Monday, April 24, 2017

Fighting the Wasps in your Marriage

Spring is in the air, and we’ve already had several days in the 90s. Around our house, that usually means we start to see signs of wasps. We’ve killed a few here and there, but the other day—of course, right at 6:00 as our guests were arriving for dinner—we noticed several flying around the front door.

Howell went out to spray what we expected was a nest, but we soon discovered that there were dozens and dozens of wasps crawling on our roof, likely making homes in our wood shingles, where they can’t be seen or reached.

This did not bring comfort to my soul.

We ate dinner and enjoyed a lovely evening with our friends, but the wasps stayed in the back of my mind, as I imagined hundreds of them crawling around on our roof.

Several days after that—maybe more than a week even, I felt like the Lord reminded me of the wasps to speak truth to my heart about something else entirely. (I don’t know about y’all, but he uses my daily experiences to do that a lot—remember the skunk?)

The Lord showed me that the stray wasp or two is like the surface problems in a marriage—maybe a small fight, an unsettled disagreement, a busy week with little quality time.

A single wasp doesn’t seem so bad, and you take care of it when you can. It's just a nuisance, right?

But if we’re not careful, before we know it, we’re hiding all kinds of wasps’ nests in our attic or nestled in some other forgotten, neglected place.

The same is true in our marriages. If we don’t handle well the little wasps, the small battles, we’ll end up with a whole army rising up against us and against our marriage.

For Howell and I, we know that the little wasps come when we don’t get to really connect, when life gets too busy, and we’ve said too many yeses.

We’ve both been reading Present over Perfect—and we’re thinking intentionally about our yeses these days. (If I haven’t sold you on this book yet, please re-read here and here.)

You know what I’ve realized takes up so much of my time?

It’s the little yeses that don’t seem so big at the time. It’s the two hours here after work, and three days a month doing this or that, and one hour here, and on and on.

But when I say yes to all the littles, I look up, and our calendar has something every night of the week.

We’ve decided recently that this is simply unacceptable for us. We want to do better—and it starts with saying no more often.

Shauna puts it so well when she says that when we say yes to something, we’re saying no to something else.

And usually, since I’ve been tuned into my yeses, what I’m saying no to is quality time with my husband, which I crave.

When I put it in that light, it makes me want to shout NO without reservation.

Friends, I encourage you to fight the little wasps in your marriage, even if they just seem like small nuisances. If you let them go, they’ll become much larger under the surface.

We say it all the time that marriage is the best work you’ll ever do. Don’t settle for ordinary when you can fight for extraordinary.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Smells like Skunk

Do you see these two? Don’t they look like angels?

Perfect angels, right?

We all remember Rizzoli’s three near-death experiences, so maybe only one of them fits that description. Unfortunately, even Charlie, “the good kid,” was on my bad list a few weeks ago when both of our dogs got sprayed by a skunk in our backyard.


They had the creature cornered where he could not escape, and they were not deterred by the stinky smells at all. We’re convinced they got sprayed more than once at close range.

It took about four days to get the smell out of the house—and even still, I swear it lingers in a few places.

We gave the dogs 11 baths (Rizzoli, the lucky one, receiving one more bath than Charlie) with all kinds of home remedies, Pinterest suggestions, old wives tales, and vet-recommended solutions. Nothing helped with the smell—at least not on first application. We did have some success with the de-skunk shampoo the vet’s office sells, but it took three applications each.

Even now, almost two weeks later, I still smell it when Rizzoli shakes her ears, her now-shedding hair flying in the air, and I groan.

What a mess!

The timing was terrible, of course. It initially happened just before bed, on a night when we were already getting in bed late.

I fell into bed at 1:00 a.m., exhausted.

The next day we were leaving town, and I just wanted to give up, to lay down and say, “I can’t do this.”

(For the record, my hubs, as usual, was the rockstar. I think he gave 5 or 6 baths in a short span of a few hours.)

Two days later, the smell wasn’t better—for the dogs or our house. I felt so discouraged.
We’d light candles and spray aromas and bought every imaginable wall plug, but all of that only temporarily masked the smell.

Now that I’ve had some time and space from what really was an unpleasant experience at an inopportune time, I feel like the Lord has used that to speak spiritual truth to my heart.

Y’all, maybe I’ve only been masking the smell, but this has been a challenging six months. I’ve been tested to what feels like my core. My patience. My attitude. My humility. My leadership.
Even my values have been tested.

What’s more important: What God says about me or what people say? Pleasing God or pleasing man?
What’s do I value most: Being recognized, validated, defended, appreciated? Or Being a daughter, accepted and beloved?

It’s been tough, and I’ve seen my flesh on a new level.

I felt like the Lord reminded me that when I try to do this life stuff on my own, it’s like spraying Fabreeze around my house and hoping it will make the smell go away.

Funny, right? Because it’s so foolish.

Only the Holy Spirit can do the real work, the under-the-surface work, where the skunk’s poison resides, where it’s settled and seeped into pores and pockets.

I recently had someone speak a word over me, and he said that I needed to unyoke myself to the things that trouble my heart. Howell told me afterward that he immediately felt like that meant unyoking myself to other people’s opinions of me.

This isn’t new information or a new struggle—of course I shouldn’t care what others think, and I’ve known this is a habit of mine for a while.

But something about that phrase—unyoke yourself—really got my attention.

I always thought of the “do not be yoked” verses as relating to marriage or relationships. But Howell’s exactly right. I’ve yoked myself to what other people think of me rather than yoking myself to the Lord and letting His opinion rule.

If there’s a spiritual smell to being yoked to others’ opinions, I guarantee it’s worse than a skunk.

What about you, friends? Do you struggle with performing, pleasing, striving?

I understand completely! Let’s let Holy do a major detox in our hearts today. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Unloading the Boat

I recently heard from a sermon Pastor Paul at church, and it’s really been circling my head since. You know how one point in a message can just ring bells in your head? This one has stuck with me. He used the metaphor of a boat to talk about how we handle crisis. Whether we as Christians like to admit it or not, there are times in our lives when things don’t go our way or downright disaster strikes. God doesn’t always intervene to prevent the storm, but He always helps us through it if we have faith and trust Him. The parable is this:

Professional sailors hall cargo. That is their reason in navigating the waters, but when a bad storm comes and their ship is heavy with cargo, they start throwing it overboard. Their cargo is important, but it isn’t worth their lives. They are prepared to do this. When they load their ship, they do so with the thought of unloading it in an emergency. They put the least valuable cargo on top so it can be unloaded first.

When we go through storms in our own lives we need to be prepared to make tough decisions about what we cut. The first thing that pops into my mind when I ponder this is finances, but this also applies to activities and the general clutter of our lives. Often, the things we value in the good times seem superfluous in a crisis. It comes down to needs and wants. If we identify these things now, it can save a lot of stress in an already stressful time.

Many people in today’s world live at the very edge of their means. Whether consciously or unconsciously, they ask themselves, “Can I squeeze one more monthly payment in?” or just don’t think about saving. “That’ll never happen to me.” The reality is that no matter who you are, some type of severe storm will strike. It’s just a matter of when. Are you financially prepared to cut? Do you have savings for a rainy day? Some might say this shows a lack of faith, but scripture would disagree.

Just to cite a couple: 
“The wise store up choice food and olive oil, but fools gulp theirs down.” – Proverbs 21:20.
“The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.” – Proverbs 21:5.

Planning can be beneficial. We can be as full in the area of activities as any, and often, we as Christians dedicate a lot of time and service to our church, our life group, or causes. Our kids can be in many sports and activities and often social lives can take up lots of time. All these things are great, but this life can’t be sustained in crisis. We should also have a plan for what to unload.

It can be difficult to talk about this next one, but it is reality. When you are in a time of crisis, whether it be a natural disaster, a sickness, or something else like a job loss, you find out who your true friends are. I was young, but I remember when my mom had cancer. The amount of prayer and generosity was astounding, but the close friends that fell away were also.  I’ve seen this time and time again with close friends and family. There are people in everyone’s lives that will not stay through the fire. No matter who falls away though, He will always be there for you. He isn’t going away, ever. You may be surprised who He puts in your life during these times too. In every tough situation, true friends are there. 

“…but there is a true friend who sticks closer than a brother.” – Proverbs 18:24.y

Storms will come and blow and push at the foundations of all our lives. He will be there for us, and He will grow us through those times if our house is built on the Rock. The question is, are we prepared? 

I encourage you to think about what areas in your life—finances, activities, relationships—you will unload when storms come.


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Back on Track!

I have a confession. Until recently, I’ve never had a consistent writing schedule for my fiction. I would write in spurts, usually in long chunks when I had both time and inspiration.

Do you know how unlikely it is that those two would intersect—both time and inspiration?

For the last seven months, free time has been even more scarce, and I reached a breaking point somewhere around February. (It started with those three little words: Present over Perfect.)

I began to take ownership of my time; it is, after all, mine to spend. I choose my yes and my no.

Since then two really cool things have happened with my writing.

First, I determined in my heart that I would follow through with a consistent writing schedule. I set a realistic time and a word count goal for myself, and y’all, it’s been over 30 days.

I’m happy the say the habit has fully formed.

I’ve said before that writing is my hobby, my passion, MY thing. I get to suspend reality for a little bit and get lost in another world.

Second, I threw out all pre-writing plans and plotting and simply started writing the story that’s been in my head.

I had heard successful, award-winning authors talk about writing without a plan, just seeing where the characters take them. I always thought that was preposterous.

Who can write a novel without a plan?

My first novel was carefully plotted, each chapter designed before I even started writing.

I don’t think this was a wrong way to do it, but I’ve found that sitting down to write is far more fun.

I’m not constrained by a chapter plan. I don’t even know what will happen next.
I just start typing and see what comes out.

Writing feels free and exciting. I sometimes laugh out loud as I write a scene, shaking my head at my characters. Who knew he was going to do that?

Although I occasionally groan and don’t want to write when the time arrives, I’ve not once regretted it when I start pounding the keys, and it truly doesn’t take long before I’ve met my word count for the day.

If I keep my schedule, which I hope to do for the rest of my life, I’ll have the first draft of a new book finished by early June. I can’t tell you how good it feels to have my writing career back on track—at least the part of it that I can control, the actual writing.  :)

Friends, do you have a hobby, a dream, something you desire to do but can’t seem to find time for? I encourage you to give it priority. 

We get to say where our time goes. We’re not victims of our daily schedule.

I hope you’ll find freedom in saying yes to the thing you really love to do.