I Call it Good: Reflections on 12 Years of Marriage

On Sunday, August 5, Bryan and I will have been married for 12 years.  And I’ve been pretty contemplative about this particular anniversary.  Perhaps it’s because this one falls on the same year as our 40th birthdays, which means that we’ve spent an entire decade of our lives married to each other. In a decade plus, you go through much as an individual, but when you’ve chosen to live your life in tandem with someone else, and then add a few little people to the mix, the moments become much richer, much more meaningful and weighty.

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I look back at photos of us at our wedding and can see how we’ve changed.  Bryan’s dark golden hair is now speckled salt and pepper.  He has deeper smile lines around his eyes and greater responsibilities at work, greater impact at home.  I too have finer lines around my eyes, my hips are a little wider thanks to three little children whose voices I now hear in the hallway, and I drive a minivan.  (I used to drive a red-hot BMW 325i.)  I see those two idealistic twenty-somethings walking up the aisle after saying “I do,” and I know that they had no idea what they were getting into.  Sure, they believed God put them together–they’d prayed urgently about it, gone through pre-marital counseling, spoken to more mature married couples, but they didn’t have any idea what marriage would demand of them, how it would transform them, or the learning opportunities it would provide.

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Marriage is so hard.  Many people say being a parent/mother is the hardest relationship/job of all, but I disagree.  I think the husband/wife relationship, the work of marriage, is by far more difficult.  Children are born of your own flesh–they naturally receive your love.  Unless you are a sociopath, your love for them comes without choice, without reservation or limit, and there is a fresh store of it every morning regardless of what your children said or did to you the night before.  And let’s not forget: they are CHILDREN, which means that they act impulsively, and you excuse their behavior as childishness.

But your spouse is yours by choice.  Your spouse is a fully-grown adult who has a fully-matured brain and is able to weigh pros and cons, wisdom versus foolishness when making decisions.  Your spouse has the option of acting in their best interest and neglecting your desires, or acting in your best interest and neglecting their own desires.  In Christian circles you’re often called “one flesh” but it’s not often that you’re of “one mind.”  You can say things, do things to each other that require a fresh choice to unconditionally love each day.  So marriage, you quickly learn, is a teaching work of compromise, of sacrifice and surrender.

I knew that Bryan and I were highly compatible when we got married.  I was aware how well we complimented one another.  I had no idea how very much alike we actually are: competitive, highly sensitive, moody, introspective, playful, analytical, social, performance-driven, easily bored.  We are two very passionate, very emotional people.  Our fights are frequent and often combustible–we say things we don’t mean, I get discouraged and look for a way out, Bryan feels sad that I would ever consider running from him.

But then I look back at all that we’ve been through.  Death of a mother, three miscarriages, job loss, multiple moves, financial uncertainty, personal sin–and I realize that each day with Bryan has been marked by choice, by hope, and by a commitment to something greater than ourselves.  I think of John 15:13 that says:

“There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

And I know that this is what Bryan and I have been doing for each other for the last decade plus: figuratively laying down our lives for each other each time we’ve asked for forgiveness, each time we’ve surrendered a foolish desire for a wiser choice, each time we’ve comforted one another during moments of grief.  If the gracious God of the universe would offer His Son’s perfect life without hesitation for a sinner like me, I can certainly learn to lay down my pride and extend grace to my husband who is choosing to love me every day.

Every day is a choice because we made a commitment to God and to each other.  Every day has hope because of what God has brought us through, and because of the blessings He has promised.  And every day I am called to renew my mind, because although there has been a lot of work, there has also been much joy.

I have seen so much of the world with Bryan by my side.  I’ve seen the pride in his blue eyes when we first met our newborn children.  I have jumped up and down with him at concerts.  We’ve shared bottles of wine and deep conversation late into the night.  We’ve played in the ocean like little kids.  We’ve dared each other to do stupid things that later made us laugh until we cried.  We’ve dined on fancy nine-course meals and greasy chicken wings.  We’ve snow-skiied, water-skiied, and jet-skiied together.  We’ve started a business together.  We’ve served in ministry. We’ve made a life–one that has weathered too much to give up, one that has so much promise despite the unknowns.

And I call it Good.

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“You’ll Never Sleep Again” and Other Myths

People love to give you their worst-case scenarios.  Seriously, from the moment I got engaged to my husband 13 years ago, people started telling me how terrible my marriage would be in 15 years.  Maybe I was surrounded by the wrong people, and yes there probably were people with great marriages who were genuinely happy for me, but for some reason my brain lingered on the bad, the scary, especially from those I perceived had experience and probably knew a thing or two.  Were these people right?  I didn’t want to believe them.

It got worse when I was obviously pregnant with my oldest child.  Suddenly there was tidal wave of strong opinions rushing my way about the best way to take care of my body, to raise a child, to adjust my life to parenthood.  And, oh, the list of “you’ll nevers.”  I got so scared after getting pregnant because so many people started implying that my life was going to get so, so hard and so, so exhausting.

Now that I have come through the most intense years of motherhood—pregnancy, breast-feeding, caring for infants, keeping toddlers alive, and am entering the school-aged years, I want to debunk some of the myths that are told to expectant and new parents that are not entirely, and certainly don’t have to be, true.  Unless there are health and development problems in your family, or you have serious financial limitations or perhaps are a single parent, you’ll probably see how false these myths really are.  The truth lies somewhere beneath the myth, and it’s this that can give you hope as a parent.

So below, I’ve tackled five of the myths I hear most often when people bemoan the changes of becoming parents.

Myth #1: You’ll never sleep again.  Sleep is that one thing that you do every day of your life that doesn’t seem so important until you aren’t getting it any longer.  And there’s no foolproof way to prepare expectant parents for the mind-numb, zombielike, caffeine-guzzling creature they’ll become in those first few months of parenting, so many people just resort to extremes by telling them to get used to it because it’ll never end.  The good news is, your child will start sleeping through the night, it’s just a question of when.  The timeframe depends on numerous factors: the child, the sleep-training techniques the parents use, the sleeping arrangements, health.  But I promise you, your child will most likely enter the preschool years as a great sleeper.  Have you ever met an elementary aged child who doesn’t sleep?  Be patient—it’ll happen.

Myth #2:  You’ll never fit into your old clothes.  Pregnancy does quite the number on a woman.  Your skin stretches to an extent you didn’t think possible.  Your ankles and feet swell and you’re permanently a size 9 in shoes and no longer an 8.5.  Even your vision can change!  But to throw out all your old clothes would be hasty.   This truth is one that you must work for—you won’t suddenly lose the weight like your child suddenly starts sleeping through the night.  You must plan, prioritize, and dedicate yourself to making this one a reality.  It absolutely is possible to get back into your skinny jeans.  It’s all a question of whether you want it badly enough.  As a former personal trainer and fitness enthusiast, I know this to be true.  Your body is fully capable of being fit after giving birth—if you decide to put it to work.

Myth #3: Your house will never be clean.  I sometimes feel like this is just something people say when they feel guilty because they haven’t picked up all week.  They blame the mess on the kids, when the reality is, just a little intention and discipline can keep the mess at bay.  Dedicate one room to toys so they don’t spread across the entire house; put things away as you go; wash the dishes as soon as a meal is over; make your bed when you wake up in the morning.  As you discipline yourself to clean up and put things away, you will indirectly teach your children to do the same.  They are teachable—if cleaning up is important to you, you can train them to do it as well.

Myth #4: You and your husband will never travel again.  I think this one bothers me the most because so many of us look back on the trips we took with our spouses as some of our favorite experiences together—discovering new foods, places, and people.  To think that those days are over until we’re empty nesters is downright depressing.  That’s why I’m here to tell you that it does not have to be true!  My husband and I have gone on many trips alone together since our kids were born, and to make this possible you need do just two things: ask someone you trust to keep your children and relinquish control of their childcare for the duration of your time away.  If you are blessed to have helpful family members living nearby, the only thing standing between you and some time away is you just exploring this possibility.  If you don’t have family but you do have some disposable income, consider paying a nanny.  There are several reputable sights where you can search for and interview nannies for extended time away from your children.  And all of us have close friends to whom we would trust our children for a few nights.  If cost is an issue but travel is something you’d really like to do–drop some extra-curriculars or eat at restaurants less to save money for a trip.  My point is: the possibility of spending a few nights away from your children is not unreachable, but most of us are too nervous to ask for help or are too controlling in our role as parents to take some time off.  And it’s precisely the controlling parents who need time away the most!

Myth #5: Your children will turn into jerks when they become teenagers.  So, to be fair, I don’t know for sure that this one isn’t true because my kids are only 7, 5, and 3.  But, because I know that people love to tell you how bad things are going to be, and because all the preceding “nevers” have not proven true for me, I suspect that the above myth is not true either.  Because, I have great kids.  Yes, they can be jerks sometimes, but so can I, and that doesn’t mean that I am actually a jerk.  It just means that I have bad days when I can use a little more grace, not that I’m without hope.  I fully intend for my kids to go through some difficult developmental years, but I’m not dreading the years ahead.  I’m enjoying the moments with them, and all their changes as they grow, and dealing with the hard days as they come.  (And spending a lot of time in prayer.)  After all, what good will it do me or my children if I dread the teen years before they even arrive?  Most likely, they’ll turn out to be better than I expected.  I’ll learn a lot and look back on them with fondness, much like I’m doing now when I think about my children in their infancy, years ago.

See, what people should say to you when you’re expecting, is that the degree to which you enjoy your role as a mother depends on your ability to let go of your past.  If you cling to the “used to be’s” you’ll only focus on what you’ve lost: 8 hours of careless sleep, a neat but silent house, a flexible yet self-focused schedule—and you’ll become someone who recites the “never myths” to other parents with sarcastic flair.  But, if you approach parenthood embracing your new normal and not trying to be the same person you were, you’ll be pleasantly surprised, and your opportunities to enjoy the small pleasures that remind you of your carefree days will only be limited by your creativity.

So my advice, if you want it, is much simpler: Never believe the “you’ll never’s,” because there’s always the hope that you can.

Raising a Man

As this year closes, the news has been full of reports of allegations of men abusing and mistreating women.  I’ve been reading these headlines, while also spending the month of December fundraising and bringing awareness to the global money-making shame of human trafficking.  And it all has me thinking a lot about the kind of man I want my son to become, the hopes that I have for his character.  I have been praying for my son since the day he was born.  My prayers have been very specific for him as a male.  I pray for strength, a heart for the Lord, a heart for justice, a kind spirit and most of all, integrity.  This is a personal trait that is becoming more precious, more valuable, and rarer every day.  It’s defined as the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.  And almost every time I check the headlines I see men lying about their actions, making excuses for their misdeeds and expecting people to serve their whims instead of recognizing when their whims subject others to abuse.

And I look at my son, who is now only three, but who will soon have desires which will be admirable and gracious on some days, yet embarrassing and selfish on others.  How do I begin to teach him to care about his choices and the impact they have on other people?  How do I begin to explain to him that girls outside his family will always deserve the same respect and kindness that he shows to his sisters?  How will he learn to sacrifice his creature comforts for the legitimate needs of those less fortunate in his path?  How will he figure out how to use his strength to fight injustice?  How will I coach his behavior so that he doesn’t become another woman’s disgraceful memory or headline?

Much of this he will learn from his father, who is a kind and generous man.  He teaches our son that his job is to protect and never to harm.  Much of it he will learn from me, as I demand that he minds his manners.  I require him to say “please” and “thank you,” to ask me nicely for things instead of expecting me to get what he wants.  Much of it he will learn from his female siblings as they ask for his help and show him familial love.

But there’s a message passing through our culture that I don’t want him to hear: and that message is that there is nothing special about him as a male.  Because when women start emasculating men, men stop caring about women.  When we tell them they don’t matter, that we can live without them, they don’t see the need to practice integrity.  Why would we as women expect kindness and respect from men we don’t respect ourselves?

I want my son to know that his God-given strengths and tendencies are valuable.  I want him to see his maleness as the other half of the beautiful design God created in humanity.  When he notices the differences between himself and girls, I hope that the mystery produces a sense of awe and wonder in his mind, and not lust or greed.

I will continue to lift him up in my prayers even when I can no longer lift him in my arms.  I will speak for him until, God willing, my prayers become his own.

Bigger Clothes, Bigger Problems: Hot-Button Issues with My Daughters

girlsIn the very first days after my eldest daughter was born, I remember grieving my loss of sleep and discussing my exhaustion with my mom.  She empathized with me and then said something that has stuck with me as I’ve navigated the twisted roads of motherhood.  It went a little like this: “When your kids are very young they need your energy and constant attention because their problems are frequent but small.  They are easy to fix but they happen repeatedly.  When they’re older, your kids need your wisdom and your heart because their problems are fewer, but they’re bigger and there is less you can do on your own to fix them.”

Vivienne turned seven this month and her younger sister Georgia recently turned five, and although they still have many years head of them, I’m astounded at the depth of our conversations at this point in their lives.  I’m always a little sad when I realize they are old enough to comprehend that the world isn’t perfect, that some people are mean or that I can’t give them every answer to soothe their tender emotions or settle their confused minds.

All moms are familiar with the gut-sinking-bitter-sweetness that comes when you discover that your kids have outgrown their clothes and need an entirely new wardrobe.  There’s a double-whammy that hits while weeding out old clothes and buying new ones for our children.  The first punch goes to our checking account—time to budget for clothing this month!  The second punch goes to our hearts—our babies are getting bigger.  And bigger.  And as their bodies grow so do their minds.  Their brains fill with new information, new concepts.  Their eyes notice behavior and social structures.  Pretty soon these children start to ask very good questions, very challenging questions that make us stop and consider, “Hmm, how am I going to answer/handle this?”

And what complicates this for me even more is that my girls are SO different.  They have shared a room since my younger daughter was five-months-old, a bed since she was two, and they are the best of friends.  But they could not be more opposite if they were characters in a story.  Often a tactic or method or even tone of voice that I use with one does not go over well with the other.  I must get creative with tailoring much of my mothering-methods to each of my three children (because my youngest is a boy—talk about different!) and their personalities, while maintaining the convictions and ideologies that my husband and I feel are important for our family.

My night-and-day daughters have tested me lately in my ability to succinctly yet thoroughly answer their concerns in a way that will assuage their fears, teach truth and be considerate of their immature emotions.  My oldest daughter is very into science and dinosaurs.  She has just learned to read and will devour any text about dinosaurs that she can find.  But not all these books agree about exactly when dinosaurs existed, how long they lived and how they became extinct.  My husband and I are Christians and believe in Creation, but we are old-Earth Christians, so we tend to agree with scientists who maintain that the earth is much older than the 6,000 years that the new-Earthers claim.  We happen to own a book about dinosaurs by one of these new-Earth apologists, Ken Hamm, that we picked up from our local consignment store before we realized its angle.  He claims that dinosaurs were roaming the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve.  But just last week, Vivienne came home with a book about dinosaurs from her school library which supports the traditional scientific view that dinosaurs predated humans and even evolved into birds!  (An entire blog-post could be derived from this example about different schooling options for Christian families, but I’m not going to go there right now).

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You can imagine Vivi’s confusion when she read these two conflicting accounts.  I pointed out to her that the school library book was aging the earth at millions of years old, whereas Ken Hamm’s account ages it at around 6,000 years.  I asked her what she thought.  She said she agreed with the library book from the school because: “There’s no way people and dinosaurs could have lived at the same time because the dinos would have crushed or eaten the people!”

(Amazing the logic of little kids sometimes.)

So, I ended up encouraging her to take a faith-filled posture on this one.  I explained to her that there are some things we will never know this side of heaven.  But what we do know is that everything comes from something.  Every creation has a Creator, and the timing is mostly irrelevant.  We believe that God created all things for His glory and purpose, and that science helps us to learn about His creation and to reveal Him within it.  She seemed satisfied with that.  I believe her very words were, “I know that Mommy.”  And then she waved me away so she could continue reading her book on her own.

Georgia’s interests are not in science.  They are in performance, dancing, play-acting and looking pretty.  I think that this is a confusing are for girls and women in our current climate.  On one hand, people spend way too much money and time worrying about being beautiful.  Just the number of YouTube make-up tutorials, Pinterest pins and beauty products is overwhelming.  On the other hand, there is a growing movement among feminists which is telling females that beauty is shallow and unnecessary.  This perspective suggests that beautiful women who take care of themselves are enslaved to some patriarchal system, and that they are brainwashed ignorant bimbos.

I believe both groups are wrong.  I believe that my God loves beauty—it’s all around us in the animals we admire, the gardens that we cultivate, the mountains upon which we gaze, and yes, the diverse patchwork of humanity across this globe.  So, my task with Georgia is not to squelch her interest in beauty and the pleasure she takes in looking pretty.  My task is to put beauty in its proper place, to encourage her to focus more on cultivating a beautiful spirit and heart than on wearing an outfit or a hairstyle that others will notice.

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She threw a fit the other day when I would not allow her to wear her play make-up to school.  Now, the child is five, so it’s not like she was going to be in full super-model make-up anyway.  But I know that she sees me wearing make-up most days, and she has asked me why I do it.  I must be very careful about my answers because I don’t want her to ever think that her value lies in her beauty.  And she is lovely—she has creamy white skin, big blue eyes and light blonde hair.  She is blessed with a lean, muscular frame and her muscles are well-defined without that much physical effort.  But I know that God created us in His image, and all beauty is ultimately there to point to Him.  It’s nothing we can claim on our own because it was given to us.  I also know that nothing spoils beauty in a person like an ungrateful and selfish heart.

More questions and explanations are sure to come.  I hope that God gives me enough wisdom to communicate what He’s taught me, and that He’ll help me to tap into His grace when I get things wrong.  Please pray for me as I continue to nurture these feminine souls, knowing the struggles and expectations that are waiting for my girls as they grow.  Now my son, Roman, well…he’ll be an entirely different ball of wax!

What Entertains Us? Thoughts on Weinstein and Pornography.

Yes. Me too.  I was abducted at gun point, robbed and sexually assaulted when I was 21.  I can assure you that being assaulted changes your life in a heartbeat.  Those are the testimonies that we’re hearing from these women who were bullied and assaulted by Harvey Weinstein.  Listening to the now infamous audio tape, it seems that he liked scaring them, wielding his power in the business over them, threatening their future.  And many of them walked away from “the industry” at that point.  They realized that they couldn’t participate in a game where their success depended on their willingness to surrender their morals.  As Weinstein said in the audio, “everybody does it.”

And apparently everyone knew about it.  From the jokes about Weinstein on shows like 30 Rock, to jabs at award shows, it truly seems as though this behavior had been happening for quite some time.  As one person was quoted as saying, “it was the most open secret in Hollywood.”  Yet the Weinstein Company and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences are just now expelling Weinstein to distance themselves from his soiled reputation.

This tells me one thing, and I think we need to be reminded of this:  Hollywood, powerful people, entertainers—they did not care about those women or their futures or they would have stepped in long ago.  And guess what?  They don’t care about you, or me, or our kids.  They care about us insofar as we pay their bills, and that’s all.

So what can we do to stop sexual assault and harassment from happening in America alone?  I believe that sin and selfishness are going to drive this sort of mistreatment until the end of time, but there is one thing that I do believe could help in stopping the endless flow of damaging sexual images, ideals, and practices into our own homes and minds.

If people really want to see a better future, I think we need to start asking ourselves some tough questions: Although we may tell our children how to treat others, how to respect them, give them space, are we following that up with what we allow to pass from our eyes or ears to our brains as “entertainment?” Weinstein is a movie producer after all–how did he get so powerful? His very pockets were lined by us! He has produced some 80 films, and many of them are blockbusters.

What we pass off as entertainment is damaging business and relationships and teaching our children harmful messages about intimacy.  What music, TV shows, and films are we hooked on which promote casual, dangerous, selfish physical indulgence? It has been proven that pornography rewires the brain and viewing it releases dopamine which satisfies that “seeker” habit, however, after a while just watching isn’t enough, and the viewer must act out their fantasies. I wonder if this is what happened to Weinstein? And did you know that the pornography industry made $4 billion last year alone? That is symptomatic of a serious problem because it reveals a “need” that is feeding this business, and also because real people don’t respond to sexual advances the same way that actors do.  It is not “normal” for people to watch porn–it’s destructive, plain and simple, and I don’t know a single man who has had a problem with pornography and is recovering from it who has ever been proud that he was exposed to it.

Here’s something pretty pornographic (and I apologize in advance but I felt this was important).  A billboard hit about three summers ago contained these lines:

“You’re the hottest bitch in this place…”

“I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two.”

The song?  Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke and Pharrell.  And it was featured on Jimmy Kimmel, The Voice, So You Can Think You Can Dance, played over the radio all summer (we heard it over and over again while living in Luxembourg), and who knows what other TV shows.  Teens were listening to this for months and months.  They were being taught, through music, that it’s appropriate for men to tease women in this way.

I was going to post a photo of Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus when they performed the song together on MTV in 2013, but it was just too gross.  Perhaps the most disturbing part of those images is while Miley is twerking all over Robin Thicke, young fans are reaching up worshipfully, in complete support of the perverse mess happening right in front of them.  It’s no wonder Thicke’s wife Paula Patton divorced him after that.

Mainstream TV and movies, Netflix and Amazon originals are not much better. What people defend as artistic license appeals to the most carnal instincts in a person and is inherently damaging. When our children are little we want them watching educational television that will stimulate their brains, but as adults we entertain ourselves with tawdry trash that feeds perversion in people like Harvey Weinstein.  I’m not blaming the public for his indiscretions. He of course is responsible for his actions, but I can’t help but think that the growing obsession with sex and self-gratification and lack of accountability in this country largely contributes to the twisted reasoning of people like Weinstein, and helped keep his secret quiet for a long time.

I think that it’s time we back up our words with our choices.  This may require us to give up our favorite shows, to walk out of movie theaters or be a little less cool.  So be it.  Let’s stop lining Hollywood’s pockets when they don’t care enough about us to stop abuse.

I’d like to leave you with a picture of a man who did care.  He was a champion for a woman who was being harassed and whose very life was being threatened.  She had exercised poor judgment and cheated on her husband.  A group of powerful men laid most of the blame on her and we have no mention of whether her lover was tried at all.  But they dragged her into the street and prepared to throw rocks at her until she died.  That’s when Jesus stepped in front of her and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her,” (John 8:7).  The crowd, in its shame, dispersed, and the woman presumably learned from her own mistakes and walked away unscathed, her future ahead of her.  So I don’t want to wholesale lay the blame on men and patriarchy.  There are great men who follow Christ’s example in their fair and noble treatment of women.

In contemplating people’s indiscretions and sins, I think we should mourn the pain and loss that one miserable person caused, but we should also pray for them and search our own hearts, ask the Lord to reveal how we can contribute to change.  It will take humility and grace to heal what has been broken.