guest appearance--two Bible teachers I love!

Talking Points: How have you seen God answer your prayers in the past? What creative ideas do you have to create your own "war room" or to integrate prayer into your life in a new way?

3. The Shack

Synopsis: A man suffers a terrible tragedy and then receives a note in his mailbox from God inviting him to meet Him at the shack where the horrible event took place. His encounter there changes his life.

Why I Love It: This movie explores some extremely difficult questions, such as "What is God really like?", and "Why does God allow pain?" It has received a good deal of criticism for insufficiently answering these questions according to the broad teaching of Scripture. I agree with that assessment, but I disagree that there's nothing of value here. On the contrary, if you're willing to think outside the box, this film's unique but imperfect portrayal of God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit will make you want to lean in, open your Bible, and get to know the true living God better for yourself. Also in this movie is a potent reminder that God hurts when we hurt.

Talking Points: What circumstance has sent your life and faith into a tailspin? If you could meet with God face-to-face, what do you think He would say to you about that circumstance?

4. The Case for Christ

Synopsis: A journalist attempts to disprove the existence of God. Meanwhile his wife becomes a Christian. The evidence he uncovers through his research and the new faith of his wife take him on a journey he never imagined.

Why I Love It: This movie, too, is based on a true story. It acknowledges some of peoples' most common hurdles to believing God, such as the apparent impossibility of Jesus' resurrection from the dead, and it presents some of the historical proof for the Jesus story of the Bible. To me this movie serves as a reminder that God is able to meet anyone where they are, whether their barrier is intellectual, emotional, or otherwise. I also like the glimpse into the life of a woman who has recently become a believer and is now facing the reality that her husband doesn't share her faith. The young but tenacious faith with which she prays for him is empowering!

Talking Points: What obstacles have you or those close to you encountered to believing in the story of Jesus as told in the Bible? How can you support a loved one who might be struggling with a matter of faith?

I hope that one or more of these films piqued your interest. Now all you need is a group text to your girls and a box of microwave popcorn. Have fun!

Did you watch one of these movies with your girlfriends? Let me know how it went!

You may also enjoy:

5 Podcasts for Encouraged Ears

IMG_0035.jpg

I had an iPhone for a full two years before I realized that the purple podcast app on my screen was, in fact, not trying to sell me something but rather to gift my listening ears with all sorts of awesome content! Upon this discovery I quickly became an avid consumer of all sorts of material, and I now attribute to my podcast education everything from better time management to efficient freezer meal prep. 

Though I frequently search for podcasts on specific topics in which I'm interested, I appreciate having a few shows which so consistently meet my expectations that I listen to almost every episode they produce. Here are my criteria for those select podcasts:

1. They must discuss a mix of weighty and lighthearted subjects.

Why? Because that's real life! At times we need to dig deep in order to explore complicated relationship dynamics, and then we need to come up for air and talk about the new Starbucks drink we're loving.

2. They must be encouraging.

As we plumb the depths of our cultural or personal problems, let's grieve, yes, but let's not stay there! We need to be reminded of what's true, given some practical action steps, or--preferably--both!

Five podcasts have met these two criteria on a regular basis. The women who host these shows are so frequently in my ears that I feel like they're my friends, so I'm excited to introduce my podcast host friends to my blog reader friends! I'll let you know which iTunes category each podcast falls into, the gist of the show, and a favorite episode of mine from the previous year. Search for these shows in your favorite podcast player, or click on the links provided to listen online. Enjoy!

1. The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey

Category: Christianity

Happy Hour.jpg

The Gist: Jamie interviews a different woman in every show, and they chat about the guest's story and what she's loving and reading. I appreciate the wide variety of ladies Jamie interviews from entrepreneurs to social justice advocates to fashion bloggers. Listening to The Happy Hour is truly like sharing a happy hour with friends!

Fave Episode: #166: Kathie Lee Gifford and Aaron Ivey

2. Sorta Awesome

Category: Personal Journals

Sorta Awesome.jpg

The Gist: Meg and one or more of the show's three delightful co-hosts discuss a different topic each episode of the podcast, covering everything from sleep to self-defense to Netflix shows to parenting. The four co-hosts have vibrant personalities but different lifestyles and opinions, and this makes for a lively conversation between friends from which the listener gets to benefit.

Fave Episode: #121: Boundaries for the Holidays: Sane Solutions for Difficult Dynamics

3. Happier with Gretchen Rubin

Category: Self-Help

Happier.jpg

The Gist: Gretchen Rubin is a bestselling author who studies happiness and habit formation. On the Happier podcast she and her sister, Elizabeth, chat about these two topics and offer lots of hacks for listeners to implement right away to make their daily lives a little happier, like finding a "happiness 911" song or identifying one's "signature color"--mine would be green, of course.

Fave Episode: #116: Start a Side Hustle, a Travel Hack, and the Stumbling Block of "Raising the Bar"

4. That Sounds Fun with Annie F. Downs

Category: Christianity

That Sounds Fun.jpg

The Gist: Each episode Annie talks to a friend of hers--often a writer, musician, pastor, or psychologist--about what they do and what sounds fun to them. Annie is such an upbeat person that I always leave these dialogues feeling hopeful. I'm writing this post during the Christmas season and was thrilled to see that Annie released an episode in which she and friends did a deep-dive into Hallmark Channel's Christmas movies--what could be better?

Fave Episode: #42: Sadie Robertson

5. Dear Daughters

Category: Christianity

Dear Daughters.jpg

The Gist: Listening to Susie Davis' podcast is like plopping down on a comfy sofa after a hard day and letting her hand you a cup of tea and tell you it's going to be alright. She interviews a variety of guests and especially enjoys asking people about their "big God dream" and what they've been cooking lately. Delightful!

Fave Episode: #21: Kate Merrick │ And Still She Laughs

Did you give any of these shows a listen? What did you think? What are your favorite podcasts? Let me know in the comments.

You may also enjoy:

Gallivanting in Green: Ireland

cover.jpg

It wasn't the luck o' the Irish but rather the generosity of my parents that took my husband and I to the Emerald Isle this summer. The four of us wanted an adventure full of idyllic landscapes, mysterious castles, rousing pubs, and hearty feasts, so we put ourselves in the hands of Gate1 Travel's 9 Day Classic Ireland escorted tour. The country itself and the tour company with which we traveled exceeded our expectations! Join me as I reminisce about our experience.

We made our trip across the pond in mid-July, escaping the Midwest heat for Ireland's cooler temps. We'd decided that we'd rather brave the large crowds likely in peak tourist season than travel during a less popular but more cloudy time of year, and we were pleased with our choice. Gate1 and our fantastic tour guide made sure we didn't wait in many long lines, and the weather was pleasant with several days of bright sunshine!

Lest I paint too glamorous a picture of this voyage, I'll admit to you that I don't sleep well on planes and my luggage had decided to travel to Amsterdam instead of accompanying me to Ireland, so I was a bit cranky as we strolled around downtown Dublin those first few hours. Nevertheless, eating some Irish bacon at O'Neill's and meeting up with our tour group at our stately hotel lifted my spirits.

IMG_8909.JPG
IMG_8923.JPG

The next morning, after tea, pastries, and sausage, we began our tour of Dublin, learning from our delightful Irish guide about the long-ago nobility who lived in the grand residences we passed. We stopped at St. Patrick's Cathedral...

IMG_8932.JPG

...and the library at Trinity College.

IMG_8949.JPG

In the afternoon we traveled west to Galway, a small town by the sea that gave us a glimpse into a slower-paced life in Ireland. We walked past docks where people were feeding seabirds and a field where local men played soccer as if oblivious to visitors wandering through their everyday life.

IMG_8973.JPG
IMG_8974.JPG

Shops and pubs lined the downtown streets, and we enjoyed hearing a variety of music, watching a street entertainer, and settling into a cozy restaurant for what would become our signature Irish meal--stew, Shepherd's Pie, or some other iteration of meat and potatoes. 

IMG_9031.JPG
IMG_9270.JPG

The sound of a flute playing an Irish hymn drifted through our hotel window that evening, and my day was complete when my suitcase and I were reunited--I know you were wondering. 

IMG_8980.JPG

Imagine how bright-eyed and bushy-tailed I felt the next morning wearing my very own clean clothes!

We traveled to the Connemara National Forest, making a brief stop to learn about the gorgeous green, pink, and black marble quarried from the region.

IMG_8978.JPG

We spent the majority of the day at Kylemore Abbey, an amazing estate that was owned by Mitchell Henry, an inspiring man whom my husband has written about here on his blog.

The abbey itself, which had electricity even in the late 1800's, was impressive...

IMG_8990.JPG
IMG_9025.JPG

...as were the gardens, in which tropical fruit was grown...

IMG_8994.JPG
IMG_9008.JPG
IMG_9005.JPG

...and the Gothic Cathedral that Henry built for his wife.

IMG_9018.JPG

The next day--the sunniest we'd seen yet!--we visited the towering Cliffs of Moher, which reminded me of the iconic Cliffs of Insanity in the movie The Princess Bride. (I was glad to be already on top of these cliffs rather than hauled up via rope.) Seriously, how beautiful is this!

IMG_9044.JPG
IMG_9076.JPG

The next few days we traveled through the Ring of Kerry, and though the cloudy weather, winding bus ride, and soothing brogue of our tour guide tried to lull me to sleep, I fought back with tasty cappuccinos and a particularly delicious Irish coffee. 

IMG_8951.JPG
IMG_9093.JPG

We stayed several nights in the town of Killarney, where we enjoyed a jaunting car (pony and carriage) ride through a peaceful park.

IMG_9135.JPG
IMG_9142.JPG
IMG_9151.JPG

My favorite stop on our entire adventure was the Blarney Castle and Gardens. We climbed the steps to the top of the castle to kiss the Blarney Stone in hopes of acquiring the gift of gab. What an amusing experience! The Blarney "Stone" isn't actually a stone at all but rather part of the castle wall, and one must lay on one's back at an unseemly angle to kiss it. I'll spare you those photos.

 

While the famed Blarney Stone was humorous to me, the manicured lawns, grand estate, and curated gardens were no joke! This home made me feel like I was at Downtown Abbey or Pemberley, and I wanted very badly to enter this gate into the secret garden beyond!

IMG_9232.JPG
IMG_9237.JPG

Maybe I enjoyed this leg of our journey so much because it seemed to bring to life so many of my favorite stories--it sparked my imagination, and I was, for a moment, Mary Crawley, Elizabeth Bennet, and Mary Lennox.

Perhaps the most magical spot of all was this floral pathway shaded by rose-draped pergolas. It took my breath away! Pictured here are my dad and husband, trying to figure out what's taking my mom and I so long!

IMG_9243.JPG

That afternoon we made our way to the town of Waterford, where we toured the Waterford Crystal factory and showroom.

IMG_9258.JPG
IMG_9262.JPG

The next day--our final day of sightseeing--we spent several hours in the charming town of Kilkenny, whose castle I'd love to revisit for closer inspection and admiration. Doesn't it look like we're standing in front of a painted backdrop here? Nope, it's just that awesome!

IMG_9285.JPG

That evening we returned to Dublin for one last feast and some traditional Celtic entertainment, and the next day we began our trip home, vowing to travel with Gate1 again in the future, to return to some of these enchanting places, and to always remember our happy time together in peaceful Ireland.

IMG_8955.JPG
IMG_9103.JPG

You may also enjoy:

Oh Maya Goodness! Why Mexico Might Be Just What You Need

Mexico.jpg

It's December, which means we mid-westerners are feeling festive...and chilly. So when the fall farming season came to a close and my husband and I decided to pull the trigger on the last-minute beach vacay we'd been dreaming about, I knew we were on to something good--so good, in fact, that I'm here to humbly entreat you to take your own warm winter getaway. It will do wonders for your mood, your Vitamin D deficiency, and your soul. Let's talk details.

We decided to use the KISS method of vacation planning (Keep It Simple, Stupid), having had such a fabulous experience with the one-stop-shop booking we did for our trip to Ireland. For this trip we used Vacation Express and played around with several beach destinations before settling on Riviera Maya, Mexico. We picked this area because we realized it would give us the most bang for our buck in terms of playing in the ocean while taking advantage of our brief, four-night stay. And, well, we're addicted to Mexican food. Sorry, Jamaica. Through Vacation Express we reserved our flights, all-inclusive hotel, transfer to and from the airport, and a morning snorkeling excursion. 

IMG_9978.JPG

We flew out of Kansas rather early, made one connecting flight, and then landed in sunny Cancun in the early afternoon. We found our shuttle operator and began the hour-long drive south to the Riviera Maya region. I'd been to this area before, and I love to look out the window at the magnificent resort entrances along the way. We'd decided to stay at the Barcelo Maya Grand Resort because of its numerous amenities and lengthy 1.2 miles of beachfront. 

IMG_9757.JPG

When we arrived at the Barcelo Maya Beach Resort where we had a reservation, we were informed that we'd been given an upgrade to the Barcelo Maya Palace!--how exciting! As we drove away from the Beach Resort and towards the Palace, I felt like the master of the feast had said to us, "Friend, move up to a better place." (Luke 14:7-11) Ha!

We checked in and made our way to our room, which was very nice with lots of space, a balcony, comfy bed, and beautiful stone bathroom--I love my creature comforts on vacation!

IMG_9981.JPG
IMG_9739.JPG

We couldn't wait to get into the ocean, so we headed there ASAP! The beach wasn't very crowded, and over the next few days we'd speculate that only 30% of the resort's lounge chairs were occupied at the busiest time of day. The beach was very clean, and the white sand was interrupted only occasionally by rocks or seaweed as our toes took us out to deeper water. The turquoise waves were gentle, and we were amused by several schools of fish circling us in the clear water. I was pleasantly surprised that the water was only a teensy bit cooler than I would have preferred.

IMG_9777.JPG

We warmed up and escaped into our books beneath rustling palm leaves, and thus began a routine which occupied most of our time on vacation--float in ocean, sunbathe on beach, visit pool bar, repeat.

IMG_9893.JPG
IMG_9878.JPG
IMG_9745.JPG

Our next favorite pastime on this aventura mexicana was eating! Like most all-inclusive resorts, each of the complex's five hotels offered several buffets and several a la carte restaurants. If you haven't experienced a giant buffet like this before, you simply must. There are tables and tables of made-to-order tacos, fajitas, fresh fruit, elaborate pastries, grilled veggies, guacamole, queso, and ice cream. These pork tacos were delicious!

At one meal I ordered a limonada and was brought a limeade instead of the lemonade I was expecting as limes are more abundant in Mexico than lemons--which was fortuitous because that limeade was heavenly, and thereafter I ordered one at every meal.

Breakfast was a delight as well. I impressed my husband by adding chilaquiles (Mexican version of lasagna) and refried beans to my plate of more traditional breakfast foods--bacon, eggs, and fruit--without batting an eye. We topped off each breakfast with pan dulce--sweet bread--and a frothy cappuccino. 

IMG_E9755.JPG
IMG_9756.JPG

For our fancier evening meals we ate at a Mexican, Italian, and Spanish restaurant on the resort complex. These were included as well but required advance reservation. We enjoyed the slower pace of these three-course meals. We were particularly pleased with the flavorful fajitas we ate at the Mexican restaurant, and the bacon-wrapped steak with blue cheese sauce we were served at the Spanish restaurant. (Does bacon and blue cheese say Spain to you?) We weren't too impressed with the pizza and calzone we tried at the Italian restaurant--perhaps it's a good rule of thumb to stick close to the national cuisine of the country you are visiting. You won't catch me complaining about that, at least not in Mexico!

IMG_9979.JPG

As we explored we noticed that each of the five hotels in the beautiful Barcelo complex had its own personality, and most of the buildings were connected with grand covered walkways surrounded by palm trees or gazing pools and fountains. One could stay at Barcelo for a week and not take advantage of all it has to offer--mini golf, a shopping mall, a spa, dance lessons, a traditional Mexican market, scuba lessons, and nightly live shows at several theaters. 

We made it to one of the evening shows and were amused to see a Michael Jackson impersonator singing "Beat It," figuring we'd happened upon a variety show-type of program. But the next number featured MJ as well, and we realized we were in for an entire night of him! I'm sure this would have been a pleasant surprise to some, but I was rather hoping for a mariachi band and a rousing rendition of "La Cucaracha."

 

IMG_9761.JPG
IMG_9938.JPG
IMG_9944.JPG

We lounged a bit at this swimming pool, one of many available. There were kiddie pools with giant slides and adults-only pools with swim-up bars, and none of them felt overcrowded. 

IMG_9943.JPG
IMG_9872.JPG

We did take full advantage of the included water sports offered at our resort. We rented snorkeling equipment several days. I couldn't keep up with my husband's beginner's zeal and eventually abandoned him to his happy flipping and discovering, but we did see a rather large fish--the size of a hula hoop!--together before I headed back to the beach. We tried the funny-looking water trikes, which were essentially ocean paddle boats, and we decided that they were overrated--too much peddling for not enough forward movement! But I always love kayaking and particularly at the ocean, and this was no exception. We could see purple and green coral beneath us in the clear water, and I love the feel of the ocean swelling beneath my little boat.

IMG_9924.JPG

Perhaps the highlight of our trip was our morning snorkeling excursion through Alltournative. This would be an ideal adventure for someone staying in Cancun, as it took over an hour for our transfer to drive us and several people staying at other resorts to Puerto Morelos, where we were fitted with snorkel gear and given a light breakfast. Our enthusiastic guide, Juan, entertained us and gave us some snorkeling tips as we sailed a short ways out into the ocean with the twenty other people on our tour. We spent about 45 minutes snorkeling at two different sites at the Puerto Morelos Coral Reef, the second largest barrier reef in the world! 

The reef was truly amazing. We saw brain coral and fan coral and a variety of colorful fish. Towards the end of our time in the water we saw several large schools of fish swimming along as if through an invisible corridor. There's a whole underwater world out there of which I've experienced very little, but it is mysterious and gorgeous, and I want to see more of it!

In true Mexican tourism fashion a photographer accompanied us on our snorkeling trip, taking photos of each group of travelers on the beach, the boat, and even underwater! The price for these photos was outrageous, but they were quite fabulous...so we bought them...and tourisma Mexicana thrives. You're welcome, Mexico.

IMG_9969.JPG
IMG_9971.JPG
IMG_9970.JPG
IMG_9973.JPG

In short our Mayan vacay was dreamy and just what we needed amid hard work and holiday stress. We're still firm believers that all-inclusive resorts and one-stop-shop booking are great ways to maximize relaxation in the vacation planning and execution process. 

I hope you start planning your next adventure. Be it Mexico or elsewhere, do your very best to enjoy this amazing world that we live in and to take a load off--it's hard work being a human, and you deserve it!

IMG_9962.JPG

You may also enjoy:

Lessons from a Fat Cat

There’s a fat cat that lives in my neighborhood. She walks slowly and deliberately down the street and through my yard, jingling as she goes due to the bell she wears around her neck. My husband and I have frequently watched her disappear into the tall grass bordering the field behind our home, and we’ve chuckled imagining her futile attempts to catch a mouse—announcing her presence to all creatures in the vicinity with the ringing of her bell and lacking the speed or energy to pounce should she actually encounter one. “Lazy cat!”, we tease her. “You need to lay off the Fancy Feast!”

One day recently I was checking my mailbox when I heard the familiar jingling. The fat cat was plodding towards me at her usual leisurely pace, this time having come from the tall grass and heading back towards the heart of the subdivision. “Hi, pretty kitty,” I said, walking towards her, noticing as I approached that she carried something in her mouth—a fluffy toy, perhaps, with a red ribbon trailing from it. “Whatcha got?”, I inquired, stopping in my tracks when I suddenly realized what she’d “got.” It was a mouse!—a live one—or at least it had been alive recently. It was quite dead now, it’s plump little body clenched tightly between feline jaws.

The fat cat took no notice of my dismay but instead continued purposefully on her way, presumably traveling to a location selected especially for the devouring of her prey. It occurred to me that I’d misjudged her. Despite my belief that she was simply an over-domesticated pet, she knew who she was—a huntress, wild and free and fierce, able to get the job done any time she needed a mousey snack.

This was followed by the revelation that my misunderstanding of her and even taunting her had affected her in no way. At all. She lived out her true identity in the face of opposition, paying no mind to my pointing finger, neither slowing her pace in shame because I doubted her nor quickening her pace in an effort to prove me wrong. She remained single-minded and focused, and she was effective in accomplishing her goal, much to the chagrin of the poor mouse.

I want to be more like the fat cat--in the idealistic sense, that is. Like all humans and women especially, I sometimes struggle with issues of identity, particularly when I’m misunderstood or opposed. At times I’ve succumbed to the temptation to shrink back from a challenge because someone doubted me or to strive to prove myself to the world and prove my critics wrong. God has been working on these people-pleasing tendencies in me over the course of the past year, and I’ve surrendered to His hands-on lessons with all the grace of the fat cat. Nevertheless I’m learning to listen for His voice instead of the voices of those around me and to desire His pleasure more than theirs.

The single most helpful tool on my God-pleasing quest has been, of course, His Word, specifically those passages that tell me who I am as a follower of Jesus, woman who fears the Lord, and someone who calls on God. There are many such passages of Scripture, but here are several that have been meaningful to me lately, stated as affirmations:

I am approved.

I am a worker.

I have no need to be ashamed.

I am a truth-handler.

2 Timothy 2:15, as stated in Jen Hatmaker’s book, For the Love

I am bold and stouthearted.

Psalm 138:3

I am clothed with strength and dignity.

I can laugh at the days to come.

Proverbs 31:25

What would happen if I really lived like this was my true identity? I suspect it would change everything. I think I’d be like the fat cat, doing my thing and still getting a lot of weird looks and maybe even chuckles or outright disdain, but nevertheless living grounded, purposefully, and effective.

Is your identity rooted in who others say you are or who God says you are? How can you take one step away from people-pleasing and closer to God-pleasing today?

You may also enjoy:

Christmas in My Heart

This morning I set my mind to the task of writing to you, dear reader, and promptly made hot chocolate…and watched White Christmas. Having successfully burned two hours, I then reviewed my holiday calendar, read the Christmas story in Luke 2, and played carols on the piano. The holidays offer much material for creative procrastination.

The lilting melody of “He is Born” tugged at my heartstrings and, as beautiful music often does, turned my mind to deeper things. I thought about my Grandma, who loved Christmas and me dearly and whom I miss terribly this time of year. I thought about two friends—one overjoyed because her adoption journey recently culminated in a precious baby boy and one heartbroken because her arms are empty when it should have been her baby’s first Christmas. I thought about the relatives I can’t wait to see in the next few days at our family gatherings and the ones in whose presence I'm not as eager to be on account of unresolved conflict.

Ever pragmatic when it comes to my emotions, I decided that this sentimental reverie wasn’t doing me any favors in this “season to be jolly,” so I got up from the piano bench and looked around for a present to wrap or a batch of cookies to bake. Finding myself up to my eyeballs in gingersnaps and snickerdoodles and not quite crazy enough to mash my potatoes four days in advance, I determined that my physical preparations for Christmas were done. The irony of my vastly different states—outward completion and inner turmoil—was not lost on me, and I realized: it was Christmas in my home but not in my heart.

This is a classic struggle of mine—allowing hands-on work to crowd out space for mental, emotional, and spiritual work—and it’s a battle familiar to our culture, perhaps especially during this "most wonderful time of the year." Several chapters over from the Christmas story, Luke shows us one such scenario:

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’ ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her’” (Luke 10:38-42).

Though today by some Christmas miracle I find myself mostly ready for the coming days of seasonal get-togethers, numerous snapshots of my state of being over the course of the last month could be captioned “worried and upset about many things.” And heaven knows between the shopping, wrapping, baking, visiting, gathering, and attending, I’ve been “distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.”

What might it look like during this season to sit “at the Lord’s feet listening?” Or to choose “what is better?” Flipping back to Luke 2 with fresh eyes seems like a good start, so I begin to read, and what stands out to me this time around is completely different—“placed him in a manger,” “no room for them in the inn,” and “shepherds living out in the fields.” This is no Precious Moments nativity scene; this is a newborn in a feeding trough, a young family unable to find decent accommodations, and society’s lowest of the low. It’s into this messy and far-from-ideal set of circumstances that Jesus is born. “But the angel said to [the shepherds], ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-12).

That the Son of God and Savior of the world entered this planet in humble and even grimy circumstances is another irony not to be missed, one that has something to say to the full gamut of my earlier wonderings--to Christmas memories of my Grandma and longing to see her again, to both my rejoicing friend and my grieving friend, and to my peaceful family relationships and also those that are filled with strife. Good news. Great joy. For all the people. A Savior. Christ the Lord. Christmas in my heart.

What about you? I’d wager a bet it’s Christmas in your home, but is it Christmas in your heart? Amid the preparations that have to be made, how can you create space to ponder how Jesus’ birth meets you in the joys and messes of your own life?

You may also enjoy: