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.

Posted in Marriage

What I Love

What do you love about your spouse? What makes you proud? What makes you smile? What makes you laugh?

I so enjoy hearing women pointing out the things they love about their husbands. It’s beautiful to me when, in the middle of sharing a struggle, my dearest friend points out something her husband did in the middle of that struggle – something that she found to be phenomenal. He showed wisdom or insight. He made someone laugh or interacted in a special way with his kids, despite his busyness or stress. It’s precious to hear her bragging on her husband, pointing out the ways she sees him shine.

There’s so much I absolutely love about my husband. I love the way he observes and sees everything so fully and deeply. I love the way he teaches. His passion for history and God’s Word is contagious, and I delight in listening to him. The way he plays with our children makes me smile every time. I wouldn’t trade his sense of humor for anything! I love his cooking and his writing. He has an intriguing imagination that captivates me. And his creativity – oh, how I love his creativity! He thinks outside the box – something that’s hard for me to do. Yet, I so greatly prefer creativity that is different and unusual, and his ides are so much fun! The way he sees and meets needs melts my heart.

I often have people ask me, “How do you live with that?” when my husband’s quirky personality shines through. My response is always the same, “That’s what I love about him!” And it’s true! I thoroughly enjoy who he is, and I am overwhelmed by God’s goodness in allowing me to be this man’s wife. Our Creator could have made marriage purely about serving Him together in practical ways. Yet, He included the fun details in the process. He took a meaningful and spiritual institution and added a plethora of color and delight. Things that aren’t at all practical bring us together that much more!

So, I ask again, what do you love about your spouse? Will you share? I’d love to hear!

Posted in Marriage

The Identity of Marriage

The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 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 2:22-24

Aren’t those wonderful verses? And, oh how I love the narrative that precedes them. God took Adam through the whole process of discovery and realization, helping him to see that he needed Eve. Not a horse. Not a dog. Not even a giraffe. Woman.

So What Are We Missing?

When I look at marriages around me, though, I realize something. We often get the “man shall leave his father and mother” part. But, somehow we miss what comes after, the beautiful statement that man will “be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.”

Oh, we get the sex part of “become one flesh.” What we miss is the deeper, even more beautiful part. The part that makes the physical intimacy truly wonderful. We miss the whole-person joining of man and wife.

So often the boy and girl who are inseparable before marriage choose to “settle down” after they get married. After all, they live together now. They don’t have to be so intense about their relationship any more. They don’t have to find every excuse to be together. They don’t have to long for the day when goodbyes aren’t necessary. That day is here. So, the togetherness can relax a little bit.

As they settle into marriage, they begin to outgrow the “silliness” of their inseparable dating days. They come to believe that what they once had is not sustainable, that now they are in a situation of needing to learn how to make their two different personalities work together while living continuously under the same roof. There’s no need for goodbye – there’s also no avenue for goodbye. They are together. Period.

Joining & Becoming

And this is where the joining and becoming are missed. You see, we aren’t supposed to remain our original individual personalities, learning to live together. We’re supposed to instead become something new. One flesh. A brand new creation. Something together.

That mushy feeling of “I hate to be away from him” is supposed to turn into a very real sense of being partially empty when he is not around. Before marriage, we are not incomplete without one another because we are whole, beautiful creations. But, once we join together in marriage, we become a new creation that is made up of man and woman. And in that relationship, we are incomplete without one another.

Does this mean we never enjoy time with our girlfriends? Of course not! But, it becomes different, because it becomes a celebration of friendship time that further nourishes who we are as wives. The time our husbands have with their friends should likewise be times that build them up so they can be strengthened in their role as husbands. But, ultimately, we should not be satisfied with time away until we have sealed it with the beauty of coming back together.

So, what is the identity of marriage? Not two people living in the same house, joined in the flesh. But, two people who have merged into a new creation. One that is nourished and grown by togetherness.

When my husband and I joined in marriage, we became incomplete without one another. And it is a beautiful thing.

Posted in Marriage

The Shining Light of Marriage

Some of my favorite classes in college were in the religion department. The professors made it their goal to challenge and stretch their students, driving us to not just settle for a surface reading of Scripture. They wanted us to dig. To study. To really see. To grasp. I am fortunate to still have the opportunity to learn from those professors as they write and teach even beyond the college classroom, seeking to stretch and grow pastors and anyone else willing to learn (like me!).

Remember the Context

One of those learning opportunities came in the form of a conference in which two professors from my alma mater walked a room of ministers and a few of their spouses (like me!) through the book of Malachi. One reminder they repeatedly hammered into our minds was the importance of keeping all of Malachi in context of the opening passage. The book begins with God’s profession of love for His people. Then it flows quickly into discipline. When reading the harsh words God speaks to His people, it’s easy to forget the love. But, He was disciplining them because of His love. Forgetting the opening profession of love skews the message of the entire book.

What About Marriage?

We have a bad habit of skewing multiple books of Scripture in the same way we might skew Malachi. We pull out a passage at a time, reading or studying in blocks, and forget the big picture of the book or of Scripture as a whole. Marriage is a particularly misused topic. There are quite a few passages on marriage, and studying those passages has resulted in quite the wide array of marriage doctrines. The doctrines seek to hash out what Scripture says about who has what rights and how those rights get to be used. Is the husband in full authority, or does the wife get to share that authority?

As we build those doctrines, we forget two things: First, we’re all bond slaves to Christ. None of us has authority or rights apart from Him. Second, each of the teachings on marriage falls into the context of a greater message to the church, and when we ignore that context, we miss the point.

Strangers and Aliens

About the same time I attended that Malachi conference, I was also taking my Sunday school class through 1 Peter. In my preparation time, I came to the passage in 1 Peter 3 about wives walking in quiet submission to their husbands, and I realized that I had never read that passage in context of the whole of Peter’s epistle. Despite the many times the importance of context had been pounded into my head by my former professors, I’d ignored the context of this passage.

1 Peter is a letter to a church living as “strangers and aliens” in a very fallen world. It is a letter to a church facing persecution. It is a letter reminding Christians that it is a good thing to stand out. To be different. To be holy. Peter is very practical in his letter, walking believers through specific ways they are to stand out from the rest of the world.

The goal is to be so different that everyone notices and is pointed to Christ, whether they accept Him or not.

Into the discussion about how to practically accomplish this goal, Peter drops a statement to Christian wives. The purpose of submission is to cause these women to stand out from the ungodly ones. In doing so, those married to non-Christian men may even have the opportunity to draw their husbands to Christ. Even if they don’t, how many others will notice the difference in them and be drawn to Christ? It’s not about fulfilling a biblical role in marriage. It’s about spreading the truth and light of Christ to a lost world.

A Light in the Darkness

If I look at the context of 1 Peter and even the context of Scripture as a whole, I see that my relationship with my husband is not about who is supposed to be in authority over or submissive to whom. It’s not even about us having a good and biblical marriage. Instead, it’s about the image I as a wife – and, by extension, we as a married couple – present to a very, very fallen world. How I relate to my husband should differ greatly from the way non-Christian wives relate to their husbands. It should stand out. I am a bond-slave of Christ. My only role, goal, and right, even in marriage, lies in my ability to honor Him and shine His light in the midst of this dark world. It is to live a life of unselfish submission that stands in sharp contrast to the get-ahead, me-first nature of this world.

When I view my role in marriage in that perspective, suddenly all of the passages on wifely submission take on a brand new meaning, a meaning that fits so beautifully with Jesus’ direct teaching about the church:

By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:35

Posted in Marriage

What’s Really Going On?

It’s one of those days when absolutely nothing goes right. Everything you touch seems to be out to get you. Then, your husband walks in the door, and suddenly, he becomes part of “everything.” Every word he says and everything he does seems to be an intentional attack.

If he’s going to “intentionally” aggravate you, you’re going to dish it right back. Whether it’s snapping at everything he says, refusing to cooperate in anything he does, or bringing up old frustrations that feel very unresolved in the moment, you’re going to find a way to make sure he knows just how frustrating he is being.

The Nagging Truth

Somewhere in the back of your mind, there’s this nagging thought that you’re being unreasonable. The truth is that it’s one of those days when it is completely impossible for him to succeed and give you what you want. His words and actions aren’t really aggravating. He is not really frustrating. But you’re frustrated, and it’s easier to lash out at him than accept the truth.

We all have bad days. We all have days when our thoughts drag us into the depths of frustration and our successes seem completely minimal. Perhaps those delightful hormones are out of whack. Maybe we’ve been ignoring the Lord’s voice for a few days. It could be that a sick child has us worried or lack of sleep has us utterly exhausted. A relationship or work situation could be weighing on our mind, or a nagging problem with one of the kids might be making us feel like failures.

There are any number of things that attack our mental well being, and we often don’t have a clue how to pinpoint the source of the attack. Since we can’t put our finger on the real cause, we can’t fix it. So, if we blame it on our husbands, we feel that we’ve come up with at least one solution.

The truth, though, is that wrapping our husbands up with the cause of our issues is not helpful. Believe me. I’ve been there far too many times.

So, what’s the alternative?

First, be honest with yourself.

If you find yourself responding negatively to your husband as soon as he walks in the door, choose to listen to that nagging truth, even if it doesn’t provide the answers you are seeking. You know it’s not him. Choose to act like it, even if you think venting would help you feel better. It won’t. Trust me.

Second, be honest with him.

You want to snap because you think it will make you feel better. Instead, just admit that you’ve had a really lousy day and you’re to the point that everything seems to be compounding that.

Finally, let him help.

No, his hugs won’t solve all your problems, but he’s also not trying to patronize you; he really does want to offer comfort. His jokes are an attempt to make you laugh, not to make light of the situation. His offer to take care of the kids’ supper is not an indication that you’re incapable; he truly wants to help.

When we’re in the middle of feeling rotten, it’s hard to take the time to step back and truly analyze the problem. We’re tired. We’re frustrated. We’re probably close to tears. We don’t really have the energy to figure out what the real problem is. But, we don’t really have to figure out the problem in that moment. We only need to choose honesty and remember that our husbands are not really out to get us.

I can tell you from experience that this is the better way. I don’t always choose it, but I never regret it when I do.

Posted in Marriage

Tending the Foundation

Over the years, I have interacted with women who have stepped into the beauty of real marriage after years of exposure to marriages of abuse. Perhaps they watched their parents endure an abusive marriage and never had the chance to see beauty in marriage before God granted them beauty in their own. Or perhaps they lived through spousal abuse themselves. Either way, they are suddenly confronted with what marriage should be: a beautiful picture of Christ’s love for the church.

Each time I talk to one of these precious, precious women, I’m delighted in the things they discover for the first time. No matter who else has seen the beauty in them, there’s something amazing when they’re told they’re beautiful for the first (or hundredth) time by a man who truly loves them. They discover how it feels to be reinforced by the person who knows them best. And they see the respect that exists between husband and wife in a God-honoring marriage. No matter how many times I see it, these three things are repeated. Every time. And it’s always beautiful!

And it’s a reminder to me. I’ll admit, there are days when I do not understand how my husband always sees me as beautiful. I get discouraged even when he builds me up. And, I do not actively express the respect I have for him. But, even when I fail to act on these things, I don’t take them for granted. I know what a blessing they are because I have see the alternative played out over and over again in the lives of other women.

Unforutnately, there are other things that I do take for granted, mainly because it is hard to fathom that marriage can exist without these things. For instance, I take for granted the fact that my husband and I both entered this marriage with a devotion to making it work.

I take for granted that we will make decisions together.

I take for granted that my husband married me, in part, because he wanted to be with me permanently. That I am his favorite person, and all other relationships – except with the Lord – are secondary.

I could go on and on, but the bottom line is that there are several things I assume are realities for every marriage simply because they are realities for me. But they are not. Many, many marriages, even lasting and spiritually growing marriages, exist without the aspects that I consider to be foundational.

So what do I do with that information?

First, I must never make assumptions about someone else’s marriage. I want to encourage couples. I want to see marriages strengthened and grown. I want to see them positively challenged and deepened. But, I must be careful to never assume that another marriage needs what mine needs. There is only one thing we all need – the Lord Jesus Christ at the head of our marriage. Period. If that is true, everything else will fall into place!

Secondly, I need to stop taking aspects of my own marriage for granted. The things that seem most natural are also most foundational to our relationship, and those things need attention just like our weaknesses and growth areas do. Sometimes it might be something as simple as thanking my husband for desiring to be with me. Whatever it is, I need to be intentional about tending our foundation.

How can you tend your foundation this week?