When Faith is Hard: Believing God Wants the Best for You

Believing God wants the best for you
It’s that secret fear that lurks in our hearts–that many of us carry around with us.

That fear that even though we have may have smiles on our faces in church, and we may say, “God bless you!” when someone sneezes, and sign off all of our emails with “Blessings!”, deep inside, we wonder if God really does want to bless us.

What if blessings are for everyone else, and for us–God’s just chosen to use  us to go through suffering? That somehow He is hurting us deliberately?

I’ve walked through that. When you pour your heart and soul into a project, and give it years of your life, and you just don’t see any fruit. And someone else comes up alongside you and tries something similar, and they take off right away! And you think: Did I even hear God right? Does God even want me to succeed?

Or when all of your friends around you are getting married, and you’re still single, and you know you’re supposed to say, “God, you’re enough, and I’m so excited to learn what you have for me during this season of your life.” But you’re not excited. You’re sad. And you’re lonely. And you’re scared.

Or when your marriage starts to go sour, and you can’t figure out why God isn’t blessing you when you did everything right. You believed in Him. You went to church. You sang hymns at your wedding. And now your husband is distant, and you’re afraid to check his phone because of what you might find.

Does God hear? Does God care?

I think most of us go through this far more than we care to admit. And here’s a problem: We don’t talk about it enough. I’ve been in so many churches where the sermons never get to the meaty issues we’re dealing with. They talk about Bible stories but never apply it to anything modern we might be walking through. They stress salvation–which is great–but leave out anything beyond that. If every message ends up being a salvation message, what do we do if we’re already saved, but we’re lonely, scared, and defeated?

To tell you the truth, I battle with discouragement a lot, and it’s tiring to always hear that God loves you. I know that–but my deeper heart cry is, “but does God want good for me here?” I’m willing to serve even if He doesn’t–He’s God, and that’s His prerogative–but sometimes I just want to know.

Trust without Borders
I read a beautiful ebook devotional recently, called Trust Without Borders, that dealt with this reality we all fight with periodically. Here’s just an excerpt from an early entry:

William reasoned, “I think I’m one of those that have to be slaughtered for someone else to be saved. You know, like in the book of Job, all his children were killed for Job to see and know God better. God’s going to do what God wants to do and I’m one not intended for His blessing.”

He stops for a bit, then continues. “I’m okay with it if that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”

My heart is shattered and I can’t believe what I’m hearing. “I’m not one of the elect,” he concludes.

Steve chimes in. “I feel the same way. What if I’m an Esau? You know the part that says, ‘Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated’?”

We sit there sort of stunned. Jackson, my husband, turns to me because he knows me. He asks, “Do you want to share anything?”

Yes, I do want to say something. It’s burning within me. It’s so close to my heart, my breathing shallows and my pulse pounds and oh, I get this.

“There’s a reason he asked if I want to say something,” I begin, trying to catch my breath. “It’s because he knows I’ve struggled with the same things.”

Do you ever wonder that? If you’re someone who has to be slaughtered so someone else can be blessed?

I’ve thought that about my son who passed away. God has used Christopher’s story so much, and it’s a key part even of my Girl Talk presentation I give about sex and marriage–but there’s a pain every time I tell his story. It’s not just because I miss him; it’s because I wonder: am I using his memory? Did God just bring Christopher to touch others? Did his life matter? And it’s tough. It’s really tough.

And too often we run away from those questions, because we’re afraid that if we actually start asking them, we won’t like what we find. And this whole tower of faith that we’ve built will come crashing down.

So we ignore it, push it down, paste those smiles on–until something happens and we break in two.

You can’t sustain a faith that can’t sustain questions.

You can't sustain a faith that can't sustain questions.

God is big enough to handle your questions. He’s big enough to even handle your anger! I think He’d rather hear your anger than have you stuff it down, offering prayers that aren’t heartfelt. God wants authenticity, even if authenticity is messy.

And so today I invite you to take a journey with Arabah Joy called Trust Without Borders. I’ve been a Christian a long time, and I’ve taught many of the concepts she discusses in her devotional, but nonetheless, God still brought me to tears several times reading it.

Here’s just one more excerpt:

I had downloaded content from the internet, blessed gift, my cord of connection to the outside world. Derwin Gray was sharing his testimony, but it was God who had a message for me. The words that came from Derwin’s mouth pierced such that they lodged in my memory. Any momma realizes how significant that is for the mommy brain who’d just put the cheese in her purse instead of in the fridge. And Derwin Gray, on that stifling hot night a world away, said, “A false god is never satisfied.”

Six simple words had never rocked my world before like these words did. Piercing, shaking me up, turning me inside-out to expose what I already suspected: the god I worshiped, the one I thought was God Almighty, may not be the One True God. Just like the disciples walked with Jesus but didn’t know Him. Just how God’s people in Isaiah didn’t know their Redeemer. Maybe, just maybe, I didn’t really know God either.

Can we be Christ followers but not God knowers?

Like Philip, I knew what every other Christ follower knows about God. I could quote verse after verse and understood Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of God. But in the gut, the soul, despite all my knowledge, I didn’t understand the heart of God. I didn’t trust His intentions. When the winds blew (and they did) and the earth shook (and it did), I wasn’t so sure God would come through for me.

I think a lot of us are the walking wounded. We want to love God, but we don’t really know Him.

We can’t trust–or our trust only goes so far. We trust that God will do what’s good for God. We don’t trust that He’ll do what’s good for us.

If you’re there today, I hear you. I have been there too. I’ve been there at 2:30 a.m. in a hospital waiting room when they brought the body of my son out to me. I’ve been there on a sunny May day when my one true love left me before my wedding. I’ve been there in the middle of the night when two newlyweds just could not figure out how to get past the hurt feelings. I’ve been there when one of your children starts questioning some of the things you did a a parent.

And it hurts. And it’s hard.

And that’s okay–because it’s also real. And we should never run away from what is real. Give it to God instead, even if it’s scary.

If you’re floundering, please read this devotional, and pray over it. It’s filled with stories that bring the message home, and it’s an easy read. But it’s a deep read. And it will change  your life.

8 Prayers For Protection Over Your Marriage

Today author Jennifer White shares with us how to pray prayers for protection over our marriages!

8 Prayers for Protection Over Your Marriage
I said “I DO” in 1991 with a deep love, a sense of adventure, and joy that I had been chosen. Three years later, I said “I don’t” and “I won’t.” I was so shocked that life could be so hard and hurt so badly only three years into marriage.

Three years after the divorce, I vowed to be Mrs. David White for the rest of my life. We have been married sixteen years. But five years in, I was drowning in the same deep waters that had led me to end my first marriage. Pride and fear were suffocating me. I couldn’t see how this could ever be okay for either of us.

Exposed

“Help me Jesus” was the cry of my heart.

With that simple prayer I drew near to God and in turn, He ran to me with more help than I knew I needed. He gave me Beth Moore Bible studies, Joyce Meyer on a daily basis, and a great counselor. These women taught me how the Bible could affect the intimate details of my life.

I had read about God’s power and Satan’s fury, but I had not expected either of them to jump off of the pages of the Bible and into my life. I made it through three decades of sermons and ministry before “the battle is the Lord’s” became “God will fight your battles if you let Him, Jennifer.” (2 Chronicles 20:15b)

What a revelation! I had been completely unaware of the spiritual battle targeting my mind and my marriage. While it looked like I had a husband vs. wife problem, the real battle was exposed. God united me to Himself and to my husband. His archenemy was offering to divide us.

My life was in Christ, but I was vulnerable. I had not taken God’s Word seriously. My disregard for His way and His truth opened the door to Satan’s plan for my life.

Flaming Darts

…hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.
Ephesians 6:16 NLT

Involuntary thoughts of hurting myself and other people haunted me for several years. I didn’t act on them but they made me feel crazy. I assumed it was stress related. Eventually, I decided that God could use a divorced preacher’s wife much more than an insane one. Yes, I divorced a pastor. So.very.sad.

Similar thoughts erupted in my second marriage. Thankfully God rescued me with the news that those thoughts were actually the flaming arrows mentioned in Ephesians 6. My counselor recognized the attack.

The enemy used the feeling of being crazy as a strategic strike in my life. But he didn’t stop there. He also whispered discouragement and fear using the sound of my own voice. He nurtured in me a deep fear of confrontation. He also used the sound of a disapproving parent’s voice to encourage me to disapprove of my husband.

Shielded by Faith

The last ten years of my marriage have been the most exciting and rewarding years of my life. Studying the Word of life armed me with knowledge of who God is and what He can do. God had been developing my faith in Him and that has changed everything!

And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.
I John 5:4 ESV

When a thought appears in my head, I have to be ready to evaluate it. I question whose character lines up with that thought. Is it God’s or Satan’s? Does God’s Word say that I should think this way? If not, then I need to reject it because it is intended to destroy me.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.
I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
John 10:10 ESV

Knowing God’s truth has literally freed me from the grip of the enemy of my soul and marriage. It continues to be my best defense.

Every Wife Needs a Sword

“To think God’s thoughts requires much prayer. If you do not pray much, you are not thinking God’s thoughts. If you do not read your Bible much and often and reverently, you are not thinking God’s thoughts….” A.W. Tozer

Years before this breakthrough, counselors who were Christians listened well. They helped me see the problem. But I remained unchanged. I was powerless to fix me and my marriage. They were too.

But Jesus sent His word and healed me (Psalm 107:20). I started walking in victory when I was counseled according to God’s Word.

I had no idea how powerful God’s Word could be. Today I see it as the supernatural antibiotic for the wounded heart and infected mind. That is exactly what it has been and continues to be for me.

Wounded women are frequently bitter, jealous, fearful, resentful, prideful, and/or contentious. These are symptoms of a mind infected by those flaming darts. Pride, fear and resentment monopolized my heart.

I learned to deploy God’s word as a sword against the very strong holds sin had on my mind. I was introduced to praying God’s Word and Germaine Copeland’s Prayers that Avail Much. Here is one of the Scriptural prayers she offers:

In the name of Jesus, I loose my mind from wrong thought patterns. I tear down strongholds that have protected bad perceptions about myself. I submit to You, Father, and resist fear, discouragement, self-pity, and depression. I will not give place to the devil by harboring resentment and holding onto anger. I surround myself with songs and shouts of deliverance from depression, and I will continue to be an overcomer by the word of my testimony and the blood of the Lamb.

I read this prayer and others aloud day and night. I read them in parking lots while I waited for someone. I read them on the treadmill. As I proclaimed God’s truth and promises, I felt stronger mentally and emotionally. I found myself making decisions based on the truth instead of the lies I once believed.

I firmly believe that the Sword of the Spirit slices through the slimy tentacles of sin. Praying according to God’s Word is the antibiotic my soul desperately needs. It also how I resist the devil so he will flee from me (James 4:8).

Are you praying God’s Word over your marriage?

Marriage Armor

There were too many years of heartache in my life before I realized that I needed God and His Word to defend me against the father of lies. What if I had begun praying God’s Word before my first marriage? Our marriage could have been a beautiful reflection of Jesus, our Bridegroom, loving and serving His Bride.

What if every bride armed her marriage with God’s Word?

Prayers for New Brides: Putting on God's Armor After the Wedding DressAs a veteran of one failed marriage and one rescued by the Savior, I am sharing my experience in Prayers for New Brides: Putting on God’s Armor After the Wedding Dress. It’s packed with Bible teaching and prayer prompts for many of the issues every couple faces.

Prayers for New Brides is designed to help wives show up, surrender and salute the almighty God who is able to defend their marriage. It is a faith building resource to help brides avoid getting destroyed by the flaming arrows. It is for every wife who longs to see God do more in her marriage.

Swing Your Sword

We can’t let the evil one lull us into a false sense of security. We need to arm our marriages with the same discipline a solider employs in preparing for battle.

Here are seven simple prayer prompts to help you arm your marriage today with God’s transforming Word.

1. Generous and merciful God, give me a hunger and thirst for righteousness so that I can live satisfied by You. I don’t want to demand more from my husband than he is supposed to provide. Matthew 5:6

2. Teach me to hear your voice so I can follow You all the days of my life and marriage. John 10:27

3. Wonderful Counselor, make me wise to the enemy’s divisive and destructive schemes. Isaiah 9:6, James 1:5, 2 Corinthians 10:5

4. Fill me with Your wisdom so I can excel as ______’s wife. Ephesians 1:17

5. Grant me a humble heart. Help me relinquish a false sense of control. I want to live a praying life. Matthew 7:7 and Proverbs 16:18

6. Mighty God, strengthen me to stand under Your authority every day in every way. Please forgive me for the ways I have dismissed Your perfect leadership. Ephesians 6:10, 11, 13, 14

7. Jesus, pour Your faith into me so that I can deflect the flaming arrows the enemy sends my way. Use me as a warrior of Your word in our marriage. Hebrews 12:2, Ephesians 6:17

8. Father, help me see my husband through Your eyes. I want to honor and cherish Him. I want to focus his value and avoid the temptation to disregard his unique contributions to our marriage.

Did you know to pray these things for yourself when you were a new bride?

Are you aware of the spiritual battle behind the scenes of your marriage?

Today I am offering Chapter 15 of Prayers for New Brides – Seeing Your Spouse through God’s Eyes as a free download. It is one of the most important lesson I’ve learned as David’s wife. Click here to get your copy.

Jennifer White, prayers for protectionJennifer O. White is the author of Prayers for New Brides: Putting on God’s Armor After the Wedding Dress and Marriage Armor for the #PrayingBride. Jennifer is a natural encourager who offers hope from the truths from God’s Word at her blog, Prayerfully Speaking. With every blog post, Jennifer is exalts the one true God who can empower us to do more than we can ask or imagine.

Top 10 Ways to Prepare for the Empty Nest

Top Ten Ways to Prepare for Empty Nest
Today Gay Christmus, from Calm, Healthy, Sexy, joins us to talk about preparing for the empty nest! Considering my youngest is leaving this summer, I’m eager to hear what she has to say.

Is your daily schedule packed with homework, soccer games, dance recitals, and Scout meetings, not to mention work, church, and community commitments?  Do you feel like a juggler most days, just trying to keep all of your balls in the air?  If so, planning for the “empty nest,” the time when your children will be out on their own, is probably the farthest thing from your mind.  And no wonder – it’s hard to think about the future when you’re just trying to get through each day.

I want to encourage you, though, that now is the time to think about and prepare for empty nest.  Because time flies, and that day “down the road” is going to arrive sooner than you think.  I know a bit about this, because my husband and I have been moving toward the empty nest for a couple of years.  Our older son has graduated from college and is living with a friend, and our younger son is living at home while attending college.  They’re both doing their own thing – even though one still sleeps (and sometimes eats!) at our house – and my husband and I are essentially doing our own thing too.

We’ve been anticipating this for a number of years.  I can’t say we’re fully prepared, but we’ve been aware of it and wanted to know that we could enjoy life together when soccer and basketball and school activities came to an end.  So I want to share with you 10 things we’ve attempted to do (some well, some not so well) to get ready for this new phase of our lives.  If your children are in elementary school or older, I encourage you begin incorporating these things into your marriage and family life too.  On the day when your youngest child heads off to college or moves into an apartment, you’ll be glad you did!

1.  Pray together.

Establish your faith as the foundation of your marriage and family by praying together regularly.  This doesn’t have to be complicated or burdensome; just spend a few minutes together each day thanking God for your blessings and asking for His help with your concerns and problems.

2.  Orient your family around your marriage.

Your children are important, and their needs and activities require time and attention.  But those needs and activities shouldn’t become the “sun” around which your family revolves.  Placing your marriage at the center of your family’s life helps keep things in perspective when your children are young and eases the transition into the time when it’s just the two of you.  It also reminds your children from an early age that the universe doesn’t revolve around them!

3.  Talk about the future.

The elementary school years are not too early to begin talking about life and marriage after the child-intensive years.  Because by the time your children get to high school, they’ll begin focusing more on their friends and outside interests and less on the family.  So enjoy the elementary and middle school years and all the activities they entail, but spend time talking with your husband about the future too.  It’s never too soon to dream about the life you’ll enjoy together when it’s just the two of you.

4.  Take care of your health.

When you reach the empty nest years, you want to be able to enjoy them.  Which means that you want to be strong, healthy and fit, and don’t want to be slowed down by health problems.  Most of the health problems that begin to affect people in their 40s and 50s – diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and heart problems – are preventable.  And it’s never too early to begin working to prevent them.  So start now by eating well, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, and generally taking care of yourself.  And encourage your husband to do the same.  Those simple activities can help ensure that your empty nest years are healthy and active.

5.  Begin developing interests you can enjoy together.

You don’t want to deliver your youngest child to college, only to discover that you and your husband no longer have any interests in common.  So even though it’s difficult to find time for adult activities during the child-raising years, make the time to develop at least one activity that isn’t focused on your children.  It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive; Sheila has mentioned that she and her husband enjoy bird watching, and my husband and I have taken up bike riding.

6.  Develop friendships and a social life beyond your children’s sports and activities.

When our younger son finished his final season of high school basketball, I (somewhat) jokingly asked my husband, “What are we going to do for a social life in the winter?” Because for many years, our social life from November through February revolved around basketball.  It’s natural for that to happen, because basketball (or soccer or dance or Scouts) takes up a lot of time.  But if you aren’t intentional about developing friendships or a social life beyond those activities, you may experience quite a “social shock” when they end.  So spend some time and energy developing friendships in your church, neighborhood, or other social circles too.

7.  Prioritize sex and intimacy in your marriage.

During the child-intensive years, it’s tempting to let sex and intimacy fall by the wayside.  It’s so easy to think, “I’m tired, I’m busy, the kids are sucking up all of my energy, I just don’t feel in the mood.”  Some or all of those things are probably true, but that doesn’t mean they’re good for you or your marriage.  Sex holds the two of you together in the hard times and creates joy in the good times.  So don’t let it slide.  Instead, nurture it and pursue it.  Deep intimacy and an enjoyable sex life will pay you back in spades, both now and in the empty nest years.

8.  Find ways to serve together.

It’s easy to be so focused on our family’s schedule, activities, and commitments that we forget about real needs that exist right in our own communities and around the world.  But it’s important to recognize those needs, both to keep our own problems in perspective and to find ways to serve others.  After all, crazy soccer and ballet schedules don’t seem so overwhelming when we remember that people are hungry or lonely or homeless.  So look for ways to serve others, as a couple or a family.  It will help keep things in perspective now and create an interest you and your husband can continue to develop as your children get older.

9.  Manage your finances.

The earlier in your marriage you begin to control your finances, the better.  Debt, lack of savings, and living beyond your means take a toll at every stage of life, but the older you get the harder it is to recover from financial mismanagement.  Plus, when you finally have extended time to have fun with your husband, you want to have a little bit of money on hand to do it!  So start now to eliminate debt, control spending, and/or bring in some additional income.  My husband and I didn’t start working on this early enough in our marriage, so we’re having to work harder on it now.

10.  Develop the fun side of your marriage.

Sometimes marriage becomes just a little bit tedious, doesn’t it?  It’s all work and no play, and suddenly no one is having very much fun!  So don’t let your long list of “have to” items suck all the fun out of your marriage.  Set a goal of doing something fun together at least once a week.  More often is better, but once a week is a good place to start.  It doesn’t have to be a “date,” just something both of you consider fun and relaxing – a walk after dinner, a bike ride, an outing to get a cup of coffee, or time to watch a funny movie.  You don’t want to arrive at the empty nest years and find that you don’t know how to have fun together anymore.

Whatever the age of your children or stage of your marriage, it’s never too early to begin thinking about the empty nest years.  And it’s never too late either.  If your children are in high school and you haven’t given it much thought, start now!  Talk with your husband, begin making plans, develop a couple of shared interests, and work on enjoying life together!

 

Gaye Groover ChristmusGaye Groover Christmus is a wife and mom to two almost-grown sons.  In her “day job” she works as a writer and editor in a health field.  Her passion, though, is encouraging married women to slow down, live with vitality and energy, and create joy and intimacy in their marriages.  She believes that small steps can lead to big changes, and that women armed with knowledge and a plan can transform their hurried, hectic lives.  Gaye blogs at CalmHealthySexy.  She’d love to send you her ebook, 17 Ways to Live Calmer, Healthier and Sexier – Starting Today – as a gift when you subscribe to the blog.

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Are We Expecting the Impossible in Marriage?

Are We Expecting the Impossible -- Expectations in Marriage

Are your expectations in marriage impossible to achieve?

Recently I was going through some older posts that most of you will not have seen, and I came across this one about having sky-high marriage expectations. I thought it was worth re-running today.

You may have heard it said before that “the enemy of the best is the good”. The French philosopher Voltaire made it famous (though he said it in French!), and it caught on because it’s so true. Often we get so caught up doing good things that we miss the best. We miss our priorities.

But that being said, I think the reverse can also be true.

Sometimes the best is the enemy of the good.

When the best is more a fairy-tale ideal than a reality, then it can become the enemy of making any kind of real progress. The best can actually be a hindrance to your marriage.

Allow me to use an analogy that doesn’t have to do with marriage first to show you what I mean. A while back I caused a ruckus in the comments section of this blog because I insinuated that there were things that women could do to reduce the chance of sexual assault, and we should teach these to our daughters. I never said that we could eliminate rape (because we can’t)–but I said that we could reduce it.

People kept taking issue with me, so I kept writing follow-up posts, and the comments grew worse and worse. One commenter really summed up the other side perfectly. She said (and I paraphrase):

Women should be able to wear whatever they want and go wherever they want. You should be talking to the men, not to the women!

She was a little ruder than that, but I’ll leave out the colorful language.

What a strange comment, though. OF COURSE women should be able to wear what they want and do what they want without getting raped. We should live in a world where there is no abuse, no rape, no children in poverty, no wars, and no violence. But we don’t live in that world. And since we don’t, what steps can we take to protect ourselves?

They were focusing so much on what SHOULD be that they refused to acknowledge that there were any steps you could take to make our present life, the one we are living in right now, even the least bit better.

It was all or nothing.

Have you ever felt that way about your marriage? I once knew a woman who eventually left her husband, who explained it to me this way:

God created marriage to be a joining of two human beings–an institution where we’re able to communicate, and love, and respect, and share ideas and share vision and purpose. He created marriage to build us up, not to tear us down. He created marriage to be part of our fulfillment, not part of our destruction. My husband didn’t know how to communicate. He never listened to me. He never talked to me; he only ever talked past me. He used sex just to satisfy himself. In other words, it wasn’t actually a marriage. And so I ended it.

I have no doubt that her marriage was extremely difficult, but do you see the problem with her position? She was saying that because her marriage was not one in which two individuals were completely joined, it was thus not a marriage. God intended marriage to be fulfilling; it was not, therefore the argument about whether one had biblical grounds to divorce was moot because this wasn’t even marriage!

Her argument is flawed, because while God said marriage should be like this, He never invalidated marriages that were not like that. Indeed, in Corinthians Paul even tells women married to men who aren’t Christians to stay if they can–and these marriages are obviously not a complete joining of minds and ideals.

This woman was looking for the best in her marriage; she didn’t find it, so therefore she invalidated everything else.

Many of us enter marriage with similar thoughts. Marriage SHOULD be a place where we can completely bear our souls. Marriage SHOULD be a place where we are unconditionally cherished. Marriage SHOULD be a place where we find our best friend. Then, when the should doesn’t happen, we give up. We have expectations in marriage about how things SHOULD be, and we can’t settle for second best. We don’t look at little changes that we could make to grow the marriage, or to grow our communication, because we figure that he is just hopeless. He’s so out of touch with what a husband should be, that growth is well nigh impossible.

None of us is perfect, though, and I think we need a different strategy. If your husband isn’t a good communicator, or sulks constantly, or watches too much TV (or plays too many video games), or never spends any time with the kids, that doesn’t invalidate your marriage, and it doesn’t mean that things can’t get better. After all, by staying away from drunken parties, girls can drastically reduce their risk of date rape. Similarly, by learning new communication techniques, you can drastically reduce your risk of growing apart and ending the relationship. You can do things to move in the right direction, even if those things won’t give you 100% change. They can still make your life significantly better.

Now, in some cases no matter what you do you can’t rescue a marriage. You can’t stop an abusive man from hitting you just by learning to be nicer or not pushing his buttons. You can’t stop a porn addict from using porn, and these things do need to be confronted. But in most marriages it’s not these huge issues that bring us down. It’s disappointments in the day-to-day.

What I would suggest, then, is that we stop focusing on our ideal expectations for marriage, and we start looking at what we can do to make things better.

In other words, quit focusing so much on the destination, and focus instead on the direction. Move forward, even if it’s slowly, and you will eventually get there. Focus so much on the finish line, and how far it is away from your current position, and you can quickly lose heart.

This applies to aspects of marriage, too. I was at a place in our marriage once where everything was going really well–except sex. It’s not that it was horrible; it just wasn’t what it was supposed to be, according to the media and all the sermons I heard about how God created sex to be wonderful. For a few years, I gave up. It’s not that we didn’t make love; it’s just that my attitude was one of: “this just isn’t for me. It’s all for him, and I’ll just get through it.” I believed that if sex wasn’t the ideal, then I had been cheated, and there was no point in even trying.

It was only when I had an attitude shift where I started to ask whether I could believe that it could get better–even if it was slowly. When I made the mental shift, then the way I acted also changed.

Whether it’s in your marriage as a whole or in individual parts of your marriage, don’t give up because you haven’t reached the ideal.

The Ultimate Marriage Reading Challenge for January: Setting the Right Foundation. Click through to see the books and choose one!
Ask God to help you make baby steps, because those steps can add up! Ask Him to give you a new heart to grow, even if it’s slowly, because moving in the right direction gives you a new attitude or outlook on your marriage which is so much more energizing.

Whatever you do, don’t let the best become an enemy of that real, helpful change.

Tomorrow I’m going to be reviewing Gary Thomas’ book A Lifelong Love, our January entry in the Ultimate Marriage Reading Challenge. It has a wonderful perspective on how to handle a marriage that isn’t the best, and I’m so looking forward to sharing it with you!

How to Increase Your Chances of Marriage

How to Increase your chances to find a spouse--and spend your twenties well!

Lately I’ve been preoccupied thinking about dating, engagement, and marriage (because my daughter got engaged! Yay!). And so I’ve written a number of things lately on why young people should prioritize relationships even in college, and why you need to be careful who you give your heart to. But there’s one more piece of advice that I have for late teens early twenty somethings, and it’s going to be controversial. But I’m going to say it anyway.

If you want to get married, then make yourself available to get married.

That may not sound controversial yet, but here’s the thing: that’s actually the opposite of what we’re often taught in church, and it’s certainly the opposite of what kids will hear in school. And my fear is that many young people who desperately do want to get married are acting in ways that make marriage less likely.

First, though, a caveat: Marriage is not the most important thing in anyone’s life. God is the most important thing in anyone’s life. And you can have a full and complete life without being married. I am not saying that we should raise our kids to obsess over getting married or to worry about getting married. But I do believe that if this is a goal that they have that they should live in such a way to make that goal more likely.

So here’s where the controversial part comes in: if you spend five years teaching English in Japan or China or wherever, you decrease your chances of finding a spouse. That doesn’t mean you WON’T find a spouse; you just decrease your chances. And it certainly doesn’t mean that if you feel called by God to go somewhere you shouldn’t go; it’s just that I think many twenty-somethings want to have these “experiences” before they get tied down, but in so doing they limit their chances to get tied down.

If you want to get married, it is smart to spend your time where there are large numbers of potential mates.

I have a young friend named Daniel who felt called to go to the mission field, so he moved to Central America in his early to mid-twenties. Yet while leading a youth group from North America on a short term missions one summer, he met a youth group leader. A woman. Who was wonderful. And they married recently. I know another young woman who was serving in India who met the leader of another short term missions group, and they were recently married. If God is calling you somewhere, you go. Absolutely.

But studying abroad for a year? Taking a few years to backpack across the world? Even living for two years on a cruise ship? Nope. If you want to get married, and it’s really important to you, then go where you will find a whole ton of young, Christian potential spouses.

There’s another exception: I heard the story recently of one man who became a Christian at 22 after leading a really messed up life. He took the next two years on the mission field just serving so that he could get to know God better. After that, he came home, went to seminary, met his wife, and the rest is history. Sometimes we need those few years to find ourselves if we have a lot of issues to deal with. But if you don’t, then don’t take yourself out of the pool of marriageable people at a prime time in your life.

Certainly people can get married in their late twenties and thirties, but the pool of eligible people is smaller, since many start marrying young.

I have served on the mission field with my husband AFTER I’ve been married, and we’re planning to again. Getting married does not end your dreams of travel or service. In fact, I’ve traveled more and served more since being married than I did before I was married.

Be very careful about what kind of post-secondary education you choose.

I would venture to say that about half of married people met their spouses in school–either in high school or in college. Those school years are vitally important, because they occur right at the time that we’re getting to the age where marriage is possible, and we’re with the largest number of people our own age at the same time.

And I think that’s why so many people send their kids to Christian universities. You get to meet other Christians, after all! There’s a reason we call them Bridal Colleges, not Bible Colleges!

But hold on a second. The majority of Christian universities have a terrible sex ratio of about 70 girls to 30 guys. Think about that: for every guy, there are at least two girls. So if you have a daughter, do you really think that’s the best place to send her? (If you have a son, he’s practically guaranteed to meet a wife. A daughter? Not so much.)

It may certainly be the best place if it’s the education you’re after, but having been to a secular university and attended the Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship group there (and met my husband there), I can tell you that you can get a lot of Christian training at the secular university Christian groups, too. In fact, those Christians are often extremely strong in their faith, because they’re in a secular environment but they’re choosing to spend the majority of their free time in Christian study and service.

That’s where my daughter met her fiance, too. And the opportunities for learning evangelism are amazing! My daughter has become a major evangelist when she didn’t even know she had the gift.

Secular university is not for everyone, but I’m just saying that one shouldn’t assume that one will marry just because you go to a Christian university. If you’re female, your chances are actually better at a Christian group in a secular university where the sex ratios are more even.

If you do choose a Christian education, then, make sure it’s in a city with a wide range of church options that have large college and career groups, so that you can meet other people in a church setting.

Don’t just believe “God will send me a spouse if I trust him”

A lot of girls (and it’s especially girls) are sitting at home on Friday nights, reading Christian books, watching romantic comedies, eating ice cream, and praying that God will send them a spouse.

And that seems like trust. They’re wrestling with God about not getting anxious about it. They’re learning to let it go. They’re not obsessing.

But does God really do that? Does God answer our prayers without requiring us to do anything at all? Is that the best way of demonstrating trust–to remain safely in our comfort zone, not doing anything scary, while waiting for God to show up? Or does he want us to stretch ourselves a bit?

It’s scary to join a whole bunch of college and career groups. It’s scary to invite people back to your house for dinner or for movies and popcorn. It’s scary to take up people you don’t know well on their offer of “do you want to hang out on Saturday?” But the truth is that most of us marry someone that we meet through our social circle. You meet a friend of a friend, or a cousin of a friend, or a brother of a co-worker. You know what I mean.

But to do that, you have to have friends. Hang out where there are other strong Christians. Volunteer in places that you care about. Serve in a lot of ministries in church. Serve on short-term missions trips. Go to weekend retreats. These are all great places to meet a wide variety of people–but, even better, they’re all great places to build your faith and to build yourself as a person.

In the church, we often give people the message, “You can do whatever you want, and God will provide.” I don’t think that’s true. I think we need to prioritize and put first things first. If you hibernate for five years in grad school, never talking to anyone, then I’m not sure a mate will just show up. If you stay living at home after high school in your small town with few Christian marriageable options, then I’m not sure a handsome perfect guy will suddenly move in next door. Sometimes we need to move away to a larger city with bigger churches.

Sacred SearchThis is one of the main messages in Gary Thomas’ excellent book Sacred Search, too. If you want to get married, then get serious about making friends and growing your social connections. Live out your dreams!

Look, I am writing this for people who want to get married. If that is not your main goal–if you are focused more on career or on missions or on something else–then that honestly is fine. I believe that God puts stirrings in our heart that we are to follow.

But my fear is that we are not teaching young people the common sense facts about finding a mate. So if marriage matters, make yourself marriageable, and that includes putting yourself out there. It’s scary. It takes some risk. It takes a lot of time–you won’t get to stay home and watch Netflix as much. But it is worth it, and I encourage you, if it is important to you, to get out there and live a big life and meet lots of people! Then, even if you don’t marry, you’ll still have a wide circle of friends, a wide number of interests, and a really full life. And that’s worth it, too.

 

 

Their Dreams, His Agenda: God’s Plans And Purposes For Your Children

Today, please welcome guest author Sarah Francis Martin from Live it Out, as she shares about God’s plans and purposes for your children and how to help them walk in it.

God’s Plans And Purposes For Your Children
From the back seat I heard my son emphatically declare, “Mom, I have an idea…” The tone of his voice told me that he had been marinating on this idea for the better part of the day.

Gearing myself up for a good parenting moment at the steering wheel driving home from school, I inquired about this great idea.

My six year old: When I grow up I’m moving to New York City. Yeah. That’s what I’m going to do.

Me: Oh yeah? Well, you know that’s a big city and you have to work hard to be able to live there.

My six year old: Ok! I will do what Daddy does, you know, make money. I’m gonna work hard and make money and buy legos!

Me: Well, sounds like you have it all figured out.

My six year old: Yep, pretty much.

As I recount this conversation I remember that my initial inclination upon receiving this “big news” was to guide my son along in this “big” life decision with a real, honest look at it.

I was tempted to almost squelch this dream with questions of practicalities:

What job will you have?

Will you make enough money?

Will you thrive in a big city?

We live in a small town, and I know the allure of a big city with exciting tall skyscrapers drove this declared life path of my six year old.

Over the past year I’ve been marinating on the topics of dreaming, life paths, and purposes. The idea of seeking after God and His presence in my life parallels with the topic of purpose and dreaming. How do we marry the two in order to make a difference with our lives and find satisfaction in God and His agenda? How does taking our place in God’s kingdom allow us to find this ultimate satisfaction?

As I’ve taken more of an adult perspective on this weighty topic, the “big idea” conversation with my son caused me to look at it from a different angle.

Facilitate God’s Dreams And Purposes In The Lives Of Your Children

Just RISE UP!: A Call to Make Jesus Famous (InScribed Collection)The following excerpt from my book Just RISE UP!: A Call To Make Jesus Famous speaks to our interactions with our kids about their dreams and purpose. It takes a perspective of the individual, adult nature. But, as I’m circling back to this material myself, I find that it applies to my interaction with my six year old dreamer as well.

There’s a verse that I’ve read in passing before and probably even doodled on a note to a friend as a means of encouragement to her. God reminds us of His Word at just the right times for encouragement. I’ve got this heaviness on my heart in my own journey to rise up, as I want to be used by God. He has planted dreams in my heart, but doors have yet to open to allow me to fully walk through and live these dreams out. I hide ideas and plans in my heart, often checking to make sure they came from the Lord and not from my own fancies. If you don’t quite identify with this, know that it is okay. But if the idea of joining God in His kingdom work and making Him famous gets your heart pumping, that means the Lord is working in you and through you.

Here’s that verse: I am confident that the Creator, who has begun such a great work among you, will not stop in mid-design but will keep perfecting you until the day Jesus the Anointed, our Liberating King, returns to redeem the world. (Philippians 1:6 THE VOICE)

This great work God is doing in our lives starts with the work God does inside our hearts and minds. The word work is appropriate in my opinion as I imagine Jesus using His gardening tools while digging up roots of pride and jealousy in my heart, patting down fresh soil of trust and peace, watering my God-given talents. And if we believe Scripture, He will continue to toil, root out, plant afresh, and grow beautiful blooms in my life and yours—blooms that will RISE UP! and flourish. Even a novice gardener like me knows that before a plant comes to full bloom time, care, pruning, watering, and sunlight are in order.

Excerpt from Just Rise Up! by Sarah Francis Martin. Download a FREE Chapter from all three new Inscribed Studies Here. (No email required)

We have the privilege of working alongside the Lord to care, prune, and water our children’s life purpose. Just as we take care to nourish their bodies and minds, we can start today to nourish their souls and guide them to seek after God in all aspects of their lives.

As it is a process in our own lives, this endeavor won’t come to full bloom for some years in our child’s life. But there are a few key things to keep in mind along the journey.

Model An Attitude of Kingdom Perspective

We all know that our children are like sponges, soaking in even minute details from their environments.

My husband and I have started to become more intentional in sharing details of what we do as a family and as individuals to serve the Lord. We have learned the importance of taking time to explain on a six year old level why our family gives money to this ministry, or why mommy wrote that book about Jesus. Life gets busy and it is tempting to gloss over details like this during the rush to basketball practice!

Depending on your child’s maturity level, help them work through their own calling from God within their world. Explain how God uses them to be a sweet friend to the new girl at school. Or how they share the love of Jesus when they stand up to a bully on the playground on behalf of another kid. It’s neat to think and pray together about how God works in their lives at such a young age.

Nurture Your Child’s God-Given Talents

I love exploring my child’s gifts and talents and characteristics. It’s important that we spend time in prayer asking God for wisdom to best facilitate these gifts and talents.

How do we accentuate them and draw them out?

How do we express to our child that God blesses them with unique and individual gifts and talents that only they can fulfill?

Be The Soft Place To Land

This is one that I constantly have to remember: to allow space for dreaming and planning. I think this is best achieved when we help our child work through these dreams and plans in their own prayer lives.

If our child trusts us with their “big ideas” knowing that we won’t let practicalities squelch their passion, they will see that their Father God is the ultimate safe place as well. When we seek after the Lord, knowing we can trust Him, we become more in tune to where He is moving in our lives. Our hearts become open to following that path which will be fruitful and fulfilling. Walking with our children in this lifelong process can be exciting.

Several weeks after my six year old made his big city declaration, we sat together as a family watching the popular show American Ninja Warrior––a favorite in many households with boys. As we cheered on the men and women and heard their stories of hard work to get where they are in this physical competition, I could almost see the little cogs turning in my son’s mind. Another declaration burst out from his mouth, “I’ve changed my mind. I’m moving THERE.”

Before I could explain that he would have to train hard and sacrifice much physically to attain this goal, I let that practicality go for the moment. In the lives of our children, dreams and fancies transform and bloom. But it is God’s plan and His kingdom that never changes.

As long as our children take a stand on this firm foundation, they can not go wrong in their life purpose.

Sarah Francis MartinJust RISE UP!: A Call to Make Jesus Famous (InScribed Collection)Sarah Francis Martin is a wife, mother, friend, mentor, author and wanna be artist. She has a passion to ignite this generation to get up off the couch of complacency and do life differently for God’s kingdom. When she is not typing away at her laptop, you can often find Sarah on date nights with her husband, rough housing with her young son, or getting her hands messy with craft paint. She is the author of Just RISE UP!: A Call To Make Jesus Famous

 

Reader Question: When Do I Give Up Trying to Get My Ex Back?

When do I give up on my ex-husband? Thoughts on when to stop trying to reconcile and move on
When should you give up on trying to get your ex back?

Every Monday I like to put up a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it. I know most of my readers are married (this is a Christian marriage blog, after all), but a lot of people in crisis marriages also land on this blog. So there are plenty of separated/divorced people who also send in questions. And here’s a heartbreaking one that I’d like to tackle today:

I’ve been divorced for 8 years, and during all that time I have tried to reconcile with my husband. It’s just not working, but I’m scared to move on. When do I give up on my ex? When have I done enough? And what if I really want it to work?

I want to start by telling you a story.

When I was just getting started writing and speaking, in my early 30s, I was asked to come and speak to a MOPS group. I gave a talk about how to keep your priorities in order and how to feel as if you’re making a difference even in the diaper/temper tantrum years. The talk went well, and at the end everyone was mingling around eating some snacks.

An older woman who hadn’t been in the talk approached me. She explained that she was a grandma, and as a way of serving her daughter she acted as one of the baby-sitters for MOPS, so her daughter could enjoy the socialization and the teaching. So she asked me for a synopsis of what I had said, and I gave it to her.

She smiled as I explained, and nodded vigorously. “Oh, that’s so wonderful that you’re teaching these young women to rely on God in everything. I’ve had to learn that in the last few years. My husband left out of the blue 5 years ago to be with another woman. He spread lies about me and turned many in my family against me. It was so difficult. I lost my house and so much of my self-esteem.”

My heart went out to this poor woman. That’s so awful to have a spouse betray you like that!

But then she said this,

“But God has promised me that my marriage will be restored. I read verses about how God restores what is broken. I put them on post-in notes all over my apartment, so that when I doubt I can read them and know that God will bring him back. I pray all the time about it. And I have peace that one day my marriage will be saved.”

And at this point I felt distinctly uncomfortable. I didn’t know what to say, though, and so I left. But while driving home it suddenly hit me what I should have said. I don’t know who that woman is, and so I could never communicate this to her. But now, when I speak, I always share to the audience what I wish I could have shared to the woman:

“I am glad that you have faith that God can bring your husband back. But do you have faith even if he doesn’t?”

Do you have faith even if God doesn't answer your prayers as you would like?

Because isn’t that the point? God needs to be the centre of our faith and not a reconciliation. That’s why this truth is so important:

Your life needs to become about God, not about winning your ex back

That doesn’t mean that God WON’T bring your ex back. But ultimately, after you have been through such a trauma, you are really hurt. You’re beaten down. And you’re often desperate to get the marriage back together, thinking that this will fix your broken heart. But it won’t, because that kind of pain can only be fixed by God. And once He does this great healing work, so that you know that whatever happens, God will carry you, then you are whole again. You are strong again.

And if your marriage has any chance of working again, you need to be whole and you need to be strong.

Ironically, your marriage’s best hope is for you to let go of your marriage and cling to God. To do that doesn’t mean that you’re giving up on the idea of reconciliation. It’s just saying that your faith if based on God, not on your marriage, and that you know that you will be okay.

Let go of the dream of your ex-husband and get real

When a marriage breaks up there is usually a reason. In my story, the husband had left his wife. I don’t know what is happening with my reader, but I know many on this blog have had to separate with husbands who wouldn’t give up a pornography addiction, or who refused to work and squandered money, or who had affairs. But even though they couldn’t live like that anymore, these women often have difficulty letting go of the dream of their husband.

They could still see the potential–they could still see what the marriage could be like if their husbands would just get their act together. And because of that dream, these women had a difficult time moving on.

Letting go of the dream does not mean that you let go of the idea of reconciliation. But you need to stop living in the “what ifs” and start living with what is real.

Be honest about where you are at and where your husband is at, and reconciliation is not a healthy or wise idea right now, then put it out of your mind and focus on the now.

I am not saying that this is easy. This is likely the most heart-wrenching thing you will ever have to do your whole life. You can’t do it alone; you need a good church community and good friends around you–and often a good counselor. But it is the wise thing to do.

What is the right thing for me to do in the here and now?

If reconciliation isn’t possible, because your husband hasn’t gotten real about the steps that he needs to take, then you need to start living in the here and now and take steps to make your own life better as it is in the present.

Get some schooling or get a job if you have to support yourself and your children. Find a great church to be involved in and start serving. Start an exercise regimen to help you feel better about yourself. Move closer to other support systems that you will need, if necessary. Get your finances in order. In other words, do things that will help you so that if things stay exactly the way they are right now, you (and your children) will be in a better position. If you refuse to do these things because to do so seems like you’re saying “the relationship is really over”, then in the long run you’ll likely hurt yourself.

Love Must Be ToughLook, sometimes if a relationship is in really bad shape, the best way to turn it around is to give someone a big jolt and help them to realize the consequences of their actions. If he knows you are waiting in the wings to take him back at a moment’s notice, what incentive does he have to get his life together? But if he realizes, “she’s serious. We’re not getting back together until things change,” then he might do something.

That’s what the book Love Must Be Tough teaches you, and I highly recommend it for people in this situation. It shows how the worst thing that you can do is to show your ex that you’re always available to him, that you’ll always take him back, that you’re always there. Groveling does not work. Having sex with him when he comes over to visit you, when he’s not showing any kind of remorse, will not work. You need to show him, “this is who I am without you, and even though I don’t want to be alone and even though I’d rather be with you, I will choose to be without you and I will get on with my life until you show me that you want a real marriage.”

But when do I date again?

Ultimately, though, what I think women are really asking is, “when is it okay for me to date again? When can I actually move on?”

I can’t answer that one for you, except in generalities. Every situation is different. In some cases there are definite biblical grounds for divorce, and in some there really aren’t. (That being said, even if there aren’t grounds, if he has abandoned you by not reconciling, then that becomes a biblical ground, in and of itself.) In some cases he has made a lot of progress, or he is fixing things, and you do need to wait and give him a chance.

I had a friend who left a marriage, telling everyone it was because of his porn use and his cheating. The problem was that these things had been in the past, and he was working at making them better. Soon after she left him she started dating someone else, and she is now remarried. She claimed she had biblical grounds, but the fact was that he was getting right with God at the point where she started dating. That is not right.

One rule of thumb: I think it’s dangerous to get into a new relationship too soon. I’d give it at least a year and a half, if not two years, after a split with no sign of reconciliation. You need to give him time to change his mind, but you also need to give yourself time to heal, because otherwise you’ll be going into a new relationship with a lot of baggage.

That’s not set in stone, but I do think it’s wise to give some time, and likely the more the better.

Does God ever bring about reconciliation?

Absolutely! In fact, if you want a great story of reconciliation, my friend Juana Mikels has just written a book called Choosing Him All Over Again, where she shares her story.

Choosing Him All Over Again: A Story of Romance and Redemption
Thirty-five years ago Juana left her husband. He didn’t give her what she needed, he didn’t know how to show her love, and they were drifting apart so fast she didn’t think there was anything left. They had only been married for two years, but it had all gone downhill.

A few months after their break-up, Juana started attending a Bible study. She became a Christian, and realized that the break-up was not her husband’s fault. It was hers as well. She hadn’t given selflessly in the marriage. She hadn’t loved him properly. And now she wanted him back!

There was just one problem. He was seeing someone else and had no interest in reconciling. Juana had hurt him too much.

So now what was she to do? She continued to draw closer to God and decided to just show her husband unconditional love. And after months and months of that, her husband’s heart began to soften. It took a long time to rebuild the marriage that Juana had already torn down, but God did it as He slowly started to change Juana’s attitude.

It’s a great story of hope–check it out here!

So, yes, God can rescue marriages. In fact, God loves picking up broken pieces and molding them back together again. He’s in the healing business. But sometimes the thing that He wants to heal is YOU, not your marriage. So chase after God now, and focus on God, not just on your marriage. And then, no matter what happens, you will find you still are strong.

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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

Her website: www.lindseymbell.com

Twitter: www.twitter.com/LindseyMBell

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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 early in university, 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’ve been best friends with a guy from my church for years, and lately I’ve been interested in him for an actual relationship. We went on a few dates, but then out of the blue he told me that he didn’t want to keep seeing me because he doesn’t want a relationship until he’s finished medical school–and he hasn’t even started yet! Do I let him go? And if so, how?

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 two important things: you both love God, and you both feel the relationship comes first.” And she’s right. If you both love God and you both value the relationship, you can work through anything else.

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 workaholic husbands (or workaholic wives) 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 the 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

Many people who delay relationships for school figure that they will meet someone wonderful later. They may even see this as an act of faith–believing that God would bring someone else when they had made themselves ready. (And if God has honestly told you to wait, it likely is an act of faith. But save a word from God, I’d just be very careful.)

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. Marrying young is not the worst thing in the world. Sometimes it can be the best.

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!

 

 

 

Why Your Marriage Needs Community

Today please welcome back Ngina Otiende from IntentionalToday.com, as she shares her wonderful wisdom about how your marriage needs community to thrive and grow!

Why Your Marriage Needs Community
A few months ago, I wrote a guest post for Sheila, where I talked about the differences between marriage in Africa and marriage in North America.
How in Kenya, and in Africa as a whole, we tend to do life and relationship from a community perspective. Now obviously this is a generalization. There are pockets where this is not the norm and people are not as interconnected. But it’s the case in many places, where we value and derive significance from our families and the community around us.



Many readers expressed admiration for such a lifestyle and how it seemed to affect marriages and people in a positive way.

So today I want to share a few thoughts on why community is important for your marriage and how you can go about building it.

We are generally nicer when we are around other people

We don’t always realize how rude or cold or irritating we are in our homes. Until we go out there and try to repeat the same behavior or words in public! I’ve been around wives, who sass their husbands in public. And I’ve observed how whenever there’s a sense of displeasure or discomfort following their remarks, they tend to muzzle up. Now other people’s reactions might not change someone’s behavior. But at least it helps them understand that it’s not just their spouse who finds their behavior unpleasant!

But when you close off the outside world and don’t seek to engage with others, some of these habits can go unnoticed, and therefore unchallenged or uncorrected.



Community can also be like the sun, helping you produce the much needed Vitamin D for your marriage. We’ve had instances in our marriage when we had storm brewing behind closed doors but had to honor prior commitments with others. Being out there and having to act kind and nice towards others (and my husband) ended up rubbing off on me. Spending the day, or some parts of the day, being good (or acting good) might open doors and create goodwill that did not exist before. You’ll be able to start working on your differences.

We learn differently .

Learning can happen in all sorts of ways. Sometimes we need to be taught things, other times we need to teach ourselves things. As a wife I’ve learned that my husbands likes to learn from watching other men do things as opposed to someone sitting him down and telling him what to do. So hanging out with others creates huge opportunities for our growth.

Some of those changes you want to see in your marriage might not come through the traditional ways e.g meeting your pastor, sitting down to hammer them out e.t.c. Most guys don’t like to be put on the spot. But when you hang out with other positive couples, he might see how other men treat their wives and how they carry on as husbands (it’s called learning with dignity!). You might observe how other wives treat their husbands and how they don’t personalize every little thing. These good habits might begin to rub off on both of you. Thing is and just like the sun, you have to leave your house and go out there in order to catch all the goodness!

Purpose to learn together, not apart.

I love church ministries, small groups and activities. What I don’t always like however, is activities and groups that always separate married couples. Gender based groups and activities are good, but you need couple centered interactions as well. We all have the same amount of days per week, and if you have to divide those between a women’s group, a men’s group and a couples group, it becomes a strain.

So it’s important to look out for church activities that provide opportunities for your growth and interaction as a couple. Don’t be so wrapped up in your women’s thing you forget your marriage needs. It might mean dropping out of something you love, or not picking up a ministry opportunity because you have to keep your priorities in check.

It’s easier for friends to call you out.

As a marriage writer, I receive many emails from wives, even husbands, seeking help for their marriages. While I do my best to help and counsel, I always want to find out if they are part of a community. If they have a mentor, a pastor, godly friends etc., who can walk with them through the challenge.

As one who has walked through fiery seasons myself, I know how hard it is to open up about problems.

One of the things that really helped our marriage in the early days, was having friends who were not afraid to tell us when we were messing up. I remember many afternoons, sitting with our couple friends in our living room, talking and ‘fessing up our issues, crying (we girls did all the crying), learning together. Times when our husbands would drive across town to seek counsel from one another, when they would stand outside in the dark, talking man things. And how they’d be transformed as a result.

Counseling is good. In fact we need counseling for deep-seated issues or “preventative maintenance”. But some things won’t need counseling if we address them at their infancy. Issues won’t become monsters when we have friends and a supportive community that keeps us accountable and in check. We fare better when we have men and women who have permission and a say over our lives.

So we need to start knowing people. Cultivate quality relationships so that they (and you) have access and permission in each others lives  when you need it.

You can develop your community, but it’s not easy.

My husband and I moved to the United States three years ago. And by that single act, we lost all our community! We’ve been trying to build new friendships and connections. Last week I told my husband I was done trying; no more reaching out, no more hopes, no more silent aspirations when we meet new people. I am soul-tired. My man sensed I needed to vent, so he allowed me to talk and listened and nodded. I have not given up on friendships or community, but I am learning it’s not easy to build from scratch.

Creating community is a delicate balance. Still we can create our own – a small tight-knit community or a huge rolling mix of people. Thing is you have to be ready to give yourself too. To go out of your way, not just once or twice, but all the time. To take an interest in others, invite people to your home, be there for coffee dates, release  – in fact encourage highly! – your husband to hang out with friends (and don’t be sour when he comes back!), keep an open door to your heart and home.

Being part of a community of people will be an inconvenience sometimes. You can’t do life with others from a place of comfort. You will have to make sacrifices e.g maybe miss out on extra pay because you did not pick up the extra shift because you had a life group meeting to attend. You don’t connect only when you feel like e.g you honor prior coffee dates with your girlfriend even when your own marriage is stormy.

Bottom line; God did not create us to do life alone. He made us for community, to know people and to be known.

And so we need to go out of our way to create these friendships and closeness because we need people and people need us.

 

Ngina OtiendeNgina Otiende is a wife and writer, who blogs at IntentionalToday.com where she encourages and equips the earlywed wives with tips, tools and resources to establish strong foundation for their marriage. She and her husband are passionate about making a difference in their world and are currently organizing a marriage retreat for Pastors and Leaders in their native Kenya. You can connect with her on Pinterest and Facebook.