Dating My Best Friend

Eight years ago, during our freshman year at Shorter College, Kaitlin and I spent Easter weekend at her family’s house. Originally, more of our friends were supposed to be able to make it, but couldn’t. So, it ended up being just the two of us. We saw “Water Horse” at one of the local theaters that Good Friday, March 21st, and to a park the day after, where we had a picnic and tried to blow all the seeds off of some dandelions.

I loved all my friends (and still do), but secretly I wasn’t disappointed when I found out no one else could make it. I just really wanted to get to know Kaitlin more. Something about her captivated me (and still does today, of course).

I had no idea at the time, but she felt the same way.

We didn’t start “dating” officially until exactly one month later on April 21st, but I still consider the time we spent that weekend as our “first dates”. We may have not been spending time as boyfriend & girlfriend, but were excited about getting to know each other as best friends.

I think sometimes, it’s easy to forget that your spouse or significant other is also your best friend. It’s a vital part of a relationship, though. Everyone knows what Paul says about marriage in his letter to the church in Corinth and Ephesus (see 1 Corinthians 13 and Ephesians 5), but what about Solomon’s words in the Song of Songs?

“His mouth is sweetness itself; he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, this is my friend, daughters of Jerusalem.” – Song of Songs 5:16

You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride…” – Song of Songs 4:9

In Song of Songs, perhaps the best illustration of intimacy and romance in a marriage that can be found in the Bible, the couple refer to one another not only as lover, but as friend. We also see this in Genesis, though it’s not as obvious.

“Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain…” – Genesis 4:1

The word “knew” is translated from the Semitic word jadac. You could just read past that word and assume it’s a family-safe way of translating sexual intercourse (like I thought for a while), but in doing so, you rob the text of its true meaning. The language the writers used at the time actually defined the union of marriage the same way they defined “knowledge”. How profound is that?

If I am to truly love Kaitlin, I have to know her, and truly invest myself in getting to know her more every day. The more I know her, the more I am equipped to make her feel the most loved she’s ever felt. In the adventure of learning about each other lies the friendship of marriage. One of the coolest activities we’ve shared as a couple is figuring out our love languages through Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages. By learning Kaitlin’s top love languages, I know how to communicate love to her in ways that give her the most joy.

The friendship of marriage motivates us to work through conflict in ways that strengthen our relationship instead of harm it. We support each other, as best friends do, when one of us may be going through tough times. We have in each other a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold, and an ever-available warm embrace.

We joke, we laugh, we celebrate, together.

Being best friends is just the best.

Dating and romance doesn’t always look exactly the same before and after “I do”, but it’s still about growing in our friendship and learning about each other. When I ask her out on dates now that we’ve been married for five whole years, it is out of that same desire that began eight years ago. She captivates me in a way that makes me want to get to know her more an more.

Through the good times and the bad, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer.

In all things.

She’s my very best friend.

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(taken March 21st, 2008)

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2015

2015 started out like any other year ought to:

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With a selfie (and a photobomb). Kaitlin and I watched the peach as it dropped with some friends, and snapped a photo when the new year came. 2015 began, and proved to be a year of adventure, change, and blessings.

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Two days later, on January 3rd, I visited my dad on his birthday. 2015 would be my first full year without him, and though he’d been gone for nearly a year at the time, I hadn’t really even really begun grieving. I have trouble allowing myself to do that, and though I made it a new years resolution to do so, it never really happened. It’ll remain a goal of mine for 2016.

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Soon afterwards, I marked an item off my bucket list: finally beating “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time”. That game is quite easily the greatest video game in its genre of all time, perhaps second only to “A Link to the Past.” Anyway, that’s enough geek for one post.

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Our family soon grew by a few hands when I (with the help and generosity of our friends at Cobblestone Crossing School of Horsemanship) was able to give Kaitlin a baby horse for Valentine’s Day. The two had quite an amazing bond, and raising a baby had always been a dream of Kaitlin’s. It’s amazing to see how far they have come in their relationship since then!

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The next day, she had her first lesson with him. We named him Koda Bear.

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Then, we set off for Pigeon Forge, Tennessee for our Valentine’s Day retreat! Nothing beats a dinner at the Old Mill and a few days to just relax and have fun together.

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While I was there, I gave someone a fake parking ticket. They deserved it. To see more of my parking ticket victims, search the tag #parkingticketsfromzack on Instagram.

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It also snowed in February, and we made the best snowman in our history of snowman making together. It doesn’t snow often in Rome, GA, but you can tell it wasn’t our first rodeo.

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Meanwhile, as a middle school teacher, I discovered how fun writing tests could be. Also, I learned that middle school kids nowadays don’t know who Keanu Reeves is. They better watch out, though. That guy knows kung-fu.

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In March, I received my acceptance letter from Shorter University’s School of Nursing. I talked a whole lot more about my journey to making nursing my career in a blog post titled “Finding God’s Will. Needless to say, this marked a turning point in my life.

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We found this baby squirrel outside, after a neighborhood cat killed its mother. We nursed it back to help and was able to take it to a friend who rehabilitated it! As far as we know, it was released back into the wild a healthy squirrel.

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On April 21st, we celebrated 7 years of being a couple! It’s amazing when I think about being together that long. That’s over a fourth of our lifetime spent on this God-written love journey. I’m a lucky man.

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Four days later, my brother-in-law married his best friend (who happens to be the sister of one of my fraternity brothers from college. Small world!), and we (Kaitlin and I) got to be apart of the ceremony.

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Immediately afterwards, I broke my wrist in a fall at the church. Which was a big wake-up call for me, honestly. It was my second fracture in two years, and though my first was not due to my own actions, I still had to realize that I’m not invincible. Never having a serious injury as a child or adolescent, I never really had to think about the possibility of my actions leading to serious harm.

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For my birthday, Kaitlin took me geocaching and to a Braves game! She’s the best.

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I saw my little brother walk for his high school graduation. And now he’s in college. Life happens so fast! 1997 doesn’t seem too long ago, and I can vividly remember the day my father told me I was going to have another little brother.

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Kaitlin and I traveled to South Carolina to our friends wedding.

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I began working at Starbucks, solidifying my physiological dependence on caffeine, and introducing me to a phenomenal company and crew. I am lucky to work here.

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Also in June, I baked my last batch of bread for Rome, Ga’s Great Harvest Bread Company. The company was being sold and would no longer be a Great Harvest franchise. I never worked anywhere as long as I had worked at the bakery, and I owe a considerable amount of my growth as an employee and a person to my time there. Nothing compares to making bread from scratch, and I continue to do so in my home from time to time.

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On June 18th, our marriage turned four years old! We weren’t able to be together that day, but it was special nonetheless. Marriage has blessed my life more than anything I have experienced since receiving my salvation in 2008. God has taught me more about myself and about love through the covenant of marriage that I can put to words. I love this girl! I’m grateful I get to grow old and do life with her. Every moment is meaningful.

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Every July 4th, Kaitlin’s family tries to have a beach trip to their new retirement home in Yulee, Florida (about 15 minutes from Amelia Island).

Later in the summer, I took Kaitlin to Charleston for a birthday getaway trip, where we enjoyed restful time at the beach, explored Market Street, went on a sunset kayaking tour, and ate some amazing food. It was a fun-packed time, for sure!

When August hit and nursing school officially started, life began to change. Facial hair disappeared. Exams covered countless chapters of material. But I still enjoyed (and continue to) knowing I was on a path that God designed me for. In the end, I was working hard and studying not for myself, but for Him and for His people that I would soon be serving with a new set of skills.

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Awkward-faced lunch break selfies became the new thing.

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My mother turned 29 again! So I took this picture of her and my brother. He made that face on purpose.

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I received my white coat, which I never actually wear. I do love and appreciate the symbolism of it, though.

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We joined Kingdom Valenia at Going Caching 2015, a geocaching mega event.

We took a trip to see Amicalola Falls while the leaves were changing color. Gorgeous.

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All-nighters with notes spread all over our living room also became the new thing.

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Thanksgiving and Christmas brought family together. Not being able to see them much due to school and work made it extra-special this year.

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2015 ended the way it started: a selfie. We bought a selfie-stick and used it to take a family picture with all our animals for the Christmas card. It was a greater challenge than we expected, but we eventually got it. Sorta.

5 Things God Taught Me in Nicaragua

As many of you probably know, Kaitlin and I returned to Nicaragua this past July to minister to and serve the people of El Bongo and Los Cedros. It was only our second time visiting, but it already felt so familiar and home-y upon arrival. God showed up in brilliant ways, and I cannot wait to share some pieces of that with you all. One thing I have discovered about blogs on the Internets in the last few years is an intense fascination with lists. I’m not sure if it is a good idea or not to contribute, but here goes: five things I learned from God in Nicaragua.

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Our First Christmas! (or, An Attempt to Bring Things Up to Speed: Part 1)

For someone who loves to write and has had lots to write about, I’ve been terrible at it! I could pitch you a series of convincing, half-true excuses why I haven’t been able to keep up with this blog, but I’ll save you that and cut to the first installment of my massive catching-up update: my first Christmas spent with Kaitlin (and family!)

As is the case every major holiday, the struggle to sort out how to visit both of our extended families began about a month before Christmas. This year proved to be less simple than years past, because while we both wanted to visit our families, we also kinda wanted to have Christmas time to ourselves, with it being our first. Most of the ideas to solve this dilemma involved too much stress (and gasoline) than our minds and bodies would be able to handle (driving from Rome to Marietta on the Eve of Christmas Eve… going to the Christmas Eve celebration at my grandmothers house in Woodstock the next day… then driving back to Rome that night to spend Christmas morning together alone the following morning… only to try to make it all the way to Macon by lunch time!). Not to mention Christmas fell on a Sunday that year, which brought church attendance into the equation!

It was somewhere during that whole deal when one of us (I want to say it was me, but I cannot be sure =P) thought of the brilliant idea of spending the weekend before Christmas in a cabin in Tennessee, celebrating Christmas together there instead of Christmas morning. I have to admit, being too much of a sentimentalist made this hard, but after I let go of religiously and emotionally HAVING to celebrate Christmas on Christmas Day, it became the funnest Christmas idea ever!

This was our view from our cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains! I find that I’m more of a mountain person than a beach person. There is nothing like enjoying a view like this, and experiencing God’s beautiful design in creation. The Great Smokies are a personal favorite of mine, having visited multiple times during my youth (not to mention my honeymoon!). Kaitlin always gets a kick out of me never leaving out the “Great” in Great Smoky Mountains. It turned out to be a fairly cheap and endlessly fun Gatlinburg getaway Christmas, mostly spent at Dollywood (with rain checks from the time we went during our Honeymoon and it closed because of a storm), eating, and shopping.
Although ridiculously overpriced, Dollywood is such a fun place to go, and doesn’t get old (or at least hasn’t gotten old yet). Being the holiday season, they had the whole place lit up, like this:

I don’t remember what the name of that chapel is. It’s on the picture, but pretty fuzzy. It amazed me how many people put honest, personal prayer requests in the guestbook. It really had the feel of a church rather than a part of a theme park. Kaitlin and I did a little bible study hear and then continued a long the park. Can you imagine having to put Christmas lights on buildings like that? The chapel was pretty tame compared to the countless lights put up on all the buildings in the entire park. Over 6 million lights in all! At least, that’s what they told us when we were on the train:

Kaitlin snapped this jewel. Pretty cool, actually! This train really put the one at Six Flags to shame. We soon found out (thanks to the guide) that this train doesn’t stop for NOTHIN’; if you pulled the emergency line, you better have a good reason (dropping your cell phone/camera/iPad is not considered an emergency (nor is getting a cinder in your eye (I guess they get that a lot))). Aside from the lights and the train (and the rides, which I sadly have no pictures of), the blacksmith is always a winner:

If I remember correctly, it’s Kaitlin’s favorite part of the park. We spent at least half an hour watching the blacksmith work his magic with the fire (and knocked out some people on our Christmas gift list too!).

And what would Christmas (or anything in life) be without great food? If you ever go to the Great Smoky Mountains/Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge, there are three restaurants that you absolutely have to go to:

Shrimp Lover's Feast, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co
Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.,
The Old Mill Restaurant
The Old Mill Restaurant,
Hungry Bear Breakfast @ Smoky Mountain Pancake House
…and the Smoky Mountain Pancake House.
     If you happen to have ever driven all the way to this part of Tennessee and did not come across these fine eating establishments, you seriously missed out to say the least. Arrive hungry and order what you want, because it is going to be one of the best dining experience your mouth has ever encountered, hands down. If you go to Bubba Gump, freshen up your Forrest Gump trivia, because you will be tested! Also, go ahead and order the hush pups. Just do it. At the Old Mill, just about anything on the menu will be great, but make sure you order extra corn fritters. They are the best in the world! Seriously. What you see in the last picture is the Hungry Bear Breakfast! I recommend it.

When we got back home, we still had a day to rest and prepare for all the traveling. We celebrated Christmas with my family at my grandmother’s (Nanny!) Christmas Eve party, and headed to Kaitlin’s house to celebrate with her family on Christmas Day. All in all, it was such a peaceful and fun alternative to running around across the state that week. Who really wants to get stressed out during Christmas? It’s hard to avoid it, but should we really celebrate the birth of our Savior by stressing out, running around like chickens with our heads cut off, buying people things they don’t need just because it’s what we’re supposed to do, etc. I’m not trying to be a Grinch at all here; Christmas is actually one of my favorite times of the year, and I don’t have anything against buying Christmas presents (I bought Kaitlin a new study bible and a barn coat, and she bought me an iPhone (which produced all the pictures in this post!). I just think that anything that can be done to make Christmas more of a joyous celebration and peaceful fellowship with family should be wholly pursued, and we had such a great time pursuing it this year.

Such a great time, that Christmas in the Smokies may become our first family tradition. =] Well just have to see.

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree…

Yesterday, after a fairly successful (and fun!) yard sale and a surprise visit from some pretty awesome friends, Kaitlin and I made our way to the Silver Creek Christmas Tree Farm to pick out our very first Christmas Tree. Upon arriving, we were quickly greeted by the friendly staff, given a saw and a measuring stick, and headed out towards the countless rows of leyland cypress and white pines.

We quickly found this not to be an easy endeavor.

For about half an hour we searched, frequently running into nearly-perfect trees, only to find bald spots when we circled them. Some would be great from one angle, but just not that great from everywhere else. From far away, many looked promising, only to disappoint us when we finally reached them. In hindsight, we were probably very unfairly critical and judgmental towards these trees. When we finally realized that we were not going to find an 8 feet tall tree that was unfailingly symmetrical and branch-y from top to bottom, one called out to us, and we knew it was just right.

I took the provided hand saw and started cutting. This became quite tiring in no time at all, especially having gotten up at the break of dawn to start our yard sale earlier that morning, and having to use a saw that was dull from hundreds of uses. In about a minute or two, it finally hit the ground and we started dragging it back. We didn’t get far at all before one of the staff came rolling along in a tractor pulling a trailer that he offered to pull the tree in. I snapped a photo of Kaitlin, and then he snapped one of the both of us, which was nice!

Note how beautiful she is!
A little blurry, but it was a phone camera.

They drove it up, wrapped it, and tied it to the top of the Nissan Altima while we ran into John Moore (the college minister of West Rome Baptist Church) and got to have a brief chat about Christmas trees and exchange belated congratulations (he recently had some additions to his family, and we got married (in case you didn’t know)).

On the way back a whole-in-the-wall BBQ restaurant caught our eyes. Those are the best kinds, so it was very exciting. Upon closer inspection, however, we found that they were closing, which was extremely unfortunate. We went to Shane’s instead. There, we ran into two other friends, who just so happened to be UGA fans and were headed to continue watching the game. We put our college football loyalty differences aside and enjoyed a little fellowship before they left.

Anyway, back to the tree. We soon discovered that there is more to putting up a tree than just cutting it down and bringing it home. It has to fit into the stand. That was not happening. Some of the bottom branches had to go. Out of desperation, I tried some pretty stupid things like a box cutter and a steak knife. The branch of the pine yielded to neither. Meanwhile, Kaitlin is trying to hold up the tree and balance it on the little part of the stand that the tree can sit on, with a few close calls when it leaned a little too far for comfort. This wasn’t going to work. We needed a new plan.

I carried the tree outside so it wouldn’t cause any more mess in the house, and drove to Wal-mart to get a heavy-duty clipper. After rushing back home, I hopped out of the car and quickly started to clip those stubborn branches off. Finally, we got it into the stand and tightened the screws. My cutting job was not very   straight, and the tree itself was not perfectly straight. This made it a little harder to work with, but we finally got it to stand without leaning and though the bottom looked a little naked after the trim, we were very proud of ourselves.

Our tree! I added our Nativity scene today. It’s from Willow Tree and it’s so awesome!

There is just something about having the tree up that makes Christmas feel so much more closer. I’m so excited about our very first Christmas! Just looking at the tree awakens that excitement and makes me so thankful to God that He has blessed me with such an incredible life, wife, and home, and that He loves us so much that He left His throne and became the Son of Man that I (and you and you and you and even YOU) may be saved by the grace shown through His death and Resurrection. It has become so cleche, but in the mess of it all, let us not ever for a moment this year forget that we are not gathering in the name of capitalism or materialism, but in the name of Jesus, Son of the Living God.

Merry 21 days before Christmas, everyone!

– Zack