Smiling Socks…(Visiting my friends…)

My husband and I just celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary last night with a scorching hot softball game (it was 105 degrees outside) and a trip to Chili’s for dinner with the kids.

My how our lives have changed!

Over the last thirteen years we’ve learned a lot. Experience is a great teacher, and, well, she comes by our place often.

So while we are certainly not the end-all-be-all-know-everything resource for marriage, we do have a tip or two in our back pocket to share with you every now and then.

When my friend, Sheila Wray Gregoire, asked if I would write a guest post for her site on marriage and family relationships, I was honored and excited.  Won’t you join me over at To Love, Honor and Vacuum for a little tea and story…I promise you won’t be disappointed!

I Love You's from the dresser drawer..

This week our Marriage Champions discussion group focused a very heavy topic, you ready?….duh-duh-dun….household responsibilities.

And while at first, it may seem like small potatoes in the land of marriage enrichment (I mean we are discussing difficult topics like communication, conflict management and sexual intimacy here), what we discovered is that “neglect of home and family” is second only to “mental cruelty” as a stated reason for divorce.

That’s right, household responsibilities are no small potatoes in marriage….click here to read more…

Listening to the Heart

3. I will listen for my friend’s heart more than her talk. I will not be afraid to listen to her struggles.

“As water reflects a face, so a man’s heart reflects the man.”

– Proverbs 27:19 (NIV)

 

Communication goes well beyond what we say with our words.

Research shows that when we are under stress, less than seven percent of our communication comes from our words. The rest of the communication cues we send out come from our tone (38%) and our body language (55%).

How often have you had a conversation with someone close to you and, despite the fact that everything she was saying to you was upbeat, you knew something was wrong? Did you know that our brains are set to scan systematically the people we talk with for visual, auditory and tactile cues to establish trustworthiness?  We automatically sense and register when someone’s words don’t match what the rest of that person is saying.

That’s because God created us to communicate through many more avenues than just the spoken word. Much of the meaning of our verbal communication is expressed beyond our words, through body language. Through our bodily posture, motion, countenance, gestures, tone and volume of voice, we express feelings that words may fail to reveal. Our eyes and ears are consistently scanning situations for incongruity between the words that are being spoken and the message that is being sent by the heart.

When you are listening to your friend, listen with more than your ears. Engage your eyes and other senses, and trust your intuition when you feel something is off. This part is not difficult. God designed us to connect to one another this way-to “click in” with each other and understand one another from a place beyond the physical – from our hearts. We each have this ability and do it every day.

The hard part, the part we run from, is the next step.

Once we sense this incongruity, we must reach beyond our safe cocoon of indifference to extend support to our friend. This can be as simple as asking “Are you ok?” and being prepared to hold your ground if floodgates open and emotional issues come up.

In her poem, “The Invitation,” Oriah Mountain Dreamer writes:

It doesn’t interest me who you know

Or how you came to be here.

I want to know if you will stand

In the center of the fire

With me

And not shrink back.

That sums it up, doesn’t it?

Are you willing to:

1) ask the question when you know the answer might take time to wade through,

and

2) stand at the center of the fire and not be afraid of what you might see when the mask comes off and someone’s heart is revealed?

Don’t be afraid to listen to your friend’s struggles.

Next time you are in conversation with a friend, ask her specifically, “What’s challenging you right now?” Don’t push, just listen and provide support unless and until she asks for help.

“The love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say, ‘What are you going through?’”

– Simone Weil

The preceding was a excerpt from the book Living Life with Strings Attached.  

Upgrade Your Spirit: Fashioning Our Own Desert

Anyone who follows any of the three blogs I write for knows that I am   a HUGE fan of Henri Nouwen. I believe he is one great of the spiritual   writers of our time.  I’ve read several of his writings and am currently   enjoying a fantastic compilation of his works on prayer called The          Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life.

God has really laid this message of solitude on my heart in a big way    lately.  It is a difficult one for me to accept and practice because I  am by nature an extrovert- I know, who knew, right? I need people  and community to stay charged up and keep my naturally sunny disposition, well, sunny :). But more and more, God is filling me with a yearning to meet Him in a quiet place, with no agenda, to simply listen and be present with Him.

I am reading things like this:

We enter into solitude first of all to meet our Lord and to be with God and God alone. Our primary task in solitude, therefore, is not to pay undue attention to the many faces which assail us, but to keep the eyes of our mind and heart on the One who is our divine savior. Only in the context of grace can we face our sin; only in the place of healing do we dare to show our wounds; only with a single-minded attention to Christ can we give up our clinging fears and face our own true nature. As we come to realize that it is not we who live, but Christ who lives in us, that he is our true self, we can slowly let our compulsions melt away and begin to experience the freedom of the children of God.

What does all of this mean for us in our daily life? Even when we are not called to the monastic life, or do not have the physical constitution to survive the rigors of the desert we are still responsible for our own solitude. Precisely because our milieu offers us so few spiritual disciplines, we have to develop our own. We have, indeed, to fashion our own desert where we can withdraw every day, shake off our compulsions, and dwell in the gentle healing presence of our Lord.” -Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart

We need to fashion our own deserts- times of solitude, of quiet, of gentle reflection with our Lord.  My immediate question when I read this was ‘how’?  How do I carve out solitude in a house bustling with activity? What should I do when I am practicing solitude? How do I do it right?

This is the quintessential question for me. How?  How do I do it RIGHT?

Just me, he whispers.

Solitude. Just God. Nothing else.  I don’t need to DO anything.  I just need to BE with God. Listening. Present.  It seems easy enough.  But I have struggled with just this.  I have been experimenting with this practice of daily retreat to solitude. It has not come easily, and I have almost given up on several occasions. I thank God that he has created such a driving desire in me to seek quiet time with him.

This practice of sitting at the feet of Jesus with nothing to offer except my undivided attention seems so counter intuitive.  No prayer requests (supplication comes after presence- we’ll talk about that later in this series), no Bible study, no agenda- just presence.  But, as a messenger, I find myself seeking a message- something to share with the masses. Instead of seeking Jesus. I spent a lot of time agreeing that I wasn’t good at this spiritual practice of solitude, until I read from Nouwen this passage:

“This week all I am reading and writing about is prayer. I am so busy with it and often so excited about it that I have no time left to pray, and when I pray, I feel more drawn to my ideas on prayer than to praying…It is hard not to desire good insights during prayer and not fall into a long inner discussion with myself. Every time some kind of insight comes to me, I find myself wondering how I can use it in a lecture, a sermon, or an article, and very soon I am far away from God and all wrapped up in my own preoccupations. Maybe this is what makes the Jesus Prayer so good for me. Simply saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me” a hundred times, a thousand times, ten thousand times, as the Russian peasant did, might slowly clean my mind and give God a little chance.” – The Genesee Diary

Thank you so much, Henri, for writing my thoughts down so beautifully for me.  The Jesus Prayer was exactly what I needed to satisfy my need to DO something…and to quiet my mind enough to just.sit.still. Waiting and watching and listening for Jesus.

There are so many ways to find solitude.  Rising early before all the family is awake works best for me, but I find that I can steal away for moments here and there throughout my day as well.  I also find music a distraction from the quiet of my soul.  So it’s just me, the Jesus Prayer, and my Heavenly Father every morning. Thirty minutes of still- of quiet- of solitude and I have found a paradise in my heart within that silence. Will you join me? Make a date with Jesus today? Write him in ink in your calendar…everyday…before work, or exercise, or chores, or even before family– give him thirty minutes to quiet your heart.

CJS Hayward says “One facet of holiness is a life and a heart that is silent within, that surrenders layer after layer of internal noise, and is simply present to eternity in the here and now that God has given. And silent people carry Paradise with and around them. Indeed Paradise is where God’s people are present.”

Let’s be Paradise this year.

Here’s the challenge: For the month of December, commit to spending 10 minutes a day in silent reflection. No supplication (requests), just seeking God.

How do you quiet the distractions around you when you are spending time with God?

Guest Post- Living Life with Others

This post was written by a word sister, Sarah Markley at The Best Days of My Life.  She sums up perfectly why relationships are so important to us.  I hope you are blessed!

I spend a lot of time creating relationships. In fact, it might be my most time consuming endeavor.

I take my daughters to the park and sit in the grass with them. We play with little dolls and horses and make houses with sticks. I chase them and look at their artistic masterpieces with wood and blades of grass. We are creating relationship.

We hire a babysitter and check the movie times so that my husband and I can go out on a date. We try to recreate life before kids for a couple short hours but we ending up talking mostly about the kids anyway. Relationship.

Invite friends over for game night, let people sleep in our home, walk into a church building on a Sunday morning without knowing a soul. Why do we do all of these things? To create relationship.

My to do list looks something like this:

Most of my items have something to do with people and maintaining or progressing relationships. It’s all about people!! {minus the school uniform and clean playroom references}

I write and check Twitter and interact on blogs; in it’s own odd way this is creating relationships too. I offer to watch a friend’s baby for the evening so she and her husband can have a night out. This is creating relationship.

Why do we make this our full time job? Why do I make this my full time job?

I think we were all created to be in forever relationship with one another but that because of sin, we’ve been broken. Once upon a time.

And then as a result, our initial desires and inclinations for relationship have been twisted and smashed. Jesus came both to reconcile us to Himself and to reconcile us to each other. He came to put us all back together again.

Broken things fixed.

Broken people make whole.

Broken relationships healed.

So when I engage in creating relationship, especially in broken places, it’s like I’m helping in Jesus’ reconciliation process.  Making new friends. Keeping old ones. Playing with and engaging my girls — it’s all a part of God’s plan to re-establish us to each other.

And it’s so much better than living life alone.

Guest Post- We Aren’t Islands

Many of us long to live in a world where we shouldn’t have to do anything for anyone else. We set the course for our own lives; we decide what paths we will take; and nobody should have the power to derail our dreams. Freedom is our rallying cry!

What I can’t figure out, though, is why freedom is so great. So many of us are so busy proclaiming our autonomy, saying “you can’t make me do this,” that I wonder if we’ve ever stopped to question whether being beholden to someone is actually such a bad thing.

Modern day feminists, for instance, cry that no man should be able to tell a woman what to do, and that no woman should twist herself in knots to get or keep a man. Instead, she should seek to fulfill her dreams, and any guy who wants to tag along had better adapt.

Yet speaking as a woman who is greatly in love with a certain man, I have to wonder why it’s so bad to want to please him? What’s wrong with wanting to make the house nice for him to come home to after he’s been on call for thirty-six hours straight and he’s exhausted? What’s wrong with doing his laundry? After all, he gives great foot massages, and he contributes more of the income! But even if he didn’t, isn’t it nice, sometimes, to have someone to fuss over?

I don’t do these things because I have to; I do them because I want to. I know some would call me an oppressed wife, but I don’t think those people have ever really experienced the joy of a give-and-take relationship. Besides, he cleans off the car for me, takes out the garbage, and figures out how my Bluetooth device works. It’s a two-way street.

It’s not only feminists telling women that they should never change for men, though; a new cohort of young men has concluded that they don’t need relationships, either. One night stands might be fine, but commitment is out of the picture. In fact, one man in a very open relationship once reported to me that he was as happy as he could imagine; neither of them made any demands on the other, and because of that the relationship was perfect.

Five years later that relationship is long gone, and I often wonder if ultimately they would have been happier if they had made demands on each other—demands that they stay faithful, do things together, be nice to one another, forge a life together instead of just side by side.

When we focus our lives solely on what we want life becomes rather shallow and awfully erratic. We can never achieve real intimacy with anybody, whether friend or significant other, for when we don’t make or accept demands, nothing can be permanent. And if nothing is permanent, we can’t be vulnerable. We can’t really open up. Sure, you may be able to pursue surface things, but what about our deepest needs to be accepted, loved, affirmed, and cherished? Without vulnerability and transparency, which can only come when we do make demands on each other, real intimacy can’t be achieved.

Loving someone isn’t a burden; it’s a privilege. Sometimes we should do things we don’t really want to do. Sometimes we should let someone else set the course. True love, after all, whether it’s with a sibling, a spouse, a child, or a friend, is so much better than autonomy. And, in the end, it’s far less lonely.
Sheila Wray Gregoire is the author of four books, including To Love, Honor and Vacuum: When you feel more like a maid than a wife and a mother. She blogs at http://tolovehonorandvacuum.blogspot.com and has a great newsletter called Reality Check.
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