Friday, February 22, 2013

A Lesson in Laughter

"To laugh at yourself is maturity."
- William Arthur Ward

Last weekend Nate and I threw towels, linens, Bibles and thrift store gems into one medium-size suitcase and boarded buses headed to the middle of nowhere. We spent three days in cabins with these rockstars:

Let me tell you a little about these kids. Our church is split into three campuses, of which the Clear Lake campus is the newest, smallest and least-known...kind of like an overlooked stepchild. Surrounded by hordes of shouting teenagers from the other campuses, we felt minuscule and a bit like a proverbial David facing Goliath. Except, in real life David defeated Goliath. Enter Recreation Time. Our motley crew found ourselves face to face with a dozen fully grown boy-men, full of muscle and zest to win. We played them in every. single. game. We were defeated terribly, insultingly. At one point in dodgeball they gave us every ball, and we still got creamed. I, ever a champion of justice, fumed at the outrage of it all. 

And here's where the Clear Lake kids taught me a bit about maturity. They never once complained. They never stopped having fun. When we were trounced and destroyed at every turn, for every single competition all weekend, they somehow found it funny. And they laughed and joked and made memories without a second thought about actually "winning." Clearly, in my book they're all winners - at a game much more important than sports. They lost with grace and good humor, focusing on building relationships rather than being the best. I realized just how competitive I really am, and learned to take things down a notch. After all, who cares about eating a can of Vienna sausages faster than anyone else, or winning the moonwalk competition or human Foosball, when we can look stupid and laugh about it and pray together and have amazing conversations about stuff that really matters?

I love y'all. You taught me a lot last weekend. Thanks for not being afraid to laugh at yourselves, and having a blast even though we were in last place. And Nate, thanks for being the best youth leader on the planet. You modeled a good attitude to these kids even when I couldn't. You inspire me (and you're a ridiculously good-looking 80's throwback).

Friday, February 15, 2013

Seven Years and Fourteen Days of Love

The wind that fills your sails
The hand that lifts your veil 
The moon that moves your tides 
The sun coming up in your eyes 
The wheel that never rusts 
The spark that lights you up 
All that you been dreaming of and more, 
So much more 
I want to be your everything 
- Keith Urban

I will never forget the evening of February 14, 2006. Youth group was meeting at my house, and I scurried around like any 17-year-old giddy at the thought of spending the evening with 20 of my best friends. I mingled and hugged and answered the door dozens of times, stopping short when I opened the door to a quartet of unfamiliar faces. A Southern man, his shy daughter, and two handsome sons stood beaming in the doorway. They were new, from Charlottesville, and had been assigned to our small group. They introduced themselves amid a flurry of impeccable manners, practically bowing as we all shook hands. I was instantly smitten with them. Daniel laughed and teased and played ping pong with reckless abandon. Catherine's beautiful eyes sparkled as she talked about her love of writing - a woman after my own heart. And Nathan...well, he adored country music, my latest passion. I talked to him about Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban, and his face lit up like the 4th of July.

Soon we gathered for group, and I tried not to think about the plaid-and-jeans country boy sitting right behind me. In keeping with the holiday, our leader talked about Christ-centered relationships. "When Jesus is the center of your universe, everything else will fall into its proper place around Him." That little talk re-grounded me countless times through seven years of romance with that country boy. What began as an innocent teenage friendship - having everything in common, long walks talking on the phone, emails and texts and MySpace comments, debates and homework and bus ride drama and love triangles - turned the corner when he talked to my dad the night I graduated high school. Three years of long-distance dating became a year of engagement and planning for the future, culminating in the wedding of my dreams and a road trip down south to a new life where we had no one but each other. We danced at our wedding to Keith Urban's "I Want to Be Your Everything" - a song on the country mix CD he made me just weeks after we met (he's never been one to beat around the bush).

Now it is 2013, and we celebrated our 7th Valentine's Day together. This day is extra-special to me, not only because it's the day we met, but because gifts are my love language. Christmas and my birthday are the best days of the year. I obsess over holidays - especially the romantic ones. But this year, my poor boy has been up to his ears in work and projects for the past few months. Instead of letting the holiday slip by in danger of being forgotten, I decided to go all out for him. Who says gifts and romance have to be a guy's world, anyway?

Introducing: The 14 Days of Love

Strawberry Nutella French Toast

Starting February 1, I gave Nate little gifts and notes leading up to Valentine's Day. Most were painfully cheesy...but it's the thought (and the food) that counts. 

14 Days of Love gifts & notes

Some days he needed a little help finding his gifts...

I mailed a love letter to his office (surprise, babe!). Mail apparently gets lost in the labyrinth of Corporate Exxon. When it arrives, I hope his boss makes him open it in public.

I bought a fancy picnic basket with all the works, a waterproof blanket, and the fixings for a picnic fit for royalty. I designed a treasure hunt leading him from work to a secluded, romantic location where I and our picnic awaited him. Then, the weather turned wretched. And the picnic had to be moved indoors. The clues led him on a wild treasure hunt to...our house. He was mightily confused, but it was oh-so-romantic (100 tea lights helped a little). 

Living Room Valentine's Picnic

My new favorite thing on earth.

I framed his favorite picture of our Hawaii trip and made a date jar full of wild and funky ideas for 2013. And he presented me with a darling heart-shaped birthstone pendant. This love, just keeps on getting stronger. 

I love you, Nate...

May 2006 - our first picture together.

Kenny Chesney concert - 2007

2008 Photoshoot

June 26, 2009. Engaged!!

Wedding Day, June 20, 2010

One-year Anniversary, 2011

Hawaii, 2012

7th Valentine's Day, 2013

...and I will love you for the rest of my life. You are God's best gift to me!