things I wish I knew before I married

Nothing like flying blind, you know?  Bumping along the road toward marital bliss seems so, well, blissful.  Until it isn’t because it won’t be.

Marriage is hard sometimes, plain and simple.

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And therein lies the problem.  Or at the very least, part of the problem.  We expect what isn’t and what is totally isn’t what we were expecting.  Confused?  If not, then you’re probably already married.

There are things I wish I knew about men, husbands, before I ever uttered that little word yes.  I still would have said it, mind you, but I would have known better just exactly what I was saying.  Because I would have been saying a whole lot of things I never saw coming.  Like, perhaps…

  • Yes, I will marry your need to internalize.  And I will respect that you think best when you’re left to think until you’ve thought it all through.  I won’t barge in and demand answers you’re not ready to give.

 

  • Yes, I will marry your desire to be close.  And I’ll cherish the fact that you chose me to be close to.  It doesn’t mean I’ll never have moments where I just want to scream “hands off” to all the grasping hands that chase me through my busy days, but it does mean I’ll think before I scream.  Because if I do that, I’ll never scream at all since I’ll realize how blessed I am to have little hands to need me and your big ones to pursue me.

 

  • Yes, I will marry your concern over finances.  And I’ll walk beside you as we learn to make them stretch.  I’ll use your hard-earned money with care and caution and will control needless spending that results in extra hours at work.  I will not buy stress and then attempt to make you think it was a good purchase.  I will seek to honor your desire to provide well for our family and not make it harder for you to accomplish than this fast-paced world has already made it.

 

  • Yes, I will marry your preference to see your clothing hung according to style.  Never mind that my side of the closet will likely always be an explosion of disorganized pieces.  I can and will sacrifice those few extra seconds so that when you walk to the closet and look for something to wear, your mind isn’t assaulted by what you find.

 

  • Yes, I will marry your inability to multi-task as a mother must.  You are not a mother.  I will be grateful for every free-will offering  you drop into the treasury of our marriage as you seek to lighten my load in the best way you know how.  Sometimes I might laugh a little because you are just so cute trying to fill my role.  But always that laughter will be shared and not slung.

 

  • Yes, I will marry your need to talk about work.  It’s a part of who you are.  It’s the space in your life you rent out in order to meet our needs.  And it matters.  I care even when I don’t understand entirely.

 

  • Yes, I will marry your love of trucks.  I may never, ever grasp what you see in them.  I might not get how you can point them out time and again and still be thrilled by what you see.  Nope, I probably never will but I can certainly allow you your frivolous passions.

 

  • Yes, I will marry your flaws.  All of them.  I won’t promise to love them but I will promise to love you.  I’ll take a step back when they threaten to overwhelm me and I’ll attempt to see you as He does. ..A man with faults but also with a thirst for that which is right.  I won’t try to fix you but I will leave room for Him to work when He decides the time is right.  And I’ll also leave room for Him to fix me since I know all too well how very broken I am.

 

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Because marriage is more than flowery words and warm, fuzzy feelings.  Marriage is choosing to love right through the hard stuff.  It’s making allowance for late bills and unexpected expenses.  For doctor’s visits with a sick child and rocking all night while they burn with fever.  For making mistakes and saying the wrong things and forgiving when you have every reason not to.  For spaghetti splatters and to-do lists that never get done.  For loving with a smile or a hug when there’s no energy for words.

And for saying yes when saying no would be easier.

 

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second chance parenting

I’m a big believer in second chances.  And third and fourth chances.  I’m grateful for those I’ve been given {which are beyond numbering} and I know I need to be that person offering the same gift to others.

Others, like my children.

Because, yeah, they need ‘em.  Like when I ban throwing balls in the house and they “forget” and break my lantern.  Or when I tell them to never, ever strike each other and one of them gets mad and socks the other.

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My home is like any that houses children.  It’s loud, sometimes messy and it’s filled with rule-breakers.

Sinners.  Like me.

It’s my job to disciple my children to obey.  It’s my calling to lead them to the cross and back again and again.  It’s my life mission, in this season, to raise children who seek the Lord and thirst after righteousness.  Yet some days it seems all they’re thirsting after is a good fight.

And left to myself I’m not a great mom, you know.  I’m selfish and tired and sometimes I just want to do something besides remind them of the same old things.  Sometimes I just don’t want to be chief trainer of this circus that is my family.

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Take yesterday for instance.  I didn’t do one load of laundry or cook one single meal.  The clothes piled up and yes, the kids ate but I’d rather not talk about it.  I stayed in sweats until the day was half over and I finally found my way to the shower.  But that didn’t happen until after I paid off my two daughters to watch the twins so I could lock myself in my room.

I’m not even kidding.

Not every day is like this.  In fact, most are not.  But I have 7 children, a husband, a house, a dog and a homeschool.  My plate is full and tipping over.  Occasionally it threatens to crack and when that happens I take a step back.  I’m not that supermom who pushes through and does it all even when I have no reserves to do it.  When I’m empty, I refuel.  Plain and simple.

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Now I’m not suggesting you should throw money at your kids to pick up your slack (though I will say $2 for an hour of quiet was money well spent) but I am encouraging you to know your limits.  Listen to and respect those limits or they will bite you in the backside.

If you don’t have older kids to lean on, simply toss the non-essentials off your daily grind.  It never killed anyone to let the dishes sit or to  ease up a little (or completely) on the schooling for a day.  The key is to give yourself the rest you need and then jump back up on that horse.

The problem only comes into play if you keep putting off remounting the horse.

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Motherhood is not pieced together by super-human moments of greatness.  It’s a compilation of little moments of, well,
littleness.  It’s doing the next thing every single time you can and laying down at His feet during those times you just can’t.

It doesn’t have to look pretty even.  Days in this house are rarely very pretty.  But they are funny and crazy and they’re filled with laughter and forgiveness and love.

Even when we forget and slug each other.

And sometimes I just need to take a deep breath and remember things are really going pretty well.  The lantern is broken, that will not change.  But the spirits of my children are intact, and growing, which is a gift straight from the hand of a second chance God.

 

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Personality Disorder

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During my brief stint in college, I was asked to describe myself in 30 seconds.  I believe what I wrote looked something like this:

I am a strongly opinionated people-pleaser.  I know what I believe but I always find that I’m trying to mold myself into the person others want me to be.  At the very least, I want everyone to like me, so I avoid conflict and confrontation.

Years later, I can honestly {and sadly} say this description still fits.  Why?  Because I am marked by the inherent desire to be liked.  And the paralyzing fear of being disliked.  I’m growing but this remains the footprint of my character.  It has taken intention, determination and effort to make strides toward a life free of those bonds.  But that has given me cause to carefully examine this tendency to cling to our innate personality roots.

When we seek friendship, we gravitate toward people with similar values, likes and dislikes.  When it’s marriage we’re after, we find ourselves drawn to a person who balances us…not too different but different enough.  When we have children, we attempt to shape them into who we think they should be based on our belief systems.

But what about when we seek God?  How do we reconcile our unique personalities with His unchanging one?  I think in most cases, we try to manipulate Him into the “person” we want Him to be.  One that meshes well with our own values, ethics and personalities.  That’s the only way we can justify our little quirks and tendencies without having to undergo serious behavioral reconstruction.

I have a few friends who just bring out the best in me.  They are staunch in their faith and live it purposefully.  They inspire me to keep drawing nearer to Him and to keep my eyes fastened on the prize.  Their very lives are a testimony that has slowly worked to change my heart.  And as the heart transforms a new personality is birthed.  So if we become what (or who) we intentionally behold and our ultimate goal is to grow in Christ, we must train ourselves to behold Him.

But it would certainly help to carefully examine what’s beneath the mysterious layers of the One after whom we seek!  So let’s take a quick look at 5 qualities that attest to His character:

  • He is open and honest.  He doesn’t mince words to win friends.  Yet the power of His sincere love draws people to Him in spite of that honesty.
  • He is “knowable”.  He ensured we had a detailed chronicle of His “past” to examine as we navigate the troubled waters of life on earth.  He shares Himself with us and offers glimpses of His heart in every page of the Bible.
  • He is approachable.  The Creator of the Universe welcomes us to approach Him at any and every moment.  He’s never too busy or tired or uninterested…we are always top priority!
  • He is intolerant yet longsuffering.  In an age and society that demands “tolerance”, we find a God who remains firm and unwavering regarding sin.  He patiently bids each heart to turn back to Him no matter how far they’ve wandered but we don’t need to expect any words of affirmation from Him while we choose to baste in the poisonous marinade the world offers.
  • He is forgiving.  We hurt Him.  We shun Him.  We turn our backs on Him and that demand His help to get us out of the messes we get ourselves into.  Yet when we come before Him with a convicted and contrite heart, He washes us clean.  And He asks us to do the same with others.

Consider for a moment the kind of friend, mother, child or wife you’d be if those 5 personality traits all described you.  How different would your relationships be if you stopped simply being “you” and started allowing God to make you like Him?  Mine would be barely recognizable.

We are all sin-stained pilgrims wandering down the paths of our own choosing.  Some are traveling steadily toward the Light while others are ambling off into darkness.  But the light grows brighter when we see ourselves for who we are and chose Him instead.  When we recognize that “this is who I am” does not equate with “this is who He intended me to be” our lives take on new purpose.

For me, this means that my inner people-pleaser needs to seek to please God even when it means offending someone or losing a bit of “face”.  It means speaking the truth, in love, when it would be so much easier to skirt it.  It means humbling myself in the face of hurt in order to offer the same kind of forgiveness He extends to me.  And it means allowing people in.  I have a fairly outgoing personality on the surface but I still find myself holding people at arms distance.

Just as each of us has a one-of-a-kind mark on the palm of our hand, God created us with a personality uniquely our own.  But being born many generations into a sin-sick world we also each find that we’re tragically flawed.  It’s our responsibility to find our true character in Christ rather than trying to find Him in our character!

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Little Girl Rescued

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It was a day like any other, really.  The sun was bright and the school bus that dropped us off was filled with laughing, teasing and probably a little bullying.  My older brother and I made our way home with some kids who lived on our street.  Life was pretty carefree and good.

We waved goodbye to the neighbors, having made plans to meet at the park with our bikes later.  And then we turned into the driveway and headed to our house.  But as we reached the porch we knew something was terribly wrong.  The big picture window had the curtains thrown back, giving us an unobstructed view of the living room.  What we saw stopped us dead in our tracks.  All the furniture was gone.

Braving our own fears, we made a quick trip through the house.  It was like something out of a movie.  The furniture in every room had been removed and stuff lay haphazardly around as though the bad guys had been there and done a thorough ransacking.  And that’s pretty much what we thought might have happened.  Either that or our family had moved away while we were at school.  Both options were bad ones.

We sat on the steps and I cried.  The brokenhearted cry of a little girl who felt her happy little world being sucked away.  My brother did his best to comfort me but he was scared, too.  I have no recollection of how we got out of there or who came for us.  My only memory beyond the tears is the police car we saw parked across the street.

I was 7, my brother was 10.

At some point within the next few days we learned that our father was in prison.  And there began the tumultuous years that would define our childhoods.  Prison became the axis on which our world spun.  Sometimes he was in, sometimes he was out.  Often we were trying to outrun the stigma of crime.  Moving from place to place taught my brothers and I how to make friends easily but also to protect our family secret by only letting people in so far.

One out-of-state move brought with it extended family, great fishing and an uncle who got high and decided it was okay to molest a 4th grade girl…me.  As any victim of molestation does, I survived.  But the scars ran deep and threatened to overwhelm me at times.  This is where the God I never knew really showed up, though I know now He’d been there all along.

I felt Him there, I was sure of it.  I talked to him as I walked around the lake behind my grandparents home.  I cried to Him and asked Him to make my family what they once were.  I begged Him to take away my fear and anger.  And in many ways, though I didn’t realize it then, He did exactly that.  He gave me a smile where there once were tears and pity where I once harbored disgust.  I saw people through new eyes and always sort of wondered what was happening behind the scenes to cause the meanness and ugliness that so often seeps out of the hurting.

He gave me compassion.  He filled me with forgiveness.  He made me unable to hold a grudge.

He didn’t stop the bad stuff.  Not all of it, anyway.  He allowed the ugly stuff in so the good that was hidden away might find its way out.  He allowed me to be broken so He could put me back together again.  Whole and right.

I didn’t see all that then.  And sometimes I forget to see it now.  But as I look back over the childhood that shaped who I am today, I see a scared girl who always knew she was loved.  And who always knew that somehow things would work out.

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In many ways my faith is still very new.  I’m emerging from the girl who just sort of knew into the wife and mother who wants to know more.  My faith is imperfect, as is my walk.  I regress back into that scared little girl when uncertainty looms.  I have trouble fully letting my husband in and that is a pain no man should have to endure.  Yet he does so with grace, further reminding me of the patience and love of my great big God.

He snatched up a broken girl, from inside her shattered world, and gave her new hope.  And I am forever grateful.

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When push comes to shove…dare to love

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Every now and then I experience one of those moments.  The kind that squeezes my heart and steals my breath.  A transient moment, nearly impossible to capture in words.

It happened as I stood heart-in-throat captivated, watching them play.  Beat-up Tonka trucks and a pair of toddler-sized plastic ride-on cars flavored the moment boy.  With “motors” whirring and horns beep-beeping they lost themselves in the pure joy of being two.  In the joy of being together.

I watched as two heads bent close, one blond and one not, working to maneuver a truck onto the patio.  Coordination that hadn’t yet caught up with determination threatened to spoil everything.  Until it didn’t.

One yellow truck and two small boys landed on the patio, stunned.  And then they locked eyes and giggled that giggle that says everything words never could.  Seeing their mission as a complete success they went after yet another truck.  Because where one is the other must be also.

Time passed and I took it all in.  The laughter, the teamwork, the friendship, the bond that won’t be broken.  And then it happened.

Smack.  Squeal.  A torrent of tears.  Four little legs pumping furiously to reach Mama first.

I swallowed hard, opened both arms and grabbed my two sobbing boys.  Drying tears and giving kisses and reminding of how Jesus wants us to love, I encouraged them to hug it out.  And they did.

Giggles restored.  Friendship resumed.  All was right with the world.

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Their play continued but now my mind wandered.  Was I making this thing harder than it needed to be?  Had I just experienced Conflict Resolution 101 only to discover it was all I needed to graduate with high honors?  What was all that other stuff…all those rules and guidelines?  Were they really necessary?

In that moment, for that moment, I saw clearly.  I saw past the muck and mire of distraction.  I saw beyond the throng of well-intentioned but misleading books and articles I had stuffed my brain with.  I tossed the index of mental notations I’d been keeping and dared to think with my heart.  What I saw was simplicity in its most raw and beautiful form.  Simply Jesus.

His finger burned a few basic rules onto the tablets of stone and then He broke them down so we, in all our thick-headed humanity, could grasp them.

 

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

 

There you go.  How much simpler can it be?

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We aren’t told to love the neighbor if they’re lovable.  Or if they’re dutiful.  Or if they’re beautiful.  We’re told to love them even if they aren’t.  Because they won’t be any more than we are.  Period.

But we can’t love them in their sinful, spiteful, sometimes hateful, ugly mess if we haven’t first given Him our own heart.  He has to fix it up and fill it up with the miracle that makes it possible.

Because they’ll be times we’ll cruise right along loving each other and giggling as we land on our backsides.  But they’ll also be times when we forget we’re a team and end up in a smack-down of the wills.  And those are the moments when we need to be reminded of how Jesus told us to love…

Hard and with a whole lot of grace!

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PS. Hugs are optional but highly recommended.

 

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No more trying to do His job for Him!

I sat down hard and cried.  Not because the circumstances were so awful but because they were just so persistent and “in your face”.  And they’d brought out the very worst in me.  The whining, fretting, complaining, righteous indignation were eating away at my days and stealing my joy.  I’d had enough.

No more snapping at my kids because I was worked into a frenzy over a situation I couldn’t control.

No more sitting in a messy house because frustration had abducted my precious helpers, Energy and Motivation.

No more draining my husband by subjecting him to yet another helping of my view of the “injustice”.

No more sleepless nights worrying over whether things would work out to my liking.

No more slap-shod meals because I’d whiled away the time preparing a “plan” rather than nourishment for my family.

No more dominating my quiet time with the Lord.  Less talking and a whole lot more listening!

No more!  No more!  No more!

Each day is a gift not to be wasted by wishing it had been wrapped in different packaging.  I’m cheerfully and gratefully unwrapping today and will praise Him no matter what I find inside.  Because even if it seems all wrong right now…wrong size, wrong color, wrong style, wrong season…one day I’ll see that it was exactly right!!

 

 

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