Monday, August 22, 2016

4 Ways to be Closer in a Marriage

This month, my husband and I celebrate 10 years of marriage.

In reflecting on all our time together, I am filled to the brim with happiness, and lots and lots of gratitude. Marriage is the best part of my life.

I have also reflected on marriage in general, and why some relationships can endure seemingly forever, and others crumble apart. I've thought about what gives a marriage quality and joy. Yes, there is loyalty, fidelity, forgiveness, tolerance, compromise, and just plain hard work. But another word came to mind in my pondering this month:


Marriage is our greatest chance in life to form the deepest, strongest, most enduring bond we can with another person. And, usually, when that bond is authentic, marriage is successful.

As I've observed marriages that are happy and healthy, all of them have couples that share a strong bond through 4 main ways. There is a closeness and security to their relationships that make them sweet and desirable. 

So what bonds us to each other? What creates bonding in a marriage?

1. Spouses bond by spending time together.

A no-brainer, right? However, couples can easily drift apart when they don't make an effort to do this. I've seen it happen with my very own eyes. Some couples forget that married life is not single life, as their calendars still fill up with buddy and co-worker outings, or hobbies that take them away.

Now, I write this as my husband is off playing flag football, a game I would never dream of attempting. I am typing and typing at the computer, an activity he is not interested in, and we certainly could not do together. We all need our individual hobbies and space. But those should take up a small percentage of our time. Prior to this morning, we spent most of our evenings together, and even enjoyed a date this week.

As opposites frequently attract, it may take effort (or sacrifice) to find common ways to spend time. But couples who do have memories and bonding experiences that will last a lifetime.

I have a sister and brother-in-law who are really good at this. They are always off on some adventure together. They workout together. They cook together. They shop together. And they are best of friends! Their bond is obvious. They know what it means to prioritize each other.

2. Spouses bond by working towards common goals.

While watching the Olympics, I noticed the closeness between teammates and coaches. Their TV interactions were brief, but they all seemed like family, or even closer.

How could they NOT have deep bonds? These Olympic teams work so hard, day in and day out, toward their common goal. I certainly remember these feelings from high school teams.

This summer, for the first time in 10 years, we planted a garden as a family. We've had many gardens before, but we always split the jobs and completed steps separately. This worked fine, however, I realized that we were missing out on an opportunity to bond as a family. So this year, we marked a day on the calendar to ALL create our garden together, and we did. My husband and I dug trenches for our chicken wire fence while the children placed the plants, dug randomly in the dirt, and a gathered a mammoth pile of worms. Yes, some worked harder than others, but we all had fun and enjoyed the satisfaction of the end product. We bonded, and we have felt the pride in our joint accomplishment all summer.

Goals in marriage can be huge and lifelong, like raising successful children. Or they can be small, like saving for a weekend trip or painting a room. Either way, the more we work together, the more we will feel connected in the life we are building side-by-side.

3. Spouses bond by supporting each other through hard things.

Have you heard the old advice to take your date to a horror movie or rollercoaster ride? There's something about that adrenaline rush that instantly creates a bonding experience.

Real life may not be as dramatic as a horror movie, but it certainly has plenty of challenges to navigate as a married couple.

There is a definite bond that comes from catching each other's eyes over your child's hospital bed, or comforting each other through physical or emotional pain, or just simply getting through a weekend of crazy/busy schedules.

Marriage has built-in hardships. The key to turning them into bonding experiences is to lay aside blame and bitterness when things go wrong, and welcome in support, mercy, love, compassion, and the team spirit mentioned above. An inevitable love and admiration develops for the person that is by your side in the lowest moments of life.

4. Spouses bond by being open, transparent, and vulnerable with each other. 

In healthy marriages, spouses create a safe space for each other where they can share more vulnerable feelings openly and freely without negative consequences.

This safe space has a balance to it; each spouse must feel loved and respected, but also be willing to accept guidance. Sometimes the only person that can truly help you see where you need to improve is your spouse, and we do have a responsibility to correct each other (in the kindest way, hopefully). There also has to be trust in confidentiality. I've always appreciated how my husband never spills sensitive conversations.

Things like stonewalling, venting to others about a spouse, pride, insensitivity, and poor listening skills can kill this bond. Sometimes it takes practice to develop trust and get comfortable with the vulnerability, but emotional closeness is worth the effort!

There are many other ways to bond with a spouse, but the main point is to prioritize and love each other above all else. Through our 10 years of figuring this out, we have enjoyed a very happy, peaceful place through bonding in our marriage. Sometimes that has required work, changing habits and routines, sacrificing personal interests, and challenging each other. But the reward is priceless.

Our 10 year marriage is still young, but I hope it continues to get better with time!

How do you grow closer to your spouse, or what have you observed about closeness in marriage?


Monday, August 15, 2016

On Fear, Diving Boards, and the Power of the Mind

"Mom - I'm a little nervous about going off the diving board."

I heard that phrase about 5 times a day for 12 days; every day of a 2 week swim lesson session. 12 mornings where his first question was if today was THE day. A little nervous didn't begin to describe the anxiety inside- the kind of fear that results in tears and poolside meltdowns. We'd been through this before.

I couldn't blame him. I felt the same way about diving boards and that deep, vague water when I was his age.

However, life is about conquering fears, even when you are only 5. 

As his parents, we wanted this to end the best possible way. No tears, no meltdowns, no backing down the stair rungs. We wanted accomplishment, pride, and self-esteem. We countered with everything we could.

"It's just like jumping off the side, which you love to do."
"Your teacher will catch you, don't worry."
"It's not that high. You are higher when you jump off the swings."
"The board is kind of like a trampoline!"
"Dad is coming, but only if you promise to do it."
"We will get you ICE CREAM!!!"

I'm sure all our talk just sounded like empty chatter. Weak solutions unfit to erase the dominant emotion of fear.

Friday morning arrived, and I had one last card to play. I led him into a quite room, sat down, and took his little tanned face in my hands.

"We are going to imagine for a minute. You are standing in line at the diving board. The ground is warm, and you hear the waves of the pool splashing against the sides."

In our minds, we watched each person ahead of him climb and jump, climb and jump, until finally it was his turn. We gripped the rails, stepped up each rung, and walked to the edge of the plank. The sun beat warm and the deep blue was laid out beneath us. We took a big breath and jumped.

Water engulfed, and then two strong hands lifted, and all we heard were cheers.

"Mom, I'm a little nervous about going off the diving board."

My response: "Guess what? You already went off the diving board, you just did it in your head."

"Oh...   Yeah!"

I am proud to report that my little guy overcame his fear. There were still a few nerves, but there were no tears, no meltdowns, not even hesitation. There WAS lots of ice cream.

“When you explore your fears then you set yourself free.”
― Stephen Richards,
Releasing You from Fear

Have you taken a plunge recently? Did you use visualization, or other methods, to help overcome fear?


Monday, July 25, 2016

July Links

Even though summer days are longer, they have a way of flying by around here, and I can't believe we in the latter half of the season. Here are some of my favorite posts that I've read in little, quiet moments between the children's baseball games and park dates. I have found inspiration from each one! Hope you do too.

As someone who tends to multitask and run in several mental directions (and feel frazzled), this simple concept has really affected me and made my days more peaceful and in control.

The 6 Types of People You Need at Your Table from Simplicity Relished
A fascinating list of the people everyone needs in their lives. Hint: they are not always the ones easiest to get along with.

How to Get Out of Your Head and Into Your Life from Lisa and Franco Esile
Why our minds don't actually want change or improvement, and why we should embrace it anyway.

Let's Let Go of Simple Living Ideals from Practicing Simplicity
As with every aspiration in life, simple living can also turn into a standard to beat ourselves up over. This post is an encouraging dose of reality, which we all need to hear sometimes. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

How to Avoid Social Pressure {and Looking Ridiculous}

How to avoid social pressure
Image by Toni Hukkanen

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were having a nice patio dinner at a local restaurant. There came into my view a woman walking up to the front doors, one hand combing through her hair, the other capturing herself on her large, flat, smartphone screen.

That was fine. Everyone takes selfies. I take selfies. I don't usually have a problem with seeing selfies of friends and what restaurants they are approaching. It is a way to document our lives.

Anyway, this woman and her friends and her smartphone were seated in our view. I watched as she posed for selfie #2... selfie #3... selfie #7... selfie #11...

The whole dinner was taken over by this self-photography. You could almost predict the next shot. Here comes the food- time for "selfie with food." Here comes the oversized draft beer- time for "selfie with beer." There was not much conversation or laughter; I'm not sure she even noticed what she had just eaten.

I couldn't help but feel embarrassed for her. Didn't she realize she was in public, surrounded by grown men and women, none of whom were behaving this way?

I don't write about this woman to make fun of her or belittle her. I write about her to take a good, honest look at myself. She was just such a powerful example of what it means to be so wrapped up in what society encourages that she is blinded to the ridiculousness of it.

I thought of the Capital citizens in "The Hunger Games," with their absurd makeup and hair.
I thought of the emperor and his new clothes.
I thought of my scrunchy phase.

Our society is full of the ridiculous and absurd. Why would anyone take picture after picture of themselves in public over enjoying a nice meal with friends, you ask?

Consider the most followed Instagram accounts: @selenagomez, @taylorswift, @arianagrande, @beyonce, @kimkardashian, @justinbieber, @kyliejenner, @cristiano, @kendalljenner.

While we may make fun of these people and their non-stop selfies, we still back them up with our money and attention (and follows, and likes).

It's not hard to see how to get caught in a social proof trap. "Everyone else does it." 
Social proof is powerful. That's why intelligent people get their lips puffed up, wear outfits way past their age-appropriate prime, and continue to start smoking despite decades of scientific warnings.

How do we stay self-aware, and above the constant inundation of society's absurdities?

Discernment is a word I've pondered a lot this year. Those who discern see things as they really are, are not easily fooled, and have the confidence to stand by what they see. It's not a trait handed out to everyone.

How do we become discerning? How do we teach our children to become discerning? 

I've observed that discerning people are aware. They take notice. They see the full picture, including natural consequences. They never just follow along, but often step back from the crowd to analyze behaviors clearly.

I've also observed that discernment is not complete without a spiritual anchor. Discerning people have morals and values. They connect with something higher to see above the crowd.

One way I have developed more discernment is to communicate with God, and involve Him in my observations. When God is in our daily lives, the fog of social pressure clears, and truth stands firm.

He knows what really IS.
He has the ability to fade the most enticing, shiny, pretty social trends.
He knows what we need to stay in check.
He will not hesitate to tell us.

We have to be humble enough to listen, and confident enough to believe ONE voice over one thousand.

A few close, blunt friends certainly don't hurt either.

Have a peaceful day,

Monday, July 11, 2016

Why You Should Go Outside Today

Benefits of Nature

My favorite mornings are when I wake up to windows still open from the night before, light gently peeking into the room, and chirping notes punctuating the breeze.

The room smells good, feels good. The breeze beckons for me to join it. My first instinct is to begin the day submersed in outdoor greenery.

I've started a little habit of collecting my phone and earbuds, tiptoeing to the back door, and slipping out for 15 minutes, just before the chaos of little feet pounding down the stairs with big demands for breakfast ensues.

This is the luxury of my summer. Weeding mindlessly. Listening to something on my phone as I go, or not. Letting the scents and sounds of the backyard settle onto me as I come out of the groggy space between asleep and awake.

It is perfection.

I don't get out in the weeds every day. But when I do, I am much better equipped to handle whatever is thrown at me in the hours ahead. There is something about the equation of solitude + nature + time that equals sanity + health + wellbeing + coping ability + happiness (I could go on and on).

It's so simple, right? Just go outside!

Not for all of us, apparently. A recent Star Tribune article stated, "Americans spend a whopping 87% of their time inside, on average, according to a 2001 survey by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency." The cause for this is linked to industrialized lifestyles, expanding technology,  and long work hours.

I get this. In the winter, my husband leaves for work before dawn and arrives home after dark. In the winter, the last thing that appeals to me is going through the rigorous process of bundling up children for an hour of fresh air.

But we always feel so much better when we just do it!

Depending on your lifestyle, outside time may take some effort. Being outside and alone may take even more effort. However, for anyone struggling with stress, physical health issues, or mental health issues, the benefits are well worth the effort. The calming power of contemplative time in nature is something with ancient roots, and yet still studied by scientists today.

Sometimes we have to get creative.

I remember a long, Minnesota winter day where I took my young children to the mall to pass some time. While walking through the most industrialized place in town, I noticed something unexpected. Tall trees stretching up to the flood of sunlight pouring through the ceiling glass. Rows and rows of tropical greenery. The bubbling sound coming down the massive slate water wall. I had been deprived of these things for so long that I didn't even realize the jolting effect they had on me. I was filled up in a way I forgot about; I suddenly recognized the craving in my soul that I buried in the first layer of snow that season.

I don't remember buying anything that day, but we all came home with an abundance of what we needed.

In this same Star Tribune article, it talks about getting out in nature in a purposefully calming way. Never mind walking from point A to point B. Never mind identifying plants and animals (although, that could help with mindfulness, in my opinion). Just be there and notice how nature affects your 5 senses. Appreciate the slowness and stillness of what surrounds you. Leave the daily worries inside. Even just for 15 minutes.

As I gather up my pile of weeds and head back to the door, I always make a stop in front of our raspberry shrub. I scan and search for the deepest, reddest one. Its sweet taste completes my morning sensory experience.

Have a peaceful day,

Monday, July 4, 2016

How to Feel Free {Word of the Month: FREEDOM}

Image by Redd Angelo

As the calendar page turns from June to July, the word FREEDOM comes into focus. Freedom to choose, freedom to act, freedom to worship, freedom to think. Freedom exploding in fireworks and marching band drum beats. Ideally, this life is all about experiencing freedom and choices, and I'm grateful to live in a country that protects that right.

This month, I am thinking more deeply about what it means to feel inner freedom. No matter what the politics or circumstances are surrounding us, can we still control the freedom inside?

What does it take to truly feel free? Like a child-barefoot-in-summer-grass free?

How often can I honestly say I feel free?

What I realized is that inner freedom does not come as easily as it does for those carefree, barefoot children. Freeing moments are frequently interrupted by frustration, doubt, disappointment, and sometimes deeper sadness or guilt. These things upset the control and order that allow us to feel free.

I've taken some time to ask myself why the ratio of freedom to frustration can be so unbalanced. Is it just the reality of adult stress and responsibilities?

This morning as I am trying to type this post, I have fielded about 30 random questions from my children, and I am not feeling, well, the free-est.

But I still think there is a way to tap into the freeing feeling that comes so naturally to children, even when life feels chaotic.

Here are 4 things I've observed that prevent inner freedom, and how we can change them:

1. Life feels out of our control: 

As a parent, I am intimately associated with things being out of my control. I know others deal with this constantly in the professional world (and every other life situation) as well.

The thing is, I will always want a clean, orderly house, well-behaved children, a productive, uninterrupted schedule, and every driver on the road to be polite and accommodating. Is that too much to ask? 

For the price of inner freedom, it can be. That is, if we let those things define our happiness.

When reality and idealism don't match, tension shows up. We have to train ourselves to not be so committed to that idealism that we can't go with the flow and dismiss the tension.

While it is good to have goals and high expectations, if we are too attached to controlling them, all that results is frustration. To keep our freedom, it is important to not be defeated when others don't cooperate. It is even more important to not connect these goals to our pride and ego.

Something that helps me deal with chaos is mantras. I think of mantras as mind tricks to "fake it till you make it," and they really help!

The first mantra I've referred to on Instagram before is simply
"Today everything will be fun and easy."

Another favorite is
"Expect problems and eat them for breakfast."

It feels more freeing to see challenges as an expected part of the day; to know they are coming, and know we can handle them (mmmmm - breakfast).

2. We are weighed down by guilt:

Guilt is like debt- it never goes to sleep, takes vacation time, or goes home on the weekends. Guilt is a constant harassment, and we need to take care of it before we can feel any form of happiness, peace, or freedom. Funny things start happening when people try to get rid of their guilt. Instead of facing it, they can start rationalizing, fooling themselves, and eventually become numb, bitter, jaded, hardened, and prideful.

Not free. Not free at all.

We all make mistakes; let's drop our pride and rationalizations and deal with them quickly so guilt doesn't linger.

3. We don't take care of our bodies and souls:

Have you ever noticed that a lot of frustrations and blocks come from lack of sleep, lack of exercise, or just plain feeling crummy? Or lack of spiritual time, lack of quiet, lack of soul-feeding activities?

When we don't get proper nourishment, physically or spiritually, it usually means we haven't mastered self-control in some area.

Physical nourishment requires discipline to eat well, sleep enough, and exercise regularly. Spiritual nourishment requires discipline to live a higher standard, work to build a relationship with God, and make time to be still.

I am quite experienced at going for another donut, staying up too late, and choosing mindless TV over something more, well, nourishing. I've never avoided the consequences of regret, and the delay of that free feeling. The good news is we can always work on self-discipline, and try better a new day.

4. Lack of gratitude:

Freedom and gratitude are best of friends, along with happiness, positivity, and peace. Gratitude relieves us of pressure to do more, be more, and get more. The opposite happens when we forget to recognize all we can be grateful for.

How can we feel free if we weigh ourselves down with everything we don't have?

In summary: to feel INNER FREEDOM we must:

Let go of perfectionism and control,
Right the wrongs we commit,
Nourish our bodies and souls through self-control (which is different from the control in #1, of course),
And practice gratitude.

A lot to work on in July, but I am looking forward to welcoming more freedom into my life.

Have a great July everyone!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Hobbies, Dreams, Ambitions, and When to Let Them Go

Image via McKinley Law for Unsplash

This month, I came face to face with my dreams. The ones that I think about every day, the ones that have faded a bit, and the ones I completely forgot about.

I decided to join Emily Freeman's linkup about what we learned in January, and when I took a look at the month, this was the main topic that I had been wrestling with.

It started with my innocent quest to clean out clutter and have less stuff/more freedom- the great promise of minimalism. I dredged up old sheet music, fancy drawing pastels, bead-making supplies, and even a few dated books on how to flip houses (comical now, considering what has happened in the market).

I found myself surrounded by piles of my old hobbies and dreams, feeling a little deflated.
And wasteful.
And even guilty.

The thing about dreams, goals, and ambitions is that when they end up in the back of a drawer or shelf, they tend to fester. They nag at us, reminding us that we aren't doing enough.

"Why haven't you started on me yet?" they demand. "Don't you remember what you envisioned yourself becoming by now? Tick... tick... tock..."

"By the way- don't forget about how you spent money on that class or that supply or that book. Or even worse, think about all the time you've invested so far. Why haven't we amounted to anything?!"

And then they end up in a donation pile, and make us wonder why we even bothered dreaming in the first place. 

But minimalism and simplicity are supposed to have the opposite affect, right? They are usually so kind and gentle, with their promises of freedom, space, more time, and more peace. I just can't see them taking the guilt-trip route. "And here's that house-flipping book (insert eye-roll). What a good-for-nothing space/energy/time/money waste that was! Think of trees that went into producing that!" See, it's just not the tone of simplicity.

So what is the point of all this? What is the point of my sad story with my sad little piles?

I did learn something in January, well... realized something.

Here's what I already knew going into January:

Creative pursuits are a healthy, necessary thing for a full life.

I am a middle-aged adult, with a family to care for, and limited time.

Narrowing a focus helps us excel to our maximum potential in limited areas.
Malcolm Gladwell makes the claim in his book Outliers that it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery in a field. And I buy that.

Maybe a hobby doesn't require that level of proficiency, but it still takes some amount of invested time to be rewarding.

Here's what I realized in January:

Sometimes, I get a little carried away with ambitions and dreams, and don't think through the time or effort required to succeed at them. I love the thrill of new beginnings; I'm not so great about getting to the finish line working on it.

I can use the process of minimalism to weed out less important goals, and simply let them go.

I can give myself permission to not feel guilty about that.

I can learn to be more discerning with future ideas that come popping into my head.

As for the goals I want to keep in my life, but don't necessarily have 10,000 hours to become expertly proficient in them, I can work on them in my SPHERE.

I've been thinking a lot about the word "sphere" in January. My sphere of influence, my sphere of capability, my sphere of connections. Spheres are limiting, but in a good way.

Rick Warren points out in his book The Purpose Driven Life,

"The word boundaries refers to the fact that God assigns each of us a field or sphere of service... When we try to overextend our ministry reach beyond what God shaped us for, we experience stress... Just focus on finishing your race."

Before the world of the internet, social media, followers, and YouTube sensations, there were spheres. For the most part, people used their talents and dreams to contribute to the local community, or even just their own families. I think, in most cases, nothing more is expected of us now.

When it came down to it, I gave away my house-flipping books, but I couldn't throw out all that old sheet music. Playing the piano is a dream I've had since kindergarten, and a hobby I have invested thousands of hours in. Instead of letting it go amidst the business of middle-aged life, I've let that pile of music keep its space on my shelf. And I don't worry that it's not giving me loads of money or accolades. I just play in my sphere. I play often at church, and at the family Christmas Eve party. I am now teaching my children, and a few friends on the side. That brings me great happiness, and I'm guessing it enriches the few lives in my sphere.

And that's enough reason to hold onto a dream.

How about you? Any dreams worth keeping, or letting go?