Have a conversation with God? How?

This question has haunted my faith walk for as long as I can remember. I grew up listening to people say they have conversations with God.  It was normal. As a kid, I didn’t even question it. As an adult, I am still trying to figure it out. 

One side of the conversation is clear – prayer. Of course, I can pray and talk to God. A day rarely goes by where I don’t talk to Him. It’s easy to talk. I talk to Him like he’s my best friend right there with me. Sometimes I do it out loud; other times there are people around and I don’t want anyone to think I’m insane so I pray silently. Sometimes I bow my head; sometimes I fold my hands; sometimes I close my eyes. Prayer is overcomplicated too often. It’s like there is a spiritual expectation around this holy act that intimidates people and discourages them from this rigid religion action. 

Now, listening is a different story. After all, I can’t see him. He doesn’t text me. A voice doesn’t boom through the clouds at me. One day in church I heard a thought that changed my life. The speaker said: “God speaks to us through his word.” It was simple but life changing. Could God really communicate with me through the Bible? I don’t mean general statements of truth; I mean me, Molly. Could He know what I’m going through each day? Week? Month? Then respond to me, Molly, personally? 

My senior year in college, I had found a great rhythm juggling my life at that time. I was student teaching, working part time jobs, and training for my future career as a professional athlete. I was up every morning early. I even had a routine of getting breakfast and packing a lunch. I would get a good hard lift in, get some touches on the volleyball and tuck in at a early hour – for a college kid. 

I had gone through a major heart change in the last half of my college years and it had made my faith strong. The first and the last thing I did every day was get on my knees in prayer. I read the Bible daily – hungry for truth. I also had this devotional book called Jesus Calling. It’s a great little book that my husband and I still use often. The author uses scripture to construct a paragraph of encouragement. There are 365 of them; one for each day of the year. What make this particular book special is the words are written to the reader as if Jesus called you on the phone to tell you something. It’s great!  

Anyways, one morning I will never forget. I woke up late and was in a rush to get to school on time. The easiest part of my morning routine to skip was devos. The guilt didn’t last long. It was either skip devos, not brush my teeth or be late. I figured God would understand; after all, I hadn’t missed a morning devo in months. I sprinted out the door and into the parking lot to discover it was freezing cold and my car was completely iced over – got to love Midwest America. I attempted to scrape my windshield but it was useless. There was nothing I could do except to blast the heater and wait. Annoyed, I realized I had a few minutes to spare – against my will – and could read my Jesus Calling for the day. I pulled it out of my backpack and opened it to the reading for the day. I read, “Make time for me today.” I didn’t know whether to cry or laugh. Overwhelmed with a sense of love from my father God. He knew me; little, stupid, always in a rush me! 

If you are struggling with how to communicate with God. I encourage you! He’s listening. He cares. He desires a personal relationship with you. Don’t be intimidated by what others say or think. Speak to Him from your heart then open your heart and read from His word. 

I was homeschooled – and no, I’m not socially awkward.

Education – it is a source of joy and tears, opportunity and misfortune, success and failure. People pay thousands for it. They cheat, lie and steal for it. Some even lose their lives for it. Governments spend hundreds of thousands of hours and dollars trying to improve, reform and revolutionize their systems.

My parents thought long and hard about education when they started their family. They knew they wanted a big family. I don’t know if they had a number in mind when they started having children. But, with each of us there was more and more pressure to have a plan for each of us. They had their doubts about the public education system. With so many of us, paying for private education wasn’t an option. That left homeschooling. Okay, wait. That makes it seem like homeschool was their last choice. On the contrary, it was their preference.

So, yes! I was homeschooled from birth until I graduated high school. Don’t know what homeschooling is? It’s exactly what it sounds like. I had school at home. My mom was my teacher. My classroom was my bedroom. My classmates were my siblings.

dfdae310243adfdd2d20089d39f7bcc5

I have story after story of experiences – as you could probably guess. It wasn’t a normal upbringing. It was a reality show that Hollywood missed out on. It was awesome!

Whenever I mention this fact to people, I always get the same reaction: “You were homeschooled? But you’re not socially… awkward. How?”  Myth busting time – homeschooling doesn’t make kids socially awkward. Is your mind blown?

While it is true, there are some socially awkward homeschoolers in the world. I know a lot of them personally – trust me. However, I’m living proof, it isn’t the homeschooling alone which causes it. Heck, I work in education and I can tell you I have met some real awkward ducks that public school systems have produced.

My parents worked very hard to give us the education they did. I’m extremely grateful for it. They started me on a path which gave me an edge in the world. I’m different. I learned how to deal with being different from a very young age. It is one of the reasons, I believe, has lead me to being “successful”.

I now live in a country where homeschooling in illegal. In fact, just a few years ago 4 children were put into the system because their parents were incarcerated for homeschooling. Crazy, right? Call me a typical American – but, shouldn’t that be a freedom of choice?

Education is complicated. I believe traditional schooling is a passing trend. Technology is changing the world we live in. It won’t be long before technology has changed education completely. I’m grateful for it. I believe some parents need a good hard shake.

Why write this blog? Hear this. Where students are educated doesn’t effect them near as much as who or how. My hope is not that everyone home schools their kids. It isn’t for everyone. My hope is that parents will give serious thought to who is educating and impacting their children and how those educators and impactors are going about it. Then, I hope those same parents will take action and make adjustments and sacrifices for the sake of their children’s future.

School (wherever it is) doesn’t only teach math, science, and history. School (wherever it is) is where children are learning the difference between right and wrong, social skills, and how they’re supposed to act towards authority. School is raising the next generation. No matter where your children go to school, be involved as a parent and get to know the who and the how!

Why I jumped on the vegan bandwagon

Have you noticed a lot of people becoming vegan lately? Every time I turn around, I feel like I meet a new person who has made a major diet change – namely, the change to vegan. One of those people would be me.

What is vegan? Vegan is “a person who does not eat or use animal products”. What kind of person comes to mind when you hear vegan? For me, it was these hippy, gypsy, green, tree-hugger types. Who would honestly choose this life? No milk. No meat. No cheese. WHY?

I’ve done a lot of different diets, cleanses, or clean-eating strategies throughout my life. As a professional athlete, it comes with the job. You feel an unbelievable amount of pressure to stay fit and be healthy. Nutrition is a big part of that. However, the thought had never crossed my mind to go vegan. For heavens sakes, vegan is vegetarian for the insane, right?

So what changed? Well, I watched this documentary on Netflix called “What the Health”. I had heard a lot about it from friends and family but nothing prepared me for what I watched. In 1 hour and 32 minutes, my life changed. The film explores the connection between diet and chronic disease. It also adds an element or corporate corruption; and who doesn’t love a good scandal?

IMG_0791My journey with veganism started in an instant but it is, in fact, a journey. I began reading, researching, and watching other sources of information. As I studied, the case against animal products began to mount. Now, here I am – a “vegan” of sorts.

I feel no moral obligation to veganism. I’m not an animal rights activist. I recycle a normal amount. I am simply an advocate of health. The facts are there. The myths I’ve been taught my whole life have been debunked. I’m grateful I have the educational background in health, nutrition, and fitness to take this path confidently and healthily. It’s a journey and while I use this word “vegan”; I don’t actually feel worthy of using it because it isn’t entirely accurate. When people ask me to label it, I answer by saying “I’m a plant-based, whole-foods, flexitarian.” But since I live in Europe and language barriers are real; I do end up saying “vegan” more often than not.

What do I mean by flexitarian?

First. If someone serves me something non-vegan – I will eat it. I don’t feel like someone who cooks a nice meal in their own home should have to cater to my preferences. And how awkward to turndown the food they prepared and served!

Second. If a restaurant doesn’t have a truly vegan option (that doesn’t make me want to puke) I will pick the closest enjoyable option.

Third. I use butter on the pan to cook my vegan pancakes because omg it just cooks them so perfectly.

Fourth. I believe in cheat meals to keep my sanity. I live on a 95 to 5 percent ratio. Meaning, 95% of my total food intake I try to eat plant-based and whole-foods and 5% of the time I allow all the other stuff.

If you are looking for a change, I recommend a diet change. It’s unlike other things. It a unique challenge that will change your life. My advice, do your research! The whole purpose of a diet change is to be more healthy and if you don’t do it correctly it could be detrimental to your body. While I’ve fallen in love with plant-based, whole-foods flexitarianism you might find another variant that your body loves.

I encourage you! Try it; try something! Whether you’re 18 or 80, thin or thick, healthy or sick, busy or free as a bird; do your research then challenge yourself! Good luck!

Traveling is rich in experience but doesn’t have to be an experience only for the rich!

I will tell you right now. You can afford to travel! Don’t believe me? You should – because I do. I make sacrifices, yes. I make it priority, yes. Why? Because I can’t imagine my life without travel.IMG_0116

Whether you are looking to travel regularly or want to take the trip of a lifetime; you can do it. You may just need a bit of advice from someone who is a well seasoned traveler – namely, me. I’m no expert travel agent. But I do have some tricks of the trade which allow for me and my husband to take above average vacations on our average budget

Stalk the system! 

Got to love the internet. The ability to stalk is unbelievable. I’m not a creep but I stalk on a daily basis. There are companies all over the world selling the same travel products: flights, cruises, all-inclusive vacations, hotels, car rentals, tours, etc. Your job as the consumer is to use that to your advantage.

Sign up for updates and alerts for any price drops on places you want to go. When I fly internationally, I stalk all major airlines from here to Europe from all major airports. I just booked a flight from the Germany to the Midwestern US for $400. That’s crazy good! It might take some time and energy but it does pay off – literally.

Get a travel rewards credit card! Maximize your spending by putting it on a card that gives back for money spent on travel. Plus, no fees on swipes overseas can be a life saver. A lot of credit card companies have bonuses as well, stalk them and take advantage.

Explore every means of transportation. Everyone likes to arrive as fast and as comfortable as possible but traveling on a budget can’t always be like that. Some flights have big layovers. Some distances are cheaper by train, bus, or boat. Explore all your options just to be sure.

Pinch pennies! 

International travel isn’t an expensive as you think. That means, every dollar counts. Keep that in mind while saving up for your big trip. You can sacrifice a few extra splurges a week and save real money to spend while overseas. Don’t believe me? I’ll give you an example.

I live in Germany. Currently, flights from the airport 30 minutes from my house to London England are ten euro. Now, ten euro is about twelve dollars. Twelve dollars is about what you spend on a lunch at Panera, am I right? Lets say you eat at Panera or something similar twice a week. Tell me, if you had the choice between; first option: eating two PB&Js and getting a round trip ticket to London; and second option: eating Panera twice. Which would you choose? Are you catching my drift? I hope so.

I mentioned before something about long layovers. Everyone hates them but you don’t have too! Many times, flights with super long travel times due to super long layovers are cheaper than those without. But think about it, you can save money and explore more cities. Who said you have to stay in the airport? Look into transportation into the closest city from the airport. With a six-hour layover in Finland, you could bus into the city, have a meal, go through a museum and walk the streets aimlessly. Fun, huh?

Get your priorities straight! 

It is important to have a plan. I prefer that plan to be well-organized. You need to know where you are going, how you are getting there and what you want to do and see! Everyone has a different idea of what a vacation is. Some are the lay on the beach and relax type of people. Some are the extreme sports and active type people. Some are the museums and tours type of people. There is no wrong!

I’m just here to be the friendly reminder that you can’t have it all. Okay, maybe your rich and laughing right now because you can have it all. If so, I’m jealous! For the rest of us, we have to get our priorities straight. If you want to relax on the beach; you have to sacrifice on the activities. If you want to do all the activities; you have to sacrifice on the relaxing. It’s simple really.

For my husband and I, we go to tour cities! We hit the major sites and see the most amazing famous things in the world. We prioritize our daily activities over our nightly sleeping arrangements. We pay less for our hotel or hostel in order to experience more within the city. The same concept can be applied to any vacation you take!

What are you waiting for? Stalk the system! Start pinching you pennies! And get your priorities straight! Stop making excuses for why you don’t have a passport; why you haven’t ever flown; why you haven’t done something you’ve always dreamed about!

10 things every woman should know how to do – my self-improvement list.

There is a lot of talk around the differences between men and women; some are more obvious than others. As time goes on, society calls for there to be less stereotypes regarding capability based on gender. I would agree and support this way of thought.

With people getting married later or not getting married at all, it is very useful for everyone to be self-sufficient. We live in a time which it is very important for everyone to be capable on their own – male or female. All to often humans in this day and age lack some skills that I find to be wonderful parts of life – parts of life that are so fulfilling. I meet people who stop the search for self-improvement; claiming it is not for them because of one reason or another.

IMG_0757There are stereotypes on both sides about roles and “who does what” within the household. There is a time and place for roles. Within relationships, roles are necessary – even vital. Chores need to be done and there needs to be open lines of communication between both parties.

I would argue these 10 things are important for both genders but I focus on the ladies – well, because I am one. I can’t do all of these yet but someday soon I hope to say that I can.

Change a car tire

Hopefully you never have had the experience of being stuck in the middle of no-where with a flat tire and a dire need to change it yourself. But if you were, my bet is your reaction would be to call the man in your life.

Fix the chain on a bicycle

While bikes aren’t a major source of transportation in most areas of the US; they are in other parts of the world. While living in Europe; I use a bike daily. A basis knowledge of how a bike works is helpful more often than you would think.

Jump start a car

With electricity on the line, knowing which wires to connect where could save you a major shock. Not to mention, it would save you the cost of a new battery if you know how do it correctly.

Check and add car oil

Stereotypically, females know embarrassing little about automobiles. Don’t believe me? Just ask the average girl to pop her hood, check and add car oil. Oil is part of a vehicles regular upkeep and due to the car strong culture in the US it could come into play any day of the week.

Basic landscaping

I’m not talking about gardening. That’s my next point. I want to also include landscaping on this list! Knowing how to run a mower, weed wacker, leaf blower, tiller, or bush trimmer are all included with yearly maintenance on an property.

Tend to growing plants

Now, I am talking about gardening! Having a basic knowledge of how plants grow, how to tend to them, and how to use them productively is a skill. Whether it is a garden out back or a aloe vera plant on the window sill, tending to a living thing is a responsibility which we shouldn’t be ignorant of.

Iron and steam clothes

Cleaning clothes isn’t near the hassle it used to it. New technology has made it easier than ever to get professional results in your own home. Dry cleaners are becoming a thing of the past; except for rare occasions. It just takes a google search and effort!

Patch a clothes hole

Have you ever ripped the tag off your pants and it left a hole where the tag was attached? Annoying, isn’t it? Many of us have been there. But then follows the debate of what to do with those pants. Are they ruining? Do you wear like-colored undies? Are you going to take them to grandma?

Do the taxes

Once a year, everyone in the country is annoyed with the same thing – tax season. Collecting the data. Filing the paperwork. Reporting any deductibles. It is a pain in the butt but it is something that can’t be avoiding.

Self-defense

Whether it is a black belt training course or a whistle. Every woman should have the basic know-how of self-defense. It is a scary world we live in. Be proactive!

The world is changing every second. The information available to us is the most in history. Endless opportunities are right at your finger tips. Think ahead! Whether you join in with my list or make your own version; make it a priority. There is no excuse.

Part of life is striving for continuous improvement. While these might be small things, my experience with lists is they offer a sense of accomplishment, pride and closure when they are completed. What things would you add to this list?

How you can have a beautiful wedding and come out financially on top – the logical side of marriage

We are very normal people. We work very normal jobs. We make very normal money. We have very normal families who share our average financial status. I love them to death but the whole process would have been so much easier if they were multi-millionaires with a healthy “Molly’s wedding fund” just waiting for the day I decided to get married. But alas, they’re normal.

At the time we were thinking about getting married, we didn’t have a lot. We both had some savings but we also had student loans and very little capital to our names. Our net worth didn’t amount to anything. It barely broke even.

We wanted to do as much as we could on our own but we struggled with how exactly to balance our cash. We had wants about this special day, of course. I mean, who doesn’t at least have certain details of their “dream wedding” pre-planned?

However, as I’ve previously mentioned, I’m logical before emotional.

I’m no expert; but I wish to offer advice to those who are in a similar position that we were – an average couple planning to spend their lives together!

My first reaction to your situation – GO FOR IT! Marriage totally rocks – but yes, I’m bias.

If you are also interested in how we mentally, emotionally, and spiritually prepared for getting married – you can read my blog Prepare emotionally for marriage with these 3 tips that unfortunately – all to often – get overlooked.

Now, on to my advice, having been in your spot a short year ago. These are my three tips on how to prepare logically for getting married!

Be realistic

Most people have preconceived ideas about their wedding day. All to often, those ideas are misguided and unrealistic. It is imperative that you don’t get sucked into the madness; that you think logically and realistically.

If you can’t afford it; don’t spend it. The pressure of impressing people is so real. I encourage you to think about what the day is really about instead of what others might think of you because of X, Y, or Z. Therefore, if you find a beautiful dress that you are happy with don’t bother to worry about how expensive it is or what brand it is. Be happy with your choices! It’s your day!

Pick your battles; and stick to them. My fiancé and I made a list of wedding details from most important to least important. We included everything we could think to: flowers, DJ, food, drink, dress, shoes, rings, etc. We took our time and made a ranking that we agreed to stick to as closely as possible. Therefore, if flowers was towards the bottom of the ranking then when an offer for a beautiful arrangement presents itself; we passed.

Be hyper-organized

You will here this organization stuff a lot from me. I’m a big believer in organization and it’s powers. Our wedding was an opportunity when I was able to put my skills to the test in a pressure situation.

Keep the books; keep them well. List, charts, and schedules aren’t easy. If they were, everyone would use them. However, it is a sure way of staying organized. There are a lot of details which go into planning a large event. If you aren’t careful; things can easily fall through the cracks. Organization is a necessity. Make lists; update them daily! Chart your budget; be a perfectionist! Stick to your schedule; don’t procrastinate!

Another huge part of keeping “books” is it is a physical system of organization. Meaning, don’t keep it all in your head. Make sure it is something that everyone involved can see. You know, many women complain about their husbands not helping out enough. How is he supposed to help if he doesn’t know the plan? Wedding planning is a prime example. Men often times take a step back and leave 90% of the work to the female. Now-a-days, you have no excuse to not be on the same page when planning a major event. Technology allows for shared notes, lists, calendars, and accounts right at your finger tips. Use it!

Be flexible

I talked about this a lot in my blog about emotionally preparing for marriage. Flexibility is equally important on the logical side. You are literally joining to lives together! I don’t just mean the spiritual bonding of two human souls. I mean literally joining two houses, two households, two phone plans, two insurance policies, two bank accounts, two furniture and decorations styles, two computer hard drives, and two closets.

Whether you live together already or not, chances are you haven’t combined everything yet. Doing so can be stressful. It is important to think logically and make decisions together. You might love your place; but if your future spouses fits better into the budget – move in to theirs instead of making them come to yours. Maybe you’ve had your same phone number since high school and don’t want to give it up; but if your future spouses carrier offers a better family plan – give in, sacrifice and make the best decision for your family.

I want to encourage those who are making this leap! It is scary; I know. But don’t be frightened. Marriage is beautiful and worth it.

I challenge you. During your process of getting married, save yourself unnecessary stress and be realistic, be organized, and be flexible.

3 travel tips the average traveler MUST know!

Are you planning to fly overseas?  Are you day dreaming about places mysterious and unknown?  Either way, I’ve been where you are.  I’ve had my fair share of international flights but I’ve had more days spent dreaming about so much more – more trips, more countries, more places, more adventure.

Flights overseas are complicated but don’t have to be confusing.

For many, the mere thought of flying overseas is overwhelming. It is true – international travel can be almost discouraging in nature because of all the possibilities. I want to say this in the nicest way possible – Get over it! The pros will out weigh the cons. I promise you will not regret international travel done right. It is life changing!

Be organized, do your research!

Whether organization is a natural strong suit of yours or not – I suggest you do your best to be organized in this one aspect of your life.

Tip #1: Make a folder in your personal email for travel.

The internet is your best tool for planning this journey. Entire journeys can be planned, bought and booked without ever leaving your couch. It’s a beautiful thing – the internet. Throughout this process you will make many subscriptions to various websites and you will need a folder to organize all the information they send you.

While this might seem unnecessary, companies who send “junk mail” don’t always include only junk. Often times, I receive emails which contain real trips, real deals, and more importantly – real ideas that spark my interest into a new trip idea. Yes, there are times in my life when I delete all those emails. If I’m not traveling or planning a trip they don’t have much value to me. They are truly junk to me, in that moment. But if I am itching for a getaway, it is usually an email ad that inspires my brainstorming!

On the other hand, when trips become real and you are booking travel you need an organized place in your inbox to keep all of your travel times, destinations addresses, and confirmation codes. Additionally, it keeps all the receipts in one place so I can budget my trips and know exactly how much I spent and on what I spent it.

I challenge you to add the folder on your inbox now! Even if you have nothing planned, it will stare at you and maybe one day you will finally have the courage to take the trip of your dreams.

Tip #2: Know where you want to go and what you want to see. 

Many people want to see the world but when I ask them – where they want to go and what they want to see, more often than not the answer is something like “Rome, London, Paris, everything!” The reality is: Those places aren’t neighboring cities. You must pass language, country borders, and bodies of water to achieve such a trip. Are you prepared?

I suggest lists! I love lists but especially when traveling. I make lists of cities and countries, sites within cities and countries, travel between cities and countries, and travel between sites within those cities and countries. I have lists created of road trips across the US, backpacking trips through Europe, island hoping in Indonesia, and cruises through the Caribbean. Some of which are ridiculously far-fetched but until I plan them I will never know where my limit of possibilities are.

I recommend a few websites I use to aid me in making these lists. I wish they were like this cute little secret websites that contain hidden places that no one has ever visited but frankly, those don’t exist. These are all pretty popular but also very helpful!

  • Google – I use google maps and googles top sights to inspire my travel in some of the most beautiful places in the world. It rarely forgets a top sight and always contains information about the surrounding area not to mention the travel between areas.
  • TripAdvisor – I like the ranking system that TripAdvisor uses to rank the top sights to see in a given city. I usually cross reference their “sights to see” with googles “top sights”. They balance each other to give me an idea on what is really worth my time.
  • Lonely Planet – I use Lonely Planet for more of the off-the-beaten-path type of activities. They suggest restaurants, festivals, and tours that are top notch.
  • Afar – I use Afar much like Lonely Planet! And, bonus, it is updated by real people on what they real did while in a country.

Tip #3: Print or screen shot everything.

Call me old school but before my husband and I travel, I print everything! I’ve been in a situation one to many times where technology failed me; I was left helpless – a slave to data service or wifi. Once you have booked each step of your journey, it is more than likely you have an email, a URL, and maybe even an app all with the information you need for your trip. How exciting! Now, it’s time to actually travel!

I hope you have planned ahead and taken the time to check what kind of international data your cell phone company offers during international travel. But regardless, I recommend to print or at least write down all of your confirmation codes, addresses, and travel plans so you don’t have to rely on 2G data speeds or finding a wifi cafe to try and figure out train schedules, directions, or confirmation codes.

Another more technology friendly idea is to screen shot all the information so it saves on your camera roll instead of having to load the email or internet page. It’s faster and more reliable. Plus, if you are like me – a control freak, reliable puts your mind at ease so you can actually enjoy yourself during the journey – knowing you are prepared.

Here are some examples of things I screen shot, print or write down before I travel.

  • Travel dates and times – This may seem like a no-brainer but a lot of people rely on the technology at the location of travel to know when they are supposed to be where. Often, bus and train stations have travel times posts online but then on-site they don’t have live screens updating you on when they next train, bus, or boat leaves. Save yourself from the stress by making a note about timetables of transportation you are planning on using.
  • Lodging information – I highly recommend writing down the name and address of the place you are staying! In additional, include your confirmation code, the price you paid when you booked it online, the check-in and check-out times, and the contact information in case you have trouble finding it.
  • Keywords – If traveling to a country where you don’t speak the language, I recommend jotting down a few common phrases. Yes, while almost everyone in the world speaks English nowadays; I find that it greatly enhances the experience of travel if you have a few words or phrases ready to whip out and surprise the natives. Words like: Hello, Goodbye, Excuse me, Thank you, Please – go a long way when trying to get the help or attention of those around you.
  • Maps – Pretty much everywhere in the world now has some form of public transportation. It might not be stellar but they do have something! If you are like me, you don’t have a private driver picking you up from the airport. Rather, you have to catch a bus, train or taxi. Don’t rely on your phone to load the information for what train line or subway station or bus number you are suppose to take next. Document the routes of public transportations and maybe add notes about which lines take you where – lodging, city center, airport, bus station, car rental property, etc.

I challenges you to fight through the complications – it’s worth it. There may be times of confusion but following these simple tips will help you a bit along the way. Best of luck as you plan your adventure.

 

Prepare emotionally for marriage with these 3 tips that unfortunately – all to often – get overlooked

I have heard horror stories about the first year of marriage. I have heard many people say, “the first year is the hardest.” I have heard about the cheaters, the annulment, the liars, the frauds, and the thieves.

Our story isn’t anything like that, thank God. However, we prepared well to take this step in every possible way. Today, I want to talk about the preparation we took before we jumped off the commitment cliff. I will elaborate on three major things that were enormously helpful to us: flexibility, counseling, and prayer.

BE FLEXIBLE!

Flexibility is key to any relationship – whether you are planning on standing at the altar or not. I would consider both my husband and I pretty laid back people. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a self-admitted control freak. However, I’m not rattled easily and react to change well. My husband is also pretty go with the flow – that is, as long as you don’t hit any of his buttons. Everyone has a limit.

Why was flexibility so important to us? Well, my husband and I got engaged on April 3rd, legally married on April 17th, married in the church on July 9th, quit our jobs, sold our cars, vacated our houses, put everything in storage and moved to Europe on July 14th. So yes, flexibility was not only important, it was vital to our sanity.

Communication was a big part of our flexibility. Both of us were willing to be flexible in numerous areas but without actually telling each other what we need or want; it doesn’t actually help. Also, it’s a give and take. You have to be willing to think past the want or need of your spouse and realized why it is a want or need for them. I’m all about logic over emotion when it comes to decision-making. But weddings can’t be all logic. It is an emotional time. For some, there are parts that were planned long before you – the spouse – were even in the picture. You will run into decisions of wants or needs which for some reason – that might be insane to you – are very important to your spouse. On the other hand, balancing emotions with logic can be a good way to keep checks and balances within your wedding planning.

Weddings are stressful. The wedding industry in America is a multi-billion dollar industry that thrives on freak outs. Think about it, there is a TV show called “bridezilla” for a reason. So often, decisions are made simply to keep their spouse from losing their mind. While that probably isn’t healthy, it is reality.

We planned everything – and I mean, down to the details. We then accepted this fact: there is no way it goes down exactly like we just spent hours planning for it to go down. We then took steps and choose not to get rattled because we had already discussed there would be changes and compromises all the way through the process.

SERIOUSLY CONSIDER COUNSELLING! 

In my world, pre-wedding counseling is assumed. Some folks do it because they need real counseling for real problems. Some do it because it’s required by the venue they chose. Some do it because one or both sets of parents put on pressure based on tradition or religion. And some – like us – do it because we honestly wanted an outside opinion about us. We wanted someone who didn’t know us well to listen and give insight into the decision we were making.

Vowing to be with one person for the rest of your life is one of the biggest decisions of any humans life. It shouldn’t be taken lightly. How does that look in reality? For us, counseling was one way to take it seriously.

There were many steps in the process. One in particular we found very cool. We took a test that showed us strengths and weaknesses. It showed the good and bad of our personality traits, positive and negative behaviors, emotional and logical reactions, realistic and dreamy expectations and much more. It was awesome! For us, it show us literally that we complete each other – literally. His positives were my negatives and his strengths were my weaknesses. It felt poetic looking at that piece of paper, like a movie.

What I didn’t realize was exactly what that meant. People always say, opposites attract and that was true for us in a lot of ways. What people don’t say, adjusting to someone who thinks exactly the opposite from you is tough. While over time it becomes something beautiful, the growth pains are real and strong!

This time of counseling took us through scenario after scenario of things that could/would happen in our marriage. Some of the scenarios were things we had already talked about but got to dive deeper together, others were scenarios which hadn’t occurred to us to discuss.

I’m not saying we solved all our problems in pre-martial counseling. But I am saying that it was a tool we equipped ourselves with as we took on this massive commitment.

Pray!

My husband and I are active followers of Christ who do our best to take our problems and lay them at God’s feet. Often, we find ourselves being more reactive than proactive when it comes to our prayer life. It is easy for us to remember to pray when something bad happens, we have a problem, or we need something. It doesn’t quite come as naturally when there is a decision coming up to ask for guidance. Frankly, who likes to be told what to do? Or more so – who likes to be told no? The reality with praying about decisions is that God could say no. That’s scary. Why? Because what the heck do I do with my boyfriend that I’m in love with?

As a couple, we decided to take that leap of faith and really ask God what to do about our relationship – fully knowing what this meant and fully intending to obey God’s voice.  It was March 2016.  We decided to take an entire month to pray about what to do about “us”. Get engaged or not? Get married or not? Quit our jobs or not? Move to Europe or not?

Everyday of the month of March we asked different people to pray for us – specifically the future of our relationship and these life changing decisions. It was magical. It was the best month of my life. In a months time, my future became very clear to me and the hardest decisions of my life felt like a breeze. Not to mention, the people who came out of the woodwork to bless us was inspiring.

I’m not standing here saying it was all just that easy. I can imagine if that month went differently and God had steered us apart I would have a different opinion about what we did. But I believe God is a God of clarity who does not confuse and He was exactly that for us in that month!

I challenge any of you couples who are facing “the big commitment” to really take your preparation seriously, to invest time and effort into your relationship, and to face your problems head on in boldness!

How I went from Brewster to Karagyaurov

April 17th, 2016 I sat in the lobby of my home church in a suburb of Kansas City Missouri. I, along side my new fiancé of two weeks together with my parents, waited for a meeting we had set with our head pastor. We attended a large church. Weekly attendance is upwards of 4,000 people. Facilities are state of the art. The pastor is a middle aged, tall and very physically impressive man named Phil. Even shepherding a flock of over 4,000, he still manages to hug everyone (who isn’t freaked out by it) and calls them by name. My family and I had moved homes and churches the summer before my junior year of high school which had landed us in that church. We loved the church. It was “hip” and the people were nice. As a punk high school kid, the music was loud and that’s all that mattered. I hadn’t truly appreciated the knowledge and leadership of this said pastor until my junior year of college. But once my eyes were opened to just exactly how much I could learn from this guy, Phil, I was obsessed. His knowledge of theology, history and religions of the world is astounding.

Phil wasn’t late for the meeting but we were early and surprisingly calm for the adventure we were about to take off on. My fiancé, Nasko, and I had come straight from the soccer field where Nasko had been working all morning. We were wearing athletic clothes because of the busy and rushed nature of our day. That was the usual. Nasko was a program director in a local youth soccer club at that time. We spent most of our weekends going to, coming from, or at one soccer field or another.  We had only been engaged for two weeks exactly on that April day (The engagement story is a beautiful one, one I will tell you some day.) but today was an even more special day. Today was the day we got married.

My parents were supportive and proud of the steps we had made as individuals and as a couple.  His parents lived seven hours away and actually didn’t even know this was happening at the time. I remember thinking how can you not tell your family! But he knew his family and it seemed normal to him. Phil pulled into the parking lot and walked into the lobby. A round of hugs was quickly followed by a, “okay, lets do this!” The paperwork was pulled out and looked over by Phil as the rest of us waited somewhat awkwardly. Before long, like any good marriage day, a hiccup occurred. Pastor Phil pointed out that our marriage license couldn’t legally be signed in our current location. You see, Kansas City straddles the border of two states, Kansas and Missouri. Nasko and I lived on the Kansas side and that’s where we had picked up our marriage license. However, since we now stood on the Missouri side, the license would be considered void by location.

You might be wondering, did I consider asking a pastor to lie and just write a different location than we actually were… yes. I considered it. But instead of actually asking that of him, we asked him what he would suggested. Quickly he jumped in and said, “There is an easy fix. It’s a 20 minute drive to the state line. I have another scheduled appointment coming up but what about all of us meeting just across the border at, say, 7pm tonight?” With a laugh, we thought briefly about our schedules of the day and agreed. It was set, we would be legally married that night.

Now, I will say. We aren’t cold hearted. We want a big party style wedding. We want all of our family and friends to be there. But because of some extenuating circumstances, we were pressed for time and I needed my name to change ASAP.

Before we knew it, around rolled 7pm.  Because of the delay caused by our location hiccup we were able to clean up a little bit and look more presentable than we had earlier in the day. We still wore nothing special. We dressed in our Sunday clothes, which for American undenominational mid-westerners consisted of jeans and a “cute” top. That day, “cute” top meant a Kansas City Royals baseball 3/4 length tee-shirt for me. As athletes and coaches, we didn’t spend much time in outfits nicer than what we had on. We were calm for the most part. A little anxious but for Nasko and I, this was a legal step, nothing more. The severity of this commitment didn’t really hit us until later.

Why a pastor? Our faith is very important to both Nasko and I. We are both very active in our Christian faith. In additional, we are traditional or a little bit old-fashioned, if you will. Don’t get me wrong, with it being only the legal step we had thought about going to the court house but that was a short lived thought while something about it felt strange. We had then asked Phil to do it and he had willingly agreed.

The first thing across the border from Missouri to Kansas was a barbeque joint called Gates BBQ. Wow, how romantic – huh? There we pulled off the highway in the parking lot of a BBQ joint on a Sunday evening. While we were in Jeans, my mom who took a 30 minute break from work was in her nurses scrubs, my sister who volunteered to take a photo was in gym clothes, and that left my dad who had put on a polo with a collar for the special day. Phil pulled in shortly thereafter and repeated his statement from earlier – this time with a humorous  look on his face, “Okay, let’s ACTUALLY do this now!”

We practically had pen in hand ready to sign the paperwork and let everyone go home. The day had already been more of a hassle than we had wanted. But Pastor Phil quickly took charge – telling us to take each others hands, took a very serious look at us and paused. In that moment, it hit me – oh my gosh he’s going to freaking marry us for real right now! And that’s exactly what he did. Phil performed a beautiful ceremony all the way down to the rings, vows and kiss. We felt stupid. We didn’t even have the rings. We were in converse for goodness sake. But as the sun set, the smell of BBQ in the air, the prayer of blessing from a spiritual leader, and looking into the eyes of my future it felt… accidentally perfect. After a short interruption of someone needing to back out of the parking spot we were blocking, the service was over. Simple, stressless, and natural – it was us.

Phil hugged us good bye with a short comment about this being the coolest wedding he’s ever done. We shared a good laugh and I pondered whether or not to tell him – uh we weren’t planning on a wedding today, just the legal paperwork! I didn’t. At that point, we did what was only natural, BBQ for dinner.

About an hour later, Nasko and I were in the car and headed home. It didn’t take long for both of us to turn to each other and practically scream, “Okay, I was NOT planning on that being such a big deal! Did you?” We agreed and I felt a little better knowing we were both underprepared for our wedding day.

Nasko then dropped me at my apartment, kissed his wife goodnight and drove home to his place.

Wow what a day.

And that’s the story of how I went from Brewster to Karagyaurov.