Are you happy?

I was anything BUT happy.  It was the holiday season, which seems to be increasingly more and more busy.  We were in the thick of creating a Christmas concert for our church, we had house guests coming, we were hosting a large Thanksgiving feast, we had a small child who didn’t seem to like sleeping much.  There wasn’t a moment of our day that wasn’t filled with a “to do” or an “oh no!”  

It was a high-paced, stress-filled, energy-depleting time.  Have you ever experienced that?

I was not happy.

We barely had moments to breathe much less have a romantic date night.  We had filled our schedule so full that there was barely any room for any nurturing of our marriage. Has your marriage ever experienced that?

WE were not happy.

But we were committed.  Happy? No. Committed? Yes.  Thankfully, that commitment would help us set a new course.

Commitment says, “I love you because you are you, not because of what you do or how I feel.”

-Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott

Happiness is something we strive for…something we pursue. (unlike joy, which is a gift!)

When we are committed to our marriage, we desire to strive for happiness TOGETHER.  

We have found that couples who are not fully committed to their marriage tend to strive for happiness individually.

Happiness seems made to be shared.

-Corneille

You see, happiness is a habit that must be formed and cultivated.  Happy couples decide to be happy.  EVEN when circumstances are troubling or stressful.

During that season of stress, both of us allowed ourselves to be unhappy.  We CHOSE to allow the circumstance in our lives to alter our entire state of being.  We allowed negativity to enter in and we even spent valuable energy feeling sorry for ourselves and blaming others for our unfortunate situation.

As a committed married couple who love each other deeply and desire a happy life, we have a choice to make EVERY DAY.

We can choose to be positive and see the good or we can choose to be negative and focus on the bad.

And what one of us chooses affects the other, of course!  So, I tend to be more negative and Steve errs to the positive. If I continually stay in a negative mindset, it rubs off on him.  And thankfully, his positive attitude can pull me out of a negative spin as well!

We learned a lot during that stressful season.  We realized that we had taken on too much, that our marriage could not be nurtured well with so much on our plates.  We made some serious changes moving into the next season.  Together, we decided what needed to happen in order to cultivate happiness in our marriage and our family.

In all honesty, we are in a similar season right now.  Not the same circumstances, but we are both seeing the need for some shifting in our lives in order for us to experience more happiness together.  We welcome your prayers as we navigate this new season.

Happy couples decide to be happy.

What changes will you make in order to cultivate a habit of happiness?

Do you need to remove self-pity, blame or resentment to make room for happiness?

Can you think of a time where you rose above circumstances and chose to be happy?

www.sidebysideministry.org

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DO OVER: 3 Keys to Unlock a Lasting Love.

 

We are reading Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts by Dr. Les and Leslie Parrott.  We love this book.  We have walked through it with a soon-to-be-married couple and we are learning so much even as we encourage them toward a God-centered, thriving marriage.

Why read a book meant for those just starting this journey of marriage?

I don’t know about you, but my days and weeks are filled with “do overs.”  For example,  I have had to humbly ask my husband for a “do over” because some heinous statement has just come barreling out of my mouth and I wish I could stuff it back in my face.

Or my husband asks for a “do over” when he realizes he was trying to show me love with HIS love language rather than mine.

Or I create a “do over” for our family’s schedule because I become aware of an alarming statistic about a person’s need for rest and how it affects health and wellbeing.  New information tends to create new thoughts and ways of functioning.

“Do over’s” are simply…grace.  Allowing someone another chance.

When our marriage was riddled with lies, betrayal, anger, hurt and pain, it was a lifeless marriage.  So, when God provided a way through the storm and we began to heal our marriage, it became very clear to us that it was going to be a NEW marriage.

Reading books meant for newlyweds was amazing, because it helped us to look at our marriage with fresh eyes.

Every new day is a fresh start to get closer to the life God wants us to live.

That includes our marriages.

Do you want a marriage that lasts a lifetime?  Let’s think like a newlywed and hear from Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott!

Lifelong love does not happen by chance but is an art that must be learned, practiced, and honed.

-Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott, Save Your Marriage Before It Starts

A marriage must be nurtured well in order to grow and flourish in a healthy way.

The Parrotts share 3 ways to cultivate a healthy, thriving marriage:

Making Love Last a Lifetime

1.  Cultivate Passion

2.  Cultivate Intimacy

3.  Cultivate Commitment

Let’s dive deeper into those 3 keys for a lasting love.

Here are some ways to CULTIVATE PASSION, according to our esteemed authors:

  • Practice meaningful touch.
  • Plan mutually enjoyable experiences.
  • Compliment your partner daily.

I don’t know which of these is most difficult for you, but mine is the complimenting.  You see, I tend to see flaws first.  I am not proud of it, but I am hard-wired to “make things better.” I have a hard time giving praise if everything isn’t “perfect.”  Meanwhile, my husband feels most loved with “words of affirmation.”  Tough combo.  So, this is what I am working on right now…complimenting my husband DAILY!

How will you apply these principles of cultivating passion?

Let’s strive to CULTIVATE INTIMACY, shall we?  Here are ways to do so:

  • Spend time together.
  • Listen with a third ear.  (not just “half-listening”)
  • Practice unconditional acceptance.
  • Focus on commonalities.
  • Explore spiritual terrain together.

Which one of these resonates most with you?  Which one feels completely foreign?  The book goes deeper into what each of these means, so we highly recommend you consider grabbing Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts to read more.

Do note that cultivating intimacy isn’t just “have more sex.”  Many of us equate intimacy with sex.  I surely believe that when a couple is cultivating a higher level of intimacy, more sex comes quite naturally.  But the act of just having more sex isn’t going to gain you a deeper level of intimacy.  This is especially true for women.

(This is a topic I have considering writing about….if you would like to hear more about sex and intimacy in marriage, let us know in the comments or send us a private message)

Our third key to lasting love is to CULTIVATE COMMITMENT.  Here’s how:

  • Assess the high level of commitment.
  • Meet your partner’s needs.
  • Honor your partner’s promise.
  • Make your commitment part of being.

There may be nothing more important in a marriage than a determination that it shall persist.  With such a determination, individuals force themselves to adjust and to accept situations which would seem sufficient grounds for a breakup, if continuation of the marriage were not the prime objective.

-from the book Sexual Behavior in the Human Male

One of the most important changes we made in our marriage after the betrayal was to not allow an OUT.  We have agreed that we are married until death.  Period. End of story.

There is a huge amount of freedom in that choice.  It is a choice.  We ALL have that choice.

Is that a choice you and your spouse have made?  Are you completely committed to your marriage or is there an “out?”

Friends, in order to have love that lasts a lifetime, we must cultivate passion, intimacy and commitment.

When we do, we experience a love like NONE OTHER.

Based on this truth, what will you “do over” TODAY?

www.sidebysideministry.org

 

 

 

What did you expect?

When we got married, I expected my husband had the same expectations I did.  I mean, duh.  Isn’t that why we are marrying each other? Don’t we both expect the same things out of this marriage?

Ah, no.

That is the lie many couples believe when they get married.

The Lie:

We believe that our spouse has the same expectations that we do.

In their book, Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts, Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott share this very popular marriage myth believed by newlyweds:  “We expect exactly the same things from marriage.”

Here’s the truth…”What we anticipate seldom occurs, what we least expect generally happens-especially in marriage.”

What we anticipate seldom occurs, what we least expect generally happens-especially in marriage.

-Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott

That’s exactly how it was for us.  I came into our marriage with a highly romanticized view of marriage.  I also came in with the extreme expectation that we were going to be the BEST at being married…that we weren’t going to continue the cycle of broken marriages in both of our families.  The stakes were high for me, especially as an Achiever type.  I wanted to WIN at this marriage thing.

AND I wanted what I wanted.  I came into the marriage with selfish, unrealistic expectations that no human could fulfill.

I came into the marriage with selfish, unrealistic expectations that no human could fulfill.

-Lisa Goldberg, Side By Side Ministry

My husband came into the marriage expecting it to be peaceful and comfortable.  He also came into it expecting respect and LOTS OF SEX.

We all tend to live by a set of rules that aren’t necessarily spoken but are always known to us.

So, we enter marriage with our expectations and our unspoken rules and we ASSUME that our spouse has those same expectations and rules.

They don’t.

So, what do we do?

As I see it, there are two choices:

  1.  Continue on with your individual expectations and wait “patiently” until your spouse conforms to your desires or learns the magic of mind-reading.  Meanwhile, you are growing further and further apart because you are not operating from the same set of “rules” for your marriage.
  2. Openly discuss your differing expectations, set a new set of “rules” for your marriage that are spoken and agreed upon and know they will continue to change and evolve as you grow together as a married couple.  This creates a fertile soil for your unique marriage to grow, flourish and thrive.

We started our marriage with choice 1 and it nearly broke us.  We spent the first six years of our marriage in bondage to our selfish, unrealistic, unspoken expectations of each other.  It was painful and lonely.

When God miraculously breathed life back into our dying marriage, we began to humble ourselves (especially me!) to see our marriage as an opportunity to leave extreme expectations at the door and love unconditionally.

We also began to communicate those unspoken rules that we were holding over each other.  And we created our own set of marriage rules, so to speak, that were unique to us.

It’s not that we don’t have ANY expectations of each other.  We do!  We have REALISTIC, healthy expectations that are rooted in the expectations God has of each of us.  We now have a standard–set by Jesus–to live our life by.

When one of us veers off the course we have set for our marriage and our family, we do our best to gently restore the other.  And if new “rules” need to be set, we communicate that to each other. We don’t wait until the other “figures it out.” That would take us back to square one, right?

What are your unrealistic expectations?

What unspoken rules do you have?

How are your expectations working for or against your marriage?

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For the next several weeks, we are walking through the book, Save Your Marriage Before It Starts, by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott.  We will be sharing our personal SYMBIS assessment of our own marriage as well as many tools for a healthy, thriving marriage.  We welcome you to follow along! Also, we are trained facilitators in the SYMBIS Assessment, so contact us if you’d like to take the assessment with your spouse!  It’s an eye-opening experience and great way to start or tune up your marriage.

www.sidebysideministry.org

SYMBIS-badge-color

 

 

Chin up?

I looked at my list and sighed.  Like, one of those big sighs that lasts so long, you wonder if there is any breath left in your lungs.  I saw all the tasks that I had found important enough to write down.  You know the tasks…the things for the house, the things for the family, the things for the job, the things for the church, the things for the people….ALL the things.  All. the. things.

All the things.

With that huge sigh, my body sank…in a posture of defeat.  How would I get it all done? Who am I failing by only picking a few tasks to accomplish? Why can’t I be like those other people that have endless energy to pound out all their tasks on their list?

Slowly, my defeat turned to despair.

There was no way I could get it all done.  That thought was paralyzing for me, a very Type A personality.  Something had to give.

So, I thought to myself…Chin up, girl!  Chin up!  Don’t be defeated, just take one thing at a time.  Tackle what you can!  You can do this!  You know all that positive self-talk, right?  The things that those New York Times Bestselling authors tell us to do in order to achieve a million tasks in an hour?  Yes, I tried to tell myself all those things.  All the things.

But it didn’t work.  Because there was still defeat in my heart.  All the self-help authors in the world could not remove that defeat from my heart.  

“Chin up” was not going to cut it.

Then, I heard this statement from a wise woman…..

God cannot lift an unbowed head.

God cannot lift an unbowed head. -Meredith Brock

Remember ALL THE THINGS I had on that very important list of tasks?

Do you think God was on that list?  No.

Do you think I had scheduled time with God in that very busy week?  Nope.

Do you think I woke that morning genuinely desiring to accomplish what God chose? No.

Friends, I did not have ALL the things on that list.  In fact, I was missing the ONE thing that should have been on it!  God!

God cannot lift an unbowed head.

Someone once told me that when you are so busy that you don’t have time to pray, you should stop to pray all the more.  And in that, the prayers are not to be just me asking God for something….they can be heartfelt prayers of gratitude and thanksgiving and reverence for the ONE who created me.

If you are at all like me and need a list to get you through your day of tasks….may I humbly suggest that we put God on our list?  May we consider placing Him at the top, even?

Lets bow our heads to the one, true God…so that when we are overwhelmed or worried or begin to feel defeat, He can gently lift our bowed head.

God IS all the things.  He is IN all the things.  He wants us to bring glory to His name THROUGH all the things.

But He must come first.  He’s the only one that can remove the defeat and replace it with peace.  Not just in our to-do list…but in ALL THE THINGS.

Chin up?  Not in my own effort.  But God will lift my chin high when my head is bowed to   Him.

www.sidebysideministry.org

Do you have a hurt that needs to hear hope?  

You can watch our story…our journey from hurt to hope….HERE.

 

 

 

Today is the first day of the rest of your life…

This month, we are focusing on celebration! Woohoo!  We recently celebrated our country’s birth and we tend to spend July vacationing, spending time with family, and generally enjoying all that this life has to offer.

So, it may seem odd to you that, in this celebratory season,  I have chosen to share with you the words I spoke at my mother’s funeral in January.  Until you read them.  

Today is the first day of the rest of your life, Go for it.

This was a statement used by my mom, Valerie Strouf, on a regular basis throughout her life.

As a child, she would practically sing it while waking me up in the morning, yanking open my white eyelet curtains.

As a teen, she would remind me, after a bad grade or tough day, that there was always another chance to get it right.

As a rebellious college student, she would write me letters of encouragement and sometimes with rebuking, ending the letters with this statement.

As a young adult, she would end many of our hour-long phone calls with this statement, reminding me that, no matter what, I always had another opportunity to “go for it.” This was especially uplifting when I was auditioning as a green actress in New York.

Once I returned to the path that God had paved for me, as opposed to the self-reliant, destructive road I had chosen for several years, this statement had new meaning to me. It felt best accompanied with Psalm 118:24 “this is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Today is the first day of the rest of your life, Go for it.

This is how my mom lived her life. She had a blessed life. But it wasn’t an easy life. She had hardships, hurts and plenty of health issues. I am sure that there are many people here that can relate. Life can be hard.

AND she had an amazing strength, given to her by God. God gave her strength, grace, courage, and perseverance. I have walked 44 years with my mom, and I have watched her overcome so much, because of her faith. Not religion…faith. Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance in what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life, Go for it. This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.

There are so many things that I could share with you about my mom. I have lost the woman who knows me best in the world and I just keep thinking about all the wonderful times we had together. From a tiny apartment for two, road trips in the station wagon, perming my hair in the basement, ice cream at Beernsteins, shopping for prom dresses, Macys Thanksgiving Day parade, a perfect hair styling for my wedding, to high tea for two. She was an extraordinarily special woman. I could speak about my memories of her for hours. I miss her deeply.

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But I also know her quite well, and I can confidently tell you that the most important thing she would want me to share with you is that her beauty, strength, grace, perseverance, love, and joy came from Jesus and Jesus alone.

She faced the hardest moments and the most joyous moments of her life with God as her guide. Including throughout her final days. And she had peace in those days because she knew she would be with her Savior in heaven for eternity. And knowing her as I do, I know she would want each of you right there with her.

In the past couple weeks, I have heard many people refer to my mom as “such a special lady” with a “sweet smile” and a “beautiful soul.” Yep, that was my mom and what we all saw in her…that sweet smile and beautiful soul….was the love of God shining through her.

In these last several years of medical issue after medical issue, my mom made the courageous choice to face each day saying to herself, and all those around her, something she has been choosing to greet the day with for most of her life….

This is the the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life…..Go for it.

I love you, Mom, and I plan to do just that.

I pray that, whether you are riding high or at the lowest low, you would celebrate the life that God has given you and see that He has made this day…which is reason enough to rejoice…and celebrate.

www.sidebysideministry.org

 

3 Must-do Tips for Coping

I think its safe the say that we all have experienced difficult times in our lives. As long as we are living here on earth, it is certain that we will have hard times that we need to cope with. (John 16:33)
Depressing, huh? Well, it depends on how you look at it. As I shared HERE, coping with difficulties can be extremely challenging. As Christians, it’s hard to feel God’s presence in the midst of a storm.

Storms are super distracting and can easily derail us from seeing God clearly.

However, God is right there with us in the storm. His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9) and He has power over even the darkest of situations.
If that is true, then how do we—mere mortals—stay the course, or cope, with all that life throws at us?

I have found 3 ways that help me cope with tough times.

1. Pursue God FIRST.

When life hits hard, we tend to run to anything but God. Whether it’s the mall, a drink, exercise, or a slew of other things…we think doing those things are somehow going to “make it better.”
The absolute first thing we need to do when hard times come is PRAY. Talk to God. Ask Him for help. More importantly, pursue Him…get to know Him more. This has been a huge “a-ha!” for me in the last several months.
Many times when I pray or read God’s word, it’s with the goal of attaining a solution to a problem. Even when I am in the Bible for a specific study, I am reading in order to get the answer to the question posed. Most of my time in the Bible was spent seeking an answer to a question.
Recently, I had a hurtful conversation with someone I love. My heart hurt, I was wounded, and I felt utterly confused. I didn’t even know what question to ask.
So, I went to my Bible and just began to read, with the only desire being to know God better. Because if I knew God better, I could understand how to be more like Him. And if I am more like Him, I could respond to the situation as He would.

I read God’s words with a deep desire to know Him more.

And this crazy thing happened! I not only felt closer to God, but He also answered a question that I had not even known to ask yet! It was amazing!

When we approach God with a pure desire to know him, he blesses us with understanding that we didn’t even know we needed.

Resist going to all those other things first.
Things like “retail therapy” and “comfort food” may not be so appealing after you have consulted the Creator. Pursue God first.

 

2. Seek WISE counsel

When times are tough, it’s so easy to go to a friend–or just about anyone–and vent. Oh, we love to vent. Especially we women love to get it ALL out. We seem to feel better when we just “chat it out.”

Venting can easily becoming gossiping or produce a complaining spirit, and that only makes matters worse.

AND,  if we choose to speak to someone who is not like-minded, we can be led to respond to hard times in a way that will only darken the situation more and more.

The Bible tells us to seek wise counsel.

(Psalm 1:1, Proverbs 12:15)

And it also tells us that wisdom comes from God. (Proverbs 2:6)

So, that means we need to be very careful about who we share our problems with or whom we seek advice from. According to the above verses, we are to seek out godly wisdom from friends, family or professionals that follow our same belief system.

Coping well includes being surrounded and supported by people that will help you seek God first and follow His ways.

Don’t be deceived by the ways of the world.  Seek wise counsel, friends.

3.  Lean IN.

For many people, tough situations and hard times are something they prefer to just “forget about.” It seems easier to stuff it down, “let it go,” and move on.

Unfortunately, difficult things that require healthy coping skills rarely just “go away.”

They are usually things that need to be worked through, healed from, or forgiven.

They take time. Oftentimes, they are a process of healing rather than a quick fix.

Stuffing them down, ignoring them, or repressing them will likely lead to further hurt and frustration down the road.

What’s the alternative? Lean in.

See the problem or the hurt and face it head on.

Take the time to follow #1 (Pursue God First) and #2 (Seek Wise Counsel). Learn and grow from this hard time.  Allow the mess to be a message… for yourself or others.

It’s tempting to suppress difficult experiences, but it’s healing and life-giving to face them and experience the blessing God has planned for you through them.

Rather than choosing to ignore difficulties, lean in to them.

Friends, coping with difficult life experiences is not easy. But it can be easier when you choose health coping skills.

Pursue God, seek wise counsel, and lean in. You will be amazed at how God can work ALL things for His good.

www.sidebysideministry.org

Coping: In, Out or Up?

In the month of June, our focus here at Side By Side Ministry is on the subject of coping.  If you haven’t noticed, we do our best to follow a theme each month…addressing subjects that are on our hearts, and might be on yours, too.  Coping is a timely subject, as we have had to do our fair share of coping in the last several months.

The definition of COPE is:  deal effectively with something difficult.

The synonyms are especially interesting to me: manage, survive, subsist, look after oneself, fend for oneself, carry on, get by/through, bear up, hold one’s own, keep one’s end up, keep one’s head above water.

How are we supposed to cope or deal effectively with something difficult?

I can tell you this…it’s much easier to talk about how to do this when there ISN’T something difficult to “manage.”  Right?!  We can easily come up with some lovely answers to this question when our most difficult problem is deciding what to have for dinner.

But when we are burdened, I mean REALLY burdened with something that we have to figure out how to SURVIVE….how should we cope?

Confession time.  In the last several months, I have had several experiences where I have had to figure out how to “keep one’s head above water.” From unfortunate personal attacks– to the bittersweet leaving of friends and family to move to a new state– to the heart wrenching shooting at Douglas High School in Parkland– to my Mother’s recent (and way too early) death.  It’s been a season of difficulties that I have had to cope with.

As I have walked through this season, I noticed that I had three choices of coping: In, Out, or Up.  Let me explain.

3 Ways of Coping: In, Out, or Up

In

This type of coping is generally internal.  We choose to keep things inside, bottle them up, internalize emotions, process quietly, possibly wallow.  We may believe that we are simply “boxing up” the difficulty, perhaps to save it for a better time.  People around us may comment that we are “strong” because it’s hard to see that we are even experiencing a difficulty, as we are certainly not wearing it on our sleeve.  In general, we are counting on ourselves to heal ourselves when we follow “In Coping.”

“I can do this.”  “This ____ won’t get me down.”  “I’m better/smarter/stronger than that.”  

“No one else could possibly understand this.” “It’s too hard to share.” 

These are just a few phrases we might use when we are internalizing our coping.

Out

This type of coping is generally external and inclusive, meaning we are looking to someone or something else to help us manage our difficulty.  What or whom we seek out varies immensely.  We may seek out people, even to the point of clinging to them as we would a lifeline.  We may seek out escape items such as food, drink, drugs, tv, sex, pornography, gambling, extreme hobbies…anything that will help us escape the difficulty.

“I need a drink.”  “Call me back, I NEED to talk to you.”  “When I _______, I don’t even think about ________.”

Again, just a few phrases we may hear when we are externalizing our coping.

Up

This type of coping is the kind that allows you, even when fallen to the floor, to look up and seek God’s face.  Listen, I know this is the obvious “good way to cope.”  What believer doesn’t know that seeking God would be a good way to cope?  What believer doesn’t know this is the winning answer?  Deep in our hearts, as Christians, we know that our best method of coping would be to reach out to God to help us.

Yet, this method of coping is often the last one we choose.  Oftentimes, it’s more likely to be our “last resort.”  We are “reduced to prayer.”  How sad does that sound….reduced to prayer.  Sigh.

Seek the Kingdom of God first, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.  Matthew 6:33 NLT

Here’s the deal, it’s not that we can’t utilize the IN and OUT coping strategies.  BUT when we seek those methods FIRST, we are less likely to utilize them in a healthy, godly way.

When we seek God first, He will lead us to HEALTHY, GODLY coping methods.

The IN and OUT will look different when we seek UP first.

So, when God is sought out at the first sight of difficulty, we can certainly use IN and spend quality time in thought and prayer, processing what just happened with clear leading from the Holy Spirit, who lives IN US.

When we “go to the throne instead of the phone,” He will lead us to healthy external methods of coping….such as sending us to godly friends who will pray with us and keep us accountable or  introducing us to healthy habits like walking out in nature or taking an art class.

If we follow the OUT method without seeking God first, it’s highly unlikely we will seek out godly coping mechanisms.

Coping internally and externally are not necessarily bad, as long as God is guiding you first.

Confession time again.  In this season of difficulty, I have made some good choices in coping methods and I have made some poor choices.  My own choices are the main reason that I wanted to focus on coping this month.  I wanted to learn more about how, as a believer, I can cope with difficulty in a more godly way.  I hope you don’t mind exploring that with me.

In my next blog post, we will talk more specifically about tangible ways that we can cope well, in a godly way, with difficulty.

Friends, may we all seek God first in all we do, not just in hard times.  Knowing Him is what we need most in our lives and will lead us to cope well with all that life throws at us.

www.sidebysideministry.org