Friday, July 29, 2011

Dare Thirty Three: Team Spirit

Have you ever known a spouse that acted like their counterpart was a burden, a hassle, and the person holding them back in life?  This is normally accompanied by a list of their faults and an eye roll at their shortcomings.  However, the spouse that treats their mate this way is just as much a failure!  Marriage is about standing in the gap for your love.

The dare for today is about completing one another.  Basically, the chapter expresses that man and wife are to work together and blossom in the areas where the other person doesn't.  The husband might be a better cook, but the wife might be better at the laundry.  The wife might be better at finances, but the husband might be better at taking care of maintenance issues.  Each person has their strengths and weaknesses and works to balance the other one out and work as a team.

I love the verse provided in this chapter of The Love Dare, Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, "Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.  For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion.  But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up."

So back to the first example, how many of you know spouses who kick their counterpart when they are down, tear them up in their shortcomings, and rip them apart with words, actions, and gossip?  Not only do I know plenty, I have been and sometimes am guilty of this myself!  Rather than bludgeoning our spouses to death with our words, actions, and gossip, God has called us to support them in their shortcomings.

While the chapter reminds me of how I am supposed to be a support to James instead of being critical.  The chapter actually dares me to "Recognize that your spouse is integral to your future success.  Let them know today that you desire to include them in your upcoming decisions, and that you need their perspective and counsel.  If you have ignored their input in the past, admit your oversight and ask them to forgive you."

Basically, if I were to tear down James to his face or to friends, I'd be tearing myself down.  Sometimes we end up treating our spouse as our enemy, we don't want to do anything for them to help them.  Think of this though, Romans 12:20 states, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head."  If we are supposed to take care of our enemy when they have needs, how much more should we be doing for our spouses who are our partners NOT our enemies!

As a team, James and I make decisions.  We consult each other about everything.  At times, I'll mean to not tell him something, maybe because it's something little that honestly doesn't matter, then I'll end up telling him anyway.  We have an open relationship where we depend on each other's opinions and differences to help us to make the right decisions.  Sometimes we give advice and the other chooses not to take it.  However, the balance still remains.  We advise each other but we don't boss each other around.  Completing one another isn't about fixing one another, it's about being the couple that God intended for us to be.

We aren't perfect but we make plans to do things right.  I decided early on in our marriage that I would never publicly tear him down or humiliate him.  I succeed much more often than I fail, because I planned to do it right.  He does the same, but he's even nicer.  He tends to build me up and say nice things about me in front of other people.  We also agreed that any big purchases would be talked about first.  Though, we aren't always in agreement over the purchases each other makes.  However, what we have done right is putting an importance on dialogue between us and realizing that we affect each others lives.  The power of a spouse can be used to bring completion to a marriage or dissention to a marriage, the choice is yours.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Dare Thirty Two: Sex

I knew this day would come.  Since The Love Dare is a book about the marriage relationship, there eventually had to be a chapter about sex.  Much of marriage is emotional and intellectual, but obviously marriage is also physical.  How else do you think couples get all those little people running around?

I see no reason to disclose the specifics of this dare to the world, or the intimate details of my physical relationship with my husband.  Still, there is plenty to blog about.

Many women have their views of sex tainted by what the world has to say on the topic.  The media makes sex out to be some cheap pleasure meant for any person, any time.  Sex In the City, soap operas, and every other movie make it seem unusual for a woman to remain loyal to one man.  In fact, they make it look exciting for women to be "empowered" or in control of their own sex life.  Let me reassure you that this is a lie.  What is empowering is the grace of God covering the life of a married woman who keeps her marriage bed pure.  She is no less in control of her sex life and no less bold.  She knows that sex is about love, not power, not lust, and not even about pleasure.  The world says that sex is about pleasure and about the individual, but God says sex is about the oneness of marriage and about sharing genuine love.  I prefer to accept the authentic version and not some cheap Hollywood mimic.

I would imagine some people do not want to hear that sex is not all about them being pleased.  Too bad.  Selfish sex is not God's intention.  Which is why it is so terrible when a woman empowers herself by holding back something that means so much to her husband.  Many, many, many men receive love by physical interaction, by withholding sex women are withholding respect and love.  If you are a woman who cannot understand why your relationship with your husband is so poor, yet you keep your body from your husband, then you may need to rethink your decision.  The Bible says in I Corinthians 7:4, "The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does."  Basically, withholding the precious gift of sex from your husband is wrong.  It causes a separation that is not intended in the marriage relationship.

It's never too late to accept the real deal and put away being selfish.  Whether your sex life has been tainted by Hollywood's cheap imitations or by keeping yourself from your husband, God can renew your sex life with your husband.  Sex is God's plan, not just for baby making, but also for unity.  Consider me bold, but I'm going to include some Godly tips for renewing the physical relationship in marriage.

1.  Pray with your husband about your sex life.  God cares about every aspect of your marriage and sex in marriage is in no way shameful.  Ask God to bless your sex life and He will.

2.  Make time to talk.  Yes, I know talking seems to have nothing to do with sex, but how can you have an authentic loving physical relationship if you do not talk to each other and know each others daily joys and pains.  Talking is a very important part of intimacy.

3.  Confirm your husband!  Build him up.  Tell him the good things he does.  Praise him for being the provider, the fixer, or the strong one of the household.  If you want him to act like a manly man in your physical relationship, then make sure he feels like a manly man in your marriage.

4.  Accept his advances.  Don't push away his arm or tell him that you are too busy.  For Pete's sake, don't tell him you have a headache!  As his wife, accept him, confirm him, and let him pursue you.

5.  Make time to . . . yunno!  Set time apart in the day or at least in the week that is made a priority.  Make your physical relationship an important part of your marriage relationship.

6.  Get the kids out of the bed.  I know this sounds harsh, but it is so important that a man and wife have the marriage bed to themselves.  Sharing on occasion is not bad, but the lack of physical intimacy caused by having children always in the bed can cause serious problems to a marriage.

Marriage and sex are God's idea.  As a spouse, you must consider how to care for your husband emotionally, intellectually, and physically.  For the wife that refuses to consider her husband in this manner, she is dooming her own marriage.  I honestly believe this.  Tend your marriage and love your husband completely.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Dare Thirty One: Leaving for good . . .

"A man shall leave his father and mother, and be joined to his wife;
and they shall become one flesh." - Genesis 2:24

Ha, ha, I am sure I got somebody with that title.  Seriously though, this chapter was about the need to leave the child-parent relationship to be joined in the wife-husband marriage.  However, the first thing this chapter of the Love Dare made me think of was the expectations that James and I had for each other because of the different style homes in which we were raised.  As is more and more common, we both came from homes with divorced parents.  Therefore, some of our expectations were not built upon true life, but fairytales of how our homes "should have" been.

At times, I would think that James needed to say "Yes, dear" and let me do all the decorating and planning for the house.  However, that's not the way James works.  My expectations were that women (in particular me, because I am an Interior Designer) should have full control over the decorating decisions of the home, but James happens to care about home decor and enjoys having a say in how I put together the home.  Most times, we compromise and work together, though not always without difficulty.

James came from a home where everyone was in the kitchen, ladies and men.  Everyone helped with the cooking and it was a family affair.  For me, I was used to no men in the kitchen, and normally, only one lady at a time in the kitchen.  It took us years to work out the compromise on this one!  Whenever I'd be cooking, he'd come in and start advising.  Then I'd get mad and tell him to do it himself.  Or he'd be cooking and ask me to come in and help.  I would be upset to have to do anything when my expectations were that the cook who started it better finish it.  These days, I spend a little more time in the kitchen with James and we've learned how to cook together. 

So, back to the dare, "Is there a "leaving" issue you haven't been brave enough to conquer yet?  Confess it to your spouse today, and resolve to make it right.  The oneness of your marriage is dependent upon it.  Follow this with a commitment to your spouse and to God to make your marriage the top priority over every other human relationship."

Thankfully, we both don't really have "leaving" issues.  Chaplain Park gave us a little advice when we were in pre-marital counseling.  He said that it was extremely important for each of us to let go of the way our past relationships were with our parents and to realize that our new marriage relationship was more important.  I really feel that having that knowledge helped us to be aware of how our relationship with our parents affected our marriage.  If one of our parents said something that would cause dissention in our marriage, we have stood up for our marriage partner.

I realized a few years into marriage that when I had really exciting or really bad news I would call my mother or my friends before I would call my husband.  I would let them get excited with me or let them get upset with me.  I cannot be sure but I think one day in a marriage class with my old church they expressed the need to go first to our spouses with our joys and troubles.  In a sense, how can we expect our spouses to have the "right" reactions if we are not giving them the full emotion of our joys and sorrows?  We gave the biggest emotion to the first person we called, we gave the next biggest emotion to the second person we called, then by the time we get to our husband . . . we express our tale, but he doesn't seem to share it with empathy.  Duh!  The message was lost in translation!

Anyway, once I learned that this is an area to watch, I began to ask myself who I should call about things.  Is this something that I should share first with my husband, or is it trivial enough that I can go to someone else first?  If it's big to you, let it be big to him!  When James deployed, I did rely on my family and friends for support.  That's what they are there for.  But I had to make an intentional effort to make communication with him a priority.  I had to transfer that "first call" back to him.  So be at ease, if I ever get sent to jail, I won't be calling you!

This kind of goes back to the last dare post, but my issue has not been the "leaving" as much as it is the "cleaving."  However, when we realize that God does not intend for us to depend on anyone else so much as our husband, we should abandon ourselves to cleaving to our husbands for dear life.  Our affections should not be stolen away by anyone or anything.  I just know that I want to make my unity with James an intentional act rather than a distant consideration.  When we chose each other and stood at the altar, we made a commitment and that commitment stands intentional.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Dare Thirty: Priority Check!

What do I think of when I think of unity?  I think of the unity candle when we were married.  Symbolic, but slightly empty with so much else going on that day.  Unity does not mean a lot in our society.  The word is scarcely used yet it brings images to mind of some religious cult that says “Ohmmmm” too much.  Once again, the definition of a word is lost due to misuse and disuse.

According to Merriam-Webster Unity means: the state or quality of not being multiple – oneness; a condition of harmony – accord; a quality or state of being made one – unification.  I am not sure about you, but sometimes marriage does not feel like oneness, harmoniousness, or unification.  He wants to do what he wants to do, and I want to do what I want to do.  I do something and he gets mad, or he does something and I get mad.  We tend to be unified in our decisions about Josiah, but in other things we are divided.  While God did make us two separate beings, I’m starting to understand that He has a better plan for our marriage than for us to exist outside of unity.

The dare today reads, “Isolate one area of division in your marriage, and look on today as a fresh opportunity to pray about it.  Ask the Lord to reveal anything in your own heart that is threatening oneness with your spouse.  Pray that He would do the same for them.  And if appropriate, discuss this matter openly, seeking God for unity.”

Let’s just be frank, sometimes the military is a huge drain on our marriage.  My husband gets home late, I want to spend time with him, he is tired, and then we both feel discontented.  I really do support my husband in his career, but sometimes it is hard to get the leftovers of his time day after day.  After a while of busy schedules and late hours, I feel completely disconnected and start to make decisions that benefit me instead of considering him as a part of my plans.  I think I may have isolated that “one area of division” in our marriage.

Even though the problem may seem like the busy schedule that is delegated by the military or by my schoolwork, the truth is it’s a mindset.  I get unhappy with the way things are and I disengage.  Hello!  If I find myself drifting away from my one partner for life, the one to whom I gave my heart, my lifetime best friend, why in the world would I simply emotionally disengage from our relationship?  That really does not sound smart, but I am going to bet that I’m not the only one who does this.

When I feel us drifting apart emotionally, when I feel the stress of our schedules begin to beat us down, when I feel like I could not care less how he spends his time, I need to press the imaginary alarm button in my mind that reads, “Priority Check!”  My unity with my husband is worth turning off the television, it’s worth getting a babysitter, and it’s worth stopping everything to reconnect.  When life starts to threaten the beautiful unity of my marriage, I have got to sound the alarm!  I must not waste any time in tightening back the bond of marriage and it is worth every ounce of effort.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Dare Twenty Nine: Love's not about me

If I don't feel loved, sometimes I don't give love.  If I feel wronged, I feel justified in being a little less cordial.  If I feel angry, I'll show it in a heartbeat.  Honestly?  My attitude is pitiful!  Love is not about me.

Dare Twenty Nine: "Before you see your spouse again today, pray for them by name and for their needs.  Whether it comes easy for you or not, say "I love you," then express love to them in some tangible way.  Go to God in prayer again, thanking Him for giving you the privilege of loving this one special person -- unconditionally, the way He loves both of you."

This dare was about recognizing that the true motivation of love is not about getting love or about maintaining a perfect marriage.  Love is about God.  We love each other because God first loved us.  The two greatest commandments in the Bible are "Love the Lord your God" and "Love your neighbor."  Even when I don't want to give love, God's love is enough that I might still give love.  The motivation for love is God's call to us to love one another as He loves us.

Colossians 3:17 states, "And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."  Even our love in marriage should be done in the name of the Lord.  I am not sure if my love is always comparable to God's love, but I know that God can make it the same.  God's love is unconditional.  So our love, through God's love, should be unconditional towards our spouse.

Unconditional . . . regardless of whether he does something that makes me livid, regardless of whether I'm in a bad mood, regardless of whether I've had a long day, I can and must love my husband.  I keep telling my son that every good and perfect gift is from above.  Love is that good and perfect give and it is my job to appreciate the love that God has given me.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Dare Twenty Eight: Sacrifice

Today's dare was about stepping back from my personal woes to consider the needs that my husband has in his life.  Basically sacrificing my "woe is me" attitude to realize that other people, particularly my husband, have problems and needs too.  Especially with our society being so focused on living for oneself, it is so easy to think about personal issues and to be self-absorbed in our own life that we forget that our husbands need us to focus on them, our children need us to consider them, and our friends and family need us to think about them.  It's not all about me.

The Twenty Eighth dare asks, "What is one of the greatest needs in your spouse's life right now?  Is there a need you could lift from their shoulders today by a daring act of sacrifice on your part? Whether the need is big or small, purpose to do what you can to meet the need."

Strangely though, returning to the dare is my fulfillment of this dare.  With my life being so consumed with taking care of my son, doing schoolwork, selling Mary Kay, helping out with church, and considering the future, lately I had forgotten that my first responsibility is to be my husband's helpmate.  If I'm the best mother, the best student, the best Mary Kay consultant, and even the best volunteer but I neglect my husband then I'm not doing what God intended for my life.  God has made me a married woman and as such, I am to be there for my husband.  By recommitting to this dare, I'm making a conscious effort to put my relationship with James above all the other things that make my day busy beyond all reason.  Busyness is not an excuse to put God on the backburner, and it's also no excuse to put my husband on the backburner.

My husband needs my attention, he needs my affection, he needs my support, and he needs to know that I cherish him.  How is it that couples say they will cherish each other on their wedding day then spend no other day living up to those vows?  Let's define cherish.  According to Merriam-Webster cherish means, "to hold dear, to keep or cultivate with care and affection, to harbor in the mind deeply and resolutely."  How often do we let go, tear down, and dismiss our spouses?  Maybe the pastor reading the vows should hand out a dictionary during the service!  I want to accept my responsibility, though it means a sacrifice at times, to cherish my husband cultivating our relationship and keeping him close in my mind.

"I take thee to be my husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death do us part."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Dare Twenty Seven: Love Encourages

It's been a while.  Life has a way of throwing curveballs, and forks and knives, and meteor showers, and honestly anything else it can possibly throw.  Just when I think things are going to calm down and get back to normal, then here comes a refrigerator and maybe a 2" x 4".  If I was smart, I might expect life's surprises and quit stressing out about every new happenstance.  I'll let you know when I make it there.

I'm getting back on board with Dare Twenty Seven, which challenges, "Eliminate the poison of unrealistic expectations in your home.  Think of one area where your spouse has told you you're expecting too much, and tell them you're sorry for being so hard on them about it.  Promise them you'll seek to understand, and assure them of your unconditional love."

God has a way of getting me messages exactly when I need to hear them.  Sometimes it comes through Oswald Chambers "My Utmost for His Highest" and today, it was through The Love Dare.  The message that I heard sounded something like, "Stop being so daggone critical to your husband and give the guy a break!"  Yeah.  That was the message.

One phrase that really stood out to me from the chapter was, "You must choose to live by encouragement rather than by expectations."  I have so many expectations of James.  Depending on the day, I might have expectations that involve him helping me with Josiah, but at times, I practically expect him to hang the moon.  Really?  Why do I put that kind of pressure on him?  Yes, there are things that he should do, but I'm not his referee that comes in and blows the whistle whenever he makes a foul or misses the basket.  I'm his wife.

As his wife, I can encourage him and build him up, but I can't make him do anything.  I can't expect him to be super human, but I can expect him to be human.  On human power we muddle through life, but with God's power we soar.  I don't want to force him to muddle by pushing expectations on him, instead, I want him to soar by expecting God to do great things in his life.

Here's the funny thing.  When I apologized to James for being critical recently, he actually told me he didn't think I was overly critical because he thought he deserved it.  I was shocked!  Granted, I still think I could have been nicer, but maybe I have kept my overall criticism down enough so that when the real problem occurred he could recognize why it happened.  Think of it this way.  If we as wives are always "crying wolf" about issues around the house and in our lives, when a real problem happens how do we express that the problem is out of the ordinary?  We should keep encouragement as the norm, and exhortment (aka a nice version of criticism) as unusual enough to be important.