My eleven year wedding anniversary is this Friday.

It's hard to believe! Honestly, when I think back to our wedding day and how young and unprepared for the world we really were... it amazes me that we've made it this far.

Zach and I had been dating for four years before we got married. Which sounds like a long enough time to know what you're getting into, but we started dating at 17. So on our wedding day, when we'd reached the ripe old age of 21, we weren't quite the seasoned relationship experts I thought we were.

Even if we thought we had it all figured out.

I'm embarrassed of how wrong we were!

I hadn't even graduated college yet and my part time job as a nanny was hardly anything to prepare me for the real world. Or so I thought. Five kids later and I thank God every day for those big families I got to be a part of.

When you've babysat seven kids under six years old, (One adopted, a set of triplets, a set of twins and then one lone wolf in the middle) your own children, none of which are multiples, are much less intimidating.

Anyway, back to Zach. We were so young and so in love that it didn't seem to matter that neither of us had ever had to pay bills on our own, or knew how to cook, or realized things like health insurance and car insurance were actual life necessities.

Lessons learned, you guys. The absolute hard way.

And life was never easy on our fragile little marriage. Our honeymoon phase faded away when tragedy struck four months into our marriage. We were married in August, but by the middle of December my dad's cancer had returned with a vengeance. Our first Christmas together as a married couple was spent in the hospital at my dad's side as we watched him slip away. We got through the actual 25th, but the very day after my dad met Jesus first thing in the morning.

There is nothing quite like grief to rub away the soft spots and expose all the rough edges and sharp corners of life.

Zach and I got to the depths of marriage quickly in that time. There was no slow decent into real life. We plunged. Sky-dived. Parachuted from a jet plane.

But I don't know what I would have done without Zach. I don't think I would have survived. He was my lifeboat when life became a tumultuous storm and I felt lost at sea.

Five months later I had graduated college. Something I was so proud of. A moment I had been counting down to my whole life. Because it was at this point I knew my life could finally start. It seems silly now. But even as a child, I didn't look forward to a settled life with a gaggle of kids and a pretty house in the suburbs. I wanted a career. The kind that was featured on magazine covers and made into movies. I had massive aspirations for my life and I had this perception that in order to reach all of my goals and dreams I had to graduate college first.

So by the time I walked down that graduation aisle, Zach and I had a pretty amazing plan for the future.

A week after that, to the day, I found out I was pregnant.


We hadn't even been married a year yet.

And now my husband was faced with a pregnant, still grieving wife whose entire future was very suddenly ripped away from her.

The internship I had taken on eventually fired me when they realized I couldn't spend the three months in Africa that was the whole point of the job- not with a newborn to take care of. My step-by-step plan to getting Zach and I into a disaster relief program that would send us all over the world to the poorest countries and most distraught areas crumbled piece by piece. And we were left without a contingency plan, without a solution and in charge of a child that we had no idea what to do with.

God is so funny like that. With His plans that are greater than ours. With His vision that sees so much farther down the road than we could ever hope to see.

Obviously, the baby worked out. Stella Victoria was born in February, just eighteen months after we said, "I do." And so began our lives as parents.

Five kids later, it should be noted that we planned ONE of those kiddos. Just one. Four of them have been absolute surprises that send us back on that spiraling whirlwind of happiness, panic and disbelief.

This latest pregnancy by the way, was not the one that we planned.

I couldn't have done any of this. I can't imagine enjoying the last eleven years, let alone surviving them, without Zach.

He has been my rock, my best friend, the person that makes me laugh the most and feel the most and love the most. He has held my hand through all of the bad times, all of the good times and all of the times in between. He has comforted me when I've failed. And cheered for me when I've succeeded. He is the one that convinced me to self-publish. And then to keep publishing every book after. He has been logic when I have been panic. And hope when I have been nothing but despair. He is my exact opposite and my exact other half. He is the great love of my life.

And I am so grateful for these past years together. I cannot wait for what the future holds for us. Even if it's scary, even if it's mysterious and unplanned and crazy. At least I'll have him.

Just for fun, I thought I would write down some of the things I've learned over the years. Marriage isn't easy, but it's worth it. It's so worth it.

You can't enjoy one of the best things on the planet, unless you struggle a little... unless you understand the worst things in life. (Or some of them.) Our marriage isn't perfect by any means, but it's beautiful and it's ours and I hope that some of the things I've learned on our journey can help you on yours.

1. Start out poor.

Or at least a little poor. Especially if you're young! There is nothing wrong with not having anything. In fact, I could write an entire book on the richness of life lessons when you don't have everything you want or need. But I'll try to keep it short for this post. You learn to enjoy each other because you don't have money to enjoy anything else. You learn to cook at home, together, because you can't afford to eat out. You learn how many different kinds of meals eggs can make and exactly how far the bottom fourth of your gas tank can go. You learn to laugh at your circumstances and rejoice when there's a little extra. You learn that happiness is not tied up in the perfect house or perfect wardrobe or perfect car. It's more important to be happy than keep up with society. And it's more important to give to your spouse than take for yourself. Target makes great towels and bedding and clothes. And Wal-mart can help you make it to the end of the month before the money runs out. You get lost together searching for furniture at Goodwill and both of you appreciate the significance of hard work and an honest pay check. Poor is not bad. Poor is not even something to be embarrassed about. Poor builds character and a foundation that you can use to build a marriage on. Money is just a thing that doesn't last and only makes you want more. Poor is a gift.

2. Make time for each other. 

Go to bed together. Get up together. Set aside a date night every week- even if it's just a late dinner together after you tuck the kids into bed. Talk to each other. Look at each other. Turn the TV off, put the cell phone down and give the person you love most in life your undivided attention.

3. Spend time apart. 

Let him hang out with the guys! Go out for a girls night and drink too many cocktails! Put up with all the rowdy men in your house and let him host the poker night. And do the same for you. Have Bunko or book club or whatever it is that you're into and let him handle your cackling friends. I always appreciate Zach even more after we've spent time apart. I love hanging out with the girls or going on trips or even spending time alone, but there is nothing like coming home to him. There is nothing like laughing my head off with the women I love and then stepping into the calm, soothing embrace of my husband. Time apart makes time together that much sweeter.

4. Get physical! 

Yeah, that's right. Sex people. It's what drew you together in the first place. It's part of what kept you together. You have great chemistry!!! Remind each other of that. Often.

5. Appreciate each other. 

It's so easy to start ticking off all the things YOU do around the house or for the marriage. I think this is one of the absolute easiest and worst traps married couples fall into. Your spouse forgets to take the trash out or move the laundry or pay a bill and all you can do is simmer in the self-righteous soup of what YOU do around the house and how hard YOU work and all the sacrifices YOU make. But, you guys, I'm going to be really honest with you and say, those are lies. You are not the martyr of your marriage. You are a partner. And if you do more? Good for you, but do more out of love. Because you want to. Because you love your spouse more than yourself and want them to have a comfortable, safe life that they are absolutely happy in. But always, always, appreciate what they do for YOU. Don't dwell on the times when they missed the mark. Remember the moments they came through for you. Remember all the times they put you first and sacrificed for you and put you before them. Because then it doesn't feel like you do more work. Then it feels like you get to love more.

6. Laugh. All the time.

Life is hard on its best days. And then there are those times when it just plain sucks. Laugh together. Laugh because you're hilarious. Laugh because he's hilarious. Laugh because you're happy and content and because you don't care how hard life is, you can conquer anything together.

7. Fight. 

Maybe not all the time. But fight with each other. Stand up for yourself and let him stand up for what he wants too. Lose your temper on small levels so you don't let it build up inside of you for years. That kind of explosion will take your entire head off. And you need your head. Say what you want and need and feel. But listen too. Emotions are not reality. What you feel doesn't always equal truth. But don't bottle it up. Don't build resentment and bitterness and hurt. Don't let the other person become someone you hate just because you're too afraid to say what you think. It sucks to fight. I get it. I hate it. But think on these two things. Authentic relationships hurt. People bump into each other. Different backgrounds and expectations and life just get in the way of perfect communion. Being close to your husband gives him the power to hurt you. Hopefully he doesn't abuse that power, but when conflict breaks out, take the time to work through it and become stronger because of it. The second thing, is that we can't recognize the best times unless we've experienced the worst times. If you've never fought with your husband, how can you feel the sweetness in those moments that you aren't fighting? How can you feel the relief and overwhelming forgiveness after you've worked everything out? Don't be afraid of conflict. But always be respectful. Always speak out of love and devotion. And always get to the end. No matter what it takes or how long it takes, don't start something you're not willing to resolve- even at the cost of your own pride.

8. Plan together. 

I'm a big goal setter. I love check lists and five year plans and thinking about the future. My husband is not so much like this. He could honestly care less about trying to predict where we'll be in five years. But setting goals together helps us align our expectations. Having meaningful conversations about where we both want to go and what we both want out of life, gives us a cheerleader and an accountability partner. And more than that, it gives us a unified vision of our future. It still might be unknown and mysterious, but it is bright and beautiful and we're headed there together.

9. Give up control. 

I'm a task-oriented person. To a fault. When I get into something, I put my head down and work as hard as I can until that job is finished. I almost become blind to everything outside of the task because I'm so determined to finish. But I've learned over the years that there are more important things than finishing the dishes or the project I'm working on or the laundry. It's more valuable to me to spend a few hours with my husband(or kids) than whatever temporary task I've set as a priority. I'm more satisfied, content and filled when I've connected with Zach than finished laundry and a perfect house will ever make me. And the same is true with my work. I could make a lot more money if I'd only write books faster. But Zach is more important than money. My marriage is more important than deadlines and sales and trends. Not that I abuse this... There are plenty of nights where I'm typing furiously on my laptop while Zach watches a movie on his own or plays video games to his content. But there are also nights when I'm swamped and he says, "Hey, I got a sitter, let's go grab a beer," that I abandon productivity altogether and choose my husband over everything else.

10. Protect your marriage. 

Girls, I get it. We have each other for a reason- and one of the reasons is to share our struggles, heartache and drama with your friends. But your husband comes first. Don't say things that paint him in a bad light. Don't dish about your sex life and marital problems and issues. Protect your husband. And your marriage. Put them first, above everything else in your life and let him feel that respect. Let him know that you respect him above everything else. The truth is, no matter how much you love your BFF, she is not in your marriage, she does not know your husband like you do, she cannot possibly offer a solution to something she is only seeing a small, biased piece of. Let me be clear, there are places and people to go to if you are in danger, being abused or need counseling. And you will need your closest friends in those instances. But in typical marriages, I encourage you to go to your husband instead of your friends. Other people don't need to think you have the perfect marriage, because let's be honest, that just doesn't exist. But, they don't ever need to know all the dirty details either.

11. Love and Respect. 

I am a total believer that knowledge is power. Zach is the same way, so throughout our marriage, we've taken the time to go to whatever marital classes/seminars/studies we can find. We just strongly believe that we do not have everything figured out. We will never have everything figured out. So the more tools we can have in our toolbox, the more prepared we are for when challenges arise. We're not attending these classes because we have a broken marriage, but instead because we are broken people trying to have a healthy marriage. The more time we dedicate to learning how to communicate and how to battle the disease of expectations and how to love beyond ourselves and on and on and on, the better we are, the more capable and prepared for this journey of life we're on. One of the most recent studies we did is called Love and Respect by Emmerson Eggerichs. It changed my life. And my entire way of thinking. The premise is that men need respect and women need love. You can tell a man you love him a million times and it will not come close to hitting him in the chest like when you tell him, "I respect you." That's what men thrive on. That's what men need to feel fulfilled and confident and complete. On the other hand, a woman needs to be loved. It's awesome when a husband respects his wife, but her real life blood is in his love for her. She needs to be cherished and adored and absolutely, unconditionally loved. This book is absolutely amazing and relatable and easy to read. Zach and I struggled to speak through this new language, but once we figured it out, our marriage became something I didn't know existed... something so intensely beautiful it's blinding. Men, love your wives. And women, respect your husbands. Show them respect. Speak respect to them. Live out a life that is filled with respect and reverence for this man that loves you so much. And in return, he will show you just how deeply he can love you.


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