Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Love Your Life: Embrace the Moment

What I really want to title this post is, "Love What You Got, While You've Got It, Because Things Will Eventually Change And You'll Find Something Else To Stress About."

The event that triggered such a long-winded title was nothing extraordinary. I was simply sitting in the car with Jake, alone, for the first time in what felt like months. The kids were with a babysitter and we were on our way to a youth group event. But we were alone, for the moment, and as I sat there, thoughts started to flitter through my head. Tears welled up in my eyes, which I hid from Jake because I felt silly crying in the car on a Sunday night for virtually no reason.

Why was I crying, you ask? Well, it was because I was desperately missing being a couple, just the two of us. I missed having the freedom to get in a car and drive somewhere without having to schedule a babysitter, write out bedtime routines and emergency numbers, lay out PJ's and night time diapers and wrestle away from two screaming toddlers just to get out the door.

I could not believe I'd spent years being immensely unhappy because we couldn't have children. Maybe you laugh to read this, but anyone who has dealt with infertility put having kids on such a pedestal, the reality of those children can't possibly live up to such lofty ideals!

There were so many trips we could have taken! So many last-minute, non-scheduled dates we could have gone on and truly enjoyed—if only I hadn't allowed myself to be so freaking miserable about stuff I had no control over. I was not in control of our fertility or the foster-to-adopt process—and it drove me crazy. I agonized and stressed and spent far too much time wallowing. And yes, I had plenty of valid emotions. We shouldn't pretend to be okay when things aren't okay.

But now, looking back, I can see how I could have found moments to be happy. Moments to enjoy being alone with my husband and relish the freedom we had. And that's the thing, we can all find something to be stressed about right now and something we think will alleviate that stress. "If only this particular circumstance would change," we tell ourselves. "Then I can be happy. Then life will be okay again."

But circumstances will always be changing and new challenges will always come. We ended up with two beautiful kids after six years of infertility struggles and adoption—but these two munchkins are a lot of hard work! Parenting two toddlers without family around to help is a draining experience, to say the very least.

What I'm coming to grips with is this: There's a difference between feeling things and letting those feelings overtake your every waking moment. Even in the midst of trying circumstances, there is joy to be found.

I'm very proud of the way I handled my miscarriage, for instance. That pregnancy, that baby, had taken almost two and a half years of effort and medical intervention. We were elated to be pregnant...and then I got that awful phone call and everything came crashing down. Our baby was gone.

And for some reason (namely, the Holy Spirit) I had the presence of mind to tell myself, "Feel what you need to feel, when you need to feel it." This meant that I didn't pretend. On Christmas Eve at church a friend asked me, "How are you?" And I didn't lie to her. I couldn't, at that point. I told her, "I'm not doing very well, actually. I had a miscarriage and I'm really sad." Which lead to my friend telling me about her three miscarriages and three healthy, grown kids and giving me a needed hug. For about a month I was sad and weepy when I needed to be and I didn't bullsh*&t people. I told them the truth. And when I had grieved, I was able to feel joy again. I was able to smile and laugh and be delighted when my friends told me they were expecting babies.

I felt my pain. I embraced it. And then I felt joy again.

Satan loves to rob us of this...he steals the joy. But God gives it back. He shows us the amazing moments even when life isn't so amazing. So really, no matter where you are in life, love it! It's gonna change, I promise you. And with those changes will come new highs and lows, new challenges and joys. Embrace the moment, feel what you need to feel, and try to find the spots where joy can infiltrate.

It's a lesson I'm learning moment by moment these days... - Melissa

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Importance of Perspective

A couple weeks ago, I (Jake) was at a Youth Ministry conference and on Friday night, I was chatting with a couple of people when the topic of our book, 99 Thoughts on Marriage and Ministry, came up. One of the youth workers got a little excited and expressed that her and her husband had been married for a little over a year, and she asked me to give her some nuggets of wisdom from the book.

I smiled and asked her how her first year of marriage had been. “Oh, it’s been great,” she replied. So I began to share that our first year of marriage had been anything but great. I was open and honest about some of the struggles and pain we went through in our first year of marriage, along with some of the subsequent lessons that we learned because of those things.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Brains, Brains, Brains

Nothing highlights the specific strengths and weaknesses of your brain's unique makeup like having two toddlers.

We always knew that our brains worked differently; Jake's brain is fast-moving, multi-tasking and spaghetti-like, while mine is task-oriented, super-focused and needs to transition sequentially. Honestly, Jake has the type of brain many women have, while I tend to think more like a guy. We realized this early on in our marriage and it often takes a lot of really concentrated effort to communicate effectively when both our brains are whizzing at different speeds and capabilities.

But that was nothing compared to now! The combined force of two tornados—ahem, I mean toddlers—full of energy, emotions and developing rationality has undeniably presented both our brains with unique challenges. Toddlers just don't cut you any slack!

As anyone who has ever driven with me (Melissa) knows, I literally can't drive and talk at the same time, unless driving a route I know by heart. My brain just can't multitask. So when Jake walks in the door right before dinner and both kids are talking (a.k.a. screaming), I'm trying to get the food cooked and on the table and he wants to know how my day has's not that I'm trying to be short and curt in my answers, my brain is literally on overload and can't pay attention to one more thing.

Instead of having constant mini-spats about this, like we were doing, I decided to communicate to Jake exactly why I act the way I do. And he totally understood! But it's hard for his fast-paced brain to remember in the moment. Our temporary solution? I ignore his questions if I'm on overload. It sounds odd, but I'm actually trying my darndest not to be rude to my husband. It's much more healthy to stay silent and continue in my task of getting-dinner-on-the-table-slash-toddler-watching, than to snap at Jake every night. This silence has also been helping Jake to clue into the fact that my brain can't handle any more tasks and he needs to wait until things settle a bit to talk to me.

Weird solution, but it's working—for now.

Jake, on the other hand, can multitask very well and keeps up with the constant movement and flux of our little ones much more easily. However, because his brain jumps around so fast, it can be hard for him to process his own emotions or tune into the emotions of our toddlers. Whereas I can read a situation with a tantrum-ing little one better because I'm focused more intently on them.

This was causing tension in our marriage because Jake thought I was interjecting too much, that I thought he couldn't handle our emotional kids. But the fact of the matter is that his brain is super great at handling whirlwind situations and longer amounts of time with the kids and mine is better at reading their emotions and knowing intuitively how to calm them down. So he's been trying harder to allow me to interject once in a while, to help him learn some toddler-wrangling techniques.

It takes a heck of a lot of effort to think through all of this!

Brains? Who knew that they would play so much of a role in our marriage and parenting lives?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The All The Emotions Project

Sometimes, we fight about stuff that isn't very important. The fights seem trivial and odd. But usually, there's more going on underneath the surface.

For example, Mr. Sean (aka the two-almost-three-year-old) is very much outgrowing his toddler bed. And so I, Melissa, decided that a new bed for him would become Part I of a never-ending refinishing job we'll call: The All The Emotions Project.

I watched a couple of DIY chalk paint videos online and bought the paint and wax. I was pumped and Jake was pumped. We were blissfully unaware of what was to come.

The first bump in the road was when Jake realized that chalk paint does away with the need to power sand furniture—even though I explained this fact to him like a million times. He denies I said anything, but I did. It's the entire point of chalk paint, and why the stuff costs a small fortune.

So Jake got upset because he likes sanding. Therefore, removing the sanding part felt like I was removing him from The Project. Then I got upset because re-painting furniture without the hassle of sanding had become (in my heart) this soul nourishing, creative outlet. I needed to be rid of the sanding. I cried and stormed off, not quite realizing why this fight was triggering such depth of emotion in both of us.

A while later, when I had processed and fumed some more, I informed Jake that it didn't matter if there was no sanding, I had to paint with chalk paint. I needed to make something beautiful in a short timeframe and he could go to hell.

I'm so sweet when I want to be.

I wasn't upset about the thing—the actual refinishing project. I was upset about the thing behind the thing—having two kids that suck the life out of me and desperately wanting something easy and creative to do. There were all kinds of emotions boiling underneath the surface that I'd had no idea about.

Jake accepted this and dealt with his own frustration as well. We moved on.

I trolled Craigslist for a couple of weeks and managed to score us an entire kid bedroom set for $90.00. But the bed part was a stackable bunk bed, something we can't use right now. Sean is two and he thinks he can fly. The bed needed to be on the ground.

Yay, I thought. Now Jake can be part of The Project again and all will be well. I asked him to build legs or a base for the bed frame so we could make it more like a real bed and less like a mattress on the floor. A couple of heated conversations ensued and for the life of me, I couldn't figure out why Jake was getting so angry.

He started throwing around phrases like, "It can't be done," and, "We should never have bought this."

All this drama to add four legs to a bed frame? I was flabbergasted. I informed him that there was no need for this level of emotion (completely forgetting my own meltdown a couple of weeks prior) and went to play with the kids. The next day Jake apologized and explained he'd needed time to process what I wanted and he also felt like all of my ideas about the bed legs challenged his ideas. He thought I was controlling him and taking away his part in The Project.

He wasn't actually upset about building legs, there were emotions being triggered by bed-leg-building.

So we realized we're a hot mess when it comes to refinishing furniture! For whatever reason, we both feel very deeply about sanding and painting right now. Which is fine as long as we become more aware of our feelings and try to treat each other more gently as we move forward.

We've made a little pact—I can't read Jake's mind and he can't read mine, so we're going to try communicate better when we feel strongly about a part of this refinishing project. We're going to try to explain why we feel upset and how the other person can support us through these emotions. It's not a fool-proof plan, but hopefully it will cut down on arguments and teach us to be more graceful towards each other.

Next up...the dresser!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Travel and Marriage

Usually, the Kircher clan is a homebody type of tribe, but lately we've had a good deal of stuff going on. Between visiting friends and family, church events and some extra ministry commitments, life has been a bit more busy.

Which has lead me to this great pearl of wisdom: don't judge the state of your marriage while you're away from home. Seriously, it's like a three-ring circus when we head out into the wide open world. There's poop and food and crying (perpetrated by both parents and children) and screaming (ditto) and laughter and hugs and scraped knees and plans gone awry and more screaming and more poop. I always have this image in my head of what we SHOULD be like on our little adventures. Something a bit like this:

But instead, we look kinda like this:

I'm smiling but my grip is iron tight. I let go and they run opposite directions.

We're just batshit crazy right now, people. It's the time of life. There's nothing to do but endure and treasure the rare wondrous moments.

And you know what? Jake and I are pretty good. Dear sweet heavens, don't jinx me for saying that. But it's true. Our relationship is humming lately. It feels different, like new life breathed into it after a long, hard winter's nap. There are many reasons for this, which I'm sure we'll be diving into over the next couple of months.

But I tell you what, going anywhere almost instantly has us at odds. Our differences in thinking and planning and doing and (especially) parenting are heightened the second we step out of the door, like a giant spotlight from the universe shining down to illuminate every darn thing we don't agree upon.

A couple of years ago I would have noticed this and become VERY upset. Now, I'm too friggin' tired to get all worked up about a couple of arguments. I think this sheer exhaustion has peeled back a layer of the relationship onion, though, and allowed me to see that a couple of spats during travel and the disruption of the usual, daily routine do not a relationship make.

This is nice for me to realize. It feels safe. I like it. I like letting the brief, heated words scatter like sand blowing in the wind. We apologize, we learn some stuff and we come back home and dive back into regular life and everything is okay.

Until someone poops or screams, or something.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Bringing Home Difficult People

Whether you have been in youth ministry for 5-minutes or 50-years, it doesn’t usually take long to figure out that there are some difficult people within our churches. You know, that parent who always seems to have an issue with something you’re doing. That elder who seems to never be satisfied with youth group attendance. Or that pastor who just can’t understand why you do what you do with students.

In our experience, it’s these difficult people within our churches that can be one of the biggest threats to our marriage. Jake has had countless times, especially early in his career, where he has come home frustrated and short due to a difficult encounter that day. We’ve had pending decisions from church leadership that impact our family’s wellbeing that seem to drag out forever. And we’ve had demanding parents interrupt family time because they want something now or else…

Difficult people are a guarantee in our line of work, but how do we avoid bringing them home all the time to our families?

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

What Is The Point Of Marriage?

Last Tuesday was a rather normal day, but when dinnertime rolled around, I found myself exhausted and totally spent. The kids were being cranky and hungry and I simply could not take another moment; my introvert quota of “people energy” had been spent.

So I called Jake and asked him if he would allow me duck out and take a bath when he got home, while he cooked dinner and put the gremlins to bed.

“Sure,” he replied. “I’d be happy to do that for you.”

I took my bath, read my book and got what I needed in order to function as the healthy version of Melissa. After I got out of the bath, Jake and I had dinner and he asked me some questions about his work, we talked about scheduling stuff he had on his mind, and together we decided to read a marriage book he’d suggested—all things that would have exploded my shorted-out brain an hour earlier. But all things that Jake needed in order to process his day and be the healthy version of himself.

The evening could have been a disaster, but instead there was this gentle give and take, like the ocean tide ebbing and flowing against a sandy shore.

And it got me thinking.

This energy flowing between us, the way we each asked for what we needed, responded honestly, and worked dynamically to solve problems, THIS felt like the point of marriage. The space between us that was secure in the fact that we’d be staying together and the peace that descended on the messiness of everyday life as we traversed it.

It feels like the majority of the marriage books and resources out in the ether today are all aimed at STAYING TOGETHER. As if the whole point of marriage is not bailing out. I’ve been sensing this theme in our writing, as well, and it’s been bothering me.

The point of marriage is not just to stay together; it’s to experience something radically life-giving because breaking your commitment is simply not an option.

A recent example of this is our sex life. I’ll be frank, sex has been an issue since day one in our virginal union and it continues to this day. We do not have things in the bedroom all worked out, not in the least. But over the last couple of months I’ve felt a huge shift in our sex life, and it mostly has to do with my own mindset.

My big secret to better sex? I let it go.

It’s not that I stopped caring about sex or putting in effort, but I realized Jake and I were going to be okay in the midst of our sexual issues. We were committed to each other and loved each other and maybe it was okay to relax about sex a little. Maybe it was okay that I didn’t get exactly what I needed when I needed it. And perhaps, I had some issues of my own to work out (huge surprise).

This mental shift has opened up the space between us, literally like a breath of fresh air. I know we’ve both felt the energy between us relax when it comes to sex and this relaxation has sparked—no, not crazy lovemaking every night—but more enjoyable, loving, connected and easygoing sexual experiences.

And this is what marriage is all about: the freedom, learning, and joy that happens when you stop focusing on how on earth you’ll actually stay and relax into the energy flow of two people journeying through life together. It’s the interplay between two spouses that is so life-altering and affirming when done right.

So, what is your marriage like these days? Do you find yourself concentrating on how your relationship is going to stay together or are you able to see how you and your spouse move back and forth, learning and supporting each other as both unique individuals and part of a solid, unchanging union? 

Feel free to share your thoughts below! -Melissa

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Married...With Children

Last week our little brood spent a glorious Saturday afternoon at the park with friends; a lovely couple who has three children three-years-old and under. We get each other. At one point during a lull in the ball-kicking, tantrum-averting, tuna-dirt fiascos and everything else that goes along with maintaining the chaos of five wee gremlins, my friend (the wife) turns to me and says, "So how do you and Jake keep your marriage alive while parenting small children?"

I laughed at her.

No really, I did.

"You tell me," I snorted back. "We just spent all morning fighting about this." And we had. Passive aggressive harsh whispers back and forth escalating to curt tones which then turned into a yell or two. Parents of the year over here!

Two days later I sat next to this same friend and a group of other moms with small ones for a ladies night out. "Okay," I announced. "I want to hear everyone's advice about this subject. How do you stay married? How do you have time for each other when at the end of the night all you have energy for is watching an episode of New Girl and falling asleep at 8:45?"

They laughed at me.

"You and Jake want to know?" another friend at the table asked. "Gosh, if you guys don't know...I mean, don't you write about this stuff?"

"Have you read our blog?" I asked, deadpan. "Number one, there have been no posts for ages because we're totally exhausted. And number two, it's called the Holymess for a reason. We own not knowing what the hell we're doing!"

I'd like to tell you that the conversation then went on to be full of wonderful pearls of wisdom I could share about keeping connection and romance alive when more than one tiny being depends on you for EVERYTHING. But that's just not what happened. We chatted a bit and honestly, it was much more life-giving to vent about marriage stuff in a positive, loving environment than it was to try and fix each other's unique relationship struggles.

Having two small children is really, really hard. God bless you lovers who have more than that. Friends of ours have five. Five. I break out in hives just thinking about it.

It helps to know that Jake and I are not alone in trying to work this married-with-children thing out. Makes those exhausted nights where we can't figure out how to connect just a little bit lighter.

Knowing that we're not alone does help us fight harder. If I know my friends are busting their buns to carve out marriage space amidst the craziness of parenting, it makes me want to keep trying. I'd like to think I've become a little (a little, mind you) more laid back about sex. I've been able to say yes to going out on dates more and speak up when those dates aren't happening. Granted, this only happens when having a brief conversation about something completely unrelated that taps into my feelings—those things that have buried deep down in my psyche in order to survive. Hey, it's hard to be all Oprah and zen while one kid is running into oncoming traffic and the other is tumbling headfirst down a flight of stairs. I'm just lucky we're all alive at the end of the day, forget about feelings.

And I'm so tired these spurts of demands are spoken in stilted cavewoman. "Give me love language," I grunt.

Recently, Jake and I have started having dinner after the kids go to bed so that we can actually talk to each other during a meal. It makes bed-time hellish for me. My introvert tank is on low after all day with the two kids and I'm hungry and they're cranky. It's grit-your-teeth-this-will-happen kind of epic-ness to pull off, but Jake and I have so enjoyed this new time together. Yes, we inevitably crash and zone out in front of the TV after, but we enjoyed thirty-minutes of conversation and connection. Sometimes we even have sex.

Miracle of miracles.

So here are my seriously deep tips for staying married with children:

1. Chill out - Relax your standards. Emotionally own that your marriage is different now. It's important and should be a priority, but it's different and will require a good deal of trial and error from now on.

2. Try - Wow, the complexity of this one! There's no time for complexity, people, it's do or die out here. If you want to stay married you just need to try. This will work itself in a myriad of ways. But if you don't try, then I guarantee you'll start drifting apart. It's really, really easy to drift apart when you have kids. So keep trying, keep putting effort into your marriage even if all that means is saying "I love you" every day.

That's it. I know those two points seems opposing, but they are actually quite compatible, trust me.

And seriously, we're all about soaking up the wisdom of others. Be a doll and post your own marriage advice below. I'm sure there are plenty of us who want to hear how you and your spouse make it work!!   -Melissa

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Listening to God's Voice

Conventional Biblical wisdom says to have advisors when it comes to orienting your life and ministry. To listen to your family, friends, peers, elders, and church leadership—and this is in fact a very prudent track to take. When living amidst the demands of ministry, you want to have trusted people around you who can help with making big decisions, make sure your life is balanced, and support you through trying times.

For many of us in ministry, the issue isn’t so much about having voices involved in our life and ministry; we typically have more than enough! The question we all need to be asking though is whose voice is, and should be, the loudest? Is it your senior pastor’s voice? Is it your spouse’s? Is it the church board? Or your children? Who do you listen to as you plan your schedule, as you live out your professional and personal life?

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Friday, August 8, 2014

Getting Ready for the School Year

Here we go again! The new school year is just around the corner, and with it comes the cyclical shift from summer to fall programming.

No doubt you’re already laying the groundwork for fall meetings and finalizing those calendars to get in parent’s hands. You’re busily preparing for an influx of students and new challenges ahead. But have you thought about how the start of the school year will impact your family? It’s a crucial thing to consider; yet many of us forget how this change affects our personal schedules and relationships.

You might want to consider taking some time with your spouse and/or family during these last few weeks of summer to discuss the following questions:

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Our goal of this blog is to share stories (both good and bad), thoughts and insights about our marriage and we would love for you to jump into the conversation.

The goal is to provide three things:
1) HOPE for struggling couples that they are not alone.
2) GROWTH in our marriages and our understanding of marriage.
3) ENCOURAGEMENT to keep loving your spouse unconditionally.