Marriage, Our Wedding

How to Keep Your Head Above Water Cultivating a Marriage, Our first 9 years

My husband and I married 9 years ago today in the dusty border town of Piedras Negras, Mexico. We made our vows at sunset in an old Spanish Mission and then celebrated with Greek dancing, a live donkey and bottomless margaritas.

The weekend ended and I found myself back in the lecture hall instead of on a honeymoon.  Over a few short months my husband watched the fun loving, easy going girl he married quickly dissolve into a irrational medical student who could not even begin to unwind on a weekend get-away. He who had once been considered a bit of free spirit found his creativity quickly confined by the lifestyle required by his medical student wife.

It probably didn’t help that we dated for only six months before we married and even during that time we were living in two different countries.

We had neither a blissful first year nor a wretched one.  We got along and enjoyed each other, it was just that being together took a lot of work.  We both did our best to be supportive and kind but it took every last drop of our emotional energy to keep the wheels of our marriage turning.  Overtime we moved onto residency, a home remodel, a church plant and a baby. We came to see our patterns, our weaknesses, our unrealistic expectations and all that helped. We continued to grow, but we had to agree with all the premarital advice we had been given, marriage was hard.

I finished residency and then worked for another year which kept me busy and kept his options for work pretty limited.

Finally two years ago we did an about face, he took a job which moved us onto a 7,000 acre ranch, an hour from the nearest grocery store and shortly afterwards I stopped working entirely.

It took a while for me to unwind, as in it took the better part of a year.  But somewhere in there our tense and tearful discussions which had been part of our routine for years disappeared. And we began finding common ground where we never expected it.  After 8 years of striving we woke up and realized that we had a great marriage, one that was far easier than I had ever imagined.

I share this story as a celebration. Marrying my husband is undoubtedly the best decision I have ever made. But I also share it knowing that some of you are struggling. Nearly half of marriages end in divorce and I can’t help but think that some of them are people just like us who wore out before they got to the other side of the struggle.

Every marriage is unique and complex and so I hesitate to give advice after my 9 short years of experience.  But I want to share some habits, some intentional choices you can make no matter the state of your relationship. These alone won’t totally transform your marriage but they can give you some goals to work on and  to help carry you through hard times.

Of course all of these are written assuming there is no abuse or addiction involved. Certainly if you are in danger get somewhere safe, if you find that you or your partner can’t implement some of these it may be a sign that you could benefit from professional help. And please do seek it, the joy of a healthy marriage is so worth it.

Habits for Cultivating a Marriage

1. Be kind. It sounds simple enough. But it is easy in the heat of the moment to resort to name calling or under your breath comments about how much your partner reminds you of their mother. Resist those urges. Much of the damage that comes from disagreeing comes from hurtful words that have nothing to do with the original discussion. Agree to be kind and hold the other accountable to this.   If you can’t argue without saying unkind words it is probably a sign that you need professional help.

2. Stay connected physically. It is natural to want to physically isolate yourself when you feel emotionally alone. It may feel safer but most of the time it does not help build a marriage. Part of marriage is being vulnerable and physical intimacy lets you do this even when you can’t agree on what color to repaint the bathroom.

While in the midst of an argument you may need to retreat and be alone for a bit, always make sure you come back together. Try finishing the discussion holding hands on the couch. Make hugs and kisses part of your daily routine even if you aren’t especially affectionate. Don’t withholding sex until everything is worked out, sometimes physical intimacy is exactly the key to helping you find a connection with your spouse. Of course if you have had past physical or sexual abuse this is going to feel different for you and you may want to get help to work through these issues.

3. Talk it out. At the end of an disagreement you should have both had the opportunity to be heard.  Don’t stop talking it through until you have both expressed how you feel.  You don’t have to agree with each other entirely but you do need to respect each other enough to hear the others’ side.  This process is exhausting but overtime it will give you insight into your own and your partner’s behavior. If you can’t do this go to a counselor who can teach you better communication skills.

4. Don’t underestimate the effects of stress.  At the time I thought we were handling our stress well.  But over the last year I have seen how much we were affected by stress every day.  There was so much about our work that we loved but it wore us out emotionally and we had very little capacity left to deal with each other.

If you aren’t getting along and you have significant stress from work or family recognize that this, rather than your partner, may be what is taxing your marriage.   Often we hold ourselves together for the folks at work or even for our kids but by the time we are alone in the evening we are exhausted and it just takes something minor to have us up in arms with our spouse. Perhaps the most important piece of advice in this whole epic of a blog post is this: Be willing to walk away from just about everything for your marriage.

5. Don’t assume that a weekend away will cure it. For us, during the long stretch of medicals school and residency, a weekend away was certainly going to involve an argument, I just could not decompress the way I needed to in that time-frame.  It took us about a year after we changed our lifestyle to feel like we fully embraced a new way of functioning. Weekends away are great but if you are dealing with significant stress and a challenging relationship you will probably need to make more dramatic changes to see improvement.

6. Don’t complain. While it is important to have mentors and people we can go to for advice (specifically those who have successful marriages).  It is also equally important that we avoid complaining about our spouse.  Depending on your environment this is not always easy. We love to share our misery and in this case we probably make it worse by doing so. If you need help seek it, but refuse to engage in conversations where you end up complaining.

7. Keep Learning. When we first married we made it a routine to read some sort of marriage enrichment book or go to a weekend seminar every year around our anniversary. While I didn’t love every book there was at least some nugget of helpful information in each one and  it gave us a great neutral place to start a conversation about areas that we needed to work on in our own marriage. Scroll to the end of this post for a list of a few books that we found helpful.

8. Pray together. If your spouse is open to it make it a habit to sit down in the morning or evening for a few minutes, be quiet and pray together and for each other. You can do this even when you aren’t getting along. Trying to stay on the same page spiritually is a huge asset to a marriage.

Start by simply reciting something like this together:

O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and
light riseth up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all
our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what thou
wouldest
have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save
us from all false choices, and that in thy light we may see
light, and in thy straight path may not stumble; through
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

9. Don’t bottle it up but don’t let it explode. Make a habit of bringing up small issues as they arise. Bottling up feelings can lead to resentment. At the same time be mindful of when and how your bring things up. Use affirmative language not accusatory, “I felt neglected,” not “you neglected me.” And be considerate don’t bring up an issue in the car on the way to a party, right before a big exam, right before bed, or especially in front of other people if you can help it. Talking about issues regularly can be exhausting but trying to ignore them can lead to more hurt feelings and more intense discussions when they finally surface.

9. Create a common life. While we were never able to schedule a regular date night we were intentional about inviting over friends for dinner and trying new hobbies together. In our hectic lifestyle doing something like reading the same book or just making sure to sit down for meals together is a step towards keeping a family unified.

10. Take care of your health.  This is probably the most overlooked area and it is so important. We have been, for the most part, healthy, and have probably always eaten healthier than the average American. But I still look back and realize where we were failing to take care of ourselves.

Most of us need 8 hours of sleep, not just on Saturday but everyday. We need a diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, we need to be active during the day. We need to drink water and avoid pesticides. We need sunshine and time outside. We need to limit sweets and starches that affect our blood sugar and we probably need to limit caffeine too.

Chronic stress can deplete many of our essential vitamins and minerals and exacerbate physical and emotional issues.  Taking 400 mg of Magnesium everyday is a simple and valuable start to rebuilding health that has been affected by stress but there is so much more that can be done.  Don’t overlook this.  There are some things in our health that are out of our control but much of it isn’t.

 

For Further Reading

No book, or blog post can really do what it sets out to do, giving meaningful advice on marriage in this format is almost impossible.  Each marriage is so unique that it’s rare to find a book that feels entirely applicable. Still from each of these we gained some insight that helped us along the way.

 

Boundaries in Marriage

Love and Respect

For Men Only

For Women Only

Marriage Takes More than Love

Passages in Marriage

The Five Love Languages

Marriage, Our Wedding

 

For some more of my thoughts on marriage check out:

Why Practicing Hospitality is Good for my Marriage

Marriage and the Long Haul

On Marriage and Mystery Celebrating 8 years of Living Sacramentally (last year’s anniversary post)

 

Marriage

For more from Liturgy of Life you can subscribe here for occasional updates and emails, like me on facebook, or join our facebook discussion group. Thanks for reading friends I look forward to connecting with you.

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For the Kids: Books on Nature, Food and Farming To acompany the grown-ups reading Babara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable Miracle

It happens that some of my daughters favorite books are on the subjects of food, farming and nature and I’ve found that the ideas resonate with most kids.  Children love to be outside (maybe not so much with the temperatures are over 100, but still sometimes even then) and to watch the natural world unfold before them.  If this is a new area of interest for you, or if you are just looking to expand your kids’ reading list here are a few of our favorites.

The Honeybee Man by Lela Nargi:

A simple story about a New York City Bee Keeper and the way he cares for his hive and his community.  It also has a lot of information about how honey is made.

 

Applesauce Season by Eden Ross Lipson:

The story of an urban family and their tradition of getting apples from the farmer’s market and making apple sauce together.  It shows how something as simple as cooking a pot of apples together can become a cherished memory. It also has a recipe for applesauce that I use all the time.

 

The Apple Pie that Papa Baked by Lauren Thompson:

A story of how apples become apple pie. This is a sweet father-daughter book and is always my daughter’s pick to give out as a birthday gift for friends.

 

All in a Day by Cynthia Rylant

One of the biggest challenges in modern culture is accepting the limitations of a day and it seems that I always try to cram in too much.  This is a book about cherishing the small things of one day.

 

Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock:

This is actually a textbook developed to help teachers take kids outside and learn about nature. It has a beautiful perspective about letting nature speak for itself and has sections on birds, animals, insects, plants and weather. You can look up for example, “mocking bird” and read some of the natural history of the bird and then learn to listen for its call or discover it’s nest, it is a great book to take out to the back yard to deepen your experience of the natural world.

 

This post is part of our Reading Group series. Right now are reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. We would love for you to join us.

For more from Liturgy of Life you can subscribe here for monthly emails, like me on facebook, or join our facebook discussion group. Thanks for reading friends I look forward to connecting with you.

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Moving Tips

14 Moving Tips
from my 15th Move

Moving Tips, Liturgy of Life
Loading up. We hit the road early, knowing it was gonna be hot by the time we arrived in the Valley.

 

Just for kicks, I thought I’d re-post this, 10 months later my house is filled with boxes once again . . .

I’ll never forget the horror on my new college roommate’s face as we made our first introductions standing atop of the overflowing piles of clothing mixed with boxes of Kraft mac and cheese,  disposable razors and shower caps pouring from my suit case.  She had moved in the night before, her post-it notes were lined up and tucked into little baskets on her desk, her clothes neatly pinned to wire hangers.  It was a rough start to what turned out to be a rocky relationship.

Now some 17 years and 14 moves later I can’t say that I’d make a better roommate but I have learned a few things about moving.

Here are a few dos and don’ts that I have learned, hope they will make your next move a little easier.

1. Don’t move if you don’t have to. Moving is hard, there is no getting around it.

Moving Tips, Liturgy of Life
At some point your dinning room table will look like this.

2. Don’t not move just because it is hard. Moving is not fun, but like birthing a child after the pain is over it is quickly forgotten, so if you have an opportunity to move into a better space go for it even if it means moving more than you intended.

3. Do make sure you have plenty of supplies. Take the amount of supplies you will think you need and double it.  Have your boxes, tape and packing materials well stocked as you begin. Often  I found myself stressed not about actually packing but about how to fit everything into the handful of boxes I had.  You don’t want to be like me rummaging around behind grocery stores at 6 am the day before you move to gather more boxes.

4. Do plan ahead. About a week before our move I began packing a small suitcase of clothes and other necessities (pullups, wipes and an extra roll of toilet paper) that we could live out of for a week or so while we got settled. By moving day when everything else was packed I knew we had all that needed right there.

Moving Tips, Liturgy of Life
This is a little carry on suitcase, it has supplies to last Zenie and I both a week or so.

5. Don’t adopt a turtle two nights before a move.  Meet Heidi our rescued turtle. This latest move happened to fall a week before my 35th birthday. I’d been asking for a turtle as a family pet for years. Michael saw this one in the middle of the highway and ever so sweetly picked it up, rescuing it and bringing home as fun surprise for me (rescuing animals is one of my love languages). It was a great treat.  But after some research we realized that this Red Eared Slider would need a kiddie pool all to herself and caring for her was a bit more than we were prepared for. So she spent two days  in our bathtub and came along with us on move. We returned her to the spot where he had found her (only across the road).  This adventure will live on fondly in the Jarrett memory book but probably is not something you want to get involved with on moving day.

Moving Tips, Liturgy of Life
Heidi, our temporary turtle.

6. Don’t move the week of your birthday. But if you have to stop and celebrate anyway.

Moving Tips, Liturgy of Life
Birthday candle in an ice cream sandwich, doesn’t get much better than this.

7. Do stay organized. Organization does not come naturally for me so rather than spend hours searching for the tape, eventually giving up and going to the store to buy a new one before I find it again on the bathroom counter,  I made a little basket of my packing supplies markers, twine, tape and scissors so I could keep track of things as I packed.

Moving Tips, Liturgy of Life
Pens, tape, string, scissors, all the stuff I am always running around looking for when packing.

8. Do label your boxes. Like I said I don’t love to organize but at the very least it helps to label boxes by which room they go in, this way you can end up with all the kitchen boxes in the kitchen and start unpacking. If you have more time it is handy to note what is in each box. If there is any chance some of your things may stay packed or go into storage it is worth the time to number the boxes (on all four sides) and then write down on a separate sheet what is in which. We spent a year with the majority of our stuff in storage and when I needed to find something I was glad I had gone through the effort to do this.

9. Don’t ignore the mess. Clean up as you go.   I don’t mind a mess and I’d much rather stick to the main job of packing or unpacking instead of stopping to clean up.  But following my husband’s advice (he is the tidy one in the house) I found that while packing if I took a few minutes every now and then to straighten out my boxes, and pick up scraps of packing material or during unpacking, to breakdown boxes  and keep them neatly stacked it made the space more relaxing and made me feel like I was making more progress.

10. Do set essentials aside. As you pack designate a few boxes of things that you will need access to. Your keys, a copy of your lease, your hat and sun glasses, maybe bug spray  or your shower curtain and a towel. This helps you keep these items organized as you pack up your house and will help you keep track of them so you can unpack them right away when you arrive.

11. Don’t set unrealistic goals. Whatever my goal is, like “I want to be unpacked in one week.” I always double it, realizing things always take longer than I expect.

Moving Tips, Liturgy of Life
Your new home will probably look like this for a couple days. Don’t worry, you will get there.

12. Don’t pack things you don’t need.  While packing I try to pull out things we don’t use, then again when unpacking I’m always able to find even more things that don’t seem necessary anymore. Before dropping them off at the Goodwill see if any of them can be sold, passed along to friends or given to specific charities (old dog kennel to the Humane Society, old baby chair to the pregnancy support center). It feels good to know that the things you no longer need will still be put to good use by someone else.

13. Do plan meals ahead. I’ve got nothing against eating out especially during a move. But planning meals as you prepare to leave can be a great way to use up odds and ends in the freezer that will get thrown out. Also on this trip I brought a quarter bushel of Hill Country Peaches (I’m going to miss these peaches) right before we left. I also made a double batch of blueberry muffins and some chocolate chip cookies with dough that I had in the freezer. Once baked I left some out and then wrapped and re-froze the rest. I pulled a few muffins out everyday. They made great snacks and stored well and it gave us a quick breakfast on the days before and after our move. A couple other good moving snacks would be Blueberry Muffin Lara bars or goldfish crackers.

14. Don’t skip on the essentials. When you arrive at your new home, unpack perishables and beds first. Then take a break make a grocery run and load up on ice cream sandwiches, beers and cold water. Take a moment and be grateful that you made it.

Moving Tips, Liturgy of Life

 

 

 

 

 

A Library Find: Cultivating a Child's Christian Faith through Fine Art

Art, Children and The Gospel

 

During our two month absence the library relocated the Spanish children’s books which my daughter loves to check out though rarely reads. We never found where they put them because instead we discovered a collection of coffee table picture books, you know the kind that cost way too much at museum gift shops?  As it turns out they actually let you take these beauties home for two weeks (6 if you keep on renewing them). My daughter picked out one on parrots and I found this gem, The Life of Christ in Masterpieces of Art.

I doubt this book was created with children in mind but my daughter asked for it incessantly once we brought it home. It features paintings, mosaics and sculptures paired with Scripture readings that tell the story of Christ from Annunciation to Ascension.  She was captivated by the images and I was able to introduce her to great works of art, ancient Christian symbols and the story of the gospel all at the same time.

Art, Children, The Gospel
Meditating on the stations of the cross (in case you wondered she picks out her own outfits these days).

 

Sitting in front of this book with her I realized I have a tendency to underestimate my daughter’s capacity for complexity. I give her simplified stories and coloring books with Bible characters that she can understand but where the rich meaning of the original story is lost.

Now I’m not advocating for always giving kids information that is above their level, that would be frustrating and probably a big turn off for most. But I am suggesting that we find new ways, or in this case old ways, to tell the stories of our faith. We need to stop sharing our faith as if it were a piece of data, a spelling word to memorize. Instead we need to bring our children into the richness of their Christian heritage  in a way that inspires wonder and curiosity.  And the cool thing about great art, whether paintings or sculptures, architecture, hymns or whatever, is that like our faith it is mysterious.  The more we understand it the deeper it seems to go.

You don’t need to get this book (though it is for sale on Amazon for around $3 second hand) but if you are like me, you may need to re-examine the way we communicate our faith to our kids. If we teach them that the Bible is a text book, a place to go for facts that can be proven or dis-proven, or that that it is a collection of characters or stories to be memorized, we are missing the point and so are they. We need to engage our kids into a living faith, a beautiful heritage and to encounter the living person of Christ.  It may start with something as simple as a trip to a local church or museum or in our case a regular visit to our local library.

 

Happy Easter Friends!