Why aren’t you like me?

Have you ever wondered how it’s remotely possible that someone could think completely differently than you? Is it just me that is continuously shocked that people don’t view things the exact way that I do?

I find myself falling into the trap of desiring “sameness.” And it creeps it’s way into my marriage the most!

I will say to my husband, How can you possibly rationalize THAT? Or WHY did you think that was ok? Or worse…have you LOST YOUR MIND?

What I really mean is…

Why aren’t you like me?

There are so many well-meaning spouses out there that fall into this same trap. We want to connect with our spouse, we want to love them well…but we get stuck…primarily because we have a hard time stepping outside of ourselves.

In it’s extreme, this can be a form of narcissism. For many of us, it’s simply a lack of understanding. We have yet to understand HOW to connect or give love to someone who is different from us.

There is no greater lie than a truth misunderstood.

-William James

First of all, let’s lay this out…gender differences are real. There is a marked difference between men and women. We must see that for what it is.

Generally speaking, men tend to be motivated by achievement and women tend to be motivated by relationship. When you have a conversation, it’s likely a woman will want to extensively chat it out and a man will want to fix it quick.

Beyond gender, we have our unique personalities. We are each created in the image of God, with unique characteristics and gifts. Each of us is a one of a kind, yet we tend to fall into general personality styles or traits.

Have you ever taken a personality test?

There are all kinds of them out there…many people have take the Myers-Briggs test for their job. Some folks have done a quick Facebook test. There are plenty of options.

Whether extensive or not, a personality test can help to give you insight to understand yourself and love who you are. When you understand yourself well, you can communicate to your spouse how they can best love you well. It’s a win-win, if you ask me!

Understanding our personality types has taken our marriage to a new level.

By identifying our individual needs, desires, fears, and default modes of operation, we are able to understand each other in a deeper way. Even more important, we are able to communicate and love in a way that is edifying for our spouse.

You may be saying, where do I even start? Good question!

Specific to your marriage and helping you understand how to love each well, Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages is a great place to start! It’s an easy to read, concise tool to get you loving your spouse according to THEIR love language by the end of the week!

If you want to dive a bit deeper into how you can enhance your marriage by understanding you and your spouse well, check out How We Love by Milan & Kay Yerkovich. This book helps to identify the things that are disrupting your marriage and leads you to make lasting changes.

How about taking a real good look at you? Want to learn more about yourself and how you tick? If so, the Enneagram is a stellar personality test that can help you discover yourself more deeply. The book we reference the most for Enneagram is Understanding the Enneagram by Don Richard Rios and Russ Hudson. The Enneagram test that we took is here. (Please note there is a small fee for this one, but there are also free tests out there)

One of the most important skills you can learn is how to talk so your mate will listen and how to listen so your mate will talk.

That skill is much easier attained when you both have a true understanding of WHO you are and WHY you think the way you do.

So, with a better understanding of your spouse’s personality type, the question of “have you lost your mind” won’t be relevant anymore. You will KNOW that their mind isn’t lost…it’s just different from yours.

And that makes all the difference.

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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

 

 

 

An old friend…Love.

Love is not only realistic, but our only hope of survival.  -Gary Chapman

I don’t know about you, but God seems to find ANY WAY possible to get a message He needs me to hear into my hands.

Most recently, He used a silly series of events to get me to listen to a book on CD (yes, a CD…those little round shiny things!).

The book was Love As A Way of Life by Gary Chapman, the author of the NY Times Bestseller The Five Love Languages.  I have owned this audio book for several years and it was packed away in boxes from our recent move.  However, it “mysteriously” showed up on the shelf I was cleaning the other day and I set it aside…maybe I would listen to it again once school started and I end up in long car lines.

When I had to drive 2.5 hours to the She Speaks Conference, I decided to listen to the book on the drive.  I thought I had come up with a brilliant idea, when, in fact, I now have no doubt that God planned on me listening just at the time all along.

From the moment I began to listen to Dr. Gary Chapman’s southern drawl, I was drawn into the overall theme of the book…Love as a way of life.

Love…as a way of life.

Almost immediately, I realized that I was not living out that statement.  It’s not that I didn’t love.  It’s not that I didn’t ever show love or receive love.  More so, it was not my current “way of life.”  Let me explain.

In the core of our being, we tend to have a driving force.  Something that drives our daily life and sets the tone for our days.  Dr. Chapman’s book tells us that love should be that driving force.

God’s love for us gives us the ability to love.

We love because He first loved us.  1 John 4:19

He calls us to love…out of ALL the things we do, He wants us to love.  

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.   Colossians 3:12-14

So, what was my “way of life” if I wasn’t “above all, putting on love?”  Fear.

FEAR was my way of life.

And here’s the real clincher….it was a fear of love.  What?!  A fear of love?

Have you ever been hurt?  Have you ever been scared to love because you were fearful of being hurt?  If so, you understand what I am talking about.

When we are hurt, we pretty much have two options: LOVE or FEAR.  Fear is the root of other emotions we may experience after a hurt….shame, guilt, anger, loathing, resentment, etc, etc, etc.  Deep at the core of those feelings is fear.

I was fearful of being hurt.  So I was choosing to keep a perimeter that love couldn’t break through.  When we place walls around us, we create a barrier to all that love has to offer us.  

My drive to that conference was life-giving.  Listening to what “love as a way of life” looks like helped me to see that I wasn’t living that way.  Fear was standing in the way of pure and true love that was waiting to pour out of me and into me.

None of the concepts were new to me, but I needed to hear them again!  How often do we  learn something only to have a need to revisit it, especially when we are prideful enough to think “I got this?”

I strongly encourage you to read or listen to Love As A Way of Life by Dr. Gary Chapman. I pray that God will reveal an area of your life where something other than love is your driving force.

May LOVE be YOUR way of life.

www.sidebysideministry.org

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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