Tuesday, July 22, 2014

My Guide to a Happy Marriage

My sweet husband and I recently celebrated our 11th anniversary. While I know this doesn't sound like a lot to some of you, in this age of quickie divorces I'm pretty thrilled to have made it this far. So, I got thinking, what advice could I give a newlywed or someone thinking about getting married?

Well, here it is (in no particular order):

My Guide to a Happy Marriage

1. Make Sure You Like the Person You Marry
    You might be thinking, "Duh, of course I LIKE the person I'm going to marry." But do you? Do you really? If you put away the butterflies and the mushy gushy feelings, do you like them as a person? In my opinion, it's more important to marry someone you consider a friend than it is to marry someone who sets you on fire!

2. Be OK With Your Spouse's "Habits"
    Everybody has little quirks that make them unique. Some are annoying; some are endearing, but we all have them. (I totally drool when I sleep) Despite what you think: THEY WILL NOT CHANGE. If your man is not  lovey dovey now, please don't think that he is going to start being Mr. Romantic after the vows. It ain't gonna happen. If you don't like the way your lady leaves her keys laying anywhere and everywhere, chances are that's not going to change. Either learn to live with whatever annoys you or don't take the plunge, but do not go in thinking you can "fix" the other person.

3. The Seven-Year-Itch is a Real Thing
    I don't know what it is about seven years, but I have talked to several folks who say the same thing. The seventh year of marriage is HARD. Really hard. Just trudge through it. Don't get discouraged. It can feel very lonely when you're going through a rough spot in your marriage, but know you are not alone. Seek the godly counsel of a friend who has already weathered the seventh-year-storm, seek couple's counseling if necessary. Keep James 1:2-3 close to your heart, "Consider pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance." Don't give up.

4. Don't be Disillusioned When it Comes to Kids
  Having a baby will not fix a troubled marriage and it will stress a healthy one. My husband I knew we wanted children. What we didn't know is how much they would change our marriage. We had planned to wait five years before having kids, but three months after our second anniversary we were pregnant with TWINS. Yeah, talk about a culture shock. We went from being basically newlyweds to a family of four. If you want to have kids because you think that precious being will pull your tired, crumbling marriage from the brink of collapse, think again. The stress of raising a family can push it over the edge. Think your marriage is solid enough to weather any storm? Children turn storms into hurricanes. Without a doubt, children are a major blessing, just know, be prepared, be mindful: A BABY CHANGES EVERYTHING.

5. Don't Try to be Their Parent
   You are both grown-ups and while it's tempting to try and parent your spouse when they're acting like a complete baby, don't. It only makes it worse. It also serves to belittle them in the situation. Remember that as ridiculous as they are acting, chances are that you'll act equally as ridiculous at some point in time.

6. Take Time for Yourself
    No matter how much you love your partner or how much you love spending time with them, being around someone 24/7 can get irritating. Find something you enjoy doing by yourself and take the time to do it. Go in a different room and read your favorite book, or go fishing or do anything that allows you to recharge your batteries. I sing in an interdenominational choir which practices once a week. Those few hours away from home doing something I enjoy makes me a better wife and mother.

7. Recognize That Different is Not the Same as Wrong
    When two people, with two personalities, live under one roof, things are going to get done two different ways. That's ok. If he doesn't fold the towels (or the shirts, or the underwear) the way you like them folded, please don't fuss. HE IS FOLDING THE LAUNDRY. Just because things get done differently, does not mean they are done wrongly...wrong...wronger (I dunno). Let go of your perfectionism and allow the other person some breathing room. Men, this goes for you too. If your lady decides to fix the toilet that runs constantly, please don't give her a play by play of how YOU would have done it. Instead, thank her for a job well done by taking her out for dinner. Ladies, just a heads up: men parent differently than women do. In our house that means a lot more TV, but as long as everyone is safe, healthy and happy, I have to remember...it's NOT WRONG, JUST DIFFERENT.

8. Explore Your Spouse's Interests
   Chances are you and your partner enjoy similar activities, but you also enjoy very different hobbies. My husband likes to fish and hunt. While I don't mind doing those things, I can think of activities I'd MUCH rather be doing. I like to sit and have meaningful conversations...my husband doesn't. But if a marriage is going to work, it's important to explore what makes the other person happy. I've gone hunting and fishing with my man; what he remembers is that I got out of my comfort zone to do something that was important to him. My husband is rather socially awkward, but I can't count the number of times he's gone with me to gatherings when he'd rather be at home playing video games. When you do something that is meaningful to your partner, you are saying, "I love you" without having to say a word.

9. Go on Dates
   Because we DON'T get to do this very often, I know how vitally important it is. Consciously setting aside time to rediscover each other helps remind you why you fell in love in the first place. If you can
go out on dates, or away on weekends, PLEASE do it. We don't have the money or the babysitters to do either, but we can still set time to watch movies after the kids go to bed, or play a board game, or just talk. Again, because we're not good at this, I know how important it is.

10. Be Aware of the Seasons
   Winter, Summer, Spring...? No. Your marriage is going to experience seasons. Seasons of plenty and seasons of want. And I'm not just talking money here. There are times when you cannot wait to get home to your fella or your woman. Then there are the times when neither of you are acting particularly loveable and you'd rather go lock yourself in the bathroom with a Hershey's bar than be around THEM. There will be seasons of joy and seasons of sorrow. There will be seasons of sickness and health. (This sounds a lot like marriage vows. Hmmmmm, coincidence? I think not.)  Thing about seasons is that they pass. The good times can't last forever, but neither can the bad times. You've got to walk through the shadows of the valleys to see the sunrise from the mountaintops. You can't give up just because it's hard, and you can't grow complacent because everything is awesome. Seasons change.

11. Marriage is Not 50/50
   Contrary to popular belief, each half of the marriage union needs to give 100%. Enough said.

12. Put God First
   There should be three people in your marriage. God, you and your spouse. If God is the head of the household all else will fall into place. When you honor your spouse with your life and your love, you honor the One who said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him." (Genesis 2:18). When both spouses see the need depend on God rough seasons are easier to get through and seasons of plenty are that much more joyous (See #10).

Thursday, July 17, 2014

What If?

"I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:12-13) 
What if you didn't know today could be any different than it is?

I mean, what if there was no Facebook or Twitter telling you what was "trending" right now (which makes it painfully obvious that nothing about you IS trendy)? What if you couldn't go straight from your laptop to the beaches where so many of your "friends" are having a fabulous time while you're cleaning up dog pee...again? What if there were no advertisements reminding you that your life is not complete because you don't own this or your looks are lacking because you don't wear that? What if there was no way to compare your way of life to someone else's?

What if?

What if we truly took life just as it is? Life with all its bumps and hills and mountains and valleys. What if we just took OUR road without detours to another's reality?

What if the girl down the street who ran out of diapers (and money to buy diapers) just started potty training or went to cloth diapers? No complaints, no tweets to the world that everything is against her, no "woe is me."  She just did what she had to do because that's what she had to do.

What if the man next door just started taking the bus or riding his bike when his only mode of transportation breaks down? No whining, no self-pity, just a determination to get to work because he has a job to do.

What if the elderly gentleman learns its cancer and immediately starts looking into options because his time is limited and he knows his life is his alone. Moaning won't make the cancer go away, but chemo may halt it.

What if the mother stopped Google-ing every parenting technique under the sun because she thinks her kids aren't measuring up? Because she thinks SHE isn't measuring up. Because all the other mothers parent waaay better than she does.

What if?

What if we started living our lives instead of wanting to live his life, or her life, or that rich couple's life? What if losing was as rewarding as winning because we knew it had the potential to make us better? What if we stopped asking, "Well, why does she (fill in the blank)?" or "Why does (fill in the blank) ALWAYS  happen to me?"

What if everything we do was to the glory of the One who made us? What if He were the only one worth impressing? What if our lives were authentic? Not a show for the congregation, or Facebook friends, or Twitter followers, or mom groups or work colleagues.

What would all of that look like?

True contentment...

Friday, July 11, 2014

What Do You Choose? (Pt. 2)

I sit here still thinking about JOY.  How I have to step out of myself to choose joy. Today, right now, this minute.

It's been a week since we buried our precious Jesse. Sorrow and mourning have outweighed happiness 2:1. There are times when the pain is so raw it feels as though I'm being ripped apart. But then it occurred to me:

Happiness is not the same as joy.

Feeling happy is based on the situation, based on emotion. As much as I would love to, I can not be happy all of the time. It's impossible.

But I CAN be joyful...All of the time.

Why? Because joy is a fruit of the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22) Joy is knowing God. Joy is knowing He holds your hand while happiness is fleeting. Joy is a choice because it is not based on emotion. Joy is the act of thanking the One not because things are going great, but just because He is.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

What Do You Choose?

The rain today matches the mood of most of the family.
Or is it their moods match the rain? I don't really know. What I do know is that dark clouds hover over the house like a potential downpour.
Tongues lash like sparks of lightning, and tears fall like the rain outside my window.
Me? I feel tossed like a leaf in the storm's wind. Flitting here and there, but not really making an impact anywhere I go and then another crisis arises and the draft floats me over there.
The rain, as gloomy as it may seem, pounds blessings into the earth. One drop at a time, the parched ground gets seeped in life giving water.
As eager as I am to share the blessings of the day, it seems to fall on deaf ears as the din of life overpower the joyful words I'm trying to give. There is so much negativity. So many complaints. So much anger. Why? There is so much to be thankful for. So much to rejoice over. But there is nothing but complaints. Have I really raised my kids to be so self centered? It's sobering. They can't look past their own momentary discomfort to see the joy that someone else is experiencing. The bad attitudes pour over me and I feel like I'm drowning in them.
Joy. Where does it come from? Because it's not abiding here. Joy has to be a CHOICE. Choose joy, choose love, choose blessings, even when the world (the household) is choosing something else. It's not the easy choice. It's easier to fall in the pit of despair with everyone else and wallow in the gloom that surrounds. It's more difficult to throw down a rope of joy and offer a way out. Showing them that a positive attitude brings about more rainbows than rain clouds.  
Not everyday is going to have a silver lining. Some days are going to be rainier and stormier than others. It's in those times, when a glimmer of light is hard to find, that we have to choose to be the light.
We have to choose joy. 
CHOOSE. Joy. Today. Everyday.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

TV is Bad for My Brain...Or is it?

I love my Netflix account.

There are no commercials, I can pick what I want to watch, when I want to watch it, and I have control over what the children are watching. Want to watch the entire series of 30 Rock? Yes, please. Done and done. Does my husband want to watch The West Wing...again? Why, yes he does. Netflix also allows me to watch things I normally wouldn't, like 19 Kids and Counting. A show about the Duggar family who have19 children.

God bless 'em. I admire their steadfastness to the Lord. I admire that they manage a family that large with no debt. I admire that the children (all of them) seem to genuinely respect their parents. This is where TV is bad for me.

I have four kids. ONLY four kids. Where Michelle Duggar can manage her whole brood AND homeschool without raising her voice, I yell. Her kids help each other, and help around the house, mine complain and the baby bites when he doesn't get his way. She was honorary duck master at some fancy hotel, I'm...well, my ducks aren't in a row.

This is why TV is bad for my brain. It brings to life all of my fears of failing as a parent. All of these other parents are not only doing a fabulous job, but they're making money at it by having a hit television show.

These ducks are so not in a row
On second thought, it's not TV that's bad for me, it's crippling insecurity. Insecurity that I'm screwing up this parenting gig, or insecurity that I'm not enough for other people. Or insecurity that I'm way too much for other people. What's bad for me is the need to compare all I do (or don't do) with everyone else, and THEN base my worth on what (I perceive) they think about me. It's a very lonely place to reside.

1 Corinthians 10:31 tells me that whatever I do I need to do it for the glory of God. It mentions NOTHING about doing things so that others will praise me, or so that I can feel better about myself. Everything, not some things, not just the "holy" things - everything- should be done for the glory of the Lord.

Paul goes on to rub salt in my wounds by asking in Galatians 1:10, "Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings or of God?" How do YOU answer that question? I know how I'd answer it and it's sobering. The verse goes on to say, "Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ."


I can't serve both parties. Either I serve man, or I serve Christ.

A conscious decision has to be made today, this hour, every minute. Who am I going to serve? Am I doing what I'm doing for the glory of God or for the accolades of others? I know what I want the answer to be, but putting it into practice is another story.

Philippians 4:13 reminds me that, "I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me."  ALL things. And "all things" include transforming my mind to think about what God wants from me and not about what I think man wants from me.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

When Things Are Bad...

When things are, bad. I mean REALLY bad. Just remember they could be worse...you could have your head stuck up a buffalo butt.
Things to ponder...

Monday, July 7, 2014

Finding Time for Me

Right now the house is empty. The only sound is that of The Big Chill blaring on Netflix. All four children have been dropped off at Vacation Bible School and the hubs is at work. There is so much I need to be doing. Dishes need washed and floors need vacuumed, laundry needs folding. The house (as usual) is pretty messy. But, truth is, I haven't had "me" time in so long that I'm honestly not sure what to do with myself. With everything that needs to be done, all I WANT to do is watch movies that can't be on while children are in the house (hence The Big Chill), I want to eat junk food that I don't allow the kids to eat and I want to spend my time selfishly.

That's exactly what I plan to do...but not for long. I was not created to be a selfish being, though that's what my flesh tells me to be. God calls me to loves others before myself. This alone time I have is fabulous, but it's fleeting and insignificant. Soon the movie will be over and the junk food will be gone, but my family and all that REALLY matters will still take precedence.
Me, me, me, me, me!
So, why do I feel so guilty? Guilty about taking "me" time? Maybe it's because I'm not nearly as selfless as I'd like to believe. Instead of cleaning the house so my kids have a comfortable place to live, I'm on Facebook. Instead of making a healthy meal, I'm watching a movie on the computer that's on the counter. Instead of playing cars with my baby, I do...something else.

Truth be told, I take a lot of "me" time.

 More than I want to admit.

Why do I feel so guilty? Because I'm NOT created to be a selfish being, but that's exactly what I've become.

Praise God, His mercies are new every morning. Tomorrow can be different. Tomorrow there is another chance to truly put others before myself. God's still working on me, and I'm glad He is. I'm glad the Spirit gnaws on me enough to face the (ugly) truth. Through Christ, I can do better.  Tomorrow when the kids go to VBS, maybe "me" time will be that much more sweet.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A Day Set Apart

The week is filled with busyness. Busyness caused by jobs or home or of our own design. The Lord found the need for rest. It says that he had finished the work he'd been doing and on the seventh day rested from all his work (Genesis 2:2).
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest
Matthew 11:28

Sunday is a day set apart. It is a holy day for rest.
"You don't understand. I have to work on Sunday."
Oh yes, beloved, I understand. My husband works a second job on Sunday. My PASTOR works on Sunday. My nurse friends work on Sunday. But God calls us to a higher rest than one that is just physical.
A rest from worry? Yes.
A rest from burdens? Yes.
A rest from turmoil? Yes.
Stop cultivating the thoughts that bring about worry. After all, "can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?" (Matthew 6:27) Drop the cares that create a burden so heavy you falter under the weight. Hand over the turmoil to the one who already sees it. He may not stop the storm, but He'll walk you through it.
Slow down and recognize the presence of the One who is holy. Seek His presence in your jobs, in your homes, in yourself. If the creator of the universe, the Alpha and Omega found the need to rest, who are we to stay busy?
Finish your work, lay down your burdens.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

There Are No Words

I'm being a lot more patient with my two-year-old lately.

Nothing has changed. I haven't read some awesome parenting books that teach me how to remain calm when he's screaming at a pitch that could break glass. I haven't figured out how to make him stop his tantrums or his hitting.

From what I have read, (which is A LOT) this is all normal for him. He understands, comprehends, and takes in so much, but is not able to verbalize what he wants or needs. Or sometimes, he is verbalizing it with a "no" and a sibling does not recognize or respect what he says. As he doesn't have much self control yet, a series of screams, or hits, or tantrums lets the world know that he's not happy.

He doesn't have the words.

The reason I'm being more patient with him is because I'm right there too.

There are no words.

The lack of words leads to
an abundance of frustration
My emotions are so jumbled and my heart is so heavy and situations around me are so confusing that there. are. no. words.

In the absence of my means of expression, there is the urge to scream and cry and hit and stomp and slam.

When it's all bubbling up and words aren't coming or they're not adequate to what I want to say, the tears start flowing. I want to jump and hit and yell because the pressure welling up inside is so great that if I don't do something I'll explode.

So much that I want to say, but again the words aren't there. And even if they were would anyone want to hear them?

There is One who hears the groaning of my heart. One who knows what I need without me uttering a word. I am so grateful for this, because I have not even the words to pray.

Scripture reminds us (me) that "the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans." (Romans 8:26) That is all I have: wordless groans (and a tantrum or two).

This feeling of helplessness is not something I'm used to, but I'm sure my son understands. I'm being more patient and kind with him for we share a nonverbal kinship. I may even join in a scream or two. Right now, I'm just trying to work through feelings- awful, painful, confusing, mixed-up feelings- with the trivial amount of self control that I have.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy Fourth!

Nothing says independence like homemade bottle rockets at the Science Center. 

Be safe and God Bless America

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Five Reasons the Kids Had Meltdowns Before 8 a.m. (And It's All Good)

This morning has been a zoo around here. Everyone is whining and complaining. My husband has already dubbed it a nap day, but the bad moods don't bother me.

Here is a list of why the kids' crankiness is totally worth it:

1. They were up late catching fireflies

2. After catching said fireflies, they stopped for homemade chocolate chip cookies

3. During the late bedtime, the twins were listening with rapt attention as we near the end of their first Hardy Boys mystery

4. The princess read "Hop on Pop" to her daddy and it took a loooooong time

5. We spent time as a family

Normally, I (and the kids) strive on routine. Bedtime, though later in the summer, is early enough to give everyone plenty of rest, so we can avoid the unpleasantness of the next morning. Sometimes, however, it's important to let the schedule fly away with the fireflies and just enjoy the time that's chocolate chip cookie sweet.

This summer will never come again. Soon my five-year-old will be reading to herself and we'll miss her patient little voice, brimming with pride as she reads Dr. Seuss for all the world to hear.

School starts in five weeks. There will be no time for tandem twin bug hunting and shouting for jars when the twinkling prizes have been caught.

Schedules are guidelines, not straightjackets . Run with it. Grumpiness can be alleviated by a nap, but the memories will last a lifetime.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

An Ordinary Day That is Anything But

We were hanging out at our favorite state park, swimming, enjoying family time, but my mind wasn't really there. Every time I got up to get something from our bag, I'd check my phone, fearful I'd missed the call.

While my family was laughing and splashing and basking in the warmth of the sun, another family was gathered around a loved one, wondering if this breath would be his last. The contrast of the two scenes startled me as it seemed like something out of a movie. It was like I was in both places at once though I was physically in one and mentally in the other.

On the way home, my phone rang with a number I didn't recognize. My heart dropped into my stomach as I answered. It hadn't happened, but the time was drawing near. Very near.

Our beloved Jesse Miller
June 21, 1949-July 1, 2014
The news finally came a little after 8pm. "He's gone." I looked at my husband, repeated the same words and called the children to let them know their beloved Papa Jesse had gone to be with Jesus. They knew the time was coming. They'd seen him lying in his hospice bed numb to the pain by so much morphine.

No one cried. Everyone looked deflated.

This was just 12-hours ago and yet it seems a lifetime. I had imagined how I would react when I'd finally get the news. I figured I'd double up with a pain that was more than I could manage. I figured I would cry, weep even. Just two nights ago I was gathered around his bedside with his wife and son and was overcome with such emotion I was nauseous and had to leave.

Right now there's nothing.

This lack of feeling frightens me. When I was in labor with my little girl, the epidural made my legs go numb and it made me panic. I need to feel. Even if it's pain - I need to feel.

My heart is heavy. So heavy, in fact, it feels as though it's encased in lead. This lump in my chest is the only reminder that emotions may be present. If they're there, they are buried under something so deep that when it erupts I fear I may be empty.

My kids are up, life is going on as normal. But it's not normal. It seems ordinary. It's anything but ordinary. We are going to have to learn to live a life that is void of an extraordinary man. A wife has to learn to live without her husband, a son has to learn to live without his father. Friends have to learn to live without a man who was joy itself.

For me...I have to learn to live without a man who taught me what living was. He showed me what a loving husband should look like (my parents are divorced). He showed me that loving and supporting your kids doesn't stop when they graduate or turned 20...or 35. Jesse loved his friends and family with such fierce abandon. He loved his church.

He loved life and showed it with everything in him. Now, the rest of us have to figure out how to live life without him.

Right now that's a pain I don't think I can bear.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Summer Fun (for cheap!)

We're a one-income family and with four kids, we have to get creative when trying to find fun things to do. In the summer, or anytime really, heading to a state park is a wonderful (and frugal) activity for the whole family.

Lots of room in the Olympic size pool for my boys to play
Today we travelled less than an hour to Staunton River State Park. Completed in 1936, this state park was one of six that opened simultaneously in Virginia and thus launched the Virginia state park system. With the introduction of Staunton River, Douthat, Hungry Mother, Fairy Stone and Westmoreland State Parks, most Virginians were within an hours drive of nature and all that she had to offer. There are now 36 state parks in the Commonwealth and each offers something for everyone.

Fun times!
What keeps us coming back to Staunton River year after year is what my babies have affectionately nicknamed, "the frog pool." While the park offers an Olympic size pool, when we started going there, none of my kids were big enough, so we spent many lazy hours in the Pollywog Pond, a wading pool with toys and a slide geared towards the littlest guppies. My three oldest are now too big for the baby pool, (which is rather sad) but the baby is learning to get his feet wet on the same froggy slide they did.
My son took this, and you can juuuust see
 the Pollywog Pond in the background

If swimming really isn't your thing, most state parks offer hiking (some on paved trails which are handicap accessible), guided programs and lots of other stuff to do. There is usually a nominal parking fee ($3 is what we paid today), and if you're hiking or picnicking, that's all you pay. Swimming and some activities have other fees, but it's incredibly reasonable.

See you soon at a state park!
The next time your kids say they're bored, or you feel like the school year can't come soon enough, pack up the family, pack up a lunch and head to a state park near you. Make the most of these long lazy days and make some memories.