Posted in Marriage

The Real of Marriage

I write a lot about marriage, whether directly or indirectly. But, writing advice or sharing lessons learned means nothing if it is not backed up by something real.

Through all of our ups, downs, joys, struggles, times when we loved where we were in life, and times where we begged to be elsewhere, one thing has remained constant: my husband likes being with me. He enjoys our family. He wants to be a part of us.

That’s the “real” that backs up everything I write about marriage.

Our culture is designed to tear marriages apart. Despite the cry for gender equality, a traditional married couple is not expected to enjoy the same things or truly want to spend time together. That can be seen in the fact that, although our society is pulling away from marketing individually to men and women,  husbands and wives are still actively marketed to individually.

Meanwhile, we talk about “girl time” and going “out with the guys” as if our marriages are something we have to escape from every now and then. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love time with my girlfriends. But when that time is considered to be a break from husbands, there’s something wrong. Yet, that is what our society promotes. A break, not just from our kids, but from our husbands as well.

Everything about our culture wants to separate us.

My friends, the “real” of our marriages is our unity. True, beautiful, biblical marriage is two becoming one. We still have our unique personalities and interests, but they blend and merge and overlap such that we can truly be together. Not just coexist. Not just relate. But be. 

Eighteen years ago this month, my amazing husband and I decided that the friendship we’d had for several years was no longer the right relationship between us. But we didn’t just progress from friends to dating. Very shortly after realizing we belonged in a deeper relationship, we went ahead and set a wedding date. So, today, I do not write advice or lessons learned. Instead, I write of gratitude and deep thankfulness. This is an effort to show profound appreciation to the man who has chosen to be with me for nearly eighteen years. He tells me that the decision to be with me was the best decision he’s ever made, and, as crazy as it seems for someone to truly want to be with me, I believe him. Because I know that every days confirms that God brought us together, and every day that sense of joy in being together grows. Every day.

That’s the reality that backs up everything I say. Not fluff. Not idealistic answers for marriage. Not even training in marital counseling. Just eighteen years of being.

Posted in Marriage

The Way We Think

As homeschooling has developed and grown over the years, many families have discovered a fantastic reality: school doesn’t always have to look like school! Homeschoolers have the beautiful freedom to tailor an education to a single child. This fall, I don’t have to walk my youngest through fourth grade the same way I taught his older sisters. By the time my seventh grader reaches her sophomore year of high school, the practical details of her daily work load will shape up very differently than it will with my oldest this year, even if they take the exact same courses!

To accomplish this customization, I have spent years exploring learning styles and special needs. Processing every bit of information I’ve taken in – even information about needs none of my children have – I’ve been able to explore what does and does not work for each child. And, I learn something new every single year. It’s a journey of constant discovery, and exploring how they learn has allowed me to get to know my children in a very precious way.

Learning Styles & Marriage

For some reason, though, until recently I have never really contemplated how learning styles affect marital relationships. It’s not that I haven’t pondered the way my husband learns, especially the ways his mental processing differs from mine. I have. That sort of observation just comes naturally to me, so I’ve observed his learning style for years and marveled at our differences. But, although you’d think it obvious for someone like me to make the connection, I have never really reflected on how our learning differences have impacted our marriage, for good or for ill.

Fortunately, even if I haven’t reflected on that impact, I have automatically responded to it over the years.

Consider these realities:

– How we learn affects how we present information. If we learn best through picture or illustration, we will use as much illustration as possible when passing information on to others. If we are more black and white, then we will be direct and pack as much information as possible into a short amount of speech.
– We receive what others are communicating based on the way our brains process information. Consider the presentation thoughts and turn them around. How would you receive information offered by someone who presents differently than you do?
– Misunderstandings often arise based on differences in mental processing, sometimes resulting in fights and anger simply because of communication differences.

Now, stop and think for a moment. How do you process information? How do you explain what you’re thinking? How does that compare to your spouse’s methods of processing and communication?

Here’s another point to ponder. Does your spouse communicate and process with you the same way he does with other people?

All of these thoughts and realizations rained down on me just recently as I described something I was thinking to my husband. He doesn’t need word pictures, but I do. And, on so many occasions, he has patiently listened as I’ve described my word pictures in detail, processing out loud as I try to explain to him what I’m thinking. Meanwhile, another recent conversation made me realize that he’s comfortable communicating with me in ways that he does not communicate with others, leading to unique discussion situations that do not occur anywhere else in his life. So, I have to evaluate our private conversations differently than I do our public conversations.

Oh, what an impact his patience and my discernment – or lack thereof on both accounts – have on our marriage!

There is no single solution for effective communication in marriage. But, when we make the effort to have a well-rounded understanding of our spouses and their personalities, our ability to communicate with one another can grow by leaps and bounds.

Posted in Marriage

Marriage Monday: The Purpose of Relationships

What is the purpose of relationships? Why do we seek out partners and marriage?

If I am honest with myself and others, I will admit to a great deal of selfishness regarding my desire for relationships. I don’t want to be alone. I want to be loved and cherished. I want to be appreciated. I want to be needed. I want to have my needs met.

But, let’s consider the biblical purpose of relationships for a moment. Flip your Bibles open to Genesis and take a look at the familiar account of creation. Now, look specifically at Genesis 2:18, which reads, “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.’” (NASB)

This verse launches into the beautiful passage establishing the foundation of marriage. And what a glorious institution it is! But, there’s more to this passage than just marriage. After all, not everyone marries. Not everyone is supposed. But, the statement of “it is not good for man to be alone” is applicable to everyone – not just married folks.

That shows us that this is not strictly the establishment of marriage. It is the establishment of all relationships. All aspects of companionship, marital and otherwise. We need others in our lives.

But, why?

To fully glorify God in our lives.

Yes, my friends, it is that simple. We were made to glorify God. We were created to have communion with Him. But, how do we truly accomplish that without other people around us?

Marriage advice reminds us that this is not a 50/50 gig. Instead, we are advised to give 100%. Christian marriage counseling reminds us to simply trust that God will take care of the balance.

But I would argue that it’s less a matter of what we give to our spouses and more a matter of what we give to God. We give 100% to Him, offering Him our full spiritual sacrifice – our very lives – and allow Him to be glorified through every aspect of our lives. That includes our marriages. Oh, and every other relationship as well.

What would happen if we considered our marriages and other relationships to be avenues for God’s glory? What would become of our problems? Our disagreements? Our irritations?

Why don’t we give it a try this week?

Posted in Marriage

Marriage Monday: As a Family

Do you recall the story of Isaac and Rebekah? We meet Rebekah in Genesis 24 when Isaac’s father Abraham sends a servant back to his family to secure a wife for Isaac. Rebekah returns with the servant willingly to marry a man she has never met.

Twenty years later, twin boys Jacob and Esau come along. Take a look at Genesis 25:28: Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Mom and Dad chose favorites. And in the long run, choosing favorites caused major issues in the family. Although Scripture does not go into detail about the marital relationship of Isaac and Rebekah, her willingness to readily deceive her husband for the sake of her favored son (Genesis 27) is pretty solid evidence of division within the marriage.

What about us?

The story of Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Esau is not about marriage, and I won’t stretch it to glean marital truths from it. But it is an example of what happens when we allow our children to form a wedge between us and our spouses. Because it is an example, I believe we can use it as a springboard from which to discuss positive alternatives.

Here are some thoughts to ponder:

1) Instead of dividing us, the presence of our children should remind us to intentionally put one another first.

Our oldest child loved both mama and daddy and wanted us to fill different needs. Our second child was much more particular, but she did not mind mommy and daddy being together – as long as I could be there to meet her needs.

When our son came along, though, we found ourselves in brand new territory. He was a jealous mama’s boy through and through. Once he began to talk, “My mommy!” was a common phrase when my husband would try to hug me while our son was in my arms. My husband would sweetly, but firmly, respond with, “My wifey!” and proceed to wrap me in a huge hug. He was never harsh with our son, but he intentionally taught our baby boy that it was not a competition.

And now my son has no doubts. He knows I’m Daddy’s first. And he’s secure in that knowledge and in the knowledge of our love for him. By extension, my husband and I have seen our love continually strengthened because we reinforce it before our children and the rest of the world!

2) Instead of making life about our children, we are driven to even more strongly consider the impact of our marriage on the world around us.

Our children see the ups, downs, and in-betweens of our marriage. They hear us fuss and disagree. They see us in unity. But, through it all, they are completely confident in our solidarity. And if they see our solidarity, how much more will the world see it?

Marital solidarity is not a cultural preference these days. But it is a biblical reality. Being intentional about our marriage is an incredible testimony, and our children offer a great litmus test by which we can evaluate how others view our relationship.

3) Finally, instead of life being us versus them – whether it’s Dad and Mom versus the kids or Dad and “Esau” lined up against Mom and “Jacob” – interactions with our children can help us learn how to be strong in marriage in communion with others.

I’ve clearly stated on more than one occasion how important it is for my husband and me to pull back and have time to ourselves. But, it’s also important for us to function in community with others. So, we start with our family. We are training our children to follow Christ in everything. That means that if Doug and I have to divide to do women’s or men’s things, our “little” women and man divide and go with us. That’s part of training them. If we divide as a family, it is very rarely for one of us to go a lonely direction. Yes, that’s necessary on occasion, but it is our rule to make that the exception!

Marriage is not just about him and me. It’s about us. It’s about everything that encompasses us. Our children are a part of that! As a result, we must actively pursue a godly marriage as a family. What are ways you can accomplish that this year?

Posted in Marriage

Marriage Monday: Just Because

My husband is the king of “just because” moments – those little moments when there’s no real reason to celebrate, give a gift, or do something out of the ordinary. He just acts out of love.

I’m not so great at those moments. I tend to be more of a planner and need a reason or an occasion to motivate me to action. That’s an area I want to grow, though. I want to be more about the “just because” actions.

So, why are those moments so important? Because they show that we’re thinking of each other. They are tangible proof that our relationship goes beyond just the normal facts of married life. Our marriage is not just about going through the daily routine, parenting our kids, and putting up with each other. It’s about being a picture of Christ’s relationship with us.

And, let me tell you, my friends. There are many things the Lord does in our lives “just because.”

Just because they help us bring glory to Him.
Just because they fill us with joy.
Just because they teach us to know Him better.
Just because they bounce through our lives to impact others, drawing them into the kingdom.

Yes, marriage is a picture of all of that.

Suddenly, those little “just because” moments become far more important, don’t they? Those moments in which we are wide open in our love for our spouses. Those moments in which we display that love before the world. Those moments that are not about bragging but are about being true and real and honest.

I love seeing husbands and wives sitting close together, holding hands in public, or fully engaged in delightful conversation. I love seeing them drawn together like a magnet. There’s little more beautiful than the sight of a husband’s face lighting up when he sees his wife or a wife’s expression when she’s about to explode with pride for her husband.

Those are “just because” moments that shine.

Creating a marriage that reflects Christ, thus fulfilling marriage’s true purpose, is not an easy task. But, it can start with something as simple as being intentional about “just because” moments.

How can you be intentional this week?

Posted in Marriage, Thoughts from Scripture

Marriage Monday: Thinking of You

Okay, so I’m a day late for Marriage Monday! I got this written, but not edited yesterday. But, as I’m trying to be more diligent about posting, I’m going to go ahead and publish today. Enjoy! 

This morning, the power of thought is hitting me strongly. Oh how powerfully our thoughts intertwine with our actions, speech, and relationships. What happens when your mind is full of delight? What about when you rehash something that made you angry? What if your thoughts are melancholy? Or sad? Your words and actions follow those thoughts, don’t they?

Although there are instances when we can be good actors when the need demands, it is extremely hard to truly act in a manner that contradicts our thoughts. And often, if we consciously separate our behavior from our thoughts, we either find our focus and mood conforming more to fit our actions or we become so exhausted that we can no longer maintain the charade.

Thought & Marriage

Let’s apply that to marriage. I’ve written before about the importance of speaking positively about our spouses in public, especially in this culture where spousal bad-mouthing is an art form! But, how can we expect to be honestly positive about our spouses in public if our thoughts do not flow accordingly?

Think about the last time you were angry or aggravated with your spouse. Think about the thoughts that flowed through your mind. Did you combat those thoughts or stew in them? Did you talk out your frustration with your spouse, or did you just let it simmer? How do you feel right now when you remember your agitation? Does it quickly stir up negativity in you again, or does it leave you wondering why you got so upset in the first place?

When we let negative thoughts stir, simmer, and stew in our minds, we do not truly grow our marriages. Instead, we set ourselves up for that moment when exhaustion sets in and our charade is exposed. It might take a while. Years, even. But eventually, we will awaken to discover that our marriages are crumbling and a fix is going to take a whole lot more than just a mental adjustment.

What Scripture Has to Say

But, what if we do something about it right now? Today? What if, in this very moment, we choose to follow the scriptural mandate to take authority over our thoughts?

We can find insight into this scripture mandate in 2 Corinthians 10:3-6. In the grander context of the passage, Paul is offering a defense of himself, but these specific verses sum up the reason he feels the need to defend himself. He has had some challenging words to say to the Corinthians, and they’ve apparently fussed a bit about it, challenging Paul’s authority in the process. He responds by telling them why it is so crucial that they listen to his teaching. Take a look:

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.

Is marriage any different? In the grand scheme of things, is your fight truly with your spouse? Or is it possibly with the spiritual forces against which we are battling? Should it not then follow that we, too, must take every thought captive in our marriages as in every other area of life?

My Prayer for You and Me This Week

Perhaps your week has gotten off to a beautiful start, and your thoughts toward your spouse are pure and beautiful right. But perhaps you are struggling. Getting into a new week has you scrambling and frustrated, and that frustration is seeping into your relationship.

May I encourage you to take captive your thoughts about your spouse? May I pray with you as you seek to ensure that your obedience in marriage is complete? Oh, how I pray that you will be able to delight in your spouse today and throughout the week, in thought, in speech, and in interaction!

Posted in Marriage

Why We Have Date Night

A few weeks ago, I came across this article by Tim Challies:

Yes, please, go ahead and read it. It’s a good article. I see his point, and I agree with him – well, for the most part.

I wholeheartedly agree with the importance of enjoying our spouses. I can’t imagine going through life without enjoying my husband on a daily basis, whether we’re working, playing, or just living life together. That enjoyment is much more critical than a weekly date night.

Yet, as we head into this new year, my husband and I are as determined as ever to fiercely protect our weekly date night. Contrary to Challies’ admonition to the contrary, we are fully convinced that we do need this time for several reasons.

Three Reason We Have Date Night

We need to publicly protect our time together.

There are weeks when we get those little moments scattered throughout, and we don’t “need” date night nearly as much (although we still take it). But, there are other weeks when, no matter what we do to avoid it, our time is demanded and we are unable to squeeze even a few cherished moments into our days. We protect date night – even in the weeks when the little moments are frequent – because we can look at other people in those crazy weeks and say, “No. This is OUR time. It is protected.” When we do it weekly, it’s much easier to jealously guard it in the crazy weeks and months. It doesn’t mean we go out – we rarely have an away-from-home date night. But, we do devote that time to being intentionally together.

The side benefit is that those to whom we are ministering see that we truly enjoy one another and are actively working to keep our marriage strong. That lends credibility to our ministry role.

Setting aside time keeps me from just folding my husband into my routine.

My husband needs to know he’s special. Important. Significant enough to me that I make him a part of my every day routine – but also significant enough that I will pull away from my routine just for him. Regularly.

Date night is my way of saying, “You’re important enough to set all of the rest of this aside completely.”

Those precious little moments we enjoy together are part of life. And we will always make a special effort to delight in those moments instead of letting them just pass us by. But, we will also be intentional about creating focused time together, time that is distinct from the normal routine of life.

Date night teaches our children.

We have kids. We homeschool those kids. We minister with those kids. They are always with us. Which means they share most of those precious little moments with us. And, my friends, that is absolutely beautiful to me.

But, it’s also a hazard. My husband and I need time that is our own. And our children need to see that Dad and Mom aren’t just parents – they are husband and wife. Intentionally setting aside a date night shows our children that shared enjoyment between just the two of us is a vital part of a marriage.

We started date night when the kids were five, three, and six months. Evenings were not easy thanks to a baby who didn’t want to be away from mama at all and a preschooler who suffered from night terrors. The kids did not understand date night. They only understood their needs and desires. Intentionality was hard – especially when we had to stay at home due to lack of babysitters or funds to go out. But, those obstacles heightened the meaningfulness of our choice to be intentional. And, over time the kids learned that date night meant something special for Mommy and Daddy. Nine years later, they now honor it with us.

Date night is really not the key here. Intentionality is. Choosing to let your spouse know that he is more than just part of your every day life – he’s special. He’s significant. He’s worth sharing precious moments of life with. But he’s also worth reserving time for.

Yes, I do need date night, and I will strongly defend that need while encouraging you to find what fits your need.

Will you choose to be intentional this year, whatever form that takes for you?

Posted in Marriage, Thoughts

Marriage Monday: Goals & Togetherness

This week 2015 will end. Our new year begins as Thursday rolls into Friday. Some of you will be making resolutions. Others will declare resolutions to be a waste of time. Some of you will just plug right along, letting life return to normal after the holiday chaos. Others will be restructuring schedules and finding ways to breathe life into the long winter months. (Can you tell I interact with homeschoolers?)

But, there’s one thing we should all be doing. We should be setting goals. Okay, so we don’t all have to set goals when the new calendar year turns. Perhaps your goals connect with the school year. Maybe you set goals with each new birthday or anniversary. Whatever the case may be, goals are something we all should establish and revisit regularly. And they are so much more useful than resolutions!

Goals & Marriage

So, what does a discussion of goals, resolutions, and the new year have to do with marriage? Everything!

You see, you and I can set goals all we want. But, if those goals are not in line with the goals our spouses have set, or worse, are contradictory to them, we will fight an uphill battle – one we will probably end up losing. And we will thwart the efforts of our spouses as well.

So, what can we do?

Set Goals

As Christians, our ultimate goal is Christ. Period. But, even Paul gave very specific examples of how he intended to accomplish the goal of glorifying Christ with every ounce of his being. Why should we expect to accomplish as much with less focus? So, we set before ourselves specific ways in which we will glorify Christ and draw others to Him.

Might God change those goals? Might He step in and redirect us in 2016? Very probably. But, when we do not set goals, we tend to flounder about with no purpose, spiritually or otherwise. Prayerfully setting goals makes us more sensitive to His voice and His direction, even if He redirects us mid-flow.

Share Goals

Individualism is well entrenched in the western cultural mentality. But, it’s also a spiritual deterrent. I was created to need the support of others. Even if my goals are strictly my own (my health goals, for example), the truth is that I cannot achieve them on my own. I need the help and support of my family, and especially of my husband. He wants to motivate, encourage, and support me. But, how can he if he has no idea what my goals are?

Encourage Goal Setting

Last week, my husband shared some of his goals for 2016. Next, he asked for mine. Finally, he challenged each of our children to consider goals. They were a bit intimidated by that challenge. They’d never thought about setting goals for themselves. And that is true of many of us. We just move through life, going with the flow, when we could instead be aiming for a goal.

If your spouse has never considered the idea of setting goals, present that challenge this year. (But, don’t be pushy. Start by sharing your own goals, then prayerfully go from there.)

Support the Goals of Others

Actively. Joyfully. And, when it comes to our spouses, we should attempt to merge our goals with theirs. If any of our plans clash or interfere with one another’s needs, perhaps we should reconsider and prayerfully re-evaluate.

Your goals – combined with your spouse’s – will go far to shape how your marriage grows this year. Stand together! Work together! And be ready to look back this time next year and see what God has done as you have submitted your time and energy to honoring Him through growth.

Posted in Marriage

Marriage Monday: That Thing He Does

During our last three years in the Memphis area, my husband worked for UPS. He had the lovely task of loading trucks every day. Not the lovely brown trucks that deliver wonderful packages to your house. No, he loaded the feeders that make sure those packages get from their point of origin to the lovely brown truck and on to your house in two days.

You have probably driven by the huge distribution centers lined with trailer bays. Now imagine working inside one.

Unfortunately, for those three years all I could do was imagine. I never got to see the inside of the UPS hub where Doug worked. I had to rely on descriptions.

That was hard for me. You see, all of our married life, I’d known Doug’s work. I’d known his coworkers. I’d seen his work place. In fact, I visited it regularly. But not at UPS. I knew only one coworker. And I relied on stories.

Fortunately, Doug told stories. He described. He tried to paint a picture for me so I would know what his work day and place looked like. He laid the groundwork from day one. So, when day 483 (along with many other days!) was especially trying, he could share his thoughts with few words because he knew I understood the background.

That has been phenomenal for our marriage. He knows that even if I have never experienced his work, he can still talk to me about it.

I never cease to be amazed by the number of people who really have no clue what their spouses do. Oh, they know the general environment. They know some names of coworkers. But, they have no idea what a typical work day looks like. They don’t understand what causes stress. They know little about what creates a good or bad day.

When we cannot turn to our spouses with our successes and frustrations, where do we turn? To the people who “get” us. To the people who understand. Our coworkers. Others in the field.

Where does that leave our spouses? Out in the cold.

Where does that leave our marriages? Growing cold.

It is so vital that we share the details of each day with our spouses. Let him know what your work entailed today. Let her know about your interactions, successes, and failures.

Doug and I still have to work at this, even though we share an office now. Even sitting across the room from one another, it is easy to get focused on our own screens, our own work, and our own online interactions. We still have to actively share. We still have to talk. We each still have to be intentionally involved in the work of the other.

How interested are you in the daily life of your spouse? How much do you know about the challenges and successes that define each week? I encourage you to take it up a notch today. Be involved. Show your spouse that you are a safe place for understanding and sharing. And see how it grows your relationship. See what doors for ministry and fellowship it opens.

It’s well worth the effort.

Posted in Marriage, Thoughts, Thoughts from Life

Marriage Monday: Real Time

Years ago I remember telling some coworkers that I wished Doug could work from home. They responded with laughter, assuring me that I would get tired of it very quickly.

I wasn’t so sure.

Here we are, many years later, and Doug and I both work from home. We have desks on opposite sides of a room in our house. He has an office at church, but there really isn’t much reason for him to consume the resources it takes to keep the church cool and warm just for him when he can do his work just as effectively at home.

And I love having him here, just as I expected I would.

There is a misconception about our family life, though. People assume that our choice to homeschool and to have both of us working from home means that we interact as a family all the time.

But we don’t.

Well, that’s not exactly true. We do interact all the time. I interact with the kids through school, and Doug and I exchange conversations during the work day. But those interactions are all very task-oriented.

Ultimately, even though we do not go our separate ways each day, we still have to be very intentional as a family to interact relationally, just like any other family.

Whether Mom works outside the home or not, at some point she has to to turn off the work side of being a mom and just get to know her children.

Whatever Dad’s work situation looks like, he has to be intentionally about stepping away on a regular basis (and I don’t mean once or twice a year – I mean several times a month!) to truly interact with his wife and with his family as a whole.

We have to be intentional about our family relationships.

But we have to be even more intentional about balancing those family relationships and our marital relationship. Our children need to know that Daddy and Mommy come first with one another. Yet, if we only step back to be intentional about the marriage, our children will begin to believe that only the marriage is important – not the family.

We must balance both.

When is the last time you spend real time with your spouse? With your family? Not multi-tasking by sitting down to plan out the coming week with your spouse or heading out to the ball field together as a family to watch one child play. No, I mean intentional, relational, real time.

When can you set that aside this week?

It could be something as simple as one meal with your spouse.

It could be as easy as thirty minutes of UNO with the family.

But it’s worth doing. Weekly if possible, but at least a couple of times a month. Real time. Relational time. An investment in what is really important.

How can you enjoy real time this week?