Ask It! Our March Ultimate Marriage Reading Challenge

“While nobody plans to mess up his life, the problem is that few of us plan not to.”

So says Andy Stanley early in his book Ask It: The Question That Will Revolutionize How You Make Decisions. And today we’re going to talk about it and help YOU not mess up your life!

Book Review of Ask It by Andy Stanley

It’s our March edition of the Ultimate Marriage Reading Challenge! You just have to read one book a month–and every month is a different topic! And then I’ll give you a couple of choices (in case you’ve already read one book or in case not all books apply to you).

This is one of those months where not all books will apply. We’re talking about setting boundaries–how to make sure that you’re taking responsibility for the things that you are responsible for, but also ensuring you don’t overfunction and prevent other people from doing what they should do, and to ensure that you don’t enable sin.

I had four book suggestions, three of which were for women who really felt like they were doing too much in their marriage: Boundaries in Marriage, The Emotionally Healthy Woman, and The Emotionally Destructive Marriage (listed in order of severity of marriage problems). I’ll be looking at The Emotionally Destructive Marriage next week.

But what if you don’t have these kinds of issues in your marriage? Then I suggested the book Ask It, which is an amazing little book, and gives us help so that we don’t wind up with these sorts of problems in our marriage later (or in other relationships!). It’s just great wisdom for life, and I’d like to talk about it today.

Ask It: The Question That Will Revolutionize How You Make DecisionsThe “One” Question

Stanley starts his book by showing us rather convincingly that we don’t think ahead. We get into these messes that anyone could have seen were going to be messes, and then we feel trapped.

We spend too much money. Our marriage falls apart. Our kids struggle. And why is that?

It’s because we don’t focus on the right question.

Usually, when we’re trying to make decisions, we ask, “Is there anything wrong with this?” That’s how we get into messes. We can’t find a definite “no”, and so we justify doing really stupid things.

You don’t sit around looking for reasons to do the right thing; it’s the bad decisions that require creative reasoning.

The better question is this one:

What is the wise thing for me to do?

And he goes on to show that the question needs to be expanded, to this:

In light of my past experiences (including my specific temptations and shortcomings), in light of my current circumstances, and in light of my future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing for me to do right now?

Seriously, people. Do we know how revolutionary that is? Take just the issue of dating, for example. Many women end  up with total losers. They date people who don’t treat them well, and then maybe they end up marrying them. We all know women like that (maybe you even are one!) We all have sisters or friends who are in the midst of destructive relationships, and we so want them to get out.

And then they do–and six months later they’re with a carbon copy guy, moaning to us how there aren’t any good guys in the world.

But, as Stanley says,

“Why does every relationship end the same way?” In most cases the answer is, “Because every relationship started the same way.”

You meet the guy in a bar, or at a party where everyone’s drunk,  or through a friend who has substance abuse issues, and suddenly you wonder why you end up with losers. We have to stop doing what feels natural and start asking ourself, “is this wise”?

Neglecting Something Important Has Lasting Consequences

After setting up the importance of “the question”, Stanley then takes a look at our everyday lives. Are we actually doing wise things on a day-to-day basis? And he shows how often we’re not. When we fail to plan and fail to be wise, we end up neglecting the important things. And neglect has lasting consequences.

The health of your marriage tomorrow will be determined by the decisions you make today…There are rarely immediate consequences for neglecting single instalments of time in any arena of life.

That is so true, and to bring this back to the subject of this blog, I see this so much in the area of sex. When sex falls to the wayside, when we women diminish its importance and refuse sex consistently, or else just go through the motions without really throwing ourselves into it, we drive our husbands away.

We know that sex is important to a relationship, but in the day to day, when we’re tired, we often neglect it. Let me give you several of Stanley’s thoughts on this:

But in the areas that matter most, a burst of energy and activity cannot reverse the consequences that accompany a season of neglect…Relationships are built on small, consistent deposits of time. You can’t cram for what’s most important. If you want to connect with your kids, you’ve got to be available consistently, not randomly…If you are not walking wisely, your time will be fragmented by a thousand urgent, disconnected opportunities and events. Such opportunities and events will seem important at the time, but when strung together they have no cumulative value.

“Falling” Into Sin with Emotional Affairs

One area I really appreciated about this book was the chapters he spent on sexual sin, and especially how we “fall into” affairs. He tells an all-too-convincing story about how two people who work together end up in an affair not because they planned to, but because they failed to plan NOT to.

Let me give you just a few of Stanley’s words of wisdom:

Do you know why people are prone to make such foolish moral decisions? Because something always whispers to us that our situations are unique: Nobody has ever felt this way before.

But there is nothing unique about your circumstances, your emotions, your desires, and your passions. And as long as you deceive yourself into thinking that you are the first to feel what you are feeling, you will chase those feelings to the neglect of wisdom.

In terms of marriage, this book is worth the price just for the diagnosis of emotional and physical affairs, and for the advice on how to be wise and protect yourself.

The problem with an affair is that at each step, people start justifying their behaviour. “There’s nothing really wrong with texting a co-worker outside of work hours.” “There’s nothing wrong with grabbing dinner with him while on a business trip. We have to eat, after all.” “There’s nothing wrong with stopping by her house to drop off these papers.” And that’s how we do it–we ask ourselves, “is this really wrong?” But if we asked ourselves, “Is this really wise?”, we’d likely have a different response.

Quote from Andy Stanley's book Ask It

None of us plan–or intend–to get into trouble. The problem is, we don’t plan not to. (click to tweet!)

What is Beneficial?

I love that Andy Stanley brought up  1 Corinthians 10:23, because I use it all the time in my Girl Talk when I talk to churches about sex:

“Everything is permissible”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”–but not everything is constructive.

That’s such a great verse. It’s not about whether or not something is WRONG (everything is permissible, after all). It’s about whether or not it’s beneficial. Now, in the context, Paul isn’t saying that there’s no such thing as sin. What he is talking about is all of those grey areas that aren’t necessarily sin, but that we still struggle with. It’s not a sin, but is it wise?

I’ve used this verse specifically with sex toys. I’m not saying using a feather on your spouse or even making them lie still while you tease them is wrong–far from it! But there are some toys which basically recreate body parts and give you parallel sexual experiences, rather than enjoying stuff together. And the more that we focus on these physical elements, the less we’re likely to feel that sex is intimate. And who tends to reach orgasm the most in marriage? Those who feel the most intimate! Intimacy and trust are the best aphrodisiacs, and you can’t buy them at a sex shop.

I have more on that in several other posts, but I think when we’re trying to decide our boundaries in the bedroom, that’s a great question to ask!

Finding Mentors for Your Life–and Your Marriage!

Finally, Andy Stanley ends with a plea that we start learning to ask for help.

Wise people know when they don’t know, and they’re not afraid to go to those who do know. When wise people bump up against their limitations, they stop and ask for help.

I have repeatedly said on this blog that every couple should have a mentor couple–someone you can go to in times of crisis to ask for perspective and prayer, or someone you can bounce things off of if you just hit a wall and you can’t seem to agree. People who know you in real life and who care about you and who are godly themselves are the greatest resources we have.

Yet often we don’t turn to mentors. Why?

One of the primary reasons we don’t seek counsel from the wise people around us is that we already know what we are going to hear–and we just don’t want to hear it.

I see that often on this blog. I’ll write a long blog post explaining what you should do in a certain tough situation, and then people will comment with their terribly sad stories, saying, “I desperately need advice! Tell me what to do!” But I just finished telling you. The problem is that my solution often entailed them changing, or them doing something difficult. People don’t want to hear that. They want a magic solution–and most likely there isn’t one. Most major change only happens when we work through it.

Who Should Read Ask It?

Everyone! Seriously. It’s a great book for the Christian walk. I think couples could read it together at night (it’s such an easy read with lots of stories in it). It would give you something to talk about as you try to make decisions. But if youth groups read it with their teenagers, or college & careers groups read it together, that would be wonderful, too. Imagine if we could equip our young people to ask the right questions from the outset:

In light of my past experiences (including my specific temptations and shortcomings), in light of my current circumstances, and in light of my future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing for me to do right now?

I really encourage you all to read it! I thoroughly enjoyed it, and like Stanley says–I do think it will revolutionize how you make decisions.

If you read it, tell me: what was your favourite part? Did he help you see something in a new way? And tune in next week for our look at The Emotionally Destructive Marriage.

I’ll be sending out my “Round Up” Newsletter later today. I send it out maybe 3 times a year with more personal updates from my family, photos you won’t have seen on the blog or Facebook, and announcements of what I’m writing, where I’m speaking, and what I’m thinking about these days. If you aren’t signed up, you can do so here!

Top 10 Ways to Prepare for the Empty Nest

Top Ten Ways to Prepare for Empty NestToday 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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When Ministry Steals Your Husband

When ministry steals your husband--thoughts on getting balance back between ministry and marriage

A reader recently wrote me:

I just had a baby 8 weeks ago, and we’ve been married for two years. My husband was a new Christian at the time and a former drug addict. He is now in ministry, playing drums on the worship team, leading a Bible study at a local nursing home, street preaching, traveling around the Midwest rapping in concerts at churches, giving people rides (“Saint shuffling,” I had a friend call it), and helping with anything else our pastor needs help like building projects. On top of that, he has a job. We only have one night a week that he doesn’t have to rush off an hour after he gets home.

I feel like he’s married more to “his ministry,” than he is to me. The majority of the responsibility of taking care of the baby falls on me, so time is very precious to me. I’m often exhausted and don’t want to go to all of these activities. That makes my husband very mad, especially when the baby and I have had a bad night, and I won’t go to church in the morning… or evening. We have two services on Sunday, and one on Wednesday.

Yesterday our church did a concert on the lawn of a youth center in a bad neighborhood. I decided to go ahead and go. We were doing okay during the outreach part where we go door to door in the neighborhoods and invite people to the concert. I had an issue where I couldn’t set up the stroller by myself while holding the baby, and she was starting to fuss with all the noise of the concert. I had to hold her, while standing (all the seats were gone) for the whole concert and my back was hurting. I called and texted my husband–it went straight to voicemail. A friend let him know I needed help, but he said he had to stay at the front to pray with those who became Christians.

On the way home I was upset, but he said, “Well, I do love you, but souls were saved. That’s all that matters.” His words sliced right through my heart. I still haven’t gotten much sleep and when I wouldn’t go to church this morning he told me I’m making “poor choices that will affect our daughter some day.” I want to go home (four hours away in another state) to my parents, but our pastor told me I need to stop doing that and lean on my husband or it’ll destroy our marriage. I want to lean on my husband but how can I? He’s rarely home and the few hours he is, he either refuses to help, or will only take her for a half an hour as long as it doesn’t interfere with either his Bible studying, song writing or whatever else he “needs” to do. I feel trapped. What do you do when ministry comes above you and your family?

I feel so sad for this woman. She sounds just exhausted–with an 8-week old baby to boot! I remember that feeling. Katie, my youngest, didn’t sleep. Seriously. Only 9 1/2 hours over an entire 24 hour period (including naps). And yet when she was awake she was happy! She just didn’t need sleep. She sleeps more now than she did then. I felt like I was going crazy; for about 6 months I was just beside myself. And Keith was working hard and studying for his pediatric exams, so he just wasn’t there for me (he couldn’t have been). It’s a hard time.

But it does pass, please know that!

But my heart also aches for this woman, too, because I’ve seen this scenario play out in so many relationships–especially ones with new Christians. They were often addictive personalities to begin with, so they replaced a chemical addiction with a “God” addiction–they need to keep super busy and obsessed to feel healthy.

And here’s where things get fuzzy.

I do believe that some people are called to a specific ministry that means that their wives (or husbands or kids) will have to shoulder a burden alone.

Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson StoryI think of Billy Graham, whose wife Ruth talked and wrote about how she felt like she parented alone. Yet look at the ministry that God gave Billy Graham. I think of Ben Carson, the pediatric neurosurgeon who writes poignantly in his autobiography about how he missed his kids’ events and how his marriage suffered because his work was so busy. But look at the lives saved.

Sometimes God does call individuals to a life where their family will be a sacrifice. After all, someone needs to be president. Someone needs to make research breakthroughs. Someone needs to be a traveling evangelist. And these things can’t be done on a normal 40-hour work week. If your husband may fall into one of these categories, then pray hard, knowing that if God has called your husband, He will also equip you, just like He did Ruth Graham. He’ll give you energy when you feel depleted. He’ll lift you up if you feed on Scripture and make your life a living prayer.

But I think these kinds of callings are very few and far between.

When God calls you to a ministry where your family will suffer, I think there are two main tests:

1. Does he also call your spouse?
2. Is it to a specific work?

I think if God is calling you to something that will require so much time away from the family, he also gives a peace to the spouse that they feel called, too.

And that calling is for something specific–international evangelism, pediatric neurosurgery breakthroughs–not to just “ministry” in general, like in this letter. It’s not about being busy; it’s about being called to a specific work.

A Note to Wives Who Feel Like Ministry Has Stolen Their Husbands…

Usually I’d recommend talking to a pastor, but in this case it may not work, first because your husband may very well be the pastor, and second, because in many cases, like this one, the pastor is benefiting from the husband being sold out to ministry.

So get on your face and seriously pray for your husband and for your family. Ask for help from friends when you’re overwhelmed with being a mom.

Emotionally Healthy WomanAnd read The Emotionally Healthy Woman, one of our selections for our Ultimate Marriage Reading Challenge in March. Written by Geri Scazzero, whose husband was a super-busy pastor, she knows what it’s like to feel like a ministry widow. And she learned that she had to start quitting some things if she, and her family, were going to be healthy.

She thought that as a pastor’s wife she had to sacrifice herself and all her time and energy, too. But eventually she realized that wasn’t actually godly, and she made some changes in her own life that ended up changing her family for the better.

Together, she and her husband Peter also wrote The Emotionally Healthy Church, looking at how churches can stop over-burdening people and start building them up.

A Note to Wives Who are Too Into Ministry

But let’s not pretend that this is only a male problem. I have seen women get too busy with homeschooling, and running ministries at church, and volunteering. We can let “good works” stand in the way of our marriages. And when we do that, it’s easy to feel superior, like our husbands somehow aren’t as spiritual. One of my friends was so over involved at church and with homeschooling groups that she grew apart from her husband, and later divorced him because he wasn’t a strong enough Christian.

If you don’t have time just to hang out with your hubby and do nothing, you have serious issues. Jesus took time to Himself. We all need balance.

The Emotionally Healthy Church, Expanded Edition: A Strategy for Discipleship That Actually Changes LivesA Note to Pastors

Your church will not thrive if the marriages in it are hanging by a thread. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to tell some of your volunteers, “You’ve done enough. Go home.”

Now tell me: Have you seen marriages falter because one spouse has gotten too involved in ministry? How do you tell when someone’s done enough?

10 Things To Consider When Working with Your Spouse

Today, please welcome author Jill Lynn, who shares 10 key ingredients to working with your spouse, finding the balance to a thriving marriage and a successful business partnership. Yesterday we looked at the business aspect of working with your spouse; today here’s a look at the marriage aspect of working with your spouse.

Working with Your SpouseAbout eight years ago, my husband and I bought a small business. Our plan? That I would do the accounting and he would manage the rest. We were young and naïve. Many things have worked out over that time, but we’ve learned some lessons along the way. Whether you are already working together or just thinking about it, here’s ten things to consider when working with your spouse.

1.  The first thing to ask yourself if you and your spouse are considering working together in any capacity, is should we work together?

Is it right for you and your family? Some people barrel into working together, assuming that since it’s the easiest solution, or makes the most monetary sense, it’s an obvious choice. It’s not. Have open discussions about what each of your strengths are and if your marriage can weather this change in your relationship.

2.  Ask yourself if you really have the time the position would require.

Do you need to give up some other things to make it happen? For instance, if you have small children, where will you have an office? How will you carve out time for work? Are you going to hire a sitter a few days a week? Or perhaps someone to clean your home? Logistics matter. Being on the same page matters.

3.  Communicate.

Eight years ago, I was a stay-at-home mom, who loved my time at our family business. As it’s grown over the years, there’s been many times my husband and I have felt stretched beyond our skin. We can’t accomplish it all. We’re thankful for the work, but it feels unmanageable at times. In these moments, we always come back to one truth: there’s a choice in everything. Is this growth just for a season? Or do we need to hire more help? My role has changed from what we thought it would be to something different. We only came to that conclusion through open lines of communication. My husband doesn’t push me into what he wants. We consider each step—how it affects our marriage and also our family. We have to being willing to change and grow in our roles as the business changes. It would be very stressful if both of us weren’t open to talking about these unexpected twists.

4.  Put your marriage first.

You can rebuild a business. You can come back from it failing. You can come back from financial ruin (many have). But a marriage? That’s something my husband and I don’t want to put at risk. Our marriage existed before the business and we pray it exists long after. Pray for wisdom over the small things. And make sure your home life, family, and marriage are functioning well before attempting to add working together into the mix. Whatever you do, do not enter a time of working together when you are not at peace in your home and marriage. It’s only going to exasperate those troubled areas. When I see couples who are struggling in their business relationship, they are also often struggling in their marriage. Deal with these issues first. Don’t throw one stressful situation on top of another one.

5.  Discuss when it’s okay to talk about work and when it’s not.

When my husband and I go on a date, we do talk about work. But we don’t only talk about work. We talk about kids, dreams, whatever comes to mind. For us, this has been an organic experience. We haven’t had to put the business in a box that doesn’t enter personal conversation. But for some of you, this is going to be an issue. Again, be open. If a husband or wife wants to have an evening without any talk of the business, determine that ahead of time instead of silently seething that your partner doesn’t know you don’t want to talk about the business. If you’re working together, that means it’s a major part of your lives. Talk about where and when you feel it’s okay to have conversations about the business and when you’d prefer not to.

6.  Respect each other.

I can’t stress this one enough. I mentioned my husband respecting me by often checking on where I’m at, how I’m feeling about the role I’m in. I can’t tell you how much this helps in my desire to support our business. It also makes me want to be the same for him. I do my best to protect the time my husband needs to accomplish his work and make the business run smoothly.

7.  Complement each other.

Often, in business, as in life, we only talk about the things that need to be fixed or change. Remember to compliment your spouse on what they do well. Talk about each other’s strengths.

8.  Carve out a schedule.

I have always carved out a schedule for working and I’ve respected it. Yes, I could skip work and take my young kiddos to the zoo, but I put that schedule in place for a reason. My husband knows when I’m working and when I’m not. We both depend on that schedule. I’m not saying it never fluctuates, just that we both treat it as if I were working for another employer. Otherwise, it’s too easy to say you’ll just get the work done when you can… and when would that be? Between the laundry, the school volunteering, my writing? Without a schedule, I would never get the work done, therefore creating more stress for my husband. He has enough stress running a business. I want to be a help, not a hindrance.

9.  Have fun.

Don’t forget to laugh with each other and enjoy the path God has for you.

10.  Forgive.

Have grace for one another. When mistakes are made, remember we’re all human. We make mistakes. Yes, money matters. But relationships matter more.

Jill Lynn HeadshotFalling for Texas (Love Inspired)Jill Lynn lives in Colorado with her husband and two children. When she’s not working at the family business or playing laundry fairy, she writes Christian romance with themes of humor and grace. Her first novel, Falling for Texas, is available from Harlequin Love Inspired.
Connect with her at Jill-Lynn.com, or on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest.

 

Top 10 Truths About Clutter

Top 10 Truths About Clutter

My house is filled with a lot of stuff.

I try to stay on top of it, but sometimes it really gets away from me. And then, before you know it, there are certain closets I’m afraid to open or certain rooms I’m afraid to go in. I just don’t want to think about what’s on the other side of that door.

It’s exhausting.

Clutter Free: Quick and Easy Steps to Simplifying Your SpaceSo when my good friend Kathi Lipp sent me her book Clutter Free, I was excited about reading it. It isn’t just a to-do manual on how to get rid of clutter; it’s more a way to change your mindset on how you think about your stuff, and I found it so useful. Kathi is sharing a post with us today, but before she does, I have to tell you about one funny thing in my life that came about because of reading her book.

At one point she was talking about “bathroom product clutter”. You know what she means–all the different hair products you’ve bought over the years that you’ve never used, or all the different creams, etc. And she challenges us to take 6 months and either use it or chuck it. Here’s the deal: you’re not allowed to buy a bathroom product until you have gone through your bathroom and found something like it, and either used it or admitted you never will and throw it out.

So for the last two months I’ve been on a rampage to use my bathroom stuff.

It now takes me 15 minutes after each shower, because I have to use the cellulite cream, the body spray, the varicose veins ointment, the eczema cream, the foot cream, and the foot spray. But I smell great! And I’ve finally taken all the essential oils I own and actually started to use them again.

I love it! It’s a great book.

And now, here’s Kathi:

Has clutter stopped being a cute problem in your life?

Clutter is something we laugh about over coffee (like watching too much TV or, come to think of it, ordering that venti double frap “coffee”,) but for many of us, clutter is much more serious than a couple of piles left on the kitchen counter.

If you feel like clutter is stressing you out, you’re right. There are real, psychological and emotional issues with clutter. It’s not all in your head.

But clutter lies to you. Clutter tells you “It’s not that big a deal,” and “You’ll get to it later.” Only to cause you more stress as the piles grow.

So here is the truth about clutter- or more accurately – the Top 10 Truths About Clutter:

1. Clutter Makes You Live Poor

When you are buried in clutter, you don’t know what you already have, so you tend to hang onto everything out of fear. (I don’t know how many pairs of shoes I have, so I can’t give any away.) I’ve had some times in my life when I haven’t balanced my checking account for longer than I’d like to admit. So when I saw a need, it was hard to respond because I didn’t know how close I was riding to the financial edge.

2. But Dealing with Clutter Can Make You Generous

Information is power. When you know that you have two pairs of flat black shoes you wear all the time, you’ll have no problem giving away that third pair to someone in need. When you know that you have enough groceries to get your through the week, you can open your pantry to your neighbor who is going through some tough times.

3. Clutter Steals Your Joy

UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives and Families (CELF) studied 32 California families and the stuff in their homes, cataloging thousands of items in each residence. The resulting book, Life at Home in The Twenty-First Century, shares about the link between high cortisol (stress hormone) levels in female home owners and a high density of household objects. In other words, the more clutter, the more stress.

4. But Dealing with Clutter Can Bring Your Joy Back!

Simply by reducing the number of items in your home, you can reduce your stress levels and bring back peace. Stop right now and get clear off one surface around you – a desk, a counter, a table. Now enter the room and look at that blank space. There. Don’t you feel better already? Every time you clear out a drawer, clear off a surface, or gut a cabinet, you are reclaiming some happy in your life.

5. Clutter Costs You Money (Lots of it)

How many times have you re-purchased an item because you didn’t know where the first one was? How many late fees have you paid over your lifetime because your bills were all over the house? How many rebates have you found stacked in a pile that are past their mail-in date? How many fines have you had to pay because you couldn’t find all of the library books your kids checked out? Clutter is costing you money – and lots of it.

6. But Dealing with Clutter Can Actually Earn You Money

By selling those gently used clothes, donating those outgrown toys, mailing in those rebates on time, making an accurate grocery list (because you know what’s in your pantry,) not only will you save money, but you will add to the family coffers.

7. Clutter Can’t Be Organized

Stop buying more boxes, systems, totes and tools to organize your clutter. Clutter can’t be organized. But by digging through your clutter trash and recovering the treasures that lay in there (in every stack of twenty papers, there is one you actually need,) you can see what actually does need to be dealt with and organized.

8. But Dealing with Clutter Can Make You More Organized

Clutter constantly signals to our brains that our work is never done.” Says Sherrie Bourg Carter the author of High Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout. By dealing with our clutter, we can let our brain know that we are done with that project, and we can move on to another item, giving it the full attention that is deserves.

9. Clutter Hurts Your Marriage

As I’ve helped women deal with their clutter, I’ve heard time and time again how it hasn’t just affected the space in their homes, it’s also hurt their relationships. Fights over stuff. Laundry piled on beds and couches, making them unusable. Cluttered kitchens that are impossible to cook in – the list goes on and on. Clutter adds an extra layer of stress to a marriage that may already be stressed to begin with.

10. But Dealing with Clutter Can Improve Your Marriage – Quickly

Many of the ways to make your marriage better require both of you putting in an effort – not so with clutter. By eliminating clutter in areas where you and your husband connect (the living room, the kitchen, the bedroom,) you are immediately lowering your stress level, which can do nothing but make your marriage a better place to be.

Clutter is a liar. It makes you feel distracted, stupid and out of control. But once you know the truth about clutter you can fight back and regain your life.

Want to win the battle against clutter in every area of your life? Join Kathi’s 21 Day Clutter Challenge and regain your home – and your sanity. (just click through and sign up on her sidebar!)

Kathi LippKathi Lipp inspires thousands of women each year to take beneficial steps in their personal, marital and spiritual lives through purposeful living. With humor and wisdom, Kathi offers hope paired with practical steps to live each facet of our lives with meaning.  She is the author of 13 books including The Husband Project, The Get Yourself Organized Project, and I Need Some Help Here – Hope for When Your Kids Don’t Go According to Plan. She is the host of You’ve Got This! with Kathi Lipp and speaks at conferences across the US.  She and her husband Roger are the parents of four young adults in San Jose, CA. When she’s not doing laundry, Kathi is speaking at retreats, conferences and women’s events across the US.

Wifey Wednesday: Putting Your Husband First

Today, welcome guest author Kate from Making Space, a mom, wife and reader from the UK, who like many of us asks an important question, what comes first, children or marriage? Here’s what she says about putting your husband first.

Children or Marriage: Putting Your Husband First

This is what a normal day in our household looks like.

Jonas wakes up, if I’m organised enough I will have woken up before him to shower and get myself ready. I put him on the potty (and continue to do so regularly for the rest of the day), get him dressed, we go downstairs, I make him breakfast. I wash up all the dummies and beakers he used last night. I empty the dishwasher, and then load it, whilst talking to Jonas as he has breakfast. I get him down from the table, he plays whilst I have breakfast. I quickly load the washing machine and prepare his changing bag. A neighbour might knock on the door and come in for a quick chat. We quickly rush out the door trying to get to a toddler group on time, but often running 30 minutes late. We stay there until lunch and then walk home super quickly to get back in time for Jonas to have a quick lunch and then nap. He wakes about 2 or 3pm, leaving me a couple of hours to spend some 1-1 time with him, do cleaning, hang the washing, prepare dinner and do any other chores around the house for which there always seem to be many.

Engagement

Before Children

Around 5 or 6pm I am so happy to see Alan’s car pull up in the driveway. Honestly, not because I am excited to chat to my husband or give him a kiss for all his hard work in the office enabling me to be a stay at home mum, but because seeing him walk through the door means he can assist me in looking after Jonas, or sorting bits in the kitchen, or putting Jonas on the potty for the 20th time that day, or just lending a helping hand. Just doing anything which enables me a couple of minutes to breathe and have some time off from being a ‘mummy on duty’. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a mummy, but I think most mummies will understand, some days it is relentless and there is such freedom in being ‘off duty’ for even 5 minutes.

As I started writing this post, I was going to write about juggling things in motherhood, something I’m sure I will write about soon, but as I started typing I realised something. Sometimes, and probably often, my focus in my day is so much on my son, and my long list of chores or jobs to achieve, that I forget something equally as important. I forget something that was here before any of these ‘to do’s’ or ‘priorities’, I forget my marriage. I forget to give myself to my husband.

I spend so much of my day giving my best to my son, that when Alan walks in the door and we go through the strict paces of the dinner/bedtime routine for Jonas, there is very little of my best left to give.

By the time 7pm on a good day, or 8pm on a not so good day comes, and Jonas is asleep in his cot, this mummy is knackered. Desperate for some me time, just to do something other than give of myself, longing to chill or zone out. I don’t really want to hear about his day, because surely it can’t compare to the importance of him needing to hear about the events of our day, the laughs, the new developments, the tears or tantrums, the accidents or successes of potty training, surely my husband’s tale of the day can’t compare to this, right?

As I type this I am reminded of something one of my close friends once said:

Our husbands were there before we had kids and they will still be there after.

I guess the state of our marriage will be dependant upon the attention we give it during these years when it’s hard to give again when we have done so all day.

I think this will probably be a challenge for a lot of mums, especially in those early years when our little ones are so dependant on us. We can feel like we have literally given so much that we have emptied ourself of all energy, that there is none left to find.

If this resonates with you, I challenge you, like I challenge myself, to remember the one that was there first. To remember our husbands who have given us these precious children. And on those days when we literally feel like we have given above and beyond for our babies, to somehow muster up something else, to give to our husbands. To remember that when they walk in the door, although you may feel desperate for them to help, to take time to give them a kiss. Or when you feel like you have to tell them the events of the day because you haven’t had any other adult conversation within the last 4 hours, to remember, maybe they want to share their days events with you first. And when you hand them a list of ‘to do’s’, perhaps stop to think what this type of welcome might feel like to them as they step in the front door. Perhaps think that they may have had their own challenges or stress that day, and they may need a breather too.

And then remember this: we give to our children firstly because we love them, but also because we are investing in their lives. Don’t allow yourself to lose your love for your husband, but on the days that maybe you don’t feel it because you are so exhausted, remember you are investing in them too. Investing in your marriage, and when your babies have grown up, and flown the nest, your husband will still be there. And the success of our relationship will depend on what we put in now and how much we give to them now.

If this seems impossible, because you can’t possibly think of anyone else other than your little bundle of joy that is also a bundle of a lot of hard work, ask God for help. Ask Him for strength. Ask Him to show you little ways you can bless your husband, or help you to organise things so you have more time. Because the same is true of our children and our husbands; what we put in in the early years, most definitely affects what we get out in the later years.

Decide that what you get out of your marriage in years to come will be good!

Me-and-My-Boy-150x150My name’s Kate. Two and a half years ago I became a mummy. My life massively changed! I left my career, fell madly in love and started the biggest learning curve of my life. I have learnt many things since then but the biggest by far is that by the grace of God all things are possible. God has given me wisdom when I’ve needed answers, given me strength when I’ve been overwhelmed and given me capacity beyond my natural ability. I write a blog because honestly some days we all need something to read where we can find hope, encouragement or just a space to hear, it’s normal! You can find it here: Making Space.

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

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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 ChildrenFrom 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

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 MartinSarah 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

Wifey Wednesday: Why to Work Out as a Couple

Workout as a CoupleIt’s Wednesday, the day when we always talk marriage! Today welcome Jenn Faulk, who is sharing the life-changing effects and benefits that working out as a couple has had on her marriage. At the end, Jenn has a special gift for all my readers!

Four years ago, my husband was told that he needed to get fit… or else.

It was a doomsday diagnosis for us, a young pastor and his homemaker wife struggling to make a difference at a very difficult church. Stress levels were high but not nearly as high as my sweet husband’s blood pressure. When his doctor discovered this problem during a routine checkup, he told Wes there were two options — get fit or go on medication.

Like most young pastors and their wives, we doubted we could afford the medication, so we decided to go with the other option and get in shape together. Neither one of us could run a quarter of a mile at that point, so it was with great faith, anticipation, and even a little bit of fear that we signed up for our first race (so that we had a looming deadline on the calendar to keep us accountable) and began training, one tiny step at a time.

What we learned in the process was that getting in shape together, as a team, would do a lot for our health and abundantly more for the health of our marriage.

Here are just a few of the benefits we’ve discovered in working out as a couple.

1.  It makes you better teammates, on and off the pavement.

Communication is crucial in marriage, but it’s so easy to fall into patterns where we don’t adequately express ourselves or completely listen either one. In putting together a plan to work out together and actually making it happen, you’ll find that you’re more deliberate and intentional about communicating. I know that I’m never more communicative than when we’re eighteen miles into a race and I feel like dying. The freedom I feel at that point to say all kinds of things to Wes (some good, some not) honestly carries over to real life, where mundane tasks sometimes lull us into a routine that strangles real communication. Because we’ve learned to express ourselves in cheering one another on and supporting each other through physical challenges, we’re better able to keep our communication open in our everyday lives.

2.  It gives you goals to work towards together.

Remember when you first married and you had crazy dreams of all you’d do together? Everyday life and the routines we find ourselves in can sometimes rob our marriages of this wonderful practice. By tackling a fitness goal together, you’ll find yourselves dreaming big again! That first race we put on our calendar years ago gave us a definite goal to work towards together. It was such a blessing to us to have this common ground to keep coming back to and looking towards, even when life was, at time, difficult and challenging. As you work together to meet your goal, you’ll go through tough situations, challenging times, and celebrations. This only makes you better prepared for the very same experiences you’ll have in life as well.

3.  It gives you more time with one another.

When we started running, we had two preschool-aged children who sounded more like thirty preschool-aged children when they got worked up. (More like thirty wild chimpanzees. True story.) Time together where we could have coherent thoughts much less conversation was a challenge, but we loaded our girls up in a double jogging stroller packed with sippy cups, snacks, and toys and fought for those precious few minutes where we could run together. Now that our girls are older and more self-sufficient, life is still crazy busy, and the time we get to work out is sometimes the only time we get to be alone together. We guard it jealously and can honestly attest to how those miles covered side by side have been foundational in our marriage. That time alone together, even now, away from the demands of a busy home and the responsibilities that come with it, is priceless. (And the weekend trips away to go and run a race out of town, while the grandparents watch the girls? Bliss!)

4.  It makes the bedroom more exciting.

Speaking of those trips away (ahem), getting fit together makes for an all around boost in intimacy. If Wes had known this, he’d have gotten us into running much earlier, honestly. The confidence that comes with being in shape combined with the endurance that results from pushing your limits physically… well, need I say more?

5. It gives you another opportunity to glorify God together.

When we take the time to take care of our bodies as God calls us to do, we’re better equipped to serve Him. Getting in shape and adopting a healthier lifestyle alongside your husband benefits your health and his individually, making it far more likely that you’ll have more quality, healthful years ahead with which to serve Christ. We pray for daily health and strength to give back to Him as an offering, and staying in shape together has made it possible for us to do more than we could have imagined we’d be able to do this far into our ministry together.

This past year, Wes and I celebrated ten years of marriage by running our tenth marathon together.

One of the sweetest times of our marriage thus far has most definitely been the time we’ve spent running together, working towards better health alongside one another, putting our minds and hearts to a shared goal, and celebrating every finish line hand in hand.

In this season of fresh starts and new resolutions, let me encourage you to consider beginning to dream about, work towards, and meet fitness goals with your husband. It doesn’t have to be something huge to count. Start where you are and do what you can do, trusting that the effort you put into it will be of great gain down the road for your health, your life, and your marriage.

ResolutionsAs a special gift for all To Love, Honor and Vacuum readers.  She is offering her book Resolutions FREE on Kindle for January 14, 2015 only!

Check out her Amazon book page for other books Jenn has written, too.

Jenn FaulkJenn Faulk is a full time mom and pastor’s wife in Pasadena, Texas.  She has a BA in English-Creative Writing from the University of Houston and an MA in Missiology from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.  She loves talking about Jesus, running marathons, listening to her daughters’ stories, and serving alongside her husband in ministry.  You can contact her through her blog www.jennfaulk.com

WifeyWednesday175Now it’s your turn! Do you have some advice for us today? Link up the URL of your own marriage post in the linky below, and then remember to link back here so that other people can read these great marriage posts!

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Wifey Wednesday: Don’t Be the Christmas Doormat!

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

be a non-stressed wife this christmas

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

But wait, where’s mom?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STOP IT!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Some husbands may need the same encouragement.

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

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

What can you do for yourself this Christmas?

 

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

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

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



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

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

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

Yeah, that’ll teach him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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