It’s been a year already since he laid his big strong body down and how do 365 days go by seeming like it’s been both just a week and a lifetime?
I started a list on my iPhone of all the things that went haywire beginning with the day my old truck quit running.
It was going to be the list that reminded me how strong our family was and how gracefully we overcame adversity.
Then the pony died that spring Monday morning, and I realized that life can sometimes knock a gal out at the knees and that keeping track of adversity wasn’t as important as I thought it was.
That gracefulness comes quietly in the fight and isn’t something that can be measured.
Because it all just kept coming and since the Garden, isn’t that what life really is anyway?
One big adversity?
One long, unmeasurable struggle.
Those you thought were your friends betray you.
Those you know are your friends face death straight in the face.
Your body quits working as it should and life as you know it is altered by silent sickness.
Neighbors are not neighborly.
The peaceful plans you dream of and hope for and pray over are riddled with twists and turns and paths that keep you pining for the flatter trail that doesn’t trip you up.
The news brings heartache daily til the day it all seems the same.
A planet aching.
The day last month that my big little horse started limping, I did what I’ve done every time one of the minis has gotten any little ailment these past twelve months.
I worried and I fret and I flashed back to the cold nights in the barn when we willed our big boy to keep standing and keep fighting in those hours before we knew he’d given us his all and had to finally lie down and leave us.
It’s a year later and the same time of the month that he got sick when our mini starts to slow down and look uncomfortable. It must be the season. It must be something about our farm in the spring.
It must be something I’m doing wrong and I worry as I go to a boring meeting and remember the boring meeting I was sitting in last year when my daughter called to get me coming home to her and her very sick pony.
He was a horse not a person but I will always grieve the loss of him like I would a best friend or a member of this family.
Because he was.
It was our first time losing a horse and the pain of it was enough to make me think of letting my other two go to another farm so we’d never have to deal with that kind of loss ever again.
That thought was short-lived because I know they belong with us and they belong together, but as I watch my mini’s coat dull and I take the weight tape to her and see she’s dropped fifteen pounds, it makes me choke back a sob as I think of our big pony standing noble and quiet in the barn last year with his dull coat and thin neck.
A whole year feels like yesterday when I start calling the people I know to call and text video clips of my little horse limping, and as soon as he’s back in town, my farrier is here to trim up her feet and he reminds me yet again that I shouldn’t worry so, that this horse came to us with a condition that will always cause her to have troublesome feet in cold weather and the changing of seasons.
He reminds me that I’ll always have to watch her sugar intake and that the good nourishment I was giving her to help her weight and her coat might be too much, and that cutting back just a little will tell me for sure.
And he reminds me gently that this horse isn’t the same horse as the horse we lost.
That every ailment isn’t worst case scenario.
That even though my mind and my heart go back to the loss, this horse won’t die from sore feet.
That the love on our farm is big and goes a long way toward keeping our animals healthy and me and the kids learning.
He reminds me how much we love.
Struggles will come but love covers a multitude, and it is patient and it is kind, and it protects and trusts and hopes, and it always, always perseveres.
I quit making a list this year and instead made myself persevere.
Made myself love.
God knows my faith has been quiet but that it is strong and it is persevering.
Have you been quiet in your faith?
Have you had doubts? Struggles? Adversity?
He knows when our love is true and trusting and even though it may not be loud, He knows when it is there.
A trauma, a loss, a year of battles one after another can knock out strong knees, but on our knees is best because He so loved the world, He so loved me and He so loved you, and love will.never.fail.
The disappointments of yesterday melt in the face of the love that dwells in the rough-hewn wood of this strong house.
The crushing weight of sorrow for friends fighting a too-hard war lightens as they raise their hands to glory and love all they touch.
The unending pain of the planet and her people are held, because in Him all things hold together.
My little horse began to move smoother after her foot trim, and as the sun came out and spring moved onto our farm, I’d see her napping on all fours instead of lying down to get off her feet.
Her head would bob and her top lip quiver as she soaked up the fresh air and healing rays of sunshine after our long cold winter.
She wasn’t going to die like our pony did.
And today, the exact day he left us last year, I pulled my little gal out and marveled at how much better she was looking.
I smiled at her yellow-white mane and tail as she walked across the yard, a happy sparkle in her eye as she tried to find just one green blade of grass.
I thought of how much I love these little horses and how much we’ve gone through on the farm this year.
How much those close to us have endured.
How much our world has changed.
How much we are loved in the midst of it all.
And as I was watching her walk beside my daughter, my girl who said goodbye to her best equine friend too soon exactly one year ago, a peace washed over me that assured me that not only was my little horse going to be fine but so was everything else.
Those things I can control…those things I can’t…those battles friends fight…those injustices that plague so many…
Because He said it…because He loves…
We are assured that even in the evils and the sadness and the pain He will never leave us.
He will take the quiet faith, the wavering faith, the tentative faith, and He will grow it louder and steadier and surer, whether through sunny seasons or through sorrow seasons.
My peace grew strong and I thought of our pony gone a year, and I tucked up his memory into my heart once again where it now always lives, and I watch my girl walk my big mini back toward the pen.
And just before she got there, our little red pony hopped a little hop on her once-sore feet and she kicked up her heels and she tossed her mane…
And then she started to trot.
In memory of all the ponies and all the horses who have left this earth too soon. Your trust and service and faithfulness are twisted up into the hearts of the many who have loved you and will miss you all the days of their lives.
Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments. Deuteronomy 7:8-10
I knew as soon as I saw the light bar I was getting pulled over. A quick glance at the speedometer showed 70 and the two-lane was empty of vehicles minus mine and the Trooper’s.
I had my license, insurance, and a smile ready by the time he got to my window.
I was just excited I explained.
We were on our way to celebrating a weekend away for my boy’s birthday.
My eldest. My first-born.
Long weeks until we’d been able to finally get away, but we were all getting to go now and wasn’t I thankful for this family God gave me?
As I waited for the Trooper to run my information, I remembered back to my dispatching days when there was another time I’d been pulled over.
Just over fifteen years ago it’d been.
I was excited then too, and as my red truck came to a stop on the side of the road that day, I laughed at the irony of being pulled over by a co-worker on my afternoon off.
His big smile in my window had matched mine and I showed him the picture from the ultrasound appointment I’d just left and told him “I’m sorry JohnJohn. Are you going to give me a ticket? I didn’t even realize I was going fast, I’m just so excited.”
His laugh is still in my ear and he told me “Of course I’m not gonna give you a ticket. Slow down though, you want to live to see that baby grow.”
That day was two years before his life was cut short, and when the Trooper comes back with a smile and a warning I think of my fallen friend and offer up the unopened bag of chocolates I’d just bought at the store because it was the nicest thing I had to offer as a thanks for keeping me safe and a thanks for wearing the blue and a thanks for reminding me.
I want to live to see my babies grow.
He couldn’t take my candy back to the station, but he could take a thank you and I slow down for the rest of the trip and think of John and years and babies and gifts.
The baby that we were celebrating today was the baby I was carrying then and how does fifteen years go by just like that?
How do friends come and go and babies grow up and grow mustaches and muscles and compassion and how does cancer change lives forever and tragedy take loved ones too soon and how do wrinkles appear even as hair disappears while faith grows strong and steady and quiet and true, and how does it all happen in a way that makes you feel like you’re flying when you don’t even realize you’re going that fast?
And the only possible conclusion is the same now as it was then…
I was just excited.
But I’ll slow down again.
I’ll remember my reminders.
I’ll stop when I need to and listen to the warnings.
I’ll smile back at the friendly faces in my window.
I’ll cherish friends while I have them here.
I’ll show my thanks with what I have.
And for all the days I’m given on this journey…
I’ll live to see my babies grow.
In Memory of John P. Watson
Five different women have approached me and asked me about hypothyroidism since I quit hiding and began ever so slowly to share my struggle.
This piece is dedicated to them.
Sometimes it’s not until you start to feel a little better do you realize exactly how sick you were.
Sometimes one little part of us can grow so quietly dysfunctional it wreaks havoc on the big parts of us.
And sometimes it can be going on for years without us even knowing.
Around mid-winter last year I did something I rarely do and I went to the doctor. My blood pressure was creeping up right along with my blood sugar levels and I couldn’t take off any of the weight I had gained over the past couple of years.
Knowing how anti-synthetics I am, my doctor prescribed a low dose of thyroid replacement in a natural form. I took it as prescribed and felt better for a little while.
Eventually though, I realized it was just making me more tired so I pitched it and went back to doing what I usually do: try and try to eat better…exercise better…feel better…be better.
Then somewhere around Thanksgiving, all my efforts sunk into one big bleak pit of fatigue and flatness and depressed feelings.
I felt like I couldn’t move.
I felt like I was hiding from my family…from my friends…from the LORD.
I felt angry.
I felt half-dead.
This wasn’t the life I wanted for my babies and my precious husband.
I missed being able to sit down and read. I missed being vibrant in my faith and in my family. I missed having time with the LORD. I missed being strong.
I missed being ME.
I went back to the doctor and he sat with me an hour and he asked me if I was depressed and on my appointment note this is what he wrote in big letters:
SHE LOOKS TIRED.
She looks tired.
He said he’d prescribe an antidepressant.
But it wasn’t just depression. I was depressed-feeling, but it was in my body.
Something in my body wasn’t working.
I cried and he patted my shoulder and I realized I hadn’t even put makeup on that day or for so many of the days prior…weeks? Months? I’d lost count.
When was it that I’d last felt like me?
When was it that my husband last came home to a smiling and joyful wife?
When was it that I’d last slept through the night and not awakened feeling groggy and sluggish?
When was it that I last had the energy to hold a real conversation with anyone?
When was it that I last was excited to move this body that was gifted to me?
When was it that I last felt the joy I carry?
I’m so thankful for a doctor who listens.
I’m so thankful he cares about the person and not just the numbers and he said “we’ll watch this closer, you were on too low of a dose.”
So I picked up my little natural pills again-my piggy pills I call em- and I came home and I quit caffeine, sugar, gluten, grain, alcohol, and dairy that very day.
The next week I spent in a fog of naps, hot bone broth, thyroid research, and more naps.
I read everything I could get my hands on that pertained to thyroid disease, adrenal dysfunction, paleo eating, and hormonal balance.
My husband did dishes and fed kids and gave me big hugs and let me sleep like I was his ailing princess.
I came out of the fog with a clarity I’ve never felt.
I cried when I realized how long it’d been since I felt good. How long my children haven’t known the REAL me. How long my husband has been so very patient with my unexplained mood swings and fatigue.
I cried and then I was mad and I hated my thyroid and I wanted to punch it in the throat but that wouldn’t work now would it so I decided I would just learn everything I could about how to live with this little organ that I knew hardly anything about but that had betrayed me and was ruining my life and stealing my hair.
I threw out my coffee pot and replaced the morning java with an apple cider vinegar drink that has all sorts of natural yumminess from coconut milk to turmeric.
I baked up our homegrown chickens and kept a pot of bones boiling almost daily.
I started reading the labels for hidden gluten.
I asked my husband to do something that practically kills him: inject me with two shots of vitamin B12 in my leg every week.
I learned how to cook vegetables in ways I never have before.
I was realizing that every five or six days my clarity and vim would start to wane and this proved to me that everything I’d been reading was true: I needed to slowly up the dose of the little piggy pill until I found a level that would keep me in maintenance mode. So that’s what I started to do and finally I began to feel my jerk thyroid start to work efficiently which started to get the rest of my machine running.
So for the past six weeks I have been logging symptoms and vitals and paying closer attention to my body than I ever have in my whole life. I have been living on an online thyroid discussion group and scouring every single post as I learn more about this disease and how it effects so many. I have been highlighting up my Stop the Thyroid Madness book and loading up my old-lady pill box for my morning and evening supplements.
I explained to my husband that the bitch of this thing was that every single day I now have this 500,000 piece puzzle sitting out unfinished on the coffee table in my brain. I have to work at it and poke at it and ponder the patterns moment by moment and day by day until I get this thing figured out. Which is about when things change ever so subtly again.
So I power it and I puzzle it and last week for the first time in months I had enough energy to lace up my walking boots and take to my driveway. Over the week I worked my way up from a 15-minute walk to a half-hour one.
I started smiling again. I quit needing a power nap at 3 p.m. I bought new makeup. I colored my hair.
I opened my Bible for the first time in a long time…that worn and beautiful marked-up book I once delighted to read daily…and I worked my way through the Psalms to that favorite familiar, number 23, and I read right there in my very own scrawl, -a take-away from my old preacher’s sermon during my baby Christian years I’m sure- there in the margin with all the other chicken scratches and next to the circle around “green pastures”…in the second verse where He makes me lie down I had written
shepherds will put wounded sheep on the best grass.
And I knew right then that I might’ve been feeling like I was hiding from Him, but He wasn’t hiding from me.
I knew He’d been there all along and that just because I wasn’t vibrant didn’t mean He wasn’t visible.
I knew my flatness doesn’t make Him forget me.
I’m in a green pasture.
I’m on the best grass for my healing and I will stay right here until my shepherd leads me elsewhere.
A thyroid diagnosis could be so much worse but there is no getting past the fact that it is a robber of vibrant life. And anything that robs life from me robs it from my family and from my job here on earth so I will keep fighting and nourishing and working and puzzling and plowing to figure out my best health and straightest path back to vibrant.
I know I have a way to go. I’m beginning to have subtle symptoms again which tells me it’s time to bump up a little closer to my maintenance dose.
And I know with thyroid and adrenal problems, close attention to what goes in the body will always be needed and I will most likely have to take a thyroid hormone replacement for the rest of my life.
I might not ever get back my six-pack abs or my razor sharp vision.
It’s been a little heartbreaking to not have the focus to write.
It’s almost made me cry to have to take a book back to the library half-read.
But as I get closer to my new normal, there is one symptom I’m taking close notice of.
That symptom is hope.
I’m starting to feel aware again.
I’m starting to feel joy again.
I’m starting to feel alive again.
I’m starting to feel like ME again.
And I’m not hiding any more.
Please see the list of common symptoms and resources for hypothyroidism at the end of this post. I don’t want anyone on this planet to go without a diagnosis or treatment of this disease and dysfunction that robs so much life. Our doctors aren’t perfect. They are still learning. There is MUCH for them to discover about thyroid health. You might need to search to find the best health care provider for you. Be your biggest advocate and don’t stop until you get the answers you need to help you build your best health. Most of all, don’t hide. There is hope. If I can help you find it, please tell me.
In the eye of the storm, You remain in control
In the middle of the war, You guard my soul
You alone are the anchor, when my sails are torn
Your love surrounds me in the eye of the storm
Mmm, when my hopes and dreams are far from me, and I’m runnin’ out of faith
I see the future I picture slowly fade away
And when the tears of pain and heartache are falling down my face
I find my peace in Jesus’ name
In the Eye of the Storm ~ Ryan Stevenson
Some Common Signs/Symptoms of Hypothyroidism: (Please note there are many, many more)
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Dry skin
- Weight gain
- Puffy face
- Muscle weakness
- Elevated blood cholesterol level
- Muscle aches, tenderness and stiffness
- Pain, stiffness or swelling in your joints
- Heavier than normal or irregular menstrual periods
- Thinning hair
- Slowed heart rate
- Impaired memory
- Thin/splitting nails
- Ridges/grooves in nails
Stop The Thyroid Madness (Books 1 and 2)
So…it seems tough gal is okay giving horses shots but isn’t tough enough to give herself shots, so her tough guy does it for her.
Isn’t it always something new in marriage? I bet over our twenty-two years he never figured he’d be pulling meds and hovering over syringes and working up the courage to stick two needles into his wife’s left leg.
As we sat in the bathroom and he figured out his alcohol wipes and his game plan, he told me about his dad and how Hoss could cut his own finger off and probably not even flinch, but would practically pass out when his wife was hurt.
“I feel like my dad right now.”
I told him to hurry up and get it over with, that I was just fine.
And it didn’t even hurt.
Ok maybe an eensy little bit but don’t tell him that.
The older I get, the more wee glimpses I see of what the preacher man meant when he said “in sickness and in health”.
And the more thankful I grow with each passing year for the one who honors that promise daily.
If you are experiencing ANY of the symptoms of a diseased or low-functioning thyroid, or suspect your adrenal system is not working efficiently, PLEASE begin the big work of researching this little organ that controls so much and make an appointment to see a functional, integrative health doctor to have your blood levels checked.
Start on the road to healing and don’t let a malfunctioning thyroid and/or adrenals take any more time or joy away from you and your loved ones.
*Chronic exhaustion*Always feeling foggy*Cold all the time*Tired upon waking*Unexplained weight gain*Inability to lose weight*Unexplained muscle pain*Achy joints*Hair loss*Dry, brittle hair*Skin/nail changes* (There are many more, these are some of the most common.)
I am learning so much about this disorder that affects so many today, and along with the weekly B12 shots, a wonderful functional health doctor, the love and support of my precious family, a good supplement program, extreme diet changes, and a low dose of natural thyroid replacement, I have begun the path to healing. It is my prayer for you that you too, will be able to find a diagnosis and begin your healing journey as well. Our years are numbered…let’s spend as many of them as we can in good and balanced health.
I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. 2 Kings 20:5
We stayed home from church today because I wasn’t feeling all that great, so I took the down time to keep ruthlessly purging our old boxes and baskets and all the THINGS that come from over twenty years of marriage, a cross country move, four kids, and a homeschool.
I’m not sure what I loved more, the fact that I can send my man child out to the fire pit to burn all the unnecessaries, freeing me from the burden of storing all that paper; finding the photos Matt sent me when he first settled in this new land to scout it out and find a job before sending for me (the only photos I’d ever seen like that before were in magazines and now my husband was in them! – a marvel to my 24-year old flatlander self); or the poem I had printed off and tucked away in my special “Mama” file, one a girlfriend emailed me years ago. I can’t even remember the occasion, but it spoke to my heart today in a way that I didn’t even know my heart needed spoken to, and was an answer to a prayer I hadn’t even yet been able to utter aloud.
I share with you in the hopes that you’ll love it too. That you have this kind of a friend. And that if you don’t yet have one, that this will help you to be one.
But Oh! the blessing it is to have a friend to whom one can speak fearlessly on any subject;
with whom one’s deepest as well as one’s most foolish thoughts come out simply and safely.
Oh, the comfort -the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person- having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together;
certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness,
blow the rest away.
We averted disaster today.
As we sat at the kitchen table, still in our pajamas and me not even halfway through my first cup of coffee, the kids noticed fog rolling off the barn roof.
Or was it steam?
Wait, No. No, my son said. I think that’s smoke Mom.
And he stepped out on the porch to smell the air and then went running one way while I went running the other to throw on a pair of pants quicker than I ever have in all my life while at the same time dialing the number I’ve answered hundreds of times.
911, where is your emergency?
As I calmly told her my address, phone number, and directions to my house, I pushed my feet into boots and ran out the door, barking clipped directions to the kids still in my eyesight.
My big boy has his Daddy’s cool smarts and he’d hit the breaker to the barn before I had even hit the driveway, and he walked straight into the smoke to find the source and had the melting and burning tote that’d served as a home for a wee chick drug out to the middle of the driveway where it went up in flames and continued to melt blue plastic ooze onto the gravel while my hands started to tremble and my voice cracked on the line.
It seems that the chick we’d had bedded down in the cozy warm tote had jumped out during the night to visit with the rest of the party animals (hens and turkeys and pullets oh my) who were all enjoying the soft farmy smells of the hay barn for the past two nights while we finish getting their winter pen ready.
When wee chick (after today he carries the name of Fireball) jumped out of bed, he must’ve knocked the heat lamp loose and down into his tote, which melted plastic and scorched hay in the process.
My barn is full of a winter’s worth of hay, and as I hung up with Dispatch and listened to the approaching sirens, it took me less than two seconds to imagine how quickly that structure could go from the rolling smoke we’d found to being fully engulfed. How quickly that would put my surrounding woods at risk. Our precious neighborhood. Our cherished livestock.
So today I’m thankful for many things.
For my boy’s quick mind and quick actions. For our firefighters who were here within five minutes and even though the danger had passed, they came anyway and they made sure my barn and our neighborhood was safe. For being late starters. Had we been engrossed in school instead of milling into the morning, we would have missed the smoke altogether, which means we would’ve missed the flames.
Most of all though, I’m thankful for the lesson we learned today. We will never …ever…EVVVVER…put a heat lamp in the hay barn again. E.v.e.r.
It was clamped up high enough but it got knocked down by a weird accident and it could’ve quickly caused tragedy. So we learned.
And tonight, on the eve of my twenty-second wedding anniversary, I realize that I’ve learned some lessons about marriage too. Some little lessons, some MAJOR lessons. I’ve learned what works, what doesn’t, and how to make things flow, just like I’ve learned how to do things here on the farm.
Some have been scary lessons, and there have been near-losses, and some have been not quite so dramatic. All of them though, have been important.
Twenty-Two Things I’ve Learned in Twenty-Two Years of Marriage
- Be stubborn. There have been times in our marriage when the only thing that has kept us together is our scrappy stubbornness to not let go. Marriage is worth fighting for and sometimes you have to muster up every once of stubborn you have to save your marriage and make it grow. After becoming a Christian, I learned that the big word for this is perseverance, but round here we just call it being stubborn. In a good way. Be stubborn. Don’t give up.
- Forgive. Lavishly. My husband is so much better at this than I am, but I’ve learned from him. Love means you will get your feelz hurt sometimes. Talk it out, be direct, work it through, forgive. You were forgiven much. Forgive much.
- Give grace. When I set aside my ego and my demands and extend the grace to my spouse that was poured out on me, he is better able to see our love unclouded and pure and be the man God made him to be. And the same goes for me. It really does go back to treating others how we’d want to be treated. Don’t ever tolerate abuse, but extend grace whenever you can.
- Make a home. Wherever you are, make a home for the two of you. Make him want to be home with your soft and curvy self and just like the Don Williams song, make him feel like a king and not a regular Joe. Clutter bugs or neat freaks, make that place YOURS. Together yours. It’s your haven and without a haven the world will be cold. Make your home and even if it’s a little crazy, keep that craziness warm and cozy and his and yours and help keep him comfortable and happy to come home.
- But don’t strive for a perfect home. . Perfect is a falsehood and striving for it will exhaust you and strain your marriage. Make your imperfectness perfect for you and save the real perfect for when we get to Heaven.
- Keep the Balance. You might have to say no to some things. Heck you might have to say no to a LOT of things to keep the balance. You are the yang to his ying and he’s the leather to your lace and as my kids tell me, my husband is the calm to my crazy or the whoah to my go. Keeping the balance is a constant pursuit and sometimes a true act in assertiveness and patience. I’ve lost time with friends, we’ve said no to great opportunities, we are constantly learning how to better calendar and communicate, and sometimes it’s an out and out battle to maintain it all in a non-crazy way. Schedules, school, time with kids, time as a family, housework, finances, friends, church service, health issues, work issues, chores, rest…it can seriously be a job trying to keep it balanced. Be diligent. The train runs best when the tracks are balanced. This changes with each season so stay aware. Find your balance and keep it.
- Year ten: Finally feels like you might be getting the hang of marriage.
- Year fifteen: Feels like you’re off to a good start at doing a good job at marriage.
- Year twenty: Feels like you just finished a 100-mile warm-up marathon and you’re sweaty and smiling and standing at the starting line excited to run the next leg of the race.
- Love is a choice not a feeling. Being married means there will be days when you might look at your spouse and wonder what you were thinking all those years ago. Listen, if you have a faithful spouse who has loved you for years and hasn’t given up on you, you have a gift and you have a treasure and a you have a choice to make. Don’t you dare fall into the way of thinking that our world teaches, this fickleness in marriage, this feeling of wanting to flee when the butterflies migrate. Love is a choice. Make the decision and the feelings will follow. Choose faithfulness. Choose dedication. Choose to love your spouse.
- Get a room. Yep. Something happens you leave your home with your spouse, especially when said home is full of kids. A couple’s weekend away clears the head and refreshes the heart. Try to take one at least once a year. We honor our anniversary this way. I know it’s hard. Do what you can to make it happen. But don’t make your expectations too lofty. A tent in the back of his pick up truck. Trade babysitting with another mama. Enlist Grandma. Your bff. A camper out in the driveway. A local motel. However you can do this, make it a habit, set any arguments aside, and protect this time with flexibility but the ferocity of a mama bear.
- Get a room for two nights, not one. I know it sounds outrageous. But the first 24 hours is a working-it-out, calming-the-mind, exhale time. One day isn’t even enough relax to let you unpack your makeup bag. Especially if you have an 11 a.m. check-out. Save your coupon money, get a good babysitter from church, work on this all year…take TWO nights off. Trust me.
- Squeeze in dates when you can. I know this isn’t always an option. But when my third baby turned ten-months old, I realized that I hadn’t had any quiet conversation with my husband since our two-day hospital stay when she was born! We hired a sweet teen from church and we budgeted a date every single week. After a year we realized we could probably drop back to every other week. Then it went to once a month. Then every couple of months. Now that we have teens, we’re back up to every week because it’s a little bit like toddlers in the house but opposite. We need time away from all the big, busy ears.Do what works. What is good for one couple may be burdensome for another. But do make sure to set some time apart regularly to focus on being alone and don’t you dare let ANYONE make you feel guilty for it. My husband said it best when I once hinted at the cost of one of our dates, It’s an investment in our marriage.
- Listen. Really listen to your spouse. You may truly be the only one who does. If you find that your mind is too busy to listen to your spouse, it’s time to clear some space. Your marriage is your ministry. Run your ministry well.
- Do what your spouse loves. This one is so, so easy, and so, so hard. Just do what they love. In the kitchen, in the bedroom, in the car, in their love language…find out what they love and do that.
- Your spouse should be your best friend on earth. I’ve lived marriage otherwise, and trust me, not being best friends with my husband was living a different marriage than what God had for us. It took us a long time and a long road for us to be best friends, but once we walked to it, gasping and panting, we found our stride. Don’t give up if it isn’t the case for you. If there are two of you willing to do marriage like God planned, you’ll find your stride. Make your spouse your best earthly friend.
- But your husband isn’t your girlfriend. I only have a small circle of girlfriends so for most things I lean on my husband. One thing is clear though. He ain’t a girlfren, girlfren and it’d be unfair of me to put that expectation on him. If I want him to act like a man, I treat him like a man not like one of my women friends.Let him dry your tears and strongly hug you tight and pray with you when you’re vulnerable or tired and manly pat your behind and expertly fix your car when things are falling apart, but don’t be upset when he isn’t excited to stay up late crying with you over Beaches and Haagen Daas on a PMS night. Cut him loose from that wish list sister. It isn’t fair to expect him to be like you, he’s NOT like you. And he’s not like your girlfriends either. I know for me, in my marriage, one of the 22 things I’ve learned…is let.him.be.a.man. I expected for TOO LONG that he fulfill ALL my friendship needs.
God didn’t call our men to be our women friends. I wish we all had perfect women friends. You might, I might, we all might. But if we don’t, don’t try to make your man fill that role. He has a role as your MAN. Let him be that.
- Don’t keep close friends with the opposite sex. I might take flak for this one but I strongly believe keeping close friends of the opposite sex can cast a shadow of doubt on the trust between you and your spouse and impede the integrity of marriage. I’m not talking about casual friendships with co-workers, fellow parents, and church folks. I’m referring to close, confidant-type friendships. I’m talking bff style friendships. I’ve seen the detriment in my marriage, friends’ marriages, and marriage in our society in general. If you do have a close friend of the opposite sex, please make sure your spouse is fully involved and included and knows the dynamics well. Your main squeeze should always be your spouse. Keep your boundaries when it comes to friends of the opposite sex and always make sure that you are sending a strong message of marriage. To your friends and to your spouse.
- Make God your best, best friend. My dear friend Ms. Kreta will tell you that Jesus is the cake, her husband was the frosting. It wasn’t until I started walking with the Lord and doing marriage HIS way that the fight became focused. You may not be there yet, that’s okay. It took me a long time too, and my husband even longer. But once we began to realize how sweet God’s way of marriage is, we became a cord of three that was no longer easily broken. If you’re there already, praise Him. It is the greatest treasure and friend that your marriage -and your soul- will ever possess.
- Don’t flirt. It’s raises doubts and it’s just not fair. One of the most precious things I’ve ever seen and a treasure I hold close is my husband’s refusal to succumb to flirtatious advances from other women over the years. Because he doesn’t flirt, I don’t doubt him. Extrovert or not, flirting plants seeds of doubt. Unless it’s with your spouse, just don’t do it.
- Keep private things private. You may come from a close family. You may be an open book. There are things that are whispered in the dark that belong to the heart of your spouse and should never be repeated to another soul. You are building a life together, a history, a heritage, a TRUST. Don’t repeat what is confided. Even if it’s small. The two of you are literally an island, and unless you have permission, keep the private, intimate, personal stuff between you.
- Make eye contact. This one is hard. You may or may not have this skill down. I hope for you that you do. I don’t. I either stare with a furrowed brow and look angry or I avert in an uncomfortable need to make distance. I have to work at the in-between. Make eye contact when you speak to your spouse and notice how it bumps up the level of intimacy in your conversation. When you say something that you really want to get through, look into your spouse’s eyes. Practice if it’s uncomfortable. Trust me. Your eyes get your point across more than your words ever will. Let your guard down with your spouse and allow yourself to make uninhibited eye contact.
Because I’ve never written a list like this and probably never will again, I’ll throw in two more very important ones.
- Hold hands. It seems small but it’s not. I remember during a particularly difficult time in our marriage, a co-worker saw us at the store. He said later that what he noticed about my husband and I was that we were holding hands. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d held hands with his wife. They were three decades into marriage. I hope he holds his wife’s hand more often now.In twenty-two years, it’s one small thing that I’ve realized makes all the difference. When it’s bumpy, holding hands secures the ride. When it’s time to come before the throne in prayer, holding hands unites. When it’s sad, holding hands comforts. When it’s happy, holding hands celebrates. When it’s quiet, holding hands is connection. When it’s intimate, holding hands confirms. When it’s angry, holding hands is a sign of peace.
I know my husband’s hands better than I know my own. They are comfort and they are joy and they are callused and they are soft and they are strong and they are peace and they are love. Hold your spouse’s hand every chance you get and don’t ever stop.
Lastly but most importantly I believe:
- Pray together. Often. Even if it’s awkward. Do it. There is nothing, no thing, that has brought my husband and I closer than praying together. We prayed together before we even knew who we were praying to, and then once we did, we awkwardly bumbled our way into regular and natural conversation with the one who made us and designed marriage. Find a great couples devotional, get with a prayer group, or just clasp hands and pray. You will soon realize that the answer to most every problem that comes your way is to pray and seek God’s will and guidance in all things and that when you face them together with a bowed heart, you’ll face them stronger than you could ever have imagined.
We’ve seen dark times and we’ve seen bright times and we’ve done half a marriage without the Lord, and half a marriage with Him, and I only hope that we’ll have another twenty-two years and then another twenty-two after that.
So there’s my list for this day and this year and maybe it will bless you as you travel and grow and learn with your beloved.
I’ll have to add to my list next year.
Because I’ll never quit learning.
And I’ll never ever, ever leave the heat lamp in the barn again either.
I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine…Song of Solomon 6:3