The Problem With Marriage

wedding kissI have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.

–Mother Teresa

Our marriage is probably like many of yours—sometimes effortless and occasionally the hardest work I’ve ever done.

I’ve been married for eight years now. The first six flew by in a breeze. We didn’t have to make it work because it wasn’t that difficult. There were romantic getaways and shared dreams, giggles and tickle fights and a growing family. We started a church and had a baby; we bought a home and moved to suburbia. Life was abundant with service and ministry and blessings. Sure, certain obstacles came our way, but our confidence in each other was high.

And then REAL life hit.

Tragedy and drama and human weakness at it’s finest.  Our fragile foundation rocked and rolled like the San Andreas fault.  My parents were suddenly both taken by fatal disease, Tim injured his back and faced permanent nerve damage and partial paralysis , there was spinal surgery, a long and painful recovery, and our constant battle with infertility that wove itself through every story—miscarriage after miscarriage. Add in a blended family and teenagers in to the mix and for two years we fought to keep our heads above water.

Maybe marriage wasn’t so easy.

Maybe it took work. Hard work.

Fortunately, I married a persistent man who never, ever, gives up. Week after week he showed up at the counselor by my side ready to tackle the broken parts of him and us and me. And even when I was drowning in sorrow and weary, he never let go of my hand.

While I wish certain outcomes were different, because I sure miss my mom and dad (and all the babies I won’t meet until eternity), I don’t regret the journey it’s forced us to travel. Pain brings out our best and worst traits. My husband has seen me unraveled and paralyzed with fear and yet he continues to love me. I have seen him blustering and red in frustration and yet I get up and choose only him every day.

So many people avoid pain. They run, they hide, they cope. I was a master at this.

But with a 72% divorce rate in Orange County, I don’t really think this strategy is working out too well for most of us.

If I learned anything from years of therapy it’s this…don’t avoid the pain–do the opposite–lean in.

Pain has made our marriage better. Adversity overcome together creates the glue of relationship. Pain forced us to restructure our boundaries, to surrender to one another sacrificially and to leave our selfish natures behind for something better—a relationship built on rock and not sand.

Every day we can either deposit love or steal life from one another. It’s a choice we are all given.

Today I sit here and write after another failed pregnancy, and a heartbeat that slipped away, with tears and sadness, and a surgery to remove the remains of another sweet baby. One more soul added to our little tribe in heaven.

But I am content. Not because it doesn’t hurt—oh boy it does, but because I’m facing the pain with my best friend at my side. The friend I have fought for and who fights  for me on a daily basis.

I am what we call in our family “happy/sad.” The sad is obvious, but the happy is because I have fallen in love with my husband all over again through this yucky experience. I am crazy about this man who shares his whole heart unabashedly and shines his light so bright it makes the dark not so scary for me. He holds my hand and whispers prayers when I need encouragement, he points me back to God when my faith wavers, and he makes me laugh through my tears.  I can only hope I will choose to fall in love over and over with this same man for the rest of my life.  I want more than anything to focus on the good and not dwell on the bad, celebrating the smallest victories and offering forgiveness quickly.

The problem with marriage is that it’s not easy.

We have to choose one another every day in spite of the pain and the brokenness of our humanity.

I’m so glad we didn’t give up on the mountain of hard, because the greatest joy was reached only by cresting this summit together.

–Samantha

Spiritual Band-Aids

Band-aid My hands move fast, busy about the kitchen.  I cut, prep and toss bits and pieces of veggies and spices into the pan to make chili.  Frank Sinatra croons on the radio and I strain to hear Kolby’s giggle on the swing out on the front porch.  Faith is doing her homework in the next room and Kyle is about to arrive home any minute after football practice.

It’s my normal fast-paced evening as I pull double-duty with three kids while daddy works late.

Suddenly, something red catches my eye on the bowl in my hand.  It’s a bright crimson, almost like strawberry juice—a smear of blood perhaps?

I stop in my tracks.  I slow down and peer closely now.

I gasp.  The red is everywhere.

Panic rises up in my throat.  I think of dead bunnies from Fatal Attraction, psychos and ex-boyfriends.

Why is there blood all over my kitchen?

The white cabinets have streaks of sticky red on the doors on the cabinet pulls.  The china plates on the table are hit.  The fridge and the dishwasher and the cabinets all reveal stains of red.

I look down at my feet and gasp.  Red splotches leave a trail from the stove to the table and back again.  Ooooh gross…I’m walking in it.

The calm side of my brain finally takes over.

“Ok, Sam, assess the damage.  Where is it coming from,” I tell myself.

(I also look for the knives in case I need a weapon)

Am I hurt?  I don’t feel anything.

I do a body check and notice my left hand is covered in blood.

WHAT?

How did I miss that?

I run my hands under cool water and the gash appears on my index finger.  It’s deep and bleeding profusely. I grab a paper towel and make a Viva tourniquet, putting strong pressure on it.

Finally, finally…the pain comes—an intense throb, then sting and the relief of knowing there wasn’t a stalker hiding behind my cupboard.

About an hour later, after dinner, it stops bleeding and I’m able to bandage the wound.

……

My finger boo-boo is constantly on my mind—probably because I’m typing with a bandaged finger, but mostly because I am shocked that I was so oblivious to an injury on my body.

It seems a little crazy; here I am I imagining scenarios that had nothing to do with reality.  I walk around and drip, drop, drip blood and yet assume it’s something beyond me and my person because I didn’t feel the sting.

And then I think of how often I do the same thing in other areas— in matters of the heart—not physical, but spiritual wounds.  Someone hurts me and I either ignore or avoid the pain.  I gloss over it and pretend it’s no big deal—until it starts seeping out in other areas.

I get sick or I withhold from the person who hurt me.  I get defensive or shut down my heart in self-protection.

The wound finds a way of making itself known even when we don’t acknowledge the pain.

……

My husband and I sit in the counselor’s office and we talk about an issue.  It’s maybe my least favorite thing in the world to talk about but my husband digs in.

I’m uncomfortable.  I squirm in my seat.  I hate pulling out this muck from my soul.  I stall and stutter and finally he pushes hard enough and I blurt out, “It’s because you said this “thing” on our honeymoon and it made me feel ashamed.”

Bamm.  The words are out there.

The counselor looks at me wide eyed.  Tim shakes his head in shock.

“I’m so sorry,” he says.  “I had no idea.”

And suddenly I’m back in the kitchen and I’ve found the wound.  Only it’s been years and years of marriage that I’ve been seeping out the blood.

Now I’m ashamed even more for unconsciously holding onto my pain like a prized medal to beat my husband up with.

And as my husband apologizes and holds me as I cry, I finally rip off the spiritual band-aid and start to heal.

……

It’s been seven years of marriage for Tim and me—seven years of figuring this “uniting into one” stuff out.

Can I just say it’s hard?  Clearly marriage is not for the uncommunicative or the martyr—both attributes I exhibit at my worst.

But the more we dig into the cues and wounds of old—the more we can find our triggers and how to move past or avoid them altogether.

Two steps forward—one step back. A daily dance of beauty and intimacy as selfishness hovers nearby just waiting to intrude.

……

I meet a young woman at a party.  She is bitter over a divorce. 

Her words are harsh, “I married potential, I divorced reality.”

I’m shocked at first, but if I’m honest I recognize myself in her.

I have the potential—with God—to be all that he created me to be.  And I have the potential—in my own strength—to fail miserably

I will never get it all right.  But I pray my husband can see both—the good and bad—and love me in spite of it, choosing every single day to stay on the same team and believe the best about one another even when we act our worst.  

……

I know so many of you are hurting and in pain.  You are in the storm.

The blood is all over the kitchen.

And I’ve been there with you.  I’ve walked through the hell of divorce.  It’s a relational death like no other.

But I’ll tell you a secret.  It won’t be easier on the other side.  You will still take “you” into the next relationship.

And if “you” are anything like me, you still need some fixin up and hard edges polished.

Band-aids need to be ripped off so you can heal and be the best you.

I know it’s hard work. And it means letting go and forgiving beyond yourself.

But I believe God won’t leave you in the mess if you are willing to do the hard work and find the wounds.

Christine Caine puts it this way, “On the other side of every disappointment is a God appointment.”

And sometimes the greatest pain is simply a mercy in disguise.

–Samantha

Where have you stuck a band-aid on a wound in your relationship that needs healing?

 

Letting God out of the Box

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Why do I limit God? 

My husband and I sit in a café and discuss buying a car.

Tim is the type of guy who becomes an expert on something before he pulls the trigger.  So by this point, he can now tell me the make, model and location of every top-rated used car under 10k in the OC area.

We’ve narrowed it down to two options—one is new and one is used.  The new car is a 2015 Hyundai Elantra and it’s AWESOME and has all the bells and whistles we “po’ ministry folk” are unaccustomed to.  It’s a deal beyond a deal but it’s also out of our budget.

The used car is well, ummm…used.  It has great gas mileage and it’s a 2006 Prius and more fiscally responsible—meaning we can afford it. it’s also good for the environment—right?

(did I mention the new car has a back-up camera, so cool!)

“What would our friend’s do?” My husband Tim asks.

“”Well we can’t compare ourselves to our neighbors because we make about a third of their incomes.”  I reply.

“Ok, who do we compare ourselves to then?” Tim responds.

“We compare ourselves to the Ramsay’s.  John is a pastor.  Deanna is a singer/speaker and works part time.  That’s an appropriate comparison.”

Tim looks at me wide eyed.  “Yeah, but Deanna won a car on the Ellen Show.”

I nod.  “Yeah, that kind of stuff doesn’t happen to us.”

We hold hands.  Our tummies churn and we contemplate our finances.

……

This whole car business started because of a few numbers.

  1. 366,000

A big number, certainly, It’s also the amount of miles shared between our two aging but faithful SUV’s.

  1. 16 ½

That’s how many years my son has been alive.  Not so big—but a big kid milestone.  In two short weeks, my almost senior boy/man gets his license and like any teenage boy, Kyle is ready to roll

So we start a search for an another automobile that get’s more than the whopping 12 mpg of our 2004 Expedition or the 15 mpg of my newer 2006 Xterra.

The budget is limited.  We have some money saved—enough for another really crappy car—but we also have mounting expenses from Tim’s hospital bills (spine injury and subsequent surgery), three kids this year in private school and college looming. Truthfully, it’s a tad overwhelming.

Tim finds some cars online and we debate each one’s merits like it’s a resolution in the UN.

Tim’s sweet father, upon hearing our car predicament, offers us a large chunk of change.  We are thrilled and so blessed to be cared for so lavishly!

Now we had enough to get a NEWER used car.  (And yes, for all those wondering, we could have financed a newer car but are committed to keeping our overhead low rather than raising it)

Through the car ministry at our church we are put in touch with the owner of the Hyundai dealership in Tustin.   After a great phone conversation, he invites us to his dealership and we test drive a used Elantra and with a little prompting from the salesman a new one.

(ok, it’s not like he had to push real hard)

With the tremendous discount the owner of the dealership offers us (did I mention he is a generous volunteer at our main campus?), the new car is only 3 thousand more than the used car, but still, 6 thousand more than our budget.  They are going above and beyond to bless us.  The discount is even more than employees get.

Now what do we do? Do we justify spending more because it’s a great deal?

We go and sit in the 2015 model and pray, lifting this car dealio up to God. The people in the dealership probably think we are Jesus dorks—whatever.  We close our eyes, hold hands and talk to God.  We surrender up the decision and go to lunch.

…………..

Back at the cafe we make the painful choice to let the shiny new car go.  It stings a little because it’s SO AWESOME, but we probably shouldn’t have been shopping in the lot we couldn’t afford to begin with.

I leave the restaurant and call my step-dad.  He asks what I was doing at the dealership.  I tell him about the two cars and how we have decided to stay within our budget, honor our financial goals to lower our overhead, and be responsible with the precious gift Tim’s father has given us.

“Why, don’t I give you the money?  Six thousand–I’ll just give it to you.” My step-dad offers happily.

Silent tears stream down my face.  “I wasn’t asking for money.”

“I know honey, he replies.  “I love you.  It’s a gift.”

And I think back to my own words.  “That kind of stuff doesn’t happen to us,” And like Peter I am blown away at my doubts and God’s provision.

The next day we return to the dealership and climb in the new car before we write the check to take it home.  As the ignition fires up a song blasts through the car.

God in my living, there in my breathing
God in my waking, God in my sleeping
God in my resting, there in my working
God in my thinking, God in my speaking

Be my everything, be my everything
Be my everything, be my everything

God in my hoping, there in my dreaming
God in my watching, God in my waiting
God in my laughing, there in my weeping
God in my hurting, God in my healing

Be my everything, be my everything
Be my everything, be my everything

Christ in me, Christ in me
Christ in me, the hope of glory
You are everything

Christ in me, Christ in me
Christ in me, the hope of glory
Be my everything

Be my everything, be my everything
Be my everything, be my everything
Be my everything, be my everything
Be my everything, be my everything

God in my hoping, there in my dreaming
God in my watching, God in my waiting
God in my laughing, there in my weeping
God in my hurting, God in my healing

Be my everything, be my everything
Be my everything, be my everything

Be my everything, be my everything
Be my everything, be my everything
Be my everything, be my everything
Be my everything, be my everything

Christ in me, Christ in me
Christ in me, the hope of glory
You are everything

You are everything, You are everything
You are everything, You are everything
Jesus, everything, Jesus, everything
Jesus, everything, Jesus everything

We look at each other in amazement.  “You think God is trying to tell us something,” I weakly laugh swiping away at the tears running down my cheeks.

Back inside the dealership, Tim asks the salesman, “Did you turn it to a Christian station because you know I’m a pastor?”

The salesman replies, “No, generally the boys in the back play the thump-thump music when they get the cars ready.”

We give each other the look—the “OMG, I’m freaking out inside look.”

I call my step-dad on the way home and tell him the story.

“I’m a part of an answered prayer?” he says.

“Yep, you are.” I whisper.

“Huh.”

I can picture his bemused grin over the phone.

Later I thank God in my prayers.

And I think about the love of a father—Tim’s father who blessed us, my step-dad who surprised us so generously, and our Father God who blew us away with this gift.

We didn’t ask.  We didn’t beg.  We aren’t worthier than any other person out there.  But God through our parents gifted us anyway.

Everything.  He is my Everything.

One day later we sit in church and the last song of the service sounds familiar.

God in my living, there in my breathing
God in my waking, God in my sleeping
God in my resting, there in my working
God in my thinking, God in my speaking

Coincidence?—I don’t think so…

–Samantha

How it’s SUPPOSED to Be

supposed to be

It’s never obvious but it’s there all the same—lingering expectations—the unstated kind.

And it starts from day one—at least it did in my marriage.

Because we all believe marriage is supposed to be…

(fill in the box)

We stand at the altar and unknowingly dump unspoken expectations all over one another.

And we  cloak our aspirations in pretty words and flowery promises.

The pictures don’t lie.

Tim(my husband) cried during the ceremony and my grin is the size of Texas.

Because we erroneously believed marriage was supposed to (fill all our sexual, emotional, and relational needs)

We solemnly read our vows –nervous giggles spilling from my lips and Tim furiously wiping his watery eyes.

We promised to put the other first (and lied).  The crowd coos and sighs.  Then, we make a commitment before God and our guests and say “I do”, sealing the deal with a swoon and a kiss.

Reality vs. Ideals

But what if instead of PROMISES to love and cherish one another, we showed up at the ceremony with our true expectations.

(Play along with me)

“Tim, I promise to freak out when you are late, all too often put the kids first, over-react if you don’t like my cooking, chide you about parenting teens, snap when you forget to say I look pretty after an hour getting ready for our date, and go into hysterics when you ignore me when I am sick or hurting because I have severe abandonment issues.”

Samantha, I promise to get irritable when I forget to eat, expect you to manage all the housework, put work and ministry first (all too often), and snap if you ignore me when you get too caught up in your work because I need your attention too.

It would certainly make for a more honest wedding day.

Real, honest, sometimes selfish and more often than not –patterned expectations of what a marital relation SHOULD be like (in our eyes)

From our family of origin and past relational wounds we each bring an overloaded bag of expectations based on past hurts.

And each of us subconsciously EXPECTs our marriage will look like this.

Yet when all hell breaks loose and feelings get hurt—when we end up in opposite corners instead of on the same team—why, oh why are we so surprised?

Getting Honest

The questions to ponder are this: Are we bound by generational brokenness to repeat the patterns of our past?  Is it possible to strive for a different type of relationship?

Expectations –good or bad are a powerful force in a relationship.  They can influence and sometimes even determine our future because our behavior propels us towards the very things we either hope for or fear.

Expectation Management

My husband Tim loves to explain EXPECTATIONS this way…

Many years ago a friend of his dragged him to see the movie “Weekend at Bernie’s.”  The movie was panned by critics and Tim expected it to be a total dud.

But instead of hating it, he thought it was hilarious—maybe not Oscar worthy, but laugh your butt expectation fun.

So, Tim decided this was a good plan—to manage his expectations by keeping them low.

In his mind it’s better to be pleasantly surprised than terribly disappointed.

And this is a great plan as long as he knows what they (the expectations) are.  But sometimes it takes intense reflection and work to know the deeper areas of our hearts—the expectations we carry without realizing it.

In marriage, like movies, it’s vital to be honest about your expectations (to the degree that we know them) for your relationship—because without transparency there is ONLY disappointment when the other person fails to meet your un-communicated needs.

Do you hate fighting and believe ALL conflict is bad?  Are you always waiting for the shoe to drop and disaster to strike because you lived through a divorce?  Do you believe marriage is a prison or a ball and chain holding you back from the good life?

Or do you believe marriage has its ups and downs and you are committed to seeing both through?

Don’t underestimate the power of these expectations.

But don’t overestimate their power either, because there’s a power that’s even greater than expectations: God can heal our brokenness and it’s usually through the comfort and arms of the spouse pissing you off the most.

Healing the Wounds

Yes, I did say YOUR spouse will be the one to help you heal.

But you have to choose the marriage.

Choosing to behave differently than your past is possible.

We don’t have to live lives as victims of the past.

John Townsend and Henri Cloud say this,

Those who blame external circumstances for their situation do not find what they want.  Those who work on themselves, take responsibility for dealing with their circumstances, and then take action, have success.”

Motivation moves towards personal responsibility.

Marriage experts agree that both before and after you marry; you must be intentional about growth in your relationship.

Tim and I are very open about seeking counseling in our marriage.  It is a non-negotiable with us.  It keeps us growing personally and relationally.  It also keeps the fires lit and the hope strong.

The best decision we have ever made is to invest in our marriage.

We have decided to learn everything we can about ourselves and each other, as well as practical tools to build our skills and strengths.

We study relationship books.

We go to relationship classes, support groups and seminars.

We take the time to do relationship inventories and assessments.

We found a good counselor.

And we are never above humbly asking for prayer and guidance when we hit the sticky spots.

We don’t have it all figured out—quite the opposite—but we are committed to the journey of figuring it out together.

If you expect to hit some rough patches but have intentionally equipped yourself and your relationship to handle them, you’ll be able to navigate anything that arises. You’ll also know what your resources are and be able to ask for appropriate help as needed. If you intend to learn more and more about yourself and your partner as years go by and follow up those intentions with action, your relationship will stay fresh and current. If you expect that the investment of time and energy in marriage pays off, and add intention to your expectations, you will do what is needed and required to develop a strong, healthy relationship.”

 

Resources: All-in-One Marriage Prep: 75 Experts Share Tips and Wisdom to Help You Get Ready Now, www.allinonemarriageprep.com

When Your Normal is My Crazy

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This is me.  This kid…this is my inner-(mini) me.

And NO, it’s not my mom talking.  It’s my pastor husband.

This picture is HOW I FEEL after church—like I want to bang my head against the wall because my husband won’t stop talking.

Being married to a relationally gifted man of Christ certainly has its perks.

  1. Everyone is a friend
  2. No party is boring
  3. Often we are the party.
  4. (Unless the party is in a foul mood…then we are the party pooper)
  5. We can go to a mall, Starbucks, restaurant, golf course, etc… and come home with five new best friends.
  6. There are no off-topic conversations. EVERYTHING is up for grabs.

But there is a dark side too.

  1. I rarely leave church without my three kids and I experiencing debilitating hunger pains. It’s usually 2:00pm before we get out of the parking lot.
  2. I’ve heard, “I just have to talk to this one guy” a bazillion times.
  3. There is an unspoken acknowledgement between the kids and I that if Tim forgets something at church and has to “run back in real quick” we will probably wait another 30 minutes with the engine running.
  4. And of course, every conversation is for Jesus, so how can we argue?

 

I adore my husband but sometimes he drives me bazonkers in the best of ways.

And he looks at me, wide eyed in befuddlement?  “Why are you irritated darling?  What’s wrong?”

(Because this is HIS normal)

And I want to scream, “Your normal is my crazy!”

But instead I just pray for patience. And every week I suck it up with a weak smile.

And then God gives me this little gift to tell me he hears my heart.

And I finally feel understood.  Heard.  Affirmed. Validated.

Because God knows, I’m just tryna leave!

And he loves me  anyway…

–Samantha

The Man Thing

Tim

They say women are complicated. And I agree—wholeheartedly—but I don’t think men are as simple as some suggest.

It’s not just sex, food and more sex that makes a man tick.

There’s something else I can’t put my finger on. All I know is that I don’t know what it is.

But it’s there—the man thing.

On Sunday, I sit in the back of a pre-marital class my husband runs waiting with the kids for him to wrap up so we can go to lunch.

Tim is moderating a talk on personality differences.

The speaker is Dr. Edward Mendez (my favorite counselor) but I wasn’t paying attention because I’ve heard this talk many times by now. (Sorry Buddy)

But then, Dr. Mendez speaks words I haven’t heard before.

“One of the most thrilling things I’ve ever heard from my wife other than “let’s get it on” is “I study you.”

What?

I stopped and held my breath. What does that mean?

“I study you…”

This is what excites a man?

To be studied?

For Dr. Mendez, this means his wife spends time trying to understand him–to know him, to research and delve deeply into his emotions and heart.

She cares enough to go the extra mile and understand his personality and what makes him tick.

Oh noooo…I think. This is way harder than sex and cooking.

I’m not so good at this part.

I’ve got some issues here.

My dad was, at times, a very difficult man to get along with as I grew up. And although he changed into a gentle guy at the end of his life, in the early years his explosive anger often shut me down into a turtle shell of self-protection.

And sadly, old wounds linger and seep into adulthood.

Sometimes, when my defense goes up, I retreat. I stop trying to know my husband and understand him. I hide in my turtle shell and refuse to come out.

And honestly (God forgive me) I don’t always believe the best about my man.

The next day Tim and I work on a project together. Its three days past deadline, but with our busy schedule and Homecoming high school drama we were left overwrought and without ANY margin this weekend. Finally we sit down and address it.

Tim was tense—short even—and snippy with me.

I am light-hearted for about an hour. Then I get weary of being nice to a grump.

And Everything in me wants to power up and launch back surly for surly.

But then I think about Dr. Mendez’s words and instead of moving to the defense, I carefully measure my words and watch him.

I stay neutral. I don’t retreat or engage. I study him like a history book.

Once we hit send on the project, a huge smile crosses over his face.

“Ahhh babe, Now I can relax and be with you,” Tim sighs.

His countenance changes—storm clouds to sunshine—and he picks up my hand and squeezes it.

And I realize his terse behavior isn’t about me at all—it’s about the task at hand.

Holy cow!!! I learn something new about this man.

What you see with Tim (his behavior) is not necessarily what’s going on under the surface.

This is super ironic because I’m tumultuous inside and calm as a cucumber on the outside.

We are polar opposites when it comes to expressing emotion.

It would be easy for me to write off my husband off as over-reactive (and honestly, easy for him to dismiss me as a non-emotive ice cube.)

But when I take the time to study him–to look closer and read his cues, I see another story.

I see a different personality than mine, certainly, but a man with good motives who loves and cherishes me but operates very differently.

It’s evening now. I lay beneath his feet by the sofa, reclining back. Tim plays with my hair for a solid hour as we watch the Patriots get whooped on by the Chiefs.

And despite the fact our fantasy football team (the amazing Ladera Lambyasoures) is losing because the Patriots defense is a bust, I purr like a happy kitten as Tim speaks my love language of affection.

This studying thing was a good investment because I’m pretty sure if I had been bitchy back, I wouldn’t have gotten the princess treatment later.

Maybe men are not so complicated.

Maybe all my man needs is sex, good food, more sex and a woman who truly seeks to KNOW him.

If only I could get this right more often!

Thanks Dr. Mendez…

–Samantha

How do you study your spouse or significant other?

The Bench

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I clock a lot of hours on the bench at my kid’s gymnastics studio.  Not surprisingly, I hear more conversations than I would like to.  I’m not nosy, but I am female, so even though I try not to eavesdrop, sometimes it’s difficult to close my ears.

I’ve seen a lot of single dads at the gym lately.  You can always tell when there are drop offs between a tense mom and dad, usually in the middle of a divorce, and the gym is their neutral turnover zone.

Bags are exchanged.  Homework explained.  Guilt-trips are delicately laced with instructions.

Little kids wave goodbye to mommy or daddy and try and put on a brave face before their peers and coach.  Little tears escape, brushed away in an effort to be a “big girl.”

Shoulders are slumped.  Sadness exudes.  Defeat hangs like a dense fog.

I notice an air of confusion on many of the recently single parents.  It’s as if they wear a large sticker on their forehead reading “Why didn’t this divorce make me happier?”

One of these sad guys plopped himself down next to me the other day.  He looked well put together, effortlessly stylish –clearly he had money and confidence –and yet something was wanting.

Another man walked by and inquired how he was doing –and out the story spilled.

His wife left him for another man.  But not just any man –it was his best friend.  She is demanding $10k a month for her expenses.  She also left him with her daughter whom he was now raising.  They were married all of thirteen months.

Through his anger and liberal use of f-bombs, I heard heart-wrenching and desperately raw pain.

I tried to fade into the wall.  I didn’t want to hear it.  It brought back emotions and days I don’t want to remember.

I watched his little girl do a handstand and wave and blow kisses, trying to make him smile.  She could tell her daddy was hurting.

And it reminded me how every person I meet has a story. 

That even the uber-attractive and wealthy folks pulling out of the kiddie gym in a Ferrari are often dying on the inside. 

EVERY interaction and EVERY encounter I make is important to someone.  Each day I have the opportunity to bring life or death, joy or pain, comfort or more sorrow to an already suffering soul.

I was recently told by a pharmaceutical rep that our CVS Pharmacy in Ladera Ranch has the highest revenue in the nation of prescription anti-depressants. 

This means my community of beautiful wisteria clad homes, hard bodies, families with 2.3 kids, and happy smiley faces is secretly drowning in a disease of sorrow hidden behind image management.

I tried not to be intrusive, but as I left, I looked the man in the eye and acknowledged his pain.  He weakly smiled back and went on his way.

And I am brought to my knees, crying out to God for this hurting man, for my hurting community, and for a world where hope is holding on by a thin thread.

If you are one of those struggling today, please let me encourage you to hold on.  Reach out and let someone know you need help.  You can’t do life alone.  We need each other.  We need Jesus with skin on.  We need people.

God reveals himself and comforts us through those who have walked in our shoes and previously traveled down the dark roads. 

You aren’t alone.

Hang on my friends.  Hang on…

–Samantha

What Your Marriage Really Needs

love is

There have been few days in my life so impactful they are singed into my memory as “best days ever.”

The birth of my kids, the day my ex-husband walked, the day I ran down the aisle into the arms of Tim Keller…

Ravishing love, unbearable sorrow, joy beyond imagination – I recall every detail swirled with emotion.

This last weekend I added a new “best day ever” to my mental picture book.

Tim and I attended Relationship BootCamp and it rocked my world.

I’ve always thought marriage was hard work and I just needed to buck up and put in the effort. 

I tell myself, “Don’t give up.  Try harder.  Ok, that didn’t work…Sam, try EVEN harder!”

(After one failed marriage, I have NO intention of a repeat performance)

But is working harder at doing the same thing over and over anything more than a spinning hamster wheel of frustration? Certainly, relationship takes effort, and yet my soul groans for something more –understanding, compassion and a deeper connection.

Why are relationships so difficult?  Why do I struggle (at times) with the man of my dreams?

Why, why, why Jesus?  Why don’t Christians have awesome marriages?  Aren’t we supposed to be getting this right?

I believe I have a good marriage, but in the back of my mind I long and thirst for a glimpse of heaven.  And I feel guilty for wanting more.  I hate the repeated arguments about the same dumb thing.  I hate the communication gap.  I despise the feeling that we are so close to getting this right –and yet a million miles away all at the same time.

I discovered a lot from Relationship BootCamp.

Most of all, I recognized I desperately need healing from past wounds (that I drag into my marriage!) and a huge dose of forgiveness if I want EPIC instead of just ok. 

Surprise, surprise…relationship issues are not about dealing with the difficult people in our life.

Relationship issues are about dealing with the face in the mirror.

I saw five couples this weekend either seperated or with divorce papers signed who turned it around and recommitted.  I saw miracles happen.

I also saw my husband have epiphany after epiphany, right along WITH me. 

I ahhed and oohed too many times to count and I cried desperate tears as I saw my husband in a new light. 

And in the dark recesses of my heart, a glorious unlocking began and HOPE kicked out the despair I didn’t even know I stuffed in there.

I ALMOST NEVER recommend you buy or do anything on this blog, but if you want the relationship you’ve always dreamed about, I highly recommend you consider signing up for a BootCamp!

You’ll probably run into me volunteering and I’ll hug you through the hard parts! 

I believe our country is going through a marriage and relationship crisis.

And I want to be a part of the R3Volution! 

Click Here to find out more and Register!

Hint, Hint…

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A few weeks ago I started writing for a new client who runs a relationship bootcamp and does intensive couples coaching. 

At first I thought it was simply a good writing gig.  But now, after writing and researching numerous articles on marriage (and tips to improve relationships), I wonder if there isn’t some sort of grand scheme going on here behind the scenes.

Is the big man upstairs giving me subtle hints?

Jesus, are you trying to tell me I could use a little relational coaching myself?

Because in the last few weeks I’ve done a ton of research and it’s becoming increasingly clear I have a preschooler’s knowledge of building a healthy relationship.

Despite what you may believe, pastors and writers and ministry types don’t always have it all figured out.  We swamp through and muddle and muck up relationships too.

(But generally we get fired if our marriage tanks so we have more incentive than you to make it work)

Now I am certainly no expert.

I’ve been divorced.  I know there is no “happily ever after.” 

But I do believe marriage is worth every tear and argument and struggle.

I know the rewards are far greater than the tough moments.  I know there is crazy joy in the journey, delight in the dumbest moments, and glimpses of God through imperfect people trying to love and sacrifice for each other.

As much as I love my husband, I am not the best wife.  I honestly cry when I think of how badly I want to be better and the reality of who and what I am.

Broken. Selfish.  Human.  Capable of snarky quips and extreme disrespect.

But in that space I invite God to do a miracle; to somehow take my tiny little seed of faith and build something more beautiful than I can imagine.

A marriage.  Unity.  Family.  Interdependence. 

A strand of three chords not easily broken.

Here are the articles I wrote in the last few weeks for Relationship Help Centers.    Check out their website and look at the bootcamps for marrieds and singles. 

Because can’t we all use a little help in our relationships?

–Blessings,

Sam

How to Rekindle the Passion

In days of old, people accepted marriage would have its doldrums, but these days unhappiness is not an option. According to a survey conducted among 100 family lawyers –boredom and monotony are now the number one reasons for divorce.  Our expectation for marriage is that it will be fulfilling, vital and passionate.  But how do we keep the flames of passion strong? Lust initially propels us to the altar. It’s when endorphins surge through our brains and create a chemical cocktail that makes our beloved appear bigger than life. But what happens when these sexual opiates fade – as they inevitably will? This becomes the defining moment when a couple can choose whether or not they will continue to have passion in their relationship. Yes, passion is a choice. I can already hear you grumbling…”how am I supposed to feel something I don’t feel?”  Read More

#1 T­ool to make Marriage Last

If there was one thing –one tool to apply to your marriage today that would yield the biggest relational return, wouldn’t you want to own it? No matter what the cost, no matter what the effort…you would have to have it. But what if you already owned the tool? What if you simply forgot how to use it? According to SmartMarriages.com and leading marital relationship experts, you already have what it takes within you to build a foundation for a great marriage. In fact, you’ve probably used this tool before –back when you were dating. Back when you doted on and lingered over and filed away in your mental rolodex every single word your beloved uttered. So what is the MAGIC TOOL?  Read More

10 Tips to Fight Fair

When conflict erupts in a marriage –an inevitable part of all relationships, you can choose to draw closer to one another or barrel through, throw darts and damage the relationship. But unlike the old Pat Benetar song, love does not have to be a battleground.  Instead, the marriage relationship can be a safe place for reconciliation when differences arise. But it takes a little sweat equity and a sound plan. A clear-cut and pro-active approach to conflict sets the boundaries before the argument arises. Set the Rules Here are some “Rules” adapted from Ground Rules for Handling Conflict, John A. Larsen, PhD and “Rules for Fighting Fair” by Priscilla and Greg Hunt, PhD  Read More

 

Crazy Busy Love

Lake Arrowhead

My hubby and I arose early on Saturday morn, climbed in the car and drove a mere hour and fifteen minutes up the mountain into another world. 

We were the keynote speakers at the Radar Love Conference up in Lake Arrowhead –a mountain community so resplendent in the summer all I could think about was the movie “Dirty Dancing.”  For some reason, the lovely lake resort where Baby danced her socks off kept coming to mind.

Radar Love was a Southern California singles conference focused on finding love, how to love and God’s plan for love –all the easy stuff, right?

But what surprised me the most about our little getaway was how often in our crazy busy schedule my husband and I forget to take the time and effort to practice the very things we  preach on.

I’m sure none of you would never forget this “oh so simple” principle either?

There are always plenty of and GOOD reasons and justifications why we slack in our effort towards our spouse.

Here’s mine:  Tim and I have struggled through a tough season.  Circumstances beyond our control have buffeted our ship through stormy waves.  We have clung to each other, held on tightly to our kids and trusted God to see us through the squall.

And we have survived –yes, and we have grown closer –certainly, but there are also wounds and nicks to our heels that we have allowed to sneak into our marriage and quietly steal our smiles.

And sometimes we don’t even realize how much we miss each other. 

Without three kids distracting me, without teen angst and toddler meltdowns, no work stress and ministry challenges, without seminary weighing Tim down with a paper due every stinking day–we were left with nothing to do but speak to the group –something we adore doing together and focus ALL our attention on one another.

In the afternoon, relaxing in a beautiful cabin with endless views, I watched my husband practice his talk for the evening event.  And as he wove together a message of hope and practical dating application, I sat there on the comfy sofa and fell in love with my husband all over again.

I watched him tell hilarious schticky jokes and “cat” analogies that rolled me.  I took in his passion for single adults, clear calling from God to minister and bursting energy to do God’s will –and I let it roll over me and penetrate my heart. 

And once again, I was in awe of the man I call my own.

I remembered how funny and smart he is and I let go of my resentment for the seminary who steals my husband away from me.  I watched his hands waving around to enunciate his words and I thought of those same hands that care for me and hold me when I am scared.  I caught the twinkle in his eye when he looked at me with longing and I felt the same spark deep within me.

Later that afternoon, we had lunch on the lake and took the time to date. 

We walked hand in hand by the water, laid down on a dock in the sunshine side by side as the speed boats gently rocked the floating platform, and shared our hearts with one another.  We explored the little lakeside village, slurped down cappuccinos and met friends for an impromptu chat.

We spent the day giggling and loving and lingering –and it filled my low bucket to the brim with “Keller Love” (which is the best kind of love of all).

Even though I know better –I sometimes forget that one of the best investments I can make is in my marriage.  One night away in a cabin with my sweetheart is worth six months in counseling fees.  And certainly a week away would be even better.

Now, your idea of fun might not be preaching together –but for Tim and I who share this passion it was restorative.  Maybe you and your spouse love to scuba dive, or watch indie films or climb mountains.  Every couple is unique in their bonding method, love language and shared interests –but however you love, don’t stop making the time to do the little things.

Don’t let the JOY slip through your fingers.

My friend Nick Arnette (master emcee and comedienne extraordinaire) sent me this great article from Single Dad Laughing.  The author –Dan is twice divorced and shared a long list of all the things he wished he had done differently in his marriages -“16 Ways I Blew My Marriage.”

And it resonated with me because of the weekend I spent making the effort to love and ENJOY my husband.  As I read this blog, I mentally checked off all the things we got right in one tiny weekend. 

Love is a choice.

It takes concentrated effort, sacrifice and time.  It takes letting go of the walls we build around our hearts and letting God restore us so that we can fully give and receive love.  Love is NOT EASY but there are moments where despite our humanity –God reaches down and we get a glimpse of the divine.

I have a perma-smile when I think of this weekend and the time I spent with my husband. 

Because this is the man who makes my heart sing.

Do you need to sneak away for some intentional love time with your spouse?

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