Posted in Marriage, Repost

Wishfulness or Certain Hope?

This is an article I wrote for Family Magazine last year. To try a free sample of Family, click here.

Once upon a time, little girls had hope chests.

Some were fancy, while others were just plain wooden boxes. No matter what the construction, each chest held items made and collected in anticipation of that “someday” when the keepsakes would be used to turn a house into a home – a home the grown up little girl made with her brand new husband.

Although occasionally we may run across a young woman with a hope chest in today’s culture, these keepsake boxes seem to have become a thing of the past. Nowadays, the collection of items for a new home waits until the engagement has been announced and the wedding date set. Wish lists are created through gift registries, and new houses are turned into homes by friends and families who shower the happy couple with gifts.

Have We Lost Something?

On the surface, the change in tradition is just a cultural shift. But, a deeper look reveals a more critical change – a shift in our symbols.

The hope chest was aptly named, because it was a tangible symbol of hope. A girl and her family took action on the hope that one day she would marry and have a home of her own. It was faith in the unseen.

Wedding showers and engagement celebrations, on the other hand, represent a faith in what is seen. A relationship is present, and, unless something unforeseen happens, a marriage will ensue.

Were it just about the hope of a husband and family of her own, this shift in symbols might not be all that big of a deal. The tragedy lies in the fact that this shift reverberates into marriage itself. Our hope lies in the tangible of circumstances and actions rather than in the intangible nature of God himself.

We have replaced certain hope with wishfulness.

Because life itself is so continually uncertain, how we face that uncertainty represents what we believe about biblical hope, whether it be as young girls looking forward to the “someday” of marriage or as women clinging to the “someday” of answered prayer within marriage.

What we should believe is visible in Hebrews 11:1.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Or perhaps we can flip over to 1 John 3:2-3.

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

Oswald Chambers has this to say about the certainty of our hope in Christ:

Certainty is the mark of the common-sense life; gracious uncertainty is the mark of the spiritual life. To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, we do not know what a day may bring forth. This is generally said with a sigh of sadness, it should be rather an expression of breathless expectation.

Hope Is Not Common Sense

Precious friends, there is absolutely no certainty in any aspect of our common-sense life, including marriage. A marriage that is trucking along nicely right now may be blindsided by a financial crisis, illness, depression, temptation, or spiritual laziness. It could even be that what you believed to be true and certain was actually a lie.

The opposite could also be true. A marriage that seems to be in the full throes of failure and without hope could actually be right on the verge of complete restoration. What appears to be a long, dark tunnel with no end in sight might in reality just be a short stretch, with visible light and healing blocked only by that sudden turn you cannot see ahead of you because of the darkness.

Common sense tells you to trust in what you can see. Common sense keeps you trapped in fear that what is good might sour and what is bad may never change.

But hope is not common sense. Instead, hope is certainty in something much more solid that what you can see. Hope is certainty in Christ himself, the Almighty God who not only sees the unseen, but controls it.

When I think of those old-fashioned hope chests, I picture a young lady caressing each treasured item in breathless expectation of the unknown. For years, she has collected piece after piece. Some have been passed down from generation to generation. Some have been fashioned by the hands of her mother or grandmother. Still others she has lovingly prepared herself. She is uncertain of the future, yet each item represents her certainty in a promise. True, the occasional fear will tickle the back of her mind. What if these treasures never find a home? What if the hoped for future never materializes? Yet, the items themselves remind her to not lose hope in the future laid out for her.

How much more powerful is our hope in Christ? That is all the certainty we need.

This article was originally published in Family Magazine, 2016 Issue 2, then on WellPlannedGal.com.
Posted in Marriage

He Doesn’t Need Me

So, I meant to publish this two weeks ago. Then last week. Both weeks, I realized on Wed that I hadn’t published it! So here it finally is…

I have to chuckle sometimes at the comments I get from church members, and have gotten in every church we have ever served.

“You make sure to make him behave!”
“It’s a good thing he’s got you to keep him in line.”
“Keep him out of trouble, now.”

It’s all in good fun, and I always make sure to respond in fun as well. But, usually not quite in the expected way.

“Behave? Well, that’s no fun!”
“Oh, he keeps me in line!”
“I’d just get him in more trouble!”

There is a reality to our marriage that I am reminded of with each of these conversations: my husband does not need me.

It’s true! My husband is one of the most capable, reliable, sufficient people I know. He can handle himself everywhere he goes. If he doesn’t know how to do something, he knows how to get help. He does not actually need me.

Now, the reality is that Doug and I rely on each other. I am more comfortable in certain roles than he is, and vice versa. Also, the demands of our jobs, ministry, and life in general mean that certain tasks naturally fall into my hands or his. Were he to have to do the things that I usually do, he would struggle to keep it all balanced. But that is more because, between the two of us, we do more than can fit into the scope of a 24-hour day. So, we do heavily rely on one another. And that’s the way it should be. But true need is a different concept entirely.

The Real Need

We have all probably met someone who desperately needs to be needed. They often create situations of codependency because of this need. If we’re honest with ourselves, we will admit that we have at least a small bit of that tendency within us; we all desire to be needed by others. But, that is not how God created us. Yes, He designed us for community, but as individuals, He intended that we have only one need: Himself!

That’s right, our real need is Christ and Christ alone. He fills us. He supplies us. He is all-sufficient.

So, where do relationships fit in? God chooses to use us to meet the needs of one another within the community. But the provision still comes from His own hands. He grants us different gifts, talents, strengths, and weaknesses so we will choose to divide and conquer, work together, and be a beautiful example of love for this world. Not because we need one another, but because we rely on one another as we express our need for Him alone and let Him fulfill our needs in any way He chooses – through community or through some other form of intervention.

That is not less true in the marriage relationship. We need Christ. Period. As we rely on Him, He then uses each of us to meet the needs of the other. But He is our only real need.

It is actually quite freeing to know that Doug does not need me. That his real need is for the Lord Jesus Christ, and that I just get to be the Lord’s vessel. It is not always easy to step aside and let that truth reign in our marriage, because I do share that desire to be needed. But, when I do step aside, our marriage is so much more powerfully fulfilled.

May you, too, know the freedom of not being needed!

Posted in Family, What Works for Me, Work & Life

Table Talk

If you pick up any parenting guide, read any family focused tips, or seek advice on strengthening or restoring family cohesiveness, you will see “share meals regularly” as a common top recommendation. I’m going to admit something that I’m just now coming to realize: I rebel against that advice. Not because I don’t make a habit of sharing meals with my family. I do. Although there are always exceptions, our goal is to sit down as a family for at least one meal every day. Because that is our goal, we are quick to find alternatives when the goal is thwarted. It’s that important to us.

So, why do I balk at the advice to eat as a family daily or a certain number of times each week? Let me answer that question with a brief trip down memory lane.

An Aspirin a Day

Decades ago, my grandparents were told by their doctor to take a “baby” aspirin every day to ward off heart disease. Now, my grandparents were both very healthy right on up into their nineties. Although there were illnesses involved in their deaths, the honest truth is that they died of old age. Their bodies had degenerated too much to fight off normal diseases.

I remember multiple times when my grandmother told me that she was so healthy because of that daily aspirin. So-and-so was having heart or other health issues, and if they would just take an aspirin every day, that would solve their problems!

Truthfully, though, my grandma was just healthy. Or maybe it was just that she was too stubborn to get sick! Either way, the aspirin was just a tip. A suggestion for dealing with a potential underlying issue. It was not a cure-all, but advice based on contemporary medical wisdom.

And that, my friends, is exactly what the family meal suggestion is. It is one method of combating relational distance. Just one method.

Our Talk Time: Table Talk

My family loves sharing a meal together because that is the easiest time to just sit around and gab for a few minutes. Some days we talk, and some days we don’t. Sometimes we have serious conversations and other times a fly on the wall would run away in terror because of our insanity. Sometimes we just so happen to eat multiple meals together in one day, and other times we can barely coordinate sitting down together three times in a week! We might have interesting discussions every day one. week and none for the next two weeks.

The key is that meal time is the most opportune time for us to converse in a spontaneous manner, without pressure or topic orchestration. And, honestly, that’s probably true for the majority of families. Sharing meals as a family has a reputation for being one of the greatest single components of a healthy family, and consequently tends to be the greatest single recommendations for restoring or building family health: because it’s an opportunity to talk.

It’s not about the meal. It’s about the natural interaction and the relationship. It’s about the talking. It’s about the relaxed interaction and communication.

What’s Your Talk Time?

For your family, it might not be table talk. It might be car talk if you are all in the vehicle together at least one to three times a week. Perhaps you have weekly game night or enjoy regularly watching sports together, so it’s game talk. The key is not the meal. The key is finding a time when everyone in the family is together and relatively relaxed so the relational conversation – whether serious, funny, or outright weird – just naturally flows.

Yes, mealtime is what works for our family. And I love that time together! My prayer is that you find the “talk” time that works for you. You won’t regret it!

Posted in Marriage

Together

Some days the writing thoughts flow. Other times, I sit staring at a blank screen, clueless about where to begin.

One evening, I knew a marriage post was next on my list, but I was in blank screen mode. I had tried to work through several ideas during the week, but nothing would come together. My thoughts either sounded too grumpy or too forced, or they just wouldn’t gel at all.

On this particular evening, my husband sat behind me working on his own computer. I finally looked at him and said, “I have nothing. I love marriage – really, I do. And I love being married to you. But I have nothing to write about.”

For the next few minutes, we just chatted. Not about a marriage post, though. We chatted about a writing lesson on character development that was coming through my inbox. We talked about this, that, and the other. Then, it was time to close everything down and head to bed, and the writing opportunity had passed.

But the interaction reminded me of how important togetherness is for the overall flow of life.

True togetherness is not about times when we need help. It also is not about the situations in life that require joint effort. In fact, without true togetherness, we will probably fail to come together when we need help, and we will possibly struggle to process through the things that demand joint effort.

True togetherness is like our relationship with Christ (shocking, I know) – it must be nourished continually and through all areas of our relationship. And, when it is nourished in the times of simply being, it will come through in the times of need.

Any glance through my blog shows that it has still taken me a couple of weeks to get a marriage post written, more because I haven’t had a chance to come back to it than anything else. But, as I sit down to get this one written tonight, I am reminded about how beautiful it is to do marriage together. To interact in every opportunity. To just enjoy being together, whether we are working, playing, or just being.

I pray you have the opportunity to enjoy togetherness this week.

Posted in Marriage

Not What I Expected

What did you expect when you dreamed of marriage? What image did you hold in your head of your husband? What your relationship would look like? How married life would unfold?

How does reality compare?

As a teenager and young woman, I definitely had a mental picture of what my husband and our marriage would look like. And I cannot put into words how off-base that mental picture was! The husband God gave me is much more amazing than any dream man I ever could have conjured up in my limited mind. But, he’s also very different. Our life together is so much deeper than the shallow image of a relationship held in my mind. But, again, it’s very different.

I know beyond all doubt that what I have is better than my dreams. If I’m completely honest with myself, though, I will realize that there have been times when I have clung to my dreamy expectations instead of embracing the reality. In those times, it matters little that the reality is better. The dream was mine. And I stubbornly hang on to it as if it somehow beats God’s reality.

When we hang on to an old, shallow dream, we insinuate that reality is insufficient. We become dissatisfied with our circumstances, impatient with our spouses, and frustrated with life in general. We even become disillusioned with our God.

Dreams and expectations are such beautiful things. They motivate, energized, and compel us to reach for things we might not have otherwise reached for. But, they are also dangerous if we do not handle them properly. So, how do we handle them properly?

  • First, we surrender them completely to our Savior. Even as they are being formed in our minds, we must lay them at His feet and let Him mold and direct them.
  • Second, we leave them in His hands in trust. After we have surrendered, we can’t keep picking them back up in fear that our Lord will not handle them properly. We can trust Him!
  • Finally, we embrace the reality that He sets in front of us. When we surrender and trust, God is free to put us in the center of His will. Even if we let Him guide our dreams and expectations, more often than not reality will still differ greatly from our expectations. We must choose to leave the surrendered expectations where we placed them and press forward fully immersed in the reality Christ has given us.

I have two teenage daughters now, and living with them reminds me often of the hopes and dreams of marriage I had at that age. My expectations. My ideas. Reality is bigger, starker, fuller, deeper, harder, and more incredibly wonderful and beautiful than any dream could have ever encompassed. Yes, dreams are exciting, but oh how thankful I am for reality. No, it’s not what I expected. But, I made a choice over eighteen years ago to surrender my expectations to the reality God had given me. I will continue to do that, day in and day out.

Because it really is better.

Posted in Marriage

Worth Dying For

I really intended to write a nice, sweet, romantic post for Marriage Monday yesterday in honor of Valentine’s Day. Then, then day happened.

The previous week had been long and chaotic with some frustrating and tense moments worked in. Then, Sunday night, we came home to find that our daughter’s cat was missing. After calling, looking, and calling some more, we finally went to bed, but I think all of us kept one ear open, hoping she’d return. She’d never wandered far before.

Morning dawned, and we finally found the cat…forty to fifty feet up a neighbor’s tree.

After trying unsuccessfully to call, woo, and cajole her down, we finally looked at the clocks, realized we were all an hour late to school and work, and called it quits for the time being. It was only after my sweet hubby headed to work and I walked in to get the kids going on school that we realized we’d not even had breakfast yet.

The rest of the day was spent trying to juggle work and coax the cat out of the tree – unsuccessfully, I might add.

The idea of sweet romance was just not a present reality at any point during our Monday, and may not be today, either. And yet, I can’t help but think that what we shared yesterday – and will share today – is much more of an honor to the memory of St. Valentine.

The historical facts about Valentinus are pretty fuzzy, and it is difficult to distinguish fact from legend. But, it is known that he did exist and that he was put to death for secretly performing weddings when the Roman emperor outlawed marriage. For some odd reason, Roman soldiers didn’t seem to want to spend twenty-five years away from their families fighting wars on behalf of Rome, so it was growing increasingly difficult for Emperor Claudius II to build and maintain an army. Outlawing marriage was the obvious solution, at least in the emperor’s mind! But, Valentinus believed that marriage was holy and sacred. He would not turn down a couple asking him to marry them.

That decision cost Valentinus his life.

I love the romantic side of marriage. And I thoroughly enjoy celebrating it. But, as we recover from yesterday’s tension and walk into this Valentine’s Day simply trying to get Tuesday on track after another late start (we finally recruited a tree service to help get the cat down from her lofty perch!), I realize just how beautiful it is to rest confidently in the love of my husband. Even when we’re stressed or frustrated because of the curve balls life is throwing us. Even when I do and say things that frustrate him. The love we share is deep and true. It runs up on bumps and hits snags. It has to work hard to stay thriving. But, it is the foundation of the marital union that Valentinus held so sacred.

Whether with roses and chocolates or just with hugs that say, “We’re going to make it,” that is what we celebrate today. A love grounded in Christ. A love that a priest named Valentinus considered worth dying for – because his Savior had already died for it!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Posted in Marriage

A Little Help?

Have you ever tried to accomplish something without “burdening” those around you by sharing your challenge with them? You may have had any number of reasons for keeping the process to yourself. Maybe you wanted to be successful at something, and you thought doing it on your own to the surprise of everyone else would be a great success. Or, maybe you didn’t want others to feel obligated to put aside their needs, desires, or time to help. Perhaps you just didn’t think it was that big of a deal to get it done, so you never even thought to ask for help or collaboration.

Maybe you succeeded, and maybe you didn’t. But, either way, I guarantee you made it harder on yourself. How do I know? Because I’ve been there. We are created for community and created to accomplish tasks in that community, not on our own. When we try to tackle anything on our own, we set ourselves up for a struggle simply because it goes against the grain of how we were made.

Then there is marriage. I firmly believe our “own my own” mentality has an even more negative impact in a marriage than in a godly community, exponentially increasing both our risk of failure and the strain on our marital relationships. Again, how do I know? Because I’ve done it. Far too many times. And far too recently. My husband has a lot on his plate, and I don’t want to add to that. I don’t want to increase his stress, either, by sharing a challenge with him that he can’t help with, other than to be a listening ear. Why burden him when I know he’ll want to fix it for me?

Slowly but surely, I’m learning the “why” – and discovering just how important it is for us to ask for help from one another.

A Setup for Failure

Since we’ve already mentioned community, let’s first consider how marriage compares to community. Take a look at the Genesis 2 description of marriage:

The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. Genesis 2:23-24

What I see here is a bond that is far more powerful and deep than even the strongest bond of Christian community. If refusing to seek and receive help is harmful to our community, how much more harmful is it to a marriage in which we are made to be one flesh? When we refuse to live in that union with one another, we are automatically setting ourselves up for failure.

A Greater Burden

When my husband and I neglect to ask each other for help because we don’t want to burden one another, we are actually increasing one another’s burdens. My husband knows when something is overwhelming for me, and it increases his concern and struggle when I don’t let him help me. He works extra hard on other things to try to relieve my burdens, but that only leaves me feeling like more of a failure because I’m adding more to his already full load.

On the flip side, I also know when something is bothering and weighing down my husband even if I don’t know what it is. It increases my burden when he tries to shield me from it because I work overtime to try to make everything else run smoothly. But, because I don’t know what’s bothering him, I often end up tinkering with the very thing I should be leaving alone, thus causing more damage than help.

When we do ask for help from one another, however, sharing the load and confessing the burden to one another, a very different pattern emerges. We figure out how to work together and balance the whole of the load between us. We’re not working against each other. We’re not taking from each other’s burdens only to make our own heavier. We’re instead finding efficient ways to lighten the whole load. And we’re seeking the Lord together, allowing Him to work in us as we carry the load.

Suddenly, it’s not a burden to either of us.

I would be lying if I said I was good at this. Time and time again, I carry my own load. I neglect to ask for help and share the burden. And time and time again it comes back to bite me. But I’m slowly learning, changing, and growing in this area. I’m working hard to be very intentional.

Where do you need to ask for help this week?