5 Stars: Clinging to the only reviews that truly matter

5 stars

I'm an Achiever.

I didn't need an Enneagram test to tell me this, or possibly to tell you this either.  But since I'm an Achiever, I took the test anyway.

Ambitious.

Competent.

Driven.

Status-conscious.

Overly concerned with their image and what others think of them.

I have been this way ever since I can remember.  I drive myself into the ground to prove to myself, but mostly to others, that I am capable.  Worthy.  Accomplished.  5 stars.

This perfectionism plays itself out in virtually every area of my life.  I've convinced myself that I need to earn a 4.0, to qualify for the Boston Marathon, to wear a certain size of clothes, and to have those 5 yellow stars next to my name on the dogsitting website, on our AirBnB listing, and in my Etsy shop.

Reviews make or break me.

I didn't realize this until recently, when I mused aloud to my husband, "It would absolutely crush me if I got one bad rating on Rover (the dogsitting app)."

The words didn't sound so flat and absurd when they were just swirling around in my head.

"Really?" he asked.  "You let the opinions of others hold that much power over you?"

Yeah, I guess I do.  Or at least, I have.  I'm trying to turn a new leaf.

The thing is, I love caring for people's pets and humans and hosting travelers in our home.  I love hand lettering, writing, and crafting.  I want to excel at those things.  But admittedly, I often crave excellence so that people will notice and so that those 5 little stars remain perfectly filled.  Rarely ever do I work hard for the sole purpose of doing a good job.

More often than not, the most important jobs are unrated.  Nobody is handing out stars for being a great mom, wife, or friend.  Unfortunately for me, this can mean that these most important roles are shoved to the back burner to make room for less important but more visible ones.

On the rare occasions when my priorities are properly aligned, I still seek positive reviews and perfect ratings in places where they don't always exist.  

This is especially true in my role as a mom.  I take my kids to do fun activities, but it's more for my sake than for theirs.  I tend to care about my appearance (on social media and otherwise) at the expense of their little hearts.

When we were going through the application and home study process to become certified as a foster family, the case worker interviewed our five-year-old.  One of the questions presented was, "What do you like to do with your family?"

"I just like to be together with them," she answered simply. 

She always gives some variation of this answer when asked a similar question.  She never names "the Instagram moments," such as the zoo, the splash pad, or even our vacations.  "I just like to snuggle with Mommy on the couch," she says.

present over perfefct

My husband doesn't care if I'm a 4.0 student.  My friends don't care if I'm an AirBnB Superhost.  My daughters don't care if I'm the perfect Etsy shop owner or marathoner.  In fact, they don't even care if I'm the perfect mom.  They only care that I'm their mom.  

It's time to start letting those closest to me tell me who I am instead of striving for admiration that is fickle and fading.

My favorite book is East of Eden (John Steinbeck) when I have to name an adult book and You Are Special (Max Lucado) when it is permissible to name a kids' book.  

In You Are Special, the wooden Wemmick people walk around all day, giving each other ugly gray dot stickers or beautiful star stickers.  They make judgments about each other and hand out stickers accordingly.  Everyone wants to have tons of stars.  (This sounds familiar.)  One Wemmick, Lucia, has neither stars nor dots because "the stickers only stick if you let them".  Since Lucia cares only what her Maker thinks of her, she is able to let go of perfection and competition and discover true freedom.  

In the words of John Steinbeck, "Now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good."

Good. 

That's a perfect goal for me.

Looking Both Ways

"Look both ways before you cross the street."

These are the words that my mom, like many other mothers across the world, etched into the brain of her child.  Of course, Mom was advising me to pay attention to cars which could come from either direction and turn me into smut.  But she was also telling me to look at where I've been and where I am going.

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I've been a lot of places in 2017.  Speaking literally, that isn't totally true.  Aside from our winter ski trip to Colorado and a few random visits to Texas to see family, I've mostly stayed in Norman.  The rest of my life, though, has been all over the map.

I quit a few things this year, including dairy, gluten, and my job, but we began a lot more.  This blog.  AirBnBDoorpost Collections.  Piper in "big school".  Dogsitting and human-sitting.  The simultaneous newness of it all felt crushing at times.  I said "yes" way too much.

When your husband works for Hobby Lobby, you naturally take advantage of his employee discount and buy all of the things every chance you get.  After all, one can never have too many Christmas decorations, right?  This year, I purchased a new table runner.  It's mostly made of burlap, similar to seemingly all of the other decor in our home.  But if you look closely, especially when the sun is first streaming in through the windows and shining upon our kitchen table at dawn, you can see tiny gold threads woven throughout it.

Our new table runner is the tapestry of 2017.  At the beginning of the year, I chose a word that I wanted to define my life: joy.  While it is true that The Joy Project allowed me to see with clearer eyes and more gratitude, it is also true that many of my days were like the scratchy burlap that stretches across our table: stiff and dull.  I worried too much and prayed too little.  I obsessively filled my plate with obligations due to self-imposed guilt.  I struggled with my relationship with running, and with relationships in general.  I got mad at my kids and my husband.  I had a lot of monotonous, ordinary days that ended far too late because of studying for school and started far too early because, well, such is life with small children.  I strove for perfection and came up short.  And yet, there were these golden moments of joy that appeared every so often, these threads that God wove in to keep me both brave and humble.

This is where I have been.

I'm not exactly sure what the new year holds.  We could have a foster child in our home any day now, a fact which partially excites but mostly terrifies me.  I don't feel ready, but I'm not sure that I ever will.  When we began Piper's adoption process, we had all of the same feelings, but we closed our eyes, held our breaths, and jumped in anyway.  That is when we watched miracles happen.

Still.

That single word is my desire for 2018.  I know that stillness will require setting more boundaries and saying "no" more often, things which I have already begun to do.  But I also believe that there is more to stillness than the physical removal of commitments from the calendar.  I'm picturing myself in the middle of one of these tornadoes that frequent the plains of Oklahoma.  The winds are blowing up all sorts of debris around me, but I am not frantic.  I am calm.  Grounded.  Content.  Finding quiet in the storm.

This is where I am going.

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Photo credits: JEShoots and Keeley RIckles

I got married young.

This past weekend, we got away to an Airbnb for our eighth anniversary.  I'm 29, and we've already been married for eight years.  You do the math on that one.

Here in Oklahoma and where I'm from in Texas, marrying young isn't a complete anomaly.  Even so, my husband and I often get bewildered looks when we talk about how long we have been together.  {Apparently, they let babies get hitched in the South.}  

Everyone seems to have an opinion about what age is appropriate for marriage, but I don't think there is a black and white answer.  Age is often proportional to maturity level, but not always.

I was still in college when I married Andrew.  Looking back now, that seems crazy, but it's really no crazier than getting married and being in "the real world" would have been.  We had dated for three years, and we just knew that the time was right.  I'd like to offer a few reasons why, for us, marrying young was the best thing we could have done.

1.  Sex.  In light of our culture today, I realize that our decision to save sex for marriage is rare and strange, but it was important to us.  If we got married, we could have sex.  So we did.

2.  We knew that we would never be ready.  There are always more goals to accomplish, more places to travel, and more items to cross off the bucket list.  If we waited until the "right time" to get married, we probably never would have.  There is no "right time."  We didn't throw caution to the wind, but we also knew that we couldn't delay our decision until our uncertainty was 100 percent gone, because that day would never come.

3.  Our commitment to love each other, regardless of the situation, has held us together.  This particular reason stands out to me above all the rest.  When we were dating, we always had the choice to break up with relatively small consequences if things weren't going well (and we almost did on multiple occasions).  In 2014, five years after our wedding, we both believed that our marriage was not savable.  The shaky foundation that we had built up to that point completely crumbled, but we still had this piece of paper, this ceremony that our pastor had performed before God and hundreds of other people in which we had promised to love "till death do us part".  Initially those were not good reasons to try to reconcile our differences, but they were all we had at the time, and they are what kept us believing that divorce was not an option.  In the three years that we have stayed married since that horrible year, I have become increasingly more thankful for the vows that forced us to fight through those dark days to the peace and friendship that we enjoy now.

4.  We could have spent forever searching for the perfect person and never found him or her.  I am not naive enough to believe that I am the perfect wife for my husband, and neither is he the perfect husband for me.  We are both seriously flawed.  We fight.  We make each other angry.  He leaves his dirty clothes on the dresser.  I compulsively throw away important papers.  He forgets to wash his dirty lunch Tupperware.  I don't empty out the vaccuum cleaner when it is full of dog hair.  He farts too much.  I cry too much.  Another man might not annoy me in the same ways, but he would annoy me nonetheless.  I didn't marry Andrew because he is the perfect man for me; Andrew is the perfect man for me because I married him.

5.  We do more fun things because we are married, not less.  "Life as we knew it" didn't end when we said "I do".  Left to myself, I'd stay home alone and read books or write all day.  Left to himself, Andrew would play way too many video games and watch every Netflix documentary ever made.  Living together allows us to open up our home to others and be hospitable when it's easier to be lazy.  Having combined incomes provides more opportunities for adventures.  We never have to worry about finding dates to weddings, parties, or showers.  We shoot guns, see movies, play board games, watch car races, go hiking, run marathons, attend concerts and sporting events, look at Christmas lights, host dinner parties, and the list goes on.  We do those things because they are more fun with a best friend than alone, and because we push each other toward spontaneity rather than boredom.

6.  Burdens are cut in half when someone shares them with you.  The last eight years have brought more heartache than we ever expected, but Andrew has helped me through everything.  He cannot remove the circumstances, but he can listen and encourage me through them.  My first year of teaching, surgeries, infertility, and the loss of loved ones have all been easier because my husband has carried part of the load.  Likewise, our joys have been multiplied.  I'll never forget finding out about both of our girls and can't imagine celebrating the gift of life without my partner.

7.  We have become more independent because we are married.  This seems counter-intuitive, but it makes sense.  Being married has allowed us to make more decisions on our own and to become financially independent, things which would have been delayed had we continued living with parents or roommates.  "With great power comes great responsibility," but I actually enjoy being able to plan our meals and buy groceries, pay our own bills, own a home, have separate health insurance, and make the decisions that define adulthood.  We are our own separate family unit, and this has been a blessing rather than a curse.

8.  I'm not the first person to say this, but we get to grow old together and grow up together.  We spent our first year of marriage in a dumpy duplex that backed up to a high school parking lot, we drove an old car with a huge dent in the side, I was still finishing school, and we budgeted like crazy just to make it through student loans to the next paycheck.  But we were happy.  Now that we've been together for over a decade, I have gotten the privilege of witnessing my teenage boyfriend become a man, my precious husband become a father.

I guess what I'm trying to say is this:  Marriage doesn't require a huge savings account, perfect jobs, or a fancy house.  It requires two people who are committed to making it work.  Our story may look much different in twenty years, but the main characters will always be the same.

I got married at 21, and I have no regrets.