As parents, we make a point of actively listening to our kids dreams. Our daughter, Adrienne is delving into the world of stop motion video and cinematography. During our trip to the Black Hills in South Dakota, she asked us to make a stop at a filming location for National Treasure: Book of Secrets. Needless to say, we were inspired. You won’t believe what happened next!!!
Steve and I occasionally meet people who love what they see in our family, or who have read something of ours that inspires them, and they want advice. If you could look inside my head in that moment, you would see a fire roaring to life. We are both passionate about family, about doing life together wholeheartedly, about enduring and vibrant relationships. I hate to hear that a marriage is dying. I hate to see kids struggling alone like I did. We believe the Lord “sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6) with the same passionate fire. Its one way he pours out his deep love for us. Family is worth fighting for!
In the beginning of most families, there is a marriage. If that foundation isn’t healthy, the rest of the family will eventually feel its impact. Steve and I have been married 16 years and we have most definitely had to fight to remain strong and connected. Doing life together causes hidden things to rise to the surface, ugly and painful issues that absolutely must be dealt with in order to progress. Every couple knows what I mean. There comes seasons of choosing each other all over again, of proving your “I do.”
I remember the very first fight we had, over bills of course. Unoriginal but true. It felt so traumatic to my little 21 year old self. “This man I married isn’t being nice to me!” We had this itty-bitty apartment in Kansas City and I had to escape him for a while. Through clenched teeth I spat, “I love you… And… I’m going to Ace Hardware… To buy light bulbs.” It’s really funny now, as a seasoned veteran of marriage, but it was my first taste of the battlefield.
I’m laughing – but seriously, I remember exactly what the throws of a true marriage crisis felt like. When we hit about 7 years, we faced a real doozy. I was terrified! I had invested everything into this life together, with no thought of a backup plan. Suddenly, it seemed like what we had was hanging by a thread. I didn’t think I had anyone I could turn to but God. So I didn’t; I carried on with lip buttoned and my heart breaking. In a way, I am thankful for my misconception. When I woke up in the middle of the night sobbing, the only person who could comfort me was the same one whom I felt had wounded me. It was like being on a sinking ship with your enemy, forced to team up and bail water.
We weathered that storm, obviously, and collapsed in delirious relief for a season. Later on, we faced two more challenges that were equally as serious; but never again as enemies or even separate individuals. We had fully cemented our partnership and joyfully built on that success. Now as an older and braver wife, I see at least three anomalies that made us successful where some of our dear friends’ marriages were sadly shipwrecked.
- I didn’t have a backup plan. We said “I do” in 2001 and though we both proved to be imperfect, we meant it. I resolved to stay in my marriage even if it meant I might not be happy. You don’t have to agree with me, or like it, but that was my plan. Steve was still a good hearted man and there were certainly worse ways a girl could spend her life.
- I didn’t turn to my friends and dish about private matters. No one who knew us had a reason to think less of him and talk more. I didn’t open myself up to terrible advice, pity… or better ideas than simple commitment. For us, in this one instance, it worked.
- We both had faith that God would really help us. We turned to him and didn’t cover up the blackest agony we felt. Friends, there is something that changes in a person’s conversation with heaven when they are desperate. I got God’s attention and I clearly remember him speaking to me about what I needed to do. I thought if anything, he would nail Steve! But in revealing my own faults, God set me up perfectly to reconnect with my husband, whom he was simultaneously speaking to. Isn’t God good?
So, for every married couple who is struggling, my heart really aches for you because I understand how scared and lonely you feel. Here is my advice: Lean into the storm together and bail like heaven has your back! He who began a good work in you, who set you two in family, he is faithful to complete what he started. I don’t know exactly how your story will be written, but I will always firmly believe that there is hope when we partner with God.
Nehemiah 4:14 After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.”
Ah, siblings. Steve and I both came from families of three kids, each with two older sons and then a daughter, all the average of two years apart. He was the middle child and I was the baby. Because one child wasn’t enough for us and three was too many, Steve and I settled on two. Our daughter is four years older than our son. They are our (very) happy medium. Statistically, the gender and age difference make sibling tension much less common in our set up. But we have our off days, trust me.
In my own childhood, I remember a lot of fighting, out of proportion to our enjoyment of each other. As an adult, I am only close to one of my siblings. I couldn’t care less if frequent fighting is normal. I believed we could create a different culture in our home if we took a strong stand. Not just laying down rules that kept everyone quiet, but fostering true sibling relationships. That is the kind of home we wanted to build around us.
Here are 3 standards we consistently implement to make our home a peaceful haven, a place where we fully enjoy life together and grow closer.
We demonstrate in our own relationship what we expect from them. Steve and I get into disagreements, like any couple, but we never let it make the atmosphere unpleasant for the rest of our “team”. That doesn’t mean we whisper fight either. Though some discussions cannot and should not be had in front of kids, many can. It’s good for kids to hear conflict resolution being modeled. It exhibits how to be honest about feelings in a way that doesn’t devalue the relationship. Each of us is patient and merciful towards the other. We hug and make up when it is concluded. Frequently, we show appreciation for what the other person does right. Likewise,when they are upset we expect our kids to be considerate of their family, and to keep improving how they handle it. Shouting and shoving has no place in the process of expressing and negotiating.
We establish a culture of championing one another. When one person is involved in a sport or activity, we all attend every game and performance. Recently, Adrienne had another piano recital. She was terribly nervous, and more than a little mad at me for enrolling her. Of course, she did a beautiful job and we were all there to cheer her on. Her brother Addison just finished another great flag football season. He played like a champ, but on one of the game nights he had two penalties. In the backseat driving home, his little shoulders crumpled as his bravado dissolved into tears. My heart broke for him, but also swelled with pure pride as I watched our whole family automatically swoop in around him to pick him up again. This is the true essence of being a family, a team that has your back for a lifetime.
We craft opportunities to grow together. Building sand castles and surfing, a romp through a museum, a hike or a bike ride… All of it has a positive effect on their relationship because play involves communication and negotiation. As they employ their imaginations, they are also practicing compromise and discovering what they appreciate in one another. We create the space for our son and daughter to truly connect and make memories together that will last longer than any toy we’ve purchased. They are cementing a lifelong partnership in the process.
These are our three areas of focus for this season in our children’s lives. I’m sure this list is far from complete, but we will never stop growing together. The culture we have built in our home makes me feel proud. I believe it is a gift that will keep on giving back to us all, far into the future of our family.
Does anyone remember the game Red Rover? Our whole 3rd grade class used to line up and play this at recess. Twenty-four rambunctious kids squeezing each other’s hands with a sweaty grip of death… Makes me want to break out the hand sanitizer!
I sometimes feel as though, in aiming for a well balanced life together, my family is engaging in one massive game of Red Rover. There’s a million things that want to bust through our line and it takes effort to hold our links steady. Distractions, obligations, opportunities. We could overbook ourselves in a heartbeat or end up in separate directions if we aren’t focused.
As a wife and parent, I set the boundaries. I’m naturally wired to be a people pleaser. It’s pretty cute when you’re small, teacher’s pet and all. But there comes a time in every woman’s life where we have to prioritize. Otherwise, we risk going crazy- or dropping the ball that matters most.
In my own life, it came to a head a few years ago. I was super busy being super for everyone. I have to say, it just wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. So many public things got done and so many private things suffered. No matter how strong I appeared, I knew my life lacked joy and my relationships lacked depth. Even my health was suffering. I took a major time out: I quit every extra thing I could and then I went off for a Hawaiian vacation with my family. (Hey, if you have to reset, there is no better place than the beach!)
When we came back home, I set all new parameters that have benefited me for three years now. Here is what healthy boundaries means to me:
- My relationship with God comes first. This means a set time alone with my bible, to meditate in the quiet. It helps me be mindful of what direction my life is taking. If our lives lack this element of quiet and reflection, we suffer.
- Next in priority is my family. It’s a priceless opportunity to do life NOT alone, so I invest in them wholeheartedly. We intentionally protect our family time and make it count. I live a life that allows me to be truly present in the moment with each of them.
- Passion. No matter where we live there will be a plethora of opportunities to get involved in our community. Personally, I believe that what makes a person feel joyful and alive is what they’re meant to do, after priorities are set.
- Pace. It’s reckless to throw out priorities in order to seize opportunities. Consider this: if I do everything I want at once, I will be in conflict with my priorities. For me, to be exhausted is to be no longer joyful. I believe I’m going to have a long, full life! I can afford to turn down some options now and keep dreaming for the future.
If you’re tired all the time and running more than resting, if you don’t connect with each person in your family every day- these are clues. If your life feels bland but you’re doing everything “right,” here is your permission slip for time out. I urge you to take it one way or another.
I’m so thankful for the turn my life took, when at last I truly listened to my soul. These boundaries make me strong enough to pursue a life that is wholly amazing, alongside my beautiful family. They are my team. Together, we are choosing who and what gets “sent on over.”
Exciting news! We at Life of the Family were recently guests on The Nextgen Worship Broadcast. As you might expect, we spoke on the subject closest to our hearts – building family. And we used the opportunity to share our joy, discuss the strategies we employ to build our marriage, and even tell on ourselves.
Our dream is to establish a joyful, connected family that impacts others, for generations to come. As Hayley Kahler put it when introducing us, “If you don’t build it intentionally, family legacy will build itself.”
Give it a listen!
We’ve all seen TV shows where a family unit is breaking down, each person going their own way. It is often presented in a comical way, as if it is something we are all supposed to understand and accept as a way of life. Life is lived on separate islands, and from time to time a parent – typically the mother – will pull everyone back together for a meaningful family moment. Then they go back to doing their own thing. Sorry if this is normal to you, but I just can’t relate. It’s not funny to me – it’s a scary kind of dysfunction.
I remember having our first baby, Adrienne. Steve and I were still babies ourselves, so naive! We had no idea the exact mission we were embarking on. I had this neat little plan all laid out to be back at work in no time. But when I first held her, it suddenly dawned on me: here is this new little person and I have zero idea who she is. When I think about it, Steve and I will spend a lifetime getting to know Adrienne and her brother Addison.
I’ve been thinking about Martha, one of the most seemingly cantankerous women in the Bible. It’s Christmas though – the season of joy, happiness and family harmony. Martha doesn’t seem to fit, except alongside Scrooge.
She’s painted as the ugly villain, the stingy shrew, when I hear her story told. Inwardly I’m shouting, “Unfair!” If Martha and I took personality or career aptitude tests, our results would be identical. I understand what made her tick. But her virtues are overlooked when compared to her siblings . I am here to set the record straight.