How to Fall Together Instead of Apart: Married {with} Kids

Marriage, according to kids:

HOW WOULD THE WORLD BE DIFFERENT IF PEOPLE DIDN’T GET MARRIED?

(1) There sure would be a lot of kids to explain, wouldn’t there?
- Kelvin, age 8

HOW WOULD YOU MAKE A MARRIAGE WORK?

(1) Tell your wife that she looks pretty, even if she looks like a truck.
- Ricky, age 10                                                                                                                                                   [source]

 

It’s an early morning breakfast-packing backpacks-lunches and kisses on the cheek-out the door kind of life.

We separate. We work hard. All day long. There is homework and poster board projects, reading logs and flute rehearsal. There’s the tapping of drumsticks and the bounce of the trampoline. There’s coloring at the table. Carrots on the cutting board.

I hear the door click and I take a long deep breath. He’s home.

And though the world and work and life pull us apart. Our family longs to be together–so we can live crazy-beautiful.

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We pile around the kitchen table. We pray and are thankful. Sometimes. We wipe a spill. Always. We laugh at highs and lows and we open a book together. We reread sentences that weren’t listened to the first time. And we try and stay around the table as long as we can. I start to tell him All The Things on my mind and I don’t have the energy to compete with my kid’s stories or interruptions. It can wait.

Dinner ends and we scatter: there’s sibling rivalry over who should unload the dishes, who should feed the dog, a load of clothes is started, last bits of homework are done. I pick up shoes and a doll and the pieces of our lives and start preparing for another day. He reads another chapter to our youngest and puts her to bed.

My husband walks into our bedroom and he looks tired. I can’t wait to curl up and talk. Because some days, I feel like I’m going to fall apart.

But just about then the water spout in the upstairs bath breaks mid-stream and it won’t shut off and water pours, my oldest panics with a towel on, he runs with a toolbox and I don’t have a chance to pour at my heart. Instead our tween son who can’t sleep lays in his father’s spot for a few minutes pouring out his heart.

It’s nearly midnight when we hold each other and there’s nothing to say to the everything we’re too tired to say. We speak in the tangles of sheets and beating hearts. We fall together.

Life on repeat. The next day is filled with tacos for the 25 who show up to community group and spill into every seat in the house. There are basketball tryouts, grocery store visits and unexpected bills.

As our kids get older and stay up later and need us more emotionally, the window of time with my husband gets smaller everyday. We are married with kids and while we wouldn’t change it for a second, it’s entirely too easy for our marriage to get lost in the demands of parenting and jobs and serving and we find the day is over and we haven’t had one conversation. It threatens to pull us apart. Can anyone relate?

With every season of parenting, it affects our marriage…from newborns and unthinkable sleep deprivation to worries about a wayward teen or a hard-hearted tween, it’s tempting to work against each other instead of together. And those are the easy days, that don’t even include the scary moments when serious illness threatens or outside influences tempt our children away. I’ve watched so many marriages simply fall apart after the kids leave, as if they were the glue holding the union together.

Here are 5 things we are doing to stay married long after kids leave:

Regular date nights::My favorite part of this connected time is talking with my best friend. It’s not uncommon for me to start a conversation in the morning and finish is after dinner because of distractions or interruptions. Date night is the perfect time to talk about everything and nothing. We sit on the same sides of the booth and hold hands under the table. We are desperate to connect because we have lived unconnected before. Our dates might be a 30 minute coffee between appointments or a swing on the hammock with the kids inside. It doesn’t matter what they look like, it matters that they happen.

Making space for alone time at home:: Let’s face it, one date a week isn’t always possible. Or likely. I am envious of those who can pull it off. But you can still pull off space together. Terrell has always had this thing–the minute he walks in the door, he doesn’t stop at the kid’s questions or clamoring for attention, he walks straight to me. We usually hug and kiss and then he’ll turn to the kids’ demands. And we aren’t afraid to tell our kids we need alone time together. We lock our door and make it happen.

Spend overnight time away together:: This is a fairly new goal for us. And we decided (after doing it) it’s a pretty important way to refresh and reset our marriage. It won’t always look like this (sob), but even one night away on our anniversary or sending the kids to their grandparents is something we look forward to. Once a year is our goal, but we’ll take more!

Connecting beyond the kids:: Perhaps the most important thing we can do beyond spending one-on-one time together, is relating beyond our children. It’s so easy in our culture to focus all our attention on our kids that we stop doing some of the things that brought us together in the first place. Carving out time to support each other’s hobbies, chase one another’s dreams is important now and in the future.

Let Jesus be the middle ground:: Let’s face it, life and love and loss are mingled with joy and tears. Sometimes we don’t see eye-to-eye or don’t know where to go or which way to turn. That’s when we fall to Jesus. Because He holds our lives, our kids, our future and He turns two independent, willful parents into One.

Children are a precious gift from God. They fill our homes with laughter and love and give us a reason to keep buying fun cereal. Children can deepen and enhance our marriages, they teach us so much about God and even more about ourselves, but the parenting bumps in the journey can add stress to our marriages. It’s crucial we take steps to grow together as our kids grow up.

So we can fall together.

Instead of apart.


7 Habits of a Hot Marriage in the Middle of Monotony

He pulled me into the closet. And closed the door. I could hear kids calling. We ignored them.

He whispered, “I miss Hawaii. I miss you.”

We promised each other back in August, sand between our toes, loving a carefree togetherness we hardly recognized that we wouldn’t slip back into the hurried routine and forget each other.

It’s easy to make promises when this is your view:

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And it’s easy to forget them when this is your view:

reality

Promises are much harder to keep in the making-breakfast-doing-laundry-carline-and-work filled days. I believe it’s called monotony. And it can kill your marriage.

19 years and we are still each other’s favorite person most days. We miss one another when we’re apart and can’t get enough when we’re together. Usually. But we also let a messy house, a cold dinner, a parenting dispute, that unexpected bill, you know life, come between us.

And our whispered white sand promises are lost in the busy monotony of our lives.

Yet we still vie for a hot marriage. I actually think about it. I see him through the kitchen window mowing the lawn, shirt off, hot and sticky, flecks of mud and grass stuck to his chest. And I think “hmmm….” He walks in from a long day of work, tie at his throat and sits with our little girl and reads with her. It’s just plain sexy.

photo

But then dinner boils over and milk is spilled at the table, I scrub pots and pans, mop up messes, call out Science lab terms to my 6th grader, turn over a load of laundry, and remind someone to feed the dog again. I walk outside to dump half empty water bottles into my pots of wilted flowers and I’m greeted with the foul odor of the septic system. My husband heads out to Home Depot for chemicals because some things that stink just can’t wait. I’m left to do baths and devotions and by the time he returns, I can hardly keep my eyes open. Tomorrow is filled with much of the same, a lesson here, a church group there, it has a way of going from Monday to Thursday in a snap and I can hardly remember that hot guy mowing the lawn.

I can confirm the temperature because I have known the extremes: a cold marriage, filled with contempt and misery. And a lukewarm marriage, perhaps the worst, filled with idle days, stagnant affection and distant intimacy.

We have lived every season. Our favorite by far: white hot. It’s also the most difficult to maintain.

Marriage is hard hard hard work. We never arrive and kick up our feet and ride the waves of hot monogamy. It takes faithful, committed, selfless habit-forming work in the middle of a boring routine. They say it takes 21 days or more to create a habit. I dare you to try the following 7 habits for the next month and see what happens:

7 things we try to do every day:

  1. Touch everyday: Make a conscious effort to grab his hand, run your hands thru her hair, kiss for a couple of seconds. Set a goal to physically touch his arm when you’re talking, tackle him in a hug in your closet, pat her butt on the way out the door. 
  2. Be good forgivers: Perhaps the most crucial key is forgiveness. Listen, marriage is the union of two people prone to mistakes and sin, you can’t control your spouse, but you can forgive. Refuse to pick them apart, turn molehills into mountains and wave the banner of unforgiveness.
  3. Make the little things big: The other day, my husband gave me a card and a new wallet, just because. It was a small thing, but it made a big impression. I knew he was thinking about me when we were apart. Connecting with your spouse in small ways that makes them feel loved is a big deal.
  4. Fill our head with thoughts of each other. Let’s be honest, we live in a world where it’s easy to fill up our tank with outside influences. From the pretty girl in the office or in the magazine to the romantic, handsome guy in the novel we’re reading or movie we’re watching, there are many ways to get satisfaction outside of our spouse. Lust is ignited with a second look. But when we only let our mate fill up our tank, we are on the path to a marriage that is not only white hot, but Godly.
  5. Go to bed at the same time: While this might not be possible every night, this habit is important because it is a quiet time to connect. Nearly missing each other constantly brings a chaos to your home that isn’t healthy for your marriage or family.
  6. Pray for one other. My husband is under a great strain most days. He recognizes my own burden often. Knowing that we are lifting each other up to God is not only selfless, it’s powerful. Hearing my name on his lips in prayer is not only meaningful, it strengthens our union.
  7. Compliment each other. This might sound like a no-brainer, but five-hundred people can like my new hair cut (my kids not included) and none of the compliments mean as much as his. Seeing him look at me–really look and watch attraction ignite in his eyes, is amazing. We were grocery shopping at Sam’s the other day and I casually pointed out the green t-shirt on sale and said, that would look good on you. My daughter tried to convince him to get the red one and I overheard him tell her, “No, mom likes the green.” Your influence over your spouse is powerful, use it to bless them.

We get it right some days and miss the mark other days. But we never give up. Happy birthday, Terrell. I love you.


Four Things I Wish I’d Known When I Got Married

He was assigned to row 26 seat B and my ticket put me 6 rows behind him in 32D. We wanted to sit next to each other on the five-hour flight back to the mainland from Hawaii, so we waited in line at the ticket counter to see if that was a possibility.

A young honeymooning couple from Switzerland stood behind us for the same reason. The airline attendant shuffled computer numbers and told us we were all stuck in our assigned seats due to a full flight.

My husband shrugged a, “Well, we tried” and I said, “I’ll see you in 5 hours” and we made our way to separate rows. I put my bag under my seat and fastened my seat belt. I looked up to the aisle across from me and saw the separated honeymooners. The new bride was crying her eyes out, looking longingly at her new husband a row over. It was probably the first time in a week they’d been more than 6 feet from each other.

I smiled, not at her sorrow, but because I would have probably done the same thing 19 years ago this December. I smiled because I knew something she hadn’t discovered yet: separation makes being together even better.

I couldn’t help but remember coming home from my honeymoon so long ago.

4things

Here are 4 things I wish I had known then:

  1. Marriage Doesn’t Complete You-I remember being a doe-eyed virgin thinking if I could just get married, I would be complete. People don’t complete people, no matter how many romantic movies try to prove otherwise.  Because it didn’t take long for those thoughts to transition to “if I could just be a mom.” God completes people. He fills in the gaps and heals the wounds that people leave. Marriage is amazing, but it’s imperfect and it wasn’t created to make us whole. If anything, it reveals our selfishness and brokenness. Only God completes us.
  2. You Can’t Give Too Much-For many years, I kept record. I reciprocated what was done for me. But once I realized the more you give in marriage, the more you get, it changed how I viewed my relationship with my husband. The union of two inherently selfish people produces a selfish marriage. But when we understand we can’t give too much, it not only makes us want to give more. It makes our union a selfless place of service and joy.
  3. He is Home, but He is not My Happily Ever After- We just have to watch a chick flick to believe that getting married puts you on the road to living a fairy tale. But that’s not true: because my husband and I get on each other’s nerves. And lo and behold, we disagree. We’ve learned while there isn’t really a permanent happily ever after, there is hard work and selfless love that leads to a beautiful journey of commitment and peace. Sometimes it’s hot, sometimes it’s not. Happiness is temporary, but the abiding joy that comes from faithful commitment is what it’s really about. And that feels like home.
  4. Marriage Gets Better With Age- I don’t have flat abs or the energy of a 20 year old. I’m over the hill and I would have never believed after nearly two decades my marriage would be the best it’s ever been-from communication to sex to our comfortable friendship. The act of becoming one takes years of selfless living and limitless forgiveness. We learn that occasional separation is good for us. Many marriages breakdown in the middle place, but if we can keep our holy commitment to each other and God, it just keeps getting better.

The new bride across the aisle wiped her eyes and wrote thank you notes for most of the remaining flight. She winked at her husband and got up to go to the bathroom so she could brush by him a couple of times. At the end of the flight, they clung to each other like they had been a part for five months.

I smiled her way. She was already learning.

Marriage can be amazing. Marriage can be hard. I’ve been thru both with my husband and sometimes life is the best lesson. Check out my new Marriage Resource Page to help with both seasons.


What Every Husband Needs to Hear

 

husband

I wrote this to honor my husband on Father’s Day, but didn’t have a chance to post it last week. Thanks for all the emails and love.

 

When he walked thru the door, I let out the breath I’d been holding for days. The pinch in-between my shoulders eased and the throbbing in my head paused.

My husband was home.

He is my other half, the calm to my temper, the quiet to my chatter, the hard shoulder for my weary head.

Grief has changed us this year. The easy ebb and flow of our union has been harder, but our love has gone deeper. I can feel it in my bones and when we are away from each other, it’s like I’m split in two.

I let the day spill out. Just mom stuff mixed with work and weariness. I hadn’t started dinner, I had one kid pouting, the laundry in various stages, there was even a twin mattress on my front porch from sickness and a dog in need of another bath because she insists on rolling in dead things. He put his hands on my shoulders and he listened. Then he sent me to Target.

He’d gotten up hours before the sun that day, spent the remainder in a pressure pot at work, rushed in to lend a hand and the first thing he does is touch my soul.

What Every Husband Needs to Hear:

(I filled in the blanks for my husband, you fill them in for yours)

  • I Appreciate You: In the nearly 19 years we’ve been married, you have been a bank teller, a pastor, a church custodian (while being a pastor), mowed lawns, worked for my dad, been a salesman and a part time, volunteer bookkeeper. In all our seasons, the good, the bad and the ugly (I’ll let you guess), I have never once doubted your ability or desire to provide for our family. Husband-you have helped me pursue my dream of being a writer, while sidelining your own. You said yes to a crazy dream that changed our lives. You are the rock of our family because you put your faith in The Rock of Jesus.
  • I Love You for Being the Fun Parent: You’ve rolled down grassy hills, dressed up for Halloween, played Princess Makeover (you look great in pink) and rough-housed with kids at bedtime for over a decade. Being fun comes easy for you. You don’t worry about messes or your agenda, you simply enjoy your children. And all your fun with all my rules, make us a pretty good parenting pair.
  • Thank You for Doing all the Stuff I Don’t (or Can’t) (or Won’t):You’ve carried my too-heavy floral purse without batting an eye, you are the Master Ninja of cleaning up vomit and hairballs and poop (and you name it) and you unload the dishwasher because you know it’s my least favorite job. I love that you do it because you love me and us and I love that about you.
  • I Still Want You: We’ve endured years of painful infertility, a failed adoption, a miscarriage, two strong-willed girls, a child who is afraid of the dark and years of children in and out of our bed. You give me B-12 shots every Monday and don’t mind my mommy middle. You’ve wanted me through various sizes and moods and years and it thrills me. I may not say it often or show it enough, but never doubt I still long for you. Marriage is like fine wine, it’s getting better with age.
  • Thanks for Being Here: I know that you’re not perfect. You might read this and think of all the things you’re not, but in a fatherless culture,  and a society of broken marriages, you have stayed. When our marriage nearly ended, you fought to stay. When we got on the roller coaster ride of parenting, you dug in your heels. You are here and most days, even when we have no idea what we’re doing, you never leave. And that’s enough every day.
  • Trials Will Make Us Stronger: The past six months have been difficult in so many ways. I know you are tired. Challenges leave us on edge and sometimes broken. But the adversity and trials we face strengthen us and I know we will make it.

Pick one or two and tell your husband. He needs to hear encouraging words from you.


Quiet Faithfulness and Its Reward

He gets up at 4:30 a.m. most mornings, gets dressed in the dark, returns from pushing his body to its limits with Crossfit in his fight against diabetes. I start my day nearly 2 hours later, often to the bath water he runs for me or the sound of him making school lunches.

I am married to a good man.

We met in Bible College more than 20 years ago. I married a Pastor, we served The Church together the first nine years of our marriage.

When we left full time ministry nearly a decade ago, we were desperate for a break and a breakthrough. We ended up discovering a whole lot of brokenness. While we loved working together (offices next door and some killer youth illustrated sermons and vacation bible schools), our glass house needed some attention.

So we quit the only thing we knew how to do.

And spent the next five years finding Jesus in the broken places.

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What started out temporary ended up being transforming and more permanent than we could have imagined.

Those first 5 months out of ministry were like a breath of fresh air. They were also terrifying. We were jobless and homeless (staying in a family member’s rent house). On the sixth month, my husband got a job offer.

He took it and has had the same job for 9 years and 4 months. That’s sort of a long break. And I’m pretty sure we can’t call it a break any longer.

So, this pastor-turned-sales-rep reinvented himself. He is smart and hard-working. And his daily faithfulness to the mundane takes my breath away.

My husband’s dedication to his secular job is the only reason we were able to start Mercy House three years ago. His hard work and consistency provides for our family, and has offered me the freedom to serve without being paid.

I’m still married to a pastor. He shepherds our family. He prays with co-workers and shines Jesus in his work. He is a light in our dark world. He spends evenings and many weekends quietly serving in the work of Mercy House.

It has been a hard road. One with turns and obstacles we didn’t expect.

“Life is not a straight line leading from one blessing to the next and then finally to heaven. Life is a winding and troubled road. Switchback after switchback. And the point of biblical stories like Joseph and Job and Esther and Ruth is to help us feel in our bones (not just know in our heads) that God is for us in all these strange turns. God is not just showing up after the trouble and cleaning it up. He is plotting the course and managing the troubles with far-reaching purposes for our good and for the glory of Jesus Christ.” -John Piper

But Jesus has been with us down every path. And as we dream of the future and ask God for direction, His invisible hand guides us. For His glory.

Hindsight is enlightening. God rewards faithfulness. Here’s what I’m learning:

  • God uses our brokenness for His purpose
  • What He puts back together, heals stronger.
  • Loving people is a full time ministry (title, position, pay, not necessary)
  • God plots our course for His glory.
  • There are setbacks and tragedies in our journey.
  • But there are also rewards (and sometimes they look like Hawaii!)

[P.S. We just found out that after nearly 10 years on the job, my husband earned a once-in-a-lifetime trip for two to Hawaii in August for being one of the top 10 sales reps in his company.. We are going to Hawaii!]