45 ways to BE a better spouse

Early on in marriage, so much of what makes marriage good comes easily.  During the long stretch between I do and ’empty nest’ we can get weary and lose focus…many times even becoming bitter and keeping a long list of wrongs.  Marriage is hard and requires hard work.  That is just a fact.  It never means you chose wrong or should give up.  And, even if you did choose wrong…you still chose.  Just keep choosing.  In my ‘book’, and in black and white in God’s, marriage is forever. It’s easy to forget you’re on the same team.  To forget the early days of your love.  How easily we forget the good stuff in life.  The things that really matter.  I need reminding often.  We need things to help us remember to choose to feed our marriages and not let them wither.  Without proper care and feeding, we will not survive this long road.  I don’t regularly do all the things on this list.  Neither does my husband.  We both mess up everyday.  My pride and hurt feelings get in the way.  And, I can only control my own words, thoughts, actions and decisions.  This is not a list about changing your spouse.

I made this Marriage 101 list for my brother and his wife when they got married.  I hope it is a good reminder for you, too.  Our loving, encouraging words and actions are so powerful.  Just as our un-loving and discouraging words and actions are powerful.  I’d love to hear your additions to the list!  Just as each person is unique, so is each marriage.  Be creative.  Make this list your own.

 

  1. Spend the first of your day with God. (Without this I can’t do #2-45)
  2. Love her
  3. Respect him
  4. Tell her she’s beautiful
  5. Tell him he’s ‘the man’
  6. Be honest
  7. Spouse before self, in word and deed
  8. Learn their favorite things
  9. Make eye contact
  10. Kiss for 10 seconds (at least!) every day
  11. If you must compete, be the first to say ‘I’m sorry’
  12. Make traditions
  13. Make memories
  14. LAUGH
  15. Learn your Love Languages
  16. Listen.  For real.
  17. Tell each other jokes
  18. LOVE (I Corinthians 13:4-13)
  19. Count to 30–instead of 10
  20. Be kind
  21. Plan surprises
  22. Sweep her off her feet
  23. If you need to keep a record, be it of blessings
  24. Be humble
  25. Don’t let the honeymoon end
  26. Plan dates
  27. PLAY
  28. Ask for help
  29. Accept help
  30. Learn together
  31. Pray together
  32. Forgive
  33. Expect the best
  34. Be his #1 fan
  35. Cheer her on
  36. Care for him
  37. SHARE
  38. Pack his lunch
  39. Empty the dishwasher
  40. Never say, “No.  I have a headache.”
  41. Revisit places you went before you were married
  42. Reminisce about pre-kid days
  43. Look forward to post-kid days
  44. Rub his feet
  45. Compliment each other to your friends
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5 Musts for a Productive Day

We all like to be productive, right?  Maybe your productive is different from my productive.  Productivity is subjective.  So, let’s define it for the sake of this post.  Let’s just say productivity=getting stuff done.  When at the end of the day you can say…I accomplished what I set out to do.  The things on this list are simple things that help me ‘feel’ more productive, thus, I usually am more productive.  They are in no magic order.

1. Get up first.  Before anyone else in the house. It’s so nice to be alone in a quiet house. Make coffee, spend time with the Lord, read a novel, sketch, journal, take a bubble bath, go for a walk, listen to the birds, or just be still. Do something that satisfies and makes you happy. Do not start on a list or chores if you can help it, until you’ve had some time for yourself!  Usually I use the time for praying, journaling or reading the Bible. My day is off to a good start when I have this time.

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2. Make a plan.  This doesn’t have to be fancy.   Don’t go crazy here.  Just come up with a few items that should get accomplished that day.   I don’t want to over-spiritualize, but I usually pray for guidance before I make my list. A bowing of my heart and will to His plans for my day. You can write it down in a notebook, on a chalkboard, or if you were gifted with a better memory than mine, keep it in your head.  Now, here’s the hard part…stick with those few realistic goals.  As moms, we know there are so many unexpected events and interruptions in our days.  It’s hard to stay focused and get stuff done. When I have a realistic list I stay more focused and get more done.

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3. Get dressed. Come on, I’m serious. Put on some clothes that you would actually wear out of your house.  I’m all for being comfortable, but       sweat pants should not be your go to.  I like to remind myself that someone could knock on my door at any moment. I don’t know about you, but I’m not too fond of receiving guests before I look a little more together.  I kid you not, I feel more productive just by getting dressed.

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4. Make your bed.  I know, this would make your mom so happy.  I won’t tell her she was right.  This is such a simple task that can make such a difference.  Really!  You walk into a room with the bed made and you feel better…it’s orderly, neat and pretty. Keep your bed-making simple and quick. Pull up the covers and add a few decorative pillows. Time yourself. If it takes more than 60 seconds it’s time to pare down your bedding.  Seeing that bed made makes me remember I did get something done that day.

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5. Take a nap. So this might seem counter productive…stay with me. There are days when I drag myself through every single task, chore and interaction. So. Tired. I’m usually a pretty driven, task-oriented person, but many days, I ‘allow’ myself to sit, rest and fall asleep.  Sometimes I set an alarm, but generally I wake up within 30 minutes. My girls are all old enough to survive my nap time without a serious catastrophe. If yours aren’t old enough…nap when they do or use one show as a sitter (gasp!) while you rest on the couch next to them. When I get up from my nap I feel more ready to tackle the rest of the day.

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I pray that these simple tips help you as much as they help me. But, hear me friend…our productivity does not equal our value. We are so much more than our accomplished to do list.  There will be days when nothing gets crossed off the list.  Days when productivity does not equal getting stuff done. Days when our accomplishments are those little things that really matter.  Some days will be so hard we’ll just want it to be over. Give yourself grace.  Remember that His mercies are new every morning.  We can start fresh tomorrow.

the ‘what ifs’

Do you ever think of a ‘what if’ scenario and play it out in your head?  The whole chain of events that would follow?

I do.  I think through how I would react in any given situation and how to do it most efficiently.  And, these ‘what ifs’ of mine are not lovely events.  I wish I could say it went something like, “What if I won a million dollars?”  Or, “What if a shower of season-appropriate, in my size, Banana Republic clothes fell out of the sky?”

Nope.  Not the kind of stuff I think on.  I go for the run-of-the-mill disaster scenarios.  “What if my girl gets in an accident while she’s out riding her bike?”  And, “What if my husband dies?”.    Or, “What if there is a terrorist attack too close to home?”   It doesn’t take a genius to know that these things could happen.  They do happen.  Also, I’m pretty sure we all have these thoughts and others like them.

I would guess that just about everyone goes there sometimes.  So what’s the big deal?  My problem is in the dwelling.  Thinking through the scenario in great detail.  Making plans for what is not and maybe never will be.  I’m no Girl Scout, but I do like to be prepared…just to an extreme.  Bad stuff happens every day.  But, the bad stuff shouldn’t be the focus.  Shouldn’t command so much of our attention.

My Grandpa J. taught me to look far down the road when driving, instead of at the road directly in front of the bumper.  When we look out ahead we’re looking at a larger view and we can better stay on course.  We’re not ignoring the road right ahead of us, we’re just taking in a bigger picture.  Our view still includes the foreground, it just won’t be our focus.

The same is true in life:  

If we look at the ugly situation right in front of us vs. the Big Picture, we can’t very well stay our course.

 

As a follower of Jesus, my Big Picture focus is Him.  I trust He is in control of it all.  I trust that everything He does is for His glory and my good.  When the ‘what ifs’ pop up–take those thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5), give thanks and ask for protection (Philippians 4:6), and think about something else (Philippians 4:8).

Maybe it’s like we’re in training.  If we, with the help of the Holy Spirit, can train our minds, He will become our go-to when the ‘what ifs’ strike.  When something bad does happen, hopefully, we will be ready to turn to Him first.  Yes, we will still feel in that situation–anger, grief, depression…  Yet, maybe we can stay on our course of living a life that glorifies Him and is eternally-minded.

Jesus wants us to bring all our cares to Him.  Talk to Him.  Tell Him your worries.  Acknowledge Him as the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present, loving Father He is.  Let’s try to lean on Him in this.  Trusting Him in all situations, real or imagined.

Kitchen on Wheels

One especially crazy weekend I made fruit salad in the car.  I had overextended our family with too many commitments.  At this point in the weekend we were on our way to a family function.  My contribution was fruit salad.  With barely enough time to go to the store for the ingredients, I was going to be hard pressed to assemble the side dish before arriving at the party.  We were running late…as usual.  I knew everyone would be eating by the time we arrived.  It was bad enough that we would be late; I didn’t also want to be unprepared.

 

Fortunately, we had a 45 minute drive and I just happened to have a paring knife in the car.

 

(I’ll let that sink in for a moment.)

 

So, I proceeded to chop strawberries, kiwi and grapes while my husband drove.  (You may be saying,  “You didn’t make the fruit salad AND drive?”)  I am a multi-tasking, overachiever.  But I left the driving to my husband.

 

As he drove and I cut I had time to think.  I knew there must be some life lesson that needed to be realized. (I did tell you I’m an over-achiever, right?  I can’t just leave it alone without looking for the moral to the story.)  And, I’ve been a follower of Jesus long enough to know that He will use the silly, little stuff of life to make us more like Him.  I also knew that others who passed us on the highway must have either pitied me (fellow-mothers), thought I was losing it (women yet to be mothers), or didn’t even notice (men).  My husband was part of the last group. He barely made a comment about my traveling kitchen.  (This was one time when ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ was an unfortunate thing. It really would have come in handy.)  Maybe my wise husband was choosing to be discerning and not row into unpredictable waters.  I’m not always kind and patient when questioned while under pressure.

 

So, anyway…a lesson.  Somewhere.  I guess on the surface it’s obvious, right?  Don’t try to do too much.  Use some wisdom in scheduling.  We really don’t have to do everything.  Why do we make that our goal?  Our ridiculous, totally impractical goal.  Some days I just can’t get it through my brain that I am not a super-mom.  And, uh, you’re probably not either. (Hugs.) With all the love I can muster…you don’t have it all together.  Can we be honest with each other?  Live real?  It’s so hard.  I know.  We want to appear put-together,our lives in order.

 

We are not, have never been and will not ever be super-moms.  It’s a lie and only creates anxiety.  You may be able to keep all your plates spinning for a time, but not forever.  I’ve tried.  So let’s choose wisely.   Set priorities.  When given a choice let’s decide if it’s in line with our priorities.  Learn to say no.   We’re on the same page, right?  We agree that we don’t have it all together?  I do know someone who does.  God.

 

It’s very simple.  Well, simply said, but harder to do.  Choose real, vulnerable weakness, so God’s strength will be obvious.  And this is when the lesson gets below the surface.  And, as with any other area of our lives, this isn’t something we’ll do once and it will stick.  It will take work.  Day by day.  Moment by moment.  But what freedom and joy there can be if we just grab onto this idea!  To shed the idea that we need to have it all together.  A little closer to that abundant life.  Not only will we make our lives more bearable, but those around us will breath a little easier.  Let’s chose what has eternal value, not over-commit and allow ourselves some vulnerability.

 

Oh, and, remember…it’s not safe to use a knife in a moving vehicle.

 

 

Freedom

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It struck me again yesterday.  How we are free.  We enjoy freedom in this country.  But that freedom was by no means free.  It came with a great cost…which continues to demand payment.  Our original freedom was secured hundreds of years ago by forefathers and fighters.  They gave their very lives.  And, today there are those who are still fighting.  The fight may not look the same, but a fight it is.  There are countless men and women who sacrifice comfort, time with family, and yes, their lives.

I want to take the time to stop and remember what a great cost has been paid for me to be free.  I pray that I never take it for granted.  That I never think I am just owed freedom.  So many people in this world do not have claim to the kind of freedom we experience day in and day out.

Still, there is an even greater freedom that I don’t want to leave out.  One that is available to everyone.  That freedom?  It is free to us.  No person can do anything to earn this freedom. The freedom I’m talking about is found only in Jesus.  Sin separates us from God, but in him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. (Ephesians 3:12)  “It’s important to keep in mind that salvation encompasses what God has done for us, not what we can do for Him. God has taken the initiative in His plan of redemption, reaching out to us through Christ.” (Focus on the Family)

Jesus.  He gave his life in exchange for our freedom.  That if we confess, repent and place our trust and faith in Him, we will be saved.  Free.  Free from being controlled by sin.  Free of eternal condemnation.  Free to live life eternally with God.

John 8:36  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

2 Corinthians 3:17  Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

But, we can’t take for granted this freedom either:  Galatians 5:13-14 says,  You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.

As an American who is a follower of Jesus I have so much for which to be thankful!  Freedom abounds.  Paid with a price, for me.  One way we can show our gratitude is to be generous with our lives.  We may never fight a war or serve our country, but we can serve each other in our own realm of influence.  And, as Christians we are part of the Church (big C) and given a commission to “Go!”.  Tell the good news.  Help.  Serve. Love.  Live out your freedom well.

5 Elements of a Successful Quiet Time

So, what does a ‘successful’ quiet time look like?  We’re not looking at outcome here. Not measuring results.   The question can be answered in as many ways as there are people on this earth.  You may have your own routine and the next person is entirely different.  You may read, pray, sing, write, listen, cry.  Bow, stand, sit, walk, lay down.  We all have our own style.

However, I would suggest that there are certain elements that should be involved in every quiet time, no matter your style.  But first, let’s define quiet time.  Simply put, it is a time of day set aside for just you and God…and I would stress the importance of it taking place first thing in the morning.  Many would argue that’s not necessary.  I disagree.  Giving our firsts is a theme in the life of a Jesus-follower.  Why not the first part of your day?  BUT, any time of day is better than not at all.
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Jesus set a good example of the essential parts of a daily quiet time.  Go figure.

1. Recognize your need for Him.  Often we see Jesus going to the Father with a heavy heart.  He went sorrowful, burdened, weary.  I don’t know about you, but I have plenty of all that to go around.  Take it with you when you meet with Him.  And leave it there.  Again.  And again.  And again.  This is also the time for thanksgiving and praise.  When we truly see our need for Him, we can’t help but be grateful!

2. Go to a desolate place.  The word desolate is used repeatedly, especially in reference to Jesus being alone.  In Matthew 14:13 says, “Now when Jesus heard this [of John’s death], he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.”  In this verse, the Greek word for desolate is érēmos – an uncultivated, unpopulated, deserted place; (figuratively) a barren, solitary place that also provides needed quiet (freedom from disturbance).  It’s so important to carve out some time that is in a desolate place.

Now, let’s make that real for our lives.  That will usually mean getting up early.  I know.  I strongly dislike that idea.  I don’t even like to say that phrase.  To get alone, without distractions and with a sole focus.  It is worth whatever effort it takes to make this happen.  Be creative.  Remember, your quiet time will morph over time. It’s ok to try something and realize it doesn’t work.  Try something else.

3. Be without sin.  Jesus was without sin.  We, as followers of Jesus, are forgiven and cleansed.  That does not give us a license to sin.  But, we still sin.  We still need to confess and repent when we sin.  Imagine a person with which you have a close relationship.  If you do something in opposition to that person, the relationship with that person will not be the same until you go and make things right.  It’s the same with our relationship with God.  When we sin against Him, we must go to Him and make things right.  Confess and repent…turning from our sin and realigning with Him.

4. The Word.  Jesus is the Word.  Big W.  The Word.  Praise God, we have the Word in the form of our Bibles (and the Holy Spirit).  This is where it may look a bit different from one person to the next.  We can read it or hear it.  Paper, screen or headphones.  It doesn’t matter.  Just get it in your heart and head EVERY DAY.

5. Obedient heart.  Jesus set the ultimate example in this.  He ‘emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:7-8)

For this last element of a successful quiet time, we need to say, “Yes, Lord.”  We’ve laid out our concerns, we’ve confessed, our sins and we’ve ingested the Word.  It’s action time.  At this point, some days it will be a joyous consent.  Other days it will be with clenched teeth.  Many days, through streams of tears.  Yet, the answer should still be yes.  Oh, friend.  Of course, there will be days when you can’t find your ‘yes’.  Weeks or sadly, even years, when we say ‘no’.   Like a toddler who just wants her own way.  And now.  But there is blessing in the yes.  Let us trust the One who knows all and is Love.

Philippians 2:12-15a Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence

but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,

for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent…

Quiet time will not look the same for all of us.  We are each created unique by our loving Father.  Just like our own children and the time we spend with them.  The style of the time will vary, but we still need that quality and quantity time with our kids.  So the Father wants quality and quantity time with us, His kids.  Quantity time…every day, more than once a day, if needed.  (I need it.)  Quality time…recognizing our need for Him, getting alone with Him, confessing our sins to Him, taking in Him by the Word and saying “yes” to Him.

Whole heart and willing mind

I Chronicles 28:9b  “…He searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought.” (ESV) That passage causes two responses in me.  But both are humbling.  I am humbled to know that He loves me so much.  He searches and knows … Continue reading