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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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

 

16 Years and the Cross.

On May 17th, we will celebrate 16 years of marriage! Every year we add to our marriage is celebrated as if we climbed Mount Everest! Cause…we did, didn’t we?

We were able to sustain a godly, thriving marriage for 365 days, even as the flaming arrows of life’s obstacles and distractions were hurled at us. That is worthy of SUPER MOUNTAIN CLIMBER celebration, in my humble opinion.

Why were we able to make it another year?

Because of one thing: THE CROSS.

We didn’t get a divorce when our marriage completely fell apart because of one thing: THE CROSS.

We are able to love, forgive, accept, and grow as a couple because of one thing: THE CROSS.

When Jesus and his grace, love and mercy became the cornerstone for our marriage, everything changed. We began a new marriage, centered on God, just before our 7th anniversary.

“When Jesus and his grace, love and mercy became the cornerstone for our marriage, everything changed.”

And the cross was beautifully represented that year. You see, only weeks before our 7th anniversary, we were both fighting to restore a completely broken marriage. Our marriage had fallen apart and we were only just starting to pick up the pieces.

My husband had only recently been introduced to the grace that comes with following Jesus. I had just returned to God’s path.  We were in the beginning stages of healing.

We spent most of our free time in marriage counseling, marriage strengthening activities, or intentionally learning how to love each other well. We were also spending a great deal of time studying God’s word, as we had learned that the Bible is the ultimate source on how to thrive in marriage…and in life.

This season of life was exhausting AND exhilarating.

Leading up to our anniversary date, I think we both were shocked– or at least pleasantly surprised– at the fact we were going to make it another year! We had been through so much, and we were actually feeling the joy–deep joy–of a godly marriage.

So, when it came to an anniversary gift for my husband, what could I possibly get him that would properly reflect how I was feeling? What could we do for each other to adequately celebrate a nearly impossible feat of seven years of marriage?

God proved his love on the cross.   -Billy Graham

On May 17th, 2009–our 7th anniversary—we handed each other a small wrapped gift. We slowly opened our gifts….and can you believe it…we both gave each other a cross necklace. A cross. THE cross.

We were able to make it another year because of one thing: THE CROSS.

And we both chose to boldly proclaim that truth with our gifts to each other.  And seriously, what are the odds?!

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Our choice of gifts only further proves that, in the season, it was very clear to each of us, WHO was carrying us and our marriage.  Jesus.

Do we all need to give each other cross necklaces in order to show Jesus is the center of our marriage? NO.  That is not my point.

What I want you to see is that Jesus and his sacrifice for us is what saved our marriage.

Allowing God to reign over our lives and our marriage was the game-changer for us.

Is Jesus the center of your marriage?  Do you and your spouse recognize His sacrifice for you was enough?  Do you know, without a doubt, that He loves you and will lead you?

John 3:16  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

www.sidebysideministry.org

Are You Listening?

A couple months ago, I had the pleasure of attending a leadership conference where John C. Maxwell was one of the keynote speakers.

Though his talk was primarily about leadership within the workplace, he made a profound statement that I believe applied to so many areas of our lives, especially marriage.

“If you stop listening to people in your life telling you difficult things, eventually they stop talking to you.”

Read that again. Marinate in it for a moment. Can you think of a situation or relationship in your life where this has happened?

Maybe you shared a concern with a friend and instead of listening to you or accepting your constructive criticism or advice, they chose to step away from the relationship?

Maybe you take difficult discussions very personally and become wounded to the point where you protect yourself from any further conversation in that arena.

Maybe you are “quick to the draw” and want to defend yourself or your actions immediately rather than even hear the person out?

For the first half of our marriage, I had a very hard time taking any kind of criticism from Steve. I would get really hurt or super defensive. I could barely hear what he was saying…and most of the time, I wouldn’t even let him get his words out completely. I felt like I was being attacked, even with the smallest of things.

Eventually, he just stopped talking to me about anything that bothered him. Guess where that got us? In a heap of resentment and hurt that nearly cost us our marriage.

We both know that there were several factors that caused the breakdown of our marriage. But this was a big one. Steve didn’t think he could talk to me about what he believed were problems in our marriage. Much of the reason he believed that was because I was a terrible listener.

It wasn’t until God humbled me and showed me, through so many others with failures in the Bible, that I was a sinful human.  I was going to continue to make mistakes. (and that God has already forgiven me!)   Gradually, I started to see what Steve had been trying to tell me for so many years.  But I needed God’s help to see it.

When we are a true follower of Jesus, we see things differently.

We don’t mind being humbled. (Or at least, not as much). We WANT to see the error of our ways so we can improve and become more like Jesus.

Without Jesus, we are just selfish people who want things the way we want them.

Who are we living for if we are not living for God?

SELF. Plain and simple.

Our selfishness and our defensiveness of our actions comes naturally when we are not following God.

In a God-centered, thriving marriage, spouses can speak calmly and listen well to difficult things. And they keep doing it. They don’t shy away from the hard stuff, because they know that God will equip them to work through it. And they have a strong desire to follow His will for their lives, which includes keeping a loving, unified marriage.

Does this mean you should finally unload all your grievances on your spouse? Should you share your list of “issues” that you have been keeping for the last couple years?

Take it slow. Each of us respond differently to difficult conversation.

A first step? Decide together HOW you want to have this type of conversation.

Steve tends to have a limit on how long these talks can last. If they get too drawn out and lengthy, he fades. So, I try to respect his need for (sometimes several) short conversations, rather than one, long talk.

Next.  Find out WHEN and WHERE would be best.

I have a hard time focusing and listening when there are distractions around. So, Steve will make a point of asking for my full attention or for us to remove ourselves from a room in our home that distracts me.

Don’t forget the WHY.

Why are you having this conversation?

Hopefully, it’s because you love your spouse and you want your marriage to be better….or something along those lines. So, make sure you express that. Remember, you are on the same team! This is not a time to shoot arrows at your spouse. This is a time to help your team grow and learn and unify.

Be flexible.

Guess what? Sometimes, you might be wrong.

Sometimes that difficult thing was just a misunderstanding. Sometimes you are the one who will need to share your faults and even an apology. Don’t sweep any of this under the rug. These are the moments that we grow.

Friends, be prepared to listen. Even to the difficult things. We want you guys to keep talking to each other.

In Everything?

In everything, give thanks.  1 Thessalonians 5:18

In everything?

Really?  In Ev-er-y-thing?  In everything, we should give thanks?  You know you have asked that question.  Especially at this time of year, as we are about the celebrate Thanksgiving, we see this verse…and we probably think to ourselves…well, not EVERYthing.

I mean, how can I be thankful for natural disaster? For death? For illness?  For depression? For loss of a job or home? For my overbearing boss?  For my annoying sister? For my spouse’s annoying habits? For MOSQUITOS?!

The Bible clearly says, IN EVERYTHING.  Sigh.

Check out a portion of an article* from Bible.org about this verse and those surrounding it….

This command means that in every situation we are to give thanks to our sovereign and good God and Savior. In Ephesians 5:20, Paul puts it, “always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.” Giving thanks in every situation does not mean that we must be happy with every situation or resigned to accept matters without praying and working for change.

Also, we don’t need to feel thankful before we give thanks. When God takes us through hard trials, we don’t feel thankful. But by faith we can say, “Lord, I trust that You are good and that You know what You’re doing in this difficult situation. I submit to Your sovereign hand and purpose, knowing that You will work it together for my good.” So, like rejoicing always, giving thanks in everything is often a choice to believe God in difficult circumstances.

When we are connected to God and trusting Him and His plan for our lives, we are able to have gratitude in all circumstances.  (Read more about my “attitude of gratitude!”)

So many times this past year, I have looked at a difficult circumstance and saw a situation devoid of anything worthy of being thankful for.  My humanness, my flesh, my sinful nature could not see past the weight of the circumstance.

Then the Holy Spirit intervened.  Gratitude began to replace fear…or hurt…or dismay.

God is above all circumstance in life.  God knows.  He sees what we are facing.  And He knows the outcome.  These truths alone are things we can easily be grateful for!!

We have a God who loves us, knows what we face, will protect us, and ultimately has ALREADY saved us from the worst.

When we believe in the saving grace of Jesus and His defeat over the grave, we can be grateful IN EVERYTHING!

Not FOR everything.  (We don’t really need to be grateful for the mosquitos, ok?)  But, as believers, we can be grateful IN this life, even in the darkest moments of this life.

Our challenge is to truly have a heart of gratitude in those difficult moments.  It’s easy to be thankful when things are going well.  It’s so challenging to be thankful when they aren’t.

Guess what?  When we are able to grow our gratitude, we change the way we view those moments.  A heart filled with gratitude doesn’t have room for fear, anger, and resentment.  Rather, it opens us up for things like joy, peace, patience, forgiveness and mercy.

“When you are grateful, fear disappears and abundance appears.”

In this life, I don’t think God expects us to be grateful FOR everything…..but He does ask that we be grateful IN everything.  And because of His love for us, we are able to do just that.

In everything, give thanks!

Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

www.sidebysideministry.org

*Read more on this subject through the link below.

https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-20-three-impossible-commands-1-thessalonians-516-18

What are you reflecting?

Driving with my 4-year-old as a dark storm brewed above, my son asks me, “What are those flashlights on the road?”  I respond, “reflectors.”  As any innocent seeker of knowledge would respond, he asks, “Who turned them on?”

I began to explain to him that no one turned them on, that they are actually reflecting the light off of my headlights.  Of course, he asked me WHY. (If you are a parent, you know that this conversation was FILLED with “whys.”)  I explained to him that it was to help me see where to drive while it was dark.

The idea of reflection was very puzzling to him.  So I began to find other examples of reflection in order to help him understand.  With full credit to the Holy Spirit, here is the best example I gave him:

Our car’s headlights are like God.  They are shining love and light into a dark world.  We are like reflectors.  We soak up God’s love and light, and then shine it out to others.  When they see God’s love reflected through us, they are able to see God’s path better. 

We aren’t the ones leading them…God is.  We have an important job, though.  We have a choice: we can receive God’s light and keep it all to ourselves, not letting any of it out.  Or we can receive His love and then share it with those around us.  God wants us to share it!

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shown in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.  2 Corinthians 4:6

I have to be honest with you…lately, it’s been easier for me to receive God’s love and light than to share it.  Sometimes it feels risky sharing God’s light, because people have a choice to ignore it or ridicule it or refuse it.  As a Christian, it can feel like a personal rejection when someone rejects the love of God we are trying to reflect to them.  It’s not an easy task…being a “reflector.”

This is where obedience comes in.  That little reflector on the road isn’t responsible for making sure I, the driver, am looking at it.  It’s simply responsible for reflecting light.  That’s it.  Our job is not to change people or save people.  Our job is simply to reflect the light of God to all whom we encounter.  God, in His infinite wisdom, will do the rest.

Are you reflecting God’s light to those around you?