A guide to surviving Valentine’s Day

I love a good fairytale. A happily-ever-after romance. Pretty sure I always have.

But life is not always happily-ever-after. Even great marriages have their low points. And all relationships have flaws.

I haven’t been the hugest fan of Valentine’s Day, although it has its charms. (Conversation hearts, anyone?)


I’ve been single, separated by war, and married on Valentine’s Day, and none of those statuses made it any easier to stomach. Because sometimes Valentine’s Day makes us think that love has to be perfect to be worth it. Or that romantic love is all there is to life.

That it falls on a weekend this year somehow intensifies the feelings about this holiday. (I use the term loosely.) Whether you’re single and happy, single and miserable, attached and blissful, attached and unhappy, married with or without children, living your marriage dreams or slogging through a nightmare, I want you to survive Valentine’s Day. I want you to know that love is work and relationships are hard and it’s okay.

A few years ago I blogged a list of realistic love songs about marriage.

I want to add to that list with songs, books and articles that will make your situation, whatever it is, feel normal on Valentine’s Day. Few of us live a fairytale every day, and especially on Valentine’s Day, it’s good to be reminded of love in all seasons of life. Feel free to add your own.

My friend Courtney wrote this book called Paper Hearts. And while it might look like a lovey-dovey Valentine’s Day romance, it is so much more. You can read my full review, and I think you’ll be encouraged by the story. It is what real love is like. (Also, check out the video that goes with it.)

Grab a tissue to watch this Casting Crowns video of their song, “Broken Together.” That whole idea of “you complete me” is good for the movies, but this song tells a much more realistic story.

Specific to Valentine’s Day, here’s a great reminder that our day doesn’t have to be perfect to be good: The One True Thing About the Perfect Valentine’s Date by Kelly Flanagan.

Still have those tissues? Check out the story of Ian & Larissa Murphy in their book Eight Twenty Eight or you can watch some videos and read some articles about them here. A humbling story of sacrificial love and the goodness of God.

And if you have a lot of garbage in your relationship or your past, check out this post by Gary Thomas, which encourages us that our broken pieces can turn into beautiful windows.

So, there you have it. My guide to surviving Valentine’s Day. Let me know what you think if you check out any of these resources. And please, add others in the comments section!

When the falling was easy and the getting up is hard

In the late ’90s, a British band called Chumbawamba filled the radio waves with these words:

I get knocked down

But I get up again

You’re never gonna keep me down

It was a drinking song, mostly, with a festive beat perfect for party atmospheres. (I was present at a few of those back in the day and now I’m old.)

Such confidence in the words: “I get knocked down, but I get up again. You’re never gonna keep me down.”

But they’re such a lie. Not that I expected to find truth from a band whose name sounds like a bubble gum brand or gibberish.

The truth is getting knocked down hurts.

And getting back up again is hard. 

And sometimes, it’s tempting to want to stay down. Because what if I get back up and then get knocked down again? Won’t that hurt more?

To say our family experienced a fall seems an understatement. Like saying Humpty Dumpty tripped. I’m not sure I realized at the time, now four-and-a-half years ago, just how far we’d fallen. Or how hard it would be to get up again.

And I certainly didn’t consider that falling, which seemed to happen so fast, meant we’d somehow have to make up the distance between where we landed and where the fall happened.

Staying down never seemed like an option. But that was before we started climbing.


For the inexperienced and untrained, climbing requires strength, muscles we might rediscover along the way. And it might take time. We’re not going to climb a mountain or crawl out of a pit in an hour.

It might be days, weeks, years.

There will be pain. Fatigue. Disappointment. Discouragement. Bitterness. Despair. Blame.

But no matter how the fall happened, the circumstances that led to it, the final step over the edge, the reality is it happened. And time can’t be reversed so it was otherwise.

When you find yourself at the bottom of a pit, for whatever the reason, the only way to go is up.

Staying down is admitting defeat. It might as well be a death sentence.

When we’re down, all we want is a way out. Rescue. I want someone to throw me a rope and lift me out of my trouble.

But even then, I don’t want to be the one to do all the work required to get out. I still might have to hold on and climb. I still have to believe it’s possible.summer

I want to think that getting back up after falling down is glamorous. That restoration is immediate.

What I’m learning is that it’s less like a dramatic movie rescue and more like clawing your way up out of the dirt. It’s a slow crawl into light. It’s squinting at the brightness when all you’ve known is darkness. It’s finding your feet again and re-learning how to walk. It’s pressing on, even when you slide back and feel like you’re losing ground. It’s inner strength and internal drive. It’s heart, mind and body working together to get to the place you were before.

And beyond.

When I think about our situation, I don’t want to go back to where we were before the fall. I don’t want to fight for what was but to strive for what could be. I want to climb out of the pit, rest on the plateau and then tackle the mountain.

Still, it takes work.

And for some reason, I didn’t expect that part of it. Or I wanted it to happen at a quicker pace. Or on my terms.

But all significant change takes time.

Seeds take root and become plants, but it doesn’t happen overnight. The tallest trees were once seeds and now stand as living testaments to the beauty of growth over time.

Buildings begin with a solid foundation, then walls and support beams and a roof. Who would decorate a house on the inside before the roof was finished?

Even Jesus’ resurrection from the dead required a whole day in between. (Couldn’t He have risen immediately? I’m not debating theology here, just curious.) And the Kingdom He started with that revolutionary act is still being built.

Why should my own resurrection be any different?

So maybe Chumbawumba had it right after all.

No one will get through life without falling.

It’s what we do after the fall that matters. <Tweet that>

Will we stay down and curse the ground on which we lie? Will we search the skies for rescue, praying and hoping for help to come, for someone else to do the hard work of getting us out? Or will we choose to start climbing? To determine to NOT stay down. To dig our hands into the rocks and dirt and pull with everything we’ve got. Will we struggle to the top, weary and with shaking arms and legs, having spent every ounce of strength, with bloodied and dirtied hands, covered in sweat?

Will we hang on just a little longer when everything in us wants to let go? (There is a time to let go, but make sure it’s the right time.)

hang on

Because while it’s true that restoration makes us new, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. It is grueling work to get back up and not stay down.

So whether you’ve fallen or grown discouraged or are on the verge of giving up on something or someone, consider how far you’ve already come.

Measure the distance between the ground where you fell and your proximity to the light. Choose to keep going toward the light, whatever that might be. A dream. A goal. Healing. Wholeness.

Get back up again.

Don’t let anything keep you down.

Things I cannot change| #hardestpeace {a link up}

I don’t know much about Kara Tippetts except that she’s fighting cancer and fighting for life every day. Maybe you’ve heard of her. She recently wrote a public letter to a woman who has scheduled her death. And she’s written a book called The Hardest Peace. I haven’t read the book, but in promoting her book, she’s asking for stories. Stories of others’ hardest peace–where we’ve learned to expect grace in the midst of life’s hard (the subtitle of her book).

I’m not fighting her battle, but we all fight our own battles, and grace is for all of the battles, for all of the fighters in all the arenas.

And the battle I fight is against the things I cannot change.

Namely, the past.

Sure, it’s the past, but I blame it for my present and worry that my future will be radically different because of things that happened then. Things I cannot change.

So peace for today eludes me because I haven’t made peace with the past.

I’m not sure what that looks like anymore.

I used to think it meant surviving it. And survive it, I did.

Surviving the hard times used to seem impossible. There were days I was certain I wouldn’t come through it alive or anything looking like human.

But it’s four years later. And I’m still alive.

I wonder, though: Am I living?

We got through a hard time in our marriage, and we’re so much better for it. But now that life has settled back down, now that the crisis has passed and urgency worn off, I find myself drifting into seas of bitterness, oceans of regret. If I’m not careful, I’ll drown in them.

Peace, then, is what could keep me afloat.

And peace, in part, comes from letting go.

I learned this to a point last year when I released some things, big and small.

But I don’t think I really let the past go.

And that doesn’t mean that I have to forget it, exactly, or pretend it never happened.

Maybe it has more to do with this thought Tippetts shares in her book:

hardest peace

Finding peace means recognizing that I don’t get to control all the things that happen to me. That maybe–certainly–there’s a larger story being written. One that doesn’t include a perfectly planned out (by my standards) life. As a writer, I can relate to these words. There are scenes in my stories that are hard to write because they wreck someone’s world, but it’s for the greater good.

I need to trust that the same is true in the story of my life.

The hardest peace. What a challenging thought. That peace doesn’t always come easy. But that it still comes.

Do you a have a story about finding the hardest peace? Share yours, too, and link to it here. Then head over to the contest for the book release here and enter to win prizes, including copies of the book.


This one’s for the single people

Phil and I have been married seven years today. The passing of a year whether an anniversary, birthday or the annual turning of the calendar makes me reflective. I had intended to write a post today about marriage and the “secret” to having a happy one (with the caveat, of course, that we have no idea because ours has had more ups and downs than a roller coaster).

But after a month of relationship sermons at our church and a discussion yesterday on singleness, I have other thoughts requiring a voice. I am fired up about single people, and if that’s you, I have a message for you. If it’s not you, I have a message for you, too. Because whether single or married, we have done singleness a disservice.

First, some background.

I had one boyfriend in college before a stretch of several years of singleness until I met my husband. Well, before I knew he would be my husband, anyway. From the time I was 19 until he and I started dating seven years later, I enjoyed a period of singleness. Unfortunately, I didn’t see it that way at the time. My 20s were filled with times of longing for relationship, especially when my best friends got married and started having children. I attended more weddings in that period of my life than I have since and my question was always, “When will it be my turn?” Even when my turn came, it didn’t come fast enough. We dated for a year, got engaged and then waited two years to get married because Phil was in the Army Reserve and was expecting to be deployed to Iraq for a year. We didn’t want to start our married life apart so we waited.

I’ve written before about marriage, how it wasn’t what I expected nor did it fulfill my every longing, so I won’t repeat those messages here.

What I haven’t written about is singleness. I don’t have a lot of single friends anymore, not because I don’t want them but because I’ve needed married people and families in my life. But after hearing some words from singles yesterday at church and after thinking about my own years of singleness, I have to say this first: on behalf of married people everywhere, I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that we haven’t celebrated you for you.

I’m sorry that we assume you’d like to watch our kids while we go out for dinner or that you wouldn’t want to hang out with us and be a “third wheel.”

I’m sorry we make marriage look like the ultimate fulfillment of everything everywhere.

I’m sorry we hear “single” and assume you’re lonely.

I’m sorry we don’t throw you showers for moving into your first apartment or take you out for dinner when you get a new job.

I’m sorry we talk about you like you’re some kind of freak of nature because you aren’t married.

I’m sorry we make you feel like time is running out if you don’t get married soon.

I realize those are generalizations and we don’t all do that all the time, but if I’m honest with myself, these kinds of things have come out of my mouth even when I remember how much I cringed at hearing them when I was single.

The truth is this: single is not the same as alone. When I was a single 20-something, I had an awesome group of single friends I could hang out with just about any time of the week. We took road trips. We stayed up late watching movie marathons. We did life together. We celebrated birthdays, took care of each other and helped with life transitions. We were single, but we were not alone. I think of monks who live their lives as single people but in community with other monks. Single people, you do not have to be alone in this season and you don’t have to treat every other single person like a potential date or mate. Community, I believe, is one key to fulfillment in singleness.

Singleness is also not a life sentence. Can we quit using words like “spinster” and “old maid” or condemning people to a life as “the crazy cat lady” if they don’t get married. (Nothing wrong with cats, but do we even think about how demeaning that sounds?) And why do all of those words seem to apply to women? What’s the word for a man who never marries? (Maybe I don’t want to know.) Singleness is usually a season.

But it’s also not a death sentence. I fear we do not tell good stories about the amazing things single people are doing in this world. I met a man this weekend who has never fathered a child but has adopted more than 40 kids off the street. Tell me his life as a single person doesn’t have meaning.

There are other stories like his. Kisses from Katie tells one. Sarah Thebarge’s The Invisible Girls tells another. Maybe you can think of others.

Hear me out single people: You do not have to put your life on hold because you are not married. You have gifts and passions and desires, and quite often you have something us married people lack–energy and time! Do the things you were put on this earth to do, whether you’re married or not. I guarantee you’ll find fulfillment. <Click to tweet that.>

Because the truth about marriage is that you can still feel alone, you can still wish your life was different, you can still wonder if you’ll ever do anything with meaning.

Married people, can we encourage our single friends to follow their God-given passions? Can we talk about the realities of marriage so it’s not all “happily ever after”? Can we celebrate singleness as a gift?

And can we stop assuming something’s wrong with a person if they’re not in a relationship? Sometimes I think that says more about us than it does about them.

Most days I’m glad I’m married, but I also wish I’d done more with my single years. I refuse to live with regrets so I won’t waste a lot of time wishing for those years back. My hope, though, is whatever season you find yourself in, for however long, that you live it like it will last forever (it probably won’t) and don’t wait for “someday” before you live fully.

Jesus has promised us a full and abundant life no matter our marital state. It’s time we live those lives to their fullest potential and encourage others along the way.

Single people, we’re rooting for you. And we love you for you. And we promise to stop asking you stupid questions about your love life.

I’d love it if we could share some stories of single people doing amazing work for God and for good in this world.

Are you one of those people? Tell us your story. Do you know someone like that? Tell us about them!

I would love to feature these kinds of stories on the blog. Contact me at lmbartelt (at) gmail (dot) com if you have a story to share.

When you can’t go back and you can’t stay here

A year ago, if you asked me how I was doing and I told you “good,” I was probably lying. I’ve gotten pretty good at giving a standard answer in case the person asking doesn’t really care or we don’t have time to really get deep. “Good” is the safest answer. “Okay” is the word I use when things are not really okay, and I just can’t bring myself to say “good.”

If you asked me today how I’m doing, I would tell you “good,” and I would mean it.

We’re soon celebrating a year in our new community, and though we had high hopes for what this change would mean for our family, the reality is, I think, better than we even expected. When for years we were merely surviving, we now find ourselves thriving.

And that, my friends, is a really big deal.

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know some of what I’m referring to. If you’re new here, might I suggest the following posts to catch you up on why saying “Life is good” is so monumental:

Let me be clear: Life is good. It is not perfect. Do not confuse the two.

And because life is good, I’m starting to think more permanently about our location. This is almost unheard of for me. When we moved here, my husband was more certain than me that we could be here for a while. I, on the other hand, was sure it would be temporary. Let me give you some background.

I lived in one town my whole life until I went to college, and college showed me, literally, how big the world was. I never thought I’d go back to my hometown after college, and when that became the only option, I was sure I wouldn’t stay long. I ended up working for my hometown newspaper for 7 years. That’s no lifetime commitment but for a 20-something who thought she’d move on, it was a long time.

Our next stop, after we were married, we knew was temporary. We thought it would be 18 months to two years, but it turned out to be closer to one year. Then it was a move 800 miles across the country for seminary, which we planned to be a three-year commitment at the school, maybe less than that in the community if we were placed in a church. We ended up staying five years in that town before moving here last summer.

The idea that we might stay put for a long time is new to me. I don’t plan for that to happen, even when it does.

But now things are different. We love this community. Our daughter is in a great school. Our church family is wonderful. This has been a good year for us. (And let me say this now: we have no plans to move on right now. This is not a good-bye/major announcement kind of post!)

And because of those things, I let myself dream a little last week. I shopped for houses online. There’s one for sale practically next door to our pastor’s family, so out of curiosity, I stalked it and other houses in the school district “just to see what’s out there.” (Not to worry, friends. We are not planning to move into the neighborhood at this time.)

Then I read something in the Bible that has had me thinking for days. You can find it in Exodus 15 and 16, about the Israelite and their journey out of captivity. This part of the story begins when they’ve been three days without water in the wilderness. (You’ve been there, right? I have.)

And then they find water and it’s bitter. Been there, too. Then Moses throws a stick in the water and it becomes sweet. It’s like a foretaste of what God has planned. Finally they come to Elim. It’s like an oasis. There are 12 springs of water and 70 date palms and they camped there.


Photo by Colin Stobbart/freeimages.com

This describes our family’s journey thus far. We were dry as sand, then we were bitter, there was a tiny bit of sweet and then what seemed like paradise! I’d call our current situation Elim right now. It is refreshing and overflowing with good things. I want to camp here and settle and put down roots and enjoy this time forever and ever, amen.

But it’s possible, likely even, that this is not our final destination.

Because the Israelites had to leave Elim and head into another wilderness where God continued to provide (manna and quail, anyone?) and show his glory. They were bound for the Promised Land, and Elim was not it.

Part of me wishes that we’ll be able to somehow stay here in our current position for a very long time. It’s healthy and stable and refreshing and we are thriving in ways we’ve never known. But I don’t think that’s what God has for us. At least not in the sense that life will never be hard or dry or difficult or uncertain again.

Let me say this, too: I don’t believe God toys with us. I don’t think He leads us to good places and then out of those good places for no reason. He is not cruel. The Israelites could have stayed in Elim but it was meant as a place of rest, not the place He prepared for them.

I have no earthly idea what this looks like for our family. I just know that this may be God’s way of preparing me for what’s to come. It might be tomorrow or next year or five years from now. It might mean we leave this city, this county, this state. Or it might mean that we stay but we face challenges. I don’t know. But I’m going to try not to worry or fear tomorrow.

Today, life is good. And I’m going to enjoy it for as long as it lasts and trust that it’s the refreshment we need for the journey to come.

I don’t know where you’re at in your journey. We’re all in different places. If you’re like us and are in what seems like a good place, will you consider that at some point, God may lead you out of that toward an even better place? And if you’re in a dry place, I speak from experience, even if it’s hard for you to believe it now: He is leading you to water.

Not long after Elim, the Israelites are grumbling again about how much better life was when they were slaves in Egypt. We shake our heads at their foolishness sometimes but I remember how there have been times in my life when, like the Israelites, I wanted to go back to Egypt and captivity and slavery because the leaving was too hard.

This song helped me through that.

And when we got married, we played this song at our wedding, never imagining how much we’d go through before even getting to the Jordan. (That happens much later in the Israelites’ story. We thought we were there already when we left our hometown.

We’re on a journey, and it’s harder than we thought but it’s not all bad. And I think that’s what I forget about the Israelites’ wanderings. There were good times, too.

Wherever we’re at right now, whether life is good or not at all good, let’s keep moving and trust that by following God we’re heading in the right direction.

Confessions of a 36-year-old concertgoer

My husband and I went to a concert last night. It was one that he’d been looking forward to for a while, an artist he’s long followed but never seen in person. I, on the other hand, had heard a couple of his songs a couple of times and had no idea what to expect.

As we walked into the concert and I saw the gathering crowd, my husband offered me this in preparation:

I rarely go into new situations unprepared. This night was an exception. And proof that I’m older on the inside than my age would suggest.

Here are my confessions from the concert.hand stamp

My hand stamp was supposed to be music notes, but it slipped when the girl pressed it into my skin. The rest of the night I was thinking about a certain Doctor. That’s normal, right?

We don’t get out much. So when a complete stranger, a college student, even, turns to us from the row in front of where we’re sitting, points at my husband and says, “Quick question, where do you work?” I’m a little freaked out. For the record, yes, my husband is the bow-tie guy from Chick-fil-a.

I had no idea what the artist looked like. I couldn’t have picked him out of a crowd. So when six dudes took the stage after the opening act, he literally could have been any one of them. And because I had no idea what to expect from this experience, I feel a little like the apostle John writing the book of Revelation, trying to describe something unfamiliar in familiar terms. So, if you’ve never heard of John Mark McMillan and don’t know what to think about his music or the concert, just remember this equation:

Duck Dynasty (beards) + Mumford and Sons (banjos, lots of guitars) + bass + louder = concert.

As soon as it started, everyone stood up. I audibly groaned at the prospect of standing for an entire concert, proving that I am, indeed, an 86-year-old trapped in a 36-year-old body. Certain concerts should have an over-30 section, toward the back where the precious little hearing we have left can be preserved and we can sit and enjoy the music and not feel pressured to stand and sway and jump. I felt slightly less out of place than a nun at a Katy Perry concert, and I now have an idea what chaperoning a high school dance might feel like.

My aunt Dina would have loved this!

So, why would an introvert pay to spend an evening in a tent full of people with loud music and expressive acts of worship?

One word: love.

I love my husband, and I would spend a date night with him watching WWE wrestling if it got me out of the house and away from the kids for a night.

And actually, I was moved at the end of the concert when the artist played the one song everyone–even me!–knows. Because musician artists have something that writer artists will never have: the joy of seeing people enjoy and connect with your work. He wrote a song that people sing in churches and last night, a tent full of people was singing along. As a writer, I’m a bit jealous. I write words and people read them but I don’t see them engaging with it. I don’t see how it affects them. And the few times other people have read my words out loud in front of others I’ve quickly left the room out of sheer embarrassment.

So, I understand a bit of the artist’s heart.

And one last confession: I composed most of this blog post in my head during the concert. I am a writer through-and-through. So, if you ever see me staring off into space or with a blank look on my face, it’s possible I’m writing. And that makes every part of life fair game.


How to enjoy life {not that I’m an expert}

Months ago, as I was considering the word that would define my year, one word settled in my soul. After a year of releasing things and people and feelings and stories, it was time to enjoy.

OW_enjoyAnd in the months since choosing that word (or did it choose me? I don’t know), I’ve thought about what it looks like to enjoy life.

You ready for this earth-shattering, groundbreaking revelation?


Whew. I feel better.

When I think about a life filled with joy, a person that embodies the very word, I do not fit the bill.

Isn’t the joyful person carefree and bubbly and spontaneous and upbeat? If you know me at all, I am none of those things, so what does it really look like to enjoy life?

I read a quote recently by Henri Nouwen (it was on the Internet, and I haven’t actually read any of his books, shame on me!) that said: “We have to choose joy and keep choosing it.”

Okay, there’s one clue to this mystery. Sometimes, maybe lots of times, joy is a choice. And not a one-time choice.

That is the theme I’m seeing repeated in these first few months of the year.

When I started this joy journey, I thought of course this year would be more enjoyable because the past few years have been so awful that anything–anything–had to be better. In some ways, I was right. We are healthy in multiple ways, finally thriving after years of merely surviving, and that in itself is a reason for joy.

Still, this fear: What if it doesn’t last?

What would you say are the best years of your life?

I posed this question on Facebook after Phil and I had a conversation about “the best years of your life.” At various times in our life, people have told us “this is the best time of your life!’ They’ve said it about high school (sorry, not true); college (um, maybe?); the first year of marriage (nope); seminary (not even close); and parenting young children (sigh). I’ve heard it said your 20s are the best years, your 30s and so on for every decade of life.

Which is why I posed the question. I suspected people of varying ages would answer the question differently. And I was right!

The responses I got ranged from high school to middle age to retirement.

And I’m beginning to think the answer to enjoying life is this:

The best days are now.

The best years are now.

If we choose to let them be.

Maybe you want to throw your computer across the room when you read that. Part of me wants to give myself a stern talking to for saying those words because I have been in some days, some years that I would not consider as best and I would have cussed out anyone who tried to tell me otherwise.

But here’s another truth: Even the best of times have their faults, and if I’m looking for perfect circumstances before I let myself enjoy life, I’ll die empty and miserable, having wasted the days and years I was given waiting for something better.

When I think back on the life I’ve lived so far, high school wasn’t great, but I made some good friends. Would I do things differently if I could? Absolutely. But I had no idea who I was or who I was becoming, and I think that’s another key to enjoying who you are and where you are. College, too, had its high points, including an unbelievable semester living in a manor house in England and traveling to Scotland, Ireland, Paris and Italy. I’m constantly dreaming about going back. But college was also a time of messy self-discovery. I learned some hard lessons and made some of the biggest mistakes of my life.

If I had to answer that question, I’d say my 20s were pretty great. Post-college, I made some amazing friends, had some great experiences of hanging out, going to concerts, traveling and doing the kinds of things when you’re young, working full-time and have no other obligations or attachments. But I struggled in those years to enjoy my job and I desperately wanted an other of the significant kind in my life, and even after I found him, he spent a year in Iraq, which was another of those best-worst times. Even then, I didn’t know who I was.

And my 30s? They’ve been full of marriage messes and family messes and learning to parent and failing and getting back up and figuring out what God has planned through all this. Even though I crest the hill of my 30s next month and look at the downhill toward the next decade of life, I can’t say that my 30s have been the best, either.

So, where does that leave me? Hoping that in my 40s life will get better? It’s possible. But it’s also possible it won’t. I could get cancer. My husband could die. My kids could give me crushing grief.

I don’t know what the next decade of life could bring, so I have to draw a line now and say: This. Right here. Right now. This is the best time of my life because it’s the only time I have. <Tweet that>

best time

I know it’s not easy. I know it takes work. I’m working at it every day. And I know it’s worth it.

I hope you’ll decide to work at it, too and find it worth the effort.

On Friday, I’ll share some specific ways I’ve found to enjoy life, even when it doesn’t look like I thought it would.

In the meantime, ask other people the question: What would you say were the best years of your life? The answers will surprise you.

And if you care to share your answer, leave a comment here.

Let’s help each other choose joy in any and every circumstance.


How to rid your house of mice {in 99 easy steps}

  1. Notice mouse droppings in the pantry of the old farmhouse you’ve just moved into.
  2. Convince yourself that it’s probably not recent because no one has lived here for a while.
  3. Accidentally drop a large piece of pizza between the fridge and stove.
  4. Forget to clean it up.
  5. Ask husband if he cleaned up the pizza the next morning when you notice that it is gone.
  6. Conclude that you definitely have a mouse in the house.
  7. Freak out.
  8. Ask friends what they recommend for traps.
  9. Buy traps.
  10. Place one glue trap between the fridge and stove to catch the mouse on its path from the pantry to the counters.
  11. Wait. Overnight, if possible.
  12. Avoid looking at the area the next morning when you wake up.
  13. When children insist the trap is moving, call husband out of bed to dispose of mouse and trap.
  14. Breathe a sigh of relief and continue to enjoy your new home.
  15. Forget about mice for months.
  16. While using the step stool to put away spare sheets in the hall closet, decide to finally clean up all the accumulated plastic bags on the floor of the pantry so you can return the step stool to its rightful place.
  17. Notice mouse droppings.
  18. Convince yourself that those are leftover mouse droppings from the last mouse because you aren’t a terribly thorough cleaner and you can’t remember how well you cleaned the pantry anyway.
  19. Collect plastic bags to take to recycling.
  20. Jump and scream when you move plastic bags and a little mouse scurries across the pantry and disappears into the wall.
  21. Run to the bedroom and jump on the bed where your 4-year-old retreated when he heard you scream.
  22. Take deep breaths.
  23. Convince yourself you can finish the clean-up job without screaming.
  24. Don gloves and gingerly pick up plastic bags until you can see the floor again.
  25. Move glue trap to the spot where you saw the mouse disappear.
  26. Recycle plastic bags at the grocery store.
  27. Tell husband about the mouse.
  28. Forget mice exist.
  29. Get on with life.
  30. On an unsuspecting day when you’re sitting at the computer and the children are running through the house, scream as you see a grey blob scurrying across the kitchen floor right toward you.
  31. Freeze.
  32. Run into the bedroom and jump on the bed with the kids while hubby is getting ready for work.
  33. Point and shriek when you see the rodent peeking out from behind a chair in the bedroom.
  34. Watch in horror and awe as your husband tries to trap the mouse in the hall closet.
  35. Scream again when the mouse escapes into the kids’ bedroom.
  36. Wonder out loud if maybe it’s time to move again.
  37. Take husband to work.
  38. Eat lunch when you get home.
  39. Let kids play outside so you can wash the dishes that piled up from the day before when you were sick.
  40. Remove from the kitchen the cardboard boxes for recycling and boxes of donations to take to Goodwill.
  41. Go back outside and play (which actually means ignoring the mouse problem.)
  42. Decide to walk to the park and back, which will kill about 2 hours of your day.
  43. Have fun at the park.
  44. Invent errands to run when you get home from the park.
  45. Go shopping at Target for water bottles and the grocery store for canned pizza dough because you wanted to make homemade dough but the kids wouldn’t leave your side.
  46. Attempt to roll out canned pizza dough.
  47. Curse and yell at the pizza dough that will not stretch correctly.
  48. Decide to go out for dinner.
  49. Eat at CiCi’s pizza.
  50. Go to another park.
  51. Return home for the fastest bath times in human history.
  52. Go to Chick-fil-a early for indoor play time before hubby gets off work.
  53. Tell hubby about your terrible horrible no good very bad day that also had some good points.
  54. Let the 6-year-old girl call her grandpa to talk about why she’s scared of the mouse.
  55. Sing children to sleep.
  56. Wear slippers to bed.
  57. Go to church the next morning because it’s Sunday and it’s the best place to be.
  58. Talk about your mouse problem and how it’s scaring the children (just the children, of course).
  59. Come home from church refreshed.
  60. Eat lunch.
  61. Enjoy family nap time.
  62. Pretend the mouse has vanished.
  63. See mouse scamper through the kitchen the next morning while everyone else is sleeping.
  64. Wake sleeping husband and convince him to put traps on the path.
  65. Send your daughter to school the next day with hope that the mouse will be gone by the time she’s home.
  66. Send hubby and son to Lowe’s for manly purchases.
  67. Clean parts of kitchen with fear and trepidation while they are gone.
  68. Convince yourself mouse is nothing to be afraid of.
  69. Let husband and son back in the house as husband points out the mouse scurrying across the kitchen.
  70. Leap onto the bench at the counter/peninsula while husband resumes attempt to catch the mouse.
  71. Watch him squeeze himself into the pantry while trying to trap the mouse.
  72. Sigh with dread as mouse disappears. Again.
  73. Spend the rest of the day battling big emotions and crying.
  74. Lie down for a few minutes before picking the girl up from the bus.
  75. Work together as a family to cook a delicious dinner.
  76. Put the kids to bed.
  77. Bait a trap with peanut butter.
  78. Discover mouse droppings in a place that makes you want to puke.
  79. Watch Doctor Who to take your mind off things.
  80. Hear sounds from the kitchen.
  81. Send husband to investigate.
  82. Breathe easier when he tells you he has caught and disposed of a mouse.
  83. Sleep soundly that night, without slippers on.
  84. Tell kids the good news the next morning.
  85. Put daughter on the bus.
  86. See mouse scurrying through the kitchen as you and son prepare to leave for playdate.
  87. Tell husband to bait another trap, even if it means the mouse will be your problem later in the day while he’s at work.
  88. Hear sounds in kitchen before you and son leave.
  89. Tell hubby that mouse may already be caught.
  90. Leave for playdate and enjoy time outside of the house.
  91. Return from playdate to learn that second mouse has been caught and disposed of.
  92. Spend next two days tiptoeing around your house, jumping at slight movements and shadows, ears alert to any kind of noise, unconvinced that mouse problem is over.
  93. Tell Facebook friends you need prayer because you are going crazy over this.
  94. Get on with kitchen/laundry chores because it can’t wait.
  95. Report mouse problem to landlord.
  96. Wait for landlord’s call.
  97. Consider getting a cat against landlord’s policy.
  98. Write longest how-to list on the face of the earth.
  99. Leave readers hanging in suspense because you really don’t know how this is all going to turn out.

Why I don’t hate Valentine’s Day (anymore)

I used to hate Valentine’s Day.

It was a subtle hatred. Well, frankly, it was driven by jealousy, so  maybe it wasn’t really hatred at all. I spent most of my Valentine’s Day single and without a “special someone.” I even wrote a column for the newspaper about how stupid I thought Valentine’s Day was. (I don’t think that was the actual theme. All I can remember is that I rallied the single ladies in our community before Beyonce’s song was even written.)

See, Valentine’s Day used to exaggerate all those lonely, inferior feelings I already struggled with daily. It felt like an exclusive holiday, and I hate being excluded. I didn’t want to be “out” just because I didn’t have a boyfriend. But rather than honestly deal with those feelings, I deflected my insecurities and gave passionate explanations for my feelings.

Love shouldn’t be limited to one day a year.

It’s a Hallmark holiday.

Flowers and candy are a waste of money.

I wouldn’t want a man to celebrate our love just because the calendar says so.

And on and on I went.

Then, 10 years ago, I fell in love. Or maybe love fell on me.

We weren’t dating yet when it happened, but I just knew. I knew that I loved this man, and I was going to be crushed if he didn’t love me back. But I was willing to let that happen because what I felt the day I realized I loved him was bigger than me. We were friends. Probably the best of friends. And I knew going forward that if he didn’t love me back, we couldn’t be friends anymore.

About two months after we started dating.

About two months after we started dating.

That’s storybook stuff, but I can still feel the weight of that realization today.

I loved him. Period. And I had no sure idea how he felt about me.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Have you ever been asked that question? Ten years ago, I couldn’t have given a good answer. I’m not sure I could today either.

Ten years always seemed so far in the future. Yet, here it is. Like turning the page of a book.

I turned 26 that year. Funny, but it was the same year I started to see the possibilities for my writing beyond newspaper journalism. (That’s something to explore another day, I guess.)

My best friend had started dating a guy in our circle of four, and the fourth member of our group was about to head east for military training. But he gave me a present–a Care Bear I’ve loved nearly to death since then–and a promise, to call while we were apart for three weeks.

It was a glimmer of hope, a memory that still makes me smile. He’s always been good at gift-giving, and this was the first of many meaningful gifts.

He did call. We talked on the phone a couple of times while he was away, and I noticed that my world was grayer without him in it. Our gatherings lacked sparkle because he was absent. (He still lights up my world.)

When I took a week to attend a writers conference on the East Coast, I missed his call one night. I was devastated. I was surrounded by writers, some of whom I’d probably be awed by now if I went back and looked at the names. But this blooming love made me blind to any other experiences. This was all that mattered.

We’d spent weeks of our summers at a Bible camp near our hometown, and I first found community at a weekend retreat for the 20-something crowd years earlier. This retreat brought us back to the camp that May, after we’d both returned from our trips.

With some “divine intervention” we found ourselves seated next to each other on a couch for a viewing of The Princess Bride. (It was and is my favorite movie.) I was distracted by his closeness, unable to concentrate on the movie. His arm was resting on the back of the couch, and though it sounds cliche, he eventually got tired of that position and dropped it across my shoulders.

I can still hear the beating of my heart, the questions in my head: What is he doing? Is this what I think it is? Does he mean what I think he means? Is this for real? Am I dreaming?

We were friends. Were we now something more?

I wouldn’t have my answer that night. The movie ended. The spell was broken (so I thought) and we played board games until lights out. I didn’t sleep much that night. And I didn’t want to tell anyone else, afraid that if I did, I would find out I’d imagined it all.

Those fears played with me the next morning. I was sure he would tell me it was all a misunderstanding. That he hadn’t meant anything by it.

Because I was never the pursued one. I was always just a good friend. I was used to rejection. Expected it, almost.

Then he said we should take a walk after breakfast.

And we did. He told me how he felt, and even though I can’t remember the words exactly, I remember how my heart felt like it could fly out of my chest. He held my hand, and we returned from our walk as an “us.”

A year later, at the same camp, he asked me to marry him.

10 years us proposal 1

 10 years us proposal 2

10 years us proposal 3

I said, “yes.”

This will be our 10th Valentine’s Day as an “us,” the 7th as a married couple.

Not every year has been the happily ever after I dreamed of.

Some years have been worse than I ever imagined they could be.

But we still love each other.

And not every day brings the tingly toes and speedy heartbeats of those first days.

Most days reality is not at all like a fairytale dream.


That’s why I no longer hate Valentine’s Day.

Because for a day, we tap into those earlier lovey-dovey feelings and remember what it was like.

Before kids.

Before unpaid bills.

Before marriage problems.

We remember why we fell in love and what it felt like.

If our marriage is like a fire, then most days it’s more like embers than flames. But for a day, we can fuel the embers with memories and keep the fire burning.

I’m no marriage expert. We don’t have it all figured out.

But if I’ve learned anything in 10 years it’s that the flame won’t keep burning on its own.

Ours was almost reduced to ashes once, and I never want to be there again.

So, I embrace Valentine’s Day, not because I want jewelry or candy or flowers or an expensive dinner out. Not because I think we HAVE TO celebrate or our relationship is doomed.

No. I embrace Valentine’s Day as a sacred pause. A time to remember. A celebration of joy. A day of gratitude.

I know it will be a hard day for some. For ones who’ve lost or never had or feel like they are losing.

And because of that, I say, that those of us who have love on Valentine’s Day ought to share it. Valentine’s Day need not be exclusive to those married, engaged or dating. Because love is more than that.

Whatever you do today, love others. And love well.

Finding buried treasure: Review of The Pirate Queen by Patricia Hickman

Saphora Warren seems to have it all: Married to a successful plastic surgeon, living in a house being featured in Southern Living, with youthful looks that belie her grandmother role.

But on the day Southern Living comes to feature her garden party, Saphora is planning to leave her husband, Bender, for his repeated unfaithfulness. When the party’s over, she packs her bag, intending to retreat to their Outer Banks house for some alone time. But then Bender comes home early and announces he’s dying. Cancer. And her plans vanish into a frenzy of doctor visits and Bender’s convalescence at the very house where Saphora planned to escape.

pirate queenThus the story begins in The Pirate Queen by Patricia Hickman.

The family–sons, daughter, grandkids–gathers at the house as Bender battles cancer. Through surgery and further complications, they all cope in various ways. Saphora busies herself with family, including grandson Eddie who is with them from day 1. When they arrive at the beach house, they meet another boy, Tobias, who they eventually learn is also sick.

Honestly, it’s hard to pin down what I loved about this book. The characters are well-developed, and there’s an air of mystery as Saphora tries to discover why her neighbor stays up late digging holes in his yard. There’s friendship forged in trial and love discovered and rediscovered. It’s not an escape-your-troubles kind of book, but it’s not depressing, either. Hope threads through the pages as Saphora discovers treasures hidden within herself and her marriage.

I don’t read many books whose lead characters are over the age of 50, but it’s not really an issue in this book. Saphora has a strength of character and grace about her that I think most women would envy.

The Pirate Queen is an honest take on how tragedy can transform a person and a relationship.

To learn more, visit the author’s website.