My three month summer vacation

The title of this post could be a little misleading, but that isn't my intention. I didn't take an entire summer and sit on a beach with a drink in my hand, while the water slowly lapped up onto the beach, but I did take the summer off -- at least my version of off. Let me explain...

I have written about it before, but I will say it once again.  For the past seven years Brooke and I have been professional wedding photographers.  That meant when everyone was out enjoying the great weather on a beach, or their annual summer vacation, we were inside editing wedding photos, e-mailing brides and gearing up for another weekend of shooting.  After June was born we decided to retire from the wedding world, move on and focus on our other business - walk in love.  So, we finished up a few final weddings in the summer of 2015, enjoyed the fall season, enjoyed winter, got tired of winter, and were really looking forward to spring.  Toward the end of our photography career we stopped shooting between November and March anyway, because it was too cold and the sun set at 3:00pm - which just meant that during those fall/winter months (October - April of 2015/16) it hadn't really hit us what life without weddings would be like.

Then as the weather began to change, we noticed that we were home on those early spring weekends.  Then it happened again, and again, and again! With each weekend that passed, we were amazed how much we noticed.  Then May turned to June, and we were going to the pool on SATURDAYS and following that up with trips to go out to eat and long evening walks. There were even Saturdays that we did yard work. YARD WORK!  And we were excited about it!

It was about half way through the month of June, with our front porch scattered with pool towels, bathing suits, and sunlight, that Brooke turned to me and said, "I feel like we are on vacation."

We actually didn't have a vacation planned for this summer.  Financially we couldn't really make it happen and so we decided we would skip a traditional summer vacation in lieu of saving money.  What happened was not a week at a beach house, but was nonetheless incredible... and I was totally missing it, until my wife pointed it out in that moment.

We were having a summer worth of vacations. Not the traditional kind, but the kind we had given up because of the career path we had been on.  For the previous seven summers we had missed bar-b-q's, pool parties, 4th of July fireworks, last minute dinner parties, and all because of weddings.  And this was the first summer that we were able to do it all.

So, back to that moment on our front porch: I realized then that I could cram another summer full of work. We could put the pedal to the metal when it came to walk in love. and use all of our newly given time working... or we could take a breath, a beat, a pause, and take a summer vacation.  A summer vacation made up of all the previously missed summer vacations.

And we did just that.  We didn't announce it to the world or even to each other.  We just let God lead us into a season of life where the waters were calm.  Where we could focus on living the type of life, at the type of pace we always hoped for, but for a bunch of reasons couldn't afford, grasp, or weren't brave enough to take in the past. And that didn't mean life wasn't happening or we weren't engaged.  We just took it with deeper breaths and more stillness before it happened.  We focused on what brought us joy instead of what needed to be done right now.  We let go of things we didn't need or couldn't afford -- both financially and emotionally.  We did flips off the diving board, ate grilled cheese every Tuesday night with friends, celebrated birthdays and new business ventures, watched parades and nourished new friendships, kissed June and each other and shopped at Target a hundred times.

Maybe you are reading this and thinking that I am full of crap.  Maybe you think that you can't have a time of calm waters because of this, that, and the other thing.  I used to live there.  "We can't ever stop weddings because we can't pay our bills." "We can't ever slow down because then we will have slowed. down.!"  Well, all our bills were paid this summer.  We certainly made cuts in the things we did, but all our bills were paid.  Maybe you are telling yourself that you can't because you have more kids than I do.  Well, I would counter by saying maybe a season of calm waters for you is enjoying your kids and ALL that they bring. Maybe it's learning to enjoy them when they want to run around all day and not stop.  Maybe it's enjoying them by not trying to schedule every second of their free time and instead actually giving them free time to build forts, dig in the dirt and climb a tree or two!  Maybe it's enjoying them by not demanding so much from them.  I don't know, but I had a toddler all summer with her teeth growing in, and yet my summer was more peaceful than ever before.

There are a lot of reasons never to take a breath.  Our society seems to be 24 hours, 7 days a week, and if you want to keep up with the Kardashians or the Joneses or the Whoeveres, you have to do this and this, and your kids have to wear this and this, and so on.  It will never end until we put our foots down to end it -- until we give our lives the space it needs.  It doesn't take long to realize that a non-stop, always moving, lifestyle is damaging both physically and emotionally.

Summertime worked for me to make that space, but I know that autumn or winter wouldn't.  Maybe your life is the other way around. Maybe you can take a breath when it's freezing cold outside and you're inside because of snow anyway.  I don't know, but I think it's important to recognize right now, with whatever season you're in, that it needs to happen. And probably soon.

My summer vacation is over.  I realize that now I have some serious work to do before the end of the year, and honestly, I am really looking forward to it.  I would never want to be on vacation forever, because we aren't wired that way.  I am excited to get back to the grind.  Actually a better way to say that is, "I am more excited than I have ever been to get back to the grind."  And that's because I took time.  I took space and I let God move in my life during a season of calm, so that I can move into a season of "chaos" knowing that I can handle it.

When we go, go, go and never stop, we never let God use the stillness to speak.  Most of the time God speaks in the Bible is in stillness, in quiet, in peace.  Yet, we try to hear His voice when the noise is turned up to 11.  And if you think God doesn't speak in stillness, just remember how He gave His son to the world.

I challenge you to take some time, maybe it's all summer, maybe it's a month, or maybe it's 10 minutes every morning before anyone else wakes up in your house, to be still before the Creator of the heavens and earth.  To be still and listen. To be still and know. It will never be time wasted or regretted.  

I will never look back to the summer of 2016 and think, "Man, I am so upset that I took a summer to take a breath and re-focus on what matters."  It's because of this summer I have been making it a point to wake up early and spend around 30 minutes in the silence of the downstairs to read, listen and pray.  Brooke has already said that she has seen a difference in the way I handle the day, handle my moods and handle stress.  Try it.  Take a mini summer vacation every morning without ever leaving your house to listen to the Spirit of God.  Maybe He has been speaking to you for years, you've just never given Him anytime to actually hear what He is saying.

The Rest of SUMMER 2016 looked like this!!

I think the funniest part about this summer is that we ended it by actually shooting a friend's wedding.  It was in Bermuda so no complaints here!

Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. - Psalm 46:10

Balance is a Moving Target

As kids we loved to practice our balance.  We were quick to jump up onto a ledge, curb or railroad track, and tight-rope walk, using our arms to sway from side to side all the while doing our best not to fall.  Sometimes our balancing ended in triumph as we made our way all the way from one end of the railing to the other!  Our balancing skills were something to be marveled at. "DID YOU SEE THAT?" we'd say if we made it from point A to B successfully, or if we had siblings, "I bet you can't go the whole way."

Other times our balancing left a lot to be desired.  We would teeter and totter on the ledge, frantically swinging our arms back and forth as fast as we could, trying hard to regain our balance, only to end up taking a defeated step or jump off the ledge. Other times, when we didn't give up early enough, that step down or jump off would turn into an embarrassing fall, because we held on one second longer than we could afford.

I have a lot of embarrassing stories about losing my balance.  I grew up with a head larger than most, and I always joke during my stories that this led to a lot of my life issues.  Well, I actually can say that I think it did led to most of the stitches in my chin. I don't know the exact count, and I am sure my parents might have a record of it in my baby book, but when I could finally walk without falling over, I had accrued around 36 stitches in my head and chin, mostly in my chin from falling down stairs, off car bumpers or just straight to the ground.

But even so, it (my large head) didn't stop me from balancing on ledges, tracks and parking spot dividers.  I loved it as a kid.  It was such a challenge -- move too quickly and you would probably fall.  Too slowly and you would probably fall.  Think about it too much and you would probably fall.  Think about it too little and you would probably fall.  Occasionally a sibling feeling ornery would push you and you would fall.  There were a loads of ways your balancing act could come to an end, but that never seemed to stop you as a kid.

Somewhere in life balance shifts from a game we play with ledges to a way we walk through life. It becomes more stressful and less playful as we start balancing our faith, relationships, job, free time, resources, money, kids and so much more. And whether you are balancing on a ledge or balancing all the aspects of life, I think we could all agree that balancing is hard.

Currently, June (17 months) is walking and running around like a little maniac and I love it.  You can tell though that she still is working on this balance thing.  She will run from one room to the next, stop and then awkwardly shuffle her feet to turn around and come back.  It isn't the most fluid movement you'll see.  The same can be said the first time you jumped up onto a ledge.  You probably didn't make it from one end to the other without an error.  It took some time to understand the speed at which to walk, what to focus on, how high your arms should be lifted up, etc.

The same isn't said about balancing life.  Sure, your parents might have eased you into adulthood by giving you tasks and responsibilities as you grew, but there is still nothing like the first time you realize you are an actual adult, with no more school, just paying rent/mortgage, working a full-time job, shopping for a car, getting married, having a kid, paying off school loans, etc.

That moment hits some like a ton of bricks and it can be difficult.  Adulthood can end up making you feel like your life is a swirling vortex of chaos and you'll never check everything off your list or have time to take a shower again.  You feel like people will judge you because you aren't doing enough and you feel guilty about relaxing.  Others simply ignore the idea of adulthood altogether, and never stop acting like a kid, wasting their life away doing nothing, only to complain in five years that your peers actually have.

For those of you who really want to get balance "right" and want to stop feeling like you are in a chaos vortex, I understand.  I used to feel guilty pretty often when I would leave a task on my list and instead do something outside of work.  I used to feel that if I didn't do A, B + C every day I wasn't working hard enough, and if I wasn't working hard enough, I didn't deserve what I have.

And it was all because I lacked balance.  As I was walking on the ledge of life, I was leaning so hard one way that I was constantly feeling frustrated, and constantly off target.  I felt like I was stepping off the track every fifty feet with miles to go.  But that's what happens when we lean to heavily to one side while balancing, we fall.  There is no way around it.

I love my job and love what I do, but even with that, I was finding myself in constant stress over it. It was weighing me down to one side so heavily I was off balance.  And this is where you might expect me to say, "So take time to relax and do your nails" because that's how we look at balance so often.  If we lean too heavily one way, we need to add more to the other side, so we even back out.

But I found that when I would try to do that, "relax", I'd only end up feeling like I was wasting time. It was like I was on a tight rope and had a giant pole in my hands.  When I felt like I was weighted too heavily to the work side, I would add more relaxing stuff to the non-work side, but all of that was only leading a heavier pole in my hands. I wasn't actually balancing, I was just evening the scales by adding more weight.

I think the thing we might actually need to do is take away -- from both sides.  Instead of balancing 500 things on our scale, trying to make one even out the other, maybe we need to strip our lives down to the basics and just balance 5 or 10 things really well.

I have already written extensively on my blog about why Brooke and I made the decision to shut down our retail stores, close our wedding businesses, and find what truly brings us joy. To live a life of actual balance. And as we stripped away the layers of weight we had added onto our fake balancing act, we realized a few things.  One is that we are happier, and I think all humans would be happier if they focused on what actually brings them joy and not what should bring them joy.

The other was that when your life is easier, it is easier to balance. We obviously noticed that we made less money by going the route we did, but we quickly realized that when we made less money we had less to spend, and we could focus on buying the right things.  We made less money this year than we ever have while being married, and financially, this has been the least stressful year of our marriage.

We also realized that when you have less stuff to balance you have more time to balance.  We realized that while one day we might need to work harder to get some things done, we could use the next day to spend as a family for balance.  It wasn't werk, werk, werk, and then maybe do something as a family.  It was so much more doable because we created space to do it.

We also started to look at balance as a moving target.  I think too often we believe that we have to work this many hours of day, pray this many hours a day, read this many hours a day, eat this healthy every day, and spend this much, or little, money every day.  We try to make every day a carbon copy of the last, but no day is the same.  When Brooke and I started to look at balance as a moving target, it gave us room to give ourselves and each other grace.  When one day was spent enjoying our family and not working, we knew that the next day might be more heavily spent working.  When we spent too much money one day because a friend invited us to a lunch, we knew that we could find balance on another day by cooking all meals at home.  When I got an itch for a buffalo chicken sub or a doughnut, I knew that balance could come tomorrow when I ate a salad for lunch.

I think when we try to balance all the things, all the days, we feel frantic the minute our day changes its routine.  But that simply isn't life! Things are always coming up and true balance is being able to navigate those changes without going crazy.

During my one-on-one sessions, or my live Periscope show, I almost always get a question about balance, because we all want it.  We really haven't changed much from that kid walking on a ledge. We just want to make it from one end to the other without falling, so we can turn around to those watching and say, "Did you see that?"

But the thing about life is that you won't make it from one end to the other without a few falls. You won't make it without waving your arms frantically, leaning back and forth like a weirdo. You won't make it without having to step down, or by pulling a grape lady and falling off so hard it knocks the wind out of you. And that's okay.  Hopefully when you fall you have people around you to help you back up and dust you off.  If not people, then hopefully you have Jesus to do just that.

I've learned that I find it much easier, and graceful, to balance on the ledge of life when I have less of everything else and more of what matters - my God, my family and my health. That instead of trying to carry it all to the end, I just carry what matters.

How We Used My Birthday To Break Our Single Day Sales Record!

Last Friday, June 17th, was my 31st birthday and on that day we broke our single day sales record for walk in love. Previously, our single day sales record was just over $24,000 and was achieved on Cyber Monday 2015.  This past Friday, however, we did just under $28,000 in sales in a 24 hour period.  It was incredible! And exactly what I wanted for my 31st birthday!  If you are a first time reader of this blog you might be surprised that I share our exact dollar sales number.  I find that transparency is a stronger teaching tool than ambiguity.  You could end up on this post and think to yourself from the title, "Well what if the single day sales record was only $100 and he broke it by selling $101 worth of product?"  I share the actual numbers as a way to show you that the advice I am about to give you might be worth taking, because our sales for a single day of selling t-shirts are pretty good.  I love helping businesses, so if my advice helps you break your sales record of $100 to $101 on your birthday, that is awesome!  If your numbers are higher than ours, and some of these tips work, then great!  Don't get caught up in comparing your single day sales records to ours.  Compare yours to yours. Again, the only reason I share the actual dollar amounts is to show that I have had some success and hopefully sharing that succsess will help you have the same!

 So, here is how we used my birthday to set our single day sales record.

A photo posted by walk in love. (@walkinlove) on

1. We Set a Precedent.

For the past few years we have always had a special sale on my birthday.  Up until this year it was always the percentage off of the age I was turning.  So, last year it was 30% off (because I turned 30), and we had a great day of sales, around $8,500.  The reason I like "the birthday sale" is that you don't really have to compete with anyone else for sales.  Every Black Friday we are competing with every other company in the world. Same with Christmas time, back to school, Memorial Day, etc.  But on my birthday there really aren't any other sales going on with other companies.  So, if we have a great one day sale on this "random" day in June, people might be more inclined to jump in because they aren't being bombarded with sales and offers from everywhere else.  This was the 3rd or 4th year we've done the birthday sale, and I don't know if people ever wait for it but they might start to!  This year, on your birthday, try to figure out a clever sale you can do based on the age you are turning.  Start this year and maybe in a few years you will be breaking your single day sales record as well. 

A photo posted by walk in love. (@walkinlove) on

2. We Have The Sale On My ACTUAL BIRTHDAY!

Birthdays are awesome!  People love to celebrate them.  Ask any parent if they are going to have a birthday party for their kid and the answer is almost always YES!  It's exciting to celebrate the day someone came into this world.  It brings back memories of your best birthdays, your friends birthdays, your kids birthdays. You will always be able to find a few Debbie Downers who hate on birthdays, but for the most part birthdays conjure up feelings of excitement and joy!  The birthday sale taps into those feelings and that ultimately leads to more sales. Someone who is, say, on the fence about buying a t-shirt might be more inclined to buy one on my actual birthday, because they are now doing it for themselves and also kind of for me.  Just like a real birthday party, it's for the person celebrating their birthday and it's also for everyone they invited. The birthday sale was for me, but it was also for everyone we invited, which were all our current and potential customers via social, e-mail and our promoted Facebook post.

A photo posted by walk in love. (@walkinlove) on

3. We Made The Sale Too Good To Pass Up!

A big part of the record breaking day was that we gave one of the biggest discounts we've ever given.  We made all tees or tanks 2 for $31.  The age I was turning! So clever, right?!?  That is honestly the best deal we've ever had, so we could have probably done that any ole day and had success, but I think tying it into the birthday gave it some extra umphf!  I knew that after last year with a 30% discount we were finished doing a "percentage off for the age I was turning" and we would have to shift the sale idea to something else. We threw around a bunch of ideas, but landed on the 2 tees/tanks for $31.  If you want people to get on board with celebrating a birthday sale, make the deal extra special.  Since it's only 1 day they will be more likely to pull the trigger and buy.  The fact that we were pushing it out all day as a  ONE DAY ONLY sale wasn't as annoying because birthdays are only ever one day.  It pushed people to act fast without actually being pushy, because a one day birthday sale just makes sense.

A photo posted by walk in love. (@walkinlove) on

4. We Set Ourselves Up Well.

Recently, we switched from Shopify to Shopify Plus.  Shopify Plus is geared toward e-commerce sites that do over $500,000 in sales a year.  They provide extra services and account management, which you don't get with regular Shopify. The best part of Shopify Plus is that they offer a feature called "scripts", giving you the ability to run sales and have deals that are automatically calculated without discount codes.  So, when were planning this sale we realized that we wanted to simplify it for our customers.  We didn't want to require a discount code, nor did we even know how we would make a discount code that would work correctly.  If someone added a $28 and $25 shirt to their cart, how would one code make them each $15.50?  It wouldn't. So, we needed Shopify Plus to make that happen.  It's pricier than normal Shopify Plus, but it already paid off in one sale.  We even received a few texts and messages from friends and fans of walk in love. saying, "It was so cool that my cart just knew how much to discount!"  We agree, it was super cool!

A photo posted by walk in love. (@walkinlove) on

5. It's Authentic.

Anytime people ask me what I want for a birthday or Christmas I say, "I want you to buy all your birthday gifts or Christmas gifts for other people at walk in love."  I really have more than I will ever need and I really just want my business to be successful.  I want to turn my company into a multi-million dollar business.  So, I really mean it when I say something like, "Get me a birthday gift by buying yourself a t-shirt."  And those people who have been following our company, or Brooke and I, can see that.  We aren't these fake people just trying to make a quick buck.  We are invested in what we do and I think our authenticity shines through.  Without that authenticity, a great sale to celebrate my birthday would fall flat.  Be authentic in what you do.  It's easy to see right through it if you aren't.

I know the birthday sale isn't for everyone and if it's not for you, no biggie.  But, if it is for you I hope that you take some of my tips to heart and start the birthday sale precedent this year.  Who knows? In a few years you might be breaking your single day sales record, which if you are a business owner, is really the best birthday gift ever!

To all who purchased on my birthday, THANK YOU!  It was amazing and I can't say thank you enough.  I am honored to have so many customers believe in what I do and purchase products from walk in love.  I love seeing the posts on Instagram of you wearing shirts and the Snapchats you send me of you walking to your mailbox to get your package!  It makes me so happy!

6 Things I Do To Check My Personal Brand + Keep Jesus First

Yesterday, I went out for breakfast with my friend Garret Barbush.  We try to have breakfast once a month so we can catch up, share ideas and refresh.  Both Garrett and I are in charge at our jobs. He is the director of Men of Iron, an amazing non-profit and I am in charge of walk in love, selling the best t-shirts in the history of the universe... I mean, might be a touch biased...

While I ate something called the Mega-Meat Omelette, we began to speak about personal brands and how to grow them, why to grow them, but mostly we discussed the balance between following Jesus, being humble and growing a personal brand.

Garrett was asking me how to do it in a way that "doesn't make it all about you." I am guessing that Garrett and I are not the only people in this world who struggle with that idea.  We both want to grow what we do, because we believe that it's what God has called us to do, while still living in a way that is honoring to Him.

And we are both small potatoes.  When I start to think about christians like Tim Tebow, Steph Curry or anyone a national stage, I think the struggle to stay humble and yet keep reaching and striving for your personal goals must be a difficult walk.

I thought I would share a few ways that I try to keep myself in check when growing my personal brand, all of which have been helpful in the last few years.  Obviously I am not an expert on this topic and I don't know the perfect answer to having a personal brand and living like Jesus, but I am trying and learning.  Hopefully my tips will help you in some way!

1. Have a personal brand mission statement. (Even if it's just private.)

Mine has been private, until the following sentence.  I want my personal brand to encourage people to live passionately for Jesus while making them laugh and hopefully selling a few extra t-shirts along the way.  I have three goals when posting on Instagram, my blog and my Snapchat - (1) show that Jesus has changed my life, (2) make people smile, (3) and promote what I do for a living, which is selling t-shirts.  Have I ever mentioned that?  Well, in case I haven't, here is a link to buy some of the softest t-shirts in the history of time or space -!

2. Have people that will keep you in check.

I run everything I post or create by Brooke.  She keeps me in check and is honest with me if my caption is to arrogant, vain or obnoxious and I am so thankful for that.  Obviously, I only see the world through my eyes, which I am trying to align with the way Jesus sees the world, but I am nowhere close to that, so I need a new perspective.  I ask Brooke to check everything to make sure that it goes along with the heart of my brand, which she knows.

3. Don't take it all too seriously.

Sometimes I am about to post something I know won't be the most popular type of post.  I can get into my head and think about the likes, comments, engagement, etc.  But I always ask myself, is this part of the mission statement that I have? Will it inspire one person that follows me or make one person smile? If I can answer yes to that, then it is worth it even if it loses me a few followers, likes or whatever other metric is measurable. In the end, my personal brand doesn't matter at all if it doesn't push people toward Jesus.

4. Take criticism well, but ignore the crazy.

I read all the comments and sometimes I take them to heart when I feel like they are on target with something God is trying to change into me.  When someone calls my business a "whore of the devil", I tend to just ignore the crazy.  It's easy for me to ignore comments and shrug it off as internet trolling, which most of the negativity is.  Sometimes though, there is actual criticism I need to take to heart, and I try my best to have the vision to differentiate between the genuine criticism and the trolls looking for a fight.

5. Know that it's okay to change it up!

I had this idea that I would record 52 YouTube videos this year - one a week.  Well, turns out that didn't work in my life this year, maybe some other time, but that's just the way it was. I could have kicked myself for that "failure" and spent time either trying to make it work against the grain of my life, or just moved on and changed.  I shifted and went to Snapchat and a live Periscope show, which works better for me.  Be willing to change it up if you need to, so you can keep things fresh and exciting for yourself.  I was also posting a daily blog for a few weeks in a row, but realized that that wasn't the best way to write for me, so I shifted and went to once a week, or when I feel like I have something worth saying.  Find what works for you, for whatever season of life you are in, and lean into that.  I know that by being open to that changes I have discovered new avenues that I never would have tried if I had been so set in whatever arbitrary rule I made up.

6. End with Jesus.

I want everything I do personally to end with Jesus.  Whether I am singing on Snapchat about my food or writing a post about personal brands, I want to use it all to glorify God through the gifts and reach he's given me.  It can be challenging because our human nature wants so badly to make what we do all about us, but we must fight that, and make it all about the only one who is worthy to have it all about - Jesus.  I will fall short of this and make it all about me when it shouldn't, but I must continue to fight, claw and push to make it all about Him.  You can sell something that you create for the glory of God.  You can sing a song you wrote for the glory of God.  You can parent your children for the Glory of God.  You can build a personal brand for the glory of God.  Keep Jesus at the center of your life and always try to have whatever you do end with Jesus and more of Him in this world!

The Seven Things I Want To Work On During The Next Seven Years Of Marriage

Today Brooke and I are celebrating seven years of wedded bliss.  This morning, while we were taking a special anniversary trip to get coffee, we started to try and piece together the timeline of our last seven years together, which is so difficult because neither of us are really "date" people.

The conversation went something like this :

"We got married in 2009..."

"I quit my job in 2010...."

"We opened the big kiosk in 2010 and the store in 2011... so our first kiosk for three days was in 2009, right? Wait no, 2008?"

"Stone Harbor was 2012... Yeah, I think that's right..."

It's so much fun to reminisce and think about all the things we've done together and all the amazing places we've been. Never did I think my life would be like it is.

Our wedding day.  Just a couple of kids

Our wedding day.  Just a couple of kids

My marriage is awesome.  I am not afraid to say that with confidence.  I think marriage has a pretty bad reputation.  People are quick to talk about the things they don't like about being married and not as quick to talk about the things they love about matrimony.  Whenever someone asks me about marriage, I always try to tell them as many of the best parts so it will counter-balance all the "You just wait..." crap that they've probably been hearing.

Marriage is awesome.

Now, here is where you might expect a but....

However, you will see no "but" here.

*I am so tempted to insert a photo of me mooning the camera, but I will refrain for the sake of all the eyes viewing this post.*

Marriage is awesome.  The but has nothing to do with marriage.  God invented marriage and it is one of his greatest creations, right above sloths and cheese.

The but has nothing to do with marriage, but instead has to do with me and you, as fallen, broken and frustrating humans. Often we want to blame our problems on our marriage (or anything else for that matter), when in reality we only have ourselves to blame.  So, instead of writing another post on how to have an awesome marriage, like I have in the past, I am going to tell the world wide web the seven things I hope to work on over the next seven years to make my marriage even more amazing and wonderful.

One of my favorite funny photos of the two of us.

One of my favorite funny photos of the two of us.

Because if I am constantly trying to be more like Jesus then my marriage will improve.  If I am quick to listen, slow to become angry and extravagant in my love, my marriage will flourish.  So, instead of blaming marriage for all the troubles in your life, find a mirror and confront the real problem - you.

And while my marriage is amazing, I know there are still things that I want to change about myself to make it more amazing.  There is always room for improvement.  I want to be more like Jesus and to do that I need to keep working at it all the time, until I meet face to face in heaven.  My hope is that by challenging myself and working on these seven things, I will be able to look back at this anniversary and think my marriage was nothing compared to what it is at 14 years, in 2022 (wow that date seems weird)!  Amazing things take hard work and I want my marriage to be amazing, so I am going to work on it!

One of my favorite (non-funny) photos of us.

One of my favorite (non-funny) photos of us.

Seven Things I Want To Work On The Next Seven Years Of Marriage:

1. More Bible Reading

I am the worst at reading my Bible regularly and I have no one to blame but myself.  I'll get in a good groove for a while and then a butterfly will fly by and I am distracted.  I really have always struggled with this and I think I have gotten use to that mentality.  I am always saying "I am not good at reading the Bible" and letting that define me.  Well, not anymore!  I want to look back at my seven year anniversary as the turning point in my Bible reading time.  I want, at 14 years of marriage, to be so excited about the time I spend in the word of God because I know the more time I can spend reading the word of God the more my marriage will blossom and grow!

2. Less Screens

I am pretty sure that there has been at least one night in the last week where I am watching Netlfix on the TV, while playing a game on my iPad and looking at Snapchat on my iPhone.  I have talked about screen struggles on my blog before and I really want to continue to take the steps necessary to reduce the amount of time I spend in front of a screen. I want to use my phone and technology for my job and business and then shut it down to spend as much FACE TO FACE time with my wife, daughter, friends and family.  I love technology and the potential it brings to reach people.  I think it's great, but I also think going on walks and sitting across the dinner table and talking is greater, so I want to do more of that over the next seven years and less time scrolling aimlessly through social feeds or binge watching shows I've already seen.  I really want less screens over the next seven years and that will start in a big way in July of this year, when Brooke and I say goodbye to Netflix and Amazon Prime for the entire month!  Look out!

3. The Tone of my Voice

At times, I can have a really harsh tone to my voice that makes people feel dumb.  If I am being really honest with myself, I know that and I use that tone to make people feel dumb on purpose, not exactly the shining bright example of Jesus in those moments.  I know it's something I need to work on, especially with Brooke.  I simply talk to her the most, so she gets that tone the most.  We tend to be the roughest on the ones closest to us which is why love and forgiveness are so amazing.  I need to be loving when I am questioning something or disagreeing with someone.  I can't let the tone of my voice close down a conversation that could potential lead to growth in my life.  I know that this will be difficult for me, but I am glad that I married the most patient and understanding woman in this world to help me with it.  If you see me in public make sure you ask me how the tone of my voice has been lately.

4. Living By Faith

I don't want to live a complacent, comfortable life.  I always want to be ready to give my time, energy and money away so that I have to trust God in my life.  The tendency in life is to get more and more comfortable the older you get, especially financially.  I want to get less and less comfortable, so I can depend on God more and more!

5. My Physical Health

I don't want to be overweight and struggle to play with my kids.  I want to treat my body well so God can use me as long as I am able.  I think it's easy to get complacent in marriage and pack on a few extra LB's, but I don't want to.  I want to stay fit and healthy, so that things like running around with June, picking up toys and walking up the stairs stay as easy as possible for as long as possible. And again, if I am being brutally honest, I want Brooke to think I am attractive so we can make more babies!

6.  My Patience....Ughhhh...Why did I type this one out? Now I have to do it! WHY!?!?!?!

So, Brooke is the sloooowest person at getting out of the EVER.  I could park at a store be inside and checking out and she would still be opening her door.  Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but you get my point.  I end up getting frustrated with her car-exiting-speed, when I really just need to be more patient. The only way improve at being patient is to be patient when you don't want to be.  So, over the next seven years, I will have to wait for my wife to slowly get out of the car and not judge her while she does it.  Lord, help me!

7. More Alone Time

I was recently listening to a sermon by Judah Smith in which he was talking about Jesus getting away for alone time and how it happened so often in His life.  I want to be like Jesus and outside of a trip to the bathroom, I don't give myself a lot of alone time.  I don't mean sitting on the couch at night watching TV alone time.  I do get that.  I mean praying, worshipping and interacting with God alone time.  I mean going on a walk outside and not filling that time with a podcast alone time.  I mean praying in my room without my iPad in my hands alone time.  I mean drinking my coffee with my bible open alone time.  I know the time I can spend re-setting will be so much more valuable to my marriage then filling that time with media, tech and noise, which I tend to do so often.  I can't expect to hear or see the subtle movings of God in my life if I am always surrounded by that much noise.

There you have it.  My laundry list of areas that  I need to improve in my life.  They won't happen over night and they might not even happen in seven years, but I will try and try again because a striving for a happy marriage is worth doing all the hard things!  Make a list of things you hope to improve in yourself that will benefit your marriage on your next anniversary! Maybe the marriage you've been wanting is only a short list of self-improvements away.  By the grace and goodness of God I will be able to improve these areas of my life, and be blessed with a healthier and happier marriage because of it!

Marriage is awesome!  Keep working to keep it that way!

Marriage is awesome!  Keep working to keep it that way!

That Time Brooke and I Almost Moved to Nashville

In July of 2015, Brooke and I went on a "vacation" to Nashville, TN.  It was in reality more of a trip to look at houses than an actual vacation. But first, let me back track a few months...

"I think God is calling us to move" is something that I never thought I would say.  I love the house we live in.  I love the town we live in.  I get to walk to work at the walk in love. studio everyday.  Brooke's parents live a mile down the road and my parent's live eight miles away.  One of Brooke's best friends lives across the street and they have a little girl only a few months younger than June. We honestly couldn't ask for a better living situation. (Unless maybe someone was handing out free hot tubs, then we'd totally add one of those to our deck to make everything better.)

So, when I approached Brooke with that statement above, I was a little shocked that I was even saying it.  I had been feeling like I needed to bring it up with her for a few months.  I kept getting this word from God in my quiet and prayer time - "move."

Like most things we think are coming from God, we tend to ignore them at first because "we're probably making it up...." And that is exactly what I did.  I thought I was just putting the thought it my own head, so I ignored it at first.   Then when I realized it wasn't going anywhere, I thought maybe the call was to "move on" from some of the other things we were doing at that time, which both Brooke and I had been feeling anyway. That's when we decided to say goodbye to our wedding photography business and focus solely on walk in love.

Once we made that decision, I really thought this word "move" would go away.  A few days later while I was spending time with God - boom - "MOVE!"  I couldn't shake it! And after a few months of wrestling with the idea on my own, I finally decided to approach Brooke and tell her, "I think God is calling us to move."

Brooke is everything I say she is in my posts.  I am not just a husband lifting up my wife on an unrealistic pedestal.  She really is the most patient, understanding woman in the history of time.

She simply replied, "Where?"

She didn't freak out or start panicking about "how will we pack up the cats" or "move thousands of t-shirts", which is what was going through my mind!

I told her that I had no idea where.  I just felt like God was calling us to move.  That's honestly as far as the conversation had gone between the Big Guy and I.

Over the next few days we would blurt out random locations at random times.

"Hawaii!" I would say, and Brooke would be like, "Nope, I don't think that's the place."

"Texas" she would say. And I'd reply, "I do like Texas, but that doesn't feel right."

We named every location, all over the country and kept coming back with, "That doesn't seem like it..."

Then one day, just before I headed up the stairs to grab something, I turned and said, "What about Nashville?"

"Yes. That's it." she replied.

At that point I had never been to Nashville in my life.  Brooke had visited once while she was in college with some friends, but didn't have very many memories of it. (Like most things Brooke does. Ha ha!)

We have friends who live in Nashville, so we started e-mailing them and asking questions about the area.  Everyone who lives in Nashville, loves Nashville, so it wasn't hard to get excited about the idea.

Over the next week we had mustered up the courage to tell our parents we were thinking about it, purchased plane tickets to visit and set up friends to stay with.  Thank you Scott and Suzy! (#sherlockholmes #ascap)

Visiting the coolest co-working space I have ever seen - WELD.

Visiting the coolest co-working space I have ever seen - WELD.

We spent a few days in early July driving around every neighborhood in Nashville trying to get an idea of what areas we liked and didn't like.  Nashvill-ites are really into the names of their neighborhoods, so for those of you who want to know, we drove around 12 South, East Nashville, EdgeHill, The Nations, West End, Sylvan Park, Germantown and even took a trip down to Franklin, TN.  I just say I live in Manheim, so the intense neighborhood naming thing was a new experience for me.

We'd spent a week driving around neighborhoods, looking at homes and schools and were both on the same page. At the end of our visit Brooke and I both looked at each other and said with confidence, "I think we are moving to Nashville."

Taking a car break at a park in Nashville

Taking a car break at a park in Nashville

It was honestly something I never thought I would say, but it was July, and since our little Junie was born in February, I felt God pushing me to lean into His plan for me more and more as those months went on. Brooke and I, with a lot of confidence, started to lean into this calling we were now both seeing in an intense way, and left Nashville feeling like we would be back for good in the next year or so.

A few days after we returned home from our trip, I left on a mission trip to Boston, Massachusetts, with the small group I lead from church.  The trip wasn't great.  I had a fun time with my small group of guys, but as a whole I felt like the trip was kind of pointless.  Each place we went to serve had little or nothing for us to do and we felt more like an annoyance then an actual help. So naturally, I spent a lot of time that week really thinking about all that we had to do to actually move and these were just a few of the questions racing through my head...

  • How do you move a business?  I am guessing it's not easy.
  • How will our parents actually take the move?  I mean, I am my mom's favorite after all.
  • Will we be able to sell our house, and buy a new one?
  • Will we be able to find a place for walk in love?
  • Will we make any new friends?
  • How much money will it cost?
  • What if we can never find a babysitter?
  • How we will tell Kim and Jon?
  • How will I tell my small group of guys?
  • What if our car blows up on the way down there?
  • What if an EMP hits while we are on our way and we are stuck in the middle of a highway and have to fight off bands of raiders?
  • What if I am wrong about the feeling and this is a giant mistake?

I could go on and on, and on, with all the fears I had about the decision. I decided though that I was going to lean into what God had for me and trust that He is guiding my heart at all times.

In Boston with Chase, Madelyn and Tyler

Something that I have never experienced before in my life started to happen while I was in Boston.  I felt the exact opposite call than the one I had been so clearly decided upon just a few days earlier.  Over that week in Boston, I strongly started to hear the word, "stay."

I honestly started to think I was losing my mind.

Instead of ignoring the feeling like I did the first time when He was saying, "move" I leaned into it.  I spent that week in Boston praying and crying out to God for direction and for His will to be done in my life.

By the end of the week I had this overwhelming peace about staying in our little town of Manheim, Pennsylvania. On the drive home I started to think about how I was going to tell Brooke.  Would she feel the same way?  Would she think I had lost my mind? After all, she'd spent her week at home with June, meeting with a realtor and working on projects to sell our house!

A few hours after I was home from Boston, I mustered up the courage and said to my wife, who was so on board to move, and so willing to trust what God was telling her husband, "I think we should stay in Manheim."

And she said something I never expected her to say, "I do too."

- - -

To a far less degree of intensity, Brooke and I felt like Abraham must have, being called by God to sacrifice His son Isaac. Obviously moving and sacrificing your son aren't even on the same planet in terms of steps of faith, but we didn't really want to move when it came down to it.  We honestly thought we would always live in this area.  I mean, I had spent months ignoring the idea and thinking it was just about other things.

But like Abraham on the mountain, Brooke and I had taken the steps to go through with the difficult calling on our lives. And like God did with Abraham, because He is a good Father, He had other plans for us.

Instead of last summer being like every other summer, what we had instead was a summer where our faith was tested more than it had ever been before. After a the initial fear, we leaned into the perfect love that casts out all fear and pursued the move God was calling us to take. We took steps to make it happen only to have what we thought was the direction we were headed be completely reversed.

Faith is really odd sometimes.  And after going back on the idea of moving, I started to really wonder, "Why?"  

What was the point of all that?

I believe God wants to push us out out of our comfort zone at times, so He can be our comforter.  And while I was freaked out about all the logistics of moving, I also felt comforted by a good God who loves me and would comfort me even with all the stress that moving would bring.

I never want to live so complacently that I ignore what God is calling me to do.  Even after almost moving to Nashville, I want to be ready to say "Yes!" even if later in life my path might totally do a one-eighty.  That doesn't make God bi-polar or mean or rude.  It just means that Nashville wasn't His plan all along and He wanted to mold my heart in a way to trust Him like I never had before, which is exactly what happened.

Because after Brooke and I came to separate realizations that we were staying, it opened up our heart to something that was hiding away - our heart for our small town of Manheim.

We want to be a part of something great in Manheim.  We want to spend all our time here to revitalize the area.  We want to bring jobs to this area by growing our company.  We want to open up new businesses in this area.  And guess what? That will be way more difficult and challenging than up and moving to Nashville ever would have been. 

God is constantly calling His followers towards the outrageous and unrealistic, because it's only during callings like that that can we fully rely on Him and His goodness.  My call wasn't to move 750 miles, it's to stay and be a part of moving my small town forward.  To bring restoration and revitalization.  And when we do that, and people ask why we have such a heart toward Manheim, we will be able to tell them that it isn't us, but God working through us.

When you follow Jesus you will be asked to do hard things.  Take it from someone who ignored one of those hard things for too long. I'd encourage you to simply lean into it, because when you do your heart will be opened up to new depths and maybe, just maybe, somewhere in those depths is where your true purpose will shine brighter than ever before.

We are here to stay Manheim!

We are here to stay Manheim!

So here I am. Staying in little Manheim, Pennsylvania. Because, I didn't move, but I am ready to see my God do just that in my town.