Where Logic Meets Love

How We Met (Part 3)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

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How We Met (Part 3) | Faith Permeating Life

Read Part 1 and Part 2 first!

By the time the next weekend rolled around, my resistance to dating was starting to melt.

That weekend, our residence hall had a retreat, which Mike and I both attended. A bunch of girls from my floor also went, but the people Mike and I knew best were one girl on my floor and her boyfriend, so the four of us spent a lot of time together on Friday evening of the retreat.

Then all the attendees were assigned to small groups for the weekend, and Mike and I were assigned to the same small group. (OK, OK, God, I get your flashing signs already.)

For those who don't know, a "small group" in a Christian setting usually refers to a group of maybe 6-8 people who meet to pray and talk together. On a retreat, this usually means sharing personal stories and talking about deep thoughts and fears.

If my heart hadn't already melted for Mike at this point, hearing him share his feelings openly certainly did. One thing in particular I remember was when he talked about how most people saw him as this goofy, funny guy, and how only the people close to him knew his serious, introspective side. I realized that I had gotten close enough to him to be one of those people who knew many sides of him.

That night, a group of us sat out under the stars and talked. Slowly people started heading to bed until it was just Mike and me left. We lay on the ground and talked for hours, probably until 1 or 2 in the morning, even when it got freezing (and you know how I hate to be cold!!). I don't even remember what we talked about, but I knew after that night that if he wanted to date me, I wouldn't say no.

That night also marked the first and only time I've ever seen a shooting star.

We got back to campus Saturday night, and on Sunday we went together to see some murder mystery thing our campus activities board was hosting -- still as friends; I think maybe some other people were supposed to come too. Then Monday evening he invited me down to his dorm room to watch a movie -- Toy Story. I remember he had cleaned the room and had a bowl of candy sitting out. Later he told me he was embarrassed that he hadn't offered me any candy, and I told him it was fine because I'd eaten some anyway (see also: I am a mooch).

We watched the movie, and then while it was rewinding (yes, it was VHS, haha) we looked at each other awkwardly, and I said I should probably get going. Then he said no, wait, he needed to say this because he'd been practicing it in his head and he needed to say it now before he got too nervous. I don't remember exactly what he said except that he liked me a lot. (Sorry, Mike -- at least I remember the important part, right??)

I didn't feel ready to be in a relationship with a label, and I remember thinking, "Whatever you do, don't say but." I said, "I think you're a really great person, I enjoy spending time with you, and I think we should continue hanging out and see where it goes."

(Well, dear readers, you know where it went.)

I think Mike must have heard a "but" anyway, because when we went out to dinner for my birthday a few weeks later (which was supposed to be a group event but was engineered by our friends to just be the two of us) he gave me a card signed "Your friend, Michael." I think he was trying to show me that he respected my space -- something he's done ever since.

It was a slow process; when I went home for Thanksgiving I had to explain that there was "this guy" in my life who wasn't a "boyfriend." I didn't even have his cell phone number yet. But eventually we started using the terms boyfriend and girlfriend for expediency, and our college got Facebook just in time for us to be "Facebook official" sometime in December.

And that, my dear readers, is the long and dramatic story of how Mike and I got together.

If you've written about how you and your significant other got together, please link to it (or give us an abbreviated version!) in comments. I'd love to read them!

How We Met (Part 2)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

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How We Met (Part 2) | Faith Permeating Life

Read here for Part 1 of how Mike and I met.

It was around mid-September of our freshman year that Mike and I discovered we had so much in common. Around this same time, he was sitting in the hallway one day (with a group, as usual) and had asked a friend to look over a paper he'd written. I was sitting across from him and, nerdy grammar geek that I am, just itching to take my editing pen to his paper.

I finally got up the courage to ask if I could edit it for him, which I did, and then he wrote on a napkin, "I O U something cool." A few days later, he IMed me late at night to make sure I was still awake, then ran upstairs (it was after midnight curfew), slid a mix CD under my door, and ran back down to his room.

Somehow this incident started both a series of late-night IM sessions and the trading of more things -- I think I must have made him a mix CD in return. We would be on AOL Instant Messenger (remember that?) until 2 or 3 in the morning most nights, doing homework and keeping each other company virtually. I actually saved all of those conversations, but they were lost in a hard drive crash because they were saved to a spot that wasn't backed up. Grr.

Anyway.

Sometime around the beginning of October I started thinking that maybe he was interested in me as more than a friend. This conclusion was very difficult for me to come to, mostly because almost no guys had ever been interested in me up to that point, but also because if it were true, it meant that at some point I was going to have to hurt our friendship by telling him that I wasn't planning to date anyone ever again.

The next few weeks, aside from classes, homework, and meals, were pretty much spent as follows: Hang out with Mike (and other people on my floor, usually); spend an hour on the phone with my best girl friend trying to decipher whether Mike was interested in me and what to do about it (and insisting that I was not interested in dating him); stay up late on IM with Mike.

I know. Ridiculous, right?

I finally decided that the best way to handle the situation was to work it into conversation that I'd decided never to date again. We were on IM and I somehow worked it into conversation that I had been talking to my best guy friend and how he was lamenting over not having a boyfriend, and that he didn't understand why I'd made the decision that I never wanted to have a boyfriend or get married.

I could almost hear the shocked silence on Mike's end. He may have asked me some questions about my decision, I don't remember. But I figured that would take care of things.

Yet Mike, persistent bugger that he is, decided to keep pursuing me anyway.

And, despite his giant 'fro, I had to grudgingly admit that there was a lot to like about him.

I remember there was some fundraiser where you could send a Halloween candy gram to someone, and he bought one for every girl on our floor.

Then, our floor was participating in a campus activity where local kids could come trick-or-treat in the dorms, and since his floor wasn't participating, he helped us decorate our hallway, and then convinced the girls who lived next door to me to let him hand out candy from their room since they wouldn't be there. They agreed on the condition that, since it was a girls' floor, they dress him up like a girl, to which he gamely agreed, wearing a skirt and makeup and letting them put flowered clips in his 'fro.

Then, over Halloween weekend, he and one of his friends on my floor organized a ham dinner for our two floors. I had to admit that it was incredibly attractive to see him running around with pot holders on his hands, directing the friends who were helping out in the kitchen.

Looking back, I suppose he may have done a lot of this because he liked me.

And in fact, I got what I considered to be concrete proof that he did like me, because when I said I was going to be a cowgirl for Halloween, he said he'd been thinking about being a cowboy.

Yeah. I was pretty much convinced at that point.

Stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion... I know you're all dying to see how this turns out ;)

Update: Part 3!

How We Met (Part 1)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

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How We Met (Part 1) | Faith Permeating Life

It occurred to me recently that while I've referenced bits and pieces of this story in other posts, I've never actually shared on here the whole messy story of how Mike and I first got together. I'm not sure how much anyone actually cares, but for the purposes of referencing back to it later, I figured I should lay it all out there.

It's a rather long story, so you're getting it in three installments so you don't get too bored :)

The story starts when I graduated high school. I hope you'll forgive me if you've heard this part before. When I graduated high school, I swore to everyone that I was never going to date again. I was perfectly happy being single and would prefer to stay such for the rest of my life. I was very adament about this.

What I didn't tell anyone was that in my anger and frustration with guys and dating, I had thrown up a sarcastic prayer to God.

"God, I am done chasing guys who don't like me. If You really want me to get married, then You're gonna have to send me the perfect guy and make him pursue me. Good luck with that."

Yeah. Issuing sarcastic challenges to God = poor decision.

Mike and I met our first week of college. Nothing about our first meeting is particularly memorable -- I was going around our dorm with a girl from my floor, and we ran into Mike and his roommate in the lobby; she knew Mike from a church activity they did in high school and introduced us. I only know it was him because we walked past his dorm room and my new friend said, "That's where those guys we met in the lobby live," and later that year when I was spending lots of time in that room, I put two and two together and realized I'd met Mike that first week.

Mike lived on the men's Christian Leadership floor; I was on the women's, which was a floor above his. Since Mike already knew one girl on our floor and is quick to make friends, he started coming up and hanging out on our floor quite often. The girls on my floor had a habit of hanging out in a big group in our hallway, so it was easy for anyone to come up and join the group. I became friends with Mike as much as I was friends with any of the other guys and girls who hung out in our hallway.

There's an exact moment we can pinpoint when Mike and I started to go from being friends-in-a-group to close individual friends. I was sitting at my desk on my computer in my dorm room when Mike came in and sat on my bed.

I was a little bit flustered by this forwardness -- I mean, the bed was a reasonable place to sit since it was the only place in the room other than the desk chair to sit, but the fact that he'd just decided to come in, sit down, and start talking to me was odd, I thought.

I guess he'd decided he needed to get to know me better, so he just plopped down and started asking me questions.

What did we talk about? Religion and politics.

And I discovered, with a shock, that there was someone else in this world who thought exactly the way I did.

I remember even having the thought in high school that as much as I loved my friends, I felt like some of them were on exactly the same wavelength as each other, and I didn't know if there was a person in the world who saw life just like I did.

And here he was, sitting on my bed.

Slight but important story detour: When I was in middle school and high school, they were a few times when I would attempt to clear my mind of whatever guy I was currently infatuated with and ask myself, what would my *ideal* guy be like?

And always, maddeningly, I would get this image in my head of a guy sitting on my bed.

It drove me nuts because 1) this image told me nothing about the guy, because I couldn't actually see his face, and I knew nothing about him, and 2) it made no sense because it wasn't like guys were regularly coming in my bedroom -- why would a guy be sitting on my bed?

It wasn't until Mike and I had been dating for several months that I remembered with a start this image that had repeatedly popped into my head when I was younger.

And at that point, I said: OK, God, I get your big flashing neon sign. This is the guy I asked you for.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Stay tuned for Part 2...

Updates: Part 2 Part 3

A Marriage Built on Service

Monday, October 24, 2011

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You've all heard me talk about service in marriage before, but did you know that Mike and I have focused on service to each other from the beginning: our wedding day?

See how our faith informed our wedding planning in my guest post over at Helena's blog Bye Bye Bitters: A Marriage Built on Service.

Thanks, Helena, for hosting me!

Education in the Facebook Era

Sunday, October 23, 2011

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Someone recently shared this video with me. You'll have to watch it through to the end or this post may not make any sense:



It was created by the Upright Citizens Brigade comedy team, and while I don't necessarily think it's that funny, I started thinking about how this would be a genius approach for anybody wanting to create a real PSA (Public Service Announcement).

If you take just the first 45 seconds of the video, it really is a standard PSA: It imparts some factual information to influence people to behave a certain way. And even after you see the joke at the end, the information itself still has the opportunity to stick with you and make an impression on you. I doubt many people would take seriously (and act on) the ending recommendation to "drive recklessly" because "not every pedestrian is a good person."

The genius part is the recognition that influence is no longer all about money and branding and being a big corporation. This video has been viewed over 2 million times. Why? Because everyone who finds it funny is posting it on their Facebook page, saying, "Watch all the way to the end!" And then it takes just a click or two for those people to share it with their friends, with their own caption.

It's a lot more personal than a TV commercial because it's being shared between friends. And it's being shared because of the unexpected twist at the end, even though the majority of the video is a standard, educational PSA.

I'm not suggesting that every piece of information nowadays needs to be communicated with a "song and dance." As someone who works in education, it rubs me the wrong way when people suggest that everything has to be made an interactive website with video in order to get students to learn anything. I don't think that's true.

But I think that if you're trying to get information to a large number of people, it makes sense to capitalize on the networks of sharing that have already been built. You don't have to have millions of dollars to have a successful ad campaign if you can create something that people want to share with their friends.

As an example: On the White House's official YouTube channel, most of the videos have fewer than 5,000 views. The top two videos of Obama swatting a fly during an interview? Over 1.4 million views combined.

Again, I'm not saying the White House needs to have President Obama doing ninja moves in his weekly addresses to get people to watch the videos, but the notion of "What will people share?" should be in anybody's mind who's trying to create content to spread to a large audience.

Just something to think about.

What are your thoughts?

A Love Letter to Kate [Drop a Love Bomb]

Friday, October 21, 2011

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A Love Letter to Kate [Drop a Love Bomb] | Faith Permeating Life

This post is part of a Love Bomb Mission to send love to Kate, who is suffering from depression. Remind Kate that she is loved and join the mission.

Dear Kate,

You don't know me, but I heard you're having a rough time right now. And not everyone in your life understands how you're feeling. It really, really sucks when people aren't as loving and supportive as they should be. But hey -- there's a whole team of people out there, people you don't even know, who want you to know that you deserve every bit of love you'll let us offer to you.

I'm not going to pretend that I understand what depression feels like. But I will tell you that I understand the lie that you have to do everything and be everything to everyone, and manage it with a smile on your face.

I've had points in my life where I was so incredibly overwhelmed with all of the things on my plate that I wanted to make it all go away at once -- call it quits and go hide in a cave somewhere, or go to bed and refuse to get up until all of my responsibilities vanished. Why? Because I felt like I wasn't allowed to have a crack in the image that I showed to everyone. I felt like I either had to keep up the image or have a massive meltdown in which it shattered in front of everyone.

But really? That's a lie.

Everyone has cracks. Everyone has times when they have to call it quits on one thing or another, where they have to just hand this thing off to someone else, do a less-than-perfect job on this other thing, and take a day off work for no "real" reason.

And what I've found is that the people who are really good at this -- the people who stand up and say, "You know what? Sorry, everyone, but I have to take care of myself first." -- other people admire them.

(Not everyone admires them, of course. Were you going for everyone? Because there are some freakin' crazy people out there. Also some angry, hateful, bitter, spiteful, nasty, insecure people. And they're going to be that way no matter what you do. They suck. But their opinions are not important. Honest.)

What I've found is that the solutions that spring to mind first are the most outlandish: "I'm going to quit my job." "I'm going to just drive away and never come back." "I'm going to quit all of my activities." But I don't really want to do any of those things. I just need some breathing room, to scale things back enough that I don't feel suffocated and panicked all the time. And when I do, I feel better.

There are many people in your life who love you, Kate. I know there are. And all they care about, really, is wanting you not to hurt so much. They are not going to think terrible things about you if you take the small steps you need to take to get yourself out of your black hole. They are not going to judge you if you need to drop a few courses or cut back your hours at work or go into inpatient treatment for your depression. If that's what helps you, that is what matters.

No matter what you do, there will always be people who don't understand. But there will always be people who understand, too. And there are, right now, more people than you can even imagine sending you their love and praying that you will take good care of yourself.

It's OK to be "that girl," like you said, who needs a little help. We may not all have depression, but we all need a little help sometimes. That's why God gave us other people.

Love,
Jessica

On Miracles

Thursday, October 20, 2011

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On Miracles | Faith Permeating Life

So. Miracles.

How do we define a miracle? My weak attempt at a definition is this: A miracle is an event in which a positive outcome happens in defiance of what we understand to be natural law. It's something that known science, medicine, and logic cannot explain.

A wise priest, speaking about intelligent design, once said that securing our faith on our inability to explain something is dangerous, because as soon as science explains it, our reason for believing disappears. Which is why I'll say again that prayers and miracles are not the reason I believe. They simply are some of the things that help sustain me through periods of doubt.

The trouble with trying to apply human logic to miracles is that, by definition, they defy logic. We can't explain why this baby who should have died miraculously recovered, so how should we be able to explain why this other baby did not miraculously recover?

So I don't attempt to offer these stories as concrete proof of God's existence. Maybe they will be explainable 100 years from now.

I tell them because stories are meant to be told.

Many other people's stories have touched me as much as, maybe even more than, my own. I think that's natural: Things that happen to other people always seem shinier somehow, while we apply more scrutiny to our own lives. These stories shared with me by others will be with me forever.

So I could tell you about my cousin, who went to Moldova with a church group and gave out gift bags to children at an orphanage. Far more children showed up than they'd made gift bags for, so they had no option but to pray and start handing out bags. At the end, they had six bags left over, three "girl" bags and three "boy" bags. The head of the orphanage then came to them and asked whether they had any bags left over, as there were three girls and three boys who couldn't come because they were sick.

Or I could tell you about the people my grandfather the deacon healed with a glove that was Padre Pio's, like the man who discovered his body was riddled with cancer and his spleen massively enlarged, who came to my grandfather's house the next day and went back that afternoon to the doctor, who immediately got angry and said, "What are you trying to pull here?" because the man was completely cancer-free and his spleen normal-sized.

But you have the Internet and can find many more stories like this.

So I have to give you mine instead.

Story 1
My freshman year of college, I went on a Spring Break trip with my scholars program to Paris. While walking around the city, I'd seen this shop selling cute T-shirts in French, but it was always evening when we went past and the shop was closed. The morning we were scheduled to leave France, I talked my friend Molly into walking down to the shop with me. It was finally open, and I quickly bought two shirts and we headed back to our hotel. There was a narrow street in front of our hotel, and a bus pulled up to the crosswalk just as we got there. I wanted to wait for the bus to pass, but the driver insistently waved us on, so we started to cross the street, me first.

The street wasn't wide enough for another car to pass the bus, but just to be safe, I looked to my left as soon as I was clear of the bus. There was a guy on a moped barreling down the street, and he was a foot away from me.

I didn't have even a split second to react before I slammed into the ground on my left knee and hand. It hurt like hell, but I was able to get up just fine, and even had enough of my wits about me to answer the moped driver, who was frantically asking, "Ça va? Ça va?" ("Are you okay?") "Oui, ça va."

Molly and I went into the hotel lobby, where our group was sitting with their suitcases, ready to go. I dramatically told my story about what had just happened, ending with, "And it ran over my leg!" But the second I said it, I knew it wasn't true. In fact... where had it hit me? Obviously it had hit me with enough force to knock me to the ground, but I had no pain except in my hand and knee where I'd hit the ground. And why had I fallen on my left side -- toward the moped -- instead of my right, or on my back, for that matter?

I must have asked Molly four times how exactly the moped hit me before her answer sunk in. She was showing me with her hands: "All I saw was it go in front of you." She'd seen the vehicle pass between us.

I've heard stories where someone felt someone invisible pushing them to safety. I never felt a push, yet the fact remains that I was knocked to the ground and uninjured. I have no explanation for it.

Story 2
Mike and I spent the summer after we graduated living with his aunt in New Jersey. When it was time to head back to Chicago in August, we first went to Buffalo to spend a few days with his relatives, then got onto I-80/I-90 for the long stretch back to Chicago.

I was driving when we got to a part near Cleveland that we later learned is called -- no joke -- Dead Man's Curve. The freeway speed limit drops down to about 35 mph because the entire thing splits and turns 90 degrees in either direction. I was in the middle lane, surrounded by traffic on every side; it was the busiest and densest strip of highway we'd encountered so far on the trip, and I was just trying to breathe and focus on getting through Dead Man's Curve safely since (1) I hate driving and (2) I hate freeways.

Finally, we made it through to the other side, and I realized there was a semi to my left. I knew that my immediate priority was to get out of the truck's blind spot, and I sped up as much as I could until I was nearly clear of it. Nearly.

That's when the semi decided to change lanes.

I saw it start to get over and laid on my horn, while trying to get as far to the right as I could without running into the next lane. It tapped my bumper; the driver swerved to the left to try to stop from hitting me, apparently overcorrected, swerved back to the right and slammed into our bumper so hard that the car spun around 180 degrees and into the truck's path.

I don't remember much about the next few seconds except that my sunglasses flew off my face so I was momentarily blinded, I started screaming "Oh my God! Oh my God!" and I had enough time to think, "This is it. This is how I'm going to die. Brace for impact."

The impact never came. I heard Mike calmly say, "Pull over onto the shoulder." He doesn't remember saying anything, but does remember that his heart rate didn't even go up during the entire incident. I guided the car to the right in time for us to complete our arc around and slam the back bumper hard into the concrete median.

The bumper was smashed in on both sides and a panel next to the steering wheel had popped out, but amazingly, we were both completely unharmed and the car was drivable. A tow truck driver stopped and offered to turn the car around for us and park it on the opposite shoulder, up where the semi had pulled over. The police stopped all three lanes of traffic while we ran across to our car. It was surreal.

So that makes twice now that I should have been injured, maybe badly injured, and instead was completely unharmed. And it scares me -- a lot.

People get injured and killed in crazy accidents all the time. Why should I have been inexplicably knocked out of the way of a speeding moped, and had my car spun around on the highway without getting so much as a scratch? Am I supposed to take this as a sign that God wants me alive for something specific? That my work here isn't done?

Or is there some reasonable explanation for all of this that's just beyond my comprehension?

Miracles are scary, crazy, wonderful things, folks.

My Answered Prayers

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

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My Answered Prayers | Faith Permeating Life

Although I talk about faith a lot on here, I don't often talk about why I believe in God. And, in point of fact, the things I'm going to share with you here are not the reason I believe. I believe because my heart is full in God and I find joy through my faith. (Those might sound like abstract, rhetorical concepts, but they're actually more related to my day-to-day life.) The things here are more what stops me on the days I'm tempted to stop believing.

God doesn't answer all prayers -- I can go into that further in another post -- but He does answer some. And sometimes weird ones. Here are a few.

1) Probably my first real vivid memory of an answered prayer was when I was in middle school. I was supposed to go on vacation to a lake with my family for a week. I was scheduled to get my period the week of vacation, and at that point in time I had a very regular cycle, so it was pretty much guaranteed. I loathe tampons, as I've explained before, and I was beside myself praying I would get my period early. I did, a week and a half early. Only time in my life that's happened.

2) My junior year of high school I was feeling suffocated by my group of friends. I'd had the same group of friends since middle school, and we hung out in the morning, had classes together all day, and did the same extracurricular activities. There was no escaping the drama. I thought it was impossible for me to make new friends because I hadn't made any new friends in years, and I didn't even know how I would go about it.

Then in March, I met someone. He was a year older than me and we had math class together, and we became instant friends. (Of course, I made the mistake of trying to date him.) It wasn't until I was goiong through my old diary entries that I found my desperate, tearful prayers in February for a friend, any friend. I had completely forgotten, and here God had answered loud and clear.

3) The summer after high school, I was all set to go on a mission trip with a group from my church and another church. We had picked out which vans we'd be traveling in -- it was a two-day trip to get down there, if I remember correctly -- and I was set to be in a van with five or six other kids that I didn't know too well. The night before the trip I started to panic because I realized that I was going to be totally out of place and no one would talk to me the entire trip because they all knew each other and I get quiet in large groups. I was really starting to dread going, and wished that I'd volunteered to go in the supply van, where it would just be me and one other person the whole trip, but someone else had already volunteered.

The next morning when I got to the church, my youth minister came up and asked me if I would ride in the supply van. No mention of why the kid who volunteered wasn't doing it. Just asked if I would do it. I ended up getting along great with the woman driving the van, and the entire trip there and back was an absolute blast.

When I look back at these moments in my life that I consider to be answered prayers, what strikes me is that in each of these situations I felt the same way when I was praying. I felt completely and utterly powerless, like there was nothing I could do myself to change the situation. In each of these cases, I leaned 100% on God and put things entirely in His hands.

I know. Any of these could be coincidences. But these are just a few examples, and after reading about hundreds of answered prayers in books, in Guideposts, and on blogs, I've decided it would be stupid of me not to believe that prayers can be answered.

But I also think this is part of the reason that God doesn't just answer all prayers. We can't use answered or unanswered prayers as "proof" of God's existence or lack thereof, when all answered prayers could be coincidences anyway.

There's something else that grounds me in my faith, though, something that both quiets my doubts and scares me. Those are miracles.

Stay tuned...

Frustrated with Your Spouse? Change the Situation

Sunday, October 16, 2011

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Frustrated with Your Spouse? Change the Situation | Faith Permeating Life

I love uncovering new life lessons, particularly when it comes to my marriage. The last time I shared a boldface marriage lesson it was about having things done for you vs. your way. Here's another one that hit me recently:

When your partner does something repeatedly that annoys you, see if there's a way to change the situation instead of trying to change your partner.

Mike is in charge of cooking in our family. It makes sense for us because he enjoys cooking and is good at it: he's worked in food prep and food service for a long time and now works as a restaurant manager. He's also very good at whipping up a meal out of whatever we have on hand, whereas my detail-oriented brain has to follow a precise recipe or I freak out.

He took over the cooking and grocery shopping entirely when I got mono last year, which is also when he was working part time. Now, however, he has a full-time, 50-hour-a-week job, which leaves less time for meal planning and grocery shopping. Then we started subscribing to a CSA, which meant we got a lot of unfamiliar vegetables that Mike wasn't used to cooking with and didn't have time to look up recipes for.

The upshot of all this was that there started to be more nights than before that I would get home and Mike would not only not have dinner made, but not have any ideas of what he was going to make for dinner. Then he'd ask me what we should have, and my reaction was deer-in-the-headlights followed by anxiety and frustration.

It was also causing Mike to ask to go out to eat more often so he wouldn't have to come up with a meal. This was annoying to me because we have a budget for eating out that we try to make last the whole month, but we'd end up using it up in the first two weeks and then he'd try to negotiate borrowing from other budgets or using leftover money from a previous month so we could go out again.

And we kept throwing away vegetables that went bad before they got used. I was getting increasingly frustrated because Mike kept saying, "I need to look up recipes for these vegetables" and then not doing it, and I didn't feel like I should be finding recipes for him when dinner is his area of responsibility. I had told him I was willing to help if he asked me for help, but I wasn't going to do it for him.

Finally, the other night, after a meal of green beans and rice, he finally asked for my help finding recipes. Then the next morning, I read this article from 'Becca about how she plans meals even though her partner does the cooking. A lightbulb went off, I texted Mike, and he said he would be perfectly happy to follow a plan that was put in front of him.

It's an approach that plays to both of our strengths: I am good at planning, doing Internet searching, and making lists. Mike likes grocery shopping and cooking, whereas I hate both.

Previously the idea of planning meals stressed me out because I hate cooking, but now that I've realized I can separate planning from doing, it makes a lot of sense. I'm actually kind of excited about the whole thing: doing research, making up a grocery list, knowing ahead of time what we're going to have.

I'll need to develop a good system for myself to figure out what's on hand every week, but I think I'll be able to get it to a point where I can get things planned pretty quickly every Sunday. If anyone has tips or helpful websites to share, please do!

I'm glad I hit upon this solution because the path we were on, and my nagging, wasn't making Mike any more likely to plan meals, it was just causing me more and more frustration and him more and more anxiety. It's so much easier to change a situation than to change another person!

Four Small Steps for a Happy Marriage

Thursday, October 13, 2011

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Four Small Steps for a Happy Marriage | Faith Permeating Life

I wrote on Tuesday about how I believe happiness is created through small actions you take on a regular basis. I started thinking about how this is also true in a more specific way: Happiness in marriage is maintained through small actions done regularly.

One of the common complaints I hear about Valentine's Day (or about this Saturday's "Sweetest Day") is that it's meaningless to have a show of love out of obligation. People say they'd rather get flowers or have a fancy dinner some other day of the year. But how often do these big displays of affection actually happen at other times of the year? And, more importantly, does your marriage actually hinge on whether or not these happen at all?

I don't believe happy marriages are built through large, romantic gestures any more than happiness in your life is created through huge, life-changing events.

A lot of people talk about the "honeymoon period" following your wedding, after which things go downhill. I never expected that to happen to us, but there wasn't much validity to me saying that before we got married.

So now, when we've been married for two years and together for seven, I feel like I can safely say that we never went through a honeymoon/disillusionment period. Part of that had to do with how much we'd talked about before we got married, but I believe there are several little things we do regularly that have kept us just as happy as when we got married, if not more.

(Warning: This may be mushier than you can handle.)
  • We text each other loving things during the day. It's pretty standard that every other day, at least, one of us will send the other a text simply saying, "I love you!" or "Thinking about what a great husband/wife you are." It's just a nice reminder that we're on each other's minds when we're apart all day.
  • We thank each other for doing everyday things. There are so many tasks that just have to get done during the week, and for the most part we have a division of labor worked out based on our strengths or who has time to do what. But that doesn't mean we can't thank each other for doing them. I try to always thank Mike for doing the laundry every week. He thanks me for taking care of the weird boring things that I like doing, like labeling and dating 100 pictures we just got printed. I thank him for taking out the trash; he thanks me for cleaning out the rats' cage.
  • We are considerate to each other. I've often heard it noted that people are much more kind and considerate to strangers than they are to their family members. I won't say Mike and I are stellar at this, but we place a high priority on respect for each other. For example, just last night he asked me if I needed to use the bathroom before he got in there to take a shower. He didn't have to ask, but it was considerate of him to think of me.
  • We say "I love you" a ridiculous amount. We say it when we're getting off the phone with each other, when one of us is leaving to go somewhere, or when one of us is going to bed before the other. Those are a given. We also use it as a compliment ("I love you. You are so passionate about this idea."), to tease each other ("I love you. You are such a dork."), and just randomly ("What are you thinking?" "About how much I love you.")
I'm sure there are more things, but these are what come to mind right now.

None of these are huge gestures that require a lot of time and effort, but I think these little acts are big reasons that we have such a great, happy marriage. If I could sum up what these everyday actions say, it's essentially this:
  • I am thinking of you.
  • I appreciate you.
  • I care about you.
  • I love you.

These four ideas may not manifest themselves in exactly the same way throughout the rest of our lives, but I believe that as long we make an effort to communicate these things (in both words and actions), we will have a strong foundation to our marriage.

Creating Happiness: Not Just in Your Head

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

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Creating Happiness: Not Just in Your Head | Faith Permeating Life

I've been thinking recently about the notion that happiness is an attitude, a mindset, or a choice.

Generally I've heard this contrasted with the notion that you will be happy at some point in the future, as soon as you [get married, get a better job, buy a house]. The idea of "happiness is a choice" is that if you haven't found a way to be happy without those things, then achieving or obtaining something new isn't going to substantially change your overall happiness.

And that's true, based on all the studies and articles I've read. You may get a momentary burst of happiness, but then you will go back to your baseline once the reality of marriage or the pressures of that new job or the maintenance of the house sets in.

The problem, though, with saying that happiness is an attitude or a choice is that it implies that you can't do anything to change how happy you are. It all has to be a shift inside your head. And that's not true.

One thing I've discovered through my happiness project is that although I'm not waiting for some grand future thing to happen and make me suddenly happy, I am discovering and acting on small things that make me happy here and now.

Happiness is a choice inasmuch as I choose to take care of my health, or choose to make sure I always have tea to drink at work, or choose to put an effort into staying in touch with my friends.

Happiness is an attitude that comes from building the habit of writing down something I'm grateful for every night and then thanking God for my blessings as I fall asleep.

Happiness is a mindset built over time as I set and meet small goals and show myself exactly what I'm capable of.

I think it's a mistake to completely separate the idea of happiness from the actual events of your life. Saying that happiness is all about your perspective or your attitude is akin to saying, "If you're not happy, it's because you're not trying hard enough to feel happy/think positively."

Changing how happy you are in your life isn't likely to happen overnight with some big life-changing event. It happens in tiny steps, by focusing on your priorities, making small changes, creating good habits, and setting and achieving small goals.

I wouldn't say that happiness is something you decide. Nor is it something that happens to you. I'd say that happiness is something you create.

Perhaps this isn't true for everyone, and some people can wake up one morning, decide to be happy for the rest of their lives, and make it so without doing a single thing. But for the rest of us, happiness and action are intrinsically linked.

What do you think? What makes you happy?

The Blogging Circle of Life

Sunday, October 9, 2011

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The Blogging Circle of Life | Faith Permeating Life

When I was in high school, I kept an "online diary." I also read other people's online diaries. This is how I met my best guy friend. We always said we met through speech team -- and that is how we managed to meet each other in real life, at a speech tournament -- but the truth is that I started leaving comments on his online diary, and eventually we became friends.

When I used to tell people that I read other people's diaries online, they thought it was the weirdest thing. Why would you want to read all about some stranger's life? Funny how commonplace that very thing is in an age with "blog" is now a buzzword.

If you've been around FPL for any period of time you know that I love giving and getting advice. And what I do here on this blog, I do on a larger scale with the blogs I read. That is, I greatly appreciate when you guys leave me suggestions in comments when I need advice, and I try to do the same for other bloggers when they solicit advice. And I seek out blogs that give advice for living, particularly those that share my perspective and values.

One of my favorite blogs is 'Becca's The Earthling's Handbook. I was so grateful to find her blog because it's like all the things I have in my head about how I want to be in 10 years, she's already there and has provided a road map for getting there. I've read through all 100+ posts she has on parenting, not just for the great practical tips like granting second chances and thinking out loud, but because her approach and philosophy toward parenting is exactly the spirit I hope to have as a parent. And things like using cloth diapers and line-drying laundry, which I want to do but have never known anyone who did, she's been there, done that, and has tips on how to do it.

This is exactly what I hope to do with my own blog, why I share things that work for me to increase my happiness, strengthen my faith, or improve my marriage. I want to pass along the guiding light for where I've been, while I look ahead to the guiding light of others like 'Becca.

This is what I love about bloggers. Everyone has something to offer. College students give advice to high school students; graduates give advice to college students. Married people give advice to dating people; dating people give advice to single people. Parents give advice to other parents and to future parents.

But it's not in your face. No one is coming to your house and saying, "You need to do this." We bloggers just put it out there in the hopes that someone who needs it will come along and pick it up.

Sometimes nobody does. But we keep writing anyway.

So today, thank a blogger who's made a difference for you -- who's given you advice, or a model for where you want to be, or changed your perspective on something. Because all of us started somewhere, with no readers, no subscribers, no comments, just putting our thoughts out on the Internet and hoping they'd connect with someone.

To all my fellow bloggers: Thank you, for your courage to be honest, your persistence to keep writing, and your willingness to open your life up to strangers in hopes that it might make a difference somehow. You've made a difference for me.

3BoT Vol. 1: Three Books Every Couple Should Read

Thursday, October 6, 2011

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3BoT Vol. 1: Three Books Every Couple Should Read | Faith Permeating Life

Welcome to the first-ever Three Books on Thursday!

This month's edition of Three Books on Thursday is Three Books Every Couple Should Read.


#1: Boy Meets Girl by Joshua Harris
I never read Joshua's famous first book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. This one is subtitled, Say Hello to Courtship. It's a Christian book aimed at people who aren't yet married, though I think there's valuable wisdom for any couple. I don't agree with everything he says (particularly his chapter on gender roles), but he has some great, practical advice -- like how to build good communication skills, why you should always be authentic around your partner, how to talk through regrets from past relationships, and the importance of seeking advice from other, more experienced couples. If you want to know why Mike and I saved our first kiss for our wedding day, it's in this book.


#2: The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
This is a classic. I love it because the author invites you to consider that, if you feel your partner isn't expressing their love for you enough, perhaps your partner just "speaks" love in a different way than you do. Not wrong, just different. Identifying your love "language" and your partner's means that you can 1) recognize signs of love where you might not have seen them before, 2) articulate to your partner how you can most feel loved (e.g., hearing "I love you" vs. having something done for you), and 3) learn to show your love in a way that your partner will recognize more quickly. It gives you an important framework for understanding love, whether your relationship is on the rocks or you just want to make sure your partner knows how much you love them.



#3: Spousonomics by Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson
Longtime readers have heard me mention this book more than once. As an overly logical person, I love this book because it doesn't spend time digging through your feelings about whether or not your partner does the dishes or wants to have sex with you. They use straightforward math and economic principles (in plain English) to explain common-sense strategies for tackling household chores, parenting, and -- yes -- sex. Every principle is illustrated with stories from real couples they interviewed. To top it off, the authors are hilarious!

What other books would you recommend to couples? Leave them in comments!

Click here for other 3BoT posts!

Please note that this post contains Amazon Affiliate links. If you click on a book cover and make any purchase at Amazon (including but not limited to the books suggested here), your purchase will be supporting Faith Permeating Life. Thanks!


My Take on the Facebook Changes

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

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My Take on the Facebook Changes | Faith Permeating Life

Since everyone and their mother are weighing in on the updates to Facebook, I figured, what the heck.

Am I surprised that it changed? Um, no. Facebook has done nothing but change since it started. I've been on it since it began in 2004, when it was called TheFacebook, was only accessible if you had an .edu e-mail account and your college had joined (yes, really!), and only let you see updates from other people at your college.

So it's not exactly surprising that Facebook has changed again.

What surprises me is this: Why are they doing it? As someone whose job it is to collect and analyze feedback on a regular basis, I have to wonder: Are they actually trying to respond to user needs/wants? If not, why not? And if so -- well, they don't seem to be doing a great job at it.

This may not be true for everyone, but the most recent changes to Facebook have brought it farther away, rather than closer, to what I want and what I use it for.

With that in mind, I figured maybe I should write down what exactly I wish Facebook would and wouldn't do.

The Facebook developers seem to believe that the number one thing I want Facebook to do is show me updates only from the people who are most important to me. False. I want to see updates from the people I'm Facebook friends with. If I didn't want to get updates from a person, I wouldn't be Facebook friends with them.

Caveat: There are a few people I am Facebook friends with out of obligation but hide their posts because they regularly offend me. In those cases, I have chosen to hide them from my newsfeed. I don't need Facebook "guessing" who I want to see and not see.

What I want to see in my Facebook newsfeed is not dictated by who I want to see or not see. It is more about what kind of updates I want to see. For example, I regularly have to scroll through a bunch of posts about my friends becoming friends with other people. I don't care. Everyone I know knows people I don't know. (Did you follow that?) 95% of the time, the people they're friending, I don't know. The other 5%, either I don't want to be Facebook friends with those people or I'll seek them out on my own when I do.

But there's no way to tell Facebook to stop showing me "friend adds." Or "every time a friend plays a game." I can hide specific games, or an entire person's feed. Those are my options. There used to be a set of sliders where you could say you wanted "more" or "less" of certain kinds of updates, but they never seemed to have much effect and they've either gone away or they're very well hidden.

Also, Facebook's new default is to show me "most" updates from each friend, which I can change to "all" on an individual basis. How does Facebook know which of my friend's updates I want to see if I don't tell it?

Every time Facebook makes a change, the number one question I see everyone asking (and writing articles answering) is: How do I get it back so I can see all the updates from all of my friends??

I tried to achieve this after the newest changes by creating a list that had everyone on it and making that my bookmark instead of the homepage. I know I'm still missing stuff, though -- it'll say there are six new updates, but I only see three, and when I refresh, half of them have disappeared and the one that was seventh is now second!

This is frustrating because my friends know that I'm on Facebook regularly and so expect me to have a general idea of what's going on with them. This can lead to conversations like, "Oh my gosh! When did you break your leg?" "Um, like 2 weeks ago. I've been posting about it on Facebook." "But I check Facebook every day... and I told it I wanted to see all your updates... damn Facebook must have thought that wasn't important!"

What baffles me is that we are in this age of customization and "you" and giving people more options than they know what to do with, yet Facebook's model is "Don't tell us what you want, we'll just figure it out for you."

Well, if you can't even figure out how I want Facebook to work, how are you going to be any good at figuring out which of my friends' updates I want to see?

So, Facebook developers, here is what I want: I want to use Facebook to see what my friends are doing in their lives. Not what they're doing on Facebook. I want to see the four things they share: status updates, links, photos, and videos. That's it. I don't want to see who they friend. I don't want to see whose page they're looking at or what game they're playing or what Facebook app they're using. Just the things that they post. And I want to see all of those updates, not just the ones your algorithm thinks I want to see.

Can you do that for me?

The Happiness Project: October is Fall & Winter Prep Month

Sunday, October 2, 2011

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The Happiness Project: October is Fall & Winter Prep Month | Faith Permeating Life

It's the beginning of a new month! Can you believe there are only 3 months left in 2011?

I didn't do that well with my first-half-of-the-year goals in September. I forgot to bring things to work a couple times, I injured myself and couldn't work out for a week, and Mike and I only prayed together a handful of nights. I'm determined to do better this month!

One goal I did fairly well with was sending an e-mail to a friend every day. I received several long updates in reply from friends who I hadn't talked to in a while, and I've received more requests to get together for lunch this month than I have money for! It's made me feel incredibly connected, like I've got a big network of friends even if they don't all live nearby.

September was devoted to parenting discussions with Mike, which I recapped in my last post.

So, on to October!

I wrote previously about how I dread this time of year because I'm freezing all the time, particularly at work, and you guys responded in droves with great suggestions about staying warm.

I decided that the best thing I can do for my happiness this month is to help myself enjoy fall and look forward to winter more.

Here's my plan:
  • Make lists of good things about fall and winter. I put out a question on Twitter and Facebook asking people to tell me their favorite things about fall and winter, and I've started compiling lists of what I'm looking forward to in fall and winter.
  • Act on the lists. A lot of the things I enjoy about these seasons are very simple, like hot apple cider and hot chocolate. Since I'm already drinking tea all the time at work, I should get myself some instant packets of these other drinks. Another thing I like is seasonal decorations -- maybe I'll get a tiny pumpkin for my desk to make me smile!
  • Learn to layer. I have pretty much no fashion sense. When I was going to start teaching in grad school, I took a friend to the mall with me and had her help me create a business casual wardrobe pretty much from scratch, and I haven't branched out since then. For three years my primary work wardrobe has been a sweater over a button-down (3/4 sleeve-length), with dress pants. This isn't quite warm enough for my office in the winter, but if I put a long-sleeved T-shirt or other layer under the button-down, I can't take off the sweater if I get too hot because it looks stupid. Moral of the story: I need to learn how to layer more effectively and then hit up the thrift store to buy some key pieces. (And ask for gift cards for Christmas!)

That's pretty much it, although I would love your suggestions about how I can feel more positive about the coming cold months. And please, share your favorite things about fall and winter in comments!
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