Friday, April 27, 2012

A Voice of Encouragement

I recently had the incredible opportunity to take my kids to California.  I was able to show them where I grew up, and had the opportunity to meet up with a few old friends while I was there.

One of those friends is a girl I met when I was in 6th grade.  We were pretty close.  When we met last month it was as if we had never been apart.  She has two adorable children ages 3 and 4.

While we were watching the kids play we were able to have several deep conversations and most of them centered around our children and struggles we have as mothers. Near the end of our time together she said something that was surprising to me.  She told me that I had encouraged her with a lot of what I had to say.  I don't think I can convey adequately what this meant to me.

I am a typical American stay-at-home-mom.  As such I am constantly grappling with my worth.  I wonder if I'm training my children properly, if I'm contributing to society enough, if I'm doing enough to support the cost of a family as large as mine.  Even though I am surrounded by peers who are encouraging, there is something in the air around me (and others I suspect) that seems intent on making me feel inadequate.

(c) Anne Taintor

Thank you Women's Lib for ruining the psyche of so many women who are passionate about their families.

As I was saying, my friend's comment really struck a chord with me.  My thinking afterward went something like this, "I have four children.  My oldest one is is 14.  I have dealt with strong wills, boundless childhood energy, trips to the ER, and many other things.  Maybe, just maybe I have something to share with other moms."
(c) Anne Taintor

Ok, I admit I've thought of this before.  Who doesn't think now and then that they have advice to give.  Honestly, I've considered it many times, but somewhere in the back of my brain a little voice says, "There are so many women out there who could probably say the same thing better."

Well, not anymore.  I want to be encouraging.  I want other moms to know that their kids aren't weird, or bad for being inquisitive and energetic.  I want them to know that loud children can be embarrassing, but can also come up with some really amazing insights.  I want them to know that it's normal for kids to burn off energy by turning into that hyper cat from the cat food commercial now and then.  I want them to know that children are incredibly smart and that you have to stay one step ahead of them at all times.  I want them to know that anyone can teach their child, and that homeschooling is not limited to super moms, but to anyone who is called to do it.

More to come.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Difference Between Fairy Tales and Reality

I really didn't think I'd have to write something like this, but it seems like our generation (well, technically the past several) can't seem to tell the difference.  Divorce is unfortunately all too common, and although I hoped that none of my friends would ever suffer its wound, I am finding statistics all too real.

I write this blog carefully.  I will not name names, and I will not divulge personal information (my own or that of my friends). I must be as candid as possible, however, for without real life examples this information would seem rather weak.  Suffice it to say, that although I will not point out exactly who has experienced any particular thing, I have known more than one couple who have come to the brink of divorce or have crossed over to the other side.  Some I have felt devastated for, others I felt it justified.

Also, as I am a woman, and I am created differently than men, I will be speaking from my own experience and understanding.  Perhaps my insight will help the men I know understand their wives better.  If you are masculine, and wish to understand more than simply the female thought process (as well as I can describe it), please seek out an appropriate mentor in the older men at your church.

Growing up, us girls were enamored by the idea that the princess found her handsome, charming prince and married without too much struggle, ultimately living happily ever after.  I hate to break it to you, but that is not reality.  It is fiction.  It is an idealized telling of what might have happened if Adam and Eve had not plunged the world into sin, and what will happen when Jesus comes to take his bride home.  It is something to look forward to in eternity, not something that will happen here on earth, and if you are expecting it, then (as Westly said in the "Princess Bride") get used to disappointment.

Let me explain what marriage really is.  Marriage is two imperfect humans deciding to show each other the love of Christ.  This means unconditional love, respect, and commitment.  This does not mean putting up with abuse, or covering abusive habits.  For a woman this means, that you are going to deal with all the crap your husband dishes out in a loving way.  It means setting boundaries, so that he understands that you will always love him and be dedicated to his best interests.  This does not mean you will lay down like a doormat and allow him to hurt himself or anyone else.

I know of husbands who have been drug addicts, pornography addicts, and terrorists.  I've known work-a-holics, and adulterers.  I have also known those with culturally less heinous vices, such as addiction to entertainment, food, and those who are simple self-absorbed.  I have learned that no husband is immune to these vices.  They may keep these sins well hidden for a time, but eventually something comes out.  When that something does, the Cinderella mentality is suddenly ripped away like a bandage over an open wound.

When this happens you are at a cross-roads.  You must decide if you are willing, as Jesus did, to honor your commitments and begin the hard work of restoring a fellow human being, or if you will do as Judas did, and sell out the one you love proving to them that they are indeed unworthy of love (as they, most likely, already feel about themselves).

The next thing that happens is that you must understand the lengthy nature of your commitment.  We are in a sin-sick world.  Life here can certainly be filled with joy as we see the work of God constantly, but it is not always rosy and simple.  The work ahead is daunting and often thankless.  If you are willing to give of yourself, you will reap rewards in the end.  You will NEVER see your husband perfected in this world.  You will ALWAYS find things in him that negatively affect you.  But you must decide that this man who you once thought charming, and handsome, and perfectly suited to you, is able to become that man again.

Don't forget that you are not perfect either.  You are not only self-oriented and tend to be easily offended, but you will get worn out by the work involved and sometimes snap under the pressure.  When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, he begged that the Father would make a way out for him.  He sweated blood, but was still willing to finish his task.  You will certainly fall yourself.  If you think you won't then keep a lookout, because those who give grace get it in return, but those who puff themselves up with a holier-than-thou attitude will certainly fall on their faces.

I am deeply saddened when I see a marriage dissolve because one or both of those who committed themselves decides to leave.  So, in an effort to help, here are some positive suggestions for how to make it work.

     1) No matter how rejected you may feel, remember that your goal is not to be loved by your spouse, but to be deeply loved by God.  No human being will ever love you as God does, and no earthly love will ever fulfill you the way God's love can.

     2) Remember that nothing on this earth worth having comes easily.  It takes hard work and sacrifice to make a beautiful marriage.

     3) Even if you feel you've had breakthrough, don't expect your errant spouse to respond immediately.  It takes patience and consistency to properly model God's love.  You may have to start the courting process over in order to restore the relationship.

     4) Forgive again and again.  God has done it for you.  The point is to let your spouse know that they are loved and accepted by God, and that you will do what it takes to make them understand this.

     5) Wait on the Lord.  When there is a total breakdown of communication you will have to shut-up and wait.  Pray, fast if you can, but don't expect an immediate obvious change of heart.  Although it's certainly possible for someone to be healed overnight, it doesn't happen very often.  You're in it for the long haul.

     6) Set boundaries.  Let your spouse know that you will always choose to love them, but that you will not allow them to hurt you.  Let them know that sometimes love takes the form of discipline (not that you are disciplining them, but that you are showing self-discipline by setting appropriate boundaries).

     7) Keep track of small blessings.  Write them down if you must, but never forget to take notice of small things, no matter how insignificant they may seem.

     8) Find out what love language they speak.  If you married to someone who only spoke Portuguese and you only spoke to them in English you would never really accomplish much communication.  Love is the same way.  If the way of showing love that resonates the most with you is giving or receiving gifts, and your spouse feels more loved when you tell them how wonderful they are, then neither one of you are going to feel loved until you begin speaking the other one's language.

     9) Keep your eyes on the prize.  Remember that the goal is not to turn them into your ideal human being, but to be the tool of God.  Propel them onward to greater heights in their relationship with Him.  The closer they get to God the better your relationship will be.

     10) and Lastly, remember your vows.  We said them at a time when we assumed we would buck the trend, be the one couple who didn't have the problems everyone else did.  We were starry eyed and hopeful.  There's a reason traditional vows include "sickness" and "bad times."  We didn't feel the weight when we said them because we had no idea what that would entail.  Now it's time to show your courage, your integrity and your true strength.  While weathering the storms, you can hold onto these vows as an anchor.  When you get to the other side of the rough patches (and some of them last for years) you will have a sense of accomplishment, much as a soldier feels when receiving a medal of honor.

* * *

I would be remiss to leave out children.  They are an integral part of the mix, and often are caught in the middle.  Arguing in front of the children is to be avoided, but they must be taught that marriage takes hard work and that two people never get along perfectly.  They must be taught that it's fun to watch princess movies and dream of white knights and hopeless romantics, but that role will only be filled by Jesus Christ.  They must know that no human being will ever measure up to that ideal, and that marriage is two sinful people committing to stick together, no matter what.

It's not going to hurt their psyche to know that Mom and Dad aren't getting along.  It's going to strengthen them to know that Mom and Dad are going to work though this rough patch and stick it out.  It's strengthening for them to see a model of unconditional love in spite of character flaws.  It's empowering for them to see their human, non-perfect parents model a pattern of dependence on God for sanctification.

Never, EVER tell your kids how horrible their other parent is behaving.  They are much smarter than we give them credit for.  Instead, give them the truth about your own struggles, so they know that no matter how heinous a sin they are dealing with, if their Mama or Papa can overcome, then they can too.