Baby Steps in Ministry in the Home

In an ideal world a marriage would consist of a saved husband and wife, happily going to church each Sunday and sharing a love of God by also ministering outside of the church. More common, however, is a couple with all sorts of baggage that they bring into the relationship and often only one of the two is a saved Christian. In my case, I was a very new Christian when I fell in love with my husband. I had not yet grown up in my salvation (1 Peter 2:2). I had not read enough of the Bible to understand how difficult it would be to be unequally yoked. Now, as a woman a bit older in my faith, I see several verses about not committing to an unbeliever. Check out 2 Corinthians 6:14, Amos 3:3, 1 Thessalonians 5:21, Ephesians 5:7 or Isaiah 52:11.

As I truly do love my husband, I am relieved to read that Paul told the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 7:12-14) that if you are married to non-believer to stay with that person unless the non-believer wants out of the marriage. If you stay and can be a Godly example to them, you may have an opportunity to bring them to their faith. Now here is where it can get sticky. What if you are active in your church and outside of the church as your ministry pulls your time and attention away from your spouse? Your husband or wife may feel resentful and neglected.

Early in my faith and my marriage I had a serious conflict. As Christians, we are commanded to tithe (Malachi 3:10) but also commanded to be submissive to your husband so that if they do not believe the word, they can believe by your example (1 Peter 3:1-6). I asked my pastor “Do I tithe or listen to my husband who thinks that 10% is too much?” He told me to listen to my husband. I felt like I was cheating the church and robbing God. I felt like I would never get the big blessings that the book of Malachi talks about. I am thankful that I trusted my pastor and continued to do my fool headed best at being a good wife. Years later, I am tithing with my husband’s knowledge and no guilt.

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My husband never stepped foot in the church to see our firstborn child get Baptized. For our second child, he came to the church and sat in the very back row. For our third child, he sat closer to the front. Baby steps. Eventually, he went to a concert where a Christian artist performed. More baby steps. He also began to come to church on Christmas and Easter. Later he attended more regularly if I would ask him to. Baby steps. Now, 30 years into our marriage, he attends without being asked, seems to enjoy the sermon and even stays afterward for coffee in the fellowship hall. He volunteered once or twice to serve breakfast for a mission group I am involved in and just this past Christmas he began to sing instead of staring blankly at the church screen that shows the readings and the Hymn lyrics. Baby steps. Perhaps, one day, he will come to the Lord as I have. I must always remember that his salvation is in God’s time, not mine.

So I ask you, is your ministry taking time away from your husband or your wife? Remember that although God should be first in your heart, your spouse should be the most important person you minister to. Make sure it is in a way that he or she feels comfortable with. Your ministry to your mate should be subtle and loving, not badgering or placing blame or guilt. If you ever find yourself saying things like “Why are you watching that show?”, or “When was the last time you went to church with me?” then you will fail epically. I know. I was always pushing self-help and religious books on my husband, and playing the guilt card. It never worked. When I understood that he was curious but skeptical, I took the pressure not only off of him, but also off of myself. I began praying that I would continue to be a good example, but also that some Godly man would come into his life and show him that it is not nerdy or weird to love God. Several years ago we met a lovely couple on our camping vacation. Although we live in different states, we became friends. The two men get together often for weekend kayak trips and I cannot help but to wonder if the time we all met was about the time Jimmy started attending church more often. As the old saying goes……..God works in mysterious ways. Allow your ministry to shine at home as well as outside of the church.

Do You Hear Him?

0722171625I’m a talker. Always have been. It’s a curse, for the most part, you know, the cross I must bear. Sometimes when I am vomiting at the mouth, I am completely unaware that someone else is interjecting a comment or forming an opinion about what I am saying.

Last month I had a friend comment to me that when she and her husband double date with us, she feels that my husband disrespects me in conversation. I had no idea what she meant until she gave specific examples of comments he would interject when I was telling my story or relating a goal or dream. Comments like “Oh, right! And I’m going to win the lottery” or “Like that will ever happen” were quotes that I must have learned to ignore when the floor was all mine. I spoke to my husband privately about what my friend had observed and hoped that he took what I said to heart, but honestly, it made me wonder if I too interrupt, interject and ignore the feelings of others when they are speaking.

Learning to listen more than I speak is a skill and an art that I am still struggling with. I love the fact that God gave us two ears but only one mouth. I guess I should learn to use them accordingly.

If you read the Bible, you may remember Ecclesiastes 3:7 – “A time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak.” If you are not a Bible reader, maybe you heard a similar sentiment in the song written by Pete Seeger in the late 50’s, then released in 1962 by the folk group the Limeliters but not becoming a big hit until 1965 when the Byrd’s sang Turn! Turn! Turn! Either way, there are definitely times to just shut up and listen.

I vaguely remember other Bible verses where Jesus talks about listening. In Matthew 11:15 he is speaking about John the Baptist, and says “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Also in Proverbs 1:5 we are instructed to “Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance.”

Do I listen before I speak, or while someone is talking am I already thinking of my retort? When someone is relating a story am I thinking of a similar story to one-up the one being told?

Not listening to your husband or others is not indicative of a hearing problem. It is more likely symptomatic of a problem of the heart. What makes my story or life experience more important? Nothing! The person speaking deserves my undivided attention.

When I dismiss the rare times my husband opens up to me, I am disregarding his desire to share. I am not loving him in a way that will allow him to open up to me more in the future. If I am more concerned with my answer or solution than just allowing him to confide then I may have missed the point of him sharing with me in the first place.

Who says that New Years Day is the only day we can make resolutions? From this day forward, I resolve to listen more than I speak. To hear what people have to say. To stop jumping in and trying to fix the problem. To simply allow. Perhaps this will allow even God’s voice to be more clear to me.

Proverbs 19:27 “Cease to hear instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge.”

New Year Self Care

 

In the new year, most of us set some sort of specific goal or resolution like “lose 10 pounds” or “go to the gym three times a week”. Half the time we never keep the resolution. All of the countless self-help, leadership, and personal development books seem to say to set specific goals and what steps you will take to achieve them. Despite my best intentions, often I still fall short. So, this year my resolution will be general, not specific. It will be meaningful but perhaps not as tangible as the number on a scale or the bill from the gym. My goal will be to fill myself up before I can serve others. I love the saying that you cannot serve anyone with an empty cup.

Now, what my self-care may look like can be transient and change from day to day. Today it includes putting down my phone and reading an entire book while relaxing on the couch. “No, I am sorry I won’t walk the dog right now, honey. I am in the middle of a good part of this novel”. Tomorrow it may be “Yes, darling. I’m going to do the laundry right after my run.” Selfish? No. Self-care? Yes.

Remember that self-care in a relationship is paramount. You must be filled with your own good health, happy thoughts, and mental clarity before you can, in fact, be of any value in a relationship. When we first got married, I assumed that I would be so busy taking care of Jimmy and he would be so busy taking care of me that it would all work out. Now, after 30 years of being with a man who has so many more complexities than I ever imagined, I realize that I need to take care of me first, with no guilt. If I have to put aside an errand that he wants me to do because it conflicts with my self-care, I assure him that it is simply not on the agenda for the day. I offer to delegate it out to someone else, do it another time, or simply say “I just can’t fit it in”. He understands and likewise, I don’t expect him to immediately jump to a task I would like him to do around the house.

Enjoy your day, your week and your new year with the goal of happiness and not a number on a scale. Go for peace in the home and not a number, chart or measurement you may fall short of. Try self-care followed by serving and you will have a new appreciation for the “serving” portion of the relationship.1015162352a_burst02

 

Life After Infidelity

Ephesians 4:32  “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave  you.

Has it been 4 years or five? I asked myself this question at a recent book signing. The woman purchasing my book was asking how long it had been since I discovered my husband texting another woman. I chuckled to myself as I realized that I could not remember if it was four years or five.2013-01-19-19-44-57-1

If I really want to, I can still dredge up the memory of when the pain was so fresh, so raw, so real. Each day brought a song on the radio that made me sad. I may be innocently walking through the grocery store and see the back of someone’s head that had the same color or style hair that she had. Maybe I was just cooking dinner and my husband was late getting home from work. There went my mind, wandering again and thinking of a dozen inappropriate reasons why he might be late.

If you are the recovering spouse of an affair, do not think that forgiveness will make all of those hurt feelings simply go away. Forgiveness is just the beginning of what may take up to a full year to get through, and a lifetime to fully understand. With my situation, it felt similar to the loss of a loved one. It was in fact, a loss of trust which can be just as painful. As with the loss of someone dear to you, that first year seems so difficult. The first Christmas without them, the first time their (or your) birthday comes around you are tempted to feel that loss. It is the same thing for the recovery process in getting through the affair. I remember the first Chrismas after the infidelity thinking about what a crummy gift I had received the year before when he was giving her a much nicer present. The first birthday after the affair I lamented about how the last year he had snuck out to see her after giving me a 99 cent card and a cake from the grocery store.

If you and your partner have decided to rebuild the marriage, think of it as reconstructing a house. You may have to start from the foundation and work you way up. If that is the case, then expect some sawdust, splinters, and drywall dust as you work on this new and improved “house”. Expect that you will have days where you hardly think of the infidelity at all, and other days when all you can do is feel like a failure. Be strong. Good times do come if you are faithful in your commitment to continue to love this person.

The best advice I can give is to avoid the huge temptation to play the guilt card. For about a year or two after the affair, when I felt that I was not getting the kind of attention, love, or time I felt I deserved, I would work into the conversation that she got the texts in the middle of the day or the lunch at a restaurant on a weekday and I didn’t. I felt it really set us back as a couple, as Jimmy was truly trying to put this behind him, and there I was, throwing it in his face again. Why? Was it just to get a little more attention? Did I think making him feel guilty would make him drop everything that was going on in his life and fawn over me like a lovesick teenager? It was a bitter pill I had to swallow to step back and realize that he was trying his best and still is trying  to be the best man he can for me. Am I doing the same to be the best woman I can for him? I think of Galatians 6:9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

     Continue to love, respect, honor, enjoy and laugh with your spouse. Keep the lines of communication open and honest, and eventually, you too will be scratching your head saying “Hmmm, has it been four years, or five?”

Keeping Intimacy Alive

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Marriage can be a delicate balance of the mundane and the passionate, the ordinary and the romantic. For many, mundane and ordinary take precedence over the passion and intimacy. When you were young and madly in love, I bet you never thought it would get so vanilla. It is common for intimacy to lessen, but only if you are the average couple. If you want a stellar relationship, you have to be above average and willing to work at a continuing development of the partnership.
Comfort in the relationship is often the reason why our intimacy lessens. A wife may feel like she can get away with coming home from work and donning the sweat pants. A husband may let that beer gut protrude a little more.  A busy lifestyle with distractions like TV shows, attending the kid’s concerts and sporting events can leave little time for each other.
Can you start to recreate that spark by spicing things up in the bedroom? It keeps the mystery alive. Recently my husband surprised me by taking out the back seats of the “mom” van and filling it with pillows and blankets. He drove me to a secluded place and made love in the van like crazy teenagers.
Once in a while, I will take my husband on a mystery date. The latest one was to take him to a winery where we enjoyed painting our own set of wine glasses as we drank.  Now, every time we use the glasses, we are reminded how much fun date night is, even after 30 years of marriage.
When you have been married for years and years you may feel like you know everything about them, but you will never fully know your partner, as we are (and should be) always evolving, growing, learning and changing. Therefore, it should be fun and easy to continually attempt new things. Perhaps a new genre of book you can read together, a different restaurant, meeting new friends, going up to a couple you have never met at coffee time after church and chatting with them, redecorating a room together, learning how to play a game or sport that only the other spouse excels at are just a few ideas that come to mind.
Some of my married friends feel like they are living separate lives from their spouse and think that it is healthy to maintain some autonomy. I am not entirely sure that couples should maintain separate lives. I never enjoyed drinking and dancing on date night. I prefer dinner and a movie. But, when my husband complained that I never liked the bar scene, I was totally fine with him going out with his male friends to tie one on. Later I discovered that the man he hung out with was divorced and that they would dance with women they met. The seemingly innocent night out with the guys led to an affair that I had discovered had been going on for about 5 or 6 months. When he and I decided to resurrect the marriage, I had to learn how to enjoy an occasional drink and to be ok with looking like a fool on the dance floor.  It was a lesson for me that my husband didn’t care how stupid I looked dancing around. He just wanted a fun night with his wife. When I stayed home or worked an evening job, I deprived him of the opportunity to enjoy being with me.
That being said, we do enjoy different things. He loves to shoot his bow and arrow at a target range. I love to grow organic vegetables. He likes Clint Eastwood movies. I don’t.  Do you see where I am going here? It is fine to have different interests that make our lives richer for being able to share our differences. I enjoy watching him shoot at the target and he enjoys eating my garden goodies.
If you think you have seen it all, it is time for a meeting. Yes, I know, it is no fun to have a board meeting with a spouse, but often times you must approach your mate with your concerns and your goals for keeping the love alive. Make a list if you have to, of all of the things you would like to try. Read a relationship book and assure your husband that you are not trying to “fix” anything, but simply continuing to love and grow with him. You never want to get to the point of where one of you is looking for something outside of the relationship!

 For my husband, he found something outside of the boundary of marriage after our 25th year together. Perhaps it was a typical mid-life crisis. He saw our first born going off to college and felt old. I had been working a lot at an evening job and he was lonely. 

For me, I have not looked outside of the relationship for fulfillment unless you call changing careers looking for something more. As of late, I have changed my circle of friends to include more people who are committed to healthy relationships and prosperity. It has been an exciting thing to expand my breadth of knowledge as I go into my 50s.
To avoid confusion and heartache, I recommend that you do not be subtle in your relationship. Your needs must be known, heard and understood. Subtle often does not work when dealing with your spouse. It’s ok to be blunt if you can do it with love in your heart.
If you need more suggestions, read a risqué chapter from a book, throw away the flannel pajamas, get new sheets, put some different music on the MP3, gaze into each other’s eyes, or role play. You are only limited by your own creativity. Just remember that love and happiness is a choice. Choose love!

We Both Eat the Same Salad – Finding a Neutral Activity

Are you and your mate competitive with each other? If not, I am 100 % jealous and suggest you read a different blog today. However, if you are like me and my husband, everything can become a competition if we allow it.

For some background, my husband and I met when we were both competitive athletes, racing almost every weekend. The year we decided to marry, the wedding had to be on the one weekend that both of us were free from races.

Riding our bikes together meant Jimmy sprinting to the top of a hill without even breaking a sweat. For Jimmy, swimming with me meant struggling to catch a quick breath while I glided by him not even needing a breath every stroke, but only every third stroke.

Let’s face it. We each had our own strengths that we worked hard for. Sad thing is, often I felt just a bit too much satisfaction beating him at Scrabble. He would seem just a bit too smug kicking my rear at Labyrinth, the game where you must take a metal ball through a moving maze. I could win 3 out of 4 games of pinball and he could always annihilate me at darts, and the list went on and on and on.

I wish I could tell you that close to thirty years later I am more mature, but I still like to show my prowess. Just being honest here. My solution? Try something neutral, or something that neither one of us has much experience in. I recently asked my husband to brainstorm with me, and here are some of the things that the two of us came up with.

1) Bird watching while hiking. No competition there unless we are keeping score of who identified more species.
2) Reading . We can read a book to each other, taking turns at the chapters, or we can just bask in the physical presence of each other reading our own books. When we do this, I also enjoy distracting him when I think we have read enough!
3) Canoeing. This can be horrible if you are in separate boats, as there will always be a winner. Same boat, no problem.
4) Gardening. Unless you are childish enough to say “My tomato plant grew taller than yours”, then you are fairly safe here too. This is a fantastic way to spend time together, and I do not mind doing more of the weeding when I know that Jimmy is doing more of the heavy tilling. The end result is….we are both eating the same salad.

I would love to hear what other couples are doing to stay sane in a competitive relationship. Please comment.