Ordinary Days Make the Special Days Better

We bought discount tickets back in October, made careful reservations for affordable lodging and packed our favorite board games, microwave popcorn and tunes. Time for the long-awaited Crane family ski trip to Winter Park, Colorado. Needless to say this was definitely one of those circled dates on our calendar.

While waiting in the ski lift line for our very first run, we overheard the family in front of us:
GIRL: "Josh, stop it!"
BOY:  "You're in my way...I'm telling mom!"
MOM: "Knock it off guys, I'm sick of your arguing."
GIRL: "What? I didn't do anything...he's just being a jerk."  (increasing volume)
 BOY:  "She called me a moron!"
 GIRL: "Did not....I called you an ignoramus.  You can't even hear right!"

The four of us glanced sideways and winced...as did many others in line.  Ouch. Family dynamics sure rear their ugly head at the worst moments in public, eh?

It reminded me of something our pastor used to say:  Special days are all the more special when ordinary days are lived well.

Translated:  When I make a conscious decision in the daily, tedious and mundane hours of child-rearing to teach mutual respect, patience and laughter in my home, I'll often reap those rewards just when I desire them most.

Many of us yearn for that Norman Rockwell scenario on Thanksgiving Day, or the perfect matching-shirt-family-photo, only to have the magical moment interrupted with a petty argument or offense.  But the groundwork begins much earlier:  in the daily-ness of car pool, homework and bedtime.  Throughout the year if we practice extending grace when offended or offering forgiveness when wronged, then when those long-awaited holidays or once-a-year vacations arrive, maybe....just maybe, we'll reap the benefits and actually enjoy our time together.

And, by the way...lest we think this is all about our children?   It's quite possible that if the folks behind us in that lift line listened carefully, they may have heard a certain mom rant, "C'mon boys...let's get moving.  The lifts opened an hour ago and we're wasting time! Go, go go!"  Hmm.  Makes me realize that when I train my sons to offer patience and forgiveness, more often than not, the woman looking back at me in the mirror is the recipient of that very kindness.  Thanks, guys.

A Perfectly Imperfect Weekend

We locked ourselves out of the adorable cabin we had rented and drove around for an hour until we could get a hold of the landlords; we sweated through the first night trying to figure out the thermostat setting; I ripped a hole in my brand new stockings as we headed out the door to a romantic dinner; we paid way too much for a gourmet dinner; and to top it all off, the batteries on our portable IPod promptly ran out while Nat King Cole was crooning love songs.  Ahhh, I do declare we just returned from a perfect mountain getaway weekend!

I mean that.  We had a blast.  It's precisely what I love about being married this long.  Interruptions that would've totally thrown me and gotten me in a funk as a newlywed are mere blips on the radar at this stage.  That's the blessing of commitment; the reward of perseverance; the beauty of growth.  I guess a relationship needs to soak like marinade into a good steak -- not be tossed into the microwave right out of the freezer.

Rarely do we have the foresight to realize this early on.  I sure didn't.  Three years into our marriage I surprised Steve with a prearranged overnight hotel trip.  I had secretly arranged for his parents to watch our infant daughter, and excitedly stood before him to hand over the envelope containing his rendezvous invitation.  He was pleased - but shocked.

Within an hour we arrived at the hotel in downtown Los Angeles.  Little did I know he didn't feel completely comfortable (a.k.a. "safe") in the particular section of town I had naively selected.  Furthermore, the room was oddly decorated and the clientele rather noisy.  As the evening unfolded, it got worse.  I sat back and expected him to now pick it up and take the lead on deciding where to eat, what to do, which movie to watch....and so on.  All with absolutely no warning.  It was awkward, unfortunate and disappointing.  We still talk about "Ooohhhhh, that weekend at the Bonaventure!"

They say that most divorces occur within the first 4-5 years of marriage.  I get that.  The luster wears off and the work begins.  Life gets crazy and some things never seem to gel.  You struggle and shift, yet don't quite reap the benefits.  It's tough.  Unrewarding. That cozy weekend cabin often appears worn out and ugly.

And yet, over and over again research shows that while there may be some dissatisfaction with your spouse in the first decade or two, affection for one another and overall marital health often dramatically improve after a silver anniversary.  In other words:  most of us should just dig in and hang on.  It's worth the arguments, the misunderstandings and the exhausting midnight discussions. 

So take a deep breath.  Close your eyes and try to picture 20 years down the road.  Try to hold on and get there.  You might be pleasantly surprised what you find on the other side of your rocky journey.

P.S.  Did I mention that we had blizzard conditions driving home from the cabin?

Ode to Husbands

It’s Valentine’s Day!  A season where chocolates and flowers are lavishly showered upon women all across the nation.

But ladies, this year I propose we turn the tables and acknowledge the men.  Those husbands and fathers who faithfully and sacrificially serve our families day after day with precious little fanfare.

In this context I offer up a simple, yet heart-felt little sonnet.  It flowed from my heart recently after re-reading the inspired Word of God penned by Solomon in the latter half of Proverbs 31; my humble treatise below attempts to parallel that Scriptural powerhouse verse by verse.  On this day of love, may I take this opportunity to introduce you to the tall, dark and handsome man who won my heart 28 years ago?  And in doing so, I hope you are inspired to pay tribute to the unsung hero in your life as well.  (And, yes - every scenario below is true.)

The Husband of Noble Character
1 Wow…where in the world can you find a husband with noble character any more!?  He is worth far more than any diamond ring on a woman’s finger.
2 His wife has full confidence in his fidelity and lacks nothing of true value. 
3 He speaks fondly of her in front of his friends, and never betrays her confidence when he’s out in public.
4 He finds killer deals on car parts, and then labors in the driveway all afternoon until those squeaky brakes are fixed.
5 He’s like the FedEx truck, driving clear across town to get the best deal at Home Depot.
6 He dons his work gear at 2 am and climbs up on the roof because the wind has kicked up, and the plastic sheeting which was supposed to prevent the leak just ripped loose.
7 He negotiates a fair price to purchase a used car for his daughter who’s heading off to college; and with the money he saves, fixes up the family car for his son.
8 Without a second thought, he scrambles out the door to rescue a stranded family member in an automotive emergency – from the engine that stalls in a flooded roundabout, to the timing belt that quits alongside the I-25 freeway at midnight.  And believe me -- his arms can easily lift that tire at the side of the road!
9 He tracks the ever-changing value of silver and gold, and saves up to place a tiny order when the price is just right; and speaking of finances -- he stays up late to help his wife pay the bills.
10 In his hand he holds the wrench and grasps the greasy bolt with his fingers.
11 He opens his heart to the overlooked soul at the nursing home, and even listens to the talkative stranger next to him on the airplane (instead of pretending to fall asleep like the rest of us would!)

12 When it snows, the wood pile is stocked, and when that runs out, he’s got kerosene for the portable heater - just to make sure his family won’t freeze.
13He installs the upholstery on his ’66 Mustang himself; in the winter he drives a used, but clean little Ranger truck.
14 His wife is secure in her ministry where she is free to blossom because of his tender care.
15 He drafts contours for underneath city streets, and supplies the developers with a precise set of plans.
16 He carries himself with quiet strength, and smiles when he thinks about growing old with his wife.
17 He speaks with wisdom, and trains his children to always love one another, and the Lord above all.
18 He’s aware of “who needs what” in his family, and works 9-10 hour days to provide for them.
19 The older his daughter and sons grow, the more they recognize what an incredible Dad they’ve got; his wife, too, is incredibly proud to bear his name!
20 She says, “Lots of dynamic speakers and authors pass through the Family Talk office, but you stand head and shoulders above them all!”
21 Political charisma comes and goes, and athletic prowess is fleeting, but the man who is honorable and full of integrity in his home -- where it really counts -- is to be respected.
22 It’s time to honor him for decades of godly character, and let his years of quiet steadiness be acknowledged publicly in the blogosphere.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Steve.  I love you!
Yours always,

Marriage: The Divine Chisel

February. The month of love. Yet for some of you, it's your least-favorite page on the calendar. You're married, but it's not all sunshine and roses; it's not even overcast with daisies. It's more like constant rain with periods of sleet, hail and lightning. You may even be in the midst of an intense standoff right now. Marriage feels like drudgery and, if you're honest, the past several years have been filled with pain, heartache and recurring disappointment.  You wonder, "How could something that began so star-studded and exhilarating, end up so ugly?"

I know that whenever I muse over a marital issue, Dr. Dobson is quick to point out, "LuAnne, you married a sinner...and so did he!"  Admittedly, my spousal struggles may pale in comparison to yours, yet I assure you that my egotistical nature is Johnny-on-the-spot when it comes to quarrels. That's why I must constantly remind myself of author Gary Thomas' keen observation:

"Any situation that calls me to confront my selfishness has enormous spiritual value...the real purpose of marriage may not be happiness as much as it is holiness." (Sacred Marriage, pgs 22-23.)

This concept of self-sacrifice is beautifully laid out in chapter 5 of Steve Holt's book, The God-Wild Marriage*:
"Like a divine sculptor, God is chiseling away our sinful nature through the hammer and chisel of that other person. Yes, He is using that other person to break our stony heart, to knife into our selfish edges, smoothing us into a new person with a new purpose and a new God-wild joy. This is the other side of the cross; this is the other side of marriage.

"Yet few marriages ever reach such a point of growth. Instead of embracing the hammer and chisel and allowing it to press us into Christ, we run! We run away from and over our spouses. We often end up fighting the wrong battles, the wrong way, turning them into the wrong war.

"But God is not an uninvolved bystander. He has sovereignly given you that other person to chip and shave you into a new sculpture through the chisel and hammer of such conflicts." (pg. 87)
I don't know what you're going through today, but I do know that the God of the universe sees you. And like a master sculptor carving an ornate image, one of His hands carefully whittles away at the excess -- while the other gently cradles you, His creation.

"If your marriage is tough, get down on your knees and thank God for your spouse. Thank Him that He is training you for battle. He is forging character in you by your submission to Jesus and His sovereign plan for your life." (The God-Wild Marriage, pg. 95)

* The God-Wild Marriage:  A Roadmap to a Dangerously Fulfilling Love Life, by Steve Holt, Alliance Publishing Group, Inc., (2012)