9 decisions that led to a life I love

30 January 2020

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!

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January 30, 2020 7:41 am

This was a lovely post to read! I loved that most of the decisions were not traditionally big decisions (ie college choice, buying a home, moving) but more choices you continue to stick to.
One of the decisions I’ve made is to let great people know their great, specifically through letter writing. When something or someone brings joy to my life, I’ll send them a little to tell them so! I’ve done it for parents of friends to tell them what incredible human they raised, people that I recently met who really brought me joy, or dear friends to let them know how much their friendship is treasured. It’s helped me to cultivate more gratitude for the life I get to live.

January 30, 2020 9:15 am

Being a very nostalgic person I absolutely adored this post and found myself relating and nodding along to some of your points. My husband and I also had a first date that almost didn’t happen (I shudder now to think!) and it’s just crazy to imagine all of the little decisions God led us to in order to bring us to the place we are today. Also loved your points on 3, 6, 7, and 8! I’m also an introvert (and an enneagram 5) and this year I am challenging myself to expand friendships–definitely a stretch for me. Thanks for this post, Em!

January 30, 2020 9:57 am

Definitely adopting my cat (Burton) was the one of the best decisions. I was just saying to him a few days ago that he makes me so happy every day :)

January 30, 2020 11:57 am

Much of what I love is also cheap or free. I hadn’t thought too much about that until I read your words. I continually find your writing and what you share on your blog to be comforting and genuine. One of the best decisions I’ve made happened just last night. I sat down with my husband and discussed my desire to go down to part-time when our daughter heads to elementary school in a few years. It was a difficult, tear-filled and rewarding conversation. We’re formulating a plan to make that happen and I am overjoyed. I can’t wait for the precious extra hours I will get to be with her! Years ago, when I got pregnant, I left a job that was overly consuming and started a job where I have hard boundaries and that decision holds it’s place as one of the best decision of my life.

Kelly Strawberry
January 30, 2020 1:13 pm

Just chiming in to say that one of the most memorable things I jotted down from a sermon at my church a couple years ago was “you make your decisions and then your decisions make you…” I’m a huge fan of one-liners and that one stuck with me!

January 30, 2020 2:19 pm

I can definitely relate to many of these because they show how you have managed your life with intentionality! For me, the most surprising thing has been that I set out whole-heartedly to be an orchestral trombone player… and it wasn’t until after I started my Master’s that I realized it was no longer the path for me. It took a long time for me to honor my true feelings and embark on my “new” path, but I am so glad that I did. Now, I’m a paralegal and love it lol!

Laura B
January 30, 2020 10:35 pm

In the context of “liking things that are free” here’s a fun, free activity for June: https://www.homedepot.com/workshops/#store/2623

January 31, 2020 9:38 am

Ugh, this was so lovely, it made me tear up…maybe hormones but maybe not? Hard to say at this point!
Most of what comes to mind for me stems back to what I believe is one of my better qualities–not being afraid to go first or speak up first. Deciding to be the first to speak has led to many of my dearest friendships, my favorite opportunities, and, as you well know, the dream job that put me at a desk next to you for those sweet years! :)

January 31, 2020 8:06 pm

I absolutely loved this post! It was so fun and thought-provoking to read your decisions (I especially liked your commentary on 1, 2, 7 and 9) and I appreciate that the post got me reflecting on my decisions. Two decisions that come to mind are choosing to enroll in a graduate school that was far away from my at-the-time boyfriend, now husband (choosing to risk the potential end of a great relationship due to the stress of long distance felt extremely scary, but choosing to limit my intellectual and professional dreams felt even scarier; we had our challenges during the two years of long distance, but they ended up making us stronger); and sticking with my first out-of-grad school job even when there were times that I wanted to look for something else (I’ve now been there for five years and I’ve learned so much and developed such rich relationships, things that would have been cut short if I had left it after two or three years, which many people do with their first jobs). Thanks for getting me thinking about this!

February 1, 2020 1:49 pm

I really loved reading this, and am tempted to make a similar list!

February 3, 2020 5:15 pm

I think this might be your best blog post ever! Your phrase about establishing work-life balance – “not because I have something to prove or nothing else to occupy my time” – is really jumping out at me. I feel like it’s applicable to so many things! Thanks for sharing your life in such a lovely way and making me want to better mine. ????