Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Understanding What You're Worth

We just had a new article go up on YouthMinistry.com that deals with navigating the pressures of marital finances and youth ministry. You can check it out here if you are interested: http://bit.ly/rBQE11

Jake and Melissa

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Thanksmas

So I was scrolling through Facebook the other day. Facebook is a great procrastination tool. It's mind-numbing to take a quick look at the status feed and see what people are up to isn't it?

There is a lot of Christmas shopping and preparation going on, per usual. But one FB post in particular caught my eye. A group of people I went to high school with posted pictures of themselves gathering for something called "Thanksmas." I don't know exactly what Thanksmas is for them, but the pictures showed the group holding hands, heads seemingly bent in prayer.

"How awesome is that?!" I thought. People this time of year tend to glaze over Thanksgiving in favor of Black Friday and Cyber Monday craziness. In fact, November and December seem to ever increasingly glide by in a haze of desire and materialism.

Christmas seems to bring out the "I want" in most of us. Giving gifts isn't bad at all, but we should be giving gifts with a thankful heart. We celebrate Christmas because of the incredible gift of eternal life that Jesus has given to us.

I love the idea of having a Thanksmas, where instead of focusing on all the things we want, we share with joy all the things we have already been given. It's a challenge for me to find contentment with many situations in my life, especially during the holidays. Everyone else always seems to have more money, more status, more success and just a seemingly more wonderful life than my own. But if I truly entered into the spirit of Christmas, I would realize all the amazing things I can be thankful for.

I really am blessed on so many levels and that is what Christmas should be about. So....

Merry Thanksmas everyone!!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Deciding What To Give

It's Christmas season and with all the talk of spending flying around we thought it would be great to talk more about finances and giving/tithing in particular.

For many couples deciding what and how to give is difficult, especially in the midst of a struggling economy. This issue is also affected by the different family backgrounds of you and your spouse. It can be quite frustrating when the two of you have different opinions about giving.

What makes this conversation a thousand times more difficult is that there are varied interpretations of what Biblical giving should look like. Even on our last blog post about building a budget, two of the comments were specifically about this issue and what the Bible calls the tithe.

The basic understanding of the tithe comes out of the Jewish Scriptures and is understood as giving 10% of your income to the church. After this basic explination though, there are still many questions:
  • Does the 10% apply to our income before or after taxes? 
  • Do you have to give the 10% to a local church or can you give it to a mission agency or non-profit organization? 
  • What about if you are struggling financially, can you give less than 10%? 
  • What about people who are extremely wealthy and 10% is like pocket change to them? Are they obligated to give more? 
  • What do you do if you want to “obey the Bible” and give 10% of your income but your spouse doesn’t agree with your theological understanding about giving and isn’t comfortable giving that much? 
  • What about gifts, bonuses or other unexpected checks? Do you have to tithe on those too? 
Perhaps some of these questions have come up in your marriage or relationship and the resulting disagreements have really taken the joy out of giving. How do you decide where to start and what is the right amount for your family to give?

1) As you guys start conversations about giving don’t begin with the tithe debate. Getting caught up in a conversation (or argument) about “10%”  actually misses two very important aspects of giving that supersede the conversation about a specific amount.

First, ask why the two of you should give in the first place. Sadly, it seems more and more people are choosing not to give. Barna Group, a Christian research organization, has reported fairly consistently over the last few years that giving is on the decline. (See their most recent stats here). In our opinion, failure to give anything as a Christian in many cases points to a spiritual immaturity that really does as much harm to ourselves as it does to the people who we are neglecting to help.

The whole reason it is even possible to have a relationship with God is because God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit gave. As Christ’s followers, we are called to follow in His footsteps. Jesus’ disciples completely understood this as they started the church in the book of Acts. Read through the first few chapters and see how many references there are to the early Christians giving, sharing and helping others out. Think about James 1:27, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.” The only way we do carry this out is by giving!

Second, the other thing we need to keep in mind is that God doesn’t want 10% of our finances; He wants 100%. The money that we are blessed with is a gift from God – along with the gifts, skills and talents He has given each of us to earn said finances. We have the responsibility to be good stewards with all – not just 10% - of what God has given us. Consider the widow that Jesus affirms in Luke 21:1-4 who gave “all she had to live on.” As you discuss giving, the conversation must be broadened to not just focus on how much God wants us to give but instead to ask the question, “How does God want us to spend every dime we make?”

2) With those two big issues in mind, it is now appropriate to start talking specific amounts. When it comes to this we don’t think there is a “correct” answer or percentage but instead echo Paul’s words to the church in Corinth:

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:6-8)

A couple of points about this passage:

First, giving in this passage isn’t about meeting any particular percentage. It’s about the heart and the motives of the giver. Spend time talking, praying, searching Scripture and reading books about how you and your spouse should use your income, including giving, make a decision and just go for it. Giving 10% is a fantastic benchmark to aim for but don’t get legalistic about it nor use it as a reason to not give more because “you’re giving the amount God wants.”

Second, regularly challenge yourselves to give more. We try to evaluate what we give every 6 to 12 months. We also challenge ourselves with this whenever we get an extra freelance job, gift or bonus. Compared to the rest of the world, those of us who live in the West are very well off and we have more to spare than we often admit. (For specifics, check this calculator out: http://www.givingwhatwecan.org/resources/how-rich-you-are.php.)

We have found that this passage definitely rings true and the more we give, the more we reap! This isn’t always a return in a dollar amount but in the joy of loving other people, growing in our faith and a shift in our priorities from our stuff and ourselves to God and others.

-Jake

The Money Series:
Part 1: Starting the Money Conversation
Part 2: Building a Budget
Part 3: Deciding What to Give (you're reading it)
Part 4: Do We Really Need That?
Part 5: Cutting Corners: Tips for Tight Budgets

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Ear Plugs: A Lesson In Forbearance

"Since God chose you to be the holy people He loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other's faults and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others." Colossians 3:12-13 NLT

There is a man living in the apartment complex across from our house who gets on my very last nerve. Every day, sometimes twice a day if I'm lucky, he takes his massive Rottweiler on an achingly slow walk by our property. Not only do I find large mounds of dog droppings in front of our mailbox on a daily basis, but without fail this man spends the entire walk yelling at the top of his lungs into a cell phone.

The yelling is in Spanish, so it helps that I don't know exactly what he's saying. But, in addition to the ear-splitting volume, his voice has the highest pitch I've ever encountered in a male human being. It's like a munchkin from Oz. A ten year-old girl munchkin.

And he has bright blond hair. For some odd reason this offends me the most.

Literally everything about this fellow and his walks makes me want to tear my eyes out. I can not fathom why he needs to yell so loudly and why this must be done in front of my house for fifteen minutes every day. I'll admit one time (it was dark) I lost my cool and shouted, "Shut up!" out the window. It was not my best moment, nor did it bother him in the least. He continues to walk-shout with carefree abandon.

Yesterday, as I was seething in frustration about his lack of respect for people with ears, I felt God whisper to me the above verse from Colossians. It convicted my heart. (I must note though, our God is a God of whispers. He understands appropriate noise levels and I love Him for it.)

How many times do I let the annoying things other people do eat away at my mind, heart, and patience when God is calling me to bear with them? It's just not worth it to let my decibel-y challenged neighbor get to me the way he does. In the whole scheme of things does it truly matter if he yells? I need to let him yell and let it go.

This is harder to accomplish in my marriage, this bearing with one another and allowing for each other's faults. My husband's faults offend and hurt me on a very deep level. My instincts tell me to latch onto every failing and allow resentment and hurt to fester unchecked. It can be satisfying to give into this predisposition, but ultimately it creates bitterness and division.

I'm not suggesting husbands and wives forgo accountability or avoid conflict, but I know my marriage would be more peaceful, loving, and supportive if we both were more adept at bearing with and forgiving one another.

Voltaire says, "We are all full of weakness and errors; let us mutually pardon each other our follies."

I am convicted of my need to mature in the area of forbearance with Christ's help and guidance. With both small annoyances and more serious offenses, I should be trying harder to let things go.

I also need to stick in some ear plugs.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Submissive Wife?

Yesterday I came across the following article on a web-site called Start Marriage Right : 

http://www.startmarriageright.com/2011/11/helping-your-husband-lead-well/

I thought it was interesting. I'm not sure where I stand as a woman on the whole submissive wife thing. It seems to me that many Christian men abuse this concept to be controlling and sometimes abusive.

The author did make some great points though.  I agreed with her conclusion that many women expect their husbands to fulfill all emotional needs. Which as I have learned, does not a good marriage make. Our deep emotional needs should first and foremost be brought to the Lord. He is the only one who can truly understand, shoulder, and heal our hearts. He fills the empty parts of us, not our men.

I liked the verse she used to talk about a wife's behavior - 1 Peter 3:1 "Likewise, wives be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives."  But I would add 1 Peter 3:2 which finishes the sentence, "...when they see your respectful and pure conduct." This verse seems to me to be talking about a specific situation, rather than a blanket statement about submission. It's addressing a wife whose husband is an un-believer and telling her that by her conduct and respectful treatment of him, she will be demonstrating the love of Christ most effectively and clearly. 

The passage most often referenced in relation to submission is:

Ephesians 5:22-33
New International Version (NIV)

"22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

"25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband."

So often we focus on the first part of the passage where it could sound offensive in today's culture. But the passage as a whole addresses the conduct of BOTH the husband and wife. That is key. I think that there will probably always be a debate as to exactly what "submit" means in the everyday life of a modern marriage, but the overall point of the passage is (to me) that husbands and wives are to be mutually submissive to each other; just in different ways.

Wives who act and speak respectfully to their husbands communicate that they love them. Respect is very often the love language of men.

Husbands who act loving and speak loving words to their wives communicate their care. This is how women receive love.

I honestly don't agree with everything mentioned in the article. Do I think the Bible tells women that they should just be quiet, stop crying, and listen to their men tell them where to go? Probably not. That probably wasn't the best story/illustration to use. And her article did have a tone that women should always be "behind" their men, which I don't love. Women have wisdom, leadership skills, and are out in the world doing great things. Perhaps the author was suggesting that wives should be supportive of their husbands?

To me the submissive wife thing should be how women can respect, support their husbands, listen to their opinions and help the family and marriage succeed. The passage in Ephesians should be taken as a whole I think. We husbands and wives should take from it that Christ desires good, loving, and mutually submissive behavior from us both. Men and women are different. We experience love differently and so the Bible gives gender based guides for how to best treat one's spouse. The fact that Ephesians lumps the expectations together for me is a big deal. Marriage is to be done as a team. We work together, sacrifice for one another, and submit to the needs of the other person. We're different, but equal.

We'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic of submission and we hope that it opens up a respectful dialogue either here or at home. Many people disagree about this topic, so it's important to talk about it in a manner that is considerate and kind, no matter how strong our opinions are.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Holiday Plans

A couple of weeks ago, the hubs and I were couch surfing when he casually asked what I wanted to do for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I answered that I thought we could do Thanksgiving in Maryland with my family and Christmas with his in Massachusetts. We hashed out some details about driving and dates, but they were hashed in a very amicable manner. It took about five minutes when everything was all said and done.

We continued to read and chill on the couch in a satisfied manner. Then Jake looked at me and said, "Did that really just happen? Did we decide about holiday plans in under ten minutes with no arguing, yelling, or tears??!!!"

It was a total fluke. Probably will never happen again.

Holidays are so tricky. I feel like most couples end up arguing about something. The problem with holidays is that they are so entangled with emotion and there are often many people and families involved.

This time of year really can test a marriage. That's why it's important to reflect on what being a team means. You and your spouse are a team. You're there to support and care for one another. Family traditions are most often tied to deep sentiment and we're all individually responsible to make sure that traditions which are meaningful to our spouse are affirmed and validated.

This doesn't mean that every tradition must be observed or that every extended family member must be placated. It means that we should try to suppress the deep, gravelly demon-possessed voice inside that wants to demand, "We always eat ham on Christmas and this is the way it must be done!" Instead, we should do the infinitely harder thing and work towards loving compromises. Everyone's feelings about the holidays are valuable. How can you as a couple support each other and make your respective families reasonably happy? That should be the goal. Not to win or to out-rank each other.

As I said before, this year was a total fluke. It's really not an easy thing to do at all, this holiday planning. And it morphs a bit each year as people, circumstances, and families change. I think the best we can all hope for is to get a little better a loving our spouse each holiday season and working on our compromising skills ad nauseum!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Sex and Rogue Boogers

One night last week, Jake and I were....well...you know, "In the mood."

My husband is a very handsome man, but he has this ginormous German nose. It's a schnoz and a half. I have a large nose too, but his I think his beats mine in both width and girth. This nose can be tricky to navigate around when kissing and we've dealt with multiple instances of eye gouging.  It is a force to be reckoned with.

So there we were working towards having a wonderfully sex-filled evening and his nose kept squishing violently against mine when we kissed.

After a couple minutes of this, I had to stop. Number one, a girl has to breathe. Number two, Jake's nose had squished all the boogers in my left nostril into one giant booger clump and something needed to be done about it. I didn't want to get up and break the sexy mood of the moment, so what did I chose to do? (I know you're all going, "No! Don't do it Melissa!")

Yep, I picked my nose. But wait, this booger clump was not so easily giving up it's cherished home. No, it had decided to go rogue. So there I sat, trying to still be sexy while fishing around inside my nose like a three year old for this stubborn and elusive booger. 

Finally, the rogue booger clump was located and dispensed with, but I could not stop laughing. I'm not really a giggling kind of woman, but giggle uncontrollably I did.

Why am I sharing this graphic and slightly disturbing story? Well, because it's funny and also because the point is that after the booger was dealt with and we stopped laughing, we went on to finish our sexy evening. What prepares you for sex and rogue boogers? Nothing! What we see and hear about all the time is that sex is this seamless, confident and arousing experience. Sometimes it is. But many times, it's not. It's awkward and silly and fun and messy and real.

Sometimes marriage is all about these ridiculous moments we find ourselves sharing with our spouses. It's special to be able to laugh and be total dorks with one another. And if Jake and I can do anything to help dispel some of the fantastical hype about what sex should be, well then I humbly submit the rogue booger incident as proof that sex is not always that glamourous. But it sure is fun!

Monday, October 24, 2011

True Love Says No

We just had an article go up today on Relevant called True Love Says No. It's about being intentional in our relationships and that sometimes one yes leads so having to say many no's. You can check out the article here.

Jake and Melissa

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Building a Budget

Part two in our series about handling finances we will tackle the issue of budgets and how to build one that fits your family. I recently read an article in ESPN the Magazine that was all about athletes who went bankrupt and ran into money troubles. It just goes to show you that no matter how much money you have, when you just freely spend with no guidelines you can quickly get into trouble and find yourself in a heap of debt. We can't urge you more strongly: having a budget will save you so many issues!

Setting up a budget isn't rocket science either and can be done pretty easily:

Step 1: Figure out what your family income is for a month. For most people this is as easy as just adding up your regular paychecks each month. This gets more tricky though for someone who is a freelancer or whose work fluctuates. As you start to build a budget for your family, it is best to base your monthly income off of an amount that is most regularly made from month to month. In other words, if your work changes from month to month, choose the least amount made to base your budget off of each month. The months where you end up making more will be factored into step #4.

Step 2: Figure out what your non-negotiable monthly expenses are. This includes things like rent, groceries, utilities, school loan payments, gas for your car and anything else that you both decide you just can't live without. Subtract this total from your monthly total in Step 1.

If your total expenses exceed your monthly income, start cutting. The best way you can avoid money issues to not spend more than you make! (Part four and five of our money series will help with cutting your budget.)

Step 3: Once your bills are paid, there are a number of conversations to then have concerning any leftover income:
  • How much are we going to give away? This issue can be one of the biggest points of contention for so many couples. Often times in a marriage, one person is more generous than the other and it can create a lot of tension. Especially when you bring religion into the giving conversation. Our next post in this series will be completely dedicated to this issue of giving.

  • How much are we going to put in savings? Generally, experts will recommend putting about 10% of your paycheck into savings and we think this is a good place to start. However, deciding what to put in savings will be dictated by your future goals such as buying a house, starting a M.A. program or having kids.

  • How much can we spend on entertainment each month? For us, we call this budget item our "Fun Money." We use this on date nights, outings with friends, a bottle of wine after a stressful week or whatever else we deem necessary to relax and destress. These expenses are generally agreed on by both of us.

  • How much can we each spend personally? This will impact things like going out for lunch at work instead of bringing a lunch, buying the new Call of Duty game or a new pair of shoes, purchasing music (people still do that, right?) or grabbing a soda or a pack of gum when you stop for gas, etc. Generally, each person can spend this however they want.

  • What "wants" can we afford? This will include other possible expenses that were not considered non-negotiable in Step 2. 
Step 4: In a recent Yahoo article, the headline basically read something to the effect of "Teacher's Crazy Tip to Save Money." I don't know if they were being sarcastic but the tip ended up being, "Don't be afraid to be made fun of for spending less than you make." This is the final, and one of the most important parts, of making a budget work. This might seem like common sense but so many people struggle with this.

When struggles do happen, it is very important to sit down and discuss together why your budget wasn't met that month and then decide if any changes need to be made as you start a new month. It is a never a good idea to just let the issue go, assuming next month will be better. In some cases it does just go away but if it's not, climbing back out of two or three months is always more difficult than nipping an issue in the butt right away.

Sometimes a budget isn't met one month simply because of something you didn't plan for like needing to repair your car or a trip to the ER. Sometimes these are one time things and next month gets back on track automatically. Other times you need to make a decision about how to pay for the extra expense whether it means pulling from savings or working this unexpected cost into your budget for the next few months.

It's a little more difficult to deal with when your budget isn't being met because one or both of you aren't watching your spending and respecting the decisions you made together. When the issue is one person in the marriage, remember to be gentle and calm in your approach. For some people, spending is an addiction and they need grace and patience as they work through the issue. Take time to talk and understand why keeping to the budget is so difficult. Also, don't be shy about seeking out some help from a counselor to work through the issue if needed.

If the issue is both of you, we would highly recommend seeking out some help together. One option is finding a local Financial Planner in your area who will go through your finances and work with you on a budget. Another option, although we haven't experienced it ourselves, is Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University. We have had numerous friends go through this and we have heard nothing but praise for what his classes have done for their finances. If anyone else has anything you'd recommend for working through finances together, we'd love to hear your suggestions in the comments.

Jake and Melissa

The Money Series:
Part 1: Starting the Money Conversation
Part 2: Building a Budget (you're reading it)
Part 3: Deciding What to Give
Part 4: Do We Really Need That: Understanding Needs vs. Wants
Part 5: Cutting Corners: Tips for Tight Budgets

Monday, October 3, 2011

Ministry & Marriage at YouthMinistry.com

Melissa and I recently had the opportunity to do some writing for YouthMinistry.com about the topic of marriage and ministry. The current plan is to contribute once a month. We know the content won't directly translate to everyone here but we wanted to share them with you nonetheless.

Here are the two we have written so far:

The Holymess of Marriage and Ministry
Finding a Job to Fit Your Family

Enjoy!

Jake

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Starting the Money Conversation

For many marriages money is a big issue. If you Google the phrase "top reasons for divorce", you will find that financial issues show up on pretty much every hit. Issues with money are inevitable and will create tension for most couples. Money definitely causes disagreement between Melissa and I.

How can couples deal with money, respect each other, make wise choices, and stay married??

Over the next couple of weeks, we'll post a handful of blogs to try and impart some financial wisdom we've learned in the last six years from trusted friends, counselors, and trial by fire. Here is what's in the queue:
  1. This blog, Starting the Money Conversation, will begin with some basic conversation tips to help give you and your significant other a good foundation for discussing finances. 
  2. Building a Budget will lay out some basics to understanding how to budget with three blogs to follow taking a few questions a little deeper:
  3. Deciding What to Give
  4. Do We Really Need That?
  5. Cutting Corners: Tips for Tight Budgets
Here are some thoughts on starting conversations about this topic:

1. Understand your significant other's view of money.

Often in marriage, you can wrongfully assume your significant other handles things the same way you do and money is no exception. It's important to understand how money was handled in both of your families while growing up. Take time to ask what your spouse liked about the way their parents handled money and what they didn't like. How does this impact what they do with their money now? How does your spouse or fiance deal with credit cards and/or debt? What do they think the role of a budget is? What do they spend their money on now? What are their future financial goals? It's great to have these talks before getting married too, as these conversations will provide insights into how you can work towards handling finances collectively.

2. Clarify roles. In marriage, it can be really helpful to set and clarify individual financial responsibilities.
  • Will one person pay the bills each month or will you each pay some?
  • Who is going to balance the check book? How often will that be done?
  • Who is going to take care of deposits?
  • Will you handle grocery shopping together or will one person take care of this?
  • Who is going to set and track a budget?
Each couple needs to figure out what works best for them and it may take a couple of years to iron this out. I am much better at math than Melissa, so I handle balancing the check book, tracking our budegt and paying the bills each month. When it comes to deposits, we handle them on a case by case basis depending on who will be heading near the bank on a particular day. Melissa has a sixth sense when it comes to grocery shopping and can stay on budget with scary accuracy. Literally every week, she gets to the check out line and can select 2 or 3 items to remove from our purchase and is almost always within a dollar or two of our budget.

3. Figure out your bank accounts.

It can be assumed that as a married couple you should have one shared checking account and one shared savings account. But bank accounts don't have to be one certain way. Some couples find it easier to manage money by having separate accounts and split up their bill paying. Some have separate fun money spending accounts, but also have a shared savings and shared checking.

We've found it really helpful for Melissa to have one separate account where she deposits her art and freelance earnings. In some ways, it's her business account which she uses to purchase supplies for whatever she needs for her job as a freelance artist. But she also uses it to buy clothes, pay some bills, save for vacations, the occasional coffee with friends or to buy presents for birthdays or Christmas. Not everyone should do this, as it could lead to hiding finances, but it works specifically for us as Melissa is  responsible with money and it helps her feel a small sense of freedom that is important for her. Growing up, her father was very controlling and manipulative about money, and having this little account for herself makes her feel like she doesn't have to ask me anytime she wants to do something.

Again, there really isn't one correct way to do bank accounts, it's all about what works best for each couple.

4. Clarify your significant other's view of money. Again.

Yes, this is a repeat of #1 and we are repeating it for a few reasons. First, money is something that can change at any time. Your spouse loses their job. Your landlord decides to raise rent. One of you gets a raise. Lots of things can change the landscape of how you were spending money and create the need to repeat conversations.

Second, people's views constantly change, especially when it comes to money. What your spouse was comfortable with a few months ago could now make them really uncomfortable. What you thought could be cut out of the budget might be too difficult. A book one of you read or a sermon you heard could have brought up a new perspective on finances. Don't get frustrated or upset with your spouse when things change. Take time to listen to them and understand what has altered in their views and why. Do you now need to change your finances at all? If you can't come to an agreement about a change leave things the way they are for a week and pray about it. You can revisit the conversation and decision later and some prayer, time, and breathing space might help.

Money doesn't have to derail your marriage if you handle it correctly. Some purposeful conversations and some careful planning can help minimize the tension that money creates.

Jake and Melissa

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Surviving the Bear Grylls Way

I love the TV show Man Vs. Wild with Bear Grylls. How can you resist a man with an English accent who ruggedly handles all sorts of survival situations? He provides a glorious hour-long anxiety attack coupled with copious amounts of raw heart and/or bug eating. Oh, and there are alligators...lots of alligators.

What I love most about the show (English accent notwithstanding) is how creative Bear is when it comes to survival. He uses what he's got, what he can find, his brains, and previous special forces military training to make impossible situations work. Yes, yes I know many of the "dangers" are staged so that he can demonstrate techniques, but the principle is still the same. You do what you have to do to survive.

Marriage takes survival. And today couples faces so many obstacles.  We have a horrible economy, lack of jobs, difficultly getting mortgages, two income households, crazy schedules, constant technology and marketing bombardment, and record debt rates just to name a few. In the midst of this our society puts very little value on the sanctity and commitment of marriage, family values, morality, living within one's means, a slower-paced life, church involvement, community living, and love that is based on choice rather than feelings.

In order for a marriage to last, we're going to have to throw many of the "proven" ways of doing things out the window. You're going to do what you have to do in order to make your marriage healthy and long-lasting.

If you and your hubs feel like passings ships in the night because you both work full-time and have kids as well, maybe it's time to buck the trend by cutting way back on expenses and adjusting your lifestyle to create less financial pressure and more time for each other.  A marriage is unsustainable if you don't make quality time for each other.

Maybe survival means taking some of that religiously guarded money out of savings and use it for a family trip or much needed vacation.

Maybe you cut down on church commitments. Or cut out e-mail after 8pm.  Or turn off your cable so that nights can be spent reading, learning, talking, or playing games. Things that build connection.

Maybe you let others into your marriage problems and allow them to speak wisdom and advice into your life. Maybe you go to counseling.

You do what you have to do, with what you've got, use your brains, get some training (books, seminars, counseling, small groups, etc.) and find a way to make it work so that your marriage survives.

-Melissa (*note that Jake does not love Bear Grylls' accent...it's a woman thing!)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Long Distance Dance

This week Jake and I watched a movie called, “Going the Distance.” It stars Drew Barrymore and Justin Long as a new couple tackling the long-distance-relationship-thing. As the movie progressed we found ourselves enjoying how frank and real it seemed to be about this specific type of relationship. Neither of us have been involved in any kind of long-distance affair, so we really don’t know how the whole thing works. “Going the Distance” brought up the whole should you or shouldn't you question, as well as making many good points about toughing it out while living in different places and the many obstacles this entails. (Spoiler alert) At the end it seems to point towards, “Love will win and beat the odds.” Then the two main characters decide it’s just too hard to make work....then they kinda change their minds 6 months later...but not really, they like half change their minds. It’s a weird ending. So Jake and I were left scratching our heads and wondering, “WELL??? What’s the deal? Does long-distance spell doom or can it succeed?

Enter our brother and his girlfriend :) Brother is now deployed in Afghanistan and he and his girlfriend have been dating long-distance for 2 years. She had some super helpful (and we thought very wise) things to say about long-distance relationships and has allowed me to share them! Please read below for her thoughts.
  • “Both people need to be equally committed to making the relationship work. Understand that it won’t be easy, that the other person is flawed and so are you and that the best way to go about things (at least from my experience) is to think about your relationship as long term and the distance as temporary. Also, understand that long distance takes a lot of effort so both parties need to be prepared and aware.
  • Communication is key. You have to make the effort to talk about the little things that go on as well as the big things. The other person does not live your daily routine, so in order to feel like you are deeply engrained in each other’s lives you have to take the time and make the effort to learn about the little details i.e. their feelings, their friends, their job, their classes, their friend’s jobs and classes, etc. Tell them the things you don’t want them to know and say the things that are difficult to say – this is imperative in order to keep their trust. 
  • Skype or talk on the phone. Try to keep texting, emails, instant messaging and even letters to a minimum as far as communication goes, unless you’re dating Mark Twain or Kurt Vonnegut more than likely your tone of voice as well as your facial expressions and your body language will be lost in written communication. I’m not saying don’t write to each other, sometimes you don’t have a choice; just don’t make it your primary method of communication if possible. 
  • God. Don’t expect the other person to be something they are not or have more power than they do. Distance is a part of your relationship and neither of you are in a position to change that right now. I lean on God to get me through the times when I miss the other person and I’ve learned not to go overboard telling them how much I miss them or wish they were here because there’s nothing they can do about it and it can tend to make them feel helpless and inadequate. 
  • Timelines. Try and know when you are going to see the other person again, it helps when you miss the other person to understand that the situation is only temporary and to have a time period you can identify as when you will see them.
  • When you do see the person, try to act like you would if you were always together. Like I said before, your relationship is long term and the distance is temporary, therefore, you do not want to allow your relationship to function as something that exists only in short bursts of time where you spend every second together. Life is about balance, you both have friends and families, jobs, school etc. so make sure that you don’t get caught up in the fact that the other person is there and then forget about all of the other important things in your life. Make special time for each other but don’t forget to incorporate this person into your life as if they were around all the time because hopefully they will be at some point and you want to be ready for it.
  • Do what is right for you and your relationship. Everyone will have an opinion – they will tell you long distance never works or that you should handle things this way or that way, they might belittle your relationship by saying that it’s not real because you don’t spend everyday together. Don’t listen to them. Every relationship is different, it is what you allow it to be so if everyone tells you to go one way and you and your significant other really want to go another, go the way you want because you guys are the ones that will have to deal with the decisions you make.
  • Trust one another. It’s just that simple, have faith that the other person loves you, that things will work out and that you two can remain faithful to each other.
  • When to end it: this is a really tricky question. If you know that you can’t handle the distance, there’s no shame in that; this is a certain type of relationship that requires a certain type of person. Basically from my experience: If you can’t trust the other person implicitly, end it. If you are not prepared to put in as much effort as is necessary, end it. All the other stuff you can work through and I’ve learned most of it by making mistakes.”  - Chelsea

Thanks Chelsea! Anyone feel free to add your thoughts/feelings on this subject!

-Jake and Melissa

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Marriage Prep Part II: The Real Deal

So, the woman who commented on our last post about marriage preparation has gotten me thinking. She commented that the things I suggested were good to hear but general. And the general part has me bugged.

Mostly, because I agree with her. I was being general on purpose because I think there's really no way two people can be totally prepared for marriage. We Christians put marriage up on this lofty pedestal, try so hard to live up to it's ideals and then woefully fail at it. But I kinda think that's the point. It's like church. Church is Godly and we've been given biblical instructions about how to go about church and love others and so forth. We try really hard to make church the way God intends, but we're a bunch of sinners and no matter how hard we try, we'll always screw it up. But do we quit church? No, we should stay and plant ourselves firmly in the middle of the messiness of relationships and conflicts of church and work through it together.

Marriage is the same. We have Godly guidelines and wisdom but we'll always fall short. Marriage will never be the way you expect it to be.  It will be way more wonderful than you expect and way more horrifying than you expect!

You can be the most Godly, sane, devotions-doing, people-helping, praying-together, and not having sex dating couple ever and still have a hard time with marriage. You can always get out of a dating relationship. Nothing can prepare you for the fact that at some point, you'll desperately want to get out of your marriage. All God's wisdom and love won't seem to be helping and yet you'll be expected to stay and honor your promise to your spouse. It's a whole different ballgame.

So as a dating couple you can ask yourselves: "Am I prepared to deal with _____?"

Am I prepared to deal with farting? The real kind where the other person actually enjoys it and calls your attention to the smell? Am I prepared for one of us to lose our job? Am I prepared to move to another state? Am I prepared to miss my spouse on business trips? Am I prepared to get pregnant unexpectedly? Am I prepared to have fertility problems? Am I prepared to have the most amazing mind-blowing sex? Am I prepared to not have sex for weeks at a time and wonder why? Am I prepared to make a budget? Am I prepared to take on my spouse's surprise credit card debt that they've hidden from me? Am I prepared to like my spouse's best friend who has the personality of a shoe? Am I prepared to have the feeling of being in love disappear? Am I prepared to have that same feeling come rushing back at unexpected sweet and peaceful moments? Am I prepared to have completely nonsensical screaming matches about things like the proper way to slice an onion or clean a sink? Am I prepared to be called out on my most shameful habits? Am I prepared to find out my spouse is not the person I thought I married in a bad way? Am I prepared to find out they're not the same person in a wonderful way?

Am I prepared to clean my spouse's toilet? Even if it looks like World War III happened in there? Am I prepared to face tragedy with my spouse? Am I prepared to laugh so hard I almost pee my pants? Am I prepared to find that my spouse is my polar opposite? Am I prepared to change and grow as an individual? Am I prepared to wonder if my spouse is cheating? Am I prepared to feel like I want to cheat on my spouse? Am I prepared to work long hours and only see my spouse on the weekends? Am I prepared to create new traditions together? Am I prepared to give up those idealistic new traditions to placate my spouse's family and do things their way? Am I prepared for snoring? Am I prepared for buying my spouse's tampons or foot odor powder? Am I prepared for how slow my spouse eats? Am I prepared for nights where there is literally nothing to say to each other? Am I prepared for nights where we can't stop talking? Am I prepared to go into debt together? Am I prepared for poopy odd colored diapers and sleepless nights? Am I prepared to feel a warm rush of love when I see my spouse play with our children? Am I prepared to feel ashamed of a decision my spouse makes? Am I prepared to feel proud about decisions my spouse makes? Am I prepared to have all my expectations shattered but also to find that marriage is way more powerful and strong than those expectations?

If you can answer, "NO! No, I'm not prepared for any of that and there is no way I could ever be. But I love my potential spouse and I know that I can commit to life together. Whatever life throws at us, good or bad or completely nonsensical, we'll grow together and stick it out together. Well then...that's as prepared as you'll ever be!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Funniest Chicken Blog Ever

Ok...I just have to share this. It keeps popping up and it's not only the funniest thing I have read in forever, it's such completely truthful portrayal of what we married folks have to deal with :)

Be forewarned...does contain some foul language. But I happen to think even the language is hilarious.

http://thebloggess.com/2011/06/and-thats-why-you-should-learn-to-pick-your-battles/

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Marriage Preparation

This is a reader question posted a bit ago. Thanks so much for your patience in waiting for a reply!

"I am currently dating a fantastic guy. We know we both want to marry each other in the relatively near future. We have talked about how we need to be more intentional in growing our relationship as we move toward marriage. Between now and marriage, we want to keep taking steps to build the foundation of a strong, Godly relationship. What would you suggest we do NOW to prepare for the FUTURE?"

That's a tall order! I think the key is to establish healthy patterns of communication, conflict resolution, honesty, love, and respect now while dating. It's then much easier to transition into marriage, and often the deeper issues marriage brings, with good habits already in place. Marriage books, married friends, parents, counselors, pastors, and mentors are all good resources to help with establishing a healthy dating relationship.

You also need to have some blunt conversations about things like....

Money - Money is huge. Christians often tend to marginalize the importance of money and thus are unprepared for merging not only finances, but debt, spending habits, saving habits, insurance, 401K's, and the like. If the two of you can work on sorting through how you each deal with finances and then work on figuring out how you intend to handle money in your marriage, it will be super good! Trust me!

Kids - Do you want them? Does he want them? How soon? How many? If you're headed toward a future life together you kinda need to be on similar pages with expectations in regards to a family.

Mutual Submission - This is also huge. That book, "Love and Respect" is actually true. Dating would be a great time to start sorting through what it means to respect your future husband unconditionally. And what it means for him to love his wife unconditionally. The unconditionally is the hard part and it feels really counter-intuitive. If future hubby does something awful (and oh it will happen!) you naturally remove your respect. But God calls wives to respect no matter what. It's not about saying bad behavior is ok, it's about still treating our husbands respectfully even when they are wrong. And vice versa. Husbands need to act loving towards their wives even when their wives are being awful. Men really do need respect to feel loved...and women need to always be treated with love to feel loved. This is a kind of mutual submission to each other that is true commitment....and extremely hard to do. Talk about it now. Work on it now, it will help in the future.

Life Expectations - What do you and your boyfriend expect your first year of marriage to be like? What jobs to you envision? Where would you want to live? How will your lives change? It'd be good to talk through some of these things before you're engaged so you can reasonably plan for the future (be prepared for plans to change though, God loves doing that!!)

All these things are Godly and they will help you have a realistic and strong foundation for marriage. But the truth is...you can't ever totally prepare! That's a big part of why our blog is called the "HolyMess". We wanted to call it "Holy Crap" or in my case an expletive that starts with "s". Because marriage is holy and crap at the same time. And at some point I think everyone thinks to themselves, "Oh holy crap! What did I get myself into!?" The good thing is that we can all grow and learn and we have a loving Father alongside to help us all navigate the many tricky parts!

-Melissa

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Winning First Date Tips

It's a hot Sunday afternoon in Connecticut, so Jake and I went to Barnes & Noble because there they have air conditioning for FREE! As Jake worked a bit and I devoured the latest People magazine, we were privy...well everyone in the place was actually privy to a rather heinously awkward first date. It seemed like an internet match made in heaven. In light of this most wonderfully entertaining example of first date etiquette, we thought we'd share some Winning First Date Tips* that Jake and I learned.

1) Begin the conversation by talking loudly. Even if you're in a public place which is normally quiet, say Barnes and Noble for instance. Your date will appreciate having an audience for this normally awkward encounter. Ignore their hushed tones and loudly prod him or her to tell you about their "dream house."

2) Only allow your date monosyllabic answers to your lengthy four-part questions. In doing so, you show true selflessness. After all, it takes a lot of energy to talk...and you have so much more energy than they do! If your date starts to develop a full sentence, cut them off at once and launch into another story about your father.

3) Describe to your date, in minute detail, the 12 signs of the Zodiac. It's best to guess which sign your date is rather than ask. If their eyes seem to glaze over, quickly explain that you're a Cancer and as such are subject to "frequent mood changes." That will keep your date on their toes!

4) Talk about your dogs. A lot. Keep in mind your date is actually interested in the proper hair length for hypo-allergenic dogs and wants desperately to know details. When they clarify that, "A short hair length would be like a wiener dog right?" The proper response is, "You can insult me all you want, but you can't insult my dogs."  They'll know what you mean :)

5) Mention offhandedly that you grew up in a wealthy area with a large family home. Also include fascinating tidbits about your home such as, "We had a pool in the back with a waterfall, like Hugh Hefner." Your date will want to know that if the two of you end up married, he or she can expect to pimp it Hefner style.

6) As mentioned before, talk about your father ad nauseum. Tell your date what you and your dad did this weekend, last night for dinner, games you played together as a child, and how many Ferraris he now owes you for winning those games. If it's a lot of Ferraris, this will be points in your favor. I mean, who doesn't want to date someone who could potentially own "A LOT" of Ferraris?

7) Dissect body language for your date. Loudly proclaim, "I shouldn't be telling you this but...." and then describe how your own body language communicates your feelings for your date. Then offer the same courtesy to them. Even if it hurts, it's better for your date to know that their crossed arms sends a signal of "distaste and distance."

8) Lastly, use the word "totally" just as much a possible. You literally can't go overboard with it.

Happy dating!!

*This is intended as satire and should not be taken as serious relationship tips.  But you knew that....right?

Melissa

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Look But Don't Lust: Follow Up Thoughts

A couple of weeks ago, Melissa and I had a blog on Relevant's Web Magazine called, "Look But Don't Lust." The article tackled dealing with attraction to others while in a relationship. It sparked some very interesting comments on the Relevant site and a reader of the "HolyMess" blog sent us a question in response.

Our reader asked, "So if lust when you're dating someone is when you fantasize about someone else, what's the difference between lust and attraction when you are single? Are first date butterflies feelings of lust? Is the pursuit of someone that you're attracted to lust?"

This is a really great question.  Here are a couple of thoughts:

We'll go out on a limb and say that 99% of first date butterflies and pursuing someone you're attracted to are both not lusting. Butterflies are just nervousness....and kinda fun! Enjoy them. And if pursuing someone you liked was lustful, the human race would surely be in danger of extinction. No, both these things are good and you shouldn't worry about either.

Lust can be defined as "intense sexual desire or appetite." Matthews 5:28 says, "But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." The Greek word for lust here means "to desire for," "long for" and "to covet." We think that whether you are single, dating or married lust is the same: an intense sexual desire for someone who is not yours (even if that person is single), or for someone who belongs to another. When we dated, there were definite times where our sexual attraction to each other, which is natural and good, crossed over into "intense sexual desire" that led to doing things physically we shouldn't have. Dwelling on sexual desire in one's mind usually leads to lust and trying to physically satiate that lust. There is a difference between desiring the person you're dating and letting that desire turn to lust in the mind which can often lead to inappropriate actions.

We are designed by God to be sexual beings. Many times in Christian circles, sexuality can have a negative connotation. Yet our hormones, sexual development and brain chemicals that all drive sexual desire have been specifically designed by God. Our bodies are designed for marriage, intimacy and reproduction. 

However, there is a HUGE difference between desire and acting on desire. Our culture says, "If it feels good and/or if you like it, then do it!" This is contrary to the Bible as God communicates that sex is good, but created for a specific purpose and context. Having sexual desire does not provide an excuse to act on those feelings before the appropriate time. In Song of Solomon it says three times to "not awaken love until the right time." That right time would be a life-long, exclusive marriage commitment.

Yet....married people can also struggle with lust vs. attraction. Attraction does happen and when it does we committed folk are just as responsible for our minds and actions. It's normal to find someone else attractive....but it's lustful to dwell on that attraction, fantasize in your mind about that person, and/or act on those feelings.  Wisdom and maturity are important here. It takes a wise and mature person to simply say, "That man/woman has attractive qualities."  And let it go at that. Don't compare them to your spouse, don't think about ways to interact with them, don't fantasize about being with them sexually.

Lusting and attraction are different. We all (married, dating, single) need to be individually aware of what's going on in our minds and guard our actions and interactions against lust.

*On the Relevant Blog, there was a comment by "RH" who talks about attraction in light of a person who struggles with masturbation and sexual addiction. He says,

"From my own unique perspective on it, as a man who went from slightly struggling with lust to going "all in", to even hold the belief of the beauty women other than my spouse is quite counterproductive. This quote, 'In fact, it actually affirms the creativity and beauty that God displays when he created humanity.' - While it may be true, don't use it as an excuse. Through the lens of sexual addict, if I would have read this article before, as the 'old' me, I would have printed it out, taped it to the fridge, emailed it to my wife and used it as an excuse. An excuse that it was ok to look at another woman because 'that's how God made me.' These comments are not intended for everyone who reads this article, but if you happen to be someone who struggles with lust in the slightest, don't use some of the conclusions presented as an excuse for any behavior you already know to be wrong. If your definition of looking upon someone else's beauty includes looking at sexual organs, don't use some of the ideas presented here as an excuse to still do so. If you have ever masturbated while 'appreciating' the beauty of another, move along. Nothing to see here."

We want to second these thoughts. Sexual addiction is not something to be casual about. If noticing members of the opposite gender consistently leads to sexual thoughts, and even more so to sexual acts (i.e. masturbating, looking at pornography, fantasizing, etc.) help should be sought from a counselor, pastor, or an accountability/sex addict group. Constantly sexualizing, in a demeaning and un-connected way, members of the opposite gender distorts attraction and the beauty/worth that God has placed in us all. 

Jake and Melissa

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Testimony

Hi Everyone,

Thought we would post the audio from the testimony Melissa gave at our church this am. Enjoy!



At the end, Melissa went on to explain that foster care homes are a huge need, especially in our area. If it's something you'd like to get more info about, you can visit here: http://www.ctfosteradopt.com/fosteradopt/site/default.asp

It's the CT state website but I'm sure you can find something similar in your state as well. 

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Marriage in the "Middle"

So we know it's been a while since our last blog. And well...it's because life has gotten a bit crazy, a bit messy, and a bit overwhelming. I (Melissa) have been asked to share with our church what's been going on with Jake and I lately. A sort of adoption/fertility testimony. It's rather terrifying!

As I've been trying to sum up our experiences so far, I keep coming to this "in the middle" phrase. We're literally in the middle of our story. And it's not always so fun here. It's scary to think about adopting a child that has been hurt, abused, and/or neglected. It's not part of the plan. It's not what normal people expect out of life. Both of us have been learning about risk and that life is risky...no matter what. We've been learning that life does not always go according to plan and that really no one is in control of their fate. God is.

We're also not at the end of our journey. We can't say that we have anything figured out. We don't know if we'll get matched with one kiddo or two. We don't know what age or gender they will be. We don't know what special needs they will have. We don't know how this will change our marriage.

Some days I feel like I can't breathe, simply because of all the unknowns and because we are so "in the middle". I LONG for an end.  I so want to be able to stand up in church tomorrow and tell people, "This is what the Lord taught me and this is what the Lord has done for us."

But, we're just in the middle. Still learning and still struggling. Sometimes learning is beautiful and exciting. Sometimes it's just gut-wrenching.

Marriage is also all about the middle. No matter where you are in life and how many years you've been married. Life hits marriages with so many ups, downs, challenges, and joys. Most of us expect things to be perfect, or that we can work hard enough that one day we will arrive at perfection in our marriages.

The truth is, while we're all on this earth, there will be no perfection. We'll always be in the middle of learning something new about ourselves, our spouses, or about how to make our marriages better.

I love the lyrics to the song "Let Go" by Frou Frou.  It goes :

drink up, baby down
mmm, are you in or are you out
leave your things behind
'cause it's all going off without you
excuse me, too busy you're writing your tragedy
these mishaps
you bubble wrap
when you've no idea what you're like

so let go, jump in
oh well, whatcha waiting for
it's alright
'cause there's beauty in the breakdown
so let go, just get in
oh, it's so amazing here
it's alright
'cause there's beauty in the breakdown

it gains the more it gives
and then it rises with the fall
so hand me that remote
can't you see that all that stuff's a sideshow

such boundless pleasure
we've no time for later now
you can't await your own arrival
you've 20 seconds to comply

so let go, jump in
oh well, whatcha waiting for
it's alright
'cause there's beauty in the breakdown
so let go, just get in
oh, it's so amazing here
it's alright
'cause there's beauty in the breakdown

This song really touches a nerve for me right now, as it's easy to see everyone else around me living what I consider to be the "normal" life. I envy them and I do spend too much time pitying myself and the struggles and challenges that Jake and I face. However, the more I learn to let go, trust the Lord, risk things, and embrace life in all it's joys and sorrows...the more I realize that God is truly amazing. He can redeem anything and He loves people who admit "I'm in the middle." God knows we're not perfect. He knows all of us are scared about so many different things. I really think He treasures the moments where we can admit how messy and uncontrollable things are and then turn to Him.

So, I hope you'll all understand how in the middle everything is for Jake and I right now and that we care so much about this blog and about marriages. We're just living and working and figuring things out right along with you all :)

-Melissa

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Dating 101

Hey everyone,

Here is another article via Relevant Magazine that was published in their 2011-2012 College guide. The article covers 10 tips for dating in college...but most of the tips can be applied universally.

Dating 101

Jake and Melissa

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Look But Don't Lust

Hi Everyone,

We just had a new article go up on RelevantMagazine.com about dealing with attraction to other people while in a relationship. Go check it out at: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/relationship/blog/25922-look-but-dont-lust

Jake and Melissa

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Risk and Relationship

So, it's been a little while since we've written anything. The last month has been quite full for us as we, among other things going on, have been going through a certification process for adoption through the Department of Child and Family (DCF) and the state of Connecticut. Tonight was our graduation from the training and now we are on to the home study. We have learned a lot but it has been very time consuming!

Throughout the process thus far, a consistent issue we have kept coming back to is the idea of risk. The adoption process via DCF has some legal risk connected to it. Due to the fact that the main goal of DCF is to reunite children with their families, things don't always work out picture perfect for adoption families. A placement always begins as a foster situation before an adoption is finalized, and at times it can take months in the courts. And sometimes the courts don't always agree with DCF's recommendation to terminate parental rights and the children are returned to their birth parents.

As we have had numerous conversations on moving forward in this process, we have kept coming back to this issue. Are we taking too much of a risk? Should we not go through the state but find a private adoption agency instead? What would happen if we had to give children back to parents who at one point abused them? Should we just keep going with fertility treatments? Can we avoid a risk?

The conclusion we keep coming to is that risk is inevitable. We could risk having a pregnant mother change her mind. We could risk an international adoption not going through because of their nations courts. We could risk losing money in the process. We could risk having another miscarriage. Risk is something that we cannot avoid.

And we've realized that this is true in whatever relationships we have, or want to have. Without risk, we can't have relationships at all.

At any point in our lives, the people who are around us can hurt us. It's a risk for us everyday to open up to people, to be intimate with our spouses, to trust the people who say they love us. And yet in our fallen world, the people who are closest to us have the power to hurt us the most. Words cut a little deeper. Broken promises hold more weight. Rejection hurts worse.

The thing is, if we don't take a risk, we don't get the good things out of relationships either. If you never call the girl you've wanted to ask out for months, she'll never have a chance to say yes. If you never open up to a new friend, you won't ever go deep. If you never initiate sex within your marriage, you'll never have any. We always fear a rejection but if we always try to protect ourselves from a "no", we will never have any "yes" in our lives either.

And isn't this what unconditional love is really all about? Being willing to love the people in your life without being concerned with whether you are loved back. Giving even though you might not receive. Forgiving when you are hurt even though you might get hurt again.

Think about the loving risk God took by sending us His son. How did that work out? God could have played it safe. Jesus could have walked away and given into His anxiety in Gethsemane. He could have avoided the risk of suffering and certain death but yet, for the sake of true love, Jesus continued to do what needed to be done despite the possible consequences.

Risk is unavoidable! People will hurt us and say no and turn us down. But to convince ourselves that we need to just play it safe, will not just eliminate the pain in our lives. It will also eliminate the blessings.

Jake

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Easter Lessons for Married Life

Read John Chapter 11

As many of you know who read our blog, Melissa and I are in the midst of fertility treatments. We lost a pregnancy in the fall and since then have had not had another success. We've begun the adoption process as well. It's been easy to get frustrated at God and we sometimes ask where He is while we go through all this. In light of Easter, I wanted to take a few minutes to relate some things I have been learning concerning the resurrection of Christ in connection to difficult times. (And all marriages will face difficult times of some sort.)

Over the last couple of months, the story of Lazarus from John 11 has taken on new meaning to me as I struggle with unanswered questions and difficult emotions.

I grew up in the church and have heard the story of Lazarus raised from the dead many times.  Not once have I ever caught the significance of verses 5-6.  Jesus had just learned that his good friend Lazarus was dying, and this is what he does:

"Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was."

Jesus loved...so he stayed where he was. 

Really??  Because Jesus stayed, Lazarus died.

Jesus had the power to heal him and had, in fact, healed numerous other people, but instead Jesus stayed put and Lazarus died. The passage explains that this was because Jesus loved Lazarus and his family? That doesn't seem like love, it just seems mean! Why would God allow this?

When we are wrestling with suffering and pain, we often ask "why"? A loving God wouldn't do this to us! However, later in the passage Jesus goes to see Martha and Mary (the sister's of Lazarus) and the Bible says that he wept.

Jesus wept.

I have heard two different explanations for Jesus' tears and I think both might be true.

When Jesus finally arrives in Bethany, he sees the hurt of his friend's family and breaks down. I think this is the way Jesus looks at all our pain. In the midst of our tears, Jesus hurts with us. He feels the same pain we do...we are not alone. 

At the same time, the story of Lazarus does not end in death and pain. Instead, it ends with new life, resurrection and redemption (as Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead). All too often, we forget this about Jesus as we face pain and suffering. We stay focused on our present suffering and echo Mary's words, "If you were only here!!!" Meanwhile, Jesus knows that our entire situation will be redeemed and turned into good.

The pain isn't easy... I want to be a dad! But for some reason, it's not the right time yet. And in reality, which can be hard to fully understand, that reason is because God loves Melissa and I. He knows the plan and he wants the best for us.

This hope in redemption and a relationship with a God who hurts with humanity, is the reason that  Easter is a time for celebration. Resurrection provides a hope and encouragement that can't be found anywhere else.

Jake

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Modesty

A blog reader has asked of us, "What are our thoughts on modesty?" Where to begin? This topic is so loaded for married people, dating couples, parents, you name it. And everybody has their own opinions, especially when we start crossing gender and generational lines. I can remember my mother insinuating in high school that only hookers would wear spaghetti straps :)

It's too bad the Bible doesn't have a chapter called, "Women...this is what thee shall wear!"  Because really, when the modesty issue surfaces we're mostly talking about women right? Women do struggle with lust, but it's more often an emotional or relational lusting rather than visual. The simple fact of the matter is that men are (generally) visual beings and naked women are beautiful in all the shapes and sizes they come in. Naked men are less of a temptation (though we do need to watch our eyes as well ladies...cough Matthew McConaughey). I'm an artist and I've seen a lot of naked ladies and dudes. The female form is so captivating and gorgeous...no wonder guys can't keep their eyes off us! While most women love being intimate with their husbands, it's not the naked part that gets us going. It's how we feel connected and loved.

Guys? Well, it's a lot about the nakedness for guys! They usually feel connected and loving after sex.

So....The Bible does say in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NIV) "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies."

This means both men and women are accountable for honoring God with their bodies. What this looks like realistically in terms of modesty is hard to pin down. Men used to get turned on by bare ankles, so really any skin showing could be called immodest as it leads men to "desire." But that would be ridiculous today. What if you have big boobs? It's hard to find shirts that fit correctly but don't look like they belong to your grandmother. Modesty can quickly become a finger pointing, judgmental issue when we really have no concise Biblical guidelines as to what exactly we should and shouldn't wear.

Since it's all such a gray area, I'm going to go with the words "moderation" and "wisdom".  It's okay to dress stylishly, it's okay to be beautiful, and as a woman it's damn hard not to be sexy... men find almost anything sexy. Jake thinks baggy sweatpants are sexy! Go figure. However, women need to use wisdom as they navigate ever-changing fashion trends. We are aware when a shirt is too low, pants are too tight, or the dress is just too revealing. We know it and we wear it anyways.  Change! Find something else that makes you feel good, but does not go too far. Honor your body by letting it be beautiful in clothes and don't cheapen it by dressing to reveal or invite lust.

Men, watch your eyes and your heart. It's okay to notice a woman is attractive (moderation), but don't let your gaze or mind linger. Use wisdom in how you talk to and address a woman, be careful you treat her as a human being and not run away with fantasies in your mind. If a woman is dressed in a way that does "divert the eyes", you're still responsible for those eyes and where they rest. You're responsible for casting away disrespectful/lustful thoughts. The thoughts will come, that's normal, but letting them linger and grow is not honoring anyone's body.

*Note - It's okay to think about your husband or wife in a sexual way and it's okay to be turned on by what he/she is wearing.

Husbands, if you find yourself becoming critical of your wife's clothes...first take a look at your own heart. Do you look at pornography? Do you secretly check out that woman on the treadmill in front of you? Take the plank out of your own eye and work on your own issues, before judging your spouse.

Wives, if your husbands mention that an outfit might be too revealing....consider that he may be correct. Respecting him (and yourself) by changing will allow you to work on your own heart. Did you notice that your clothes might be too much? Did you ignore it or did you not care?

We'll all fail at this over and over. Both men and women, husbands and wives are wired as sexual beings. Part of learning how to be a follower of Jesus is learning how to honor him with our sexuality, our bodies, and what we wear. Let's have some gentle and non-judgmental accountability and a whole bunch of grace with each other as we continue to learn and grow!

-Melissa

Thursday, March 31, 2011

RelevantMagazine.com Article

Hey Everyone,

Relevant just posted a new article from Melissa and I that deals with healthy communication in the midst of conflict called, "7 Keys to Make a Relationship Work."

Check it out at: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/relationship/features/25143-7-keys-to-make-a-relationship-work

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Q and A with Author Jim Burns

Melissa and I have read close to 100 books on marriage and relationships. One of our top 5 is Creating an Intimate Marriage by Jim Burns, President of HomeWord a ministry to families. He, along with his wife Cathy, also wrote a great couples devotional called Closer. Recently, Jim took some time out of his busy schedule to tackle some questions for us:

Jake: I've heard you and Cathy talk a couple times about having a "high maintenance marriage." How would you guys define that and what have you guys found that it takes to survive in a marriage that is high maintenance? Especially in a culture that tends to relate "high maintenance" to something we should avoid. 

Jim: Actually I think most couples have “high maintenance marriages” like Cathy and myself. It means we need constant attention to making our marriage work and we have to do this by being intentional about our priorities surrounding our marriage. For example, we have a non-negotiable date night. We also meet weekly to take care of the “business of doing our life” instead of having the insurance conversations, schedule, or money issues on the run. The intentionality of this meeting is really helpful to keeping our priorities in place and not making the relationship feel like a business relationship all the time. We choose to have a 20 to 30 minute “Closer time” a week where we work on our spiritual intimacy. Anyway, a good marriage takes a lot of time and attention and a high maintenance one like ours, means we can’t let it slip.

Jake: Often times, maintenance within a marriage means the need for some good marriage counseling. What advice would you give to a couple who needs counseling, but one person is not open to counseling?

Jim: The person who is willing to seek counsel should go alone. I can’t begin to tell you the amount of times I have seen one person make the courageous move to get counsel and then a few weeks or months later the spouse sees positive change and decides to join in. The Bible says, “where there is no counsel a people fall but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” I’m big on getting good solid counseling as well as finding mentors and peer support. Marriage and life was not meant to be done all alone.

Jake: Another area where Melissa and I have experienced our marriage being "high maintenance" concerns how we each serve God. When you have two people within a marriage that have very different personalities, how do you serve God together as a couple?

It’s possible but not always easy. Cathy and I have some major differences. Early in our marriage I had to work on my expectations about Cathy and ministry. I’m an extrovert and Cathy is an introvert. We would be at a youth event or church function and she would sit in the corner and have a significant conversation with one person and I was meeting everyone. Then I would be frustrated that she wasn’t meeting everyone. Finally I realized we were “designed to be different” and her strengths and weaknesses would often compliment mine. Part of this happens when you get comfortable with your own ministry and self. Part of it comes from recognizing that God creates us all to be different. I think when we stop trying to change our spouse and only work on our own stuff, that’s when ministry together gets much more effective in every way.

Jake: As we have talked before, you have mentioned that you and Cathy struggled with fertility issues early in your marriage. Looking back, what were the things that you most appreciated about the other while you were going through that?

Cathy and I struggled in infertility for the first 10 years of our marriage. In fact our oldest daughter, Christy, is our gift from God who we had the privilege to adopt. When we got married infertility never entered our mind. Living in Southern California we actually planned our first pregnancy around one more summer at the beach but things didn’t turn out like we thought. During the years of seeking every kind of medical help for our infertility life, our emotional and even spiritual life was tough. Cathy is an incredible woman who can do most anything but she felt so much like a failure because the one thing she wanted more than anything else was to have children. My part of the journey was to be a support to Cathy and not downplay her pain through that season. I think it was helpful to be open and transparent about our pain and disappointment because we were surrounded by support. At the same time because we were open about the infertility we received some of the most bizarre advice from people in our church about sure fire ways to get pregnant. Little old ladies we didn’t even know would give me advice about the underwear I should wear and give Cathy thoughts on sex positions. (A bit too much information:)) Anyway, we were surrounded by people who did care and will also be grateful for the support. Today one of our goals is to bring a listening ear to any of the 1 out of 5 couples who at one time in their marriage will go this problem.

Jake: Once you and Cathy adopted and started your family, in what ways did your relationship change and how did you work through those changes?

Jim: Like many couples we started moving toward a “child-focused” relationship. We had to keep working at having our couple time and not just putting all of our attention on the kids or our ministry. The date nights help. Stealing away for a walk together helps. Being in a couples group helped a lot.

We love hanging out with our kids but we also need individual couple time.

Jake: If you could tell a just married couple only one bit of advice, what would you say to them?

Don’t give your spouse only your emotional scraps. On a regular basis never tire of doing the special little things for each other. I love Ephesians 5:21: “Therefore submit to one another.” This is no 50/50 deal. Marriage means mutual submission is the goal. I would also have to add that intentionality is a major key to an intimate marriage. As mentioned before, we also schedule a weekly non-negotiable date night and our “Closer meeting.” If spontaneity is working for you, keep doing it but for most of us scheduling our top priorities is more effective. I think I just jammed more than one piece of advice in here :)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Manly Emotions

Over the past couple of months, I (Jake) have been doing a considerable amount of work dealing with and understanding my emotions. Due to circumstances in my past, I now realize that I have pretty much turned my emotions to "off" and tried to bury them. Thus, unconsciously protecting myself from further hurt. Needless to say, going through a miscarriage and continued fertility issues has left it's mark and challenged me to open up and get in touch with buried feelings.

This past weekend, I attended a ministry conference in Chicago. When our plane landed in Chicago on Friday, Melissa texted me that this current round of treatment did not result in a pregnancy. Normally I just shake off disappointment, but as I have now been allowing myself to be in touch with my emotions, this news hit me pretty hard.

Have you ever bought a car and as soon as you start driving it, you see the exact same car everywhere? That's exactly what I felt like happened to me this weekend...just with babies. As many young families walked by with their little ones, I had to fight back tears. The hardest part of the weekend came when I ran into a classmate from college and he immediately pulled out his phone and showed me pictures of his two kids. (I don't mean any offense to him at all...I'm glad he shared what's going on in his life!)

The question that has continually run through my mind is, "Why? Why can't we have kids now?"

Unfortunately, this is a question we don't have the answer to. Even so, I have to learn that emotions are ok and figure out a healthy way to express them. Here is a little bit of what I have been learning:

1) Beware the warning signs of anger. Most psychologists would agree that anger is a masking emotion.  In other words, when hurt begins to build up and it isn't expressed in a heathy way, it tends to express itself by anger.

If you are the one in your relationship who is expressing anger, try to really understand why. Why are you yelling? Why are you so angry you want to punch a wall? There is a reason well beyond "because I'm angry." Don't stay in your anger but figure out what's going on at a deeper level.

If you are the one dealing with anger from someone else, I would challenge you to try to take a step back as well. The person is not really "angry" at you, they are hurt, disappointed, feeling disrespected or unloved. This is by no means an excuse towards angry behavior. If someone is out of control, remove yourself from the situation. Prior to that point, do everything you can by asking questions to help the angry person understand the deeper things that are going on. Also, I'd challenge you to have an attitude of humility (which is really hard to do when someone is mad at you!) but anger really needs to be met by a gentle spirit to help move beyond it.

2) It's ok to have emotions. In many ways, this is for the men out there. Most women don't have problem with showing their emotions. ;) For guys though, we're taught by culture that "real men don't cry" and I think we also deal with the idea of needing to be strong for the women in our lives, which we inappropriately interpret as meaning unemotional. That is not the case!

It's a fact of life that we have emotions and they are given to us by God. What Melissa consistently tries to get me to understand, is that expressing emotions actually makes her feel more secure and together on an issue. Think about it: If you are dealing with a difficult situation and the person closest to you is constantly just like, "It'll be ok" and "Ahh, just don't worry about it", how do you think that makes the other person feel? Sure, you are being "strong" and guiding in a good direction but it just ends up making the other person feel like they are alone in doubt and worry. It's a much more powerful experience when someone expresses worry, doubt, fear, or hurt and you can take a moment to empathize and then say everything will be ok. It then becomes we will be ok instead of just you.

3) Talking about your emotions makes them SOOOOO much easier to deal with. As I mentioned above, this past weekend at the conference I was at was difficult at times and my good friend Nich knew exactly what was going on. After I connected with the old buddy from college, as we walked away Nich told me he wanted to take the guys phone out of his hand and throw it! (Which would have been pretty funny....) The fact that I had talked to Nich about everything I was feeling, helped him support me and lighten the mood. It also helped me to feel not alone.

Jake
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.