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, 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

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?

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?