A Broken Togetherness

19059562_10155076822815091_6085062570885595610_nTwenty-seven years of together. That’s a decent amount of time—a length I could hardly grasp when I said “I do.” Even now I can barely believe that span of time, even with the years stacked behind us, a beautiful bundle of children—all of it a blur of too fast.

It’s not for the faint of heart this thing called marriage. The years are uncertain, difficult, tumultuous, breaking. They are framed with laughter, stained from tears, and cushioned with faith, hope, and love—without which they’d crumble to certain death. But all of it is the making of a marriage and the making of us, together and individually.

It goes without saying that marriage is the choosing of a life lived alongside another. That recession up the aisle represents side-by-side living, saying no to selfishness, and no more going it alone—physically, emotionally, and even spiritually.

It’s a door flung open into your interior life, and the wider it remains, the better off you’ll be. Shutting the door in unforgiveness, complete self-reliance, or self-preservation isn’t an option. You signed on for a double passage.

It’s not a give and take mentality either. It’s a give and give again. Forgive and forgive again. And love—inside of imperfection—again and again.

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It’s not just proclaiming love in word but in being. In doing loving acts, speaking love out, responding in love, listening in love, sitting quietly in love when you’d rather tell him or her a thing or two. It’s staying when you’d sooner leave. It’s working to fix broken.

And to be honest, you’ll probably get wounded. Love fiercely and there’s a decent possibility. But it’s far better to love than to close yourself off in protection and precaution. That only serves to stifle vibrant love in all its various forms.

I’m no poster child for marriage done right. Ralph and my kids will tell you. Even so, I like to joke that because of him my crown in heaven will be too heavy to carry, and I’ll be assigned a full-time Seraphim flying overhead to hold it up. But he’s the realist and will tell you I’m no angel either.

But marriage isn’t I love you because you’re lovable. It’s closer to I love you in spite of the fact that you often aren’t. To know one’s faults and failings thoroughly and still love brings us closer to the heart of Jesus who loves us this way. To be wounded by that same person, forgive, and continue to love grows us to be like Jesus.

In this imperfect world full of imperfect people, love and marriage will likewise never be perfect. We are two broken people becoming less broken only now we do it together. Yet we often arrive in our marriage in this semi-broken state expecting perfect. So when life gets messy and our expectations of perfect go unmet or completely unravel, we think we made a bad choice. Instead of digging in and shoveling out of the chaos we concur the job is too hard and throw the shovel down.

But what if we agree that marriage isn’t perfection, nor is it the place where all our needs and desires will be met, but instead a broken togetherness.

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It’s not I love you because you’re beautiful, you complete me, you say and do the right things, and show up with chocolate and flowers (though that’s never a bad idea). It more closely resembles, if we are blessed with years I’ll love you until your skin sags. I’ll hang on to your hand over the hospital bed rail until your breath runs out. I’ll stay until the us becomes one again, and all that remains is the beautiful memories and the slightly less broken me once again.

So, here’s to another year of us—of we—amid our imperfections. May we love longer and larger than expected, and leave each other better than we found us.

 

 

 

Making a Marriage Work

shutterstock_589431530Yesterday, I attended a wedding shower. The bride-to-be asked the guests to write words of wisdom on cards that she would collect and keep. It was a wonderful idea and each of us scrawled our advice across the card. I wish I had read a few besides the ones the ladies on either side of me wrote. Next month it will be twenty-seven years for Ralph and I, and it’s never too late to learn.

Being a fairly verbose person, I surprised myself by writing only one word: Forgive. 

I realize I could have filled the card, not because I’m so wise or wordy, but because there are so many things that a couple needs to learn to make a marriage work. Things such as communication, prioritizing time together, respectfulness, faithfulness, and selflessness. But for me, if I don’t forgive, the others fall apart too.

If I suffer from a bitter heart—as I’ve been known to at times—it chokes out my ability to fully tend to my marriage. The anger that comes from withholding forgiveness disables communication. The bitterness can cause distance, inhibit respect, ignite selfish behaviour, and, if I’m not careful, can dissolve faithfulness or faith in my marriage.

Anything you want to thrive takes hard work, and a healthy marriage is no exception. There are a host of things that conspire to dismantle a marriage. The lack of the things previously mentioned can be factors, but other tensions beat at the door too. Things such as sickness, financial trouble, long work hours, and constant travel. The relationship may be may strained by putting the children first, extended family issues, living for self, or passing blame. A refusal to take responsibility for their part in the marriage issues, differing interests or ideas, unrealistic expectations, or infidelity can tear a marriage apart.

Marriage is hard work; extending forgiveness makes it easier.

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I would be amiss to fail to mention love with regard to marriage. If love is the glue, I imagine forgiveness is a strong element of this cementing factor. And just like love, forgiveness is a deliberate action. It’s easy to say you love a person. It’s easy to love when the relationship is new and exciting and you feel loving, but as the years press on and the hardships press in, that feeling may wane. And so there are times when you make a choice to love even if you don’t feel loving, just as you forgive even if you don’t feel like it. Both are a deliberate act of the will. Both do wonders to keep your marriage alive and thriving.

Feelings come and go and aren’t always a reliable reality. You have a choice as to how you will behave within your marriage and toward your spouse. You can choose unloving actions or loving ones, you can choose to remain bitter or forgive. And all these deliberate choices can either dismantle or build up your marriage. Your “I do” was an agreement to work hard at something nearly impossible without forgiveness, and fairly impossible without love. But if you learn to persevere and work through each struggle, there’s a greater chance your marriage will grow stronger having overcome them.

This summer many couples will find themselves proclaiming their love at the altar. Since neither one is perfect, I hope their vows include a promise to forgive the offenses of the one they profess to love—as many times as needed. And if they find themselves at a loss, I hope that they seek help from others when needed, and learn how to craft a strong marriage graciously padded with forgiveness and love.

I’ll leave you with this song: Fight For You – by Grayson Reed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lY0cdhDbmt0

Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

~ Colossians 3:13

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

~Ephesians 4:31-32

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  1. What is one thing you can think of that needs work in your marriage?
  2. Is there anything you need to forgive?

 

 

Learning to Fight

My husband and I learned how to fight. This seems like a bad idea, but there are some substantial advantages to mastering techniques for conflict resolution. By virtue of being human, there will always be possibilities for disagreements with others. It seems marriage is full of such opportunities.

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Ralph and I have been married for twenty-six years, but while dating, we had to overcome contrasting upbringings and approaches to conflict. I was raised in a polite British philosophy where I often heard, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” In theory, this is rather lovely, but when applied to conflict resolution, it results in generous amounts of “sweeping things under the rug”.

My husband’s family is German. They got things out in the open, forgave, and moved on. During a conflict, my silent treatment, or disappearance from a tense room, shut down communication. Eventually, I saw that my tactics were ineffective, and began communicating by facing things head-on. Generally, for most things to improve, it takes undoing poor habits and mastering new ones. Such was the case for fighting well.

Whether a spouse, family member, colleague, or friend, we will be confronted with opportunities to fight and forgive well. When we face disagreements, or experience hurt at the hands of another, it’s easy to become offended and get angry. The key is to not grow embittered, carry that wounding around with you, or worst of all, shove it under the rug.

Fight for relationships that are worth fighting for. Instead of withdrawing or rebutting with silence, develop the habit of forgiveness. This doesn’t mean we excuse the behaviour or pretend it didn’t happen. We acknowledge the wrong done, communicate how it made us feel (if possible), and then forgive—independent of whether an apology is offered.

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Ralph and I – 2010

Forgiveness is a loving act both toward ourselves and others. It’s saying, what you did hurt me, but I refuse to let it rule me. In a fearless act of love, you forgive and in doing so, it’s as though you’ve covered over their fault so that it’s no longer visible. It’s probably the only time it’s a good idea to cover up something. In the meantime, you’ve secured your freedom. You’ve freed yourself from the weight of carrying anger and bitterness and can move forward in soul-settled peace.

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)

This courageous and almost contradictory behaviour—just as learning to fight appears at first glance—brings us close to the heart of God. Christ’s death meant we were loosed from sin and fully forgiven. When we behave in like manner, laying ourselves down for others, and beautifully offering a cover of forgiveness for their shortcomings, we are behaving like our Father in heaven. Here’s some helpful instruction: 

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous… If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?… Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

Forgiveness doesn’t mean giving others a license to repeatedly mistreat you. You still need to set healthy boundaries and remove yourself from toxic people or harmful situations. Forgiveness simply means you release offenses, and, as a result, remain free from others’ baggage.

Forgiveness isn’t easy. It’s not a one-time effort either. For me, forgiveness often looms like an unscalable mountain threatening to block my journey. But nothing worthwhile happens without fighting for it, or at least applying focused effort. Sometimes we need to reset our default button to bypass unhealthy mindsets or patterns of thinking.

It helps to remember that we needed mercy too. And don’t we continue to need it? We aren’t faultless. There will come a time when we hurt another—either purposely or unintentionally—and what a relief it is when this same forgiveness is extended to us. It also helps to remember we’re forgiven by God who never reminds us of our sins. The least we can do is love the same.

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  1. Make a list of those you haven’t forgiven.
  2. Pray and ask for God’s help to forgive.
  3. Go the extra mile and bless them (wish well for them).

 

 

 

Letting Go with Open Arms

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Last weekend, our first born got married to his perfect match. As if this weren’t enough emotion for this momma’s heart, on Monday of the same week we crammed the contents of our second born’s room into our van and moved him into his own apartment to continue his college education. On Tuesday, our littlest started school for the first time. I homeschooled our kids for the past eighteen years, and she is the first to go to “real” school. The same week, my third born left for New York City for a big audition. Continue reading “Letting Go with Open Arms”

What Love Looks Like

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We use the “L” word a lot. We say we love our new shoes, love our friend’s dress, or loved the Christmas party. The passionate love we most often see depicted in movies is in the infatuation stage. But love is so much more than feeling partial to a new pair of shoes, a pretty dress, a celebration with friends, or the intense feelings at the beginning of a relationship.

Here are some examples of love I’ve noticed. I’m sure you could add a few of your own.

Love looks like the man who moves into a retirement home prematurely because his wife in the adjoining room had a stroke when they were still in the throes of living out their dreams together.

Love looks like the woman who stands firm and cares for her husband in the midst of his battle with Parkinson’s disease that arrived with aggression when many more adventures still awaited them.

Love looks like the man who daily goes to the long-term care facility and sits beside his unconscious wife who hasn’t woken up in two years. Despite what the doctor and his family says, he holds her motionless hand, praying and hoping for the miraculous.

Love looks like the man who brought his wife coffee in bed, but learned that’s not her preference. Instead, he quietly sneaks out each morning without waking her to prepare the coffee for when she gets up so they can sit on the couch and enjoy it together.

Love looks like the exhausted, nursing mother who rises numerous times a night for months to nourish and comfort her colicky baby.

Love looks like the newlywed who – though formerly a wallflower – takes dancing lessons with his wife because he knows she longs to dance with him.

Love looks like the son who – despite having better things to do – proof reads his mother’s blogs so she doesn’t make a fool of herself.

Love looks like the Man who hung on a tree for mankind though He himself had done nothing wrong. His was a love so great it was willing to come, to stay with us for a time, and teach us first-hand how to love. He healed the sick and loved the broken and unlovable. He offered hope and showed us how to enter into the kingdom of heaven. He shouldered the sin of the world and poured out love until death. Even in His last breath He loved by forgiving those who were crucifying Him. This Lover is Jesus.

Here is what the Bible tells us love looks like:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Cor 13:4-8)

Love often looks more like the mundane than the movies. It’s loving the lined face long after physical beauty has faded. It’s serving the other in sickness – and in health. It’s staying when things are tough or the situation looks hopeless. Love cheers the other on. It respects and celebrates differences. Love forgives. And for all these and many more, that makes love – though mundane in its everydayness – miraculous. In its fullness, love is the fearless laying down of our lives for another. This may look as simple as giving up our preferences and our comfort, or as difficult as overlooking an offense.

This Christmas, may you see the love of Jesus anew, feel it in your heart, and receive it fully. May you look for ways to selflessly love those in your midst, laying down your life for them. May you speak your love in words and show it by your actions. May you even give undeserved love to an offender and offer forgiveness and blessing – just as Jesus did for us.

Bless you this Christmas Season! Be filled to overflowing with God’s miraculous love! If you’re up to sharing, I’d “love” to hear some of your love stories too!

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  1. Think of some ways you can be intentional about loving those closest to you. Write them down and act on them each day leading up to Christmas.
  2. Is there a person you need to forgive? Extend love and release your offender(s).

 

 

Ten things I’ve learned being married for 25 years.

This past June, my husband and I celebrated our 25th anniversary. To be honest, it feels like we packed everything that is supposed to occur in a lifetime of marriage into these first 25 years! Even my husband said the next twenty-five could stand to be a bit less exciting.

For this post, I decided to share a few things I have learned so far. Maybe you can relate to a few of them…

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  1. The little things matter. Ralph makes me coffee every morning. First thing each day, we sit together in our sun room for an hour and chat, mugs in hand. The occasional day he may leave early, I wake to the aroma of coffee in place of him. When he is away, I miss those morning coffees and joke that it’s a rough day because I had to make my own. Little things strung together make big things. Little things show love and create closer bonds and shared memories. Look for little ways to serve and love your spouse.
  2. The little things don’t matter. Sometimes he leaves the toilet seat up, sometimes I don’t screw the toothpaste cap back on, most times he doesn’t wipe the counter, often I leave clothes on the floor. But these don’t really matter. Instead of nit-picking, most of the time, we choose to bear with one another. It’s easy to get too caught up with insignificant things. Instead, try to focus on the positive aspects of your partner and marriage, choosing to celebrate those instead.
  3. Celebrate each other. Be your spouse’s biggest fan. Encourage them and support them as they stretch for their dreams. Appreciate your differences and realize that they make you a stronger, more well-rounded couple.
  4.  This too shall pass. Whatever you two are facing right now isn’t permanent. The situation, the problem, whatever the challenge is, won’t look the same in a few weeks, months, or years to come. Be patient. There is no quick fix. If you’re both committed to listening, learning, repenting, forgiving, and growing, there’s a greater chance you’ll be okay. It will get better if you both work at it. Which brings me to my next point…
  5. Nothing stays the same. The years march on…quickly. The kids grow up, we grow older. Appreciate each other now. Put each other first – even before your kids and especially before your parents, friends, hobbies, and work. You’re in it for a lifetime, so take time for each other. Laugh together. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll grow old together.
  6. You aren’t perfect. So why expect your partner to be? Sometimes our expectations are too high. We look at their weaknesses and completely overlook our own. We’re impatient and expect that they should be further along by now. Often, our grace barometer needs adjusting, and so does our attitude. You’re their partner for a reason. Together you take steps toward Christ-likeness and encourage each other along your shared journey.
  7. They aren’t God. Obviously. So don’t put your partner in this place in your life. When Ralph and I were newlyweds I recall being frustrated and disappointed that he wasn’t meeting my every need. I soon realized that I’d made the mistake of expecting Ralph to fill God’s shoes. Of course, the shoes were much too big! Don’t expect your partner to meet all your needs. They won’t and they can’t. It’s an unfair position to be in, and you’ll end up sorely disappointed. They can never be your all. They will never complete you. Only God can meet all your needs and provide all your joy and peace. You’ve been gifted with this person to share your life with, but keep God in top priority, not your spouse.
  8. Fight for each other, not with each other. You each came into this marriage with baggage. Help each other carry it and by and by, it will get lighter. You don’t fix each other – that’s God’s job – but you persevere. You courageously face the struggles head-on, dealing with them until they lose and your marriage wins.
  9. Pray with each other. Try to find a time each day to pray together. It keeps you humble and connected. Plus, together you are a powerhouse against the enemy – a formidable force to be reckoned with!
  10. Love. I mean, really love. There is nothing like marriage to make you learn to truly love. It’s hard work. It takes a disciplined effort. Sometimes we prefer not to try. For the most part, we aren’t good at it. Sometimes we want to give up. The popular culture has distorted love. This is what it should look like:

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies.

1 Corinthians 13

Try putting your name in place of love in the above verse. How did you do?

I’d love to hear some things you’ve learned during your years of marriage so far!

May you love deeply and grow even stronger in your marriage! 

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  1. When you looked at the “love list” above, which ones did you feel needed improvement on your end?
  2. Write them on a piece of paper and purposely choose to work on one area each week.
  3. Ask God to help you on a daily basis. He’s the only One who can give you a generous supply of love.