6 Ways to Listen Well

6 ways to listen

Today, please welcome Time-Warp Wife,  Darlene Schacht. She has a way with telling truth–in a way that packs a punch. Here she is talking about learning how to listen.

Poetry… I’ve read Dr. Seuss. Does that count?

Ask me to write a poem, and I’m lost. Seriously. I wouldn’t know a good poem if it was staring me in the face. On the other hand, my niece Stephanie is an incredible poet. At least I think she is. I’ve never known enough about poems to tell for sure, but she puts pen to paper and off she goes creating beautiful words. The fact that she does it with ease tells me she knows what she’s doing.

A few years ago, she told me they were having an “open-mic night” at a bookstore downtown, and asked me to come along.

Why not? I figured it would be a fun way to spend an evening with her. The only problem was that it wasn’t exactly fun. It was kind of boring to be honest with you. Every writer had about 10 minutes to read while the rest of us spent the time picking at hang nails, surveying the crowd, and counting the number of chairs in the room–anything to keep us from falling asleep.

The only people who seemed to be enjoying themselves were the ones standing up at the podium. One by one they took their place up on stage excited to share their words with the world. Once their ten minutes of fame came to a close, they had a few of their own hangnails to pull.

Later that week, I asked Stephanie why she hadn’t stepped up with the rest of the writers. Why didn’t she read her poems?

Her answer is one that stuck with me…

She said that she used to be a big part of that crowd, but what she realized after a while was that everyone was there to be heard, but few came to listen. She made a choice that she wanted to give herself to the art instead of taking something away. Sounds like a true poet to me.

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath. – James 1:19

It’s true to life too, isn’t it?

While most of us want to be heard, few of us take the time to listen as much as we speak.

Sure I listen, but to tell you the truth most of the time that I’m listening to someone, I’m thinking about what I’m going to say next.

It’s hard to “hear” when you’re not listening, isn’t it?

We had a friend once who had the gift of listening. Did you know that listening was a gift? Neither did I, but I’m calling it one today, okay? We could be in a room full of people, but as soon as I opened my mouth to speak he leaned in, focused on what I was saying, and hung on every word that I said. Not just me, it was my husband, it was our friends–it was anyone and everyone that wanted to talk.

I’m not so gifted, which is why I have to exercise myself in this area.

 Stopping to listen to someone with both ears, is a way of showing compassion. It tells them that you care about their words. Whether they have good news to share or they’re looking for a listening ear, what they’re really wanting from you is someone who’s present in the moment. What they need is someone who values them enough to consider their words.

When Michael and I used to talk–in the early years of marriage–I didn’t understand what he needed from me. My idea of listening to him was searching for a solution, before having my turn on the soapbox.

Some days he’d tell me about a bad day at work and by the end of the conversation we were both more frustrated than we were at the start.

It wasn’t until he finally said to me,I just need you to listen to me. That’s all. I’m not looking for a magic solution–I just need my wife.” 

exchanging ideasAnd so when it comes to our marriage, listening has become a part of my vow.

My goal is to listen to him and to consider his words, before I speak an encouraging word.

And how do I do that?

Here are six ways to listen well, that I have been learning:

1.  Practice – Listening takes patience and it takes restraint. Neither of those things come easy without practice.

2.  Get Focused – Carve out time to listen to each other in a quiet place free of distractions. Maybe go for a walk or grab a coffee together.

3.  Remember, You’re Not a Therapist – Listening well doesn’t mean that you have to have all of the answers. In fact some times advice is the last thing they want. What the person needs more than anything is empathy first. Just being there for them is a gift in itself.

4.  Ask Questions – The best way to continue a conversation and keep the ball in their court is to ask questions about the situation. And don’t forget about these questions as well: Is there anything I can do? How would you like me to pray?

5.  Don’t Bathe in the Spotlight – One of the hardest things I’ve had to overcome as a listener is my tendency to ignore what they’re saying while I’m thinking of my own story to tell.

6.  Lean in to Give Eye Contact – Two of the best listeners I’ve ever met have great body language. You could be standing in the midst of a multitude and feel like you’re the only two people on earth.

Learning how to listen isn’t hard. It just takes practice.

Stop what you’re doing to listen. Don’t sit there looking around at other people or hailing down a waitress for more sugar. Engage with the person you’re talking to. Give them eye contact. Immerse yourself in their words.

Lord, teach how to listen, how to be present in the moment, so that I too might bring a gift.

 

Messy Beautiful LoveDarlene SchachtDarlene Schacht is the original founder of Christian Women Online Magazine and The Internet Café Devotions and writes the popular blog Time-Warp Wife. She is coauthor of Candace Cameron Bure’s New York Time’s best-selling book, Reshaping It All: Motivation for Physical and Spiritual Fitness. Darlene has been married to Michael Schacht for more than 25 years. They have four children.

Check out Darlene’s new book, Messy Beautiful Love: Hope and Redemption for Real-Life Marriages, which releases today!

 

Made for Each Other: Embracing Your Differences

Made for Each Other: Embracing our Differences Marriage Series

We get married because we want to believe that we are “made for each other”.

Yet you and your husband are two very different people.

You have gender differences. You have personality differences. You have background differences. The problem with differences is that we usually assume that we’re right, because what we do seems natural to us–the way things should be done. When he does things differently, he seems wrong. And a few years of clashing over how things should be done, we wonder if we really are “made for each other” after all.

But what if those differences are tools that God can use to mold you into better people?

Let me tell you the story of my relationship with my husband, Keith. I told it first in a column I wrote back in 2007, but I think it speaks to this, and today, as part of our “Virtual Marriage Retreat” that we’re doing every Monday in September, I thought I’d look at the concept again.

In my marriage, I tend to be the one who wrecks the cars. Keith wrecks the laundry, but that doesn’t cost nearly as much. For a while there I seemed to have a string of issues needing little bumper touch ups, and the mechanic helpfully suggested that he could install those little floaty-things that boats use to the outside of our car. Keith thought this was hilarious. I did not.

Of course, Keith recently backed into a tree and shattered our van’s windshield, but since this was his one and only infraction in our whole marriage, we viewed it as an aberration rather than a pattern. So when he went to buy a new car this fall, he bought a standard. I can’t drive a standard. So I can’t drive his car. I’m still trying to figure out if there’s some hidden meaning there.

Keith and I have other differences, too. Keith has the “all the lights in the house must be turned off if not needed” gene. I’m missing that one. His idea of a relaxing afternoon is to actually relax. I like taking energetic bike rides. He likes war movies. I like Jane Austen. We’re a strange pair.

And yet, after twenty-three years, what most often occurs to me is how alike we’ve become.

Who we are, I believe, is partly a function of who we grow to be as we walk, day to day, with those we love.

People who know me may be surprised by this, but I tend to be on the shy side. I didn’t speak outside of the house until I was seven. Today I make my living speaking at women’s events and retreats, often in front of large groups, which doesn’t bother me in the least. But parties, where I have to talk to one on one, are stressful. How do I keep the conversation going? I don’t find it natural at all.

It’s not natural for Keith, on the other hand, to shut up. And as we’ve been married, he’s taken me to so many parties that I’ve begun to open up. But he’s also started to quiet down. Had we not married, he might have been even more gregarious, and I may have become more introspective.

Or take food. I crave sweets, but not fat or salt. Keith, on the other hand, once drank a cup of bacon grease because someone dared him. I often have a craving for vegetables. Keith had to force himself to start eating them regularly. If Keith hadn’t married me, he’d likely be a lot heavier than he is right now. And I’d probably still never know wonderful real butter makes everything taste.

I’ve always loved to travel, and even before we were married I had seen a lot of the world, saving up my money from my jobs as a teen to tour around overseas. But my trips were confined to museums and tourist attractions. Keith, on the other hand, likes to get to know people. Over our years together we’ve ventured further abroad, most recently to Kenya. Within five minutes he knew our driver’s life story. The porter in our final hotel told him all about his education. Keith finds a way to draw out people I would never have normally talked to, and I’m gradually learning, too. If I had my initial instincts, we would have seen the world, but only from a distance. And if Keith had his, we never would have seen it at all.

Over the last twenty-three years we have changed. I am not the same person who walked down that aisle, and he isn’t the same one who was waiting for me. I loved him dearly then, but I love him much more deeply now. I think we make a mistake when we search for that soul mate, the one person who completes us. The more I think about it, the more I think that we become each other’s soul mate. Just by being with each other, we change each other.

It isn’t a matter of finding the perfect person as much as it is becoming the perfect couple.

Compromise. Spend time together. Stretch yourself. You just may find that you’re becoming made for each other, after all.

So often we think that when our marriages don’t work it means that we married the wrong person.

And yet, I don’t think there is a right person. I think you become the right person, the more you commit to each other and stick it out. You aren’t born “made for each other”. You become “made for each other” as you adjust to each other with grace.

Change happens gradually, but it will happen more dramatically when we decide to let God set the agenda in our marriages, and not us. When we say, “God, whatever you want from me, I’ll do it,” rather than “God, we’d get along so much better if only you would change him,” then our marriages will blossom. Instead of getting upset about your differences, see them as opportunities for growth.

Made for Each Other: What if marriage is less about marrying the right person, and more about becoming the right person?

Marriages don’t succeed because we marry the right person. They succeed when we become the right person. (click to tweet this!)

This post is part of The Virtual Marriage Retreat that six marriage bloggers are doing, every Monday in September.

So far I’ve talked about:

Embracing Grace
Embracing Change

And all the other bloggers have, too! Today, you can follow their links and see what they say about embracing the differences in your marriage. And here’s your challenge for this week:

Embrace Your Marriage Challenge: Don’t just tell your husband that you love him today. Tell him some of the reasons you love him.

Embrace Your Marriage Virtual Marriage Retreat

Courtney: Women Living Well
Ashleigh: Ashleigh Slater
Darlene: The Time Warp Wife
Lisa: Club 31 Women
Jennifer: Unveiled Wife


Just a reminder: The Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle ends tonight at midnight EST! It’s over $1000 in ebooks plus $200 in bonuses for just $29.97! Great info on real food eating, menu planning, raising healthy kids, fitness, dealing with menu challenges like gluten free eating and allergies, green cleaning, and so much more! I find green cleaning and real food eating has actually saved me a bunch of money, too.

Check it out now–this combination of books will never be offered again!

Marriage Events Coming to YOU This Year

I love writing this blog and encouraging you in your marriage. But sometimes we need something in-person, that’s a little more intense. And that’s where going to an actual event can help! Blogs are great, but setting aside time to laugh, hear great teaching, and think and pray about your relationship is essential, too.

So I want to share with you about two great events coming up in North America, and then tell you how you can bring an event to you–if you’re in Texas, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Colorado, or even AUSTRALIA!

British Columbia Weekend Getaway–November 21-23 2014

Keith and I will be heading to gorgeous Whistler, B.C. in November (yay!!!) to speak at FamilyLife Canada’s Weekend Getaway. We’ve been doing this for eight years now, and it’s one of our favourite things to do together. We sharing our stories, our failures, and even making people laugh (or cry!)

Weekend Getaway Whistler British Columbia November 2014

It’s November 21-23 in the beautiful Fairmont Chateau Whistler (we got great rates for all conference attendees! You’ll never be able to stay at this gorgeous hotel this inexpensively again.) Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday morning there are group sessions with individual couple projects. You NEVER have to spill the beans to total strangers; it’s just for you and your spouse. Saturday ends early for date night, and we’re done by noon on Sunday so you can get home to the kids (or enjoy the hotel if you’d rather stay later). And there’s lots of multimedia and fun.

The 2-for-1 deal ends on Monday, so register today! And if you end up coming because you read it on my blog, come and hi to Keith and me while we’re there and introduce yourselves. I’d love to meet more blog readers!

Weekend Getaway Whistler November 21-23

Passion Principles Workshop, October 10-12, 2014, Orange County, California

The Passion Principles: Celebrating Sexual Freedom in MarriageShannon Ethridge, author of The Passion Principles, Every Woman’s Battle, and more, and sexuality speaker and life coach extraordinaire, is delivering a powerful weekend helping women discover their true, healthy passion. She writes:

Does getting attention from men consume your thoughts?

Have you compromised your sexual or emotional integrity in ways you never thought you would?

-OR-

could you be on the opposite end of the spectrum–where you SHUT DOWN sexually, unsure why you have such little interest in sex at all?

Whether you find yourself swinging too far to the left by acting out, or too far to the right by shutting down, it’s time to find YOUR healthy balance where sex is enjoyed freely without guilt, shame, or inhibition, but only with your husband!

If so, we’re inviting YOU to join us for Passion Principles Workshop for Women

ppfw-450-facebookWhere YOU can learn to:

  • Understand the Fluidity of Female Sexuality
  • Expose the Deeper Meaning Behind Your Own Sexual Thoughts
  • Overcome your negative body image issues
  • Find healing for past sexual abuse or promiscuity
  • Fully Integrate your Sexuality & Spirituality

Whether you’re younger or older, married or single, The Passion Principles Workshop for Women will help YOU experience Sexual and Emotional FREEDOM!

Here’s Shannon talking about her workshop:

Find Your Healthy Balance from New Life Live on Vimeo.

To register or find out more, call us at 1-800-NEW LIFE, or check out their website.

“Girl Talk” Tours Coming to a State Near You!

GirlTalk BannerI’ll be bringing my Girl Talk tour, where I talk marriage and sex, to a church near you (I hope!) It’s a great evening of fun, laughter, and some serious teaching, which works so well as an outreach. Right now I’m booking for the dates and states below, and I would love some help filling up my calendar.

If you know a church that may be interested in having me, please email me their name and contact information, or better still, email me with your email address and then I can send info to you that YOU can pass along.

Please don’t just send me the name of your church; most women’s ministry leaders and pastors get so many emails they don’t always pay attention if an email arrives from someone they don’t know. But if a member of their church forwards information to them–that gets their attention!

So see if you’re in any of the states below:

Colorado, week of October 13, 2014

I’ll be in Colorado Springs filming something for Focus on the Family, and I’d love to speak at a church or two while I’m there! I know this is SUPER short notice, but I bring my PowerPoint and my whole talk, and your church doesn’t have to do a thing except prepare tea and coffee. It’s a super easy event to host!

Email Sheila about Colorado Springs

Pennsylvania, January 16-18, 2015

I’ll be in Pittsburgh, and I’m looking for engagements within 3 hours of that lovely city.

Email Sheila about Pennsylvania

Texas, February 7-13, 2015

Here’s my big tour! I’m coming through the Lone Star State, and I’m looking for churches! I have lots of feelers out, but I’d love some more. I’m so looking forward to only my second time in Texas.

Email Sheila about Texas

Louisiana, March 8-14, 2015

I’ll be in New Orleans, and I’m looking for something within a few hours. If you can get several MOPS groups together, that’s another great option! Let me know.

Email Sheila about Louisiana

Arizona, April 12-17, 2015

I’ll be in Scottsdale for some engagements, but I’d love to fill up my calendar in other parts of the state, too.

Email Sheila about Arizona

Australia, October 5-10, 2015

Yes, Australia! Woo hoo! I’ll be based in Brisbane, but I’m willing to fly to other cities. I mean, how often do I get to Australia? So I’d love to meet all of my Aussie readers!

Email Sheila about Australia

Not in any of those states? When my youngest leaves home, my hubby and I are buying an RV and hitting the road so that we can do more speaking! Whenever I’m planning a tour, I automatically send out emails to everyone on my mailing list who lives in that state to see if they would like to be included. So just make sure you’re signed up for one of my newsletters (like my marriage newsletter), and then you’ll always know if I’m coming to speak near  you!

Stuff Happens. So Don’t Let Fear Paralyze You

Anxiety and parenting: Don't let fear paralyze youAnxiety and parenting seem to go hand in hand.

A long, long time ago, I had a little cherub of a girl who was 2 1/2, and a little baby who was 2 weeks old. My husband had gone back to work after Katie’s birth, and I decided that it was time for me to see if I could manage two children and still have a normal life.

So I decided that no matter what, I was going to have a shower. I stuck the baby in the baby swing, and set up Rebecca’s easel with some paints. She had lots to do for the five minutes it was going to take me in the shower, and Katie was safe in her swing. So I was all set.

As I was shampooing my hair, though, all of a sudden I heard Becca scream, “Mommy!” And not in a good way.

I leapt out, shampoo stinging my eyes, to find Katie hanging upside down from her swing. I can still picture it exactly in my mind, though it’s been seventeen years now, and it still scares me silly. And I have no idea how she got in this position. But her little legs were sticking up through the leg holes, and she was hanging down. The only thing preventing her from falling the 2 1/2 feet to the floor was that she went rigid with fear and her legs crossed against each other, forming an X. So there she was, hanging upside down, with just her anger and fear keeping her from falling.

I grabbed her in one swooping motion, and she calmed down quite quickly, as babies tend to. Once everyone stopped crying, I turned to Rebecca and asked, “Did you touch the baby?” She vehemently denied touching Katie.

But there, all over Katie’s little sleeper, were handprints in green and black paint.

I felt like the worst mother in the world. I had let my baby almost get seriously injured, and I had put my toddler in the position of having to care for her sister when Rebecca was not at all capable of it. I thought I didn’t deserve these kids. Such things can happen in an instant, and in that instant I wasn’t there.

I decided that I couldn’t leave Katie with Rebecca while I showered again, and so from then on she came into the shower with me, stopping only when she was 4 and I finally put my foot down. At first she just sat in her seat in the bathroom, but once she could sit up she wanted in with me, and so we’d shower together. It was actually kind of fun, and I loved holding her little chubby body in the warm water. It was a bonding time for us, though I still appreciated having the shower back to myself a few years later.

I share that just to let you know that sometimes things just happen.

My story could have had a very different ending. Had Katie fallen head first like that, she could have done some serious injury to her neck. Now despite what I felt, am I a bad mother? I don’t think so. I think sometimes life just happens, and the truth is that as much as we may try to keep everything safe, we can’t. We can reduce risks, but we can’t eliminate them. Things can happen.

So where does that leave us as anxious moms? We have two possible routes ahead of us. We can become completely paranoid and over-protective, or we can give ourselves a break, realize that we’re doing the best we can, and then learn as a mom to rest in God. Nothing will happen that He can’t see you through, and to try to deal with all possible contingencies in life is to drive yourself crazy. When you become a mother, your heart begins permanently to reside outside your body. The world has now become a terribly scary place.

Hold on to everything on earth lightly, and to God tightly. -- Sheila Wray Gregoire

But God is not smaller; it’s just that our love is bigger, and when love is big, fear can be big, too.

What we need to do, I believe, is not just to grow our love for our kids, but to grow also our love for God. Perfect love casts out fear, but only love that is focused on God. When we love everybody else and God fades, then our worries multiply. When we fall in love with God, then we know that no matter what happens on this earth, we will be okay and our children will be okay. And when we know that, we can focus on being a good mom instead of fretting!

You probably can point to several times in your parenting when you most definitely made a mistake. We all do. Don’t let those mistakes turn you into an overprotective mom, or a mom who constantly berates herself for not being good enough. Let those mistakes push you into God’s arms, realizing that you will never be perfect, but that He is there to carry you all anyway!

Have you ever really messed up as a parent? How did you deal with it?

Technical Headaches, Getting Healthy, and Taking My Own Advice

Hello, dear readers! I thought it was time to update you on what’s going on in my life, and just reach out and thank you for being so faithful to reading this blog. I do appreciate you! So here are just a bunch of things that are on my mind recently.

Sorry About the Site This Week

I know it’s been crashing a lot. Temporarily, usually, but nevertheless, it’s been very temperamental. I spent about 3 hours yesterday on the phone with the server people, and I THINK it’s all figured out. I’m praying anyway. And I’d so appreciate your prayers! It seems as if whenever I’m in the middle of a big writing project or whenever something big happens on the blog, the technical side decides to act up. I’m sure it’s not a coincidence. So thank you for your patience, and if you ever see it down again, just say a quick prayer! I get so many people on this blog everyday from Google, usually because they’re researching a really big problem, like porn use, and I want those people to find this blog rather than a website which tells them that porn is fine, etc.

Have a Pat Answer You Hate?

The reason that the technical glitches were so bothersome is that I’m in the middle of editing my book 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage. It’s coming out with Waterbrook next September, and we’re just working through some changes right now. It should be done in about a month.

One of the things I’m saying in the book is that there are far too many pat answers to a lot of marriage problems, especially in Christian circles. You know what I mean: “If you’re having a problem, just pray harder. When you pray, God can change him.” I’m not saying that’s not true; I’m just saying that’s only a PARTIAL truth. And so often we’re given these pat answers and they make things worse.

So I’d love to know: what are some pat answers you hear that really bug you? Leave me a comment!

How I Quit Diet Pepsi For Good

As my long time readers will know, I had quite the Diet Pepsi habit. I don’t drink coffee, so when I needed caffeine, I’d turn to Diet Pepsi.

I had my last one on December 20 of last year, largely because I was part of the Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle sale last fall, and when I read all the great books about real food, I finally realized how dangerous aspartame was. And I quit. And I’ve been drinking teas ever since!

Well, the Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle is back with over 80 BRAND NEW books that weren’t in the bundle last year. And they cover everything:

Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle SaleI’ve been looking through the bundle and I love it! There’s one 30-day green smoothie challenge that I think I’m going to try. Great ideas for how to incorporate one smoothie into your life for a month (you still get to eat your regular meals, too). And I always love their books on meal planning. If your family has restricted diets because of allergies, gluten intolerance, or sugar intolerance, there’s a whole bookshelf of books just for you, too! And, of course, there are books on natural cleaning and skincare again.

I’m also really excited about the free bonuses you get, especially the At Home Yoga membership. I love the stretches in Yoga, and it’s so good for your core, but I don’t like the classes at the Y because they’re too focused on the eastern origins of Yoga. But just doing the stretches is awesome, so I’m looking forward to this 4-month membership. Here’s what else you get free:

Don’t miss the sale–it’s 5 days only!

Trying to Find a New Routine for Fall

Ultimate Healthy Living BundleTo go along with our healthier theme, one of the things I’m trying to do this fall is to create a new routine where I go to the gym everyday. It’s not so difficult really; I just bring all my beauty products there and I shower after my workout, so going to the gym is how I get ready for the day, after I’ve checked the blog, done my devotions, and had some breakfast. I like to head out about 9:30.

But I’m saying “I like to head out” as if it’s a habit, and it’s not yet. You see, the key words are “I like to”. Not “I do”. Big difference.

I know it’s only been two weeks, but I’ve missed almost half the days. A dentist appointment comes up, or my site goes down, or my *ahem* period starts. And you can’t expect me to go to the gym on THAT day, can you? (Speaking of which, today’s the LAST day to enter the Stayfree challenge right here on the blog to win a $100 gift certificate! Just read how you can pamper yourself during “that time of the month“).

Anyway, I want to go the gym, and I want to make this routine, but there’s ALWAYS something stopping me from going. Any advice? (Maybe I need to read 42 Days to Fit; it’s part of the Ultimate Bundle, and it actually looks quite good. But if any of you have been there, I want to know how you created a routine even when things pop up!)

Can I Take My Own Advice?

On Monday I talked about how life is full of change, and those changes are stressful, even if they’re GOOD changes.

Well, our family is walking through some good changes right now, and I’m finding it stressful! And I’m trying to figure out if I can actually take my own advice when it comes to parenting.

It’s hard when you know what the right thing to do is, but they’re still your babies. And you want to still protect them and almost make decisions for them, because you’re the mom and you love them so much and you know them so well and and and and and…..

You know what I mean?

I can’t reveal too much here, because it’s not my story to tell, but hopefully one day soon I can. In the meantime, this year will be a great test about whether or not what I write about I truly believe.

Anyway, that’s all I’m saying about that.

Want to see my girls in action? My youngest daughter, Katie, has quite the YouTube channel, and here’s a recent video showing both girls:

I Really Do Get Grumpy

And now just one more thing. I really DO get grumpy on the *ahem* first day of “that time of the month”. I seriously do. I was just a bear recently, and I was shooting daggers out of my eyes at my husband all day. I’m just glad I knew why. It’s one of the benefits of keeping track on the calendar. You realize you’re not REALLY mad, you’re just slightly temporarily insane. And this too shall pass. And it did.

Okay, so what advice have you got for me? How do you keep a routine when things get in the way? Have any pat answers you just hate? How do you let go of your kids? I’d love to know!

And don’t forget about the Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle! It all ends on Monday, so don’t miss your chance to pick it up!

Wifey Wednesday: Sex and the Gospel

Sex and the Gospel: How God designed real intimacy to reflect His love

It’s Wednesday, the day when we always talk marriage! And today guest poster Abigail Alleman explores whether making love can actually be a vehicle God uses to show the depth of His love. Here’s Abigail showing us where sex and the gospel intersect:

It’s Easy to Be Blind

During the first couple years of our marriage that my husband and I went to a Family Life ‘Weekend to Remember’ Conference. There were fun talks from married people including some about sex. Considering my ‘mum’s the word’ upbringing regarding ‘intimate things’ I was eating all of this good teaching right up.

It was then that I remember hearing that women need to feel loved in order to be ready for sex. I clung to that and, at times, used it as a club to beat my husband away if he wanted to have sex but I wasn’t feeling loved…for whatever reason. Even if I truly wasn’t feeling loved, those who know my husband and what an amazing servant he is, can feel free to call those ugly moments for me. I know I do.

But if any woman is willing to be honest and take the journey to find what holds her back from giving fully to her husband–and ultimately, God–she will find similar things. When we say we ‘don’t feel loved’, at the heart is the shame and mistrust and rebellion towards God we inherited from Eve. We are afraid of rejection or having our weakness used against us, so we hide and cling to some semblance of control. At the heart we are cutting ourselves off from God and therefore can’t feel His love or anyone else’s. Sadly, because we are one with our husbands, they pay the price.

…And then comes the Gospel

And yet, in the middle of all of this is the Gospel. It is where God in Christ redeems, or buys back, everything. He rescues us and binds up our wounds through His own. We are transformed by this Love that entered time and space and a fallen world and gave all of infinite God to buy back the darkness.

Nothing looks the same.

As I have been looking at my own faulty views on sex, that unconsciously included lies that it is somehow dirty (even as a married woman) or ultimately for men, I have seen how utterly wrong and devastating this thinking is.

I have become convinced that the more fiercely the darkness clings to something, the greater its potential to be transformed into something totally new this side of Calvary. This is absolutely true about sex.

God wants to blow the top off of our limited, boxed thinking about His gift of sex in marriage.

And through transformed thinking and practice, send us boldly into the world with a message it desperately needs. It’s the one where sex in God’s bounds and for His Glory brings both husband and wife healing and fullness instead of pain and emptiness.

What Is Hard to See

Let’s go back to the truth that women need to feel loved to have sex. Did you know that the reverse is also true? Men have sex to feel loved. They probably shared this at the Family Life Conference, but it conveniently did not make it into my head and definitely not my heart. It wasn’t until after 10 years of marriage, three kids, international moves, and reading Sheila’s book that I saw the whole picture.

And when I did, I was humbled at the gift God has given me as a wife. Through giving myself fully to my husband in sex, I partner with God in the revelation of His love for my husband. I had prayed for years that my husband could experience God’s infinite love for him in radical ways. So when I read that my husband’s desire for love was expressed through his desire for sex, I was blown away. I instantly saw that his seeking of physical intimacy and my full open response are a tremendous gift through the Gospel where he can know and receive the love of God.

You see, it’s not just the sex, it’s the experience of it when two people have put their faith in the Gospel .

Recently, at a concert in a conservative Baptist Church, I heard one of the pastors describe the beautiful worship we had experienced in a way that made me think of sex. He said that for him, as a guy, he often lacks the language to express what God’s love and beauty means to him. But when he worships God through great music and lyric, his heart, soul and mind find satisfying expression.

I tapped my hubby on the shoulder and whispered in his ear, ‘Honey, that’s what sex is like for guys, isn’t it?’ He smiled at me in a way that told me, ‘yes, that’s just how it is.’

Why It’s So Important To See

I’ve heard a lot about my duties as a wife. Obedience to God is a key element in the life of the believer. And, yes, the Bible says that my body is no longer my own and as a married woman I no longer have authority over it (neither does my husband over his).

But if I stop there, I do an All-Gracious God, myself and my husband a great injustice. The chief end of my life is not obedience, but to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. My body, and my life, are not my own BECAUSE I have been bought with a price. Infinite God emptied of infinite Glory to make a way back to the Presence of God where I know as I am fully known.

In this, my understanding of sex, through the lens of the Gospel, is completely transformed. So are the patterns of guilt and shame or whatever may keep me holding back a body, a life, that is no longer my own. I am called to give it all freely to my husband so that in great beauty and mystery we experience the fullness of Grace and Truth that is meant to shape every area of our lives. In the consecrated act of sex in the sacred space of our marriage we BOTH are wrapped more tightly, fully, deeply into the only Love that remains.

The felt needs of love for me and sex for my husband are becoming, for us, one consuming desire to know and embrace and enjoy God together. It is changing everything for us. And I want that for you too.

AbigailAbigail says: I am wife to a wonderful man, mama to three precious now-little-but-soon-will-not-be loves. Each born in a different place–two states {Pennsylvania & Florida} and two countries {U.S. & Hungary}. I can now claim fluency in 3 languages: English;) Spanish & Hungarian. I am a sojourner longing for Home. Yet, in my messy and broken, I embrace the moments given with all I have. For the past few months I have been writing about my journey in understanding sex and sexuality in a series called Pure Passion. You can check it out here!

 

Christian Marriage Advice

Good Girls Guide My SiteThanks for joining me for Wifey Wednesday!

If the idea of sex and spiritual intimacy seems foreign to you, I talk about how to get to the point where sex is something more than physical in both my books The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex and in 31 Days to Great Sex. I encourage you to check them out–don’t miss out on something this amazing in your marriage!

 

10 Ways to Banish the Stay-at-Home Mom Blues

Stay at Home Mom Blues

I have always been a stay at home mom, but if you judge by the comments of many, I have the personality of a pea. If you’re a stay at home parent, you know what I mean. People constantly remark, “I don’t know how you do it. I would go stir crazy if I had to stay home with my kids.” I wonder if people who say that realize how insulting it can sound? The inference is that I am some sort of mutant sub-species that requires far less intellectual stimulation than normal, and can survive for days on end with the praise from Barney—”I love you, you love me”.

It’s time to challenge this notion that staying home with your kids is akin to a prison sentence with an awfully whiny jailer.

Certainly it can be tremendously difficult, draining and exhausting, especially since you usually walk around with banana mash on your jeans and spit up on your sweatshirt. But that’s not the whole story.

Many parents choose to work for a host of different reasons, and only you know what is right for your family. I know that for many, much as you may long to, staying home isn’t financially feasible. I don’t mean to leave you out of today’s post, but I do want to share with my readers who are at home how to make sure it doesn’t get overwhelming.

And so today, I’d like to share with you the Top 10 Ways to Beat the Stay at Home Mom Blues.

Top Ten Tuesday1. Think Outings, not Hibernation

We go about stay at home parenting all wrong. We start by buying tons of equipment (ExerSaucers, swing sets, trampolines) to ensure that we never have to leave the house. But what happens if we’re home alone all the time? Our kids may go stir crazy and whine, cry and vomit. Then we cry. Probably we whine, too. And if we’re pregnant, we definitely vomit. So let’s take a step back and approach this stay at home thing differently.

Instead of spending all day cooped up with the kids, plan for a daily outing, if possible. When my kids were little, we went out every single day. We went to the library. We went to a playgroup. We walked to a nearby park. We went to the museum (it was free on Thursday mornings).

The benefit was that the kids had fun, but they were tired out, and then they would nap better for me later. And if we were out, I could focus completely on them, so when we got home, it was easier to get them to give me time to myself.

2. Enforce Quiet Time

We count the minutes until we can put a child down for a nap. We rejoice when more than one child manages to nap at the same time. Sometimes we even grab a nap, too, wondering how long it will last.

And then an older child stops napping, and it all falls apart.

When a 3-year-old stops napping, enforce quiet time. Have them stay in their room for half an hour with a book or a toy, and let this be “quiet play” time. That gives you some time to yourself, and helps them get some rest (and thus not get so whiny).

3. Get Adult Stimulation

We aren’t meant to do motherhood alone, and you need adult conversation. Take your kids to a playgroup, or organize one yourself. Join the local YMCA or another fitness club that offers baby-sitting. Best of all, join a women’s Bible study or a MOPS group. Just make sure you do something at least once a week that gets you talking with adults.

And talk to your hubby at night, too! Share the burden with him, don’t just retreat to a screen and hand the kids over to him because now it’s his turn. It’s tempting to want to just watch a movie or collapse at the end of the day, but do try to spend some time talking. You need that connection, and he does, too.

4. Start a Hobby

Adult stimulation isn’t all we need; we also need intellectual stimulation–something that gives our brain a creative outlet. Did you love knitting when you were a child? Start knitting again, even if it’s only at night when the kids can’t get to the yarn. Start crocheting. Start painting. You don’t have to do it all the time, but if you have a hobby to research and plan and dream about, it helps.

5. Learn Something

And now it’s time to grow! Learning keeps life fresh. So pick a topic this year that you want to master. Maybe it’s more in-depth Bible knowledge (Kay Arthur or Beth Moore studies are great for that). Maybe it’s nutrition. Maybe it’s cooking. Maybe it’s investing. Maybe it’s politics. Maybe it’s building a blog! Choose something that you’ve always wanted to know more about, and jump in! Research on the computer, start with small projects, and try. You can do it in 20 minute spurts while children play, or take an hour on the weekend that’s “your time”. One new blogger I know goes to Starbucks every Saturday morning while her husband watches the kids.

6. Give Yourself a Sense of Accomplishment

At work we get praise for finishing something. At home we get whines and piles of laundry that never get folded. If you want to feel like you’ve accomplished something, volunteer. Meet your neighbours and see if you can lend a hand to some older people or other struggling parents. Invite people over for coffee. They won’t mind the mess nearly as much as you think they will! And the more connection you have with your community, the more you’ll realize the difference you can make in people’s lives.

7. Get Organized

I love schedules, and kids thrive on schedules, but I always found that as soon as I figured out a schedule that worked, the kids would change it again. Their sleep patterns would change, or their eating patterns would change, and it was all up in the air again. I know that this is difficult. But as much as possible, create a schedule for your week. Know when you will go where. Go grocery shopping the same day each week. Go to the library on the same day. Try to keep naptime to the same time. When kids know what to expect, and you know what to expect, there’s far less whining.

8. Clean Everyday

Don’t let the house get out of control, because that’s just depressing. I remember visiting a friend’s home when my kids were 2 and 5 and being amazed at how clean it was. She had kids the same age as mine, but her home was spotless. Then I realized that the kids were in day care from 7-5, and the parents didn’t spend much time at home, either. When you’re all home, all the time, the house has time to get messy.

Take 15 minutes before each meal and do a quick tidy. Set the timer and have “clean up time”. If everyone cleans three times a day, you’ll find that you stay on top of it better.

Top 10 Ways to Banish the Stay at Home Mom Blues

 

9. Have Something Special You Do with the Kids

Nobody likes kids pulling at you or whining at you all day, but often that whining is caused by two things: loneliness and boredom. The boredom can be cured by daily outings. The loneliness needs some focused Mommy time. For me and my kids that meant reading. We spent hours cuddled up in someone’s bed reading books. That helped them feel the physical connection (they were touching me); it helped them rest (it was quieter time); and it helped give them security (I spent time with them). Then they would go and play together and I could have some time to myself. To expect a child to entertain themselves all day, though, is unrealistic. Plus you miss out on the bonus of staying at home–that amazing bonding time!

10. Do Something Wild and Crazy

Every now and then, do something completely out of the ordinary. I’m all for schedules and naptimes and all that, but some days, I’d wake up and say, “who wants to go to the zoo?” Who cares if it’s a one and a half hour drive, and we’d only be able to spend three hours there? It would be memorable! Or we’d head to the beach. You have freedom as a stay at home mom; use it. Create those memories and laugh with your kids, and you’ll find the busier days easier to bear.

I do not have the personality of a pea. I’d say it’s more like a bunch of grapes (the seedless kind), with many different things in my life that are all interconnected. It was, and is, such a privilege to stay at home and watch my children grow. They are my reward. But I could not have survived without acknowledging that though I love being a mommy best, I am more than that. Plan for success when you stay at home. Don’t settle for exhaustion. Your life will be richer for it.

Tell me: what’s your biggest source of stress as a stay at home mom? What do you do to relieve the stay at home mom blues? Let me know in the comments!

To Love, Honor and VacuumIf you’re having trouble finding peace and encouragement staying at home, my book, To Love, Honor and Vacuum, can help! I wrote it just for moms who feel more like maids than wives and mothers, and it helps you set priorities, find joy in your life, and create relationships where everybody respects each other. Check it out today!

 

Embracing Change in Your Marriage

Facing Change as a Couple

Last week I went out for dinner with some dear friends Derek and Lisa and their two boys. My husband and I and my two daughters have been camping with them every summer for almost 16 years, and our kids are great friends. Derek has a job that keeps him away from home quite a bit, but last week he made a point of being home for dinner on multiple nights. Often his job doesn’t allow him that luxury, but he put his foot down and insisted.

He wanted to be there for Lisa, because last week their oldest son started college in another town, and he knew it would be difficult for her.

But that’s not all. As we headed out to the parking lot to our cars after our meal, he put his arm around her and he said, “Next year Paul will be gone, too, and I’ll be all Lisa has. I want to make sure there’s something left of us so she still wants to be with me.”

He was laughing when he said it, but that’s a serious concern, and Derek’s right. This year brought a big change to their marriage, but next year will bring an explosive one. And so they’re preparing.

I know how they feel, because I’m in the same boat. This is my last year with Katie (meet her here!) at home, and I’m relishing my time with her. But Keith and I are also planning things to do shortly after she leaves so the change won’t be as jarring.

It will be a big change, but marriage is full of change.

Today I’m part of an “Embrace Your Marriage” virtual marriage retreat, where 6 bloggers all talk about an aspect of marriage. And this week we’re tackling this idea of embracing the change that comes in marriage. Last week I did my “typical” thing and talked about sex (I am the Christian sex lady after all), but today we’re tackling change.

Our marriage has seen some major changes.

We started out marriage as students, and then later with Keith as a doctor and me as a SAHM. I transitioned into writing, and we had to find time for me to do that while still homeschooling our girls. But we’ve lived through other changes, too.

Our sex life was just started to get better when I got pregnant. And nauseous. Remember those days?

We were starting to feel like life was going well when our second child was born with a heart defect, and later passed away.

We’ve lived in downtown Toronto and then in a small town. We’ve moved. Keith has switched jobs. We’ve switched churches.

And all of these things has brought stress. Take the most apparently mundane thing there: Moving. We live in a large house, and in a lot of ways it would make sense to move when Katie leaves. But there is no way I’m moving again, because I read a study once that said that moving takes 6 months of productivity out of your life, and I believe it. You have to pack up your house. You have to keep it clean so you can sell it. Then you have to physically move. You have to unpack. You have to get used to where things are in the house now. You have to figure out where you’ll go grocery shopping and where things are. It’s exhausting. And I don’t want to do it again.

Change isn’t nice, and yet change is inevitable.

And if there’s one piece of advice I can give you, it’s this:

Hold on to everything on earth lightly, but hold on to God tightly. (click to tweet!)

Hold on to everything on earth lightly, and to God tightly. -- Sheila Wray Gregoire

I know it sounds like I should be saying hold on to your husband tightly, and I do believe that, too. But I think the most important part of navigating change is actually navigating our own attitude. And often the reason we don’t like change is because we begin to get too comfortable in the life we have, and then we resent it when we have to give it up. Or perhaps we get this picture of what life “should” be, and when life changes, we get resentful at those around us who caused the change.

But this life is not meant to be your real life; your real life is with God, and this is only temporary. When we keep our focus on God, then we’re better able to navigate change.

Here are just a few other principles to help:

1. Keep a Friendship with Your Husband

No matter where you are in life right now–whether you’re pregnant, or working opposite shifts, or getting out of bankruptcy, or preparing for a move, keep spending time with your husband, like my friend Derek did. Often people justify not spending time, saying, “this is just a phase, and it will pass, and so right now I have to throw myself into my work/kids/church.” There may be a time for that (I remember an email I received from a woman who was spending six months across the country away from her husband, because her son was sick and needed treatment at a specific hospital, and she was going with him. In that case, there was little they could do except for Skyping a lot.

But in general, do not say, “this is just a phase, so we’ll spend time together later.” You don’t know what other changes will come. Always keep your marriage as your first earthly priority.

2. Recognize that Change is Stressful–Even if it’s Good Change

We humans crave routine. We want to know what’s coming, so that we don’t have to expend so much emotional energy figuring out what we’re going to do everyday. So change–even if it’s good change–is stressful.

In those periods of “good” stress, like having a new baby, a new job, or a new house, cling to each other even more.

3. Change Together

I am not the same woman who walked down the aisle, and Keith is not the same man who was waiting for me. After two decades of marriage we have changed. And that’s inevitable.

So make sure that when you change, you change together, and the easiest way to manage this is to do things together and keep talking. I have talked to so many women who married young, who then say, “I matured after we married, and he never did mature.” Well, I matured after we married, too, but my husband matured with me because we stayed side by side in everything. It is possible to change together–but you have to be together to change together. So keep communicating!

We’ll talk more in this Virtual Retreat on the next few Mondays about how to do that. But for now, why not read the posts by the other great bloggers at the Embrace Your Marriage retreat, talking about how they Embrace Change.

And here’s your challenge this week:

Consider some of the ways that your marriage has changed over time. Start counting the blessings that these changes have brought. Write them down.

Embrace Your Marriage Virtual Marriage Retreat

Courtney: Women Living Well
Ashleigh: Ashleigh Slater
Darlene: The Time Warp Wife
Lisa: Club 31 Women
Jennifer: Unveiled Wife

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Where Have All The Men Gone?

men opting out of collegeThis week many of our teenagers headed on to higher education. And as they entered those hallowed halls of learning, they may have noticed that one thing seemed to be in short supply: men.

Why are men opting out of college?

A friend of mine attended the University of Guelph for a semester before returning home to start a successful agricultural business. It wasn’t that he couldn’t handle the academics; it was that he hated the environment. He was a hunter, an outdoorsman, a man’s man. He didn’t fit in well with what he called the “politically correct” atmosphere, so he left.

He’s not alone.

A recent survey in the United States found that for every 100 males on university campuses there are now 135 females. In Canada the story is virtually the same, as females constitute 60% of the undergraduate population, and two thirds of medical students. Of course, women aren’t overrepresented in all areas. In maths and sciences men still rule, as they do in most graduate programs. But the trends are certainly tilting towards female dominance.

Perhaps one reason fewer men are at university is because they don’t need to be.

Many trades that attract mostly men—like plumbing, contracting, or electrical work—pay more than many degree-required jobs, and come with the added bonus of no student loans. Perhaps university just isn’t very attractive for many men when other options, which aren’t as readily available to women, do exist. After all, my friend has just sold his second business, becoming a very successful man while he’s barely in his thirties.

Our universities, though, have not woken up to the new demographic reality. Much of campus life is still geared to helping women. Most universities have women’s studies departments, women’s health units, women’s clubs, women’s awareness sessions, women’s support groups, and women’s hotlines. What they don’t seem to have is anything to help men. In fact, if men started a “men’s support group” that didn’t have to do with teaching men not to rape women, it would be the subject of student editorials for months. It’s just not done.

This seems to be a strange aberration in Canadian society. Usually, whenever groups are underrepresented, we try to reach out to them. We start scholarships, mentorships, or special programs. The only thing I can conclude from the lack of pro-male initiatives is that to the universities, it really doesn’t matter that men are missing.

In the long run, though, is male underrepresentation best for the country? And is it best for the universities? Will they prove themselves relevant if 50% of the population is no longer interested in pursuing their degrees?

And what about women? Even in our more rural communities, many of our girls still aspire to university education. Since most women choose as spouses those who have as much education as they do, what will their options be as this pool shrinks? Does going to university mean putting oneself in a romantic black hole?

We need to start treating this as a serious problem and asking why men are opting out.

A lot of it has to do with the way we are teaching—or failing to teach—our boys. But I think university culture is also a large part of it. I spent seven years at Queen’s, and I cringe to remember it now. It took me years after graduation to come back to the real world and realize that, despite what I was taught—and indeed, what I taught undergraduates during my last three years—all sex is not rape, marriage is not an oppressive institution, and children actually do need their parents. These are basic values that most Canadians, and especially those who live outside the big cities, share. But they are not the values that are found on our campuses.

I think it’s time for the university, and the education establishment, to get its head out of the sand and realize that it is not women who are on the losing end of the education game, but men who are instead opting out. When women were on the losing end, we demanded that we balance the scales. Will we give men the same courtesy?

This column first appeared September 1, 2006.

If you appreciate these Reality Check columns, be sure to check out Reality Check, the book!

When Baby Isn’t Perfect

something is wrong with your babyToday is the eighteenth anniversary of my son Christopher’s death, and I’ll be heading out to the graveyard later, likely by myself. I like it better there alone. But I thought this post may be appropriate for the day–about what to do when you get a diagnosis that something is wrong with your baby.

I shifted uncomfortably on the cot. The baby had been pushing on my ribs for over an hour as the technician kept trying to get a better view.

“It’s a boy,” she announced as my husband entered the cubicle holding our 15-month-old daughter. We were ecstatic, but I couldn’t figure out why she wouldn’t look me in the eye.

The next day I learned the answer. “I’m sorry, Sheila,” my doctor told me. “There’s something wrong with his heart.”

It’s hard to explain the panic you feel when you hear that something is wrong with your baby, even one who isn’t born yet. And that panic only worsened for us as, over the next few weeks, I endured a dizzying battery of tests. We learned our son had Down Syndrome and a very serious heart defect.

I experienced such intense fears during that time. Could I handle a sick child? What would this mean for my daughter? Would all my time be taken up in caring for my son? What would his future be like? And above all, would I have to watch him die?

As soon as we learn we are pregnant—and for many of us, even before—we start dreaming of what it will be like to hold the baby, to watch him grow, or to see her blossom. But for some of us, those dreams are shattered. The child we dreamt about isn’t coming. The one we have has something wrong.

The first few weeks can be the most difficult in your life as you struggle to cope with grief and fear, care for a new baby and perhaps even rearrange your life. Here are some steps to help you through this challenging time.

1. Nurture your marriage

An estimated 25% to 33% of marriages break up within a year of the birth of a handicapped child. That’s not a statistic you want to join. Resolve now, before you do anything else, that you will still be each other’s greatest priority. Speak and act kindly to one another. Give each other space to handle the grief differently, without passing judgment. You will need each other in the years ahead. Remember that if you walk through this valley together, your marriage can emerge stronger and more precious to you than you had ever thought possible.

2. Take your feelings to God

Cheryl Molenaar’s daughter Lindsay, now 12, was born with a chromosomal defect that has left her profoundly disabled and with the mental level of a one-year-old. Cheryl remembers feeling grief at the loss of all her hopes and dreams, mingled with intense frustration at not being able to ease her daughter’s suffering.

It’s only natural that these feelings lead to anger toward God. How could He let this happen? For Cheryl, the experience shook her faith. Yet through wrestling with God, Cheryl learned God will always carry you through. “Sometimes you can’t feel God,” she says, “But ask God to let you see Him, and He will show you Himself.”

My son Christopher died when he was 29 days old. Though I never received an answer why, I was given something better: a peace I cannot explain that could only have come from God. God is big enough to handle our questions, when we seek Him out and let Him in.

3. Seek early intervention

Paul and Judith Colley’s daughter Laura was born prematurely at 25 weeks. A year later she was diagnosed with hearing problems and possible developmental delay, so she was quickly fitted with a hearing aid. At two years of age her speech was slow and doctors were concerned with her development. Today, though, after years of speech therapy, she is above average on almost every scale. This child, whom they once thought might be permanently delayed, is flourishing. The reason is early intervention.

When you’re given a diagnosis for your child, the simple truth is that no one knows the potential he or she has. Certainly some children will have a harder time learning than others; but for many early stimulation can help. Ask your paediatrician to connect you with community resources or books that can guide you through the process.

4. Ask for help

No one likes to feel that they can’t cope. Yet for Cheryl, outside help saves her sanity and keeps her from the brink of exhaustion. Seek out help from friends, relatives, your church, and community resources. You’ve been given a big burden to carry, but God never meant for us to carry our burdens alone (Galatians 6:2).

We live in a society that values perfection. Having a baby who’s not perfect throws us through a loop and challenges everything we believe. Yet through that challenge, we will inevitably come to “taste” God more as He sustains us day by day. As Cheryl cares for Lindsay, she is constantly reminded that His “grace is made perfect in weakness”. Her child has taught her things about God no sermon ever could. And as she loves Lindsay, so protectively and fiercely, she gets a clearer picture of how God cherishes her.

If you’re dealing with disappointment and grief, Sheila’s book, How Big Is Your Umbrella?, can help. Read more here.