Hard lesson learning

There are always things in life that would really nice if we could learn earlier than we do.  And for me, I seem to learn lessons slowly, painfully and the hard way.  It’s been this way since I was 12 perhaps, throwing tuna fish sandwiches at a wall yelling at my mother.  Occasionally I would heed the advice of older, seasoned ones.  But more often I sought to determine for myself if they’d really meant it.

Fast forward to 18 years old when I was mature enough to throw a shoe at my sister’s head while on a lengthy road trip in our small car.  All because she told me I was “cute”.  She demanded to be driven to the nearest airport and I stewed.  My poor parents drove us all home in one piece and years later we think it’s pretty funny.  But again during that season, I continued to learn my way.

We married young, didn’t get a great deal of marriage advice, at least that I remember.  It’s possible I was blinded by the burning love in my heart.  But the theme continued of learning hard things hard ways.  In the first year we were married I stormed out the door many times in frustration and immaturity, if my memory is correct I think I even ended up on my parents doorstep one night.  Oh the injustice and imperfection I cried!  I was pretty sure things were supposed to be dreamy for at least a couple years.  I made my best effort to prove that the world, marriage and all should revolve around me.

I learned to care more about what my parents thought about things that my husband.  I’d call them for ‘what to do’ about life stuff.  Them or a friend.  It seemed totally normal and good to me at the time.  But it wasn’t.  It was one more ‘hard life lesson learned’ for me that was the opposite of good for our marriage.

There was a season, about three years ago that I was 99% convinced that there was greener grass to be had.  About that time someone said to me

The grass is green where you water it.

I’ve never forgotten those words.  And the more time passes, the more I believe they are true.  Though we haven’t arrived or ‘met the mark’ at this point I just wanted to share that the fruit of sticking with your lifelong companion when things are not so wonderful is sweeter than any fresh start or greener grass you may think you’ve discovered.

Last night I arranged for a babysitter and set up a date night with my husband.  We slipped out the door with no one in tears, a huge feat.  We spent the next two hours enjoying food but more enjoying precious face-to-face time.  We chatted about little things.  Then I began to ask his input and brought out my notepad.  I needed help deciding on some things with the kids.  I needed his level head to weigh in on my emotions.  I needed his direction and leadership on several accounts.  I didn’t argue or think of what smart thing I could say.  I scribbled down notes and by dinners’ end felt a huge load lifted.  I didn’t ask him, but I’m pretty sure he felt valued, respected and important-which he is.

It has taken seriously just about all of these past eleven years for me to figure out that this is the way it’s meant to work.  That life isn’t all about me, it’s about the us we formed the day we married.  It’s about God pouring grace out all over and us finding our way through it.  The dividends of some heart wrenching work are paying off.  It might sound old-fashioned to you and that’s okay.  We’re liking it…

On adding zest

So my husband has convinced me that I should share with you a website that has encouraged me and challenged me in good ways….and even though ‘you’ involves my Grandma and my husband’s precious mother – I decided to oblige.

Adding Zest to Your Nest is a website whose purpose is to create a safe place for women to discuss their sexuality as Christians.  They believe (and I do too) that sex should be a delight, a treasure, and a gift wives get to share with their husbands.

In my opinion, reading and writing about this subject shouldn’t be taboo in Christian circles, it just needs to be done in an honoring, respectful way.  Which granted, in our culture of totally distorted sexual ideals, is easier said than done.   But I firmly believe that not addressing issues of sexuality is not the answer at all.

While I would prefer to chronicle our family life and ‘scrapbook’ through my blog, I prefer even more to be obedient when I feel God is asking me to do something.  Writing is that thing.  So that is why if you click here, you can find the article I wrote this past week as a guest on Adding Zest.

The power of the tongue

I’ve been enjoying reading Ann Voskamp’s series on marriage these past few weeks.  They’ve prompted a good amount of pondering and reflection.

While I realize eleven years doesn’t make me an expert, I also realize that in an era that has largely lost sight of the covenant promise that marriage was meant to be…many people don’t make it to their eleventh anniversary.

A lot has changed in our marriage these past two years.

As with any marriage, there have been many factors, countless immeasurable variables that played into our ability (or lack of) to maintain our union.  The words have been one of the biggest pieces.

I love words.  I love talking.  I love reading.  I love writing.

My word-love has given me an ability to argue in a cunning and bold way over the years.  For many years in fact, I was proud to have the upper hand when we disagreed or argued.  How twisted is that?  I know.

The yucky thing about pride is that it gets ripped down.  In my “I’m-better-than-you-at-fighting” state, I was actually the one losing.  I began to see the fruit of my ‘work’.

And it was ugly.  It was pain and wounds and a deflated heart.

I had always carefully crafted my own words.  And while listening, I was constantly thinking about what witty thing I could respond with….which is not really listening at all.

I would dissect what I heard and take it out of context and make it something it wasn’t.  I thought I was smart.

But I was actually just mean.  And one piece at a time, I was making my husband feel like less of a man.

You can imagine how well this worked out for us.  Add in a baby every year or two.  The loss of a long-term job.  Financial instability.

Of course my words weren’t responsible for all of that.  But they had left their mark.  They couldn’t be taken back.  As my heart softened and I realized what was taking place – I would have given anything to make them disappear.

All I have control over now is my choice today and in the days to come.  In these last couple healing years, I’ve watched my words become balm to a hurting heart.  I’ve seen the incredible power when I hold my tongue and don’t let harsh words fall.  Sometimes even just the absence of an angry tongue brings restoration.

I am still learning and still marveling at the power in it.  I grew up knowing all the verses about the tongue and how it was a double-edged sword and all that.  But it’s taken me a long time for it to really mean something to me.

I have abundant hope that though the next eleven years won’t be perfect, they will continue to refine my ability to be silent when needed and to breathe life to my husband.

Product of grace – 11 years in

It’s been eleven years today.

Around year eight I found myself wondering how we’d even get to nine.

But here we are.

Our union a product of grace, miracles and the faithful work of the God we love.

Absolute bliss marrying my high school sweetheart.

Then absolute real life…not bad.  Just real.

Real hurt.  Real joy.  Real struggle.

Growing and changing.  Like it or not.

Life always surprises.

Babies blessed us.

They stretched us.  In every way.

Work became something difficult.

Difficult became disillusionment.

Disillusionment became distance.

Distance became two people raising a handful of children who didn’t know how to love each other anymore.

We found our way back.

We found things to enjoy together and our hearts slowly unfroze.

We changed more than we thought possible.

God changed us, He still is.  We can’t take credit for making it.  It was and is beyond our ability.

Now, driving in the car today, I heard these precious words:

Man, I sure wish dad was here in the car with us.  Want to know why?  (everyone says yes)  Because if dad were here, we could watch them play that kissing game.  I love that.  Mama, if Daddy were here, you could put your coffee cup up and hide behind it and kiss him!  Or you could use this book too…(giggling then ensued)

Not long ago, we never played that game.  They were more likely to hear harsh words than to see their parents smooching in the car.  They were more likely to see anger than tenderness.  That’s the honest truth.  Life hurt a lot and we became adept at hurting each other.

My heart smiled today as I listened to my children chatter in the van.

We are learning and growing and loving and messing up and living in grace.

More now than ever.

And there is so much more to come.

Winter pruning

Last spring I had the treat of attending a day long gardening workshop with Christine Sine in Seattle.  She and her husband Tom work with Mustard Seed Associates (MSA) which is a community of Jesus’ followers all over the world striving to create the future one mustard seed at a time.  Christine also blogs regularly here.

As the kids and I spent last Thursday with dear friends who live an hour north of us, Kim opened the book we’d received at that garden workshop and reminded me of Christine’s words on pruning trees in the winter:

“Why, I wonder, do we prune our fruit trees in the winter when they seem so bare and vulnerable?  Or probably more to the point, why does God insist on pruning our lives during the difficult winters or suffering that we all endure?  Winter pruning, like autumn planting, encourages roots to go down deeper and strengthens the tree.  The harder we prune, the more vigorous the spring growth and the greater the harvest.

God often plants us in places where winter is coming or prunes us during the frigid seasons of struggle and pain, when the branches seem bare and our souls feel most vulnerable.   If we really want to be fruitful during the seasons of harvest that God allows us, then we need to be willing to be pruned and shaped not during the times that life is good – when we can handle a little painful cutting – but during winter when we feel spring will never come again…

My mother has always reminded me that struggle and challenge in life produce character – and more than once I’ve told her “But I don’t want any more character, I think I’m done.”  It may sound prideful now, but at the time all I meant was this is too hard…I don’t see how I’ll make it through…it simply hurts too much. In Christine’s workbook (now an ebook), she includes this quote from Jean Vanier as she writes about winter:

We must go through winters of suffering, through times when prayer is hard and people no longer attract us, but spring is not far away.  A death in the family, a failure at work, a sickness which brings a new way of life, an unfaithful friend, all these are wounds to the heart that take us into a period of darkness.  The darkness is important.  We must learn to accept this winter as a gift from God and we will discover that the snow will melt and the flowers come up.

I needed that reminder.

Three years ago we walked through some serious darkness – a winter that seemed to last a couple of years.  And now since experiencing healing and restoration that only God is capable of, it has felt like a long season of promise and new growth.  No where near perfection.  But somewhere closer to grace.

The cold air of winter may be blowing on my face today.  My heart feels like it’s been taken apart at the moment.  But my head (and good friend) remind me what I know to be true.

God’s goodness and His unfailing love do not depend on the season we are walking in.

Skinny jeans for the not-quite-skinny

The full circle of fashion is sometimes quite amusing.

It was 15 years ago that skinny (then called ‘tapered’) jeans were cool.  It was convenient that I was skinny then so they worked out okay for me.

Four babies and a fair bit of baby weight later…I should have figured that skinny jeans probably are not in the cards for me.

However, a few months ago after my husband surprised me with Uggs one Saturday afternoon, I thought I ought to give them a try.  The boots were so cute but under jeans you couldn’t see their flair.    I came home with a pair that I thought looked as decent as any and wore them for the past few months.

I’m not sure why but something possessed me to ask my sweet husband a few days ago this simple question…

Do these jeans look good on me?”

Now, honestly I wanted a truthful answer.  It may seem loaded but from my end it wasn’t.

But the poor guy, I could see him take a deep breath in and he carefully responded in a calm and cool voice –

“Why do you ask me these questions?  What am I supposed to say?”

I see panic in his face but I myself am truly not worked up, just trying to sort through the issue of these jeans that has been bothering me.  Really, should they be shelved or shouldn’t they?  So I prod a bit further…

“Do you think I look good in these jeans is what I’m asking?  Do you like them on me?”

He pauses and ponders and I feel now a little bit guilty for causing such a to-do about a pair of jeans but clearly, there is more to the issue here than jeans-at least that is I’m sure what he’s thinking at this point.  This is his oh-so-diplomatic response to the woman he loves –

“I like you.  And you like those jeans.”

So there was my answer.  I smiled at him and put the jeans away.

It’s taken 10 years but we can finally have a conversation about my clothing and how it looks and not suffer from a day or two long cold-shoulder or high blood pressure or any other significant trauma.

I remind myself that I know well and good how much he loves me and that it doesn’t hinge on what jeans I wear.  I don’t give myself permission to be irrational and make a big fuss about his answer.

Why we (most) women tend to make it so difficult and ask such ‘hard’ questions of the ones we love, I’ll never know.  But for me at least, actually wanting an honest opinion instead of wanting to have the truth stretched into something that made me feel better is one of  my secrets to increased marital bliss.

A final (real) Slim in 6 review

In perusing old posts and comments, I was reminded that I did indeed promise a ‘real’ review of Slim in 6, the spendy infomercial workout program I bought in September.  First let me say that every day I am amused to see that someone finds our blog by searching for these two things:

“I can’t fit my jeans” or “Will my jeans fit after pregnancy?” or “My jeans are too tight” or “Too tight jeans, can’t breathe”

AND

“Slim in 6 review”

I can’t count the times I’ve laughed out loud about the tight jeans comments.  While I have googled many random things I’m pretty sure I’ve never googled about that. 🙂

Anyways, after my oh-so-in-depth review back in October, I vowed to give it a real try and open the package it came in.  And try I did.  The first two weeks I did the DVD maybe 4 days in 7.  The second two weeks maybe 3 days in 7.  By this point you are supposed to be on the much longer, second DVD but I was still figuring out my way through the first one.

And my knees hurt.  There is a lot of squatting and with that for me came a lot of popping.  Not exactly sure what was popping but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t good.   I persevered and it kept happening.  I was as close to flawless in my form as I could get doing all the moves and still there was popping.

I made it to week 6.

I did not blow out a knee.

I did not make it past the first DVD in the series.  I felt grateful to still be alive at the end of the 30 minute DVD every single time.  Gasping at times and laughing often.  My children loved hanging around watching me and giving me ‘encouragement’ every step of the way.

“Mom, you can take it easy, she said so.”

“Mom, why can’t you answer when I’m talking to you.”

“What’s popping mom?”

“Can you feel it?  You should feel it now Mama.”

“I can tell you need a water break.”

“Sit ups! (with glee) My favorite part Mom, these are SO EASY!”

While “slim” is not the word that would best describe be at the end of six weeks, I would honestly say that my body worked better, felt better, moved better having been much more deliberately active.  I rarely sit in my day with the kids.  But I also don’t do much that qualifies as plain old exercise.  And were it not for the knee pain that only ended after I quit doing the DVD’s, this program might be great.

I’ve lost more weight being so sick over the past 3 weeks than I did doing the Slim in 6 workouts.  In fact I had a friend a while back who was always quick to encourage me anytime I got sick…..”At least you’ll lose a couple pounds!”.  I wasn’t sure why this bothered me until one day I realized, she was more concerned about it than I was.

Yes, losing some weight would be good for me.  Yes, I would like to fit my clothes a bit better.  Yes, I’d enjoy a bit more energy to keep up with my brood.

But…

Yes, I love cooking and good food.  I love sitting and reading and homeschooling and organizing and playing and sleeping more than I love working out.  I also love being married to someone who makes me feel beautiful.  I recently told him,

I’ve never been quite this ‘lumpy’ in my life – but never, in the 15 years of knowing you, have I felt this loved and lovely to you – doesn’t that seem strange?”

Maybe strange, maybe just the product of time.

And maybe the old adage “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is actually true.

Either way, I’m really thankful….slim or not.

Mat Kearney and my marriage

MatK

Life is a constant set of blessings and blows.  The final score is undecided and when things get out of balance and the blessings seem to be blooming everywhere but in your own home, so many people today choose to walk away and try again elsewhere.

There was a time when I didn’t understand this.  I was young, married my high school sweetheart, the love of my life.  Life truly seemed dreamy except for a few newlywed scuffles that always worked themselves out quickly.

But around year 7 or so of marriage, dreamy wasn’t the word I would use to sum life up.  Babies came, jobs shifted, we both hunkered down and opted for survival mode.

Survival mode is good for surviving, but not for living.  Not for long term.  And eventually it wasn’t working to well anymore.  Things that had always seemed strange to me, made sense.  The one I loved more than any other was the one who could cause pain and I did the same for him.  Dreamy it was not.  The promise we had made “till death do us part” seemed a more than lofty goal.

We made a choice.  In a time where life pulled us all different directions, when we were just trying to keep our heads above water, we chose eachother.  It was (for me at least) the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

We just passed the 10 year mark and I am completely in awe of the restoration and repair that God has brought to our marriage.  He was more than able to work it all for good.  He just asked us to choose Him and to choose eachother.  Sounds simple I know, but it wasn’t.  Life never is.  But choose we did and it has been good (not easy, just good).

What does Mat Kearny have to do with any of it?

Common ground.

Six months ago Christopher’s boss gave him a CD that he brought home and we both fell in love with the music.  With him not working at church, his ‘work world’ is now totally separate from mine.  He leaves and spends the day driving and talking.  I spend the day here.  We attend a church where he isn’t pastoring.  The lack of overlap is good in ways but the past year has accentuated the lack of shared loves.

Of course we share parenting and a bed and weekends.   But it’s easy to feel like we have very little in common.

Enter Mat’s music.  The simple thing of us both enjoying a musician together has bound our hearts together just a little more and in the sweetest way.  I know it sounds cheesy and that’s okay.

When we found out Mat Kearney was coming to Seattle we both scrambled to buy tickets and surprise the other.  He beat me to it and had to tell me before I bought another set of tickets!   We had the best time last week and tears rolled down my cheeks as the words of this song rang through the theater…

We’re on the run I can see it in your eyes
If nothing is safe then I don’t understand
You call me your boy but I’m trying to be the man
One more day and it’s all slipping with the sand
You touch my lips and grab the back of my hand
The back of my hand
Guess we both know we’re in over our heads
We got nowhere to go and no home that’s left
The water is rising on a river turning red
It all might be ok or we might be dead
If everything we’ve got is slipping away
I meant what I said when I said until my dying day
I’m holding on to you, holding onto me
Maybe it’s all gone black but you’re all I see
You’re all I see…

And if all we’ve got is what no one can break
I know I love you
If that’s all we can take

The tears are coming down
They’re mixing with the rain
I know I love you, if that’s all we can take

10 years today

I really don’t feel old enough to be celebrating a 10 year wedding anniversary today.  I surely look old enough, but my husband still looks like a college student.  Ten years ago today my high school sweetheart and I said “I do”.  It was the perfect sunny May day, with nearly 450 guests, two receptions and lots of dancing.

I recently found my old journal from high school and these are the words (verbatim) I penned in spring of 1995:

My head was turned in the direction of a certain Chris Strovas.  We were friends so I called him 2 weeks before the April 1 Loyalty Tolo Dance and asked him to go with me.  He said yes.  After the dance we went over to Holley’s house and we watched movies for a while.  We fell asleep and then all the sudden it was 6 AM so Chris went home.  When he left I walked him out to the car (I was staying the night at Holley’s).  He kissed me (REALLY kissed me) and it was quite nice!  I walked back in the house in a daze…

I still remember barely being able to walk up the stairs after he drove away.  Though that kiss was not my first, or second or…you get the idea. But it was unlike any other.  And our relationship continued in that manner because a few months later I wrote these words as a smitten 16 year old girl:

He treated me different that any guy I’d ever known.  He held me in the highest respect.  Chris made me feel like I was his most precious, valuable princess.  He always could make me smile and feel so special.  Each moment we’ve spent together is so precious.  A few weeks ago he took me out to Denny’s.  He was nervous acting, twiddling with sugar packets.  He told me he’d thought a lot about it and he realized he loved me.  Hearing those words come off the lips I adored was something I wasn’t sure I’d ever hear.  He is the first guy who has truly held my heart in his hands.

There is so, so much more to the story.  We didn’t get married for 4 years after that.  But we finally did.  It was easy then to whisper sweet words to each other, to kiss on the front porch, to write letter after letter proclaiming our love for each other.  It was easy to forgive.  Easier to make time for one another.  Life was pretty simple and pretty perfect really.  We have weathered many hard seasons since then.  Ones that involved us and ones that didn’t but broke our hearts anyway.   We have traveled and been on countless adventures together.  Four years into our marriage we welcomed our first baby and we were forever changed in a moment.  We had never before been so afraid as we were during those first days of Rylee’s life and we had never cared so much for anyone else.

Falling in love, marrying Christopher and spending the last 10 years together has been God’s gift to me.  I remember feeling like it was too much, too good, too lofty for me to even dream of as I pined away for him during our college years.  So it was only natural that the vows I wrote to recite on our wedding day began like this:

“Christopher, I stand in awe of the incredible gift God has given me in you…”

I am blessed beyond measure to be married to a man who loves Jesus, who cherishes me, who adores our children and who is willing to work (hard) to provide for us.  I am looking forward to many more years with the dreamy, patient and devoted boy that won my heart before I could even drive a car.