How We Do It: Organizing Our Spiritual Lives

27 February 2018

When Nancy wrote the original organization series back in 2014 that inspired this one, her Spiritual Life post was what sealed the deal for me. As a lifelong Christian who still feels like a beginner in so many ways, it was SO HELPFUL to read very specific details about what her faith life looked like on a day-to-day basis. Beginner though I may still be, I hope that today’s post can help pay the gift Nancy gave me forward, four years down the line!

To catch up any new folks: Nancy Ray and I are writing an eight-part series every Tuesday in January and February covering “how we do it” in eight different areas: the rhythms, habits, and routines that help us get things done and make the space and time for what matters most. You can read more of the backstory here.

As a Christian, organization in my spiritual life is by far the most important area we’ve touched on in this series. My natural inclination is to choose the path of least resistance, to opt for the lazy version, and to prioritize the wrong things. The easier I can make it for myself to choose the right things — to choose Jesus — on a daily basis, the better. Today I’m humbly submitting a few things that have worked for me:

1. Evening quiet time. My best time with the Lord and in the Word comes before going to sleep, curled up in bed. I usually begin by praying as I do some gentle stretches on top of the covers (helps me keep my mind focused!), then move into one of a few practices. I love using my Write the Word journal because it encourages me to roam around the Bible and not get stuck in one section. I use the “on my heart section” to reflect on a way I saw God moving that day. If I’m working through a particular book or section, I’ll use my prayer journal (just a blank notebook) to write out a favorite verse from what I read, then write out a short prayer. Then, I’ll spend another few minutes praying before cracking open whatever book I’m reading. Which brings me to…

2. Reading great books. There are some incredible teachers out there, and I have learned things from them that might never have become clear to me in any other way! First and foremost, C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity was faith-changing for me — so much so that I try to re-read it every year to soak in more of his wisdom. If you’ve never read it, please, please do, whether or not you’d consider yourself a Christian! Other favorites: The Meaning of Marriage, The Lifegiving Home, Too Busy Not to Pray, You and Me Forever, For the Love, 7, Love Does, and Crazy Love. I usually read a faith-based book at least every other month.

3. Attending church. The weekly rhythm of worshipping with other believers is so important for me personally. Not only is it an act of submitting my time to God (even and especially when I think I have a better way to spend it), but it’s a set aside time to listen for Him, to take communion, to encourage others in their faith walks, and to sing out some praise!

We also make a point to go to church when we’re traveling whenever possible, including this pretty one below! In addition to maintaining a weekly rhythm, it can be so energizing to see how another body does things, and also to take ideas back to your home church. There are a few messages we heard on the road years ago that John and I still talk about!

4. Listening to great sermons. In addition to our own church, John and I listen to sermons from a handful of incredible pastors around the country (and even across the pond). We listen to Adam Hamilton’s sermon almost every week (usually streaming live as we’re eating lunch on Sunday), and even after literally nine years of listening to him I still feel like I learn something every time and leave challenged to change something in my life. Highly, highly recommended, especially if you are newer to faith or curious. We also really like Darren Whitehead from Church of the City in Nashville.

5. Spending time with other believers. I’ve written about this a bit before, but moving to the South was life-changing for us in many ways, not the least of which being the way it changed our relationship with our faith. For really the first time, we were regularly and intimately doing life with people that were way farther ahead in their faith than us, and who lived it out as a crucial and foundational part of their daily life. I cannot understate how much I have learned and grown from these people, whether by listening to them pray, talking through scripture with them, or watching as they wrestle with a circumstance in their life.

I still so clearly remember the first time Nancy told me she would pray for something for me, and then she proceeded to list out the very specific ways she was going to do so (i.e. I’ll pray for skill for your doctor, wisdom and clarity as you make decisions, and peace for your heart). My mind was blown! I’m sure this seems so basic to some, but it was revolutionary to me, as I had never heard someone talk about prayer in that way before. I am always learning from those around me.

fruit of the spirit

6. Filling my mind with scripture. In addition to reading the Bible, we keep verses and good words close at hand and around our house, weaving them visually into the fabric of our family. When I’m faced with a challenge or question (or a joy!), I want a scriptural message to spring first to my mind, and that means becoming deeply familiar with the word. We have verses pinned to our fridge, framed on shelves, hung on our walls, and rotated out on our letterboard, to name a few. We also wear them, thanks to Walk in Love! My favorite piece of art is the Lindsay Letters fruit of the spirit canvas we just hung in our master bath – I love that it is one of the first things I see every morning!

7. Tithing. As people who are passionate about personal finance and filled with big dreams for our future, it would be so easy to go off the rails in this area. Tithing is one way we keep the first things first, reminding ourselves that everything that we have has been entrusted to us, and that we are simply the caretakers, tasked with doing the most good with what we have been given. Though I know the money we bring goes out into the world and does a lot of good, I honestly feel that the act of tithing is so important that I’d need to do it even if I just dumped the money into a hole every week. But I’m glad we don’t :)

8. Praying as a family. One of the best things that came out of my “year of prayer” last year was taking turns offering an extemporaneous blessing over dinner. As someone who grew up in a household reciting a standard blessing each night, this was a big step outside my comfort zone, but it opened the door to so much more, including blessings before each meal (except when we forget, which definitely legitimately still happens!), praying with June before bed, and praying together through our most extreme circumstances, both good and bad.


I’ll end by saying that of all the topics in this series, I most hope that if I were to rewrite this post in a year or five years or ten years, it would look totally different. I still have SO much to learn and so much discipline to cultivate, and for me, there’s no more important area of personal growth. If every year I can look back and say I trusted more, loved more, listened more, read more, prayed more, and acted more than the year before, I’ll be satisfied.

So friends, help a girl out: What’s one thing that’s bringing you closer to God these days? I would love to hear!

P.S. Don’t miss Nancy’s post today! I can’t wait to read her freshened-up perspective :)

The rest of the series:
Time: Em’s post and Nancy’s post
Finances: Em’s post and Nancy’s post
Home: Em’s post and Nancy’s post
Personal Lives: Em’s post and Nancy’s post
Work: Em’s post and Nancy’s post
Relationships: Em’s post and Nancy’s post
Kids: Em’s post and Nancy’s post

A winter getaway to Anna Maria Island

22 February 2018

Here is something you should know about my husband: he strongly dislikes cold weather. Like, gets a very mild case of SAD in the winter. (Hence our daughter’s name, in part!) For years he has dreamed about taking a warm-weather vacation in the depths of January or February, but the opportunity always snuck up on us after the holidays.

Anna Maria Pier

That is, until this year. After a tough 2017, where, among other things, our surprise 30th birthday/fifth wedding anniversary trips fell through, we decided on a whim to finally make a snowbird getaway happen. The deciding factor was a fall Southwest Airlines sale, where we snapped up tickets to Tampa. With a destination in hand, John began researching where, exactly, we wanted to go once we landed. The criteria: warm (obviously), clear water, somewhere within driving distance of the Tampa airport, somewhere with an “Old Florida” feel, somewhere with a relaxed and laid-back vibe, and somewhere we could walk most places. Anna Maria Island checked all of those boxes and then some.

beach vacation

Anna Maria is a tiny, white-sand sliver of a barrier island known for its beautiful beaches and quaint vibe. There are no high-rise condos or obnoxious chains. The island-wide speed limit is 35 MPH :) We stayed at the even quieter north end of the island (the Anna Maria section), and it’s so narrow that you can see the Gulf at one end of the street and turn around to see Tampa Bay at the other. We stayed at the Sunrise Garden Resort, which is really the only “hotel” at that end – it’s surrounded by colorful houses (many of them rentals), cute shops, and restaurants. We were very happy there and would absolutely recommend it over the more commercial south end of the island.

Sunrise Garden Resort

fancy beach house

Here’s how we really knew this was the perfect destination for us: I could probably count on two hands the number of people we saw under 40. Ha! That’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but if a place is good enough for retirees, it’s good enough for us! Those people know how to relax, I tell you what :)

colorful beach houses

This vacation was quite possibly the least-planned out adventure we have ever had. We didn’t make any reservations or an itinerary in advance, and that worked out fine! We arrived Wednesday afternoon and left Saturday afternoon, and here were a few highlights:

Ginny’s and Jane E’s for breakfast sandwiches and smoothies
The Waterfront Restaurant for dinner (twice!)
— Bean Point, the beach on the north tip of the island, for long walks, shell collecting, and nature sightings
— Renting chairs from Beach Bums and reading on the Tampa Bay-side beach
— Browsing the many adorable shops on Pine Street
The General Store for yummy deli sandwiches, salads, and ice cream (twice!)
Poppo’s Taqueria for burrito bowls and quesadillas
The Donut Experiment for a design-your-own morning treat

Poppo's Tacos

We walked to all of these spots from our hotel easily, which was so nice! We also enjoyed watching the Olympics from bed in the evenings and lounging by (and taking a dip in) Sunrise’s heated pool.

Sunrise Garden pool

The only real off-island adventure we had was kayaking in Robinson Preserve, launching from nearby Bradenton — the perfect active counterpoint to our generally lazy schedule. We rented a tandem from Kayak Jacks for a two hour or so self-guided paddle (through a mangrove tunnel and out to a sandbar!) and it was a seamless experience.

mangrove tunnel

sand dollar

My favorite part? Aside from the flights themselves, which felt absurdly luxurious without wrangling a two-year-old, my favorite part of the trip was our last morning. After checking out of our hotel, we brought our beach chairs back to the water’s edge and chatted through the famous 36 Questions That Lead to Love. We had never done them before, and though of course we knew many of each other’s answers, it was such a treat to just sit there, enjoy each other’s company, and be reminded of all the ways we are similar and all the reasons we are a perfect match for each other.

beach reading

Which really, was the whole point. I’m not the first one to say it, but time away together is a joy and a priority if you have kids. Yes, we generally like to prioritize trips that include the whole family (and love traveling together dearly!), but John and I plan to be best friends long after kiddos are off to college, and best friends need love and attention and special memories all along the way, not just after the kids have officially turned out alright. We’re grateful we got to to take this trip (our first multi-night stay away) and especially thankful to my Mom for watching June! They had a great time, too :)

beach vacation photos

Anna Maria was the perfectly relaxing winter getaway we were hoping for, and we couldn’t recommend it more!!

I’d love to hear: Do y’all have a favorite winter getaway? And, if you have kids, have you gotten away yet with just your spouse?

P.S. Clearly I am a big fan of this hat – perfect for such a sunny location!

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How We Do It: Organizing Our Relationships

20 February 2018

Hi friends! Today in our How We Do It series we’re talking about relationships! I know what you all really want to know is how I maintain friendships without text messaging or getting together with girlfriends, so let’s start there! :)

To catch up any new folks: Nancy Ray and I are writing an eight-part series every Tuesday in January and February covering “how we do it” in eight different areas: the rhythms, habits, and routines that help us get things done and make the space and time for what matters most. You can read more of the backstory here.

How We Do It: Relationships

To be clear, as I clarified on the first post in this series, I do both text and get together with girlfriends – just on a more limited basis than I perceive my peers do. First off, I always reply to texts sent to me :) In general, though, texting just doesn’t seem to be the main way my friends communicate (I’m more likely to send longer-form emails). And, as much as it gets a bad rap, one of my favorite ways to keep in touch with faraway friends is through Instagram! I think it can be an amazing way to be a part of the mundane parts of each other’s lives that we wouldn’t normally think to discuss on, say, a phone call.

A few years ago, I started two practices that made a huge difference in some of my closest relationships. Every Monday on my drive home from work, I call my Mom. We’ll talk or FaceTime at other times throughout the week, but even if we don’t, I always know we’ll connect then! Similarly, every Tuesday I have a Google Hangout with my two sisters. We’ll occasionally miss a week, but having the standing date on the calendar means we chat more weeks than not. Both have been easy habits that have paid dividends in these relationships!

On the girlfriends (and really, friends in general) front, I’ll say this: I am a major quality over quantity person. I don’t really have that many, but the ones I do have are a treasure to me and get extra doses of my love and affection! Our close couple friends we try to see at least once a month. Most of the remainder of my girlfriends live in my neighborhood or on my street, so I get together with them casually just being outside without organizing specific “nights out,” etc. I do have two structured get-togethers each month, which are easy for me to plan for and organize: Articles Club (of course!) and a neighborhood book club.

Here’s one thing that can be a bit difficult, both organizationally and emotionally: getting more than one couple together. For example, we wanted to have three husband and wife pairs over for a game night for my upcoming birthday. I swear, it took no fewer than 25 text messages between the four ladies to figure out a mutually agreeable date from the eight options I originally proposed. Since we don’t have a million close friends, we can’t just throw out a general invitation for something like this and expect anyone to show up, but feeling so dependent on so few people can leave me feeling self-conscious or inadequate, especially around special occasions. In the end, though, that’s just the type of people John and I are, and these friends are worth it :)

A tool that I sometimes use for gauging the best date for larger gatherings: Doodle! I’ve mentioned it before, but it can be a great timesaver when organizing with a bunch of busy folks.

perpetual calendar

I keep track of birthdays in a pretty perpetual calendar, which I keep out on our counter and reference during my prep days. MY PREP DAYS! They are another key to keeping things organized in my personal life. When I thought about what had stopped me in the past from doing kind and fun things for the people I love, it wasn’t a lack of money or time, it was a lack of preparation. Starting last year, I designated one day a month (the last Sunday of each month, usually) my prep day, and I take about two hours to walk through a few steps to prepare for birthdays, holidays, events, date nights, etc. You can read more about them here.

On those prep days, I always have blank floral cards on hand from Rifle to use for birthdays, anniversaries, congratulations, or condolences. I usually buy a few packs on Black Friday, which cuts down on having to run out and buy a card for every occasion!

A few final tips around holidays: I keep all of my mailing addresses in a Google Doc (I know a lot of people use and love Postable, too!). I keep track of past Christmas and birthday presents (only for John and June) in other Google Docs. Future present ideas go in my Notes app so I can update it on the fly!

As always, I feel like there was so much more I could cover under the very general “relationships” heading, so if there’s something you’d like for me to tackle in a future post, please let me know! Can’t wait to see what Nancy has to share today, too! :)

P.S. I didn’t really touch on tending to my marriage in this post because I feel like I talk about it fairly often – for more on that topic, check out this category!

The rest of the series:
Time: Em’s post and Nancy’s post
Finances: Em’s post and Nancy’s post
Home: Em’s post and Nancy’s post
Personal Lives: Em’s post and Nancy’s post
Work: Em’s post and Nancy’s post
Relationships: Em’s post and Nancy’s post
Kids: Em’s post and Nancy’s post

A few things we did for Valentine’s Day

16 February 2018

Friends, thank you so much for sharing in our excitement earlier this week!! It was an extra sweet Valentine’s Day due to your love. Two kiddos — it’s a whole new world here at Em for Marvelous! :)

Our Valentine’s Day was otherwise low-key. I started celebrating a bit early with a Galentine’s Day edition of Articles Club on Tuesday night. We kept the pink and red table decor for our family dinner on Wednesday, where the menu was beef ragu (our go-to celebratory meal!), cheesy garlic bread, sparkling cider, and surprise Girl Scout cookies John brought home from work! Samoas for me and Thin Mints for him :)

Inspired by Lara, I wrapped up a Walk in Love tee at each place setting to remind us that the greatest love comes not from each other but from the one who first loved us. So happy they’re offering kids tees again!!

In preparation, June and I had a little crafting party last weekend: she did some free-form painting for cousins and grandparents while I worked on her class valentines. I originally was going to help her make thumbprint hearts and add a punny “thumb-body loves you” line, but her thumbs were a bit too small to make recognizable hearts! So, swirls and circles it was. Next year I want to try Valerie’s celery heart idea!

This was our first year making class valentines, and we only had to make 10 (whew!). I was planning to use Lay Baby Lay’s printable but couldn’t get it to save to my computer, and so ended up designing my own inspired by hers. Here’s the file if you’d like to try it yourself! We ordered the plastic cats from Amazon – considering how in love June is with the animal figurines she got for Christmas, I’m hoping these were a big hit with her classmates. They turned out pretty cute, if I do say so myself! And easy easy easy.

cats meow valentine

We ended the night cuddled on the sofa watching our 45-minute wedding video, a tradition that started the first Valentine’s Day after we were married when our full-length film was delivered to us just a few days before the holiday. June was definitely into it this year, calling out the names of each family member along the way. Nothing like listening to your wedding vows to bring back the warm fuzzies :)

Next year I think we might add more of a festive breakfast or something like pink milk – betting she would get a kick out of that. Did y’all do anything fun to celebrate?

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