After fifteen years of marriage, you become aware of your rhythms as a couple. For us, and I suspect this is true of most, our energy levels are pretty depleted by the time the sun goes down. Once the kids are tucked away, we are tuckered out, so we have couch time (chocolate and/or wine may be involved), working our way through some TV series on Netflix (right now it's Doctor Who). Then it's up to bed where we usually read (him for about ten minutes until he's nodded off, me for an hour or more).
In the morning, I slowly wake up, get ready (still waking up), duck into the prayer closet for a few minutes (aiming for thirty), and then it's time to start school as my husband heads out for work.
So we aren't together for most of the day, and by the time we can finally be alone, we're too exhausted to...wait, there's still the weekend. This is where things get interesting...
Say it's a Sunday and you've just come home from church. You could have family time, maybe play a board game or watch an old movie together...the kids perhaps balk and groan at those ideas, but once we're all settled in, we know we'll have fun...we hope. But there is another option.
Enter Afternoon Delight. A brilliant strategy that pleases everyone, especially your husband (well, at least in my case). Let the kids pick out a movie to stream, make a batch of popcorn for them, and then put together a picnic for you and your spouse, perhaps like the picture above (we ate pastries at church and a hearty breakfast before that, so I kept it light). Enjoy your conversation, delicacies, and the quality time with just the two of you.
By now you've probably figured out that Afternoon Delight is a double entendre. It's a twofer, the best of both worlds, and it lives up to its name. I don't think I even need to tell you what happens after the last of the cheese and crackers are gone. I'm pretty sure you've figured that part out. You head upstairs, lock your bedroom door, and engage in part two of Afternoon Delight. If you've only got time for one part, part two is the most crucial, since privacy for intimacy is the key advantage to this plan.
If your kids are old enough to not need you for the duration of the film, you could even add a few extra courses - spiritual (praying, reading Scripture or a book together) and/or sensual (massage, shower, etc.). Just be sure to keep the main dish, which is "knowing" each other (in the Biblical sense of the term).
I recommend Afternoon Delight once a week. Once you've sampled it, you'll probably want to keep it in your menu rotation. And unlike Turkish Delight (as Narnia fans may recall), you can't overindulge. In fact, the more the better...
Continuing on with our 48 hour 14th anniversary adventure...we left off in dreamland on Sunday night, but let me back up a little bit. I wanted to read God's Word before going to sleep, so because we were on vacation, it felt right to play "Bible Roulette," you know where you randomly open the good book and see what you find. That can be pretty hit or miss, but with the way things were going, I wasn't surprised when I hit the jackpot. I turned to 1 Peter and read the whole book, because it's short (a mere five chapters) and amazing and I had already underlined a bunch of stuff in my little travel Bible, such as:
Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense for anyone who asks you for the reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if it should be God's will, than for doing evil. ~1 Pe 3:13-17
That passage was especially reassuring because the week leading up to our trip, I had (and still have) a Christian hating atheist trolling my Facebook page. He hasn't liked my page or commented, and he uses his page rather than his profile, so banning him is not an option. What he does is to "like" all of my posts (many of which he disagrees with) using his vile, blasphemous profanity-laden Facebook page name. From his page, I know that he was part of the Mormon church and that his son is homosexual and just got "married." Reading those verses reminded me that instead of being angry with this man for bullying me, I need to pray for him (which, in fact, I had asked my readers to do) and receive his insults as confirmation that I am doing good, and so to continue to fight the good fight by speaking the truth in love.
The book of first Peter also says two times to be "sober minded." That seemed appropriate also, what with this being our first alcohol- free anniversary getaway.
That night I actually heard a verse in my dream and I woke up with it in my head (the only good thing about having to pee in the wee hours): "Be at peace with everyone as far as it depends on you." (Romans 12:18) That seemed to apply to all things - the troll, friends (and strangers) whose values are postmodern rather than Biblical, and more importantly, my family, especially my husband. After the dark night of the soul, I had researched marriage books (despite the fact that we have a whole shelf of them, mostly unread) and ordered one called The Couple's Survival Workbook. I chose it because it's not a book that you use with your spouse. It's something you do on your own to help bring change in your own character and communication, the theory being that if you approach your marriage differently, it will change, even if your spouse doesn't. I have been crawling through the book, but it's really good stuff, and if I had to encapsulate what I've been learning into one sentence, it would be that verse from my dream.
I was really hoping I'd get this story wrapped up in three parts, but as I write, more things are coming to me, so at this rate, it may be a five parter...or more (eek!)...but I'd prefer that God lead my pen (so to speak) in His good time than to tell it my way and miss something He wants me to say. Continue to part four...
Yesterday my husband and I celebrated 14 years of marriage. We actually started the party two days before that. Every year we get one or two nights away to be by ourselves, something very foreign to us, what with children ages 13, 10, and 8. Usually I start planning about four or five months before 8/11. This year, though, was different. We had come through the dark night of the soul, culminating in the worst Mother's Day on record (if I kept records, that is). We were bruised and battered, our marriage tattered, but not shattered. We were still totally capable of rhyming, though. That goes back to our first date, when he took me to the children's section of a bookstore and read me "Oh, the Places You'll Go." I really had no chance after that. A man who fed me Chinese food and serenaded me with Dr. Seuss was clearly a keeper.
There was another hitch with this romantic getaway I had to plan. No alcohol. We had not had a drop since that no good terrible very bad night, and the plan (at least in my mind) was to never have it again. Or at least not for years and years. It wasn't that either of us was an alcoholic - it was just that it had become a problem (his tendency to overindulge and my hypersensitivity toward that because of an alcoholic stepdad). It complicated and escalated arguments. It brought our marriage to a state of crisis. And it had become a crutch for our relaxing "couch dates," which meant both that we weren't fully relying on God and that it was masking trouble between us. In other words, alcohol had become a wedge and an idol. It was very subtle, and we had gone through periods of no drinking (sort of recalibration), but always with the intention to return to moderation (i.e. sticking to the rules we had agreed on in terms of quantity, frequency, and type of beverages). And yet, I could look back at all our most memorable fights and point to one thing - alcohol. It was either the cause of conflict or it had turned a disagreement into something much more ugly.
We had spent the last four anniversaries in the wine country. Clearly that was not meant to be for this first ever sober celebration. My initial thinking was to isolate. As an introvert, that thought comes pretty naturally to me. My husband, on the other hand, is an extravert, so I did have him to consider. But really, he would be happy anywhere there were two things - me and fish ("have rod, will cast anywhere"). I very nearly booked us a cabin on the lost coast where I figured I could hole up reading and writing while he fished, with walks and meals together in between. My motherly self vetoed that, because there was no cell service and wifi was spotty. I cannot relax, let alone retreat, if I am not assured of communication with my kids - not just for emergencies but for their good night check-in and chat. Perhaps when they are all teenagers, I'll get over that.
I thought back to our earlier anniversaries when we had enjoyed going to the Monterey peninsula. We had stayed in Pacific Grove, but in recent times, we had gone to that area with the children (homeschool days at the Monterey Bay Aquarium), so now it was hard for me to think of going there without them. There was one place that I didn't associate with our kids, but it had always seemed too ritzy: Carmel-by-the-Sea. Also known as Carmel. But not caramel, though that's good, too. If there is one thing I enjoy as much as (and sometimes more) than a vacation, it's researching a vacation. So I got to work and found a bed and breakfast right by the beach, in our price range, without a wine and cheese hour (cookies & tea instead) - am I good or what? No, I can't take credit. God led us to The Sandpiper. The proof of that will be in the next post...
Death begins at birth. From the moment of conception, we are on a journey to the grave. None of us knows the span of of our lives - some don't make it past the womb; others experience well over a century of history in the making. We are all dying, but do we say it would be better never to have existed? Few believe that (though sometimes others make that "choice" for them) and fewer still intentionally end their own lives. Why do we cling to life when know death will eventually overtake us? Why do we embrace life all the more as we deteriorate?
The cycle of birth, life, and death in our natural bodies parallels with our spiritual existence. When we are born again, what follows? Death, death to sin and death to self. And yet unlike our new birth, which happens instantaneously, death to self is a process. A series of deaths, if you will. On our way to eternal life, we die a thousand spiritual deaths. Though our sins are forgiven, our sinful nature continues to tempt us to live for ourselves rather than dying to ourselves and being conformed to the image of Christ, in whom we were created and have been redeemed.
These thousand deaths to self are usually little deaths. They are uncomfortable but bearable. Sometimes, though, after following Jesus for a long time, we slip into complacency, and we quench the Spirit rather than put to death certain persistent sins. And then it happens. The Dark Night of the Soul. When God, in his love and mercy, disciplines us so severely that we may even wish we were dead. He shows us the destructiveness of our sin and how it is killing His spirit in us. We have to die an excruciating death to self or else be enslaved by it and lose our lives.
Sometimes it is not our own sin. When we are married, we are one with our spouse, and when God is dealing with their sin, it feels like we are dying as well. It could literally be a dark night, the darkest we've ever experienced, brought on by the worst fight we've ever had with our spouse, in which the sin was being killed, but it went out kicking and screaming. The battle was not with flesh and blood, but in the spiritual realm. It felt like the end of everything had come and there was no hope, but actually it was just the opposite - it was a new beginning.
You rose from the ashes, scarred and weary, humbly clinging to the One you felt - for that dark night - had abandoned you. You were badly shaken, fearful, and desperate. Then you became empty and numb. The damage seemed irreparable, your house utterly ruined, your garden desolate...but something caught your eye - a tiny, green shoot that sprung up overnight. You had a glimmer of hope. That God had extinguished the old life, so that you could start a new and better life together. It would take lots of time and more struggle to heal from the fatal wounds, but this body, this one flesh made of husband and wife bound together in Christ, would eventually be stronger than the previous union, and the new house God was building would far surpass the old.
Your Dark Night of the Soul would give way to a bright and glorious morning. But you would need to be patient. And keep dying. Dying to self. Weeding out sin. Basking in the light of the Father. Drinking in the water of life of the Holy Spirit. Abiding in the vine that is the Son. Growing (with all the pain that entails) in the body of Christ, beginning with your own family.
The Dark Night of the Soul had another purpose, too. It brought you back to your first love. It woke you up to the truth that God is the only one who will not let you down. You may have felt abandoned, but He was with you. He wants you to depend on Him alone. To put all your hope in Him, not another human being. Only His love is perfect and His love is all you need. This is also why you must forgive.
We are unworthy, selfish recipients of His grace. He gives it unconditionally and so we must freely extend His grace. Receiving and giving grace is the most direct path to healing. This is assuming repentance and change are underway (be it ourselves or our spouse or both). That the death really happened on the Dark Night of the Soul and the new life together began - whether it be a literal night in which it all culminated or a more gradual coming into the light over time. If morning has broken, then the work of rebuilding trust must begin right now.
It may feel like there is a void where the sin used to be. You have to discover who you are as a couple without that thing. So it's not just the person "with the problem" (really, just that particular problem) who will feel loss and pain. It was enmeshed in your marriage and now there's a hole where it used to be. It feels kind of drafty and weird. We may thirst and hunger like we never have before. It won't always be this way - over time, love will fill it - but for now it is a way of keeping the death real (when we are tempted to forget or minimize it) and a vivid reminder to turn to Jesus to fill us. His love poured into each of us will trickle into the hole, eventually transforming it into a well, deepening our marriage as our souls are rejuvenated. Where sin once poisoned us, life giving water will flow.
I was tempted to title this "My Recurring e-Harmony Nightmare" because that's what it feels like. At first it was humorous. Then amusing. Eventually annoying. And now agonizing. Just when I think it's gone for good, that I've worked through whatever issue it stems from, it returns. Again. And again.
It goes like this: I am 40 (before I was 40, it was my late thirties), I am single, I am depressed, I am feeling my biological clock tick. I feel scared and lonely and desperate. Just when I am going through this panic/dread, I have an epiphany: e-Harmony! But of course! Why didn't I think of that sooner?! I need to get online right now and meet the man of my dreams.
Sometimes it ends right there. Other times just as I'm planning to try it, I realize that I am married and have children...and I am very happy to suddenly remember that. The other night - it had been a while since my last e-Harmony dream - I actually didn't even get as far as e-Harmony, and there was a bit of twist, because this time it was all about wanting children, and being afraid I wouldn't be able to. It was a horrible feeling, so I was whimpering in my sleep, and my husband woke me up and comforted me. That was a better ending than usual, but I still can't figure out why I have this dream over and over, albeit sporadically. It's been happening for the last three or four years or maybe even longer. I would say I've dreamt it at least ten times, about once a quarter, sometimes in clusters, sometimes with long stretches in between.
My theories thus far:
1. During my decade long quest for my soulmate, searching for "the one" became part of my identity and purpose in life, so those roots are resurfacing (read more here).
2. When e-Harmony came out, shortly after I met my husband, I thought it was really cool, since it used Myers-Briggs personality typing to match people. Part of me was disappointed that I didn't get to try it - not because I didn't think my husband was the right guy for me, but because of my insatiable curiosity.
3. It's somehow representative of all my deepest fears - of unfulfilled longings, unmet expectations, abandonment, inadequacy, etc.
4. It's a sign for me to pray for my single friends and to encourage them to sign up for e-Harmony. I've actually done this. Both praying and nudging.
...Well, when I told my husband what my bad dream was, he had the best explanation yet:
It's so that I'll wake up thankful to God for my family.
Soulmates aren't the same or even equal - there is a sameness about them, but it's not the way I always imagined. Before I met my husband, I thought that my soulmate would be my equal, and I his - equally attractive, intelligent, intellectual, spiritual, honest, and so on. Except of course in the traditional men/women characteristics - I imagined him taller, stronger, more courageous, confident, etc.
In fact, I married a man who is shorter, not as intellectual as I am, more attractive (well, at least I think so), and very different from me (besides our male/female differences), yet we are soulmates. In the early years of our marriage I wondered if I had made a mistake. We fought often and ugly - he didn't seem to "get me" so much of the time, and I didn't totally trust him. We weren't reading each others' minds and we had a great deal of trouble even understanding each others' words! Our communication styles and our ways of operating seemed to be totally opposite. Despite the conflict, we persevered, got outside help (parents, counselors, pastors), and kept working things out, even if was the same fight we had resolved ten times before. As we did that, a funny thing happened - we began to understand each other, accept each other, and actually become more alike!
Our stubborn refusal to give up communicating kept us constantly connected. And the other half of the time, we were mostly just enjoying, or at least being with one another. We were also having babies (three in those first five years, during which we moved homes every year, moved our business twice, and bought a house) and raising our children together. What we did have in common grew deeper - both of us prefer intuiting (N on the MBTI) and feeling (F), which makes us passsionate visionaries/counselors/artists (NF idealist on the Keirsey Sorter), but he prefers extroversion (E) and perceiving (P), while I prefer introversion (I) and judging (J). We actually found a book about ENFPs married to INFJs! Having an NF temperament was part of what made us both so willing to dialogue and grow and nurture our relationship with each other as well as our individual relationships with God. Our contrasting preferences created friction, but iron really does sharpen iron - it also forged each of us into being more well-rounded and preserved a sense of mystery/tension that helped keep the romance alive.
As we grew in our marriage, I began to realize that my husband was my soulmate. I started to see so many amazing qualities in him that blessed me and our children and the people around us. He does "get me" in a way no one else does. And I "get him" too, but even more than that, he loves me and serves me like Jesus. There is no more soulmate than that. My goal now is to become his soulmate - he would say I already am, he is so grace filled, he doesn't see the inequality, or maybe it's just that he chooses not to measure, which I shouldn't be doing either, because none of is worthy of our very soul, let alone a soulmate, yet the God of the universe loves us so much that he not only gives us life, but eternal souls, along with earthly soulmates. Both my soulmate and I know that there is only one who truly knows us in our deepest parts - the One who created us and with whom we will always be one.
I didn't realize how damaged I was until I started a family. My upbringing mingled with my sinful nature were what I brought into my marriage and motherhood. Thankfully God's grace had been at work all along, so that despite (and even because of) my frailties, I continued to be his image bearer in many ways - I was saved and kept by my Heavenly Father instead of wrecked by the abuse, brokenness, and dysfunction of my home(s). My innocence, purity, and character were evidence of the Lord's hand on my life, of Jesus dwelling in my heart, and the Holy Spirit directing my path. Still, there were wounds - from others and the ones I inflicted upon myself when I came of age - both of which he bore for me on the cross. They did not all come to light until this past decade, a season of uniting myself with another human being and our offspring.
In addition to struggling with my sinful, selfish self, there has been the challenge of living something new that I didn't see modeled. An only child of a divorced, remarried mother who worked full-time outside the home has not been trained to be a stay-at-home mother of three, let alone homeschool teacher. I'm breaking new ground, while mucking about in the dirt of the present and pulling weeds from my past. It has taken me ten years to learn and do things that suddenly seem obvious and basic. I feel like I'm so slow, but then I remember that I'm a pioneer - starting a family of my own is a journey, one that has been arduous and exhilarating at the same time, so it makes sense that I'm only now beginning to get settled.
My husband has a passion for prayer. He is reading everything by E.M. Bounds (I ordered him the full collection of his works). I stumbled on to an old copy of What Happens When Women Pray by Evelyn Christenson. I started it last night and just read another chapter during my quiet time today. I am intrigued. I am hopeful. I am praying.
This is totally not like me. I was thinking my husband could be Prayer Warrior and I could stick with Bible Girl. Except that lately that hasn't felt like enough. Oh sure, I pray throughout the day, and with our children before bed, but often they are like stale, repetitive, comfort prayers. I feel too tired to be passionate. Yet I suspect that if I became a passionate pray-er, I would be less tired.
So what if I fall asleep sometimes while I'm praying? Next time I'll get on my knees instead of laying on the couch. I might even pray aloud. A friend told me she won't say (or write) certain things since she thinks the devil will only know about them that way (that he can't read minds but can hear words). Sounds like a trick of the devil to me - to gag us with fear that keeps us from praying fervently, and also from connecting with others - the Bible tells us to confess and pray aloud. The enemy's knowledge of our weaknesses (which I believe he knows whether we say them or not) cannot match God's power over us through prayer.
Maybe my husband and I will both get into this so much that we'll actually pray together. We have a great marriage and family but I'm wondering what God would do if we more intentional about seeking Him together. I wonder if there's a way we could work in exercise and prayer at the same time...definitely possible on our family hikes (that's what we recently decided would be our "thing", like some families have biking or camping or the Wii or whatever - we want to be a hiking family and we live in the perfect area for that).
I also want to do this with other women. Pray, that is. Thinking of starting a bi-weekly prayer meeting, following the example in the book I'm reading. Might do this for the new year...