Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Recovering Genuine Companionship

by John and Stasi Eldredge

John has a circle of things he loves to do. It includes fly- fishing, rock climbing, working on cars, hunting, reading, smoking cigars, and just about anything with adventure in it. I have a circle of things I love to do. It encompasses going to movies, working in and enjoying my garden, talking, taking walks, worshipping, and reading novels.

Oh, dear. Hopefully, somewhere, we can find some overlap. I am also the mother of three sons. I live in a house hold of men. I love them passionately but it can be lonely at times being the only woman around. Do some of you feel that way too? It isn’t easy to find places to connect with them and to share in their lives. I don’t play Xbox. I’m not a hunter. I’m not a rock climbing, mountain biking, backpacking, snowboarding teenager. Often I don’t even understand them. I long for real relationships with them and have been praying for ways to connect.

And John just gave me a Ping- Pong table for Christmas. Ladies, I know what you are thinking—doghouse gift; what a miss! But John knew what he was doing. My family had a Ping-Pong table while I was growing up and I spent hours playing with my brother and with my dad. Those are sweet memories for me, times of real connection with my family. The present of a Ping- Pong table was an invitation to connect. Now I am playing with my sons and my husband. Team games. Single games. It doesn’t matter games, because we are spending time together doing something we all enjoy. Big sigh. Yay!

I also love water. I love being near it, on it, and in it. Pools, ponds, lakes, rivers, streams, oceans, and even bathtubs! All of it. Diving in, putting my head under, swimming as deeply as I can breathes life into me. I’m happy sitting next to a beautiful mountain lake; I am happier paddling a canoe on top of it, but happier still diving into it. We have found ways to share our love of water. First, John introduced me to canoes, those wobbly precarious silent crafts that can explore shallow channels and mysterious inlets. How many adventures we have had paddling around lakes, bays, and rivers! He got me into my first kayak; I was so close to the water I was sitting in it but somehow still remained dry. It was while we were kayaking as a family that we came so breathlessly close to a humpback whale; I felt I’d crossed back into Eden.

Over the years we have found other ways to build companionship. We love to travel. We love going out for Chinese food. We share with each other movies that we like, or something from a book that has stirred us. John loves the wilderness; we found a way to enjoy it together using lodges. In this way we can spend a day out on the trail, but at night I get a shower and a bed!

And, we still enjoy many of our loves alone, or with other friends. There is no need to feel jealous that your spouse loves to do things without you. There is simply no way you can be everything to each other; your hearts are too vast and your interests are too diverse or you to “be one in everything.” It would be weird if it were otherwise. And of course you want your spouse to have a “full cup,” to be filled and happy and well; they will be so much easier to live with. And they won’t be looking to you to make them happy. So good grief, do not fight their enjoyment of other things or other people! Sometimes I [Stasi] would feel that I was in competition with John’s close friends and other interests.

How freeing to come to understand that that was not the case. The place I hold in John’s
heart is not up for grabs. (But John had to reassure me this was so, and God needed to move in my heart so I could believe it.) There is an ebb and flow to the companionship of a marriage. During hunting season, I don’t expect to see John much. But afterward, I do expect him to come home and re engage with me! There are seasons when the two of us are “connecting” well and seasons when we aren’t. What you want to do is create an environment where over time and with intentionality, you are nurturing companionship.

Every day is unrealistic; once a month isn’t often enough. Somewhere in between.
This can feel a little awkward if it has been a while since the two of you spent time together. Initiate anyway, and don’t be put off if your first few efforts aren’t warmly received. A friend tried to get her husband to enjoy bubble baths; that was a miss. Watching American Idol might be a miss. Bass fishing might be a miss. But you are going to have to find some meeting place together. Tennis. Beachcombing. Vietnamese food. A favorite TV show. Scrabble. Square dancing. Do you ever read together? (One suggestion: Maybe you two could read “Love and War” together and talk about it chapter by chapter.)

Maybe you should just ask your spouse what they’d like to do. Our suggestion is to explore this together. Find those intersections of life that you each enjoy and both can share.

Excerpted from Love and War by John and Stasi Eldredge Copyright © 2009 by John and Stasi Eldredge. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

The Hold of Hoarding

By Johanna Tooke

Maybe one of God’s greatest gifts to us is misery and suffering. After all, without them we’d continue to walk obliviously through life as though nothing were wrong. Like any normal human being I was doing my best to avoid undue pain. My strategy was a simple one: Do good, make things look good, and life will be good.

At all costs (literally at times) I wanted to avoid repeating pain or remembrance of it from life’s past. What’s more, I was convinced if I saved anything from my life that had represented a good memory or a happy time, somehow the darker times would fade out with the tangible memory of things from happy times. As if that weren’t enough, I had reasoned by having a passel of possessions I could single-handedly create happy memories.

My strategy was foiled by the time it took to not only keep track of, care for and organize the possessions, but create the happy memories in between. My memories- “instead of happy” were becoming prominently miserable. This problem of mine was hoarding or in kinder terms- excessive saving.

Hoarding had never even been a consideration in my litany of life dilemmas. Among the complaints on my exhaustive list were: never enough time to exercise, a lack of money to buy organizing essentials, a lack of time to organize and have a workable system, a husband who lacked a vision to see the potential behind all of my belongings and moreover a vision of what could be done with them to glorify God. Yes, I had wrapped religion into being a justifiable reason to keep whatever I deemed worthy.

I knew I kept a lot, but I also believed I was honoring God by having the items. When in all reality, I was trying to play God by keeping things and hoping I wouldn’t have to depend on Him for the things “I could handle.”

Since hoarding had never even entered into my conscientiousness, all I knew was I was miserable. Each consecutive day seemed harder then the day prior and circumstances seemed dimmer. Waking up in the morning was stifling and meandering through the day felt more like a convoluted maze. I began feverishly reading self help books on organizing and de-cluttering. Several years later and heaps mounting higher than ever before, I felt hopeless. As I swirled in the abyss of confusion, I called a professional organizer as a final effort.

Without mincing words she told me what my husband had all along, “Whoa you have a lot of stuff.” Okay, so she couldn’t stop exclaiming in between breaths how much I had. Her reaction to my basement sent me reeling. We made a plan to help me stop the influx of stuff and begin the outtake. Once we parted ways, I spent every spare moment doing my best to clean and cull. Bravely I’d pack another box full of things we weren’t using, ready to be hauled off. My efforts seemed to be paying off. Except I noticed instead of experiencing freedom, I was feeling suffocated and smothered by this new lifestyle.

Still determined, I continued to zealously makeover our home. That was until one day I had a stomach ache I couldn’t shake. When the pain was intolerable a visit to the emergency room was in order. A couple of days later in the hospital, I felt as though there was more than a bug that had paid me a visit. I was reminded of Psalm 23:2, “He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters.” While I didn’t have angels hovering over my hospital bed delivering a message, I encountered a stillness I hadn’t known for some time. Moreover, I had gotten to spend time praying and reading my Bible, disciplines I had abandoned until the house was placed in proper order.

Before I headed home I recommitted myself to be faithful in reading my Bible, journaling and giving God my day before it took off without me. The next morning I flipped open my Bible to the ribbon that held its place in the New Testament. That day’s reading was in Matthew 23. I was caught by the words in verse 26: “Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”

“Wait,” I thought, “the Bible does have a thing or two to say about cleaning house.” After calling upon a wiser friend in Christ, I confirmed what I had suspected: I had been cleaning house in precisely the opposite order Jesus had intended. I had been so immersed in scouring, decorating, organizing, and saving ALL for the outside- I had given hardly any thought to the inside. At once I felt relief wash over me with a healthy dose of insufficiency to humbly level me; leveling me to the foot of the cross where my real help could be found.

Three years have passed since my hospital visit. Since then trailer loads of things have backed out of our driveway. As a family we are still vigilantly attempting to live with less. Now, instead of turning only to man’s wisdom to weave my way out of the colossal messes, I turn to God’s Word. Regardless of the battle, we fight with the same weapons. “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” (2 Corinthians 10:4)

Johanna Tooke lives in Forsyth, Montana with her husband Ryan, and three children: Gracie (10); and twins Royce and Katie (7). In between family, friends and country living, Johanna leads Bible Studies for girls and women. Her hope is to encourage women of all ages in their walk of faith with Jesus Christ. For more on Johanna’s journey, go to www.johannatooke.com.

Editor’s Note: Hoarding can be a sign that an individual needs more help than a book or a friend can provide. If you know someone who hoards, please visit The Institute for Challenging Disorganization (www.challengingdisorganization.org) for resources.

If you need a little extra push to get organized, please consider purchasing one of these two resources by our own Proverbs 31 Ministries writers: “I Used to Be So Organized”
by Glynnis Whitwer and “The Complete Guide to Getting and Staying Organized” by Karen Ehman.

Count Your Blessings

By LeAnn Rice

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!
(Psalm 118:1)

His steadfast love endures forever! Reason number one to be thankful!

All of us have good days and bad days. It’s part of life. But no matter how bad the bad days are, we can always hold on to this truth: The King is still on the throne and His love is steadfast and true and always. You simply can’t escape it!

As a young widow with a child, I experienced many “bad days” in the past 14 years (especially during the toddler years). There were days when I thought I wouldn’t make it another 24 hours without some help. But God never left my side and, over the years I started to notice the little blessings that each day held.

Whether you are experiencing the loss of a loved one, chronic illness, financial hardship, addiction, marital stress or other painful situations, you can find something to be grateful for each day. Looking for these blessings will refocus your thoughts toward Him, instead of your situation.

Honestly, this hasn’t always been easy. I have had days when all I could find to be grateful for was that the sun was shining or that I could actually get myself out of bed that morning. But, day by day I forced myself to count my blessings and eventually, I started to notice them all around me.

You may not be experiencing a rough patch. You may just be in the midst of a “normal” but hectic life and have a desire to develop an attitude of gratitude. Thanksgiving is a great time to focus on the things we are thankful for and get into the habit of thankfulness! Isn’t it easy to complain about the things that are inconvenient, frustrating, not going our way, etc? Just this week I found myself complaining about my piles of laundry. I should have been grateful that I have running water and a working washer and dryer when so many in our world do not have these items that I take for granted.

What about you? Do you struggle to notice the simple blessings in the midst of your hectic days? Are you experiencing a challenging time and really need to see some “good” right about now?

Here are a few practical ways to count your blessings that may become a new Thanksgiving tradition in your home.

Create a Blessing Box- Make or purchase a simple or ornate box (if you have kids, perhaps they can make and decorate one). Place cute notes or strips of paper, along with a pen, beside the box. Display the box, paper and pen in a location where everyone will see it several times a day. I like to place mine in the center of my kitchen table. At least once each day have everyone in the family write something they have to be grateful for on a strip of paper and place it inside the box. Do this throughout the year and then read the strips together in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving.

* Keep a Blessing Journal

Keep a journal beside your bed. Before you go to bed each night, write down at least three things that happened to you that day that you are grateful for. It could be as simple and wonderful as a child’s smile or laughter. It could be that you had enough money to fill your gas tank. Maybe a long soaking rain started right after you did some planting. Write down anything that you were grateful for that day. When you are having a rough day, pull out your journal and read through your blessings as a reminder that there is much to be grateful for, even in the midst of life’s challenging circumstances.

* Give a Good Night Blessing

When you tuck your kids in at night, ask them to tell you one good thing about their day. This ends their day on a positive note and gets them in the habit of noticing the blessings. Perhaps, keep a journal beside their beds as well!

* Create a Blessing Chain

You know those paper chains kids make in school? Make one out of blessings! Cut up strips of red and green paper a few weeks before Thanksgiving. Have your kids write down blessings on the strips and then staple together to form a chain. When you decorate your Christmas tree, place your blessing chain on the tree, around the bottom of the tree or on the mantle. Your decorations will be covered in blessings! This makes a great conversation piece, and provides the opportunity to share the Gospel with visitors!

* Make a Blessing Tree

Instead of making a chain out of the strips of paper, punch holes in the strips, tie a pretty ribbon through the hole, and then hang strips of blessings on a tree. You can do this for Thanksgiving or Christmas, just select the color of paper and ribbons to match the occasion! You can even use a large twig with lots of branches as your tree, or a houseplant, or make one on poster paper and tape on your blessings.

* Give a Treasury of God’s Promises

If you know someone who’s going through a difficult time, consider creating a box for them and fill it with God’s promises personalized just for them. Imagine opening the box and reading, “My plan for your future, Gabriel, is filled with hope.” I have created a free template with 100 of God’s promises ready for you to customize. Simply purchase or create a box, personalize the promises, print and cut them into strips, fold the strips and place in the box, and then tie the box with a beautiful ribbon. Perfect gift for any occasion! You can find the free template by visiting www.SheCooks.org and clicking on “Resources.” Scroll down to the middle of the page and you will see the template.

Sweet friends, I pray that your blessings will be too numerous to count and that God will reveal Himself to you in the most unexpected ways.

LeAnn Rice is the Executive Director of Proverbs 31 Ministries. She lives with her 17-year-old son, Nick, and their ornery cat, Angel, in a small town just outside of Charlotte, NC. LeAnn is co-author of the book “Untangling Christmas: Your Go-To Guide for a Hassle-Free Holiday,” an e-book filled with recipes, organization and gift suggestions, as well as tangible outreach ideas and ways to seek our Savior during the holiday. LeAnn shares recipes, grace, and southern hospitality on www.SheCooks.org and hope and inspiration on her site www.AWidowsMight.org.