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Sex Ed: 101

ME: “Sweetheart, do you have five minutes?”

Him: “I always have five minutes for you.”

My husband and I both work from home. During the week, he and I tag team the morning routine of kids, food, and hygiene moderation. Then, he usually drives them to school, a 30 minute round trip event, while I get in a quick workout. (Bonus: If I’m the one driving the kids to school, I love the 5 minutes on our local classical channel where the soothing voice of Garrison Keillor tells us word-nerdy things on The Writer’s Almanac.)

Anyway, either way, after we’re both back home before 8 o’clock even rolls around, Jason makes himself a little breakfast while I finish my squats and then we have a 5-minute stand up meeting to start the day. [Read more…]

Hospice: An Interview, Part 3

Thoughts on marriage and cancer…

As we’ve emailed back and forth, Mandy and Jay and I have talked about how “cancer” is definitely something woven throughout their love story and how it’s affected choices they have made as it relates to their marriage, friendship, and commitment to one another. Today’s interview is a glimpse into the part where “in sickness and in health” has been put to the test. How do marriages survive hardship, disappointment and tragedy? Can they make it through?! The wisdom and insight Mandy and Jay share is priceless advice whether a terminal illness is part of the recipe or not! We’d all be the wiser for putting into practice some of the examples of unconditional love these guys display. [Read more…]

When Marriage Requires Confession

Have you ever been driving along and a horrible thought out of nowhere goes something like, “Drive your car off that cliff” or “Head into oncoming traffic”? Or other abnormal thoughts like wanting to jump someone’s bones whose bones aren’t yours to jump, or even hurt yourself, or hurt someone else? The mind is a curious place and can surprise even ourselves at times.

The wrestling came with feeling a sense of “attraction” to a guy at church, one I wouldn’t have found attractive at first glance. I was upset with myself for the random thoughts popping into my mind when he would talk to me, because I loved my husband. It was during a season when Jason and I were tired and busy new parents and he was working a ton. He also admits he wasn’t close to God during that time and we were in a marital season of going through the motions to merely survive parenting, a move, and a remodel.

I felt ashamed for being a “Christian woman in leadership” and feeling a spiritual connection to a man other than my husband. I did everything “church” had taught me to do when stuff like this happened: prayed, read scripture, “took captive every thought that sets itself up against the knowledge of God…” I put on my armor every day and walked away from scenarios where the attraction could develop into anything more. But it was strong, and, at the same time, I resented Jason for what I perceived as being spiritually dry and disinterested in changing our relationship, so part of me wanted to entertain the thoughts further…because there was a “connection.”

Problem was, I was expecting Jason to meet a spiritual need in me that only I could find seeking God, projecting onto him some sort of spiritual role I had conjured up in my head, and of what I expected a “Christian” husband to behave like.

After trying to keep the battle to myself, not wanting to hurt Jason or ruin our marriage, but seeing the internal battle of containing thoughts was messing with my own head and heart, I finally confessed to Jason. I told him how I felt, the random thoughts, apologized for having unhealthy expectations, and how I wanted no secrets between us. I told him I didn’t want to jump the other guys’ bones, I wanted Jason’s bones, and how our marriage was important, totally worth it, but something was missing, and we needed to make God and our love the priority. He agreed. And the spiritual “attraction” to that other guy totally disappeared.

Rewind, and fast forward, to some other “random” scenarios, and hopefully this will lead me to my point…

Back to those random thoughts that come out of nowhere…throughout my mostly happily married life of 22 years to the hottest man in my whole world, there have been some guys I’ve met where I felt very uncomfortable and unnecessarily vulnerable around, and a thought comes out of nowhere and runs its course through my mind that has something to do with sex or attraction, and I’m like, “Whoa!?” or “What the heck?! Where did that come from?!” or, this, “Huh…that guy’s not ugly…” or “Wait! What is going on in my heart and marriage that a thought like that would come over me?!”

Being aware spiritually, and then bringing it to light, is key…even if it is just a thought, openly sharing it doesn’t allow a thing to grow and take root…it doesn’t allow it to stay hidden. Authentic sharing reveals everyone is tempted on any given day with any given thing. Confessing it to your spouse, even if you think it will hurt them, is being truthful with something that isn’t even a THING yet! When communication with our spouse is open, then saying, “Hey, will you pray for me? I just had a really random thought fly through my head and I don’t want to entertain it” diffuses and snuffs out something before it becomes a wildfire.

Recently, I had what seems to be a revelation about all of this…and I talked to Jason about it. See, I believe we are in a daily battle for our very souls. And I believe that battle is raging over us and in us and around us, whether we are aware of it or not…whether we believe it or not. I believe there are spirits waging battles against people to thwart their marriages, callings, families, livelihood, etc, but they are subtle at first…sometimes they come when times are tough, sometimes when everything is going great. And, if those subtleties, whether as “random” thoughts or about sexual temptation, or resentment and unspoken expectations like I had, go un-confessed, they can absolutely grow into inappropriate friendships and affairs. Scripture says, “Our battle is NOT against flesh and blood but against spiritual forces in this world.” In relationships, the subtlety can look like a battle with the other person, but the reality is, it’s rooted in something more.

So, then, what can we do with this information? First of all, no matter what, no matter the thoughts that pop into our heads, no matter our behaviors or choices, God who created us in His image, is totally and completely in love with us. Period. Any person who tells you otherwise is spreading lies.

  • We need to pray…I mean there are no secrets with God, anyway, so these thoughts aren’t shocking or a surprise to Him. How do you pray? I might pray something like this, “Lord, You know the thoughts that have been running through my head. I don’t want them there and I don’t want them to become anything more. Please open my eyes to see when these attempts at my heart are there, and free me more and more from their power. I need You and can’t do this on my own…”
  • We need to share these thoughts, the ones that AREN’T even a THING yet, with our spouses, family, friends, and trusted mentors, so they don’t become a THING at all.
  • We need to share because ISOLATION MAKES US WEIRD…when we sit with our own thoughts too long, especially ones we didn’t conjure up in the first place, yet “own” them as our own, then we start to wonder about our worth.
  • If the thoughts have already become a THING, it’s still not a secret even if you haven’t told another person (see first bullet above…) so the same course of action applies…especially since the longer it hides in the dark, the bigger it grows, and the more caustic the effects later.
  • And finally, instead of living in fear that there’s a demon under every rock, let’s simply be aware of the battles, call them out into God’s Light, and then, let’s get on with this beautiful, glorious life of loving God, loving ourselves, and loving others extravagantly.

An Interview With My Hubby

Here’s a relationship interview with my husband of 22 years that I’m trying to have while we watch “Modern Family” and he searches for hotels for us to stay for our upcoming family adventure to Australia next month (I’m desperate for blog material, so sue me…):

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20+ years with this guy! (Photo: Jessica Quadra, Barcelona, Spain)

20+ years with this guy! (Photo: Jessica Quadra, Barcelona, Spain)

Me: How come you can’t read my mind?

Him: (shakes head, laughs to self…keeps scrolling booking.com (booking dot yeah) while watching “Modern Family” (he’s a “multi-tasker”))

Me: So, I’m pretty desperate for material for my blog…can you help a sister out?

Him: (laughs out loud, like, “hahahahahaha” to my statement, not the funny thing Phil Dunphy said on MF)

Me: What do you think is the most stressful part of marriage?

Him: When your wife asks you questions when she’s trying to write stories…(laughs at his own hilarity…)

Me: (Waiting…)

Him: Um.

Me: I think it’s when you try to multi-task ME.

Him: Stressful? Listening but trying not to be a problem solver.

Me: Why is that hard for you?

Him: Uhhh, I have a PhD in engineering…I’m wired to solve problems.

Me: So why is listening hard for you?

Him: Listening isn’t hard for me, it’s the part about listening without trying to solve it.

Me: So, when did you realize I just wanted you to listen to me, not fix it? After you saw this video?

Him: Yep. Pretty much.

Him: Women want to engage in conversations within their relationship, but it’s almost impossible for a man to listen and not want to talk about solutions and the issues at hand.

Me: That’s pretty stereotypical. If I had a nail in my forehead, I’d want to figure out how the hell to get it out…

Me: Let’s try this again…what’s your favorite part of being married to MEEEEEEEEEE?

Him: (hahahahaahahahaha) What are you trying to accomplish?

Me: Nothing. I just have to write shit. That’s what Anne Lamott says and that’s what Micah J. Murray the blog master says, just write shit. It’s the act of writing that I’m practicing, whether it’s good or not, it’s just about writing…

Him: (With the cutest smile smeared across his face…) Why does it have to involve MEEEEEEE?

Well, I think that went seemingly…until next time…

The 5 Minute Marriage

The other day Jason and I had our first 5 minute Stand Up meeting. The day prior, I didn’t know what a “Stand Up” , or Scrum, meeting, was. He, on the other hand, has known about, held, and attended these types of meetings at his places of employment over the years. He also facilitates group conversations, conference calls, team retreats, and regularly communicates with his bosses and teammates regarding his schedule.

Baby, now that we have 7 of these under our belts, Stand Up meetings are going to be part of our lifestyle, but with our own little twists and personal touches, like laughter, “the circle of trust”, and a smooch to close it out.

If I may be so bold to say, the 5 minute Stand Up meeting may quite possibly be the very thing that eradicates, or at least decreases, the growing divorce rate in the world. Sound far-fetched? Don’t be so quick to judge…instead, try it and see what happens.

How can you know what the other is thinking unless you ask?

How can you know what the other is thinking unless you ask?

Let’s rewind and give you a bit of history so you are able to see the bigger picture…

Jason and I have been married over 21 years now, and prior to that we dated for 2.5 years. We did a joke-of-a-premarital counseling book via my church, cross-country, with only one face-to-face session with an associate pastor who didn’t really know us from Adam. As lovers and best friends, we said, “we do” and jumped in with both feet, at the ripe age of 21. Over the years we’ve been in co-leadership positions together, received the same training, learned our mojo as a couple, tag-teaming our leadership styles, and really have had a pretty good go of it. We’ve read books about marriage and communication, applied some of the principles, gone to a weekend marriage retreat, mentored younger couples, practiced the “10 Second Kiss”, gone on date nights, and continued to hold hands. We have also remained friends, been in couple Bible studies, prayer, and accountability groups, and fostered and been part of beautiful friendship circles where we have dug (and continue to dig) into the true grit of one another’s stories, leaving very little unexposed.

We have also hurt each other’s hearts fiercely, me with words, gripping tightly to offenses, erecting heart walls, and pridefully thinking I can do certain things without his help…him with few to no words…which, in my heart and mind, speaks millions of potential messages.

I will admit I am a verbal (or written) processor. Jason is an internal processor. I am passionate and animated. He faithful and stoic. For anyone who knows us, it’s a joke that he speaks very few words in a day, so when he does, baby, you better perk up and listen. The truth is, for his job he speaks lots and lots and lots of words, but I’m not that girl that’s going to buy the line about him using them all up with his colleagues and so when he’s off work, he has nothing left to talk to me about, but just relishing in the comfort of home, my unconditional love, and down time.

One of my best friends asked after a year of knowing me if Jason was mute. I’m NOT kidding. So when she learned he could indeed speak, she wondered if he liked her or not, given he hadn’t spoken any words to her.

He talks to me. But there’s that part of marriage where we don’t want to have to draw or drag or nag something out of someone…or that part where we expect or think they should just know what we are thinking or what it is we want from them…

Don’t get me wrong, he and I talk, and he talks to his colleagues and his friends and family. But on any given day when we’re juggling homeschool, a famously curious preschooler, a career from home, searching for time in a day for me to get in some writing, and all the ins and outs of life in general, many marriages lack intentional communication. Some are great at regular date nights. We are. Ask our babysitter, Bina. But 2 hours, once a week or every other week, don’t make a marriage go round, and certainly don’t allow it to run deep. That’s just maintenance.

In December as we were driving cross-country for the holidays, this happened in the car:

Jason: (out of the blue, nonchalantly…) Hey, next weekend when we get to Denver we’re having breakfast with Gary Bruegman (a marriage counselor).
Me: (cool with it, not in a paranoid voice…) Ok. Why?
Jason: (casually, matter-of-fact…) Because you said you wanted to do some marriage counseling.
Me: (uhhhh….) Yeah, I’ve been saying that for 21 years, but, sure, I’ll take it…

No. It was not up to Jason to make the phone call. I could have made a phone call years ago. The funny thing is, we’ve already told Emily that as a pre-wedding and post-honeymoon gift, we are giving her and her husband a couple years worth of marriage counseling…to start out with great resources and a neutral third-party advocate, basically to learn how to hear one another. Emotions and feelings and passion run deep, but a couples’ first year and first fight can throw up some pretty powerful walls, and we want to encourage the art of conversation and communication, as well as quick and true forgiveness, for our children and the important people in their lives before they are too shut down to call a counselor…because when you call a counselor as a last resort, often the walls aren’t just walls but fortresses.

Jason and I have learned through trial and error and tears how to fight fair, not to diminish the other person, holding them dear in our hearts, even as we disagree. This wasn’t always the case. When Jason and I were dating and we’d disagree, I had to “win” the disagreement, he had to agree with me, and I needed to be right. Period. I had never learned it was okay to disagree. My parents disagreed behind closed doors, and as one of 3 daughters of a very protective father, his word was law. Set free into college as a young woman, it was my turn to exercise my definitive opinions and decisiveness.

It rocked my world to have a mature, educated man (Jason) say to me, “It’s okay to disagree. We can have differing views and opinions and still be okay. It doesn’t mean I’m the boss of you.”

Huh. Novel concept…

And believe me, we don’t see eye to eye on some things, but we respect one another in the process, hear the other’s perspective, try to honor one another in it, and no matter what, at the end of the day, we choose love above all else. We pray together before bed, always kiss good night, and have tried diligently to practice forgiving quickly. 21 years makes a habit.

But I digress…

So, then, as we were driving to breakfast to meet the marriage counselor (a gem of a man, our dear friends’ dad, and a wise soul who also does weekend intensives…one in which we’ll be participating), this transpired:

Jason: (casually, but deep down, a little sassy…) So, what do you want to talk to Gary about?
Me: (looking sideways, bratty, with a “don’t make me smack you” kind of look…) I don’t know. You’re the one who called him…

Then we both smirked and probably talked about the unknown and adventure of our vagabond lives….

You see, marriage counseling isn’t bad and it isn’t only for times of crisis. In fact, it’s an excellent tool to utilize WHILE you are still friends, still in love, still speaking, still having sex…profound, huh?

Gary didn’t tell us about the Stand Up meeting…in fact, Jason did. He put into words what I suggested, which was simply, “Hey, outside of us praying together and reading the Bible, can we just meet for 5 minutes each morning and give each other a run down of our days?!” But Gary did talk to us about the simple act of connecting through intentional communication…that many marriages have the physical part down, and even the spiritual part, but the emotional parts need tweaking, not separately, but the three working together as a whole.

A “Stand Up” meeting is simply done standing up, hence the name. The idea is to stay focused, on point, and simply check in with your team.

This little tool and intentional 5 minutes of our morning, and sometimes before bed as well, has been quite a gift to me, at least. I’ll see if I can get Jason to write his version and take on it, so as maybe to convince some guys out there that communicating with their wife or girlfriend isn’t the worst thing in the world…and is highly beneficial all around.

Stay tuned…