Thursday, April 16, 2015

On Slowing Down

I found myself staring at the perfectly baby blue sky and shimmering ocean, serenaded by the repetitive, evenly paced waves and adorable toddler voices from the nearby park. It was an unexpectedly free lunch break, and I was in my "I need a breather" spot. My happy place, where I can manage the comfort of my car and the beauty of the beach at the same time. 


I read for a bit, leisure reading that has been set aside now that school is back, and reserved 15 minutes for a recline-the-seat-nap. I've been told that I have a skill for managing a solid nap in just a handful of minutes, and sister, that's the truth. 

What I don't have a skill for? Slowing my mind down. 

I remember mentioning to a guy in high school how odd I found it that our minds can never be silent. "Mine can," he said. 

"No, it's really not possible!" I asserted. "Like, even if you try to think about nothing, you're thinking about thinking about nothing." 

"No" he responded, "there are really times where I think about nothing."

I didn't believe him. 

It wasn't until yearsss later that I remembered that conversation and realized maybe he was right. Maybe not all minds are as busy as mine. 

Sitting at the beach on my lunch break, I was keenly aware of my busy mind. With school back in session, my week days can get awfully repetitive. Work - homework - repeat. I was craving a few moments of a slow mind, and even though I knew I would be asleep shortly, my brain wasn't allowing me the quiet I craved. 

"Lord, please teach me how to relax," I prayed. "Please teach me how to slow down."

***

I just posted on busy vs. full, and though I hate to admit it, my current season has busy written all over it. I'm finding myself with a lot more "no"s than "yes"s, a lot more scheduled days than free. 

And staring at the beach, I figured something out. I've been fighting the busy. I've been fighting against it because I don't want to be defined by it, because I have this image of being free and surrendered and busy just doesn't fit into that. 

But I realized that I need to stop fighting it. I need to stop fighting, and start asking. Start asking God to slow down my days. Start asking God to relax my mind. Start asking God to free up my schedule when it needs to be freed, and to give me peace with the to-do list when that's what's before me. I need to start asking God to help me embrace a full life versus get lost in a busy one. 

 I'm asking God to help me find slowness amidst the fast pace. 

And so far? I'm finding it. I'm finding slowness in the freedom to take a study break and let my heart pour out into a blog post. 

I'm finding slowness in doodling love scribbles on post its. 


I'm finding slowness in pausing to reflect on what a beautiful life this is, and how faithful our God is to have fulfilled a dream of going to seminary school. 

I'm finding slowness, and I'm clinging to it. I'm asking for more of it. Because this life is too wonderful to be rushed. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Don't Chase Me Bro - Ragnar Relay


 It's been a while since I reviewed a race, and last weekend's 200 (ish) relay race is most definitely deserving of a blog post. 


Last weekend, 11 friends and I ran our very first Ragnar Relay. And guys, I don't think I can accurately portray how proud I am of us for pulling this off. This relay race is no joke, it's both mentally and physically challenging in a way that even surpasses a half marathon. Some people in our group had never run a race before, PJ included. So that feeling when we crossed the finish line as a team? Welp, let's just say it made all the sleep deprivation and ginormous hills way worth it. 


We were divided into two vans of 6 people, and each person had 3 legs to run. Each leg was anywhere from 2.4 to 12.1 miles, but I'd say the majority were between 3 and 7.  Each person ran anywhere from 11 to 24 miles in total, the average being around 15. 

When someone in our van was running, we were caravanning to the next exchange. It was so exciting jumping out to go cheer on our team mate, watching them slap the slap bracelet onto the next person, and quickly getting back to the van to drive to our next location. 


When someone in the other van was running, they were on caravan duty and we were either eating, searching for a non-porta-potty-bathroom, grabbing Starbucks, or attempting to sleep in our van. The gaps between our legs felt long, but for me they were very needed to re-coop for running again. Plus, I got lucky and was able to sleep pretty well during our night stretch. 

And by pretty well, I mean maaaybe a few hours. If that gives you a frame of reference for the amount of delirium we were experiencing by our last leg. ;)


Running at night was amazing. My favorite leg was my middle one, a hilly 10K at around 9PM. The cool temperature made the hills so much more bearable, I need to start running at night more often! 

Even Ryan Gosling enjoyed it. 


One of the most special things for me was getting to run my final leg in the area I grew up in. I didn't realize I was finishing at my high school until I looked at the map the day of the race, and it literally felt like jogging down memory lane. 


Except, let's be real, there were points where it was walking down memory lane. Because man, combining the final leg with the most brutal hills was an ugly combination.

But overall, it was such an incredible experience. There were moments of complete exhaustion, the last leg for everyone I talked to was really rough, but I would do it again in a heart beat. (True story, I already started looking at the Washington one for 2016). 


And so, for anyone who's interested in the amazing experience of a Ragnar Relay, I give you:

Amy's Tips and Tricks for Surviving {& Enjoying} Ragnar

One: Make sure you have at least one (preferably two, one for each van) really, really good planner. 

We're talking coordinating and collecting money from 12 people, renting 2 vans, making sure everyone has the required gear, there's a lot that goes into this. It's more than a regular race, so be sure you've got a good planner to see all the coordination through to the finish line. 

{A huge thank you to Nikolay and Tim for being our planners! We couldn't have done this without you!}

Two: Get matching shirts! It makes things so much more fun. 



{Thank you Tim for making this happen!}

Three: Make sure you can stand to be in very close quarters with your teammates for a very long time. We're talking 30 hours in a van, people. 

Luckily, my teammates were some of my favorite people in the world. Sooo, I lucked out. 


Four: Have back up people ready just in case. We had some last minute changes, and needed to find an extra person. We were fortunate to have Tamara happily step in, and not mind being the only girl in her van. You go, Tamara! 


Five: Bring a foam roller. And use it. 

One of those things we did. And one of those things I learned the hard way. I'll let you guess which is which. 


Six: You can't have too many snacks in the car. It's just not possible, so over prepare. Same thing with water. 

Also, bring energy gummies. Everyone in my van knows what I'm talking about. 

Seven: Get markers that are car-safe so that you can decorate your van {and tag other people's vans}. This is a huge deal at Ragnar, and makes things so much more fun. 



Eight: There will be time for showers and sleep after the race, I promise. Enjoy the experience, delirium and all. 


Interested? Find a Ragnar near you here. And then let me know about it, cause I just might want to do it with you. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Busy vs. Full

Hi, friends! I promise I haven't left you hanging on the final post of the "Love Without Sex" series. PJ and I have gotten some good questions, and we're so looking forward to sitting down and answering them together. That's coming soon, but in the meantime I'm popping in to say hello. (Insert brown haired waving girl emoji that I use all.the.time)
 
How's life been for you, lately? For me, it's been feeling a liiiittle like a train moving at 100 miles per hour. It's been great scenery, and a no-doubt enjoyable ride, but boy is it hard to sleep on a train. Any one else feel like sometimes, the days can be exhausting?
 
That being said, life is full and sweet and good. Last weekend was packed with much needed family time, and I'm back in the swing of seminary with a new class on 1 Corinthians. I get to see my sweet Peej this weekend, and we're spending our time together running a 200 mile relay race. (Yupp, you read that right, check it out.)
 
I'm learning to intentionally fight getting stuck in the busy-ness, and I talk about that over on Annie's blog today. I'm learning that we were not called to a busy life, but a full one. And I don't want my schedule to ever encroach on the gift of fullness that He died so I could experience.
 
And that's where I'm at. Living and soaking in one full day at a time, trying to surrender my schedule & seek God in all things.
 
Where are you at, my friend? What do your days look like, and how can I be praying for you in your current season?
 
I'll leave you today with a few recent favorites. A favorite song that is currently still on repeat (24+ hours going strong), and a few favorite pictures that capture the sweetness cultivating in this season.
 
I hope your season is cultivating sweetness, too. :)
 
 

 
Photos by Jessica Fairchild, Dress from Stitch Fix
 


Monday, March 23, 2015

Love Without Sex || 3

For those that don't know the story of how PJ and I met, you can read it all here. It's my favorite story to tell, but for the sake of staying on topic, I'll condense. 

We exchanged our first words at the hotel bar, where family + the bridal party were gathered after the rehearsal dinner. We literally shared maybe 2 sentences; he learned that I wore glasses & didn't drink, and I learned that he was "crashing" the wedding. It was 100% a "he caught my eye from across the room" moment, but zero part of me expected him to be interested. I also didn't know enough about him to be interested beyond the point of finding him extremely attractive. ;)

It wasn't until the reception that all the Disney-topping dreaminess unfolded. And it wasn't until he cheersed my glass of sparkling cider and gave me a sweet compliment that I cued in to the fact that maybe, just maybe, he was interested. 


{A snapchat I sent a handful of girlfriends the day after the wedding. So glad one of them screen shotted this ;) }

So, let's get back to the whole point of this series. Sex. 

I brought up my boundaries with physical intimacy the night of the wedding. Yupp, you read that right. The first night we met. 

It may have been a bit bold, and I very likely could have scared him off. But one: I wanted to scare off any one who wasn't right. I had faith that one day, there would be someone who was right, so I wasn't afraid of losing the others. 

And two: there was actually another girl pursuing PJ that night {dun dun dunnnn}. I really love this part of our story because looking back, it gave each of us an opportunity to care for the other from the first moment we met. 

For me? I wanted PJ to have an exact expectation of what he was pursuing by going after me. I didn't want him to have any regrets at the end of the night, so I figured if he wanted sex at all before marriage, he deserved to know that I didn't. I knew he had other options, and I wanted him to be able to take that other road if it aligned more closely with what he was looking for. 

For him? Having other options blessed the heck out of me when he chose me. And he did so even after I gave him a big ol' stop sign for intimacy before marriage. He was able to take that information, and make a clear decision to still pursue me. 

Girls, there are guys out there who will pursue you even after you speak out about your boundaries and beliefs. And the ones who don't? I know it's easier said than done, but love them and yourself enough to let them go. 


PJ asked if he could kiss me that night, as we sat on a bench looking out at the ocean. It was the most romantic evening of my life, but something in me was able to clearly think & articulate "I really want to, but I know it would mean more if we actually get to see each other again."

To this day, PJ always says that me saying no blessed him. It showed him that I wanted to see him again. And you better believe that I did. :)

We had 3 weeks between the wedding and our first "date." 3 weeks of Face Timing, late night phone calls, and consistent texting back and forth. 3 long weeks of no physical interaction for two very physical people. We love holding hands, hugging, cuddling, and yes, kissing. So the fact that we fell hard for one another without any of those things meant a lot. 

Since that period, we have never gone that long without seeing each other. But I love that our love began through simply communicating. I got to know his heart, not what a good kisser he is. I got to feel pursed because he asked how my day was, not because he jumped on top of me. 

It's the healthiest relationship I've ever been in. And I don't doubt that it has to do with the fact that it began with emotional intimacy, not physical intimacy. I'm fairly certain that any two people who are attracted to one another can experience physical intimacy, but emotional intimacy is a bit harder to attain. 

I was instantly attracted to PJ, hence why our relationship started so quickly. But our friendship? That took time to deepen. I had to get to know his heart and his mind before I could trust him to advise me wisely in moments of trial. And now, it means sooooo much that he is the first person I turn to for advice. And he is the first person I turn to when I have good news to share. He is not just my boyfriend; he truly is my very best friend. 

Our chemistry was immediate, but our friendship had to grow. 

I never really took the time to truly grow and cultivate emotional intimacy or friendship in my other relationships, because physical intimacy became the primary, and arguably only, way of connection. 

I can honestly and whole heartedly say that with PJ, there is such an abundance of intimacy in our relationship, that I don't feel even a hint of lacking from the physical boundaries in our relationship. 

Those 3 weeks felt awfully long between when we met and when I went to visit him for our first date. They especially felt long because I did want to kiss him. Even though I said no that first night on the bench, of course I wanted to kiss this man that gave me butterflies & made me weak in the knees like no man before. 

It was a long 3 weeks, but when I finally got to see him again? When he picked me up at the janky hotel I had rented a room at, and when we drove holding hands to the Oakland A's stadium for a game against my Red Sox? And when I knew that I was about to have my first kiss with him? Absolutely zero part of me was regretting the wait. 100% of me was thankful that we waited until we knew, this was real. 

And when we had that long-awaited first kiss standing in line for the metal detector? Surrounded by people, but apparently both of us just couldn't wait any longer? 

It was perfect. And it was worth the wait. 

Whenever this whole waiting until marriage thing gets hard, I think about how thankful we both are that we waited for our first kiss. I think about how when we got to have it? There was not a single regret in our minds of the timing. 

And I just know that just like our unplanned first kiss in line for the metal detector, it will be perfect. 

And it will be worth the wait. 


***

Here's where you get to chime in!

First off, thank you so much for those of you who have given positive & encouraging feedback about this series. It has truly blessed both PJ and me!

We want to hear from you! Do you have any questions? As a final post, PJ and I are willing & excited to answer any questions you may have. 

Feel free to ask questions below (yes, you can do so anonymously!), or you can e-mail me at sweethomesbblog (at) gmail.com. 

We look forward to hearing from you! And thank you so much for following along in this series that is so close to both of our hearts. 

We love you guys!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Love Without Sex || 2

In case you missed the last post, I am currently in a series about, you guessed it, love without sex. Feel free to scroll down or click the link to read all about the heart behind this series, or just jump on in now. 

Before I continue, I want to make yet another disclaimer. This series will contain different forms of language, and I want to differentiate between them. The majority will be my personal experience and opinion, and it should be viewed as such. If I offer advice, it's only because it was tested & proven wise in my own life. But I always preface my advice with "this is what worked for me," or "absolutely seek the Lord, but here are my thoughts..." 

If I quote a book, it's because I appreciate the author's wisdom and find it to line up with Scripture. But again, human words do not equal God's words. Nothing can replace the Word of God, which will be the third form of language I use. 

So, in summation, the following can be found in this series:

1) God's Word (the best. ever)

2) Not God's Word, but not my words either (b/c sometimes, someone already said the words you're looking for)

3) My words

Alrighty, we're good to go. 

***

I was hours from home, flipping through radio stations, when my own pastor's voice spoke to me through my car and preached on sexual purity. 

I had heard the message before, more times than I could count. I had been chasing Jesus for months, and giving him areas of my heart that I hadn't ever surrendered. Yet, I still hadn't given Him access to my vision of sex. 

Until that night. 

I thought about God's Word. I thought about His instructions on sex, and marriage. 

"But because there is so much sexual immorality, each man should have His own wife, and each woman should have her own husband. The husband should fulfill His wife's sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband's needs." 
1 Corinthians 7:2-3

I thought about His instructions on guarding your heart. 

"Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life." 
Proverbs 4:23

And I thought about my past relationships. I thought about each one, and noticed some undeniable similarities. I could not ignore the impact sex had on these relationships. Each time, my emotions and attachment would sky rocket once sexual intimacy was brought into the equation. It was scary how in my most extreme situations, I would go from complete indifference to truly believing I was in love. 

I realized that once sexual intimacy was introduced to a relationship, it trumped or even disregarded all over forms of intimacy. At this point in my life, I don't even think I remembered that there were other forms to cultivate: emotional intimacy, spiritual intimacy, friendship, etc. Physical intimacy is one aspect of a relationship, and yet it was the only one I paid attention to. 

In that moment, the Holy Spirit did something inside of me. It opened my eyes to the impact that sexual immorality had had on my life, and although it was daunting and scary and I wasn't even sure I could do it, I decided it was time to follow what Scripture commands: 

"Flee from sexual immorality. No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does."
1 Corinthians 6:18

***

Let's take a short side trail real quick to define this phrase that keeps coming up: sexual immorality. Here's the part where I'm going to borrow someone I respect's words.

In his book, Loveology, John Mark Comer writes that "the phrase 'sexual immorality' is porneia in Greek, and it's a junk-drawer word. Paul means any and all forms of sexuality outside of marriage between a man and a woman."

If I were to take a stab at elaborating on this, here's what I would say: sexual immorality is when our sexual drive, urges, and desires control us. God designed sex for good purposes (fo real!), and sexual immorality is when we take the creation outside of the Creator's vision to satisfy ourselves. You see, sex is powerful, and God knows it. He commands that we save it for marriage because He knows that it's for our good to engage in such a powerful form of intimacy only when we've committed ourselves to this person for life. And sexual immorality is when we say "yahhh, no thanks God. I know better on this one." 

I was doing that for a long time. And my motivation? To feel wanted. To feel loved, and desired. To feel attractive, and pursued. I wanted to feel all of this, and my way of satisfying those desires? Sex. 

Ridding my life of sexual immorality meant letting God take the reins in my romantic life. And even now, it is a daily decision to surrender those reins. 

***

Making this decision meant that a lot had to change in my life. But you know what? I didn't realize that at first. There was an awful lot of trial and error that helped me see that if I wanted to pursue purity, I had to stop pursuing my old life. 

What did that look like for me? Welp, I had to stop engaging in romantic relationships with men who didn't share the same feelings on sex. I fought that at first, but I very quickly realized that I wasn't strong enough to uphold this lifestyle on my own. If I was going to be in relationship, it had to be with someone who could partner with me in this. 

I had to stop flirting with men if I knew there was no purpose in it. I had to examine my heart: why am I flirting with this man? Just because sex was out of the equation didn't automatically mean my emotional issues were. I was still searching for love, still wanting to feel wanted. And if sex couldn't satisfy those cravings, it was real easy to let flirting fill that void. 

I had to let God fill that void. Something in me eventually discovered that if I ever wanted to have a healthy relationship, one that was free of sexual sin, I was going to have to let my God be my source of love. I was going to have to let Him make me feel wanted and pursued. 

And, I eventually had to stop drinking. Because even as I made immense growth in this area, it only took a few drinks for me to revert back to old habits. 

In all honesty, though? Alcohol and sex were easy to give up when I realized that freedom was my prize. 

***

I think this post is wordy enough, so I'll go ahead and wrap it up. I got to a place in my life where I finally stopped searching for love. I figured if it found me, it would be at church or at some Jesus conference. Little did I know that it would find me at a hotel bar, the last place I would expect. 


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Love Without Sex || 1

Those of you who have been around for a while (you know, from when I was consistently blogging) know that I have a huge heart for purity. So much so that I once wrote on it for 31 straight days. I have a heart that beats for lies to be shattered, wounds to healed, and new life to be given. And my passion for this? It comes from experience. Because in a single moment, my lies were shattered. By the grace of God, my wounds were healed. And because of my sweet Jesus, I was given new life. My view on sex was flipped upside down in a matter of minutes, and let me tell you, it was without my invitation. 

That's right, I didn't raise my hand willingly at a church event, or sign a contract proclaiming a new desire to wait until marriage. My God chased me down, with unrelenting love, and gave me a new mind and a new heart for my own good & for His own glory. 

My heart is to share my story in hopes that maybe, just maybe, God is doing the same chasing work in your life. Maybe He's after your heart, and maybe you just need a little encouragement. Maybe you need to see a life transformed to know that it can be done. Maybe you need to hear that there will be men who don't lose interest when you say you want to wait until marriage. Maybe you need to hear that it's okay if you're trying and failing, He won't give up on you. And maybe you need to have the word sexy redefined. 

Cause girl, there isn't anything sexier than a man who looks you in the eye and says "I want you forever" and means it. 

Maybe you're like I was and can't possibly comprehend how a serious relationship can exist without sex. Maybe a glimpse inside of one will give new vision to an area that you never expected would change for you. I never thought it would change for me, but here I am, writing a post about waiting until marriage. 

Whoever thinks God doesn't do miracles anymore? Let me just testify, my life is filled with them. 

I am blessed to have a boyfriend who actually encourages me to talk about our sex life, or lack there of. {ba dum chhh}


So if you're wondering what my wonderful PJ thinks about me writing about such intimate details of our relationship? Wonder no further. He's quite possibly more excited about this than I am. 

{Actually, I take it back. I'm pretty excited.} 

Regardless, this is a joint venture. I may be doing the tapping against the keyboard, but this is a two-person effort. Because this relationship? And this waiting thing? You better believe it's a joint effort. Ain't no way I could do it on my own. 

Why do we care to share our personal details on the internet for anyone and everyone to see? Because we care that much about this. Because somewhere along the way, we both started believing a lot of things about sex that just weren't true. And it's only by the grace of God that we are where we are today. So by golly, we're gonna talk about it. 

This isn't meant to shame, or condemn, or start an argument. If you're feeling judged, please remember who's doing the talking. This is a girl with a sexual past who has no reason or right to judge anyone, and would never want to. This is a girl who believes in loving people, period. Not loving those who agree with you, or loving those who listen to you. Why? Because that's what my Jesus did. 

This series is written with an understanding that these words can do nothing without the power of the Holy Spirit. He alone changes lives, and words can simply testify to His power. 

This series is written with the hope that it will start a conversation in your heart. And not just about sex, because purity isn't just about sex. The title might read "Love Without Sex," but that's only because I once believed that the first required the second. I once was certain that love wasn't real love unless it included sex. 

And because I can speak as someone who truly believed that, it is now my heart's desire to present a love that is romantic, dreamy, exciting, real and yes, without sex. 

But it's only those things because of the single most important aspect. It's romantic, and dreamy, and exciting, and real because it's centered on the God who created love. It's without sex not because of self control, but because of the Holy Spirit who births self control. 

I'm excited to go on this journey with you. I'm blessed to testify of a kind of love that once seemed foreign to me, and is quite often still found foreign to our culture. 

I was recently involved in a sweet conversation with a soon-to-be-bride and a group of both married and unmarried friends. The married friends were giving honest, real, and yes, funny advice on what to expect with sex. It was so beautiful, so innocent, and felt like exactly what romance and marriage were designed to look like. 

A dear friend who knows my heart and my life well kindly checked in with me afterwards, inquiring "did you feel any sadness?"

"No," I said. "I am filled with too much joy and thankfulness and praise over where I am today to have even an ounce of regret."

And that, my friends, is why I share.