The Magical Marriage Fixer-Upper

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This week Mark and I will celebrate our 16th wedding anniversary. Clearly that means I was a child bride (right? RIGHT.). But more than that, it means I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be married – and a lot of it the hard way.

Though I’m happy to say my marriage is stronger than ever today, I would never claim the title of relationship expert. I have much to learn and am thankful for the opportunity to keep doing just that. But even while I’m in the process of learning to be a better wife, I know there’s one surefire way to improve my marriage in an instant.

Disclosure and clarification: I’m not saying every marriage – especially one in crisis or a relationship suffering effects of adultery, addiction or abuse – can be “fixed up” with one little change. Sometimes gratitude is not a quick fix or a fix at all, and sometimes more drastic measures are required. In those cases, getting outside help is my number one recommendation.

Okay, are you ready? Here goes:

Say thank you.

Now, quit it! Don’t roll your eyes at me! Give me just one minute to explain this seemingly simple piece of advice.

I know – OH I KNOW – there are times when it’s easier to say thank you than others. Some days gratitude just spills out of us – whether it’s to the husband who gets the trash to the curb seconds before the garbage truck rolls around the corner or the one who holds our hand as we await results from that terrifying medical test. Little things to big ones force our thankful hearts to bubble over into our words, our faces, our touch – into everything.

But – and please believe me, I’m talking to myself here, too – isn’t the same true when we are LESS than thankful? When that husband we love so much insists it’s your turn (AGAIN.) to get up with the baby or forgets your anniversary or birthday or big-presentation-at-work day? When he doesn’t ask how your day went or isn’t thrilled to eat tacos (AGAIN.) for dinner? How thankful are we then? What overflows into our eyes and our conversations then?

For the first MANY years of my marriage, I offered my husband conditional love. In fact, I was convinced that he needed to earn my love, my appreciation, my gratitude.

You’re right. This was NOT the recipe for a happy marriage.

Once I realized that gratitude was the answer – and not just some irritating platitude of all the marriage conference speakers and cheesy plaque makers – my marriage began to change.

I’m not saying expressing gratitude changed my husband. No, it changed me. It changed my heart and my perspective. When I focused on the things – something, anything! – that I appreciated about him, all of a sudden my Spidey Sense went alert for the good parts of the man I married instead of the mistakes and failings I’d been lasered in on before.

This isn’t easy. I mean, yes, sometimes it’s easy to look back on the day and recount all the wonderful ways my husband blessed me. But other days? Not so much. That’s what making this gratitude a habit is so vital.

In an era of “conscious uncoupling” (Sorry, Gwyneth, we haven’t forgotten.), why not make a stand for conscious coupling? Why not choose to be mindful of the things that still draw us to our husbands? Why not be intentional about choosing gratitude and choosing him?

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Sure, fine, yes – but what does that even mean? Well, I think it looks different for every couple, but here’s what it looks like in my house:

Use your manners. Say thank you.

I know. I already mentioned this. But I know the first people to suffer my bad moods or exhaustion or stress or WHATEVER are my family. The people who I love most and deserve my best often get my leftovers – and when that happens, it certainly doesn’t include using my manners.

He passed you the bread? Say thank you. He helped your daughter with her homework? Say thank you. He brought in the mail? Say thank you. He rented the movie you suggested? Say thank you. For all the little things – the things you would thank a stranger for, perhaps – say thank you.

Keep a gratitude journal.

When we began doing this I really only meant to teach THE OTHER PEOPLE who live in my house to be more thankful. Obviously, I didn’t have a problem with it. Except – and I’m sure you saw this coming – it teaches me something, too. Every time. Taking time to be thankful, expressing gratitude on purpose somehow transforms us into more gracious, more appreciative people. Not just in the three minutes it takes to go around the table and share. No, when you know that you’re going to be asked to tell your family what you’re thankful for each day (or, in the more practical case of my family, each day that you remember to do it…which might be closer to once a week), YOU LOOK FOR THINGS TO BE THANKFUL FOR.

And so it goes with marriage.

I had grand plans last year to keep a thankful marriage journal and then give it to Mark for our anniversary this year. Like so many of my grand plans, it kind of fizzled out. But I’m determined to try again! Writing down something I’m thankful to Mark for EVERY DAY for a year – and then giving it to him as a gift for our next anniversary? Well, it will certainly beat silver holloware (what?), which is reportedly the customary gift for 16 years of marriage. (Who’s in charge of making these things up??)

End your day with thankfulness.

Whether you climb into bed together or not, why not make your last words of the day to your husband ones of thankfulness? My husband works nights, so I often text him a good night message before I hit the hay. Though he’s never mentioned the days I make sure to thank him for getting up early to play with the kids or grilling chicken for dinner or attacking the weeds around the front porch, I can’t imagine it hurts. (Plus, he’s a man of few words . . . unless the topic involves sports or cars or work . . .) And now that I think of it, I need to do this more often.

Our schedule is crazy; yours might be, too. Some days are so busy we barely see each other and my thank you might be for something more big-picture, like Thank you for loving our girls. or Thank you for working so hard at your job.

I realize that not every marriage presents opportunities for gratitude easily. And I definitely know from experience that every marriage goes through challenging seasons where you might have to look REAL hard for something to thank him for. But I sincerely believe – and I have seen it in my own life – that looking for the good (and then appreciating it) can go a long way toward improving your marriage, your outlook, your life.

{In other words, being thankful WORKS FOR ME!}

What’s something you’re thankful for today?

 
This post was originally published at MomAdvice.com. Photos by ruthanddave and johnhopephotography.

Works for Me Wednesday :: Giving Up on Perfect

It’s time for Works for Me Wednesday. I’m looking forward to your tips, tricks, ideas and inspiration! If this is your first time linking up with WFMW here, PLEASE read the guidelines I shared in this post. Highlights include linking your specific post, not the front page of your blog, and making sure to include a link back to this site in your WFMW. Thank you!!

Blind No More

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They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”

He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”

Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.
~ Mark 8:22-25

Ever since I saw the new Avengers movie, I’ve been writing a post in my head. It’s a good one; I think you’ll love it. I had planned to share it today, but when I sat down to actually write this week, I got stuck.

I got stuck when I sat down to write for the same reason I couldn’t sleep when I went to bed.

It’s Ann Voskamp’s fault, really. I totally blame her for my tired eyes, my empty blog post – and my broken heart.

See, as I was winding down for the night, scrolling through Facebook one more time before logging off, I saw it. Two of my friends plus Ann had linked to her most recent post. I’d already gotten a notice about it via Google+ in my email – and deleted it. But, I decided, maybe I should click over and see what Ann is talking about.

Her post is called, “Into Iraq #2: What the News isn’t Telling You & Why We Can’t Afford to Pretend It’s Not Happening [Sozan’s Impossible Choice — and Our Very Possible One].” I’m a sucker for “What the News Isn’t Telling You,” enough that I ignored the “can’t pretend it’s not happening” part. Because if I’m real honest, the kind of honest I don’t want to be if you must know, that’s my strategy for most of what the news tells and doesn’t tell us.

It’s hard to face true tragedy and depravity, too hard. So I don’t. I don’t watch the news and I don’t read those articles and I don’t let myself feel or understand or — here’s that honest part — care.

But this week I clicked on Ann’s link. And I read her post. The whole long thing, on my tiny smartphone screen, sitting on my couch before going to bed.

I sat there and I read it and I cried. My head started shaking and my hands started waving and, in my head because SLEEPING BABY AT MIDNIGHT, my heart started shouting, “Stop it! Stop telling me this! WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO ABOUT IT?”

Finally, my phone went dark and I walked down the hall to take out my contacts. I climbed into bed, still shaking, and I reached for a novel about foolish people doing stupid things in a make-believe world that doesn’t matter. You know, the novel I hadn’t been able to put down all week? I reached for it, but my hand fell short because I just couldn’t.

Oh, I wanted to dive into a pretend world where the stakes were the opposite of high because they weren’t real. I wanted to sink into my pillows and dream about things only my tired brain could make up – and then wake up to a world where things like what Ann told me about were no more true than that novel or those dreams.

But I couldn’t. I couldn’t stop thinking, I couldn’t stop shaking or crying. I couldn’t turn away, and now? Now I can’t forget.

I didn’t know before. Because I didn’t want to know. I knew that I couldn’t handle it, that my brain couldn’t process it, that my heart couldn’t bear it. But now I know. I know and I was right. I can’t handle it, and I wish I didn’t know.

But I do. And I can’t very well go back to looking at the world, at this horrible, very real part of our world through fingers tightly clasped over my face, like I’m watching a grisly scene of NCIS. I’ve heard, from someone who has been there, just how horrific things are in Iraq. I’ve read about nine-year-old girls and the horrors they face, and I’ve looked at my seven-year-old girl, and I’ve cried. I’ve read about mothers choosing which children to take with them as they escape the persecution at their doors, and I’ve looked at my girls, and all I can say is, “No. Nononononono.”

I’ll write about the Avengers movie another time. But today you and I can be the superheroes, if we’re brave enough to click and to read and to understand and to know. If you’ve been blind, intentionally or not, this is your chance to have your sight restored and to see clearly. Please take a few minutes today. Read, pray, give. Just don’t look away.

These women are so much more eloquent than I am, and they have wisdom and hearts that I respect and trust. What they have to say is important. What we do in response is even more so.

Brushing & Smilestones with Orajel Kids

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Annalyn loves – LOVES – the dentist. For a while I thought maybe she wanted to be a dentist when she grows up, but no, she just loves the dentist. This is a good thing considering her teeth are a hot mess and she’ll be seeing a lot of the dentist over the next few years.

Unfortunately, her love of the dentist (and her love of, ironically considering my dislike, flossing) has not translated into the best tooth brushing habits. Again with the irony, that has not stopped her excitement for teaching her baby sister to brush her teeth!

And so I found myself in the bathroom with my two toothy girls, introducing Adrienne to the joys of dental care. (I had a little help with Orajel™ Kids, who sponsored this post.)

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(Don’t worry. I brushed her tiny teeth before handing over the toothbrush, which she [obviously] calls “M’Elmo.”)

Because my baby girl has had a mouthful of teeth for a while, our pediatrician has been urging me to get on the tooth brushing bandwagon for a few months now. In my horribly cliched, laidback second child approach, however, I’d been putting it off. Thankfully, I received a box full of Orajel™ Kids products just a couple weeks after her most recent check-up!

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The funny thing was that after I opened my box of Orajel Kids goodies, I looked in our bathroom cabinet and realized I already had several Orajel products! Adrienne now has a little Thomas Train toothbrush as a back up for her beloved “M’Elmo” brush. And the Orajel™ Bubble Guppies™ Fluoride Toothpaste? Well, Annalyn couldn’t wait to open it up and try it out. Because BUBBLE GUPPIES.

Well played, Orajel. The dentist will be pleased.

As the parent (and tooth brushing enforcer), I love that Orajel Kids products make caring for their teeth more appealing. From the familiar characters on all the products to the sweet toothpaste, it’s almost fun to keep their teeth clean! And there’s something for both my girls, despite their age gap. Whether kids are teething, learning to brush, or brushing on their own, Orajel Kids has you covered during every stage.

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It’s also reassuring that the training toothpaste for Adrienne (and any kiddo ages 3 months to 2 years) is fluoride-free and totally safe. Which is a good thing because she may have treated that toothbrush like a sucker after my initial brushing…

Orajel Kids also offers teething gel for babies four months and older. Adrienne isn’t teething right now, but I’m armed with both Baby Orajel™ Naturals Teething Gel and Baby Orajel™ Naturals Nighttime Teething Gel when it starts again! Both products offer safe and effective pain relief with the soothing power of chamomilla (and the nighttime gel has passionflower to help babies sleep more comfortably – COUNT ME IN).

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Now for the fun part (aside from these ridiculously cute pictures of my girls…). Orajel™ Kids wants to celebrate your child’s smiling milestones – or “Smilestones” – from their birthday celebrations! The Smilestones Birthday Sweepstakes will award one lucky winner an Orajel Kids gift pack plus the chance to win a $2,000 gift card for the ultimate birthday party. Simply share your favorite birthday memory with Orajel to enter. Good luck – and Happy Smilestones!

And after you enter the contest, make sure you download a coupon for any Orajel product here.

Anything that makes keeping my kids’ teeth healthy and clean easier works for me!

How do you encourage your kids to brush?

(Anyone else tempted to sing the “Brusha Brusha” song from Grease to their kids? No? Just me? Right. Moving on…)

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Orajel™ Kids. All opinions and adorable children are my own.

Works for Me Wednesday :: Giving Up on Perfect

It’s time for Works for Me Wednesday. I’m looking forward to your tips, tricks, ideas and inspiration! If this is your first time linking up with WFMW here, PLEASE read the guidelines I shared in this post. Highlights include linking your specific post, not the front page of your blog, and making sure to include a link back to this site in your WFMW. Thank you!!

3 Things I Learned from the Symphony Designers’ Showhouse

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On Mother’s Day Mark, the girls and I went to church and then to lunch. Then I left the ones who made me a mother at home and went out for the afternoon with my brother. In my defense it gave them time for naps and a quick trip to Target for their last-minute shopping. Also? It’s kind of what I wanted for “my” day anyway.

James and I went to the Symphony Designers’ Showhouse, a gorgeous historic home in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Kansas City. The Designers’ Showhouse is a fundraiser for the The Kansas City Symphony and its youth programs – and it’s basically like seeing a DIY Network show in person. As we walked through each room and saw its unique design, it was a lot of fun to see so many different styles from various Kansas City designers. And even though design and decorating is not exactly my strength, I learned a few things.

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First of all, it seems that “put a bird on it” is still a thing. Or maybe it’s not. But including little touches that fit into a theme throughout your home might be. James and I had fun trying to spot all the birds used in most rooms of the Showhouse (as well as an interesting armadillo, for whatever that’s worth).

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Secondly, I was reminded that details (even those of the non-bird kind) matter. James is very tall, but even if it weren’t for his height, I am certain we would have noticed the beautiful light fixtures featured in each room. Each one was different – from what we expected to see and from every other room. It was those added touches that made this home a Showhouse.

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Finally, I realized that when decorating, I’ve got to think more creatively. Out of the box, you know. On one wall, I saw wooden dough bowls turned into mirrors, and in another, I was intrigued by the way all the books had their spines facing the wall. The desk above was decorated with a book simply opened with its pages looped and folded. And don’t forget that armadillo.

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I also learned that it’s okay – and sometimes brilliant – to mix styles, interspersing traditional and contemporary pieces throughout a space; that the Nester knows what she’s talking about with that vignette business (I get it now! … Yes, I’m slow.); and that I really love abstract paintings by Kansas City artists (but, sadly, will never be able to afford the original pieces!).

Local friends, if you’re looking for something to do this month or would like to support the symphony, I definitely recommend checking out the Symphony Designers’ Showhouse. The Showhouse is in Hyde Park near 39th & Gillham, and you can purchase tickets at the door. It’s open 10-4 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 10-8 on Thursdays, and 12-5 on Sundays through June 7. You can buy tickets and find more info at http://showhouse.org/.

I received complimentary tickets to the Designers’ Showhouse but all elementary design lessons were my own!

When You Need to Look a Little Closer

When You Need to Look a Little Closer | givinguponperfect.com

We have this rose bush in our backyard.

It’s been there since we moved in 12 years ago, and the most we’ve done to cultivate it is trimming dead branches every couple of years. It’s wild and unruly, like my daughter’s hair or a Dixie Chicks song come to life.

And every spring we wait for the day it blooms.

When You Need to Look a Little Closer | givinguponperfect.com

Last week, as I was changing Adrienne’s diaper, Annalyn screamed, “Mommy! LOOK!” I assumed she was bleeding or, perhaps, that the house was burning. But no, as it turns out, this was a happy scream. She’d noticed – out the window next to her sister’s changing table – that our bush was blooming.

We had roses, and she wanted to go look at them. Now. In typical mom fashion (or, at least, typical ME fashion) I put her off for a few days, but yesterday afternoon we finally braved our swampy backyard to check out our roses.

When You Need to Look a Little Closer | givinguponperfect.com

I’d been watching the tiny red buds grow to brilliant blossoms outside Adrienne’s window. Every time I changed her diaper or her outfit or her shoes, we peeked through the blinds to the flowers. They made me smile and think happy spring thoughts (as opposed to the ones about allergies and tornadoes…).

But looking at the roses through the window wasn’t the same as looking at them outside.

As we sloshed through the post-storm grass to get to the side of the house where the rose bush lives, I had one eye on the one-year-old and her now-dirty knees and one eye on the red flowers. Immediately Annalyn began picking the prettiest blossoms off the branches, and I began snapping photos of the ones left.

Even the ones not deemed perfect by a seven-year-old were gorgeous – and definitely ready for their close-ups.

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It was only as I ran to pick up Adrienne as she attempted to escape through the gate that I noticed the dead branches tangled up in the bush. And as I stepped back a few feet and looked at the whole bush, I realized that it was kind of a mess.

Dull, brown branches full of thorns and no leaves.
Out of control shoots weighed down by the blossoms stubbornly blooming.
Crumpled petals and brown, curled leaves.

When I looked at the whole rose bush, sitting there on the side of my old, small house . . . it wasn’t nearly as beautiful. It wasn’t ugly, but it wasn’t pretty either. It was wild and messy and barely fit in my camera’s lens. It was out of control and overwhelming.

But when I moved closer again I got a better look . . .

When You Need to Look a Little Closer | givinguponperfect.com

Mondays are hard.

I woke up today feeling exhausted and grouchy, overwhelmed by a to-do list that cannot be contained with a single sheet of paper and ill-equipped to handle everything the week will bring.

If I look at my list – or, sometimes, my life – as a whole, it can be too much. It can feel discouraging to consider all the ways I am falling short and all the places I need to try harder. It can feel overwhelming to examine the big picture and to remember that I’m leaving a legacy and telling a story and ALL OF THE BIG THINGS.

So on days like this, when I really want to turn and run far away from my wild and unruly reality, I need to do the opposite. I need to look a little closer – to narrow my focus and slow my breathing and take it one branch, one blossom, one petal at a time. One set of towels to fold, one baby who wants to play blocks (again.), one email that needs to be sent, one post that begs to be written.

When I slow down and look closer, the beauty is easier to find. I’m not distracted by the mess, and I’m not overwhelmed by the chaos.

When You Need to Look a Little Closer | givinguponperfect.com

Maybe your Monday (or any day or every day) is hard, too. Maybe your to-do list gives you a headache and looking at the big picture makes you want to cry (or find chocolate). You’re not alone. Even a rose bush looks less than lovely with a perspective that’s too big.

If you’re struggling to get going again, if you’re convinced the week is already shot, if you’re not sure you can make it through another week or day or hour, come a little closer. Take it one task, one problem, one THING at a time. Find the perfect petals hidden behind the thorny branch.

When You Need to Look a Little Closer | givinguponperfect.com

And when you find that small piece of joy, hold on to it. The big picture is still there, and life is still complicated and chaotic. But if we look a little closer, we can see the beauty and find our focus again.

“All of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming
of some magical rose garden over the horizon — instead of enjoying
the roses blooming outside our windows today.”
~ Dale Carnegie