Posted in Family, Thoughts from Life

Together

A couple of weeks ago, we headed out for a much-needed and highly anticipated family getaway. We left early on a Thursday morning because our mouth-watering, start-vacation-off-right, pancake and omelet breakfast treat was an hour away in the destination city of Hot Springs. It was a delight to hear the proclamations of, “Wow, that’s just good,” and see the expressions of delight as the kids tasted phenomenal apple pancakes, delectable omelets, fresh-squeezed orange juice, local sausage, thick bacon, and delightful apple butter. Before climbing back into the car to head on to our cabin twenty miles away, we walked off our fullness by browsing the shops that were open at such an early hour, and I once again delighted in the responses of my children as we entered a cute shop with pottery and carvings and jewelry. We ended up having to drag them out, even after they’d made small purchases and thought they were done looking. They kept finding new treasures they’d missed!

And then there was the cabin on the lake. A glorious retreat into peace and quiet and fresh air and beautiful views. A treasure for each and every one of us. Some of the time, we interacted. Walking around the park. Hiking a trail. Skipping rocks at the lake. Closing out each day with s’mores or warm beverages and a game of some sort. Other times, we did our own thing. Curling up with books either in separate rooms or scattered around the cabin’s living room. Wandering around outdoors. Sitting out on the porch with a cup of something or other, watching the rain fall.

But even when we did our own thing, we were together.

And that’s what I love about our family. We love being together. Oh, we frequently go our separate ways out of necessity, but we all like coming back together. We enjoy sharing things with one another. Laughing together. Discussing with one another. Speaking in movie or book quotes and pursuing philosophic contemplations together.

Just being together. Whether we’re interacting or doing our own thing.

When I think of all of the families I’ve known through the years, the consistent reality is that the happiest of those families are those who enjoy being together. Whether they have plans or are just being. And there is a very distinct common thread that runs through all of the families who enjoy one another. They are all intentional about their togetherness.

Togetherness doesn’t happen by accident. Neither does the desire to be together. Both must be intentionally chosen. Actively cultivated. Even stubbornly pursued through the times when togetherness is not the pleasure and bliss we enjoyed during our recent vacation.

Sometimes togetherness is hard. Sometimes we get on one another’s nerves or wish for someone else – anyone else – to be with. (And yes, there are many times when we need to be with other people, but that’s another topic for another day.) But the good only comes when we choose the work. The discipline. The intentional interaction.

As our children grow older, we know we are rapidly approaching the day when togetherness will not be so frequent or so easily accomplished. My prayer is that we will never lose the joy of our togetherness, even if it has to be enjoyed through phone calls and sporadic visits. But I also pray that our children are able to take that joy into their own adult lives as they marry and have children of their own. That they are able to cultivate and celebrate their own togetherness and teach their children the joy of that interaction.

Because it’s a beautiful thing to enjoy life…together.

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Posted in Marriage

Celebrating 19 Years

It’s a funny thing to look back. Experiences that were incredibly hard to walk through become moments to give thanks for because certain growth would never have happened without those experiences – even if we never would willfully choose to experience them again. Joyous moments produce a bit of nostalgia, knowing that we would choose to relive those times, even though they tend to be much more fleeting that the challenges.

Then there are those decisions made, those moments experienced, that trump it all. Those are the things that form the core around which all else is experienced.

Nineteen years ago, a young man and a young woman made one of those decisions. Experienced one of those moments. They said, “‘Til death do us part,” and then chose every day, through the joys and the challenges, to live up to that commitment.

Looking back over the past nineteen years, I can’t say it has all been glorious and wonderful. There have been some tough years. And those tough years have brought many challenges that have stretched and pulled at our marriage. But the marriage itself? That, my friends, has been good. So very good. And part of the goodness has come from knowing what we’ve weathered together and the ways we’ve grown together.

What we have today has been forged through all of the ups and downs, the joys and the challenges, the laughter and the tears. And I love what we have today. Every single detail of it.

So, happy anniversary, my love! Thank you for not just sticking with this thing called marriage, but for being fully devoted to us. To growing us and strengthening us and being us. I love you!

Posted in Marriage

Shared Community

Doug and I had been married for several years when he began working for UPS. For the first time in our married life, I had no real connection to his job or his coworkers. Each morning, he would walk through a security gate into a huge warehouse that I could never enter. With the exception of one coworker who became a family friend, I never met the people who surrounded my husband day in and day out. My only understanding of his work and work relationships came through his descriptions. Meanwhile, I worked two days a week at a local mother’s day out. Doug had met many of my coworkers, but we as a couple never engaged with any of them socially.

Then there was church. An hour-plus drive to a small, rural community in the northeastern corner of Arkansas – very different from the busy Memphis suburbs where we lived and worked our secular jobs. There was no doubt that we needed a church family; but they just needed a part-time pastor and we lived too far away to forge any real relationships. And our immediate community? Well, the neighborhood felt closed and so very different from the seminary community we’d just left.We never really learned the key to unlocking relationships there.

Bottom line: we as a couple had no natural, joint community.

Much is often said about women having the chance to get away regularly with their girlfriends and men being able to hang out with other men. And yes, those things are necessary. I’m smiling just thinking about the reality that my best friend and I are both married to men who understand that she and I need each other. They go out of their way to make sure we get that connection time as often as we possibly can – even if it’s a Skype text chat across thousands of miles and a vast ocean! They know we are better because we strengthen, encourage, and sharpen one another.

But, it is not enough that I spend time with Joanna, just like it’s not enough for Doug to spend time with her husband Aaron or some of the fellow ministry guys he chats with from time to time. No, we also need opportunities for Doug and I to have relationships that merge. We need double dates like the recent ones we’ve been blessed to have not only with Aaron and Joanna but with another dear, dear couple. We need to know the same people and share a circle of interactions. We need to be unified in at least some joint community.

Why? Because it’s far too easy in our culture to live completely separate lives even when under the same roof.

That doesn’t mean it’s wrong for each of us to have our own communities. We live in a culture where husband and wife both tend to work, and they cannot help but walk in separate communities part of the time. But, when we do not make an effort to merge our worlds at least now and then, we run the risk of ending up more as roommates than as a husband and wife who are walking through this life together.

God very intentionally designed us for community. When a husband and wife choose to maintain separate communities, only coming together in private interaction, they run the risk of being pulled apart instead of remaining bound together. Each finds that the other just doesn’t understand the life they live because each is outside the other’s community. They forge separate interests. Separate connections. Separate lives.

It takes effort to center ourselves in joint communities when our lives naturally pull us apart, but it is possible. Through church. Through getting to know our neighbors. Through choosing to introduce our spouses to close coworkers and getting to know their spouses. (I can’t wait for the day when Doug will get to meet my boss’s husband!) The more we pour energy into creating these communities, the more reward we see from it.

What joint community exists in your marriage? What can you do to strengthen it? If none exists, what can you do to build it?

Posted in Marriage

Marriage Advice?

I don’t really know where the thought came from. It started running through my mind the other day, I think while I was processing through my morning devotional reading. And it has not left me alone since.

The thought was this: there is no such thing as universal parenting advice. I could write a book on all of my parenting tricks and tips. I could share my successes and failures, how my children have grown and matured both because of and in spite of my parenting techniques. And the things I share would, without a doubt, help some people, just as the advice and experiences of other parents have helped me. Ultimately, though, all those tricks add up to just that – tricks. They do not give the complete picture.

As I think back on all of the parenting advice I have ever given, I regret that I have never looked at a fellow mom and asked, “Can you pray while you are disciplining your child? Playing with your child? Teaching your child?” In the future, I desire that to become the core of any advice I give. Thinking back on all of my progress as a parent, I have grown the most and parented best when I have stopped in the middle of any moment – happy or sad, infuriating or exhilarating – and drawn upon the wisdom, joy, and strength of our heavenly Father.

Marriage is no different.

Recently, while enjoying a wonderfully peaceful, nourishing, and much-needed visit with my best friend, our conversation drifted toward marriage. We talked about the seasons when our marriages are tested. When communication is hard work and true health requires extra effort and attention.

My friend and I both hunger to pour into other marriages and see couples grow in their relationships with one another, their children, the world around them, and Christ. We have different specific passions – different ways we hunger to invest in relationships. But, the passion is there for both of us. As I continue to ponder our conversation, that pondering merges with the parenting thought, causing me to realize that our best tool for encouraging Christian couples is the same as the parenting advice: Can you pray in the middle of this?

Whether it’s an argument or a success. A stroll in the park or time apart. A season of closeness or a season of strain. Can you seek the Lord in the middle of it? If not, what’s holding you back?

There are too many times in my own marriage when pride and selfishness have turned my attitude sour and my responses toxic. Instead of praying for the right words, I have spewed out my own idea of justice. Even what I have intended to be positive has often turned ugly because it has come out of a heart that had chosen to not first ensure it was in tune with Christ. I have not sought the Lord in the midst of the situation. On the other hand, as with parenting, I have grown most as a wife in those times when I have been able to seek the One who ordained our marriage, no matter what the circumstances.

Whatever you are dealing with in your marriage right now, can your heart turn to your Savior in the middle of it? If not, please, precious friend, find your way back to Him first. When you do, all other marriage advice will fall into place.

Posted in Marriage

Conflict Seen

I can’t remember when I first heard the “never argue in front of your children” advice. I definitely see the benefit. Children, especially at a young age, cannot process or handle the emotions that go with their parents arguing. It introduces insecurity and uncertainty. And that is a burden none of us want our precious children to bear.

And yet…

Have you ever met a young couple impacted by the fact that at least one of them never heard their parents so much as disagree with one another? I have. It’s an interesting sight. The first time this young couple has a disagreement, argument, or fight, the “sheltered” one is devastated. Convinced that the relationship must be doomed. Or, at the very least, certain that there must be something terribly wrong. After all, Mom and Dad never argued.

Or did they?

The undeniable, irrefutable, and even biblical truth is that all relationships are marred by sin. If we cannot even succeed in relating flawlessly to our perfect, pure heavenly Father, how can we possibly think we will ever relate perfectly to a fellow flawed human being? No matter how much love may exist in the relationship?

So, it follows that all married couples – yes, even the most grounded and mature – will have conflict in their marriage.

Now, let’s contemplate parenting for a moment. As parents, it is our responsibility to nurture and protect our children. But it is also our responsibility to teach and mold them. That includes finding opportunities to safely teach them how to handle the not-so-great (as well as the downright horrific) aspects of this world. We watch for opportunities to discuss and explain, exposing them to the difference between a godly home and what they will experience one day as adults trying to navigate this mess.

That brings us back to conflict between Mom and Dad. While on the one hand we do not want to air all our dirty laundry before our children, and we especially don’t want to show a divided front in parenting, I wonder if there might be times in which it is beneficial for our children to grasp that we are in conflict.

If they see us disagreeing, then see us work through the disagreement, then see us choose to hug and kiss and say, “I love you!” as we go our separate ways for the day, could that not bring benefit in the long run?

How many things have you learned about your spouse because you disagreed at some point? How have you matured in being able to swallow your own pride or offer a sincere apology or choose your words carefully? How much have you learned about the difference between arguments worth having and arguments not worth having? How has your prayer life grown?

When our children fight with one another, we step in and separate them. But, at some point, they are not going to have Mom or Dad around to step in and end the conflict. They are going to have to figure out how to end it themselves. They are going to have to learn how to find resolution and restore peace. How better to learn such things than to watch their own parents handle conflict in a manner that honors Christ?

Of course, the first step is for us effectively model handling conflict in a manner that honors Christ!

Our children are precious, and our hunger is to protect and nourish them. But, sometimes the best nourishment we can give them is to help them see how to live Christ-honoring lives in a dark and sinful world. And sometimes that means letting them see.

 

Posted in Marriage

Not My Best Friend

I have a confession: my husband is not my best friend. I’ve called him that before, but when I stop to think about it, I realize there is a different truth.

Now, before I go any further, let me emphasize that nothing I am about to say is intended to be critical of those who say their spouses are their best friends. That is great! It is wonderful! And, once

I share my perspective, you may end up laughing at me and saying, “It’s all just a matter of semantics, Ann.” But, I’m a writer. Semantics are important to me. So, hashing out these particular semantics is important to me.

Doug and I started our relationship as friends. Just friends. I respected Doug, admired him, and appreciated his friendship. But, I did not think of him in any other way.

Then our relationship changed. As we went from friends to good friends to becoming a couple, the way we interacted with one another became very different. And rightfully so. We were no longer in the friend zone. We were choosing to join ourselves together in a way that would always be unique to us.

As my husband of nearly 19 years, Doug knows me in a way no friend ever has. And, although the sexual intimacy is a part of that, it is a knowledge that goes far beyond the physical. It is a mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical oneness that we share with no one else.

Is friendship a part of that? Yes, most definitely. But this is also very different from what we once were as friends.

I’ve had several “best friends” throughout my lifetime. As a child, I had stretches of life when I was close to various other girls. In high school, I experienced my first true close guy friend. In college, there were more – girls and guys – I grew close to. Could trust. I could pour my heart out to.

And I still have friends like that. I still desperately need friends like Doug was to me before we became a couple. I need girlfriends I can trust and interact with freely, comfortably, and safely. I am thankful for the men – often husbands of women I am close to – I can trust and depend on without fear of relational issues. And in my mind, one of the reasons I can enjoy those friendships without fear of relational issues is because my relational definitions mark Doug as my husband and my friends – both male and female – as individuals used by God to meet a completely different need in my life.

I love that there is something incredibly special about the marriage relationship. It is unique. One of a kind. Irreplaceable. An intrinsic, inseparable part of my life.

I am thankful for the difference. The distinction in my head. It allows me to freely interact with friends without contest or conflict. For Doug knows – at least I hope he does – that there is not a single friend on the face of the planet who can be who he is to me.

Not my best friend. My husband. What a glorious relationship!

Posted in Marriage

When It’s Not Like This

There are days when I am very hesitant to write about marriage, and it’s not just when I feel like a hypocrite. When it comes to marriage, I write to a finite audience: those in functional marriages. I write from a limited perspective: marital health, trust, and growth.

But so many more types of marriage exist. Abusive. Destructive. Unredeemed. Bad. Or even the good ones that are so very different from mine in perspective, experience, history, and personality. Marriages from any of those categories may never fit with the topics and themes that fit with my experience and perspective.

Some will read my posts and say, “That’s so elementary! Doesn’t everyone know that?” Others will excitedly realize they are learning the same thing at the same time. Some will have a light bulb moment while still others will shrug their shoulders and move on – or even resent that I would insinuate that such a marital need exists. (The idea of date night comes to mind.)

But the ones that make my heart ache the most are those who will crumble at my words, despair adding to hopelessness as they once again see what their marriages are not – and may never be.

The “experts” say, “Write what you know.” So, I do. I know a functional marriage that is constantly growing, maturing, and building. So, that is what I write.

But my heart…oh, my aching heart is passionate for those who endure dysfunctional, even abusive marriages. I hurt for them. I pray for them. And I long to support them. So often we as the church want to give them the same advice and counseling we give to functional marriages, but it won’t work, just like my marriage thoughts won’t work. Instead, we have to hear them, pray with them, disciple them, and seek the Lord’s face alongside them.

If you are in a marriage that feels hopeless, painful, and full of despair – if you are in a marriage of abuse and neglect – please hear this:

You Are Not Alone

I’m heartsick over the number of women in abusive marriage, especially those within the church. There are too many! But by extension, that means there are also others who understand what you are going through. Yes, possibly right in your own church. They either are or have at one time been where you are. And I am praying that they will find you or you will find them. Some way, somehow. So you can know that you are not alone. 

You are Seen and Loved

No matter what you’e been told, you are not worthless. You are a beautiful, cherished child of God. He sees you. Fall at His feet. Seek His face. Oh, my friend, let Him draw you into His incredible arms of love and nourish you through the presence of His Holy Spirit and through the care of His children.

Help is Available

Real help. Not advice like this blog or other well-meaning people who can only speak from what they know. There is help that will walk you through a godly, biblical plan of action. Help that does not leave you in danger or despair. My prayer is that God will act to connect you to that real help.

Don’t Let My Words Discourage You

Please. As much as I would love to speak encouragement into your heart and life, the reality is that my words are not for you. You may glean some truth or encouragement from them. Or they may benefit you somewhere down the road. But, most of them will not help you walk your marriage journey.

I love marriage. I am so thankful for the opportunity to mature and grow with my amazing husband. I smile when I think of others who have found what we have found in marriage – some from the get-go and others in the form of beauty from ashes. Wherever you are in the marriage journey, I pray for you to know its beauty. And when you read my words and say, “But it’s not like this for me!” know that my heart and prayers are with you and for you, even when my words are not.