A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

Tag: difficulty (page 1 of 3)

Know Thy [Stressed] Self, Part II: The Stressed Version of Your Marriage

Missed Part I? Grab it here.

One of the unexpected delights of our final couple of months in Africa was the arrival of a college friend who’s known my husband and I since the beginning. She watched us meet, cautiously date, giddily become engaged. She played the piano when the two of us spring chickens said “I do” forever. Later, I stood with her as she spoke her own vows beneath a spreading tree. And when she visited us in Africa and we stayed up entirely too late, she gave us this gift: I told my husband, “I love that she reminds us how good we are together. That you and I together are a really good thing.”

I wrote before that this time of leaving Africa, of setting a foot on two highly divergent continents, has delivered unavoidable stress to our relationship. Both of us are strained, so it makes sense that our most intimate relationships would bear that weight. So it was kind of God to remind us that despite the ways we occasionally feel like the losers in a three-legged-race right now—“us” is still a really good thing.

Part I of this post outlined some essential reasons we need to identify when we’re stressed. If you’re convinced, let’s get down to it. What are the signs your marriage is under stress?

Sometimes in stress, we actually ask some of the wrong questions–which lead us to some of the wrong answers. We might be thinking stuff like, Did I even marry the right person? Would I be happier if I weren’t with you? Are we a good match? Are we going to get through this? Should I think about getting out? Questions like those, I realize, don’t lead us to be more married. They don’t lead us to “unity of mind” (1 Peter 3:8). They lead us further apart.

A tip: Set aside a time to talk about this when you’re not about to explode in frustration. Your goal isn’t an argument, but some constructive conversation: togetherness-talk. Consider sitting next to each other while you talk, cuddling or holding hands.

The goal of these questions? To push us further into a love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Examining the Stressed Version of You (Plural)
  1. As individuals, what patterns do you and I fall into?
  • How do I know when you’re stressed? (Again, this list will help.)
  • How do you know when I’m stressed?
  • What are your go-to ways of relating? He goes into man-cave mode. I work until long after the kids are asleep. He gets critical. I get insecure. I don’t talk. He doesn’t listen. He doesn’t really “see” me and my needs. I can’t get out of bed in the morning.
  1. What are each of your favorite coping mechanisms? Some of those will be helpful. In what ways do you each overuse your coping strategies?
  2. Ask each other:
  • What’s one tangible way I can help you cope?
  • At what point are each of our coping mechanisms unhelpful?
  • How can I help you steer clear of that point?
  • How can I be a “safe place” for you when you’re in hard times? How can I advocate for you?
  • In what ways do I make you suffer the consequences of my stress?
  • If you were to write a “stress relief prescription” of activities for me, what would be on it?
  • What do I dislike about “us” when we’re stressed? How do our weaknesses tend to create friction?
  1. What lies do we each tend to believe when we’re stressed? I’m powerless. When I’m overwhelmed, passivity is all I can muster. I’m a failure. I don’t have what it takes. If people don’t think well of me, I’m nothing.
  • What truth can I gently remind you of when you’re in those dark places?
  1. Who’s been helpful to us in the past when we can’t see our way out? Is there anyone new who might help us? Who encourages us to be more “married”, prays for us, and/or helps us see the good we can’t see on our own?
  2. Pray specifically for your marriage.
  3. For future reference in tough times:
    • What do we love about us?
    • What made us fall in love?
    • What keeps us trying?
    • What are our overarching reasons we push for a better marriage?
    • What do I love about you?
    • What am I thankful for in our marriage and our journey together? (Lord, don’t ever let us forget. Keep truth at the front of our minds, and show us what lies we’re believing. When we want to turn away, help us remember. Help us choose us, over and over.)

As you wade through thoughts like these, perhaps this prayer will encourage you as it did me this morning:

Lord, we pray we never find ourselves without hope, without a glimpse of the empty tomb each time we happen upon a cross. Help us begin our daily journey expecting both crosses and empty tombs and rejoicing when we encounter either because we know you are with us.

Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals (it’s a new favorite of mine!), p. 255

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Guest post: Why Our Kids Need to Struggle

My family and I are headed back from Africa, which twists my heart in all sorts of new ways. But with that, my kids will be attending school for the first time—American school. Any of you mamas out there imagine the ways that messes with a mama’s heart?

So many of my prayers are poured out like water over their adjustment. Over finding just one solid friend. Over teachers and my son’s learning disorder and my kids’ abilities to be kind in the face of insult. And I think this is as it should be: asking God’s generous favor, slathered all over our kids.

But there’s this. I was reading Brene Brown last night, who occasionally helps me get my emotional head screwed on straight. And she reminded me of this: “Hope is a function of struggle. If we want our children to develop high levels of hopefulness, we have to let them struggle.”

I’m thinking out loud about this over on WeAreTHATFamily.com again. Want to hop over and check it out?

May you have all you need this week to do things hard and holy.

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I’d rather be whining: Complaining vs. Healthy, Honest Expression

I toppled into it this morning without a clue. Actually, it was before that: The electricity had snapped off sometime in the middle of the night, my husband and I groaning as the fan’s blades slowed and quieted, leaving a stuffy heat beneath our mosquito net that I knew would make it challenging for him to sleep well.

In the morning, I cooked pancakes and eggs by candlelight; by 9 AM the lack of electricity to the water pump at the bottom of our hill meant we were without water in the kitchen sink, too—after nearly a week of alternating lack of power and water. Grr. The kids had forgotten to plug in the “school” laptop last night, so mine was the option for homeschool, i.e. getting my own work done in the afternoon did not seem in the cards. I scrambled through phone calls before my phone battery died. The power company wasn’t picking up.

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Away: Feeling Far from God

The headlights wove through a mountain pass tonight as a few tears plopped on my lap. My husband had encouraged me to get out for some time alone; he and the kids shared shish kabobs at home. Usually I’m getting out for a relief from, well, motherhood. In the car it was blissfully quiet, blissfully alone. But my wanderings through the stacks of the used bookstore had struggled to lift what sat on my chest.

I mentioned I’ve been grieving lately. I wonder. Is it my heart’s questions that make me feel God is unusually silent?

away-from-god-meme

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Guest post: How to see your spouse with new eyes

Remember the ’99 Julia Roberts flick, Runaway Bride?

Roberts’ character has a bad reputation for landing at the altar and, well, taking off. (Spoiler alert, here–) Turns out she’s been a chameleon of sorts, being “supportive” to the point of wholly adopting her not-so-future mate’s preferences, hobbies, and lifestyle: She likes her eggs the same way. She dons a large (fake) tattoo. She prepares to climb Everest for one of her (not-gonna-happen) honeymoons.

The fiancés are left clueless and bewildered as she turns from each of them, minutes from matrimony. I adored her! And yet, apparently none understood how little they’d actually sought out her soul, or cherished her uniqueness apart from what she contributed to their own interests.

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When God answers prayer* (*…then you regret asking)

Has God ever given you what you asked for—and then you wonder if you asked for the right thing in the first place? Have you ever felt punished…by prayer?

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Not the way I saw it going in my head: On second-guessing decisions

 

I think perhaps a reader phrased it best a few weeks ago:

[My husband] and I have wrestled with our “calling” to adopt years ago. We clearly felt it, and we have second guessed it almost every day since then, wondering what were we thinking? Did God really call us to this or were we just emotionally carried away, or as [this post] put it, is it an act of worship? I think in my naïveté, I assume that if I obey what I think God is clearly placing on my heart, he will “reward” me somehow with happiness and not trouble. My very wise husband points out that this is very bad theology!

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Hope in the slums: Finding God in Namuwongo

Sometimes it’s hard for me to locate the goodness of God in poverty.

A project with a Ugandan friend of mine, completing her counseling internship, had trailed me into the slums after her. In some ways the dry season made it more tolerable than I’d anticipated. The unnaturally-colored, stagnant water clotted with trash would soon rise bearing cholera, typhoid, and worse.

My heart and my senses were constantly scuffed to a raw alertness. The ten women our project was seeking to assist earned about 1500 shillings per day; about 50 cents. We ducked in their darkened huts, my rudimentary Luganda tripping over my tongue like my tennis shoes over the jutting paths outside.

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Turn here: Roadsigns for a Grateful Happiness

A friend of mine who eventually lost his wife, and the mother of his four children, to Lou Gehrig’s disease once recalled to me a profound moment with God. While he still cared for her as her body spiraled downward, he had lain on his bed, overcome by loss.

But God seemed to be pointing him toward thanks. Not able to immediately turn to full-on gratitude, my friend simply started small. He thanked God for the ability to breathe; for the bed he wept on; for the air conditioning. From there, his gratitude snowballed, steering him into praise.

My friend’s attitude has revolutionized my approach to my bad days; to my pain.

 

thank you neon sign

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With African eyes

It was one of those weeks when the phrase from the Morton salt box from my childhood had to occasionally be batted from my mind: When it rains, it pours.

It started on the way to the airport, where my husband would fly to Kenya for two weeks. (Perhaps you’re already seeing the writing on the wall with me.) That was when neither of our ATM cards were working; problematic in a nation nearly entirely functioning on cash. Of course, it wasn’t until paying for my parking that I realized I didn’t even have the eighty cents to make it out of the parking lot. (“Kids! Start looking under all the car mats! In the cupholders!” We were still about forty cents shy.)

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