O Christmas Tree

O Christmas Tree
When I was in Canadian Tire a while ago I saw an absolutely stunning Christmas tree.

It was decorated in silver bows and balls with purple accents. It was my ideal tree.

Such a tree, however, will never grace my living room. No matter how much I want a purple and silver one, I have too many other decorations that render a consistent colour scheme impossible. I have a family Christmas tree.

First comes the gold heart embossed with “Keith and Sheila, 1991″ that we received at our wedding. Then there are all the Christmas decorations we made as children which our parents thoughtfully gave us our first Christmas together (were they trying to get rid of them, I wonder?). There’s the canvas stitched candy cane Keith made, and the decorated styrofoam balls I did. Other decorations full of childhood memories hang beside them, like the angel candle holders that were on my Baby Jesus birthday cake when I was six.

And now, of course, we have added our children’s decorations. At first they were fairly innocuous ones, like “Baby’s First Christmas”. They have since become more ambitious. One year the girls and I made dough Christmas shapes and then glued little pictures to them. Katie, who is living proof that you can survive your second year of life eating only dried play dough (believe me, it wasn’t my choice), actually left nibble marks in some as she tried to eat them, too, despite the salt content. Add the decorations the girls make at Sunday school out of little paper doilies, and there’s no room for those classy purple balls.

Our lives are very much like these Christmas trees.

We spend so much effort trying to have the perfectly decorated life, with the right kids, the right jobs, and the right promotions. But it can be exhausting to live that way. Our work is never done. We’re always on the go, and when we do sit down it’s only to plan how to drive our kids to more lessons, run some more errands or throw on yet another load of laundry before we make dinner.

The family Christmas tree, with all its imperfections, is better because it is uniquely us. Anybody can have a perfectly purple Christmas tree. Not everyone can have the one decorated with your own white doily angels and pipe cleaner reindeer.

Christmas anchors us and reminds us of whose we are and of what’s important.

A sign at a local Dry Cleaners recently read, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there”. Many of us are stuck on some sideroad of endless errands and work because we need a road map to get us home, a map that can only come by slowing down and reflecting, if just for a little while. With the busyness of life, we often ignore our spiritual side, never taking time to think about life, death, parenting or our purpose on this earth. Christmas can be our roadmap, a time to take stock of our lives and consider if we’re heading in the right direction.

Whatever your spiritual background is, the challenge is the same: let’s take the time during the holidays to honour it. At my house this week, we’ll have a “Baby Jesus Birthday Cake” (chocolate, of course), to remind us that Christmas is when the all-powerful God became as helpless as a baby so he could live among us and die for us, so we could live forever with him. I don’t want that just to be my Christmas message; I want to live it through the rest of the year. But if I don’t take the chance now to see whether my daily life reflects my spiritual priorities, I may not have time once the daily grind starts anew.

I will gladly take my Baby Jesus birthday cake angels and little dough hearts over purple balls any day. That’s who I am, and who I want to be. Christmas is one of the few times of year when we can contemplate life without someone telling us to move on to the next task. Let’s make sure that this year, we take advantage of the opportunity.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

How An Open Adoption Opened Our Hearts

Today I’d like to share with you my reader Linda Jonasson’s beautiful story of an open adoption, and how they found more room for love than they imagined.

A true story of how an open adoption can leave room for more love than you thought possible.

It was December 1, 1998. My husband Rob had just put up the Christmas tree. We were particularly sad, knowing that we were facing another Christmas without children.

Then the phone rang…

I truly believe God brought us together. Three days after the phone call, we met Nicole and her boyfriend, Lance, at the Brantford Pregnancy Centre. The handsome teenage couple had chosen us to parent their baby – what an honour!

While we were very nervous at our first meeting, the four of us hit it off immediately. I still remember the pregnancy glow that Nicole, dressed in a peasant blouse with a cross-stitch design, emanated. I still remember the way Lance, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, held her by the hand, supporting her every step of the way. I still remember holding the Polaroid photograph of the four of us standing in front of the Christmas tree, an angel watching over us from the top of the tree.

I can picture the booth we sat in at Moose Winooski’s when we took them out for dinner the first time. It was raining that night even though it was December. The storm had caused the lights to go out; I had fumbled around in the dark trying to put in my contact lenses. It was like a second date: I wondered if Nicole and Lance would like us just a much the second time as the first.

Our first visit at the hospital was surreal. I remember holding my newborn baby in my arms for the first time. I saw his birth parents traits in him: Lance’s lips, Nicole’s nose. He was soft and warm and smelled like baby powder. What an honour to be able to feed him his bottle!

The next day, God gave me the sense that I needed to be at the hospital even though we didn’t get a call from the birth parents.

I remember arriving at Nicole’s hospital room door, only to find it closed. The birth parents, their faces red from shedding so many tears, were preparing to say goodbye to their baby, our baby. I reassured Nicole and Lance that we wanted them to be a part of Thomas’ life. That we wouldn’t hop the next plane and skip town.

Thomas was our Christmas miracle.

We brought him home on December 22. I remember sitting in church, my arms full, my heart bursting, as I gazed at the Nativity Scene on Christmas Eve. It was exciting introducing him to our families over the holidays. But as I passed the turkey and mashed potatoes, in the back of my mind, I knew the birth mother had three weeks where she could change her mind and take Thomas back. Even so, I felt a strange sense of calm during the waiting period. Our church prayer group covered us in prayer: I could feel God’s presence.

That was 16 years ago. Today, Thomas stands 5 feet 9 inches tall, he weighs 160 pounds and he wears a size 12 shoe. He has thick brown hair and brown eyes. He sports muscles from his daily workouts at the gym with his dad. He plays three guitars, sharing his talents in two praise teams at our church. Next week, he is about to start driving lessons. How much Thomas has changed! But one thing has not changed – his relationship with his birth parents.

Thomas has always known he was adopted.

As he has grown, the word has gained more and more meaning. At first, Nicole and Lance were the nice couple who visited us at Christmas. Thomas would stand at the window waiting for them, excitement etched on his face. Nicole and Lance would arrive with enough gifts to fill Santa’s sac. Once Thomas finished tearing open the presents, our recreation room would be plastered in red and green wrapping paper. One of Nicole’s early gifts was a wooden rocking horse fashioned by her father, the one she rode as a toddler. Each Christmas visit ended with dinner at Moose Winooski’s, our favourite restaurant.

Four and a half years after Thomas was born, I became pregnant. Thomas was curious about my growing belly. I told him that I had a baby in my “tummy”. “Whose tummy did I come from, Mommy?” he asked. I explained to him that the nice couple who arrived at Christmas with an armful of presents were his birth parents. “You’re kidding, right?” he asked. I explained that I was telling the truth. Thomas nodded, smiled and gave me a look that said: “I can live with that.”

Thomas’ birth parents visited that summer. We surprised them with our newborn daughter, Jacqueline. I was concerned that Nicole and Lance might think that Thomas wouldn’t get as much attention now that he had a baby sister. But the second they met our little girl, they fell in love with her. By the time Jacqueline was a toddler, she was in there like a dirty old shirt, squeezing in between Nicole and Lance on the couch while they watched a movie with Thomas.

When Thomas was about 9 years old, I asked Nicole if she ever regretted placing him for adoption. She said: “Absolutely not. Out of all the decisions I’ve made in my life, it’s the one I’m most proud of.” That was music to my ears. Rob and I wanted her to be happy, too.

The birth parents’ visits continued twice a year at our home in Brantford. When Thomas turned 13, we allowed him to open a Facebook account. He befriended Nicole and Lance, yet another way to keep in touch. When Thomas entered high school, he bought his first cell phone. Now he could text his birth parents as well.

I know Thomas has benefited from the love of not two, but four parents.

The fact that he knows his roots is invaluable, something the rest of us take for granted. There is no mystery concerning his past. It’s reassuring to know where he came from.

As Rob puts up the Christmas tree this year, he will have his son standing by his side, handing him the branches. One of the Christmas ornaments they will hang on the tree is a silver penguin, with THOMAS inscribed at the bottom, a gift from his birthparents. Thank you, Nicole & Lance, for giving us your son – the best Christmas present ever!

Thomas with his birth parents at his grade 8 graduation

Thomas with his birth parents at his grade 8 graduation

lindaLinda Jonasson and her husband Rob, adopted their son, Thomas, in December of 1998 through Beginnings Adoption Agency in Hamilton, Ontario. Linda is a writer and teacher. She speaks about adoption and childhood literacy to churches and schools. She blogs daily, with a heavy dose of history, at A Line from Linda.

Wifey Wednesday: Don’t Be the Christmas Doormat!

It’s Wednesday, the day when we always talk marriage! And today Sarah Ball, aka The Virtuous Woman Exposed, joins us talking about how you can be a non-stressed wife this Christmas–by not being a Christmas martyr!

be a non-stressed wife this christmas

Dad is sitting peacefully with his pipe by the fire, the kids are playing joyfully with their new toys, the in-laws have that 1,000 pieced puzzle mastered, and Aunt Sally and Uncle Joe dance arm in arm to “I’ll be home for Christmas.”

But wait, where’s mom?

Oh, right. She’s hyperventilating in the walk-in pantry.

“It’s just the onions,” she says with a forced smile. Come on, we all know it’s not just the onions. It’s a layer of exhaustion, trying to please everyone, a failed soufflé (do women still make these?) a critical comment from the Mother-in-law, an eye roll over paper plates from the Aunt, oh…and the one gift she received under the tree.

One hand-made candleholder made with love and painted macaroni.

She loves seeing her family happy, and nothing beats watching her children open gifts, and she knows the true meaning of Christmas. Yet she can’t help but feel a little empty; so she distracts herself with giving and serving, while telling herself she ‘is being stupid and needs to suck it up.’ She takes the freshly made bacon wrapped scallops out of the oven, waves her eyes clear of tears, inhales deeply, and joins the party. “Hungry?” She sings. They all run to the platter of savory and leave her none.

Does this sound like you? The Christmas Door Mat or The Maid of Merry Men?

How not to be a Christmas martyr in your family--and find peace once again!

If so, I am here to release you from the hard bondage in which you have been forced to serve. With a loving lecture!

STOP IT!

What if I were to tell you that the reason Jesus was born, (the reason we celebrate Christmas) was so that we could rest and receive abundant blessing? Not strain ourselves to the point of tears.

Jesus knew that women have a tendency to strive to earn favor with man and Christ. Which is why God strategically left this story of Mary and Martha, in the bible….

 Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”

 And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10: 38-41

His peace and presence is available to all, but it is up to us Martha’s to put down our apron and just be present enough to enjoy the gift of the moment.

It is perfectly acceptable to expect blessing for yourself on Christmas. It’s not selfish and it’s not sacrilegious. No one ever called you to be a Christmas Martyr. In fact when you take it upon yourself to please everyone, you are actually taking away their opportunities to be a blessing. It feels good to give. Why not let your family experience that too.

We as moms need to help our children and husband bless us. I know that this sounds selfish, and I know that the giver in you is cringing. I realize Christmas isn’t just about gifts, but gifts are a legitimate godly way of showing care for one another.

 

I drive my children, including my teenaged son, to shop for their dad and me. I drop them off at my favorite store and tell them what I don’t want.

Last year, my teenaged boy was absolutely mortified when I dropped him off at a girly accessories store. I walked him into the store and introduced him to the cashier. “My son is shopping for me, these are the things I like, and can you help him?” I asked. She looked as awkward as he did. It was a match made in retail!

“I’ll be in the car,” I said, as I walked out the door. My son, his poor face turned Rudolph red. But that face turned into a very proud grin when I opened a great pair of gloves and scarf on Christmas morning.

I just scored points with his future wife. ‘Not afraid to shop at girly stores to buy his wife great gifts.’ CHECK!

Some husbands may need the same encouragement.

My husband loves to make me happy, and to be honest he deserves more gifts around the tree this year than I do, and he spoils me. So dropping him off at the local frilly shop will be in vain. What I can give him, that in turn blesses me, is an unstressed, joyful version of me. He’s not looking for a perfected Christmas Décor, or an overstuffed brined turkey. He is looking for moments with me, moments when he has my full, happy and content, attention.

This year I have given up the family photo, the Christmas letter and even the Christmas cards. I’m going to express my needs and ask for help. I am going to serve child decorated cookies, that look like reindeer vomit and I’m going to stick to mashed potatoes, turkey and pie. Martha Stewart, you’re fired!

What can you do for yourself this Christmas?

 

Sarah BallSarah Ball is a blogger, speaker, and mother of 5 children. She is currently working on a series called Fearless in 21 days, helping men and women break free from crippling anxiety and panic. You can follow her blog at Virtuous Woman Exposed.

Sarah says, “Head on over to my Virtuous Woman Exposed Facebook Page so we can be friends! You can also find me on Pinterest and Twitter.

WifeyWednesday175Have any Christmas marriage thoughts for us? Link up the URL of one of your marriage posts in our Wifey Wednesday Linkup below! And be sure to link back here so other people can read these great posts.



10 Weird Things About Sheila

Top Ten
It’s Top 10 Tuesday! And I thought that for today’s installment I’d share with you 10 weird things about me that you don’t know (and maybe you’ll wish you never did after you read this. :) )

1. I Am a Tea Fanatic

It’s almost a sickness. I can’t go into one of those looseleaf tea stores without coming out with a ton of tea.

It’s because last December 20 I quit Diet Pepsi, and I hate coffee, but I still need something with caffeine to drink. And I figure if I have lots of different flavours of tea then I’m not really depriving myself.

So I buy little bits of teas to try them out and blend them and see what I like. Here’s my tea drawer:

My tea drawer

Then, once I’m sure I like a tea, I get a whole can of it:

My Tea Cans

Tea features in my daughter Katie’s latest video (it’s about halfway through; and bonus, you get to see my house!)

2. One of my Favourite Snacks is Chocolate Chips and Milk. With a spoon.

When I get a craving for sweets, this is what I get.

Hey, it’s got calcium in it!

photo-1

3. I’m Actually Quite Introverted in Public. I’m Scared of Small Talk

Seriously. I speak all the time in front of really large audiences and it doesn’t phase me one bit. I don’t even really get nervous anymore. I can go on the set of a TV show or a taping and I’m perfectly fine.

Sheila at Focus

But if you get me in a small group with people I don’t really know and try to make small talk, I’m a little at a loss. I’m afraid it makes me seem a little stand offish at times, because sometimes after church I bolt rather than talk to the people around me if I don’t know them well. And I know that’s exactly the wrong thing to do (and kind of cowardly). But I feel flustered.

Which makes going to my husband’s work parties really stressful for me. I want to get to know his work buddies, but I honestly dread walking into a room where everybody knows each other except for me.

Of course, that’s my issue and I’ll have to get over it. It isn’t good to shy away from people. But it is difficult…

4. I’ve Got Gallbladder Issues. Or Maybe Not. But I Sure Hope That’s What It Is!

Haven’t mentioned this too much on the blog, but back in July I started getting these intermittent HORRIBLE stomach pains. It took me a few weeks to figure out that they were related to eating fatty foods, and the more I researched it the more it sounds exactly like gallbladder attacks. It’s absolutely horrible.

So I’ve stopped going to restaurants entirely, and I eat pretty much totally clean. The good news is I’ve lost 15 pounds. In fact, I’ve lost so much weight that my dress pants don’t stay up anymore–like the pants I wear to speak. And most of those pants don’t have belt loops. At my last speaking engagement I had to use safety pins to keep them up.

But in the meantime I’d really like this fixed, but absolutely all of the tests that I’ve had point to pancreatitis, not gallbladder. And there are no real treatments for pancreatitis. I go to see the surgeon on Thursday, so I’m praying that she’ll be able to say, “yes, it’s gallbladder, just a weird presentation, and we’ll take it out for you!” Because honestly, I don’t know how much more of this I can take. It’s nothing that will kill me, but it’s awfully uncomfortable.

5. One of the things I would grab if there were ever a fire in my house is a blouse my great-grandmother knit.

I have things my grandmother and my mother knit, too! I come from a long line of knitters.

Here’s Katie wearing the top her great-great-grandmother knit:

Katie in a top my great-grandmother knit

6. I never liked Michael Jackson. Ever. Even when he was cool.

In fact, I never liked most popular music. I always pretended to, but I never really did. And Michael Jackson always struck me as whiny–even when I was 13.

7. I’m Actually an American. Sort of!

Here’s something kinda weird. So I was born in Boston while my dad was at Harvard, but I only ever lived there for 6 months. So I’ve always considered myself a Canadian.

But now I’m an adult and I go back and forth across the border to speak a lot, and I have a lot of American income. And I’ve been trying to collect that income using an IRS form saying I’m Canadian.

So I had a note from the IRS recently telling me I had to either provide proof that I’d renounced my U.S. citizenship (because they knew I was born in the U.S.) or provide my social security number.

And I’m like, “Whoa, I’m actually American. I better do something about that!” So since then I’ve got all my paperwork in order and I can now travel under an American passport. No more hassles when I try to cross the border! When I was applying for my social security number a while back they tried to tell me that I wasn’t really American, and for the first time in my life I had this surge of patriotism–“But it’s my birthright!” And so now I’m American. And Canadian. And it’s kinda cool.

8. My mother has a grand-daughter who is not actually related to me.

So a little while ago my best friend started caring for a little baby who needed a home. My mom wanted to give my friend a break, so every week she’d take the baby for a day.

When that baby got to be a year old, she came up for adoption, and my friend and her husband decided to adopt her. Except that now my mom had been caring for her for a day a week since she was born, and she figured that she may as well keep going since the baby was so attached to her (and vice versa).

That baby is now 5, and she calls my mom “Nana”, just like my daughters do. But once that little girl became her granddaughter, then it only seemed fair that the other two older kids in the family become her grandchildren, too. See, my friend and her husband don’t have any extended family, so the kids didn’t really have grandparents.

For years my mom was Nana to just two girls (mine), but now she has three more grandchildren! And she takes them to movies and watches their soccer games and goes to their birthday parties. And that little girl still cuddles in and hugs her quite often (she’s older than she looks; she’s tiny for 5 and so everyone still picks her up!)

Mom Holding Sam

Every Sunday my mom makes the snack for the kids in our youth Bible quizzing class, and the little girl “helps”. So last week we’re in the middle of quizzing and the little girl is passing out muffins and she announces, really loudly, “I love you, Nana.”

It’s funny because she HAS to sit with my Mom at church. It’s so important to her. So my mom always sits with their family. And often their family has extra kids with them, so there’s not always room in the pew for my husband and me. Which honestly is fine. But recently our church hired a new outreach pastor, and my mom was talking to him about her daughter. It took her a few minutes to realize that the pastor and she were talking about two completely different women–because the pastor assumed that Mom’s daughter was my friend, not me! It makes sense–everywhere you go in church Mom is being crawled all over by that little girl and talked to by my friend’s kids. It’s absolutely the cutest thing.

We always laugh because one day that little girl will understand that being adopted (they don’t hide that fact at all) means that she’s not actually blood related to her mom. But not only is she not blood related to her mom, her mom isn’t actually blood related to her grandma!

But you know what? I don’t think it really matters.

Staples Back to School 6

9. I have never watched the movie Titanic.

I just can’t handle watching movies about real things where people died or suffered horribly. I don’t think I could watch it when the ship went down–because the ship really DID go down and just thinking about families being separated from each other makes me absolutely sick.

It’s like Holocaust movies–I can’t watch them either. I already know a ton about the Holocaust; it’s not that the movies teach me stuff I didn’t know and make me sad; it’s that I can’t handle having pictures put to my thoughts. I saw Schindler’s List in theatres and I still regret it. It still haunts me.

It’s important to remember the horrors that we have inflicted on each other so we don’t repeat them, but I can’t emotionally handle watching it. I hope that doesn’t make me shallow.

10. I’m touring all over the U.S. in 2015-2016. And in Australia, too!

I’m in Texas in February, Louisiana in March, Arizona in April, Indiana in September, and Brisbane/Melbourne in October. Plus I’ll be around Canada frequently, too! I’m still adding dates to all of those tours, so if you have a church that would be interested in hosting my Girl Talk, just email me and my assistant Tammy will get some info out to you!

So there you go: 10 weird things about me. Have any weird things yourself you’d like to share?

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Reader Question: I Caught My Dad Watching Porn

Reader Question of the Week
Every Monday I like to post a Reader Question and try to take a stab at answering it. With the Christmas holidays approaching and extended family being more on our minds, I thought this sad one would be an important one to answer. What do you do if you catch your dad watching porn (or another married relative)?

My reader writes:

I’m in my mid-twenties and still living at home while I finish up graduate school. I’m very blessed to have parents who are willing to support me financially while I pursue my career goals. But I have a HUGE problem: two years ago I walked in on my dad watching porn while my mom was at her weekly women’s bible study. In the two years since, I have walked in on or came close to walking in on him watching porn several times so I know this is a regular occurrence. I believe that God has allowed me to discover this about him. My dad has acted like nothing has changed between us, and I think that is because he has convinced himself that I did not actually see anything. There are times that he is colder towards me or dismissive and angry. He has verbally abused me on a few occasions and yelled at me for being a “petulant child” then the next minute swings back into his normal temperate state like nothing was even said. He has never treated me like this when my mom is around, and no one else in my family knows what he is like behind closed doors. Either my mom has no idea that he watches porn or has convinced herself that there is nothing that she can do about it. She has counseled me that porn use is an automatic no in a dating relationship (my dad was in the room when she said this-awkward few minutes for me).

I really need advice on what to do. I really do not want to see my dad in sinful bondage like this, but I am fearful because I am financially dependent on my parents allowing me to stay at home. I have debated and prayed and asked for advice on whether or not to confront my dad. I want him to get help, I want my parents to have a real, healthy marriage. But I have no idea how to go about that as an adult daughter still at home. There are lines that I am afraid to even toe for fear of retribution. I’ll be honest, I am very uncomfortable living in my own home and spend most of my time shut up in my room. I need advice on something, anything I can do to try and help make this situation bearable. Keeping my dad’s secret is exhausting, not just the porn use, but his verbal treatment of me at times.

This is a really hard situation, and I want to raise just a few issues which could help people make decisions about what to do in a case like this.

Do you keep the secret if you catch your dad--or another married relative--watching porn? Some thoughts on how to stop the cycle of lies in families.

You Are Not Responsible for Keeping Someone’s Marriage Together

No one is responsible for anyone’s marriage other than our own. Yes, we need to support our friends’ marriages, but that doesn’t mean that if we rock the boat and the marriage falls apart we are somehow to blame.

If something falls apart because of truth, then that something wasn’t really together in the first place. Look, what you want is for your parents (or other relatives in other cases) to have a good marriage. A good marriage is one that honors God. And Jesus said that He was the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Jesus is the Truth, and Jesus is in the Truth. We should never flee from the truth.

And if you really are the thing holding a marriage together (like if you telling a secret would break up a marriage) then that marriage wasn’t really together in the first place. Our aim should be for truth and God. God works when things are brought to light, not when things are hidden and when people refuse to address issues and work on them. Hiding things is lying. Often family tries to suck us in to agree with a big “family lie”, but that isn’t your role and it isn’t right. The Truth is what is right, and don’t ever let someone else convince you otherwise.

Secrets Eat at a Family

Secrets get replicated. What happens in one generation often gets passed on to the next, even if it’s never explicitly talked about. A woman marries a man who cheats, and even though the kids never specifically know that he cheats, somehow they all pick similar people to marry. These patterns repeat.

I once knew something about a young man at our church that I knew the parents would want to know. I went through a bit of a crisis of conscience, wondering if it was really my place to get involved. Is it honestly my business? But it came back to this: If someone knew something like that about my child, I would want to be told. And so how could I not tell his parents? They had the chance to do something about it if they knew; by not sharing the secret I wasn’t actually helping him or helping my friends (his parents). I was just allowing him to engage in really damaging behaviour under the radar.

In this case, her father is engaged in really dangerous behaviour. That sinful porn addiction is also likely responsible for the verbal abuse and the cavalier attitude about other things. Porn affects all aspects of our lives. I believe it needs to be told, either to her mom or to a pastor or to somebody, but it is absolutely not fair that she be put in a position where she feels like she has to keep a secret. That’s too big a burden to put on someone.

If you’re the one dealing with this, though, one word of caution:  you may tell your mom and she may choose to do nothing. That is her choice. But you have now given her a choice, and that’s important, in and of itself. Now you can let go of it.

We All Need a Support System

Find some mentors that you can tell these things to–not a whole lot of people, but some, who can pray for you before you disclose the secret and who can pray for you as you try to live in this environment. You can’t carry this all by yourself anymore.

We Need a Safe Place to Live

Here’s another thing that’s so important to realize: we all need a safe place to live. So many studies have been written about the effects of living in a toxic environment. If you are putting up with verbal abuse and lies because you need to save money, you still are likely paying too high a cost.

Toxic people hurt you. They give you a negative outlook on life. They wreck your self-esteem. They make you pessimistic and sad. That’s not a good combination.

Sometimes Life Involves Risk

Disclosing your dad’s porn use is risky; you may not be able to live at your parents’ house anymore. But often doing the right thing is also doing the risky thing. The reason so many of us live miserable lives is because we choose to live with the secrets rather than rocking the boat. And when we do that we limit what God can do.

God really can do amazing things, but He tends to do those things when we open ourselves up, make ourselves vulnerable, and stop trying to protect ourselves.

And that may mean not just disclosing a secret, but also moving out.

And it doesn’t have to be that expensive! A female grad student who stays in her room on wifi? Do you know how great a tenant that is? My mom rented out a room to a college student a few  years ago really inexpensively. If you’re prepared to just take a room in someone’s home, you can often find an older woman or an older couple who just needs a little more income and who has a spare room. Sometimes someone in your church, if you let the need be known, may do it for free to help you get on your feet. It’s not like you necessarily have to rent a whole apartment.

The unknown is scary, but when we step there, God opens doors.

One More Thing: Porn is Not Inevitable

This woman’s mom said that porn is inevitable in a dating relationship. She’s right, it is inevitable–IF you date people who use porn and IF you tolerate it. Whatever you tolerate will continue.

Whatever you tolerate will continue. #marriagetip

Most teens will be exposed to porn (which is why it’s so important to protect the gadgets in your home! See here for a special 2-month free offer from Covenant Eyes).  But while many teens will be tempted (including girls) not all will become habitual users. And if they are habitual porn users, that needs to be dealt with before an engagement or marriage–but it absolutely CAN be defeated.

People say porn is inevitable because it gives them an “out”–if their significant other uses porn, and they haven’t wanted to rock the boat for fear of losing that person, they likely justified it to themselves by saying, “everyone uses it”. But it’s not true.

If, in your circle of friends, everybody uses it and no one is struggling to stop, then you need a new circle of friends. Porn isn’t inevitable, porn can be defeated, and many, many people are fighting for pure marriages.

So those are my thoughts for this poor woman, but I know that there are many of you in the same position–people who caught their brother-in-law using porn, or their married brother, or an uncle, or whoever. Let me leave you with one last thought: what if your sister-in-law (or whoever the spouse is) has been struggling under this burden of her husband’s porn use? What if she has thought it was hopeless? What if she has convinced herself there is nothing she can do, and she feels so alone and so dirty? And then you come to her and say, “no, this is not acceptable. You’re right to be upset.” You actually free her from the trap that she’s built for herself. You’ve spoken truth into a web of lies, and it’s amazing how one word of truth can often turn a situation around. Maybe she’s hurting, and she needs the strength to do something about it. Maybe you’re the kick in the pants, the reality check, the support she needs.

Now, I’d love to know: have you ever been in a situation where you caught a relative using porn? Or did you have secrets in your family? What did you do? Let’s talk in the comments and encourage each other!

Go to Your Room! Why Kids Should Hang Out in the Living Room Instead

For my column today I thought I’d rerun a Christmas column from a few years ago where I talked about computers in kids’ rooms. It goes along well with our discussion yesterday about protecting kids with all the new gadgets at Christmas!

Computers in Kids Rooms

Disciplining children is a minefield for parents today. You’re not supposed to spank. You’re not supposed to yell. So when a 13-year-old child is tormenting his 9-year-old brother, parents utter the greatest threat that’s still acceptable: “Go to your room!”

Yeah, that’ll teach him.

Here’s a kid who obviously does not want to be with the family, and, in punishment, you send him to a place where, according to the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, 50% have their own television, and another 25% have a computer. “Go to your room!” is no longer sentencing a child to hours of boredom; it’s sending a child to a place where they have access to the outside world, with no parental interference, and often no parental guidance.

Traditionally, the living room was for living; the bedroom was for sleeping. Being banished to the bedroom was harsh indeed. Today, many children prefer to cocoon in their rooms, which they’re trying to turn into entertainment central. It’s not unusual for most kids’ Christmas lists to have “electronics” highlighted right at the top. The Santa in you may be tempted to oblige. The Scrooge in me is asking you to reconsider.

After all, what happens when kids have a television in their bedroom? According to a University of Haifa study, middle schoolers with TVs in their room sleep thirty minutes less a night, on average, than children without a television. The Canadian Pediatric Society calls televisions in bedrooms one of the biggest factors in childhood obesity. These children also score lower on reading and math tests. And perhaps most importantly, they’re twice as likely to start smoking and get involved in other delinquent activities, even controlling for all other factors.

While the health and educational detriments of television are important, it’s that last one that concerns me most.

When kids have televisions and computers in their room, they are more likely to make lifestyle and moral choices that parents don’t approve of because their lives have now become more and more independent.

Kids with TVs in their rooms live in their rooms, not in the kitchen or the family room, where they can hang out with their parents. And perhaps just as importantly, they tend to live solitary lives, not lives with their siblings. If you’ve ever wondered why kids squabble so much, perhaps it’s because they aren’t forced to play together or cure boredom together. Instead, they just retreat to their rooms to be entertained on their own.

I really can’t think of anything much more destructive in a family than encouraging your child to cocoon. Kids need input from parents. They need conversation. They need meal times. They need to have fun! But we’re letting them grow up by themselves, in their wonderfully decorated rooms with every little gadget. It’s wrong.

If your lives consist mostly of gathering the children for the practical functions of life, like putting food on their plates or collecting homework or ascertaining everybody’s schedules, and then you separate during your leisure times, I doubt real conversation or sharing will happen.

If your children hang out in their own rooms, rather than in the family room with siblings, I doubt great friendships will develop.

Before you shop this Christmas, then, ask yourself: what values do you want your children to have? Do electronics in their bedrooms contribute to your vision? Probably not. So maybe the Santa in you should invest in board games for the whole family or comfortable furniture for the living room, rather than for bedrooms. Your kids may think you’ve turned into Scrooge, but they’ll be better people for it.

If your kids have gadgets, computers, or phones in their room, make sure you’ve taken steps to protect them online!

Kids, Gadgets, and Christmas: Protect Your Kids Online

Protect Your Kids Online: If you're buying gadgets this Christmas, don't let those gadgets become traps. Help keep them fun--and safe!

Have you done all your Christmas shopping yet?

Personally, I don’t usually start until panic sets in, likely around the 18th, but I have at least thought about what I’m getting everybody. We don’t tend to do Christmas big; I focus on 3 Gifts (something they need, something they want, and something to nurture their spiritual side). And that’s it.

But with teenagers in the house, often the “gift they want” is some sort of electronic device. And that can be a real treat and a real benefit to them, especially if they’re students.

But it can also be a danger, and so this time of year is a great time to reevaluate internet safety at your home. If you’re going to bring new devices into your house on Dec. 25, that means that you’re going to bring EVERYTHING that’s on the internet potentially into your home, unless you take some steps to stop that.

I don’t mean to be an alarmist, but because I write a marriage blog I get tons of emails everyday. And I would say that half of all the emails I get from women (and men) in troubled marriages revolve around porn. And often the root of that story isn’t “he started watching porn when we got married”–it’s “he started looking at porn when he was 11″, or “she started reading erotica online when she was 14.” Kids often start younger than we even think–younger than we think that they are even interested in it. And then they can easily get sucked in to something that will affect their sexuality, their spiritual life, their social life, and even their future marriage.

I am not against devices in the house. I love computers and I love spending time online.

But you simply have to be realistic about how to protect your kids online.

It’s the best gift that we can give our kids, and our future sons and daughters-in-law: to raise children who were not exposed to that much porn/erotica as early teens and teens.

And this is not just a boy problem. Girls watch porn, too! In fact, most estimates are that 30% of people who access porn sites are female. We often get scared for our boys, but our girls are in danger to temptation, too.

So here are four ideas to keep your family safe–even with all the new gadgets!

Keep Devices in a Central Place at Night

When do kids tend to access porn? At night, when they’re lying in bed on their own and they have complete privacy. So a simple solution is to make it normal to charge all devices in a central place every night. Bonus #1: your kids actually sleep rather than checking Facebook all night. Bonus #2: your phones actually get charged (I always forget to charge mine).

So get a central charging dock that can handle multiple devices, like this:

Great Useful Stuff Rustic Modern Collection: Ultra Charging Station Multi-device Charging Station and Dock for Iphone 5, 6, 6 Plus, 4s, Ipad Mini, Ipad Air, Ipad 4, Samsung Galaxy S3 S4, Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 3, Macbook Air, Smartphones & Tablets

Turn the WiFi off at night–or change the password

Another option? The wifi goes off at 11 every night. That stops kids from staying up too late, and it stops the temptation to browse questionable sites. I’ve also known parents who change the wifi password every week, and kids can’t get it until they do their chores (or their homework!)


Get an Accountability Program

Finally, I think it’s so important to get some sort of internet accountability program for your family, so that the temptation is removed. And I’m a big fan of Covenant Eyes. Here’s how it works:

You sign up for a family plan, and can get it installed on your computers, phones, tablets, and iPods. Covenant Eyes gives all websites a rating, from A-okay to Mature to Pornographic. And you can register each user as to what level they’re allowed to access (adults could access mature but not pornographic; 11-year-olds can’t access Mature either). Then, if that family member ever tries to access a site that’s out of their rating, an accountability partner of your choice will receive an email.

You can also have the option to block those sites altogether.

I think part of being a good parent is protecting your kids from the filth that is out there. So I’d encourage you–if you’re buying devices for Christmas, or if your family already has lots of devices, get some internet protection, too.


And the great thing is that Covenant Eyes is giving a discount JUST for people who click using my link where you’ll get two months of internet safety free!

It’s just $13.99, and that gives you a Family Account on multiple devices–really all that you own. There are no limits. You can assign everybody their unique user name, and add filtering to each account (or to only a select few) for free. You can set what kind of sites your kids can visit (a 5-year-old should be far more restricted than a 16-year-old, for instance). You can even block internet access at certain times of day (which is much easier than turning off the wifi altogether!).

You’ll get the discount automatically when you sign up through my link, but if for some reason it doesn’t appear, just use the code “TLHV” at the checkout (for To Love, Honor and Vacuum!)

This offer is only good until December 31, 2014. After that, you’ll still get one month free–but not two!

Get it here.

Don’t let those Christmas gifts become the vehicle through which your child starts accessing questionable stuff early–and forms a habit which is so hard to break.

It’s not “bad” kids who start to do this. It’s MOST kids, even good kids.

It’s those kids who are solid Christians, who just get lonely, and who are curious. It’s those strong Christian kids who end up marrying other strong Christian kids, but they bring all this sexual garbage into their marriage which messes up their libidos and their expectations and their ability to experience real intimacy. The emails I receive aren’t just from women who are married to BAD guys; most of them are women married to good, Christian guys who never dreamed these upstanding guys struggled with this, because they’re the last people you’d think had this issue. And it started when they were young teens. It often started at Christmas.

Please, talk to your husband about this and consider adding Covenant Eyes to those gadgets and phones you have or the ones you’re buying. It really is part of being a responsible parent today!

Learn more about Covenant Eyes here.

Now, maybe you’re thinking: but that’s just “window dressing”. We should be looking at the heart issues that bring up the temptation in the first place. If you simply take away the temptation, that doesn’t change the heart.

And I understand. But I don’t buy it. These are KIDS. They aren’t wise enough to understand what’s dangerous to them, and they’re naturally curious. It’s very hard to withstand that curiosity. And once they get sucked in, it gets much worse. If you can prevent that from happening in the first place, you do your kids a tremendous favor.

Look, back when I was a kid, if you wanted to see porn you had to find a friend’s father’s stash of Playboys in the garden shed. Or if you were older, you had to get in your car, drive to the corner store, reach for that paper-bag-covered magazine, take it to the cashier, pull out your wallet, pay for it, and drive home with it. Those are a lot of steps–and a lot of chances for your conscience to work and for the Holy Spirit to convince you to turn around and run. Now it’s available with one click. It’s too easy. And so we need to fight smarter.

Get Educated on Teens and Porn

Widespread internet access at home is only about 15 years old. In 2000, 43% of homes had access to the internet (and much of that was dialup). Today it’s 81%. That means that unless you’re in your late 20s, most parents today did NOT grow up with internet in the home when they were teens. But to our kids this is normal. We are the dividing generation. Every generation after this will have gone through it and will understand, and our kids will probably be more careful with their kids. But we didn’t grow up with it, and so we don’t understand. We can’t in the same way.

So we need to get educated.

Here are a few ebooks and resources from Covenant Eyes that you may find helpful. All are free and can be downloaded immediately:

  • When Your Child is Looking at Porn (what to do when you “catch” your child or teen accessing porn)
  • Your Brain on Porn (how porn actually affects the brain)
  • Parenting the Internet Generation
  • A Parent’s Guide to Cyberbullying

And more! Download these ebooks here.

And here’s a quick infographic on teens and porn use:

 

How Pornography Addiction Affects the Teenage Brain – Infographic
Learn How Pornography Addiction Affects the Teenage Brain – Infographic

This Christmas, be a vigilant parent and protect your kids online. We need to live in the real world; I don’t believe in getting rid of technology. But I do believe in being safe. And so I wish you all a very safe Christmas!
This post contains affiliate links.

 

Wifey Wednesday: What Do I Do with a Workaholic Husband?

When your husband is a workaholic: how to communicate your needs for him in your #marriage!

It’s Wednesday, the day when we always talk marriage! I introduce a post, and then give you a chance to link up your own post in the linky below. And today we’re going to deal with this problem: what do you do with a workaholic husband?

A reader recently wrote me this letter:

My husband’s work hours are way out of control. He owns his own business and regularly works 75-90 hours a week. We have been married almost 30 years and our kids are almost out of the nest.

His obsession with work overrides his common sense. The kids and I staged an intervention (literally) where we said that they would not ride in his car with him if he continued to text and check emails while driving (that has improved a bit since then).

He thinks I don’t appreciate his hard work. I do, but it has left me to be virtually a single parent, and in fact, an angry, disconnected wife. I try to open discussions with “I/we want to have you at home more. I miss time with you”, but it immediately goes to accusations that I don’t understand his work, his stress, the economy etc.

I am tired of pat Christian answers about making my home a sanctuary for him and understanding that work is what God created him to do. I am angry when I hear other Godly men ask with a laugh, “Still working those crazy hours?” instead of calling him on his out of balance life. I have considered talking to an elder couple that we are close to in order to have someone else discuss this with him.

My husband is a good man and I know, in my head if not my heart, that he loves me and his kids, but even as I write this, a voice in my head whispers, “but not enough to cut back his work hours”.

My heart breaks for this woman. She IS married to a workaholic husband, and it’s making her feel so unloved. So what does one do in this situation? Here are some general thoughts about workaholism and marriage.

Is He a Workaholic or Does He Just Work Hard?

My husband is a physician, and when he was in training he was often at work for 100-120 hours a week, being 36 hours on and 12 hours off. It was horrible. When he had his own practice he was still on call frequently, and his work weeks were still long. I never considered him a workaholic, though, because he loved being home–and when he had to dictate charts or bring work home he was always really grumpy about it. He wanted to be away from work; the job just didn’t always allow it.

What good would it have been for me to be angry at him for that? He was already upset that he wasn’t home more; me adding to that would not have helped. Working hard and working long hours does not necessarily mean he’s a workaholic.

A workaholic husband, on the other hand, is someone who routinely chooses to engage in work rather than engage in family time even when the job does not necessarily demand it. If he’s a pastor and he’s forever visiting people and counselling people after hours and going to meetings and he’s never with his family, then he’s likely a workaholic. If he’s a business owner (like our letter writer’s husband) and he can never put the job down, then he’s likely a workaholic.

Certain jobs are more prone to workaholism: the “caring” professions, especially ministry ones, where you can always justify working harder because “people need me”, and entrepreneurs, who feel as if everything rests on their shoulders. There are others as well, but those are the two categories that seem to be especially prone to it.

If He Simply Works Hard

Can He Switch Jobs?

Can you make a long-term plan for him to get more training so that he can qualify for something different that pays well? Can you create a 5-year plan together that gets him into something more manageable–so that your family life is better?

Can You Change Your Work?

One reason that my husband’s job was never too much of a burden to us was because I didn’t work outside the home. Because I was there to take care of the day-to-day things, then when he was home we could relax as a family. If I had been working 40 hours a week too I don’t know how we would have done it. When he got home instead of playing a game or talking we’d have to clean something or tend to errands.

Is there a way that you can reduce your hours or change your work so that the family becomes more manageable–even with his hours?

Can You Carve Out Family Time?

I have two dear friends who are both family physicians in a small town. The wife works part-time; the husband has always worked more than full-time because that’s the nature of the job. While he’s around most nights, he honestly is gone a lot of the time. But what they have done is carved out several weeks of vacation a year where they get out of town completely, so no one can page him. And they love their vacation time! They’ve taken their girls on missions trips, on backpacking adventures, and all kinds of places so that they create memories.

If your husband puts in a ton of hours at work, perhaps he can negotiate more vacation time where he’s out of the office and away from his phone.

I have another friend who is a project manager for huge corporate projects. He goes to work in one place for 2-3 years, managing some new huge launch, and then he’ll move to another corporation. So everywhere he goes it’s always at a stressful, busy time. He misses Thanksgiving sometimes. He misses weekends sometimes. But one thing he never misses is his kids’ quiz meets (his kids do Bible quizzing with my daughter). He coaches and he’s made that his priority. So even though he misses some traditional family things, he is always there for one particular thing that has become his priority–his barometer of whether he’s involved enough or not. And that works really well for them. Can your husband find one thing that he is always there for–coaching soccer, working with the youth group, attending a small group with you? And that is always your priority?

For years my husband and I spent Wednesday nights ballroom dancing. He never, ever took call on Wednesday nights, no matter what. That was our time. So, yes, I couldn’t always count on him for birthdays or for weekends, but I knew that he would always be there for me for Wednesday nights.

If Your Husband is a Workaholic

Can You Plan Your Goals Together?

Men Are Like Waffles--Women Are Like Spaghetti: Understanding and Delighting in Your DifferencesIf the issue is not one of time but honestly one of priority, then it’s a much bigger problem. Like Bill and Pam Farrel say, men are like waffles and women are like spaghetti. Men live their lives in little boxes: when they’re in one box (like work) it’s hard for them to think about another box. And often that work box gets really big.

One way to force them out of it is to talk to them about goals. Workaholics are often quite good at setting goals because they do it in the work setting all the time. So what about asking him to set goals for your family and your marriage? I’ve got some printable, downloadable worksheets right here that you can use to dream together and vision together.

If you start asking, “what do we want our family to look like?”, and then “what are the action steps we need to take to get them there?” that can help him see that he has action steps that need to be taken at home, too.

Developing a Vision for Your Family

Can You Find the Root of Workaholism?

Is workaholism about money? Or is it about self-worth? Or is it about a lack of trust in God?

I have a friend named Mark who has a construction company. He has always prioritized his family. He works long hours, but he’s home on weekends, and they do vacations together. When the downturn came in 2008, he didn’t lose his business, though many in his town did. And he says he just trusted God. He worked a little harder to drum up business, but he didn’t panic, because he knew God would take care of them.

Sometimes people become workaholics because they’re essentially scared that God won’t take care of them, so they have to do it all themselves. In that case it’s a trust in God issue.

Sometimes he’s grown up to believe that his worth is from his work, and so he puts all of his emphasis there.

And sometimes he just wants more money, thinking that it will buy security.

Figuring out what the spiritual root is can help you tackle the problem. And sometimes you will have to talk about this with a counselor or a third party. In extreme cases, you will have to say, “I can’t live in the marriage like this anymore and we need to get help.”

Other times just using logic can help. How much money is enough for your retirement? If you go at this trajectory, will you manage? Does the business need to expand? Do you need to work that many hours? If they can see it in black and white that their financial goals are already met, that can help them scale back.

If the issue is that he’s in a caring profession, and the demands are never ending, then I’d read this post which addresses specifically that.

Be Honest with Your Own Role

I am not saying this is the case with my reader at all, but I have had many men comment on this blog about how desperately lonely they are in their marriages, and how they have turned to their work instead so that they can cope with the loneliness. The babies came, and their wives threw themselves into the kids, virtually stopped having sex, and were critical and demanding. And the men felt unloved.

So they threw themselves into work, and for a few years everyone was happy. He could cope because his needs were met at work; she could focus on her kids unimpeded. Then the kids started to grow, and she began to miss him, but he wasn’t here anymore.

Ask yourself if you have done anything to contribute to his workaholism (and this is not always the case). Then ask him. And if you have, repent, apologize, ask forgiveness, and try to start fresh. Here’s a good post on asking for forgiveness.

Confront Him About His Workaholism

Like my reader, I have heard the advice, “just make your home a sanctuary he wants to come home to!”, and there is some truth to that. But I think that truth is more relevant if your husband works hard, not if he’s a workaholic. If he simply works hard, he needs that sanctuary. If he’s a workaholic, the problem is usually a spiritual one, and no matter what you do it won’t get better. In fact, you could end up enabling him to grow further away from God and further away from his family if you do nothing.

Boundaries in MarriageInstead, I’d advise my reader to bring in that older couple she was referencing. Perhaps talking to a counselor would help. Read the book Boundaries in Marriage. But do not just let it be. That makes you an enabler, not a spouse.

Our reader and her kids did a good thing confronting him about texting. That was a great first step. But take the next step, too.

Make Your Own Life

My friend Leanne had a workaholic husband. She tried for years to change it and finally realized she couldn’t. So she stopped waiting around for him. She began taking the kids on vacation by herself. She took them to the beach in the summer rather than trying to plan around his schedule–and then being disappointed again. She started taking painting classes herself and hired a baby-sitter for the kids. She stopped putting her life on hold and started living it.

An interesting thing happened. His workaholism stopped bothering her quite as much because she had other areas of joy in her life. And because of that, he started wanting to be home more. He realized he was missing a lot of fun, and he made more of an effort to be there for those beach trips.

Their marriage is still not perfect, but she’s finding it easier to cope with it.

WifeyWednesday175So those are my thoughts on workaholism–and now I’d love to know yours! How do you deal with a husband who works a ton? Let me know in the comments!

And now it’s your turn to leave your own link for Wifey Wednesday! Just put the URL of your marriage post below, and be sure to link back here so other people can read the great marriage advice!



The Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex

Marriage isn't supposed to be blah!


Sex is supposed to be stupendous--physically, emotionally, AND spiritually. If it's not, get The Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex--and find out what you've been missing.

Top 10 Ways to Be a Merry Mom this Christmas

Top 10 Ways to Be a Merry Mom This Christmas

Please welcome our guest author, Lindsey Bell, who is posting with us as part of her December Blog Tour.  Today she is sharing great tips for how to be a merry mom this Christmas–words to live by every day, really .  And be sure and enter her mega- giveaway–details are at the end of this post!

Christmas is my favorite holiday, but it also has the potential to be VERY stressful. With parties to attend, goodies to bake, programs to prepare for, gifts to purchase, and cards to send, Christmas can sometimes be far from joyful.

We might say “Merry Christmas” to the checker at the grocery store, but many of us don’t always feel merry. Here are a few tips that might help!

How to Be a Merry Mom:

1. Simplify.

Most of us are on the go WAY too much. I read a book recently called Hands Free Mama by Rachel Macy Stafford, and she said something in the book that stuck with me.

What she said was this: “My child cannot kiss a moving target” (23).

Our kids can’t kiss us or hug us or cuddle with us if they can’t catch us. If we’re always on the go, when will our kids have the opportunity to just BE with us?

Kids can't kiss a moving target--so slow down this Christmas season and make sure you have time to be a Merry Mom! Lindsey Bell shares how...

As much as we’d love to attend every Christmas event, there are times when it’s wiser to stay at home and be with our families.

Simplifying begins by prioritizing. Decide which events you most want to attend, and then allow the rest of fall off your calendar.

2. Begin your day well.

About six months ago, I attended The Better Together Conference put on by The MOM Initiative. At that conference, one of the speakers challenged each of us to begin our days with our faces on the ground in prayer.

I’ve been doing that since then, and my days have drastically changed.

I think the reason they have changed so much is because God is filling me up early.

Before, when my children challenged me, it was me that spilled over (me, plus a little bit of impatience, frustration, and irritability). Now, when my kids push my buttons, it’s God that spills out of me.

Because I take time each morning to have Him fill me with His presence, it’s His Spirit that seeps out of me throughout the day.

3. Work on your marriage.

When our marriages are strong, we are happier people.

As much as we’d like to believe living in an unhealthy marriage doesn’t affect our moods, that’s not reality. Happy marriages make happy people; unhappy marriages make unhappy people.

Take time this week to work on your marriage. Buy a marriage book to read together. Have a date night. Have sex with your spouse. Pray together.  

4. Count your blessings.

Many of us mistakenly assume we have to feel thankful to voice thanksgiving.

We don’t.

Instead, it’s often the voicing of thanks that creates the feelings of thanksgiving.

In other words, if you take time to count your blessings, you will grow more thankful. You’ll begin noticing more blessings in your life. Your focus will gradually shift off the hard things in your life to the blessings instead.

5. Take care of yourself.

A happy mom is a mom who takes care of herself. Sure, there are seasons in our lives when we can’t get a full night’s sleep. There are seasons we can exercise every day.

But do your best to take care of you. Eat well. Exercise regularly. Rest as much as your little ones will allow.

6. Get away from time to time.

Nothing makes you adore your little ones more than being away from them occasionally, so if you’re able, go on vacation with your spouse, go on regularly dates, take time to yourself, and don’t feel bad about doing it.

7. Stop comparing your life to the lives of others.

Steven Furtick once said, “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”

Stop comparing your life to the lives of those around you. Sure, their life might look great on Facebook or Pinterest. But you’re not in their home everyday.

The key to happiness is to stop looking outside your surroundings to find it.

8. Laugh and smile more.

Laughter is good for the body, mind, and soul, so choose to laugh more. Instead of getting angry when everything goes wrong of a morning, choose to laugh instead.

When your holiday plans don’t turn out as you expected, choose to smile and laugh instead of blow up in anger.

9. Do something you love.

Writing has always been something I loved. When my son was first born, though, I thought I needed to put my writing aside until my kids were grown.

I’m so thankful my husband told me to write then instead of waiting until later.

When moms use their gifts, talents, and abilities, they’re happier women…And when we’re happier women, we’re happier moms.

Granted, there are certainly seasons when I can’t write as much. But that doesn’t mean I can’t do it at all.

10. Be present.

It’s tempting—especially on the hard days—to escape with my phone…to log into Facebook or Pinterest and only be half-there with my children.

What happens when I do this is that I stop enjoying my kids.

It’s only when I’m fully present that I fully enjoy my life. My guess is, I’m not the only one.

So if you want to be a merry mom this Christmas, choose to be with the ones you’re with.

What other tips would you add to this list?

 

This post is part of Lindsey Bell’s December blog tour. To enter to win Lindsey’s MEGA-GIVEAWAY (the winner will receive 6 books!), leave a comment on any of Lindsey’s guest posts this month (including this one).

Enter to win

For a full list of participating blogs (and ways to enter!) visit this post on Lindsey’s blog.

About Lindsey Bell:

Lindsey BellLindsey Bell is the author of Searching for Sanity: 52 Insights from the Parents of the Bible. She’s also a stay-at-home mother of two, minister’s wife, avid reader, and chocolate lover. You can find Lindsey online at any of the following locations:

Her blog: www.lindsey-bell.com

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Searching for SanityAbout Searching for Sanity:

Have you ever looked at your beloved children and wondered, what in the world am I doing? Why did God trust me—of all people—to raise them?

Motherhood is the most difficult job many of us will ever take. Searching for Sanity offers moms an opportunity to take a breath, dig into the Word, and learn from parents of the past. In short devotions designed for busy moms, this book uses the parents of the Bible—both the good and the bad—to inspire today’s mothers.

You can pick up a copy today at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Reader Question: Should You Wait Until You Finish College for a Relationship?

Reader Question of the Week
Every Monday I like to post a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it. Today’s comes from a college-aged friend of my oldest daughter Rebecca. Should you wait until you finish college to have a relationship–or to marry?

This is a question that’s rather emotional to me, because both Rebecca and myself dated men who felt this way–and eventually ended it. Both of us were just starting relationships when we were around 18-19, and those men, who genuinely liked if not loved us, decided that they didn’t want to pursue a relationship because school was more important.

In retrospect, we’re both glad, even though it hurt horribly at the time, because I got my amazing husband and Rebecca is now in a serious relationship. But that man that I would have married in a heartbeat has now been divorced at least once, and the man Rebecca would likely have married is now alone.

I am not saying that we are the ones who caused these men’s heartache–as if, had they chosen us instead, they’d be happy now. I actually think that this idea they both had that school came first was the main cause of their current predicament–not that they lost us in particular. So let me share my reader’s question, and then I’ll look at it from several angles: the young woman; the young man; and the parents of that young man.

I have been close friends with a wonderful Christian guy for quite a while, and lately we’ve been getting a lot closer. It was obvious that he liked me and I liked him, and we seemed genuinely perfect for each other. Then out of the blue he told me that he needed to end it because school came first. What do I do?

I’m going to answer that by talking mostly to the guy in this scenario, so here goes:

Should you wait until college is over to pursue a relationship? Some thoughts on why that can backfire.

Priorities Follow You–if you prioritize work above all early, you will prioritize it later too

Rebecca and I were chatting about this question yesterday, and she said an insightful thing: “in marriage you have to deal with personality differences and family of origin differences and differences in expectations, but these can all be overcome if you share one important thing: you both feel the relationship comes first.” And she’s right. If the relationship comes first, you will work through these other things.

But here’s what happens to many people when they approach school: They think, I have made certain goals for my life academically and career-wise. And I can’t afford to have anything distracting me from my goals.

There’s a problem with that line of thinking, and it goes like this: If you decide that the main focus for your life will be your career, then the main focus of your life WILL BE YOUR CAREER. It will not automatically change once you graduate. Essentially you’re saying: I need to concentrate on my real life now, and when I am ready I will add a wife and children (or a husband and children, if the roles are reversed). And that’s the problem: you’re ADDING the wife to your life; she is not the central focus of it. You have compartmentalized your life, and you likely will continue to do so. It will be very difficult to all of a sudden do a 180 and then start thinking of your wife, and here’s why:

Life Does Not Get Any Easier After College is Over

This essentially is the biggest misconception people make about relationships and college. They’re so focused on reaching their goal–whether it’s becoming a doctor or getting that Ph.D. or whatever–that they think that once this is over I can start to live my real life.

But let me tell you: I have been married to a physician all during his training (including medical school and residency), and I have done postgraduate work myself. And while there is a unique kind of stress to school, there is stress at every stage of life. Every single stage. And it doesn’t get easier.

If you train yourself that your way of handling stress is to be alone and buckle down and get it done, then that is also the way you will handle stress when you are married. If you think you have no time for a relationship now, you will have no time for a relationship later, either–even if you do marry. Everything in life is about priorities. And deciding that a relationship is a lower priority now is also toxic to a marriage later. Those who prioritize school now are far more likely to become workaholics and have distant marriages later. Which leads me to this thought:

Don’t Underestimate the Asset that a Relationship Can Be During College

I grew up without my dad. I endured my mother and my step-father splitting up at a very vulnerable age for me (14). My son died.

But with all that, I can tell you that the thing that took the worst toll on me is the fact that my now-husband initially broke off our engagement. For three months I was alone, thinking that relationship wouldn’t work, until he came back and we started again.

Why do I share that? Because as terrible as the death of my son was, I could deal with it because I was in a good marriage. Being married strengthened me; being alone shattered me. I learned a lot from that period of my life; it was a spiritual turning point, and God used it for good. But looking back, I also know that one reason God gave us a marriage partner is so that we don’t have to take the storms of life alone. Having someone to walk through the hard times with you is a tremendous boon.

I was married during some of Keith’s hard struggles with school. Medical school was awful for him; he’s an outgoing, energetic, kind person, and having to do extreme bookwork for two years with professors constantly talking down to you was debilitating. He almost quit, and he often says that he would have had it not been for me encouraging him and telling him that being a doctor would be completely different from being a medical student. If he could just get through this, he could get through anything.

And sex didn’t hurt either.

Seriously, sex is a great stress reliever.

So here’s the thing as a student: you’re going to go through stress anyway. It’s going to be a lot of work. So you can choose to go through it alone, or you can say, “if God brings me someone, I’ll really consider it.”

There is a degree of pride in saying “I can do it on my own better.” God made us for relationship.

God’s Agenda is Not Always Our Agenda

I’m a goal-oriented person, and so I can understand being so focused on an academic goal that you decide that relationships have to wait. But I don’t think this is a wise spiritual decision.

You may have the best plan in the world–but that’s all it is. It is a plan of your own making. Do not EVER become so wedded to your own plans that you miss out on what God has for you. Keep open to the Spirit. Keep open to new things. Keep open to changing your plans. If your plans become your life, then you are cutting God out and you are standing in His place, and that’s pride. It may seem like it’s selfless–I don’t want to get into a relationship with someone when I know how much I will have to work to get through this degree, and so I’m sacrificing my own happiness for the sake of the person I may end up hurting–but it’s really pursuing your own goals no matter what.

For some people that may be what God has for them. But in my own life, every time I have thought I had a really great plan God has changed it. The people that I see who are miserable today or not living up to their potential tend to be people who have pursued their own plans. Be careful.

A Quality, God-Fearing Spouse is Not Easy to Find

Why do those two men regret me and Rebecca? Because they let us go, thinking that in their own timing they would be able to find someone like us. They felt this was an act of faith–believing that God would bring someone else when they had made themselves ready. And now they’re both lonely. (By the way, I don’t find any particular satisfaction in that; when I was 20 I would have. Today I’m just so grateful my life turned out as it did).

God does not work on our timetable. And if you find someone that you respect and admire and get along with easily and laugh together who also loves God–do not give that up lightly.

Break Up Because the Relationship Won’t Work, Not Because the Timing Won’t Work

If you end something, it should be because God has shown you the person won’t work. Timing isn’t a deal-breaker; it’s an obstacle, that’s all. Jacob had to work fourteen years for Rachel in the Old Testament story, but he didn’t abandon her just because of timing. “A wife of noble character is hard to find”–as is a husband of noble character. Don’t shut a door that you don’t know will open again. That may feel like an act of faith, but from what I’ve seen, it’s more likely that you’re substituting your own plans for God’s plans.

But What About Money to Support a Spouse?

After all, if you marry, shouldn’t you be able to support someone? Isn’t that a legitimate reason to wait?

It may be a legitimate reason to wait to marry; but I don’t think it’s a legitimate reason to wait to have a relationship.

First, if you’re living off of student loans and part-time jobs to put yourself through school, chances are it’s cheaper to be married and live in one household anyway, so money shouldn’t really be a factor in that case. When Keith and I married we saved money, and because we were married we also qualified for more government assistance because they stopped taking our parents’ income into account.

But what if you’re going through school on your parents’ dime? Here’s where parents need to enter the conversation. With our daughters, we are paying a certain percentage of their undergraduate costs (once you’re in grad school you can earn your own way). We have always decided to do that, and it doesn’t change if they marry. So they don’t get cut off from support for school just because they marry.

Last Words to the Young Woman:

To the woman who asked this question, you need to move on and run far away from this guy. If he can’t prioritize you now, he would not be able to prioritize you if you ever married, either. Run close to God, and God will fill the gaping hole you’re feeling right now. And God will bring someone into your life who WILL prioritize you–don’t ever settle for less.

Last Words to the Young Man:

I do understand how important school is. I understand the urge not to pursue a relationship because everything is so up in the air, and you don’t feel you have the time to dedicate to a relationship right now. If no young woman presents herself, then this may honestly be okay. But be careful of ending a potential relationship with a great young woman over timing, because the timing will never get better. And ask yourself this: in twenty years, what do I want most? A great career, or a great marriage and family? If the answer is “a great career”, then you likely should remain single always. That isn’t fair to a spouse. And if the answer is “a great marriage and family”, then that doesn’t happen automatically.

You can’t wall yourself off from people now and expect to be able to prioritize them later. Tread carefully; listen to God’s voice; and keep your eyes open.

Last Words to the Parents:

We live in an age where we value status and career almost over everything else. This is a mistake. The most important aspect of your child’s life will be the legacy he or she leaves behind. For some of us, that will be about career, but for most of us, it’s about family. And family often speaks more to character than anything else. Don’t push your child away from relationships in college, because that’s giving the wrong message about what’s really important in life.

You may also like: Top 10 Reasons to Marry Young

And now, let me know: what do you think? Can and should college and relationships be combined? Leave me a comment and tell me your experiences!