Yearning For Grace

Want a peak into my day job?

Here it is: Yearing

Now you try describing the vocab word “yearning” to a classroom full of 4th graders. As a substitute teacher that’s exactly what was asked of me (Megan) recently. Honestly, yearning isn’t hard for adults to understand but I wasn’t quite sure how to explain it to a group of 9 & 10 year old’s. The best synonyms I could come up with were longing and desire, not likely the most relevant experience to most of these kids.

Marriage however is filled with yearning. We long for a closer relationship with our spouse, for more time together. We desire a fulfilling and satisfying sex life. We yearn for a healthy, happy and whole marriage. We yearn for love and grace to define and permeate our marriage.

This fall Justin and I spent nine weeks leading a group of couples through Tim Kimmel’s book, Grace Filled Marriage. We had many great discussions, “ah-ha” moments and left knowing some practical things we could actually apply to our marriages. If you are in a place where you find yourself yearning for grace in your marriage I would recommend checking out that book. For today though, here are a few thoughts to consider about grace and marriage.

1.Recognize your own need for grace.

The power of grace comes through recognizing your absolute need for the good news of Jesus Christ and the grace He so freely offers to all who are willing to receive. So much of our lives is spent in selfishness and self-centeredness. Grace provides power to see that it’s not about us at all. To have grace permeate our marriages means recognizing there is not a day that goes by when we are not in need of grace, God’s unmerited favor by which He shows us kindness and mercy.

2. Extend grace out of what you have received from God, not what you want the other person to give.

We all long to receive grace but rarely want to extend grace without believing the other person “deserves” it. That’s the exact opposite of what true grace is. Grace does not consider only oneself but rather considers the needs and desires of the other. Consider offer grace in your tone of voice and the way you touch your spouse. Practice offering gracious acts of service and general kindness. Exchange an attitude of seeking grace into an attitude of generously giving grace and see the changes that can result.

3. Apply grace liberally and see God transform your marriage.

Tim Kimmel says this:

Grace is the equilibrium we apply to all the conditions and challenges that allow our marital love to improve with age. Grace is the plus sign to counter all negatives inherent in partnership. Grace is the vintage agent to covenant love that otherwise becomes flat. Grace is the deal maker in a “till death do us part” commitment.”

Great marriages are built on people who willingly and continually desire the best for their spouse. This doesn’t happen out of sheer commitment but rather it is based on a relationship with Christ, the One from whom all grace originates. Satisfy that yearning you have for grace by turning to Christ first, then extending the grace you have received to your spouse.

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.

2014: The Year of Friendship

We wanted to start off the new year by being a little transparent.  2013 was a rough year for our family.  Probably the most challenging year we’ve ever experienced.  We’ve seen a family member we love very much suffer from ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.  She’s gone from having laugh-filled conversations to needing a feeding tube and an inability to speak or move within a year’s time.  And her diagnosis was just the start to our 2013.  We’ve had other family members we love very much commit adultery against their spouse.  In one of those situations divorce immediately followed.  In another, something much different. Polygamy.  And no, we’re not making this up.  It all happened, and to be completely honest, it’s not getting any better.  Family members we dearly love have essentially cut-off communication with us and many others.

While none of these situations have occurred under our own roof, the impact it’s had in our lives is tremendous.  We’ve re-learned a valuable life lesson: The decisions we make don’t only impact our own lives, but the lives of everyone around us.  In fact, if there’s one thing we hope you take from this post it’s this:
Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 11.12.38 AMYou may want to write it down on an index card and put it on your bathroom mirror so you can memorize it.  The decisions you make will not only impact your own life, but the lives of others around you.

Where exactly are we going with this?  Well, if there’s just one New Year’s Resolution you can make this year, if there’s just one thing about your marriage you can look to change or improve, make it your friendship.  Make the decision today to become a better friend to your spouse.

Outside of improving your relationship with God, this is the one decision you can make that will have the greatest impact in your life.  It will impact yourself, your spouse, your children, and everybody else you come in contact with on a regular basis.

Some of you may be reading this and you’re thinking, “That’s a great idea, but HOW can I become a better friend for my spouse?”  Well, there’s no easy answer to that question.  You know him/her better than we do.  All we can do is offer a few suggestions.

1. Find something in common you enjoy doing together.

Megan and I are about as different as two people can be.  Many of the interests and hobbies I have are completely uninteresting to her.  Likewise, many of the interests and hobbies she has are completely uninteresting to me.  So over the years we’ve worked really hard on finding some things we enjoy doing together.  One is that we work on this blog…together.  Another is that every year we read at least one book on the subject of marriage, and we discuss it…together.  We’ve also found some specific games that we can both enjoy…together.  Through this process we’ve both put aside some of our personal interests for the sake of our own friendship.  This decision helped us get through the challenges we experienced in 2013…together.

If you’re anything like us and you don’t feel that you have much in common with your spouse, take some opportunities this year to work on that.  You’ll both have to give up some things in the process, but the end result will greatly benefit your marriage.

2. Grow in your love and knowledge of God.

There are a whole bunch of One Year Bible Reading plans online.  Most people fizzle out somewhere around Leviticus.  Others keep going and learn a whole lot about themselves and the plan God has for their life.  Dare I say it, but these are the ones that usually have stronger marriages, too.

If you’re never read the entire Bible, start with the New Testament, then go to the Old.  Or if you’d like, find a reading plan that includes something from the Old Testament / New Testament / Psalms / Proverbs each day.  Or find some other Bible and/or Marriage study to work on with your spouse, together.  Taking daily, or at least weekly opportunities to talk about what you’re learning will help your marriage grow to a whole new level.

3. Enjoy sex together regularly.

Need we say more?  OK, we will.  Sex can be done for a number of wrong reasons in a marriage.  It can be used as a control mechanism to selfishly get what you want in another area of your relationship.  It can be used for your own personal fulfillment and not the fulfillment of your spouse.  It can be used in a number of ways that can bring more harm to your relationship than benefit.  But it can also be used to reconnect.  To reaffirm your love for one another.  To remind your spouse that your main desire in life is for their satisfaction, pleasure and joy.  To remind you both that you’re in this life together.  That you’re one flesh.

If you’re not connecting on a sexual basis regularly (and by regularly we mean at least 1-2 times a week), make that a goal for 2014.  Here’s a good read for the month of January to help you start the new year off right.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

There’s just one more thing we wish to note on this subject of friendship: every marriage we’ve seen fail has failed because the friendship failed.  Think about all the couples you know who have had their marriage fail.  Were they good friends?  Or did somebody make a decision to become better friends with somebody of the opposite sex instead of becoming a better friend to their spouse?

Make the decision to improve your friendship this year.  Your friendship is THE decision that will most greatly impact your marriage and the lives of everybody around you.  So what are you waiting for?  Don’t just be there, be their friend.

“A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.” ~Elbert Hubbard

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.

Cyclical Work: Sex, Marriage, Life

Relationships require work. The fact that life is constantly changing proves that our relationships are also changing. Neither Justin nor I are the same person we were when we married and we’ve accepted that. Certainly there are parts of our core personalities and values that remain but there are rough edges that have smoothed. There are soft places that have solidified. There are parts that were formless that have taken shape together, as one. None of those things happened immediately and every one of them is still in progress.  There is much work yet to be done.

I imagine your relationships and marriage are the same. Change is forced by circumstances, trials and adversity. The work relationships require is cyclical. Just when one thing seems to be going well, something else is coming around the corner.  It’s possible to find seasons of rest and well being but oftentimes they don’t last very long. Busyness strikes. Betrayal happens. Illness invades.  Such is life.

The only comfort that relieves and revives in situations of change is the comfort of turning things over to God.  The brokenness of the world we live in crashes hard in to each of our lives. It’s not a matter of “if” it will happen, it’s a matter of “when”.  Learning to trust our marriages, our sex life, our parenting, our relationships to God is the ultimate exercise in faith.  This is the greatest work we can do. Our blog, and many others, provide practical information on how to work on communication, forgiveness, creativity, and sex, but the greatest work any person can do is to yield to God. To accept that a life well lived is a life of surrender to the One Who knew you before you were even born.

If you are feeling helpless today, allow God to help. If the work you are doing in any area of your life seems to be getting you nowhere, yield to God who can make all things new. There is beauty from mess awaiting every person who calls out to God. That beauty may not evidence itself in the exact way or time we expect but it is possible.  God takes brokenness aside and makes it beautiful.  Will you allow Him to do that in your situation today?

The lyrics from “Brokenness Aside” by All Sons and Daughters inspired this post. The entire album is deeply ministering to me right now.

Linking with: Messy Marriage, To Love Honor and Vacuum

Sex in a Box: Introduction

“Hey Dad, I’m reading a book I think you would enjoy. Why don’t you peruse it to see if you would want to read it.”

My dad, the always and forever English teacher replied, “Megan, did you know that peruse actually means ‘to read intently’? So no, I’m not interested in perusing it right now but I’m more than willing to glance over it.” (Spoken in good fun and with a smile.)

I laughed and gave my Dad a quizzical look. Apparently I’ve been using the word peruse incorrectly my whole life. In my desire to sound somewhat educated, to prove I could use big girl vocabulary, I pulled out a word that I thought I understood. Turns out I didn’t really understand it at all. I think the same can be said about sex. Clear pictures, experiences and expectations accompany the word sex in our minds.  Each of us have thoughts when we hear the word sex and those thoughts form and develop our understanding of sex. The only problem with that is that so often we don’t understand the greater context and story into which sex was placed. We place the word sex in a box and tie it up neatly, believing we fully understand what it means.

“Freedom may be found behind closed doors” has always been our tag line here at Do Not Disturb Blog.  It truly is our desire to provide practical and spiritual truths about marriage and the sexual relationship for married couples.  We believe it is possible to experience freedom in sexual intimacy by understanding that sex is a gift from God to married couples. In order to experience this freedom though, each individual has to dismantle preconceived opinions concerning how they think about sex. A person has to be willing to take sex out of the box and understand it in a larger context. For the sake of this series we will examine and consider what we believe God says is the proper context for sex and how our “boxes” must be broken down to experience true sexual freedom.

The first several posts (1per week) will examine the most common sexual “boxes”. Then we will offer some suggestions on how to break down those boxes and begin a journey towards sexual freedom. We hope that you will join us on this journey and that you will feel free to comment and participate in conversation.

*This series will cover much of the subject matter we raised a few weeks ago in our post: Compartmentalization: Spirituality vs. Sexuality. We have since revamped how to approach the subject. Thanks for your understanding.

Linking with: Happy Wives Club, To Love Honor and Vacuum, Messy Marriage