7 Years, 7 Lessons

anniversary

Today, Josh and I celebrate 7 years of marriage. I’m not sure how that happened. On the one hand, I can’t remember what it’s like not to be married. At the same time, it seems like it was just yesterday when we were rolling around Memphis with far to much free time and expendable income. In honor of the seven years we’ve been together, I thought I’d make a list of seven things I’ve learned about being married so far.

  1. Whoever said the first year of marriage is the hardest probably wasn’t married for more than one year. And I don’t think I’m alone on this. I once bought a book entitled “What I Wish Someone Had Told Me About the First Five Years of Marriage.” I never actually read it. I bought it somewhere around year 5 and the title alone was enough to bring me comfort. Knowing that it was ok that we didn’t get it all figured yet was a great relief. So far, for us, I think the sixth year of marriage was the hardest. I suppose only time will tell if it was indeed THE hardest year.
  2. The couple that prays together, stays together. I know this might sound cheesy, but it is so very true. Our marriage is so much easier when each of us is focused on growing in holiness (i.e. growing in our own individual relationship with God). Our fights don’t last as long, we’re more patient and forgiving with each other, and we’re generally more pleasant people when God is number one. We’ve ebbed and flowed in this area, so we’ve seen it from both sides at various points in our marriage. It’s not just a maturity thing or something like that. We really are better people when we are aware of how completely dependent we are on God’s grace to make it through the day.
  3. Girls/guys nights out aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. It’s definitely nice to get away for some “me time” every now and then, but we’ve both found that girls/guys nights aren’t very positive or uplifting experiences. Almost always, the evenings turn into a flogging of the opposite sex, particularly the spouses or significant others of those in attendance. Speaking ill of your spouse and/or being around those who constantly do is not a good thing for your marriage. We much prefer couple or family gatherings. It’s not uncommon for these events to end up as completely gender segregated as a 7th grade dance, but it’s a much different environment. No one is there to “escape” from the other, which drastically changes the mood and conversations.
  4. Expectations, especially unspoken ones, are more toxic than cyanide. I haven’t found anything in our marriage that can ruin a perfect day or situation quite like expectations. We all have them. But we need to let go of them. And the ones we can’t or don’t want to let go of? We need to communicate them. Clearly.
  5. Be willing to suffer together. It’s kind of an at-least-we’re-in-it-together type mentality. If Josh has to bring home a pile of work, I make sure I’m also doing something along the sames lines, like homework or my own work. If I’m pacing back and forth with a screaming baby, he cleans the kitchen or starts the laundry. We’ve learned that when one of us is sitting comfortably reading or watching TV, while the other is engaged in some unpleasant task, it usually sparks some kind of fight. Usually about something stupid. That’s because the problem isn’t whatever stupid fight erupts; the problem is that one of us is frustrated. It’s a lot easier to express frustration when you feel the other one “gets it” instead of looking up and realizing that the other is completely oblivious to what you’re dealing with at the present moment. (In all honesty, this is probably a much bigger deal to me than it is to Josh. Regardless, learning this lesson has cut back on many stupid fights.)
  6. It’s important to acquire some basic knowledge about all of the things your spouse is interested in.  Yes, all of the things. I’m still working on this. Learning about what the other is interested in shows you value and respect the other person. Their whole person. Even the parts that you find completely boring and stupid. Like Japanese candlesticks. Like I said, I’m still working on this one. If he can go baby shopping with me, I can learn a little something about those colored graphs. (Note: Josh just supplied the baby shopping example. I was shocked. I really had no idea how much he dislikes baby shopping. Guess he’s much better at this skill than I am.)
  7. Your pride is not more valuable than your spouse. We’re both prideful people. And we’re both stubborn. Back in the day, we could stay mad at each other for days, just to avoid having to be the one to give in. It’s so not worth it. No matter how badly it stings, apologize or cave in or whatever. It’s so much better than driving a wedge between you. This is a relatively new skill for us. Sometimes we stand there shocked at how quickly we can get over something that would have caused a major battle not all that long ago. This is probably one of the hardest lessons learned, and definitely one of the most valuable.

So there you have it. They’re not listed in any particular order, and they may not be profound, but these are the little lessons that have made our marriage what it is today. Like the little card on the flowers Josh sent me today said, I’m looking forward to seeing what the next seven years will bring!

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In the Narthex

We don’t have a cry room at our church, or else the title of this post would be “In the Cry Room” Over the years, we’ve belonged to parishes that have cry rooms and parishes that don’t. Regardless of what it’s called or where it’s located, it presents the same phenomenon. Something about walking through the door that separates one and their child from the rest of the church seems to make parents think that suddenly any and all behavior is acceptable.

Now, just to be clear, before anyone starts getting all upset about how I simply don’t understand what it’s like to have little ones in Mass, let me remind you: I have three very energetic little boys, currently 6, 5, and 2, and I’m also 28 weeks pregnant. I know all about being at Mass wondering why I even bothered to come. I know all about fighting off tears because of how hard I’m trying to manage my rebellious little one’s behavior, yet failing so miserably at it. But, I also know there’s a huge difference between desperately trying to convince an incorrigible wee one to behave and allowing that incorrigible wee one to do whatever s/he wants, however loudly s/he wants.

For those of you who are lost, let me back up. Many Catholic churches have some area, often a cry room, or in our case, the Narthex (which is basically just the foyer of the Church) where parents can take their little ones who are too loud to remain in the actual church. It usually has a glass wall and speakers so you can still participate in the Mass, but without your little one disturbing the entire congregation. Because of the sacredness of what it happening during the Mass, it is fitting that upset or loud little ones should be removed from the church until they settle down a bit. That’s what the cry room or other similar areas are intended for.

They are not areas designed for you to plop down right from the moment you arrive, accepting defeat before you ever even enter the battle.

They are not convenient places where you can spread your array of snack items, juice cups, video games, and toys all over the place for your child’s pleasure.

They are not your neighborhood park or playground, and, therefore, not the place for running, climbing, or any other park-like behavior.

But that’s exactly what they’re used for.

My husband and I work very hard to train our little ones to behave during Mass. We have very high standards for our children at Mass and expect our children to rise to the occasion, bearing in mind what they are actually capable of handling at their given age. We work with the children both during Mass and at home to ensure they understand what’s appropriate and what’s not. For the most part, these efforts have been successful. (And, thus, I get really annoyed when people comment about how “lucky” I am that my children behave during Mass. Luck has nothing to do with it.) But the fact remains that my children are children. There are times when the standards won’t be met. There are times that, for one reason or another, they are simply unable to behave as they should during Mass. It is times such as these that I need to take my child to the narthex.

But I feel like I can’t.

Because of the free-for -all that we will inevitably find when we walk through the door.

Because my little ones look around and think, “Wait. Why would I want to behave in the Church, when I could come to a party back here instead?”

Because instead of calming down they see all the kids behaving waaay worse then they were when were when I removed them from the church and very quickly jump on the bandwagon.

Because they want to know why all these kids (including many that are way past the age of reason) are hanging out on the floor playing video games, texting, or even TALKING on their cell phones.

There isn’t a place for me to take my child to redirect his behavior thanks to all the parents in the narthex allowing their children to go berserk. That’s simply not fair. If you’re going to allow your children to behave like wild monkeys, if you’re going to stand there chewing your gum and chatting with the mom next to you, in all seriousness, why did you bother coming? Surely a play date would have been a better use of your time.

Now, in case you can’t already tell, I have a really hard time being charitable about some things. I know I should simply pray for the narthex parents and offer a prayer of thanksgiving that, for whatever reason, they did find it important to make the effort to come to church. Some days I’m better at it than others.
Clearly, today is not one of those day.

I really resent the fact that after struggling with my child in the pew, I don’t have a place where I can take him to reinforce all the lessons we’ve been working on. I resent that all the parents who are too lazy, too tired, or too whatever to control their children undermine everything I work so hard on by the way they allow their children to behave.

I certainly don’t expect it to be quiet in the narthex, but what goes on back there is asinine. It is definitely not the sound of children who are struggling to behave and parents struggling to guide them. It’s just a giant play room. And, sadly, the parents aren’t usually behaving much better than the children.

I find it unfair that I’m stuck doing this dance where I’m trying not to actually leave the church because I know the chaos that awaits on the other side of that door. Yet, I’m trying to get far enough back where my 2 year old’s chattering or whimpering or uncontrollable squirming will be distracting to the least number of people as possible. The fact is, there’s a place I should be able to take him. I should be able to go to the narthex.

And in the narthex I should find parents fighting the same battle with me.

Parents who are actively participating in the Mass, but happen to also be trying not to drop their flailing child.

Parents who quietly redirect as their child begins singing the ABCs at the top of his lungs during the Sanctus.

Parents who, no matter how desperately hopeless the situation appears, remain convinced that they are, in fact, an authority figure to their child and have the obligation to train their child to behave better.

Parents who haven’t simply given up, leaving everyone around them to deal with the consequences.

Unfortunately, I don’t how to fix this problem. I suppose it’s a combination of catechizing the parents, offering some kind of parental support group or classes, and a great deal more charity on my part. It certainly isn’t a situation that could be resolved easily.

All that being said, I am so grateful that the Church is much more charitable than I am. She allows all people to be in the presence of our Lord, whether they realize they are or not. I’m grateful that, as always, Holy Mother Church holds up a high standard to me and expects me to rise to the occasion, just as I do with my children. It just frustrates me that these Narthex Parents don’t do the same.

Pray for me, as I obviously have a long way to go… I need to surrender my pride and grow in charity. I realize this, but, nevertheless, I remain frustrated. That being said, I suppose you’ll find me in the confession line this evening because, even after all this, and the realization that I am being called to grow, I still really dislike the Narthex Parents. St. Therese, pray for me.

Moving at His Own Pace

One of the many things that appealed to me about homeschooling was the ability to progress at my kids’ own pace. Their studies will never have to move so quickly that they are left behind, and they won’t be forced to do busy work despite having already mastered a concept. I spent most of my academic career on either side of that fence. Mostly, I was bored to tears because we spent way to much time on concepts that I grasped quickly. This lead to complete apathy on my part. I never did any homework, always planning to complete it the class period prior to it being due, since I viewed my being in class a complete waste of my time. However, when I was younger, from about 5th – 7th grades, I was beyond lost in math. Ironically, this also lead to apathy, as it appeared, regardless of the effort I put in, I would never grasp those concepts. Thankfully, my mother got an incredible math tutor for me and she turned my math woes around. Knowing that neither position is one that ignites a love of learning, I am more than pleased to never have to put my children in either situation.

But there’s one little problem…

In our recent phonics studies, I’ve found that the pace at which I would like to move is much different from the pace at which Andy is prepared to move. This has led to more than a few tense moments of me pleading “sound it out” as he guesses through a string of words that we covered that day. It makes me crazy. But I just keep pushing. And then he gets frustrated. And wants to quit. Which also makes me crazy. I quickly developed a hatred for phonics, very seriously considered switching phonics programs, and then had the epiphany that neither phonics nor our curriculum was the problem. It’s me.

I have an agenda. I want to move through this a quickly as possible. I want him to be ahead of the pack. I want all our family and friends who are critical of our decision to homeschool to have to eat crow when they see him reading at a 6th grade reading level in 1st grade. (Ok…I’m not quite that crazy…but I’m not far off either.) I’m pushing him into one of the situations I hate most about a traditional classroom. But I’m even worse. I’m not pushing him forward or holding him back for the good of 20 other students, I’m doing for my own pride. My own sinful, selfish pride.

I wholeheartedly believe that we made the right decision when we chose to homeschool this year. I don’t have anything to prove to anyone. But if I keep up like this I’m essentially self-sabotaging: He’s going to hate learning and I’m going to hate teaching. I’m just grateful I came to this realization early on. Now, knowing the issues I have with my pride, we’ll just have to see how many times I have to fight this battle with myself over the next 17+ years.

Say it with me: I will teach my children at their own pace. I will teach my children at their own pace. I will teach my children at their own pace…

I mean so what if he’s in 4th grade and is just finally learning to write his own name? This is about them, not me, right? (And for all my critics reading this: don’t worry, he already knows how to write his name. I’m just making a point.)

 

Love Dare Update

love dare and ringWhen I set out on this Love Dare journey, I think in some ways I expected to have all my strengths as a wife affirmed. As I previously mentioned, I confidently believed I was among the best wives in the world. After all, I often get compliments from Josh’s coworkers about things I do that they admire or simply “don’t have time to do.” Boy, did I let that go to my head. Every time I heard something like that, it just reinforced what a good wife I was and how lucky Josh is to have me.

Ever since I saw Fireproof, I’ve been interested in the Love Dare. The truth is, I was interested in Josh taking the Love Dare. I took the K-LOVE challenge because I did want to grow in the areas that I could (not that I expected there would be many) but mostly because I hoped Josh would take the dare with me. He probably would have if I ensured we read the devotional together each day, but I didn’t want to do it like that. I wanted him to take the time out of his day, motivated by his love for me, to do this little devotional and take the dare to become a better husband.

I don’t mean to imply that Josh is a slacker husband. He is so amazing and I am so blessed that he’s the man I get to journey through life with. I feel really bad for some of the women I hear complaining about their husbands. My husband would never be as disrespectful to me as some other men out there are to their wives. And the stories he repeats from work…wow. Praise God that we have a faith based marriage!

As usual, I’ve strayed off topic. The point is I thought I was darn near perfect in the wife department. What I’ve come to realize in the 27 days I’ve been doing the Love Dare is I’m nowhere near perfect. I was measuring myself against worldly standards. In fact, my own definition of the word love was pretty worldly. I am so grateful that I did the love dare now, relatively early in our marriage, before I became to set in my ways and may have really struggled to change. The pain I hear from the other men and women taking the Love Dare breaks my heart. Thank you God for giving this to us now before we ever really hurt each other!

Today’s message (among many of the others) really reinforced how much work I need to do. Today was about encouragement vs. expectations. I am the queen of high expectations. I hold myself to very high standards and consequently do the same to everyone around me, especially Josh. Today we were reminded,

“Love puts the focus on personal responsibility and improving yourself rather than on demanding more from others.”

I believe I’m pretty good at working to improve myself, but recently I’ve told Josh (on more than one occasion) I’m tired of being the only one working to improve. He always responds that he works at that too. I think the real problem is that I can only feel the stretch and the burn of my own self-improvement. He very well may be working to improve, but I can’t feel that struggle. What I need to do with much more diligence is look for any signs of it and offer my encouragement. How much easier would it be for him to grow if I were always looking for signs of it to praise and encourage? I know praise and encouragement do wonders for me. Why on earth wouldn’t I be more eager to notice his  efforts?

So that’s my new goal. Instead of focusing on the areas I’d still like for him to improve, I’m going to focus on the areas he is already showing improvement in or even areas he doesn’t need to improve. I know me, and I know this is going to take deliberate mental redirection on my part. I’m going to have to make a conscious effort to redirect my thoughts and attention, especially during moments when I’m frustrated about something that’s happening or not happening.

I want our marital love to be the reflection of Christ’s love that He designed it to be. His love for us isn’t dependent on our shortcomings or strengths, and my love for my husband shouldn’t be either. I don’t mean that I currently love him less as a result of his shortcomings, but my interactions with him and attitudes toward him definitely fluctuate. That’s something that doesn’t need to be happening, and I resolve that from now on it won’t.