Thriving Because Of

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“The reality is that some spouses never change, and some marriages don’t get better.”

– Charles and Michale Misja, Thriving Despite a Difficult Marriage

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I’ve come to the conclusion that all marital problems stem from one major flaw: they involve people.  Sinful, selfish, imperfect, ever-changing (or never-changing!) human beings.  A few months ago, I found myself right back where I was at the end of last year – emotionally distant, angry and ready to give up on my marriage.  Once again, I found myself struggling with my own expectations and felt that Jon and I were caught in a cycle that would never end.  Once again I found myself asking the question: “should I leave?”  But then I realized there was another question, a bigger question, from deep within my heart demanding an answer: “what if everything I’ve always said I believe about marriage is true?”

What if God’s desire is that, except in extreme circumstances for which my own marital problems don’t qualify, marriage be a life-long bond, regardless of how hard it gets?

What if marriage isn’t as much about getting my own needs met or desires fulfilled, as it is about loving and serving someone else, no matter the difficulties?

What if marriage is the ultimate ministry, the ultimate mission, the ultimate battleground at which the most selfish, sinful parts of my nature are slain?

What if, as Gary Thomas so eloquently put it, God designed marriage to make us holy, more than to make us happy?

In the following days, I struggled with these questions and could come up with only one solution I could make within my understanding of who God is, and who He wants me to be: I would have to give up hope.  My hopes for marriage, for Jon, for the way I thought relationships ought to be and what “love” ought to look like.  I would have to lay down my desires and expectations.  I would have to truly accept my marriage, and Jon, for exactly what they were instead of what I thought I wanted them to be.  I would have to make thankfulness for what is a part of my daily routine, rather than constantly striving for change.  Sure, I could divorce my husband and go chasing rainbows somewhere else, but no matter where I went or who I found I’d be taking my own flawed, human self with me and “Mr. Perfect-Until-I-Got-To-Know-Him-Better” would, too.  I’d be trading current problems (and standards, and expectations) for new ones, while irrevocably destroying precious, beloved parts of my life in the process.  Instead, I asked myself the cliche question “what if this is as good as it gets?” and determined to find a way to “thrive despite” … or maybe even “because of.”

After speaking with a friend about what I was going through, I wrote the following:

I feel like I have to let go of my desire for a lot of things that I want and expect from a marriage because they’re never going to happen. But in the same way that I have to believe it’s possible to be happy no matter what my circumstances are, I also have to believe that a good marriage – a fulfilling marriage – IS possible. So I think… I think I’m going to spend some time in prayer today.

Today, I’m going to pray for my marriage. I’m going to pray that God does absolutely whatever he has to do to break whatever destructive, harmful, sinful things [have led us to this place]…

But I’ll only pray this once.

I’ll only be able to pray this once.

Because I really do believe that in order to heal, in order to move forward I must – MUST – lay down my expectations for my marriage. I have to somehow give up expectation without giving up hope and the only way I know how to do that is to allow myself to hope, allow myself to pray, allow myself to believe. ONCE.

And then lay it down. (And keep laying it down, and keep laying it down, and keep laying it down because I don’t believe this is going to be a one-time deal.) And let Him, if He chooses to do so, do the rest.

Since then, I’ve come to discover an interesting thing about expectations.  You can’t hold expectations in one hand and thankfulness in the other.  At least, I can’t.  Not in this.  I’ve kept my commitment to strive to be thankful for what is, instead of striving to make things the way I think ought to be, and an interesting change has taken place.  It’s becoming easier to find things to be thankful for (and there really is so, SO much to be thankful for!)  I find myself less critical, not just outwardly, but inwardly as well.  I’m less angry, less irritable, less likely to inflict wounds with my words and more content, in general.  (An interesting thought to explore would be whether there is a correlation between the number of things we try to be thankful for and the number of things there actually are to be thankful for.  It seems to me that the more we do of the first, the more there are of the second.)  I sense a settling within myself, a peace as I make the effort to cease looking to Jon and my marriage as a source of happiness.  Interestingly, though, I feel my marriage has gotten better, although I wasn’t seeking that.  Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that my marriage hasn’t really changed at all, but, similar to what happened last year, I have.  I’m beginning to understand, just a little, what Paul meant when he wrote: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.

This may be an education that requires multiple lessons, but for now, in this moment, I am learning.

“The first purpose in marriage- beyond happiness, sexual expression, the bearing of children, companionship, mutual care and provision, or anything else – is to please God. The challenge, of course, is that it is utterly selfless living; rather than asking, “what will make me happy?’ we are told that we must ask, ‘what will make God happy?’ [Paul writes]: ‘those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again’ (2 cor 5:15)… Happiness may well be beyond [us] but spiritual maturity isn’t – and I value character far above my emotional disposition.”

– Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage

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Related Articles:

I didn’t marry my soul mate

Should I marry my soul mate if I’m already married?

The great divorce

Taking off the graveclothes

Posted in Marriage | Leave a comment

Getting Close

Asterion and I had one of the best rides we’ve ever had today and I thought this would be a good time to post an update on my “Move Closer, Stay Longer” experiment.

If you recall, after a bad fall several months ago, I wasn’t able to trot Asterion without almost paralyzing fear.  After reading the book Move Closer, Stay Longer by Dr. Stephanie Burns, I committed myself to tackling these fears.  I made a list of all the things I was afraid of (which I wrote about here) and decided to face them one tiny step at a time.  I chose to do this bareback for a few reasons.  First, I knew the saddle would give me a false sense of security and I really wanted to jump right into battle with the biggest fears I felt (somewhat!) capable of fighting.  Second, I knew riding bareback would be much more difficult for me, without the stirrups for balance.  I often joke that I always choose the hardest possible ways of doing everything, but in a very real sense I do like challenging myself (for the most part!) and it was no different in this case.

The first fear I decided to tackle was the trot.  I wasn’t too afraid of riding bareback at a walk and the canter was too far in the “too much fear” column to even think about attempting (with OR without the saddle!)  So armed with determination and lots of prayer, I got to work.  With my heart in my throat, I led Asterion to a small, “safe” paddock, wrapped my legs around him, practically laying on his back with a death grip on his mane, and trotted him for, literally, 3 or 4 seconds. Other than asking him to trot and walk (he responds well to voice commands), I couldn’t direct him at all because it was all I could do to just to force myself to hang on and not burst into tears. I couldn’t even THINK while I was trotting him, because everything in me was trying SO HARD not to panic that it crowded out every other thought I might have had.  During those first few weeks, I built up my time in the trot literally a few seconds each day.  Every time I grew too afraid, I’d force myself to keep going just a few seconds more.  It took weeks before I could trot sitting up and over a month before I could trot for an entire minute.  Progress since then has been excruciatingly slow, but consistently steady.  Five months later, we’ve worked our way up to a canter and today I was able to maintain my balance (for the most part!) during a five minute trot without holding on at all – something I truly wasn’t sure was possible five months ago.  (In fact, not long ago I was searching YouTube for videos of people trotting bareback, semi-convinced that it wasn’t physically possible to do so without holding on for dear life!)  Granted, the trot was slow and on a generally level area of ground, but when I consider those first few weeks and how terrified I was, I can’t help but feel proud of how far we’ve come.

Here’s what my “move closer, stay longer” list looked like, five months ago:

And here it is today:

We’re getting there!!!

Posted in Farm & Garden, PERSONAL, Victory Journal | Leave a comment

Waiting for baby

Last week I got to do a maternity session with a beautiful new friend, just weeks before she and her husband welcome their first baby… boy?  girl?  We’ll find out soon!  Thank you for allowing me to share such a special time, Sophia!  I hope we get to see more of each other in the months to come!

 

Posted in Maternity | Leave a comment

The “crap” journal

For the past few months, I’ve been waging my own private war against resistance, getting up early to spend some time each day writing.  This time has become sacred to me, for may different reasons, but I’m sorry to say that not much actual writing has gotten done.  Instead, I literally spend hours sitting in front of the keyboard, waiting for inspiration to strike.

Lately, I’ve realized that part of my problem is a fear of failure and vulnerability, interestingly enough, even towards myself.  I recognize that no one else is necessarily going to be reading what I write, but even so, I just haven’t been able to get over this idea that what I write has to be great in order to make it from my mind to the page (insecurity dwells deep in me.)  So I recently decided to take measures to alleviate this problem and bought a new journal.  Not just any journal, but specifically a sketch pad just like the one I had during my freshman year in high school when I attended LaGuardia, a school of the arts, and carried one just like it everywhere (literally, everywhere) I went.

So I bought the new journal/sketch pad and gave myself one rule: WRITE.  Write EVERYTHING.  Whatever comes to mind, whatever I’m thinking, whatever I’m experiencing, whatever interesting (or uninteresting) thing that happens to touch my heart: write it down.  I write anything and everything in this journal with only one exception: if I’m writing/painting/drawing something I think is (or could be) GOOD, it goes somewhere else.  This journal isn’t for the good stuff… it’s (mostly) for the crap.  The random thoughts, the doodles, the experiments with new art mediums, it (almost) all goes in the book.

I feel as if I’ve joined up with a long-lost friend.  When I attended LaGuardia, I spent hours skipping class (or zoning out during class) and hanging out in various parks all over New York City, doodling and writing in a sketch pad exactly like this one.  I have no idea what on earth I had to write about for so many hours (those journals have long since been gone) but isn’t that the point?  I may not have anything at all to write about, but…

I’m writing.

 

Posted in Anxiety, Perfectionism, Victory Journal | Leave a comment

Emerging Victorious

Years ago, I got caught up in the doctrine of “do not handle, do not taste, do not touch” (which Paul warns against in Colossians 2:21 and I wrote more about HERE.)  Several things have contributed to my slow emergence from this bondage and one, in particular, is a book called Dance of the Dissonant Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd. In this book, Kidd references the myth of Theseus (and, more importantly, Ariadne) and the Minotaur, making parallels between this myth and the system of patriarchy within our culture and the Christian church. She speaks of the minotaur at the center of the labyrinth as the “inner critic,” the “bullish, bullying, bulldozing force of patriarchy internalized in the cellar of a woman’s psyche.” Although I don’t agree with everything she has to say, I could relate to this metaphor of the minotaur as an inner critic.

Since then, the maze of the minotaur has become symbolic to me, a representation of my determination to overcome the inner critic, to break free from the sometimes overwhelming urge to ask permission and explain myself, and the often paralyzing desire to meet the expectations of others, especially men and members of the church.

This commitment to escaping the maze (so to speak) has led me to openly embrace concepts and practices I was taught in my youth to avoid. Elements of eastern meditation, Native American spirituality, Christian mysticism, and ayurveda, to name a few. The results of this have been interesting, to say the least. I feel I’m communicating with God (specifically Holy Spirit) on a level I never have before – or rather she is communicating with me in a way she never has before (most likely because my self-imposed rules have prevented me from hearing.) Through these communications, she has made it abundantly clear that she loves me, that she wants the best for me (and – what’s more – she’ll help me to obtain it,) and that she’s a friend.

A friend with an awesome sense of humor.

Not long ago, I went out to lunch at a Chinese restaurant with my oldest daughter. At the end of our meal, I cracked open my cookie to read a fortune for the first time in over 15 years – something I haven’t done since learning from a christian author that reading fortunes from cookies was sinful (no, I’m not joking and yes, I really believed that, which is embarrassing to admit.) This is what it said:

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Related Articles:

Faith, Unraveled
The Owl
The Minotaur

The Letter
Perfect Love
A Woman’s Path to Freedom

Posted in Criticism, Faith, Femininity and Womanhood, Perfectionism, Salvation | Leave a comment

Help for the refugees

I have some troubling news to share, regarding the Refugee Center in Bowling Green, KY.  I recently received a letter from the Albert Mbanfu, the Executive Director of the Refugee Center in Bowling Green, informing me that the executive action taken by Donald Trump to stop refugees from coming into the United States also suspends funding for the refugees who are already here and being assisted by the efforts of employees and volunteers at the refugee center.  These funding cuts affect transportation available to and from from job interviews, acculturation classes and medical facilities for health care.  It also affects the center’s ability to pay for caregivers who take care of children so that parents can attend these important classes, as well as translators who help them navigate doctor visits, grocery shopping, school enrollments and day to day survival.

The center is asking for help in caring for these people who so desperately need it.  Please, if you can help, consider placing a donation at the link below:

http://icofky.org/donate

Additionally, if you’d like information about volunteering your time, please email or call Kelly Rice, the Employment Program Manager, at kellyrice[at]wkrmaa[dot]org or call the International Center at 270.781.8336.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Move Closer, Stay Longer

I recently read a book by Dr. Stephanie Burns called Move Closer, Stay Longer. According to her biography, Stephanie Burns has devoted her life to understanding the adult learning process and helping people reach their goals. In her book Move Closer, Stay Longer she writes on the subject of fear – specifically the fear of riding (are you sensing a theme here, lately?) – and how to overcome it. The first thing I appreciated about this book is that it breaks fear down into an understandable emotion. There are things I’m afraid to do with Asterion that I simply shouldn’t be doing right now. Riding near traffic, for instance. It would be the height of stupidity for me to jump on him tomorrow and ride down our very busy road, hoping for the best. In that sense, fear is doing its job: working to keep me from injury. I’m beginning to believe that fear itself is not a problem (it’s just a feeling, remember?) The problem comes in when we decide to camp out around fear and never take the steps necessary to overcome it, especially in regards to those things that are important to us. Which leads me to the second thing I appreciated about this book: Burns gives a systematic approach for how to overcome fear in a way that’s logical and simple to achieve (“simple,” but not necessarily easy.)

Have you ever heard of the “learning circle?” It looks like this:

The basic principle of the learning circle is that there are three learning zones and as we develop new skills things move from one zone to another. Things we already know how to do and don’t need to think about (simple addition, for instance) are located in the “comfort zone.” In the “learning zone” we’ll find the things we don’t yet know that stretch our capabilities but are possible with hard work and practice. The outer circle, the “panic zone,” is the area in which things move our capabilities past stretching and into panic. They’re the things that are not (yet) possible for us to learn. For the second grader, calculus is firmly in the “panic” zone but can move into the “learning zone” after just a few years of education. You could also apply this to exercise. Taking a walk might be in the comfort zone and going for a jog might enter the learning zone but running the Boston Marathon is situated firmly inside the “panic” zone. It’s just not possible. Yet.

Because the great thing about the learning circle is that the things we do can cross categories. The student learning multiplication eventually “gets it” and multiplication enters the comfort zone as they begin working on something new located in the learning zone, which before would have been firmly within the panic zone. The trick is taking the steps necessary (and figuring out what those are) to move things from one zone into another.

Dr. Burns says that fear works the same way. Rather than circles, she encourages people to make three lists: Things we can do without fear, things we can do with SOME fear, and things we can’t do because we’re too afraid (I prefer to think of these as things we “won’t” do because we’re too afraid.)  Then, we start working to move things from one column to another by moving closer to the things we’re afraid of, and staying there longer.  Allow me to explain:

In regards to riding, here’s what my list looked like:

Right away, I saw that there were things I could easily move from the “some fear” to “no fear” column with practice, like trotting and riding without a bridle. Maybe I can’t yet trot Asterion all over the field, but I can certainly trot him for a few seconds today and a few more tomorrow, each time moving to that point when fear screams “STOP!,”, and then staying with it for just a FEW more seconds.  The next day, the point of fear ought to move just a bit further away (ie. today perhaps I can only trot for five seconds before panic sets in, but if I push past that point by just a few seconds then tomorrow I’ll be able to trot for EIGHT seconds before panic sets in, and on and on.)  In that way, as I “move closer” to my goal, and “stay there longer,” the point of fear stretches until it simply no longer exists.

But what about the others? Many of the things on that list are there for a very good reason. For instance, Asterion gets very antsy and skittish when it’s raining or windy and the last time we tried crossing the creek he panicked and I ended up on the ground.  He also won’t allow me to touch his sheath (can you really blame him?) and given that he weighs a good 1,000 pounds more than I do, he wins.  So how do I move things from one column to another if the problem can’t be solved without the cooperation of a 1200 pound flight animal? Again, the principle of “move closer, stay longer” comes in. Can I clean Asterion’s sheath tomorrow? Absolutely not. But what I can do is start getting him used to being touched near there and continue this each day until he no longer shows irritation. At that point, I can move closer and repeat the process. It strikes me as interesting that the way I would help my horse overcome his fear is the same way Burns recommends teaching myself to overcome my fear:

Move closer to the thing I’m afraid of, and stay there longer.

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Related Article:

Feeling Fear

Posted in Anxiety, Fear, PERSONAL | Leave a comment