Two Words That Will Change Your Marriage

My husband’s love languages are words and service. Mine are not. The short story is we’ve had a bit of conflict over how best to love each other in our nearly seven years of marriage.

One of the lessons I learned early on, however, is the power of gratitude for the small things. Once I realized that his acts of love were taking out the trash, doing the dishes or changing a tire, I knew these deserved my heartfelt thanks. Awkwardly at first, I began recognizing the ways he loved me that I hadn’t seen before.

“Thank you for taking out the trash, Babe.”
“Thanks for tucking the kids in to bed.”
“Thank you for paying that bill.”
“Thank you for remembering to set up the kids’ doctor’s appointment.”
“Thank you for arranging a sitter for date night.”

Were any of these actions extraordinary? Any above and beyond? Not really. Except the date night – we all know that’s a small miracle, y’all. But it’s the faithfulness I’m noticing, and I want him to know I see it.

When I’ve talked to friends and patients at work about this generous expression of gratitude, the response is often, “Well, I don’t feel thankful for those things. It doesn’t feel genuine to say that.” Well, that makes the gratitude about you and not your partner. You aren’t saying thanks so you will feel good – you’re saying it for them. So it isn’t necessary for you to feel warm and fuzzy every time.
Their small act of service is their love to you; your thankfulness is your love to them.

Others have responded to my suggestion with, “Well, my spouse should be doing these things anyway. Why should I thank him for it?” That’s true. If marriage is a partnership, both you and your partner should be looking for ways to make the family life run without needing to be asked or thanked. But isn’t it nicer to be acknowledged? 

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The truth is many of us feel lost and unnoticed in our homes, marriages and families. The primary caregiver in most families often lands a surprising amount of the household chores as well, and most of the work goes unacknowledged. At the same time, working partners return daily to jobs they don’t always love because they’ve prioritized their family.

I hear husbands and wives grow weary under the repetitive, thankless burden of the mundane. They know their work is ordinary, but they want someone to notice their contribution. They want to matter. To be appreciated.

And that’s what “Thank you” can do. These two small words spin a world of difference when you use them.

When we express gratitude to our partners for their contributions, however small, we are saying, “I appreciate how you served our family in this way. I see what you are doing, and it matters. Please don’t stop.”

It’s the most basic of psychological laws. Whatever we praise, we reinforce. Whatever we reinforce, we will see more of.

If we ignore the every day acts of service and love that make our little lives go, if we are always waiting for something extraordinary to praise, we will rarely feel grateful.

And here is the biggest thing: as soon as we start telling ourselves we don’t need to thank our spouses for the everyday, we realize we have nothing to thank them for because ordinary everyday living is our life.

These moments of laundry and dishes and errands and school plays and tucking-ins are not the margins. These are all we have together. If we wait until our spouses do something extraordinary in order to express gratitude, we will lose out on the beauty in the every day. And the fact that this person, your best friend, is there to share it with you.

So let’s not miss what’s right in front of us. Look up from this post and around your home. See who’s in the beautiful mess with you, really see the man, the woman across from you, see all they do and all they are and notice the tired but satisfied look on their face. Then say “Thank you”.

Struggling to find your calling or your place in the world? I know the feeling. Take this journey with me, and when you subscribe to the blog, I’ll send you my two eBooks on hope and calling FREE.

Love That Doesn’t Need You To Say It Back

[Today, I’m honored to be a guest at the home of the brave and spunky Leanne Penny. I joined up with her Love Showed Up series with a tale very close to my heart: the story of my husband and I. I love to tell this story because it sounds new and different every time. If you’re visiting, from Leanne’s, welcome. It’s great to meet you. If you like what you see, subscribe to the blog right here, and I will send you my inspirational eBook, My Birthright For Soup. It’s that easy. And without further ado, here’s our story.]

“I think we’re going to break up,” I announced to my new boyfriend after everyone else left the church that night. “I break up with all my boyfriends.”

We’d only been dating two days, yet my previous relationships told me everything I needed to know about this one. Relationships with me end badly. I figured it was only fair to let this new guy in on my secret.

Ironically, I started this relationship believing it would end. But on the other side of my inner cynic was a hopeless romantic, one who hoped someday a man and I could love each other with a true and lasting affection. I’d just never seen it done. Not in my life anyway.

I don’t remember how he responded to my anxious forecast, but I have no doubt he calmed the storm with his trademark patience I would come to expect over the years. I do remember we left in the same car that night. And the next day, we were still together.

After barely a month of dating, or in my world, after 30 days of not breaking up, we curled up beside each other on a crusty, aged couch along his living room window. It was already dark, but we wouldn’t say goodbye for hours. I never wanted to leave him, even though he terrified me. No matter how dim my pessimistic predictions, I couldn’t make him go away.

As we lay there talking, he whispered the three scariest words, words I knew meant we were over. “I love you,” he said, his voice tender and sincere. But they sounded like the end to me.

I couldn’t say it back. I didn’t know how I felt. My mind flooded with all the fearful thoughts. It was too soon for the L word. Why was he being so pushy? Doesn’t he know you’re supposed to wait on those words, like a year or something? The men who said “I love you” before wanted me to say it back. And then we broke up. The L word is a break-up precursor. Doesn’t he know the rules? Now we’re doomed.

As the anxiety whirlwind spun a dervish in my mind, I sealed the words inside my mouth. Eventually I mustered, “I can’t say it back yet.” I braced myself for the awkward guilt I knew would follow my confession.

Will he reject her and break her heart? Find out as the story continues at Leanne’s.

This photo may or may not be a spoiler alert. [Click for photo credit]
This photo may or may not be a spoiler alert. [Click for photo credit]
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Sometimes I’m Not In Love With My Husband

[If you’re here from Start Marriage Right, welcome. This is my home for sharing inspiration for living out our dreams and calling in relationships, work and every part of who we are. Get my FREE inspirational eBook, My Birthright For Soup, when you subscribe for regular updates.]

This week at Start Marriage Right, where I’m a regular contributor, I’m writing about those slumps we get into in our marriages, you know, the ruts carved by routine and the mundane of life. It’s that path we create in our daily lives where we forget how much we love, want and need the people who share our living space. 

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Committed, selfless relationships are counter-cultural. We don’t see them flourishing much anymore, and when we do, we often wonder what the secrets are.

I can’t tell you I’m in love with my husband every day, that I feel gooshy, whooshy feelings of adoration every waking moment. So I don’t have any secrets for maintaining the seemingly drug-induced infatuation state of the first years of dating and marriage.

But the commitment my husband and I made to love each other six years ago, in sickness and health, mean and nice, rude and affectionate, no matter how much bodily fluid covers the floor, no matter the state of our bank account, this commitment leads us to creatively invent new ways to love each other. And maybe more importantly, to rediscover each other. 

Here’s an excerpt from my latest article, and you can read the entire piece right here

When we were dating, the infatuating love I felt for my husband was intense. It started strong and only grew. It felt like an electric force field radiated from him. The closer I got, the weaker my knees, the quicker my heart rate. He couldn’t touch me without me getting chills.

Needless to say, dating him was my life’s greatest exercise in self-control as we wrestled with our chemistry and attraction to each other while waiting for marriage for sex. It felt like trying to contain a fire.

The day we married, we exchanged vows, and I could sense him as an extension of me. Our lives, once parallel, were united.

My smile could’ve split my face in half. Finally, I had what I’d been longing for. It felt like we could finally let the fire out.

After we married, we moved into a tiny apartment downtown. I went to school, and he went to work. We shared a bed and a bedroom and a closet and a dishwasher. Before long, the sound of his voice was no longer simply whispers of affection but sometimes a reminder to wake up for class, pay a bill or a gentle but slightly annoyed request to put my toothbrush away.

As we added people, responsibilities and careers to our lives, the chemistry of our young relationship grew more difficult to access.

Keep reading here.

How To Get Divorced In One Easy Step

{For those visiting from Start Marriage Right, welcome. I’m talking candidly about preventing divorce today – I know this is a painful and controversial topic, and I’m trying to be delicate here. Please do not hear me being trite or accusing or blaming people who have experienced divorce. I am speaking on the side of prevention for those who are walking the line in their relationships, or who are blissfully unaware of how easily the cracks form in the foundation of a marriage. Thanks for reading and please be sure to be respectful as we discuss this sensitive issue.} 

No one wants a tutorial on divorce. No one walks down the aisle planning for the marriage to end. At least not in a healthy relationship. Yet there is one particular thing any couple can do to significantly increase their chances of divorce. It’s simple: disconnect.

I’m not talking about disconnecting from each other. I think that’s obvious. I’m talking about couples who isolate themselves from community, from family, friends and church involvement. Especially when their marriage is in crisis.

As a pastor of a church alongside my husband, we consistently see marriages in trouble. We offer counsel with a goal of restoration, but always understanding both parties must be engaged in the process. And both partners must want the help.

Sadly, some marriages never make it through the crisis. But these relationships have something in common. A strong marriage depends vitally on the input and support of others, through mentorship and counseling, through transparent relationships where the dark and painful things can be aired out and healed. And the marriages who fail tend to have one or both partners outside of community, unwilling to correct their course and receive guidance.

My husband and I received two years of counseling when our relationship started. And we needed it. I had many misperceptions about men from previous relationships, along with a suitcase full of fear about how our marriage might end up. We were counseled while we dated, during engagement, and for the first year of marriage.

I didn’t know it then, but these mentors assisted us in laying a foundation for healthy communication and conflict we would need the rest of our marriage. Our marriage would be much weaker without their input.

Pastoring in a college town means counseling many young, idealistic couples through their early stages of marriage. There is often a blissful ignorance present during the dating period, a disbelief that their love could fade and problems could set in. As we attempted to challenge this view, we saw a few of them pull away from the very relationships that might provide stability and honest feedback.

Some couples waited until they nearly despised each other before they sought help. Some couples reviled any suggestions that their ways of relating to each other were harmful and pursued counselors who agreed with their unhealthy habits. Others lived under the pretense “nothing is wrong here”, ignoring conflict the best they could until it blew up.

This is always painful to watch because we wanted to help. But we could not get in. There was no door for us. These couples were on the outside by their own choosing. They did not want our help.

And no marriage can survive and thrive without authentic community.

Continue reading at Start Marriage Right.

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The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Housewife

Hello there. If you’re visiting from Start Marriage Right, welcome. Glad to have you today. This is where I write and laugh about relationships, spirituality, parenthood and leadership. Let’s stay in touch, shall we? Get all the updates to my blog by subscribing here, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook. Without further ado, here’s the Start Marriage Right article from this week.]

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Life was easier with only 700 square feet. The tiny apartment my new husband and I occupied for our first two years hugged us close with cozy spaces and colorful walls. Hospitality was a pain, but we didn’t care. Because we never had to mow the lawn.

Sure, the neighbor across the hall died, and no one knew about it for four days. And sure, our upstairs neighbor’s pet ferret found his way into Josh’s shoes one morning. And sure, the catty-corner apartment hosted drug dealers and bad parents.

But I miss those days for one big reason: the housework was minimal and clearly defined. Those were the days.

In premarital counseling, we divided the chores to avoid the conflict later. Josh took laundry because the washer and dryer lurked in the dark, cement basement below us. And I was going to wear dirty clothes before I hauled a hamper down those steps. It worked out perfectly though because he hated cleaning the bathroom. And while I could think of a hundred things I liked more, it sure trumped reliving a horror movie every time I ran out of underwear.

And so it was, two simple people, Josh with too many books and me with too many scarves, and only three pieces of furniture, one a freebie that smelled of cigarettes.

When we moved into our first real home three years ago, we sat down in the empty living room and laughed giddy little laughs. With the money we earned from the government home-buyer stimulus, we purchased new furniture and paid off debt. Suddenly we were adults, with squishy leather couches and a baby on the way.

We were big-hearted and a little crazy back then, and we wanted roommates. We figured five bedrooms were too much for the two-plus of us. When John arrived in November that year, two twenty-something boys occupied the basement. They came upstairs for food and conversation, and sometimes the kitchen was messier when they left.

For two and a half years, roommates shared our home. They perfected our hospitality and opened our lives wide. But the season ended in October last year, and we settled into a new routine with just three of us. We never had that before.

Suddenly, the messes we noticed around the home were just ours, but mainly mine. Laundry left unfolded. Unswept floors. A fridge that only got one deep clean in its lifetime.

Keep reading over at Start Marriage Right.  Blog Signature

5 Steps to Moving Off the Island of Self-Pity

One of my favorite things to do is feel sorry for myself. It’s so gratifying. So deliciously satisfying. If someone lets me down, hurts me or disappoints me, or if I’m just in some kind of physical pain, I assume no one can understand what it’s like. That no one cares. And it feels so good to tell myself that.

Poor, poor, little me.

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It takes only minutes for me to call my travel agent and get a one-way ticket to the Island of Self-Pity, but it’s huge pain to get back because I start to act like one of the locals. Shoot, at that point, I am the locals. But only if I stay too long.

This is like the Island of Self-Pity, except not as tropical. So don’t get any ideas about how great it is. It is not great.

Why is Self-Pity an island? Why not a bustling metropolis? Well, you know that old saying “No one wants to come to your pity party”? It’s cause it’s true. No one wants to come.

As soon as we feel bad for ourselves, we build a wall. We end up having so much (false) compassion for ourselves, we use it all up and there’s none left for anyone else to give us. Then, from our lonely campsite, we whip out our binoculars and look across the sea to land, where all our friends and family ignore our “obvious” needs and just move on with their lives. Or if we’ve been on the island long enough, it looks like they’re all having a party without us.

Self-pity is lonely because it can’t invite others in. Or it just won’t. It’s stubborn. It is the opposite of invitational, and it sets itself up for rejection and loneliness, the very thing it’s trying to protect you from.

So let’s get real: self-pity is a back-stabbing friend. It soothes you with its seemingly kind, understanding words. “Oh, your friends just don’t understand you. Your family is always leaving you alone. No one cares about you.” But as soon as you bite that line, you’re hooked. You believe. Your brain begins to atrophy. You lose touch with your human connections. Simply put, when you believe a statement that says “No one cares about you”, you stop engaging with the very people who can help support you in your crisis.

How do we move off the Island of Self-Pity? If you’re there, or if you make frequent visits, move fast. You don’t have much time. This is a seriously nasty, toxic, poisonous, accusing, isolating, liar-liar-pants-on-fire voice in your head. It will put you in survival mode and steal your ability to think creatively and use your imagination. (Don’t believe me? This article about how listening to complaining makes people literally dumber will prove my point.

Don’t give self-pity air time or you will never keep friends. Promise.

Here are 5 Steps to moving off the Island of Self-Pity and getting your real needs met:

1. Tell your friends and/or family how you feel. Tell them about your physical or emotional pain. Tell them if they’ve let you down, or just tell them what is going on in your life that’s so hard for you at that moment. Do the difficult work to be honest and keep the communication door open.

2. Tell your friends and/or family what you really need from them. They are not mind-readers, and they do not exist for your every whim. So don’t hold that against them. Instead, tell them kindly what you need most from them: someone to listen; someone to sit with you and not say anything; someone to give empathy, like, “If I was in your situation, that would be really awful/tragic/heartbreaking/lonely.” I usually need someone who will listen and not try to solve the problem, and then who will empathize by imagining themselves in my shoes. That is serious therapy for me!

3. Forgive the friends/family/co-workers/church people/neighbors who have disappointed you. They’re not God, and even God disappoints us sometimes, doesn’t he? People will let you down, guaranteed. If you want friends, you have to accept that. Make forgiveness a discipline. (NOTE: If you feel the pang of hurt and anger about someone or some thing, that’s a sign you have more forgiving to do. And if you’re a Christian, forgiveness isn’t an opt-in or opt-out thing. It’s really the only caveat God puts on his forgiveness of us, but if we choose not to forgive, we choose not be forgiven. No, thank you.)

4. Remember: being alone is a choice. It’s a state of mind. We can invite people into our lives by giving them the benefit of the doubt, telling them what we need, and then making an effort to move forward. No one wants to be friends with someone who spends most of their time talking about their problems, is super negative or obsesses over a relationship that ended two years ago. If you are stuck, that’s okay, but talk with a professional. Your friends are your any-time support, but they’re not getting paid so don’t abuse them.

5. Figure out how to give back to your friendships. Say thank you, even when they don’t do it perfectly, because good friends will at least try to give you what you need. Ask your friends what they need from you when they’re having a hard time, just in case they forget to ask. And offer empathy as a standard rule. It is almost always what people really want, but are unsure of what to ask for.

And finally, if you are mad at me for saying any of the above things, you live on the Island of Self-Pity. I’m sorry I’m not sorry. Take a step to rejoin us over here by telling us what you need. Cause if you don’t tell us, we won’t be able to help you.

{Got any tricks for getting out of Self-Pity mode? Share them with me below.}

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Getting good at love

[If you’re visiting from Start Marriage Right, welcome. Glad to have you today. This is where I write about relationships, spirituality, parenthood and leadership – a little bit of everything. Let’s stay in touch, shall we? Get all the updates to my blog by subscribing here, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook. Without further ado, here’s the Start Marriage Right article from today.]

We hadn’t been dating long when I popped a question. “How can I show you that I love you better?” I chirped bravely to my boyfriend as we sped down the freeway at sunset. While it wasn’t the question, give me credit: it’s a hard question to ask. Because what if I was bad at love?

Indeed, love was nowhere on my resume.

After a myriad of short-lived, ambiguous dating trysts in my early twenties, relationship failure was a part-time profession for me. I knew all the wrong things to do. But to really love, to set my vulnerable heart out for review, was all part of a risk I hadn’t yet made in all my calculated attempts at intimacy.

Not long into dating this guy though, I realized two things: One, This relationship feels different, better. And two, Oh no! I have no idea what I’m doing.

I started reading, naturally, trying to catch up on the tried and true relational tactics I’d missed out on before. I downed the classics: Love and Respect by Dr. Emmerson Eggerichs, and Dr. John Gray’s Men are from Mars. I really, finally, wanted to be good at love.

Reading instilled the theories of love, but I had to try them out in real life. This was inevitably the tricky part. It felt like my first trip to Mexico, mouthing choppy, beginner Spanish, awkwardly formal, trying to translate quickly in my head. Until you speak speak the language fluently, it’s exhausting. I think love feels just about the same sometimes.

Keep reading here.                         Blog Signature

Negative tests and practicing my poker face

{I’ve been leery of sharing these thoughts and stories about our journey to have Baby #2. I don’t want to get pegged as an infertility writer cause I will feel guilty for getting pregnant when my readers are still trying. But more than that, letting strangers see the longings in my heart has been just too much. Way too much vulnerability. But two weeks ago, I was freaking out in a waiting room, hoping for certain test results. And I watched myself fight transparency and cover up emotion. It was weird. I didn’t want anyone to know. So this is the first time I’ve really talked about it. Here goes.}

Two weeks ago, something strange was happening to me, something “not normal”. I hoped maybe the weirdness was pregnancy, but home tests read negative. I ran out of homeopathic options and patience so I called my doctor. My regular, non-hippie medical doctor.

“We may have to run some tests, but we have to wait,” the nurse informed me. Of course. Tests. And waiting. Dislike.

“Can I rule out pregnancy?” I squeaked in the most non-neurotic voice I could muster. “I just want to be sure I’m not so I can make the necessary adjustments.” Yea, adjustments, like curing my racing mind and my feverish curiosity. The nurse humored me.

Less than 24 hours later, I left work early for my appointment in the lab. The drive to the clinic gave me 20 minutes to remember the last few times I sat in the lab waiting room, doing what you do in a waiting room: waiting. Trying to sit still, distracting myself with newsstand magazines, pretending to breathe.

The lab tech would call me back and draw my blood, and we both acted like it was no big deal, that I was just there for the Band-Aid, and I didn’t really mind at all if there was only one line on that test.

They would send me back to the waiting room for more discomfort and squirming. There I’d become spiritual.

I would try to imagine all the things I could do to make the test positive. Cross my fingers, blink five times fast, forgive all the people I’m mad at. I land on the best make-things-happen action step: surrender. Not real surrender, of course. Fake surrender. Super-spiritual apathy.

I tell God that I will be okay and he is still good and I trust him, not so much because I do, but because that’s how you get what you want around here, right?

I want surrender, but I would rather just be pregnant. That would save so much time.

After I wave my faux white flag, the lab tech inevitably comes out with the poker face and no voice inflection. “Tests are negative today.” Whoosh. Out goes the little flame of hope.

I am always surprised, but I pretend I’m cool. “Okay, thank you,” I half smile back, feigning confidence. So the results are only negative today, right? So maybe tomorrow they will be positive? Okay, I will be back. Tomorrow. And there’s always next month.

But I don’t feel confident at all. I’m disappointed. Something must be wrong. I wish I’d stayed home and let the white stick tell me the answer, but I had to come in. Just had to know. I can’t let the lab techs, the bearers of sad news, see that look on my face. I can’t let the strangers know my sadness.

After lab room flashbacks on the drive to the clinic, I decided to practice my own poker face. I knew the tests would probably be negative, but maybe not. That’s what I was there, right? I was ready for anything, and a positive result wouldn’t be hard to deal with. I just had to protect myself from the Messengers of Negative, ensure they don’t see even a change in eyebrow posture. Remember: stone-faced. Be prepared.

They draw my blood, and I wonder if I’m wasting my time. I don’t say that. I tell the lab tech I like the wall decor. “It’s so colorful,” I cheer.

Back to the waiting room, where I pull out my iPad to write. But I can’t write because I’m calculating my due date and how old John will be when his sibling is born and what if it’s a boy and I don’t think I can handle another boy, but I will just be happy if it’s a baby at all and I can always adopt a girl…

And then the lab window slides open. “Tests are negative today,” the blond lady announces. I’m alone in the waiting room, but I feel alone in the world. I will go home and tell Josh, and he won’t understand what it feels like to hope your body is growing a human life, only to find out it’s just messed up instead.

“Okay,” I stutter, but I wasn’t prepared like I meant to be. “I guess I’ll have to do something different.” What? Something different? What ever does that mean? My secret was out. I sounded drunk, but it was just the sadness. The out-of-controlness. The I’m-trying-everything-so-what-else-do-I-need-to-do?

I shoved my iPad back into my tote, wishing I’d been prepared to leave, hating the moment I lingered there helpless. She knows I’m sad. She knows I wanted the baby. She knows something is wrong with me. She knows.

I still don’t really understand why the lab techs scare me. They are only messengers. They don’t make me un-pregnant with their words. I just hate to hear it. It feels vulnerable. I don’t want the first person to know of my hope deferred, the person who tells me my body can’t do it, or just won’t do it, to be someone I’ve never met.

I walk to the car, texting my friends the news. On my way home, I call my cousin in Texas. “I’m not pregnant.” I try to sound optimistic.

I don’t say it, but I think the pregnancy tests should have a sad face for the negative. Then maybe it would feel like someone understands.

A friend recommended this book to me for those of us struggling with infertility at any level. It’s not advice. Lets be clear. Just journal entries, thoughts and prayers from a woman who was waiting. The book is called Moments for Couples who Long for Children. It sounds immensely helpful. Thank you for the tip, friend.

Anger management: how it’s going out here

Two weeks ago, I took a crazy challenge. But it was about time.

Inspired by the brave mom at The Orange Rhino, I committed not to yell at my son for 365 days. With certain caveats, like safety and distance, of course. That was 14 days ago.

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So now it’s confession time, right? How have I actually been doing? Well, let’s just say I’m only 10 days in to this thing. May I defend myself? Well, I’m going to.

On Saturday, July 6th, we were visiting my family. My son, in true toddler form, turned into quite a mess from an afternoon of play. So into the tub he went. Being an opportunist, I decided to also wash my hair under the faucet while he took his bath. And what do you think I saw floating toward me as I rinsed my hair? Poo. That’s right. A small, but definitely-there piece of poo. In the bathtub. Where you’re supposed to get clean!

I was upset, disgruntled, flustered, not quite yelling, but I was close. Out went the toddler and down went the water. My hair was now sopping wet so I sat the tot down on the potty so he could finish his business and tried to complete my hair washing, this time in the sink, which is a less likely place to find poo. I peered around the corner to check on him, and at just that moment, he plunged his foot into the toilet. Just to spite me, I’m sure of it.

And then I lost it. I yelled. It was a violent act of regression, and I knew I was going to have to come out here and tell you I did it. But I did.

So the next day I started over. There have been two poo-in-tub incidents since that day, which makes three since I’m counting, but guess what? I’ve responded well to both, no yelling, just redirecting. And whining. Because eewwwww, gross.

I hope you don’t leave my alone on my commitment, but I also promise to keep you updated every couple week so you know I’m not faking it over here. I’m a mom who needs help, but I’m sure trying.

Here’s to more days and years of self-control! And kids who don’t poop in tubs.

I am Jesus’ awkward friend

In college, it was getting easy. I finally figured out how to make friends, not talk too much or make people feel uncomfortable around me. And aside from the tumultuous relationships and the general self-loathing, my relationship with God felt relatively sturdy too.

In the mornings, I propped up my pillow behind my head, then read, wrote, prayed, sang. I poured my dirty, little heart out. And Someone always welcomed me.

Fast forward a few years to a dream come true. I met a man, we dated for a year and a day, and then we married. I love marriage. But God and I aren’t friends like we used to be.

After we married, I went back to school. Then he took a pastoring job. Then we bought a house, birthed a kid, and flung ourselves into the modern whirlwind. I’m studying to be a pastor myself. And I am a working mother and writer.

I just haven’t figured out where God fits into all this ministry I’m doing.

Ironic, isn’t it?

I am so busy saving people from suicide and trying to stitch together failing marriages and regretting nights where I choose anything over playing with my son.

I stay up late and arise early. I pray for people on Sundays and throughout the week. I listen to God for total strangers and encourage them with the proof that he sees them. I use God’s word to guide my life. My life feels busy, quite spiritual, yet strangely empty.

It’s hard to find time to be with God himself. 

It’s easy to coast, to look the part, to impress people with stuff I know. But growing up in a Christian home, the kind where people spoke in tongues and prayed Scripture for prayers, I have an unfair advantage. I know exactly how to sound like I have my crap together.

But I don’t.

Some Sundays, I want to stand on the platform and apologize to everyone for being a fraud. But instead I go home and apologize to God. I tell him I want it to be different. But not much has changed.

The last time I remember feeling anxiously earnest for God and his presence, for Jesus himself, was May 2010. I was a few months pregnant. I was alone and suddenly felt this heavy fear I would burn out on Jesus if I didn’t get some fire around me, the hunger of other people who wanted God too. So I got a group of girls together and told them I needed women to burn with me. We called our meetings Burn Night, and that’s been the name ever since.

I have one friend here who loves God and wants him like I do. But we are both struggling with motherhood and life and where to schedule in time with a Guy who exists everywhere all the time, who knew what I would be thinking about last week, before I even thought it.

How does one be friends with Jesus?

I woke up this morning and realized that I feel awkward around Jesus now because I talk to him often, but it’s small talk, often about other people. It’s not good, quality time. Our friendship just isn’t what it used to be, and it’s my fault.

There is a wall of condemnation guarding heaven, and I just haven’t learned to push through. But I have to.

So today, I sat down and wrote. I told him I feel naked and vulnerable, and I’m worried he’s going to remind me of all my failure, and I will just sit here looking down and then try to leave and act right.

Weird. He has never done that before.

Then I reminded myself what Jesus said a long time ago: “No one can come to the Father unless the Father calls for her.”

I have no right to be here. No right to talk to him. No right to be his friend.

I may be attractive and well-spoken, and that usually works for me when I need someone to think I know what I’m talking about. But that doesn’t impress God. He sees right through the extra make up and the confident posture.

Drat.

So what impresses God? Some might say nothing. Some might say, “Being a good person”. But Jesus said we can’t come to God unless God calls us first. So we are pretty much screwed unless he initiates the conversation.

But has he? Will he? Does he?

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. And suddenly, he’s coming to me. I’m not the sad, little orphan outside of heaven. He’s the one at my door.

And the tables turn. I feel I’ve been discovered. But not in a rock star way. In a “I am so going to jail for this” way. I want to hide, but I’m getting called. He’s at my door! It’s what I wanted, right?

Hello, awkward.

I feel deeply uncomfortable because I so want to qualify myself. I want to earn love, to prove my worth with my talent and labor. I want God to be impressed with me. But he just doesn’t care about that because he’s not looking for good deeds.

He’s looking for people who just want to be with him. I mean, he has everything he needs. And if he needs some work done, the angels are more reliable.

He doesn’t want a work force. He wants friends.

I feel really awkward, like I’m going to start playing with my phone and not making eye contact, because I am not bringing anything to this dinner. All the stuff that I normally bring to a relationship doesn’t matter here.

And yet, I am pretty sure the level of my personal contentment and happiness come with making peace with the fact that I am not really bringing anything except myself. And that is good enough.

By showing up, I am saying, “I want to be here”, and it’s all I can offer God since the only thing he won’t touch is our free will. It’s my will saying “Yes” to him, to all the forgiveness and love and future he hands out, and the humility and love it takes for me to receive it is worth a lot to him. 

Well, that’s a relief. Cause that’s all I have.