Mark: The holiday season is upon us. In just a few days family will be descending upon your home or you’ll be headed to Aunt Mabel’s house for Thanksgiving.
Jill: Yummy food and time with family beckons us while quite possibly, stress is waiting in the wings. The holidays are ripe for marriage miscommunication, misunderstandings, unspoken expectations, and the joys and stresses of extended family relationships.
Mark: The Bible talks about “leaving and cleaving” but the holidays often raise up challenges to truly do that well. Over the years, Jill and I have had to be intentional about sticking together during the holiday season. Acknowledging extended family desires while deciding what is best for our family, takes priority.
Jill: As you prepare for Thursday’s festivities, here are some “holiday communication” and “leave and cleave” principles to help you navigate the holiday season:
Talk with your spouse about what’s important to you for the upcoming holiday celebrations. Don’t assume he or she will know. There’s no possible way for him or her to read your mind. Talk about your expectations, wants, and desires for how the day or weekend will look.
Talk about what is needed to be done to prepare for the holidays. Does food have to be prepared? Are you traveling overnight and suitcases need to be packed? What division of duties assures that everything gets done and the responsibilities are shared? Fight the temptation to think that your spouse will think about the same things you think about as you think about holiday preparations. Talk to him or her to make sure they are on the same page you are.
Resist the urge to think “we’ve always done it this way.” Instead sit down and talk as a couple. What works best for our family on Thanksgiving? How long should we stay at Aunt Mabel’s? What do WE want our Christmas to look like? Just because everyone always goes to Grandma’s on Christmas morning doesn’t mean your family has to do that if you really desire for your kids to wake up in their own beds on Christmas morning.
Be prepared to make someone unhappy. If everyone dances around Uncle George’s drinking problem and you choose to have your family stay only two hours at the Thanksgiving celebration Uncle George attends, you may disappoint other family members. Remember that your immediate family (spouse and kids) take priority over your extended family (parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins). This is hard but it’s where “leaving and cleaving” really comes into play.
Protect your spouse. If your extended family is critical of your spouse, doesn’t include them in conversations, pretends they don’t exist (yes there are families that treat people that way!), be willing to protect your spouse and either address the issue before the holiday or choose to limit time or simply not attend a gathering with extended family that mistreats your mate.
Mark: It is possible to have happy holidays and a happy marriage, but you have to be intentional about making it happen. Jill and I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and an enjoyable long weekend with friends and family.
What about you? How do you make sure you have a happy marriage and a happy holiday?
Mark: Jill and I spent this past weekend with over 2500 moms at the North Central Regional Hearts at Home Conference. While I go with her to serve and work the conference, I also get the opportunity to hear some wonderful speakers. At this conference, I really enjoyed Dr. Gary Chapman’s message.
Jill: Mark and I sat backstage and listened to Dr. Chapman’s message. It was excellent. Afterwards, we decided that we wanted today’s Marriage Monday to be about something Dr. Chapman talked about: the tingles.
Mark: Dr. Chapman talked about when you’re dating and you get “the tingles” for this person. They intrigue you. You spend hours talking. You feel connected. They are all you think about. Eventually you decide you want to spend your life with this person.
Jill: According to Dr. Chapman, once you get married, on average, the tingles disappear within two years. That’s normal. That’s what happens emotionally after you start living with someone and seeing all of them…including their strengths and their faults.
Mark: Dr. Chapman said there’s a great probability that as a married person, you will get “the tingles” for someone else along the way. Getting “the tingles” for someone else isn’t wrong in and of itself. It’s what you do with those feelings that makes all the difference in the world.
Jill: Getting the tingles for someone other than your spouse is temptation and it’s a tool used by Satan to steal and destroy your marriage. If you get the tingles for someone else, you need to do NOTHING and you need to do EVERYTHING.
Mark: You need to do NOTHING about the new person you have the tingles for. Put distance between you and the other person. Resist the lie the enemy whispers that says, “you’re not meant to be married to who you’re married to….this person is your soulmate.” RUN the other direction. The Bible says, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41) Recognize this is temptation and do NOTHING to feed the temptation. In the words of the Apostle Paul….RUNNNNNN!
Jill: You need to do EVERYTHING to water the grass in your own yard. Flirt with your spouse. Write your husband or wife a love letter. Make a list of their strengths and what drew you to them in the first place. If your marriage is in crisis, get help. Set up a counseling appointment. Talk to your pastor. Make plans to go to a one-week marriage intensive. Take action to get the help your marriage needs. Even if you feel you and your spouse have tried “everything,” there are other resources or other counselors out there…keep pursuing the right thing. (We are assuming that you are not in any physical danger in your marriage. If you are in physical danger, you need to protect yourself and your children if they are still at home.)
Mark: Even if “the tingles” have disappeared in your marriage, they can be re-ignited again. Don’t fall for the lie that you’ve “fallen out of love.” Love is a choice. Choose to love and pursue the spouse you committed to join your life to “until death do you part.”
What about you? What strategies have you used to keep “the tingles” in your marriage?” `
I know your world has recently been turned upside down. You can hardly breathe and you’re worried about your future and your family’s future.
It’s possibly you’ve come to grips with your diagnosis but are recovering from surgery, or going through chemotherapy or radiation.
Regardless of where you are in the journey, this letter is for you.
Today marks two years since I first heard the four words no woman wants to hear: You have breast cancer.
In the cancer world, that makes me a two-year survivor.
During my six months of treatment, there were many breast cancer survivors who had served as my “cancer coaches” along the journey. They shared their experiences, wisdom, and knowledge.
Over the past two years, I’ve had the privilege of doing the same for those coming behind me. Today I want to share some words of encouragement from one survivor to another:
1) This too shall pass. As devastated as you feel right now, I promise this will pass. Your priorities will change and you’ll gain clarity on what’s really important in life. Take one day at a time and when that is too much, take one hour or even one minute at a time. Close your eyes, breathe deeply, and calm your anxious heart.
2) You are more than your breasts and your hair. It’s hard for anyone to lose any part of their body, but losing two parts of our body that define our femininity make it double hard. No matter what you choose: lumpectomy, mastectomy, double mastectomy, reconstruction or no reconstruction, you will survive and become accustomed to your “new normal.” If your treatment includes hair loss, it’s not the end of the world. Choose to handle this however YOU want to handle it: wig, scarves, hats, or simply embracing bald.
3) Advocate for yourself. Ask questions. Request tests. Communicate about side effects. This is not the time to be the martyr. I suffered terrible side effects from my first chemo treatment until my doctor said, “Jill, you have to let us know if the meds we give you are working or not. If they’re not, I have a dozen more options I can give you.” I learned to speak up early and not “push through” the tough days. Now more than ever there resources available online to help you understand what your treatment options are – Cure Forward is a platform that can inform you about your treatment options and help you connect with a clinical trial administrator.
4) Accept help. You don’t have the energy you usually have. Let others grocery shop, cook, clean, and help with kids if they offer. If they don’t offer, ask for what you need. You are not putting people out…you are helping them help you. (Check out www.cleaningforareason.org for complimentary housecleaning for cancer patients).
5) Don’t go to doctor appointments alone. You are hearing terminology you’ve never heard before. You have treatment options to consider. You may be emotional which causes you to miss important information the doctor communicates. Ask a spouse, friend, or family member to accompany you to all your appointments.
6) Set up a free Caring Bridge page for mass communication. This makes life simpler for you so you don’t have to contact friends and family members with test results and health updates. Those who care can subscribe to your page. When you post an update, they get an email notification. My husband even used my Caring Bridge page to provide updates during my surgery. This helped him to be focused on me instead of making dozens of phone calls to update family and friends.
7) Lean into God. We can build our life on sinking sand or on a Solid Rock. God’s word kept me strong even when I felt weak. It gave me footing when it felt like the rug was pulled out from under my feet. Right now, life is changing. You need to focus on an unchanging God who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Even when it is not well with your circumstances, it CAN be well with your soul.
8) Find encouragement from those who have gone before you. During my journey, I wrote several blog posts you might find helpful. Here are a few of the most popular ones:
9) Give yourself time. Cancer treatment takes a lot out of you. I’m two years out and most days I feel like myself again. I don’t think about cancer everyday anymore.Yet, there are times where I just don’t have the stamina quite like a did before cancer. That’s okay and to be expected. Give your body the time it needs to recover.
Right now, you’re in the middle of the muddle. Most likely, this time next year, cancer will be in the rearview mirror of your life. Until then, let yourself heal. Accept help when it’s offered. Draw close to those around you. Allow yourself to be loved…by your family and by God.
You’ve got this, girlfriend, and you’re going to be okay.
Tomorrow marks two years since my breast cancer diagnosis. Today I’m sharing my heart with you in hopes that you’ll take care of yourself and do all you can to prevent cancer and detect it early if it shows up in your life.
Tomorrow I’m sharing my heart with any woman who is walking through breast cancer. If you know someone who is on that journey, would you please share tomorrow’s post with them?
For today, however, I’m asking you to:
1) Do a monthly self-exam. If you’re old enough to have breasts, you’re old enough to check them! Know your body and check yourself every month.
2) If you’re 40 or older, get your annual mammogram scheduled NOW. Do not put it off. My cancer was discovered on a routine mammogram. I never felt it. My doctors never felt it.
3) If you have risk factors like family history, confer with your doctor on when to begin mammograms. My daughters’ doctors are recommending they begin mammograms at age 30 because my cancer was discovered before I turned 50.
4) If you find a lump or the appearance of your breasts change, follow up with your doctor immediately. Do not wait. Don’t tell yourself you’re too busy to go to the doctor. Don’t put your head in the sand and tell yourself it will go away. Early detection is key for curing breast cancer.
5) Maintain a Healthy Weight. Women who are overweight are at a greater risk for developing breast cancer. Not only that, but you’ll feel better and have more energy!
6) Exercise. Women who exercise have a lower risk of developing breast cancer. Aim for four to seven hours of exercise a week. A daily walk can make a big difference!
7) Eat Nutritionally. Avoid processed foods and meats. Choose hormone free meats and dairy when you can. Eat whole grains and limit refined sugar to special occasions. Read labels and put products back on the shelf that have unpronounceable ingredients in them.
8) Limit contact with environmental risks. Start using glass over plastic containers. NEVER use plastic in the microwave. Choose non-toxic cleaning products like vinegar and baking soda. Limit contact with pesticides. Buy organic options for fruits and vegetables listed on the Dirty Dozen list (these are the fruits and vegetables that absorb the highest level of pesticides).
In 2015, the International Agency for Cancer Research reported that five factors account for 1/3 of all cancers: high body mass index, low fruit and vegetable intake, lack of physical activity, tobacco use, and alcohol use. The American Institute for Cancer Research estimates that 33% of all breast cancer cases in the US could be prevented by dietary changes and exercise. (source: www.beyondboobs.org)
YOU can make a difference in you and your family’s risk factors! I wish I’d really understood that years ago. Now I know and I’m making necessary changes. I hope you will too.
So what will you do today to reduce your risk? Pick one or two of these and get started today!
After all, today’s the first day of the rest of your life.
Last year our youngest headed off to college. Two hours from our home in Central Illinois, Austin started his four years of living in the dorm at Moody Bible College studying communications.
In early November, I found myself in the Dollar Store to pick up a couple of things. That’s when the idea struck me to put together a Christmas Care Package for my college boy. This care package wasn’t filled with food; it was filled with Christmas decorations to make his dorm room festive for the holidays.
I picked up two stockings, personalizing one for Austin and one for his roommate. I filled the stockings with goodies and then tucked mugs, Santa hats, decorations, garland and sparkly snowflakes for their dorm window into the box.
Mark: Last week I was talking with a friend who was reeling from a big argument he and his wife had on Halloween. As we talked through the challenge, it became evident to me that the whole mess happened because expectations weren’t talked through. Been there…done that…learned some lessons!
Jill: So many of our conflicts, particularly in the early years, happened because of uncommunicated expectations. We needed to tell each other what we were thinking, wanting, hoping for as we headed into the evening, the weekend, a holiday celebration, or just managing daily tasks.
Mark: There’s no way Jill will know that it’s been a hard day and I need tonight to be a “veg in front of the TV” night unless I tell her.
Jill: There’s no way Mark will know that I have a home project I’d like his help with unless I tell him.
Mark: Communicating expectations needs to happen on a daily basis. Dinner is a great time to talk through what you’d each like the evening to look like. This helps you understand each other’s needs and work together to help each other. “I’d like to pay the bills tonight and then head to bed early. How about you?” “Could you help Joey with his homework while I work with Susie?”
Jill: Weekend days are important days for communicating expectations. “What do you want tomorrow to look like?” “What’s your plans after church today?” “The kids have soccer games in the morning. What would you like the afternoon to look like after we get home from the games?”
Mark: Of course, going into the holidays is a very important time to talk about expectations. “What’s most important to you on Thanksgiving?” “How can I help get us ready to go out of town?” “Could you help me with food preparation the day before Thanksgiving?”
Jill: None of us are mindreaders. We see life through different lenses and have different priorities so even as spouses, we won’t look at the same time and space and want to necessarily use it the same way. This is why communication is so important!
Mark: As you start this week, take your communication to a new level. Talk about what you hope. What you think. What you desire. And ask your spouse about what he/she hopes, thinks, and desires. Then work together to help each other, bless each other, and encourage each other.
What about you? What have you found helpful for communicating expectations?
Last week I took a first ever four-day Silence and Solitude retreat all by myself. My body was tired, my soul was dry, and I knew I just needed to be with Jesus. I shared a couple weeks ago how I made the decision to take this soul care retreat.
As an introvert, I looked forward to the alone time. Still, though, I worried about being completely alone for four days. I admit being a little stir crazy the second day, but that soon subsided as I embraced the reality that I really wasn’t alone.
I chose to simplify life for those four days in order to really focus on Jesus. A four-day juice fast helped me step away from food but not nutrition. For two of the four days I also fasted from driving, social media, computer, and make-up (loved the freedom!)
My first day I napped three times! Can you say tired? Oh. My. Goodness. Three naps…and I still went to sleep that night! I found myself sitting and staring….a lot. Talking with God in short thoughts. Reading my Bible and then falling asleep. “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”
In fasting from driving, I fell in love with walking. I walked to the store. I walked on the beach. I walked and prayed. I walked and did lots of thinking. “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Galatians 5:16
In fasting from the computer and social media, I turned to the Bible more and more. I picked up and read one (short) book of the Bible. Then another. By the end of my four days I had read ten books of the Bible. My soul was finding it’s sustenance in God’s word. “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord…” Jeremiah 15:16
In fasting from food, I removed distraction from my head and my heart. I experienced a break in cravings that I often fight…even in my clean eating journey. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4
In time God began to whisper single words to me:
I returned home refreshed like never before. It was a spiritual reboot I’m grateful I experienced.
Now as I’m back into the rhythm of life, the challenge is finding ways to keep those whispered words a regular part of my life: rest, breathe, slow down, depend, reset.
I’m finding that taking a deep breath can immediately change my body’s response to stress. I’m finding an earlier bedtime is providing the rest I need on a regular basis. I’m finding that putting less on my calendar is bringing balance back to my life. I’m finding that placing my challenges in the hands of God quicker is increasing my dependence on Him. Finally, I’m finding that I need to be intentional about “rebooting” each and every day with God’s word because this gives me His perspective throughout the day.
No one can care for your soul but you. You may have little ones clawing at you every hour of the day, but they need you to practice the art of soul care in some way. Maybe it’s taking the first 15 minutes of naptime to breathe and rest. Maybe it’s scheduling one night a week to head out without kids and go to the library to read. Maybe it’s meeting a friend for coffee and praying together. Maybe it’s a few minutes of memorizing God’s Word every morning.
Four days was a rare experience of heaven on earth, but four minutes is what you and I have to find each and every day to breathe.
Mark: When we found out Jill was pregnant with our fourth child I was angry. We had an appointment on the calendar for me to have a little “snip snip” surgery and the stick turned blue two weeks before surgery. I spent much of that pregnancy angry at Jill for being pregnant. Sad…I know. Immature…most definitely. And yes, I know that it takes two to tango so my perspective was definitely selfish and skewed. It wasn’t like anything could change, but I was absolutely ticked at reality.
Jill: I hated dealing with Mark’s anger all the time. He seemed to always be disappointed with life because it didn’t meet his expectations.
Mark: “It is what it is.” This is a phrase I’ve been characterized by saying in the past three years. It is representative of a huge mindshift I’ve made that is serving me well and making an impact on my marriage.
Jill: Truly I’ve heard Mark say that dozens, if not hundreds, of times over the past three years. More importantly though, I’ve noticed that Mark is characterized by being less demanding, exhibiting more peace, and having more realistic expectations.
Mark: As Jill and I have talked about before, unrealistic expectations can really wreck a marriage. Being unwilling to accept things that cannot be changed is a form of unrealistic expectations.
Jill: The Serenity Prayer is a powerful marriage prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
Mark: This was the heart of my challenge: I was unwilling to accept the things I could not change and I lacked the wisdom to know the difference. These days, however, I feel my eyes have been opened to see and accept what I cannot change. How did that happen? It was a two part process:
Brokenness:My unrealistic expectations were not only present in my marriage, they were present in every part of my life: my faith, the church, my work, my friendships and more. I was even demanding of God that I understand him. My midlife crisis ended when I gave up fighting and demanding. I accepted the reality that I couldn’t change anything in life except that which was inside of me. This helped me to accept things as they are which led to saying more and more, “it is what it is.”
Humility: In my unsubmissive heart, I demanded that God be someone other than who He was. In my pride and arrogance, I demanded that Jill be someone other than who God created her to be. It wasn’t until I humbled myself, submitting my heart fully to God that I was able to experience the serenity to truly accept things I couldn’t change.
Jill: Acceptance is important, but one of the things Mark and I have talked about is how important it is that it doesn’t cross over into passivity. If we say “it is what it is” about issues that really need to be addressed, then it’s not about submission or acceptance. Instead, it becomes a form of stuffing my emotions.
Mark: So a healthy “it is what it is” would be me accepting that Jill is an introvert and needs time alone to refuel. An unhealthy “it is what it is” would happen if Jill did not embrace my extrovert needs for being with people and I chose to stuff my frustration instead of addressing it with her. (She’s pretty good about that by the way….just using it as an example. )
Jill: Having a healthy sense of acceptance in marriage can make a huge difference in experiencing a deeper contentment and giving our spouse the freedom to truly be themselves.
What about you? Do you have some places where you need to increase your acceptance of things you cannot change?
It all started with the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit in August. Several speakers talked about the value of getting alone with God. However, it was the statement that several speakers made about “not being able to hear God until the 3rd day,” that really challenged me.
I’ve practiced silence and solitude over the years. For several years after all my kids were school age, I labeled Tuesday as my “prayer and prep” day where I spent extended time with God and used the time for writing or speaking preparation. I’ve also spent time at my friend’s prayer cabin and even done 24 hours of silence and solitude at a retreat center. “Not hearing God ’til the 3rd day,” well I’ve never done more than one day!
My friend, Becky, suggested we take a few days at a retreat center in a nearby town. I was sharing this idea with my friend Julie Barnhill who pushed back on me going to the retreat center. “Jill, what environment connects you best with God?” she asked. “The mountains or the ocean,” I easily replied. “Then why in the world would you tuck yourself away for three days in a retreat center?” she challenged. “Because it’s convenient,” I responded. “That answer isn’t good enough,” she declared.
Gotta love a friend who isn’t afraid to shoot straight.
I began thinking and praying about her challenge. As I was planning a trip to Atlanta, Georgia for speaking, it struck me that when I’m in Atlanta, I’m only 5 hours from my parent’s condo in the Florida panhandle. What if I took some extra days to seek solace in a place where I easily connect to God? The condo was available and the plan was set in place.
I’m going to unplug for a few days. There won’t be a Marriage Monday this coming week. I’m fasting for a couple of days from social media. I feel like God is whispering “rest in me and soak in my Word.” Quite honestly I’m hungry for this time away.
Psalm 46:10 reminds us to “be still and know that I am God.” Whether that’s carving out five minutes in the morning, taking a couple of hours at a coffee shop, or setting aside a few days to spend with the Lord, we have to be intentional about taking deep spiritual breaths.
Need some encouragement on the subject? These books have been instrumental in deepening my time with God:
Mark: This past weekend was another tough weekend for Jill and I. We’ve shared before about our son’s mental health journey (and here too). Walking into a hospital Saturday morning after our son overdosed once again and seeing him on a ventilator is not what any parent every expects to see.
Jill: Physically it appears he will be okay. Mentally….well we’re back to visiting him in a psych ward.
Mark: Jill and I have learned to handle these times of crisis pretty well together. We’ve been doing this for three years now. We talk, make decisions together, ask questions of the doctors, and generally navigate it as well as we can.
Jill: However, even here our differing personalities come out. On Saturday, were having a conversation about some aspect of this particular challenge. We were in a decision-making moment when Mark cracked a joke. I responded with, “Could you keep the humor to a more appropriate time?” He said, “I’m sorry. That’s just how I handle the stress.”
Mark: When crisis hits, Jill handles the stress by going into “fix it” mode and I handle the stress with humor. It’s not a problem until her “fix it” clashes with my “laugh at it.” I confess that sometimes my humor is misplaced and Jill has admitted that sometimes her “fix it” needs to lighten up.
Jill: The issue, however, is that we need to grant each other the space to be ourselves. To handle stress differently. To understand each other and resist the urge to require our spouse to be anyone different than who God created them to be.
Mark: From conversations we’ve had with other couples, we know we’re not alone in this. One of the toughest things to navigate is differences. Add some stress and crisis into the mix and you’re set up for some probable conflict.
Jill: I’ve found a little internal conversation can go a long way in giving your spouse the space to be himself or herself: “He’s not wrong…he’s just different.” Or “She’s not wrong…she’s just different.”
Mark: A proactive conversation about how we each handle stressful situations can also help set up realistic expectations of one another. How about adding that to a possible “date night” conversation to have? Talking about it outside of a stressful situation can help lay the groundwork for navigating it well in the future.
Jill: Simply expecting your spouse to “not be you” can go a long way in setting the stage for navigating differences well…even during times of crisis.
What about you? How do you handle stress? What about your spouse?
Jill speaks on the topics of motherhood, marriage, adoption, parenting, living with less, and women’s issues in both church and business environments. Some topics can be presented along with her husband, Mark.
Jill will work with your theme, your audience, and your needs to provide inspiration and practical takeaways for every person in the audience.