Finding the way out – weary and alone

Weariness.

Weariness is an exceptional liar. Whispering things such as, “You are alone.” “Everyone else’s marriage is going great. We are the only one’s with this struggle.” “There is no hope, stop trying.  You may as well get comfortable with misery.”

Many marriages wear this as a garment. Though it may be uncomfortable and doesn’t fit properly, it remains. No one intentionally keeps company with weariness but when it settles in like a wet blanket, shedding it is not easy and can rarely be done without help. If you find yourself in a weary place right now consider the following thoughts.

  • Give voice to your vulnerabilities – Admit that you feel isolated and alone. Admit that you are facing difficult circumstances and that you can’t see your way through. Speaking up about what you are experiencing gives you a voice and finding your voice gives you power over the weariness. Rather than the voice of weariness your own voice will begin to emerge.
  • Seek out counsel and wisdom – As you begin to find your voice find a counselor, therapist, mentor or group in which you can share and listen to other voices. Recognition is one step out of weariness but health and wholeness is only possible when the word and thought culture in your mind, heart and marriage become more positive. Your words may accurately relate where you are but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are completely true. Finding people who desire to guide you towards truth and wisdom will help you sort through the lies and truths you are believing and that will benefit your life.
  • Receive help graciously – Being willing to receive help often takes more courage and grace than offering to help others. Allow other people to love you by listening to you. Be encouraged by listening to counsel and support offered. Taking steps towards health does not make you inadequate, it proves your desire to live in freedom.

Taking off the garment of weariness will lead to health and freedom in your individual life and in your marriage. Freedom is possible and there are people willing to walk with you along the way.

Marriage Strong, Energy Poor

We started off the year being transparent about the struggles 2013 brought into our lives. Despite the turmoil the past year brought, we determined to make 2014 The Year of Friendship. We did this for a specific reason, we knew 2014 was likely to bring about a fair share of struggles of its own.  We were right.

February has brought grief and pain into our lives in the form of loss. I (Megan) lost my mother (age 63) on February 7th. An incredible legacy but a heavy loss for my heart. This past week we also lost Justin’s grandmother. A woman with whom we we were very close and visited regularly.  The pain and grief of these losses has left us raw and tired. The most common question asked of us right now is, “How are you doing?” and let me tell ya, that’s a doozie of a question. Truth is, we are comforted and well supported. We are also sad, grieving and exhausted. However, when it comes to our marriage I describe that we are marriage rich despite being energy poor.

Maybe you can relate, your marriage is strong even though you are physically and emotionally spent. Maybe for you that is wishful thinking, you can’t imagine having a strong marriage during your most difficult season. Today I want to share three things that are keeping our marriage strong during this trying and difficult time.

1. Words

Words of encouragement, comfort, support and reassurance are necessary during times of deep hurt. The words can come in form of cards, notes or be spoken but, whatever the form, using words to build up your spouse is essential to a strong marriage.

2. Actions

Sometimes even words can’t soothe the heartache of the ones we love most. During those times it’s important to show our support of them through actions that speak where words are inadequate. A listening ear, a long hug, a comforting meal, a trip to the store – all of these actions and so many more can strengthen your marriage.

In addition, lowering the “normal” expectations of what your spouse may be able to accomplish with their time is an action of love. Around our house, laundry is getting done but may not always make it to the state of being put away properly. Meals are being eaten together, but may be of the variety of store bought goods and sides as opposed to my normal more healthy and frugal meals. The burden to keep up with all of life while processing difficult circumstances is oppressive but as a spouse, we can speak with loving actions when we let go of expectations and allow our spouse to feel supported regardless of the disruption to “normal”. A new normal will settle in but patience and support until that time makes a marriage thrive during the interim.

3. Space

Not to be disregarded, even in a one flesh marriage, it is important to allow our spouse space to process. Just as a garden does not bloom within hours of the seeds being planted, a spouse cannot process and heal without some space and time. Healthy amounts of togetherness and separateness during difficult seasons is important. Be observant, patient and sensitive to what your spouse needs most. If your spouse needs you to be there, then be there. If they need some alone time to cry, sleep, write, grant them that space.  The garden will grow, not from force, but from the space to receive the nutrients essential to support it’s growth.

Of course our faith in God and our Savior Jesus Christ is giving us the greatest amount of strength and comfort during this time, but on a practical level, words, actions and space are the ways our marriage is being nurtured.  These elements can strengthen marriages in all situations and can be applied in many close relationships.

Difficult times will come in every marriage and these are just a few thoughts on how to sustain health and strength. Feel free to share how you strengthen your marriage when difficulties (especially those outside of the marriage relationship) arise.

 

Making Peace with Your Body

During a time of year when people are making weight loss and fitness goals, I (Megan) thought it might be important to discuss how to make peace with your body.

My story includes a fair share of issues with weight management and fitness failures, but over time I have really made peace with my body. Not because I have “arrived” at some perfect state but because I am choosing to live well in the midst of imperfection.  Having had an eating disorder through most of my childhood and it rearing it’s ugly head again just a few short years ago, this is an area where I must be extremely diligent in what I allow myself to think on. So please understand, I won’t use the words ‘simple’ or ‘easy’ in this post.  Making peace with your body, as many of you already know, is not a simple process.  There is no magic wand to wave that makes us fall in love with the way we look.  However, I do know from personal experience that it is possible to feel comfortable in your own skin. Here are some suggestions to help you on the journey:

1.  Recognize the lies media and pop culture are selling.  When you know someone is lying to you what do you do?  You don’t trust them!  You are cautious of their opinions or disregard them all together.  This is an important first step to making peace with your body; call the images you see everyday in magazines, TV commercials what they are, lies.  Airbrushed beauty is not real and if we continue to hold ourselves to that standard, we will never measure up. If you really want to make peace with your body, take some time to figure out what lies you are believing and then silence them.

2.  Stop negative self talk. I already mentioned this wasn’t going to be easy didn’t I?! Once you recognize the lies you are believing the next step is to silence another altogether negative voice, your own. The “Fat, Dumb & Ugly” soundtrack isn’t doing you any good. In fact, it has never done you, your friends or anyone any good. Ever.  So ditch it. Strive to put an end to negative self talk and adopt the more healthy habit of reflective evaluation. Rather than condemning or judging your own perceived failures, you should seek to understand what is at the base of your emotional reactions to the way you look or feel about yourself. If you discover your feelings stem from shaming words spoken to you as a child, seek help or counsel on how to overcome that. If you find depression, perfectionism, people pleasing or a number of other motivations at the root, open up and become vulnerable with a person or group you can trust.  Finding the peace and healing you desire in this area will require work. It may be slow and it may be painful at times but it is worth it to live at peace.

3.  Lean into the people in your life who find you beautiful.  For me the greatest advocate I go to for affirmation of my beauty is my husband.  I know he finds me attractive and I don’t doubt my beauty in his eyes.  I know that for some of you though, your husband is not your advocate.  In fact he may be part of the problem as to why you don’t recognize your own beauty.  In these instances I encourage you to believe the voices of those people in your life who will draw out and call on your beauty as they see it.  If you don’t have anyone who does this in your life, pray that God would bring an encourager into your life.  We all need them and it is helpful for the people we are living life with to be a positive voice in our own journey.

4.  Learn what God says about you.  On this journey called life we are all trying to figure out who we are and why we are here.  These questions cannot be answered without the help of the very One who created us.  If you want to make peace with your body, with relationships or with God; you must know who God is and what He has done for you through His Son Jesus Christ.  Your identity must rest completely in that knowledge.  Then and only then will you be able to experience peace. He loves you for who you are right now. Don’t miss out on experiencing that love.

Providing Safe Passage

The storms of life eventually reach the shores of every marriage. Whether or not the storms of life are raging around you right now be assured, they will come.  Justin and I (Megan)  are facing quite a few storms right now. It’s not our own marriage that is being hit hard but the issues we are facing are directly affecting our marriage. While we could easily write a post about weathering storms within marriage this post is geared towards those outside influences that impact the way we relate to our spouse. Watching marriages of those we love fall apart. Seeing a loved one slip further into the grips of disease. Witnessing the devastating effects of poor life choices. How can we as married couples provide safe passage to one another in difficult times?

Here are the principles Justin and I are applying in our current situations and we hope they will be useful to you.

1. Don’t fear vulnerability.

Most likely whatever situation you are facing sucks. It’s got you upset, frustrated, angry, depressed or a combination of all that and more. Admit it and give voice to those emotions. Going through difficult times without truly admitting and facing what is going on inside your head and heart will undoubtedly bring more pain to your life. Vulnerability can be absolutely ugly at these times but it is also necessary. Vulnerability paves the way to greater connection and healing. By being vulnerable, your spouse is able to support you, understand you and compassionately care for you. Fear of vulnerability and showing your brokenness hinders the “one flesh” relationship God has designed in marriage. Allow yourself and your spouse to truly come together during these vulnerable times rather than grow distant.

2. Find an effective way of communicating.

Generally, when life is hard there are two common ways to react in regards to communication:

1. Sometimes retreat and withdrawal come knocking on the door when life gets overwhelming. The problem is that if you retreat and withdraw from your spouse you are shutting them out. Your spouse no longer has the ability to know you and provide a soft landing place for you. Maybe you do need some time to process things. Be encouraged that writing, music, art, long walks and the like can be part of the communicating process. Confess to your spouse that you have a lot going on in your mind and you are trying to process. Then don’t forget to make a point to follow up with your spouse. A spouse will generally grant room to deal with emotions but ultimately a marriage will grow stronger when we lean into each other in order to process and work out the difficulties of life together.

2. When emotions are running rampant in your heart they often spill out your mouth. The problem with this overrun mouth syndrome is that while it is directed at your spouse it’s rarely related to your spouse. The chore that didn’t get done or the misplaced keys are not the real issue. The small inconvenience seems so much larger due to the difficulties of life. If you tend to over-react to the small things during stressful times, come up with some easy out ideas. Perhaps you just need to tell your spouse that everything feels like a trigger today and you just need a moment to yourself. If dinner or household chores seem too much, find someone outside your family who can lend a hand. And yes, the truth is that maybe something just doesn’t get done.  Ask for forgiveness when you mess up. Tattoo the words “I’m sorry” on your forehead but whatever it is breathe in and breathe out grace. You need it, your spouse needs it and your life will be better because of it.

3.Speak Life.

Find some way to encourage one another with words of life. Notes, messages on mirrors or pillow cases, encouraging texts, the unspoken words of a long hug or passionate kiss. You have the unique ability as a spouse to speak life during difficult times, make the most of that opportunity.

4.Laugh daily.

We can’t tell you what this will be for you but find something everyday that makes you laugh. Trust us, you need this!

5. Pursue intimacy and connection.

Stress, exhaustion, depression and other symptoms of difficult times push sex to the back burner of life. This is understandable at times but is not appropriate for extended periods of time.  Sex is designed to be restorative and healing and it’s the times we want it least that sex can surprise us the most. Make it a point to connect physically with your spouse whether you feel like it or not. Sure the warm up may need extended and it may not be the most explosive time you’ve ever had together, but then again, maybe it will. The important thing is that you make sex a priority as the hidden and mysterious nature of sex has the power to right wrongs and release us from deep insecurities.

6. Uphold each other in prayer.

Together or separately you need to uphold each other in prayer. We may never know the importance and the influence our prayers have but we can be assured they are heard by the God who created your spouse. God loves your spouse even more than you do so when you lift them in prayer, God hears and will work His will.

These are just a few ways to help provide a safe passage through life’s storms. Our marriages will encounter difficult and painful situations but God has given us a way to navigate them. Together.

On Helplessness

“I never thought I would be so helpless.” came the words of a very dear loved one.  It’s true. It sucks to feel helpless.  To be in a situation physically or emotionally in which you are powerless to change or feel incapable of moving forward. The helplessness and hopelessness can be so pervasive that every aspect of a persons life may be affected.

Maybe you are there today. Maybe your marriage, a close friendship or family relationship is broken and all seems lost. It could be that you are facing a debilitating physical challenge that seems impossible to face. Loneliness, depression, fear, abuse, abandonment….all of these emotions and the reality that comes with them can cause one to feel helpless.  If you find yourself there today, here is my response: You are not helpless you are in need of help. Jesus Christ is the One Who can help.

We live in a broken and marred world.  Each of our lives is wrought with difficulties and adversity.  However, the helplessness we experience is not the only truth to our existence. We are not without help or hope.  God’s word, the Bible, has this to say, “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.” (Romans 5:6) We are all helpless and we are all in need of a Savior. Jesus Christ is that Savior.

Today if you find yourself in a situation that makes you feel helpless or hopeless know this, You are more incredibly loved and cared for than you’ve ever thought possible.  That’s the heart of the message Christ came to give on this earth.  I can’t force you to believe that nor will I add more platitudes on top of that. However it does remain that this is what I believe, “For God loved the world (that means you too!) in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) (emphasis mine)

You are not helpless in this world you are in need of help. Believe and receive the promise of new life God has given to all who call on His name.

A Cue from Dickens: Thoughts on Past, Present & Future

Growing up, Justin and his family had a Christmas tradition of watching “The Muppets Christmas Carol” and eating Klondike bars on Christmas Eve.  After we started dating it didn’t take long for me to be “initiated” into this tradition.  Though the Klondike bars haven’t carried over into our family tradition, Justin and I still sit down sometime during the Christmas season to watch the Muppets.  Of course the movie is based on a classic story, and this year I decided to put a marriage spin on it.

Earlier this week I took the opportunity to collect all our photo albums of years past and we spent time looking through them.  Some of the pictures were from before we even met.  Then we progressed to our first years together and the introduction of our children.  What fun we had remembering, reminiscing and laughing about how much our lives have changed over the years.  We are not the same people we were when we got married and we have come to accept that and love each other through all those changes.

I am wondering though, how different that experience would be for others?  Justin and I are aware that some couples look into the past of their marriage, and it doesn’t bring about the joy and laughter it does for us.  It could be that current life circumstances are difficult, or that the future seems so uncertain.

The primary reason almost always has to do with some sort of discontentment.  Something painful happening in the present causes someone to not think about their past, or future.  Escape seems so much easier and is often the path of least resistance.  Today I want to offer you some encouragement about how looking at your past, present and future can benefit your life and your marriage.

Past – To look into your past may cause pain but it also brings about the realization that you made it to this point.  Whatever has happened in the past has helped shape, form and mold you into the person you are today.  Though there may be pain, I would imagine that you can also find a thread of grace, love or compassion there too.  It may be that a need was met in an unexpected way or that a chance encounter led to a meaningful relationship.  However much pain the past may bring into your life, dig deep enough and you may find a certain form of beauty that has emerged from that pain.  Maybe it is strength, maybe it is endurance, maybe you still can’t see anything beautiful yet, but just keep looking.

I recently read this story about A Marriage Recycled.  For this couple, the testimony of their past has given great peace with their present and hope for their future.

Present – What if it’s your present that looks quite bleak?  Too many demands, too much debt, too many changes.  Your head is spinning with the details of life and nothing is going as planned.  Welcome to life on planet earth.  Now, I know that is not very encouraging but it’s true.  Life has a funny way of not working out the way we planned.  This is where I believe it is essential to value and practice faith.  Author Meg Meeker says that, “the toughest part about faith is that it fundamentally requires a lack of control.  We need to put our faith in someone else because we are unable to control life.”  That about sums up my life: I can’t seem to control anything!  No matter how much I want to or how hard I try, I fail every time.  Faith may seem a very passive step when life is spinning out of control but it is the best step you can make.

Admitting to ourselves and to God that we don’t have it all together and that we need help is the first step towards faith.  Learning to trust, in the present, one day at a time, that God is going to help us make it through another day is faith.  It may not be easy, in fact some days it will be the most challenging thing ever, but it is the only way life in the present will work for our benefit.

Future – The one word that epitomizes how people want to see the future is “hope”.  We want assurance that everything will be ok and that everything is going to work out.  Unfortunately, we want things to work out the way we want them to work out and we want to play a role in making sure things turn out ok.  I believe we can look to the future with confidence and hope, but only when we look to the past for beauty and approach the present with faith.  The future is not yet written and if we spend our lives escaping the past and the present we are not able to walk in strength toward the future.  Confidence for the future is not bound up in accumulating more or having security of the outcome.  Confidence for the future is learning to be satisfied daily with what we have.  Faith that God is able to meet our daily needs and trust that He will continue to do so, one day at a time.

So, where does that leave us?  Right here, right now.  Learning, trusting, believing.  Each day.  For as long as we have left.

5 Words Every Marriage Needs:

Marriages may fail, or at the very least atrophy from the over-use of negative words.  Phrases such as, “Well it’s not my fault…” or, “Do you know what your problem is?” certainly do not advocate a healthy marriage relationship.  Likewise, some negative words may be cast in a subtle way, leaving the listener to interpret them negatively.  Phrases such as, “Our house is far too cluttered for company,” may be translated as, “What have you been doing all day?”  These kinds of comments can build up over time, and piece by piece, comment by comment, they suck the life out of the marriage.  These statements are almost always individualistic in nature.  They are self-centered, not marriage centered.

In order to avoid this, there are some positive phrases every person in every relationship needs to say on a regular basis.  These words ensure that each partner sees the marriage relationship as far more important than their own pride and ego.  Five of these statements are as follows:

1. I am sorry.

Each an every one of us is going to mess up in our marriage.  None of us have life all figured out.  So, it stands to reason that the person we share our lives with most intimately will be the person who sees all the inconsistencies and fallibility in our lives. The ability to say, “I’m sorry,” shows humility. Humility is an important part of marriage because it recognizes that we have made and will make mistakes and that we care enough to recognize that our spouse can be hurt by us.  It is often easier to recognize our spouse’s need to say they are sorry, to recognize that they have inconsistencies and selfish ways.  That is the reason “I’m sorry” must be part of a good marriage.  When we recognize there is nothing we can do to control how the other person acts, thinks or views us we come to realize that we are only responsible for ourselves.  It is only our own inadequacies, failures and selfishness that we can change.  We must be willing to be humble and say we are sorry for the problems we bring to the equation.

2. I forgive you.

In marriage (as with all relationships) we must learn to forgive.  We must learn to forgive for a very fundamental reason: we so desperately need forgiveness ourselves.  There are times where we are wronged by our spouse and there are times when our spouse is wronged by us.  Withholding forgiveness locks our marriage in a prison and holds our spouse at arms length.  There is no satisfaction on either side in the absence of forgiveness, just an angry mess. Learning to forgive all offenses, whether small or large, is important to a healthy marriage.  It releases a divine power to love within the relationship and true oneness can only occur when no offense is being held.  Forgiveness is not so much a feeling as it is a choice.  Make the choice to forgive and allow the emotional side of things follow.

3. I need you.

Every human has a deep longing to understand their purpose. While marriage cannot answer that question for every individual (as that is a much deeper spiritual search) marriage is certainly part of how an individual’s purpose is to be lived out.  Admitting out loud that you need your spouse is humbling yourself before them.  It’s confessing that they bring something to the relationship that you cannot provide.  It’s owning up to the fact that you’re not as great as you think you are.  Not only that, but admitting to your spouse that you need them makes them feel appreciated in countless ways as well.  To be needed often means to be appreciated.

4. I appreciate you.

Most days are filled with the same mundane and routine tasks.  We get up, work, eat, relax, go to bed. Then the next day we do the same thing. In the moments of doing the ordinary things in life, if our spouse speaks appreciation for them, it serves to give our attitude a boost.  Laundry, dishes, mowing the lawn and taking out the garbage are tasks that can be seen as drudgery. However, when those tasks are noticed and appreciated, there is a sense of value and worth instilled. Taking time to appreciate not just the out of the ordinary but also the normal and extremely ordinary tasks our spouse does is highly beneficial to our marriages.

5. I love you.

This one may go without saying, but truly, “I love you” are words that need to inhabit the walls of our homes.  Not just the sound of them rolling off our tongues but also the actions, respect and follow through of what they mean.  Love is not given because it is deserved or earned.  Much like forgiveness, love is a choice.  Love is not attached to a certain or specific reason, it is given to the whole being. Love is a gift, and frankly at times it is one that we don’t feel much like giving.  But love is a virtue in which we must follow through.  Not only saying, “I love you,” but being loving, and always believing in it’s unending power.

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Have any of these words made a difference in your marriage?  What would you add to the list?

Linking with: Women Living Well and To Love Honor and Vacuum