Thursday, April 23, 2015

A World I Never Saw Before

For several years one of my biggest fears has been having and raising a child with a disability.

I grew up next door to a family whose youngest child had autism. She was barely able to communicate or care for herself and I saw the stress her parents were under as they attempted to create a "normal" environment for their other children, while meeting their daughter's physical and emotional needs. 

Growing up, I was taught the basic social rules for encountering someone with an obvious disability - don't stare, don't gawk, don't probe or ask impolite questions. While I'm sure my parents were well meaning, and I do believe that it's impolite to stare, the truth is that in practicing these "manners," I developed the mindset that there was something to fear or be embarrassed about for those classified as "disabled."

In my college years I knew several classmates majoring in special education. I always admired their drive and calling, but secretly thought "I could never do that."

Apparently God thought this wasn't a satisfactory answer, and in the last two years he has been transforming my heart and opening my eyes to a community I never stopped to see before.

First, came the birth of our sweet friend Addison. Born with down syndrome, Addison has shown me that God makes no mistakes, and that the labels and limitations the medical community and society may assign someone don't have to mean anything. In turn, Addison's parents and siblings have shown me that raising a child with a disability is nothing to be afraid of. I've seen the worry and stress that Addison's diagnosis has added to their lives, but I've also seen the joy and pride. They've set high expectations for their almost 2 year-old and do everything in their power to help him reach each milestone and ensure that he feels loved. 

Then I stumbled across a job description on a nonprofit website. I say stumble because that truly is a case. It was for a position I didn't think I was interested in, or had any knowledge in - working with young adults with autism and learning differences. But I felt called to applied and subsequently interview. At the end of my first interview I came home transformed. The passion of the staff and the energy and community of the students was incredible. 

The last few months have been amazing. While the organization I work for isn't Christian, everyday I see God at work. I see him in the teachers and advisors who tell their students that they can succeed and focus on their strengths. I see him in the students who accept one another's differences with true patience and understanding. And I see him in myself as I recognize the power of giving hope to a family who thought they'd reached the end of the line.

I could go on forever, but I think this video clip from our recent Gala explains things a lot better. Trevor is a junior (we are a 3 year life skills college) and gave an incredible speech this year (please note that our Gala theme this year was "A Night at the Movies " - thus Trevor's A Knight's Tale costume :)).

So what do I think now?

I think an illogical fear has kept me from getting to know some amazing people. More importantly, having and raising a child with disabilities isn't something I'm afraid of anymore. I know that each and every child God chooses to bless Brandon and I with will be a perfect gift. 

"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear..."
1 John 4:18

Saturday, March 28, 2015

My Time as a Stay-at-Home-Wife: Blessing or Burden?

I graduated from law school in May of 2013 and began a year long federal clerkship the following September. It was a prestigious position that I enjoyed, but it also confirmed my thoughts that while I felt God had called me to law school, practicing law wasn't in my future. As my clerkship drew to a close, Brandon and I made the decision to make the move to Minnesota. At that point, we decided that because back surgery was looking like an option, and we were facing a major transitional period as a couple, it would be best for me to spend some time staying at home.

And so with quite a bit of energy and excitement, I embraced my new occupation as a Stay-at-Home-Wife. 

Because we had just moved to a new place, I frequently got asked what I did for a living - and got quite a few interesting looks when I shared my new role. The majority of people were quite inquisitive - why was I staying home? What were the circumstances? Did we have kids on the way? Could I not find a job? It seemed to be difficult for many people to understand that I was choosing to be a homemaker when I didn't have any children to look after. They viewed my role as a burden, particularly financially, to Brandon.

In reality, the truth was far from that. My time at home was such a blessing to our marriage!

First an explanation:

What I did: cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, packing, unpacking, decorating, researching churches for us to visit, volunteering, getting involved in our new church community, building relationships, getting paperwork in order after our transfer from Michigan to Minnesota, taking care of the cars, laundry, etc.

What I did not do: Sit at home and watch TV all day, pamper myself, eat out everyday with friends, or spend unlimited amounts of time just laying around.

Because I didn't have any children to look after, I was able to spend my days taking care of our home and running errands - all of the things that had I been working outside the home, would have taken up time after work and on weekends. Instead, Brandon and I were able to spend that time together, engaging in hobbies and volunteer work, and building relationships. 

Yes, financially things were a little bit tighter, but our philosophy has always been to live off 1 income, so the changes weren't that drastic. Furthermore, I was able to really focus on our budget and searching out ways we could cut back and save. Even now that we are a 2-income household, I still use the practices we put into place while I was at home - allowing us to maximize our savings and debt payments.

After 5 months at home I was offered my current job. After a lot of prayer, Brandon and I decided that this was a really good opportunity for me, and that my income would be an asset in saving for down payment and helping us get out of debt faster while we waited for the Lord to bless us with children. It was a hard decision! We both loved having me at home and the calmness and organization it brought to our marriage. 

At one point Brandon said - "I get it now, this is how it's supposed to be. One person working outside the home, while one person stays home. Everything just runs so much smoother and is less stressful!" 

At the end of the day, it truly doesn't matter what other people think about your occupation. What matters is that as wives, our home and our husbands should be our first priority - our first mission field. I'm not saying that that can't be accomplished when both spouses work outside the home (another post coming on how I've learned to balance things since starting my new job), but I am saying that there are definite benefits to stay-at-home-wifedom!

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Relationship Vacation

No man needs a vacation so much as the person who has just had one.
Elbert Hubbard

When Brandon and I were on our honeymoon, we quickly realized that we like to vacation a little differently. He is a "doer" and I am a "sitter." We've recently concluded that these tendencies are part nature, and part nurture. 

By water = happy Julianne

Brandon is a natural doer. His idea of a relaxing Saturday is accomplishing as many things as humanly possible. In a vacation setting, this equates to a love for being on the move - what can he see, what can he experience, what new foods can he try? He likes to be on the go!

Brandon did some cooking with my uncle on this vacation. While I do most of the cooking at home, my uncle is an incredible chef and amazing teacher!

I have a more introverted personality. While I enjoy experiencing new things, I tend to like to move at a little slower pace, and like to spend more time in one place rather than always being on the go. When I was in late elementary school/middle school, my brothers started working and stopped coming on as many family vacations as they used to. Since it was typically just my parents and me, many vacations were spent with me sitting by a lake/ocean/park with 20-30+ (no joke) books. I loved this.

The boys are back! We were able to spend a couple of days with one of Brandon's best friends and his new wife.

As a couple, we are pretty good at balancing our differences. Brandon brings along some good music and sits in the shade so I can have some downtime, and I'll pack my tennis shoes and get a little more active.

Last week we headed to California to visit some family and friends. More than anything, we've begun to dub this our "social" vacation. It wasn't necessarily the most relaxing, but we had such an incredible time building relationships. We spent hours in deep conversation, enjoyed delicious food, and turned off the TV, our cell phones, and our computers.

We also spent an evening with my college roommate - who I haven't seen in almost 4 years!

Sweet baby Jackson

Although we arrived home physically exhausted and a little talked out (which is a pretty big feat for us!) we both deemed this a wonderful vacation. 

Dinner with a sweet friend (almost-cousin) and my little cousin. This family gives me so much hope for living away from my family and nieces/nephews. They are the family that we live the furthest away from, but are definitely closest to. I'm learning its all about the quality of the time spent together, not necessarily the quantity.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Who Done It?

A couple of weeks ago Brandon celebrated his birthday. Since he's growing older and becoming more sensitive about his age, I'll just say that he's 8 years older than me (and I'm 26 :)).

Rather than just going out to dinner, I thought it would be fun to mix things up a little bit this year. Especially since this was his first birthday we were celebrating together in his home state (and around some of his best friends). While visiting some friends at the end of January, I mentioned that I had thought it might be fun to throw a Murder Mystery Dinner birthday party for B. They just happened to have thrown a few such dinners themselves and tracked down a kit for me to take home. (Thanks Wachters!)

And that's how I ended up attempting to throw a Luau in subzero temperatures.

The night was a lot of fun and fairly low key. We invited friends we knew would be up for getting into things, and boy did they! We had some pretty creative costumes, including a hair flower made out of a loofah, a socialite all in gold, and a clumsy tourist who wore khaki pants to represent his "tan" legs. Oh the creativity of Minnesotans in winter!

Of course we had to have a "luau" themed meal to go along with things. The menu included:

Pulled Pork Sandwiches
Coconut Shrimp (SO yummy)
Chips and Mango Salsa
Tossed Salad
Peanut M & Ms

Dessert clearly wasn't on point, but it was the birthday boys request, and I was happy to oblige!

I was working with a pretty tight budget, so I went with decorations that were either homemade or from the dollar store. We lit a ton of candles and the mood was efficiently set!

One of the biggest takeaways for me was that this party really showed me that you don't have to have a large or perfect space to entertain. We live in a fairly small apartment and only have a table that seats 4. But with some good food and great company we made it a night to remember!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Your First Year of Marriage Doesn't Have to be the Hardest

Just a little over a month ago Brandon and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary. Throughout our first year we were frequently asked how things were going, a normal question given our circumstances, but one that was often followed up by "our first year of marriage was so hard!"

There are all sorts of speculations as to what year of marriage is the "hardest" (I've heard 1st, 5th, and 7th fairly frequently), and it obviously depends on the couple, but I wanted to share some tools that I think helped our first year of marriage go by so smoothly.


We worked incredibly hard to be as prepared for marriage as we possibly could (without living together). We hadn't known each other for incredibly long - we dated for 7 months and were engaged for 9, but during the time we dated and were engaged our time together was very intentional. Our entire relationship was long distance until about 4 months before the wedding when Brandon moved to Michigan. Consequently we spent a ton of time on the phone talking about anything and everything. One mistake I think couples can fall into is thinking that just because they've spent a lot of time together, they really know each other. But do you really know someone if you spend a ton of time in front of the TV or at the movies? Or if you are always talking about surface issues? It amazes me how many people I've met who never talked to their spouse about how many kids they wanted to have or what they thought about birth control before they got married.

At one point Brandon and I looked up numerous books and lists on the Internet that made suggestions about topics to discuss before you get married. This was a great resource and one we used during our dating days. Consequently, by the time we started formal marriage counseling 3 months before our wedding, there were really no "surprising" topics that ever came up. Marriage counseling with our pastor and his wife (whose marriage we really admire) was also very helpful as was spending a lot of time talking to our parents about what to expect and how to prepare.


Brandon and I are both realistic people. While we both were SO excited to get married, we also knew that moving in together would require some adjustments. We talked (again a lot of talking!) a lot while we were engaged about what challenges we thought might come up and how we could handle them.

Honesty and Communication

One of the ways in which Brandon and I are really suited for one another is that we have very similar styles of communication. As 2 lawyers, you might guess that at times we probably overtalk things through :) But I love this about us! This has been a huge asset over the last year. When something was bothering one of us (i.e. it drove Brandon nuts that I left closet/cupboard doors open all over the place) we were really good about bringing it up and talking things through, rather than waiting and suppressing annoyances until we burst!

Ladies, please note that I am not saying it is ok to nag your husband about everything that drives you nuts! It is important to let the little things go - and remember that your husband is probably extending you grace in a lot of things you do that he is trying to get used to as well! But if something is truly bothering or hurting you - share it! Don't wait around expecting your husband to read your mind, this will only cause unnecessary frustration on both ends.

Instant Commitment

Brandon was the one to first articulate our commitment as husband and wife - and it completely set the stage for our journey together. Although our marriage has been strong, this past year has not been easy at all from a "life" perspective. One of the biggest challenges we faced was some major family drama only a week after we returned from our honeymoon. During one heated conversation with his family, Brandon firmly stated that it was not "him" and "me" anymore, it was "us," and that he would always be on his wife's side moving forward. 

To see my man take that stance so firmly brought me to tears. Even given all of the pain and frustration of the conversation, it was such a beautiful moment in our marriage. And when differences arose later with my side of the family, it was much easier for me to take the same stance.

Becoming one is not an easy thing to do. But it's essential to a successful marriage - and the earlier you commit to making the practice a priority in your marriage, the better.


Above all else, we both attribute our faith to the strength of our marriage. Our individual relationship with the Lord is the number one priority in both of our lives - followed by pursuing the Lord together as husband and wife. Our faith has pushed us to practice grace with each other, and offer love and respect when it might not be deserved. Our marriage is successful because Christ is at the center of it.


"We love because he first loved us." 1 John 4:19

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Living (and Thriving) as a Single Income Household

When Brandon and I got married (Jan. 2014), we were both working full-time. At that point, our plan was to put as much of our income towards debt as possible. Although we were both working, we really only "lived" on my income (the lower one) to be able to push towards our debt goals. Within 6 months we had paid off both of our cars and my undergraduate student loans - what a great feeling! 

In September my federal clerkship ended and we re-located to Minnesota. At this point, knowing that I had back surgery scheduled, I took a very loose approach to job searching and instead embraced being a stay-at-home-wife (which will get a whole post of its own another day - God truly blessed us with my months at home!). During this period our financial plan switched a little bit - now we really were living off one income, while still putting money towards debt, as well as saving for the medical bills we knew were coming our way.

Next week I'm headed back to working away from home. Again, God showed us his perfect timing and I'm going to be working for a local non-profit. Although we will essentially be a dual income household once again, our plan is to stick with our current budget while setting aside my entire paycheck for savings and a down-payment on a house. Someday, Lord willing, I will stay home with our children, and in the meantime we want to focus on making the most out of this season of dual incomes while still committing to living a one-income lifestyle.

Over the last year we have learned to embrace being a single income household. We have more than we need and have actually had a lot of fun figuring out how to make the most out of the gifts God has given us. 

Here are some of our favorite tips for living and thriving on a single income:

1. Budget

This is a no brainer. Brandon is the budget king in our household. I hate numbers and balancing the checkbook makes me sweat, so he has graciously taken on this task! One thing I have learned (as the primary spender on fluctuating expenses - food, clothes, gas, housing necessities, etc.) is to treat our budget as a max. Instead of thinking, "I can spend x$ on groceries this month" I like to think, "how can I spend less than x$ on groceries this month."

Additionally, continually re-evaluate your budget. After a few months of marriage, Brandon realized we were budgeting more than we really needed to in certain areas. Cutting back allowed us to have a little more wiggle room in other categories, and put more towards savings.

Tip: To make sure I'm sticking to my budget (and make calculations even easier), I like to take my receipts and highlight the items according to category (i.e. food, Julianne, Brandon, gas, household, etc.). This helps me know (and be able to easily see) where our money is going. I have found this to be especially helpful for when I shop at Target, which can often be a bottomless spending pit!

2. Meal Plan

This goes hand-in-hand with budgeting, but it has been such a great tool! Thankfully, my mom was a great example of this, so it was something I started doing from day 1 of our marriage. By meal planning, buying in bulk (yes even for just the 2 of us!), and shopping around the sales/seasons I can easily feed our family for less than what Brandon was spending on food during his bachelor days!

3. Avoid Making Comparisons

While we were engaged (actually even before that), Brandon and I talked a lot about our values and goals for the future. We knew that what was most important to us was living a life serving God and others and raising a family to love and seek the Lord. That mindset directs all of the choices we make for our family - including how we spend the money that God has entrusted us with. 

That said, it can be tough to avoid the "wants" or feeling sorry for yourself when money seems to be tight. Beautiful houses, fashionable clothes, exotic trips - some people just seem to be able to have it all. But if you are going to thrive on a single income - you have to stop comparing. Embrace where you are are what you do have, not what you don't. Focus on investing in things that are "free" - relationships and your spiritual walk.

Tip: I have a really hard time with this at times. One thing I do that helps keep me in check is to limit social media. While I want to be happy for others, jealously surfing through another's exotic vacation pictures isn't helpful when I need to get my heart in check!

4. Creativity

Need something? Is there a way you can get it without going to the store? I'm learning to love buying used, give homemade gifts, and finding out how to repurpose what I already have. 

5. Cheaper isn't Always Better

This is one of those lessons my dad taught me. When it came time to make a medium/large purchase in the Cole household the process was typically (1) research, research, research (2) purchase (3) use purchased item until it literally fell apart! From cars to clothes, I've learned that just because something is cheaper, doesn't necessarily make it a better option. Do your research, read reviews, talk to others, etc. before making a big purchase.

6. Keep Talking

Once a month Brandon and I sit down and go over our budget together. How did we do? Where can we improve? Are their any expenses we need to prepare for for the upcoming month? When we are on the same page, everything flows smoother!

7. Give

No matter what your income is, remember that everything we receive is a gift from above. We are only stewards of gifts that God provides. As stewards, it is biblical that we give a portion of what we have received - to the church and to others (2 Corinthians 9:6-7). Brandon and I have found that when we give back to God first, and with a cheerful heart, blessings abound. 

"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."
Matthew 6:24

Sunday, January 11, 2015

One Year

1 year
12 months
52.17 weeks
365.24 days
8765.81 hours
525949 minutes
31536000 seconds
....and counting!

I truly have the most INCREDIBLE husband. We frequently get asked how our first year of marriage has gone. Truthfully, from a life standpoint, the year has been incredibly difficult - but our marriage has been amazing.

When I had surgery two months ago, I was blown away by Brandon (although I'm not really sure why...). His strength, compassion, tenderheartedness, and sacrificial spirit brought me to tears. 

Every day I just feel so blessed to wake up as Brandon's wife. Even this past week when I woke up in our Minnesota home to negative 10+ temperatures :) There is no where else I'd rather be.

I love you honey! Happy Anniversary!