A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

Tag: relationships (page 1 of 5)

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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Gifts that Remain: Life Lessons for Keeps from Africa

I view the items in my home differently now. Everything is slid into a category in my mind: Pack it. Sell it. Give it. Just as we did five and a half years ago in Little Rock, we’re packing up our lives here in Africa. But of course the person who packed up then isn’t the same person who’s packing now.

And thankfully, those intangibles are things I can keep.

They don’t take up precious luggage space; I won’t need to sell them for pennies on the dollar with which I bought them. They’re Africa’s gifts to me.

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Friday quotables #5: For a Devoted New Year of “Open Windows”

friday quotables

 

“To be able to look backward and say, ‘This, this has been the finest year of my life’–that is glorious! But anticipation! To be able to look ahead and say, ‘The present year can and shall be better!’–that is more glorious! I have done nothing but open windows–God has done the rest. There has been a succession of marvelous experiences of the friendship of God. I resolved that I would succeed better this year with my experiment of filling every minute full of the thought of God than I succeeded last year. And I added another resolve–to be as wide open toward people and their need as I am toward God. Windows open outward as well as upward. Windows open especially downward where people need the most!

“…There is nothing that we can do excepting to throw ourselves open to God.”*

-Frank Laubach (1884-1970), missionary to the Philippines, estimated to have been responsible for teaching half of the 90,000 people in his area to read and write, and to have reached out to the Mohammedan Moros, who regarded the Christian Filipinos as enemies

*As quoted in Foster, Richard J. ad James Bryan Smith, eds. Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups: A Renovare Resource for Spiritual Renewal. New York: HarperCollins (1993), pp. 101, 105.

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The God Face-Swap

To the untrained expatriate, swooping into American culture (like yours truly) I gotta say: Face Swap weirds me out a little. My family and I, piled on the sofa, have guffawed at, say, my daughter spontaneously sprouting my husband’s five-o’clock shadow. Or my seven-year-old swapping faces with the dog.

Still. Lately, what I’m realizing about my ideas of God?

He tends to change faces.

Spookier: The faces actually tend to eerily resemble my most influential relationships.

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Guest Post: Is Insecurity Robbing Your Family?

I guess you could say that because of my story, which I shared last week–I’m pretty passionate about giving insecurity the boot. Maybe it’s much more so in parenting because I watch how my kids Xerox my values.

And I know how much it’s robbed from me.

I told you how insecurity—for far too long—was a giant, life-sucking Hoover in my marriage. It was as if I’d wrapped a leash around my neck, panting to be led by someone’s opinions. …Even complete strangers.

If you’re asking, “What’s the big deal about a little insecurity?”–maybe I can only tell you what I’ve seen it control.

I’m guest-posting today on my friend Kristen’s site, weareTHATfamily.com. Hope it encourages you parents swimming upstream today!

because-of-a-generous-grace-janel

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Out of Insecurity: My Story

 

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He’s loved me through a lot, you know.

When we married 16 years ago—I at 19, he at 20—I was cripplingly insecure. It was as if I’d wrapped a leash around my neck, panting to be led by someone’s opinions.

The quick-and-dirty version of my downward spiral: I’d always been an achiever, loved appreciation; admiration. I was good at it. (Most of us are good at hunting what we crave.) My opinion of God, even, became tightly braided with what others saw and praised.

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Questions to Know Thy [Stressed] Self

Remember that moment when Bruce Banner suddenly morphs into the Incredible Hulk? His pupils start glowing; pretty soon his shoes are splitting off his expanding green feet.

Perhaps if my favorite blouse was ripping at the shoulder seams, my own stress identification would be a bit more astute. As it is, sometimes my husband sees my inner Hulk-ette beefing up a lot sooner than I do. (Irritating.) Can you hear me growl, “I’M…..NOT…..STRESSED!”

When I’m under stress, as much as I hate to admit it—people get a completely different me.

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The Nerve! Ideas to Hijack Your Relationship

hijack-relationshipEver find a relationship off-roading completely from what you longed for?

Yup.

Maybe, like me sometimes, you feel like the person isn’t listening or getting you, or isn’t open to alternate opinions. Of course my primal reaction is to just duck and cover. I’m completely willing to be kind and generous—but so much for an authentic relationship.

And that part’s my own fault.

But principles from my husband’s professional books are leaking into my perspective on relationships. They talk about hijacking your job, or “managing up”: It’s being proactive in the areas of your job you don’t like so much, so you can slowly take on more of the responsibilities you want, which the company also needs.

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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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How would Jesus tweet? Social media as love, Part III–FREE GIVEAWAY

Missed the first two posts? Get Part I here and Part II here.

6.  Love = Telling the truth.In love. Is a status update artfully alighting upon all my strengths the same as telling the truth? Like a camera, we all choose what we zoom in on. But is it possible we’re airbrushing our lives, and creating a climate of unnatural expectations? (Check out this post on perfectionism vs. pursuing excellence.) Though we may look for sympathy when our kid smears poop on the wall or throws a fit in Target’s housewares aisle, our lives on social media generally lean toward the photoshopped side of things.

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