Posted in Marriage

Mercy!

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

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

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

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

But, I see a deeper lesson here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will you choose with me to show mercy?

Posted in Marriage

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

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

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?

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

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, 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, 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?