Conviction or Condemnation?

Marriage Monday

Jill: Last weekend at the Hearts at Home conference, I spent some time with a woman whose marriage was at seven years of healing from her infidelity. There is still so much pain in their marriage, though, and it seems they are stuck.  The more we talked the more I realized that one reason they were not moving forward is that they were living in condemnation rather than conviction.

Mark: Very simply, conviction says “I did a bad thing.” Condemnation says, “I did a bad thing, therefore I’m a bad person.” Ever so slight difference, yet HUGE when it comes to moving past an issue.

Jill: Conviction is from the God and it is designed to turn us around when we’re headed in the wrong direction. It allows us to identify our sin, learn from it, and make a 180 degree turn in the other direction. Conviction allows us to own our stuff, apologize, ask for forgiveness, but NOT BE DEFINED BY IT.

Mark: Condemnation, however, is from the enemy. It makes us feel guilty, ashamed, and even depressed. We stew, regret, blame, and shame until we believe we’re no good and no one will want us or forgive us.  In condemnation, the enemy twists and turns our thoughts in an effort to keep us stuck, isolated, and unable to heal.  Many who deal with condemnation in adulthood had the seeds planted in childhood or in previous relationships. That was certainly the case for me as I struggled with low self-esteem and self doubt.  In my early years, I was told my voice didn’t matter, I was a screw up, and I couldn’t think for myself. Condemnation started early and I carried those “voices” into adulthood. I didn’t need someone else saying them…I could now recite them to myself.

Jill: When we make a mistake, sin, or head in the wrong direction, God’s conviction is like the GPS saying “recalculating” or “return to route” or “make a U-turn.”  It doesn’t beat us up, or nag us. God simply wants us to make the adjustment (repent), head in the right direction, and move on. If we were just a little off track, it’s not a big deal. If we were a lot off track, it will likely require more healing time both personally and in the relationships that were affected, but at least healing can take place.

Mark: I’ve walked in condemnation most of my life. Thankfully, when I made my u-turn after the affair, I’ve worked hard and stayed committed to only walked in conviction. I’ve seen it make a HUGE difference in my ability to heal as an individual and our ability to heal as a couple.  Not only that, but it’s conviction that has allowed me to share the story so publicly. I’m not defined by my sin. Conviction got me back on the right path. Condemnation would have stopped me from healing and from sharing my story with so many others.

Jill: For the woman I spent time talking to at the conference, she had yet to forgive herself, which is key to moving out of condemnation. She also didn’t have any self-compassion.  And her husband was continuing to ask “why?” and “how could you?” which was also keeping her in a place of condemnation.  However, as she shared just a little bit about her husband it seemed that he also may be sitting in condemnation. He may feel “defined” by his wife’s actions, taking them personally, rather than seeing them as evidence of her own confusion.

Mark: Marriage causes us to bump into each other’s imperfect. When that happens we need to experience conviction to clean up the mess and move on. However, we have to resist the enemy’s whispers of condemnation that keep us in self-pity, bitterness, blame, and shame. Our God is a God of second chances. He’s filled with love and grace and forgiveness.  That’s what He models for us and how we need to learn to respond to ourselves and others when one of us gets off track.

What about you? Do you experience conviction or condemnation more often? What can you do to intentionally keep from tripping over the condemnation line? 

Lose Those Expectations

Marriage Monday

Last week we opened up our new No More Perfect Date Night Community and then we spent this past weekend with about 2700 women at the Illinois Hearts at Home conference. It was a full week and a great weekend but it will take us both about a week to recover! We’re grateful that Jerusha Clark wanted to share with you about her expectations of the No More Perfect Marriages book and how it ended up changing her expectations in marriage.

Jerusha Clark is the author or co-author of twelve books, including Your Teenager is Not Crazy: Understanding Your Teen’s Brain Can Make You a Better Parent and When I Get Married: Surrendering the Fantasy, Embracing the Reality.  Her book Every Piece of Me: Shattering Toxic Beliefs and Learning to Love the Real You hits bookshelves in August.

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“Do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband?”

“I do.”

“Do you expect him to know what you need and think without having to ask, hold you close when you’re hurting without hoping it will lead to sex, and always put the silverware in the dishwasher the right way?”

“I do.”

Wait.  Hold on.  This is not how my vows sounded nineteen years ago.  But let me tell you: though I didn’t know it at the time, all of this was definitely in my heart.

Expectations…Our marriages live and die by them.  And if I’m perfectly honest, a lot of my expectations have been, for lack of a better phrase, completely impossible.

When I read Mark and Jill’s latest book, No More Perfect Marriages, my marriage was in a healthy place.  I read the book because I love and appreciate Jill, not because I thought I “desperately needed” it.   But as He so often does, God showed me how very wrong I was; I needed to reevaluate my expectations and align them more intentionally with His truth and grace.  No More Perfect Marriages helped me do that.

At the very beginning of the book, Mark and Jill reveal the truth that most of us (and I am certainly in this camp) compare the inside of our marriage to the outside of others’.  When I evaluate the health of my relationship by looking at what my friends—or even random strangers and celebrities—are posting, “liking,” or hashtagging, I’m headed for disaster.

Disaster?  Really?  Isn’t that a bit extreme?

No, my friend; it’s not.

Disaster comes to us in many forms, but the Savages make clear that it’s the slow fades that threaten our marriages most: “It’s the nature of relationships,” they write, “we naturally pull apart unless we work to stay together.”  I don’t usually intend to separate myself; I just allow the different ways my husband and I love, and the hurt that can result, to drive us a little further apart.  You and I don’t often determine to undermine our own happiness, but we open the door to distance and disillusionment by—as the Savages put it—“remembering what we need to forget and forgetting what we need to remember.”  That quote literally stopped me in my reading tracks.  How true that is!

I’m so grateful to Jill and Mark for pointing out the “soul mirages” that even good Christian boys and girls fall prey to, lies that entrap us as we repeat them to ourselves over and over.  Most of my soul mirages have to do with expectations—expectations that I may or may not ever have verbalized, expectations that I often don’t even recognize are there until they’re disappointed in some way.

My husband is an incredible man.  He’s a godly man.  I know that not everyone reading this blog can say that about their spouse.  Even being married to a really fantastic guy doesn’t make my marriage bulletproof, though.  Exposing lies, deliberately living in Truth, and choosing Love again and again makes my marriage strong.  Like Jill and Mark point out, “love isn’t just a choice; it’s a series of choices.”  So good!  So true!!  I need to remember this and expect this every day.

Perhaps you noticed that I capitalized Truth and Love in that last paragraph.  I did so because both truth and love only and always come from Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith and the cornerstone of our marriages.  The Savages are convinced—and I am, too—that with God’s grace and through the power of His Spirit, hurting marriages can heal and good marriages can become great.  Whether you’re struggling with your spouse today or feeling strong and secure in your relationship, I urge you to read No More Perfect Marriages

Honestly, what do you have to lose?  Except maybe a few unhealthy expectations…

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Be a hero or Follow The Hero?

Today’s post is from my friend Patty Maier who was one of four writers who wrote the Hearts at Home Pantagraph newspaper column for many years. She and her family live in Forrest, Illinois where many different organizations benefit from her time and talents.

By the way….it’s not too late to get in on the Hearts at Home Illinois Conference! You can get your tickets–or pick up a Conference To Go–here!

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Do you ever feel like you hear the same message over and over? 

A couple weeks ago, my husband gave a talk to a group of parents during halftime at an Upwards basketball game.  He spoke about Jesus being our ultimate hero and how we should strive to be heroes for our children.

The word hero came up again in a movie I saw with my daughter.  I had given her the choice in what movie we would see together, and she chose “After I Fall.”  She told me the movie was like the movie “Groundhog Day.”  She was right,nalthough Groundhog Day’s comedy was replaced by worldly teen-girl drama.  Thankfully, the movie had some redeeming qualities.

In both movies, the lead actor re-lived a day over and over.  When the lead character thought that what they did didn’t matter, they made poor choices and treated people (including themselves) poorly.  When they realized that their actions made a difference, their choices totally changed.  How they treated people improved drastically.  Both movies showed the characters growing into less selfish, sensitive, caring people.

One line in this recent movie was, “What you do matters in the moment and maybe into infinity.”  I’m sure that wasn’t the first time my daughter heard that message (not the second either!) but I’m hoping she heard it more clearly through the movie.

How we see ourselves in this world matters.  When we realize the impact we can make even on a daily basis, it affects our attitudes.  Our perspective and choices and little things we do along the way do make a difference.  As the characters in these movies learned, we need to be intentional and deliberate each and every day.  We may not get the same kind of do-over in real life as in these movies nor do we get everything all figured out as the movie characters seem to, but we do get a new beginning every day and have access to endless grace.

Sometimes we all need to hear the same message over and over.

The past few weeks, I’ve been feeling less than.  Like I’m not enough.  Things in my life are changing, and I’m struggling.  Decisions made concerning the organizations I volunteer with are changing the opportunities I have to serve.  There goes some of my purpose.  My teens who are days away from turning 17 are both struggling to mature which makes me question my parenting.  And my worth.  I’m definitely not feeling like anyone’s hero.

Sometimes the reason we hear a message over and over again is because we’re not getting it.

I think I got hung up on thinking I had to be some sort of hero.  I certainly don’t fit the dictionary’s definition of hero–a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.  I surely haven’t done anything grand.  But if I go back to the Bible verse my husband shared, his definition of hero is much more obtainable.  John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  When I think of laying down one’s life, I think about sacrifices and about putting myself (my feelings, my wants, my time, my to do list, …) aside and putting the needs of others first.  I can do that!

I finally got the message.  I’m done beating myself up for not being a hero.  Instead, I’m going to keep making a difference by loving those around me and following my ultimate Hero.  If I can do that, I’m giving my kids someone they can look up to. 

What about you? What message are you hearing over and over that you need to get? Where are you chasing an impossible goal that needs a change in perspective?

Understanding, Kindness, and Grace

Marriage Monday

Mark: Jill and I spent a few days in Colorado Springs this past week interviewing with Focus On the Family, spending time with friends, and, of course, spending time in the mountains. One couple we spent time with have been married 36 years and they shared they had had some conflict the day before. The comment one of them said to the other was, “Really? That’s what you were thinking?”  It was evident their conflict had been fueled by personality differences and communication.

Jill:  Differences and communication are an ongoing opportunity for relationships to deepen and mature. This has been true for us, as well, and we’re going on 34 years of marriage this year. While conflict over difference may decrease the longer you’re married (and it may not!), learning to respond with kindness and grace is a lifelong journey.

Mark: We have to keep right-minded when it comes to our differences. If we aren’t keeping our thoughts in check they can become flash points that cause us to ignite towards each other.  Differences have been a flashpoint for me in the past, but I’m really learning to embrace the beauty of differences. Our differences include thinker (Jill) and feeler (Mark), internal processor (Jill) and external processor (Mark), introvert (Jill) or extrovert (Mark), medium-high capacity (Jill) or medium-low capacity (Mark), structured (Jill) or spontaneous (Mark), and the list goes on. (If you haven’t already taken our FREE four-week No More Perfect Marriages E-Challenge, sign up today to better understand your differences!)

Jill: So here’s how this played out in real life just this past week. After a busy day of people, riding in the car, and running in and out of a few shops, Mark was exhausted. I found myself at the crossroads of either being frustrated or mindful that He has a lower capacity then I do. While I don’t always get it right, this week I did and I gave him understanding, kindnessm and grace when he wore out sooner than I did.

Mark: Jill is a black and white thinker and she can be short and direct in her communication. I can take this personal or I can remind myself that this isn’t about me. This part of Jill is also what keeps our family organized. It’s her high-capacity-juggle-12-things-at-once ability that helps me so much of the time.  This week I also found myself at a crossroads of taking her blunt communication personally or offering grace and responding with kindness. In the past my default would have been to take it personally allowing it to be a flashpoint for conflict. This week I got it right and responded with grace.

What about you? What differences are a flashpoint for you? How could you change your response and work to respond with understanding, kindness, and grace?

Jesus Understands

Worn out? Jesus was so tired that he slept in a boat even though a storm tossed it about.

Up at night with a little one? The disciples, who were in the boat with him, were so afraid of the storm they woke Jesus up!

Feeling misunderstood? Even Jesus’ friend Lazarus couldn’t understand how someone could be “born again.”

Been betrayed? One of Jesus’ closest friends, Judas, betrayed him.

Feeling let down by others? When Jesus asked his friends to pray with them in the Garden of Gethsemane, they fell asleep.

Been falsely accused? The Pharisees made up false accusations to get rid of Jesus.

Feeling overwhelmed? Jesus was so overwhelmed with facing the cross that he was sweating blood.

Dealing with physical pain? He experienced spikes in His hands and feet, a spear in his side, and a crown of thorns upon His head.

Don’t think your God understands your struggles?  May you see Jesus truly as a Friend who understands, because that’s what Easter is really all about.

(adapted from Real Moms…Real Jesus)

5 Ways To Think the Best Of Your Spouse

Marriage Monday

Jill: I lose my sunglasses. Every. Single. Pair.

Mark: I forget to lock the doors at night.

Jill: I’m imperfect and I am married to an imperfect human being. How we think about that imperfection makes all the difference in the world.

Mark: Some of the most important work in marriage doesn’t happen between the two of us. Some of the most important work in marriage happens between my two ears…inside my head.

Jill: What we think about our spouse, determines what we feel about our spouse. What we feel determines what we do. The mind is a powerful tool that we can use positively or negatively. How are you using your mind when it comes to your marriage?

Mark: One of the places we’ve both worked hard to change is what we’re thinking about each other.  Need some encouragement to push your thoughts in the right direction?  Here are five steps you can take:

  1. Don’t name-call. Our mind so easily accuses and labels. It’s often our human “default” model. Instead of assigning a demeaning label such as “she’s so stupid,” or “he’s such a loser,” simply say to yourself, “she’s an imperfect human being and so am I.”
  2. Don’t take it personal. When we make our spouse’s actions about us, we make the issue bigger than it needs to be. In fact, we often complicate it. When I (Jill) find the doors unlocked on my way to bed (after Mark has already gone to bed), I have to fight the urge to personalize it and make it about him “not protecting me.” The truth is I’m a sequential thinker and Mark’s a random thinker. As a sequential, there’s a logical routine that one goes through on the way to bed. My brain thinks that way…Mark’s brain does not.
  3. Believe the best. Trust in your spouse’s good intentions towards you and your marriage. This keeps the atmosphere of the marriage one of love and respect. It also keeps judgement out of your heart and mind.
  4. Allow for honest mistakes. If you ask your spouse to take the trash out in the evening, but you get up in the morning and find it wasn’t taken out, resist the urge to move into “martyr” mode and think that “I’m the only responsible one around here.” Don’t say to yourself, “he just doesn’t care,” but instead, “I know he’s had a lot on his mind.”
  5. Forgive. Get in the habit of forgiving. When two imperfect people marry, the most important tool in their toolbox is forgiveness. Forgiveness is how you handle each other’s imperfections. It’s a choice…and one we need to make often.

What about you? Are you using your mind positively or negatively in marriage? 

There’s Another Woman In My Son’s Life

“Mom, will you run up to the mall with me Sunday after church? I’ve narrowed my wedding attire down to two different suits and I’d like to have your thoughts.”

I indicated that I’d be happy to do that, fully aware that he has taken the stand that if he can’t see Larisa’s wedding dress until the wedding, then she can’t see his suit until the day of the wedding either.

This youngest of mine is a senior in college. He attends Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, two hours north of our home in Central Illinois. Mark and I teased him from day one in college that when he came home on the weekends, it wasn’t to see us. His then girlfriend, Larisa, was attending college in our community and, of course, he wanted to see her…a lot! Ahhhhh….young love.

On this particular Sunday, however, I thought that it was logical that my boy and I could catch some lunch either before or after we hit the mall.  I didn’t mention lunch ahead of time…I just assumed it would work. As we pulled out of the church parking lot, I said to him, “So do you want to grab some lunch, too?”

“No, Larisa’s making lunch for me. She likes to do that,” he responded.

That’s when it hit me. There’s another woman in my son’s life now and she’s moving up the priority list the closer they get to their wedding date in December.

It’s what should be happening, but that doesn’t make it any easier on a mama’s heart. Letting go is never easy.

I found myself at a crossroads. I internally considered what I perceived as my three choices in this moment:

  1. Incite guilt with a slightly snarky response that “his mother also likes to have lunch with him” or that he “had already seen her 10 times more than he’d seen his dad and I that weekend.”
  2. Stuff it and say nothing, allowing the pain to sear my heart and a few wall-building bricks to be laid in my heart between my son and I.
  3. Release and accept it, asking God to help me adjust my expectations, accept the reality of letting go, and be grateful for the one-on-one time we would still have for the next hour or so at the mall.

While my head wanted to react almost immediately with option #1, thankfully I held my tongue. In the timespan of just a minute or so, I mulled my options over in my head. He was oblivious to the battle going on inside of me. Landing on Option #3 allowed me to make a quick internal adjustment, focus on gratitude, and enjoy the time we still had together.

Letting go is never easy. It doesn’t matter if you’re leaving a little one for an overnight getaway with your husband, or sending your five-year-old off to school, or driving your pre-teen to their first slumber party, or letting your 16-year-old take their first drive alone, or sending your young adult off to college, or watching your child prepare for marriage.

We can look at each of those situations through the eyes of loss or gain. Sometimes we can process that choice over the weeks and months of a season of time and other times, like my recent Sunday, we have to make a split second decision on how we’re going to let go gracefully.

It’s true that there’s another woman in Austin’s life. I’m naturally moving down the priority list. That’s the reality of them living out Genesis 2:24 calling a couple to “leave and cleave” when they get married.

Yes, there’s some grief in the journey, but today and each day forward I’m choosing to look through the eyes of gain rather than loss.

I’m not losing a son, but gaining a daughter.

What about you? How are you handling the changes in life? What is God teaching you in your journey of parenting? 

The Power of NonSexual Touch In Your Marriage

Marriage Monday

Mark: It was quite a few years ago when I first heard the phrase, “nonsexual touch.” I thought, “You’re kidding me. Those two words don’t even belong in the same sentence!”

Jill: I remember Mark’s reaction to it. I craved non-sexual touch, but it seemed that Mark only touched me with sexual expectations.

Mark: What’s wrong with that?  Ok…all joking aside. I now know how much hurt I caused by this. I didn’t believe I was guilty of any wrong doing. I wanted to be touched as much as Jill did. I just didn’t understand that healthy touch was also non-sexual.

Jill: Equally, I didn’t realize how important sexual touch was either. I didn’t understand that in the same way I craved nonsexual touch, Mark craved sexual touch….but that’s a topic for another day.

Mark: Looking back, I realize I didn’t grow up in a culture of healthy touch. I now understand that healthy touch is vital. I wish, however, I didn’t have to learn so many important lessons in the second half of my life. Knowing so many of these things earlier would have made marriage so much easier.

Jill: That’s why Mark and I are so committed to sharing what we’ve learned. If we can save other couples some of the pain we’ve walked through, it will have not been for nothing. Physical touch is one of my top love languages, but when it felt like every single touch has a sexual connotation to it, I shut down my desire for touch.

Mark: Non-sexual touch is vital for all of us. It’s an essential part of connecting with another human being. As much of a culture of freedom we seem to live in, we, too, are a culture of fear. We’re afraid of healthy touch, fearing it might send a wrong message. Men are afraid to hug other men in brotherly love. Dad’s resist hugging their children fearing it will grow something unhealthy inside of them. We stop hugging our older children thinking they are not kids anymore and don’t need hugs. To turn this around I believe we need to become a culture that will be intentional about “reaching out and touching someone.”

Jill: Years ago, a single friend of mine shared with me that if I didn’t give her a hug every Sunday morning, no one would touch her for months. That’s so sad, honestly!  But we digress. We’re talking today about nonsexual touch in marriage today.

Mark: Nonsexual touch is about connecting emotionally in marriage. Sexual touch is about connecting sexually in marriage. Both are needed! However, we have to resist the urge to mix them together.

Jill: Let’s be intentional about increasing our nonsexual touch this week. Need some practical ideas of how to make that happen?  Here are a few:

  1. Hug your spouse for one full minute every day. Just hold him or her closely, resisting the lie that “you have things to do and this is a waste of time.”
  2. Reach over and hold your spouse’s hand when you’re close to each other.
  3. Snuggle on the couch.
  4. If tears are flowing, just hold your loved one.
  5. Put your arm around her.
  6. Tuck your arm under his arm as you’re walking.
  7. Increase your eye contact—while it’s not actually touch, it accomplishes the same thing.

Mark: More than anything, resist the urge to have any ulterior motive for your touch other than connecting with your mate.

What about you? What do you need to do to increase nonsexual touch? Which practical idea listed above do you need to make happen today? Do you have any practical ideas to add to this list?