Category Archives: Little things

Finding blessings in the wilderness

We are two weeks into home schooling, home churching, and social distancing and it’s been interesting. My son showed me a meme the other day that said: “Day 2 without sports. I found a woman sitting on my couch. Apparently she’s my wife. She seems nice.” That made me laugh. Oh what a unique experience we are having! Here are a few snapshots of life at our house with 2 parents and 4 kids at home:

—Her feet are touching mine!

—I miss my friends. 

—I feel trapped.

—It’s my turn on the computer!

—Can you stop making that noise? I am trying to work!”

—Stop touching me

—That assignment was due when? 

—I just want things to go back to normal

—And the low point when our printer stopped working and I had 3 kids needing homework sheets printed I got this message online: “You are now number 175 in line to speak with a representative.” I never got ahold of that representative.

It has been hard! We miss our normal life, our routine, our freedoms and predictability. I miss going out on date night with my husband and having a little quiet during the day. My kids miss their teachers, friends, and teams. We have had to cancel our spring break trip to Havasupai, something I’ve wanted to do for 20 years. It’s hard being cooped up together all day and all night when kids are still learning the art of conflict negotiation and respecting personal space. And yet, this is our new normal, for now at least.

Yes, it is hard. And yet, there are also some incredible blessings. 

A few days ago I was reading a scripture message with our kids out of a book called “Don’t Miss This” that expands on one verse at a time from the Book of Mormon.  Here was the verse that came up, from the perspective of Laman and Lemuel in the wilderness:

1 Nephi 17:21 “Behold these many years we have suffered in the wilderness, which time we might have enjoyed our possessions and the land of our inheritance; yea and we might have been happy.” Lehi’s family had left their comforts, their freedoms, their social gatherings, and everything they knew. They were in their wilderness with all its discomfort and isolation. Laman and Lemuel saw the hard stuff. It was uncomfortable and the food was boring and they missed their normal life.

Nephi on the other hand gave us an example of another way. Of the exact same journey, in the exact same chapter, Nephi writes: “great were the blessings of the Lord upon us.” 

We are having a wilderness experience. I actually looked up the definition of wilderness and this is what I found: “a neglected or abandoned area of a garden or town.” How true is that?  I’ve caught myself murmuring about the situation. And my hard things are really just minor inconveniences. There are people out there who are really sick. There are people who have lost loved ones. There are thousands who are being separated from spouses and children. There are missionaries who want to serve who have been sent home.

It is a challenging and scary time. 

Yet I believe we too can experience great blessings in our period of isolation and uncertainty. There will be miracles, even. Here are some of the little miracles I have seen so far:

—A prophet who knew we were going to need to depend on our own faith and diligence, who knew to prepare us with resources to study the gospel at home

—Watching my husband bless the sacrament and my son pass it to our family members in our own living room

—Siblings bonding over family outings, games, comedy sketches, and movies

—A newfound love of chess in our home—something we had never played with our kids before and now it seems they can’t get enough

—A neighborhood finding ways to connect through teddy bear hunts and pictures in windows and candles of unity lit on porches

—Acts of service and little gifts left on doorsteps

—More time to have family scripture study together along with time to pray and even meditate together. 

I have struggled with this new normal in many ways and I wouldn’t have chosen it.  At the same time I am so grateful for the opportunities my family is having to grow closer and stronger together. 

In Matthew we learn about ten virgins awaiting a bridegroom, who represents Christ. Five of the virgins had plenty of oil to keep their lamps lit, while the other five ran out of oil. They could not get oil from the others but needed to rely on their own preparation. This story is about us. The oil represents our own spiritual strength. This is our time to decide—will we be spiritually strong on our own? Are we doing what we need to do to keep our lamps lit in the darkness?

The Lord said in D&C 33:17  “Be faithful, praying always, having your lamps trimmed and burning, and oil with you, that you may be ready at the coming of the Bridegroom.”

I am so grateful for my opportunity to fill my lamp at home during this unique season. I am grateful for a prophet who has prepared us. Our Father in Heaven is watching over us and he will bless us as we are faithful. We can choose to be diligent disciples at this crucial time. Life has slowed down. Gone are the hectic schedules and carpools and sporting events.at we are being given is time and space to focus in on what matters most. God is essentially removing many of the obstacles that may normally distract us. We can work on filling our lamps while we wait to be done with this season of wilderness.

Here are a few ways we can do it: 

  1. Pray more and pray sincerely. We have time. Enos is a wonderful example of someone who didn’t say a quick repetitive prayer and turn out the lights. He poured his heart and soul out to God and waited for a reply. He was earnest and sincere in desiring to know the Lord’s will. He even described his experience as a “wrestle” to know. He says “my soul hungered” and that he cried all the day and then into the night to know if his sins had been forgiven. 
  2. Listen for a response. How often do we take time to listen and be still? Enos waited all day for his answer. Then God finally spoke to him and answered his plea. Enos asked how it was done and God responded “Because of thy faith in Christ.” Enos had that kind of faith to know if he listened and waited, and kept listening, God would show up. I think most of us probably aren’t very good at being still and listening. We live a fast-paced life where we don’t have to wait for much—thanks to things like one day delivery and instant streaming of our favorite shows. We are over scheduled and exhausted much of the time. But if we show up for God, he will show up for us. He has told us, repeatedly in the scriptures: “Ask, and ye shall receive. Seek and ye shall find. Knock and it shall be opened unto you.” Now more than ever we have the opportunity to strengthen our relationship with our Father in Heaven and His Son. 
  3. Study. What a wonderful time to take full advantage of our spiritual resources. They have been poured out upon us. We have the scriptures. We have a Come Follow Me online manual that guides us through weekly discussions of the scriptures. We have amazing Book of Mormon videos that we can watch with the click of a button on our computer. We have all the conference addresses that have ever been given in any form we want—we can read, listen or watch! 
  4. Tune in. Conference is coming up next Sunday. It was promised to be one we will never forget, and I already know that will be true. I don’t think I have ever been so curious and excited about hearing from our leaders than I am right now. We know we have a prophet who has received and will continue to receive revelation from on high. What an incredible blessing we have—to know we have a living, breathing church with all the guidance we need ready to be poured out upon us. 
  5. Serve. I am always struck by the last conversation Christ had with Peter before he left the earth. He asked Peter three times: “Lovest thou me?” Peter said yes repeatedly. Christ gave the same answer over and over again: Feed my sheep. What he meant was, take care of each other. You are my hands now. The more we seek to love and serve each other, the more of His Spirit we will feel. I have seen it already as people are reaching out to love from a distance. I have seen it in people who are showing up at work to help make sure we can still get our packages and groceries and medical help. I have seen siblings and friends and neighbors support each other with heart attacks on doors and letters of encouragement and dinners over FaceTime. As we do that, we will be blessed.

Yes we are in challenging times but with those challenges come wonderful blessings and opportunities. I hope that we can use our time well and fill our lamps. Let’s strengthen our own spiritual muscles and enjoy our time at home with our families. We can rise above the hardships and know that our Savior is always there for us. He promised us this:

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:26–27). … In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) 

That is so comforting to me. He is with us. He will see us through. He has and will overcome. We will get through this season and hopefully come out better and stronger and closer to our Father in Heaven for it.

Bonding in our time of isolation.

The rainbow comes after the storm

We have a handsome, intelligent, persistent, opinionated, resourceful wonderful young man in our home. A teenage man. I’ve read recently in a book hilariously titled “The Grown-Up Guide to Teenage Humans” that these teenage humans really, really need a few important things: belonging, fun, and control. In fact, they want these things so much that they will go out of their way to do the opposite of what their parents want just to assert their autonomy. Scott and I are learning about this delicate dance. I’m not going to lie–it’s a struggle sometimes figuring out how to be parents with rules and expectations while also allowing freedom to grow and choose. It’s extra hard for a set of oldest-child, somewhat type-A perfectionist parents. We are learning, I daresay, as much as our children as we go through this journey.

We expect a lot of our kids and we have a few things we insist on–family dinner, family scripture and prayer, a family date on Saturday, and church on Sunday are where we hold the line. Sometimes it’s pulling teeth to get everyone together. Regularly our cute teenage Zach says “Can we be done with now?” or “No, I’m not coming.” Or “I don’t want to go see Frozen 2 with you.” Or “I don’t feel like going to church–it’s boring.” We keep insisting. “Yep, come on up.” “Yep, it’s time to go.” Or “Yep, we’re going to give it a try.” It can be exhausting. Every once in a while I just want to cave and say “Fine, never mind. Do what you want.”

Last night it was a Sunday and we had gotten some good scripture time in during the day at church, and we said our evening prayer at the dinner table after a quick family council. It was late and I figured we could call it good. I had already gotten our super-social five year old, Sam, in bed and was walking toward the girls’ room down the hall with a hymn book to sing them a song as they were getting in to bed. Sam heard me mention something about a song and came running out of his room. “We need to do scriptures!” he said. I laughed and said, “Well we went to church today… but ok let’s do it.” Then Zach came in and climbed up to hang with his little sister on her bunk bed.

I read a quick scripture to them and sang a verse of one of my favorite hymns, “The Spirit of God.” I invited them to sing with me if they knew the words. No one knew the first verse, but during the chorus, Zach joined in singing with me. “We’ll sing, and we’ll shout, with the armies of heaven. Hosanna, hosanna to God and the Lamb.” He wanted to sing! My heart was full already. But then, I said goodnight and asked Zach to come on down and go to bed. Then he said, “But mom, we haven’t prayed yet.” I was stunned. “OK great, let’s pray.”

We never know when all the little things we are encouraging are settling in and becoming habits that our kids actually love and want. To me, last night, was a little rainbow after getting through some rain. I know this doesn’t mean the battles are over and we have officially arrived. In fact, as Zach was leaving for his carpool this morning I said “See you after school!” and he looked back and said, “Don’t be late again” and walked off. I called out, “Want to say ‘Bye Mom?'” And he half-smiled and called back, “Bye Mom” and got in the car. We continue the dance. But I’ve had a glimpse that the efforts are worth every reminder, every invitation, every insistence. We’ll get our rainbows here and there, and they are beautiful.

Image result for rainbow in a storm

A Broken Bow Moment

Last week the kids and I were reading about Nephi’s broken bow. Everyone in this scripture account other than Nephi was complaining. I can imagine it. They are far from home, they are tired, they are hungry. And the last bow just broke. “This is awful!” they probably said. “It’s not fair! How could you have let this happen? Why me?” Not Nephi though. Nephi simply went to find some wood and made himself a new bow. Then he went to his father with the Liahona and asked, “Father, which way should I go?” Everyone has broken bow moments. It’s when things go wrong. We can either whine and complain and toss ourselves on the bed, or we can be like Nephi.

Two nights ago I brought Scott up to Tollgate Canyon near Park City for a surprise, romantic getaway in a rustic cabin in the middle of nowhere. I was following the directions up these long stretches of abandoned roads, and the snow was getting deeper and deeper. Suddenly it was too deep. Our tires were spinning. The car was stuck. I had been told by the cabin manager that I would need four wheel drive (which we had) but what I didn’t know is that four wheel drive wouldn’t cut it in the wet snow from that day. We needed chains or snow tires, which we didn’t have. Scott and I got out of the car and dug the snow out around the tires. We took turns pushing the car. Nothing.

Luckily, a few minutes after we had decided this challenge was beyond us, one of the few neighbors on the mountain came driving up the road. She had tow ropes. Then another neighbor came by with a truck and snow plow, and he was able to pull us out. It was getting pretty late at that point. The light was leaving and the snow was falling. We had to decide what to do. I was cold and wet and frustrated. But I really wanted to stay at this romantic cabin. I looked at Scott–“What should we do?” He didn’t hesitate. “Let’s go get some chains!” he said.

We drove to the Walmart in Park City and walked to their chain section. We searched through all the options for a good 30 minutes. They didn’t have our size. By now it was 7:30 p.m. We hadn’t had dinner and it was officially dark. “Should we just throw in the towel and go stay at some other hotel?” I said. But Scott wasn’t ready to give up. He knew I had worked hard to plan this weekend. He jumped on the phone and called an auto parts store in Salt Lake, 30 minutes away, and asked if they had chains that were the right size for our car. They did. “Let’s call it an adventure,” he said. Like Nephi, he just figured out what needed to be done and pointed us in that direction.

By 9:30 p.m., we were back at the beginning of the snowy trail laying out chains behind our tires. The air was freezing, snow was falling, and we could barely see. I held my phone flashlight toward the tires while Scott studied the directions for how to put chains on the car. Thirty minutes later, we were ready to take another shot at the mountain road.

The chains worked! We drove through the snow and made it to one of the most beautiful, romantic, rustic, cozy log cabins I’ve ever stayed in. We spent yesterday reading by the fire, playing a card game, snow shoeing, making meals, and soaking in a hot tub. Mostly, we’ve just enjoyed the reward of being together. Now I am writing this with a blazing fire in front of me and a beautiful sparkling snowy hillside out the window.

I’m so grateful that Scott didn’t give up at our broken bow moment. He had the confidence and courage and patience to keep moving forward, even though at each tricky, cold, frustrating challenge we didn’t know if we would succeed.

I figure life is like that. Things will go wrong. Probably at least once a day I am faced with something I didn’t expect or some problem I wish wasn’t there. I hope that the next time one of those moments comes along, I’ll remember to just point myself in the right direction and get going.

Every day joy

I recently finished a wonderful book called “The Shell Seekers” that captures the story of three generations of family members. Some I fell in love with and some made me cringe. Within the family there are a few characters who prioritize material possessions, money, and status. Other characters find happiness in things like spending time in a garden, at the beach, enjoying a piece of art, or time with people they love. The book got me thinking about how often we chase the wrong things in the name of happiness. A shiny new car, another new outfit, a big promotion, a checked-off to-do list. Usually, though, joy is simpler than that. It’s right there in front of us, waiting to be picked up. Kind of like shells in the sand. Funny how good I used to be at picking up shells with my bucket on the beach. Grownups sometimes forget.

One day recently with this book on my mind, I was on a run with my dog. It was a sunny day and he was just leaping around in front of me, exploring the trail and bushes, stopping to look back at me periodically with his tongue flopping out the side of his mouth. I swear he can smile. I was listening to an NPR podcast about research on joy. Scientists, the host explained, had discovered something interesting about joy in a recent study. They had asked hundreds of people what brought them joy. The results were surprising. Joy, they found, wasn’t anything grand or complicated. People reported finding joy in little moments when time just dissolved. Maybe it was watching a child play with bubbles, or seeing hot air balloons in the sky, or sipping a cup of hot chocolate, or meeting a friend for lunch. I slowed down and thought about that for a minute. How easy it might be to miss those moments.

For me, as a stay-at-home mom, I probably have hundreds of moments in a day where I could pick up a little joy. Yes, at any given time, I might have laundry to fold, dinner to cook, bills to pay, a carpool to drive, dishes to do, a doctor’s appointment to make, a leaking fridge to address, and a toilet to unclog. But when my little four year old son came up to me recently and said, “Mom, would you snuggle me?” and gave me that look with his big brown eyes, I had a choice to make. I could think about what I wouldn’t be getting done, or I could pick him up, and lay down with him in the sunny spot in our window alcove and just snuggle together. Which is what I did. I enjoyed. En-JOY-ed. I wonder how many of those moments I miss.

For today, and hopefully tomorrow, I am recommitting myself to joy. When I have a minute to sit and listen to Ellie tell me about school, or when Addie asks me to brush her hair or play Uno, or when Zach wants to show me the latest dog meme that made him laugh, or when Sam asks for just one more bedtime story, I am going to say yes. I am going to pick up that tiny shell in the sand and know that this is what life is all about anyway. The lengthy to-do list can wait a few more minutes.

beach shell

What is my success story?

As a mom, it’s hard to know how to define success. I am in charge of four beautiful, smart, spirited little children, whose decisions I don’t control. I love these people and consider them my greatest treasures. But I’m not going to lie–there are some hard times, and I occasionally find myself asking: Am I succeeding?

On Thursday, my two year old, Sam, had a neighbor friend over to play. Literally (I kid you not) every toy this little neighbor touched was received with “That’s mine!” I spent an hour and a half trying to keep my son from making our neighbor cry.

On Friday, I had to ask my daughters three separate times to take space from each other because my 9 year old, Ellie, kept making my 7 year old, Addie, cry with her “mean look.”

On Saturday, we were running late to get to Addie’s soccer pictures so I pulled up at the red-painted curb, turned off the car and ran her over to her team. I got back four minutes later to move the car and found a police officer pulled up, writing me a lovely parking ticket. Apparently, someone had called earlier to complain about all the cars parking in the red area. I tried to plead my case. “Are you a mom?” I asked. She chomped her gum and handed me the white paper. “Consider this a learning opportunity,” she responded. Gee, thanks.

On Sunday night while Ellie was trying to teach her well-prepared family home evening lesson about “seeing the best,” my 11-year-old son Zach couldn’t keep from flailing his arms around to make Sam laugh, despite our repeated requests that he stop so Ellie could finish her lesson.  We ended up asking him to go upstairs. We finally wrapped up around 9:00–half an hour past everyone’s bedtimes–and past the time when Mom’s patient energy disappears.

I finally got everyone into their beds and found my husband asleep on our bed, breathing deeply after a full day of serving our neighborhood as a member of the bishopric and wrapping up preparations to leave town for work. That’s when I laid down, closed my eyes, and asked myself–“Am I doing this right?”

I have a quote on my fridge by Ralph Waldo Emerson about what it means to succeed. It ends with this line: “Whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition. To know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, that is to have succeeded.”

I like that last phrase. One life. I got up off the bed after a few minutes and went into my children’s rooms to kiss them one by one as they slept. That is one of my favorite parts of the day. My last stop was at little Sam’s mattress on the floor (where he’s been sleeping since he started climbing out of his crib at 18 months). He lay there snuggling his favorite blue bear, sucking his thumb. Peace etched on his face.

It’s easy as mothers to see what we are not doing right, and to see what others are doing well. It’s easy for me to find my anxiety level rising just a bit when I get to church on Sunday and see another mom with daughters in matching dresses and lovely bouncing curls. Some days I have that going for me. Some days I don’t. Either way, I don’t think that’s how I want to define success.

For me, success isn’t about the size of my house, the make of my car, or the price tag on any of my family’s clothes. It isn’t about whether my kitchen is remodeled (it’s not) or how many Facebook likes I received for my last update. For me, success is that I made dinner last night when what I really wanted to do was keep reading my novel on the couch. Success is that when my daughter yelled this morning that she would NOT do her cello scale one more time without the blanket covering her fingers, I rolled with it and opened her music book. Success is snuggling up at night and reading two pages of our current chapter book, even though it was past bedtime. It’s going out to throw the football with Zach when he asks me to, and it’s taking Sam for a walk around the park to pet the dogs we see (his favorite thing), even when I have a long to-do list. Success is laying next to my tired husband at night and reflecting on our 17 years of doing this amazing adventure together.

I’m not afraid of failure. Those hiccups are how we all learn. And when I am in charge of four imperfect people who are learning a whole lot every day, I’m not going to set perfection in any area of life as my daily target. I just want to know that, because I was here, these favorite people of mine can say they breathed a bit easier. That, as Mr. Emerson would say, is to have succeeded. I’m going with it.

Time to Love Our Spouse

More from The Two-Minute Marriage Project…

“The ‘secret’ to loving is loving: the more we give of that vast and powerful force called Love, the more it returns to illuminate our days with hope, simple bliss and heart-happy wonder.”

-Margie Lapanja, author

Loving our spouse takes time and effort. Yet many couples today get swept away in the chaos of a distracting and busy life. We have sports and competitions and recitals and deadlines and politics and schedules to watch. We have texts and tweets and a barrage of information constantly ready for our review. We have streaming sports scores, advertisements everywhere, and endless pressures to succeed. How can we remember to show love to our spouse daily when there are days we hardly see each other?phone

For parents, the battle for time is even more difficult. Parenting has become busier than ever before as moms and dads seek to ensure their child has a rock-solid self-esteem and a leg up on the competition. We enroll our three year olds in sports and music and camps, hoping that they can keep up with the neighbor kid who is enrolled in even more. As parents, we want our kids to have every advantage and we want them to know we love them and would do anything for them. That’s all fine and good for the kids (for the most part). It’s not so good for marriage. Studies show we spend far more time with our kids today than parents of previous generations, which leaves significantly less time to our marriages (For Better 176). When researchers ask kids what they want? Rather than more time together, they want happier, less stressed out parents!

I can relate to the transformation from loving and attentive newlywed to distracted, busy parent. My husband Scott and I met 13 years ago at a college barbecue. A mutual friend introduced us and we couldn’t be separated the rest of the evening. In the months that followed, I found myself falling hard. We talked until the wee hours of the morning, he brought roses and wrote poems, we dated, we danced. The whole thing was as natural and effortless as breathing . . .but substantially more exciting. Nine months later, a ring was on my finger and we found ourselves debating an August or December wedding. The only point in the December column was Christmas lights, so we began planning for summer.

The wedding was picture perfect, even with the rain that poured down on us. Everyone else ran from tree to tree trying to stay sheltered as we walked around for our photos. We couldn’t care less that we were getting soaked. In fact, I’m not sure we even noticed. My cheeks hurt from smiling at the end of the day. This was my ideal life partner and our life together was going to be all roses and sunshine.

As newlyweds, we were still as happy as ever as we adjusted to our new life. No one else competed for our attention at home, and our only real responsibilities were to do well in our college courses and earn enough to pay for our 600-square-foot apartment and meals for two. We walked to school together, took classes together, shopped together, ate together, read books together, and played together. Showing our love every day in small and meaningful ways was effortless.

Fast forward a decade and then some. Things are a little different now. Responsibilities are many and time is scarce. Between us we have four beautiful kids ages 1 to 10, a lovely home with attached mortgage and two-car garage, two cars, a new business with all the added excitement and stress, multiple church responsibilities and volunteer hours at school, grocery shopping and meals for six not to mention soccer games and music recitals. It probably goes without saying that the number of love sonnets I once received has reduced dramatically.

Some days we don’t see each other for more than ten minutes as we both race in different directions. He’s up to go to the gym and the office. I’m up to get kids and breakfast going. He’s working hard at the office. I’m working hard at home cleaning, cooking, carpooling, shopping, washing, folding, ironing, writing, and finding moments to sit down and play with the kids. What a gift it is to raise a family with the partner I love. I wouldn’t trade it or go back for anything.IMG_0157

Here’s the tricky part: showing our love to each other in our marriage now takes more effort and deliberate attention. Much more. We must be doing something right. We still often get what we affectionately refer to as “tingles” when we see each other at the end of the day. And it’s not entirely a matter of luck (though we both are fairly cheerful people). I can say that we are still best friends and more in love now than on the day we married. Partly, that’s because we focus on loving each other every day.

Many couples end the honeymoon stage of their marriage and become so focused on their own paths that they forget one simple thing: their relationship needs tending. In the romantic comedy How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days writer Andie Anderson is assigned to write an article on how to make a man break up with her. One thing she does in her attempt to get him to throw in the towel is deliver a “love fern.” Andie dramatically explains to Ben that the fern symbolizes their love and that he must care for the little plant like he cares for their relationship. Later Andie pretends to be horrified when she finds the plant withering. “You let our love fern die? Are you going to let us die?” The scene is comical because Andie is so dramatic. Yet I see some truth in the metaphor. Just as a fern or a garden needs daily attention, so does a marriage. 

plantSo ask yourself today, what do I need to do to tend to my marriage?

More to come…

Falling and staying in love

Below is an excerpt from The Two-Minute Marriage Project, a book I wrote about staying in love over the long haul. It’s a topic I’ve thought a lot about in order to find the secret of a lasting, fulfilling marriage. Here’s what I found it comes down to, from social scientists, personal experience, and interviews with happily married couples: the little things. Over the next few weeks I’d like to include excerpts here on what I found. For today, a bit of background on love:

Right now in the United States there are 60 million married couples. We still love and believe in marriage. We love marriage so much that we fight over how to define it and exactly who can do it. But marriage today, by most accounts, is not thriving. Experts calculate that only about 40 to 50 percent of married couples stay together. People quit their marriages every day, and here’s the sad thing: The majority of people who quit simply fell out of love. As author Pamela Haag reports in the book Marriage Confidential, more than half the couples who divorce had a relationship that was “amiable but listless.” Basically, they just didn’t thrive. According to studies on couples who divorce, the vast majority of people who end their relationship report that they simply lost a sense of closeness and did not feel loved or appreciated (as reported in Gottman, 2000 The Timing of Divorce). 

Even many couples who stay together aren’t fulfilled in their marriages. Of the couples who do stay married, according to a group of marriage researchers at the University of Denver, only half are actually happy. (Howard J. Markman, Scott M. Stanley, and Susan L. Blumberg, http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/consumer/10238.html).

What is going on? Most people, at least in the western world, marry because they are in love. But that wasn’t always the case. For thousands of years, marriage wasn’t about love or personal satisfaction. Marriage historian Stephanie Coontz reports in her book Marriage, a History, that marrying for love didn’t come about until the late 18th century with the Enlightenment focus on individual rights. Before then, most marriages were arranged by outside influences who would be positively affected by the union. Something as important as marriage couldn’t be based on “something as unreasoning and transitory as love” (p. 5). Yet during the Enlightenment, a marriage revolution began to occur. We started seeing marriage as what it could be–a private relationship with the potential to provide great happiness for the couple, regardless of family wealth or political alliances (New York: Viking, 2005).

Staying in love

So we came along way as a society. We decided that it should be in our control as individuals to choose who we marry, and that we should do it primarily for our own happiness and not for the betterment of our relatives. We decided that marriage could be our greatest human relationship and the source of our deepest satisfaction in life. Yet, as Coontz reports, “the very features that promised to make marriage such a unique and treasured personal relationship opened the way for it to become an optional and fragile one.” (p. 5). Marriages are breaking apart because people are falling out of love. We aren’t staying in the same state we were in before, and that scares people. As George Bernard Shaw humorously pointed out, marriage brings together two people “under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive, and most transient of passions. They are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal, and exhausromanceting condition continuously until death do them part.” (Quoted in John Jacobs, All You Need Is Love and Other Lies About Marriage, New York: HarperCollins, 2004 p. 9).

We “fall” in love–suggesting something outside of our control. Our brain is malfunctioning, to a degree. Staying in love–now that’s something we have some control over. It isn’t easy. Over the years, as a culture, we have lost some of the glue that helped couples stick together. As John Jacobs, professor at NYU’s School of Medicine, has written, some of the martial glue that helped keep couples together from the past is now largely irrelevant. The glue of women’s financial dependency, the belief that happiness is rare or unnecessary, prevailing religious dogma, and legal constraints are all gone. The only glue holding couples together now “is the glue created by the two of you–the glue of mutual satisfaction, gratification, appreciation, and respect. The glue of mature love.” (All You Need Is Love and other lies about marriage.)

We simply cannot forget to show love and affection to our spouse every day. As Dr. Jacobs declares, one of the greatest threats to a marriage relationship is complacency.  “If you want your marriage to survive,” Jacobs writes, “you must actively cherish your spouse and protect your relationship” (Jacobs, 234). Staying in love isn’t as easy or effortless as falling in love. It takes time, attention, and deliberate effort. But if we do it right, our marriage relationship can provide the same tingles and excitement as it did when we first came together as partners, soul mates, and best friends. Indeed, if we do it right, and if we do it consistently, staying in love can be the happiest, most fulfilling part of our lives. The trick is to do that even while living in a chaotic modern world. 

More to come…

Daisies

When my husband and I were first dating, for my birthday, Scott surprised me with a dozen white roses. Boy did I love those roses. And I was falling hard for that boy. He got me a dozen roses on our honeymoon and another dozen on our first anniversary. He’s a “go big or go home” kind of guy. I think he thought that was the only way that giving flowers should be done.

As time went on, as the story often goes, life happened. We got busy with school and jobs and kids and cars and mortgages and everything life throws. I didn’t receive the beautiful bouquets for some time. Which was fine–because for so many of those early years we were poor students with no extra spending money.

A few months ago, Scott was having lunch with a client (we weren’t students anymore) who asked him, “When’s the last time you brought your wife flowers?” Scott hummed and hawed a bit and then said, “It’s been a while.” The man replied, “Go get her some.”

Scott followed his orders and came home with a lovely bouquet. I was surprised and touched by the gesture. Almost every week since then, he’s brought home flowers. They haven’t been the big, expensive bunch of roses. Instead, he’s often come home with a simple group of colorful lilies or daisies. Just this weekend he came home from getting a haircut with a little bunch of daisies for me. It costs him less than $3 for those daisies. (I know because I do the finances.) But oh how well spent that $3 is! In that simple gesture, I know that my husband is thinking of me, wanting to make me smile.

Sometimes we think that only the grand, sweeping gestures matter when, really, the little things mean just as much, or more. I always loved the roses. But it’s amazing how much a simple bundle of daisies, given for no reason on a rainy Saturday afternoon, can communicate about love.

What have you done to love your spouse today?

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Escape

Recently Scott and I went to see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I loved the story of a man who finally decides to start living his life outside his own head. As I sat in the theater, Scott and I listened to the theme song “Escape,” sung by Jack Johnson. I knew the tune, but it was the first time I’d ever really listened to the lyrics.

The song is about a man who is lying in bed one night looking at the personal ads, when he reads one from a woman who is looking for someone who likes pina coladas and dancing in the rain. The man considers for a moment his long-term relationship and the fact that he and his gal have slumped into the “same old, old routine.” So he answers the ad. He wants to escape too, just like she does.

As he walks into the bar to meet this exotic new lady, the man finds her and realizes “It was his own lovely lady.” They laugh and say, “I never knew . . .”

Sometimes the thing we are yearning for is sitting there right there in front of us. We think we need to escape our situation to feel better, to feel alive, when really, we might just need to mix things up a little.

For spring break this year, Scott and I are taking our little family beach camping. This is new for me. I love the ocean, so I figure that with a little, sand, water, and sunshine we have the perfect cocktail for a fun family getaway. I hope. As long as the dirt, wetness, and far-from-pillowtop sleeping arrangements don’t get in the way. If nothing else, we are stepping outside our old, old routines and trying something new. That should be enough for one family escape, with or without the pina coladas.

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