Yesterday marked the 15th anniversary of John’s and my first date. 15 years!! I am the luckiest.
The most memorable thing about that first date is not what we did, or what we said, or where we went, but how close it came to not happening at all. I was a nervous and awkward senior on the cusp of college, and it seemed a whole heck of a lot scarier to say yes and a whole heck of a lot safer to say no to his invitation.
But I did say yes (thank you, Lord!). I was musing over this yesterday, and it reminded me of something I had drafted a few months ago and never posted. (It was inspired by this essay.) As you’ll see by the first decision below, it seemed appropriate to share this week.
We each make thousands of decisions a day, but in the end, we can trace just a few back to whether we wake up smiling most days or not. Here are nine of mine, starting with the most important one.
1. I said yes to a first date. Of course, I said yes to him again several years later, but this first “yes” was the one that really mattered, the one that was in doubt – the second was a forgone conclusion. I like to think that scared, shy 17-year-old had some inkling of the happiness ahead, and boy was she right. Either that, or she just had a very wise friend giving her counsel. (Thank you, Anna!!!)
2. I didn’t work after hours. When I began my first job out of college, my boss was a workaholic with not a shred of work/life balance. As the new girl eager to prove herself, it would have been easy to fall into the same pattern. But my boss never actually told me to work after hours, and it was not my natural inclination to do so – and so I didn’t. (Guys, we all know I probably would have keeled over from the stress if I had, anyway.)
Though I will occasionally flex my hours now and again, especially now that I’m a parent, it’s always my decision, made thoughtfully, and not because I have something to prove or nothing else to occupy my time. Setting the boundaries of work and life neatly and firmly from the start has kept both vibrant over the long-haul.
The best part: by the grace of God, that workaholic boss is the one and only – one of the most amazing transformations I’ve ever had the privilege to witness.
3. I joined a Lent study at church. Shortly after we moved to North Carolina, we began attending our church, and it was an immediate turning point of feeling “at home” in a place that felt cold and alien. But when I think about my faith walk, possibly the most important decision in my adult life of faith was joining a Bible study. It was a classic John and Emily set-up — two 22-year-olds and a handful of middle-aged women — but it was the first time I saw up close what it looked like to live out your faith, carefully consider what your faith was asking of you, apply your faith to everyday life, pray out loud, and lay on hands for blessing and healing. It also introduced us to Adam Hamilton, who as I’m sure you know has had a profound effect on the way I live out my faith.
4. I paid off my student loans fast and furious. I graduated with about $20,000 in undergraduate loan debt, and though I was making $36,000 when I graduated (and John was looking for a job!), we paid off my loans in four years. Clearing that debt relatively early developed a muscle we’re still using today and paved the way for our future financial freedom — and with it, more independence, more security, and more options in almost every facet of our life (which later made a huge difference when we had kiddos!).
5. We adopted our cats (before we were ready). The plan was to start looking once John found a job, but then one day a few months into life in NC (and many months before he was hired), we took a spin through an adoption event and fell in love. I count the fact that we walked into Petsmart that day as one of the luckiest strokes of my life, and I will always be so grateful that Jack and Oliver were ours. They were the cure for our homesickness; they made us look forward to returning from trips when nothing else did, and they made us feel like a family before we were one.
6. Much of what I love is cheap or free. It was true when it was a necessity, and it’s true now when it’s less so. Reading, walking a beautiful neighborhood, hiking, playing cards and board games, writing, ice cream and hot dogs, dinner at home with friends, outdoor movies, outdoor concerts… I don’t find it hard or expensive to have fun, and so I find that there is fun around every corner.
7. I stepped out boldly in friendship. As a lifelong introvert, I grew up with a core group of friends that I diligently maintained but didn’t expand. Then I moved hundreds of miles away, and desperate times called for desperate measures. Each of my treasured adult friendships required a bold act of putting myself out there, and though it was intensely scary each time, each has paid priceless dividends in memories and love.
8. We live by a budget. I know, I know – is there an answer less surprising or more boring?! Our budget helps us spend money on what we value, not what anyone else values, and it has essentially erased all fear around money from our life. We make a plan at the beginning of the year, and then we follow it (adjusting along the way as necessary!), and we are SO much happier for it.
9. We decided to have children. It seems like it was a forgone conclusion, and maybe it always was — but thankfully, I wrote this post to remember the many (many, many, many) discussions we had on the topic in our pre-baby life. Our children add more joy and wonder and delight and meaning to our days than we ever could have imagined before they arrived, and I am so glad they are ours.
I have made plenty of mistakes in my life, but I’m grateful I got these things right. I’m curious: what are some of the decisions in your life that have led to happiness? I’d love to hear, if you’d like to share!