This Is Going to Make You Stronger

I first noticed the couple as we ate lunch at a local restaurant after church on Sunday.

They caught my eye as I looked out the booth window because they were probably one of the cutest elderly couples I’d ever seen.

Before I looked away, they leaned in for a very passionate kiss.

Yeah, I accidentally saw two 75 year olds french kiss. Oops.

I returned my attention to my meal with a goofy grin on my face and a few minutes later, they were seated at the next booth over on the same side, both facing me.

I became very focused on my fried rice. But when I did look up, it was to see them whisper into each other’s ears, feed one other bites of food and kiss occasionally.

this is going to make you stronger

Looking at my little family squeezed into the booth, I tried to ignore my youngest picking microscopic “orange balls” off her piece of sushi and threatened everyone else with the evil eye not to mention the words “fish eggs.” I thought about the whining and arguing that happened on the way to church between our kids and how my husband and I ended up turning on each other because of it.

There’s nothing like a good dose of parenting to shine a light on weaknesses in your marriage.

I took a bite of rice and let my mind wander to another Sunday, when Terrell and I sat on a couch instead of a booth, fighting for our marriage. I hadn’t eaten a good meal in days. Brokenness has a way of making you lose a lot of things, including your appetite for food and life. We sat across from a marriage counselor and we were desperate. My husband wanted freedom and I wanted forgiveness and we both needed faith to keep trying at our marriage.

“This is going to make you stronger,” The counselor said tenderly. His words sounded ridiculous in our weakened state. At the time, I didn’t know he wasn’t really referring to what landed us on his couch.

He was referring to struggle.

It looks different for every couple, but every marriage struggles in some way–for power, control, gratitude, forgiveness. You name it.

I glanced at my husband working chopsticks across from my and my urge to fight faded. I thought of our imperfections, the long road we’ve struggled down and how I wouldn’t trade any of it. Because it’s made us stronger. For the past 10 months, we’ve been in transition. He leads Mercy House and there’s been a lot of redefining, renegotiating, renewing. There’s been a lot of struggle to figure out who we are and how we do this. But we keep struggling towards each other.

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We are working on 21 years of marriage and there’s been every kind of struggle along the way. But instead of tearing us apart or pushing us away from each other, when we face them head on, dig in our heels and refuse to quit, we’ve discovered the difficult times have drawn us closer.

Embrace the struggle and let it make you stronger.” -Anonymous

I don’t know what season of marriage you’re in today. You might be doing your best to complete one year or you might have decades under your belt. But I do know when life changes (parenting, careers, home life), we change too.

And that’s why we have to struggle through it together.

Because it makes us stronger.

I don’t know if that little elderly couple was honeymooning or celebrating 50 years of marriage. I don’t know if they were making up or just making out.

I don’t know who they are or what story their lives would tell, but I want to be them one day.

Fathers Are Not Idiots

My daughter pushed the grocery cart as I checked items off my list.

Light bulbs.

Super glue.

Father’s Day cards were next.

We stopped at the card aisle and I told my kids to pick out one for their dad, while I looked for one for my father.

I’m not a greeting card snob and I don’t spend hours hunting for the perfect one. But after 15 minutes and reading dozens, I had a really hard time choosing one card for my dad and my kids for their father, that didn’t send this message loud and clear: Dads are idiots.

Half the cards were about farts and beer and the other half were lewd or too generic and not worth the $3.99.

Is this what our culture really thinks of fatherhood? Is this really how we celebrate the men we call father on the one day of year we choose to honor them? Thanks, Dad for being the bumbling guy who is trying not to screw up his kids. Today, we mock you.

We’ve all seen the “idiot dad” characters and sitcoms where dad burns down the house cooking something hazardous in the microwave or loses the baby because he isn’t capable of you know, watching his own children.

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I don’t know who these men are.

One certainly didn’t raise me. I was raised by a selfless, generous man who taught me to love the world more than I love myself.

And just last week, when we had to keep our youngest home from church day camp because she had a low grade temperature, I went to her room to console her little broken heart (she really loved the camp) only to find her father beat me to it.

As I stood at the door and listened to my husband do it a hundred times better than I could, I was moved with his compassion for her. His too-big-body was curled up next to her on the pink twin bed and as she cried and whined about the unfairness of her fever, he was patient and tender and understanding. And then he prayed for her to get better quickly so she could return to camp.

Tears welled up in my eyes as I thought of the gift he was giving his little girl: his time, attention and care. And more than that, he was showing her the picture of a Heavenly Father who listens and comforts and is there for us when we need Him.

I finally found an appropriate card for my dad that wasn’t offensive and my kids made their own for their Dad.

Because even if our culture doesn’t see it, we know the dads in our lives are anything but idiots.

Let’s do our best in honoring fathers this weekend.

For Those Hit-And-Miss Days of Marriage

He reached out his hand to me. I could tell he wanted to say something.

But I turned a cold shoulder away from my husband, pulled the blanket to my chin and we lay there in the tension of things unsaid.

I was angry and he knew it.

It wasn’t even a big thing. But I seem to have the knack for making it more than it is. And then I have a mountain of smalls looming over me. And I don’t know how to scale it or where to start.

Oh, marriage is fun.

The next day I extended an olive branch and he left it in my hand, both of us holding onto anything but peace.

I couldn’t blame him for not taking it. But I did.

I hate this place–the one where we try so hard to win and we both end up losing.

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There wasn’t a war, or even a battle. We didn’t yell or scream. We just fell into the routine of two busy people living and doing and missing each other in passing.

After 20 years of marriage, you would think we would be bigger or better. But we are willful people and some days selfishness wins. And we both lose.

We were both feeling the stress of being out-of-sync. Travel and busy schedules, parenting and really, just the pressure of life, quickly turned our normally easy-going union into rhythmless living. It began to take a toll.

More was being unsaid then said.

It’s an ugly cycle that we have to interrupt. If we don’t, the chasm grows and more things stand between us. From this view, I could see what stands in the middle of so many marriages.

I miss you.

He walked towards me and I walked towards him. We met in the middle.

No fingers pointed. No blaming. No reminding or pouting.

I’m sorry goes a long way. So does thank you. 

We all have off seasons in our marriage. It’s the ebb and flow of any union. But we can turn our hit and miss days into connected ones when we lay down our pride and selfishness.

Take a step and meet him halfway. It covers a lot of distance.

Dear Kids: This Is What I Want You To Know About For Better Or Worse

Last Saturday I watched my nearly 21-year old nephew face an audience of friends and family in khaki dress pants, matching suspenders and a pink bow tie. He was waiting for his bride to meet him at the front of the church. And I watched for my 8 year old who would be dropping pink flower petals down the aisle any minute.

“He’s so young,” I whispered to my husband.

“He’s only a year and a half younger than you were when I waited at the end of the church aisle,” he whispered back.

Yeah.

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“But it does seem just like yesterday he was the baby I accidentally threw into the ceiling fan,” he added.

During the pre-wedding slideshow, I squeezed Terrell’s hand and told him to get off Facebook. He told me to stop telling him what to do.

Ahh….marriage.

We made room for the flower girl to sit with us and we watched the beautiful wedding. Several times that day, I peeked at my kid’s faces, watching their reaction to their newly married cousin.

They blew bubbles at the reception, joined the rest of the family to sing Shake It Off karoke-style and doused the bride and groom with handfuls of confetti as they left for their honeymoon. I know at some point they must have imagined their own wedding, just as I remembered my own.

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It certainly had my kids asking a lot of questions about weddings. I had already told them mine wasn’t fancy or pin-worthy. “But how did you know Daddy was gonna be your husband?” my little one asked.

“Well, at first I didn’t. For a long time, we were just really good friends in college,” I explained.

“Yes, tell them why you wouldn’t marry me,” Terrell prodded.

“Your grandparents really liked your dad, but every time they asked me about him, I would tell them I couldn’t marry someone who slept in class,” they laughed. “It was the only negative thing I could think of at the time.”

“I was tired,” he shrugged sheepishly.

A few hours later, long after the reception, we were back on the road. I was driving, giving Terrell a break, when I looked over at my husband of 20 years. His mouth was wide open and he was lightly snoring.

I had been thinking about weddings and receptions and I had to laugh.

He’s still tired.

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Kids, there’s something you need to know about for better or for worse. You probably won’t expect either or even recognize them. I thought that first big potato soup fight, that hard financial season, those long years of infertility, that difficult job and challenging boss—those were the worst times. But looking back, what I thought were the worst days ended up being some of the best and these times are chapters in the Story of Us. God has a way of redeeming our broken roads back to each other.

The worst times often become the best when we travel them together. It takes two to stay, two to fight.

And the best days are often the ones where the whole family sleeps in until 9 a.m., eats waffles for lunch in pajamas and jams to music while cleaning the house. We expect the best days to be big things—those trips we’ve saved for, the dream house, the new car, the perfect job. It’s often later, when the trip is over, the house is filled with stuff and the job isn’t so perfect, we realize which were the best days.

Marriage is funny, kids. We spend so many days longing for the destination, we often forget to enjoy the journey. Your dad and I have had twenty long-short years to discover this truth.

Maybe the best is yet to come, along with the worst, maybe we will know the difference when we get there, but we will love each other through both. And celebrate today. Because that’s what we have.

And someday, we hope you will, too.

Why I Share About My Broken Marriage in My Book

She pulled me close and said the words in a hush, “ Your book for me is like the book Radical was for you.”

The words stun.

Because I know what that means. I’m looking in the eyes of a woman who is about to turn her life upside down in her yes to Jesus.

“We are about to start the book as a family,” she motions to her three teens sitting at the picnic table.

“Except for that one chapter. We may skip over that one for now.”

And I knew which chapter she was referring to without even naming it.

It’s not the chapter about being a rich mom or the one about how lonely this road has been or the messy one about family life.

It’s the one about my marriage.

The one that talks about the secret sin of pornography and how it ripped my marriage apart and how God helped me choose forgiveness. It’s the intimate and hard-to-read pages of how my husband wanted freedom more than he wanted anything else. It’s the soul-splitting journal of the long, hard road to healing and the story behind the very special words on our wedding bands we gave each other the day we decided to marry all over again.

God can do anything

Most people think Rhinestone Jesus is about Mercy House. And it is. This unlikely home in the heart of Africa, funded by a bunch of moms–that is our family’s yes, our God-sized dream. It’s as wild and crazy as it sounds.

But Mercy House is today. That’s not the whole story. I know how easy it is to see where someone is today and think, “Huh. Well, my yes is small. I could never do something significant for God.”

And that’s why I start and end the book with brokenness. That’s why I invite you in -because you need to know where we started, the ups and downs, the heartbreak and healing journey to our yes.

Because it’s raw. It’s real. It’s as standing on the edge of destruction as you can get.

Not only does it make where we ended up more powerful: It’s a reminder of what God can do. He can do it for your marriage, too.

I used to hate that pornography was a part of my story. You may hate part of your story, too. I used to think I was alone in my marriage troubles. You may feel that, also. I used to think I was too broken to say yes. I was wrong. You may be, too.

Now? Today, I’m thankful for the brokenness in my marriage. I would have never known its strength if I wasn’t aware of its weakness. I would never have tasted intimacy if I hadn’t experienced void. I would never love my husband like I do today, if I didn’t nearly lose him.

I don’t know the secrets your marriage holds.

But I know who holds your marriage.

I can promise you–whatever brokenness your story may contain–don’t let it define you. Don’t let it imprison you. And please, don’t let it make you feel alone. Something miraculous happens when we release the brokenness: it sets us free.

repost from the archives

4 Things That Can Save or Sink A Marriage

I was brushing my teeth when he walked into the bathroom. My husband had a funny look on his face, like he was in pain and I wiped my mouth and said, “What’s wrong?”

“Can I have a little of your time?” he asked quietly. And he reached to grab both my hands.

Something about the way he asked caused a memory to resurface out of nowhere and I got a knot in my stomach. I turned to face him, afraid.

“You’re not going to confess something are you?” I asked quietly, nearly trembling.

The look on his face made me wish I could call back the words. It had been so many, many years ago, and I didn’t mean to ask the haunting question.

“Honey, no. No.” He pulled me into an embrace. “Today, I just feel burdened for the men I meet with on Tuesday mornings. And for our son who really needs a good friend and I just need a hug.” Oh. I let out my breath.

I pushed the dark memory out of my mind and reminded myself of how far we have come.

He wrapped me in his arms and we carried one another’s burdens.

If you’ve read my book, you know we’ve been to hell and back in our marriage. I have stood at ground zero when there was nothing left.

Not even hope.

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I have hated my husband and desperately loved him all at the same time. I have helped him fight his demons and they have become mine. We have fought our way back to love and we will not stop. This journey has been hard and beautiful, but I wouldn’t change any of it. Because I have learned truths along the way: It’s usually not the big confessionals that end a marriage, it’s the little enemies we overlook and ignore. Here are 4 things that can either save or sink a marriage:

1. Things We Say

Since my marriage post earlier this week looked like a giveaway on my blog, but more like a battlefield on my Facebook page, I thought I’d start with this one and make it very clear: Things we say can sink our marriage. If you read the entire post, you know I wasn’t discouraging people from sharing awesome marriage status updates. But I certainly wasn’t encouraging husbands and wives to share bad ones. Irritations and annoyances happen in every union, but we should never post them publicly. Every criticism and harsh word we share online or in front of friends or family about our spouse damages our marriage. And words are like arrows, once they are shot, they are  impossible to retract. We might forget words tossed out in anger and the heat of the moment, but I can promise they are seared on the hearts of our spouses for much longer. Proverbs 18:21, “Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.”

2. Things We Don’t Say

Just as words bring death, they can also bring life. Although some of us are more verbal than others (ahem), we should all tell our spouses what they mean to us. Or say thank you more or will you forgive me? We don’t need moving speeches or long love letters, but we do need to remember that implying our gratitude or love isn’t enough. Something deep and meaningful happens for both of us when we say the words out loud. There’s almost a sigh of relief and a renewal when we hear words like, “I appreciate you working so hard,” or “Thank you for cooking dinner for our family.” Words help and heal and the right ones can be powerful in your marriage.

3. Things We See

Our culture thrives on visual-stimulation. We have so much to look at–to distract us from each other-besides other people and things in print, there’s television, cable, movies, Youtube, limitless online options and books that paint such a vivid, graphic picture that leaves little to the imagination. There are obvious threats to every marriage. We can’t always help the first look, but we can stop the second one. The images we allow into our minds–from pornography on the computer screen to the popular “romance” movies on the big screen, put our marriages in jeopardy for many reasons. (Side note: 50 Shades of Gray has more explicit sex scenes than the 100 “most naked” films of 2014 put together, according to The Drudge Report. Stay away). Just as we can’t call back words, it’s really hard to unsee images and it will affect our marriages in a negative way.

4. Things We Don’t See

We also can’t close our eyes to the things around us begging to be seen. When he fills up your gas tank, that’s your husband taking care of you. When she cooks your favorite meal and makes healthy substitutions you’ll never know about, she’s doing the same. When he offers to pick up the kids from daycare so she can have a girl’s night out and she buys his favorite junk food for Super Bowl Sunday, it’s love. That sweet tea he drops off, the snow he shovels, the , these are the things we must see. When we acknowledge them, we are saying more than I see the nice thing you did that you didn’t have to do. We are really saying I see you. I see you there trying. I see you giving and doing and it matters.

Some Days My Marriage Isn’t Awesome

Congrats to random t-shirt winners: #301 Amy and #151 Jill!

There it is again in my Facebook feed. This time it’s a selfie with her husband and her status reads, “The best date ever! My marriage is awesome. #always”

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Sure, it’s sweet. And I love a good marriage shoutout. But every time I see the “perfectly happy marriage” update, I want to say, please tell me you argue over who is letting the dog out at 2am or confess that sometimes just the way he breathes is hashtag annoying.

We probably all have friends who seem to have the most awesome marriage all the time. Every day is flowers and romance with him remembering every little thing and her sweetly ignoring every little thing he forgets. There is never arguing or irritating. It’s hashtag awesome.

First of all, I’m not so sure this kind of marriages exist.

I have been married 20 years. I have a great marriage. I have the t-shirt to prove it.

But some days my marriage is not awesome.

We don’t always communicate well, live selflessly enough, or remember to just be nice to each other .

We don’t always agree over financial issues, have sex enough, see eye-to-eye on parenting stuff.

Just the other day, there was a kitchen standoff because he heard the trash can lid close and asked me if I put the empty container in the can while he was getting a liner. I had the empty container in my hand and I held it up like a boss. Proof. Ha! He walked over to the trashcan and opened it. He leaned over and retrieved the empty bottle of Ranch Dressing I had just dropped in there. He was disgusted. And strangely enough, I had no recollection of putting it in there. This is a Thing in our house.

We’ve argued over less important things, if you can believe it.

Yeah. So maybe my marriage isn’t awesome everyday.

But that’s okay.

Because perhaps our greatest strength is that we know this and we still try anyway.

Marriage isn’t awesome because it’s perfect. It’s awesome because we keep at it.

It works because we don’t give up. We push through the long, hard days. We forgive selfishness and try to be less selfish. We ignore little annoyances and try to be less annoying.

All marriages have bad days. But every morning is a new chance for an awesome day. And when we have them we should share the happy moments instead of dwelling on the not-so-good ones.

So, the next time we are scrolling down our feeds and we see that friend’s happy marriage status, let’s go ahead and like it. Because maybe that’s what she’s doing.

—FUN MARRIAGE GIVEAWAY—

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What do you love about your spouse today (even if you have to think hard)? Tell me in the comments on this post and two commenters will be randomly chosen to win a $25 gift certificate towards marriage shirts at Union28. Or get 15% any of my favorite “My Husband/Wife Rocks” shirts with code:U28WATF15. Plus, they have a big sale going on right now (shirts under $9!)

Dear Men of the World: You Won’t Regret Giving This To Your Family

I’ll never forget the day my husband handed me a wooden box with a letter in it.

It was the same year he gave one to each of our children.

The book, Letters from Dad, made a profound impact on him many years ago. It begs the answer to this question: “If you were to die today, what would your (wife and) children hold in their hands tomorrow that would let them know they were the treasures of your life?”

My husband has been answering that question by filling up our letterboxes and our hearts ever since.

He’s written dozens of letters-some funny, some serious, all memorable. On our youngest’s 8th birthday last month, she read the letter before she opened her gifts, giggling at his own second-grade memories.

Because we all understand the letters are the gift. Letters are free, they don’t take much time, but they are absolutely priceless.

A few weeks ago as we celebrated our anniversary in NYC,  Terrell pulled me aside and read the following words to me.

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Less than halfway through, as tears dripped from my chin, I thanked God for this imperfect man who leads us and loves us so well.

He is giving us a beautiful legacy and today, I want to share it with the men of the world in hopes that you will give your wife and children the same gift.

Kristen,                                                                                               

I find myself overwhelmed. I can never do justice to the past twenty years in a letter to you. If I wrote a novel over the next twelve months, I would only be scratching the surface. The beautiful part is that I am not really the one writing this story. This is God’s story and our story. You are my coauthor. One day, I can only hope that our kids drag these letters out of a dusty box and they understand that their dad loved their mom.

I do love you. You are beautiful! For more than twenty years you have been my best friend and confidant. We have traveled many miles and many roads together. When I married you, I married well. You are the one thing I have never quit or given up on. And God knows that you have never given up on me. It probably would have been easier for you if you did quit. But you didn’t. Did I mention I love you? You’re tenacious, bold, strong, tender, kind, humble, sexy, vulnerable, gentle, courageous, caring, loving, patient, brilliant, innovative, creative and on and on.

We have been to hell and heaven together. Actually we’ve probably made the round trip a couple of times.   I am humbled that you love me. Could a man ever ask for anything more than a good woman? Could a man dare hope to have a great woman? Well, I declare with my whole heart that you are an amazing woman and so much more.

In 1994, you said, “I do.”

In 1995, you said, “I will,” and we moved to Arkansas

In 1997, you said, “Let’s take a risk,” and we headed to Albuquerque

In 1999, you said, “I want to be a mother,” and God gave us a daughter in 2000

In 2001, you said, “I believe in you,” and we left the ministry

In 2002, you said, “Florida has got to be better than this,” and we moved and it was worse, but God redeemed our time and gave us a son

In 2003, you said, “You’re not a failure,” and we moved to Texas

In 2004, you said, “God will provide,” and I got a job in the Pharmaceutical industry

In 2005, you said, “I forgive you,” and I saw the face of the Jesus

In 2006, you said, “God has given us grace,” and our miracle was born

In 2008, you said, “I want to write,” and the world met “THAT” family

In 2010, you said, “Yes,” and God wrecked us both and we started Mercy House

In 2012, you said, “Now is the right time,” and we moved and started over

In 2013, you said, “We have to tell our story,” and the “Rhinestone Jesus” manuscript was turned in to Tyndale

In 2014, you said, “I believe in you,” (Or maybe you said, “Help!”) and I quit my job to run Mercy House

TWENTY YEARS.

It sounds unbelievable to even say it. Sometimes I wish I could smith words the way you do. I would smith until I couldn’t smith anymore telling you how I love you. I would tell you in a thousand ways that you are a gift from God. I would write a hundred poems declaring your beauty. I would pen a million songs so that the world would know that I need you.

I still need you! I still want you. No one knows me the way you do. No one loves me when I’m not that loveable…but you do! For that and so much more, I love you.

Kristen Welch, I love you. I want you. I need you.

T.