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?

Posted in Marriage

Mercy!

Memes are all the rage these days. They are everywhere. I recently saw on that depicted a couple sitting on a couch – but not together. The woman was hunched up on one end looking distressed, her back to the distracted-looking man seated on the other end. The caption indicated the journal entries for each of them. Her entry was full of worry and anxiety because their evening had not gone well. The date he had planned for them ended up being a silent affair because of his distraction. She ran through a whole litany of concerns about their marriage, then went to bed and cried herself to sleep.

His entry? A brief statement about being frustrated because his motorcycle wouldn’t start.

The whole scenario was the stereotypical picture of women being too emotional and men being too shallow and uncommunicative. The idea is that women would read that and say, “Yes! Don’t you get it? If you would just talk to me, I wouldn’t worry so much.” Men, on the other hand would respond with, “If I tell you it’s not about you, just believe me and don’t be so emotional.”

Yes, it was a very stereotypical meme. Unfortunately, it was also a very realistic meme. Not because all women are overly emotional and all men are shallow and uncommunicative. There are, in fact, a wide variety of variations that can result in the same actions. And, yes, there is a lesson here about open communication. We need to talk to one another. Period. I’m sure this is a lesson we will continue to have to learn and relearn throughout the full length of our married lives.

But, I see a deeper lesson here.

Not long after I saw this meme, I read a devotion about giving and receiving mercy. The devotion went a completely different direction, but my mind immediately connected the overall concept of mercy to this meme – and to what is often at the root of our marital clashes.

Put yourself into this scenario for a moment. How would you feel? What would be consuming your mind the most? Would it truly be a concern for your spouse, or would honesty force you to admit that your thoughts were more centered around what you wished he understood? If he would just see what he’s putting you through…

If we could truly be honest with ourselves, we just might realize that our hunger and desire is to be justified. What we should hunger for instead is the chance to extend mercy.

If you’re saying “Ouch!” right about now, know that I’ve already said it! The truth hurt when it dawned on me the first time. And, as I hash it out, I only realize more and more the depth to which I neglect to show mercy. But, that also leads to another question: what does showing mercy look like? What changes in my behavior when I offer mercy instead of demanding that I be treated with justice? (And let’s just not even think about what justice for ourselves would really mean; we don’t want to go there!)

I think the whole journal entry becomes a brand new focus. It might look something like this:

Lord, I’m tempted to be hurt and irritable right now. But, instead, I want to lift my husband up to You. There’s something wrong. Although he says it isn’t anything about me, You and I know that when he hurts or is frustrated, I feel it too. So, right now I confess my desire to be doubly hurt because he’s not sharing. I confess it and I turn from it. Instead, I thank You that You know all things. And now I entrust my husband to You. I pray that You will show me how to minister to him and show mercy right now, whether his problem is great or small. Give me words of kindness and an attitude of encouragement and joy toward him. And speak wisdom into his mind in this moment.

I wish I could say this is always my first reaction. It’s not. But I want it to be. More than that, I know it’s the obedient way to be.

Will you choose with me to show mercy?

Posted in Marriage

Symbols

Having grown up in very transient lifestyles, my husband and I both feel a need for regular change. Little changes throughout the year are helpful, but at least once a year we need something bigger – usually in the form of some form of rearranging in our house. The entire downstairs portion of our home (living room, dining room, and sunroom) were shifted, with only one couch, an end table, and a couple of bookshelves staying in their previous locations.

The process also meant that we had to rearrange some of our knick knacks. Over the years, we’ve tried very hard to only keep knick knacks that are truly meaningful. Treasures from Jordan and other countries; Doug’s Eagle Scout memorabilia; little items that remind us of experiences from our married life; special gifts from friends and family. But, even keeping them limited, sometimes it’s hard to find the right spot for each treasure.

This time, I’d found a place for every item except one: the floral cake topper from our wedding.

It was a beautiful cake topper, made by the friend who also assembled all of the bouquets and made my cake. I can’t remember when I had to relinquish the bouquet due to aging, but the cake topper had lasted for eighteen years.

As I looked at it on this particular day, however, I noticed it just did not look pretty anymore. The flowers had yellowed and shifted in their locations, and it just looked a bit grungy. It was no longer the pretty keepsake from our wedding. Instead, it had become a dust trap that really did not have a home.

As I held it, I had to stop and wonder why I’d kept the arrangement for eighteen years. What meaning did it really have?

I realized that I saw this topper as another symbol of our wedding which, in turn, was the first symbol of our marriage relationship. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that this particular symbol might be outdated. There are certain symbols of our marriage that will never go out of date. My ring, for instance. I love wearing my wedding ring, and I love that Doug always wears his. We like radiating “married” everywhere we go, and those rings help. They will never be out of date or insignificant.

I also love our unity candle. At one point, we thought about lighting it for every anniversary until it died. But, we never did that. I still like keeping it, though. And, we have our wedding pictures, which contain beautiful memories that are fun to look back at now and then – and show to our children.

But, the flowers? As I stared at the flowers, I couldn’t think of a single thing that the flowers still represented.

I love symbols. They remind me. They keep me directed and focused. They are tangible evidence of oft-intangible realities, and my personality craves tangibility. But sometimes I think I cling to symbols more than to the reality itself. Other times I hang on to symbols long after they lose their significance, neglecting to move on and update my symbols as my understanding of the realities they represent grows and changes.

Doug and I are far beyond our wedding. It was a beautiful day that we will always treasure in our memories. But, our relationship has grown incredibly. And our symbols need to grow with the relationship. So, the old symbols – like the flowers – need to be released to allow room for the new. What will those new symbols be? Who knows? I’m excited, though, to see what God sends our way each step of the way.

Posted in Marriage

Little Signals

Every three months, I replace my tube of mascara. It’s what the “experts” recommend, but even if that was not set as the recommended lifespan for the mascara, I would know the time had come. An evening rolls around when I cannot wait to remove my eye makeup. Almost inevitably, that evening falls right around the three month replacement point. My eyes automatically give me the signal that a change needs to be made.

Our marriages offer the same signals, some warning signs and some positive signals.

We are probably more familiar with the warning signs. Many pages have been written, talks have been given, and hours of counseling have been devoted to the red flags that arise when we are choosing actions that can lead to tension, distance, or even infidelity. But, there are lesser signals as well. Little things that alert us to ways we can daily act to avoid issues, meet needs, or find precious moments in our marriages. I could make a list of those signals, just as the books and lectures make lists of the marital warning signs.

If I made a list, though, it would be for my marriage. For my situation.

Each couple and family has their own rhythm and flow. We have things that work for us that will not work for you, and vice versa, so my list might not help you notice your signals. What I will do instead is share a few thoughts that might help you notice both the positive signals and the warning signs.

Come Together

Probably the best thing you can do as a couple is come together on a regular basis, probably as often as once a week. I’ve shared before why my husband and I have date night every week, but this is actually something different. This coming together is more to take a few minutes and make sure you are on the same page. Take a look at the planner. Walk through the calendar. Just chat for a moment about expectations and desires for the coming week.

Not only does this exercise ensure that you are on the same page schedule-wise, it also lets you know what’s on your spouse’s mind this week. You will see where his priorities lay and what’s on his mind. By paying attention to those little details, you can then notice warning signs of stress, signals for finding those sweet memorable moments, and ways you can encourage and strengthen him in the coming week.

Share Prayer Requests

It’s amazing how praying for one another brings little signals to light. It might even help you both see something you would not have otherwise noticed. It is one thing to pray for our spouses on our own, knowing the ways we need to hold them up before the Lord without even asking. But by asking them how we can pray, we get even more insight into what is on their hearts and minds – and discover little ways we can encourage and strengthen them through the week.

Listen

How many times do you say something in passing that you don’t want to make a big deal about, but you still wish someone would just notice? Now, turn that around. How many times does your spouse say things like that? Sometimes, the signals can be picked up simply by listening. Truly listening.

Attitudes

Is your spouse especially clingy this week? Or, perhaps a little more energetic than usual? Maybe there’s a restlessness in the air, or possibly the clutter of life has just gotten to be too much. We often notice attitude shifts and think something is wrong. Believe it or not, more often these shifts simply mean that there is a special need that day. An opening to provide a little more attention. Give extra snuggles. Make space in your schedule. Put a little bit of energy into making one area of the house look special. Make a surprise dessert or plan an out-of-the-ordinary dinner. Don’t always assume an attitude shift means there is a problem. Instead, consider it to be a signal – then choose how to determine what is being signaled.

Signals are precious components of marriage and family. May you notice beautiful signals as you go through your life this week!

Posted in Marriage

Marriage & Friendship

I opened my stocking yesterday morning to find two huge surprises (in addition to a nice pile of dark chocolate filling the toe!). The first thing I pulled out was a small, finely woven sack. Inside was a braided bracelet with a small tag in the center. On the tag were coordinates.

“Actually, you need the other bag,” my husband smiled, and I reached back into the stocking. Sure enough, there was another bag with another bracelet. The first bracelet held coordinates for my home. The second? Coordinates for the Solomon Island village home of our dear friends the Choates. One bracelet was for me; the other was for my friend Joanna – one more connection across the many miles that separate us.

The second surprise was a beautiful fountain pen with extra cartridges. Not too long ago, I had told Doug that I wanted to become more regular about writing letters – real, snail mail letters, something I used to thoroughly enjoy doing as a child, before the days of e-mail and social media. So, when a friend asked what I wanted for Christmas, my sweet husband suggested she get me stationary. Then, he found this elegant pen to go with my new stationary. His desire was to intentionally support my goal of letter writing.

Both gifts, though, supported something much deeper – they both supported my need for friendship.

Doug will always be my dearest, closest, and most desired friend. That is how marriage should be, and I love it. But, we both know that we need other friends as well. Because we are both introverts – and because we move a good deal – it is not always easy for us to find and build deep, local friendships. But, God is not restricted by distance or time. Sometimes He builds friendships across the miles as easily as He does across the street.

My husband knows which friends I need when, and he actively helps me stay connected to them. He not only supports my friendships, he equips them. He nourishes them. He encourages and helps build them.

And I pray regularly over his friendships. I pray that he will be able to develop the deep relationships he needs and that I will see ways to nourish those friendships as he nourishes mine.

Friendship with one another is such a vital part of marriage. If we allow outside relationships to supersede the one that exists within the confines of our home and marriage, our marriage will suffer. But, it will also suffer if we close out all other relationships or if we allow ourselves to feel as if we are in competition with one another’s friends.

There is no competition. All are needed in very specific ways to meet very specific needs.

I am blessed beyond words to have a husband who is my dearest friend while simultaneously supporting and equipping my vital external friendships. That, to me, is the epitome of friendship in marriage.

Posted in Marriage

The Countdown

Eighteen years ago, he had a countdown timer.

When he came to see me at work, he’d let me know just how much time was left. The number of days. Hours. Minutes. Even seconds.

Even the flowers he had delivered to me at work one day, as beautiful and thoughtful as they were, didn’t hold a candle to the love shown through that countdown. With each update, I knew he was excited. I knew he anticipated. I knew this was mutual. He was as excited about the day, the hour, and the moment as I was.

The actually event was not elaborate. In fact, it lasted a mere nineteen minutes. But, it was worth the countdown. It was worth the anticipation. Because it was the gateway opening to the eighteen years that have followed.

We’re still counting. But now we’re counting up. We’re walking through every second, minute, hour, day, week, month, year, and even decade together. There are ups and downs, as life must have. But, we love it all. We are thankful for it all. Because we mutually walk through it together.

We celebrate throughout the year. We honor throughout the year. But, once a year, we step it up just a bit. We mark the passing of another tick of the calendar. Another major count up. We remember the anticipation of the days we were counting down, and we stand thankful for all of the days since.

Happy 18th anniversary, my love!

Thank you for counting down to 2:00, December 19, 1998 (and 2:19!). Thank you for sticking with me while we have counted up to eighteen. And thank you for not batting an eye when you say you’re ready to count up to 36…and beyond!

Posted in Marriage

Commitment Considerations

My husband and I frequently get text messages, phone calls, face-to-face questions asking for a commitment to this event or that get-together. When can we meet? Can you attend this? Would you like to join us for that? Can your kids go to this?

So often there is a press to make the decision right now. With calendars on our smart phones, families constantly going ten gazillion different directions, and a society inclined to fill every second with something, it is counter-cultural to respond by saying that we cannot commit to something without stepping back and discussing it as a family – or, at the very least, as a couple.

May I suggest that it is okay, and even advisable, to be counter-cultural when it comes to your commitments (among other things!)? Whether we are committing time, finances, energy, or other resources, being together in commitments is a critical foundation for marriage. Fortunately, it doesn’t take a lot to be unified when making commitments. It simply takes intentional consideration.

Boundaries

We all know that children crave boundaries, whether they admit it or not. They might push them or even defy them, but there is comfort in knowing those boundaries are there. They know what to expect and when to expect it when the boundaries are set and affirmed through both positive and negative discipline.

Commitments are no different. When a couple sets boundaries, they provide a security for their marriage and their whole family. Is a daily or weekly family dinner important? Set boundaries around it and establish clear guidelines regarding a handful of interruptions that can automatically override the established family meal. This doesn’t mean that everything else is automatically trumped by family dinner, but it does mean that anything outside the agreed-upon interruptions must be discussed before a decision is made.

The same would go for date night, a family sabbath, or other regularly established routines. By setting and then protecting your boundaries, the whole family automatically knows what outside commitments must automatically be turned down.

Personalities

Are you an extrovert married to an introvert? Or a night owl married to an early bird? If you and your spouse differ in your social personalities, balance is a huge deal. Just as you need a recharge on one end of the spectrum, your spouse needs it on the other. Even if you have similar personality inclinations, commit to being mindful of each other’s needs. Be willing to sacrifice for one another, but also be open about your needs. If one of you is constantly being fueled while the other is being drained, your relationship will not be healthy.

Of course, it’s important to also be mindful of the rest of the family, realizing that it’s not just Mom and Dad’s personalities and needs at stake. Consider in advance when it’s okay to divide and conquer and when the whole family needs to stay together. When can the decision be automatically made by one member of the family and when does a discussion need to be had?

Choices

There will still be times – many times, I’m sure! – when opportunities or obligations arise that do not fit neatly into the plan, even when boundaries are set and personalities are taken into consideration. We all know how important it is to communicate openly and well with one another. But sometimes we have to make decisions before we have a chance to discuss or communicate.

The best way to handle decisions like these is by being prepared beforehand.

  • Have a weekly calendar date. Discuss the upcoming week in detail, but also discuss any adjustments that have been made for the current month and the upcoming month. This will reduce the chances of double-booking or overloading the schedule.
  • Communicate potential commitments. Do you know that your parents are looking to plan something, but don’t have a date yet? Maybe some friends want to find a time to get together or a group you are involved in will need extra meeting times to complete a project. Go ahead and put those things on your spouse’s radar.
  • Set a “maxed out” guideline. Like with your boundaries, communicating this in advance, you know when you must say no to avoid overcommitting.
  • Determine in advance how often you will go separate ways. You don’t have to do everything together, nor do you want to divide and conquer all the time. Decide in advance what thr balance looks like for your marriage and for your family as a whole.

Once a decision is made, be quick to inform him of your choice. Establish a foundation of trust that gives him confidence in your decision-making process. And offer him the same trust.

Posted in Marriage

Attitude of Marriage

I don’t always like to read verses from Proverbs that deal with marriage. The typical look at the Proverbs 31 woman leaves me feeling like I fall very short (although I have also discovered some very encouraging teachings from Proverbs 31). But, there are also verses like the following that make me say, “Ouch!”:

Prov 21:9 It is better to live in a corner of a roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman.

Prov 21:19: It is better to live in a desert land than with a contentious and vexing woman.

Far too often, I am the contentious woman. I am easily agitated, I am opinionated, and I am proud. Those are all ideal ingredients for the creation of a contentious woman.

Miraculously, my husband tells me almost daily that I am easy to live with. That there is no aspect of “putting up with” me. That he enjoys living with me. I never ceased to be amazed and thankful that he sees me that way, but I know that I do vex him on multiple occasions. I stress and frustrate him. I say the wrong thing – or even if I say the right thing, I say it the wrong way. I do things that aggravate him. I neglect to pay attention or think through details. I drop the ball so often.

Honestly, it is a mystery to me that my husband does not add all of those things up and find the sum to be a hard to live with, contentious, vexing wife. But, he doesn’t. It’s not that he is blind to those things. Oh, he sees them clearly enough. He deals with them day in and day out. But, I firmly believe he is being perfectly honest when he tells me I am not a contentious wife.

I believe the solution to the mystery lies in attitude. You see, I do not desire to be a contentious wife. Even though I fail in my goals so often, I believe my husband can overlook my daily failures because he knows where my desires lie. He knows that I really want to be a good, supportive wife. He sees that attitude, those desires, instead of the mess that really comes out as I blunder through this thing called marriage.

I am constantly humbled and awed by his insight. I am driven by his faith in me. I want to be what he sees!

Please hear me when I say that our actions are critical. If we want to grow in our marriages, we – both husband and wife “we” – must, must, must behave in a way that shows submission to God first and foremost, followed by Christlike love for one another. That has to be shown in action.

But, having said that, I also know that our actions fail. Frequently. We sin. We falter. We make mistakes. We get selfish. It happens, even as we strive to make our actions fit with godliness. And that is why attitude is such a huge deal in a growing marriage. I truly believe that my husband sees me as easy to be married to because he sees that I do hunger to be a godly wife. The selfishness and contentiousness are all symptoms of my battle with sin. My heart attitude, though, is the opposite.

Oh, precious friend, we will all struggle. But, in spite of it all, may our hunger, our desire, and our goal in marriage be that we will, despite it all, have an attitude of godliness.

Posted in Marriage

In Time

Advent season officially started yesterday. Each Sunday between now and Christmas, we will light a candle representing one aspect of the Christmas story or season. On Christmas Eve, we’ll light the last one, symbolizing the birth of Jesus. I love the excitement and beauty of welcoming Christmas through Advent celebrations.

As we process through Advent, I can’t help but think of all those who waited but never saw the Messiah during their earthly lives. God promised a Savior all the way back in Genesis, as the first sin created an uncrossable divide between God and man. Generation upon generation of God’s people awaited the Messiah and never saw Him. But in the fullness of time, God sent Jesus.

I could go on and on about why the timing was beautiful and perfect and amazing. Instead, I want to focus on the waiting and the fulfillment – and how that relates to marriage.

It sounds like a stretch, doesn’t it? Connecting the long-awaited birth of Jesus to marriage? But, I invite you to stop for a moment and remember all of the times you waited for God in your marriage.

Somehow, you just knew it wasn’t the right time. Perhaps it wasn’t the right time to make a move or have a baby or change jobs. Maybe it was simpler and just wasn’t the right time to have a conversation with your spouse. Or even get a pet. Or buy a new car.

When we get an idea in our heads, an idea we know to be a good one, we often push for it. We push God. We push our spouses. We push our children. We push our finances. We push our schedules. We push, push, push to get something accomplished. And every time we push, we suffer the consequences.

But, if we wait…oh, if we wait, God’s timing is perfect!

I can look back on my own marriage and see the times I pushed. I regret those times profoundly. But I can also see the times I waited. I waited and prayed. In those times, God worked. Sometimes I waited in quiet, sensing that God just might be preparing my husband and me differently for something. Other times, Doug and I waited together after discussing and realizing that it wasn’t God’s timing yet.

And yes, the waiting has covered everything from children and moves to buying cars and houses or welcoming pets into our home.

So very often, it feels like God is stalling. Or withholding. Or denying. It seems to take so long for Him to come around to fulfilling the thing we’re waiting for. But, look how long mankind waited for its Savior! Look how long we continue to wait for the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises in Jesus’ second coming!

God’s timing in my marriage is perfect in the same way His timing with eternal promises is perfect. Ultimately, His timing allows my marriage to give glory to Him, draw us closer to Him, and allow us to be more greatly emptied of ourselves and filled with Himself.

I don’t know about you, but I believe that’s fully worth waiting for.

Posted in Marriage

I’m Proud of You

I’m proud of my husband. In so many ways for so many things. He’s a pretty amazing guy.

I’m proud of him when other people are proud of him. I’m proud of him when others are agitated with him. I’m proud of his successes and I’m proud of the way he learns from his failures.

The problem is that I don’t always tell him I’m proud of him.

The older our marriage grows, the more I learn that words matter. The spoken words matter, but so do the unspoken. The things we learn to leave unsaid because we know it’s best to not say them. The things we refuse to say, even though we know we should. And the things we just forget to say, whether for good or for ill.

It all matters.

Some days, when there are words I haven’t said to my husband or my children or even to others in my life, I think it might be easier to say those words here. To process them in writing and say them to the wide world, offering advice that I know to be true rather than implementing the truth into my own life. Sharing publicly in hopes that my husband or children or friends or extended family will just read it here instead of making me go to them. Writing it out in a relatively generic thought instead of forming deeply personal and sometimes very raw, unprocessed words in a face-to-face conversation. But, it is my goal to never do that.

So, instead of leaving you with examples of saying the words that matter, I’m simply striving to do it myself. To be sure to speak when I am proud, to share when I have a challenge, and to converse face to face when I’d rather try to hash it out with a keyboard.

What spoken words do you need to keep quiet this week? What unspoken words do you need to say?

Remember, it all matters.