Present Over Perfect

Shauna Niequist is my favorite Christian author for her raw vulnerability, her transparency, expert story-telling skills and her love for good food. I cook recipes from her book, Bread and Wine, weekly.

I knew her most recent book, Present Over Perfect, would rock my busy little world, so I put off reading it for several months. It would slow me down, settle my heart and convict my soul, and I wasn’t ready to be reigned in. The title speaks for itself–stop trying to be and just be.

img_6114

All my life I’ve been an achiever, a doer. I value efficiency, honesty and follow-through. In job interviews, I take pride in the fact that I’m responsible–I do what I say I’m going to do–and I’m efficient–I can do more work in less time than most people. I am goal-driven and feel incomplete until my goals are met. Even then I feel like I could have probably done more, been better.

These things, of course, matter very little in the Kingdom of God. At the end of my life, Jesus is not going to ask me about my work ethic. He’ll ask me how I treated people. He’ll lift my chin with His calloused hand and ask, “Ashley Dawn, were you kind? Did you obey me? Did you love the least of these? Did you give generously? Were you loving and slow to anger with your family behind closed doors? Did you share My love with my children who were hurting?”

Although the pace of my life hasn’t changed since I read this book over Christmas break, my mindset has. I’m consciously asking my mind to rest, to be fully present with the people I love, and to give myself grace.

Some of Shauna’s truths from this book that…changed me, quite frankly:

“I believed it was better to measure my life by metrics out there, instead of values deeply held in my own soul and spirit.”

Production values. Promotions. Credentials. Grade point average. Body fat percentage.

“The very thing that makes you you, that makes you great…is also the very thing that, unchecked, will ruin you.”

For me this is efficiency, commitment and drive.

Women often do what Niequist calls, “fake-resting. I’m wearing pajamas…It looks like I’m resting, too. But I’m not. I’m ticking down an endless list, sometimes written, always mental, getting things back into their right spots, changing laundry, wiping down countertops. Some might say this is being a mother, a homemaker, or this is what women have been doing for generations.”

For me, this behavior is handed down from a long line of strong, independent, capable, and restless women. My grandma Mary, at 80-something, has a hard time sitting still. My mom never does. If I am, my mind is somewhere else…I’m distracted by everything left undone.

Saturday morning, though, I was so proud of myself: Paisley snuggled up to me on the couch in her jammies and I held her tight, smelling the sweetness of her neck. I couldn’t put my feet on the coffee table because it was stacked high with laundry.  Dirty dishes lined the countertop, and my laptop was open with a business production number that was far from my lofty goal for February. I held my cold mug of coffee in one hand, and my tiny baby girl in the other. I closed my eyes and soaked up the long minutes she let me snuggle, truly resting.

img_6437

Paisley Dawn loves to do dishes!

“Busyness is an illness of the spirit.” -Eugene Peterson

“Loving one’s work is a gift. And loving one’s work makes it really easy to neglect other parts of life…Being good at something feels great. Playing ninja turtles with two little boys for hours is sometimes less great.”

I love my job. I get to coach people (mostly women) toward their best self through fitness and healthy living. I’m good at it.

IMG_1475

I oftentimes feel less good, however, at being a mom–and sometimes a wife. I can get more easily frustrated with my kids than my clients. I have better customer service with strangers (WHO COULD CARE LESS ABOUT ME) than I do with Joey, the love of my life. Ugh. Holy conviction.

“This is what I know for sure: along the way you will disappoint someone. You will not meet someone’s needs or expectations…These are basically sharp blades into the hearts of people like me, who depend very heavily on meeting people’s expectations.”

Disappointing people terrifies me. My greatest fears are to let someone down and to be misunderstood. I’ve lost sleep this past year over feeling misunderstood by people I cared about and for feeling like I’ve let people down.

“But here’s the good news: you get to decide who you’re going to disappoint, who you’re going to say no to…What you need along the way: a sense of God’s deep, unconditional love and strong sense of your own purpose…Aim to disappoint the people at the center of your circle [family] as rarely as possible.”

Ah, my purpose. I know my purpose, my “chazown”: helping people live life to the fullest through healthy living. Inspiring people to reach their God-given potential.

img_4088

Our relationships are like concentric circles, with those closest to us at the very center. Then our most trusted friends and extended family. Then more friends. Acquaintances and co-workers. Strangers. I chose “servant” as my word for 2017 because I want to be a servant FIRST to those people God has entrusted to me at the center of my circle: Joey. Finn. Paisley. If I can’t be really really good to them, nothing else matters.

img_4139

Here’s where I’ll leave you (and I’m only on page 55 of 234 of incredible wisdom, but I’m going to play Nertz with Joey):

“We disappoint people because we are limited. We have to accept the idea of our own limitations in order to accept the idea that we’ll disappoint people. I only have this much time. This much energy. This much relational capacity.”

I don’t like to feel limited. Do you? I like to feel powerful and unbridled. But it’s so incredibly freeing to me to accept the fact that I can’t do it all.

I need Joey’s help around the house. I can’t remember everyone’s birthday. I’ll forget some clients’ squat weight. I can’t remember to pray for everyone I want to pray for. I need my mom’s tenderness. I need my dad’s wisdom. I need grace from my kids. I need a committed team to help me reach my goals in Arbonne. I need my training clients to show up to get paid. I need my long-distance girl-friends to check up on me. I need people, and I deeply need God.

ash-profile-1

I will disappoint people. I may have disappointed you. And that’s okay, because I am imperfect; an intrinsically flawed, yet redeemed daughter of God, doing my very best. And it’s enough. It’s not perfect, but it’s enough.

A Perfectly Boring Marriage

June 30th, 2006 Joey and I were married in San Antonio, Texas.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was hot, but a coastal storm rolled in that evening and knocked the flower arrangements off my reception tables, cooling off our happy guests.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Yes, I let Joey and his groomsmen wear those ridiculous sweat bands at the reception.

Joey’s dad performed the ceremony and it was personal yet powerful.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Our sacred vows were witnessed by 350 of the most influential people in our lives. I didn’t sleep much the night before from excitement and my eyes felt puffy. There was no real drama, catastrophe or anxiety that day. I was marrying my best friend, someone who felt like “home” to me.

Now, a decade later, our love is standing taller, battered by a few storms and it’s maturing like a good wine. We’re friends; we like each other most of the time, and more importantly, we choose each other. Every. Single. Day.

We’ve been asked many times how we’ve maintained a healthy marriage. “What’s the secret to staying happily married for 10 years and beyond?” The answer is nothing fashionable, shocking or dramatic. In fact, you may find it boring.

Daily, (seemingly) insignificant good choices. Today. Tomorrow. The next day…

“…They [successful people] achieve these dramatic results in their lives through making choices that are the very antithesis of drama–mundane, simple, seemingly insignificant choices.” -Jeff Olson, The Slight Edge

I apply this principle to my personal training career, my own physical fitness, parenting, my Arbonne business, my spiritual life and marriage.

*Before I go any further, I must say, our marriage is far from perfect. In fact, this past year has probably been the hardest of our ten. But we are working on it, praying through it, and fighting for it.*

In the moment, these good choices seem inconsequential, but compounded over time, they yield massive results. (I’m obsessed with books, The Compound Effect, The Slight Edge, The Power of Habit these days.) The trouble is that these small, simple choices are just as easy not to do as they are to do. Kissing each other goodbye in the mornings won’t save or ruin your marriage that day—but done (or not done) for hundreds of days over time just might. Daily bad choices (or perhaps the absence of good choices) have the same effect over time: destruction, divorce, obesity, bankruptcy.

Some simple choices Joey and I have made, by the grace of God:

We go to bed at the same time every night. This causes us to be on the same schedule. One person is not more tired than the other, we pray/talk a little together in bed, and it allows for physical intimacy. No kids in bed either, unless it’s May in Oklahoma and they are afraid of the storms.

We are a team. This is tough when you feel like you’re playing a different game altogether, not seeing eye-to-eye. But like any sport, we practice and we get better. IMG_5778.JPG

We go out on dates regularly. With no kids around, we can give each other our undivided attention, we can listen and get to know each other, we can flirt, try new restaurants, hold hands. IMG_6259

We put the kids to bed early. No brainer: more time for us. Structure and sleep for them. High five.

We put toothpaste on each others’ toothbrushes at night. Silly, but sweet.

We don’t make close friendships with people of the opposite sex. This is just smart; he is the only man I should be “emotional” with.

We work out together on Fridays. He rarely lets me train him, but I love including him in something that is so important to me–physical fitness. We think it’s important to stay fit (aka: HOT) for each other. 🙂

We appreciate delicious, healthy food and black coffee. Oftentimes, we cook together. Chemex pour-over coffee every morning. IMG_6615

We play together and we play with our kids. Dance party every night; Justin Timberlake on repeat. Our kids remind us not to take ourselves too seriously. IMG_2874

We travel together (minus kids) at least once a year. It’s a true break in routine, scenery and responsibility. We invest in each other this way and create memories to think back to when “normal life” gets tough. IMG_1350If anyone has an excuse NOT to travel, it’s us. Two full-ish time jobs, I actually lose money when I go on vacation, two kids–one of which is disabled and has a potentially life-threatening condition. But it’s THAT important to us. Albeit, we have incredible parents that we trust to watch our kids.

We speak highly of each other. We chose early on not to make fun of marriage or put each other down, even in jest. We respect marriage and each other too much.IMG_4085

We apologize and try to fight fair. Even when we don’t feel like it. Ugh; this one’s hard.

We kiss each other every morning. 

We value friendship outside of one another. Life is more fun with friends. I think this is partly why our marriage has been hard this year–we’re lacking consistent friendships with other couples. DSC_2511

We take turns doing household chores and getting up with the kids. As a working mom, this is such a blessing to me. Joey is so helpful (acts of service is my love language).

We make time and energy for sex. I’m blushing just typing that…we are really private about our sex life. It’s the part of us that’s just for us.

405726_10151202194320570_762980569_22646554_264758922_n

6 months pregnant with Finn

We share our calendars. This means less surprises for me.

We support each others’ careers by asking questions and allowing time for personal growth and study. Joey pushes me to achieve my goals and I’m so grateful. IMG_1922

Joint bank account. 

We read. Less screen time is my struggle, but I’m working on it. Currently reading The Slight Edge by Olson and up next are Niequist’s new Present Over Perfect, Maxwell’s 12 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader, and the new Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

And finally…We individually seek to know Jesus more and work on improving ourselves. This is, without question, the most important element. The secret sauce. Because without Him, our love for each other is incomplete, shallow and self-serving.

I believe God made marriage a sacred covenant, binding unto death, because He knew that at some point, we’d want to get out.

“So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Matthew 19:6

It seems easier at times just to give up, do our own thing, or try someone new. But I said “I do,” to Joey on June 30th. Then again on July 1st. And July 2nd…And I’m saying “I do” today.

A healthy marriage isn’t fancy and it doesn’t make you famous. There’s no one event that changes everything. It’s the boring, mundane, good choices over time that lead to renewed vows when you’re 75 and wrinkled.

To the singles: are you the person that the person you’re looking for would want to marry?

To the married and healthy: thank you for your example! We’re watching and inspired.

To the married and struggling: dig in your heels and fight for your family. It takes two to make it work, yes. But pray for your marriage like it’s your full-time job. Go to counseling. And work on you. Let God work on them.

To the married and abused or neglected: Get help. In some cases, get out.

To the divorced: there is redemption. I’ve seen it and it’s beautiful.

To Joey: thank you for choosing me then and choosing me now. Happy TEN YEARS, my Love.

IMG_4100

 

Give

This word has been hovering over my kitchen since Thanksgiving.

IMG_2535

Both families have agreed not to exchange gifts this year. They took away one of my love languages, and I’m not too happy about it. 😉 So I’m learning to give in new ways–perhaps more important ways than with the swipe of my debit card.

I’m giving more of my time. Each breath is on loan from my Creator, so it’s really not my time anyway, but I’ve always been most selfish with my time. Meetings that go long drive me bonkers. Commercials, snaking grocery lines, doctor’s offices, verbose, showy prayers, and stoplight traffic all test my patience something fierce.

Giving God more of my time (sheesh…it’s so hard for me!) in prayer and reflection has helped me refocus this Christmas season. I love the book, Savor, by Shauna Niequist. December 8th’s devotion reads:

“The season that centers around the silent, holy night, the simple baby, and the star quickly becomes the season in which we over-everything–overspend, overeat, overindulge, overcommit.”

I’m learning to give less frazzled, hustling, distracted moments and more intentional ones to the people I love.

IMG_2488

Give Joey longer, more attentive kisses.

Put my phone down and listen…to whomever is speaking to me: the Target cashier, my kids, my husband, my friends, Pastor Craig…

Let Finn spell out E V E R Y single letter in The Sleepy Train book and forget about the long list of naptime-to-do’s I need to accomplish before sister wakes up.

IMG_2499

They loved the Christmas lights at Rhema!

IMG_2522

Sit on my bathroom floor with Paisley while she digs through my makeup bag. Discuss the importance of beauty on the inside…and my new-found appreciation for high quality mascara.

FullSizeRender 32

Life Church BA’s lobby is a Christmas wonderland!

Allow my clients the opportunity for proper form and quality of movement even when I planned another set.

Blog about what God’s doing in my heart and how He’s teaching me that giving is a mindset. I can give to Him and to you every day in simple ways.

IMG_2532

Taylor created this beautiful print for my mantel.

Give. And give again. Because when you give, you’re most like God, I heard someone say.

Invincible Summers

Summer is coming.

The colicky newborn days and nights have turned to giggling and peek-a-boo.

IMG_0634

My fears for Finn at school–though still very present–have subsided, and I love to watch his classmates hug (and kiss) him at pick up. Yesterday a new family was touring the school. We walked out together and two little boys watched as Finn raced down the ramp to our van. They were obviously staring at him, so their sharp mom kindly ushered them over to us to introduce themselves. [Side note: introduce yourself and your kids to people who are different. It’s a teaching moment for your kids and a display of respect for the person.] “I’m Ethan and this is my little brother, Will.” “I’m Finn Joseph Armstrong.” Finn spun a few donuts for them and finished it off with a wheelie. Will exclaimed, “I want one of those!” While strapping Finn into his car seat, he asked, “They love me, Momma?” Yes baby, you’re so cool.

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” -Albert Camus

I first came across Camus’ writings in one of my college Literature classes. This particular quote spoke to those cavernous places in my soul and has influenced my life ever since. At the time, I was drowning in an unhealthy relationship. I quite literally lost myself. I had forgotten the confidence and bravado of my childhood, I temporarily neglected my parents’ nurturing and biblical upbringing, I denied the redemption I had found in Christ as a child and then again as a young adult.

Freshman TWIRP date. See Joey in the back row?! He was NOT my date. ;)

Freshman TWIRP group date. See Joey in the back row?! He was NOT my date. I actually can’t remember who was.

It was winter in my heart. My dreams were icicles, hanging above me, threatening to fall. I was bitter and angry, struggling with the sting of rejection and emotional abuse. If you want to destroy me, speak ill of me or deny me verbal affirmation. I will crumble. I pretended to be strong but I was brittle inside. Despite the changing seasons, this winter of mine lasted about two and 1/2 years. I finally went through Beth Moore’s Breaking Free bible study and spent a lot of time memorizing and praying Scripture. I went to counseling and learned how to distinguish truth from a lie. Most pleasant afternoons, you’d find me lying on my back in a field behind the dorms, singing or crying out to my Redeemer. He thawed me. He reminded me of my worth, showed me others who were hurting much more than I was, and re-established who He created me to be. A daughter of the King.

These girls were my laughter.

These girls were my laughter.

We’ve all endured (or are enduring) those seemingly endless winters; the ones that leave a little frostbite on our hearts. Finn’s diagnosis and disability is oftentimes heart-breaking. One of my friends has lost both her mother and mother-in-law to tragedy. A client lost her brother, her niece and now her daddy–all too soon. I ran into a sweet momma at Target today, and though we had never met before, she reads my blog and recognized Finn. She said she was directed here by a friend-of-a-friend because she gave birth to a stillborn little boy at 40 weeks. Then several months later became pregnant with a precious daughter who has Down syndrome. One of my best and most faithful friends endured divorce when she was counting on forever. Many of you have suffered multiple miscarriages. You’ve felt the sting of abuse or neglect.

These pains can freeze us up; cause us to lock ourselves away from the world, curl up with a blanket over our heads and let the blizzard rage. And that’s okay for a while, but at some point, summer will come. It’s relentless. In your life, allow buds to grow, flowers to bloom, and eventually pluck those petals to share them with others who are still in the shadows.

...my blogging spot. Carrots and hummus. Overripe peach. Birds. Breeze. Summer.

My blogging spot. Carrots and hummus. Overripe peach. Birds. Breeze. Baby monitor.

If you’re shivering in winter, there’s hope. Summer is coming. I hear it right outside my window.

Things That Aren’t

Finn’s so smart. I know, I know…your kid is smart too. But Finn is really smart. 😉 His brain is most impressive because we were told in the NICU that he may not ever be able to communicate with us. He would be severely mentally handicapped.

Not this kid! He’s truly a miracle. We can read a library book to him once or twice and he will recite it the third time. His mind is a steel trap. He reminds you that two days ago you said he could go to church and that he could have chocolate milk at Starbucks. He knows all 43 of his trains by name.

With Daddy at Easter!

With Daddy at Easter!

But he’s also emotionally intelligent. If my brow is furrowed while I’m strapping him into his carseat, he’ll ask, “Why are you frustrated, Momma?”

Landscaping problems...

Landscaping problems…

We recently read a library book called “Some Kids Use Wheelchairs.” I was hesitant to read Finn this book, worried that a conversation about his disability might ensue. I’m not sure I’m ready for that discussion emotionally. Anyhow, the first few pages discuss why some kids are in wheelchairs.

$_12

Some kids use wheelchairs because their legs are weak or they had an accident. They can’t walk.

I sheepishly asked Finn if he could walk. “Yes I can.” Oh? Can you stand up? “Yes.” So why do you use a wheelchair? No response. He turned the page…

We read this book many more times before returning it to the Book Drop. Each time, Finn was adamant: he can walk.

Whether this is a display of faith or ignorance really doesn’t matter. I count it a blessing that Finn is confident and relatively unaware that he’s not like everyone else. I wouldn’t be surprised if he thought we were the weird ones…walking around on two feet and whatnot.

IMG_0476

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18).

In Finn’s mind, he is able to do anything. I believe this is a result of prayer, God’s lavish grace, and decent parenting. God gives life to things that aren’t alive. He redeems the broken. Makes the sick well. He bestows honor and power and courage on a child in a wheelchair. I’m so thankful to be Finn’s momma. I can’t hardly wait to see all God continues to do in his little, important life.

Raising Obadiah

I choose fiction every time. Give me an adventure tale, a dystopian society, or a historical romance. I will actually finish these books.

Finn had a blast exploring the Myriad Gardens this weekend.

Finn had a blast exploring the Myriad Gardens this weekend.

photo 4

When it comes to non-fiction, I’d rather glean advice from a wise friend or interpret Scripture myself instead of trusting the author. Maybe that makes me arrogant.

But these days we are deep in the trenches of newborn craziness and toddler independence. So when I found Devotions for Sacred Parenting by Gary Thomas stashed away in my hope chest, I decided it was worth cracking open. I love it; so simple and so profound.

Today’s chapter was about Obadiah, a name that means, “servant of Yahweh.” He discussed the issue of why we choose to have kids and that in some cases we parent them based on that purpose.

photo 4

For some, having a baby may have been an accident. So perhaps these children are raised haphazardly, as though they were not exactly part of the plan. Some people fear being alone, so they create children who are dependent, sheltered and needy. Some parents want a redo; another chance at childhood. So they raise their children the opposite of the way they were raised.

If your goal is for your child to be “happy,” you’ll buy them whatever they want instead of teaching them simplicity, self-control and responsibility.

photo 3 copy

Happy girl. Photo by Laura.

If you want successful children, you’ll spare no expense to get them into the right schools with the right clothes and the right connections to get the right job. If you desire athletic or achieving children, you’ll provide them with the best coaching, the most exclusive clubs, expensive equipment and ample advice to help them become the athlete that you were–or perhaps the athlete you weren’t.

photo 2

Finn loved exploring the Myriad Gardens this weekend.

Christian parents should have a different aim: that their child become an Obadiah. A servant of God. Malachi 2:5-6 sums it up…godly children are in awe of Him, they revere His Word, walk with Yahweh, live peacefully with others and turn from sin. If we realize that there is no higher goal in parenthood than raising children who love Jesus, we are willing to help them face the realities of frustration and disappointment they’ll find in the “world.” We are committed to training, correcting, encouraging and praying for our kids daily. Hourly. Even when they are screaming in the car and the light just won’t. turn. green.

While I still want Finn and Paisley to develop their abilities, find fantastic spouses and land jobs they love, my purpose for them is higher. I want them to become like Christ. I pray often that they will know Him much better and more intimately than I do.

photo 3

Thomas concludes the chapter:

May the prayer of our hearts be, “Lord, refine my motivations, purify my actions, and energize my heart so that I do all I can to help my children find their greatest joy and their highest aim in serving you.”

Time to check my motives and realign my goals for my babies.

Restless

I found myself going cross-eyed while reading the Jesus Calling devotional this morning. It was just what I needed for Finn’s first year, and last year I read it again, though half-heartedly. But this morning I decided to move on.

There’s nothing like sleep-deprivation to wake up your sinful nature. Needless to say, I’m in need of spiritual substance. So I’m reading Ephesians and Restless, a book by Jennie Allen, given to me by none other than our family bookworm, Leah.

The first two chapters already have me imagining all kinds of wild, brave thoughts.

Jennie recalls being a new mother, unsettled and in search of purpose beyond diapers. She believed motherhood was her calling, but felt she lost herself somewhere in the process. This made me wonder if motherhood is my calling? Is it my calling simply because I am a woman? Well, no; because not all women are mothers nor are we all afforded the opportunity to become such. So womanhood does not equal motherhood.

photo

I feel called to follow Christ. To live and love the way He did. I feel called to be a fitness professional–someone who attempts to exemplify health in a desperately unhealthy society. I feel called to be a loyal wife. And now, with two kids, I am officially called to be a mom. It’s a part of my identity. We even bought a mini-van.

2006 Honda Odyssey Touring. I'm in love and I don't care who knows it.

2006 Honda Odyssey Touring. I’m in love and I don’t care who knows it.

In Chapter One, Jennie says,

“…I pray [this book] will spark something in you…a vision, perhaps, of the unique reason God keeps issuing you breath.”

I love that line: “…the unique reason God keeps issuing you breath.” If we’re alive, we have purpose. We’re not done yet.

“I want you to dare to believe that God has a vision for how you are to spend your life…What if the things you love to do collided with the plans God has laid out for you?”

What if our deepest hurts became the catalyst for our deepest passions? What if the random relationships and activities that define our lives aren’t random at all?

“What if you could get past your fears and insecurities and spend the rest of your life running…after his purposes for you?”

Do you feel like your life has purpose or are you restless? Stuck? Suffocating?

C.S. Lewis is one of the most creative minds in literature and one of my spiritual heroes. He writes:

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

This is not my home. But while I’m visiting, I’ll try (and oftentimes fail) to be a believer, a wife, a mom, and a personal trainer with purpose and intention.