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Good Words

Friends, my playlist is about to get a major Mama makeover. Elliott and I have never been the kind of parents to keep our preferred music away from our son. Sure, some of the content got watered down once little man’s ears started to pick up on words, but we never fully converted our music of choice over to a Kidz Bop-approved variety. Over the last year or so, Brooks – our son who is now five years old – has taken a special interest in singing along with me to the songs that are on my playlist. We sing in the car, he sings along with the music while I work out or while we run down back country roads. It’s kind of become our thing. When we get to the songs that are filled with uplifting messages – messages that reinforce our faith or encourage self-confidence – I always say, “Listen, buddy! These are good words.” After a few months of me reminding him to pay close attention to the lyrics in certain songs, Brooks has now started to ask me, “Mommy, are these good words?” wh

10 Lessons from 10 Years

My husband Elliott and I recently celebrated 10 years of marriage. To celebrate, we spent a few days back in the place where our relationship began - western North Carolina. We stayed in a great little house in the middle of nowhere, had no cell service, WiFi or television, and talked more than we probably had in years. Although my anxiety was high at first about being so disconnected from the rest of our family, it forced us to focus on each other and the gift of being present with one another.

The experience gave me the idea for this post, which is to share 10 of the lessons we have learned in 10 years of marriage. To some of you in the very beginning stages of your marriage, 10 years may sound like an eternity. To others of you, a decade of marriage is a blip on the radar compared to the long marriage you have enjoyed or continue to enjoy. No matter what your experience with or perspective on marriage, I hope you find something here that resonates with you and that you can implement - or at least identify with - in your own relationship. Elliott and I don't pretend to be any kind of marriage experts, but we have made our fair share of mistakes and learned some tough lessons along the way. Here's to many, many more happy, healthy years of trying, failing, learning and trying again.

1. "The weaker the WiFi, the stronger the connection."
I had to start with this one, because it helped inspire this entire post. While we were on our trip, we stopped into the Mast General Store in downtown Asheville. (My husband isn't much of a shopper, but he could spend days on end wandering around a Mast store. He's a true mountain boy.) If you have never been inside one of the Mast stores, there is a huge selection of apparel with mountain themes and local themes that are reflective of the community of each store. One of the shirts I saw that night said, "The weaker the WiFi, the stronger the connection." Elliott and I certainly learned this lesson while we were away on our trip - being disconnected from the rest of the world made us focus intently on each other, and what a blessing that was. We live busy lives, full of obligations and commitments; quieting the noise of our schedule, our phones and the television for a few days allowed us to authentically reconnect.

2. Protect the home front.
One of the most important lessons I've learned about life in general over the last couple of years is to fiercely guard our home and our lives. No, we can't live our lives in a bubble, secluded in the middle of the woods, disconnected from the rest of the world. Nor should we. Life is about connection, being a part of a community, and serving others, and we can't do any of those things well if we isolate ourselves inside a bubble. BUT...I believe now more than ever before that we need to safeguard our homes and our families from certain outside influences. Those influences might look like extra time that you take away from your family when your gut says you should be at home. They might look like relationships that are unhealthy and dangerous for you and your family. Anything that seems like it has the potential to divide or destroy your marriage and your family...seal up the cracks of your home and your heart and push that influence out.

3. Think before you finish off the dessert in the fridge when your spouse isn't home.
We're still working on this one, y'all. But let's just say I came home one day this week to find that the last few bites of my dairy free edible cookie dough were gone, and we had a bit of a situation. I think that's all that really needs to be said about that.

4. Find something you love to do together...and do it.
Elliott and I met while we were cross country teammates in college, so we have always shared a passion for exercise and fitness. We also work really well together and enjoy working as a team, and we have talked for years about owning a business one day together. I'll be very honest and say that one of the hardest seasons in our marriage took place during a time when we weren't putting much emphasis on the activities or the work that we love doing together. We found ourselves racing through our lives, frantically fulfilling the obligations on the calendar but merely going through the motions of our marriage. The outcome wasn't great, and I feel so fortunate to have learned this lesson through the process.

5. One of the best ways to honor your spouse is to work hard to be the best version of yourself.
This is one of the fundamental beliefs that we have incorporated into the fabric of AFP (Austin Fitness Project, the business we started together this year). We have actually said that if we were to ever renew our vows, this statement would be included somewhere - we believe it that strongly. It is not fair to your spouse for you to let yourself go because you are in the comfort of a secure marriage. And this concept certainly applies to more than just your physical health - it applies in countless ways. And while your goals for yourself are personal, and you shouldn't work to achieve them for anybody else, I do believe that we are called to consider our spouse before we make the choice to give up and get lazy. And that consideration is a two-way street and should be given both ways.

6. Encourage your spouse to reach his/her goals...and then get out of the way.
I wrote a whole post about this a couple months ago, but I believe one of the best gifts we can give our spouses is to encourage them to chase down the calling on their own lives - and then get out of the way of it. I fought the notion of Elliott being a firefighter for YEARS, until I finally realized that I was holding him back from pursuing the calling on his life. Who am I to tell someone what dream to dream, even if - especially if - it's my own husband? If you are holding your spouse back from something he or she wants to pursue in their life (I'm making the assumption here that the thing is good, healthy and legal), it is your job to get out of the way and encourage your spouse on his or her own journey. While we become a unit when we get married and we share our lives together, we are still individuals who dream and hope and have unique callings on our lives. Don't hold your spouse back. Get out of the way.

7. It ain't all about you.
To piggyback off of the last point, perhaps the underlying message to help us live out #6 is to fundamentally grasp that it ain't all about you. Marriage should be all about teamwork - not a breeding ground for selfishness. We certainly go through seasons of life where the focus is more on us - we are not only focused on ourselves, but so are the folks around us. We grow in our careers, we raise our babies, we pursue our dreams...and if we're lucky, we have folks in our lives who help us make things happen during these seasons. But here's the flip side of that coin, and it's taken me a long time to grasp this. There are just as many seasons, if not more, that we should be the helpers in someone else's story. And for the purposes of this post, I am talking specifically about our spouses. We cannot help carry our spouses if they are always carrying us. We cannot help encourage them to become the people they are meant to be if we are always expecting them to only encourage us. You don't have to be the star of the show all the time, friend. Embrace the beauty and the privilege that it is to play a supporting role in someone else's story.

8. Hold each other accountable.
When we're talking about chasing down goals and working toward the best version of ourselves as individuals, I absolutely believe that each of us must possess an internal drive and motivation to make that happen. But it is SO MUCH more powerful when we have the encouragement and accountability of a supportive spouse. When the alarm goes off at 5am, or you've had a long day and don't feel like working out, or you'd rather watch Kardashian reruns than sure is helpful to have a partner who doesn't mind giving you a loving nudge in a better direction. Again, I believe that this needs to be a two-way street in order to work best. When both folks in a marriage are actively working toward their best selves and (lovingly) holding each other accountable, incredible things can happen that can be celebrated together.

9. Share the load.
This is something we have tried to be good about since the beginning of our marriage. Clearly there are seasons when one or both of us get out of balance and things aren't firing on all cylinders, but we work hard to be intentional about sharing the load around the house. If one of us cooks, typically the other one cleans up. If I've had a long day, Elliott tries to have the house clean when I get home and maybe some candles burning. If he's away on shift, I try to have the dishes done and the beds made when he gets home because I know it makes him feel better. I usually grocery shop; he usually vacuums the house. We take turns getting up with our son during the night, depending on the schedule and what each of us has to do the next day. We don't always do this perfectly, but it makes our home run so much more smoothly when we do it well.

10. Forgive, forgive, forgive. And then forgive again.
I just thought our marriage had seen some hard days...until the last year. And if you have read my blog before, you know that I found myself in a place of needing some radical grace and forgiveness from my husband. Maybe you've been there, too. Or maybe you have been the one to extend forgiveness at a time when it doesn't make sense and the rest of the world was telling you not to forgive. If there is any piece of advice that I could leave you with - which is why it's my final lesson learned - it would be to never grow tired of forgiving your spouse, in the big things and in the small, every day things. I don't mean to be a doormat - take up for yourself and let your spouse know that he or she has hurt you. Always communicate. But then forgive, forgive, forgive. And then forgive again.


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