Tag Archives: expectations

Unplanned and perfect

Have I ever told you about my favorite day? Maybe that’s weird to you that I have a favorite day. I don’t know if that’s a normal thing or not. But I do, and you might be surprised to learn that it’s not my wedding day, or any of the days I gave birth to my children (although those days are etched in my memory and tucked in my heart forever).

No, my favorite day ever happened on a Tuesday in June, during the summer of 2017. My family and I were taking a big two-week road/camping trip throughout Colorado, Arizona, Utah, and Wyoming. We’d flown into Denver and rented a 30 foot RV and we had 14 days to see and do as much as we could fit in.

As you can imagine, a trip like this doesn’t just happen. There was an entire year’s worth of planning that went into this trip, which I’d been dreaming about for even longer. And if there’s one thing I love to do, it’s plan. I had mapped out our route carefully, estimating the driving time for each day, how long we’d stay at each destination, reserved camp sites, booked fishing trips, ordered a National Park Pass, and even tried to build in “extra time” in case things went wrong, as I new surely something would.

It didn’t take long for the first set-back. After 2 days exploring Denver and Colorado Springs, and visiting with my sister-in-law and her family, we were scheduled to pick-up our RV on a Monday. The plan was to pick it up by 1 p.m. and hit the road by 2, getting a solid 4 hours of driving in on day one. But when we landed in Denver I discovered an email from the RV rental place asking I call to book a pick-up time. When I called I was told that the earliest slot they had available was 4:30 p.m. I knew that getting the RV back to my sister-in-law’s house, loaded up, and then dealing with Denver rush hour traffic meant the earliest we could possibly hit the road would be 6 — if we were lucky.

Frustrated at the early set-back, I revisited our itinerary for the first two days and decided we’d have to find a campground closer to Denver for our first night, which would mean cancelling our plans to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park on Tuesday since we’d need to drive at least 6 hours to get to our next destination, Cortez, CO, by Tuesday night. It was disappointing, but I tried to be flexible and luckily found a campground with space that was only 2 hours from Denver.

We pulled into our site in Buena Vista after dark on Monday, had a quick dinner and went to sleep. Tuesday morning we awoke early and got to finally see the beautiful campsite in the daylight. We hiked down to the Arkansas River, which ran along the edge of the campground, had breakfast, and hit the road. Since we were no longer going to Sand Dunes, I found a more direct route from where we were in Buena Vista to Cortez. The goal was just to make good time and arrive in Cortez by dusk. What I didn’t realize at the time was that our more direct route would take us across the Wolf Creek Pass, a stunningly beautiful and historic route (and also part of the route the Griswold’s took in National Lampoon’s Vacation).

The first half of the day brought us great weather and a beautiful drive through Colorado farm land, with the mountains making a stunning backdrop. Around 12:30 p.m. we rolled into South Fork, CO and stopped for lunch at a little Mexican restaurant where we ate burritos the size of our heads!

Then we began the ascent to the top of the San Juan Mountains, where you cross the Continental Divide. As we got higher in elevation we saw snow covering the ground, which my kids thought was crazy since it was the middle of June. By the time we got to the top – at 10,000 feet elevation — we decided we had to pull over and enjoy it. In our flip-flops and shorts we hopped out of the RV and ran through the snow, and even had a snowball fight. It was the most unexpected moment of sheer joy and laughter.

We continued our drive and a few miles later saw signs for a waterfall, Treasure Falls, and decided we had to stop and explore. That stop turned into a 40 minute hike to the middle of the falls where they had a misting deck. My kids danced and twirled, getting soaked from the mist of the powerful water. A few more stops to enjoy the view as we descended the pass added to the day and we finally pulled into our campsite in Cortez about 7 p.m. that night — several hours later than planned, but full on happy memories.

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It was, without a doubt, a picture-perfect day. Nothing was planned, everything was unexpected, and our hearts were full of joy as we took in the wonder of each new discovery. I often look at the photos from that day and smile, reminiscing about how much we laughed, how much we loved one another, and how effortless it was. There were a lot of wonderful things we did and saw that trip — things I had dreamed of doing my whole life, like seeing the Grand Canyon at sunset, and standing in front of Old Faithful in Yellowstone. But the day that stands out most to me is that Tuesday when we had no plans.

For this Type-A personality, who likes writing lists, and making plans, and crossing off to-do lists, the lesson is not lost on me. When I think back to this day and what made it so perfect, sure it was partly the beautiful scenery, and lack of incident. But I think it was more so my lack of expectations, the not-knowing what lie ahead, and being surprised by the gifts God presented to us along the way. Too often in my life I plan and work to craft these ideal experiences — perfect date nights, perfect parties, perfect ministry events, perfect holidays — and too often I am left feeling disappointed by all that didn’t go according to plan.

God reminded me on a Tuesday in June that often He has something even better waiting for me. But it’s only after I let go of expectations and control that I am able to experience these gifts.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

The secret to a long and happy marriage

OK, so now that I’ve lured you in with a juicy title I have to come clean. I don’t really believe there is one big, secret formula to a long and happy marriage. It’s way too complex for that, and anyone that tells you differently is trying to sell you something. Besides, I’ve only been married for 14 years. While that may seem like a lifetime in today’s society, it’s by no means my definition of a long marriage.

However, I have learned a thing or two in the last 14 years that I wish my younger self knew. And there is this one thing. This one secret that I want so desperately to tell every newly married or engaged couple. To whisper into their ears before they walk down the aisle. The thing that no one told me. The thing I hope I can impart to my children to help avoid years of frustration and turmoil.

It’s this: lower your expectations.

Now, before everyone gets all up in arms and starts commenting on what an awful thing that is to say, please hear me out. I did not grow up with a realistic expectation of what a healthy marriage should look like. On one end of the spectrum I had the Disney happily-ever-after-fairy tale picture. On the other end I saw my parents get divorced, more than once. And this is not to knock my parents. I believe they didn’t grow up with realistic expectations on what a happy marriage looked like, either. In fact, most of us don’t. Even if you are fortunate enough to come from a home where your parents have long, happy marriages, most of the time those parents aren’t really letting their kids see the hard work, disappointments, arguments, compromises, etc. that they are making in order to make the marriage last. Those things happen behind closed doors and we only see the end-result, the public face of marriage.

So when I got engaged at the very young age of 22 I believed I knew the formula to a happy, long-lasting marriage: As long as you had open communication, loved each other, stayed faithful, and never gave-up, you could live a lifetime of happily-ever-after. In essence I was young, naive, and maybe a bit delusional. Because anyone who has been married for more than 10 minutes knows it’s so much more complex than that.

In the early years of my marriage I thought there must be something terribly wrong with our relationship. (This was also about the time I started reading Nicholas Sparks novels, which rank right up there with Disney in terms of perpetuating an unrealistic expectation of a real marriage.) I didn’t understand it. We did all the “right” things. We went to church together, made time as a couple, but still allowed each other to have friends and hobbies outside the marriage. We had dates and hung out with friends and did couple’s devotions. And yet we fought all the time. Our once easy communication seemed to disappear. I felt my husband withdrawing and shutting down and that just made me push harder. I wondered how it was that this man who used to drive 16 hours round-trip just to spend one day with me now couldn’t even wash a sink of dishes to make me happy. And he wondered why I never, ever seemed to be happy-enough.

I believed I knew the formula to a happy, long-lasting marriage…In essence I was young, naive, and maybe a bit delusional.

It seemed like something was fundamentally wrong with us because our marriage didn’t feel like happily-ever-after. We weren’t like Jasmine and Aladdin, or Noah and Allie. Heck, we weren’t even like that happy couple sitting in the pew across from us at church every Sunday.

And why not? Ohhh, that’s right, because those are not real people or real relationships. They came from a book!

Even the couple across the pew was not real, because I only saw what I wanted to see. I had no real insight into what happened behind closed doors. As silly as it sounds to admit out loud, though, that’s where my bar was set. You were either happy or you weren’t. You were the love story or the cautionary tale. There was nothing in the middle. And because I didn’t know any better, I thought this meant we were complete failures at this marriage thing.

Then, about two years into our marriage I got a glimmer of hope. A friend of the family, who for all appearances had a very happy marriage, admitted to me that the first year was the hardest for her and her husband, and they were still figuring things out 8 years later. Oh my gosh, we weren’t the only ones!! What a relief and comfort that was to know! And I began to think, maybe there is a middle ground. Maybe it’s not so black and white.

The truth is your marriage will be tested by the big things. The sickness and health, richer or poorer stuff that make good marriage vows. And with God’s help you can overcome those things and come out the other side stronger and better. We have. But truly the hardest part of marriage is not the big stuff, it’s the every day, little stuff. The days when you’re both tired or not feeling well and no one wants to cook or help the kids with homework. The nights where every sound and smell that comes from your husband makes you want to suffocate him in his sleep (not that I have ever had this thought or anything). The weeks where you don’t have a single conversation about something other than groceries, kids, pets or what’s for dinner. The months without sex (yes I said months; have two kids under 2 and you’ll see). This is the ugly, day-to-day, in the trenches reality about marriage. It’s hard, and it tests you. It pushes your buttons and all boundaries of what you thought was reasonable.

So if your expectation is to find a Hallmark-movie-perfect mate, be in Nicholas-Spark’s-passionate love, and live a Disney-movie-happily-ever-after life then you will be disappointed. You will think you’re doing it wrong. And sadly, you may choose to end the marriage, or else live feeling unsatisfied and resentful.

Truly the hardest part of marriage is not the big stuff, it’s the every day, little stuff.

However, if you change your expectations. If you accept that there will be arguments, bad moods, smelly socks, dirty dishes, sick kids, late hours at the office, weeks (or months) without intimacy, complaints, worries, and piles of laundry. If you can live with changing moods, changing dreams, and changing diapers. If you know that marriage is a packaged deal and this is part of the package, then…

…then you can face these things with a little less fear, less feeling like a failure. You can stop focusing on all the ways marriage is so much harder than you thought it would be and start to focus on the ways it’s so much better than you imagined it could be. Because the other part of that packaged deal is so, so, so much more. It’s shared firsts and life-long memories; it’s laughing at each other’s stupid jokes and crying on each other’s shoulders. It’s growing up and growing old together with the one person who knows you better than anyone else. The person who has smelled your breath first thing in the morning and still chooses to sleep in the same bed as you! It’s so much more happiness than can fit in a 2 hour movie or 500 page novel. It’s just more. It’s real and it’s alive and it’s worth every. hard. day.

But first, I challenge you to lower your expectations. Stop waiting for the fairy-tale or the romance novel, or to be like the couple across the street. And maybe, together, we can create a new standard of what happily-ever-after looks like.