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 knows...you 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.

Keep reading at http://youthministry.com/the-importance-of-perspective-in-marriage-communication-and-youth-ministry/#sthash.fKs87un3.dpuf

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 been...it'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?

Keep reading at: http://youthministry.com/bringing-home-difficult-people/#sthash.nwtmNCy5.1DXh7vGI.dpuf

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?

Keep reading at: http://youthministry.com/listening-to-gods-voice/#sthash.KaWs2pLo.dpuf

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:

Keep reading at: http://youthministry.com/getting-ready-for-the-school-year/

Monday, July 14, 2014

Surviving Vacation

It’s summer—the time of year when most of us ministry workaholics finally take a vacation. And while vacations are supposed to be times of relaxation, rest, and rejuvenation, they can often become just the opposite. Especially if you have kids! During our nine years of marriage we’ve experienced some awesome vacations, and plenty of hellish ones, too. (Once, we spent an entire week in Florida with another couple, all puking our guts out together. There was a trip to the hospital…it was kind of epic.)

So what can you do to make sure your time away is as enjoyable and restful as possible?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Emotions Make No Sense

After being in a relationship with Jake for almost thirteen years now (yes, we began dating at the ever-mature age of eighteen), I've just now come to the realization that emotions make no sense. This seems like something I would have figured out over thirteen years...but no, not me!

Let me illustrate the point of my illumination: the bottle dryer vs. the dish drying rack. 

We've had bottles in our house for the last two years because of having children that are only seventeen months apart. Bottles aren't simple any more, folks. They have eight million parts and special drying racks that look like plastic grass. We were given the grass bottle rack and stuck it next to our regular dish drying rack. Now, when Jake washes things, the bottle rack is organized with military-like precision. Each bottle and all its parts line up together. The rack looks gorgeous. The dish drying rack, however, looks like a tornado blew through it. Or as though Jake stood across the room and literally chucked dinnerware into it at random. 

Me? I could care less about the bottles. I shove them into that plastic grass abomination however the hell they will fit. But my dishes...now that's a different story. I line all the plates up and the glasses, I want to see order and beauty staring back at me from that drying rack. Right next to the mess of bottles, mind you.

All of this to illustrate that both Jake and I make no freaking sense. Why would either of us be neat with one drying rack and not the other? They are right next to each other. We do this because we're people, with tendencies, quirks...and we just don't make an ounce of sense sometimes.

Emotions are the same way. When things get really hard in a relationship (which they will with all relationships at some time or another), you want to pick apart the why. Both parties desperately want to understand each other and also be understood. But sometimes emotions don't make sense. Sometimes you feel the way you do, for no reason other than that's just how you feel. I'm not saying to cease all lines of communication. People should keep talking to one another. But now I try reminding myself to listen to Jake's words and take them at face value; not to read his background or family history or life experiences into how he feels. If there are some of those things going on, it's his job to tell me about them. I try to coerce his feelings into making sense, when eighty percent of the time my own feelings don't have any rhyme or reason—they just are. If I want my emotions to be respected and heard, then I need to do the same with Jake. Sometimes, the best response to another's emotion is a head nod and, "Wow, I hear you. Tell me more about how you feel." 

 -Melissa



Friday, June 13, 2014

Summer = Serving Everyone But…

For most youth workers, the start of summer ushers in a different pace of life for our families and ministries. Some of us experience a huge increase in activities and events, even as our own children get out of school and expect to have time to relax. Suddenly, our families have an increasing need for our time, while day trips, music festivals, missions trips, summer camps, vacation bible schools, and students demand our attention at work.

In the midst of all this summer season chaos, it’s difficult to strike a healthy balance between work and home life. And what we’ve noticed over the years, is that it seems to be much easier for us youth workers to increase the ways we serve our churches during the summer, than it is for us to serve our families.

What we mean is this: As the schedule is being planned, how do you divvy up your time between ministry and family? In any given week, what takes more of a priority?

Read the rest at: http://youthministry.com/summer-serving-everyone-but/#sthash.eGyk8QZF.dpuf

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Power of Staying

Serving in ministry is a mixture of ups and downs—just like life. There are hilltop moments when students are responding to Christ, parents are happy, and the staff seems to be getting along…and there are valleys where criticisms spring up on what feels like a never-ending loop, students struggle, and you feel undervalued and on the verge of burnout.

In the past 12 years of ministry life, we’ve experienced both extremes—and everything in the middle—and have wrestled with a “grass is greener” mentality many times. The urge to run is a normal human response to adversity, especially when you feel like you’re giving your best and it’s never enough.

There are times when the wisest, healthiest thing to do is to step away from a particular ministry or job, but there is also great health and peace to be found when you stay put and stick it out...

Read the rest at: http://youthministry.com/the-power-of-staying/#sthash.P59ZrgX4.dpuf

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Adoption is “Brutiful”

*Originally posted on www.mkircher.com

It’s amazing to me that we’re almost at my son’s one year adoption anniversary and I still find myself looking at him with shock. “He can’t really be mine.” The thought runs through my head almost every day. I’m still flabbergasted that there will be no more last-minute phone calls from social workers who show up an hour later and whisk him away to god knows where. My heart continues to stop every time a number from Hartford pops up, even though I know all the papers have been signed.

People look at my family now and they’re like, “Oh my GOODNESS, aren’t you all just so BLESSED and so MULTICULTURAL!” He’s black, we’re white. It’s quite obvious that something went on in the making and gathering of our little tribe.

And it’s true—we are blessed. After six years of infertility, the loss of a pregnancy, seventeen months of foster care, adoption and a surprise baby girl thrown in the mix, we have our two precious kiddos and we are done. Our family is complete and we are so very grateful.

But what many lovely, caring, well-intentioned people don’t realize is that adoption isn’t the end. It’s the middle. We adoptive parents have endured the long, horrible months and years that lead up to the adoption day and now we must deal with the life after. With no rest and no time off to process what’s happened—what we’vesurvived.

Here’s what no one talks about when it comes to adoption. It’s beautiful, but it’s also brutal.

And it continues to be that forever.

I follow a wonderful, life-giving, universe altering, amazingly real blog called Momastery, that is written by a lovely woman named Glennon. Glennon has coined the term “brutiful” to encompass the idea that “the brutal ALWAYS transforms into the beautiful.” And I’d like to borrow her terminology today, because nothing else describes the reality of adoption so clearly.

Beautiful and brutal often coexist in life. This is why something like adoption looks so appealing on the surface level. It’s quite beautiful. But it’s also freaking hard.

How do I explain that for seventeen months I had to look down at my son and hold pieces of my heart back just so that I wouldn’t fall apart if the state took him away? How can I describe what it was like to rock him at night and whisper, “I’ve got you, you’re safe,” and not know if I was telling the truth? The phone could have rung in the morning and a car would have pulled up to my house and taken him away. I could not protect him then from the money hungry non-biological grandmother who was a convicted child-abuser with three adopted teenagers in her home—all with serious emotional and psychological problems. My son could have been taken from me at a moment’s notice and given to her. He might have been abused, molested, and neglected and I would have never known about it. I would have never seen him again.

Jake's way of coping with foster care was to be wholeheartedly optimistic. “Everything will be okay,” he’d tell me as we drifted further and further apart. Because the only way I could deal with the deep black hole of fear was to imagine the very worst. How can I put into words what meant to pack up my precious boy and hand him to a driver three times a week? I can’t adequately express how terrified, nauseous, and relieved I felt during those sometimes six hour visits (relieved to have a break). How can I describe the sound of his baby wails in the background of the phone call from a social worker who told me she’d just been in a car accident with him?

I was not his parent then, not in the eyes of the state. I was the person who drove to the hospital an hour away to pick him up. And yet at the very same time I was his mother. The person who sang to him in the car on the way home from the ER. The one who cuddled him and tucked him into bed. Brutal. Beautiful. Brutiful.

I have a hard time explaining even now what it means to be an adoptive mother; a second mother. I know my son will want to know his birth mother and I desperately hope that by the time he does, she is clean and healthy and that they can have a relationship. But until then, I am wholly his mother in all the glory and grit. And this is a difficult task when I’ve spent most of my time trying not to bond with him too much. I find myself floundering with this strong-willed, goofy two-year-old who pushes my buttons and makes me laugh. How do I connect with him when all he screams at me is “no”? How do I draw close when his developmental stage is right at “pushing away”?

Adoptive parents are just like every other parent out there. We’re tired. We’re overwhelmed. We sit on the bathroom floor and cry our eyeballs out because we just can’t figure out how to last one more minute with two beautiful gremlins who are driving us batshit crazy. But there’s this layer of guilt on top of that, this “I should be treasuring every moment” film that we see through because it took so long to call this crazy child ours.

There is no way to describe any of it other than brutiful. The word floated through my head yesterday afternoon during a rare moment of clarity, peace, and thankfulness. I had put the baby (almost toddler, yikes!) up for a nap and was making dinner when I realized it was VERY QUIET. If you are a parent of a wee one, you know that this kind of silence means your child is playing wonderfully hard or splashing his hands in the toilet and licking his fingers. I quickly zipped to the other side of the room and found my son standing there, staring at the speakers, listening intently to Switchfoot. (He looooovvveeesss Switchfoot, which proves that obsessive toddlers can ruin almost any kind of music.) I crouched down and softly pulled him into my lap. And then I began rocking him back and forth. We listened tofour songs. This is a child who never stops moving; who is all boy and all energy, all the time.

But in that moment, he was still and quiet with me. He let me hug him and rock him and I thought, “Okay. Life is never going to be simple. It’s going to be hard and messy. But it’s also going to be amazing.” And then I got to whisper to him, “I’m so lucky that God allowed me to be your mommy. I love you.”

To which he replied, “Yeah.”

Brutiful.

To read the Momastery “Life is Freaking Brutiful” post click : HERE

Monday, April 14, 2014

Growing in Your Faith Together

Before our second Valentine’s Day after we started dating (see throwback photo on the left!), I (Jake) had purchased a present that I was ecstatic about. I couldn’t even contain my excitement enough to make it to February 14, so after some begging and my best impression of puppy dog eyes, Melissa gave in to getting her present a day early. I ran up to my dorm room, grabbed the carefully wrapped box and sprinted back down to Melissa so she could open it and I could await the praise I had coming…

“You got me a Bible Commentary for Valentine’s Day!? Did you not get any of the hints I had dropped about jewelry?”

This was not the reaction Jake had hoped for. His goal of the gift had been to encourage Melissa in her walk with God and give us a tool we could use to do devotional times together and have deeper conversations. A fight ensued about how insulted and offended Jake was versus how unromantic and stupid the gift was for Valentine’s Day. (Jake now can admit Melissa was right…) This then lead into a different debate about what spending time with God as a couple looked like.

- See more at: http://youthministry.com/growing-in-your-faith-together/#sthash.xL7fPMbx.dpuf

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

It’s All About Semantics

A few months back, (before the Polar Vortex became a thing) Jake decided he would buzz his hair. It would be cool during the summer, easier to deal with on his upcoming missions trip, and it would avoid a trip to the barber, something Jake has always hated to pay for.

He shaved most of it himself and then asked Melissa to, “Come out and do the back.” Melissa quickly stuck the baby in a pack ‘n play, strapped our son into his high chair, and came out to help. She was hurried, but tried to do exactly as Jake asked. The resulting “do” ended up as the picture on your right. We very quickly realized we had two different definitions of the phrase “do the back”. Jake had meant the edge of the back, whereas Melissa thought he wanted her to buzz the entire back of his head on a lower setting.

Most marriage resources say that communication is a key component to all relationships, but not many deal with semantics.

- See more at: http://youthministry.com/its-all-about-semantics/#sthash.mj2lz1k1.dpuf

Thursday, April 3, 2014

I Will Not Be Mastered

Compulsive behaviors that drive people to serious sexual addiction or substance abuse are often the death toll to a relationship. However, addiction plays more of a role in the everyday marriage than most of us realize...

See more at: http://youthministry.com/i-will-not-be mastered/#sthash.ZmQUsFnI.dpuf

Monday, February 10, 2014

Letting Go


Two small gremlins (aka children) will teach ya about letting go in a major way. As the older gremlin (two-years-old) dumps milk on the younger gremlin (eight-months-old), and grins up at me with this cheeky grin, I can choose to either freak out…or clean it up and move on. I can be angry or I can relish that cheeky grin who isn’t yet buried in an iPhone.

There’s something to be said for living in the moment, it’s really the pinnacle of letting go. If you can surrender each minute, no matter how delightful or horrible it might be; man, you’ve got it made.

Me? I’m still working on this letting go thing. Some mornings I wake up and the pages that need to be written, the editing that needs to get done, the diapers to change, the beds to make, the relatives to please, the cookies to make, and the freaking Pinterest pictures to pin, all overwhelm me and I’m mired in the “holding-on.”

But some days I breathe when the gremlins act all gremlin-y. I laugh when the editing doesn’t get done. I sigh and shake my head when the cookies are burned. Those letting go days remind me that life is meant to be lived—in all its glorious and not so glorious moments.

Melissa

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Valentine's Day Problem

Here’s an important question to ask: Does your spouse know you love them more than your ministry?

The first year we were married, Jake was excited to do something special for Valentine’s Day. He’d been brainstorming ideas since the New Year about places we could go for dinner and things we could do to make the night memorable. However, there was one big glitch in his plans: that particular year, Valentine’s Day fell on youth group night. We’re sure you youth workers feel that nervous gut clench as you read this. You know the feeling. Choosing between work and spouse…what to do?!

Read the rest at http://youthministry.com/the-valentines-day-problem

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman – A Man, Not An Addict


This week the world was rocked when the death of another great actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman, was announced. It quickly became even more saddening to realize he’d died of a drug overdose.

Since then, the online world has been abuzz with tributes to his mighty work as an actor. And he truly was amazing at his craft. Someone who excelled in the arts and seemed to take his job seriously. We love great storytellers like Hoffman, because they help us understand what it is to be human—in all its glory and grit. Mr. Hoffman was fine actor and should be remembered for the fantastic contributions he made to the craft.

I’ve also seen a shocking number of callous observations about his death. Many people feel it comes as no surprise, that he brought it upon himself because of his addictions. This negative kind of sentiment troubles me on a personal level.

As an adoptive mother of a son whose birth-parents are lifelong addicts, it’s incredibly important to remember that behind the addiction, there is a person. A soul deserving of love, attention, care, and respect. The addiction often overtakes this personhood, and we forget exactly who it is there underneath. Just as Mr. Hoffman can not solely be defined as an actor, his memory should not be solely tainted by the stigma of addiction. We are all people. And we all have ways to deal with the pain of this world, some ways more healthy or destructive than others.

There are a myriad of components that go into the formation of a man or a woman. Our souls are complex and beautiful and dark and light; all at the same time. My wish is that when one of the greats, like Philip Seymour Hoffman, succumbs to something like addiction, all of us left here reeling would remember that he was a man, not an addict. The addiction is not something we can judge. Instead, it should be worthy of our action. His death should propel the world into creating better care for those suffering with addictive behavior, fostering more support groups and treatment centers, funding research about breaking addictive habits, and so forth—we should come together around those who need our help.

Mr. Hoffman’s family will surely not be remembering him as an addict. They will be remembering the way he laughed, the way he drank his coffee, what kinds of books he liked to read. The things that made him a unique individual. This is what we should focus on when thinking about addiction. There are real people behind this pervasive, gut-wrenching problem. And those people need treatment, but they also need love.

Melissa

Friday, January 24, 2014

Summer Service: A Family Expierence

Summer missions trips are exciting for us youth workers and for our students. They are great times away together to bond and serve the Lord. But, missions trips can also mean a week of stress for families back home who are trying to run normally without the help of the youth worker spouse. Here are a handful of tips to keep in mind as you plan your summer service opportunities that will help keep both your youth group and your family happy about these experiences...

Friday, January 10, 2014

3 Reasons to be Real

Stories of transformation are powerful. There is something that happens when you hear an amazing account of someone turning his or her life around. These tales snare your emotions, renew your sense of hope, and deepen your faith in a God who is all about redeeming and transforming. This is why it is so important regularly share about the transformation that’s happened in your life—especially transformation in your relationships, marriage and family.

In all honesty, family life and marriage are two areas in life that need constant renovation. No one pushes your buttons the way that your spouse and kids do. We are our best, and worst, with the loved ones who experience life with us the most closely. To have good marriages and healthy relationships with our children we must act selflessly. This is incredibly hard to do, and requires the relentless transformation of our inner selves by Jesus Christ. With him, we are daily becoming better husbands, wives, and parents. It is therefore imperative that we are honest about our struggles, and triumphs, with those around us: youth group students, parishioners, other parents, friends, and so forth.

These people need to see the normal struggles we have, even though we are leaders, and they need to hear the ways we are being transformed on a regular basis for a few reasons:

To read them, click this link: http://www.morethandodgeball.com/#sthash.BkuRSodC.dpuf

Monday, January 6, 2014

You're Awesome

Hi ya'll. So, I know it's been a while since I've posted. Life with two kids all of a sudden (holy cow!) and book deals and just general craziness has turned the world a bit upside down! But I love this blog and I love talking about marriage, so I'm just gonna dive right back in and hope my absence can be forgiven ;)

I want to talk today about self-worth. Through this blog, our marriage books, and the Marriage & Ministry retreats we've begun to lead, I've come to be known as an open book. My friends, family, acquaintances, readers and so forth have all come to understand over the years that Melissa is someone who can admit her faults. I think I've taken a smidge too much pride in this perhaps, and maybe too eagerly shared my faults and failings with others.

And here's why I'm saying this—over the past couple of months I've been having these sort-of out-of-body listening experiences where I realize that other people have decided it's okay to throw out all my faults and failings in daily conversations.

Now, I'm not saying we as human beings shouldn't be open and honest. We should. Honesty is necessary and life-giving. It creates community and shared experiences and empathy.

But too much talk about the negative aspects of ourselves can make a person feel really negative. Take it from me. I started to realize I was being picked apart far more than I was being put back together.

I'm not trying to point fingers or lay blame here. Instead, I'd like to focus instead on two things that happened after I noticed how much people talked about my failings as a human being. One, a dear friend asked about book writing since I'd had Nora. When I told him I had completed two books and was writing two more, he commented, "Wow, so you work harder under pressure. You actually produce more."

I can't even tell you how good that made me feel! Then I received an e-mail from another dear friend who went on and on about how she's enjoyed seeing me come into my own as an artist. That she can tell I've matured and committed to this story-writing thing and that I'm good at it. And just like that, all the negative comments I'd been getting (not in mean-spiritedness, but just in observation of my personality) lifted.

Through all of this, I've realized how very important it is to use our honesty and truth-telling to build each other up. It can be so very easy to pick one another apart, even if you don't really mean to do so. Words are powerful and we need to use them in our marriages and relationships to create positive self-images in our spouses and loved ones.

My love language is not "words of affirmation", but I still need to hear from others all the good things they see in me—my positive character traits. We all need this!

So, I'd challenge you this week to see how you can build up your spouse (and those around you). Point out the unique and awesome qualities they have and how you've seen them be a truly cool person. This will make their day, I promise!

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Marriage Triange

Most of us know that Jesus should be a central part of our marriage.

We talk to our students about Christ-centered relationships using the image to the right; explaining that as a couple maintains their focus on God and moves closer to Him, they will also move closer to one another. But what does that really mean? How does that look in the daily grind of a marriage with all its ups, downs, joys,
struggles, and mediocre moments?

Obviously, none of us will ever measure up to the ideal. God should be first in our hearts and our minds every moment. If this were happening, it would be easier to love our spouses. The love would flow from Christ, and we’d have a wellspring of compassion, forgiveness, patience, and forbearance. We don’t know for sure, but our guess is that you’re just like us—you try real hard, but sin and life just keep getting in the way! This is normal and okay.

A true Jesus-centered marriage is one where both spouses strive to keep Christ as the focus—strive being the key word here. What does striving mean in a practical sense?

To find out, head to: http://www.morethandodgeball.com/simply-insider/jesus-centered-the-marriage-triangle/#sthash.l2EnqsnJ.dpuf
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.