Posted in Marriage Monday

The Real of Marriage

I write a lot about marriage, whether directly or indirectly. But, writing advice or sharing lessons learned means nothing if it is not backed up by something real.

Through all of our ups, downs, joys, struggles, times when we loved where we were in life, and times where we begged to be elsewhere, one thing has remained constant: my husband likes being with me. He enjoys our family. He wants to be a part of us.

That’s the “real” that backs up everything I write about marriage.

Our culture is designed to tear marriages apart. Despite the cry for gender equality, a traditional married couple is not expected to enjoy the same things or truly want to spend time together. That can be seen in the fact that, although our society is pulling away from marketing individually to men and women,  husbands and wives are still actively marketed to individually.

Meanwhile, we talk about “girl time” and going “out with the guys” as if our marriages are something we have to escape from every now and then. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love time with my girlfriends. But when that time is considered to be a break from husbands, there’s something wrong. Yet, that is what our society promotes. A break, not just from our kids, but from our husbands as well.

Everything about our culture wants to separate us.

My friends, the “real” of our marriages is our unity. True, beautiful, biblical marriage is two becoming one. We still have our unique personalities and interests, but they blend and merge and overlap such that we can truly be together. Not just coexist. Not just relate. But be. 

Eighteen years ago this month, my amazing husband and I decided that the friendship we’d had for several years was no longer the right relationship between us. But we didn’t just progress from friends to dating. Very shortly after realizing we belonged in a deeper relationship, we went ahead and set a wedding date. So, today, I do not write advice or lessons learned. Instead, I write of gratitude and deep thankfulness. This is an effort to show profound appreciation to the man who has chosen to be with me for nearly eighteen years. He tells me that the decision to be with me was the best decision he’s ever made, and, as crazy as it seems for someone to truly want to be with me, I believe him. Because I know that every days confirms that God brought us together, and every day that sense of joy in being together grows. Every day.

That’s the reality that backs up everything I say. Not fluff. Not idealistic answers for marriage. Not even training in marital counseling. Just eighteen years of being.

Posted in Reviews

From This Moment

If you’ve read my reviews in the past, you probably know that I’m not a big “fluff” kind of reader. I love fiction, and I enjoy a good romance. But, I do not enjoy just reading a love story. I want more – real issues, historical depth, something.

The Historical Component

That’s why I enjoy Elizabeth Camden, and her latest novel did not leave me disappointed. As is the norm for Camden, the events in From This Moment tie into a specific historical event. In this case, the event is the building of the first subway systems around the world at the close of the 19th century, with specific focus on the electric system in Boston.

From This Moment is full of scientific concepts, technicalities regarding the subway system, and an interesting historical summary of events surrounding the development of the subway. As is frequently the case when I finish an Elizabeth Camden book, I found myself wanting to go dig further and learn more about the historical setting for this novel.

And the Love Story

But, the prominent story cannot be forgotten in the midst of fascinating history. There are actually two stories bound into one. By her own admission, what was originally intended to be the primary focus of the novel turned into a sub-theme, while a supporting character, Romulus White, took the center stage.

After reading From This Moment, I can definitely see the alteration in the plan to have been a wise one. Romulus White, a flashy but very insecure magazine publisher, finds himself entangled with Stella West, an artist he has been pursuing professionally for years. Romulus is convinced that Stella’s art could catapult his magazine to the peak of popularity, but Stella is only concerned with solving the mystery of her sister’s questionable death.

Obviously, From This Moment is a love story with complications. That is to be expected. But, it’s also so much more. In addition to being historically fascinating, this is a story of a battle against pride, triumph in adversity, perseverance even when the worst happens, the debilitating impact of hidden insecurity, and the wisdom necessary to choose between preservation and abandon.

I have loved Elizabeth Camden’s style of writing from the start. But, her characters have become more compelling, more real, and more captivating with each new story. If you are looking for a new read, I definitely recommend From This Moment. And, go ahead and check out her earlier books while you’re at it!

Check her out for free!

Get a feel for Elizabeth Camden’s writing style by snagging her two free novellas, Toward the Sunrise and Summer of DreamsAlthough both novellas tie into her most recent full novels, these stories stand alone and are great samples of her writing style.

Posted in Friday Faith Nuggets, Thoughts from Scripture

Thus Far & Beyond

In my personal writing files, I have all sorts of little notes with topics I’d love to write about. I include memory triggers and thoughts, but none of them are fleshed out. Yet, so many times as I sit down to write, I read through the old thoughts intending to utilize them, only to end up writing something new. The new might be inspired by the old, but it’s never quite a fleshing out of those old thoughts.

Eventually, I want to go back and flesh out those old thoughts. But as I sit down today and start from scratch yet again, I’m reminded why it’s so important for me to jot down those thoughts, even if I never use them to create a blog post, article, or even a book chapter (maybe someday!).

Those thoughts are my Ebenezers.

The Bible is replete with remembrances. The Israelites are continually pointed back to their origins and the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Even in the New Testament, the majority of Stephen’s sermon as he is on trial before the Jewish leaders recalls the history of Israel (Acts 7). Remembrance of the work of God in this world is critical to our growth. We cannot go forward if we do not build on what brought us here in the first place.

And that is why, in 1 Samuel 7, the prophet Samuel set up a stone and named it Ebenezer. He knew the people needed a tangible reminder of God’s work among them, not only His historical work of their exodus from Egypt and early settlement in the land of promise, but also of His recent work in redeeming them after they had turned from Him yet again.

Scripture is my solid foundation. It is the history that I must know and constantly learn more about in order to grow. But, my Ebenezers are my personal experiences. They are my “thus far the Lord has helped ME” reminders. They are personal.

But I cannot stop there.

“Thus far” indicates that this is not the end. God wants to take me further. Where I have been is critical, for all of my past experiences are critical building blocks of my faith. And I need to remember and revisit those lessons. I need to keep them in my heart and mind and even go back and dust them off and clean them up now and then to make sure those lower blocks are not decaying as I try to build on top of them.

But, if I only reminisce on and flesh out my Ebenezers, then I am effectively preventing any new growth. I’m keeping the lower blocks clean and fresh, but never adding to them. That causes me to transfer my focus to the Ebenezers themselves and away from the Lord who has brought me to each and every point.

So, today, I am enjoying going back and reading through some of those Ebenezers. And, at some point, I’ll probably flesh them out and share them, little by little. But for today, I’m building a new block. I’m setting a new stone. I’m thanking the Lord for His faithfulness to bring me even further, past my last Ebenezer and to my current one.

Thus far the Lord has helped me. And, oh how beautiful to know that He will not stop here!

Posted in What Works for Me

A Little Digging

I’m a little odd when it comes to solving problems. You see, I don’t want to do something just because that’s the way it’s done or because a number of people recommend it.

If I choose an avenue or solution, I want to do it because it works for me or my family.

That means I’m not going to automatically reject something because it’s a fad or a common solution. But, I’m also not going to automatically select it.

Here’s an example. A couple of months ago, I suffered for a week from an ear infection. Now, I don’t like going to the doctor. Don’t get me wrong – I am so incredibly thankful for available medical care. But, if I can find an alternative, I’d rather not pump my body full of medications, even the OTC pain relievers and various allergy meds we keep on hand at home, and deal with the side effects.

This time, though, my ear hurt. Badly. So, I went to an urgent care clinic and got the dreaded steroids, 10 days of antibiotics, and prescription strength antihistamine/decongestant.

It didn’t work. Oh, the steroids helped bring the pain back down to a manageable level, but over two weeks later, my ear still bothered me, and I was still sick. Doug had found some homeopathic ear drops that were supposed to boost my body’s natural ability to deal with an ear infection. I’d been using them sporadically while following the doctor’s prescribed treatment plan, but after the antibiotic was gone, I finally decided to stop all other meds and use the ear drops aggressively. Within two days, the issue was gone.

Why? Because that’s what works for my body.

  • Four out of five family members have experienced migraines. We take magnesium instead of prescription strength medication. It doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for all of us.
  • We all use essential oils and local honey instead of medication for allergies as often as possible.
  • We prefer homemade laundry detergent over store bought.
  • We like to use simple ingredients for cooking instead of boxed ingredients.

It’s not because we’re anti-medication, anti-doctor, anti-chemical organic health nuts. We’re not. In fact, it drives me crazy to be fanatical about any one method or fad. There are too many options out there to be fanatical about any single one. Certain diets. Plexus. Various essential oil companies claiming to be the best. A push for organic. Anti this and anti that.

My family doesn’t make choices because we’re sold on any specific plan. Instead, we make choices based on what our experimentation shows works for us.

  • Choffy has been a beautiful help for ADD, anxiety, and any potential blood pressure issues – besides just being a delicious and healthy warm beverage for the mornings.
  • We are expanding our usage of essential oils because the ones we’ve already experimented with have worked so well. It’s time to try more.
  • We planted fruit trees in our yard not because we want to be organic but because we go through a TON of fruit.
  • We make our own laundry detergent because our recipe cleans clothes better than the store-bought options, and is cheaper.
  • We cook from scratch because it’s cheaper and the reduced preservatives truly do keep us feeling better.

But, all of this takes a little digging. A little research. A little experimentation. It can be uncertain and confusing at times to dig on our own. There’s so much information to sort through! So many possibilities! So much conflicting information. And we’re all unique. So, we can’t just take someone else’s word for it. We have to experiment for ourselves, learn what works best for us, and advise other people accordingly.

I’m learning more and more how to dig, and it’s becoming more and more fun.

Have you done any digging? What has worked for you? What you share just might help the rest of us in our digging!

Posted in Marriage Monday

The Way We Think

As homeschooling has developed and grown over the years, many families have discovered a fantastic reality: school doesn’t always have to look like school! Homeschoolers have the beautiful freedom to tailor an education to a single child. This fall, I don’t have to walk my youngest through fourth grade the same way I taught his older sisters. By the time my seventh grader reaches her sophomore year of high school, the practical details of her daily work load will shape up very differently than it will with my oldest this year, even if they take the exact same courses!

To accomplish this customization, I have spent years exploring learning styles and special needs. Processing every bit of information I’ve taken in – even information about needs none of my children have – I’ve been able to explore what does and does not work for each child. And, I learn something new every single year. It’s a journey of constant discovery, and exploring how they learn has allowed me to get to know my children in a very precious way.

Learning Styles & Marriage

For some reason, though, until recently I have never really contemplated how learning styles affect marital relationships. It’s not that I haven’t pondered the way my husband learns, especially the ways his mental processing differs from mine. I have. That sort of observation just comes naturally to me, so I’ve observed his learning style for years and marveled at our differences. But, although you’d think it obvious for someone like me to make the connection, I have never really reflected on how our learning differences have impacted our marriage, for good or for ill.

Fortunately, even if I haven’t reflected on that impact, I have automatically responded to it over the years.

Consider these realities:

– How we learn affects how we present information. If we learn best through picture or illustration, we will use as much illustration as possible when passing information on to others. If we are more black and white, then we will be direct and pack as much information as possible into a short amount of speech.
– We receive what others are communicating based on the way our brains process information. Consider the presentation thoughts and turn them around. How would you receive information offered by someone who presents differently than you do?
– Misunderstandings often arise based on differences in mental processing, sometimes resulting in fights and anger simply because of communication differences.

Now, stop and think for a moment. How do you process information? How do you explain what you’re thinking? How does that compare to your spouse’s methods of processing and communication?

Here’s another point to ponder. Does your spouse communicate and process with you the same way he does with other people?

All of these thoughts and realizations rained down on me just recently as I described something I was thinking to my husband. He doesn’t need word pictures, but I do. And, on so many occasions, he has patiently listened as I’ve described my word pictures in detail, processing out loud as I try to explain to him what I’m thinking. Meanwhile, another recent conversation made me realize that he’s comfortable communicating with me in ways that he does not communicate with others, leading to unique discussion situations that do not occur anywhere else in his life. So, I have to evaluate our private conversations differently than I do our public conversations.

Oh, what an impact his patience and my discernment – or lack thereof on both accounts – have on our marriage!

There is no single solution for effective communication in marriage. But, when we make the effort to have a well-rounded understanding of our spouses and their personalities, our ability to communicate with one another can grow by leaps and bounds.

Posted in Friday Faith Nuggets, Thoughts, Thoughts from Life

Living on the Lake

Two weeks ago today, we were starting our meandering trip home after several glorious vacation days. The time away didn’t quite turn out like we’d planned at first. At the last minute, we found ourselves scrambling to make a backup plan. Well, a backup plan for us. I can’t help but think that it was actually God’s original plan.

Instead of staying in a hotel and with friends, all of which would have been a treat and fine and lovely, we ended up in a cabin on Tims Ford Lake in Tennessee. For three nights, we went to bed with every window open so we could sleep to the smells and sounds of the lake. For three mornings, we woke up to the calm quiet of springtime in a secluded location. Everywhere we went over the course of our four-day vacation, we had to drive through wide stretches of nature and farmlands. Every aspect of our environment spoke to our souls, filling and nourishing us.

Inevitably, every time we passed a church in the middle of that beautiful, peaceful environment, we joked, “Hey! We can see if they need a pastor so we can just live here!” It had nothing to do with wanting to move or leave our current church and start over. We really have no interest in doing that! But, the environment of the countryside we stayed in or drove through soothed, revived, and refreshed us in wonderful ways. And we just wanted to stay.

In truth, though, staying in a place that revived us momentarily would not have the same effect long term. Every time we are revived, we then come to the time when we must get back to work. We must take the refreshment and apply it to the task at hand. We cannot stay in a constant state of soothing. We were made to actively glorify God in everything we do, not just to soak up moments of nourishment.

This truth reverberates across all areas of our lives. Whether it’s a physical location, an emotional or mental state of being, a place of fellowship, or a period of spiritual illumination, none of these aspects of nourishment are meant to be our solitary state of being. We are meant to live, not simply absorb.

The beauty of life in Christ, though, is that we can have both simultaneously. Our nourishment and refreshment can come even in the midst of the work. Our space of beauty explodes from the Word of God and the handiwork of the Spirit all around us. Our filling comes from communion, true relational communion, with our Savior. Sometimes, yes, we need to physically get away from the noise of everyday life. But there is no need for getaway in our spiritual lives. God equips us to live every single day in the nourishment of His presence.

We lack, not because we need a spiritual getaway, but because we do not choose to live in His daily nourishment.

I would still love to live in a home built in the hills overlooking a lake. But, I don’t want to live a life of escape. I want to live a life daily nourished by my relationship with the Lord. Some days I do experience that life. Other days, I fail to rest in Him. But, that is my goal. That is my heart. And when I choose it, there is no lakeside home that could ever match the comfort of a Christ-enveloped life.

Posted in What Works for Me

Time Blocks

As I process the flow of my days, something stands out very clearly – it’s so much easier now than ever before to give into distraction. Once upon a time, distractions had to be much more intentional, at least for me. I could hide a book – my biggest distraction – from myself. But, since I work on the computer and need the Internet for just about everything I do, it’s so incredibly easy to just click over to Facebook or follow this or that.

I Must Focus!

Focus has to be very, very intentional. That’s always a challenge, but some days are harder than others.

I’ve tried little tricks here and there to help me with this intentionality, but the one that works the best is time blocks.

Thanks to a little app on my computer, I have an automatic timer that gives me consistent work and break blocks. It seems that 25 minutes is the perfect work block. My timer gives me a work block, followed by a break block – with my choice of 5 or 15 minutes for a break. Usually, I take the 5 minutes. That gives me enough time to go to the bathroom, check on the kids, do a few lunges, grab some water, or whatever. It gets me moving (helpful since I have a desk job!), but it doesn’t waste work time. In fact, in a one-hour stretch, I’m more productive with two 25-minute work blocks and two 5-minute breaks than with a solid attempt to focus on work for one hour. I get more done with the blocks.

But, the breaks are only part of the productivity benefit. The flip side is that I set myself specific tasks in my 25-minute work block. I might have a writing block where all I’m going to do is write for 25 minutes without flipping back and forth to this or that. Just write. Then I set aside another blog for e-mail and miscellaneous small tasks. It’s amazing how much I can write in that block when I don’t allow myself to be distracted!

The catch is this: I have to do it.

I have to remember to utilize the timer.
I have to be diligent to take that break when the timer goes ding.
I have to be diligent to come back to work.
I have to be diligent to not allow myself to be distracted until the work timer goes off!

Whether it’s time blocks or some other productivity technique, none of it works without the discipline to diligently use the tools.

Discipline, my friends, is what is lacking in so many aspects of life. We refuse to discipline ourselves, so none of our tricks work! The techniques that work for me may or may not work for you. But, discipline works for us all. It makes us a better version of who we are. Every single time.

May we grow in discipline this week, no matter what our technique of choice may be!