Tag - relationships

What I’ve Learned in Two Years of Marriage

Somehow, some way, a bit over twenty-four months have passed while I’ve been doing this marriage thing. What the pez!? You’ll recall I shared some of the lessons learned after one year of being hitched, and I thought it would be important to reflect again now that we’ve hit another milestone. I’m not sure how the first couple years are supposed to be, or tend to be. Are we still in the “honeymoon stage”? Are we past it? Are we unique in any way? Are we like every other young married couple at this stage? I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter.

Here’s what I do know. We’re doing great. I can say that without even the slightest qualification. And I’m so thankful for it and don’t take it for granted. My love for her is definitely growing stronger, not plateauing or weakening in any way. I shared in a letter I wrote to her before I went to Ireland this summer that I catch myself feeling increasingly vulnerable in terms of my love for her. Like, I’m losing control, like she has this power over me that makes me feel all liquefied inside. Not always, but definitely when I’m missing her a ton, or thinking about her in the midst of exhaustion or loneliness or work struggles.

At those times, if I were to let the emotions completely overcome me, I feel I would turn into a blubbery mess. Because in that moment, I want her, I need her, I love her so painfully much. I don’t allow my mind or feelings to go there, but that’s what marriage and doing life with her has done to me 🙂

But you’re not here to read about that. Let’s talk about what I have learned. Allow me to structure this in terms of two things I say to myself on a consistent basis. That will most profoundly illustrate how my thinking and my living have been affected.

“It doesn’t really matter.”

I say this a lot in my head. Early on, a handful of things bugged me. In my mind, she loads the dishwasher a little inefficiently. Almost every day, the floor and counter would have one or two small sticky spots from her cooking or making tea or something (I really hate stickiness. Really.)   She takes a while to do something that I would have already knocked out. She’s a couple minutes late getting ready when we’re off to be somewhere on time. Stuff like that.

But in the grand scheme of things, I have learned that it’s not a big deal.

And I believe she is doing her best and is well aware of what might annoy me, and I need to leave it at that.

She’s a separate person with a separate way of doing things, and it’s totally fine. It’s not fair for me to expect her to do everything in the exact same way as I would, at the exact same speed. Preserving harmony in the marriage takes precedent. “Us” is always more important than “me.” And seriously, I’m sure she bites her tongue every day when it comes to my idiosyncrasies and annoying habits. I wouldn’t want to do life with me. I’m so thankful she does. Being so intimately acquainted with my faults, it’s actually kind of miraculous.

Remember that the other person is doing their best. They are not trying to annoy you or irritate you in the least bit.

For those in long-term relationships or marriages, try to tell yourself often that “it doesn’t really matter.” There are very few hills you should die on. Yes, have convictions about the important things – the things that reflect integrity and industriousness and wisdom and kindness and faith – but try to let go about the comparatively trivial things. Remember that the other person is doing their best. They are not trying to annoy you or irritate you in the least bit. They are trying each day to be all you need them to be. And you should be thankful for all of the ways they are patient and gracious and ever-loving with you.

“Only one thing is necessary.”

I say this to myself a lot too. And it helps me to be a better person, which in turn helps me to be a better husband. It’s from Luke 10:42, when sisters Mary and Martha are hosting Jesus. Martha is running around the house trying to manage life and responsibilities and appearances and demands. Mary is just hanging out with the Lord, getting to know Him and His heart, and finding her worth and value in Him. And when Martha complains about Mary not helping her with all she has going on, Jesus lovingly admonishes Martha and praises Mary’s singular devotion and choice with the words, “Only one thing is necessary.”

It’s true. It’s so easy for me to get caught up in trying to stay on top of life. And pursuing that goal has the side-effect of pushing out my pursuit of God and my pursuit of Rachel. I start to think that sweeping the floor, or writing another paper, or preparing for tax season, or organizing my closet is more important right now than them. But they aren’t. Ever. Those tasks always come in second to the way I love my Lord and the way I love my wife. I’m not saying you have to let those things go; rather, you should make sure that your good intentions to get things done doesn’t undermine the best possible relationship you could ever have.

It’s so easy for me to get caught up in trying to stay on top of life. And pursuing that goal has the side-effect of pushing out my pursuit of God and my pursuit of Rachel.

I find this extremely tough. I hate mistakes and I hate problems because they get in the way of me living how I want each day (I do realize this is dysfunctional and selfish and prideful and controlling). And so I do all I can to avoid them by laboring in ways that prevent their possible occurrence. I’m always thinking ahead. I spray for bugs just in case we have a random infestation. I trim palm trees to keep them from possibly knocking down a gutter. I plan for old age. I maintain proper tire pressure in our vehicles. I stay on top of mail and bills and filing paperwork. There is always something else to do. Always. I’m never caught up the way I want to be. Ever.

But all of this takes so much time, time that I could be – and should be – giving to God and my wife. Obviously, I’m supposed to be a good steward, and take care of the domain over which He’s give me ownership. But I clearly need to trust Him more to hold everything together and not let the bottom fall out (which is fundamentally what I am afraid of). I’m trying. It’s going to be impossible for me to keep this up when we have children. I just have to trust more. And do less. And give myself to my most important relationships above all else.

It’s going to be impossible for me to keep this up when we have children. I just have to trust more. And do less. And give myself to my most important relationships above all else.

That’s it. Pretty simple, actually. There are so many lists in books and online with top tips for relationships and dating and marriages, but all of that can be subsumed under two succinct phrases for me: “it doesn’t really matter” and “only one thing is necessary.” Or, as Stephen Covey has said, “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” I feel like when I’ve concentrated my energies on living out these two overarching statements, everything else falls into place. Not perfectly (because we are broken people in a broken world), but pretty dang well – and marked by a good measure of peace, harmony, and even joy. That is all I want as Rachel and I enjoy each other’s love, laughter, and companionship, and team up to accomplish epic things for His people, purposes, and renown.

Judging by Appearances

judging by appearances 4
While living in a dorm room this summer at a university in Ireland, I was reminded about one aspect of human nature I really dislike. I had to get to another campus to give a speech, and went downstairs to the reception desk to ask someone to please call me a taxi. However, the person behind the desk really didn’t seem interested, and appeared put out by my request even after I clearly explained that I didn’t have a phone to make the call myself. She asked me to hold on, and while I waited patiently, she was keen to help other adults with friendliness, warmth, and her time. And I became a bit frustrated because there are signs everywhere around my dorm about how the staff are available to help with anything I might need.

When these sorts of things happen, my mind instinctively starts to churn with certain thoughts to reconcile the situation. Maybe the receptionist wasn’t comfortable with my American accent, and maybe she prefers chatting and helping those with Irish accents. Maybe she wasn’t eager to help because I was dressed down – in very casual clothes – and because I may appear to her to be a student instead of a professor. Of course, that shouldn’t matter, but maybe it did. When she finally turned again my direction, she shrugged her shoulders and gave me a pat answer. I thanked her anyway, and said that I would attempt to request a taxi through the cab company’s website from my room.

And so I tried that, but had no luck at all. Remembering, though, that God always responds even when no one else will, I just got ready for my speech by showering, shaving, and putting on my formal clothes, and then headed back downstairs with the hope that someone else would be at the reception desk to assist me. Unfortunately, it was the same woman, but this time she was quite eager to lend a hand. The only difference, based on what I could tell, was my appearance. I was suited and booted, fresh-faced, and professional-looking. And with a newfound enthusiasm to come through for me, she helped me get a taxi.

judging by appearances 5

I cannot express to you how maddening this is. It’s happened a handful of times to me, and I’m sure it’s happened to you. We live in a world where appearances matter. We’ve been taught this from an early age: the importance of first impressions during interviews, first dates, and other special events. Perhaps it’s related to the halo effect – the cognitive bias we all have where an initial impression we have of someone affects our overall thoughts and feelings we have about their character and value.

We’ve been taught this from an early age: the importance of first impressions during interviews, first dates, and other special events.

Also, it is perhaps second nature for us to judge others and group them in pre-established categories so that we know how to reflexively respond to them – based on our prior experiences with (or perceptions of) others in that category. We do this out of convenience, and for the sake of efficiency. Nevertheless, it drives me bonkers because I think it’s flat out wrong. I’m all about truth and justice, and something about it feels unjust. It feels…shallow, callous, disingenuous, and even manipulative.

What is our root motivation for judging based on appearances? From my perspective, I think it shamefully betrays that many of our new interactions are transactional. We enter them subconsciously looking to get something out of them. We are hoping, at least in part, that there might be some sort of symbolic or substantive personal gain from it. With some self-reflection, maybe we would honestly even admit that to ourselves.

When I have someone coming to our house to fix an appliance or perform a service job, I seriously take the time to put on pants and a button down so I look more like a professional and less like a kid.

Allow me to share something you may think silly and even pretentious. When I have someone coming to our house to fix an appliance or perform a service job, I seriously take the time to put on pants and a button down so I look more like a professional and less like a kid. This is because I am convinced I will be thought of less highly if I’m in a t-shirt and shorts, and that will consequently affect the quality of the service I receive. Is that crazy? Perhaps.

I do this when I go to the repair shop to get my car fixed too. And when I go to see a new doctor or health care provider. I guess I believe that I need to look a particular way in order to increase the odds that I will be treated better than the norm. It’s disappointing to me that I do this because it is transactional and contrived and insincere, and because these actions reflect a broken human condition of which I am a representative. This is my reality.

On the flip side, I honestly try to treat everyone exactly the same, regardless of how they look or dress. Really. I am actually obsessive about this. I believe that if you asked anyone who knows me, they would agree that I give my best to the person who is in front of me no matter who they are. I know I do this because I’m keenly aware of latent prejudices and biases that can often manifest in these contexts.

judging by appearances 12

But I also do it because of my faith. And because the life lessons I have learned through God’s Word have proven themselves infallible to me.

Jesus gave his best to the person right in front of Him every time. Without exception. It’s a defining trait, and one I find so admirable. I want to be like this, always. He blessed and healed those with wealth, and those without. He reached out to those the world considered beautiful and whole, and those the world considered physically ugly and diseased. He came to the rescue of the young and the old. He bestowed goodness, warmth, and sincere affection with unrivaled impartiality.

Why did He do this? I think it’s because He saw everyone with spiritual eyes and a heavenly perspective, and knew that every single one of them was made in the image of God. And, therefore, each person had inherent value.

He reached out to those the world considered beautiful and whole, and those the world considered physically ugly and diseased. He came to the rescue of the young and the old. He bestowed goodness, warmth, and sincere affection with unrivaled impartiality.

James – a brother of Jesus – penned the most damning words related to the classism we sometimes display in our actions: “Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”

We unequivocally need to treat everyone the same, regardless of what they look like. And since I am downright troubled by what I see and experience to the contrary, I can do two things.

First, I can consistently represent a standard of interacting with others that is noble and above reproach, and point to unyielding truths that champion the best ways to interact with others. I hope that my life serves as a model that others strive to emulate, and conveys that I am simply trying to emulate Jesus – who did it perfectly and who can actually equip us to follow in His footsteps. We totally cannot do it ourselves, in our own strength and self-discipline.

Second, I can ask Him to open the eyes of my heart to see everyone’s needs and hopes with His perspective, and thereby increase my sensitivity to “the least of these.” If I am known for anything in this world, I want to be known for this. Not so that I can be commended and praised, but simply because every single person matters. And my actions fully need to reflect that fact, every single time.

Image source:

http://bzfd.it/2tXWsVn

Sea Turtles

There was this one time where I really loved this girl, and she loved me back, but things got jacked up because life is broken and people are broken and mistakes are made. In this relationship, most days were really, really great. But there was one day when something happened and my heart was shattered into a million pieces. I can’t get into the details, but I feel like most of us – at some point – have been devastated before. I mean, really, really devastated. Like when all of the air gets sucked out of your lungs, and you can’t breathe but you still feel like you’re going to be sick. Like your entire world starts to actually simultaneously spin and collapse all at once. And you know you’ve never felt so much pain in your entire life.

I feel like most of us, at some point, have been devastated before.

That was how I felt in that moment. I just looked up the date in my journal, and I had written the following at the time:

The lesson can’t be from all of this: there is no such thing as the fairy tale. There is no such thing as things working out beautifully for you in all areas of life. I don’t want to get cynical. I want to keep my childlike faith. I really really want to. I think I will be able to, but this can’t be the lesson. It just can’t. It can’t be a reality check. I don’t want to believe in reality checks. I want to believe in a huge God capable of huge, miraculous things in the lives of His children. I need to believe in 2 Chronicles 16:9, that His eyes are on the lookout for those who are faithful, for whom He can show Himself strong. I need to believe this. I just do.

While I was pretty wrecked for the next eighteen months or so, God did do something the very next day for me. I didn’t realize the magnitude of it until much later, but He did show up in my life in a powerful way. And it’s important to reflect on because I believe He wants us to stay childlike in our faith, even when everything is falling apart. It’s so very hard sometimes, but He realizes that and shares in our suffering – and if we listen closely and pay attention to things around us, we will see Him move.

It’s so very hard sometimes, but He realizes that and shares in our suffering – and if we listen closely and pay attention to things around us, we will see Him move.

What happened was that the very next day, my friend invited me to go try to find mama loggerhead, leatherback, and green turtles. Living in Palm Beach County, we’re situated on a stretch of the Atlantic Ocean where 200-300 of these glorious beasts emerge from the water every night (and sometimes during daylight hours) to lay their eggs during the nesting season of April through September. However, you don’t see them all the time. It’s comparatively rare. And I’d been out before and had never had any success stumbling across one.

I had been sad and in bed all day, and was in no mood to leave my house, but for whatever reason I felt led to say yes when asked. And so we met up at around 10pm, and just started walking South along the shoreline on Palm Beach Island. The moon was almost full, and it was a beautiful still night with only a gentle lapping of the sea on the sand. There was a warm breeze which helped keep the mosquitoes away…and while I was out there, I realized I was super thankful not to be at home mired in my misery.

Over the course of the next four hours, we walked up and down the shoreline of Palm Beach Island.  And God gave me nine mama loggerhead turtles, up-close and personal.  If you think about it, that is mind-blowing, as most people go their whole lives and never see even a single one. We got close enough to eight of them to touch them if we wanted to (we didn’t). We remained quiet and tiptoed softly around them so they wouldn’t get spooked or alarmed.  We knew they needed to peacefully make it up the beach and deposit their eggs, cover the nest with sand, and then head back to the water. We even sat motionless by one for at least thirty minutes and watched its laborious efforts to dig a nest.  It just felt miraculous to be so close to such majestic and prehistoric-looking sea creatures, and it was almost too much to take in and process. I just shook my head and smiled in amazement, as it had lifted me out of my sadness for a night.

sea-turtle-laying-eggs

When I got home, I took the time to write out my thoughts following the experience. For one, I felt really special, like God was personally giving me a gift with every turtle. I had seen turtle eggs in their nest a few years ago, and little turtle babies one morning after surfing and talking to a volunteer who was tending a nest, but I had never seen a mama before. They were so enthralling to watch. It was like God pulled back a veil to give me a glimpse of something extraordinary and otherworldly. There was no one else around when we were out there on the shoreline, and it felt like we were on another planet.

sea-turtle-eggs

And now that I am thinking about it, I’ve gone out numerous times since then with friends and haven’t seen another. It’s almost like God provided the highest of highs for me while I was at the lowest of lows. He meets us right where we need Him to, because He knows our story and feels our pain and knows what we’re going through. His timing is perfect, and His ways are perfect. I haven’t needed Him to come through like that since, but I definitely needed it on that day of tremendous heartbreak and heartache.  I know I will suffer loss and devastation in the future, and what makes it easier for me to face is knowing that He will once again somehow show up and be there for me.  I can count on it.  I am confident He will respond in a perfectly-crafted way – specific to my situation, my needs, and the tenderness of my heart.

sea-turtle-at-night-eggs

Another interesting thing was that I kept looking backwards (while we were walking forwards) to see if there were any turtles we missed, or that were coming out of the water behind us. However, my friend only looked forward and believed that if we were going to see a turtle, it was going to be in front of us, and that we weren’t going to miss it. I thought that was profound. And maybe a message from God to me as well, perhaps related to my broken heart and perhaps related to everything in life. Because upon reflection, eight of the nine turtles were right in front of us (what are the odds of that?!), and while I did see a turtle behind us on our walk back to the car, it never fully left the water.

So I took that as a reminder that I want to try to live life not looking backwards. Even though it’s hard, since I have a natural tendency to evaluate and dwell on the past.  Especially when the bottom falls out, and when I think I’ve lost my chance and life is never going to get better.  I think the entire experience showed me that God does have special gifts for me, that he is a huge God capable of huge, miraculous things in the lives of His children. And that He is going to keep showing me in unique and soul-stirring ways that I am loved so much by Him, and that I am not going to miss them. I’m just not. I just need to keep moving forward and not look back, and not think that I have missed something.

I think the entire experience showed me that God does have special gifts for me, that he is a huge God capable of huge, miraculous things in the lives of His children.

I felt the real weight of this realization at that moment. And really, I still feel it right now. I’ve thought a lot about what He has for me, and for my loved ones, and I remain convinced that we cannot miss out on His best as long as we are staying close to Him, getting counsel from loved ones, and operating in faith instead of fear. We cannot miss out on His best. Even if we think we have, and even if we actually somehow have, He is beyond loving, and He will bring it back around to us again so we didn’t actually miss it. He’ll put it back in front of us, He’ll re-introduce it into our lives.

Typically, though, whatever it was wasn’t really His best for us.  And if we can just wait a while, He will bring along something more perfect. There is so much freedom in this realization. So much space to live and breathe and make choices and just TRUST. I’m pretty positive He doesn’t want us on tilt all the time, stressed out as to the future. He just wants us to keep moving forward and not look back, staying expectant for Him to do something incredible. To the faithful, He will show Himself strong.

Ever since that night, sea turtles have held a special place in my heart. I think you can understand why.  They were God’s instrument of love to me, reminding me in such a special, personal way that the best is yet to come. The best was yet to come, but I was in a very bad place that day, and couldn’t see it, couldn’t conceive of it. And so He chose to do something tangible, something magical in my life, to encourage me to let go of the past and believe for the future. My hope was at death’s door, but He intervened through nature, through sea creatures nesting. And it kept hope alive.

Image sources:

http://www.seaturtlespacecoast.org/mlb-content/uploads/Ed-Rosack-01.jpg
http://fohn.net/green-turtles-facts-pictures/images/Laying-Eggs-800×600.jpg
https://tourismtalktt.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/leatherback-4.jpg
http://d2tipiv4cs5bo1.cloudfront.net/d4/5f/0f5f81734131ac30e54e9b3290b8/feeling-the-heat-with-jeff-corwin-sea-turtles-video-image.jpg

Leaving My Wife in the Dust

leaving rachel in the dust
Recently, Rachel and I took a train from London to the East coast of England so that we could walk the White Cliffs of Dover.  It was probably my most favorite experience during our entire time backpacking Europe, only because everything that day was so beautiful – the weather (partly cloudy and breezy, with great lighting for pictures), the cliff’s edge, the wildflowers, the rolling hills, the castle in the distance – it was almost too much to take in.  We had a wonderful day together, walking, talking, posing for photos, stopping at a lighthouse where we had tea, biscuits, and jam in an old English tea room, and exploring a place we’d never been before and may never visit again.  However, I could have really ruined the entire day by doing something I am prone to do, and something I’ve done before.

rachel and sameer by cliffs

We had put in a solid seven miles or so hiking around.  And we were both pretty exhausted.  And we had experienced the best of the Cliffs, and now had to hike back the way we came.  My feet hurt, and I am sure Rachel’s did too.  And we were sweating because the wind had died down and the sun was now beating down on us.  We weren’t saying much to each other, simply because we were dead tired.  And honestly, we both just wanted to get back to the main station so we could board our train, sit down, and rest during the two-hour ride back to London.  We were just putting one foot in front of the other, and making progress.

We had put in a solid seven miles or so hiking around.  And we were both pretty exhausted.  And we had experienced the best of the Cliffs, and now had to hike back the way we came.  My feet hurt, and I am sure Rachel’s did too.  And we were sweating because the wind had died down and the sun was now beating down on us.

At one point, I tried to hitchhike along a side road in the hopes that someone would take us by car back to the train station.  But no one stopped for us.  So in my mind I was annoyed, but not at Rachel – just at the situation.  I knew we just had to suck it up and take the long way back.  And so that is what we did.  However, on my mind was the train schedule, and I really wanted us to get there as fast as possible so that we could take the earliest train out.  It left at a certain time every two hours, and if we missed the one I wanted, we’d have to sit around for such a long time before being able to get another one.  And again, I just wanted to get home.  And so I walked fast along the trail.  In front of Rachel.  And it happened that I was walking much faster than her, and so that put a good distance between her.  When I realized this, I stopped, and waited for her.  But then when she caught up, I would start walking again – faster than her – and again realized a few minutes later that I was way in front of her.  And so I stopped again, and patiently waited for her to catch up.  And then I was off again.  And the scenario repeated itself.

dover lighthouse

I don’t know what I was thinking.  Clearly, I wasn’t.  I was just on auto-pilot, determined to get to where I was going, determined to set the pace, and hell-bent on getting to the train station as soon as it was humanly possible to do so.  In retrospect, I had done something similar before, and it had been really stupid of me.  Six years ago, my ex-girlfriend and I flew out to Colorado for “Adventure Week” where – among other things – we were going to camp out and then hike Mt. Bierstadt with friends.  It was a beast of a climb, made even harder by the fact that we didn’t start at the proper trailhead and spent an hour and a half trying to find it.  Eventually, though, we made good progress up the mountain, and stayed together as a group.  And we were having a great time talking, and sharing stories, and bonding through it all.

At some point, though, I thought to myself that I wasn’t really getting a workout at the pace our group was traveling – and really wanted to push my body so that it would get stronger and more physically fit as a result of this hike.  I mean, I didn’t come out to Colorado to take it easy on this trip.  And that meant that I just couldn’t (read: didn’t want to) go as slow as my ex (even though she was absolutely doing her best and going her fastest), because then the hike wouldn’t do my body any good.  (I seriously thought this).  And so I made the decision to just leave her and the rest of the group, pick up my speed, and bound up the trail at my own pace (while still keeping them in my sight-lines).

My motives were not perfectly pure – my priority was getting the most out of the hike for myself, and not on patiently waiting for her and going alongside her, at her speed.

I also remember thinking to myself that maybe I was doing her a favor, because I didn’t want my presence right next to her to put any unnecessary pressure on her to go faster, and make the hike even more difficult (and miserable) than it already was.  But my motives were not perfectly pure – my priority was getting the most out of the hike for myself, and not on patiently waiting for her and going alongside her, at her speed.

I was such a jerk.

Later, she told me that she was really hurt by me leaving her back there while I went far up ahead.  She also said that it made her feel that I was upset at her because she was slowing us down (I wasn’t, but we all know how awful you feel when you think you are making someone else’s life more difficult, and that you’re being a burden to them).  While I really believed I was doing the right thing for me at the time when I walked ahead of her, I realized during our conversation that it was stupid, and selfish, and not loving at all.  I asked her for her forgiveness, and she was very gracious.  And I was so mad at myself for being like that.

You’d think I would have learned from such an experience.  Fast forward to six years later.  I was pretty much doing the same thing.  To my wife.  What on earth was wrong with me?!?!?

Eventually, Rachel and I got to the train station.  And God had worked it out so that we were there right on time to catch one that was leaving soon.  He had always been doing that, the entire trip.  We never got stuck anywhere, we never had to wait too long or be inconvenienced too badly.  I should have trusted Him.  I should have not been so focused on what I needed to do to get us home.  And I should have learned from my previous mistake.

Rachel also said that it prompted all of these unhelpful thoughts in her mind, like “He’s probably really annoyed with me because I’m so slow.”

Rachel and I talked about it later.  She also said she was hurt by my actions, and that she thought I was upset or even mad at her (which was not true in the slightest).  Rachel also said that it prompted all of these unhelpful thoughts in her mind, like “He’s probably really annoyed with me because I’m so slow.” That’s not true at all, but you know the malignant messages that multiply in your mind and beat your spirit down when you feel like you don’t measure up.  We all can relate to that.

And it’s another lesson in communication.  I was giving off certain signals, and she was misinterpreting them, and my behaviors just seemed to confirm what she was then thinking.  We could have just stopped for a moment, gathered ourselves and our emotions, and talked it out.  But we didn’t, and perhaps didn’t know how in that moment.

We could have just stopped for a moment, gathered ourselves and our emotions, and talked it out.  But we didn’t, and perhaps didn’t know how in that moment.

I apologized, because I was in the wrong.  She sees my heart and knew that my intentions were good.  And she was grateful that I would stop periodically and wait for her to catch up – even if she was only 30 seconds behind me.  But she did wish that I would have walked alongside her.  I do too.

What I am learning is that what matters most is the shared experience.  I am so bent towards getting things done and making things happen that I lose sight of that.  Often.  It sucks.  I don’t want to.  Rachel and I were together adventuring through unbelievably gorgeous part of Europe together, and she just wanted me to be with her, in mind, body, and action.  To me, we had fully explored the White Cliffs, gotten refreshments at the lighthouse and seen all there was to see, and now that the highlights were finished, I just wanted to get home.  That task-oriented thought took precedent over absolutely everything.

white cliffs of dover

Thankfully, I didn’t betray irritation with my words or body language.  I remember at a couple of points I wanted her to follow a less-scenic but more expedient pathway to where we needed to go, but she chose otherwise.  She chose beauty over efficiency, she chose the moment over the mission.  I could have said, “Love, can we please go this way so we can get back quicker?” I could have said, “I really think we should try to move faster if we can.”  But I kept my mouth shut and tried to go with the flow.  I wasn’t stressed, and was just like, okay, whatever, if we miss the train, we miss it, and we’ll handle it.  No big deal.  I’m glad for my attitude in that moment.  I could have completely obliterated the beautiful and wonderful day we were having with one curt comment said in a singular moment of tiredness and exasperation.  While not a fatal mistake, that would have been one I regretted for years.

I could have completely obliterated the beautiful and wonderful day we were having with one curt comment said in a singular moment of tiredness and exasperation.

Even though I still messed up, I do see that I am learning.  I do see that I am growing.  I am making progress.  I’m surrendering control.  I’m learning that in life, very, very few things are really worth getting worked up about.  And that everything usually turns out fine in time.  I didn’t need to fret or rush.  I just needed to be okay with however the end of our hike turned out, and however late we ended up finally getting home.  At least I was with my girl, spending time together, making memories, and living out our love.  What more could I possibly want, and what more did I ever hope for in all the years before she came along? She – and her feelings – were, and are, most important, in any situation and context.  I never want to justify or rationalize putting something else first, before her.  Hopefully this time around, the lesson sticks.

Rachel’s Thoughts On Marriage

Sameer and I celebrated our one-year anniversary on May 23rd of this year, and it was spectacular. Our first year has had its bumps and bruises and hiccups, but I am so happy to say that we are even more madly in love now than we were a year ago. I wanted to take some time to write about and share my thoughts on marriage after our first year with you. I think it could be beneficial and amusing to compare and contrast what he has learned with what I have learned. That said, I am fully aware that we are still very inexperienced – so please take these words with a grain of salt.

First, let’s talk about communication.  For our one-year anniversary date, Sameer took me to a place he knew I would love – a nice, upscale French restaurant because I am a “foodie.” You would think he would love this too, but the reality is that he doesn’t care if food tastes really good or not. His motto when it comes to eating is, “Food is fuel.” I find that a little weird and I don’t even know how to reconcile such a perception. Food is a family tradition in my parents’ home. Food brings everyone into the kitchen to nibble and chat. “Food” represents more than just food for me – it is a wonderful shared experience.  Sameer doesn’t think like that, but he does understand that food is important to me. And just like he is learning about how much I delight in deliciousness, he has been teaching me that sports is what he loves instead.

Food is a family tradition in my parents’ home. Food brings everyone into the kitchen to nibble and chat. “Food” represents more than just food for me – it is a wonderful shared experience.

Sameer works very hard and he loves taking time out of his busy schedule to watch his games. It invigorates him like nothing else, besides playing Frisbee. He likes to stay active so he usually stretches or works out or plays guitar while rooting for his teams: the St. Louis Cardinals, Kansas City Chiefs, and the San Antonio Spurs. He likes the Kansas City Blues too for Ice Hockey, but they aren’t on the same level. (The fact that I know the names and cities of these teams is a minor miracle). (PAUSE, Sameer says it’s the St. Louis Blues, not the Kansas City Blues – clearly I still have more to learn).

Anyway, sports brings him so much joy, just like good food brings me so much joy. And this is something I’ve learned during our first year together that I’d like to share as a practical point with you:  while communication is one of the most important components of a healthy marriage relationship, if you don’t speak the same language about certain topics (i.e. sports, food, relaxation, etc..), you should be creative and look for analogies!

I spontaneously do a little happy dance when I eat something yummy.  And Sameer busts a few moves when his team makes a great play or wins a game.  This shows us that at the root of both is the same feeling of bliss and pleasure. We just happen to enjoy very different things.

I spontaneously do a little happy dance when I eat something yummy.  And Sameer busts a few moves when his team makes a great play or wins a game.  This shows us that at the root of both is the same feeling of bliss and pleasure. We just happen to enjoy very different things, which is completely fine. Investing my time into sports makes Sameer very happy. This was hard for me to do until I realized that sports for Sameer was very much like food for me. It is a lot easier to really get into his passions when I equate them to my own. I get to feel more of what he feels for the games. And he now more fully understands how I feel about meal time, and chooses to love me in many food-related ways because he can empathize with me in my bliss. This realization has been so good for our marriage.

My second point is this: Together, as we submit both our strengths and weaknesses to God and each other, He will use them to knit us together into a holy, happy, healthy unit.

Let me explain with a story.

Sameer: “Fear is not of God!”

Rachel: “Neither is stupidity!”

We weren’t angry with each other. I promise. We were shouting only because of the distance between us and the howling wind around us as we walked along the White Cliffs of Dover on the East coast of England. While sightseeing, Sameer is all about pushing past limits and doing difficult things and getting an “epic shot” with his camera. And often, this involves some sketchy maneuver (in this case, along the cliff’s edge) that is beyond what I would consider to be safe. Thankfully, he heeded my statement and came back to the path. We then began to discuss our innate personality differences, and the need for both his bravery and my prudence when we are adventuring and otherwise doing life together.

I’m naturally very cautious. I am a protector at heart. And I am usually very aware of my surroundings and notice a lot of detail and potential dangers. Sameer sometimes calls me his “voice of reason” and that I’m going to keep our future kids alive with my intuition and tendency towards safety.  I believe that’s true, but even before we have children I definitely have saved Sameer’s life multiple times by paying close attention to oncoming traffic.

I definitely have saved Sameer’s life multiple times by paying close attention to oncoming traffic.

With that said, I know I can also become too cautious. Restricting and controlling every situation is incredibly unhealthy and unwise. Sameer helps yank me out of my comfort zone and into the wild, exhilarating unknown. He encourages me daily to trust God, to push past fear, and to really, fully live. This is one of my favorite things about being married to him. He helps me see situations from a different perspective and fills in where I am lacking. He gives me his strength when I am weak – when my caution or fear might hold us back from the best. In order for this to happen, we must allow each other into those weak places. We have to give each other permission to fill in the gap. This is one of the best things about our partnership.

My last point is this: We are on the same team. I know this sounds so simple and obvious, but when iron sharpens iron, sparks fly. And when we are called, through marriage, to reflect the heart of God toward His people, it will be attacked and distorted. When you feel pressure from your spouse (caused by proximity), your heart will naturally guard itself against them unless you remember that you are both on the same team. There is a friction in marriage that can be used by God to perfect us if we are willing. The friction isn’t comfortable. And though it creates a rawness that feels dangerous, if you fiercely protect your connection with God and listen to His voice and obey Him, He will bring you to a place of vulnerability and humility that ushers in deeper relational intimacy – not only with your spouse, but with God as well.

There is a friction in marriage that can be used by God to perfect us if we are willing.

We must also remember that there is a real enemy. This adversary hates our marriages. He hates connection and intimacy, so that is what he targets. What Sameer and I have found is that Satan tries to deceive us into thinking that our spouse is the enemy. But the truth is that if your spouse is living in the light, as a child of God, they are FOR you. Their intention is not to harm you, but to help you prosper. Just like your intention is for your spouse to prosper.

I know there is much more to learn about doing marriage well. And we have been so blessed to have a few awesome couples in our lives to esteem and emulate in this area. I’m super thankful for the teachable moments thus far, and I just want to remain humble, patient, and focused on growing together. Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts, and for the support we continue to receive from those who love us and know our hearts!

What I’ve learned in my first year of marriage

first year of marriage
Rachel and I just celebrated our first wedding anniversary on May 23rd. So here I am, starting my second year as a husband. I’m no longer a newlywed, and in the parlance of sports, my rookie year is over.

It’s been a great first year. I say that with hesitation because I know many, many couples have had a crappy first year as they get used to each other and learn how to put the other person first. Much like my years of singleness, some were rough and some were awesome, and I know we will move in and out of different types of seasons. “For better or worse,” and all that 🙂

Some of you will have read my blog entitled “What I’ve Learned in Six Months of Marriage” – I hope it provided you a nuanced picture of the struggles we did/do face. These are in the areas of communication (because we’re different people who can’t read each other’s minds!), the reality that I can never coast (demonstrating love in any great relationship must be consistent and enduring), time (because marriage takes a ton of time in order to do well), and watching my mouth (because it’s easy to betray frustration or impatience and be a bit of a jerk sometimes). I must stay ever vigilant and mindful about those matters – and have been. At this time, I wanted to intentionally reflect on the first twelve months of matrimony from two other angles.

This summer, we backpacked parts of Europe for a few weeks, and what struck me was the lack of wedding rings on young adults and even middle-aged adults. I never really used to look at people’s hands, but now I do – as if their ring finger gives me feedback about who they are as a person. I know there are a million reasons why a person may not be married or get married, but coupled with what I’ve learned about the culture in many European nations, most people don’t want the “marriage” sort of lifestyle. The responsibility. Being tied down. The perceived lack of independence. The weight of commitment.

This made me sad. I am all about solitude, and independence, doing what I want when I want, and charting my own course – but from my perspective now on the other side, marriage is not about the loss of all that. It’s about gain. The very, very best thing about marriage – in my opinion – is that I have Rachel in my corner. She cheers me on. She encourages me. She understands why I am the way I am – the way I mask certain insecurities, the way I try really hard and sometimes still fail, the way I struggle in certain situations, the way I fight the demons and doubts, the way I hope and dream. And she prays for me – and I know she does it with her whole heart, out of the purest of love, devotion, and commitment.

The very, very best thing about marriage – in my opinion – is that I have Rachel in my corner.

I kind of want that for everyone. It’s really wonderful and while God is and always will be my main anchor, Rachel through our marriage relationship provides another constant source of stability and strength and support.

I wish that so many more of those who I saw while walking the streets of London, or Paris, or Munich had that. Maybe they don’t want to get married. That is their choice, and a solid choice. But I hope that someone else in their life provides an anchor of unconditional love for them. I just think it makes life easier. My marriage to Rachel provides that for me.

The second observation I have after my first year of marriage occurred to me while doing a lot of hiking in the Swiss Alps. If you haven’t been or are not familiar, villages are spread up and down and across the mountainsides, and most tourists travel between them via train or cable car. A few people hike between villages. But what we realized was that most people travel via train or cable car to a higher village, and then hike down to one at a lower elevation. Rachel and I did the opposite. And we realized this while we were slogging our way upward and couples kept passing us on their way down. And I was like, what the pez, why do we always do things the hard way? But of course, I said it tongue-in-cheek and never actually wanted to do it the other way around. And neither did Rachel.

And after talking it out with her, this is what we realized…. We are not masochists. We don’t do it to prove our strength or endurance or mettle. And we’re definitely not better than anyone else for doing so. But we did think it was a metaphor for life. On one of the hikes, I started singing to Rachel improvised lines from Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl (“You’re my Uphill Girrrrrrrrl!!!“). Even though I couldn’t hit the high notes, it still made her smile.

I’m glad she is like that. I am glad we are like that. We choose to go uphill when everyone else is going downhill. We choose to climb when there is a much easier way to travel. And specific to marriage, she commented on a train ride a few days later that recently-married couples in a relationship will face a rough slog of it sometimes – and if they’ve never trained or prepared themselves for those times, it’s going to be brutal.

We allow the other the freedom to point out unhealthy patterns or destructive attitudes, and receive correction in love – reminding ourselves that the other person has our best at heart.

We continue to intentionally work on ourselves – individually and together – so that the uphill seasons of our married life aren’t as brutal as they could be. Yes, they will be tough (just like it was every single time we headed up a mountain trail). But they were doable. They were bearable. And they made us better. We regularly tackle our emotional health. We assess and adjust boundaries. We identify and articulate personal struggles. We stop and fix small conflicts or weirdnesses before they fester and metastasize. We allow each other the freedom to point out unhealthy patterns or destructive attitudes, and receive correction in love – reminding ourselves that the other person has our best at heart.

None of this is easy. It would be much simpler to just sweep those things under the proverbial rug and get on with working and paying the bills and dealing with health issues and in-laws and kids, and eking out a little comfort and pleasure when we can. And while we could definitely coast by taking the downhill path for a while, those problems will rear their ugly heads in much worst manifestations than if we dealt with them upon first notice. This has to remain our priority, perhaps above all else in our lives.

Every time we confront wounds from the past, or we ask the hard questions, or face the dysfunctions, or call out the false pretensions, we’re getting stronger.

Every time we confront wounds from the past, or we ask the hard questions, or face the dysfunctions, or call out the false pretensions, we’re getting stronger. And it’s not only increasing our ability and skillset, but also our confidence that we can overcome anything. Plus, anyone who has ascended a hill – let alone a mountain – knows the view is so much better and the air so much sweeter when you reach the summit. This is true literally, and it’s true figuratively – in education, business, and of course in relationships. Our love grows deeper every time we go uphill, and work together towards reaching the top. What is more, our intimacy becomes richer – on every level. This is the glory of marriage. I can’t even imagine what a lifetime of this will produce. God willing, we will keep climbing. For you, for me, the way is the same: one step at a time.

How to Get Over the Girl

pikes peak
So there was this one time where I really liked a particular girl.  It was way back in 2005.  She was all wrong for me, but I still wanted it to work, and gave it my all because I thought it just might.  I would be sweet and endearing and thoughtful.  I would demonstrate in meaningful ways how much I cared about her and her family.  I would put in the effort to keep in touch on a regular basis.  But something wasn’t right…and I would think to myself, man, it shouldn’t be this hard.  But I didn’t have a reference point against which to measure what a great relationship looks like.  And “on paper,” it seemed like we would be great together.  To be honest, I think it was one of those situations where the timing was wrong.  In the past, she had seemingly liked me, but I wasn’t feeling it.  And now, I really liked her, and she wasn’t feeling it.  But I couldn’t let it go, and detach.  It felt like it was taking over my entire life, and it was eating me up inside.  Constant questions filled my mind: “What is wrong with her?”  “Why won’t she reciprocate?” “What am I doing wrong?” “Why isn’t this working?” And my mind and my world WOULD NOT STOP SPINNING.

Have you ever felt this way?  It’s so awful.  When you’re caught up in it – whether it involves a girl, or a boy, or a friendship, or something at school, or at work, or even with a parent – you’re just a complete mess.  You have zero perspective, you can’t see the forest for the trees, and it’s like you’re in a deep, dark hole that you’ve unwittingly dug for yourself.  But you have no idea how it even happened.  It just did.  You’re just stuck – and the hole is seriously getting deeper.

Have you ever felt this way?  It’s so awful.  You have zero perspective, you can’t see the forest for the trees, and it’s like you’re in a deep, dark hole that you’ve unwittingly dug for yourself.  But you have no idea how it even happened.  It just did.

Eventually, you may get to a point where you are completely unstable, and it starts to affect the other areas of your life.  And those who care about you are so confused, and begging you to get a grip because that one thing – in my case, a girl – can’t possibly have such power and control and influence over you.  And you know that’s correct, but it doesn’t change the fact that right now, you are in a total fog.  And every day is getting increasingly worse.  And you feel completely helpless.  I’ve been there.  It sucks so much.

What do you do in these situations?  Well, there is no easy answer.  And in those moments, it’s hard to even hear suggested answers, let alone implement them – despite the good intentions with which they are offered.  But I personally have to believe that there are things we can do, and I can at least share what has worked for me in the hopes that it can help someone.  You know I am all about childlike faith, and in my childlike faith I am convinced that God doesn’t want us to get stuck in these places, and actually wants us to prevent them from even happening, as much as possible.  But I also want to be gracious towards everyone and remember that life is broken and people are broken, and issues of mental health, chemical imbalances, and unbelievably painful pasts complicate the situation tremendously.  So, I share this with hesitation but in love.

Regain Control of Your Mind

First, I remind myself that because Christ lives inside of me and given us the Holy Spirit as a deposit, I can take every thought captive and make it obedient to how He would want me to think.  I truly believe that.  We are not supposed to just swallow all of the ideas created by our untrustworthy and random emotions, and assume they are the truth – the truth about who we are, what we’re worth, and what our future looks like.  But so many people do.  We can agree that our emotions are all over the place, and yet we allow those emotions to guide how we feel, and most of what we say and do.  As if they were trustworthy.  Which they are not.

We can agree that our emotions are all over the place, and yet we allow those emotions to guide how we feel, and most of what we say and do.  As if they were trustworthy.  Which they are not.

I can’t take every thought captive in my own strength.  I’ve tried.  Perhaps you’ve tried as well.  It may work for a short while, but not long-term.  And it’s fallible, because I am fallible.  The cool thing is that it is not solely up to us, and that He is ready and willing to help.  I know it’s hard for a lot of people to think that we have actual, real spiritual support when we live in a world and culture that exalts science and disparage spirituality (which I find funny, because science hasn’t – and can’t – prove absolutely everything).  But the fact of the matter is that if you are a believer, He is there to help you.

Set Yourself Up For Small Victories

But, I can’t do it arbitrarily or randomly.  I actually have to be more intentional than that to get out of the hole I’m in.  And so I once again remind myself that His Spirit is within me, enabling me to do all things, and I to go on “mini-streaks” in my mind.  So when it comes to this girl who I could not let go of and get over, I would try not to think about her for ten minutes straight.  If she entered my thinking, I would remember His words, and outright reject the thought of her and figuratively cut her out of my thought life.

I knew it had to be a clean break.  I couldn’t allow her to have a foothold – or even a toehold – in my mind, given how emotionally wrapped up and messed up I was at that point.  And I didn’t need to be reminded of her in any capacity, and she had to be deleted from my phone and blocked on social media.  Nothing against her, of course – I just needed to do what I needed to do to regain stability and health.  That’s most important anyway, and so I couldn’t hesitate to take drastic measures if my actual well-being was the goal.  If I got to ten minutes of not thinking about her, I would feel really thankful and proud of myself.  And then I would try to get to thirty minutes.  And then an hour.

And I didn’t need to be reminded of her in any capacity, and she had to be deleted from my phone and blocked on social media.  Nothing against her, of course – I just needed to do what I needed to do to regain stability and health.

It wasn’t easy.  It took me a solid week to keep her out of my thoughts for an hour.  But I was making progress.  And after a few weeks, I got to an entire day.  And then I knew that it was happening.  He was helping me conquer this.  And I was getting back on track.

Use Your Faith to Defend Against Attacks

It wasn’t easy or automatic.  Thoughts of her did creep back in sometimes.  But when they did, what also helped me was reminding myself to take up the shield of faith.  And yes, that is metaphorical, but it actually activated my mind and heart to lift up and set in place a figurative “force field” of sorts – something to stop and deflect and extinguish all of the fiery arrows (negative thoughts) that are volleyed against me.  I don’t care where they come from – from my own self-doubt and fear, from societal pressures and expectations of what I or my life should look like, from Satan – it doesn’t matter.  God wants us to remember the agency He has given us to overcome.

You would agree that no one and no thing has the right to physically abuse you, and you would do absolutely everything in your power to keep it from happening.  However, we are sometimes willing participants in our own emotional abuse.

To be honest, some days the negative thoughts keep coming.  They are relentless, and they are vicious.  But I am not a helpless victim.  You would agree that no one and no thing has the right to physically abuse you, and you would do absolutely everything in your power to keep it from happening.  However, we are sometimes willing participants in our own emotional abuse.  And we don’t do a single thing to stop it, let alone everything in our power.  We just take it.  But He’s told us what we should do, and He has promised us to help us along the way.  We just have to do our part and implement His instructions, instead of looking everywhere else for advice and solutions.

Build an Altar of Remembrance

Finally, I am a big fan of altars of remembrance.  This is when I create a defined moment in the history of my life where I give something over to God in a profound, hallowed, and ceremonial way.  This has been modeled by so many heroes of the faith, and to me their lives are worth emulating in this manner.  So, in 2005, I flew out to Colorado, and my best friend Dan and I decided to climb the 14,110 feet of Pikes Peak in Manitou Springs.  Because I wasn’t acclimated to the altitude, it was a pretty miserable six-hour slog to the top for me.  But I had to get to the summit, and I wasn’t going to quit no matter what.  Along the way, I thought about the girl, and my life, and attempted to view the situation from God’s perspective.  I thought about His love for me, and His epic plans for my future, and how I knew without a doubt that He didn’t want me struggling so much like this.  Over a girl.  And frankly, over anything.  And I knew I wanted to be completely done with it, and surrender it over to Him, fully letting go and fully letting God provide me the right relationship He had for me at the right time.

And so when we got to the top, I remember catching a snowflake on my tongue (it had just started snowing right up there at the top – even though it was the middle of August) and then corralled Dan and our other friends together over on the side, off the beaten path, and away from other hikers.  And I reached into my backpack and took out a pen and some scrap paper.  And I told them that I had been struggling with something that was weighing heavily on my heart, and that I needed closure.  And I told them I was going to write it on a bit of paper and then bury it at the top of Pikes Peak.  And leave it here, forever, and be done with it.

I told them that I had been struggling with something that was weighing heavily on my heart, and that I needed closure.  And I told them I was going to write it on a bit of paper and then bury it at the top of Pikes Peak.  And leave it here, forever, and be done with it.

And Dan spoke up and said that he’d love to do the same thing, and one by one so did our other friends.  And so I tore small pieces off of my scrap paper and handed them out, and everyone wrote down at least one thing (and perhaps more) that they were dealing with, and that was holding them back and messing them up.  And we all folded up our pieces of paper (mine, of course, had the girl’s name on it) and created a hole into which they could be deposited.  And after covering them up with a lot of rocks, we all stood over the spot in a circle and prayed.  We prayed that God would honor our heart’s desire to pursue emotional health by deliberately burying what was plaguing us, what was worrying us, what was causing us to not trust Him.  And there, we let them go.

When I got back to Florida and the girl randomly popped into my mind, I told myself that I had left her and the hope of the relationship at the top of Pikes Peak.  That was my altar of remembrance, where God and I ended one chapter, and started another.  And that helped me so much.  I have altars of remembrance in certain places across America, definitely in Florida, and even in other countries (when I’ve gone on missions trips).  And they represent other areas in my life too – not just involving girls. And taking every thought captive and employing my shield of faith has gotten markedly easier as I’ve put these strategies into regular and constant practice.  It takes a long while, but you do reach a tipping point, and I can’t emphasize how much it is worth it.

When I start to head in a bad direction because of something in my life, this is exactly what I do.  Nothing more, and nothing less.  It isn’t magic, and it doesn’t perfectly solve every problem.  But it truly can make a drastic difference.  When you are starting to flounder and fail, maybe you can try these techniques.  Just try to do so as early as possible, because the longer you let it go, the harder it is to escape the deep, dark hole you’re in.  But no matter where you find yourself, do not give up.  There is always, always hope. There is always a way out.

Now that I’m married, I can let myself go

Lately I have been reflecting on the passion, energy, and effort involved when a guy really likes a girl and just wants to be with her. You know, when he’s past the uncertainty and has made up his mind that she’s the one for him for forever, and he goes all gung-ho pursuing her and trying to win her heart. I mean, this hypothetical guy spends time in the gym to get ripped, and he works hard to look and dress his absolute best. He comes up with extravagant and creative ideas for dates, and he remembers pretty much everything she says. He texts her thoughtful sentiments just to let her know he’s thinking about her. He’s incredibly sweet, courteous, and patient and rarely has a bad attitude when she’s around. He is funny and light-hearted and witty, and he always wants to put his best foot forward. Honestly, his goal is for every interaction with her to leave her feeling loved, and like she’s floating on a breeze. And, just wanting more and more and more of him.

He comes up with extravagant and creative ideas for dates, and he remembers pretty much everything she says…. He texts her thoughtful sentiments just to let her know he’s thinking about her….

That was me.

And then I got married.

I sometimes joke with my wife Rachel about the day she’s going to come home and find me relaxing all slouched and lumpy on the couch in front of the television watching some trashy reality TV show. I’ll just be laying there in my boxers, unshaven and unkempt. And there’s going to be wrappers and empty cans littered around me. And I’m going to be picking potato chip crumbs out of my chest hair while she looks on in horror….

Not a pretty sight, I know. But that image is hilarious to me; I’m smiling to myself just thinking about it. Now that I’m married, I can let myself go, right?

It’s not that I wasn’t myself while we were dating, it’s just that the fear of being rejected fueled my desire to be as perfect as possible (raise your hand if you’ve been there!), and not introduce any unnecessary question marks into the relationship at an inopportune time. Since then, we have had plenty of hard conversations before and after we were engaged so that we each understood each other’s struggles. Honesty and vulnerability has to happen prior to marriage. However, now that we are almost ten months after we made our vows, I don’t feel like I have to prove or earn my love for her. I just need to do my best every day to be all that she needs me to be – and that is enough. And I am doing my best, on all levels, when it comes to taking care of myself so I can be in great health to run around with our future kids (God willing), when it comes to making a living and managing the finances, when it comes to tackling major projects and being a good helpmate around the house, and when it comes to loving her in meaningful and tangible ways.

The fear of being rejected fueled my desire to be as perfect as possible, and not introduce any unnecessary question marks into the relationship at an inopportune time.

I tried to be the best boyfriend in the world, and now I am trying to be the best husband in the world. But those two seasons of life are, as I’m clearly realizing, totally different.

Now that I have won Rachel’s heart, and promised my unending and singular devotion to her and her alone – and received the same promise from her – I can feel safe in her love. I can take a deep breath, and exhale slowly. I can let the whole of myself show, warts and all, and know that it will be okay. I don’t need to keep scrambling and striving for perfection to get her to fall for me. I don’t have to compete with all the other guys who have rightfully vied for her attention and affection. We are together, and it is forever. She chose me, all of me. And I chose her, all of her.

I don’t need to keep scrambling and striving for perfection to get her to fall for me. I don’t have to compete with all the other guys who have rightfully vied for her attention and affection.

And I am finally discovering on a personal, visceral level that this is where the truest form of intimacy is found, and the best part of the marriage relationship. I had heard a lot about marriage being awesome because of this “intimacy” thing for years before I got hitched, but now it’s actually making sense – not just in my head, but in my heart. And in my life.

Now that I am married, I can let myself go. It’s a living, breathing, ever-evolving process. I’m choosing to slowly reveal more and more of my heart to Rachel, trusting that she will choose to see the best in me. And as she hears more of my heartbeat, our relationship grows. And she is encouraged to let herself go. I don’t want her to feel like she has to be perfect and prove herself worthy of my love. I just want her to share more of her heartbeat with me, so that our relationship can keep growing. To be honest, some of it is messy, and doesn’t have the varnish with which we coated many things while dating. Instead, it’s more stark, and more real. And more human.

We are plumbing new depths.

What Have You Done For Me Lately?

When I was first falling for Rachel, I tried to do everything to win her heart. I remember teaching her how to juggle, and showing her how to play guitar. I remember writing her poems and letters, and talking with her on the phone for hours, and gladly giving up time I could spend doing the things I’ve always done (my work, my fitness, whatever) just so that I could spend time with her. I just wanted to be in relationship with her, and do life with her. And it was beautiful – really, really beautiful.

We are married now, and coming up on nine months in. I still love her very well, and she would tell you the same. But without a doubt, the responsibilities of life are elbowing their way into our relationship and trying to force out the romance we share. Now obviously, the primary goal of the next 50 years is to make sure they don’t – to do all that we can to keep that from happening in ways that undermine the beauty of what we are together, and what we have together. But many couples have failed. Many couples have not been able to invest in their relationship as much as they did at the onset, and it has had devastating results. Admittedly, I’m scared of that happening to us as well. This fear isn’t paralyzing, nor does it weaken my ability to rise up and do what I need to do…it’s just a healthy concern that prompts a real mindfulness about it. I just flat out don’t want it to happen.

One of the things I’ve seen around me is that relationship partners start to see the other person as less thoughtful, patient, compassionate, loving, and romantic as in the past.

I guess one of the things I’ve seen around me is that relationship partners start to see the other person as less thoughtful, patient, compassionate, loving, and romantic as in the past (when they were dating or early on in their marriage, for example). And this allows a certain cancerous thought creeps in:

“What have you done for me lately?”

I hate that. I hate it so much. But I get it. I realize that all of us have the tendency to not see the log in our own eye, and easily fixate on the speck in someone else’s. I recognize that it’s a self-protective maneuver to justify ourselves, to defend ourselves, to get ourselves off the proverbial hook for our role and contribution to any problems at hand. And I understand that we naturally struggle remembering the good times of the past when we are mired in the bad times of the present and any foreseeably awful times in the future.

As a consequence, the relationship becomes infected with unfair expectations, comparisons, obligations, and other malignancies. It starts off slowly, perhaps, but it quickly snowballs. Both start to act in ways not marked by unconditional love but by judgment, condemnation, suspicion, and – ultimately – hatred.   And both parties pull away and put up walls. And intimacy gets broken. And each starts to think they don’t need the other person. And everything becomes diseased and ravaged in its wake. And the love that burned so brightly before flames out, and now dissipates in smoke and embers.

Rachel cares about the Chiefs and Cardinals and Spurs because I love my favorite sports teams. She supports my personal and individual goals she knows they matter to me. She keeps her feet clean because I’m big on clean feet (that is my only weird “thing”!). I’m grateful for all of this and so much more – for all the things she does for me. But I want to be more grateful for who she is.

Rachel just wants to be loved. Regardless of what she does or does not do. And honestly, I just want to be loved, regardless of what I do. It can’t always be about us “doing” things to validate our love. That makes a person feel exhausted, like he always has to prove his love over and over again. And that is not a safe place in which to live – it is a tenuous, eggshell-laden space.

Of course, this doesn’t mean it’s okay to ease up completely and just coast when it comes to being thoughtful and romantic and loving. That is not okay. But we don’t want to feel the obligation and pressure to do so. Rachel doesn’t want to be like, ah crap, for Sameer and I to be great, I need to constantly amaze him with awesome and new ways to tangibly show him I love him. I don’t want to be like, ah geez, for Rachel and I to be great, I have to keep coming up with unique date nights and epic ways to show my affection. This is draining even to think about.

Love sourced in obligation instead of desire isn’t love at all. God taught us that when He gave us free will back in the day, and didn’t pressure us to love Him back.

I just want Rachel to know me, and trust my heart, and give me the freedom to love her any way I choose – with no strings attached. And she wants the very same thing: for me to know her and her heart, and trust her, and give her the freedom to love me how she chooses. We all know what it’s like when we feel obliged to do something special for someone else. It kind of sucks out all of the specialness from it, and it’s a crappy experience for you (the giver) and oftentimes for the person (the receiver) because they can tell. But when you do it because you deeply want to do it – more than anything else – it makes it so much better. It makes it absolutely great for both parties.

Love sourced in obligation instead of desire isn’t love at all. God taught us that when He gave us free will back in the day, and didn’t pressure us to love Him back.

Love should be more about the person than what you can profit from them.

So then I started thinking about how I am with God. Honestly, though my words to Him don’t express it, my attitude toward Him often betrays the same egocentric sentiment: what have You done for me lately? It does. Not in a harsh, direct way, but in a subtle, backhanded, defiant way. And if I stare at it, I can see that it is tinged with disappointment, hurt, and sadness. I’m let down and bummed out about something in my life, and I put it on Him, as if it’s His fault. And the way I interact with Him is greatly affected.

I don’t say it out loud, but I have suggested to Him in quiet, pouting ways that it doesn’t really matter all that He’s done for me in the past – I just need Him to come through for me now. And I question and protest why He hasn’t. And I just don’t get it. It baffles me. And it makes me bitter. And I get more sad. And frustrated. And I can’t change anything. And I wonder why He won’t either. And it pulls me in the direction of self-judgment, self-condemnation, and suspicion of His goodness and His love. I ask myself, if He really loved me, why doesn’t He give me what I need right now? And still, nothing happens, and nothing keeps happening. And I spiral into hopelessness.

And here is where I am prone to pull away from Him, and put up walls. And my intimacy with God gets broken. And I start to think I don’t need this, I don’t need Him. And my entire relationship with Him has the very real potential to become diseased and completely ravaged. And the love I had for Him that burned so brightly before flames out, and dissipates in smoke and embers.

God just wants to be loved. And just like I don’t always want to have to be tangibly proving my love to Rachel, I am pretty positive He doesn’t want to always have to be proving His love to me. He has loved me so well, and in countless ways. He’s saved me, rescued me, protected me, and blessed me beyond my wildest dreams. And most of the time, He just wants me to know Him. He just wants me to trust His heart towards me, and give Him the freedom to do what He needs to do in my life. He just wants me be in relationship with Him, and do life with Him – without condition.

In those moments I forget that while He doesn’t love me out of obligation, I am not open to allowing His own desires to channel that love along His timeline and in His preferred ways.

But yet, I come up with conditions all the time. I have so many expectations of what I want Him to do for me, what I need for Him to do for me. And my stubborn will silently demands Him to come through for me in certain ways as a test of whether He does truly love me. And it’s messed up. And in those moments I forget that while He doesn’t love me out of obligation, I am not open to allowing His own desires to channel that love along His timeline and in His preferred ways. It is childish, and self-centered, and controlling. And clearly, I am prone to do it in my other relationships.

“What have you done for me lately?” is not a question that belongs in our relationships. It’s a toxic way of thinking, and it will corrode the most valuable parts of our lives. Love is allowing others the freedom and grace to be, and not demanding them to do. Love is remembering the best from the past, and using it to inspire the present. And love is always believing that their intentions towards you are as pure and noble as your intentions are towards them. This is really what it is all about – to me, to Rachel, and to God.

What I’ve Learned in Six Months of Marriage

I am six months in. To marriage. To being a husband, and having a wife. And it’s actually going great. You know me by now, I always want to be completely candid so that in my vulnerability you can find value. And so really, it’s been solid. I honestly thought I was going to struggle a lot – not because of Rachel, but because I have been so used to solitude, and quietness, and doing my own thing (pretty much) whenever I want. Growing up in my parents’ house, I always had my own bedroom. And then while going to school, I always had a single dorm (apart from one semester at the beginning which reminded me I much prefer to live alone). And I’ve lived alone since graduating. It had been so wonderful. I could think, I could grow so intimately close to the Lord, I could play guitar and journal and write poetry and (pretty much) never be bothered or distracted. I knew God had called me to be an amazing husband and, in time, a father – and so I was ready for the significant change that was going to require and assumed it would be quite difficult. But it hasn’t. Being with Rachel has been a breeze. Another reminder that God has been in our relationship from the very beginning and that, like my mom likes to say, marriages are made in heaven.

All of this said, I’ve definitely learned a lot. And so I want to share with you some points to ponder along this journey, because many of you will be where I am soon enough. Here’s my first entry, six months from our exchange of vows.

1) I thought I was really good at communication, but I’m definitely not as good as I need to be. For example, I still expect her to read my mind. Seriously. I seriously want her to notice the things that I notice, and be prompted to do what I would do. For instance, I see things that need to be done around the house, and I want her to see those things in exactly the same way I see them, and view the importance of getting them done in exactly the same I view them, and to tackle them with the urgency that I would tackle them. This does not happen. But it’s not her fault. She has been so incredibly loving and giving every single day, and constantly checks in with me to ask if she can help me with anything. But it’s very hard for me to specifically say, ‘please do this’ or ‘please do that’ because then it feels to me like I am ordering her around. And I am just incredibly sensitive to that, and for whatever reason try to avoid that like the plague. It makes me feel so awful inside to tell her what to do. And so really, I just want her to know what I am thinking, and what to do. WHY CAN’T SHE JUST KNOW!!?? I don’t know how to get over this. It’s my own messed-up perception, and has nothing to do with her. So, since it’s so hard for me to verbalize requests because of this weird hang-up of mine, we create To-Do lists in an app called Wunderlist. I think it’s helping…assuming we daily check it when we have a moment free, and are motivated to knock some items off the list in the interest of loving our spouse through such acts of service.

I just want her to know what I am thinking, and what to do. WHY CAN’T SHE JUST KNOW!!??

2) Being married requires me to completely understand that there will never come a time where I can love her so very well, and for such an enduring amount of time, that I just can stop and coast for a while. I can’t tell you why I even want to coast for a while. It could be because life is tiring and I always feel like so much is on me to come through in many areas of life. But I do. Maybe every guy feels like that. That’s fodder for another blog post. Anyway, there is no coasting in marriage. Ever. And so I have learned that if I am doing special things to try to make “deposits” in her “love bank” (like date nights, and flowers, and chocolate, and quality time, etc.), I had better be doing it because I can’t help not do it. And for no other reason. If I’m doing it because I want to be able to make “withdrawals” down the road (as extended alone time later, or more time in the office, or more work on my own individual dreams) we have a problem. Rachel wants to support me doing all of those things – and frankly anything that I need to do because she trusts my heart. But she doesn’t want me spending time with her as a favor to her, just to get her to grant me favors of what I want. She wants me to do everything out of an unadulterated affection and passion for her. And she wants to do things for me out of the same motivation. A marriage relationship does not and cannot be transactional. It must involve generous and selfless actions with pure motives, no expectation of return, and no expiration date. I am learning this. But it is hard work. People need to know this before they commit, on a visceral level. And they should be ready for it, as much as possible.

A marriage relationship does not and cannot be transactional. It must involve generous and selfless actions with pure motives, no expectation of return, and no expiration date. I am learning this. But it is hard work.

3) Relationships take an absolute ton of time. Really, so much. And I am so grateful that God helped me to put in years and years of hard work before Rachel came along so that I could be in a really good place when it came to discipline, and character, and responsibility, and sacrifice, and all these other personal characteristics which – while I was learning them at the time – felt pointless and just another reminder that life was brutal. And so now, even though I obviously need to continue to grow and improve in a bunch of areas, there is much frustration and stress that we are protected from because I co-endeavored with the Lord to be prepared as much as I could. It was often begrudgingly, and I wish my attitude was better during that very long season of my life, but He was gracious to me and understood my pain. And it was such a gift, I can’t express how grateful I am for it. I guess this is just another reminder to those single to try to embrace your own season of preparation even when it gets really, really hard and really, really lonely. Your dreamboat will come along. It will happen. Just get yourself ready as best as you can.

4) The biggest mistakes I make are the ones with my mouth. We know what James says about the impossibility of taming the tongue. I wish I was perfect in this area. And you guys know me, I don’t even talk that much, and I really do try to measure my words. But sometimes my tone, or the sentiments I vocalize, or the way I articulate and convey something – it betrays irritation or busyness or disappointment. It feeds her own doubts and insecurities – the ones we all have – that we are not important, that we are not worth being prized above anything and everything else. And if I am not sensitive, and immediately apologize and make it right, these can be axe blows to the root of my bride’s self-confidence and ever-unfolding beauty. They clip her wings. They dam up her river. They stunt her growth. Thankfully God helps me to not mess up too often, but my point is that this is the area about which I and arguably everyone else should really be most mindful. It’s so crazy to think that even one short phrase or sentence I might utter in a moment of frustration might very well irreparably shatter her heart. That is how powerful our words can be. It’s scary, but in a good way.

Sometimes my tone, or the sentiments I vocalize, or the way I articulate and convey something – it betrays irritation or busyness or disappointment. It feeds her own doubts and insecurities – the ones we all have – that we are not important, that we are not worth being prized above anything and everything else.

I’m sure there’s more, but that’s enough for now. I know I am incredibly blessed, and people I care about deeply have had an extremely rough go of it during their first six months of marriage. Hardships are inevitable for every couple, and who knows what the future will bring for us. As of now, things are awesome. I just want to remain humble, and teachable, and always willing to change and improve. Because I don’t ever want to hurt her, and I want to bring so much joy and honor to God as He observes us live out the union He orchestrated. And I really want our marriage to be a source of inspiration and encouragement to the singles and the couples we know. They will be able to tell if it’s genuine, or if we’re faking it. For these reasons, and because we’ve been given a platform and voice into the lives of others, it’s absolutely critical for us to do this right.