Summer Fun: Date Challenge!

We are smack in the middle of summer.  Are you wondering where the time has gone?  Have you planned plenty of activities and fun for your kids but none for you and your spouse?

Welcome to the club.  sigh.

How does that happen??  Somehow, we find our calendars filled with all kinds of summer activities, most of which are not dedicated, intentional time with our spouse.  Even those of us without children will tend to focus more on group activities during the summer, rather than dedicated alone time with the one we love.

Group summer activities are not “date night.”  A fun group softball game with friends or a bbq with neighbors are great, social summertime fun!  However, those activities do not count as dedicated, intentional time nurturing your marriage.  

If we are not leaning in to our spouse, we are slowly leaning away from them.

SO, let’s lean in!

Let’s plan some intentional, summer fun for just the two of us!!!

Here are 5 ideas for affordable, easy, fun (and some you don’t have to leave the house) dates for you and your spouse.

5 SUMMER FUN DATES!

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  1. Farmers Market Surprise:  Go to a local farmers market.  Give yourselves $10 each. (or whatever amount you prefer)  Split up for a short amount of time and find something (or many things!) for your spouse, only spending the amount given.  Enjoy the time thinking only of what your spouse would like and then have fun surprising each other!  Once you have your gifts, spend as much time enjoying the market together.

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2.  Game Night:  Grab a board game, new or one you’ve played a million times, and play.  No kids allowed.  If you want to go the extra mile, get The Discovery Game, which is specifically for couples.  I have a good one planned for us…..BeanBoozled.  That looks like it will be a hoot!

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3.  Row, Row, Row Your Boat:  Find a body of water, rent or borrow a canoe or kayak (preferably one you share) and spend a couple of hours rowing your boat.  You can learn a lot about a couple by how they row a boat together!  LOL!  Seriously, though…we’ve had some stressful boat experiences because, shocker, we were fighting over who was in charge of steering the boat!  (Disclaimer: I was in the front and should not have been steering even though I totally was)  However, we have had some beautiful moments on a boat surrounded by nature.  Conversations are different on a boat…I don’t know why, they just are.  Try it.

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4.  Food Adventure:  Time to get daring!  Go to to a restaurant that you NEVER thought you would go to….or make a recipe together that seems a bit scary or includes ingredients that kinda freak you out.  Whichever you choose, decide together to try something new and strange!  What’s the worst thing that happens?? (Don’t answer that)  You could discover–TOGETHER–something new and exciting that you love!  *see above, I LOVED this beet pizza! Steve, not so much.

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5.  Tourist Time:  Find a local “tourist trap” that you have never been to and visit it, just the two of you.  It doesn’t have to cost a thing.  We have local museums with free admission.  Or you can visit a local park or beautiful vista off the side of the road (see above!).  It’s amazing how many wonderful things are all around us…and we only see them when we have guests in town.  (can I get an Amen?)  Go enjoy those interesting, fun and gorgeous places with the one you love most.

OK.  There they are.  Five, easy, totally do-able dates for you!  NOW, go do them.  Here’s the deal.  We are issuing a challenge, that we will do right along with you.  We challenge you to pick 3 of these dates.  Schedule them on the calendar.  Plan your babysitting swap or whatever it takes to free up 3 days or nights BEFORE LABOR DAY.

Experience 3 of the 5 date nights prior to Labor Day (September 3, 2018).  Take pictures (we need proof, kids!) during your date.  Post them to our Instagram or Facebook page with the hashtag #sidebysidedates.  When you have posted 3 dates, you will receive a gift from us!!!

Summer Fun Date Challenge:

  1.  Go on 3 of the 5 dates (just the two of you!)
  2.  Take pics on all your dates and post to FB or Insta with #sidebysidedates
  3.  Receive a fun gift from Side By Side!
  4.  Most importantly….lean in and have fun!!!

We can’t wait to see your #sidebysidedates pics!

http://www.sidebysideministry.org

 

 

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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

 

5:17

May is a month of celebrating for us….especially for me (Lisa).  The month of May includes our wedding anniversary, my birthday, and Mother’s Day.  Big win for me! 😉

Our wedding anniversary is May 17th and this year we will be celebrating 16 years of marriage.  Each year, we find a new way to celebrate.  Some years are bigger than others. (10 years was a trip to Italy…oh, if only all the anniversary celebrations could be that!)

Whether a simple dinner together, a thoughtful gift, or a getaway, we make a point of doing something out of the ordinary to celebrate the extraordinary.

We make a point of doing something out of the ordinary to celebrate the extraordinary.

It is EXTRAORDINARY that we are married for 16 years!  We don’t take that for granted.  Half of marriages end in divorce.  And many end in the first seven years.  We are beating the odds.  That is something to celebrate and thank God for!

Here’s the question, though….when should we celebrate that? Only when that wedding anniversary rolls around?  NO WAY!  We need to celebrate as much as possible.

When we celebrate our marriage, it is more likely we will actually stay married.  

When we look at our marriage as just another part of our existence, the union can quickly become stagnant.

When we view our marriage as anything other than extraordinary, that is exactly what it becomes…anything other than extraordinary.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be in an extraordinary marriage!  I want to rock this marriage thing!  I want to look at my husband every day and say, YES!!! I AM SO BLESSED!!!  And I want him to wonder to himself, HOW DID I EVER GET SO LUCKY TO MARRY HER!

Part of making that dream a reality is simply choosing to celebrate!  Here’s one way we celebrate our marriage.  It’s super simple but highly effective.

Our anniversary date is 5/17.  So, when it’s 5:17AM/PM, and we notice it, we acknowledge it to the other in some way.  If I am sitting at my computer writing and I see that it is 5:17pm on my screen, I stop what I am doing and send my husband a text, “5:17.”

That’s it, you say?  Yep, that’s it.  That is one very simple way that we celebrate our marriage.  We each know that our spouse has stopped everything in the middle of their day to acknowledge our extraordinary marriage.  No money spent, no trip taken, not even actual words.

If we are together when it’s 5:17, one of us will say “5:17” and usually we will give a quick kiss and move on with what we were doing.  Sometimes, it will produce a conversation or further encouragement.  Either way, it is a beautifully simple way to celebrate US.

How are you celebrating your extraordinary marriage?  How can you add celebrations throughout your week?

We would love it if you would share with us your ideas on how we all can be celebrating our marriages daily!  

Follow us on Facebook or Instagram and join the conversation!

 

 

 

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

My Own Worst Enemy.

Romans 7:15 I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.

Sometimes I am my own worst enemy.

There are some days that I literally look at myself in the mirror and say, “what were you thinking?”  Or I look behind me to see who my husband is staring at in horror only to realize he’s looking at me…because of something I just said or did.  And I think to myself, “How did that even just happen?”

Have you ever felt like that?  (Please tell me I am not alone!)

Well, actually, I know I am not alone, because the Apostle Paul tells us about something similar in his letter to the Romans.  And I gotta tell you…I really love this verse.  Not because I want to hear that Paul messes up.  Back up…yes, it IS because I want to hear that Paul–the Apostle, amazing follower of Jesus who led multiple people groups to the saving power of Jesus Christ–wasn’t perfect.  He made mistakes.  He did things he didn’t like and didn’t understand why.  Even the great Paul was a sinner….just like me.

I imagine him saying, “I am my own worst enemy.”

(It’s actually the sin within us that is the enemy, but I will get to that)

So, if the things that I do, the things I don’t understand but I know are wrong are coming from ME….then I am the only one that can change them.

If I am my own worst enemy, I–with the power of God–need to choose to change those things.

It’s super easy to look at others (especially those that are in close proximity-like your spouse) and see what they are doing that you don’t understand or things that you hate.  It’s easy to label them the enemy.  We seem to prefer to have other people to blame–scapegoats for our issues.

It’s not easy to look within ourselves and see the things we truly dislike, even hate.  And then, imagine being like Paul and publicly professing it!  What?!

Who wants to admit that they don’t have control over themselves?  Who wants to tell their spouse, or neighbor, or friend that they are doing something they don’t like to do?  It’s not such a fun task.

BUT it’s freedom.  Confession of sin is part of the process of growth.  Admitting our own faults–rather than focusing on everyone else’s–frees us to heal and grow.

We are always going to have sin.  We will always have something we are doing that we probably wish we weren’t.  But when we seek God to identify them, confess them and free ourselves from them, we have greatly lessened our burden and drawn closer to God.    That’s a win, in my eyes!

Sin (those things we hate that we do) separate us from God.

So, technically, I am not my own worst enemy.  My sin is most own worst enemy.  I am a child of God who daily needs to make the choice to kick that enemy out and make lots of room for the God I love.  The more I do that, the more open I am to loving those around me.

What do you do that you hate?  How can you ask God to help you remove it?