A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

Tag: discouragement (page 1 of 2)

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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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?


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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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Waiting for rain

I have been waiting.

The dust, fine and red, coats the plants lining our roads. Sweat beads on my upper lip. Last night as my children lay awake in bed, I stuck my head in and reminded them to keep guzzling plenty of water, after a friend of theirs landed in the clinic for dehydration. Cooking in the warm afternoons in my kitchen, with my hair twisted off my neck, I’ve been praying, coaxing the weather. C’mon, rainy season.

waiting for rain

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Don’t waste the waiting

Author’s note: It was two years ago that our family received unsettling news that began an extended holding pattern for us, news which wouldn’t be resolved for another eleven months. That period of gray, unsettled twilight will stand out in my life as one where I became well-acquainted–more than I would have wished, for sure–with the chisel of God that is waiting.

Yet in an odd way, it also brought me to love its sculpting edges, planing away curls of my own impatience and distrust.

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A Heartfelt Theology of Dreams

heartfelt dreams

I’ve been thinking about them a lot lately, dreams.

Since I’ve already confessed that I’m a feeler, I’ll tell you that a lot of feelings and thoughts swirl around them too: Hope. Confusion. Anxiety. Zeal. Guilt.

They’ve come center stage lately as I wait…and wait some more. It’s to see, really, if my dreams match up with God’s as future plans unspool. If my idea of green pastures and still waters are really His—or just the “good thing” that is not His best thing. As Donald Whitney writes, One way to clarify your spirituality is to clarify your ambition.

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Shame on you?

Shame on you?

The other day I was tucked on my porch in the muted sunshine, paging through the Psalms, when that five-letter word, shame, leapt at me. It made me wonder. What am I ashamed of?

I was a little amazed at how fast answers pounced on my mind. Shame carries tremendous power to sear itself on the memory, some incidences occurring twenty-five years ago–already forgiven and dealt with, but not forgotten: that cruel response when I was in fifth grade to that kid hurting from family strife . Those seasons when I felt socially just not enough.  Lately, it’s the way I continually overreact with my kids.

And strangely related–I find myself wondering about the place of shame in parenting. Watching other parents use shame in discipline has the power to crumple me like tinfoil inside. I want to say, grace. Grace! Oh, teach them grace!

But in my own parenting–particularly in my moments of anger–I think, Wait. There is appropriate shame to be had here. Have you no shame that you just left your sibling like that? That those words just hurled from your own mouth?

Shame, I think, articulates that gap between who we wish we were (appropriately or not) and who we have powerfully demonstrated ourselves lacking to be. It’s a fear of being found out, naked in all we truly are.

I find the contrast remarkable between legitimate shame–a form of grief, really–and illegitimate shame in these verses:

…I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.

10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.

11 For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. 2 Corinthians 7:9-11

I’d propose there are universally two forms of shame in us: the legitimate guilt, its hard edges carved out by the realization of the pain an destruction we have wrought from our own scorched-earth, hellbent march to the sea. To tell the truth, I want my children to sense this shame; that grieving that births humble change.

And there’s of course illegitimate guilt, perhaps by someone else’s shame projected on us. Or sometimes it’s our own inability to forgive what others already have atoned, our own standards being “higher” and untouchable by the kindness of grace: You don’t know me. You don’t know what I deserve. And of course, sometimes shame is cast upon us, simply because we’re within range of someone else’s: the wife whose husband chose the affair. The terrified, abused child.

It may take a long time, but I hope my kids and I can eventually identify this impostor brand of shame that deforms nearly all of us, curling us in its heat, hardening us to a twisted shape only slightly reminiscent of what it once was. I long for us to plunge deeply together  into that warm, unexpected pool found where there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). I hope we come to settle there, engulfed by favor we did not and could never earn; in forgiveness and utter acceptance  that was earned for us, not by us.

So I wonder if perhaps good parenting lies somewhere not in casting and heaping shame from that I would have expected more from you sort of lofty perch–which I, too, often find myself inhabiting–and perhaps more probing, humble questions to acknowledge our mutual need for Jesus, the Shame Eraser.


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The Beautiful Blend

beautiful blend text

When I was last in the U.S., tinkering around in my mother’s kitchen, a remark caught my attention. “You know,” she said thoughtfully, “you and [your husband] are more different from any of your sisters and their husbands.” She and my dad are similar, too, come to think of it. She offered a few examples, and I had to admit: She was right.

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For the days when helping hurts [you]

helping hurts

At first, I thought she cheated my son.

But when, yielding to my call, she trudged back up the steep grade of our hill, my frustration softened. Her wide black eyes slid up to mine, her forehead glimmering in sweat. Her faded, two-sizes-too-large men’s T-shirt was pocked with holes. She must have been walking nearly the entirety of the morning in those foam shower slippers with the toes long gone and sizeable gaps in their soles. She was thirteen, though looked all of eleven.

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