Family Night

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I am married to a Marriage and Family Therapist.  Believe me, this has its drawbacks.  For one thing, he is almost always right.  This can be…unsettling…if I ever wanted him to bow to my unreasonable demands.  Fortunately, I don’t make unreasonable demands.

The other problem comes in that he knows the futility of arguing, and sometimes I just want to indulge in a good argument!  Selfish, really, that he won’t oblige me in this.

Other than that, though, the Counselor’s knowledge and passion for healthy families mostly comes in handy.  For instance, we are currently living with three teenagers.  In spite of the natural trials borne out of this season of life, these young people are relatively well-adjusted, highly capable and mostly pleasant (probably because they’ve grown up with free counseling).  The perspective of a godly man who has worked with people in resolving personal crises–as well as worked through a few crises of his own–is beneficial.

Fairly early in our parenting, Counselor Dave and I determined that we would guard our time together as a family.  We would control our schedules and not allow our schedules to control us.  Over the years, this has required us to make a number of healthy, family-building decisions, some much easier to make than others.   One of the fun, easy decisions we made, following Dave’s lead, was to institute a Family Night.

Initially, we prompted each child, then ages two, four and seven, to suggest a few outdoor and a few indoor things that they really liked to do here at home.  Their suggestions included things like building with Lincoln Logs, watching a family-friendly movie, playing Blind Man’s Bluff and baking cookies.  Dave and I added our own suggestions, and we put all of the ideas into a jar to be drawn out for Sunday Family Nights.

Now that the kids are older, we rotate through the family, each person getting to choose weather-appropriate activities for their turn.  I usually prepare a fun, informal supper, like nachos, burgers or tacos and we quit whatever projects we’re working on by about 5:30 each Sunday evening.  It is a rare exception that we are on the computer or even take a phone call or return a text once Family Night begins.  If a Family Night falls on Mother’s Day or a birthday, then the honored person gets to choose the activity–or sometimes everyone else chooses an extra-special activity for the honored person.

I confess that not everyone is always thrilled with the chosen activity for the night (including myself).  There have been driveway face-plants from bike rides, split lips from Pickle, complaints about Croquet, unending games of Monopoly, cries of “Not fair!” when Daddy vetoes a movie option in favor of an outdoor activity when the weather is nice.  Our Family Nights have not created a perfect family; however, they have created opportunity for intentional time together to build relationships.  Families are the foundation of every society.  If our society is broken, we are reaping the consequences of our families being broken.

Whatever you choose to do this Mother’s Day weekend, I encourage you to make it a family-building activity.  Invest in the people you love.  Guard your time.  Put away your phone.  Plug in to one another.  You may not have family in the area, and you may not have children, but you still have people around you that can be blessed by what you have to offer.  Maybe you know of a broken family that could use a little building.  Maybe now is the time to reach out.

 

Frostbite

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We had a very heavy frost, possibly an actual freeze, a couple of days ago.  We lost both our sweet and sour cherry crops as well as most of our peaches, which is pretty sad for our family.  Fortunately, we had not yet planted much in our garden that would result in total crop failure.

Our potatoes sustained some frostbite, so I spent some time this morning cutting back the dead, damaged leaves so that the healthy parts of the plant can keep on growing.  We had mulched them pretty heavily the day before the forecasted frost, but we hadn’t completely covered everything.  Our broccoli plants and sugar snap pea seedlings still look a little rough, but I think they’ll rebound okay, too.

One of the things I respect about gardening is the reality that I am really not in control.  There are often certain things I can do to protect my various endeavors, but there is always an element that is completely beyond my grasp.  In my opinion, this is a healthy, humbling realization.  No matter what resources I have at my disposal and what energies I invest in all that I hope to accomplish, my ability to control every aspect is an illusion.  In order to have peace of mind, I’ve got to be okay with that.  I have to know when to keep working and when to let go.

Relationships have the same limitations.  We can only do what we can do.  Love.  Forgive.  Pray.  Repent.  Not every relationship is going to work perfectly.  Not every season is going to be an easy one.  At some point, we’ve got to be okay with that if we want to maintain peace of mind.  We can only do what we can do, and then we can ask God’s grace to cover over our mistakes.  That’s where the peace comes in.  We do what God calls us to do.  We work on the dead, damaged places in our own hearts, giving room for God to grow the healthy places into something living and productive.  We also have to allow for others to work on their own lives…or not.  We must relinquish the illusion of control.

I confess that this is a difficult concept for me–one that I struggle to learn time after time.  I can only do what I can do.  Love. Forgive. Pray. Repent.  Fortunately, if I shift my focus to these things, there is always more than enough to keep me well-occupied.

 

 

Don’t. Even. Start.

By listening to the story of yet another beautiful friend, I am reminded of how utterly devastating, discouraging and degrading pornography can be to a family. What may present itself as idle entertainment or harmless release is actually one of the most insidious and destructive activities available in today’s society.

Gentlemen…ladies…I beg you: Don’t. Even. Start. And, if you’ve already begun to feel its pull, get help. Immediately. Swallow your pride, disconnect your internet. Lay your cards on the table and get help. Set yourself up to succeed by finding some accountability (other than your spouse). Nothing truly good will come of pornography; I guarantee it.

You are worth more. And so is your family.

 

My Favorite Things

I was recently invited to be the guest speaker at a ladies’ tea party.  The event was a community outreach, and the theme was “My Favorite Things”.  Various women in the church hosted a table then invited other women to fill the seats around that table.  Each table was decorated by the host, and guests voted for their favorite table display.  A light luncheon was served along with a variety of hot teas and a hot chocolate bar.  Music was provided by a local group and I was to speak on my favorite things.

I love the idea of this luncheon, because it is so personal for those who are invited.  Each woman is specifically asked to be there as the guest of someone with whom they already have a connection.  The planning committee was warm and gracious, and the atmosphere was relaxed and fun.

In preparation to speak, it was good for me to ponder upon my favorite things.  There is so much of life that I enjoy, but I found it beneficial for me to really meditate on those things that can be considered my favorites.  Because I was asked to keep my presentation between 20 and 30 minutes, I left a lot of things out.  Like my extended family, my pets, getting mail and Alaska.  I had to draw the line somewhere.

Here’s what I came up with:

My husband, Dave.  We celebrated 21 years this month.  He is patient, forgiving and hard-working.  Even though we had some significant trouble early in our marriage, we mostly live at peace now—especially when I resist the temptation to micro-manage him.

My kids.  As of this month, I have three teenagers in my house.  They are fun and funny (and sometimes frustrating).  It is exciting to see them grow in their giftings while learning to manage (or not) their weaknesses.  I see a lot of myself in them…and I see a lot of what I wish I’d done differently.

Our home.  We call it Country Haven, and it is my safe place in the middle of nowhere.  We have big gardens, a few animals, a young orchard, a big front porch and a warm woodstove.  At any given time, there are a dozen (at least) projects in the works, but we keep plugging away.  It is mostly a place of peace—one of the gifts Dave and I most wanted to give to our children.

Food.  I have loved baking since I was a little girl.  I learned to enjoy cooking as a necessity.  Most recently, I have come to appreciate growing and raising our own food as a means to an end.  And then there’s eating.  I have been highly genetically engineered to love to eat.  It’s a family tradition.

Managing my resources.  This may sound strange to some, but it’s true.  I kind of look at my family as my employer.  I manage our resources here at home in order to generate income for our family.  Sometimes the income generated is money for our homeschooling needs; more often the income fuels our bodies with healthy foods.  We work to live within our means, which isn’t always easy, but it sure makes life simpler.  I did not used to love this aspect of adulthood, but I was pleasantly surprised to realize that I now do.  I see it as an answer to prayer.

Naps.  I loved my kids’ naps when they were little, and I love my own power naps now.  Most people are more pleasant when well-rested; I’ve learned that my family prefers me to be pleasant.

Teaching, writing and sharing.  I have done some really dumb things in my life.  Like, seriously dumb things.  I have also done a lot of things that just didn’t work–as well as a lot of things which have.  I like sharing about all of these.  I enjoy encouraging others to focus on their own personal abundance of resources—their talents, abilities, time and money.  I believe that our culture prefers to encourage us to play the victim card, and I believe that recognizing the power of personal choice and responsibility can free a person to be who God has created them to be.  Whether it’s a class on cooking, canning, gardening, saving money, home management or parenting, I like sharing what has worked for me.

Change in seasons.  Each season holds wonder for me, and I embrace each one for what it offers.  Dave threatens to move south when he retires.  I’ll miss him.

Time with friends.  Whether it’s a cup of something hot to drink, long walks, dinner out, chit-chats, laughter, commiseration, heart-to-hearts or even the occasional hand smacks, I treasure my time with friends.  Though I prefer to do the smacking through the leading of the Holy Spirit, sometimes God uses a friend to smack my hand in regard to a particular issue.  This is not always comfortable, but it is necessary for personal growth.  I had my hand smacked over coffee with a friend a couple of weeks ago, and I wrote her a thank-you note.  I want to grow in my faith.  I want to be a better wife and mother and friend.  This is easier to do when I’m willing to take a good, hard look at what I’m doing (or not doing) and measure it against what God has said in His Word.  Sometimes, I find that I’m at peace with my choices; sometimes I find that I need to change something.  I am thankful for friends that speak the truth in love and for the maturity that allows me to weigh their words against the words of Jesus.

Though there are lots of good things in my life, things are not perfect.  I have real struggles with things like broken relationships, addictions, regrets, tight budgets, insecurities and misunderstandings.  Sometimes, I don’t feel appreciated, understood, valued or even loved.  In these times, I struggle with the temptation to focus on the yuck.  Part of me wants to lash out, part of me wants to pull in, part of me wants to somehow even the score.   Sometimes, I just want to check out of the situation altogether and quit trying.

Then I remember Jesus.

I remember the healing He brought to my marriage 18 years ago when we were one signature way from divorce and humbly re-committed our relationship to Him.

I remember the joy He has brought to my life through parenting.

I remember the cycle of abusive, angry behavior He is working on breaking with me.

I remember the times I just didn’t think that I could take one more day of the rejection, the disapproval, the regret.

I remember the times He has looked so deeply into my ugliness, seeing the utter blackness of my darkest thoughts and most hidden moments, and loved me in spite of them.

I remember the obedience of a young couple, the birth of their perfect baby, the patient determination of a carpenter’s son, the cruelty of the cross and glory of the resurrection.

Loving and being loved by Jesus are my most favorite things.

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Pork & Beans

One of the fantastic things about living with my family is that they’re funny.  Plus, I’m funny, so we laugh a lot.  The following story is from a couple of years ago, and I ran across it this morning.  I hope it makes you smile.

For years, I have offered to pack my husband’s lunch for him. He has access to a refrigerator, microwave and break room where he can eat. He has repeatedly declined my offers. He prefers to eat peanuts or potato sticks or weird random things he finds on clearance at the grocery store. He will even occasionally go to a deli and order two slices of bologna and buy a bag of hamburger buns for his lunch. Because he wastes virtually nothing, he brings the leftover buns home or goes back and orders two slices of ham the next day and the next day and so on. This money does not come out of our grocery budget, but out of his own personal “fun money”. (What is wrong with this man?!)

As I prepare supper tonight, he acknowledges (for reasons better left unshared) that he had beans for lunch. I ask him where he ate, thinking it VERY strange that he spent money at a restaurant that would serve baked beans on his lunch hour. HE ATE THEM OUT OF CAN, PEOPLE!!! He bought an el cheap-o can of pork & beans and ATE THEM COLD OUT OF A CAN FOR HIS LUNCH!!

After staring at him in slack-jawed wonder for a moment, I said, “Do you understand that this hurts my heart–that you would rather eat cold pork & beans out of a can than have me pack a lunch for you?”

My husband replied, “I’m sorry.”

I said, “I don’t think you are.”

He said, “I’m sorry that your heart hurts. (pause) But I’m not sorry I ate the cold pork & beans.”

Our ten-year-old son exploded into laughter in the background while I silently apologized to his future wife. I tried. Really I did.

 

Yesterday’s Blessings

I woke up yesterday morning beside a faithful husband who loves me and goes to work every day so that I can spend my days at home. I had a lazy, restful morning at home, then went to get a massage from a beautiful friend who has a huge heart. After being pampered on her table for more than an hour, I went straight from her shop to get a much-needed haircut from another amazing friend who accepts me in spite of my lack of style. Feeling emotionally encouraged and a little bit prettier, I came home and jumped in the shower to get rid of all of the tiny hairs stuck in massage oil on my neck. I got out to find a beautiful clematis (to replace the one that was inadvertently killed by my poison-happy hubby) sitting on my kitchen counter, left by a generous friend who saw it on sale and drove all the way out to surprise me with it.

It’s shameful that I can so often focus on the few people in my world whom I can just never please when so many relatively sane and completely wonderful people are willing to love me just as I am.

Thank You, Jesus, for giving me these people and so many others to speak Your Truth into my hungry heart. And, thank You even more for loving me even more than they do.

Money and Marriage

It is true that I did not marry for money.  However, there were days when I could have divorced over it.

I’m kind of not kidding.

Money was a hot topic in our household in those early years of marriage.  We had some serious knock-down, drag-outs over money.  For instance, there was the time in Year 2 when Dave told me that there wasn’t enough money for certain feminine essentials and that I’d have to figure out something else.  (Excuse me?!)  There was also that time in Year 6 when I held the tax refund check hostage, refusing to let him know that we had received it…for weeks.  (Not my brightest move.)

Here we are in Year 21, and I’m pretty embarrassed by the way we let money take center stage so many times in our relationship.  To be honest, the real problem was that we each wanted control over the same thing:  Cash.  Heaven knows there wasn’t enough of it to actually share that control!  I don’t know that there would have ever been enough money to share in those years.   There was too much self-centeredness—especially in me.

I remember the first time I felt like maybe Dave had my best interests at heart when it came to money.  It was after a couple of years of me practicing the gentle art of thinking before speaking.  Because I could not be trusted to speak the truth in love when I was even slightly annoyed, I was fairly quiet when certain topics arose that, historically speaking, were tense in nature.  As a result, Dave had a lot more opportunity to speak without getting verbally accosted.  I think he liked it.

Anyway, I remember him coming to me some years ago and asking if I would be in a good place to go over some financial things the following evening.  Even though our marriage was fairly solid at this time, I still felt a twinge of dread.  Fortunately, the whole thinking-before-speaking thing had pretty much taken root by then, so I agreed to the discussion.  I then determined to pray for this particular exchange…and committed myself to silence until I could be trusted to speak only the truth in love.

The next evening, I watched Dave spread his paperwork out on the surface of our dining room table and, with the kids playing in the background, he began sharing his assessment of our current financial situation.  Occasionally, he would look at me to be assured of my understanding of a certain issue or to ask my input on a particular point.  For the most part, though, he did the talking.  I just listened.  And, the more I listened, the more he shared.  Dave went on to share his financial goals of being debt-free and growing most of our own food.  He talked about how much he would like us to take a month-long vacation with the kids to the West Coast, camping at national parks along the way and seeing the redwoods and the Pacific Ocean.  He shared that he would like to eventually offer part of our home to missionaries on furlough and to maybe even some day visit the child we sponsor through a relief organization.  I enjoyed listening to his goals and dreams, and I realized how many of them centered on Christ and on our family.  Not one of them seemed self-centered to me.

I had been seeing Dave’s financial goals through the wrong set of lenses.  For years, I had seen Dave’s perspective on money as a personal vendetta against me enjoying life’s little pleasures.  With this new perspective, I realized that they were a protection for our family and a reflection of the priorities we claimed to share.

I’m ashamed of the time I lost due to my pride.  I wasted a lot of years trying to get the upper hand in a battle that my heart had no business waging.  I was like an exhausted child fighting against a loving parent who just announced that it was bedtime.  I did not have the maturity and wisdom to see what was truly best for me.

After that particular discussion with Dave, God gave me a picture of my husband’s role in our marriage.  I was standing in a thunderstorm with Dave standing over me.  His arms were outspread with a blanket as he tried to keep the rain off of me.  Standing over Dave in a similar stance was Jesus, keeping the rain off of both of us.  When I moved to look out and see what I was missing, Dave couldn’t keep me covered; I got pelted with rain drops and blasted by wind.  When I stayed under Dave’s leadership, I was doubly protected—by my husband and by Christ.  If Dave messed up, Jesus was still there as my ultimate refuge.  However, when I relaxed and trusted Dave in his leadership, he was able to keep me dry as an extension of God Almighty.  It was a beautiful picture, and I still carry it in my heart.

Here’s the other thing:  Dave is willing to take responsibility for our financial successes as well as our failures.  This is the ultimate protection for me!  Because of this, I am completely off the hook.  If we go broke, it is totally not my fault.  (Heeheehee!)

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This article was originally written for and published in HER magazine, a product of The Courier-Times, New Castle, Indiana.