I am Reclaiming Date Night

Before children we were so good. On Tuesday nights we would get dinner, sharing an entree, going to the cheap theatre, being together. We took walks in the moonlight. We held hands. We chatted. We were together.

16d5 4580_93990421388_562111388_2424922_3889001_n a007 9-16-2006-04.

Then Jack was born. We went on our first date as parents when he was 6 weeks old and struggled to talk about anything except him. A few gracious friends offered to babysit that first year and we got out every once in awhile, but, you know, we were just. so. tired. Going out took energy and money and time.

Slowly, date night fell away. Until it didn’t exist anymore except on that rare occassion when it was unearthed like a rare gem. We stared at it and each other, uncertain what to do with it. We tried to enjoy it, but it was so unique… what do we do with it? Pretty soon, it was buried, forgotten again in business, stress, fatigue.

Until this December when I looked up from my phone to look at my husband and realized I don’t feel I know him right now. He has his inner world of thoughts, feelings, hopes and fears need to be invited to be shared. Unlike my prattling and verbal unloading, Tim is careful with his words. Not one is wasted. If I’m not listening, they won’t be said.

If I don’t take the time to be with him, I might never hear his words.

Common wisdom says that the secret to being good parents is being a good spouse. Or that we love our kids best when we love each other best.

I have fallen into the cyclical pattern of tending to those who are loudest. My kids whine, pout, scream, shout for my attention, while my husband silently waits for his turn. When the day is over, I’ve spent all of my energy on the boys without reserve.

This is not good, friends.

This is a habit that is hard to break. A reaction instead of an intention. Acting without purpose and instead in frantic fear of controlling the littles who are instead controlling me with their outbursts.

So I am turning to dates to break this pattern. A bump in the week that pulls me away from the children in order to gaze solely at my husband. I am hoping to arrange one a week for awhile. That sounds like a lot. But you guys, we need it.

date night

We need to start living out those vows of love and commitment instead of letting the days go by with little more than  peck on the lips or a side hug greeting.

So, on Saturday, I took Tim on a date. I anticipated it. I looked forward to it. I got all dressed up for the movies and Fazoli’s. I danced to “Shake it Off” Radio on Pandora while I dried my hair and did my make-up. I left light hearted, expecting the best. The best of the movie, the best of conversation, the best date in months.

Tim saw me excited and I think it made him a bit more light hearted. I let him see me be happy to be with him. I giggled and flirted and engaged.

For the first time in weeks, we laughed. We talked. We held hands. We snuggled. We kissed.  We were together.

I am looking forward to our future date nights. I am pinning ideas, looking for “at home” solutions, seeking out sitters, and anticipating more great times with my husband. My beloved. My friend.

What about you? What would it take for you to reconnect with your spouse?

sos 6_3

What our friends need most from us…

Day 27 of 31 Days of Connecting

I fully intend to listen well. To be a good friend as my friends have been to me. To support them as they have supported me. And yet, I find myself doing it again. Focusing on me.

While she shares her struggles feeding her baby boy, I’m trying to think of ways to fix him as I “fixed” my sons (sort of ignoring the reality that her struggles with reflux, allergies, and other traumas are nothing like mine).

While she shares her problems with her marriages, I find myself comparing her relationship with her husband to my relationship with mine. And instead of listening, or letting her know I was listening, I am now rattling off my own story.

Or, while she is sharing a triumph, a milestone with her kid, I find myself feeling defensive and as if I am failing in some way because my sons didn’t walk until they were 19 months old, didn’t talk until they were 2 years old and are generally clumsy with the gross motor skills.

And the worst yet, is that while she is crying over her struggles, her pain, her need, I find myself uncomfortable with her circumstances and instead of sitting down and mourning with her, I am emotionally distant, offering my well-meaning-yet-missing-the-point-entirely advice, followed by an emotionally empty truism.

The unfortunate thing is that we think that when we’re doing these things we are empathizing. Unfortunately, the reality is, we are not focused on the other person or caring for their needs at all, but are thinking of our own. We are uncomfortable in their pain and while we think we are trying to make them feel better, we are actually trying to make ourselves feel better.

What our friends need from us is not to hear how our circumstances were worse or better. They often don’t even want advice – (a safe rule is don’t give it unless asked). What our friends need most is for us to get down with them, offer a shoulder to cry on, and to be with them.

What our friends need most from us is us.

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And that is what makes all of the difference. When we do this for one another, suddenly we are not so alone. Suddenly, our circumstances seem manageable. Suddenly, we are validated in our needs, our feelings, our very selves.

The next time I am with a friend, I will try again. I will shut my mouth and let her talk. I will put myself in her shoes and allow myself to feel her pain. I won’t try to make myself feel better by trying to fix her situation, or minimizing it, or allowing myself to feel like a failure. I will just be with her.

As she has been there for me.

Day 27

 

31 days of connecting

Temporary Forever, by Shawna Ervin

Day 25 of 31 Days of Connecting

My dear friend Shawna wrote this short story, Temporary Forever, and it was published in Sliver Stone Magazine.  I am so proud of her. It is a story about a mom who remembers her life back in foster care, the fear, the heartache, and the hope that is in that system.

I know it is fiction, and yet through it I have learned a piece of who she is. I would love to see you connect. To hear her words, learn her heart through this story. 

Shawna is working hard on writing a memoir about adopting her children. You can also find her on her blog, Of Prepositions Prayer & Playdough. 

Here are the first words…

********

It was Tuesday. That meant preschool for my four-year-old son, and once again I was making a lunch at the last minute, running late.

“Five minutes, kids,” I shouted from the kitchen. “Five minutes and we’re going to take Nathan to school. Are your shoes on? Nathan, did you pick something for show and tell? Today is the letter D. Do you remember your choices? Your stuffed dog or the bathtub duck,” I said, hitting the letter D extra heavy on duck and dog.

I faced back to the counter and quickly swabbed the bread with mayonnaise—just a little, like he liked. I slapped the deli turkey on the bread, added the extra thin, sharp cheddar cheese, stuffed the sandwich in a plastic baggie, zipped it shut, and let it fall gently into the green and blue dinosaur lunch box. Our baby, who was almost two, toddled into the kitchen and dropped her bottle near my feet.

“Hi, Madison,” I said. “Almost time to go.”

To the fridge and back. Unsweetened applesauce. Baby carrots. Packed in small plastic containers, the blue lids fitting with a humph.

To the freezer for an ice pack. I dropped it in, realized it may squish the sandwich, and figured my son wouldn’t notice or care all that much. Spoon. Fork. Napkin.

*

I was fourteen the first time I sliced a tomato and onion, just two of many experiences I hadn’t had before entering foster care. I held the knife tentatively and pushed on the tomato. It sunk a little and formed a darker spot the size of my fingertip. I was afraid of the sharpness of the knife, the threat it held against this fragile tomato, anything as fragile as I felt after a week of being in a new place. I didn’t want to hurt it, myself, anything. The bruises were still tender on my arms, back, around my neck…

<You can find the rest here.>

 

Know Thyself: it will change the way you connect with others

Day 24 of 31 Days of Connecting

31 days big

Three years ago I was pregnant, working around 15 hours a week, moving us into our house, taking care of our two year old, trying to potty train said two year old, and I could not understand why I was so.very.tired.

I looked around at other moms I knew. Moms who homeschooled 4 children. Moms who worked away from home full time. Moms who worked from home full time. Moms who had multiples. Moms who ran marathons. Moms who did as much or more than me and were bursting with energy. And I saw myself as falling short, so I continued to strive after them.

But my friends, my husband, my counselor and mentor – they all told me to slow down.

The distance between what I wanted to be able to do and what I was able to do could not have been greater. I didn’t listen to them. But I did go on a spiritual retreat for a weekend and God used these verses to change my life:

Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else.  For we are each responsible for our own conduct. (Galatians 6:4-5)

Now, I have never done a complete exegesis of these verses, but what I heard that day was Stop trying to be like everyone else. You are responsible for your work alone, not what others want from you, not what you expect from you, but what I created you to do. You are trying to do too much. Stop and rest.

Susan Cain wrote in her book Quiet that to “introverts, who have spent so much of their lives conforming to extroverted norms … it feels perfectly normal to ignore their own preferences.”

Having lived in a fast paced world of high ambitions and great expectations, I was not used to caring for my own needs, claiming my preferences, or even voicing my opinions that contradicted others. Those closest to me were telling me to embrace myself by stopping. Could I accept who I was?

Acceptance of myself took understanding myself. I relearned my Kersey temperament type (INFJ). I reread The Highly Sensitive Person. I finally purchased Quiet. And I have discovered that by knowing who I am, I am not only able to stop, but I am able to start so much more.

I believe the same can be true for you, too. By knowing yourself you can:

  1. Confidently assert what it is you need in order to thrive. This is not a selfish thing. It is perhaps the most important thing you can do to become a flourishing employee, parent, partner, and friend. For me this has meant I needed to step back from many one-on-one meetings each week (which drained me) so that I could pour out my energy into teaching classes, leading moms group, and writing.
  2. Discover what fills you and choose to do those things. Are you an introvert? Then going to that Halloween party next week after a stressful week will only make your stress worse. Are you an extrovert? Then you need to find that party and crash it if you weren’t invited. As you know yourself more, you will feel more comfortable saying “no” to the things that drain you and “yes” to those things where you can not only find peace again, but are able to pass it on to others.
  3. Have a better sense of your giftings God gave you to serve others. I am able to do administrative work, but if you stick me in front of a computer entering data for an hour I will feel dead inside after an hour. Yet, some of my dearest friends can get 5x as much administrative work done in the that same hour. And they could pick up more! Do you thrive when teaching? Then find a place to do it and start trying. Are you teaching children’s Sunday School, but are more energized when vacuuming up the crumbs in the room at the end of the hour? Then volunteer to clean! Not all people are supposed to do all things.
  4. You can communicate more with your partner why you are unhappy. And this may or may not be about them. My husband needs to tell me to stop talking to him when he’s tired, because he needs his time alone. And because I know his needs, I know it is not an affront against me, but rather a way to care for him at the time. When he is rested, he’ll be able to be with me. If I hang around… well, suddenly I am the problem.
  5. You can help others discover themselves. When we can recognize that we are unique individuals created by God, we can stop expecting other people to conform to our image for them and can see the good God placed in them in the first place. We can release them from their preconceived notions of what they should be like in order to embrace what they are like. Have a messy friend? Unveil their creative energy. Does your son prefer reading to football? Enroll him in a creative writing class to create his own work.

My life has dramatically shifted over the course of the past 3 years. Beginning in September, I have been pursuing writing 10 hours a week. (It’s not all here on this blog) I had to say no to mentoring a few women at church, but I am regularly reaching over 200 on this blog. After staff meetings, I don’t plan a thing for the rest of the day because I know I need that time to process through every word that was said over the course of those two hours – yes, it’s as tiring as it sounds. I read. A lot. I take days off when I need them (hence no Day 23 post, because I just couldn’t).

And, because I’m taking care of myself, I feel like I am myself.

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.

(Psalm 139:1)

Want to learn more about yourself? And more than just which Jane Austen character you are or which Beatles song is your theme song? Take a legitimate personality test, here

Never heard of Susan Cain? Watch her Ted Talk. It’s pretty great.

How God Cared for Me

Day 20 of 31 Days of Connecting

The other day, in a fit of exhaustion, I posted a link to my sermon on trusting God. I promised that part of my story (which starts here) is part of the sermon… and it is.

But since I know most people do not have 30+minutes to listen to a sermon, I will try to tell the next part of my story here. Now. For those of you who did listen, thank you! What an honor.

Now where was I…?

Oh yes, God taught me that He wanted a deeper relationship with me.

About a month after that conversation with God in my car, I was still grieving. I was still uncovering the hurt I had buried, the distrust I felt, and the fear I had. I was starting to see other misunderstandings of God, like:

I believed God was grading me.

I believed God expected me to be perfect.

I believed God was punishing us financially because of something I must have done.

Yeah… that last one sucked. It was incredibly painful. After all, I had given up everything to follow his call, Tim had taken a huge risk in starting his own business, and there we were, barely making ends meet. But the alternative to my understanding was that God wasn’t providing for us financially because He wanted us to suffer for Him. Or He just wouldn’t provide because He doesn’t.

All bad ideas. All gross misunderstandings of the God who gave himself for us.

But I didn’t see that then. I just saw our grocery lists, our small pay checks, and our unpaid bills.

In April I went to a conference for pastors in our denomination and through the keynote speaker, God broke through the lies I embraced.

Together we read 1 Peter 3:7 which states Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. I know this verse by heart. I’ve sung it at summer camp, memorized it for youth group and heard it preached before.

But the preacher restated it: The God of the Universe has unlimited resources at his disposal, will you let him care for you?

Day 18

I felt my heart pounding in my chest as God called out to me. I realized how abandoned I felt by Him. How I thought He left us, financially. And the question rang out, “Will you let him care for you?” Followed by the fear in my heart: Would He care for me?

I went to my host home that evening praying and over the next several days I felt Love prompting me to trust Him. To ask Him for what I felt we needed and the promise that He would provide. I told my husband what God was prodding me to do and He said, “Good. Do it.”

How much do you need?

I thought… I hesitated…

$5,000?

Ok.

Really? Ok?! … $7,000?

Don’t push it.

I have never felt so sure in my life that God would answer my request. $5,000 sounded like a ton of money. I saw us catching up on our electrical and hospital bills. I saw the credit card being partially paid off. I saw myself breathing easily.

The next month came and went. I wasn’t sure how we did, financially. It felt good, but I didn’t take the time to check. I was too nervous! But then my husband texted me.

In May of 2013, our income added up to $5,000.84.

I couldn’t believe it. Numb with distrust, I thought surely that was a coincidence. But the more I considered the amount – the exactness of it – the almost to the penny answer to the prayer I had prayed – the more I was convinced it was God showing me He provides.

I can scrape and worry and count and stress and do all I can do to try to control things, but in the end He cares for me.

He cares for me.

We have not continued to receive $5,000.84 each month. In fact, many months we have been back at the bottom of the barrel, again being creative to get by. But you know what? I’m not afraid any more. God cares for me. He provides for me. He loves me.

I know that now.

I struggle trusting God with money, what do you struggle with entrusting to God? A relationship? Children? Career? An Illness? The God of the Universe desires to care for YOU. Will you let Him?

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:12-13)

31 days of connecting

The God of the Universe cares for you… Will you let Him?

Day 18 of 31 Days of Connecting

A year and a half ago, I had been working through tons of anger with God for calling us away from our families and our financial struggles were just adding insult to injury. Does God care? was a huge question in my life. And then a preacher stated this:

Day 18

The God of the Universe who has unlimited resources at his disposal cares about you. Will you let Him?

I felt God telling me: Trust me.

So, I did.

You can hear the full story here, within a sermon I preached at Scum of the Earth Church on January 12, 2014. You will need Quicktime player to hear this sermon – or you can search for it in iTunes podcasts under “Scum Sermons.”

Thanks for listening.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 

1 Peter 5:7 NIV

I Will Not Tell A Lie

Day 13 of 31 Days of Connecting

31 days big

Today I had a choice:

Be honest. Be truthful. Or hide.

Say what was hurting me. Or put on a mask.

Encourage my kids to speak out. Or tell them to be silent.

Over and over again this past week I have been encouraged by those who have told me I have been brave for speaking the truth about the loss, the pain, the struggle that I have encountered in this life.

And over and over again I have read stories other women have written about their own heartache. About their addictions. Their infidelity. Their loss.

It is their honesty that keeps me going.

When I read my friend’s blog – and her commitment to be authentic for 31 days – that’s when I knew I needed to speak the truth.

We live in a culture that encourages falsehood and masks. From internet trolls who will smash the most vulnerable to photoshop that “corrects” a beautiful body, we are told we are not enough – that the truth isn’t good. And even church culture can tie the mask on tight. We encourage one another to “trust in God” when we don’t even know where He is in our own lives. We smile and say “praise Him” when inside we are weeping.

We encourage one another that we can tell the truth, but inside we’re afraid that if we speak up we will lose… again.

What would it look like if instead of giving a quick platitude we told our crying friends we don’t have the answers either? What would it look like if we just held them instead of trying to make them (or us) feel better? What would it look like if we learned to embrace the discomfort of honest emotion?

I am convinced the loneliness that surrounds us exists because we have not yet discovered the ability to be truthful. And it’s understandable after being rejected. Or rebuked. Or abused.

But we have to keep trying.

We need each other.

We need to be heard.

And we need to hear that others have experienced the same things, too.

day 13Is there someone you have that you can speak the truth to? Who is it? If not… who would you like it to be? Start looking and praying… I didn’t always have that someone either. And until then, be that person for someone else.

What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself. (Ephesians 4:25 The Message)