When Thanksgiving Isn’t Happy

It happens, and most are more aware after this year’s events, of how life can look completely different than you expected or hoped. Who would have ever anticipated a pandemic that altered normal life for the entire world? It has been challenging to say the least. So how do we celebrate Thanksgiving when it doesn’t seem very happy?

I believe the answer lies in finding joy in the midst of the struggle. Joy is different than happy. Happy is dependent on the circumstances around us. Joy breaks through the sadness to a deeper appreciation to God for what matters.

We are in Oklahoma. This is a state where my mom was born, and where my grandparents helped settle the booming town of Jenks in the early 1900’s. I have relatives who have made our time here not seem so far from home. This is where my mom and I traveled three times over a decade to do research for my book, Through The Eyes Of Grace, based on my grandmother’s life in Oklahoma Territory. It is a memory that brings me joy and sadness; joy in that that we were successful, sadness, since my Mom is no longer here to share in the happiness of what we did together.

I have wanted to travel here with Tom since my book was published to show him all the places I discovered with Mom. Normally it would make me very happy to be here with him, but we are here for an unplanned crisis; Our daughter gave birth to her first baby prematurely. We have a micro-preemie grandson who is making slow progress making happiness elusive.

There are too many variables to be completely happy. But do we have joy? Absolutely! Joy in the life Elias has. Joy in the slow progress he is making (a miracle unfolding). Joy in the fact that we get to spend Thanksgiving with the newest parents in our family. Joy that we have the means to do this.

If I’ve learned anything this past year it’s this: Joy is a decision we must choose in the midst of unhappiness.

When normal is pushed aside either by force or choice, we must rise above the sadness and choose joy.

So this week remember, Thanksgiving isn’t dependent on our circumstances. We can be thankful to God with joy for many things. Let’s take time this year to look for it. It may be hidden under tears.

Have a Thanksgiving with joy from our table to yours.

Posted in Christian Marriage, Difficulty, Holidays, thanksgiving | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

The Well Seasoned Marriage

I find it interesting that Fall brings me such joy. I’ve heard many others say Fall is their favorite season as well. But when it comes to the seasons of marriage I have to ask myself, do I enjoy the Fall as much as I did the Summer or Spring?

Fall is the time when the growth gained in Summer begins to change. The colors captivate us. I know because I am watching Fall happen day by day from our little house in Tulsa. The trees have not disappointed. I find it ironic that the tree becomes more beautiful as it lets go of what was. The chloroform drains out of the trees revealing the colors that were there all along, just hidden from the bright green of new growth.

In marriage we face the same seasons. Spring is the honeymoon and early years before children. Summer comes and with it the heat of building a career and raising a family. Lots of storms pass through as well. But it is all purposeful. Summer is pushing us to be the best we can be in all areas. But following soon after is the harvest when the fruit will reveal the health of the trees. Fall in all its glory is the best season because of the fruit.

Yet, in the Fall I am more aware that Winter is lurking around the corner. In Florida Winter is quite enjoyable, but for the majority of people, Winter is cold, dark and often cloudy. I would grow stir crazy not seeing the sunshine for weeks and weeks, but it is possible to find joy even in this.

How are you anticipating the next season in your marriage?

Maybe you can’t wait because your current season has left you wanting. Maybe you wish you could turn back the clocks not just an hour, but years. Back to the “good old days”.

What if we were to pause long enough to realize the gift we have in the moment? Life is precious. As we are watching our newest grandson (a micro preemie) face the challenges of life at such a young age, we are more aware than ever to be grateful for the moment right before us.

So today I took another walk down memory lane filled with Fall leaves that echo the memories we’ve made during the Spring and Summer of our marriage. Each leaf tells a story of God’s faithfulness to our us. And when the last leaves fall and winter is well underway, I’m trusting God that each snowflake will tell stories of His faithfulness as well.

What season are you walking through right now? Are you content with where you are? Stop and take photos, remembering what God is doing for His glory. It is all beautiful in its own way, like the seasons of the year. This is what a well seasoned marriage looks like and it is good.

Posted in Christian Marriage, Growing Strong Marriages, Seasons of Life | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

No Tricks—All Treats This Halloween

Our Temporary Home

I’ve started to write a post several times and my mind goes blank. Life has been unpredictable this year, and it keeps coming at us.

Our youngest daughter gave birth to her first baby at 24 weeks and 5 days on October 14th. Our already challenging schedule quickly shifted gears into turbo drive. We are holding on by the grace of God, and it really is a miracle how well we are doing in the midst of such uncertainty.

Elias Angel

Home. It’s such a comforting word.

Our daughter and son-in-love are amazing. The strength and faith evident does our hearts good as we wait for Baby Elias to keep growing. He weighed 1 lb, 6.6 ounces at birth. As I write this, they are getting to hold him for the first time since he was born. I have not been allowed in the NICU, so I won’t see him or hold him until after he is released to go home. This isn’t a COVID thing, it’s a NICU thing and I understand.

Tom and I drove to Oklahoma to be with our daughter as soon as we heard Elias had been born. They live in Arkansas, but she was airlifted to the closest NICU, which is in Tulsa, which just happens to be the state where my Mom was born nearly a hundred years ago (1922). She would be so happy.

My father-in-love had just moved in with us from California—a huge transition for him after 45 years in the same home.

View from Tom’s Dad’s home in CA

It wasn’t easy leaving him at our home alone, but we had no other choice. Thankfully, he unselfishly insisted on us going—Tom is so much like him.

After being here for two weeks, Tom flew home to take care of some things for his dad and step-dad. He says home is never the same when I’m not there. I felt the same way when he was making frequent trips to CA to finalize his father’s move. And here we are once again, together—but apart.

Home. It’s such a precious word.

It is Halloween. Our other grandchildren are getting dressed in their adorable costumes, but we won’t get to see them in person. I am grateful for technology that lets me enjoy such moments, even if from a distance. I know their homes are abuzz with the shrieks and shrills of giddy excitement.

We have in the costume line-up this year: Minnie Mouse, Uncle Jason (our grandson thinks his Uncle Jason is so cool) complete with tattoo sleeves to match his, a rainbow owl and a unicorn in our daughter’s family.

All that glitter!

Our son’s family is dressing up as glow stick people. I can’t wait to see this one, and we won’t get photos until after dark. But our favorite this year by far has to be the hungry caterpillar costume that the NICU nurses sewed for our youngest grandson. It is a Halloween with no tricks, all treats and I am beyond grateful to God for His kindness to our family.

What does all this have to do with marriage? Everything. Life comes fast and hard, but marriages that weather the hard knocks find a depth of intimacy found in no other way.

Home. It holds our memories and our dreams.

May we never lose sight of either. They are what glorifies God as we live each day side-by-side, or across the miles. It is home where we are united as one.

How are things in your home? Cherish every aspect—the good and the challenging. It is your story that you will tell your children and your grandchildren in the years to come. One day you will be closing the door on your home for the last time, like my father-in-law just did, taking only memories with you. Let’s enjoy all of it, even the not-so-good times, for it is our story alone and it is worth telling.

Posted in Aging, Caring for Parents, Christian Marriage, Difficulty, Grandparenting, Growing Strong Marriages, Halloween, Keeping It Real, Seasons of Life | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

What Is Your Endurance Level in Marriage?

Photo by Everton Vilaon Unsplash

Life has made it very difficult for me to work out on a consistent basis. I do it just enough to be really sore afterwards–for days. My endurance is lacking. How do I increase my endurance? By doing what I know to do regularly and without cutting corners.

It’s the same in marriage. We are called to endure many difficulties and adjustments in marriage.

  • Change of job/career
  • Return to college
  • Adding a new baby to the family
  • Divorce or death of a friend or family
  • Injuries
  • Prolonged illness
  • Quarantines

Yep, had to add the COVID quarantine to the list. Talk about endurance!

The Bible talks about this in 1 Corinthians 13:7

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (emphasis added)

ESV

We are aware of many marriages struggling in difficult seasons. It puts a strain on us as well because we care deeply for those hurting. But how can we apply endurance to our own marriage?

I believe it is like exercise–do those things that you know will strengthen your marriage, and keep doing them. Even when you don’t “feel” like it.

Try reading a good book on marriage together and discuss it as you go. We love Gary Thomas’ book, Cherish, because it talks about the good of marriage more than how to deal with the problems in marriage. It is positive and uplifting–something we all need right now. This is what we call Intellectual Intimacy, which is helping each other grow in knowledge and truth.

Check in regularly with your spouse to see how they’re doing today. Don’t assume that yesterday’s victories are today’s realities. We are human and we need daily encouragement. This is Emotional Intimacy and helps you grow closer heart to heart.

Build your Spiritual Intimacy by praying and reading your Bible together. We use the You Version app on our phones and choose a devotional to read at the same time. This allows us to have our time alone with the Lord, and then discuss what we are learning. It has been a great way to connect spiritually.

Also don’t neglect gathering together with your church family. Our church has been meeting mostly on-line for months. It is easy to get comfortable with “couch church”, but this is not what God has called us to do. The Bible says to not neglect gathering together “as some are in the habit of doing”. We are just starting back and even with the mandatory masks, it is worth it. God has used these relationships to help us endure some of our most difficult seasons in life. We need each other.

When Physical Intimacy becomes difficult or strained, talk about it. Ignoring each other and pretending all is well is the cowardly way to deal with sexual struggles. Endurance means I will pursue you continually as long as we both shall live. This is the long-range view of marriage and it is what helps us endure any and all hardships that come our way.

Jesus promised us that in this world we would have trouble. But He didn’t stop there. He continued, but be of good cheer I have overcome the world. This is the ultimate reason we endure, because Christ has made a way for us to do so. If He says we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength, I am confident He meant ALL.

In what areas are you finding it hard to endure? Does your spouse know? Do your close friends know? We encourage you to make sure they do. This is how we endure to the end for God’s glory.

Posted in Christian Marriage, Emotional, Intellectual, Intimacy, Physical, Spiritual | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Introducing Simon and Eden

Tom and I have enjoyed the new series on the life and ministry of Jesus titled, The Chosen. If you haven’t seen it yet, we highly recommend it. It’s unlike any production of this nature. It provides insight into the daily lives of those chosen to walk with Christ while He was here. And it is done well.

The following scene is one of our favorites. Simon (later called Peter) is married to Eden. He is in financial trouble, and Eden wants to have her sick mother live with them. Simon says they can’t afford this. Watch what happens…

I love this scene because it shows the struggle all marriages encounter–having a spouse disappoint you or act in a way that is contrary to what you would expect.

How do you deal with similar situations? How does your spouse deal with being confronted when necessary.

Trouble comes to all marriages. We have a choice to make when it comes. We can…

  1. Act in faith when our spouse brings up an area in need of change.
  2. Listen to what our spouse has to say, but ignore their suggestion.
  3. Lie to our spouse and say all is well, when we know it isn’t.

As you can see Simon tried all three, but it took his wife’s loving correction to opt for the first choice.

Marriage is teamwork. We need each other because we don’t think the same. This can be difficult, but it is good. If there is more than one way to solve a problem, Tom and I will most often have differing opinions. This used to drive us crazy. Now it makes us laugh. How can two people be so completely opposite, yet be so good for each other? God uses our differences to make us better. But we have an enemy who tries to use our differences to divide us.

I have learned more patience, since Tom likes to take his time making important decisions. And Tom has learned to be more spontaneous because I love to drop everything and go! We have achieved a healthy balance of both, but it didn’t come without lots of conflict.

What differences do you have in your relationship? Are you open about them? Or do you try to hide them avoiding conflict? Do you feel free to share a different perspective? Or does your spouse put you down for not agreeing with them?

How you answer these questions reveals how well you are working together as a team or against each other in conflict. No marriage has completely arrived. We all have work to do. We pray each year finds you leaning in and growing closer as a couple.

Date Night Prompt: Download The Chosen app on your iPhone or Google Play, and watch this excellent series together. Or better yet, purchase Season One on DVD. It is so good, and it will provide great discussion as you draw closer to Jesus together.

“I was one way and now I’m completely different. And the thing that happened in between … was Him.” – Mary Magdalene, The Chosen episode two

Posted in Biblical Encouragement, Christian Marriage, Conflict | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Vintage Post – Constrained or Compromised?

Originally posted March 2011

Driving down the road they stand as deformed sentinels declaring to everyone, “I was here first!”  Yet progress moves forward without regard for the hows, whys or who’s in the way.  I’m talking about beautiful trees mutilated by the onslaught of power lines going through their branches as pictured here.

Photo Credit: Photo of the Day website

I never understand why they do this.  What’s worse is when small trees are planted below power lines knowing that in only a few short years they will need to be deformed as well.  Why not plan better?  Why not relocate the plantings or rework the power lines?  It seems like someone failed or didn’t understand the growth of the tree, and besides – it’s ugly!

On the contrary there are trees deliberately planted around a wire with the intent of altering it’s shape.  These are beautiful and can cost lots of money.  You’ve seen these as well – topiary trees as pictured below.

Photo: Hito Topiary Nursery

This metaphor is a great example of how we view our boundaries in marriage.  When we say our vows to one another we are making a promise to love them, respect them, be devoted to them and to support them in all seasons of life.  Those who take these vows seriously are like the topiary trees.  They see their vows as healthy constraints to help them as they grow year after year.  They don’t inhibit growth, but direct it in a way that is unique and beautiful.  People are drawn to beautiful topiaries in the same way they are drawn to beautiful marriages.

Now consider the deformed trees hacked away to allow for power lines, these are marriages where no real thought is given to where, how or why they commit.  The point to them is simply, “I’m in the ground aren’t I?  What’s the big deal? We’re married, aren’t we?”

These are the marriages where several years down the road bits and pieces are whittled away allowing outside influences to have their way. No effort is made to save the tree – it’s all about making room for other priorities. Can the tree continue to grow? Certainly, but it won’t grow strong and mature – it can’t; the heart and health of the tree has been compromised.

How is your marriage?  Are you allowing outside influences to have more say in your relationship than they should?  Or are you taking your vows seriously enough to make cuts where needed? These outside influences can be:

  • work
  • friendships
  • in-laws
  • hobbies
  • even church activities or ministry

All of these if given more influence than they deserve can be detrimental to the growth and strength of your marriage.

Take some time today to ponder your own vineyard.  We guarantee it is more enjoyable to visit a garden full of topiary trees than one planted alongside the road with holes and branches missing.

Is your marriage constrained or compromised?

Posted in Christian Marriage, Priorities, Vintage Posts | Tagged , | Leave a comment

What’s The Big Deal About Marriage Anyway?

Marriage. It seems to be old-fashioned to many in our culture. Kind of a romantic gesture that is optional for co-habitating couples, but not necessary. I’ve heard some say, “Marriage is just a piece of paper that doesn’t prove anything. Why go to all that trouble if we can live together–it’s the same.

Why do we spend our life encouraging healthy marriages if it’s just an option available for couples to consider?

We can’t speak for anyone else, but we can share why marriage is a big deal to us.

God created the first man and woman. It was in the garden where He said,

“And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” Genesis 2:22-25 ESV

Marriage is a miracle where two who were once separated have now become one. And for the marriage to work, this oneness must be cultivated for as long as we live.

Will it be easy? No.

Will it be worth it? Oh, yes!

We have been cultivating our marriage for over forty years now, and it still comes with challenging days. We are often surprised because we don’t see it coming. Something is said and the atmosphere turns dark and foreboding.

It’s in moments like these that we must lean in and talk. Talk, not yell, or grow silent, or fling absolutes such as, “you always” or “you never”! Talking is both of you sharing how you see the conflict and listening to the other’s perspective.

How can it be that two people see things so differently?

It has been this way from the beginning. Note that we have four Gospels to give us four separate accounts of the most significant event of history. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. The very one to whom you are married, as well as yourself.

This is how strong marriages are cultivated; two sinners saying “I do” to each other and to God. He does the impossible by making us one and continues to lead us through every struggle.

Conflict isn’t an indication that your marriage is bad. On the contrary. It is proof that you married a sinner and so did your spouse. There is hope for those who sin—His name is Jesus. He came into the world to save sinners. This is the greatest news the world has known, and the hope for cultivating marriages that last.

Posted in Christian Marriage | 1 Comment

Pandemic Marriage Check Up

Tension. Every marriage faces it. It comes from no where and sometimes settles so thick you could cut it with a knife. Many use words instead, which cuts deeper and always leaves a scar.

Pandemics are like a boiler keeping the tension simmering. If your marriage hasn’t practiced healthy communication before the pandemic, such times will elevate the tension to a full boil. Most likely someone will get burned.

How do we manage marriage tension in the best possible way?

The first step is evaluating where your marriage is right now. Answer the following questions to see if any resonate with how you feel?

  • Do you have any unresolved conflict?
  • Do you avoid “going there” just to keep the peace?
  • Do you feel invisible?
  • Does your spouse miss opportunities to help you when needed?
  • Do you go to separate parts of the house to relax?
  • Do you wish things could be the way they used to be?
  • Have you silently imagined what life would be like apart?

If you answered yes to any of the above, please know that your marriage is in trouble. The pandemic has magnified tension in a way nothing else has. Either you have been forced to be together more than you have in years, or you are both working so hard you haven’t had any time to connect.

What to do to help the home fires burn instead of tension.

  • Plan time to talk about what you’re feeling. If you are afraid it will explode, ask some friends to be there to help you talk openly and honestly.
  • Seek professional marriage help if needed
  • Ask forgiveness when necessary. God gives grace to the humble. This doesn’t mean all the blame is yours, but it is acknowledging your part of the tension.
  • Be a peacemaker, not a peace faker. A peace faker wants peace at any cost and is unwilling to have those difficult conversations. This is like someone ignoring their need for surgery to avoid the pain required. Surgical pain is what is needed to fix that which is broken. Marriage can require surgery in order to heal.
  • Remember why you fell in love with your spouse in the first place. Many times when we are upset or hurt, all we can see is what we don’t like and forget what we love about our spouse.
  • Do the things you did at first. Small kindnesses cultivate more kindness in return. Even if you don’t feel it, do it anyway. Our choices lead our emotions, not the other way around. It’s not being hypocritical to do something even if you don’t “feel it”. Our feelings will follow the choices we make.
  • Pray and fast asking God to do the impossible. He is in the restoration business and with Him no marriage is too far for Him to redeem.

It breaks our heart to hear of marriages ending in divorce and children being divided between two households. Let’s be pro-active and work on the tensions this pandemic has revealed. It is much better to have sizzling intimacy than simmering conflict. Wouldn’t you agree?

Posted in Christian Marriage, Conflict, Difficulty, Growing Strong Marriages | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Unexpected Expectations

Have you ever been caught off guard by unrealistic or unfair expectation of your spouse? Have you ever been surprised that you even had expectations? I have, sadly, and I regret what I put Tom through. Thankfully I have a husband who not only puts up with my struggles, but who honestly wants to grow in his understanding of them.

God bless him!

It is no easy task to understand what causes my ups and downs. In fact, I often don’t understand them either.

My birthday was in July. Tom asked what I would like to do for my birthday. I mentioned a few ideas and he went to work making sure to check them all off his list. Have I mentioned he’s a list maker? I love this about him. Rarely does something go overlooked on his end. He is diligent and faithful and he loves me.

So why did I struggle with my birthday this year? I thought I knew the reason. You see, I love gifts – giving them and receiving them. Tom knows this. But to him an experience counts as a gift even though you can’t gift wrap it. But to have a birthday with no gift from him to actually open felt wrong. I was disappointed at best and hurt at worst. I prayed and asked God to help me not be so sensitive. And then I forgot about it, or so I thought.

Until…

it was Tom’s birthday a month later. I planned to have a couple of friends join us for dinner at our cabin. It was all going well until they had to back out for various, understandable reasons. Then, I had no plans. The day ended up being ok, but lacking my normal all day plans to honor this man I love so much. I didn’t even think about baking him a pie. I had made a special breakfast, but dropped the ball after that. He was perplexed at best and hurt at worst.

Four weeks, two birthdays and we were both struggling to make sense of it all. After bringing this up to some dear friends, they helped me realize that probably what was behind my desire for Tom to do everything possible to give me the best birthday, including a wrapped gift, was my sadness that we could no longer have big family celebrations over birthdays. When they mentioned this, I couldn’t hold back the tears. They were right! I was placing an unknown expectation on Tom to fill the void I was experiencing for the lack of having my family close.

My poor husband. No one can fill that place, only God. He is able to fill the sad and broken places in my idealistic heart. I had a wonderful birthday, and I let my husband down by doing to him the very thing I didn’t want him to do to me.

Marriage is messy. We fail each other. Sometimes it’s me disappointing him and sometimes its the other way around. The important thing is to not stay there. We ask forgiveness. We talk. We ask questions to better understand. And we forget the offense.

This year’s birthdays may not have been the best of the best, but they did teach me an invaluable lesson–watch out for unexpected expectations. It is a demanding taskmaster that wants nothing more than to hold your relationship prisoner, tearing your marriage apart one disappointment at a time.

Thankfully, we have many more celebrations to come, God willing, so we don’t make more of this than it is. It is simply a bump in the road that I will watch out for next time.

Birthdays are a great opportunity to grow in our understanding of each other. I know what my birthday wish will be next year when I blow out my candles–enjoy the day whatever is planned. The gift is found in the giver, not within a disposable box.

Posted in Birthdays, Celebration Dates, Celebrations, Christian Marriage, Keeping It Real | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

10 Habits of Highly Romantic Couples

Romance is simply thinking of your spouse above all others when it comes to time, attention, generosity and kindness. Your spouse should never feel that they come in second place to your other priorities. Of course there are seasons when it is necessary to do otherwise, but it should be the exception and not the rule.

This got me thinking about what it is romantic couples do on a regular basis that other couples may have neglected in recent years. It is never too late to turn up the romance in your marriage, and here are ten ways to get started.

  1. You keep your appearance up the way your spouse likes it. I know of one couple who have been married 60+ years. She still puts on her makeup, including lipstick, everyday because her husband loves it. That’s romance.
  2. You make it a priority to know what is on your spouse’s schedule and do what you can to help them accomplish it.
  3. You listen when your spouse is telling you about their day. This includes putting down your screens and looking at them.
  4. You plan romantic surprises that they will love, not necessarily what you would want them to do for you. Sometimes we can do things for our spouse in an underhanded way to show them what they’re not doing for us. This is a romance killer—don’t do it!
  5. Let your spouse know that making love is important to you by making the first advance. This can start in the morning and last all day long. Flirting is always practiced by romantic couples.
  6. Plan regular dates where you can connect heart to heart. Go the next step and plan the whole evening ahead of time: babysitter, where to go and what to do.
  7. Pay attention to their off-the-cuff remarks. Often times they will say what they really wish they could do in this way, but they don’t think it’s a priority or affordable. The most romantic memories we share are when we made something happen that the other didn’t think was possible.
  8. Be kind. Open their car door. Rub their shoulders after a hard day. Bake their favorite dessert. Buy them their favorite drink and hand deliver it. Call them and compliment them on something they’ve done recently. Kindness begets kindness. And romance grows strong in the soil of kindness. Be their biggest fan!
  9. Keep your promises. We have heard many women say there is nothing so romantic as a man who washes the dishes. If you said you would do something to help your spouse, make sure you do it and do it well.
  10. Don’t do what you see other couples doing without studying your spouse to see what they want to do. We can miss getting to know our spouse because we make assumptions. Your spouse is unique and so is your marriage. Romance is cultivated when both of you are focused on pleasing each other, not copying what you see or hear other couples are doing.

Being romantic isn’t hard, but it requires being intentional.

Romance Prompt: Find a couple you see who are romantic and ask them over or to go on a double date. Spend time asking them what they’ve done to cultivate romance in their marriage. Commend them for the example they’ve been to you, and then offer to buy their meal, if you’re able. It’s good to encourage couples you see doing things right for it builds humility and gratitude in your own heart, and it edifies them for doing something well.

Gratefulness is the first step towards change. In what ways are you grateful for your spouse?

Posted in Christian Marriage, Romance in Marriage | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Praying Reveals The Heart

Photo Credit: Joshua Ness on Unsplash

I remember a time in our marriage where we rarely prayed aloud together. It wasn’t that we didn’t want to, just that life was often too loud to even think of it. And once we got in the habit it was easy to keep not thinking of it. I say this to our shame. Our need for God every day never changes. This is why He provides new mercies every morning.

One day we were both struggling with some weighty matter. I don’t recall what it was now, but you’ve been there. Feeling backed into a corner and not knowing what to do.

Tom took my hand and said, “Let’s pray.” And he began…

As I listened to his words I was struck with emotion. His heart in prayer was exposed in a way our conversations were never able to reach. He used words and emotions as he cried out to God that I had never heard before. It was a revelation for both of us. We realized our need to pray.

The intimacy reached through prayer together towards God can’t be likened to any other intimacy. It is two hearts connected to the power, love and mercy of God Almighty. When we pray together He hears and He unites our hearts in a beautiful way.

My husband’s relationship with God is different than mine. I have much to learn from him in this regard. And I believe he also learns from me. It’s a give and take of shared connection to our Father.

There was a time when I thought my relationship with God was the way everyone related to God. I soon discovered that God is as unique in relating to each of us as He is unique in creating us. We are individually His—each taking a part that is important and assigned to no one else.

Once we realize this truth, then our main job is to help our spouse be the best they can be in all areas, and especially in the area of relating to God. What a privilege!

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

James 5:16 ESV

Date Night Prompt: Set aside time to pray out loud together. Make a list of the things weighing on both of you and take it to the Lord in prayer. You may even want to record the date you began praying about these particular things and watch how God answers.

Recommended Reading: A Praying Life, by Paul Miller

When was the last time you prayed out loud with your spouse?

Posted in Christian Marriage, Prayer, Spiritual Intimacy | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Make Your Home Welcoming To Others

You can follow our posts on Instagram: @theromanticvineyard

We have all been spending lots of time in our homes lately. It’s easy to neglect things because you no longer see them as visitors do. So this post is an encouragement to look at your home with fresh eyes.

I’m taking part in an Instagram challenge this month sponsored by the Come Home For Comfort blog. You can follow along using hashtag #happyhomemaker2020. Whitney is encouraging us to submit photos of our everyday lives as seen through the lens of our home. I love challenges like these because it gives me fresh eyes to see areas in my home that I love, as well as areas in need of improvement.

When guests arrive to stay in our home we like to think of little things to make them feel welcome. Here are some of the most appreciated things we’ve done shared by our guests.

  • Print a photo of them from one of their social media pages and frame it to display on their nightstand. Hint: If they’ve shared it on social media chances are they love this photo.
  • Write a personalized welcome message on a framed, matted picture in the room.
  • Buy the highest quality bed linens your budget will allow.
  • Make a basket of their favorite snacks and drinks and set up on the dresser of their room. You can even include toiletries they may have forgotten like a toothbrush, tooth paste, shampoo, conditioner or soap.
  • Have comfortable seating areas available for them to use their computers.
  • Leave a basket of fresh fruit and water bottles in the kitchen for them to help themselves in the morning.

I know right now there isn’t much opportunity for hospitality. But this is the perfect time to work on making your home ready for when this pandemic has ended. The Bible says many have entertained angels while unaware. Wow! Just think…Hospitality is a way we can share love with others all with a view of blessing them and building them up.

Lastly, we encourage you to provide a guest book for your visitors to sign. I like to keep the photo I printed of them and place it in the back of our guest book. Over the years our guest book has become a special momento of hospitality shared for the good of others. And you know what? Tom and I have received much more than we have given by opening our home and heart to others.

Date Night Prompt: Talk about the importance of hospitality and how you can make this a part of your life. Reflect on times when you have welcomed others into your home. What did you hear from them that made their stay special? What could you do to make your home more inviting?

Posted in Christian Marriage, Growing Strong Marriages, Open Nest, Seasons of Life, Showing Honor | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Bookends Of Our Marriage

Bookends. Their sole purpose is to hold up the books standing in-between them. You can have a bookshelf without bookends, but they won’t stand tall. Most likely they will fall over as mine always do.

Bookends come in all sizes and shapes. They make some really clever ones too, such as these I found on Uncommongoods.com Some make you laugh. Some make you think. And many make you marvel at the creativity used in making them.

I have discovered my need to bookend my days since this pandemic began. There are only two things, necessary things, strong enough to support me through the shifting events of each day. 

First, is my relationship with Jesus. He is my focus at the start of each day. I ask myself,  What does His Word say? What is He saying to me through it? And how does He want me to apply it to my current circumstances? These questions help me frame the start of the day with that which provides strength. It’s amazing how one thought of fear and worry can unravel a whole day making it nothing but a pile of messy emotions.  This is why spending time alone with the Lord is necessary. He is my strong support to start my day.

Then, as the day ends and I lay my head on my pillow, I thank God for His countless blessings to me. I try to be as specific as I can before I fall asleep…

  • I’m grateful for the ability to see, hear, smell, feel and taste. What comforts these 5 senses bring to me all throughout the day.
  • I’m grateful for my family and pray specifically for them by name. A tradition my grandmother began.
  • I’m grateful for my home and the comforts it provides.
  • I’m grateful for food on my table to share with those I love.
  • I’m grateful for health.

Being aware of my blessings on a daily basis keeps me from grumbling and complaining about the day’s trouble.

Secondly, is my relationship with my husband. He walks with me through all the high peaks and low valleys life brings my way. He gives me a perspective I wouldn’t have left to myself. He is a thinker, a planner and doesn’t make decisions quickly. This used to drive me crazy because I’m the opposite. I love to throw caution to the wind and just do whatever strikes my fancy. But after all these years of marriage, I have grown to love and depend on Tom’s wisdom. I’m not as quick to jump these days. Usually when I do I regret it. There is wisdom in waiting. He is my strong support to help me make wise decisions.

Add to this, our shared faith in God. This makes our bookends even stronger. 

“And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

These are the two bookends that help me stand tall and strong, ready to be used as God chooses. What bookends give you strong support?

Posted in Biblical Encouragement, Christian Marriage, Difficulty, Encouraging Your Spouse | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Looking Outward Together

We spend much of our posts talking about how to make your relationship stronger to last through the years. This requires intentionality in pursuing intimacy with your spouse—spiritual, emotional, physical, as well as cherishing each other. This will make your marriage strong, if done well.

There is another aspect of a healthy marriage and that is looking outward together to the ways in which you can bless others. Today we want to focus on the benefit of extending hospitality.

We have always heard that the true biblical definition of hospitality is “entertaining strangers”. Think of it. Before planes or trains made traveling something done in hours, not days, travelers would often pass through a city late at night in need of a place to rest their horses and find food and a place to sleep. Many families would open their homes in hospitality to these strangers as a way to reach out and help others.

Tom and I love to practice hospitality. We have welcomed people into our homes from all over the world. Some we had never met as they were friends of friends. But by the time they left our home they felt like family.

I remember one couple coming to visit from another country who had never been to Orlando before. It was Monday, our normal date night, so rather than skip it we decided to share a double date and show them some of our sites. We ended the evening on beach chairs overlooking the water. We gave them our list of date night questions and encouraged them to spend some time together talking. They loved it and even mentioned that this was one of the most memorable and romantic times they had spent together in a long time. Our hearts were full.

That’s the thing with hospitality, you put your best efforts forward for the good of another, and end up receiving a double blessing in return.

We are going to continue this topic in posts to follow, but for now we encourage you both to reflect on the ways in which you have benefited from the hospitality of others. Why not take time to thank them again for their kindnesses to you.

Date Night Prompt – Using our date night questions (see tab at top of page), pick one or two to talk about on your next night out together. Find a romantic spot by the water or with a nice view to enjoy undistracted time. Bonus if you don’t look at your phone for the entire time.

Posted in Christian Marriage, communication, Date Night Ideas, Free Dates, Intimacy | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Five Cooking Dates to Make Your Mouth Water

Tom and I love to cook. We love to cook for each other, and we love to cook together. When we had our kitchen renovated the designer laid out our kitchen to make the best use of space for us to be in the kitchen together. It was the best advice we ever took from them. Our kitchen is a great place for us to spend an evening together.

First, I’ll share a cooking date that didn’t work for us. You’ll need a bit of background to help—we enjoy watching cooking shows. One in particular is Master Chef where Gordon Ramsey and his team challenge home chefs as a culinary artists. The best one wins the title of Master Chef for the year.

There is one challenge he does called Mystery Box. Inside each chef’s mystery box are assorted ingredients each must use to make an inspiring meal. It’s fun to watch their creativity shine.

Now for our unsuccessful date. We made plans to go to the grocery store and buy our own mystery box ingredients to give to each other. The idea, which was a good one, was to each create a dish using the ingredients in our mystery box. The only problem was—we lacked the creativity to do anything with our items. Lol. We bought such weird and unfamiliar items that we ended up donating them to a local food bank and ordered pizza delivery. Failed date, but hilarious memory. If you decide to do this, use more familiar ingredients to make it doable. This is still on the table for us to give it another try.

Now for some fun ways to enjoy time together in the kitchen…

Five Cooking Date Ideas for Two

  • Charcuterie Board with Wine Tasting – Buy four bottles of wine. Two red and two white. Cut up favorite assorted cheese, dried meats, olives, nuts, crackers, and fruit. Set up a card table in an area not normal for meals, play some smooth jazz and enjoy. Put each bottle of wine in a paper bag so you don’t know which is which. Rate your favorite wine by the taste. You may find a new wine you didn’t know you liked best!
  • Make your own pizza from Scratch – Try your hand a tossing your own pizza dough, spreading a favorite marinara sauce on top. Then each make a masterpiece for each other. Don’t forget to play classic Italian Cafe music to set the mood.
  • Low Country Boil – This is one of our favorite meals for the summer. You can make it on your gas grill outside to keep the seafood smell out of the house. Instead of sea weed, we line the bottom of a large pot with spinach. Fill with smoked sausage, halved cobs of corn, shrimp, lobster tail or crab legs and new potatoes. Sprinkle all with Old Bay seasoning for the most authentic taste. Don’t forget to line your table with newspaper. When ready to eat, pour it all out on the table and enjoy.
  • Filet Mignon with Roquefort Port Wine sauce – This is my all-time favorite meal that Tom cooks for me. I found it in my Williams-Sonoma French cookbook. It is so good you don’t need dessert – the sauce is so rich and mount-watering you’ll want to lick the plate. I may or may not have done this. 😉
  • Ice Cream Sandwich competition – Each of you plan to make your own cookies and fill them with the ice cream flavor of your choice. Wrap them in plastic wrap and chill.

All of our recipes and ideas can be found on our Pinterest Board – Date Night Food. We would love to hear about your experience if you try any of these “at home” cooking dates.

Bon Appetit!

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The Annoying Hiccups of Marriage

Photo by Nathan Nicholson Unsplash

In this season of quarantines being relaxed and then restricted again, it can become disconcerting. But let’s remember the one constant in our life…our marriage. Whatever restrictions we face, we are in this together. Hiccups and all!

Two are better than one,

    because they have a good return for their labor:

If either of them falls down,

    one can help the other up.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10a

Let’s make the most of this time by being even more intentional to deal with conflicts as they arise. The temptation may be great to let our guard down and give in to the words we want to say in the moment. But cherishing our spouse requires a choice to do it differently.

Consider these common moments…

When your spouse misunderstood or didn’t hear what you said….

Rather than react in frustration, kindly explain what you said again.

When your spouse becomes impatient…

Ask them more about why this is bothering them.

When your spouse gets angry…

Rather than defend yourself, ask them to help you understand what upset them.

When your spouse has had a bad day…

Surprise them with something they love at the end of the day.

Recently, Tom and I had another hiccup in our communication. When we tried talking about it, all I could do was cry. I wasn’t upset with him. I was more frustrated that we were having this issue once again. Just like real hiccups; you just want them to go away! Tom patiently reminded me that this is normal in any marriage. We have to expect them, but what we do with them can vary depending on our mindset. I’m grateful we were able to resolve it, which puts us in a much better place to deal with it when it happens next time. Yep! I’m sure there will be another hiccup and the fresh water of communication will once again help us swallow our pride and get rid of them.

Don’t let these little conflicts go unresolved and build up over time. It is not good for either of you personally or for your marriage. We need to do all we can to keep our relationship healthy. There have been too many marriages we have heard of lately (over 20+) years not making it, and it breaks our heart. There is a better way. It isn’t easy, but is certainly worth it!

Posted in Biblical Encouragement, Cherishing, Christian Marriage, communication, Conflict | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Making Memories That Last

I haven’t posted in a while because I’ve been on a retreat with several of my dear friends. I am learning to be present wherever I am, and last week I was present with them and with the Lord who met with us in a special way.

During our time one friend shared a song with us that left most of us in tears. It was meaningful because of the words, but also because she has been widowed for four years. We miss her husband, but find great solace in reminiscing on our times together as couples. This song brings all of this together and reminds us that the memories we make today will last until we take out last breath. Make them count!

I pray it will help you make the most of your memory-making opportunities.

Posted in Cherishing, Christian Marriage, Emotional, Growing Strong Marriages, Intimacy, Love Songs, Music | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

A Marriage Many Will Never Know

Photo of Keith Urban listening to Kelly Clarkson’s riveting performance of Piece by Piece on American Idol

You may have heard the news about Kelly Clarkson and her husband, Brandon Blackstock, divorcing. She filed for a divorce following the quarantine stating irreconcilable differences. It’s a known fact that celebrities have a harder time keeping the knot tied and this one is surprising and heartbreaking to me.

I’ll never forget hearing her sing her then debut song, Piece by Piece, on American Idol’s finale. She was about 8 months pregnant and couldn’t hide her emotions about the testimony this song portrayed of her life growing up. It was riveting. There wasn’t a dry eye in the audience, nor in my living room. I was thrilled for her that she seemed so happy to have found a lifelong love. Until she wasn’t…

Marriage is hard work. And the quarantine magnified this truth. Being together day after day reveals areas in need of attention, and for some it may seem too difficult to climb that mountain. But what if Kelly and Brandon chose to work on their differences instead of abandon their vows? It was said that she wanted more children and he did not. This was a source of great disappointment and grief for Kelly. This is why we encourage engaged couples to have these conversations before marriage. How many children? How will they be disciplined? How will we spend or save our money? Etc…

I’m sad for Kelly and Brandon. And I’m sad for their children who will now divide their time between two households. But I’m mostly sad for the marriage they will never know.

Imagine…

  • …If they had committed to love and cherish each other until death parted them.
  • …If a deeper joy was waiting for them on the other side of this struggle.
  • …If they were able to find a compromise on the issues which separated them.

I believe there are rarely irreconcilable l differences, only one or both spouses not willing to give up their desires for the good of the marriage.

Of course, I’m not talking about abusive relationships; if you find yourself being physically, verbally or emotionally abused please seek safety and counsel. What I am talking primarily about are couples who give up too soon without giving the marriage a chance to grow and mature beyond the “this is what I want out of marriage and if I don’t get it, I’m leaving” stage. We all face that moment when the marriage moves to a deeper level and it isn’t fun, but it is good!

Sadly there are those who miss out on a good marriage they will never know because they quit too early. This is why we do what we do; We want to help marriages make it for a lifetime.

Do you remember a time in your marriage when it went from the honeymoon stage to the life just got serious stage? How did you and your spouse work through those differences? Were you in a better place afterward? We’d love to hear your story…

Posted in Christian Marriage, Difficulty, Testimonies, Troubled Marriage | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Memories That Make Scents

It has been proven that our sense of smell triggers our memories more so than any other sense. I’m not sure why, but I agree. With one whiff of orange blossoms I am taken back to my grandparent’s orange groves where, as kids, we played hide and go seek among the trees. Such a fun time for me growing up in Central Florida.

This makes me wonder what kinds of memories we are creating for our spouse by the scents made in our home? I know the smell of bread and bagels baking will always remind us of the 10 weeks we have spent in quarantine. Pies evoke memories of birthdays past, since we always have birthday pies in lieu of cakes.

Likewise the savory scent of a roast in oven reminds me of Sunday afternoons at my parent’s home for Sunday dinner. I’m so glad I have her recipe and can enjoy it whenever I want.

Not all scents have to be of edible things; On our first trip to France we toured a French Perfumery where we watched and smelled our way through the process of making different perfumes from a variety of flowers. It was fascinating to watch it all come together. Tom still buys me my favorite perfume from them as it reminds us of one of our favorite vacations. We refer to it as our Trip of a Lifetime.

Tom grew up in upstate New York where the annual Lilac Festival takes place every May. When we bought our cabin in North Carolina we were given a lilac bush. Tom was deeply affected by the kindness of my cousins for such a meaningful housewarming gift.

Other scents that are known to stir up strong recollections of days gone by are: campfires, hamburgers on the grill, sea air, jasmine blooming on a fence, a particular soap, or all kinds of flowers.

Date Night Prompt: What scents are special to your spouse? If you don’t know plan a date night to ask. You may be missing a great opportunity to make your sweetie smile and remember. And don’t neglect to create those new scent-filled memories today to be remembered years from now.

Do you have a favorite scent memory? We’d love to hear about it.

Posted in A Fragrant Aroma, Christian Marriage, Growing Strong Marriages, Making Scents | Tagged | 1 Comment

Five Things To Do When You’re Bothered, Bummed and Blue

On March 17th our lives came to a screeching halt. No more meetings; no more friends gathering; no more church services together; no more date nights to our favorite places; no more life as we had known it. At first the cancelations felt like a relaxing reprieve, like being on vacation when you hadn’t planned it. It felt good to cook, stay in pj’s all day and catch up on favorite shows or movies we had wanted to see. We spent time reading, doing puzzles, gardening and doing some of our very own DRAB date nights. (DRAB stands for “does not require a babysitter).

Then, it got old. I’d wake up in the morning bothered with the thought–here we go again. It was a struggle to think of something to break up the monotony.

The beaches were just starting to open, and we were hopeful to have the chance to soak up some vitamin D. yet the weather kept us inside. It started raining all day everyday for days–making the temptation to be bummed difficult to resist. Living in the Sunshine State we aren’t used to gray skies–unless it’s our afternoon thunderstorm that blows in around 3p, and clears up by 4.

On the heels of the quarantine, our country plummeted into a crisis worse than COVID19; George Floyd was murdered and we all saw it in horror. Our hearts were broken, and our anger stirred. The circumstances that got us here weren’t new, and the weight of it all seemed overwhelming. The need for justice for our black friends was finally being heard. It’s true black lives matter and my heart was broken for the struggle that has been their reality for centuries. Not knowing what to do or say to help made me discouraged and blue.

Maybe you’re on the front lines and you haven’t had a moment to rest. Your circumstances are different, but similar in that you are also longing for it to end.

It seemed insignificant to write about marriage in the midst of it all, but this is what God has called us to do. We aren’t to write only when things are going well and we see our path clearly before us. It’s all the more important to write when we are in the midst of the struggle, trying to figure it out.

I must admit, this post is as much for me as it is for you. I’m not sure where it will end, but I’m trusting God is leading my writing to encourage us all.

So, what DO we do when life is like a replay of the book of Job and we are bothered, bummed and blue? I believe there are five practical things we can do to get us started. This list is just that–a beginning to help us avoid the downward spiral.

  1. Lean in to each other and talk about how you’re feeling. Just because you’re both experiencing the same situation doesn’t mean you’re processing it the same. This is one of the advantages of marriage–having someone to talk with you through difficulty. Most times what comes of it is something you wouldn’t have discovered on your own.
  2. Pray together. God is not surprised by this fiery trial we are facing, nor should we be. He is at work always making a way in the wilderness for those who are His. 1 Peter 4:12, 13 ESV says: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” Did you catch that? God wants us to rejoice in the fact that we are suffering. That makes no sense to those who don’t know Him, but to us it is the hope for which we live. His glory is why we rejoice in all things!
  3. Take time to list out the things that are specifically bothering you. Many times just writing them down can help us let go of the burden and give it to God.
  4. Be content with what you’ve been given. There’s that word again, my word for 2020 – Contentment. I looked up the scripture where Paul shared how he had learned the secret of being content in all circumstances. In our current crisis it seems wrong to be content doesn’t it? I don’t want life to be this way. I don’t want to wear face masks when going to the store. I don’t want to read another account of racism and hate. I don’t want life to be like it is. But God is saying to be content. “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” What is that secret? Acknowledging that we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength.
  5. Ask Christ for strength to face the day. Each morning I wake up realizing my need for Him. I ask Him to help me put on kindness towards my husband primarily and everyone else whom I will meet during the day. Kindness doesn’t come naturally for any of us; at least not the kind we need. The kindness we need is unselfish and imitates Christ’s kindness to us.

“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with hearts of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with one another and forgive any complaint you may have against someone else. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which is the bond of perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, for to this you were called as members of one body. And be thankful.”

Colossians 3:12-15 ESV

This last scripture is rich with what we need; we need to be clothed with hearts of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. In what ways are you loving your spouse with these qualities? In what ways to you need Christ to help you change?

I don’t know about you, but I feel much better having leaned in to hear God’s heart on all that is weighing on me. He is not surprised that we struggle. After all we are only human. We need Him to lift our gaze to His throne of grace, which will never be exhausted. Even when we’re bothered, bummed and blue.

Date Night Prompt: Plan a quiet evening or afternoon together to talk about these five points. Read them aloud to each other and take time to listen to what your spouse has to say.

Posted in Biblical Encouragement, Christian Marriage, communication, Keeping It Real | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments