Marriage: Conjunctions Can Change Your Life

I am celebrating my 3rd year of marriage. My favorite new saying is “Nothing will bring you to Jesus like trying to stay married.” As a married woman and an English major, I came to realize that conjunctions often get substituted. “Or” is often considered interchangeable with “And”.  It really shouldn’t be.  That little conjunction can change your whole life.

DISCLAIMER: I'm not trying to make a grandiose argument or anything. This is just a random observation I had one day. So if you think I'm completely off my rocker, you're probably right and therefore starting ruckus in comments is probably extraneous.

Wedding vows: For Better- OR-  for worse. For Richer- OR- for poorer. In sickness- AND- in health.

I was randomly noticing one day that all of a sudden the conjunctions in wedding vows change.

OR, means that one or the other things can or cannot happen. I think that this means there is a chance that we are entering a covenant that may be ONLY worse the entire time and that better will never come. Now, I don’t want to sound like Debbie-Downer so let’s remember that this could also mean that better could come the entire time.  My point isn’t to abase the institution. Really. I’m simply realizing that God did not leave out “the fine print.” In deeper reflection, I think it makes entering the covenant even more sacred. God meant marriage to be so lasting that even the conjunction is perfectly chosen to stress the no matter what.

The hardest part of that is accepting it and staying married anyway. (This doesn’t apply to abuse– duh.) I have found in my own relationship that the first 3 years have been difficult. I am not implying that my husband is a bad husband– he’s not. I have found that I give out 50% and then wait for his 50% and am disappointed when I think I haven’t received it. (I also have the ‘comparison’ problem, which is my struggle not of his doing.)

I read in a book recently about a spouse giving 100% and not expecting a return from the other spouse. Simply put, true love is giving our all despite what we get in return. True love is wanting the best for the other person even at your own cost- no matter how angry, unsatisfied, or lonely you feel at the hands of your spouse.

Only Jesus can really do it all the time.  My human nature just keeps killing my best laid plans to be that wife. And guess what – my spouse is human, too. He mucks it up. Just like me.

God gives us spouses as leaders, helpmates, and overall another imperfect human to help us practice the 100% love. He knew what he was doing when he planned it this way.

I toy with this thought all the time:  Marriage is the opportunity to fine-tune our character qualities.

It’s easy to demonstrate integrity, true love, and grace when everything is going great. That doesn’t really speak  much to one’s true character. It’s the reactions and choices one makes when all is shaken loose that shows our areas of weakness that need improvement. And hey, practice makes perfect, right?

Marriage gives us lots and lots of practice.

For some, not all, matrimony also gives us someone on our side to help us when it’s the outside world that’s beating us down. (It’s kind of like when you were a kid and had siblings or a best friend that you fought with all the time but if someone else fought with you they would whoop their ass. Same principle, only stronger bond.)

And the outside world will come. I have learned this– The Enemy wants our marriages to fail. He wants our Homes to be Broken. He wants our Children to suffer from divorce.

I’m going to share some of my ugly character flaws with you- much to my chagrin.
For me, even so much as entertaining the thought of divorce leads to wrong action in little ways. I listen to him just a little less. I make a few more snide comments just a little more often.  I get quick to anger a little more. Guess what all that does for me– provokes him to do the same.
Voila!- A vicious cycle. Voila!- Satan’s foot is in the door.
(Biblical example of this: David’s first accidental glance at Bathsheba. He entertains the thought of her. We all know the next step: Thoughts=Action.)

  • I throw myself face down on my bed, sobbing, telling God that I give him my marriage broken and to return to me fixed. I make sure to stay deeply in touch with God.
  • I try to change my actions with nothing but the hope that it will inspire him to change his.
  • I choose my hills to die on and let the rest go– no matter how hard it is. Then I take my resentment on some of those to God.
  • I continually seek out wise counsel and Christian literature to help me.
  • Every day I think of one wonderful quality in my husband that I love and speak it out loud to myself. On really bad days, I speak it and then write it down. Yes, sometimes it feels difficult to think of even one, but it’s really not that hard once you get started trying. Even “he didn’t do anything stupid TODAY” is a start. 😉 Ha-Ha.

All I know is that I knew what a conjunction was when I chose to say it.  All I know is that today is not the day I get divorced. All I know is that tomorrow is not the day I get divorced.  And so on.

For the record– my husband is a really good man. He tries really hard to be a good husband. I did not share this post with you as a complaint about him— it is about the reality of how difficult dedicated marriage is.

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365 Gratitude Project: Week 8

Wake up every day with at least 1 thing that makes you grateful you are alive, who you are, and exactly where you are– that was the mission.

A man that is willing to be a father. This may sound tongue-in-cheek, but it’s not. I was a single mom for 5 years because the guy that sponsored my pregnancy bailed when I told him I was pregnant and I hadn’t seen him or his child support since. Real men that are willing to parent are a rare breed. And I found one. I’m so grateful.

(He got his first baseball glove!)

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Summertime!! Warm weather+homemade frozen margaritas=priceless.

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Having a child still in the age range of homemade presents. I love them more than anything he could ever pick from a store. He was so proud of the fact that he had successfully hidden it in his bedroom all this time. 🙂 It was so darling.

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Farmers Market. God Bless them.

Fresh Peaches? Yes, please.

Nom, Nom, Nom.

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A good sport. The look on his face is obviously not happy, but he let us take about 3 pictures before he put his foot down. For only being 9.5 years old, he is such a laid back fella. Lots ‘o fun.

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 Midwestern Living. I never thought I’d really say that. But it is not uncommon to get fresh veggies from the F. Market, grill them over charcoal with a beer in hand, at noon, in your flip flops, in 100 degree weather.

My age is changing my life values. Funny how that works.

Nom, Nom, Nom.

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 Spontaneous, leisure days with the fam. These are few and far between. We were just sitting around and decide to do something together. We went to our big, fancy department store and didn’t buy a thing.

This store has an indoor ferris wheel. “I’ve done it before, I’m not afraid..”

Uhm, yeah.

Money is Like Pickles- And God Wants Us To Have Pickles!

There once were two farmers who desperately needed rain. Both men prayed for the rain, but only one went out and prepared his fields to actually receive it. Which farmer do you think trusted God for His faithfulness?

Which farmer am I? I mean in real life with real life-altering circumstances: which one would I be? I have had to ask myself this question recently and that led me to suspect that others struggle with this as well. When times are good, I am absolutely positive as to which farmer I am. It is when times get really, really tough that the other side of me is brought out. In the last 8 months my circumstances have gone to crap, but I learned a lot about myself and about what God expects from a true believer. I have found that I should do everything that I can do on my own end and then wait on the Lord’s voice and His timing. He will meet me there, but I have definitely found that He wants me to move forward proactively in faith and diligence.

To keep this started off on a light note, let’s first compare this to when a child realizes that the proverbial tough pickle jar needs opened.

(Stay with me here because it gets real after this)

Step 1: We don’t just say, “Well, the jar won’t open so I guess we aren’t using any pickles ever again.” So, for argument sake, let’s just say right out that perhaps we should never just do nothing during our dark times because God wants us to have pickles!! That’s why He created pickles!

Step 2: The child tries by her (or his) own strength to pop the lid off. Fail. Our own strength will never be enough; we need God.

Step 3: The child starts to look around at the resources available and relevant. Said child gets a butter knife and taps the lid jar all around. Now we are getting somewhere, right? The child has realized that although she does not have the strength, she does have the resources God provided; He provided the butter knife and the knowledge of how to tap the jar.

Let’s take a side-trip here for just a brief moment: How did the child know to tap the jar? Two important ways!!

A. The child asked the parent after step 2 what she should try. We should be praying fervently to God about what to do. He will tell us.

B. The child has watched the parent do this trick a hundred times. We should be reading the Bible and emulating Jesus.

Alright, back to the regularly scheduled programming.

Step 4: The child hands over the jar to the parent. We have diligently, faithfully acted. Now it is time to hand it over to God. He’ll handle it from here.  What does a parent say to the child here after step 4? We all say something like, “You totally loosened it for me!!! I’m really proud of how hard you tried!”

Are you still with me? I know that’s a ridiculous example but it’s the setup for the example I’m going to give you from my own life.

My Personal Backstory:

About 8 months ago, my household hit a very dark financial stretch. My husband’s new(ish) job had offered him fantastic health insurance for a great price. We signed him up for it immediately. John (my husband) had a collapsed lung the previous year so we were really excited about this really great coverage. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

His next two paychecks were both $200 short. The divorce decree from 8 years ago states that if he ever has insurance that all 3 of his kids will automatically be put on it. Yikes. John had completely forgotten this (not that I can blame him, it was almost a decade ago!) It would all be fine and dandy, except…
My 3 step-children have military insurance for free that covers them completely. They live across the country so even if they wanted to use my husband’s insurance the co-pay would be outrageous because they are “out of network”. So naturally, their mother decided NOT to use John’s insurance and to stick with her husband’s military insurance (as any intelligent woman would do!).  So here we are with $400 a month missing from his paychecks for a product that no one was using! This is completely separate from child support, mind you. So we were paying child support AND the $400 a month. The part that really bothers me is the: NO ONE WAS USING IT. (John never saw a doctor, I wasn’t on it, and our son in the home was not on it, and the boys never used it because they had their own, better insurance)

Child Support + $400/mo insurance = actual take home pay is lower than minimum wage.

You now have the very  basic backstory. I’m going to share with you now how God moved in our life. He nudged us when we needed nudged, He blessed us when we were obedient, He strengthened our marriage, and He revealed to us our weaknesses and strengths.

Step 1: We did nothing.We actually lived this way for about 1.5 months because we trusted that God would fix it for us without any effort or realizations on our part. (1 Samuel 17: 1-16. A huge, strong, completely armored, well-trained military giant has an entire tribe of God’s people “dismayed and greatly afraid” for forty days.) They did nothing for over a month. Unfortunately, we were even worse because we did nothing for over forty days.

Step 2:  We try by our own strength to solve the problem.
We decide that all we need to do is live even more below our means. We decide we need a stricter budget and stricter adherence to said budget.  (1 Samuel 17: 38-39: Then Saul clothed David with his garments and put a bronze helmet on his head, and he clothed him with armor. David girded his sword over his armor and tried to walk, for he had not tested them. So David said to Saul, “I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.” And David took them off.) – My perception of this as applicable to my situation is that our modern-day armor/helmet/garments were our creative budgeting. We donned our new budget the way that Saul was dressing up David—in completely inappropriate, unnecessary armor that didn’t even fit. We thought that our own, familiar armor is what we would need to solve the problem instead of stepping out in Faith.    Epic Fail.
We were already living below the norm of the average American household. We already had no cable, no internet, no Netflix, no date nights, no little family treats (like renting movies from Family Video—nope, not even that). All of our expenses were fixed, general stay-alive expenses. (Water, power, etc)

Our grocery and house supply bill were the only bills that were flexible. John does manual labor so he has to have food to fuel his body and Phillip (our son) needs food to fuel his growth, but I sit behind a desk all day so in this triad my body needs the least fuel. I ended up eating 1 meal a day and it was carrot sticks or cucumber slices. (Cheap, but super healthy so I didn’t die)
I was dubbed “The Girl with the Carrot Sticks” as a nickname at work.  Get it? It’s a pun off the book The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Librarian humor! On the positive side, the “poverty diet” did slim me down to fit back into my skinny jeans from pre-marriage. 🙂 Poverty Diet= Size 9 to Size 3.

The worst part of this scenario though that I feel I need to share with you is that it left no room for “life happens” to happen. It eroded our family from the inside out. My son, being only 9, took his over-shirt off at school and left it there. Obviously no one turned it in to lost & found (probably stolen) and we had to replace it. When you don’t even have enough money to the pay the bills, a lost shirt seems like a huge crisis. I reacted soooo badly; I’m talking about off- the-deep-end rage. I had him in tears with my poisonous words and tone– and over what?– 1 missing shirt that he certainly did not lose on purpose. I hate that this kind of stress has the ability to reduce me to monsterdom. (Yeah, I’m coining this make-believe word) John and I started bickering over petty, stupid stuff too and it finally took us all to such an ugly place that we knew we could not stay.

Step 3: We start to look around for the resources available and relevant. We decide that we can’t count on our own strength and need to take some action. Of course, God had gone before us and laid it out all—He was just waiting for us to do our part. (1 Samuel 17: 40: He took his stick in his hand and chose for himself five smooth stones from the brook, and put them in the shepherd’s bag which he had, even in his pouch, and his sling was in his hand; and he approached the Philistine.) – David didn’t want the one-size-fits-all armor of Saul; he went and found the resources that God provided that fit his talents, willingness, and what he already had with him. We did the same.

Resource 1: A second part-time job. I decide that my husband needs to get a second job, part-time. My husband decides that he shouldn’t have to get a second job; instead he thinks I should quit the job I have and find something that pays more.

Huge argument ensues. Deep wedges of resentment building, but commitment still intact. We seek outside counsel from our pastor.

Resource 1B: Pastor that is fair and truly cares enough to counsel us. He listens to the financial woes. He then lets us discuss it at with one another for a good few minutes. He holds us both accountable for the way we are not communicating to one another. I think quickly and I talk even more quickly. Our pastor likes to call this the “fire hydrant.” When unleashed, my poor husband takes a big ole drink of every single thought I have all at once. To top that off though, then I get angry when he doesn’t/can’t respond. John thinks slowly, and talks even more slowly. He likes to take in one piece of information at a time, work it over slowly in his mind, and then come back to discuss it. Unfortunately, we just never seem to come back to things until they blow up. This pattern starts a vicious cycle that ends up with us never communicating. (And, oh yes, it has been this way from the time we started dating.) Our pastor gives us extremely good advice about how to go forward together from now. He recommends that we discuss 1 piece of the topic at a time, we write our thoughts down, and then take a break to think those over separately, and then come back to discuss them. This has actually worked out really well. He also discusses ideas about different ways to make the money we need to at least survive. He discusses what the Bible says about John being the provider and protector of the family. He refers us to Dave Ramsey about possible extra jobs that won’t exhaust my husband since he works manual labor in the daytime. Dave Ramsey suggests pizza delivery.

Not even a week later, John and I sit down to discuss the situation again and he admits to me the real reason that he didn’t want to get a night job. He had been married once before and had always worked two jobs while he was married to her because she was staying home with their infant children. (I do not condemn this situation by the way. I believe mothers that can stay home with their newborns should definitely do that if that is what they want!)  He was terrified that I too would get lonely, or feel abandoned and would similarly seek solace in the arms of another man. This broke my heart, but it also gave me a good look inside of his. I reassured him that although I’m a lot of things, unfaithful is not one of them. Plus, of course, stating the obvious: I’m deeply in love with my husband. Not the love-goggle kind, the I-see-the-real-you-and-I-would-still-starve-before-let-anything-happen-to-you kind. His honest confession softened my heart the way that nothing else would have. I had been assuming that he was just lazy, or didn’t care, or wanted me to be the man of the family. I was angry. After hearing his confession, I was ashamed. I saw a lot about myself that I didn’t like after that. Why would I assume the worst of my husband? This forever changed me.

God Meets Us There: Our relationship has never been as close as it was/is after that. We needed that type of counseling long ago and never received it. If this situation had never come up, John and I would still not be communicating and we still wouldn’t know each other as well as we do now. God strengthened our marriage through this awful situation. John and I demonstrated how committed we are to making this marriage work even through the “or for worse” of our vows—because God gave us this opportunity. We actually communicate better now, we speak more truthfully now, and we know now that we are teammates in everything now. We like to say, “We’re all in!”

God Meets Us There: Not even a full week after that conversation (so about 2 from seeing our pastor), a pizza delivery job was posted to our local Craigslist. I kid you not! That is how specific God is. John responded to that ad within the hour that it was posted. He was hired the same day he was interviewed. In an economy where the unemployment rate is at an all-time high, he managed to find 2 jobs within 1 year.

Resource 2: I ask my work to cross-train me in other areas and they do. I end up picking up a ton of extra hours.

God Meets Us There: It turns out that the hours of the other positions I learned are actually better than my regular hours. I can go in, get 6 extra hours every day, and still be off in plenty of time to pick up my son from school. I don’t have to pay a babysitter when I’m working in the new positions, which makes those days all profit. I was making (and still am) almost as much as my husband at his real job now. Plus, now I have also become one of the most highly-trained employees there.

Resource 3: We decide we don’t need our fancy smart phones. It is the third most expensive thing we have– barely below our car! The family package, internet for both of us, and unlimited texting (not to mention all of their miscellaneous extra charges) is crazy expensive. We decided to take it back down to regular minutes with unlimited texting because we may need it for emergencies.  We had to remind ourselves that people used to do just fine when they only had a landline. And besides, we aren’t supposed to be on our phones when we are at work and we don’t need to be on them when we are at home with our families so when/why exactly do we need them??
I have to admit here that this step was by far the most difficult for John. He was addicted to his phone. It was never out of his hand. Ever.

God Meets Us There: This change earned us approximately $100 extra dollars back into our house a month. Yeah. That’s huge. But besides that, it completely changed our family dynamic. Now when you talk to my husband, he can look you in the eye and you have his full attention instead of competing with the games on his phone that he is simultaneously playing. We aren’t interrupted at the dinner table by it beeping that he has a Facebook update of some sort. It’s nice. I didn’t even realize how upset I was over it until now that it’s gone and things are different.

Resource 4: We take a huge leap of Faith and decide to go to court to get the insurance dropped. This is where the story starts getting intense, folks. This is the pivotal turning point that displays what an amazing God we serve.  This is where everything gets difficult but God blesses our obedience. This is where I start getting chills every time I tell what happened.
The issue here is that anytime you go to court for something, it is a gamble that it will work completely against you.
We were going to ask that they drop the insurance and raise the child support a little instead. We think this is a fair trade because the insurance is being wasted–at least if we increase the support we know our kids are actually using the money.

However: this could go terribly wrong. The insurance is a completely separate order from the child support. The court could raise the child support AND keep the insurance, in which case we would end up foreclosing on our house. We are talking grown-people-moving-back-in-with-the-parents-and-commuting-an-hour-every-day-for-work scenario. We are literally discussing losing our house territory. But John was working 65+ hours a week at this point and I’m exhausted because I’m working full-time and inevitably acting as single-parent because he’s at his second job and we just cannot continue this way permanently. But still, this is a huge gamble; throw in an ex-wife and you have the recipe for what I call ‘Calamity Soup’.

We decide that we trust God to take care of us. We decide that as long as our intentions are honorable and we deal with the courts and the ex with integrity, then He will bless us.

And He does.

God Meets Us There: The court orders the insurance dropped. Here is the part that may make you tingle. The judge says that in all her years as the judge in that court, she has only ever had 2 other men voluntarily ask to raise the child support. She commends John for his integrity, and doesn’t raise his support to the ultimate maximum! The support is now the same amount as our house, but we gained about $90/month back. I’ll take it and be grateful!

I am absolutely positive that because of our integrity with handling that circumstance and those people, that God continued to bless us for our obedience. This next resource showed up simply because He is an amazing, generous God:

Resource 5: The car dealership calls me out of the blue and asks to buy back our car at the same price we bought it for! Let me explain why this is so powerful!! We had tried to get out from under my car 3 months before this and again 2 months before. We owed waaaay too much on it still. We had written this option off.
Two nights before I got the call, I had woken up in the middle of the night for no reason and couldn’t get back to sleep. I couldn’t get out of bed and go watch t.v. in the living room because my nephew was spending the weekend with us and he was asleep on the living room couch. So I was stuck laying in bed, wide awake.

So I prayed. I prayed fervently. I literally prayed for 2 hours before I finally fell back asleep. (I had looked at the alarm clock right before I forced myself to close my eyes again, at which point I fell asleep) Wanna guess what I prayed about? That we would find a way out from under the car!!

Two days later. I kid you not.

God Meets Us There: We ended up trading the car for a nicer vehicle. We walked away clean from our expensive car. We didn’t have to roll any of the money over or anything. In fact, we got money “back” (we just had them pay it towards the new car) from not having to carry specialized insurance anymore.  My son actually fits inside of it, it is the same year, it has lower miles, still has a sunroof, and it actually drives better. We gained $100/mo from the trade and it will take us 1 whole year less to pay off. So we gained instant money and long-term money.

Another tingly “coincidence“: the new car had just finished being serviced because it had just been brought in that morning. It has the window sticker of a woman kneeling at a cross on the back windshield. That sticker even made my husband’s jaw drop. What were the odds that the very car we needed was brought in on the very day we needed it, from another Christian person?

God Meets Us There: God used this opportunity to strengthen our family once again. You see, this was my “dream” car. We thought that because we owned our truck outright that we could afford to take on my dream car with such a high payment. I really liked it. But God revealed the weakness in my own heart about loving earthly possessions too much. When John started working his second job, he was away from home 65+ hours a week. (40 regular job, 25+ second job) I missed him so much I couldn’t stand it. It didn’t take very long before I realized that I loved my husband more than I loved my dream car. I was “over it” with having a fancy car instead of a present husband. My priorities and loyalties became crystal clear to me. He, being the honorable man of God that he is, wanted to keep it. He wanted to fulfill my dreams. It actually took me convincing him to let me trade it in. That it was no reflection on him being a “poor provider”–that I wanted him more, I loved him more, that I would walk if it brought him home more. Ultimately, he was my “dream”.
Something about hearing all of this out loud clicked with him because he has been more devoted and attentive than ever. We are even closer now than we were when he was “fulfilling my dreams”.  Praise be to God!

Step 4: We hand it over to God. We have literally done everything we can do on our own end. From here we trust Him and wait on His timing to bless us. We cannot sit around and do nothing. David did not sit around with the rest of the tribe and wait for God to smite Goliath. He went out after him dressed in Faith and then let God deliver him into his hand.

Do we still face every day with the fact that one emergency will completely ruin us? Yes. Are we afraid of that fact? No. When we start to feel afraid, we simply review all the different ways God has met us where we are and how blessed we have been. We have nothing to fear. (1 Samuel 17: 33-37: Then Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are but a youth while he has been a warrior from his youth.”  But David said to Saul, “Your servant was tending his father’s sheep. When a lion or bear came and took a lamb from the flock, I went out after him and attacked him, and rescued it from his mouth; and when he rose up against me, I seized him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, since he has taunted the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”)

David simply remembered all the ways that God was faithful in the past when he was faced with big challenges. I am simply remembering the last 8 months of all the ways God was faithful to my family.

I serve an Amazing God, and so do you.

I hope this post fuels your inner courage and your trust of His faithfulness for your own circumstances.

365 Gratitude Project: Week 4

Wake up every day with at least 1 thing that makes you grateful you are alive, who you are, and exactly where you are– that was the mission.

This week was a little harder for me.  It seems like when everything is going wrong, it’s twice as hard to find the little things attractive. But I pushed through because I know that the most important time to do this project is when things are hard.

  My job. I get to work surrounded by awesome goodness of books. This is a picture of just one-quarter of the library I work in. And, even if this wasn’t already awesome, I would be grateful for employment at all in these times. (Seriously, this is a very small section of the library)

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  Holding Hands with my husband. He reached back and grabbed my hand through the whole store. Remember, people could see this! 🙂

I felt really special and really loved. Little acts of love mean sooo much to me.

A co-worker of my husband’s was just telling us a story the other day about how he doesn’t hold his wife’s hand anymore because they are “too old” for that and have been married “forever” so she knows that he loves her….. this made me so sad, and yet feel so special in my own marriage.

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My future prayer-warrior.

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Toe socks. It is impossible to be cranky when you are wearing these– just look down and you are bound to at least smirk. A smirk can lead to a full-blown smile if you aren’t careful.

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Exercise. Everything about exercise is awesome. Our bodies are one of the most complex, detailed machines that God created. I love taking care of it. Plus, the endorphins are amazing!!

If you feel the same way, check out my best friend’s blog Redemption Fitness.

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The Easy Joy of Children. This child was sooo excited about his scooter ($25). He came into the house to get me so I could watch him do a “wheelie”. He was just glowing. I want to feel that way again about something, anything. My description of this moment doesn’t even encapsulate how excited and simplistically fulfilled he was.

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The Right Resources. Every child learns differently and it feels like I have gone through a hundred different types of resources trying to find something that speaks to my child on a real level.

I finally found it. I am so grateful for the availability of resources.