Stages of Parenting: Living with the Ebb and Flow of Relationships

Stages of Parenting: Going with the Natural Ebb and Flow of Relationships

The only constant in life is change. Have you heard that before? Just when you think you’ve gotten a handle on life, and you’ve figured out a good routine, and your relationships are on an even keel, something happens to upset that balance. Marriage has different stages. Jobs had different stages. There are even different stages of parenting!

This week I wrote a hard series on my blog: dealing with sexual dysfunction in marriage. So many women write to me torn up with the difficulties they have–difficulties they never thought they would experience. Things were going well, and then–BAM!
I’m glad that series is behind me, because it was hard to write. Yet that attitude–that life throws you a curve ball, and suddenly everything changes–is perhaps the root of the problem.

We expect things to stay the same. We think that SAME is the point of life.

What if it’s not? What if life is supposed to be about change, and adapting to new circumstances? After all, it’s only through change that we grow. And I don’t think God wants us to be all relaxed, with everything all figured out, with our perfect routines and schedules. He wants us to have to rely on Him, and that means that life will be in a constant state of flux. Perhaps if we expected that, and understood it, we wouldn’t interpret regular, everyday things as huge curve balls.

Let’s look at the different stages of parenting to show you what I mean.

Our relationships with our children change over time, and that is a natural thing.

When the kids were first born, they were definitely more mine than my husband’s, in many ways. I fed them. I was with them. He played with them, but not as much as I wanted him to, although he was a great dad.

My youngest even played strange with him (and he was around a lot). She just wanted me, pure and simple. It probably had something to do with that whole nursing thing. Daddy couldn’t do that!

Then they hit one, and could run and laugh and play, and they became Daddy’s Little Girls. They’d go to me if they had a boo boo, but they’d play with Daddy. He was the fun one.

When Katie hit two she decided she preferred me again, and wouldn’t let Daddy tuck her in. That was hard on all of us, but she grew out of that, too, and Daddy became the fun one again. She would wrestle with him, and sneak up on him to see if she could pinch him without him noticing, and things like that. I was still there for the daily things, like getting her dressed, and making her meals, and bathing her, and she always came to me with those types of concerns, but Daddy was her toy.

That isn’t to say he didn’t discipline the girls; just that when they were little, let’s say up to about 10, they preferred him to me when it came to having fun. They preferred me to him when it came to talking things over, but in general they liked him.

When they hit puberty, everything changed. So much of what Keith had done with them was physical: wrestling, hugging, tickling. All of a sudden he had a weird time tickling Becca, and he stopped. It took a few years to renegotiate the “new normal”. And now, as our oldest has a relationship of her own with a guy, Keith has had to learn to deal with someone else holding her hand. It’s quite the adjustment! I’m having a much easier time with it than he is.

Sometimes I get frustrated because I expect him to parent like I do, but I have to remember that first year of their lives, when he didn’t play with them quite as much. He was still trying to figure out where they fit in, and they needed me. I think we’re going through that again. He feels like he’s on the sidelines, because they have all these “girl issues”, and their relationship needs a kickstart. But it will get one; I just have to be patient with all of them.

If you’re wondering why you’re husband doesn’t play with the kids more, ask yourself: could it just be a stage?

Or what if one of your children is preferring you to him right now, and it’s really wearing on you? Again, it could be just a fleeting stage. Katie only played strange for a few weeks. She only made me put her to bed for a little while. And it usually coincided with something big in her life, like she was learning to walk or learning to use the potty. Once these stresses were over she was okay again.

It’s not just men who have ebbs and flows, too.

I have had periods in my parenting when I felt as if I preferred one girl over the other, and it always sent me through heaps of guilt.

But when I look back, I can see that one was going through a difficult transition time, and was naturally more difficult, or moody, or stubborn. And it’s not as if it’s always the same girl, either. Quite often I’ll feel naturally close to one of them for a year or so, and then it will flip. I try not to show favouritism, and it’s not as if I love one more, it’s just that there may be one that I find it easier to be with. As time has gone on, though, I find that it’s more because of developmental stages than it is with them as people. I really do enjoy who they’re becoming.

Looking back on my life I can see years when I’ve had more energy as a parent, and years when I haven’t. I can see years when I’ve been closer to God, and years when I’ve been farther. I think this is natural. Perhaps if we kept that view of life in mind–that it’s rarely a straight line, but more of a series of hills–we’d be easier on ourselves, on our kids, and on our mates. Let’s keep the long term in mind. In the long term, if we’re consistent parents, if we love our kids, and if we nurture them, they’re going to turn out well, most likely. They will be our friends when they are older. They will follow God. But in the short term we may feel like failures with one particular child, or we may resent our spouse because he’s not as involved anymore, or we may feel as if we are doing a bad job.

I think families are more flexible and forgiving than we give them credit for. When your children look back, sure they may remember that one time you totally lost your temper and said something mean. But they’ll also remember all the great times you had, and that will be their primary memory. In the long run, two years that Keith spends renegotiating his relationship with them in these tumultuous years, or several years that I spend trying to get out of a self-imposed wilderness, won’t matter so much. It’s the collection of memories that are important, not each individual one.

So remember those hills and valleys. It’s okay if you’re in a valley; a hill is up ahead. And it will get better. The only constant in life is change, and change is a good thing. So weather those valleys, and keep praying. Another change is up ahead!

Does God Make a Difference Part 1: Our Expectations

Does God Make a Difference: A look at how Christians often appear insecure that God will actually workDoes God make a difference in our lives?

Every Friday I like to write a more personal reflection piece on the things I’ve been mulling over. I’ve written about a bunch of different things lately–why teenagers rebel, women getting burnt out from church, why we yell at our kids–and as all of this has been spinning around in my head, sort of like laundry in a washing machine, turning upside down and back and forth, I’ve started to see some common threads.

And one thing that occurred to me is this:

Deep down, we’re supremely scared that God doesn’t make a difference. Deep down, we’re supremely scared that we’re in this alone, and we have to make decisions alone, and all of this rests on our shoulders.

Let’s look at the church example and the teenage rebellion example for a moment to see what I mean.

Our Churches Give off the Message that They are Extremely Insecure

Saying No to Church ActivitiesIn my article on women starting to say “no” to church activities, we had a great discussion in the comments about what sorts of activities really are vital to a church, and what sorts of activities are more like “make work” projects, that we do because churches have always done these things and there really is no way around it. But then I had a few emails that helped me see things in a different light. Jan Cox, an author friend of mine, asked this:

Why is it that we need food at every Bible study? If I go to a Bible study at 7:30 at night or at 11:00 in the morning there’s always the expectation that there will be food. But when I’m at home I eat three meals a day. I don’t eat at 11:00 or 7:30. So why is it that we always have to make and bring food? Shouldn’t the Word of God be enough?

I think that’s an excellent question, and it gets maybe to the heart of the matter. Food is a wonderful thing, and community is often built around sharing a meal. But why do we bring food when food isn’t necessary?

Maybe it’s because we’re trying to make the activity more attractive, because we’re secretly afraid that if there’s not food, and there’s not a “fellowship” time, and there’s not something “fun”, that people won’t come.

It’s almost like an incentive.

Nowhere is this more apparent in the church than in youth groups, which are little microcosms of the wider church. Youth group is set up to attract kids and make them stay by making it FUN. We don’t want to overburden them with Bible studies. We want to give them lots of messages on how God loves them, and not quite so many on holiness. We want to do lots of flashy games! We want high energy, high power, high numbers!

But isn’t this really saying, “we’re afraid that kids won’t show up unless we make every week like a party”? (My 16-year-old just made a tongue-in-cheek video on the 5 Things She Hates about Youth Group, and I think you’d enjoy it, because it gets to this issue. We give a watered down message and a ton of games, and ultimately, is that effective? I know she’d appreciate it if you watched it and SHARED it!)

There’s a very fine balance between creating a great, nurturing community at a church and being so scared that people will leave that you have to make sure that there’s a ton of energy and activity.

We certainly need fun things at church, and we certainly need some food. But I think the wider point is still there: are we throwing these activities and doing these things to try to keep the ones we’ve roped through the doors in the doors, or are we really wanting to grow in Christ? Because sometimes we give the impression that it’s the former. Like the people get through the door, but then it’s our responsibility to make sure we don’t lose any (even though it was God the Father who went out and found the lost sheep). And we seem awfully scared that we’ll lose people if we don’t have the best worship music, the best pews, the right colour carpet, and the right food at coffee time. (Though I love the coffee bars at many churches!)

We Assume Teenagers Will Rebel

Why Do Teenagers Rebel? A 19-year-old explains how it doesn't HAVE to happen!Now let’s turn to the teenage rebellion issue. My 19-year-old’s post from last month on why she didn’t rebel has gone completely viral. It took all of us by surprise, and she’s done radio interviews and been offered internships and all kinds of things since that post came out. It’s kind of ironic, too, because she wrote it in about 15 minutes when she was bored at a university statistics class. So it’s not like we planned it or anything.

But what she set out to argue was this:

Teenagers do not have to rebel. Too many parents treat rebellion as if it’s to be expected, and it’s absolutely not. Many teens won’t rebel, and we shouldn’t expect that they will.

I think that’s a perfectly valid thing to argue. But in the comments many people turned the argument on its head, as if she were arguing this:

If you do these things your kids are guaranteed NOT to rebel.

She wasn’t saying that at all, and I did think that she made it clear. But I’ve noticed a really funny phenomenon on this blog. Whenever I post about how to parent toddlers or how to discipline school-aged children, the comments all revolve around the techniques. But when I post about how to parent teenagers, the comments shift. Suddenly they’re all about, “ah, but you can do all of these things and kids can still turn out badly!” It’s like you’re not allowed to share “best practices” for how to parent teens in case we make people feel guilty.

I just sense that Becca’s first argument is still very much the underlying tone of how we approach parenting teens.

“There are no guarantees. Kids can, and often do, mess up. This has nothing to do with you, though.” Doesn’t this sound like we’re trying to give God an “out”? I believe in you, God, but if it’s not in your plan that my kids stay Christian, that’s okay. It’s not really a prayer of faith, is it?

I do agree that there are no guarantees, but it’s also a matter of emphasis. There are no guarantees that I won’t be hit by a car or get cancer tomorrow, either, but I’m operating on faith that God has me in His perfect plan. And so I don’t worry about those things. If they were to happen, I’d deal with it because God would carry me and He would be with me. But I’m not going to assume the worst right now because that isn’t biblical and it does nothing to help my life.

Yet are many of us walking on default, assuming the worst?

So let me ask you today: are you living out your Christian life as if you have faith that God is in control, knowing that you can hand things over to Him. If something bad happens, He’ll carry you, but you don’t focus on the bad. Do you assume that God will actually make a difference in your life?

Or do you assume that God will only make a difference if we work our hardest and do our best and spin those little legs as much as we can, because ultimately it all rests on us? And so it’s likely we’ll fail. It’s expected we’ll fail. And faith isn’t something we live out. We give lip service to it, but we don’t live it.

God should make a difference. If He doesn’t, what’s the point of all this? But God won’t make a difference until we start living by faith, knowing that He can do His own PR work (we don’t have to). He has the power to draw others to Himself (we don’t have to). He has the power to hold others in the palm of His hand (we don’t have to). He has a perfect plan for us and our loved ones (and we don’t have to worry about it, knowing that if we hit some major bumps in the road, He will then be there for us).

Does God makes a difference? Do you live like He does? If not, what will it take to get you there? Let’s talk in the comments!

Next week I’m going to talk about whether or not God makes a difference in our marriages. I want to explore the fact that in too many cases He doesn’t–and that’s because we’re not letting Him. I think secretly we’re scared that God WON’T make a difference, and so we crowd Him out and ignore what He says. And if you want to watch that video that my daughter did, here it is! (Or you can watch it full size on YouTube).

The Blessings of a Long Marriage

Every Friday my column appears in a bunch of papers in Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week I’m sharing about the richness and value gleaned from a long marriage.

The blessings of a long marriageThe best part of the sixty-fifth birthday party I attended last night, other than the Chinese buffet, was definitely the slide show. Of course black and white pictures of a cherubic-looking boy are always adorable, but it was those late teen years pictures, when a rather familiar looking girl starting showing up, that made me smile.

And so we watched through forty-five years of hilarious photos, with the wedding, the babies, the cottage, and then more weddings and now lots more babies.

It’s a rich life.

When we first moved to our small town Roger became my husband Keith’s mentor, going out for coffee with him every so often and talking about work and parenting and marriage. Roger would, of course, be quick to tell you that the mentorship really went in the other direction. He’s the kind of person who genuinely enjoys and appreciates people.

So there he was last night, with his daughters directing the show (insisting they were being “decisive”, not “bossy”), and his wife grinning from ear to ear, as people praised him and told him about all the seniors’ discounts he could now claim.

Twelve hours later, though, it is still the pictures that keep flashing through my mind.

They show heritage, dedication, and a whole lot of barbecuing. And yet I know that behind all those smiling, laughing faces there were moments when things weren’t as rosy. There were moments when even a Roger, the nicest guy you could ever meet, lost his temper. There were moments when he and Heather truly didn’t know what to do with some of their children. There were health problems and family problems and all those things that none of us can escape.

And yet last night Roger and Heather stood with their arms around each other greeting their friends, beaming.

It’s a life well lived.

The idea of forty plus years together with one person seems so daunting. Wouldn’t that get boring? Most of us suffer wanderlust at one time or another. We’re with the same person, day after day, with all these responsibilities, and we wonder, “what would life have been like if I had married my high school boyfriend?” Or we think, “I bet life would be a whole lot more exciting if I were with my co-worker, who’s always the life of the party, rather than my husband, who is always grumpy.”

We want something new and something exciting, not something that we’ve had everyday for sixteen years, through seventeen hundred diaper changes, or twenty-two hundred loads of laundry. Life just gets monotonous.

The measurement of maturity, though, is whether or not one can forego immediate rewards for delayed gratification of better rewards. Too often people throw something away because they want the excitement of something new.

Everything new, though, will eventually be old. Unless you want to cycle through constant change your whole life, at some point you’re going to have to decide to commit to someone or something.

Sometimes everyone needs a fresh start if the life they’re living is dangerous, abusive, or degrading. And sometimes we’re thrown into that fresh start through no fault of our own. Yet too often people chuck something just because it’s lost that “newness” feeling.

Yes, infatuation is heady, but you know what’s even better? Forty years of friends and family who can stand there when you’re sixty-five and still say all kinds of great things about you–because you’re still around. You haven’t gone anywhere. You’re with the same people, you’ve invested, and now you’re reaping the rewards. There’s no awkwardness with the kids or grandkids. There are no pictures you have to exclude from a lifetime of memories. There’s just a life well lived, and that is something exciting.

Don’t miss a Reality Check! Sign up to receive it FREE in your inbox every week!

Wifey Wednesday: Disability and Sexuality

Christian Marriage Advice

It’s Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! I write a post, and then you all chime in by linking up your own marriage posts to the Linky below!

Today, please welcome guest poster, Alicia Reagan, who shares a touching post about disability and sexuality: her paralysis, how it has impacted her intimacy with her husband and what they are doing to be intentional about it. 

Disability and SexualityYou read about it. You hear about it. You have talked about it. Many are on this blog because of it. Your sex life is a dreaded and frustrated area. You are unhappy and ready to give up on it all together. I get it. I really do.

On March 12, 2009 my life drastically changed. I woke up completely paralyzed. The diagnosis: Transverse Myelitis – a neurological disorder where a virus attacks your spinal cord. My life would now be lived from a wheelchair.

I became disabled shortly after my husband and I had celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary. My hubby and I always had different sex drives, but other than a few conversations about my needs/his needs as we adjusted to married life, we really had no majors in our bedroom. Then paralysis came.

There really aren’t the right words to describe the emotional side of something so physically devastating. Woman are sexual beings and we already deal with enough insecurities as it is, but now add a physical problem and it takes a toll on your psyche. Muscles atrophy, your body shape changes, and you have the idea that everyone (including your husband) is looking at you like you are a nursing home resident!

I remember the first time we were going to be together sexually again. My body cannot move and position like it once did, sensations are gone and not what they used to be, spasms take over at the worst times, and nerve pain can rage and completely halt everything. “How are we going to do this?”, he asked. I answered, “I don’t know Honey. We will just have to figure it out.” Little did I know what figuring it out meant.

When a couple is fulfilled in their sex life and they find that intimacy there, that is wonderful. But when a couple is faced with a situation where they still desire certain things, but just cannot physically do what they did before, then it can be a very volatile area in their marriage. When your body quits working, it does not mean that your sexual desires stop. You have to find a way to work through this. This looks different for men and women because we are wired different. In the case of paralysis, we are even different in our physical abilities as a male or female. However, we are the same in the fact that all humans are wired for sexual needs in our relationships so this area must be figured out.

The first year I worried for his emotions so I just endured everything. I dreaded sex because I got nothing but pain….both physically and emotionally. It was hard to watch him enjoy something that I was not enjoying. I fought anger at what I could not do and jealousy towards him that, although our Iives had changed, he seemed more than happy in this area. I stayed silent. I was the perfect little martyr because I did not want to hurt him by telling him how much I did not like this part of our life anymore.

My silence and sacrifice was the wrong move! It made me feel so resentful of him. I would conjure up reasons why he was not being sensitive to my needs and he should be able to read my mind and know how I was hurting sexually. I never told him these things though he could feel it. He stayed very sweet and loving, but I was hurting.

One day, we were having an argument about something unrelated and he mentioned how distant I had become in the bedroom. Not physically, because I was a “good wife” and never told him no. But emotionally, he could tell I was different. It opened a flood gate of venom that spewed out of my mouth about how different and miserable and awful it all was and I just couldn’t deal with this part of paralysis.  By the way, this is not really a talking feature when people ask how you are doing!

Although I regret spewing it all over him in that kind of scenario, it opened a door for us to communicate about this area of our lives. This kind of conversation is hard to have with your spouse, but I have learned it is much harder if you do not have these conversations.

I don’t have the answer for every couple as that is a personal area, but Jimmy and I finally came to the conclusion that what we both were desperate for was intimacy. As a female paraplegic, I was physically able for my husband to have sex with me (although many people thought that we could not and were mourning for Jimmy — that made me mad!), but the lack of connection with my paralyzed body also brought a disconnection with my emotions.

Years 2 & 3 were years of adjustment for us sexually. We realized that in many ways we were like newlyweds again having to discover what works and what doesn’t. Although many things are different (my body, abilities, sensations, self-image, energy, pain levels, spasms), other things have not changed. We could not focus on how things had been, we could only focus on how things were going to be from now on.

Since Jimmy had felt like we were in a good place sexually because his needs were being met, we had to focus on what was frustrating me. Paralysis changes nerve sensations and things that used to feel good can feel horrible, or non-existent. However, there were new things that were to be discovered that never worked before and now brought pleasure. Jimmy had to learn to be sensitive to my emotions as it doesn’t take much to flash you into the past and be upsetting, and he had to learn to listen to what my body was saying to me and he had to follow my directions. We learned to see this time of adjustment as a disability problem, not a relational one.

There are times that I have sex with Jimmy when my body is screaming no. I do it because I love him and I know that he physically needs me at that time. There are times we do not have sex when Jimmy’s body is screaming yes. He does that because he knows that it would pain me too much and he loves me more than himself. This is intimacy.

Jimmy and I are far from perfect in our marriage and in our sex life. However, this imperfection is the exact place where we know this is bigger than us and so we cling to God. We need His help every day to help us be the couple He desires us to be. We are a work in progress and we will still be when we are married 50 years. We love being married to each other and are committed that we are going to keep fighting for what we love.

Statistics show that marriages with disabilities have a very small percentage of making it. Being disabled has added a whole new layer of struggles in our marriage, but we don’t want to be a statistic. We would like to help change that trend and say that all marriages are worth fighting for. If our story helps to encourage other couples to stay committed in their marriages, then it is all worth it.

I get that you may be frustrated in your sex life. Don’t settle. True love can conquer all – even paralysis. If you are going to fight, then fight for that love.

Alicia ReaganI am Alicia Reagan — a Christian, a wife, a mommy and a paraplegic. No that ins’t a disease — it means that I am paralyzed. I use a wheelchair full-time and that keeps my life as a Christian, a wife and a mommy very interesting and exciting. I talk about all of these things at aliciareagan.wordpress.com. I love writing, and my blog is a combination of everything I am, who I am becoming, and what I think about enjoying the ride of life. I hope you will enjoy this journey with me.

Now, what advice do you have for us today? Just enter the URL of the individual post in the linky below! And make sure to link back here, too, so that other people can read all these great marriage posts!

 

 

31 Days to Great Sex
31 Days to Great Sex is here (only $4.99!) It's the best $5 you'll ever spend on your marriage!

Learn to talk more, flirt more, and even explore more! You'll work on how to connect emotionally, spiritually, AND physically.

Find out more here.





Wifey Wednesday: Waking Up

Christian Marriage AdviceIt’s Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and then you follow up either by commenting or by writing your own post and then linking up in the comments!  Today, guest author Holly Smith shares about some major groundwork God laid in her marriage.  It all began with a prayer.

I had been praying about it for a couple of months, and God answered in the most unusual, but faithful way. This is what I prayed, “Lord, please wake my Chris up—make him fully engaged in life again–for he is sleep-walking. Wake him up, Father.”

So God did. He sent a friend first of all. The friend offered a challenge and invitation for my Chris to participate in a mission trip to India—to design something, life-giving and life-saving for these people. That spoke Chris’ language. I saw the tears and I saw the awakening gradually begin.

That evening came another type of news from our mortgage company. We were behind in payments and if we did not get things in order, we would be on the road to foreclosure. Now let me say it plainly. Chris did not intentionally let us fall behind. He was not fully aware. But he also was not fully awake. And when we stop watching, guarding and being on the alert, we miss important choices. To fail to choose is to not choose.

He was fully awake that October day! We got back-to-back in the fight. I believe this is key in any marriage issue. We choose to be on the same team. We choose to fight against all forces together. We choose to forgive. We choose to love.

The overflow is that God took this awakening opportunity to raise up not only miraculous help that was beyond our ability, but also He awakened the giant in my husband—the one who fights for family, who is fully alert and who wants other families to not miss one opportunity.

It was a gift in disguise.

Today we are on the last month of paying the missed payments back. By month’s end, we will be fully out of debt, except for a very small mortgage payment. We will also be on the road to saving – for the first time in our marriage of 22 years! We have seen God’s provision and we are making Him known in the way we share our story—the good, the bad and the ugly.

Waking UpChris is now leading a men’s Bible study in our home. He’s sharing our testimony. He has been invited to serve as a deacon at our church. He is leading our family with eyes wide open. No more is he sleeping. He is in God’s Word, prayerful and watchful—our family’s point man. Every step he takes is purposeful and under the Holy Spirit’s leading. He is also watching over our finances in a way unlike he has ever watched before—he has learned and grown so much!

I, too, am fully awake. I have found freedom in forgiveness, in choosing to not say—it’s your fault. But what shall we do together now? For I know this is OUR problem and we shall face it together. “Two are better than one for if one falls down the other can help them up,” the Bible says in Ecclesiastes 4:9.

Most of us live like we have fallen asleep. We try to satiate the aching holes in our soul by feeding on mindless things. I am guilty of this for sure. To relax, I want to watch something that will not make me think–maybe laugh–but thinking is something that I try to turn off. I want to accomplish the things I have to, while doing something I like that somehow entertains me. As a nation, we rely on empty entertainment. Silence is a lost art.

Silence can be a springboard for waking up. For we use noise and entertainment to numb the pains of life. I know. For I have done it myself.

Recently my Chris traveled out of the country for the week with work. During that time, I made myself be silent rather than turning on the TV, radio or calling somebody. In the silences, I found a refuge of strength and healing in my spirit. I would be on the cusp of tears, as I missed my Chris so much. But also, I realized that some of our usual daily habits (staying up too late, falling into a mindless routine) were not happening. Perhaps as a couple–as a family even–we need to mix it up a little. We need to wake up!

For the groundwork we are laying in our families—it is of utmost importance. It may seem trivial now. But one day, we will find it was the means by which God did the most effective and active works we have ever seen. Those works will count throughout the generations—they will be told and re-told. And it all began with a prayer, obedience, watchfulness and silence. It all began with God, who invited us from the start.

About Holly Smith

Holly SmithHolly loves her job as wife to Chris and mom to Noah, Kylie, Tabor and Sydney. God has gifted Holly with a love of all things creative ~ from painting and wall papering to scrap-booking and design work. In addition to co-founding and managing A Martha Heart, she designs web pages (www.crownlaiddowndesigns.com) and marketing pieces. She also participates with a wonderful team of moms in writing at The M.O.M. Initiative. Holly and her family make their home within site of year ’round snow-capped mountains in Colorado. She can be reached by emailing Holly@amarthaheart.com or connect with her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HollyGorinSmith.  Read more from Holly’s heart at:  www.amarthaheart.com

Now, what about you?  Your spouse?  Is it time for doing some waking up in your home, too? Write your own Wifey Wednesday post that links back to here, and then leave the link of THAT POST in the comments. Thanks!

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.



A Walk Through the Dark with Your Husband: Eva Piper Speaks

Eva-Piper-Book

Today, please welcome our guest author, Eva Piper.  Eva shares her unique perspective as a wife, walking with her husband Don, through very dark, challenging and difficult days, when an accident occurred that would change their lives forever  He shares his story in 90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Life and Death.  Eva has written her side of that amazing story in A Walk Through the Dark, which has just been released.

“Do you take this woman/ man to be your lawfully wedded wife/husband?  For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health ‘til death do you part?”

Many young couples have stood in marriage ceremonies across the world and romantically answered “I do.” Fifteen years before Don’s accident we stood at the front of Barksdale Baptist Church with family and friends looking on as we uttered those words “I do”. I must admit that as a young bride I had no idea how my promise would be tested in the years to come. No bride or groom wants to think anything troublesome will come their way. Standing there in front of the altar I was filled with marriage giddiness. I was marrying the most handsome, intelligent, strong Christian man I had ever met. It was a girl’s dream come true.

Shortly after our fifteenth wedding anniversary, I was standing beside a hospital bed looking at a man I could scarcely recognize. His physical appearance had changed after numerous surgeries to piece him back together after being hit head-on by an 18 wheeler which left him encased in metal frames on his left leg and arm in an attempt to repair broken and lost bone. Those were changes I could pass over and still see the man I loved. No, it wasn’t his physical change that disturbed me, it was the change in his personality that was difficult to understand and accept. For weeks following Don’s accident he plunged into a deep depression, one where he wouldn’t speak to me, where the only response I could get was a grunt or single syllable monotone answers. There was no joy, no willingness to get better, no appreciation, nothing. It was like talking to a zombie. As his wife I couldn’t understand why he was not rejoicing in the fact he had survived a horrific wreck followed by medical complications. It didn’t seem like he cared about anything or anyone.

One evening about mid-February I arrived at St. Luke’s Hospital after teaching school. I had a book bag on my arm filled with papers to grade, lesson plans to write, and thank-you notes to send. I stood outside his room for a moment, pasted on my Suzy Sunshine smile, and walked in. As usual I got no response when I entered. The rest of the evening I spent working through the items in my bag and finished before visiting hours were over. Though I typically stayed until the very last minute that evening I decided to head home early. I was exhausted on all levels…physically, emotionally, mentally, and even spiritually. The thought of getting home early, taking a long, hot shower, and then heading to bed sounded like a wonderful escape. I began to gather my things and head toward the door. As I reached for the handle I turned and said, “Guess I’ll head home. See you tomorrow. Love you.” His grunt of response hit me hard. I turned, dropped my book bag, marched over to the foot of his bed and let him have it.

“Why are you acting like this? Aren’t you glad to be alive and here with our kids, with me? Don’t you love me anymore? You are so mean, mean to me , mean to our children, mean to anyone who comes to see you. What’s wrong with you?”

I couldn’t believe I was saying those things but I couldn’t seem to stop myself. All my frustrations came to a boiling point in the moment between the door and the foot of his bed. Seeing my bag on the floor I reached for it ready to storm out the door, that’s when I noticed Don’s face in the large, wall mirror next to his bed. Tears were streaming down his face and his chest was heaving in heavy sobs. Instantly I was at his side, trying my best to put my arms around him, in and through all the metal, saying over and over “It’s Ok, things will be alright, I’m here.We’ll make it through this. Don’t worry. ”

Often I’d put my arms around our children to soothe hurts and pain, now I was doing that for my husband. God took that opportunity to teach me a great lesson.

“God loves us even in all our ugliness. I needed to see Don through God’s eyes.” I stood there holding Don and realized for the first time how hard this was for him. How much pain he was going through and how that had to affect his state of mind. I knew then that we were living through a ‘worse’ time but that God had used it to bond us more tightly together.

It is a blessing I am forever thankful for.

Eva-Piper
Eva Piper
is a speaker and author with a unique insight into the trials of heartache and the triumph of overcoming. The wife of best-selling author Don Piper, Eva was the glue that held her broken husband and her family together. Don’s story, recounted in the New York Times bestseller, 90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Life and Death, is Eva’s story too. A teacher of 34 years, she and Don now live in Pasadena, Texas. Visit http://evapiper.com/ to reserve your copy of A Walk Through the Dark today, or order at Amazon!


On Rick Warren, Tragedy, and Prodigals

On Tragedies and ProdigalsRick Warren and his wife Kay suffered unbelievable tragedy over the weekend when their youngest son Matthew committed suicide last weekend at the age of 27. He had been battling mental illness and severe depression for years.

I can’t imagine how horrible this would be for a parent. To lose your child in a car accident is a tragedy indeed; to lose a child to suicide is even more so. There’s stigma, and there’s all the questions about what else you could have done (even if there really is nothing you could have done).

A good friend of mine’s brother committed suicide when he was 16, and she was just a teen. They were a strong Christian family who did things well. He had become moody and withdrawn, but nobody knew the depth of what he was feeling, and he left no note. Later on stories came out in the press about things that a high school coach had been doing, and there were always questions as to whether or not this had been a reason. But those questions cannot be answered on this side of heaven, and perhaps it’s those questions that drive us the most crazy.

I pray that Mr. and Mrs. Warren receive a ton of comfort, and prayer, and space. In fact, I’d ask everyone reading this to say a prayer for them right now.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the attitude that’s been in much of the media, and even many of the Christian blogs. When tragedy strikes, people are quick to assign blame. And so there’s so much vitriol on the media, and in news websites, and even on Christian sites of people who disagree with him politically.

I think this is completely wrong and completely unbiblical.

I read an amazing article about this phenomenon last night from the blog Rage Against the Minivan, where she says this:

When we hear about grieving parents it can be so tempting to try to assign blame, because if they aren’t to blame, then we have to grapple with the reality that sometimes, tragedy is senseless. This is an uncomfortable truth: awful things happen to children that parents cannot prevent.  It’s a truth so painful that we would rather throw grieving parents under the bus than face it.

Read the whole thing.

I believe she’s exactly right.

Whenever we hear of a tragedy, we immediately start to list all the reasons why it can’t happen to us–and therefore we implicitly blame the parents that it did happen to.

The Newtown school shooting? Thank goodness we homeschool. A child abduction? That’s why I don’t work outside the home; so I always know where my kids are. A teenager gets pregnant? At least we do family devotions every night.

We need to stop that, because it’s not biblical. We are to “mourn with those who mourn”, says Paul in Romans 12:15.

And we also need to become a little (or a lot) more humble.

I find the story of The Prodigal Son so fascinating on so many levels. One of those is the fact that the father figure in that story represents God. Is God a good father? You bet. Did God work so hard so that he never saw his kids? Nope. Did he discipline inappropriately? Nope. Was he prone to fits of rage? Of course not. God parents perfectly.

And  yet He had a prodigal (and, we know in fact He has many). The story is meant to illustrate many different points, but I think one of them is this:

When we have prodigals in our families, we should not assume that this reflects badly on the parents. Kids make their own choices. We all have free will.

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t learn how to parent well, or that we shouldn’t try to raise our kids to love the Lord and to do what’s right. But there are never any guarantees. I’m not implying that Rick Warren’s son was a prodigal, by the way; anything I’ve read in the news says that he was a strong Christian; he just suffered from mental illness. I’m just saying that often we look at parents (not the Warrens, but others) who have kids who have turned astray and we tend to do just what people are doing to the Warrens: we blame them.

Why? Because we want those guarantees. We want to know that if we do everything right, everything will turn out okay, because we love our kids so much and we don’t want anything to touch them. We don’t want them to make mistakes and wreck their lives (or, God forbid, end them). We want to know, as we look into the face of a cherubic 4-year-old, that he will grow up to not use drugs, to love God, to get a good job, and to marry well. And please, no horrible illnesses.

But that doesn’t always happen. And perhaps one of the main lessons that God wants us to learn from parenting is that sometimes we just have to trust and realize that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain”. To live is not to be a parent. Our children cannot be our whole lives, and they cannot come before our love for God. And our relationship with God isn’t like that of a genie, where we do all the right things so that He’ll come through for us.

Our relationship with God needs to be one of trust and submission.

Not trust that everything will turn out the way we want it to; but trust that no matter what happens, God will carry us, and God will be enough for us.

When our son died seventeen years ago, we had people say hurtful things to us, things that they likely didn’t realize were hurtful. Things like, “it was just God’s will”, or “you have to ask what God is trying to teach you through this” (as if implying that if we failed to learn, God might zap our daughter Rebecca next), or “this is a good time to examine yourselves before God”.

No, this is simply a time to cry, and to weep, and to be a mess as you lie down before God and beg Him to help you be able to climb out of bed each morning, and continue to breathe even when your chest aches, and to one day be able to laugh again.

God did that in our lives. That doesn’t mean I didn’t learn anything from Christopher’s death; I did. I learned to trust God more. But that does not mean that God causes tragedy because there is something wrong in our lives. Like Jesus said of the man that was born blind, he and his parents didn’t sin so that he was born blind; it was just so that the works of God could be displayed in his life. (John 9:3).How Big Is Your Umbrella

When tragedy strikes, let’s resist the temptation to list all the reasons that it won’t happen to us. Let’s resist the temptation to blame the parents. And let’s instead pray for those who are grieving, and use that opportunity to throw ourselves once more on God’s mercy, asking Him to teach us that no matter what happens in this life, He will always be enough.

Struggling with saying “God is enough”? Sheila’s book, How Big Is Your Umbrella, that she wrote after her son’s death, can help walk you through this journey of trust.


The Good, the Noble, and the Heroic

The Good, the Noble and the HeroicEvery Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week’s is about finding the truly heroic in the “me” culture.

What’s so good about Friday? I don’t mean good in the TGIF sense, but rather, why do we call this particular holiday Good? In the Christian tradition, it’s the day that Christ offered up His life as a ransom for many, paying the penalty for sin. Yet while this should be considered good, I sometimes worry that our culture fails to recognize the truly good, the truly noble, the truly heroic in its midst.

When I was a little girl in school World War II was only thirty or forty years in the past. That made it a looming force in our culture, and so much of my novel reading and thinking between those important ages of 8 and 15 centred around World War II. We studied it in school. We met Holocaust survivors in assemblies. And I always wondered: would I have hidden Anne Frank? Would I have rescued Jewish babies out of Germany? Regular people acted heroically then, at great cost.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of my heroes. Arrested for opposition to the Nazis, he was executed in a concentration camp two weeks before Germany capitulated. Yet his life, though cut short, still speaks. He was determined that his life would matter–that he would not watch injustice and do nothing, but that he would take whatever action was necessary to make a difference. He said that our role is not simply to “bandage the victims under the wheel, but jam the spoke in the wheel itself.”

Emma Sky is a British anti-war activist who determined to live out this principle. She traveled to Iraq to protest Western involvement. Yet when she arrived, she spent time with U.S. troops and was tremendously impressed with their dedication and their commitment to bettering the lives of the people there. She ended up staying in Iraq, serving as civilian governor in Kirkuk and acting as advisor to key U.S. generals. She met real heroes, and it changed everything to her.

Today the military is one of the few avenues that offer up that example of real heroism, because in our everyday lives we don’t tend to live with threats of violence. Perhaps that’s why stories of mass shootings rivet us: we’re mesmerized by the horrific tragedy, but we’re also entranced because inevitably some become inadvertent heroes. Someone who woke up that morning, who had their cereal like everyone else does, who ran out the door breathless, a little bit late, in a split second made a decision that cost them their lives, but saved others. An ordinary person does something extraordinary.

Isn’t that always good news, even if it’s intertwined with tragedy? Isn’t that what the human condition yearns for: a chance to transcend the everyday ordinariness of our quest for a better life, and instead see someone doing something selfless–something that enlarges the soul and makes our world that little bit less shallow, and much more meaningful.

Self-fulfillment is our god today. We need to find ourselves, chase after happiness, and be true to our feelings. We are to toss aside that which makes us unhappy or guilt-ridden, and instead seek to maximize our own enjoyment. That, apparently, is the key to a good life.

Yet that does not sound terribly good to me. Sure, you can dress it up in pretty language and make it sound noble to be “true to oneself”. But that which is truly noble must also be truly selfless. And deep inside, we all know that. I want to live in a world where the noble and the heroic are still celebrated, and this week, for a time, they will be.

For greater love has no one than this: that he would lay down his life for his friends.

Don’t miss a Reality Check! Sign up to receive it FREE in your inbox every week!

Wifey Wednesday: Divorce Proof Your Marriage

Christian Marriage Advice
It’s Wednesday, the day of our marriage linkup party! I talk about marriage and then I give you all a chance to link up your own marriage posts below.

Today, I welcome guest author, Holly Smith from A Martha Heart, who shares about divorce-proofing your marriage.

Before I even begin, I must remind you that I do not write this from a place of perfect or having it all together.  Lest you think that, please read my article here. Second, this is NOT an article of condemnation or rebuke for those of you, who are currently in the process of getting a divorce or have been divorced. I know how hurtful this is and how the process may make you feel a cloak of shame and pain–I have worn the same cloak through our journey of bankruptcy. The intent of this article is solely to give you tools, to be a help and to speak over this topic as a weapon against an unrelenting enemy, who has YOU and ME and our marriages squarely in his target.  Not for one moment should we ever forget that. So let’s shed a light on this topic, which could easily remain an unspoken topic. Finally, I am not an expert. But my Chris and I have received some good teaching over the years!

1. Take the word DIVORCE out of your daily conversations–when you are “joking” or even just being edgy, there is no need to open this door.  Leave it closed.  Now, I’m not being silly and saying that the word divorce will never come up in discussion. For after 21 years of marriage, we have watched our fellow comrades fall to it.  Every time it has broken our hearts–every time it has cut us to the core. And every time, we do pray for those involved truly.  It is not a matter for gossip nor is it a topic we enjoy, but it should bring out compassion in your heart for both husband and wife and for other family members and friends.

2. Stay on the same team.  If it becomes you versus me in any aspect of our lives, then we need to talk it out and possibly get good godly counsel. This is from a Longhorn, Methodist and Yankee who married an Aggie, Baptist and Southern boy.  Work out every difference that matters!  Some things are just fun to have opinions about, but when it edges on dissension, and you will know in your heart what that feels like, then take time to work that out. Talk about those things.  Talk about the areas where you are feeling like a situation or person is trying to divide.  Then get back to back and face the situation, as a battle. A divided house will not stand.  It won’t and it can’t.

3. When you have “somewhat” against them and you find it creeping into every conversation and many thoughts, there and then you need to throw the baggage out.  You have been carrying it too long.  Forgive it. Cover it with grace.  And love them.  I guarantee you that these thoughts will continue to happen–because, as I said you have a very real enemy, who whispers in your ear ALL the time.  So do I.  And though my hackles might rise up again, I must CHOOSE how I’m going to think.  Take that baby captive and make it obedient to Christ.  Love covers a multitude.  Choose to love.  Yes, I know.  I know it smarts and it hurts, but you choose to cover it with love. When the time is right and interruptions are nil, discuss this “somewhat” with your mate.  Tell them, this hurt me.  I love you.  But you need to know this hurt and we need to work through it.

4. Get away together.  Make it happen–even if it is a “stay-cation” kind of thing.  If you have children, you need to find a way to spend at least 24 hours together without interruptions and do what you used to do, before children. This is the time to discuss the hard things and time to DREAM and time to re-learn what it is that made you fall in love. I highly recommend Family Life’s Weekend to Remember.  My Chris and I have gone six times and benefited greatly from each one.  It is a great investment! We have given it as gifts and we will most certainly go again!

5. Laugh together.  Laugh at yourself and your silliness.  Laugh at the quirkiness of life.  Laugh about the things that once again are happening (like $4.31 in your bank account–hello? we still need a budget!).  Watch a funny movie. Listen to Brian Regan. Take a walk down through your neighborhood and “silly walk” the whole time.

6. Guard your heart and your mind.  Watch what you watch.  Watch what you read. Leave the past in the past–no archaeology to see how “they” are now. Leave them.  Guard it. If you find that what you are doing (what you are watching, drinking or participating in) brings out the “old man” in you (your old way of life before Christ changed your way of living), guard there.  Don’t go there.  Lock the door and throw away the key. When you are with other couples, guard your tongue and what you say regarding your spouse.  One word of criticism will effectually emasculate them.  Speak words that edify. Watch how your body language speaks, too.  I cannot tell you the times I have watched another woman speak “available” to my Chris. You better believe I was not only watching but placing myself and Jesus between us.  Two layers of impossible right there– we don’t spend time with them again.

7. NEVER go to lunch or be in the same home with someone of the opposite sex alone–unless it’s a family member. NEVER. I don’t care if it’s business or whatever.  Don’t do it. Bring a friend.  Invite your spouse along.  It is a good boundary.

8. Self-monitor your conversations in social networking. Guard every aspect of your words and intent. If you struggle here, I recommend that you invite your spouse or a close friend to keep watch and have the right to say–that looked a little flirty to me.

9. Find those activities you enjoy together and make TIME for them.  We love to read and to travel.  We love outdoors and hiking. We enjoy movies and going out to dinner. We hold hands and smile at one another often. We love to listen to music–past and present–and to sing.  These (and much more) are activities that we enjoy. Watch over your schedules here and make one another priority.  Most activities we enjoy do not cost a cent either, so no excuses.  You DO what you WANT to do.

10. Dream of the future together.  Talk about the dearest passions of your life and plan for it. I have a sweet friend, who wanted to swim with sharks. Her husband had cancer and he died. Afterwards she found that he had stashed away in their closet savings for her dream–just a dollar and then some more, but enough for the trip.  She immediately planned and went.  Though her heart was (and is still) broken, they dreamed together and planned for it. Dreaming is something God intended for us to do and it is even better if we can dream together and weave plans for the future.  They may not happen the way we hoped, but we are tied together–and what God has tied together, no man or “impossibility” can separate.

Perhaps here, you’d like for me to give you an out…like a get out of jail free card or an excuse.  I won’t.  I will pray for you, though.  You are welcome to let me know to do just that.  Marriage is worth it.  It is sacred and blessed.  And I am in this for life with my Chris.  After 21 years, I find that we are still learning about one another–I know that we can never outlive our ability to find out more and love more and laugh more and dream more. He is my heart–not one part do I withhold.

What advice do you have for us today? Link up your own URL in the linky below!

31 Days to Great Sex
31 Days to Great Sex is here (only $4.99!) It's the best $5 you'll ever spend on your marriage!

Learn to talk more, flirt more, and even explore more! You'll work on how to connect emotionally, spiritually, AND physically.

Find out more here.





T-shirts vs. Sheets: The Control Freak Rises Again

Are you a control freak?

I certainly have those tendencies.

A few weeks ago I posted a review of Karen Ehman’s Let.It.Go book, helping us to let go of that need to control and learn to trust God.

Recently, when doing laundry, I had a vivid reminder of how dysfunctional being a control freak is. You see, it really bugs me to no end how my oldest daughter folds T-shirts. She kind of just balls them up. I know they have to be straight and even so they don’t have wrinkles, and so they fit so nicely on shelves once they’re folded. And they look so pretty that way!

Here are T-shirts that we both folded: hers on the left, mine on the right:

Tshirts

At times I really get on her case about this. “Why can’t you just learn to fold T-shirts right?” She rolls her eyes and sighs and tries again.

But below allow me to show you two sheets, one folded by me, and one folded by her:

Sheets

Guess which one is hers?

Yep. The perfectly flat one.

See, I don’t really care about how sheets are folded. It’s not my thing. So I don’t even notice that my sheets are all balled up, and her sheets are pristine. But she doesn’t care about T-shirts.

Often when we are control freaks that’s what happens. We freak out about the things that matter to us, and fail to notice that we may be less than perfect in ways that matter to other members of the family. We’re so sure that our priorities are the right ones, and theirs are not.

When I was putting sheets away the other day, after feeling annoyed at Becca for the T-shirts, I glanced her folded ones in the linen closet. And it was definitely one of those “a-ha” moments.

What are you not seeing? Maybe it’s time to give our family a break and agree that everyone’s priorities should be valued, not just our own.

I wrote a column on a similar theme a while ago–Do I See What You See?