Four Ways NOT to Talk With Your Spouse

Marriage Monday

Mark: Words matter. But even more than the choice of our words, it’s the way we deliver our words that can make the biggest difference in relationships.

Jill: In marriage, the way we deliver our words can add more meaning to them than we often intend. Or in some cases, if we’re honest, it’s exactly as we intend.

Mark: Jill and I have both worked hard on this the past few years. Our unhealthy delivery methods have, most often, been replaced by healthier communication habits. We don’t always get it right but these days we get it right more often than we get it wrong.

Jill: Ephesians 4:22-24 gives us direction on this, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires;  to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”  We’re to “take off” the unhealthy ways of communicating and “put on” Christ-like healthy ways of talking to each other. 

Mark: Here are some practical steps:

Take off sarcasm. Put on honest, genuine communication. Sarcasm is intended to cut or wound. It’s most often used when we feel angry or frustrated but we lack the courage to speak directly about our feelings. Sarcasm is also used to cover up embarrassment or defensiveness.  Replace sarcasm with genuine communication about how you’re feeling. Push yourself to be honest with others.

Take off passive aggressive. Put on direct communication.  Passive aggressive communication is an indirect way of dealing with conflict. Withdrawing, sulking, pouting, and procrastinating can all be forms of passive aggressive communication.  Replace passive aggressive tendencies with direct communication to the other person about your hurt, struggles, or feelings.

Take off speaking under your breath. Put on grace.  When we speak under our breath it’s a form of criticism, judgment, and pride.  Replace the irritated feelings you’re expressing under your breath with grace, compassion, and understanding. Make connecting with your spouse’s heart much more important that getting your point across.

Take off exasperation. Put on kindness.  An exasperated tone says, “you’re stupid,” or “not again!” or “can’t you get it right?” It’s disrespectful. A kind response recognizes your partner’s humanness and treats him or her with respect.

Jill: Exasperation is probably my biggest downfall. I can become easily exasperated and then my tone becomes disrespectful. I’ve been working on that pretty intently the past few years.

Mark: My default is passive-aggressive communication.  I can easily move to this behavior when I’ve allowed things to build up inside of me and chosen not to be honest. Honesty is always the best way. I’m learning that putting on direct communication is always the right course of action.

What about you? When it comes to communication in your marriage, what do you need to take off and what do you need to put on? 

Wedding on a Budget

Living With Less

So many people asked us why Austin and Larisa’s wedding was on a Thursday evening. Granted it’s a little unconventional, but quite honestly it came down to their budget. They found the place where they wanted their wedding and reception but the Friday or Saturday night price was way out of reach. However, the cost during the week was 50% less…and that’s how a Thursday evening wedding was born!

Weddings are expensive events. However, there are many ways to cut costs and stay within your budget. Austin and Larisa’s wedding was the fourth for our family. They were all planned with a budget in mind, but I can’t even imagine how they could have been any better even if more money had been spent.  

We’ve lived most of our married life with a limited income. We have shopped at Aldi, practiced “delayed gratification,” and limited our kids’ activities simply because we often couldn’t afford registration fees or lesson tuition. When it came time to plan weddings–particularly for our girls where we carried the most financial responsibility–we proceeded in the same manner. It took some extra effort, but we determined that we had more time than money so we used our time to comparison shop and consider all possible ways to accomplish whatever task was before us. In the process, we found that there are many ways to have a beautiful celebration on a limited budget. Here are some tips we can now share:

  • Shop clearance racks: A full price wedding gown was out of our budget, but we found many beautiful gowns on the bridal shop clearance racks. Our oldest daughter eventually chose a beautiful $1200 gown that we found on the clearance rack for $279.  Erica chose to wear my wedding dress (which was my mother’s wedding dress, too!) and alterations were less than $200.  I did the same for my dress for Austin and Larisa’s wedding. I’ve had so many compliments on my dress and I spent all of $39 on it at a Ross–Dress For Less store!
  • Shop outside of bridal stores: The average tiara in a bridal store is around $100, but stores in the mall carry tiaras, too. We found Anne’s for less than $10 and it was beautiful! Jewelry can be purchased in the same manner. Even the Dollar Store has a wide range of wedding supplies that don’t look at all like they came from a “discount” store—the throw away garter is a perfect example of what can be purchased at the Dollar Store. For their wedding, Larisa found the flower girl dresses at an online store for just $35.
  • Take advantage of tux store offers: Many tux rental stores offer free invitations with tux rental. This saves hundreds of dollars.  Erica and Kendall chose to forgo the tuxes.  They did dress shirts, ties, and pants that the guys bought themselves and could keep and wear again. Austin and Larisa also created their own wedding invitations and had them printed at minted.com which also came with free envelope addressing with an order of invitations.

Borrow what you can: Rather than renting a limo for the drive from the church to the reception, we asked family friends if we could borrow their convertible for one of our daughter’s wedding. Another friend offered decorations she still had from her daughter’s wedding. The church had silk greenery we were able to use and candle stands and white pillars were also borrowed for another daughter’s wedding. For Larisa and Austin’s wedding, Anne put out a need on Facebook for a 5T tux or suit for Landon as the ringbearer. Thankfully a friend had one to borrow.

  • Serve appetizers at the reception: Rather than a meal, if you time the wedding just right, you can serve appetizers or simply cake and punch.  One wedding we went to served donuts rather than cake!
  • Limit invitation numbers: This is a hard decision to make for sure, but it also controls costs. Larisa and Austin limited their invite list to a little over 100 guests. Because there were so many of their friends and family, this meant Mark and I couldn’t invite some of our own friends who we would have loved to have there. That was hard, but understandable and important for staying within the budget.
  • Make anything you can: The wedding party can be more than just pretty faces on the wedding day. Let them help address invitations, make bouquets and bows or table centerpieces.  Three of my friends spent just a few hours helping me make the hot chocolate favors at Larisa and Austin’s wedding.
  • Think outside the box. Rather than paying for an elaborate wedding cake, Austin and Larisa had a pie bar for guests. They had a small cake that Larisa made herself for just the two of them to cut and eat.
  • Purchase flowers yourself: Some florists will use your silk flowers and charge an hourly rate for assembling corsages, boutonnieres, and bouquets. We found silk stems for half price at Hobby Lobby and purchased the remaining flowers online at wholesale prices for our girls’ weddings. This reduced cost significantly.
  • Attend Bridal Shows: Not only do you garner ideas for your wedding, but you can sign up for giveaways as well. After one bridal show, we won $70 off tux rental.

  • Ask friends to be a part of your day: Rather than paying musicians, you might ask musician friends to be a part of your special day.  Ask friends to help decorate the church or set up the tables for the reception.
  • Do without: What items that are considered “traditional” do you really not need or even care about? Anne determined that she didn’t really care if she had an aisle runner at the church. That was one less thing to purchase.
  • Plan in advance: Erica and Kendall had a three month engagement. From a planning perspective, we loved just getting things done and not fretting over too many details.  Larisa and Austin had a two year engagement.  While that allowed for a lot of time for fretting over details, it also netted them some great financial deals. For instance, their videographers were fellow Moody students Austin booked two years ago when they were inexperienced and just starting their business. By the time they actually did Austin and Larisa’s wedding, their prices and experience had greatly increased. As they told me at the wedding, “These two got an incredible deal because our prices now are not even close to what Austin booked us for two years ago!” (Below is the six minute highlight video if you’d like to see it.  Click here to see it if you’re reading this in email and the video doesn’t show up.)

The most important part of planning a wedding is letting the bride and groom create a day that is their very own. With a little bit of effort and creativity, a very special day can be created on any budget!

What about you? Do you have any tips you would pass on for planning a wedding on a budget? 

What’s Your Plan For Prioritizing Your Marriage In 2018?

Marriage Monday

Mark: One of the things Jill and I try to do every January is to talk about what we will do in the coming year to prioritize our marriage.  What will we do on a daily basis to stay connected? What will we do for a date night on a regular basis–that we can put on the calendar and plan for? What event will we attend to learn about marriage and each other? Is it time for us to seek help? To schedule an appointment with a counselor? To make the investment of a marriage intensive?

Jill: When the kids were little it was never easy. Every plan for us required a plan for them. Sometimes it honestly seemed easier to not do anything. Easier but not wiser. One of the best things we can do for our kids is to invest in our marriage. And marriages aren’t meant to sit on the backburner. We have to intentionally move them to the front burner.

Mark: That’s right…great marriages don’t just happen. They are created. Prioritized. Invested in.

Have you had the 2018 discussion yet?

Need some ideas?

Here are some possibilities to get you started:

Daily Ways to Connect
Breakfast together in the morning
Work out together
Phone call over lunch hour
Texting throughout the day (Need ideas? Sign up for the Flirt Alert!)
Take a walk each evening after dinner
Back rub or foot rub in the evening
Read a marriage book aloud together for 10-15 min a night

Weekly
Morning lovemaking one designated day a week
How about some “afternoon delight?”
One night a week turn off the screens and play a game together
Go to lunch together once a week
Take out dinner eaten as a picnic in the living room.

Date Night Arrangements
Ask grandparents to keep the grandkids once a week, once every other week, or once a month
Trade sitting with another couple–you watch their kids one week, they watch yours the next
Plan an evening together after the kids are in bed–snuggle on the couch and talk, have a late candlelight dinner or dessert, etc.
Set up a regular sitter on a regular schedule
Go out to dinner once a week
Even if you’re empty-nesters, set up a regular time just to focus on the two of you!

Marriage Event Options
No More Perfect Marriages Valentines Getaway Springfield, IL February 9-10, 2018
No More Perfect Marriages Retreat Galesburg, IL March 2-3, 2018
No More Perfect Marriages Morning Out, Falls Church, VA, March 17, 2018
No More Perfect Marriages Retreat, Claremore, OK, April 6-7, 2018
No More Perfect Marriages Morning Out, Westerville, OH, May 19, 2018
Family Life Marriage Conferences

Marriage Crisis Help
Full Week and Long Weekend Intensives at the Savage Home in Normal, IL
Focus on the Family’s Hope Restored Intensives

Jill: We’ve determined in 2018 our date nights are Thursday nights. Texting throughout the day is very important. We’re turning off the screens and playing more Banangrams in the evenings. And we’re pursuing a three-day intensive that will help strengthen our relationship in the midst of public ministry.

Mark: Of course, we recommitted to some afternoon delight on a regular basis, too! 😉

What about you?  What’s your plan for making your marriage a priority in 2018? 

Are You Feeling Conviction or Condemnation?

Dear Jill,

I deal with ‘guilty daughter syndrome’ as I don’t go visit my parents that often and they only live 25 minutes away. We see them a lot at my kids’ sporting events (but no sports during the winter months right now) and for some reason I still feel guilty.

Signed,

Guilty

**********************************

Dear Guilty,

When something needs to change, God uses conviction to move us in the right direction. Conviction is a red flag that says, “Somethings amiss,” (such as:  I need to be more intentional about seeing my parents) or “You missed the mark and you have a relational mess to clean up,” (such as: the tone I just spoke to my spouse was very short and impatient and I need to apologize.)  Conviction keeps us on the straight and narrow. It’s God’s loving way of keeping guardrails in our life that allow us to love well and live life to the fullest.

However, when conviction happens, the enemy often comes in and pushes us right out of conviction into condemnation.  Guilt can easily become condemnation.  Let the conviction move you to having your parents over once a month for dinner (every 2nd Tuesday of the month or something like that), but resist the lies of the enemy that want to label you in a negative way.

The Bible tells us in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Don’t let condemnation whisper messages that will steal your joy and keep you stuck.  But do let conviction motivate you to close this connection gap in your relationship with your parents.

 

What about you? Can you identify any place where conviction has slipped into condemnation? 

 

 

Our Shared Purpose

Marriage Monday

Mark: Last Fall, Jill and I were challenged by our friends Greg and Julie Gorman to begin thinking about the core values of our marriage. These are shared values that help us to clarify our shared purpose.  As individuals we may have personal core values that our spouse doesn’t necessarily share. Sometimes those are fueled by our temperaments and personalities. But identifying the passions we do share, gives us a vision of why we exist as a couple.

Jill: In nearly 35 years of marriage, we had never identified our core values as a couple. We’re guessing we’re not the only ones. We began with compiling a list of possible values. We curated this list from a little bit of research we did on core values in general. As we talked through the list, some words particularly resonated with us so we highlighted those.

Mark: We made a list of the highlighted words and then let that list simmer for several months. We’d occasionally return to it when we were driving somewhere or out on a date to see if there were any values we needed to add or cross off the list.

Mark: We also talked about each one and tried to finish these sentences: We value __________________. This is why we ______________________.  Doing so helped us to eliminate a few we thought were values but we weren’t able to actually come up with a supportive statement that illustrated how we lived them out.

Jill: We’re still “marinating” these core values—trying to see if these really define us as a couple and if there are any we are missing, but we feel confident we’re on the right track! Here’s what we have so far:

We value authenticity. This is why we share our stories openly.

We value freedom. This is why we choose entrepreneurship and pursue debt free living. This is also why we occasionally pursue counseling, so we are free from our struggles and our past.

We value serving. This is why we live generously.

We value hospitality. This is why we open our home to friends and family, Airbnb guests, couples who seek out marriage coaching, speakers and writers, and those who just need a haven of rest.

We value growth. This is why we both read, listen to podcasts, and pursue personal growth to be better spouses, parents, leaders, and Christians.

We value learning together. This is why we’ve taken parenting classes, attended marriage conferences and leadership seminars together. This is why we listen to podcasts together when we drive. It’s also why we occasionally read books aloud together (it usually takes us 6-9 months to finish a book when we learn together this way!)

We value faith. This is why we are committed to Jesus Christ, have a church home, read God’s Word, and pray together.

We value family. This is why we host cousin’s weekend once a month for our grandkids. It’s why we spend time with our parents, extended family, and travel to see our kids who live out of town.

We value health. This is why we are committed to clean eating and regular exercise.

Mark: This has been a fascinating exercise for us to do together. It’s brought about great conversation and has strengthened our vision of why God has us together.

Jill: If you decide to identify your core values, here are some tips we found helpful:

  • Make the conversations about values safe conversations. In other words, don’t criticize each other’s thoughts as you brainstorm.
  • Resist the urge to get frustrated when your spouse doesn’t value something you value. Jot that down on your own personal core value list. What you’re looking for now are the values you share as a couple.
  • Don’t get caught up in numbers. It’s possible you might only be able to identify one shared core value. Or two or three. Focus on the quality of what you share, not the quantity.
  • If you need some ideas to get you started. Here’s a general core values list that can get you thinking: Sample Core Values
  • Core values can change as you change. For instance, health wasn’t one of our core values until my breast cancer journey. That experience was a gamechanger for us and put physical health on our radar screen.
  • If you have kids at home, sharing your core values with the kids can be a valuable exercise for building family identity.

Mark: So go ahead. Begin thinking about the core values you share as a couple. Talk about them, process them, and post your first draft where you can see it. When you get some initial ideas on your list, we’d love for you to come back and share them as a comment on this post so we can learn and grow together!

 

Does Your Marriage Need A Holiday?

Marriage Monday

Jill: December is a full month for most of us. Shopping. Christmas entertainment and school programs. Holiday parties. Church Programs. Baking. Decorating the tree. Holiday gatherings with extended family. Travel. New Years.

Mark: We’re adding a wedding in there, too. Our youngest is getting married on December 21, just about 2 and a half weeks away.

Jill: So we’ve decided that it is healthy for us to take a holiday from our weekly Marriage Monday posts for the month of December.  I’ll be doing the same with my blogging. We’ll start back up in January.

Mark: A holiday is a time we set aside to stop work and rest. It’s a time to re-energize and refuel. To move our focus from one thing to another.  While we rarely think about it from a marriage perspective, we need to sometimes.

Jill: Where does our marriage need to experience a holiday? Do we need to set aside a little time and money for a getaway for the two of us? Do we need to stop going to choir practice on Wednesday nights for a month so we can have a sit down family meal one night a week? Should we commit to set aside one night a week or one night a month for a date night in 2018?

Mark: So while we’re taking our holiday, we hope you’ll think about where you need to re-energize and refuel as it relates to your marriage. Where do you need to move your focus from one thing to another?

Jill: As you look ahead to 2018, we also want to invite you to attend (or bring to your area!) one of our events.  Why not put “attend a No More Perfect Marriages event” on your Christmas list?  Here are the Spring events we currently have on the calendar that we’d love to see you at!

February 9-10, Springfield, IL No More Perfect Marriages Retreat
February 17, Scottsdale, AZ, No More Perfect Marriages Night Out
March 2-3, Galesburg, IL, No More Perfect Marriages Retreat
April 6-7, Claremore, OK, No More Perfect Marriages Retreat
May 19, Westerville, OH, No More Perfect Marriage Morning Out

We’re also speaking at Maranatha Family Camp in Muskegan, Michigan, June 30-July 7. If you’ve been looking for a unique family vacation experience, come join us! We’ll be talking about marriage and family all week!

Mark: Oh and one more thing. For the month of December only, our publisher (Moody) is offering a great Buy One Get One Free offer on our No More Perfect Marriages book!

They’ve paired it with Ashleigh Slater’s book Team Us. It’s a great opportunity to pick up something for  yourself and for a gift! It’s an even sweeter deal with FREE Shipping when you buy $25 or more!

Jill: We hope you’re able to enjoy December to the fullest and you’re making plans for 2018 to be the best year ever!

How To Successfully Bake Christmas Cookies With Kids

I’ve been baking cut out cookies with my kids for 32 years.  It’s one of my favorite things to do!

Several years ago I created a suggested plan for baking Christmas cookies with kids of ALL ages. That’s what I’m sharing with you today!

Through many disappointments and trials and errors, I’ve finally learned how to do it well at every stage of mothering and grandmothering.

Let me share my secrets with you!

 

Here’s the recipe I use:

Cut-Out Cookies

1/2 c. Crisco
1 stick butter
1 c. sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp baking powder
1-1/2 tsp vanilla
3-1/2 c. of flour  (I usually add more until the dough isn’t sticky)

(I’m currently looking for a clean Christmas cut out cookie recipe–if you have a proven one send it my way!)

Chill 1 hour.  Roll 1/4″ thick with rolling pin. (I disinfect my kitchen island and roll the dough right on the counter top. Make sure and flour the surface you are rolling on and flour the rolling pin–just rub flour all over it–so the dough doesn’t stick)

Use cookie cutters for shapes.  Bake 400 degrees for 6-8 minutes until shine is off (do not overcook–you don’t want them brown on the edges).

Icing

2 sticks butter (softened–I leave the sticks on the counter for about 30 min)
4-1/2 – 4-3/4 c. powdered sugar (I usually add more until it peaks when you mix it)
1/2 c. milk
1-1/2 tsp vanilla or peppermint (we use peppermint!)

Beat butter to fluffy and add 1/2 of the powdered sugar. Add milk and vanilla and rest of sugar.  Divide into smaller bowls and add food coloring as desired (we usually do red, green, blue, yellow, and white)

Note: Cookies can be frozen either before icing or after icing, if you want to decorate or eat at a later time.

Here’s how to successfully make cut-out cookies with kids of any age:

Preschool Years: 
1) Day 1: You make and chill dough while they are napping.
2) Day 2: You cut out and bake cookies while they are napping.
3) Day 2 or 3: You make icing and ice the cookies
4) Your preschooler can put sprinkles on while the icing is still wet.
5) Enjoy eating, giving away, and sharing the yummy cookies you made!

Grade School Years 
1) You make and chill the dough
2) You roll out the dough and let them use the cookie cutters to cut out the shapes
3) You put them in the oven.
4) Once all the cookies are cool, the kids and you can ice them and decorate with sprinkles.  (this can also be done on the next day if cookies are stored in an airtight container.)
5) Enjoy!

Note: Grade school years is a great time to teach your kids to make cookies from scratch. Since Christmas cookies have five parts to them–1) making the recipe  2) chilling the dough  3) rolling the dough and cutting the cookies  4) baking the cookies  5) decorating the cookies—I find this isn’t the best time to teach them to bake.  The process is too long and they are impatient to get to the cutting out and decorating.  Teach them to follow a recipe some other time with something like Chocolate Chip cookies or Oatmeal Raisin Cookies that you just mix up, bake, and eat!

cookie collageJunior High/High School Years
1) You make and chill the dough (if you have a teen that wants to do that, let them!)
2) You show them how to roll out the dough and cut out the cookies, then let them do it themselves!
3) You help with the baking.
4) Enjoy decorating the cookies with your family!

Even when the dough is already made and chilled, it’s usually about a 3 hour process to roll out the dough, cut out the cookies, bake, and decorate them. That’s why I’m a believer in already having the dough made and chilled no matter the age of the kids! 

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The Power of Perseverance

I saw the little square notice in our local newspaper. It stated basic information about a college scholarship available for Christian students. I didn’t have anyone in college at the time. My older three were young adults, my younger two were freshman and sophomore in high school.

I cut out the notice and tucked it into a file marked “Scholarships.” Three years later during Austin’s senior year, I opened up the file, pulled out that little slip of paper and prompted him to apply.

Several months later he was notified that he had received a $500 scholarship from the private foundation. It wasn’t a lot but it covered his books. We thanked God for that provision! A year later he was notified by the group that it was time to re-apply for this year’s funds. He applied and this time he was denied. No scholarship his sophomore year.

I tucked the denial letter away and marked our calendar for the next year’s application date. As he was finished up his sophomore year I reminded him to reapply. He protested that he’d been denied last year, but I encouraged him to apply anyway.  A few months later he received notification of another $500 scholarship. Again provision for his books!

As his junior year was coming to a close, I once again rang the scholarship bell. “Mom, it’s a lot of work for $500.”  “I know,” I responded, “but every little bit helps.”  He sent in his application.  This time the response was different. He received a $2000 scholarship!  We were all jumping up and down with excitement!

Perseverance paid off.

We live in an “instant” society. Technology teaches kids that if you have a problem, you just “reboot” to fix it.  Appliance companies no longer make washers and dryers to last 20 years…instead 2-3 years is the life of an appliance. It’s all throw-away. Give up. Quit.

As parents, we have to model perseverance and we have to help our kids learn the value of perseverance.

Romans 5:3-4 tells us to, rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope.

God uses perseverance to grow us and to grow our kids.

When my daughter Anne and I were writing our book Better Together: Because You’re Not Meant To Mom Alone, Anne shared this story about perseverance in friendship:

I began attending MOPS when Rilyn was six months old. I really didn’t have any “mom” friends and was craving same-season friendship. My mom was going to be speaking at a local MOPS group in a few months and I wanted to attend incognito
for a while. I wanted them to know me for me and not for who my mom was.

I was the only one with an infant at my assigned table and so at times I felt like I didn’t belong. I questioned whether or not I should continue to attend, as I didn’t seem to have much in common with these women because our children were in different stages of life. I decided to stick it out, and as the year continued I learned a lot from these women but never found a connection of friendship.

It took me three years to find my Strawberry Pink girls. Our table just clicked, all eleven of us. We shared tears, laughter, struggles, and encouragement. We rallied around the friend whose husband was deployed, encouraged the friend whose husband was living and working in a different state, and supported the friend whose son was killed in an accident. We prayed for one another, played in each other’s homes, and had girls night outs together. These friends held me up when my dad went through a midlife crisis and left for a few months. I had never experienced friendship like this and was relishing in it.

I’ve learned that connection takes time. In our “instant” society, we are often inclined to believe that great friendship happens just as fast as “Confirm” is pressed on a Facebook friend request. That’s not the way it is in real life. Friendships take time
to find and nurture. Then once we connect, it’s both the highs and lows of life that make us better together.”

Honestly most of us would give up after one year let alone two!  However, Anne’s story illustrates the value of perseverance.  And I love how she was able to see the positive even in the waiting as she kept herself in a place to learn from other moms.

For Austin, he learned gratitude in the persevering. He also learned the value of being responsible with the little things to lay the foundation for possibly being entrusted with something more (which is living out Luke 16:10).

I’ve learned there’s power in perseverance. In marriage. Parenting. Friendships. In my relationship with God. In family relationships. In work and play.

Perseverance strengthens our character and gives us hope that the future will look different someday. Missing out on perseverance causes us (and our kids) to miss out on growth opportunities God wants to use to mature us. That alone motivates me to persevere–and encourage my kids to persevere–when it sometimes seems like it might be easier to quit.

What about you? Where do you need to persevere? Where do you need to keep pursuing? Where do you need to keep waiting and trusting that God is at work?