When I was pregnant with our first son, about 20 years ago, my hubby gave me the sweet gift of a Y membership.  I was thrilled because a) I really wanted to MOVE and do something productive and b) the time that worked for us was right during the swim classes.  (If you didn’t know, being pregnant AND being in the water is an awesome thing: read…in the water equals no gravity, soooo, I felt amazingly light and non-beach ball-ish! Yahoo!)

I loved getting to participate in this swim class (well, it was a water-WALKING class, so I was definitely, uh-hum, the youngest one there). But no matter! I got my water fix and felt great and, unknowingly, was about to get the biggest lesson of my female life.

After class I began to meet some of the older ladies swimming with me.  They always commented on my pregnant belly and usually had sweet things to say from a “Grandma” point of view. I was such a new momma that I drank up the advice and all the “enjoy this, it will go fast” talks.

Two particular ladies stood out to me.  The first I’ll call “Helen.” She was stunning, really.  She was almost 80, looked about 50, and totally rocked a swimsuit. It was really inspiring to me to see how she took care of herself.  However, I also learned pretty quickly she wasn’t a “sunny side up” kind of girl.  I came to avoid her and knew ahead of time to prepare my heart to ignore her spouts of negativity. Interestingly enough, her peers avoided her, too.  I think most of these ladies knew they were in their sunset years and they didn’t have the time or energy to walk through life with a glass half full.

My other buddy filled the room with rainbows and sunshine. “June” exuded life. She constantly encouraged my journey as a young momma and blessed everyone in her path.  It was obvious that the rest of the girls were drawn to her and loved being around her.  Even though June lavished her love on others and constantly made an impact on them, she definitely walked around in a physical body that was a little worse for the wear.  She hadn’t spent her whole life working out and she had obviously placed other things higher on her priority list.  She definitely enjoyed the water workout but didn’t seem to place too much pressure on herself or anyone else to “look just right.” It was almost as if she knew her “tent” was carrying her on to her real home, and she planned on getting every last drop of use out of it until she left!

Of course, being in the middle of a pregnancy, it was easy for me to struggle with my body image.  Childbearing women (or not), raise your hand! It’s a beautiful time, almost otherworldly to feel a live human person inside your belly, but also a difficult shift in our perception of how we look.  Watching these two women gave me something so valuable that I really couldn’t place too much importance anymore (or at least try VERY hard not to) on my physical appearance.

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I have yet to meet any gal who doesn’t struggle with how she looks.  She may run a family, a corporation, and make apple pie with homemade crust, but ask her if she looks good….well, pretty much never will you get positive feedback for that question.  Why??? Of course, I’m not talking about ostentatious narcissism, just basic “okay, this body keeps me here and helps others get here, so I’m content with that” kind of outlook. Nope, it’s a vicious struggle and it’s across the board.

And what’s so funny is we’ll tell our best girlfriend how GREAT they look.  And we will complement someone’s cute hair, how their jeans fit, or how long their eyelashes are…but defend how WE look? No way!

Looking back, now in my 40’s, I am inching ever closer to the wisdom of my sweet June. The value of this earthly life is ever so much clearer.  I see more wrinkles, cellulite, and gray hair, yet I feel an easier transition to thankfulness above the struggle.  I do my best to move and eat well and feed my body, but after that, the real health and the real joy of my existence has to come from somewhere deeper, and I can sense that more keenly now than ever before.  I’m convinced of the real difference in health and “looks.” And I have to choose (constantly) that I will be more beautiful to others and (gasp) even myself  if I exude joy.  If I am loving.  Kind. Real.  Raw. Messy.  Just embracing this precious gift of life.

June never knew how much she impacted that brand-spankin’ new momma. Helen didn’t either, for that matter. My wedding dress is now boxed up for MY girls and those high school “girl” jeans have no place in my “grown-up woman’s” life.

And for now, I’m good with that.

Jen 🙂

 

 

 

It’s crazy to think about the days in which we live. Most parents out there are giving a lot of thought to what kind of world their kids will inherit. Though it could be the biggest downer right now, it’s encouraging to remember that all people of every society that ever existed faced their own special set of challenges (Sodom and Gomorroah, Babylon, Rome, etc.). But, BUT. . . God is faithful.

That being said, having a counterattack, or “preventive” response to life in general is always good, especially for the young ones we are raising. To think that most of their lives they will look us in the eye makes it apparent that a) time is of the essence, and b) what we do/say/think/ etc. can all play a part in creating the kind of home we really want.

Being again the practical one, I thought I’d share some ideas I’ve gathered over the years that seem to help my husband and I keep our priorities straight.

1. God First: Home has always been, and will always be, God’s original idea. He started a family with two, and set up circumstances for many families over the eons to come to know and bless Him. So, home can’t be what it was always intended to be without His breath and fingerprints.

2. Run the Circles: Started by my hubby (yes, he’s a preacher, but every husband and daddy are the perfect ones to do this for their own family), we do what we call “run the circles.” Lorenzo has written about this and talked about it (a lot) but in a nutshell, it means we talk (a lot) about upcoming decisions. If you asked one of our kids (without any prior warning) if we discuss things (a lot) you’d win a nickel each time. Even if it’s with rolled eyes, they’d probably all respond in the affirmative. And the “circles” represent capacity, core values, and calling. Capacity is how much time, money, etc. are available, core values means will this decision line up with our beliefs and convictions, and calling refers to our mission statement and direction we feel God has asked us to go. If an idea or upcoming decision doesn’t line up with all of our circles, we usually don’t go forward. Yes, lots of talking is needed but it always pays off.

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3. Family Table: This is one of our favorite things to do as a family, yet one of the very hardest to pull of consistently. (We aim to make it happen at least four or five days/week.) This can be around a meal, but not necessarily. It’s a cue to everyone to gather around and be ready to pay attention. We might read a devotional, discuss the events of the day, ask for feedback for a decision (run the circles), or talk about some kind of current event. Basically, it’s our time to “huddle” and rekindle a team spirit between all of us, young or older. 🙂 Our idea for family table was inspired by a statistic I read many years ago about the National Merit Scholar Contest. Nationwide, the top common factor between all of the winners wasn’t schooling, economics, or IQ. The winners all shared the distinct advantage of eating supper around the table with their family on a consistent basis. Powerful. Eating together, facing each other (and not technology), discussing the day and interacting with each other is a very enriching habit. It teaches children communication and patience as well as plain old etiquette and manners.

4. Sabbath Rest: Everyone’s schedule can get crazy. So just as we schedule church, events, games, date nights, etc., we also try to weekly have down time. It’s not a strict Sabbath in the Jewish sense but an effort to relax, take a nap, turn off phones and media, and enjoy being together. Amazingly, it really recharges everyone, especially the parents!

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5. Family Projects: We love to pick out a project like a big cleaning job or painting a room and plan a day for it. Especially if it’s a tough job, the more we involve everyone the merrier it can be. And we always plan for the reward after we’re done. Pizza, the park, or a special movie. It’s super-motivating for everybody and gets some work done at the same time.

6. Watching Our Words: I had a magnet years ago that gave lots of ideas for things to say to our children, like “You’re beautiful, Way to go! and How did you get so smart?” It seems silly to need a reminder for something like that, but the truth is we can be nicer to perfect strangers at the grocery store than our own precious family. Through the good, bad, and ugly, keeping our words positive and loving will go farther than we can ever imagine. This includes teaching our kids to say “I’m sorry, I was wrong” as well as being able to say it ourselves! The words we speak are like starting a garden. Over the years we can reap a bountiful harvest in the relationships we cherish. And just like that garden and the ugly weeds that “grow roots to China” without water or fertilizer, unkind or harsh and ugly words can try to choke out the harvest we’re hoping for. It takes a lot of focus and it’s frankly a God-thing but just takes practice and more practice. And since I haven’t attained a perfect record yet, practice and more practice! 🙂

Bad moments happen. Just like any “group” we’re ever a part of, problems are real and they exist. THERE IS NO PERFECT FAMILY. It’s easy to believe that lie and feel we can’t make any progress. But don’t give up. My husband and I have had so many moments of tears, despair, fear, you name it. More than I could count. But if I put all the bad moments in a basket, it wouldn’t compare to just one of our beautiful moments. And over the years, those beautiful moments build the thing we call a family.  And even when we hit the grandparent stage I’m sure it will still be true that the days are long but the years are short. Each family is unique and wonderful in their own right. Every day is precious and can’t be taken for granted. None of us will look alike and we all have our unique contribution to give.

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Tonight or in the morning, hug the people you love most and hold them close. And keep up the great work. God’s mercies are new every morning. For every family, every child, and every mom and dad.

Jennifer 🙂

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WARNING: This post contains information and references about married sexuality.  It is wholesome and appropriate for the context of marriage. It is geared mostly towards women, but could be helpful for men as well.

When I was a few months away from getting married at the young age of 21, a special woman named Anna asked me over for coffee.  She had a wonderful porch swing we liked to sit on for long talks. That day, I wasn’t expecting the turn our conversation took.  But twenty years later, living in the middle of my dream for a family, I still can’t thank God enough for her advice.

Leading up to the wedding, the last thing on my mind was imagining a time I would want to refuse my husband’s advances.  I still laugh thinking about it.  No, I certainly wasn’t about to embark on our honeymoon with a big, fat, stop sign on my face.  But that’s where my friend’s excellent advice began . . .

Be available: You’ve probably heard the phrase “Women get married for love, and men get married for sex.” Though it may be a bit blunt, there’s truth to this statement according to how males and females are wired.  It’s silly to get married and be crazy about your husband and fighting being all over each other before you get married, then expect that desire in him to change.  And the covenant of marriage is the awesome and holy place for this to happen.  It’s blessed and precious, and that’s a mindset change in this crazy society. So ladies, that means our hearts should try be open to receive our husband’s advances, even if it’s the last thing on our mind.

Be engaged:  So you have the grocery list and the kid’s calendar of games running through your mind, along with what’s for dinner and the pile of laundry on your bedroom floor.  Shocking as it is, all of these trivial things can inch up to the top of our priorities.  Real-life circumstances like these are out to keep you from being a great team.  And all of those “things” grabbing your attention won’t matter anyway if everything falls apart between you. (Yes, they’ll have to be done, but you get my drift.) Placing priority on your husband’s needs can completely erase the workload off of his shoulders, resulting in a calmer and sweeter atmosphere in your home.  And when he trusts that your open to him, being tense and grumpy can become a thing of his past.  Hey! What about our workload and stress? Well, don’t forget, I’m a woman writing this, so more on that later.

Be passionate: It’s easy to get down in the dumps doing the seemingly mundane everyday.  It’s also easy to forget what we have.  I’m sure those who have been married many years would look back and see that they never imagined their lives flying by so furiously.  My hubby and I like to say “NOW is the good old days.” (I know, bad grammar, but I like how it sounds!) Maybe those significant moments, the ones that take our breath away, need to happen more often.  Sending a love note (or text, lol), taking a trip, or even prettying up your bedroom can all help create a special, passionate moment.

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Be playful: My very favorite quote ever is from the newer Sabrina movie: “Sometimes more isn’t better, sometimes it’s just more.”  Though this sounds contradictory to my previous thought, they both work for different seasons.  Even if you’re eating mac and cheese instead of steak, you’re still eating.  So, making the most of a little time without high expectations can really help.  Hanging off the chandeliers is great when it works, but it could be a bit uncomfortable on a consistent basis. . .

Be a pursuer:  This thought is my favorite revelation on our subject.  It’s one thing to be available and engaged as a response to your husband, but it’s another thing entirely to actively pursue him. How did we act walking down the aisle? What were we thinking about riding away from the crowd that day? Hopefully, you were thinking about jumping his bones! How do movies and Nicholas Sparks novels and 1980’s love songs keep your attention? Someone is in hot pursuit! Surely the beautiful connection given to us in marriage by God Himself can exceed those cheap imitations! You were pursuing him with all of your heart (and body) at one time not so far back. Why not run that race again?

The trick of nourishing a husband and wife relationship is retreating in our minds to our landmarks and dwelling on the sweet memories until, amidst all of the stuff that makes up life on earth, we can go back to that place our covenant was struck. This means forgiveness of wrongs, taking the high road when we’re hurt, and being willing to be open and vulnerable. And let me add here, that means we girls would be extremely grateful to see a hubby giving the kids a bath or washing dishes, or volunteering for a grocery trip or Wal-Mart run (ugh).  It’s kind of like the chicken and the egg and which came first. Either one of you can make the first step, so why not be the one that does?

No, keeping our marriages on the right track isn’t for the fainthearted.  But it’s worth it. Every day.  Every year. Until forever.

Jennifer 🙂

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With our twentieth wedding anniversary quickly approaching, along with our first daughter’s high school graduation, my hubby and I decided to take a bit of inventory.  (Marriage inventory, that is.) Add in to the mix my forty-second birthday and a fun supper date with a young and sweet thirty-something couple and our wheels really got to turning.  Which direction they are turning . . well, that remains to be seen.

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The truth be told, during our inventory I realized I am a bit disappointed.  See, I thought that we’d be better at it by now.  You know, at being married!  Thinking like the oldest child, type-A, overachiever that I am, the list I had in my mind of my heady expectations of perfection is shot full of holes! (Not bullet holes, mind you. And no hating on type-A’s please.  We cannot help being the children of first-time parents, can we?)

I guess you can see where I’m headed. In short, my dreams for the ultimate utopia of married bliss are dashed.  After twenty years in the game, I don’t know much at all, but I do know better than that.

I no longer want what I hoped for.  Why?

I’ve got something better.

Maybe my mom and dad are laughing right now reading this.  Being married forty-five years next month, they already know.  But they were the same kind of love-struck kids in 1970 and they probably had the same problem.  But they’ve lasted, and we will, too.

The problem?  Wishing and hoping and counting on a relationship without issues.  Without challenges.  Smooth sailing.  Doesn’t that sound wonderful? Can’t you see the glassy ocean carrying a beautiful cruise liner into paradise? Ahhhhhhh.

And suddenly, there’s a bump here and there.  Then the wind starts howling.  The rain starts pouring. And an iceberg the size that tripped up the Titanic starts to rear it’s ugly head.

Wow, I thought we were SOOOO much alike! I thought we always agreed!   Deciding on a restaurant was our favorite thing to do! Our ideas and principles lined up like missing puzzle pieces and we finished each other’s sentences (or “sandwiches,” if you have a little girl who likes “Frozen”)!

Here’s the real problem.  Smooth sailing doesn’t exist.  It might exist for stretches of time.  Certain seasons of our relationship can feel easy and stress-free.  But we will never appreciate those seasons without the times of hellacious (is that a word?) scrambling for dear life.  Not. Going. To. Happen.

Accepting that (that marriage isn’t always smooth sailing) has been the beautiful reward of twenty years. My new and improved picture of wedded bliss is a couple of fiercely committed lovers, scraped up and worn out, with a look of triumph in their eyes and holding on to each other for dear life.  (Oh, and I forgot, the boat is also full of our life’s work so far . . .eleven beautiful and perfect offspring. But I must talk about them in another post . . .)

So, since you know I’m the practical girl, I want to share here one of my favorite revelations for we married people.  Here it is.

A great marriage usually includes a flag. And a flagpole.

Let me explain.

Remember that part about being “on the same page about everything?” Liking the same things, even the same movies and restaurants (speaking of the trivial)? Well, yes.  But, that is B. M. (Before marriage, before you think I meant something else!) Yes, before the knot is tied, it’s EASY to agree.  But the challenge comes once the covenant is struck.  Then, a very wonderful thing begins to happen.

We realize how very different we are. Politics, religion, family dynamics and dysfunction, children and in-laws, you name it. While trying to sort all of these things out, one spouse will most likely start to resemble a flag.

Flags are easy going, extroverted, charismatic, dreamy, visionaries, never sit still, fly by the seat of their pants, you get the idea.  But here’s the downside for the flag.  They can literally fly off into oblivion and you never see them again.  They can be flighty (literally) and lack commitment.

Enter the flagpole.  

Flagpoles are solid.  Centered.  Stable and self-directed, disciplined, “rhythm and bass” at it’s finest.  But before you think the flagpole is the one who saves the day, they can also be rigid and real sticks-in-the-mud. (And if you’re still wondering which one I tend to be in our relationship, let’s just say I’ve been described by my hubby (in public) as “gray and boring.” Yes, he meant it as a compliment.)

I know you can see the big picture at this point.  The flag needs a flagpole.  The flagpole needs a flag. You’ve never seen a beautiful flag or nice, stable flagpole operating all by their lonesome and getting anything done.  In fact, you’d never see a darn thing.  The flag would be off in Never-Neverland, and you’d walk right by the flagpole and never even know it was there!

So, I must repeat myself (I hope you’re still here).  What I hoped for would have fallen completely short of what I’ve been given. Supporting my flag (and him supporting me) has given us guts, victories and more “muscles.”  Yes, we’ve got a few scars as well.  But who doesn’t?

I hope you’re hearing the “Eye of the Tiger” in your head by now.  If you’re a husband or wife in the throes of a storm, don’t give up.  Know that your differences only make you stronger.

Flags, keep flying high. And flagpoles, keep holding them up. It’s worth the ride.

J and L 4th of July

After twenty years, I can say that.

Jennifer 🙂

 

 

 

 

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