Your Spouse Is Not Your Enemy

Has your marriage become a battle ground? Have you lost the “we” and slipped into a “him or me” mentality?

Most people, when they’re newly engaged and married, can’t imagine that they may face times when they just really don’t like their spouse, or are so angry they see them as the enemy. Join Julie as she shares with us her own experience.

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Your Spouse Is Not Your Enemy
By Julie Arduini

As an engaged couple, we committed to attending a FamilyLife Marriage conference. We wanted to avoid any pitfalls that might come our way, and for my husband, this was hisengagement-925023_640 second marriage. I brought my own baggage into the marriage. We learned principles that gave us a great foundation.

One of the things we learned is so simple that it’s almost cliché: your spouse is not your enemy. If you’re a newlywed, it’s laughable. When would your beloved ever become your enemy?

Fast forward past our newlywed years, past my own chronic illness and infertility, job changes, a move, nearly losing our baby, and the death of my dad, and we were not in a state of oneness. During all these changes, we’d been separated during the week for a few months while my husband worked a new job out of state and I tried to sell our home in our current state. Once we sold the house and moved as a family to Ohio, we were certain life was going to be bliss. That marriage would click along like it did in those early years.

Instead, we were ensnared by conflict. He was used to being on his own because of the job change taking him away during the week. I was the single mom for a while and I found my own method of getting things done and I resented any correction he had for me. I was grief-stricken and tired. A fight ensued and I unleashed a lot of ugly. And out of my argument-238529_640husband’s mouth came the words, “I’m not your enemy.”

At first the words made me furious because they did feel like such a cliché. But as I calmed down I realized how far we had moved from that couple daily fighting for oneness as we had learned in that conference. We were in isolation and it was a terrible place to camp. And I was treating my husband like he was the enemy.

Finding our way back was a process, and we got worse before we got better. There were so many changes coming at us we didn’t know how to grieve or cope as individuals, much less as a couple. When we had our rock bottom, we went back to the principles that we started with. We became intentional in sharing with each other and building the friendship. We trusted God to remove our walls and let the other in as an ally. We looked for triggers that still tried to (and sometimes still do) trip us up. We returned to praying with and for each other.

It’s still a process. We’re in transition again and the temptation is there for me to see my husband as an intruder trying to rain on my party, and I’m sure he could say the same for me. This time around, I’ve went and confessed my thoughts and asked if my attitude is holding-hands-752878_640visible and I have brought him down. And without so many words, I’ve come right out and asked if I’ve made him feel like we’re enemies. Thankfully, the answer is no.

Marriage is tough. I’m a reader and I devoured marriage books before and after the wedding. I’m still in shock at the amount of work and warfare we have had to put in to put and keep our marriage in a place of unity. If you are looking at your spouse as a foe and not a friend, go back to the basics. Prayer. Communication. Forgiveness.

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January2016Julie Arduini loves to encourage readers to surrender the good, the bad, and —maybe one day—the chocolate. She’s the author of the upcoming re-release, ENTRUSTED: Surrendering the Present, as well as the sequel, ENTANGLED: Surrendering the Past, set for a spring release. She also shared her story in the infertility devotional, A WALK IN THE VALLEY. She blogs every other Wednesday for Christians Read. She resides in Ohio with her husband and two children. Learn more by visiting her athttp://juliearduini.com, where she invites readers to subscribe to her monthly newsletter full of resources and giveaway opportunities at Julie Arduini: Surrender Issues and Chocolate and the weekly email, Sunday’s Surrender and Chocolate.

Find Julie: Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can sign up for her monthly newsletters here, and her weekly Sunday’s Surrender and Chocolate here.

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Julie is working on something new. Be on the lookout on her website and Amazon page!

Entangled:
Carla’s been given her dream, to leave her job as sheriff and attend cosmetology school. The gift is so overwhelming that she struggles with feeling unworthy, especially since she still feels guilty for becoming a mom as a teenager. When Wayne Peterson reenters her and their son Noah’s life, Carla creates some tangles between her and her steadfast boyfriend, the flannel-wearing, truck driver Will Marshall. Can Carla release her past and create a future full of highlights, or, will she burn her options worse than a bad perm?

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Here are additional resources that helped us:

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livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about this: Let’s be honest: the real enemy is out to destroy marriages and will do whatever it takes–that’s evident when you look at the marriages around us. But there’s always hope (1 Peter 1:3-5)! Have you ever looked at your spouse and thought of him or her as your enemy? How did you move past that? What do you do now to ensure you don’t view your spouse in that way again?

Share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook, because we can all learn from and encourage each other!

For those following me online, here’s where I’ve been this past week:

Today, Julie and I traded places! While she’s here, I’m over on her blog. You can join me HERE.

Yesterday, I visited Ane Mulligan at Southern-fried Fiction to talk about responding to God’s call. Visit Ane’s blog HERE.

I visited The Engrafted Word Tuesday, interviewed by the wonderful Savanna Kaiser. Join us in the conversation HERE.

On Monday, my heroine, Alice from Breaking Free, was interviewed over on Margaret Daley’s site. Read the interview HERE.

This past Saturday was a busy one! I stopped by Patti Shene’s to talk about releasing the past and being transformed. I’m also giving away a paperback copy of Breaking Free. Join the conversation HERE. I also visited Jodie Wolfe to speak about writing Intertwined…and how I didn’t really follow the cliché rule of writing what I know. Visit HERE.

Last Friday, I was over on Heart of the Matter talking about the ways people pleasing can derail us and how we can learn to discern God’s will for us. Come listen then share your thoughts with us HERE. I also had a very fun, quick interview with Joselyn Vaughn. Read the interview HERE.

And finally, last Thursday I visited Zoe M. McCarthy’s site to talk about three elements that will strengthen our writing. Read the post, then join the conversation HERE.

Whew! Crazy busy but fun week. Hope you’re was amazing.

What Submission Looks Like in Modern Marriage

woman-975339_1920I’m a strong-willed, bull-headed, opinionated, outspoken modern woman married to a man who continually challenges me to pursue my dreams and make an eternal impact. And yet, I take Ephesians 5:22-23 literally, which says, “For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of His body, the church. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything” (NLT). 

Yes, the verse preceding this says we are to “submit to one another,” but here’s the deal–I have no control over my husband’s behavior but I have full control over mine. And in this instance, I can choose to obey Christ, trusting He truly does know better than I how to build a happy, intimate relationship, or I can operate on my own faulty, self-absorbed, deceived thinking.

Hm…

So, what does biblical submission look like in modern marriage?

It’s not oppressive. It doesn’t mean suppressing my God-given ideas and intellect and following my husband around with the remote and an iced soda. In fact, in my home, it’s rarely seen, until a major conflict arises. When that happens, I’m given a choice–dig in my heels and fight for my way, or surrender and submit, trusting God to work things out according to His will.

Let me illustrate with a story. When our daughter was young, I felt a clear and strong call to homeschool. Excited to embrace this new journey God had laid out for me, I shared this with my husband.

His response: No.

Not, “Let’s talk about this,” or “Let me think about this.” Nope. Nothing but a firm, “No.”

So, being the stubborn, opinionated, and at times self-righteous, woman I am, I fought, nagged,

photo by marcolm taken from freedigitalphotos.net

photo by marcolm taken from freedigitalphotos.net

argued, pestered, and cajoled in an effort to get my way–which I firmly believed was God’s way.

The result? The tension in our marriage increased and our home became a battle ground. Steve and I grew further apart, far from the united front our daughter needed.

Convinced I was right and Steve was wrong, I turned to prayer, expecting God to rally behind me.

He didn’t. He told me to submit. To put my marriage above this thing, as important as I felt this thing was. So, with confused reluctance, I did, figuring I’d either heard God wrong or He’d change my husband’s heart.

God did the latter. Shortly before our daughter was to start her kindergarten year, my husband said to me, “Have you considered homeschooling?”

My stomach dropped. Had he seriously forgotten about the major battle we’d had over this issue? I’m not sure if he had or if his question was a way of initiating conversation, but regardless, in the two years I’d gone silent on the subject, God had begun speaking–to my husband. He’d changed my husband’s heart, and that fall, I began teaching our daughter from home with the full support of my husband.

Consider how different things might’ve turned out, had I continued to fight for my will. I may have worn Steve down eventually, got him to concede to my desire, but he probably would’ve resented me and our homeschooling for it. It would’ve been a mess for years to come. He certainly wouldn’t have stood beside me, supporting my efforts.

God’s way was better. But then again, isn’t it always?

I could share numerous other stories like this, of times when Steve and I stood on completely opposite sides of an issue with no signs of compromise and God gave me the choice to keep fighting or submit. And every time when I’ve chosen to submit, God has worked things out, in His timing and His way, and always, always for our good.

Because He’s good. And He’s sovereign. He has a plan for me, my family, and my marriage, and He’s committed to working out that plan. And in my marriage, when wills collide, God’s plan for me is submission.

livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about this. Ladies this is a hard one, right? I think because we’re fearful. We’re fearful if we concede to something, we’ll be trampled on or something will go wrong, or we’ll miss out on or lose something we hold dear. But faith is the antidote to fear–faith not in our fallible husbands but rather in God.

What areas are hardest for you to submit? When have you surrendered an issue to God, conceding one of your husband’s wishes, and what were the results? When have you dug in your heels and fought for something and regretted your behavior? Share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook, because we can all learn from and encourage each other!

(If you missed part one and two of this post, you can read them HERE and HERE.)

For those following me online, here’s where I’ve been this past week:

Yesterday I chatted about my novel, coffee, and other randomly fun things on Sarah Ruut’s blog. You can join our conversation HERE.

On the Internet Cafe’, I asked then addressed the question: Are You Training Your Child For Divorce. You can read my post HERE.

On Tuesday I stopped by Johnnie Alexander’s to share the spark behind my latest release, Breaking Free, which I offered as a give-away. You can join the fun and get entered into the drawing HERE.

Monday I stopped by Whispers in Purple to participate in a fun interview. You can join me HERE.

Last Friday I shared what seems to be y’all’s favorite post, a special road trip romance and how an anniversary trip to Seattle added color and depth to my latest release. You can read this story HERE.

And finally, last Thursday I visited the Inkslinger Blog to share an excerpt from Breaking Free. You can read that HERE.

 

 

Because You Both Can’t Lead

anger-19063_1920It’s the word that makes nearly every woman cringe, grit her teeth, stomp her foot and clench her fists. Probably because someone they’ve encountered has used this word to oppress and dominate, which is so far from God’s intention. But isn’t that just like Satan to twist something God meant for good into something burdensome and repulsive?

Before we go further, let me assure you, God never oppresses. He uplifts, equips, transforms, and sets free.

Jesus said, “The theif’s [Satan’s] purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them [us] a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10 NLT).

Satisfying. Abundant. The Greek word Jesus used here means “more than”, beyond what is anticipated, exceeding expectations, and going past the expected limit.marriageverse

That’s the type of life I want! I get it by living out God’s will, and in marriage, for me, His will is submission (Eph. 5:22-23). But before you cringe and close out this window, let me explain.

Things hadn’t been going well in our marriage. And when I say they weren’t going well, I mean our marriage stunk. Steve and I were so far from being the united couple we vowed to be, we spent most of our time living as enemies. In self-imposed isolation.

We had two options: divorce or get help. By God’s grace, we chose the latter.

Sitting in a small, homey counselor’s office, tears pouring down my face, I shared all the hurts I’d been holding on to for so long. I’m not even sure I made sense. All I knew was that I was lonely and felt rejected, and I was desperate for things to change.

When I’d finished crying, wining, and venting, the counselor looked at me with a rather stoic expression and said, “You want him to be the leader.”

I jerked back, blinked. Stared at her for a long time.

Um… what? Where in the world did she come up with that?

At the time, I thought she had completely misunderstood me, but looking back… she’d been right on. My heart was crying out for a spiritual leader. The problem was, every time Steve stepped up to lead, I slammed him down.

Through criticism. And “instruction.” Constant instruction. When he’d interact with our daughter: “Hold her this way.” “No, she can’t have that. Give her this.”

When he’d help around the house: “No, you’re folding those wrong.” “Use this cleaner.” “Those don’t go there.”

man-690201_1920And being the loving husband he was, he began to follow, and I’m pretty sure it was killing him. It for sure was killing our marriage. That afternoon as the two of us sat in the counselor’s office, God began to intervene, working in each of our hearts in order to create a united front. Helpmates.

The road getting there, however, was terrifying.

God’s inciting incident (for those familiar with writing lingo) happened at a quiet beach front house in a tiny fishing town in Oregon. My mom found and booked the place and the four of us–Steve, myself, my mom, and our daughter who was probably eight at the time–spent the greater portion of a week unwinding and reconnecting. With ourselves, one another, and God.

While there, my mom gave Steve and I a book, unfortunately I don’t remember the name, but it was about one man’s journey of learning to recognize and heed God’s voice. I loved the book and read it periodically on our trip. My husband, however, devoured it. Every time I looked his way, he was reading, his thick brows pinched in that studious expression that indicated he was deep in thought. He remained pensive for the rest of the trip and on our drive home from the airport after.

As we drove, he played one song over and over. It was by Third Day, “Take My Life.” You can listen to it here:

Watching him, I knew, I mean I knew-knew, God was doing something, but I had no idea what, nor did Steve tell me. Until maybe a month later when he looked me in the eye and said, “I’m quitting my job. And we’re moving.”

My stomach plummeted. “What? Where will you work?”

“I don’t know. Home Depot?”

“Where will we live?”

“I don’t know. Pick a place.”

At this point, I started to reach panic stage. This was so uncharacteristic of my husband. It didn’t make sense. But in my heart I knew, this was from God. I hated it. I was terrified. But something in me kept me quiet. At least, to my husband.

Fast forward another month, and with still no definite job in sight, we decided to put our home on the market. (Because I guess if one’s going to be jobless, they may as well become homeless, too, right? Oy.) The decision had been made–we were moving. Where? I had no idea, and I wanted my marching orders! So, as I tore our old, weed infested grass off our yard in preparation for re-sodding, I cried out to God, wining, venting, complaining, and begging–yes, begging–for Him to tell me what He was up to. Where we were going to go, and that everything would be okay.

He didn’t give me that. All I heard was, “Submit.” Again and again, “Submit.”

woman-83177_1280I’m not sure how or where I got the strength, but I did. Not because I trusted my husband. He was totally freaking me out at that point, but because I trusted God. Or at least, I was trying to. Maybe I should say I chose to trust Him, regardless of how I felt.

That was when God began to make a leader out of my husband. A strong, confident, sexy, loving, gentle leader. But he didn’t get there overnight, nor was the journey easy, for either of us. One of the biggest challenges for me? I learned I had to get out of God’s way.

Ouch, right?

This is a heavy, complex subject, this S word thing, and one that can’t be addressed, it seems, in a single blog post. Which is why I want to expand on the topic. Come back in two weeks to learn how I feel this biblical principle plays out in modern-day marriage. In the meantime, join me next week to hear from a very special guest, Tanya Eavenson, who will be talking about godly relationships in general and four in particular she believes God wants to cultivate.

FB Cover PhotoBut before you go, fun news! Breaking Free releases (online) in four days! Woo-hoo! (Which means I’ll be all over the Internet, and the midwest, in the days to come. 😉 ) (It releases in bookstores on April 4th.)

For those looking for deals, Christian Book Distributors is currently running a pre-order discount. Go HERE to buy the novel at 31% off! You can read the first 30-some pages for free HERE. You can check out scene location pictures HERE.

Oh, and for those who’ve read Intertwined, my publisher posted book club questions. Grab a friend and chat about your favorite parts of the novel and what it showed you. 🙂 You can find those questions HERE. And if you live or will be in the Omaha, Lincoln, Des Moines, or Austin area, I’d love to see you! Visit my Event Page to see when I’ll be in your area.

Finally, for those in the Omaha Metro, my church is hosting an amazing marriage conference with free childcare the night before. Check it out and register HERE and HERE.

 

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! When have you felt God asking you to do something that made no sense or evoked panic? How’d you respond and what was the result? Do you have any thoughts on the S word? What do you think God means when he tells wives to submit? Share your thoughts in the comments below, because we can all learn from one another!

Learning to Follow

surrenderProverbsversepicStrength is great, until it turns to pride. Determination is great, until it becomes stubbornness.

How was it my most admirable traits quickly worked against me? Against us?

I was a young bride. Naive, incredibly self-centered, and at times, self-righteous. And insecure. And, as a new mom, utterly terrified. Maybe that’s where our marital problems arose. I don’t know, but what I do know is, left on our own, Steve and I wouldn’t be where we are now, deeply in love, twenty-some years later.

My first venture back into “church-world” happened on a Mother’s Day. Though my husband and I had attended on occasion prior, we eventually quit going. Neither of us were living our lives for Christ. God was more like a back-of-the-mind figure, one we’d call out to once in a while, when things got crazy or we wanted something in particular then forget entirely for long stretches of time. Meanwhile, our marriage began to disintegrate. Not that it’d been incredibly strong to begin with.

But then one morning, completely absorbed in my misery, I took our young daughter out for a walk. I ambled through the neighborhood, pushing her in the stroller. I don’t remember what I was thinking about, but I’m sure I was rehashing all the woes of my life. (Woes of my own making, I might add.) I turned a corner, and a woman, also out for a walk, drew near. Upon reaching me, she stopped and said, “You should come to my church.”

I blinked. Um… Oookay. Then listened as she told me where it was.

The next Sunday, Mother’s Day, I went. Alone.

It’s hard sitting in church by yourself on Mother’s Day, staring at the sea of couples all around you. And as I sat there, looking about, all I could think of was, “I want that.” I wanted the happy little family. I wanted my husband beside me, his arm draped over my shoulder, while we bounced our squirming infant between us.

That picture of peace, love, and intimacy seemed to far away, so unreachable. I knew what I wanted–whatheart-700141_1920 our marriage needed–only I had no idea how to get there.

But God knew, and that Sunday morning He began to lead us on a journey that was equal parts frightening, painful, and absolutely miraculous.

It started with Him prying open my strangled grip on my life as He whispered to my battered and terrified heart, “Let go, and trust in Me.”

Trust in Him. Not in my husband and his ability to be what I needed. Not even in myself and my ability to be the wife I so desperately wanted yet continually failed to be. Trust in Him to work through our messy lives, heal our broken hearts, and not only restore our faltering marriage but make it stronger than it’d ever been. Stronger than we’d ever imagined.

It started with surrender, and that surrender led me to another S word. One that may make you cringe. It certainly did me! Come back next Thursday and I’ll share more.

If God’s saying the same thing to you, this song, one of my favorites, might encourage you.

6In the meantime, speaking of marriage, my publisher has released a free excerpt of my upcoming novel, Breaking Free, which reviewers are calling gripping and suspenseful. You can read it HERE.

Plus, I hope it’s okay to share, but I’m just so giddy about this… The other day I received the best review ever. What made it even better is that, that morning, I was feeling a bit discouraged. (We writers can be moody and insecure. I think it must be inherent to the creative mind.) And it felt like God was saying to me, “Keep at it, girl.” You can read that review here: One of the Best Books I’ve Read in a Long Time

Other resources you might enjoy:

The Spindle Chair (fiction, but wow, a great marriage resource.)

How Death Can Bring Life to Your Marriage

You Gotta Fight (Ignore the crazy bad posture. My word!)

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! Are you married? If so, I imagine you’ve had your share of ups and downs. What has God taught you, in regard to developing intimacy? Or maybe simply in regard to doing life together? Or if you’re not married but either hope to be one day or have watched other married couples with intrigue, what are some things you’ve learned that you plan to implement (or think your friends should!)? Share your thoughts in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook, because we can all learn from each other.

And… for those who are participating in our Brain Experiment–any verses you can suggest to help us find the strength and courage to surrender our significant relationships? Share them with us!

 

 

When Faith Grows Strongest

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Photo by artemisphoto taken from freedigitalphotos.net

Those who know me well are familiar with my slight obsession with music. If a song touches or tugs on my heart, I’ll listen to it over, and over, and over. It’s interesting, in a round-about way, that through a certain song that’s landed on my replay list and Scripture verses read each morning, God appears to be saying the same thing, and that thing is focus. Surrender. And stay ever close, because life is too short and the stakes are too high to become complacent or self-centered.

The first two lines in this song get me every time, and call me to pray. To surrender. To fight the tendency to become complacent, distracted and lukewarm.

(To my sweet friend SandyT, I wanted to text you this song yesterday but couldn’t do so from my phone.)

I encourage you to prayerfully listen to this song by Cloverton before reading Paula Rose’s post below.

Turning From Lukewarm Faith by Paula Rose

There was a time in my life when I let my faith become lukewarm. It’s not an abstract, intangible place. Looking back, I realize this was my own doing. I hadn’t my circumstances nor my trials to blame. Pressure and pain weren’t the catalyst. My cool down came at a time when I was fine, but I was waiting in the hallway of life feeling like I’d been standing there too long, waiting for a window to open.

How can I even think about how long was too long?

I came to realize through tragedy something I forgot through the plush mountains of good times and inside the periods of “not just yet.”

My timeline isn’t His.

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Photo by anankkml taken from freedigitalphotos.net

We are all aware that tragedy will bring you to your knees like nothing other, but tragedy also brings with it silver linings that make you realize you are not alone. In the midst of pain, we can find who and what has been missing, and this is the greatest present of all.

I wasn’t granted a perfect ending. I was granted the ability to return to His embrace and to realize how off track I’d traveled. Through our life many changes will happen, people will leave, and our role may be increased or decreased on a certain stage. However, even through these emotional roller coaster rides, He is there.

I found in life that we can travel full circle and back again, but we might let go of Him when we’re too comfortable or too hurried. I’ve realized that the truest test of my faith wasn’t the tougher times, but for me, the true test was in the hallway. In the end, I had failed, but I was still welcome. I had failed, but I was still loved. I stayed silent too long, but He waited to hear from me.

This was how I came to be devoted, all over again.

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Author Paula Rose brings an “average” family into extraordinary situations, brushes with life-size strokes of reality, adding just a touch of humor, and coats with suspense inside Christian fiction. Paula’s research gives readers a panoramic view from law enforcement and lends to character authenticity. She enjoys writing in the romantic suspense, suspense, and mystery genres, but when she’s not writing, Paula Rose is reading or playing amateur photographer. Member of ACFW. 2015 Genesis Contest judge. NetGalley member. 2014 Grace Awards judge.

Visit her online at Books-N-Reviews and on her website.

unnamedHer novel, Revenge:

As a job coach, it’s up to Olivia Foster to ensure her clients work in a safe environment, understand their positions, and serve their employer’s mission. The death of her brother drives her career choice, and she loves her job. It remains her only focus until one of her autistic clients goes missing. Then Olivia’s employer ends her position and adds her to the suspect list, but she makes plans to bring the missing young man home.

Detective Lt. Phillip Landon is deep into second-guessing his career choice, but his well-honed instincts see major flaws inside this missing person’s case. Surprising contacts, mysterious happenings, and threats can turn deadly. Can he keep Olivia safe, protect his heart, remove the job coach from someone’s target list, and adopt a faith he never knew all while adjusting to the new lives of his old family?

Find it online at ACFW Fiction Finder AmazonBarnes & NobleiBooks, and discover deleted chapters and more of the story at Kobo!

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! When do you feel closest to God? When do you find your faith to be strongest and most influential? Share your thoughts here in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook.

Last Sunday a double amputee from my church shared his testimony, and in it, one phrase really stood out to me. He said God had trusted him to go through the trial he had.

Wow, is that not powerful? You can see his testimony in its entirety here:

Reality Stories – Dave Newell from Reality Church on Vimeo.

Finally, for those who are local and looking to do some Christmas shopping, stop by Barnes and Noble in Omaha near the Oakview mall on Dec. 13th from 1pm-3pm(ish); I’ll be signing all three of my novels.

You Gotta Fight

Photo by Exsodus found on freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by Exsodus found on freedigitalphotos.net

Love, deep, growing, intimate love doesn’t just happen. You’ve gotta fight for it with everything you’ve got. Every day. Because every day, there are countless things pulling you and your spouse apart: busyness, job stress, the chaos of raising a family… the selfishness we’re all consumed with.

Yesterday morning I shared our battle story at an Art of Marriage conference. My husband thought it would help and encourage others if I shared it here, so he video taped me. The lighting’s not the best, and I sound a bit… winey and perhaps a little… writerly. 😉 But hopefully you can look past all the technical issues and glean from the message.

Living Fully Present in the Present

ID-100208307Ten years ago, one could go to a restaurant and see families actually talking. They could hold a conversation–like a full, twenty minute one–without the beep of an incoming text or emails halting it.

But then came smart phones and Facebook and all those alerts and instant messages that come with it, and suddenly, these things that we thought would free our time actually hold us in bondage. Those devices that we believed would keep us connected actually distract us from the very people we most want to connect with.

And I am by far the most guilty of this. I think it’s the instant ID-100103470gratification thing. Or maybe some sort of conditioning–you know, like Pavlo did with dogs and dog food. The bell rang; they got dog food until the bell alone could make them salivate. Now swap dogs and dog food with humans and instant messages. 😉

This week, I’ve been focusing on living fully present in the present. This started on a particularly hum-drum day when my body decided to rebel but my mind wanted it to behave like it had five years ago. I think that’s maybe the hardest part of chronic illness, well, the hardest part of adapting to it; realizing that life has changed. And that you can still find joy in that.

Unless you’re consumed with thoughts of what once were or what one day might be.

Because you can’t live–fully live–in the present if you’re always searching for a way back to the past. Nor if you’re trying to leap up ahead. It’s like maybe we feel we’re missing out on something.

Which we are. If we’re not living fully present in the present. We’ll miss out on a lot.

And we’ll never really enjoy the blessings God is giving us now.

Today I focused on doing just that. I put my to-do list, hum-drums, concerns for tomorrow or thoughts of yesterday aside and spent a wonderful afternoon with my princess.

It started with a trip to the UP building to join my hubby for lunch. The weather couldn’t have been better. Overcast, a slight breeze, maybe 75 degrees. Plus, I had annoyed my daughter a total of 0 times on the drive over. (If you didn’t believe in miracles before…)

We get there to find my husband waiting, inching toward the exit. We’d fully expected to eat in the company cafe’, which is lovely.

But he–and God–had other plans.

My husband surprised us by asking if we’d perhaps like to eat somewhere else, saying he “had time”. Guiding us out of the building and toward the historical Old Market area with it’s cobblestone streets, amateur musicians, eclectic stores, and every flavor of cuisine one could imagine.

We chose to eat at Blue Sushi Sake Grill as sort of a thank you for the generous donation they gave to the Hope for the Homeless event. Then my husband returned to work and my daughter and I spent the rest of the afternoon being silly-goofy.

Being fully present in the present.

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this. You can’t fully enjoy today if you’re trying to cling to the past. Nor if you’re always looking ahead for what might be. And it’s easy to allow all those momentary distractions to occupy our time, but though they may give us “pleasure”, they’ll never give us joy. Rather, left unchecked, they’ll steal from us those very things that do bring joy: close relationships, peace, solitude, gratitude, and praise.

In what ways are you living a partial life? What have you allowed to hinder your joy of today? What can you do today, right now, to live fully present in the present?

For those of you wanting to go deeper in your friendships, you might find my latest Crosswalk article helpful: How to Maintain (Imperfect) Friendships.

 

 

Am I Listening?

Oh, the messes I get myself in, all because I speak before I think. Often, before listening, which leads to a fair amount of miscommunications and relational tension. To listen, truly listen…

That’s the call of a great friend, right? And a good wife and mother?

CynPhotoTinyOuch!

Today author Cynthia Toney, author of Bird Face, talks about her tendency to listen (or not) and what she believes this says about her witness.

Read her thoughts then share yours, but first, I wanted to announce the winner of Shannon Taylor Vannatter’s give-away from two weeks ago. Shelia, congrats! You won a copy of Rodeo Song. I’ll contact you soon to discuss how to get this novel to you. 🙂

Am I listening by Cynthia Toney

Last month for the first time in my life, I read Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s me, Margaret. I didn’t know what to expect. The title was so old, no one was talking about it any more.

If you’re familiar with the story, you know little Margaret has a personal relationship with God. She believes God listens to her, even if her family members don’t seem to. But the story got me thinking, because not everyone has such a close friendship with God that they have the confidence Margaret does.

We encourage our children, family members, and friends to pray. Whether something goes wrong or right, or a favor is needed, God will listen, we tell them. But do we? Really listen to them, I mean.

“Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish” (Proverbs 18:13 NLT).

The urge to inject our own emotions, opinions, and related experiences into the conversation when someone confides in us and asks for our help is so strong. Sometimes we think about our response when we should be listening. We’re eager to say, “When that happened to me…”

But when we’re speaking, we’re not listening. When we’re multitasking, we’re not listening. When a friend is pouring busy-woman-1070268-mout her heart to me, but I interrupt her to take a call, am I listening? And if my child or sibling doesn’t believe that I—perhaps the one person he trusts—am listening, will he believe God is? After all, I’m right in front of him in the flesh or on the phone or Skype.

Fortunately, I’m now a Margaret. I know God listens to me even if no one else seems to.  Wendy, the main character in my novel Bird Face, is often like Margaret but sometimes not. Like many of us at different times, she loses trust that God listens and cares. Why? Because some of the people she trusts to listen and show they care, don’t.

Jesus was a great listener, and He showed us that we can trust Him and the Father to listen always. He set the example I want to follow, to reassure my loved ones that they will be listened to.

I’m reminded of a scene from the TV sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Raymond and Deborah visit their priest for pre-marriage counseling. The priest asks what they plan regarding children. Deborah says they want children. Ray says he hasn’t thought about it. She says, “We talked about it.” He says, “That doesn’t mean I thought about it.”

BIRD.FACE.FC.tinyBird Face

Anonymous sticky-notes, a scheming bully, and a ruined summer send almost-fourteen-year-old Wendy down a trail of secrets and self-discovery.

At the end of eighth grade, Wendy Robichaud doesn’t care one bit about being popular like her good-looking classmates Tookie and the Sticks—until Brainiac bully John-Monster schemes against her, and someone leaves anonymous sticky-note messages all over school. Even her best friend, Jennifer, is hiding something and pulling away. But the Spring Program, abandoned puppies, and high school track team tryouts don’t leave much time to play detective. When secrets and failed dreams kick off the summer, will Jennifer still be around to support her?

Using humor and offering hope, this story for ages 11 to 14 delicately addresses issues of bullying, eating disorders, imperfect families, and teen suicide.

Buy it here.

Let’s talk about this. I hate to use a cliché, but time LivingbyGracepictruly does fly, and if we’re not careful, relationships will slip away. I’ve seen this in my marriage and with my daughter. Prior to getting sick, I spent a great deal of time doing–always writing, editing, checking or responding to emails, on my phone… I missed out on so many opportunities to connect with my family because I chose to stay home or in my office, working, instead.

Then I got sick, and for a chunk of time, it really laid me out. I won’t go into detail because much of it is embarrassing, but suddenly, I wasn’t able to join my daughter and husband on family outings. I’m not sure I can quite explain how that felt. Each time they left to go to a movie, to the mall, out to dinner, whatever, I remembered all those times I could’ve gone but chose not to. And oh, how I regretted them!

Praise be to God, I’ve since improved greatly in stamina and health, but more than that has changed. My view–my priorities–have also shifted. Now, I’m determined not to waste a moment. I’m determined to be fully present, to engage.

I believe that’s one of the greatest blessings of living with chronic illness. It clears away the fluff and distractions and reminds one of what’s truly important and to grab hold of each moment, whatever it holds, with both hands.

What are some ways, today, that you can be fully present?

What can you do this week to connect, to  listen, to engage?

What about you? Pause to consider your relationships–with others and with God. Are you fully engaged? Time flies. Don’t let it depart without you!

Share your thoughts here in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook.

Dragon Slayers!

So they're not dragons, and he didn't slay them, but don't you just love that smile? Left to right: El Salvadoran, hubby, me, princess

So they’re not dragons, and he didn’t slay them, but don’t you just love that smile? Left to right: El Salvadoran, hubby, me, princess

If you’ve been following my blog long, you know I adore my husband. For so very many reasons! But early in my marriage, I often missed out on his dragon-slaying heroics, not because they weren’t there, but rather, because I was far too focused on the burps and hiccups and casually-tossed dirty laundry. Our marriage changed dramatically when I surrendered fully–my mind, my thoughts, my perceptions–to Christ and began to view my husband through His eyes. (I shared a bit of this in a recent Crosswalk.com article. You can read it here.) Once I began to voice all those accolades God sparked within my heart, a gloriously beautiful and tender thing occurred–those dragon-slaying heroics became more frequent as my husband steadily stepped into his God-given role of provider, leader, and protector.

Today a sweet friend, author of At the Edge of a Dark Forest,(a book I’m reading now and LOVE!!!Connie Almony, talks about her dragon slayer and the impact each of us headshot1have on that hidden hero lurking within each of our spouses. She’s also giving away a copy of her novel, At the Edge of a Dark Forest, to one of you, randomly chosen from the comments left on this post. 🙂

Does Your Man Slay Dragons For You by Connie Almony

Whenever I begin to write a story it always starts as a romance. Of course, my characters take off and do things I’d never have expected when I first “birthed” them (they’re like children that way). But in the beginning, it’s always JUST a romance. With this in mind, I know there will need to be a defining moment where the man must slay a dragon (of some sort) for his lady.

You may think this idea is sexist and old fashioned. “Why can’t the woman slay a dragon for him?” You ask.

Well that’s fine and dandy, and most of my heroines do some slaying too, but if I’m going to fall in love with the man (which is unnecessary for me with the ladies I write) he will need to be willing to take a personal risk to get the heroine what she needs.

In my novella, At the Edge of a Dark Forest, my female protagonist, Carly, explains this idea to her counterpart, Cole, when he teases her about her penchant for reading the genre. He, being a double amputee, wonders if he could measure up as a dragon slayer.

He does!

Why?

dragon-46429-mBecause dragons come in many forms.

Early in my marriage, I’d scheduled one of those free offers to check our heating and air conditioning to clear it for winter service. FREE, I thought, who could pass up FREE? I was a little naïve back then. Of course, after the check, the technician handed me a very long list of repairs we could have done at a “reduced” price by their company if I signed NOW. I was warned, if not done soon, the whole unit would blow, costing me thousands of dollars in the end. My heart pounded. What should I do? I don’t want to miss this opportunity, and I didn’t want to risk the larger expenditure that would surely come.

I called my husband as the technician huffed loudly and tapped his toe in front of me. I could hear the comforting smile in my husband’s voice as he asked to speak to the man. I handed him the phone. They chatted. A few minutes later, the man gave me back the phone and packed his things as my husband told me not to worry. He’d consult a friend who could advise us and potentially do the work for much less than this company. He did, costing a third of what I’d been quoted.

I don’t know why this seemed a big deal to me, but I felt like a dragon had been slayed that day. A dragon in the shape of a scam-artist who’d infiltrated my home and planned to drain me of my life’s blood … or at least some cash. It gave me great peace to know my husband knew how to interrogate this man to get to the truth, to call on resources, and to ensure his family’s home was properly cared for.
My husband slays dragons every day in his office, where he manages employees, ensures goals are met and a salary is gained to feed his family. He is my hero. My knight in shining armor. He is also the biggest encourager in my writing. I am blessed.

I once listened to a woman complain that her husband never thanked her for the work she did in the home. I hear ya lady—it can be a thankless job. But I was stopped cold when she recounted how he asked of her, “When have you thanked me for going to my job every day?”

I wondered, “Had I ever thanked my husband for his provision?” I hadn’t. I try to rectify that now … To thank him for the work he does and most of all delaying HIS dream of being a writer (for which he is very gifted) to provide for his family so I can pursue MY dreams.

Thank you, Rick Almony, for slaying all those dragons!

Have you thanked your dragon-slayer today?

Dark Forest--Final CoverAt the Edge of a Dark Forest:

Cole Harrison, a war veteran, wears his disfigurement like a barrier to those who might love him, shielding them from the ugliness inside. He agrees to try and potentially invest in a prototype prosthetic with the goal of saving a hopeless man’s dreams.

Carly Rose contracts to live with Cole and train him to use his new limbs, only to discover the darkness that wars against the man he could become.

At the Edge of a Dark Forest is a modern-day retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Only it is not her love that will make him whole.

***

Connie Almony is trained as a mental health therapist and likes to mix a little fun with the serious stuff of life. She was a 2012 semi-finalist in the Genesis Contest for Women’s Fiction and was awarded an Honorable Mention in the Winter 2012 WOW Flash Fiction Contest. Her newest release, At the Edge of a Dark Forest, is a modern-day re-telling of Beauty and the Beast about a war-vet, amputee struggling with PTSD.

You can find Connie on the web, writing book reviews for Jesus Freak Hideout, and hosting the following blogs: InfiniteCharacters.com and, LivingtheBodyofChrist.Blogspot.com.
You can also meet her on the following social media outlets: TwitterFacebookPinterest

 

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! In what ways does your spouse help you slay dragons? Pause and list them all right now, then thank God for them. It’s easy to lose sight of the heroics in the busyness of life, but they’re there. Let’s take notice! And let’s attempt to respond in kind. 🙂 (using both meanings of the word.)

We all want our spouses to be heros and heroines, but do we also want to be heroic–in our love, encouragement, words, our servanthood, our persaverance, and our commitment to Christ? Because we have no control or say in how our spouses respond. God’s assumed full responsibility for them and their behavior. But we are responsible for our responses–for being our spouse’s helpmate, encourager, and cheerleader. The question is, how are we doing? What are some things you do, each day, to honor the hero in your spouse?

Some ways to show your appreciation:i-love-you-786729-m

1) Tuck a note in his/her lunch or jacket pocket telling him/her what you love most about him/her

2) Send him/her a link to a sappy song, telling him/her it made you think of him/her

3) Buy a card for them and actually send it to them in the mail!

4) Engage in an activity they love (with them, of course!)

5) Buy them their favorite treat and let them know you bought it just for them

6) Send them random texts letting them know you were thinking of them

7) Ask them how you can pray for them then commit to doing that.

Share your thoughts here or at Living by Grace on Facebook.

Forced to Choose

sorrow-and-worry-692910-mIt’s a choice I never wanted to make. It tore me up, tore my daughter up, and I’m pretty sure, it tore my husband up as well. But when a situation arose where I had to choose between my husband and my child, I knew there was really only one choice I could make. For if I followed my mother’s heart, the one that longs to buffer my child from every pain and surround her with nothing but abundant blessings, I honestly believe I would’ve robbed her of that which blesses her most–parents with a healthy, united marriage.

It was 2012, and my daughter and I were content. Happy. We lived in a great cul-de-sac filled with involved parents and great kids. The kind of neighborhood where parents kidsplayingfelt safe allowing their kids to play outside on late summer nights. We were involved in a growing church, had our hands in meaningful ministries. Our evenings were filled with family dinners, lots of hugs, and plenty of laughter.

Only my husband wasn’t happy. Not fully. Long story short, things outside our home had become toxic, and he was ready for a change. For peace. When his boss offered him a transfer to the corporate offices in Omaha, he saw his chance.

But this chance came at a price. We’d have to sell the home we loved, one we’d spent a great deal of time and money-making our “own”. We’d have to leave our church and the connections we’d made. Worse, we’d have to uproot our high school daughter. Surviving high school is hard enough. Her trying to navigate the inherently awkward halls as a newbie? The thought made me ill.

I’ve seen her weather enough broken friendships, unexpected rejections, and cliques to know this was going to be tough. Painfully tough. I worried about lonely lunches and even lonelier weekends as she waited, and waited, and waited to establish safe, lasting friendships. In fact, I worried myself sick, and prayed for a solution. One that could provide a much-deserved blessing for my precious husband while allowing our daughter to finish high school in Kansas City.

I knew if I complained or fought against it, my husband would stay. Because that’s how he is, always putting others first. But I also knew how much he needed this move, how much he deserved it. And I trusted if I put my husband first, God would bless our daughter for it.

So we went, and I’m pretty sure the summer that followed was the toughest our daughter had ever faced.

And I wondered why? Why did what was good for one have to come at the cost of another?

It didn’t. It just took time for us to catch sight of God’s blessing. Which is what this move has been–a blessing. For all of us. On New Year’s Eve, as I listened to giggles rising from a basement of teens, I thought back to our move and all God has done since078. God has returned to us all we lost in Kansas City triplefold. And our daughter? She didn’t really lose anything. Her truest friends held on, and they remain close to this day. But now she has many more friends to add to her circle. Great friends. Christ-centered friends.

In short, this move turned out to be exactly what our daughter needed.

Because when we do things God’s way, everyone wins.

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this.

But… before we do, I want to invite you to pop on over to a new blog I joined with some of my sweet writer friends, Faith-filled Friends. We started this blog so we’d have a place to talk about our books, our characters, our fun research outings, and all the other things that make us smile. This month, we’re hosting a launch give-away. Join the conversation and get entered into the drawing for some great books and precious jewelry. 🙂 And make sure to subscribe, because you never know when there’ll be other gift baskets to win.

Then, join the conversation at Living by Grace as we chat about making difficult choices. Can you relate? Have you ever felt as if God were asking you to choose between a child and your spouse? If so, what did you do, and what was the result? Why do you believe it’s imperative, not just for us, but for our children as well, to put our marriage first?

Share your thoughts here in the comments below or on Facebook at Living by Grace.