Be Inspired: Write about the best day of your life/Describe a moment when your heart overflowed with joy.

I’ve always had this idea of what the perfect moment would be. I thought time would stand still and I would be allowed some kind of aerial view of all the beauty that surrounded me. I believed that such a moment would be lasting and memorable down to the very last detail. I was wrong.

My perfect moment came one week ago. It was actually a series of moments, compiled into the best day of my life. Everyone was so alive with excitement, doing everything they could to ensure the day would go smoothly. I really believe that had every little thing gone wrong, we still would have had the perfect day. I’ve never been surrounded by so many people I love, present only to share in my joy.

I envisioned our meeting on the beach. I thought it would be a moment burned into my memory forever. But time didn’t stop, it flew. I said “I do,” and it was all cheers and pictures. It was over before I could truly describe what was happening. The dinner was amazing, the toasts were heartfelt, and the dancing was almost too much fun. Eight hours passed in the blink of a teary eye, and we sat around the kitchen table with our dearest friends. At 2:00AM, sleep called my name, though I was hesitant to let the day end.

In my perfect moments, everything did not stand still. It was fast; it was fleeting. It is over. I couldn’t provide a detailed description of any one moment if I tried. My heart was too full to take in any more. The perfect moment comes when you stop expecting, thinking, wishing for more. It is the day time passes without recognition. It is the moment life is too beautiful, too wonderful for words. My perfect day was October 22, 2015. It was the day I became his wife.

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Be Inspired: “What excites you about the possibility of a new day?”

The sun rises, bringing with it all the promise of a brand new day. That which was, is no longer, and that which will be is infinite with possibilities. The most amazing thing about waking up each morning is that first moment when thoughts of yesterday and plans of the day to come have not yet broken the surface of this most peaceful silence. For just a moment, everything is perfect. On a sunny day, the golden light fills a room and gives strength to those who behold it. When morning’s greeting brings the sound of falling rain, the rhythmic tapping on walls and leaves is soothing to the listener’s soul. No matter the circumstances of past days or future worries, this instant is vibrant with hope and with love. This simple state of being at one with the world can be relived every morning at least, and every moment if chosen.

The Stages of Pre-Wedding Jitters

I have recently been called upon to answer some questions about the meaning of love and marriage.

I asked myself these questions, neither clearly nor directly, and it took me several weeks to understand the query and the interrogator. It took a lot out of me. I was nearly reduced to a sad degenerate, a person I know I cannot and should not be, but I pulled through it with a sense of clarity I hadn’t realized I needed.

Something strange happens when one is about to make a life-changing decision. It feels a little like the stages of grief, with the necessity of feeling your way through each one without understanding why. It is only when you have reached the end of the line and beaten that which seeks to either destroy or strengthen you, that you find yourself grateful for the struggle.

I decided a year ago to marry a man I thought I loved. Naïveté had me believe that I was ready, and pride would allow me no moments of honesty. In honesty I would have discovered anxiety and doubt. However natural it may be to find yourself afraid to commit to another person for life, I refused to entertain those thoughts. It was all ivory dresses and celebration up until the two month mark. Then there was fear.

There are a lot of ways in which I consider myself mature for my years, and I have gathered strength from so many trials and mistakes. The thought that I would be devoted every day to someone who I knew would do the same for me should have brought me comfort. Instead, I was cynical.

I may know well enough that you cannot expect others to discern your thoughts, to anticipate your needs, but I am not always reasonable. It is often difficult to remember that each person is very much his or her own, and cannot always understand you without careful explanation. I wanted him to know my thoughts before I even knew them, to dispel the anxiety I felt without ever admitting my feelings. I know this was unfair, but emotions are not always subject to rationality. As expected, he was unable to resolve a problem that I could not even define. I knew there was something so important that needed to be expressed, but the words were lost amidst my growing sense of dread. For the first time I truly considered the possibility that our marriage could fail and we might not make it.

Of course, I couldn’t just say those words without any kind of preface. To give that power to my fear before fully grasping it may have meant succumbing to it. First I needed to understand the nature of my doubts, and to do that I required a clear idea of what getting married meant to me. Thus, I arrived at the second stage of my emotional reckoning.

It is nice to say that you love someone, to tell them how much you’d sacrifice to keep them forever. These self-satisfying proclamations of endearment were the kind that made everyone around us feel something, but brought me little relief. The impact that loving another person can have on one’s life is profound, but announcing a willingness to kill or to die for the beloved somehow misses the most important aspects of true commitment.

It was with these words that I started to formulate my own definition of marriage, and it sounded far less heroic to everyone including my fiancé. Surrounded by old friends, honesty came effortlessly, and I calmly stated that there are many people in this world that I would kill for and die for if necessary. It wasn’t meant to cheapen the words spoken by the man I am to marry, but I do not always think about the repercussions of honest dialogue. My point was only to say that killing or dying for someone is not nearly as noble as living for him or her. Choosing every day to affect the course of your life for the sake of another person can be more difficult than walking out to fight or die for your most sacred beliefs. An act of courage does not have to be so glamorous as gunfire and romantic martyrdom.

It is interesting to find that making a seemingly nonchalant statement can open your mind enough to finally grasp a problem with which you have long struggled. I said these words and so many things came into view. I realized why I was afraid to promise myself to this man, and what I needed to know before I could do so in good faith.

A good marriage is not built on love alone. Love can send you out to battle or into a passionate rage, but it cannot always keep you faithful. It cannot keep your relationship strong on its own. Some kind of nurtured inner strength is also necessary. It does not come from attraction or romance. It is practiced daily, with a drive to work harder at this than anything else in your life. It is not easy, and it will often be painful.

So many people believe that marriage fosters happiness, and they are often correct. But it should also house the most intense vulnerability, the willingness to be truly seen for who and what you are. While it may sound like an obvious requirement for any meaningful relationship, it is so often downplayed to the point of nonexistence. This kind of vulnerability means knowing that you will hurt each other. The truth often stings, and sometimes the wound never fully heals. It may be easier to pretend that reality is something other than it is, but that harms rather than builds a marriage. Really loving someone is understanding that they will hurt you, that you will hurt them, and that this is not only okay but necessary. After feeling the pain of admitting weakness and fault, you grow stronger as a couple. After finding the resolution rather than giving into fatigue, you understand each other a little more. Over time this image of your beloved that you have been compiling and correcting becomes clearer and more beautiful. This is the closeness humans crave, whether or not they comprehend that hunger.

I cannot stress enough to myself or to him that it will not be easy. We will lie and hide things from each other until we are ready to be honest. I hope we will always find a way to be strong. The worst thing that can happen to a relationship is an unrealistic expectation. I am not without a complicated past, and neither is he. I have weaknesses of which I am neither proud nor ashamed, because I am this person who is full of passion and questions and love. He is not the only one who will struggle with honesty. Difficult conversations will be had, and all I can hope is that we can manage to come from a place of love more often than a place of fear or doubt. I can ask myself to be strong when I am presented with adversity, but always remember that to err can promote growth. I can believe in the strength of our bond and its ability to withstand the mistakes that we will make in words and in actions. Most importantly, I can make a promise to say the words “I do” with a full understanding of what I mean by them. That is the best offering I have, an honest and unwavering intention to be his wife.

Have a Little (More) Faith

I have heard so many people say that they have no faith in humanity, that we are evil at our core. Facebook feeds are full of posts titled “10 pictures that will restore your faith in humanity.” I’ve been guilty of looking at those posts, wanting to see a little positivity in the midst of so much overall dissatisfaction.

I have to say though, I have never truly believed that humanity is inherently bad. Even when I could come up with no sweeping proof of the good that lies within us all, I still had faith in the human condition.

Then today, I realized something amazing. Every one of us has more faith in humanity than we often claim.

When we walk out of our homes every day, we have faith that things will go more or less as planned.

We get in our cars, trusting that they will safely carry us to our destinations. We believe that the people who manufactured the parts of those vehicles did so with our needs in mind. We share the road with people who we believe will follow traffic laws and avoid collisions. Although accidents happen, we do not anticipate them every time we drive.

We go out for meals, trusting that the food is of a certain quality and that the people preparing it are conscious of our wellbeing. We see doctors and take our beloved pets to veterinarians, having faith in the ability and honesty of those healers. We go to sleep in our homes, never worrying that the roof may crash down on us thanks to faulty carpentry. We allow ourselves to be vulnerable, knowing that we will be hurt at times, but realizing that the risk is worth it. We do this because when we know that most of the time, we will be accepted on some level. If we stop to think about the probability, there is only a very slight chance that we will find ourselves in conversation with someone who will intentionally hurt us.

We live our lives, not in constant apprehension or fear of other people, but generally accepting that we all want to go about our days in peace. We do not expect a great catastrophe at every turn. If we truly believed that every other person means to do us harm, many of us would die hungry and alone in our homes. Most of our interactions are positive or neutral.

We remember the time that man cut us off in traffic and the day our boss pointed out our flaws. How often do we think about the coworkers that smile and greet us every day, or the people who politely wait their turn at stop signs? No one forces us to function within the lines of appropriate social interaction. Sure, we may lose our job if we do not follow the rules of food safety or test each moving part in an automobile. We may get a ticket and pay a fine if we run a red light. But how often do you think to yourself, when cooking someone’s meal, “I better make sure this chicken reaches the right temperature because I’d hate to disappoint the health department”? Do you avoid running over the person crossing the street in front of you just because it is against the law? How often are you purposefully hateful to someone just because there won’t be immediate repercussions?

We all care a little more than we sometimes admit, and we surely trust a lot more than we might claim on a bad day.

As you go about your day, think of all the times you place your trust in others, often strangers. And with that perspective in mind, how often do people really let you down? I’ll bet it’s a lot less often than you thought.

Three Days on a Couch

For the past three days, I have been living on the couch with my dog. I claimed the living room as my territory and covered it with cough drops, tissues, and medicine. I have lived almost entirely on canned soup and water. It has not been a glamorous existence. Despite a complete lack of energy or motivation to move, there are a few achievements I can boast. I managed to not worry about my job for more than a day, I read about 450 pages in a novel, and I reflected on my life. When stuck at home with no pressing obligations other than feeding the dog, there is a lot of time to think.

For the first day I was mostly miserable, wondering if there was any possible upside to my situation. My fiance once told me that frustration is futile: becoming annoyed with situations outside of my control only leads to unnecessary negativity. I forget those words almost daily but when I do remember, they always bring a sense of peace. If I was going to be confined to the house, I might as well make some positive use of my time. I snuggled with Huxley until he eventually groaned and went to lie down in the corner. I came very close to being halfway done reading Atlas Shrugged, yet I feel like I am no closer to finding out “Who is John Galt?” Then, as I entered the third day of my couch life, I realized something that changed the way I felt entirely.

People often say that it is impossible to appreciate the good in life without the bad there for comparison. This applies to more than I thought. For 95% of every year, I am well. I don’t notice every day that I am not ill, but maybe I should. Instead of waking up healthy and going straight into stressing or complaining about the day, maybe I could spend a few moments being grateful for an able body and mind. When I am sick I think of all the things I cannot do, but if I am honest with myself I know that on a normal day I wouldn’t do most of those things anyway. What if I did? What if I lived every day to its fullest potential? Then maybe those 10-15 days per year when I am too sick to do everything, I could just relax without feeling like I am missing out on something.

What could I accomplish if I spent more time working toward my goals than I do watching television or fighting off boredom? How can I be bored when I have things to learn, words to write, and dreams to follow? It is easy to get caught up in the defeating belief that life is a rut made up of miserable jobs and meaningless interactions, but it isn’t true. Life can be an adventure, a story to be written and read and relived by millions of people. It can be a story of self-discovery or service to others. It can be beautiful with ugly painful streaks scattered among the years. It can be so much more than 40 hours, frozen pizzas, and season finales. I intend to write a story for myself and for the world. I hope you will read it when you’re living on your couch with your dog for three days in winter.

A Celebration of Life and Love

We wake within minutes of each other, and turn so that our faces are only inches apart.

“Good morning.”

“Happy anniversary.”

I promised to make breakfast if only he would start the coffee. He obliges. I rummage in the refrigerator for bacon, eggs, toast, cheese, and butter. It isn’t meant to be a healthy breakfast. Soon we are sitting side by side, sipping unsweetened coffee and silently munching on breakfast sandwiches. Huxley, our dog, finishes his own breakfast in less than a minute and begs for a bite of ours. I can’t resist; I give him a tiny piece of bacon. We clean our plates and finish our coffee.

My fiance Mason is a runner. He has plans to go for a short run, and I uncharacteristically decide to join him. We drive over to the greenway with Huxley hanging his head out the window. We start running at a pace that feels comfortable for me. For the first sixty seconds, I feel great. As we run, I remember that it isn’t meant to be easy. My breath gets shorter, my legs urge me to stop, but I tell myself that I must keep going. It is a beautiful day, and I am grateful to be able to spend it with the man I love. We run for just over a mile until Huxley and I stop. I need to catch my breath and the dog needs to relieve himself. We pick up the pace again, and have gone about another mile when I start walking. This is the most exercise I’ve had in a while. Our efforts have paid off; we have reached a pier overlooking the river. The wind is strong and cool, and the view is great. When we turn back around, I resolve to walk back with the dog while Mason continues his run.

The air is crisp and the sun is warm. As I pass under barren trees against a bright blue sky, I marvel at the beauty. I feel the ground beneath my feet and my legs are tired but strong. Birds sing in the trees, and each fenced dog we pass has something to say. When I arrive back at the car, I almost wish I had another mile to go.

About an hour later, we prepare for our next adventure.

I put on the jacket, complete with pads and a back protector. It’s a little too big and is far from flattering. I add boots and gloves to my ensemble, then pull the helmet on over my head. I’m nervous and excited all at once; this is my first time riding with Mason and his first time with a passenger. I grew up on motorcycles so there is no inherent fear, but I know there is a difference between riding with my father as a child and riding with my less experienced fiance. He starts the bike and I climb on behind him. I hold onto his waist tightly as we take off, slowly at first then gathering speed. We circle the apartment complex a few times then he checks in to make sure I am feeling okay. As we near the main road, I take a breath and brace myself. He turns out, and then we’re flying.

I don’t remember when I started to relax, but at some point it started to come naturally. I leaned back and looked around, recalling how incredible it felt to travel this way. We rode for less than a couple of miles, but I got off feeling light and thrilled.

As the sun falls later in the day, we keep tradition alive by visiting a friend at work. She was formerly the executive chef at one of our favorite restaurants in our home town, and we all relocated to the same city. Without originally intending to, we had spent our last two anniversaries having dinner at her restaurant. She is now a line cook at a well-loved place downtown, and it seems fitting for us to experience her food today. We walk in without a reservation and the restaurant is nearly full. We are lucky; there are two seats right in the middle of the raw bar. We sit and order drinks, and watch our friends do the work they love.

We have two craft beers each and share the beef tartare and crispy oysters. It is nothing short of amazing. He has three raw oysters, which he says are great with the meyer lemon-thyme mignonette. I am not a fan of raw oysters so I opt for the oyster slider instead, as suggested by our friend. The food is incredible, and we are having a great time. As we finish our beers and prepare to leave, our server comes out with two desserts for us, compliments of our friends in the kitchen. They are perfect. We leave the restaurant satisfied and happy and walk the streets of the city we love so much until it is time to go home. We don’t say it out loud, but we both know it was time well spent. Tomorrow we will return to work and routine, but I will smile as I recall these memories.

This day was more than just a celebration, it was a testament to being alive.

Beautiful Morning

I awake to the muffled bird chirps and morning light streaming in between the window slats. I roll around and find a comfortable position, then spend a few moments enjoying the quiet. When I get out of the bed, my body is sore. I can definitely feel the effects of two workout days in a row. I stretch a little and make the bed, then tidy the room a bit. I brush my teeth and wash my face with warm water from the tap. Now it is time to start breakfast.

I find the small pot that is used primarily for boiling water, and fill it just enough for one full cup of coffee. While the water boils I go to check the mail, but the box is empty. I was really hoping to find something there. I come back inside and measure out four scoops of coarse-ground organic coffee into the french press. The now boiling water goes in next, and I set a timer for four minutes. Now I can start cooking the eggs. Crack! There is one. Crack! And another. Only one stays intact through this process. I use a nearby fork to scramble the eggs. I cut a sliver of butter from the stick and drop it into the pan. While it quickly melts, I pour in the eggs.

The coffee is ready. I stir the mixture with the handle of a wooden spoon and place the lid on the french press. I slowly push down, trapping the coffee grinds at the bottom, then fill my zebra-striped mug to the brim with the dark, aromatic liquid. A couple flips of the eggs later, and breakfast is almost ready. I grab an organic Valencia orange, and with the three breakfast items teetering in my arms, I walk into the living room and sit down.

Peeling the orange releases the sweet smell of citrus. Natural light floods into the room, and those birds are still chirping in the background. Swirls of steam rise from my black coffee, and the slightly salty taste of the eggs complements the natural sugar from the orange. I realize that all of my senses are engaged, and I smile at the thought of being alive. With a morning like this, the day is sure to be fair and sweet.