The Magic Wand: 5 Steps to Improve Your Marriage

A Guest Post by Marlene Anderson

Magic Wand Marriage

If you could wave a magic wand and make your marriage more of what you want it to be, what would you see?  How would you and your spouse be interacting, communicating and relating? Our focus is so often on what is not working, we fail to consider what is working and how to accomplish more of that.

We come into marriage with hopes of living happily ever after. We want to love and be loved and feel safe and free to be ourselves. Unfortunately, we bring with us into our marriages unfulfilled needs and old messages from our past that become triggered and transferred to our spouses.

Some of the reasons why marriages get into trouble are poor communication skills, a lack of commitment, inability to resolve conflict and feeling unhappy and unloved. When our communication with each other is reduced to criticism and attack/defend, we have turned our marriage into a battle field.  When we constantly blame, rigidly refuse to listen, we will become disdainful and contemptuous of our partner.

So is there any hope for us? And if so, where do we start?

First, do you want your marriage to survive? Without resolve our attempts for healing will be sabotaged. Are you committed to doing everything you can to make your marriage work?  Remember, whatever problems you are having now that is not resolved will be taken with you to any other relationship.

Second, if you are committed, then ask God to help you become aware of your own unspoken needs from your past that you are bringing to your marriage. Ask Him for clarity, courage and strength to be honest with yourself.  Sometimes it is a desire to be nurtured, loved and respected.  Sometimes it is a strong belief that I have to do everything right to be okay.

Third, learn the skill of listening and mirroring back what you have heard without judgment or interpretation.  “If I understand correctly, this is what you are feeling…” Understand that each of us wants to be heard and validated.  We want to know that we are loveable and loved by God.

Fourth, be willing to be vulnerable.  We are fearful of being honest and genuine because we fear we will become less acceptable, less loveable. It is easier to blame instead of accepting we aren’t perfect, don’t have to be perfect, and we can accept both our strengths and our weaknesses.

And fifth, accept yourself for who you are.  Develop your core beliefs and inner strength.  You can be loving without becoming a doormat.  You can listen respectfully without having to agree with everything.  You can accept responsibility for your emotional responses without attacking. You can put up appropriate boundaries for what you will accept and will not accept.  This is especially important if there is emotional, psychological or physical abuse.  You cannot fix another person.  If you are in an abusive relationship, I strongly suggest you see a good licensed marriage counselor.

How do we build an open, sharing dialogue with our spouse?  How do we build a safe environment where each of us can share with the other? 

You can’t change anyone.  But we can change ourselves.  We can make choices that are healthy for both us and our marriages.  We can be loving and respectful but put appropriate boundaries in place.  Establish some communication guidelines agreeable with both of you.  You will not have a relationship is there is no way to communicate your needs and wishes.

Relationships that have mutual respect, acceptance and commitment require work.  But it is a work that is joyful because of the benefits that you will receive. It’s worth all the effort you can bring.

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

 

My thanks to my friend, Marlene Anderson, for her excellent marriage advice. If you’re interested in learning more, visit Marlene’s website: http://focuswithmarlene.com/ 

 

 

Love Letters from God: Bible Stories for a Girl’s Heart (Grand Rapids: Zonderkidz, 2017)

This picture book may have been written for girls, ages 4-8, but this grown-up girl (me!) finds it delightful. Stories of fourteen incredible women from the Bible fiLove Letters from God: Bible Stories for a Girl's Heartll the pages. Eve (The First Girl), Miriam (The Trusting Girl), Martha (The Busy Girl) are a few women whose inspiring stories are told. The author, Glenys Nellist, uses warm, easy-to-understand language to bring these Bible stories to life. Rachel Clowes’ illustrations are charming.

What makes this book unique is the lift-the-flap love letters from God that accompany each story. These sweet letters show a personal, tender, loving God who cares about each girl. As I read God’s love letters, I couldn’t help but mentally add my name on the blanks provided.

Dear Deb……Can you imagine how thrilled I was when I saw Eve? She was the very first girl I made, and she made creation complete. Did you know I feel the same way when I see you?

Talk about heart-warming! I’m excited to give this book to my granddaughter who celebrates her 5th birthday soon. I’ve written “Lucy” as the recipient of  each letter. She’ll be delighted to see the letters addressed to her.

If you have a little girl in your life, this book is perfect to show her how much God loves her. You might even enjoy reading it to yourself first!

You Carried Me: A Daughter’s Memoir (Walden, New York: Plough Publishing House, 2017)

I saw my graMelissa Ohden memoir about being an abortion survivornddaughter Lucy’s face for the first time on an ultrasound when her mom was about 20 weeks pregnant. The clarity of her facial features took my breath away. I fell in love at first sight!

I couldn’t help but think of my experience with baby Lucy when I read Melissa Ohden’s powerful memoir, You Carried Me. Her birth mother was farther along in her pregnancy than when my daughter-in-law had her ultrasound. The circumstances were tragic. Melissa’s mother had a failed abortion. Instead of dying from the poisonous saline solution administered to abort her, baby Melissa was born alive, weighing in at 2 lbs. 14.5 oz. She was adopted by a loving couple who were willing to take on the special needs Melissa might have as a result of the botched abortion. Miraculously, Melissa had no long-term medical complications. 

She discovered at age fourteen that she was an abortion survivor. Melissa had known from an early age that she had been adopted. Finding out that she was aborted and then survived, threw her into an emotional tailspin. Her courage to persevere in the midst of heartbreaking circumstances is inspiring. As a young adult, Melissa began a decade-long search for the truth about her birth and her birth parents. The outcome is nothing short of miraculous. At times while I was reading this book (which I could hardly put down), I had to remind myself “this is a true story.”

Melissa is honest and straight-forward as she tells her story, yet she’s careful to protect the identity of her birth parents. The level of healing and forgiveness the author has experienced in dealing with circumstances clearly out of her control, is a testimony to her faith. It seems Melissa’s life was spared for a greater purpose–to become a voice for the unborn and an advocate for women, men, and children impacted by abortion.

A Spectacle of Glory (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016)

I’m always excited about receiving a new devotional book, and this book by Joni Eareckson Tada is no exception. In my opinion, she is one of the most qualified individuals to write about showcasing God’s glory. Joni Eareckson Tada devotional bookShe has done this beautifully as she has learned, by God’s grace, how to live with the chronic pain and suffering of quadriplegia for nearly 50 years. I can’t imagine…

Her inspiration touched my life profoundly when I read her book, Joni, in the late 1970s. She wrote about the diving accident that left her paralyzed as a teen and how she wrestled to accept that God could use her life more  to impact others from a wheelchair than if she could walk. Her faith and wisdom has only matured through the years. Her latest book, A Spectacle of Glory, is a 365-day devotional that offers comfort and hope to anyone who is struggling with difficult circumstances.

Each devotional focuses on a Bible verse, followed by a short reading that encourages readers to allow God’s light to shine through them, no matter what they’re going through. The daily offering ends with a heartfelt prayer.

In one reading, Joni refers to Psalm 46:1. God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” She writes: When you are in trouble, God doesn’t just send help; He is your help. And this help is ever-present.

Joni’s writing is transparent, real, and encouraging. There’s a calmness and simplicity in what she shares, yet a gentle authority. Her daily insights will help you discover how to put God’s glory on display–how to say “no” to complaining and “yes” to following God as you walk the most difficult paths. I like this book because I feel like I have a friend accompanying me on the journey–someone who really knows the ropes when it comes to dealing with pain and suffering.

Handlebar Media provided a free copy of this book for my honest review.

Learning to Embrace Change

change-is-goodChange is something I’ve always resisted. From the time I was 13- years old and my dad announced we were moving from my small Midwestern hometown to a quaint “village” in Pennsylvania, to all the current changes, including retiring from my day job. Change is hard no matter what the circumstances. Even a positive change, such as retirement, can be challenging.

Twenty-one years ago, Randy and I decided to move from the Seattle area to the tiny town of Winthrop, Washington. I remember the combination of excitement and stark fear as we took on this new adventure. I also recall how hard it was to put the “for sale” sign outside our familiar home, the one where our sons had grown up. It was tough loading up all our belongings into that Ryder truck on a late November day. Then we drove across the mountains to an unfamiliar place where the only person we knew was a real estate agent. It wasn’t easy, but I’ve never regretted that decision. I had to let go of what was familiar in order to embrace what was new and ultimately best for us.

The perspective of hindsight is so interesting–and encourages me to welcome future changes. What I see as I look back through many years, is that most changes I’ve faced have impacted my life in a positive way.

It’s often hard to see at the time, though. At 13, I thought my world had come to an end when I left my dearest childhood friends. My dad had tried to point out the positive aspects of this move which I stubbornly refused to consider. In retrospect, Dad was right. Even though I loved Iowa, moving across the country gave me more vision for what might be out there in this big world.

When I married Randy and we began moving around the country–and the world–with the Air Force, Dad never lamented that he’d miss us and his grandchildren. He was always a cheerleader, saying how great it would be for us to explore the Far East and the other stateside places where we were stationed. “Now we have another new place to come visit,” he’d say with so much optimism I almost believed him.

Of course, there are changes that are anything but positive. Illnesses, job losses, and the loss of loved ones are beyond difficult. In the past decade, Randy and I have lost both his parents and my dad. And we’re all too aware of my mom’s aging–and ours as well!

I’m finally learning to accept that change is inevitable. Since that’s the case, why not embrace change instead of fighting it? I learned a long time ago  in Al-Anon that acceptance is the answer to most of my problems–especially those situations I can’t control.

So what does embracing change look like?

  • Look back, but don’t stare. Instead of wringing our hands about those “coulda/shoulda/woulda” experiences, we can consider what we would do differently, what we can learn from those situations. Sometimes you just have to cut your losses and move forward.
  • Be intentional about treasuring moments with loved ones. Losing someone we love will always be difficult. Instead of fearing what is inevitable with aging parents or other loved ones, by being intentional with our time, we will have an abundance of memories and gratitude for the ways this person has impacted our lives. A beloved physician who practiced in our town for several years, recently passed away from cancer at the age of 62. A friend wrote on her online memorial/tribute page how she had told Cynthia how sad she was to be losing her. Cynthia reassured her, “Yes, but just think of how lucky we were to have had this much time together.”  What an amazing perspective–and one I want to remember!
  • Remind yourself that change can be good! Sometimes when an unexpected change comes and knocks us off our feet, there’s ultimately something positive that can come from this experience. A job loss can lead to an unexpected opportunity, one you wouldn’t have considered before, or an injury that sidelines you for a while can give you perspective on the direction you’re headed with your life.

I’m all too aware as we embark on a new year, change can be expected and even welcomed. I’m telling myself, Don’t be afraid of change. Don’t get so settled into your comfortable routine that you miss new opportunities.

So when the trapeze of change swings in your direction, have courage to grab hold and then let go. It might be the best thing that’s ever happened to you!

What changes are you facing right now that seem scary?  Let me know…it will be a privilege to pray for you!

 

 

 

Friends For Life

Friends that Last a Lifetime

Captain Kalmbach gets ready for another adventure!

A couple of months ago, Randy and I traveled to Austin, Texas for a reunion of the 15th TRS (Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron) which was stationed at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan. We had an amazing time reconnecting with old friends. Most we hadn’t seen in more than 36 years, but we discovered that time didn’t matter. Our experiences had bonded us together in ways I hadn’t imagined. I couldn’t help but think that each of us had been divinely appointed to be there during those years–1978-1981.

As we reminisced, we wives wondered how we had ever survived being on an island the size of New Jersey–most of us with young children, with our husbands gone half the time. The guys flew RF-4s, the reconnaissance or “recce” counterpart of the F-4 Phantom fighter jet. They spent 2 weeks on temporary duty in South Korea where the 15th TRS operated a detachment. Then they returned to Okinawa for 2 weeks, a cycle that continued for the entire three years of our assignment. Randy never unpacked his suitcase!

At the reunion, we laughed about the challenges of coping with life on Okinawa, mostly by ourselves. Back then, it hardly seemed funny. When a typhoon threatened the island, our husbands left us behind to get the planes out of harm’s way. You’ve got to be kidding! I thought. They leave and we stay? To their credit, the squadron always left a few guys to check in on us, making sure we had everything we needed to weather the storm. We were grateful for that!

Communication (or the lack thereof) was especially challenging. We didn’t have any phones. This was long before cell phones or texting. Can you imagine? When Randy left for Korea, we were incommunicado–except for the “Phantom Express.” Other crews whose 2- week rotation was up brought letters from the guys who were still there. I still treasure a box of Randy’s “Phantom Express” letters.

Even though we dealt with our share of inconveniences, we knew we weren’t alone. Some of my dearest friendships were forged on Okinawa. The friends who sponsored us when we arrived gave us the lowdown on how to deal with life in a very foreign country, i.e., how to avoid mold growing on your shoes in those dark, damp closets among many other tidbits of helpful advice. One friend faithfully came to visit every Tuesday after work to encourage me and share her faith. Another friend’s joyful, optimistic attitude bubbled over and became contagious– no matter what you were going through. I knew I could always count on these friends. They made all the difference during those three years living overseas.

So when Randy and I received the invitation to the reunion, we hesitated to travel so far for a weekend spent with people we hadn’t seen for several decades. Neither of us anticipated the sweetness of reuniting with friends who had walked a very unique journey with us. Randy separated from the Air Force after our Okinawa assignment in 1981. Those who stayed in the service commented that they never experienced this depth of friendship at any of their future military assignments.

Maybe that’s because tough circumstances tend to draw us closer together. I’ve learned through the years to watch with anticipation to see who God brings across my path to help me find my way. After all, friendship may be the closest reflection of God’s love for us that we will ever experience. I’m convinced that some of God’s brightest reflectors happened to be on Okinawa at the same time as me.

 

 

Let Compassion Guide Your Social Media Conversations

Heart of compassionMaybe it’s just me, but it seems like social media conversations are often lacking in compassion. There doesn’t seem to be much restraint as people are quick to vent their emotions online.  The result is a nasty, mean comment that hurts!

I recently read a troubling conversation thread on Facebook. My friend had posted a picture of her son who would have turned 34 that day. The photo showed him on an earlier birthday, blowing out candles on a cake. My friend simply wanted to remember him in better times. Last fall,  he was killed in a tragic series of events. Sadly, he had suffered from mental illness. One day he snapped and killed three people on a random shooting spree near his apartment. Then police shot and killed him. There’s no way to understand the intensity of pain and anguish felt by each person affected by this tragedy. This would be any parent’s worst nightmare.

Most people who commented on my friend’s Facebook post had only words of compassion and support. Really, it’s impossible to find the right words. Then as I scrolled down the page, the mother of one of the victims weighed in expressing her raw anger and bitterness. The conversation that ensued seemed like a posting free-for-all. My heart ached for my friend and for this mom who are both dealing with an enormous burden of grief. I was thankful for a few voices who brought some reason and compassion into this volatile exchange of words.

Social media has brought many positive changes–the ability to communicate with a large audience, to keep in touch with friends by simply sending out a short update. Text messaging makes it possible to contact people quickly and efficiently. But lately, I’ve been more aware of the downside. Maybe it’s because you don’t look into the eyes of the person you’re communicating with, that makes it easier to send out brutal comments and criticism. People are quick to judge the mother whose child climbed into the gorilla habitat at the Cincinnati Zoo or the parents of the toddler who was attacked and killed by the alligator at Disney World. You just write whatever is on your mind and then hit send. There’s no compassion or even an attempt to understand what the people involved are experiencing. The biggest problem with social media communication? Once those words are hurled into cyberspace, there’s no way to retrieve them. The sting of negativity is there forever. It used to be that when you had a verbal confrontation with another person, there might only be a few witnesses, if any. Now, a Facebook or Twitter post can be viewed by hundreds if not thousands or even more.

Last Sunday, my pastor talked about how damaging words can be. He referenced James 3:1-12, a scripture passage that tells about how something as small as our tongues can be so destructive–just as a small spark can start a huge firestorm. (Something we’re painfully aware of here in central Washington as another fire season begins). The same guidance for speaking can be applied to our social media conversations. Instead of rushing to comment and pass judgment on others, maybe we should pause and ask ourselves the three questions Pastor Jeff mentioned in his sermon:

1. Is it true?
Do we know the facts about what’s being said–or is it hearsay?

2. Is it helpful?

Is what we’re considering passing along something that will have a positive impact?

3. Is it necessary?

How important is it that we share this information?

Maybe when we feel strongly about joining a social media conversation, we need to put love and compassion first and leave judgment and criticism behind. Most of us are struggling through life to do the best we can. And if there’s a need to confront or express our opinion, we can consider how to communicate this in the most loving way possible.

How do you respond to negative comments on social media?

 

 

Forgiven: Accepting God’s Amazing Grace

In 1992, artist Thomas Blackshear II, painted a picture titled Forgiven. It took my breath away the first time I saw it. The image is a contemporary man wearing a T-shirt and dirty jeans, holding a mallet in one hand and a nail in the other. The expression on his face is desperation and exhaustion. Standing behind him and holding him up, is Jesus. His nail-scarred hands appear large and strong. His face is tender as he embraces this man, a picture of God’s love and forgiveness, the real message of Easter.      He-is-Risen-from-StudioJRU

Tears welled up in my eyes. The man in the painting reminded me of my husband Randy. He had tried over and over to stop the deadly spiral of alcoholism that he was caught in. Sometimes he broke down in sobs of desperation and anger. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t stop drinking–even though it was destroying him.

But this painting gave me hope. Though Randy’s addiction seemed hopeless, as a Christian, I had to believe that Jesus was right there loving Randy, and that his arms wrapped around him would never let him go.

One week before Easter in the early 1990s, Randy agreed to have our pastor and others pray for him. Pastor Mark and several others placed their hands on Randy’s head and shoulders and prayed. It was powerful. We all felt the intensity of God’s presence. Pastor Mark turned to me and said, “Deb, here’s your husband back.”

I noticed Randy’s eyes seemed clear and at peace, no longer tormented. He felt free! Sadly, after a week of experiencing this miraculous freedom, the old patterns crept back in. Randy struggled with his addiction until 1998 when he finally came to believe that God loved him and had forgiven him. Grasping that truth made all the difference for him. He has been free in Christ since then!

Today, on Good Friday, my thoughts have turned to this painting and the picture of a defeated and desperate man. Tears come to my eyes as I realize once again, the power of forgiveness. Maybe Randy needed that very real taste of freedom he experienced in order to ultimately be able to accept God’s unconditional love for him.

Really, Randy is no different from any of us. We all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. We all have held the mallet and nail in our hands, demanding our own way, instead of humbly submitting to God. I like to think I would never have been part of the crowd shouting, Crucify him! I know better, though. Without God’s amazing gift of grace and forgiveness, I’d never have submitted my life to Him. Only through the pain and heartache of Randy’s struggle with alcoholism, was I finally able to surrender.

I can’t do this.

God can.

I will let Him.

Whatever challenges you may be facing today, the promise and hope of Easter always follow the desperate darkness of Good Friday.

God can do anything, you know–far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.

Ephesians 3:20,21 (MSG)

 

New Hope for Marriage Retreat

If you or someone you know is struggling in her marriage, I’d like to invite you to consider New Hope for Marriage, a small group retreat to help wives find hope for their hurting and conflicted marriages.

We’re now taking reservations for the Spring Retreat which will be held at Cedar Springs Christian Retreat Center, just outside of Bellingham, Washington, April 29-May 1, 2016.

Christie Miller, my co-facilitator, and I are passionate about helping other women come to the Lord for a transformation and healing of their marriages. We know–we’ve been there!

For more information, visit: www.nwspeakers.com

 

Marriage Advice for Wives: 5 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Got Married

Randy & me just starting on our marriage journey

Randy & I  starting on our marriage journey

Yesterday my husband Randy and I traveled to Wenatchee, our nearest “big” city–only two hours away. I had an appointment with the endodontist (dentists who specialize in root canals) and found out I need to return to have the troublesome tooth pulled. Boo hoo! It’s not a big deal, but not fun either.

But what made the day so pleasant was having my best friend with me. I could’ve made the trip by myself. No problem. Yet Randy insisted on taking the day off to come with me. On the 4-hour round trip, we  chatted about our family, the weather, world events and politics, our budget, and dreams for our future. We escaped the snow and enjoyed spring-like temps, taking a walk on the trails by the Columbia River. We topped off the day by shopping at Costco–really fun when you live hours away from shopping opportunities.  In spite of the disappointing dental news, we had a great time together.

That’s what I love about being married to Randy. We just “do life” together. And isn’t that what it’s all about? Being in the ordinary days, for the long haul–and enjoying the day-to-day moments. It wasn’t always that way, though. We’ve certainly experienced our share of marital struggles.

Recently, a friend who was hosting a retreat for young wives, asked several more “seasoned” wives to write 5 things we wished we’d known when we got married. She compiled our advice and presented it to the younger women.  I would’ve loved to have this help when I got married!

My list could have included way more than five items, but here’s what I came up with:

1. I wish I’d had a better understanding of what it means to love.

I thought all we needed in our marriage was love, but my model wasn’t the selfless type of love described in the Bible in 1 Corinthians 13. My concept of love was being married to a man who wanted to look into my eyes (on a daily basis) and tell me how much he loved me. I had watched way too many romantic movies—especially the 1970s Love Story where the main character’s words of wisdom were “love means never having to say you’re sorry.” A more experienced wife could have asked me, “And how’s that working for you?”

2. I wish I could have accepted and appreciated my husband for who he was and not for who I thought I needed him to be.

I thought marriage was all about being happy every moment of every day. Talk about unrealistic expectations! Some of Randy’s most endearing qualities are the ones I thought he needed to change. I’ve learned that love isn’t always expressed in words. If I’d been paying attention, I’d have realized that Randy’s actions spoke volumes about his love and commitment to me.

3. I wish I’d had the spiritual maturity to understand that God often uses difficult situations and relationships (especially marriage) to reflect who we are and to help us grow to be more like Him.

God uses adversity to refine us and shape us into His image…if we are willing to partner with Him and wrestle through the tough times. It’s way too easy to quit before we have run the course. Our marriage is much stronger today because we didn’t give up, even though there were many times when we both wanted to throw in the towel.

4. I wish I’d had the courage to speak truth (in love) to my husband. 

I was too afraid to rock the boat, to tell Randy how I felt about issues in our relationship. Instead, I expected him to be a mind reader and guess what was bothering me. When he asked, I’d say, “Oh, nothing’s wrong” instead of being honest with him. Learning to communicate has made all the difference in our relationship.

 5. I wish I’d had enough faith to really believe “all things are possible with God”–even seemingly impossible marriages.

It’s true that hindsight is 20/20. I can see a lot today that I couldn’t when we first married. There’s no way to compare the maturity of a 19-year old with the woman I am today who has grown through life lessons experienced through 45+ years of marriage. Yet, having even a mustard seed of faith to hang on and believe God is able to do far more than we could ever have imagined, would’ve gone a long way to find hope in the tough times.

It’s impossible for us to know everything about marriage when we first start out. So much is learned along the way, by trial and error. The good news is that no matter where you are on your marriage journey, God is faithful to see you through. And a little advice from others who have been there is always appreciated!

What is one thing you wish you’d known when you got married?