Posted in Marriage Monday

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 Monday

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 Monday

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 Monday

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 Monday

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 Monday

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 Monday

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!