Marriage (and why I lived in a bathrobe)

It’s been a minute, I know. And I’ve missed you. So I’m sliding into your inbox today with a quick personal update, a few scripture prayers, and DIY idea you can try for a marriage you love.

But first, a little backstory.

Last summer, I asked you to let me know what topics you’d like to see covered in a book about marriage. You weighed in with some very specific answers. You wanted principles and prayers you could use for better communication, handling conflict, and knowing how to deal with parents and in-laws. You wondered about intimacy—both the physical and the spiritual kind, particularly where you and your spouse might not be in the same place, faith-wise. And at least one of you asked if I could please write something–anything–that would get your husband to do what you wanted him to do.

Marriage Survey Responses

I put all of these things in the pondering pot and went poking around in the Bible to see what God had to say. I came away convinced that God is crazy about marriage, and that his deepest desire is to equip us to love one another as he loves us: selflessly, lavishly, and in ways that go beyond anything we could ever ask for or imagine.

I also interviewed oodles of people. I talked with everyone: Newlyweds and empty-nesters. Folks who’d spent years on the struggle bus and those for whom the “for better” eclipsed the “for worse.” Couples who were comfortable talking to God–trusting him with their most important relationship–and those who had no idea where to begin.

And then I went into a writing hole. I basically stayed in my bathrobe for a few months, poking my head out of my office just long enough to ask Robbie to read something and give me his feedback. Which was both helpful and hard. Robbie is nothing if not honest. And even though he sent me back to the drawing board more times than a husband who wants to eat dinner “sometime tonight” should ever do, his comments were thoughtful and wise (especially when it came to tricky topics like handling money, experiencing forgiveness, and having good sex).

When it was all said and done, we hit “send” on the manuscript a scant three minutes before it was due. I thought we should celebrate by going to bed (like, to bed-bed. For a month.), but Robbie said it was time for a toast.

A toast to the marriage manuscript

I look tired, I know. I was tired. I am tired.

And honestly? There were plenty of times during the process when I questioned God. Who was I–who were we–to write this book? Would it be any good? And would we have any friends when we finished, since I’d spent such a long time in the hole? Writing is lonely. Writers are lonely. It’s a privilege, to be sure, but if your heart’s desire is to write a book, you need to know, up front, that your social life may take a hit.

(And, if you are like me, you’ll probably gain at least seven pounds in the process.)

The book–cleverly titled Praying the Scriptures for Your Marriage–releases next spring (just in time for wedding season!). I’ll be giving you little sneak peeks between now and then, including excerpts from interviews with folks who’ve done the marriage thing well, folks who’ve navigated the “for better” together, as well as some hard seasons of “worse.”

For now, though, I’ll leave you with three of my favorite marriage prayers–verses you can personalize for yourself, for a friend’s marriage, or even for your unmarried children as you pray for their relationship with their eventual spouse.

Heavenly Father,

Make us kind and compassionate to one another, and quick to forgive. (Ephesians 4:32)

In humility, may we value one another above ourselves, not looking to our own interests but to each other’s interests and well-being. (Philippians 2:3-4)

May our marriage be rooted and built up in Jesus. Strengthen our faith and cause us to overflow with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:6-7)

Amen.

❤️

I put these prayers on a card we gave all the guests last summer at Virginia and Christopher’s wedding.

marriage prayer card

And okay, so it’s not technically a “DIY” project–not unless you’re way better than I am at graphic design. But any local printer (thank you, Virginia Beach Printing!) can help you make your own card, personalizing it with a monogram or a cross or any emblem you like at the top. This makes a sweet party favor at a wedding shower or bridal luncheon, or slip the card into a frame as a gift for a couple you love. Happy wedding season–and happy almost anniversary, Virginia and Chris!

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Marriage (and how I’m praying for my boy + his bride)

Our son was only seven years old, prepping for his role as a ring-bearer in my brother’s wedding, when he first broached the subject of marriage. 

Robbie as ring-bearer in David's marriage

“What happens,” Robbie wanted to know, “if you go to a lot of weddings and you never get picked?”

I wasn’t quite sure what he was asking, so I pressed for details. “Robbie,” I said slowly, “I’m not sure I know what you mean. What do you think happens at a wedding?”

“I think everyone gets dressed up and then the girl chooses the one she wants. So what happens if you never get picked?”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Having already been on a dozen different sports teams by the time he was seven, Robbie saw the whole world through the lens of athletics. To him, a wedding represented one more opportunity to “dress out” and compete for a starting position.

The fact that Robbie was concerned about the perennial bench warmers—and that he might be secretly worried about missing his own chance to “play”—pierced my heart. I found his question both touching and hilarious, and it served as a reminder that it’s never too early to start praying for your child’s marriage partner.

Praying for Your Child's Marriage Partner

I’ve written about marriage and kids in this space before (click here to read three specific ways we can pray for the person our child will marry, and here for a post about what makes a really good marriage). But the topic is big on my mind this week because Robbie is all grown up now and ready for a ring of his own.

He’s still an athlete and sports still color much of his world, but I imagine that if you asked Robbie about his biggest win, he wouldn’t tell you about any of the stuff that earned trophies or championship rings. He’d introduce you to Mary, the woman he will marry tomorrow.

Robbie and Mary - Before Marriage

As I think back on all the prayers I’ve prayed for Robbie’s one-day wife—prayers that spanned twenty-five years—I am overwhelmed by God’s goodness. Mary is an immeasurably more answer to prayer. And what joy it was, when I heard “She said yes!”, to look at this beautiful young woman and think to myself:  So it’s you!

It’s never too early (or too late) to pray for your child’s eventual (or current) marriage. It doesn’t matter whether your kids are single or married, four years old or forty, walking closely with Jesus or still finding their way; God hears every one of our cries. And his answers continue to unfold, long after we finish praying.

God's answers continue to unfold quote

God’s answers continue to unfold long after we finish praying.

That’s one of the reasons I love praying the Scriptures, joining my voice with generationsfuture and pastwhose desires are shaped by God’s promises. Isaiah 55:11 tells us that God’s word accomplishes his desires and achieves his purposes; it doesn’t say how or when. But when we bring our requests to God, we can be confident that he treasures them.

He collects them, the Bible says, in golden bowls.

He remembers.

And as I shift the focus of my prayers for Robbie’s marriage and begin to pray not just for him or for her but for them, I am grateful for God’s past faithfulness and for the good things he has in store.

Do I know what their lives will look like? Not at all. But I look forward to watching their story unfold.

Here are a few of the verses I’m praying for Robbie and Mary. They’re excepts from Psalm 145 and (to me, anyway) they represent a lot of what a marriage might hold. Feel free to pick one (or all) of these verses and pray them for your child’s marriage—or for your own. ❤️

Heavenly Father,

Every day—for better and for worse—may they praise you and extol your name. (v. 2)

May they commend your works to their children, telling of your mighty acts, speaking of your glorious splendor, and proclaiming the power of your great deeds. (v. 4-6)

Let them celebrate your abundant goodness. (v. 7)

Be gracious and compassionate toward them; let them experience the riches of your love. (v. 8)

Equip them to trust your promises and remember that you are faithful. (v. 13)

Uphold them when they fall; lift their hearts when they are down. (v. 14)

Open your hand, O Lord, and satisfy their desires. (v. 16)

Be near to them when they call on you; hear their cry and save them. (v. 18-19)

Watch over them as they love you…and may they praise your holy name for ever and ever. (v. 20-21)

Amen

❤️

P.S. And Mary, if you ever read this post…thank you for “picking” my boy! 🙂

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How to Fall in Love (and Stay There)

It’s Valentine’s Weekend. Romance is in the air. But just because you fall in love doesn’t mean you will stay there. And if you think you’ve found the “perfect” person to spend your life with, maybe think again.

“The moment you marry someone,” writes Tim Keller, “you and your spouse begin to change in profound ways, and you can’t know ahead of time what those changes will be. So you don’t know, you can’t know, who your spouse will actually be in the future until you get there.”

Couple in the future on rocks

You can’t know who your spouse will actually be in the future until you get there.

Robbie can vouch for the truth in those words. “College Jodie” (the woman he fell in love with) was very different from “career Jodie” (the woman he married three months after graduation). And when “wife Jodie” became “wife-and-mother Jodie,” she morphed yet again. (I won’t go into the details of each transformation, other than to say that “college Jodie” was way more fun than any of the subsequent models.)

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that if you’re on a quest to fall in love, to find a “soul mate” with whom you will be forever compatible, give it up. That person, says Keller, doesn’t exist.

Is Long-Lasting Love Doomed?

Does that mean true love is doomed? Once the flame of infatuation flickers out, does love – does marriage – have to get filed in the hum-drum cabinet? Is the secret to a stable and long-lasting relationship really, as someone once said, about finding that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life?

No! Not at all!

Because love is not, actually, about getting hooked on a feeling. Love – true, lasting, sizzling love – is about making a choice.

A deliberate decision.

Or, more to the point, a series of decisions, made day in and day out, over and over again.

Happy Couple

Six years ago, in a column for The New York Times, writer Mandy Len Catron recounted a fascinating story about what it took to fall in love–in a bar, as an experiment–with a man that, until then, she’d only seen a few times in the gym. “Love didn’t happen to us,” she concluded. “We’re in love because we each made the choice to be.”

More recently, author Lisa Jacobson revealed the results of her own adventure in love-building. In the midst of what she acknowledges was a “difficult season in a very difficult year,” she made a conscious decision to love her husband every day. To choose to intentionally give love to, and fall in love with, the man she had married.

Making his coffee. Folding his shirts. Laughing at his jokes and trying to make him laugh in return.

For 100 days straight.

Lisa figured that her 100-day “Love Challenge” would make her man happy. And it did. What she didn’t count on, though, was the transformational impact it had on her. “The more I chose love,” she wrote, “the more loving – and loved – I felt.”

Creating an upward spiral of love

When I read Lisa’s post, I wasn’t surprised. I’ve written before in this space about how kindness is what glues couples together, and how generosity (even just bringing your spouse a cup of coffee in the morning) can create an upward spiral – a “virtuous cycle” – leading to happier, more satisfying relationships. I’ve read the research and seen this love-begets-love dynamic in action in my own marriage.

I know it works.

But if you’re reading this and you find yourself hard-pressed to give love, can I just say that I get that too? We’ve all felt deficient or ill-equipped at one time or another. People get tired, feelings get hurt, and it can seem like our love tanks have run dry. And even though we know it’s better to give than to receive, we might find ourselves holding back, wishing we didn’t have to go first.

If that’s where you are this Valentine’s Day, can I slip in beside you and offer three little thoughts?

First, love out of God’s riches, not your poverty.

Your love tank might show a reading of “empty.” But remember where love comes from. “We love, the Bible says, “because he first loved us.” And when we grasp, as Paul did, how “wide and long and high and deep” Christ’s love for us is, we get “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Our love tanks get replenished. We don’t have to gin up feelings of love on our own; we can let God’s love fill us up and flow out.

Next, start small.

Showing love doesn’t have to involve a grand (or expensive) gesture. If you’re fresh out of ideas or inspiration of the simple-but-powerful sort, check out Lisa and Matt Jacobsons’ 100 Ways books (there’s a volume for loving your husband, and another for loving your wife)…

1oo Ways to Love Your Husband/Wife

 

…or pick up the just-released Creative Love by Audrey and Jeremy Roloff, a book that comes with date-night ideas, conversation starters, and tips for navigating conflict with wisdom and grace.

Creative Love book

And finally, pray.

Ask the Holy Spirit, your Helper, to show you how to love well.

And pray for your spouse – not that God would fix them, but that he would bless them. Because we can’t help it; when we bring someone before the Lord – asking God to protect them, give them grace, and pour good things into their lives – we get a vested interest in their well-being. The soil of our hearts starts to soften, giving love a chance to take root and grow.

Three “Fall in Love” prayers you can pray

So what should you pray for your spouse?

You’ll find about a dozen built-in prayer prompts in Psalm 112 (it’s a passage I turn to again and again), but if you want to copy three prayers I am praying over my man and our marriage this year, here they are:

May Robbie serve you with whole-hearted devotion and a willing mind; search his heart and understand his every desire and thought. (1 Chronicles 28:9)

May he take delight in you; give him the desires of his heart. (Psalm 37:4)

May our love increase and overflow for each other and everyone else. (1 Thessalonians 3:12)

Jodie and Robbie (and Minnie) in love

❤️

P.S. I’ve linked the resources you’ll find in this blog – the Keller book, the 100 Ways bundle, and Creative Love – via Amazon, and I get a tiny commission if you order from this post, but the books are available anywhere books are sold, so please:  Support your favorite local bookshop if you can. (Heads up, tho: Amazon has Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage on sale right now for just $7.99. I’m no math brain, but that seems like a hefty savings off of the normal $18.99 price, and this book makes a nice engagement or wedding present!)

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New Post: What Makes a Good Marriage?

What makes a good marriage?

That’s the question I popped at a small dinner gathering not long ago. Looking around the room–two couples were newly engaged, two others had passed the thirty-year mark, and the rest were somewhere in between–I wondered what people would say.

“You need to look for ways to serve one another,” one husband said, “putting each other’s needs ahead of your own.”

“It helps to remember that you’re on the same team,” added a young wife. “You don’t want to ‘win’ a fight because that means your spouse has to lose. It’s not you-versus-them; you want to be fighting for your marriage together.”

“Share each others’ passions,” chimed in a third couple. “If you don’t love something the other person enjoys, learn more about it. You might discover you like it, after all.”

(That last comment reminded me of a post I wrote five years ago about how watching football can upgrade your marriage.)

I loved everything everyone said. The simple words spoke volumes and reinforced something I’d read about satisfaction in marriage: namely, that kindness glues couples together.

Kindness is key to satisfaction in marriage

You might think that the secret to a successful union comes down to other things. Good communication, perhaps, or sexual compatibility. Or not having money problems, or issues with in-laws.

These things all matter, of course. But when it comes to predicting long-term stability and satisfaction in marriage, kindness is what matters most.

What makes a good marriage? Kindness

Kindness counts.

And it’s not just bringing your spouse a cup of coffee in the morning (although researchers at the National Marriage Project are big on little “I love you’s” like that); studies show that having a generous mindset–appreciating your spouse’s intentions, even if the even if the execution is iffy–is key.

Your husband, for instance, might not have been “deliberately” trying to annoy you when he left the toilet seat up; it could be that he’s just absent-minded. Your wife might not be late for dinner “on purpose.” Maybe she just had to stop by the store to pick up your gift.

(As someone who often keeps her spouse waiting but rarely shows up with a gift, I will go ahead and tell you that I did not make up those examples. I got them from one of the “Love Lab” psychologists quoted here.)

But you get the idea. Instead of being on the lookout for your spouse’s mistakes, look for things you can appreciate and say ‘thank you’ for. Be intentional about showing respect. In humility, as Scripture says, value your spouse above yourself, looking not to your own interests by to theirs.

But…what if I’m just not that nice?

I can imagine what some of you might be thinking. I thought the same thing, when I read the research. “I want to be kinder to Robbie,” I said to myself, “I really do. But…I’m just not that nice.”

(It’s true. My husband is way more thoughtful and generous than I, both to me and to others. As I’ve often said, “I might make friends for us, but Robbie is the one who keeps them.”)

But here’s the thing about kindness: It is not something we have or we don’t. The Bible says kindness comes with our salvation as the Holy Spirit transforms our hearts. “The fruit of the Spirit,” Paul writes, is “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Kindness, like all of these other God-given attributes, is available to every believer.

It works like a muscle, getting stronger with use.

And it also gets stronger with prayer.

Which, actually, brings up some other interesting marriage research. According to a Wall Street Journal article that came out a few months ago, prayer makes a difference–even when one or both partners are being unkind. “When people pray for the well-being of their spouse when they feel a negative emotion in the marriage, both partners—the one doing the praying and the one being prayed for—report greater relationship satisfaction.”

“Greater relationship satisfaction.” That sounds very important and official. But let’s put it plainly, shall we?

If you’re annoyed with your spouse–they left the toilet seat up, they were late again, they did whatever–don’t get mad. Try praying for them instead.

It will make you both happier.

Heavenly Father,

May ______ (insert your names or the names of another couple you love) be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ you forgave us. (Ephesians 4:32)

Amen

P.S. Robbie and I celebrated our 35th Anniversary this week. When I look back at our wedding photos, I am struck by two things.

First, I could not have imagined how incredibly kind my husband would be, or how much more I would love him today than I did back in 1985:

Robbie and Jodie marriage photo

And second, I wonder how on earth I held that ginormous bouquet without my arm falling off. But hey; it was the 80’s. As one son-in-law said when he looked at our pix, “It could have been a lot worse.”

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As Good as Dead? Think again.

Is there something in your life that is as good as dead?

I’ve just taken a spin through Hebrews, and I can never get through chapter 11 without stopping at verse 12And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

From one man, as good as dead, came descendants as countless as sand on the seashore

That’s a reference to Abraham, the guy who laughed when God said he’d have a son. He was a hundred years old (his wife Sarah was ninety) and, as Robert Alter puts it in his Genesis commentary, it was a laugh “edged with bitterness.” Was God, Abraham wondered, playing some sort of cruel joke?

As good as dead.

How many times have we looked across the landscape of our lives–our relationships, our careers, our dreams–and thought the same thing? “Nothing is there. There’s no way this can work. That _____ (whatever it is) is as good as dead.”

Here’s the thing, though. With God, that doesn’t matter.

God brings dead things to life

God doesn’t care if we can’t see signs of life; he calls things into existence that do not exist.

Take the universe, for example. Hebrews 11:3 says it was formed “at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” God didn’t have to see something to create it; he just had to say it (“Let there be light”) and it happened.

And when God allowed Sarah to conceive, he did so (and you can check me on this in Romans 4:17) “because Abraham believed in the God who brings the dead back to life and who creates new things out of nothing.”

God brought a promise to life–he created a life–because Abraham believed.

I can hear what you’re thinking. I’ve thought the same thing: “I want to believe that God could call this thing–this marriage, this job, this hoped-for baby–into existence, but I just don’t see how it could happen. And if I don’t have faith…maybe it won’t.”

I get that. And, like I said, I have thought that. And if all we had to go on was Hebrews 11:6 (“Without faith it is impossible to please God”), the picture would look bleak, indeed.

But there is more to the story.

Three Hooks for Our Hope

There is much more we might say–much more encouragement tucked into the pages of Hebrews–but if you are struggling to believe God for something that looks and feels as good as dead, here are three hooks for your hope:

First, we don’t have to see something for it to be real. We can still believe it. Faith, Scripture says, isn’t just wishful thinking. It is “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

Second, faith is not something we need to create or produce in ourselves. Jesus, the Bible says, “initiates and perfects our faith.” He starts it. He finishes it. He supplies what we lack and makes it complete.

And finally, God’s horizon is infinitely bigger than ours.

When Abraham laughed, it was because he knew what God had promised–that he’d be the father of many nations–but it had not yet happened. Nor would it, he thought, at his advanced age. Abraham was, Alter says, “someone living within a human horizon of expectations.”

A human horizon of expectations. Am I the only one who reads a phrase like that one and thinks, “Ouch”?

Because we do that, don’t we? We apply our human horizons–our timelines, our procedures, our perceived ideas of what will work best–to our lives, and when things don’t turn out like we wanted or expected them to, we figure that God has let us down. Or that we didn’t have enough faith. Or that the situation, whatever it is, is as good as dead.

But it’s not.

God’s ways are higher than ours

The Bible says that God is always at work. That he is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. And that, when his plans or his methods don’t match up with ours, that’s okay; we can be confident that his ways are higher than ours.

Abraham is just one in a hallway of heroes whose lives are recapped in Hebrews 11. None of these people saw God’s promise fulfilled–at least not in the way, or at the time, they expected. But did that negate their faith or diminish their assurance that God would do what he said he would do? Not at all. They all died, Scripture says, “still believing,” welcoming God’s complete and perfect provision “from a distance.”

We can do the same thing. We can expand our perspective, acknowledging that our timelines (and even our lifetimes) do not limit God’s power or his provision. We can stop “living within a human horizon” and start praying with faith–with confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see–for every need.

For the prodigal child.

For the broken marriage or friendship.

For the desire–the unmet longing–that is as good as dead. We can ask God to bring that dream back to life.

Heavenly Father,

I am concerned about ______.

Please bring this dead situation or relationship back to life; create a new thing out of nothing; make something that can be seen out of what is not now visible. (Romans 4:17, Hebrews 11:3)

Be the source and the perfecter of my faith, providing and completing what I lack. Equip me to believe as Abraham did, against all hope, trusting that your thoughts and your ways are higher than mine. (Hebrews 12:2, Romans 4:18, Isaiah 55:8-9).

Amen

 

 

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Three Ways to Pray for Your Child’s Marriage Partner

Children looking out church window

It’s never too early to start praying for your child’s marriage partner. We can ask God to choose our kids’ spouses and, through prayer, we can forecast his favor and blessing on our sons- and daughters-in-law, long before we ever meet them in person.

Consider how Abraham did it.

When the time came for Isaac to marry, Abraham had some fairly concrete ideas about the type of wife he wanted for his son. She couldn’t be a Canaanite; rather, he wanted someone from his own country, someone whose family acknowledged the Lord. Too old to make the journey himself, Abraham sent his servant to find a good match for his boy.

The servant stood beside a spring in Abraham’s hometown and, as the young women came out to draw water, he prayed a very specific prayer: “May it be that when I say to a girl, ‘Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too’ — let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.”

Obviously, Abraham’s servant was asking God for a sign. But I think there was more to his prayer than this. I think that when he prayed for a girl who would offer him water — and water his camels as well (all TEN of them!) — the servant was asking God to show him a girl with the kindness, thoughtfulness, generosity, patience, and strength that Isaac would value in a wife. And indeed, Rebekah turned out to be all of these things, and more.

Be specific when you pray about your child’s marriage partner

Over the years, I’ve talked with parents who’ve come before God with all sorts of requests regarding their child’s marriage partner.

One of my friends — whose own folks divorced when she was a young girl — prays that her children will marry men and women from unbroken homes. Another mom asked God to let her kids find their mates early in life, both so they can enjoy the blessing of marriage as they “grow up” together and to lessen the pressures of sexual temptation during their young adult years. Two young men we know are praying for wives whose lives are marked by honesty, virtue, and a good sense of humor. And I recently met a young soccer player who led her team to a DI conference championship; she told me that she couldn’t imagine marrying anyone who didn’t love playing sports, so she’s asking God to set her up with an athlete.

Is it wrong to be so specific with God?

I don’t think so — particularly when our prayers are wrapped in an overarching desire to see God’s will be done. In fact, I think our heavenly Father loves to grant these requests. Not long ago, I heard from a young gal who was in a Bible study I once hosted for middle school girls. She’d just gotten engaged and when I asked her how she knew that “he” was the one, she laughed. “It was obvious!” she exclaimed. “He checked off every one of the prayers that I’d put in my journal when you told us to pray specifically for our future husbands. After praying these things for over ten years, he was easy to recognize!”

Three ways you can pray for your child’s marriage partner

So let me ask: What are your desires for your children’s marriages — and, in particular, for the people that they will marry?

Truth be told, I have kind of a long prayer list when it comes to my kids and their spouses, including the prayer prompts I shared in Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, and then added to in Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children. (Because just like it’s never too early to pray for your child’s marriage partner, is it also never too late.) But there are three things that are tops on my list, prayers I return to again and again:

I pray that my kids will marry people who love God deeply — with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength — and who will love their neighbors as themselves. That’s a request rooted in Mark 12:29-31.

I ask God to give my children and their spouses good relationships with their parents, to grant them the blessings that Exodus 20:12 promises to those who honor their fathers and mothers.

And I pray that my kids’ marriages will be marked, as Ephesians 4:32 says, by kindness and compassion and a willingness to quickly forgive. (What marriage doesn’t need that?)

“Let him/her be the one You have chosen”

Our two eldest children, Hillary and Annesley, got married within four months of each other. Planning two weddings at once was…interesting. But what a joy it was, when Charlie and Geoff sought my husband’s blessing to marry our daughters, to look at these two young men — each one a living, breathing answer to twenty-plus years of prayer — and think to myself: “So it’s you!”

Annesley and Geoff leaving their wedding

 

Hillary and Charlie wedding photo

It’s never too early (or too late) to pray for your child’s marriage partner. It doesn’t matter whether your kids are single or married, four years old or forty, walking closely with Jesus or still finding their way; God hears every one of our cries. And his answers continue to unfold, long after we finish praying.

So let’s join our voices with generations of families who’ve gone before, praying as Abraham’s servant did: “Let her/him be the one you have chosen.”

Heavenly Father,

You can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. (Job 42:2)

Grant that our children will be people — and marry people — who love you deeply. May they love others well and enjoy good relationships with their parents and in-laws. May they be kind, compassionate, and quick to forgive. (Mark 12:29-31, Exodus 20:12, Ephesians 4:32)

Amen

❤️

P.S. Annesley and Geoff celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary tomorrow. If you or someone you know is planning a wedding, you might find encouragement from reading their story. What’s that old saying? “Man plans and God laughs…”

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Why Prayer for Our Children is Our Most Powerful Parenting Tool

Note: Plenty of parents have questions about why, or how, we should pray for our children. If you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you know that’s a topic we love, and I was honored this week to share some thoughts about prayer over at Club31Women, a site dedicated to encouraging mothers, strengthening marriages, and helping us build healthy homes. Here’s that post…

Why Prayer for Our Children is Our Most Powerful Parenting Tool

“I know God loves my kids,” the young father said, “and I trust Him to work in their lives. So I don’t see why I need to do it.”

The man was talking about praying for his children. And I’d heard his logic before:  If God is all-powerful, and if He loves us, then why should we pray? Doesn’t He know what’s best? Won’t He just do it?

I’ve been writing and speaking about prayer for 25 years, and I meet plenty of moms and dads like this guy—folks who love God and want His best for their families, but say that prayer is not a big part of their parenting journey.

“I prayed, but nothing happened,” one mother told me. “I’m not convinced that prayer works.”

“I know God answers prayer,” said another, “but I don’t want to be clogging the lines with my children’s issues when someone with cancer or a marriage breakdown or something really big might be trying to get through.”

Perhaps the hesitation I hear most of all—the thing that keeps parents from praying—is that we don’t really know how. “I didn’t grow up in a home where people prayed,” a precious mom in my own church confided. “It feels awkward and unfamiliar to me. But I don’t want it to be that way for my kids. What can I do?”

What can I do?

I am by no means a prayer expert. Or a parenting one. But having raised—and prayed for—four kids who are now in their young adult years, I am convinced that prayer is the single most powerful thing we can do for our children. Not only that, but it’s what opens the door to freedom from worry and fear in our lives.

Think about it with me for a sec.

There will be times when we don’t really know what’s best for our kids (or when they won’t listen to us, when we do). And even if we do know what we want—healthy friendships, strong character traits, safety and protection—we can feel like our influence, or our ability to provide blessings like these, is woefully limited. And that can leave us feeling anxious, afraid, or ill-equipped.

Which is where prayer comes in. “Don’t worry about anything,” the Bible commands, “but pray about everything. Tell God your needs and thank him for what he has done.”

Pray. About. Everything. (Club31Women)

Pray. About. Everything.

That’s a command that pops up over and over again in the pages of Scripture; clearly, God wants us to talk to Him about stuff! Not only is prayer the power by which His blessings come into our lives, but it’s also a way to acknowledge God as the Source of these gifts. And prayer is a sign that we’re actually in a relationship. (After all, we confide in people we know and love, right? Why should it be any different with God?)

In Part 2 of this post, I’ll share a few strategies to equip us to pray, tips that can breathe fresh power and life into our convos with God. For now, though, let’s be honest about how we regard prayer…

 

Want to keep reading? Click here to head over to Club31Women and read the rest of the post.

Want some specific strategies that can breath fresh power and life into your prayers? Stay tuned for Part 2, which will show up next week.

Just want to pray? Alrighty then. Here we go:

Heavenly Father,

When I feel burdened or overwhelmed on behalf of my children, help me exchange fear for trust. Teach me not to worry about anything, but to pray about everything, telling You what I need and thanking You for what You have done. (Philippians 4:6)

Amen

❤️

P.S. I’ve loved getting to know the team of writers at Club31Women. And since today is actually National Authors Day (a little tidbit I picked up from my in-the-know pal Peyton over at AndOneMarketing), I hope you’ll check out what some of these gals have to offer:

Lisa Jacobson just released 100 Words of Affirmation Your Husband Needs to Hear. (And yes, there is a companion volume you can buy for your man. 😊)

Katie Westenberg blogs about how we can take God at his word and “choose brave” in life, both in the gut-wrenching times and our routine daily decisions. Her book, I Choose Brave, is available now for preorder.

And Sara Hagerty (you’ve met her in this space before, when I told you about The Best Book on the Beach) is all about helping us “scoot a little nearer” to God. Get ready to savor Sara’s exquisite writing – and to encounter God in new ways – when Adore drops in March.

Those are just three of the women I’ve grown to admire; the site also features posts from folks who write about cooking, organizing (yes please!), and understanding some of theology’s thorniest topics. Check ’em out when you can.

And given the whole “Author’s Day” thing (who makes this stuff up?), I was just thinking that we could stop for a second, since it’s November, and GIVE THANKS to the Author of Life.  I don’t know about you, but I’m glad He is still writing my story! 🙂

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A Mantle for Your Marriage (plus a prayer you can print!)

So I was poking around in the Book of Common Prayer the other day (and if you think that sounds uber-holy, maybe don’t. Truth be told, “Organize Office” was on my to-do list. But there’s a copy of the BCP* on my desk, and I got a little sidetracked).

And anyhow. I came upon this sentence:

BCP Marriage Prayer

That’s just one little line in a much longer prayer, but it caught my eye. I had to read it again. And again.

“Let their love for each other be a seal upon their hearts, a mantle about their shoulders, and a crown upon their foreheads.”

Those words from the marriage service–so incredibly rich–speak to the almost inexpressible power of love.

seal conveys security and ownership. It marks something as authentic. Could there be any better imprint than love (with its inherent patience, humility, and unwillingness to keep a record of wrongs) to guard a couple’s heart as they give themselves to each other?

A mantle, in Bible times, was a covering that represented a call to service, a purpose before God. Could there be a more potent mandate for husband and wife than to serve God and one another in love?

And the word crown points toward the promise of eternal life, as marriage reflects the covenant relationship between Christ and his bride–the one where Jesus wore a crown of thorns so that we could wear one of beauty. Could there be a more exquisite portrayal of life-giving love?

See what I mean? This is a fabulous prayer! And if you’re looking for more of the same, I’ve got good news and bad.

The good news is that The Celebration of Marriage is chock full of Scripture-based prayers; I’ve pulled a few favorites and put them on a two-sided card you can print. The front side is the blessing, and the back shows where you can find the roots of these prayers in the Bible.

Printable Marriage Prayer

The bad news is that once you start praying this way (whether it’s for your own marriage or for another union you want God to bless), it can be hard to stop.

Which means that “office organization” might not happen anytime soon….

❤️

Heavenly Father,

Give ____ such wisdom and devotion in the ordering of their common life, that each may be to the other a strength in need, a counselor in perplexity…

(Want the rest of the prayer? Click the download–or better yet, get a copy of the BCP and savor it for yourself!)

*And P.S., I didn’t grow up in a church where they used prayer books (or robes, or candles, or really anything except the Bible and Jesus), and I didn’t know what a “BCP” even was. Now I do. And if you ever find yourself in a church where you don’t know all the lingo–words like unction, or epistoler–don’t worry. Just go home and check the phrontistery.

(Which is a real thing.)

(Because you can’t make this stuff up.)

 

 

 

 

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Stopping the Spiral (Valentine’s Day Wisdom from Lisa Jacobson)

Love is more than a feeling. We know that. We know that there are plenty of times when it is more of a choice.

Trouble is, we don’t always know what that looks like, relationship-wise.

And so, when I saw my friend Lisa Jacobson talking about this exact topic on Instagram, I asked if she’d mind sharing some of her thoughts in this space. Because whether we’re navigating a relationship with our Valentine, our Galentine, or even our kids, it’s good to know what to do when we feel the “Great Spiral” coming on.

Here’s Lisa:

The Great Spiral (and how to avoid it!)

The morning began so well.

My alarm went off. I got right up and jumped in the shower. Popped breakfast in the oven.

On my way to a strong start in a new year. You see, I’m determined to be ready for church on time—which has not always been my strong suit.

But then just when everything was going so well, my husband walked in, observed my outfit, and with some surprise, said something like, “You’re wearing that?”

I was wearing a green, cable knit sweater and jeans. (Admittedly, not my typical attire as I tend to dress up a bit for church.)

So I shrugged my shoulders and told him it was supposed to snow. And with that, he smiled and left the room.

For him, this was merely an observation. A question of curiosity.

For me, it was criticism. Condemnation even.

And I felt the Great Spiral coming on.

Maybe it wasn’t a good morning.
Maybe I’d made a poor choice.
Maybe I can’t even dress myself right…

STOP

Time for a little talk with myself. “Lisa, you know he didn’t mean anything by it. Remember, HE LOVES YOU.”

And I DO know that but when I take something wrong…it’s so difficult to get back right again. All those old voices and past hurts flood my head until I can’t think straight.

So there I stood.

With only a few minutes to decide whether to let this moment defeat me

OR

To take my thoughts captive and choose love instead.

I had a choice to make.

And I wrestled awhile.

Then walked out of the room, slipped my hand into his, and we made it to church on time—casually, in my sweater and jeans.

Taking Your Thoughts Captive

I don’t know if you ever struggle with the Great Spiral like I do. But it’s amazing how someone can say or do something that will quite unexpectedly send my mind into a deep dive.

Not only hard on my heart, but rather hard on my relationships too.

And I used to feel helpless when that happened.

One wrong move and there she goes….

Until I came onto this verse:

“…bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

That’s when it dawned on me that I don’t have to be ruled by my runaway thoughts: I can take them “captive.” It’s on me to be in charge of my mind—rather than the other way around.

And same with you.

So the next time someone you love says something that threatens to send you into a spiral?

STOP.

Remember what is true.

And then don’t let the offense – whether real or imagined – take you for a ride.

Take those thoughts captive.

Choose love.

❤️

Want more practical relationship wisdom from Lisa Jacobson? You’ll find her over at Club31women.com, or follow her on Instagram @club31women. 

And P.S. — if you’re like I am, and you know that you can’t stop all those runaway thoughts on your own, why not turn Lisa’s “aha” verse into a prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Help me destroy every proud obstacle that keeps me from knowing you. Work in me to capture my rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5, NLT)

Amen

 

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Five Habits to Ditch for Better Communication

So Robbie and I are at it again. We’re working on our relationship, courtesy of The Marriage Course. And we’re taking 30 other couples with us.

We love this class. The material is developed by the folks at Alpha, and in seven sessions (during which you get to enjoy a candlelit dinner at a table alone with your spouse every week), you cover some of the hottest topics in marriage. Topics like dealing with conflict, handling in-laws, having good sex, and learning how to show–and receive–love in ways that will matter.

(And heads up, Guys: There is literally no “group sharing” time. You get to come, have dinner, and talk just to your wife. #Do-able.)

This week, we dipped into The Art of Communication. Which is how I wound up holding a napkin.

Why, you may ask, was I holding a napkin?

The short answer is that it’s not good to give one spouse a less-forgiving object, such as a hammer, when he or she is trying to make a point.

The longer answer is that in this particular exercise (which is designed to help folks listen better), the person doing the TALKING gets to hold a napkin, while the person doing the LISTENING does not. That way, if either person forgets who’s job is what, they can just look at their hands (“Oh yeah, I don’t have the napkin”) and remember that they are supposed to be Paying Attention.

And Paying Attention, as it turns out, involves steering clear of at least five of the worst convo killers. Wanna know what these bad habits are?

(Be careful now. I thought I did, too. I thought I could, you know, identify “my” habit, get on some sort of 12-step plan, and lick it.)

(Ah, no. Did I mention that there are five habits? Turns out I would need, like, 60 steps.)

Anyhow, here they are:

1. Reassuring.  The Reassurer jumps in before the speaker can finish a sentence, saying things like, “It will all work out,” and even sometimes offering a comparison point, like the woman who called a friend to share the good news of her engagement and, upon learning that the other gal was headed for divorce, said, “It’s okay.  It’s not so bad.  I am probably going to get divorced, too.”  Reassurers act like there is no real problem–which can prevent speakers from expressing any real feelings.

2. Giving advice.  The Advice-Giver is a “fixer.”  Instead of offering empathy, the advice-giver just wants to sort things out.  Men, especially, are guilty of this habit. Sometimes, if the wife has just broken her favorite vase or pitcher, she doesn’t want a broom or a dustpan. She just wants a hug.

(But we girls can be advice-givers, too. I mean, I write a blog.)

3. Intellectualizing.  The Intellectualizer might also be called the Explainer, the Rationalizer, or the Pontificator.  When he or she hears that you’ve had a bad day, the Intellectualizer may jump in with something like: “There’s no doubt that it’s due to a combination of factors.  It’s very humid outside, you are under pressure at work, and given how much we just spent to fix the washing machine, you are probably worried about money.” (Another word for “Intellectualizer” might simply be Buzz Killer. They don’t care how you feel; they just want to be smart.)

4. Going off on a tangent.  This habit probably needs no explanation.  If you’ve confided your feelings to a spouse or a friend, only to have them say, “Really?  You know, that reminds me of the time I…,” you’ve met a Deflector.  People who go off on tangents aren’t really interested in what you are saying; they want to direct the conversation down a new (and to them, more interesting or attractive) path.  Deflectors can be well-intentioned (like when they want to take your mind off of a sadness), but if the end result is that they squelch your freedom to speak or express emotion, it’s a bad habit.

5. Same goes for Interrupters.  Stephen Covey says that most people don’t listen “with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” (Ouch.) Interrupters figure out where a person is going with a conversation and then jump on in, either finishing the speaker’s sentence or responding with something that they think is wayyy more witty or interesting. I read where the average person can only go 17 seconds without interrupting someone. Seventeen seconds. Seriously? That sounds long, to me.

(Like, I remember one time on a car trip when I decided to be quiet and just let Robbie talk. After a couple of minutes, he asked if I was okay.)

(I think he thought maybe I’d died.)

Anyhow. Just knowing what the bad habits are is supposed to help you listen better–and after teaching this course six times, Robbie and I are starting to get there. What the habits don’t help with, though, is the age-old Mars/Venus divide. Like, when it’s Valentine’s Day, and a woman says she does not need flowers:

 

Yeah. I’ll report back if the folks at The Marriage Course ever discover a way for a man to fully comprehend the female brain.

Stay tuned. ❤

(And BTW, if you want to find a Marriage Course in your area, or even start one at your church or for your friend group, they make it SUPER EASY to do. Click here to get the full scoop.)

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Launch Week Fun!

Ok Y’all. It’s Launch Week for Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult ChildrenWhich means all kinds of fun. Like, look how happy my kids are.

First of all, thank you! Thank you for letting me test drive so many thoughts and prayers in this space. It’s been a delight to partner with you as we bring our loved ones–our kids, our spouses, our friends–before the Lord every week, and then wait and watch as his faithfulness unfolds in our lives.

And thank you for jamming up Amazon. I mean it. The book earned Amazon’s #1 Bestseller flag on Launch Day–thanks to you!–and the Mother of All Retailers ran out of stock. They say they have more, but I’m picturing (and praying for) their 120,000 new seasonal employees as they drive forklifts around big warehouses, looking for boxes marked “Berndt.”

In the meantime, I have my own stash of books and I’m itching to share! Post a comment on this blog–it can be a prayer request, a favorite Scripture promise, or just a Merry Christmas wish–and I’ll pick three winners at random, who will each get a copy of the new book. Whoop.

And there’s more.

My good friend Susan Alexander Yates (you’ve met her in this space) graciously offered to let me guest blog for her this week. I talked about praying for your child’s marriage and created a Marriage Blessing from the collection of Scripture prayers you’ll find in the new book. If you want your own copy of this prayer, you can download it here.

(And P.S., the prayer card is two-sided, with the prayer on the front and the Scripture references on the back. If you want to frame it as a Christmas present for your spouse, your married children, or a even a new bride, Amazon offers a great selection of clear stand-alone frames; one of my favorite styles is here.)

(But don’t ALL of you order today. I don’t want to make those forklift people any more crazy than they already are.)

And finally… Maybe you saw this pic on Fox News.

Annesley says I blog about her too much (and lately, she’s right), but when I got the chance to write a post for the media moguls so that they could give folks some Good News this Christmas, I couldn’t help myself. Y’all know I’ve made some pretty jolly mistakes (the sweater, the posture brace), but money-wise, this one was the worst. If you missed it on the Fox News site, here’s the story.

And again, you all. Thank you. Thank you for your friendship, your encouragement, and your prayers. May the Lord continue to encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:17)

You are loved.

 

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Lists to Love By

Okay so maybe you haven’t even started the Rick Warren Bible Study book I told you about last month, but if you are married, I’ve got something else you just HAVE to read. Seriously. (And besides. The College FBS Bowl Games are over and season 2 of The Crown doesn’t come out until sometime next fall, so what else are you gonna do?)

Get a jump on Valentine’s Day and check out Mark and Susan Merrill’s brand new books, Lists to Love By.

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There’s a volume for “Busy Husbands” and another one for “Busy Wives.” I love them both.

Why?

For starters, Mark and Susan are refreshingly honest. Susan is a high-energy, creative, can-do gal who figured that the “game” of marriage would be easy. “I thought the hard part would be finding a husband,” she confesses, “not living happily ever after.” And Mark (a highly organized, very disciplined guy) admits that he had his own expectations dashed, early on. He thought that most of the bumps that came along in their marriage could be solved if only Susan would “think and act more like me.” Right.

They also know their stuff. Mark and Susan have spent the past 20 years delivering books and radio shows and blogs and podcasts all designed to help people love their families well. They have research and experience and things like Google Analytics coming out of their ears, and they know what works. And what doesn’t.

And finally, Mark and Susan make it all very do-able. Each book offers 30 lists, along with step-by-step instructions on how to use them. Couples are challenged to examine their expectations about marriage (see above), evaluate how they are doing (you’ll find handy quizzes and thought-provoking questions), and make improvements that will lead to a more intimate and fulfilling relationship.

I’ve been thumbing through the lists in my book, trying to pick one or two to share with you. Trouble is, I like almost all of them. Even the ones that make me squirm, like LIST 8, which lets me know (point #3) that my man “desires conciseness.”

(Which I understand, except when I think that what I have to say is fascinating.)

(Which is often.)

LIST 18: 7 Things You Should Stop Doing to Your Husband in Public.

LIST 26: 10 Questions to Ask Your Husband Every Year.

LIST 21: 8 Creative Ways to Flirt with Your Husband.

LIST 10: 8 Keys to Understanding What Your Husband is Really Saying. Because we all need a good translator, now and then. And pity the guys, who have a harder time. Their version of this list includes NINE Keys to Understanding what Your Wife is Really Saying. Like, “What are you doing today?” means I’ve got some things that I want you to do today.

(To which I would say, “Duh.” And Robbie would say, “Ahhh. Good to know.”)

And here’s the thing about lists. When I used to write financial planning books (which Robbie still considers a Red Sea-style miracle), I learned that simply tracking expenses (which is the first step in establishing a workable budget) actually makes people spend less. In other words, just listing stuff – just thinking about your spending habits – can make a positive difference.

I can’t help but believe it’s the same thing with marriage. Just thinking about things like misplaced expectations, or areas for improvement, can’t help but make things better. And with pros like Mark and Susan in your corner, offering tips without judgment (“Take small bites,” they advise), you start to feel like a better marriage – a good marriage, one that you like – really is possible.

My goal is to conquer all 30 lists in the book, but you know what? If I can nail even just one of them, it will be a win. We’ll have a better marriage than we did yesterday. And, encouraged by that success, I will be motivated to keep going.

And so will Robbie.

Or at least, that’s the plan. I haven’t yet given him his book of lists. But I am about to.

(But not while pursing my lips.)

(Because LIST 24: 5 Ways to Use Body Language to Connect.)

xoxo

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Marriage, Generosity, and Football

Can watching football improve your marriage?

Last January, I wrote a post about Generosity and Marriage, and how even the simplest act of giving – like making your spouse a cup of coffee in the morning – can be a huge factor in your marital happiness.

But what about football? Can going to the big game with your spouse (or even watching it on TV) bode well for a relationship? Based on three things that happened this past weekend, I would answer that one with a definite Yes.

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First, I saw a car commercial where this cute girl picks up a guy for a date. En route, she discusses the strengths of their team’s rushing offense while using the rear-view mirror to apply eye black. When they finally reach their destination – a stadium – the guy is speechless. It’s the date of his dreams: a pretty girl, talking sports, taking him to a football game! Do I remember what sort of car she was driving? Not at all. But I will never forget the guy’s face in the passenger seat. He was soooo happy.

The second thing that happened was that my pal Anne Ferrell, who is married to the Alex Trebek of sports (Bob can name just about every college mascot in the country, from the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs to the Fighting Pickles of UNC’s School of the Arts), told me that she doing a “30-Day Challenge” to soak up as much football intel as she can. Players, coaches, weekend highlights – they’re all on her list. (If you could have heard her discussing Navy’s triple option offense on Saturday, you would know what a dedicated student she is.) Needless to say, Bob (who played for Navy and still holds like 17 records) is thrilled.

And the third thing – the third football thing in 48 hours that made me think that the sport has clear implications for romantic relationships – was a text I received from my girlfriend, Dee, who got married last summer:

Now, Dee is not big on punctuation. I knew that. But she’s also not big on football – or at least, I didn’t think she was. Ask her what the Real Housewives are up to, or what fell out of the closet during the most recent episode of Hoarders, and her eyes fairly dance; when it comes to reality shows, she’s a curator. But televised sports? That’s blank stare territory.

“I realized,” she explained when I asked, “that if I wanted to see my husband in the fall, I would need to watch football. Because that’s what he does. On like five different TVs. And so I asked him to teach me the game.”

(And apparently he did, with great enthusiasm, because she went into a long explanation of who all the players were, what they were supposed to do, and – did I know this already? – that they had four chances to go ten yards every time! Dee thought that was good stuff.)

In each of these cases – the car ad, the 30-Day Challenge, and the newlywed football tutorial – the men were overjoyed. No surprise there. But what captivated me (and what gives credence to the whole “’Tis better to give” thing) was how utterly giddy the women were.

Dee hasn’t been this excited about television since she watched that woman sew clothes for a squirrel in My Strange Addiction. Anne Ferrell has mastered so many plays that she could coach her own team. And that girl in the car ad? I don’t think she was acting. She loved it that she could make her fake boyfriend’s day.

Proverbs 11:25 says, “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.”

Maybe every married couple should adopt that line as their motto. Because these gals started learning about football as a love-gift for their men, but honestly? They’re the ones reaping the blessings! They know the joy of making someone happy. The satisfaction that comes with learning something new. And the sheer delight of spending time (and, one would hope, eating nachos) with a guy that they love.

If your spouse’s interests include coffee in the morning (and Robbie, if you are reading this, can I just say thank you?), bring ’em a cup. If it’s football that he (or she!) values, go ahead and Google “triple option offense” (they have diagrams online; I checked).  Whatever it is that your beloved is into – old books, new cars, gluten-free meatloaf – take some time this week to learn about these things, or to give them a place amid the stuff that matters in your life.

You’ll think you’re the one doing the giving (and you are). But take it from the adorable couple in the car ad:  Generosity cuts two ways. You will both be happy. And you will wind up being refreshed.

 

 

 

 

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The Good Wife

Well, it’s wedding week.

Not only is Hillary’s big day on Saturday (whoop!), but Robbie and I celebrated 30 years of our own bliss on Monday. I posted this shot on Instagram, both to mark our anniversary and because who needs pricey wedding calligraphy when your mom is such a whiz with yellow spray paint? Pinterest people, eat your heart out:

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In preparation for her impending nuptials, Hillary has been wending her way through Tim Keller’s book, The Meaning of MarriageIt’s a great read. And a sobering one; anyone who thinks marriage is all about finding happiness need look no further than the subtitle – Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God – to know that Keller isn’t peddling a fairy tale.

But Hillary isn’t the only Berndt brushing up on her marital literacy. I’ve been reading a how-to book of my own. It’s called The Good Wife Guide and, while this book may not be as widely read in evangelical circles, let me assure you that it is every bit as challenging as Keller’s work.

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The Good Wife Guide starts off with a no-nonsense observation:  “A man’s home is his castle and as such, he ought to be treated like a king.” Lest there be any doubt as to what, exactly, that means, there’s this:  “It’s every wife’s responsibility to dote upon her hard-working spouse, to show that he is truly appreciated!”

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That’s Rule #1.

And then, assuming that the reader is hooked (because who wouldn’t be?), the book features 18 more must-do’s for keeping a happy husband:

Rule #12:  Follow His Lead. (“If, instead of hanging on your every word, he mumbles one-word responses to your questions while perusing the newspaper…don’t take it personally.”)

Rule #16:  Sing His Praises. (“Tell him he cuts a fine figure…or marvel at his business acumen when he relays a story from the office.”)

And, my personal favorite, Rule # 6:  Greet him with a smile. (“With just one glance at your face, your husband should know that his very presence marks the pinnacle of your day.”)

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Shocking as it sounds, I will confess that it didn’t take me three decades to break every one of the Good Wife rules. It didn’t even take me three weeks. Heck, I’m not even sure I was a good wife for three days. Maybe. (But that was on our honeymoon, so I doubt if that part counts.)

The rules are hard. But you know what? I really like them! I think most of em make sense. I know I don’t have that exciting of a life, so maybe this isn’t saying much, but when Robbie comes home at night it really is the pinnacle of my day. So why do I show him where the dog dug up the grass, or ate the driveway rocks, or barfed on the sisal? Why don’t I smile?

I know The Good Wife was written as a retro-fun gag (its counsel comes straight out of the Ladies’ Homemaker Monthly, a popular magazine from the early 1900s). But, at least in terms of the sentiment that lies behind the rules, the marital advice could have been written way earlier.

Way earlier, as in the first century. As in, when Paul was writing his letter to the Philippians, which has a lot of terrific advice for relationships. Here are a few gems from that how-to:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

Let your gentleness be evident to all.

Do everything without complaining or arguing.

If I were writing a marriage book, I think I’d just rip off Philippians. Follow Paul’s advice – like his secret to being content both when you have plenty and when you are in need, or his idea of taking your troubles to God instead of worrying about them – and presto! Problems solved, right?

Actually, I wouldn’t steal from Philippians. (I mean, that one’s a best-seller every year; why mess with perfection?) And even more actually, I wouldn’t write a book about marriage, because Keller already did that (with his wife, actually), and theirs is pretty darn good. But, based on the success of The Good Wife Guide, I’m thinking that some sort of manual for the guys might be in order.

The Good Man Guide. Maybe, since guys like to watch TV (it doesn’t seem to matter what’s on; I once found Robbie watching a test pattern), it should be a video series.  Rule #1 could be, “If I have a problem, don’t try to fix it.  Just listen.”

Because, as every gal would tell you (and if you’ve seen this one before, it’s worth a re-watch), it’s not about the nail.

 

 

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Friday Prayer for Good Men

IMG_2536Well, Annesley and Geoff are now Mr. & Mrs. Cole, and we couldn’t be happier!

I’d fill you in on the wedding details, but since Friday’s posts are meant to be prayer helps, I want to back up and give you a peek at something I prayed for Geoff last week.  (If you want wedding stories, check back in the next week or two;  for now, consider borrowing the prayers in this post for your own son-in-law, your son, your husband…or your hoped-for husband!  It’s never too early – or too late – to start praying for your man!)

First, though, a bit of background:

You know how if you’re in the market for new rug or paint color you can’t go to anyone’s house without noticing their floors and their walls?  Well I think it’s the same way with the Bible.  Whatever you’re in the market for tends to be what you find.  Which is exactly how, for me, the Christmas story turned into a Friday Prayer for Good Men.

Like many of you, I like to have a strategy when it comes to Bible reading.  I can get easily distracted, and having a plan for what to read each day helps keep me on track.  (It also means that, eventually, I will have to get around to the parts I wouldn’t normally read…and as some of you know, one of my greatest fears is showing up in heaven and having someone like Obadiah say, “How did you like my book?”  I want to be ready for that!)

Anyhow, right now I am on a two-year reading course (if you want to download the plan and join me, click here) that currently has me in Matthew.  I’ve probably read the Christmas story a zillion times and I’ve always admired Mary, but last week, as I thought about my own daughter and her impending nuptials, I found myself drawn to Joseph.  He doesn’t get much press coverage, but if you read Matthew 1 and 2 with an eye toward discovering a little bit about his character, you’ll find a treasure trove.

Here are just a few of the nuggets:

Matthew 1:19 calls Joseph a “righteous man” who didn’t want to expose Mary to “public disgrace.”  In an age where reality television has made revenge and public humiliation an acceptable response to just about any offense, we might not have blamed Joseph if he’d pointed a few fingers.  He had to have figured that Mary had cheated on him, but instead of ridiculing her or doing something to salvage his own reputation, he planned to end things quietly.  Classy guy.

And in the very next verse, when the angel shows up to set the record straight, Joseph doesn’t protest.  He had to have been thinking, “Whaaaat??”, but instead of peppering the angel with a bunch of questions, he simply accepts God’s word as truth – and he acts on it.  A man of genuine faith.

And that acceptance becomes a pattern.  Again and again in the narrative, we see Joseph following God without hesitation, even when the instructions seemed a little incomplete, or when obedience meant getting out of bed and fleeing during the night, with a wife and a baby in tow (see Matthew 2:13-14, 21, and 22-23).

What a guy!  And what a model for our prayers!  I used Joseph’s example as a way to pray for Geoff, as well as for my husband, my son, and my future son-in-law, Charlie.  Go ahead and put the name of a man you love right into this prayer, and make it your own:

Heavenly Father, make _____ like Joseph.  Let him respond to insults and offenses – whether real or perceived – with wisdom, tact, and grace.  May he always put the needs and reputation of others ahead of his own.

Give ____ a keen sensitivity to your Holy Spirit.  Speak to him, Lord, and tune his ear to hear your voice.  When you give him instruction, equip him to follow it wholeheartedly and without hesitation.  Strengthen his faith so that he will stay when you say “stay” and move when you say “move.” 

As _____ cares for his wife and family, be his protector, his guide, and his Father.  May he always put his trust in you.  

Bless him, Lord.

Amen.

 

 

 

Bible reading plan

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Friday Prayer for a Common Life

FullSizeRenderIt’s Wedding Time!  Whoop!  Whoop!

Instead of today’s Scripture-based prayer, I want to share the one I’ve been reading and praying for Annesley and Geoff this week.  It’s from the Book of Common Prayer, and it’s part of what we’ll pray for them tomorrow, during the ceremony.

Feel free to borrow this time-tested blessing today for your own marriage, or for any couple you love:

Eternal God, creator and preserver of all life, author of 
salvation, and giver of all grace: Look with favor upon the 
world you have made, and for which your Son gave his life, and especially upon this man and this woman whom you make one flesh in Holy Matrimony. 

Give them wisdom and devotion in the ordering of their common life, that each may be to the other a strength in need, a counselor in perplexity, a comfort in sorrow, and a companion in joy.  

Grant that their wills may be so knit together in your will, and their spirits in your Spirit, that they may grow in love
and peace with you and one another all the days of their life.  


Give them grace, when they hurt each other, to recognize and acknowledge their fault, and to seek each other’s forgiveness and yours. 

Make their life together a sign of Christ’s love to this sinful and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair. 

Amen.

(This is only part of the prayer; if you want the whole thing (and you do!), click here and then scroll down until you get to page 429.)

Let the wedding bells ring!

 

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Five Habits that Kill Communication

DSC_0338Last Sunday night’s marriage course at Galilee Church featured a candlelit dinner and our pals, Anne Ferrell and Bob Tata, in the teachers’ seat.  They hit a home run.  After starting with a story about a British fella who drove 70 miles after accidentally leaving his wife of 40 years at a filling station (“I usually sit in the back because I can move around more,” the lady said, “but normally we talk”), the Tatas dove into the first-class material offered in the Alpha Marriage Course and gave us some great tips on communication.

There was plenty of good counsel on things like acknowledging each other’s feelings, “reflecting back” (trying to accurately summarize what the other person has said, and how they feel), and identifying what is most important in any given conversation.  That stuff was valuable.  But I found myself drawn to the “bad habits” section of the presentation, habits that can prevent someone from talking about their feelings and experiences.  Left unchecked, these little nasties can make a person just shut down, destroying not just the communication, but the relationship.

Wanna know what they are?

(Be careful now.  I thought I did, too.  I thought I could, you know, identify “my” habit, get on some sort of 12-step plan, and lick it.  Um, no.  Did I mention that there are five habits?)

(Turns out I would need, like, 60 steps.)

Anyhow, here they are:

1.  Reassuring.  The reassurer jumps in before the speaker can finish a sentence, saying things like, “It will all work out,” and even sometimes offering a comparison point, like the woman the Tatas know who called a friend to share the good news of her engagement and, upon learning that the other gal was headed for divorce, said, “It’s okay.  It’s not so bad.  I am probably going to get divorced, too.”  Reassurers act like there is no real problem, which can prevent speakers from expressing any real feelings.

2. Giving advice.  The advice-giver is a “fixer.”  Instead of offering empathy, the advice-giver just wants to sort things out.  Men, especially, are guilty of this habit…sometimes, if the wife has just broken her favorite vase or pitcher, she doesn’t want a broom. She wants a hug.

(But we girls can be advice givers, too.  I mean, I write a blog.)

3.  Intellectualizing.  The intellectualizer might also be called the explainer, or the rationalizer.  When he or she hears that you’ve had a bad day, instead of listening, the intellectualizer jumps in with something like:  “There’s no doubt that it’s due to a combination of factors.  It’s very humid outside, you are under pressure at work, and given how much we just spent to fix the washing machine, you are probably worried about our finances.”  Um, who wants to keep talking into that information fire hose?  Talk about a buzz killer.

4. Going off on a tangent.  This habit probably needs no explanation.  If you’ve confided your feelings to a friend, only to have him or her say, “Really?  You know, that reminds me of the time I…,” you’ve met a deflector.  People who go off on tangents aren’t really interested in what you are saying; they want to direct the conversation down a new (and more attractive, to them) course.  Deflectors can be well-intentioned (like when they want to take your mind off of a sadness), but if the end result is that they squelch your freedom to feel or to speak, it’s a bad habit.

5.  Same goes for the interrupters.  Stephen Covey says that most people don’t listen “with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”  Interrupters figure out where a person is going with a conversation and then they jump in, either finishing the speaker’s sentence or responding with something that they think is more witty or interesting. I read where the average person can only go 17 seconds without interrupting someone.  Really?  That sounds long, to me.

(I am going to try to let Robbie talk for at least 30 seconds, just to see.)

(He will probably ask if I am feeling okay.)

So there you have it.  The five “bad habits.”  Just knowing what they are is supposed to help you listen better–a skill that, they say in The Marriage Book, involves things like giving the other person your full attention, coping with distractions, showing interest, and acknowledging feelings.  And not, presumably, mocking them.

See?  I am doomed.

But at least I am in good company.  There are 30 couples taking the Marriage Class, many of whom have been hitched for less than five years.  One of the perks of the class is the free childcare and, at the end of the evening, one of the dads thanked me and started to head out to the parking lot.  His wife looked at me, then looked at him.

He was like, “What?”

(I knew where this convo was headed but, for once, I wasn’t about to interrupt.)

She waits a beat, gives me a look that will make me love her forever, and then says, “Ah…Honey?  The baby?  The one we have to get from the nursery?”

Oh yeah.  Forty years from now, that sweet gal might find herself at a filling station.  I better remind her to start sitting in the front seat when he is driving, just in case.

 

 

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Good News for Marriage

So Sunday night’s Marriage Course kick-off was really good. We had a little trouble with the music, which meant that Robbie had to use his techno-brain to fiddle with the system during the exercises, which meant that I didn’t have a chance to fail any more “how well do you know your spouse” quizzes. It was perfect.

And interesting. We talked about what marriage is (one definition says it’s when you find “that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life”), and why it can be so challenging sometimes. Nobody really thinks about the “for worse” part of the vows; when you head to the altar, you’re pretty focused on the “better” stuff.

But then life happens.

You lose a job. Somebody gets sick. You struggle with infertility, or a difficult pregnancy. The bills pile up. The car breaks down. You discover that your white knight leaves dark hairs in the sink. Or grey ones. You get tired.

It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been married for two months or twenty years; there are pressure points during every season. Some couples eventually cave under the load. Others stick it out. Still others find a way to thrive. How do you know what might happen to you?

Shaunti Feldhahn, a Harvard-trained social researcher and the author of a nifty little book calledphoto copy The Good News About Marriage, says that a lot of times it comes down to this:  Do you have a sense of hope…or one of futility?

“A couple could go through a terrible period” she writes, “but if they felt certain they would make it, they usually did.” Even just the hope that things could get better was often enough to inspire them to “do what was needed to right the ship, patch the holes, and keep sailing.”

On the flip side, if a couple thought they were doomed, they often were. A “sneaking feeling of futility” or the sense that things would “never change” would creep in to crippling effect:  “If the ship is going to sink anyway, why bother working so hard to bail it out?”

Fortunately, there’s plenty of reason to hope, based on Feldhahn’s findings.  Need some good news to put the wind back in your sails? Try one of these pearls:

Most marriages are happy. Most couples, given the chance, would do it all over again.

Most problems are not “big ticket” issues; often, it just boils down to what you don’t know about what you don’t know, and the fix is relatively easy.

Couples who attend church regularly have a significantly lower divorce rate than those who don’t.

And get this eye-opening gem:  The commonly accepted (and inherently demotivating!) statistic that “half of all marriages end in divorce” is bogus.  The real figure is closer to 20-25% for first-time marriages, and 31% overall.

I don’t know about you, but in a world that seems to slam marriage at every turn, where I meet young couples who don’t want to get married because they think they have, at best, a 50-50 shot, or where older couples slide toward boredom or infidelity (emotional or physical) because mediocrity seems to be “as good as it gets,” this sort of research is a game-changer. I mean, if most marriages are happy, then complaining about yours–without doing anything to fix it–means that you’re missing out. Why not shift gears from futility to hope and see if that changes anything? Heck, why not try going to church?

I don’t mean to treat marriage troubles lightly, or pretend that they can be fixed with a wiggle of the nose. But just knowing that they can be fixed–and that 75-80% of your pals are patching the holes in their boats–has got to mean something.

And speaking of patching the holes…next week in the Marriage Course we’ll shine the spotlight on communication.  You already know I am a gifted interrupter, but if I can manage to keep my trap shut for a few minutes and listen, I will try to snag a few good nuggets to share with you.

Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

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Marriage and Generosity: A Perfect Match

IMG_4352Robbie and I are gearing up for the Alpha Marriage Course, which starts this Sunday night at our church.  It’s a terrific class and you’d think that, having taught it five times already, my beloved and I would be coasting, but every time we go over the material, we learn something new.

One time, for instance, “we” learned that it’s not a good idea to interrupt your spouse when he is talking (even if you are pretty sure that what you have to say is way more interesting).

During another session, “we” discovered that cleaning out the garage is not, in fact, everyone’s primary love language.  Some people, it turns out, would rather have sex.

And then there was the time that we got to grade each other on questions like, My partner is good at meeting my emotional needs, and “we” got a zero.  (Honestly, though, that was not a fair question.  I mean, I didn’t even know Robbie had emotional needs.)

(But now I do.)

So here we are, getting ready to go at it again.  And this time I have a secret weapon:  I’ve been following Brad Wilcox on Twitter.  Wilcox is the brainiac behind the National Marriage Project, and his research offers everything from tips on improving your relationship to indicators that a marriage will last (inviting a lot of friends and relatives to your wedding bodes well; “sliding” into cohabitation before marriage does not).

Sometimes, the findings are surprising.  Like, you might expect things like “commitment” and “sexual intimacy” to show up as factors linked to a happy marriage.  But the third of the Big Three?  Generosity.

Generosity.  As in, being liberal with affection.  Quick to overlook offenses.  And (get this, from the research):  a cup of coffee for your marriageMaking your honey a cup of coffee in the morning.

“In marriage we are expected to do our fair share when it comes to housework, child care and being faithful,” Wilcox explains, in a New York Times Magazine article, “but generosity is going above and beyond the ordinary expectations with small acts of service and making an extra effort to be affectionate.”  And that, he says, promotes a “virtuous cycle” that leads to happier marriages.

Wilcox & Co. even have a quiz you can take to determine your generosity rating.  I’d take the quiz, but Robbie’s the one who makes the coffee around here, and I don’t want to go into Sunday’s class with another big “L” on my stat sheet.

But I am going to try to be more generous.  Like, when Robbie brings me my coffee in the morning, I will tell him I love him.  Even if it’s not hot enough, because I will know to overlook that.

See?  Who needs a marriage course?

Don’t answer that.

(But do check out The Marriage Course.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve been married for one year or 50, you’ll find it well worth your time.  Even if you already know that your man has emotional needs.)

 

 

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