There’s A Whole Lot More God In Me

Mark: Jill and I spent the weekend in Cincinnati. She had the privilege of speaking at the AWSA (Advanced Writers and Speakers Association) conference on Saturday. We decided to stay an extra day since Saturday was our anniversary.

Jill: Getting away to have couple time is so important. We explored together. Enjoyed some down time at the hotel. Spent time with friends.

Mark: Our friends asked us how we were doing. They’re the kind of friends who ask that and then lean in and say, “How are you really doing?”

Jill: “We’re doing well,” we responded. “We really are!” Then they asked, “What’s making the biggest difference?”  Mark’s answer was so on target when he said, “There’s a whole lot more God in me.”

Mark: I’m trusting Him more. I’m surrendered to Him like never before. I’m pursuing His Word and truly applying it to my everyday choices.

Jill: Keeping God at the center of each of our lives is what makes a good marriage. This is what we wrote on Facebook on Saturday:

IMG_704733 years.

33 years of forgiving.

33 years of giving grace.

33 years of learning about ourselves.

33 years of learning about each other.

33 years of adjusting expectations.

33 years of growing in our faith.

33 years of learning to love well.

It’s been messy at times.

It’s not been easy.

It’s not been perfect, but God has been perfecting us through marriage. We’ve come to understand that is what marriage is really all about.

Mark: Marriage is hard. Yet, if we allow God to use it to soften our rough edges, He can form us into the person He knows we can become.

What about you? Is there any place where you need more God in you when it comes to your marriage? 

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Downsize In Order To Upsize

GettyImages-117149310 (1)Mark: Last night we enjoyed the fine art of porching. You know, we sat out on the porch for hours just talking, laughing, telling stories, and enjoying the time with friends and family. Relationships take time. In order to tune in, connect with, and really have intimacy with another person we need to slow down enough to have deeper conversations.

Jill: The same thing needs to happen with our spouse. Marriage requires us to downshift more often than many of us realize.

Mark: When we’re spinning too many plates we touch each plate less often. Relationships that really matter, can’t be tossed, but instead must be held. This requires us to slow our pace and give relationships the space they need.

Jill: When life is moving faster than is healthy for our relationships, it’s easy to minimize and criticize. Internally we say to ourselves, “I don’t have the time or energy to deal with this,” or “She doesn’t have time for me,” or “He doesn’t care.” This kind of self-talk puts distance between us and our spouse. It erodes intimacy and pulls us apart when we need to be drawing closer.

Mark: So how do you tune out the world and tune in to your marriage? Here are five practical ways to increase margin and decrease minimizing and criticizing:

Eat dinner around the table. Drive-thru relationships are just as unhealthy as drive-through food. Make dinner prep something you do as a couple. Then linger at the table and talk. Make mealtime as much about relationship as it is about food.

Put away your screens. Determine where and when screens are fine and where they need to be tucked away or turned off. Mealtime. Conversations. Vacation. Date night. These are all places where our screens need to be put away. Will this take some self-control? Probably. Will doing so communicate value to your loved ones? Absolutely. It will also increase your patience and decrease your temptation to minimize.

Stop. Look. Listen. We use these three words to teach our kids how to cross the street. We also need to use them to teach ourselves how to cross into our spouse’s world. When your loved one enters into your space, stop what you’re doing. Close the computer. Pause the television or video game. Walk away from your task to warmly greet him or her. Look at him or her fully. Maintain eye contact. Then listen with your eyes and your ears. Listen to learn. To hear his question. To understand her feelings.

Connect and Catch Up. If you have little ones, take some time to talk after the kids are in bed. Are you empty nesters? You still have to be intentional about setting aside time to connect. In the summer, enjoy the porch together. In the winter, resist the urge to flip on the television or hop on the computer until you’ve taken some time to connect and catch up. Take a few minutes to ask questions like, “What was the best part of your day?” or “What was the hardest part of your day?” or “What’s bothering you the most and how can I help you?” or “What’s weighing heavy on you today?” or “How can I be praying for you?” These connecting questions help us maximize interest.

Date Your Mate. Life is busy, so you have to set aside space in your days, weeks, and months to nurture your marriage. Create a repeating schedule you both prioritize for time together. Sometimes that may be as simple as the first thirty minutes after the kids are in bed. Ideally, it is once a week or once every other week or, at a minimum, once a month where you get a sitter/let the kids go to grandma’s/trade sitting with another couple and enjoy some focused time without interruptions. Even if you’re empty nesters, date night is important because you’re getting away from the everyday routine and focusing on each other. Slowing down and taking time to relate is essential in sustaining intimacy.

What about you? What have you done to downsize activities in order to upsize your relationships?

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Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

Dad,

I am so grateful for you.

You showed me how to love. You have always showed unconditional love.FullSizeRender

You showed me how to lead. I watched you lead at work, at church, and in the community.

You shared with me your love of music. I loved doing community theater with you when I was a teenager. I always enjoyed doing the Christmas and Easter cantatas at church with you.

You showed me how to serve. You’ve always been willing to help those around you. You’ve served our family in so many ways.

You showed me how to garden and we enjoy the fresh vegetables every summer because of the “seeds” you planted in my heart many years ago.

You showed me how to grandparent. You’ve been there for my kids even across the miles. You and mom didn’t hesitate to make a 5 hour round trip for a grandchild’s baseball game or a choir concert.

You showed me how to live a life of integrity and you showed me how to love Jesus.

I’m so grateful for you and your influence upon my life. That’s why today I honor you.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

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10 Summer Sanity Savers Every Mom Needs to Know

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It’s June and most of us are a week or two into summer break.

Every mom needs some strategies in place to make the summer a positive experience for everyone.

Today I offer you 10 Sanity Savers you can put into action to make this summer the best it can be!

Sanity Saver #1: Take care of yourself.
What will you doing to keep your emotional fuel tank refueled? What activities refresh you? Proactively plan those into your daily/weekly schedule. Don’t wait until your tank is empty…fill up regularly!

If you are at home, your kids are with you 24/7. Create a moms night out once a week with a friend, or trade “days off” with another mom whose kids are close in age to your kids.

If you are working full-time, it takes a lot more effort in the summer to make sure the kids are busy and where they need to be. Make sure you are taking care of yourself in order to really be able to take care of your family.

Sanity Saver #2: Create a routine.
It’s hard to go from the tight routine of school to very little routine in the summer. While it’s important to not schedule every minute, a loose routine can give structure to summer days. Maybe Monday is swimming day, Tuesday library day, Wednesday friend day, Thursday house and laundry day, and Friday free day. A schedule can guide planning and give some sense of security to our kids.  It also answers the most asked questions, “Can we go to the pool?” “Can I have a friend over?” “When can we go to the library?”  Those don’t have to be the ONLY days you do those activities, but those are the days the kids can count on.

Sanity Saver #3: Set boundaries.
Kids are more likely to stay within boundaries if they actually know what those boundaries are. How much television is ok? How long on video games?

We found the kitchen timer to be helpful with video games or TV with our 1 hour on/1 hour off boundary. The boys would set the timer before they would get on the game. (If I found them playing video games without a timer set, they lost video games for the rest of the day.)

Sanity Saver #4: Rest every day.
If you are a stay-at-home mom, this is really important…for you…and for your kids! Even if your kids are no longer taking naps, a rest time is really important to give them time to play apart from their siblings and kids in the neighborhood.  This is when my older kids learned the joy of reading or building with Legos.  We usually set the timer for 1 hour. When the timer went off, they knew rest time was over.

Sanity Saver #5: Make summer drinks easy.
When the kids are playing hard in the summer, they are always thirsty. I discovered one summer that a cooler full of ice water set out on the deck was such a time and mess-saver! Each morning, I filled a 5 gallon water cooler with ice and water.  I put a tray next to the cooler with cups labeled with their names (including the kids in the neighborhood!). When they wanted a drink, they were able to get it themselves without a mess in the kitchen.  I’d use the tray as a place to put fruit snacks, granola bars, or cookies for a morning and afternoon snacks.  It allowed them some self-serve independence!

Sanity Saver #6: Give opportunities to learn something new.
Summer is a great time for kids to learn new skills like cooking, gardening, or laundry. Take the time to teach them how to do a new skill and then give them ample opportunity to practice. If you have junior high or high school age children, they can be in charge of one meal a week. Grade-schoolers can learn to do laundry and be in charge of a couple of loads a week. This gives kids ownership and a sense of pride about contributing to the family. It also teaches them lifelong skills.

Sanity Saver #7: Lower your expectations.
Our frustration with our kids usually happens when our expectations intersect with reality.

  • Expect messes in the summer. They will happen.
  • Expect sibling rivalry. It’s a part of having more than one child.
  • Expect whining. Kids do this when they are tired.
  • Expect boredom. It’s actually healthy for them to be bored because it cultivates creativity.

When you lower your expectations, you’ll be far more content with reality. If you need a little more encouragement in that area, you might pick up No More Perfect Kids: Love Your Kids for Who They Are for some summer reading!

Sanity Saver #8: Learn to be a “Yes!” Mom
A couple of summers ago, I started the “Yes Mom Challenge.”  When I started to pay attention to how much I said no and why I said no, I discovered it usually had something to do with my selfish reasons. I didn’t want to deal with a mess. I didn’t want to be inconvenienced. I didn’t want to have more work to do.  That’s not fun to admit, but it was true. My selfishness was robbing my kids of some of the joy of just being kids!  Learn to be a yes mom and you’ll find the summer more enjoyable for everyone!

Sanity Saver #9: Make an “I’m bored” jar
At some point we all deal with “I’m bored.” When that happens, I usually tell my kids that they can find something to do or I’ll be happy to find something for them to do. It’s interesting how quickly they find something to do!  However, if you have younger kids, an “I’m bored” jar can also be helpful.  Simply fill out slips of paper with activities they can do like these:

  • Color a picture for Grandma
  • Write a letter to Grandma (and address the envelope!)
  • Make a fort
  • Build a castle with blocks
  • Put together a puzzle
  • Do “Winter in the summer” and cut out snowflakes
  • Have a tea party
  • Write a story

If you don’t want to do an “I’m bored” jar for the kids to pick a paper out, you can also keep an “I’m bored” list that puts suggestions at your fingertips.

Sanity Saver #10:  Let go and enjoy
We all want the “perfect summer” for our kids, but rather than activities and schedules making up the perfect summer, it’s actually the not-scheduled spontaneous activities that make memories: running in the sprinkler, having picnics on the porch, looking for shapes in the clouds, and catching fireflies after dark.   Sure, have some plans in place, but let spontaneity lead the way.

Prioritize relationships over tasks.

Be creative and make some messes.

Lecture less and laugh more.

These are the elements that make up a beautiful summer.

What about you? Would you add any more “tried and true” strategies to this list? 

Posted in Parenting | 9 Comments

Forgiveness: You Need To Offer It Everyday

GettyImages-168623617Mark: Jill didn’t hear what I said. I had to choose to forgive. 

Jill: Mark forgot to stop at the grocery store to pick up cat food on his way home.  I had to forgive. 

Mark: Jill didn’t turn on the air conditioning like I hoped she would. I had to choose to forgive. 

Jill: Mark was too tired to watch the movie I’d hoped we could watch together. I had to forgive. 

Mark: Forgiveness is a term we’re all familiar with, but it’s underused in most marriages. Because you live with another imperfect human being you probably need to forgive well over a dozen times a day. This is how we handle imperfections, both our spouses and our own.

Jill: It’s also how we keep our heart uncluttered and available to God, downshifting our anger so we can let go of offenses or have needed conversations without too much emotion getting in the way.

Mark: Forgiveness is an intentional and voluntary internal choice where you experience a change in feelings and attitude regarding a hurt. The result of forgiveness is freedom. You’re free from being controlled by the negative emotions surrounding whatever it was that happened and hurt you.

Jill: Forgiveness is NOT condoning. If you forgive, it doesn’t say that what happened was okay. Forgiveness is NOT excusing. The person being forgiven is still responsible for their action. Forgiveness is NOT forgetting. The action did happen and is a part of the fabric of the relationship. Forgiveness IS about cleaning out the clutter in our heart.

Mark: Forgiveness is almost always a crisis of the will. We never feel like forgiving. However, a feeling of relief almost always follows obedience when we do forgive.

 

Jill: God wants us to know and experience His forgiveness and to then extend it to others. Too often we think forgiveness is only needed for the big infractions of trust. Not so. This is a tool you and I need to use day by day, hour by hour, and on the tough days, minute by minute.

Mark: Before you go to bed tonight, I promise you’ll have some opportunity to forgive your spouse. When you’re disappointed or frustrated, instead of lashing out….forgive.

Jill: It will do wonders for your heart…and your marriage.

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Do The Right Thing

GettyImages-468819474Mark says: Jill and I are on day 3 of a long weekend getaway working on the No More Perfect Marriages book. We’re really getting excited about this message!

Jill says: We’re still looking for a few more pre-reading couples for the book. We’re also looking for 3 men and 3 women whose spouses won’t be interested in reading to serve as pre-readers as well. If you’re interested in being a pre-reader, you can find the info here.

Mark says: As we were thinking about today’s Marriage Monday, I thought about something that happened last week. My construction crew and I had been working on the roof of a customer’s home, repairing, replacing, and staining cedar siding for much of the week. I came home Thursday night exhausted from both the job and the heat. I turned into our driveway with one goal in mind: find the remote! As I drove down our somewhat long country driveway, I noticed Jill was weeding our yard and our daughter Erica was working in the garden. In that moment I knew I had a decision to make.

Jill says: Thursday was a beautiful day and I needed to get some weeding done. I was really looking forward to being outside. I needed to get away from the computer and enjoy some fresh air. We have 2.5 acres of yard so there’s quite a bit of weeding to stay on top of. With my surgery three weeks ago (which came back benign…thank you, God!), I’m way behind on weeding.

Mark says: I made a decision to join Jill in the yard.  It was the right thing to do.  I sprayed the weeds that were overtaking our lane and helped Jill weed our berm where crabgrass had taken over.

Jill says: I really didn’t expect Mark to help with the weeding. I knew his week had been a long one working on that roof. I was really relieved that he came to help me, though. In fact, it was a huge gift to me and it connected us in a week where we’d gone in a lot of different directions.

Mark says: Doing the right thing many times is a crisis of our will. But when we serve with a willing heart we are a blessing and in turn we will be blessed. We choose to do the right thing because we love those around us.

Jill says: Mark’s decision not only helped me but it gave us the opportunity to talk and connect. And after we finished weeding, I made sure he had some remote therapy!

What about you? What are some examples where you have done the right thing even when you didn’t feel like it? When have you faced a crisis of your will and had to push through your feelings to make a right choice? 

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Surviving The Stress of Moving

I remember when Mark and I packed up a U-Haul and moved our family from Indianapolis, Indiana to Lincoln, Illinois. We had a two-year-old and a six-week old.

Two years later we moved our family from Lincoln, Illinois to Bloomington, Illinois. Oh how I wish I’d had the wisdom of my friend Susan to navigate those moves well.

Today’s post is from Susan Miller, author of After The Boxes are Unpacked. A popular Hearts at Home workshop speaker, Susan is also an author, and founder of Just Moved Ministry, which has been bringing hope to the uprooted woman for twenty-one years.

Susan loves country music, geraniums, lattes, and kick boxing.  Stop by www.justmoved.org to find more encouragement if you are moving (or share this with a friend who’s moving or has recently moved!)

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susan.am-moving-coach-logo150pxIf you have recently moved, or will be moving in the near future, I want to encourage your heart.  From one who has traveled that road by relocating 14 times, I know the emotional journey ahead of you.  I also know that moving will affect every aspect of your life.

Plain and simple, moving is CHANGE!  It will have an effect on your marriage, your children, your job, your relationships, and your life, because it will bring change to each of those areas.  Moving is more than loading and unloading your possessions.  It’s as if you are packing your whole life in brown boxes!  You are leaving behind everything familiar to face the unknown.  You lose a sense of community and connectedness.

Perhaps you, or a friend who is moving, needs hope and encouragement to get through the major impact of a move. This three-step process not only helped me survive, but also thrive through transition.  It all began with the choice to either be open or closed to change.

The first step I had to take was to choose to let go. I had to make the choice to cherish, rather than cling, to anything or anyone that would prevent me from starting over and moving forward with my life.

Next, I had to choose to start over, even if I didn’t want to!  Until I accepted the reality of having to start all over again, I couldn’t be ready to move forward with my life.

Finally, I had to choose to move forward.  It was time to come full circle with my move, put aside my pity party, and do whatever it took to put down roots.

I know what you are thinking, “How will I begin to put down roots in this unfamiliar place, and start all over again?” Make an intentional choice, as hard as it might be, to get involved with other people. Go for a walk in the neighborhood. Join a Bible Study, an aerobics class, a cooking class, or a book club (any activity of interest). Volunteer in your community, church, or school. Reach out to someone who, like yourself, needs a friend.  In time, your last box will be unpacked, the world around you will become familiar, your family will settle in, and you will begin to call this new place your home.

To encourage you on your journey, try these practical steps to smooth the bumpy road ahead.

  • Stop and smell the flowers along the way. Take time to be good to yourself!  Schedule some self-care by taking a break to rest, restore and renew your mind and body.
  • Ask for help. Don’t be the “lone ranger” and feel like you have to do it alone.  Let others be a part of the relocation process with you.
  • When the heat is up, stay cool. When stress is rising and the pressure is on, keep a sense of humor and be flexible.
  • It’s okay to cry if you want to. With change, comes loss and grieving. Your release valve may be tears.
  •  Some things you just have to do. And, having closure with people and places you care about is one of them. So often in the busyness of tasks, we forget to say goodbye in a meaningful way.
  • Rise to the occasion. Stretch beyond your comfort zone. Embrace the changes this move brings as an opportunity to learn and grow personally.
  • Take one day, one step at a time. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your house won’t be settled in a day either. Don’t lose heart and don’t give up!
  • Don’t sweat the little things. Something always seems to get broken, lost, or damaged in transition. Keep perspective. Remember, they are just things.
  •  Join up and join in. Raise your hand, and say yes! It’s the first step to meet people, and make friends. 
  • Be a tourist. Take a break and tour the local area. Google what to see and places to go in your city, or town. Make it an adventure with your children.

And remember, God’s presence will never leave you. You are not alone in this move. He accompanies you, has gone before you, and will be waiting for you with open arms.

What about you? What wisdom would you add to Susan’s for someone who’s moving? 

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Are You Healthy?

Mark: Jill and I have been working hard on our No More Perfect Marriages book  Our deadline to turn in the book is July 15. It’s release date is Feb 1, 2017!  We’re getting excited!

Jill: Instead of our usual Marriage Monday today, we want you to hop over and read an article I recently wrote for Focus on the Family about the effect of emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical health in a marriage. It’s an important topic that I know you’ll find helpful!

http://www.focusonthefamily.com/marriage/strengthening-your-marriage/healthy-individuals-create-healthy-marriages

Mark: In the meantime, we’re also looking for 10 couples who would like to be pre-readers for our No More Perfect Marriages book.  Curious about what that would entail?

Here are the requirements:

  1. Both husband and wife are willing to read the manuscript on their own computers between June 7 and June 30. (You would read individually, not together.)
  2. Both are willing to be involved in a private Facebook group to discuss the book.
  3. As you read, both are willing to share what content in the book has been helpful for their marriage and offer any suggestions they might have for strengthening the content.

We’re also looking for 3 men and 3 women whose spouses would not be interested in reading the book to also serve as pre-readers. The same requirements as above apply.

Jill: Does this interest you?

If so, please have each of you (both husband and wife) write one short paragraph about your commitment to read and offer feedback, why this interests you, and how long you’ve been married. Send the two paragraphs in one email to jillsavagespeaking (at) heartsathome (dot) org.

If you’re a husband or a wife who would like to pre-read, but your spouse isn’t interested, please send a short message about your commitment to read, offer feedback, why this interests you, and how long you’ve been married to jillsavagespeaking (at) heartsathome (dot) org.

We’re excited about this new book and we know that we’re better when we do this together!

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It’s Okay To Not Be Okay

woman looking upDonned in those fashionable surgical clothes, a cap over my hair, all jewelry removed, and a pen in hand to make an X over my right breast so the doctor is assured to work on the correct side, I face the unknown once again.

She found it during a surveillance follow-up. “Jill, you have a lump there. Have you felt it?” The answer was no.  No I hadn’t felt it and no there can’t be a lump.

It was a couple weeks before the National Hearts at Home conference and my eyes were focused on the two days I’d soon be hanging with over 4,000 moms. That weekend is a sacred weekend of hope and help. All of us looking for the reassurance that whatever we’re facing in life and motherhood, we’ll be okay.

“I want to order a mammogram and a sonogram for this spot.” A week later I found myself sitting once again at the screening center. My annual mammogram just six months earlier had been clear.  These two tests they ended up declaring clear again.

“Whew….dodged that bullet,” I thought to myself.

It was the Monday after the conference that her office called. “Jill, Doctor wants you to come back in and discuss the results of your recent testing.” As I scheduled an appointment for the next day I couldn’t help but think, “What’s there to discuss? They said it was clear.”

The next day she bounced in the exam room and tossed my mammogram and sonogram results my way. “Test results look good, let’s do another exam.” Sure enough that lump was still there and it was painful too, just like it’d been several weeks earlier and every time I’d touched it since.

“I don’t believe it’s cancer because it’s painful, but I don’t want to leave it in there. We also can’t do a traditional core needle biopsy when it can’t be seen on a diagnostic screening. I’m recommending we remove it and then biopsy it,” she said.

Here we go again.

So yesterday I modeled the latest in surgical gear once again (someone seriously needs to update that attire!). I’m a fact-finder by nature. I don’t do too much worrying or planning until the fact-finding is complete. So I’d been steady leading up to the surgery date.

When Doctor Widerborg walked in for her pre-surgical chat, she said, “Let’s pray,” and all in the room grabbed hands and prayed, that’s when the tears came.  A couple of hours earlier my friend Becky had texted me the words of Isaiah 41:13 from The Voice Bible, “I am the Eternal God, who has hold of you right hand, who whispers in your ear, “Don’t be afraid. I will help you.” As Doctor Widerborg prayed, those words came back to my mind and I felt God holding my right hand and whispering His help in my ear.

Both Mark and my mom were there to hear the doctor say after surgery that she would be very surprised if this is cancer. Didn’t look like it to her….and she’s seen a lot.

But we wait. For the facts. We once again live in the shadow of the unknown.

Yet that’s not the shadow I’m experiencing right now. Psalm 91 promises, “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High, will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” This is the shadow I choose to wait in now. This shadow of the Almighty is a place of peace. Hope. Comfort. It’s a place where we hold the hand of a Jesus who walked on this earth and faced His own “unknowns” of friends who betrayed him and a death on the cross He didn’t deserve. I’m reminded of this in one of my favorite verses, Hebrews 4:14-16. That verse came alive to me as I wrote my book Real Moms…Real Jesus based upon it:

 Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.” (The Message)

I don’t know what “shadow of the unknown” you’re currently waiting in, but I want you to know that there’s plenty of room over here in the “shadow of the Almighty.”

It’s a bit of a messy place. Some tears. Some weariness. Some fear that wants to creep in. Some days where you simply know it’s okay to not be okay. Yet always His arms around you. His hand holding your right hand. And His voice whispering in your ear, “…don’t be afraid. I will help you.”

Posted in Faith, Taking Care of Me | 9 Comments

Managing Money in Marriage

Managing MoneyMark: Money. You gotta have it. You’ve gotta manage it. You’ve gotta talk about it. You’ve gotta learn how to make decisions about it together.

Jill: We’ve certainly had plenty of financial frustration in our marriage and we know we’re not alone in that!

Mark: Jill and I came from very different upbringings and, of course, our families of origin handled money very differently. For instance, my family ate out a lot while Jill’s family only ate out for very special occasions.

Jill: Mark and I never talked about money much before we got married. After we married, we found ourselves with differing ideas about debt, spending, and saving.

Mark: One of the best things we did was to sign up for Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace course at our church. While we didn’t necessarily agree with everything in the course, what it did for us was get us talking about money, thinking differently about money, and making decisions together about money.

Jill: We became students together! This required conversation and helped us to set goals we worked towards TOGETHER.

Mark: TOGETHER is the key word here. We learned together. We discussed together. We decided together how to apply what we were learning to our finances.  This helped us get our beliefs and values of money management on the same page.

Jill: Last week we talked about the importance of talking about sex. This week we’re looking at the importance of talking about money.  The key is the TALKING part.

Mark: Few parents teach their children about their beliefs and values of money management. So we bring our often “uneducated” perspectives into marriage. That’s why it’s important for us to go to school together on money management!

Jill: Is money a challenge in your marriage?  It doesn’t really matter who manages the money. What matters is that you work together to decide HOW to manage the money.  Here are some strategies we’ve found helpful or know other couples use:

  • Determine a threshold of spending where you need to consult one another. For instance, you might create a threshold like, “Other than groceries or paying bills, we won’t spend more than $100 on anything without talking to one another.”
  • Have a “financial committee meeting” once or twice a month to make sure you both understand the reality of finances and determine the plan together.
  • Decide on the best way to handle “spending money.” Most of us like knowing we each have some discretionary funds to use for little opportunities that come our way.
  • Even if only one of you are managing the money, make sure both of you are engaged in the money decision-making process.
  • Keep learning about money management. You can search for a Financial Peace class in your area here.

What about you? What steps have you and your spouse taken to get on the same page with money?

Posted in Miscellany | Leave a comment

My Teenager’s Not Crazy? Are you Sure?!

Today’s post is from Hearts at Home conference speaker Jerusha Clark. When I saw Jerusha’s new book title, I knew some of you needed this encouragement so I asked her to write something just for us! 

Do you have a teen or a pre-teen? Today’s words are for you!  

If you know someone with a pre-teen or a teen, would you please forward this to them? We’re better together when we find encouragement we can share with another mom! 

We’re giving away a copy of Jerusha’s book, Your Teenager Is Not Crazy! To enter, leave a comment about one strategy or piece of wisdom you’ve found helpful for navigating the teen years!

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JerushaWhen I was pregnant with our first child, I used to joke around that I would be better equipped if she were born 12 years old.  Having never babysat and a little unsure of myself around babies, I knew precious little about raising an infant.  Pre-teens and teens?  I got them.  After all, my husband had been a youth pastor for 15 years, and I had worked alongside him for much of that time.  We understood adolescents far better than babies, I assumed.

Now that I’m the mother of two teenagers, I realize I had no idea what I was talking about.

Raising adolescents is challenging (understatement of the year there!), and I now know that God gives us all the precious, “I wuv you, Mama” years to get us through the times when we want to the throttle that little pre-teen princess or that pent-up-aggression teenage boy.

As my daughters neared the teen years, I had the good fortune to be asked by a friend to teach her Bible study group.  She intended for me to speak on some of the adolescent issues I had written about (relationships, communication, mental health, etc.), but I wanted to do a bit more research.  What I found was absolutely astounding, and I want to share some of the most practical discoveries with you:

Your adolescent’s brain is one massive construction zone, so keep your hard hat ready! At roughly 11 for girls and 12½ for boys, your child’s brain shifts from explosive neurological growth to wide scale neural remodeling.  If you’ve ever been part of a remodeling project, you know that it takes far more time—and usually more resources—than you planned to spend.  Parenting an adolescent, whose brain is under construction, is very similar.

Moms of pre-teens and teens: God is calling us to gear up for a phase of incredible potential in our child’s life; scientists liken it to the amazing window of opportunity that occurs from zero-three years old.  Your teen’s brain, while it’s being remodeled, is remarkably malleable; it can be changed by experience more during this time of life than almost any other.  This may strike you as both encouraging (it’s not too late!) and terrifying (this is all happening so fast!)

Thankfully, God promises to give us wisdom and discernment as we seek Him.  Instead of viewing the teenage years as one big hassle, “let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2, NLT).

Your adolescent’s brain responds best to questions and shorter, more frequent talks. Because the teenage brain is under construction, there are times when its control center (called the prefrontal cortex, for you science-y moms out there) is periodically “offline.”  Think of it like this: when people remodel their kitchens, they sometimes have to turn the plumbing or electricity off while changes are made.  A roughly analogous thing happens in the adolescent brain, and it won’t stop until your child is nearing 25 years old!

As a result, having “once and for all,” lengthy talks about grades, sexuality, relationships, character issues, or faith doesn’t work well.  Teen brains respond best to shorter conversations that happen more often.  Make a comment here and there about things you observe.  Ask good questions, too.  Nothing engages the adolescent brain better than a question that can’t be answered with a “yes,” “no,” or surly grunt.  This will take some practice, but you can do it!

Look at how many questions our Lord asks throughout the Bible; on earth, Jesus was downright inquisitive!  Follow His example and draw teens out by engaging their minds.  It’s okay if you don’t get a response every time.  Maybe you get annoyed sighs eight out of ten times, but the other two might yield pure gold!  Be patient, persistent, and it will pay off.

Your adolescent’s brain craves exciting experiences, so try new things with your teen. It’s absolutely phenomenal to look at how God designed the brain, and one fascinating thing that happens during the years between 12 and 25 is that the natural levels of dopamine, one of the brain’s “feel good” chemicals, drop significantly.  This explains, in part, why teens often complain of “being bored.”  What’s wild is that when adolescents experience novel and thrilling things, their capacity to experience dopamine release is higher than adults or young children.  God can use this neurological reality marvelously—just imagine; if your teen never wanted to try anything new he or she wouldn’t ever move out, get married, or pursue a career—but parents are often stuck in the patterns of “same old, same old.”

Adolescence is all about change, but moms most often feel safe when things stay fixed.  Instead of giving in to routine and wondering why your adolescent doesn’t dig family pizza and movie night as much as “back then,” try new things with your teen.  Don’t let the youth pastor be the only one to, I don’t know, ride rollercoasters and eat crazy concoctions with your kids.  You don’t have to try something crazy at a theme park (you can kidnap a studious kid from school one day and take them to a museum or a musical child and go to a concert).  It doesn’t have to be something expensive (look online for a list of free things in your area).  Get creative, have a little fun with your teen, and see what new things God does in your relationship.

Finally, if you want it to be part of your teen’s life, model rather than mouth godly character. Teens have super sensitive hypocrisy sensors (when it comes to everyone else’s life, at least).  It’s no surprise that scientific research shows that the teen brain learns best by example rather than explanation.  I believe God designed it that way for two reasons: 1) He wants to transform you during this season every bit as much as your teen and 2) He knows that you will be motivated to change if you’re aware of how it will impact your child.

If you want your teen to make good technology choices, you make wise choices first.  If we want our teenage daughters to stop gossiping, we should watch our own words.  If we want our teen sons to honor women, we should watch what we read (celebrity gossip or fashion magazines, perhaps) and avoid questionable TV and movies.

Most importantly, if you desire your teen to walk closely with Christ, you must (there is no two ways about it) focus on your own relationship with Jesus and stop trying to control your child’s.  Your son or daughter is in the Holy Spirit’s hands.  In 1 Timothy 6:15 God calls Himself the “blessed controller of all things.”  This phrase means He is both absolutely sovereign (in control of all things) and good at being in control.  I am not a blessed controller.  When I try to control my children, I am more like a Mom Nazi.  As a fellow mama who wants her teens to walk with Jesus, I encourage all of us to surrender the control we never had anyway so that we can use the influence Christ offers us: the power of living by example.

What about you? What strategies or wisdom have you found helpful for navigating the teen years? 

Posted in Parenting | 17 Comments

How To Talk About Sex Outside the Bedroom

Sex outside the bedroomJill: “Sex….I could go the rest of my life without it!”  That was my sentiment early in our marriage. I was tired and just couldn’t muster the energy that lovemaking required.

Mark: To say that Jill and I have been on opposite ends of the “desire” spectrum would be an understatement. This was particularly evident when the kids were small.

Jill: We came the closest to having nearly the same desire when we were in our 40’s.  With the kids older, it seemed we had finally found a nice middle ground that worked for both of us.

Mark: Then breast cancer hit, throwing Jill into early menopause.  Dealing with lower estrogen levels, vaginal dryness, side-effects of medication, and all of the joys of both of our aging bodies has now moved us into the arena of sexual challenges again.

Jill: Throughout marriage, most of us slip beneath the sheets without much conversation.  Our bodies do what they are supposed to do as we explore sexual intimacy.

Mark: But what happens when things aren’t going so well?  Many of us aren’t comfortable talking about sex so we push our challenges under the rug, find ourselves frustrated, and become discouraged.

Jill: If we don’t address the frustration, we run the risk of building a wall and putting emotional and physical distance between ourselves and our spouse.

Mark: So how do we keep this from happening and what do we do if it is happening?  We talk about it.

Jill: That’s right…we have to push ourselves to become comfortable talking about sex both inside and outside the bedroom.  If you’re not used to talking about sex, IT WILL FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE.  But here’s what we have learned: you’ve got to push through awkward to get to a new normal.  If you start talking about sex, those initial conversations will be difficult, but the more conversations you have, the more “normal” it will become to talk about intimacy.

With that in mind, we want to share some conversation starters to get those conversations going about sex:

  • What do you like best about our sex life?
  • What do you wish was different in our sex life?
  • Is there something I do sexually that bothers you?
  • Is there something I do sexually that you really like?
  • Ideally, how often would you like us to make love?
  • Foreplay….is it too long, too short, or just right for you?
  • What happens outside the bedroom in our relationship that hurts our intimacy inside the bedroom?
  • Do I make you feel special outside the bedroom?
  • When it comes to communication, what do you wish we talked about more?
  • Do you feel emotionally safe with me? If not, what could I do to help you feel safe?
  • Is there anything either one of us needs to talk to a doctor about that would improve our sex life (erectile dysfunction, vaginal dryness, pain during intercourse, depression, unusually low desire, etc)?
  • Is there any emotional or sexual baggage from your past or any struggles today that are keeping you from fully enjoying sex (pornography, previous relationships, guilt, shame, etc)
  • Is there something in our marriage relationship that we can’t seem to improve or get past? What counselor could we begin seeing to sort through this?

Mark: These questions get us talking about the things we don’t usually talk about.  As you talk through them, make sure you’re being a good listener and are listening to understand, not to argue.  Here are some helpful responses to help the conversation go well:

  • That’s good to know…thank you for sharing that.
  • Okay that’s helpful. Tell me more.
  • I didn’t know that. Thank you for letting me know.
  • I know that was probably hard to share. Thank you for trusting me.

So what are you waiting for? Set a date on the calendar to talk, use the questions above as a guide for your conversation, and talk!

Talking (about anything!) always builds non-sexual intimacy. Talking about sex will build both non-sexual intimacy and sexual intimacy.  Don’t let a lack of communication keep you from taking your physical relationship to the next level!

Looking for more practical ideas about moving from making meatloaf to making love? Hearts at Home just re-released Is There Really Sex After Kids? as an ebook!

Jill wrote this book for moms, but I think the best part is the “cliff notes” version of the chapter  I wrote for dads!  Yep, mom reads her 7 pages and dad reads his 7 paragraphs and voila….you’ve read the book together!  You’re welcome, guys.

Posted in Marriage | Leave a comment

4 Gifts Every Mom Needs For Mother’s Day

Mothers Day drawingMother’s Day is upon us and if you haven’t thought about what you are going to do for mom, you may be looking for gift ideas.  Jewelry, flowers, and cards are wonderful gifts for any mom to receive, but I’d like to suggest some non-traditional gifts that every mom needs.  No matter whether it’s a mom with small children or a mom who now has grandchildren and great-grandchildren, we all long to receive gifts from the heart.  They are indeed the ones that mean so much.  This year, consider giving mom one of these gifts:

Appreciation Although gratitude is often felt in the heart, it doesn’t become “thank you” until it is spoken with words.  Communicate appreciation for the things mom did or does now.  Writing it in a letter is always a nice touch because it can be read over and over again.

Encouragement Words of encouragement are greatly needed by a tired mom.  Communicating value for the job she does goes a long way.  “What you do for our family is so important.”, “You are a wonderful mother.” and  “I love the way you take care of our family,” are phrases every mother needs to hear.

Help: If mom is older, help around the house or the yard is always greatly appreciated.  A mom with children still at home will melt if she hears the words, “How can I help you?” on a regular basis from dad or the kids.  In most families, mom carries the majority of responsibility for laundry, cleaning, cooking, shopping, and keeping schedules straight.  “What can I do to help you?” is a gift that every mom needs.

Time:  The gift of time is intangible, yet invaluable.  It is greatly needed and greatly appreciated when given.  Moms need many different gifts of time.  Consider which kind of time your mom or wife needs most from you and give it to her this Mother’s Day:

Time with you.  Have you been unavailable?  Spending time with you could be the best gift you could give.

Time alone.  A busy mom, especially with small children, could use some time alone.  When surrounded by children day and night, mom needs an opportunity to refuel.

Time alone at home.  One evening my husband took all the kids out.  He left me at home to finish a project.  I was amazed at the feeling I had being at home all alone.  I realized how important that time was for me.  I felt rejuvenated!

So what are you getting for mom this Mother’s Day?  The gifts you can’t buy at the store may be the most important ones you will give.  Those are the ones that a mom really needs.

Posted in Taking Care of Me | Leave a comment