Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Plastic beads or precious pearls?

In today's post, Dawn talks about men of character. I agree with Dawn, and it is something to keep in mind as I venture into the dating world.

When I contemplate dating and am tempted by the idea of sex outside marriage, the same thought always comes to me. What if giving in to this temptation causes a detour on the path that is leading me to the man God intends to be my husband? If I get distracted by what appeals to me at the moment, am I saying to God that I don't trust Him to eventually lead me to the prize?

It would be like grabbing onto the plastic beads thrown at Mardi Gras, while God is standing there with the precious pearls He wants me to give me.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Back to "normal"

Today's the day my life gets back to normal after the wedding. Yesterday was sleep, out to dinner with my Boston cousins, and some post-wedding let down blues. Today I go back to work at the office, back to my regular eating routine, and back to working out at the gym.

But for the bride and groom, and for the homes they left to start their own, there is a new "normal" beginning. For the parents and siblings, their new normal means one less bird in the nest. Might be that the vacated bedroom gets turned into an office or a sewing room. Or if it was the bigger bedroom, maybe the remaining sibling moves into it.

The bride and groom, who at this moment are about to board a plane bound for their Hawaiian honeymoon, have a big time new normal waiting for them in their new home when they get back. I remember what it was like for me to adjust to my new life as a wife. Fun...and a little scary too. It's like installing a new operating system on your computer...same computer, but you're not sure where everything is and how it's supposed to work.

Change is a part of life. What's funny is that the biggies - like marriage - can sometimes be easier to deal with than the seemingly smaller changes. Because you know they are going to be big, you prepare to adjust. The little changes are often unexpected and throw you for a loop.

The key to handling change is to remember that life is full of it. At times you will wish for change, and at times you will wish for everything to stay the same. Change can come from inside you (a decision you make to change something you can control) or from outside you (circumstances beyond your control). Either way you need to be ready and willing to adapt to change.

If you aren't, you will find yourself sad, frustrated or angry a lot of the time. And you don't want that to be what's "normal" for you.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Wedding Week - The Big Day is Here!

Read Part I
Read Part II
Read Part III
Read Part IV
Read Part V

Today's the big day! My outfit is laid out, my hair is touched up and trimmed, my nails are done. I only hope the bride is as ready as I am!

We have only touched on a few things that I feel are important in marriage. I don't have all the answers. I just know what I have seen, and experienced, and what I hope to experience again someday (God willing). I am going to end this series with the most important thing I have learned about marriage:

Men and women are different.

That noise you just heard was a collective "duh"...but don't be so quick to "duh" me! We are living in a time of great confusion. Society's attitude toward the traditional roles of men and women has shifted dramatically in the last 50 years. Some of that is shifting back now, and it may be hard to know exactly where we are at any given moment.

There will be days when you look at your spouse and realize you don't have a clue what they are thinking or feeling. This is normal. As you get to know each other those times of confusion will lessen, and you will think you have it figured out, but then confusion will hit again.

Fortunately, we have a guide to marriage (and everything in life) that has not changed with the winds of society - the Bible. In it you will be reminded that God made men and women different for lots of reasons. We compliment each other's strengths and fill in for each other's weaknesses. We complete each other.

Take time every day to pray for your spouse, and for your own understanding of them. Go to God with your big problems, and the little ones too. Remember that you are different, but that you were made for each other.

The Beatles sang "all you need is love". That's a nice thought, and love may be all you will need some days. But to have a truly successful and happy marriage, you also need patience, kindness, respect, faith, and an understanding of your role.

I'll conclude with a sentiment from a poem I read long ago. I cannot seem to find the origin or the author, and I'm not sure I have it exactly right, but here it is:

God made woman from the rib of man.
Not from his feet to be below him, nor from his head to be above him.
But from his side to be equal with him, from under his arm to be protected by him, from near his heart to be loved by him.

Love God, love each other, and love your marriage. Treat it like the most important thing in your life. Because starting today, it is.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Wedding Week - Part V

Read Part I
Read Part II
Read Part III
Read Part IV

Just a few more things to tell you...for now. I reserve the right as your Aunt to offer unsolicited advice to infinity and beyond! (Just be grateful I offer it here so you can read it, then take it or leave it.)

Get to know each other. Sure, you think you know each other now. But living together is totally different from dating. What I'm talking about here are those little things that can make a huge difference in the quality of your day to day life.

I have a friend who absolutely needs 15 minutes of solitude when she gets home from work. Her husband and children know that she needs to put her things away, change into comfortable clothes, wash her face and take a few minutes to unwind. Then she's all theirs. They know and respect this need, and life is better for everyone involved.

Be smart with your money.
Before I got married I knew money could be a big issue for couples, but I didn't understand how damaging bad financial habits can be in a relationship. Danny was actually much smarter than me about money when we first got married. Unfortunately, my bad habits rubbed off on him and we got into trouble more than once. Remember the difference between want and need. And be honest with yourselves and each other in all things, but especially in this area.

Build each other up. Sometimes it's fun to make fun of your spouse's cooking or driving skills. Or to put them down about what they do or don't do. Or berate them for starting yet another home project when the first ten they started have not been finished.

But think about it...every time you do that, especially in front of others, you might be planting a seed of doubt in your spouse's heart. A husband needs to feel that he's your hero, your provider and your protector. A wife needs to feel loved, cherished and attractive. Every little negative comment chips away at the foundation of a marriage.

Imagine that your spouse consistently praises you to others. Think about how that would make you feel. Then do it for them.


Friday, June 23, 2006

Aunt Judie Helpful Hint #7

We interrupt our series on marriage advice to bring you the following Helpful Hint.

If you are fortunate enough to have a job where you can work from home occasionally, and if working from home means you choose to work in jeans and an old t-shirt, with no makeup, and you are also trying to meet a man that might be your next husband... might want to pick a day when the fire alarm won't go off in your building before you have had a chance to brush your teeth.

Always look your best. You never know when you will find yourself in the company of five or ten manly-men-fire-fighter-guys.

Thank God I wasn't working in my pajamas.

Wedding Week - Part IV

Read Part I
Read Part II
Read Part III

Today's advice is a paradox...

Keep yourselves only for each other.


It is good to spend time apart.

Let me start with the second part. Just because you are now "one" does not mean that you should spend every moment together. You have a lot of things you like to do together, but it's healthy to have activities that are your own. There is no hard and fast rule on this, but maybe one evening a week it would be OK to pursue your own hobbies or interests (as long as they don't violate the first part of the paradox, which we will get to shortly).

If you like scrapbooking and he likes paintball, make that your night apart. If she likes to sit alone and read a good book and you like to cheer on your favorite team, set aside time to pursue those things. Once a year, my husband's cousins and their spouses take off in different directions - the men to a "manly men's fishing trip", and the women to wherever they want. It might be a week or a long weekend, but it's something everyone looks forward to.

Just everything else, moderation is key. At the risk of sounding like Forrest Gump...time apart for a married couple is sort of like chocolate - a little is a sweet treat; too much gives you a tummy ache and zits.

So if you should spent time apart, how do you keep yourselves only for each other? By being faithful, of course. But what does that really mean?

This goes beyond adultery, the ultimate sin against your marriage. Fidelity is gone long before a spouse gives in to temptation and crosses that line where there is no doubt they have cheated. A person doesn't just wake up one day and decide to have an affair with a co-worker. It happens gradually, starting with seemingly innocent activities like going to lunch, drinks after work, flirting and fantasizing. The point is, none of this is innocent.

Your loyalty to your spouse is an everyday thing. All of your sexual attention belongs to them. All of it. From day one. When you are in a questionable situation, and you are not sure you should be there, pretend your spouse is there and act accordingly.

Just remember, from the day you say "I do" the most important person in the (earthly) world is your spouse...not your mother, not your kids and not your boss. And as such, your spouse deserves your utmost respect, love and attention. They deserve the best of you, because they also have to put up with the worst of you.


Thursday, June 22, 2006

Wedding Week - Part III

Read Part I
Read Part II

I'll try to do this one and still keep this a PG-rated blog.

Make the bedroom your sanctuary.

It's not just a room. It should be a pleasant escape from the world. It is the place where the two of you come together as husband and wife. It's the place where you sleep and dream and love. (I know you might "love" in other rooms too, but when I visit I would like to pretend that you don't, thank you very much.)

Here is my advice about the bedroom:

NO TELEVISION. Seriously. The bedroom is where you experience one of God's greatest gifts; the gift he designed specifically (and exclusively) for marriage. Do you really want the bedroom to be the place where you also get tomorrow's weather forecast or play Donkey Kong? Watching the news or a hockey game or "All in the Family" reruns can be done elsewhere. (Especially you who have a TV in every other room in the know I'm talking to you.)

Decorate it together. I don't know for sure, but I suspect the bedroom on "Everybody Loves Raymond" (which I never watched in the bedroom) would have been decorated by both Ray and Debra since it was done in florals and plaid. However you do it, make sure it has elements - colors, textures and scents - that you both enjoy.

Keep it clean and fresh. Everything about the room should be warm and inviting. Clean sheets, fresh flowers and freshly-showered bodies are welcome. Dirty underwear on the floor and going to bed smelling like bug spray because you've been gardening are not conducive to a good night's sleep (or a good night of anything else).

Don't fight there. As I mentioned in Part II, don't go to bed angry. But as much as you can avoid it, don't be angry at all in your sanctuary. It should have only happy memories.

Remember what the bedroom is for. Make it your favorite room in the house. Sweet dreams!


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Wedding Week - Part II

Read Part I

This wise piece of advice comes from the Bible:

In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.
(Ephesians 4:26-27, New International Version)

Notice it doesn't say "don't get angry". Anger is an emotion, and God chose not to give us the ability to just turn our feelings on and off. But He did give us free will to make a choice of how to react. What this passage says is don't go to bed mad.

If Danny and I had practiced this, the early months of our marriage would not have been scarred by weeks of me giving him the silent treatment and a cold shoulder. As I look back now it was ridiculous. But at the time I didn't know how else to handle it.

He had hurt my feelings. I was trying to be playful in a newlywed kind of way, and he told me flat out that he wasn't interested. His words made me feel rejected and unattractive. I was hurt and angry. I could have just told him how I felt. It could have been over within hours, and we could have gone to bed at peace and started the next day in a good place. But instead I shut him out. I let my anger fester and dig in deep all those days and nights I clung to it. This black cloud polluted our marriage (and our marriage bed).

Making an agreement up front to never go to bed angry puts a deadline on the situation. You are forced to talk it out. You may have some late nights, especially in the beginning, but a late night is better than days or weeks of pain and the scar it leaves.


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Wedding Week - Part I

It's wedding week in my family. The first wedding of the next generation. And we're all very excited and proud.

So let me take this opportunity to really lay it on thick - my unsolicited advice, that is. These are just some thoughts from somebody who has been there. In my circle, I've seen many happy marriages, some awful marriages and too many divorces. And I was married for just over seven years. Here's the first and most important thing to remember:

Marriage is hard.

My parents were divorced when I was eight years old. Later in my teen years, I remember telling more than one person that when I got married I would MAKE IT WORK NO MATTER WHAT! I once said this to a divorced guy who could barely stifle his laughter. He wished me luck, and then told me I didn't know what I was talking about.

He was right.

When I first got married I knew that we would face challenges, but even at my advanced age and wisdom (ha ha), I expected that the two of us would almost always want the same things and would naturally work toward them together. I knew that the big challenges would come our way, but I expected that the day-to-day living would be easy because we were in love.

Expectations. Each one of us starts each day, each new adventure, each trip to the grocery store with expectations. We are unhappy (and sometimes angry) when our expectations are not met. I expected my husband to act a certain way, to say he was sorry when he unintentionally hurt my feelings, and to understand me (without me having to explain myself). Needless to say, I was disappointed a lot.

The best advice I can give you is to be aware of your expectations, recognize them for what they are, and adjust them when you can. When you find yourself angry or disappointed, think about what expectation was not met, and ask yourself not only if that expectation was reasonable, but also if your spouse had any idea of what you expected. Because neither of you is a mind reader (as far as I know).


Sunday, June 18, 2006

Lasting friendships

I just returned from another trip to my second home, with my late husband's family in Michigan. I got to see a lot of friends, and we figured out that we all met about 30 years ago. Thirty years!

What makes friendships last for decades, especially when you are hundreds of miles apart? Friendships start with having things in common, of course, but why do they last?

True friends, the ones who will be there for you no matter what, the ones you can pick up with after years as if no time has gone by, are the ones you can be totally yourself with.

“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.” Dr. Seuss

Sunday, June 04, 2006

A time to heal, a time to date

As you might have guessed from my lack of posting, yes...I did chicken out of the singles event at the local church two weeks ago. But my lack of attendance did lead to some interesting things.

When talking about my interest-turned-reluctance about re-joining the world of dating, I got a variety of feedback and (believe it or not) a couple of propositions! I guess the modern term is "hook-up", which is what two different male friends offered after I joked about what I really missed about being married (wink wink). I wasn't sure whether to be flattered or insulted. What I was 100% sure about is my values, which do not allow for casual sex.

Then a few days later I was at a wedding. I met a man who used to work with the groom, and we got to talking about dating. He's recently divorced and going on a lot of "first dates". I told him my story and that I hadn't dated in the almost five years I've been a widow. He looked at me with a puzzled expression and asked what the heck I had been doing for the past five years.

I didn't have a good answer for him, so I said "nothing much". Which isn't true. I have been healing. I have gone to school. I have been furthering my career. But I have also been hiding from a part of life that scares me.

For the first couple of years after my husband died, I was positive I would never, ever wish to get married again. That feeling was natural, and it has passed. I now know I do want to get married again. God may or may not want to give me the gift of a new husband, but if He does He's sure not going to deliver him to my doorstep with a big red bow and a tag that says "Judie's New Husband" (wouldn't that be convenient).

The events of the last two weeks have had a profound effect on me (and the hook-up offers kinda freaked me out). A trusted friend suggested that this might just be God's way of telling me that it's time to move on to the next chapter of my life. You see, God wants the best for us and wants to answer our prayers. But we have to take steps too. The outcome is up to Him, but we have to do our part as well.

So watch out dating world, here I come!