The Best Thing You Can Do For Your Marriage (and a winner!)

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It was the way his eyes kept returning to hers as he answered questions from reporters. And how he kept referring to her when mentioning key decisions and actions in his life—like she was a full partner in all these things. Then, when reporters asked former U. S. President Jimmy Carter questions provoking reflection on his life, he said, smiling, glancing her way again, “Well the best thing I ever did was marrying Rosalynn.”

I couldn’t stop thinking about him. This man who met with the world to tell us he has cancer—in his brain, no less—and to answer questions that are really none of our business? He seemed as smitten with his wife of sixty-nine years as a newlywed. Maybe more so.

Sixty-nine years.

And he says it’s the best thing he’s ever done.

After watching that news conference, I go for a run and I do what I always do when feet pound the pavement, I pray. I am thinking about Jimmy and Rosalynn and I pray for my friends with broken marriages. I’ve been a runner since I was thirteen, since seventh grade track, and there are still hard days. But I can increase the chances of good days if I work harder on it. It is something I cannot let up on if I want to get better. It’s something that requires disciplined attention. The constant up and down keeps me moving forward, keeps me growing and trying.

Why do we give up on our marriages?

I always shy away from writing about marriage because, well, who am I? I am careful with the waggling finger because I know my life, my marriage has not been through the fullness of time. There have been seasons when we thought of giving up. And there have been seasons when I thought we’d finally made it, only to be blindsided by an unexpected turn in the course. And there are always those special circumstances. There are the destructive relationships that some must flee for safety. I would never want my words to discourage that. Then there are those who have been left behind, through no choice of their own. Careless words can add to the heartbreak. But as I run, and endorphins crescendo, I feel anger. Anger at the unfaithful one, anger at the one who lets love diminish, anger at the ways we trade commitment for what feels good in the moment and ignore the possibility of enjoying what Jimmy Carter called “a good, harmonious family” in our old age. I feel anger at myself for neglecting my love, letting so many other things displace it on my schedule.

It’s not easy. A good marriage is something that requires disciplined attention. How do we make living out the days with the spouse of our youth a beautiful journey, a grand adventure? How do we make it to the place where we say it’s the best thing I’ve ever done?

Jimmy and Rosalynn know this: To stay close to our spouse we have to stay close to Jesus.

The truth is, the moments may be boring. In the scope of life, they may not have much impact on the course of things or the decisions we make. But learning to live well in ordinary time isn’t a call to elevate moments; it’s a call to draw close to Christ. What gives moments meaning is not the moments themselves but the presence of Christ with us in the midst of them.”~Emily P. Freeman, Simply Tuesday

I must remember that in my body, heaven and earth embrace. Because our marriages are a picture of Christ’s relationship with the church, I will follow his heart. I will not give up. On the hard days, I will seek love like seeking a hidden treasure. And on the good days, I will link arms with my beloved and celebrate our life together. I will fail. Because, unlike Christ’s, my love is not perfect. So I will remember the cord of three strands. I will draw near to Jesus. Because one day, I hope to say, “This is the best thing I ever did.

The winner of Karen Swallow Prior’s Fierce Convictions (and a few other of my favorite reads) is: Denise! Yay! Congratulations, my friend! I’ll be in touch.

 

Playdates with God: Nightsong, a poem

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the silver underpinnings of the maple leaves shimmer
in the fading light of evening
I touch the grasses of the meadow with my mind and
walk through the myth that I am separate from all this

the sky opens it’s many eyes one-by-one, dropping light
like moist breath onto my dry bones
I remember how Kate looked the other night, so young
with no makeup on, so vulnerable and tired

Jeff says this is when she is most beautiful, no mask
I remember how her mother carried her on one hip
the thought of her in white lace feels like Eden; the river
forks again

we had too much to drink, laughing in the grass as
music played. I felt the bass drum echo through my ribs,
his hand in mine an anchor. the beads on the abacus of
time no longer make that sharp clicking sound as they meet

we sit together as night begins to sing.

::

Every Monday I share one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find God and know joy. Click on the button below to add your link. I try to visit a few of your stories every week, so if you are a new visitor, be sure to let me know in the comments so I can welcome you. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us.

Laura Boggess

When You Love Someone Who has Depression: Moments of Light

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There are moments of light. When she sees him once again in his purest self, young and carefree the way he was before the cares of the world burned down on him.

But sometimes, when the light comes, she doesn’t recognize his true self. It’s been too long and she has forgotten. She might offer the bitter; let the light shine right through her. Too bad, Mister. Too little, too late.

Yes, sometimes, she lets time and circumstances make her an amnesiac and she forgets that to love well is to remain awake to beauty. But most of the time? She tries to be ready. She is vigilant.

One time when she was young, she went hunting with a friend. They hid in the trees and watched. Sprung upon their prey unawares from their secret place. But to hunt the light is not like this. It’s more like catching fireflies. Sitting in the open with a watchful eye. Letting the moment light upon your skin. And then softly, oh, so tenderly cupping it in your hands, cradling it close before letting it fly away again, lifting its warm glow into the dark.

When she doesn’t remember how to love, she prays to remember. And light shines softly into the moments of life, revealing truth in a thousand many-faceted ways.

Practice:

~We have talked before about the research from Dr. John Gottman that I share in my book. He is known as “The Love Doctor” and has studied love and marriage for years. He says that by observing a couple for as short as five minutes he can predict with significant accuracy whether their marriage will last. One of the factors he has identified in determining this is how they remember. Sometimes, when I feel like giving up, I close my eyes and remember the beginning. I spend some time reflecting on why I fell in love with my husband, what made my heart resonate with him. Those qualities are still there, only sometimes I forget them under the weight of the days. Spend some time remembering today. Watch home movies, look at your wedding album, read an old journal. Remember.

~How do you respond when the moments of light cascade over the humdrum of every day? Sometimes we can smother out these tiny flickers, dismiss them in the midst of the busy. But when depression lives in your life, these glimpses of light must be celebrated. Reinforce the happy moments by being fully present with them. Let your beloved know how much you delight in his or her delight. Cradle the light close to your heart.

**This Friday series contains reflections on loving someone who has Depression. If you are in this place, or know someone who is, I hope you’ll join me in this journey. We have two more installments to go. These words cannot replace medical or psychological treatment, but I hope they will be a source of encouragement.

Part I: When You Love Someone Who has Depression
Part II: West Virginia Morning: When You Love Someone with Depression, II
Part III: Good Friday
Part IV: Interview with Dr. Michelle Bengtson
Part V: When You Love Someone Who Has Depression: Stigma
Part VI: When You Love Someone Who Has Depression: Pray Together
Part VII: When You Love Someone Who Has Depression: Grow

When You Love Someone Who has Depression: Grow

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At night, the moonlight falls through my window, a giant spotlight in the sky, illuminating shining thoughts that will not let me sleep. In the morning, she still hangs heavy in the sky, watchful. I have been thinking about the changing faces of a relationship, about simple ways a life together can change things.

When my husband and I were first married he was a renaissance man, of sorts. The bloom was still fresh on his doctoral degree and his professional life was full and exciting. He was running about 40 miles a week, played guitar with a group of old friends in a blues band, and had just passed an exam to become a nationally recognized homebrew judge. He was busy and happy and in love with life.

Early on, I lost myself in his interests. I became the good helper his wide array of interests required. Only, I wasn’t happy. Good man that he is, he encouraged me to find my bliss, and so, with his blessing I began to journey. I took a painting class. Began a yoga practice. Remembered the joy in putting down the words.

I still helped him bottle up batches of homebrew; I still went running with him on the weekends; I still listened for his footfalls in the hall. But I was on my own journey. We grew into individuals, together.

In my book, I talk about self-expansion theory—that theory of love that says we fall deeper in passionate love over the years only when we continue to grow and learn new things together. Early in relationships, when couples are still learning about the other, passions run high. But as time goes on and we think we know all there is to know about one another, the wild tongues of fire usually settle into slow, steady burning embers.

Depression stunts curiosity, robs us of the continued growth that stokes the embers back into flame. Just as any crisis elicits protective behaviors, when depression enters a relationship, we tend to wrap our arms around the entire system—shut off the rest of the world in an attempt to defend against the pain that is found there. The relationship becomes insulated, shut off, co-dependent. When you tether your happiness to one person the world becomes very small. More than that, God becomes small.

What if, in depression, we opened our arms to the world instead? Instead of I just don’t feel like it today, what if we took that apathy as invitation? A sign that something new needs to enter the doors of our hearts?

Last weekend, when I traveled to the Nebraska plains to worship with over eighty women at the Jumping Tandem Retreat, I was reminded how time invested in my own growth refreshes. I didn’t realize how tired, how lonely, how hungry I was until I landed in the middle of that place. Stepping away from the ordinary moments of my life allowed me to miss them. To miss my husband.

When I returned home, I saw him with new eyes. And I was able to love him better.

Practice:

**What are you doing to continue to grow personally? When was the last time you went away by yourself? How about your Beloved? I have been known to tell my husband, “Go away so I can miss you.” It usually works. Space is a place where grace grows afresh. If an overnight trip is too hard, take a small sojourn alone or with a friend who refreshes your spirit. Go for a walk, to a museum, a garden center, do some window-shopping, take a class, learn something new. Encourage your beloved to do the same. He or she may resist. Fear is a powerful anchor. Continue to gently encourage and model for them by investing in yourself. 

**This Friday series contains reflections on loving someone who has Depression. If you are in this place, or know someone who is, I hope you’ll join me in this journey. These words cannot replace medical or psychological treatment, but I hope they will be a source of encouragement.

Part I: When You Love Someone Who has Depression
Part II: West Virginia Morning: When You Love Someone with Depression, II
Part III: Good Friday
Part IV: Interview with Dr. Michelle Bengtson
Part V: When You Love Someone Who Has Depression: Stigma
Part VI: When You Love Someone Who Has Depression: Pray Together

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Before the cold comes, we walk our familiar beat—one of the few such times since Lucy Mae’s death. One son still struggles; his quiet nature was so much in orbit around her sun. As time has passed, he misses her more instead of less and I try to resurrect other bits of life; I try to kindle tiny embers. But to take a walk now is a memorial and we are quiet as our feet fall in step.

I’m struggling to tell them something—they must have heard the angry words earlier, heard their mother crying. So much of the past few years has been a torrent of ups and downs and I’ve been grieving that lately, worried about how it will shape them. No one said love would be easy. I remember how my sister and I cowered in our beds at night as our own parents hurled word daggers at each other; anger bouncing off the walls and ricocheting into our hiding places. I remember the fear and that wild feeling inside.

So I tell them how lucky they are, that their parents love each other. That we are committed to staying together; that even when things are hard, love wins. One son talks about a friend whose parents have split up, and I tell him that so many times it does happen. Sometimes it’s for the best. And God will use these hard places for good if we allow it. And they want to know how it was for me after my parents divorce. Was I sad? Was it hard? So I tell them the story I’ve told them many times before, the one they never grow tired of hearing. It’s like a fairy tale to them, and for this I am grateful. I tell them how I cried myself to sleep every night for a year. How I lived with my dad and older brother for a while. How I missed my mother and sister and baby brother terribly. But how Jesus came to me during this time and held me. How he became real as skin to me then, and only then.

The quiet one stays quiet and I fill the space with words. I talk about making good decisions, about planning, and priorities, and seeking God in all.

It is January, the month they were both born, the month named after the Roman god Janus—that god with two faces, so depicted because he looks both to the future and the past. They called him the god of beginnings and transitions. His name comes from the Latin ianua, which means “door”. Mythology has him the keeper of doors, gates, bridges, and passages.

But as we stand on the bridge together and look down at the water tumbling over rock, carrying debris from days past, I feel the presence of the One True God fall over me. I see the wisdom of looking back to look forward, and I know this is why our good God calls us “to remember” so many times in scripture. I toss a stone down into the current; watch it sink beneath those ripples. The weight that holds it there speaks strength and I am anchored in this moment. I remember the Israelites’ stones of remembrance—called thus so they would never forget the way the Lord parted the Jordan River before them.

This is the kind of door my God keeps—one made from parted waters, one that passes safely through tongues of flame, one that parts the heavens in a windstorm. These impossible, seemingly impassible doors; these narrow gates that the world whispers about, this is not the way, it is too hard—these are the kinds of doors my God keeps. He opens them wide and still, I squeeze through as if only a tiny crack.

But this Doorkeeper? He not only holds the door aloft, he reaches for my hand and pulls me through.

Joining Jennifer, and Lyli this week. Love you ladies.