Marriage is NOT Happily Ever After

John and I planned a wedding in four months.  No, we did not have to get married, we just couldn’t wait to get married.

If it would have been socially acceptable, I would have done cartwheels down the aisle to him because nothing else mattered but becoming his wife.  Colors, flowers, music, details, and all of the things brides get crazy about, I let people arrange.  I just wanted to marry my best friend.

And when we stood at the alter saying our vows, I thought I knew what they meant.  I couldn’t wait to kiss him and skip down the aisle…happily ever after.

But, marriage is hard.  Marriage is really hard.  And really good.  And really hard.

Marriage in the first year is finding the new normal after both of you lived on your own and did things your own way.

Marriage is making dinner (not cereal or ice cream) every night.

Marriage is cuddling up to the man that wraps his strong arms around you at night.

Marriage is finding out you are pregnant when you were not supposed to have kids.

Marriage is fighting and realizing that you can’t storm out because you live together.

Marriage is forgiving quickly because if you do not, the grudge will get bigger.

Marriage is loving your wife when she gains 80 pounds with each child.  (insert “Oh My Word!” Emoji) and telling her she looks beautiful with his eyes when he looks at you.

Marriage is meeting each other in your darkness and slowly pulling the other out of the darkness.

Marriage is seeing the love in your husband’s eyes when you have post-partum with each girl and he continues to love you because he doesn’t know what else to do.

Marriage is having your own interests and cheering the other on when they do their thing: coaching, hunting, marathons, staying late in their classroom or office, finishing their graduate degree with two kids under two, and CrossFit.

Marriage is laughing at the private jokes that only the two of you understand and almost peeing your pants.

Marriage is not liking your spouse sometimes and loving them at the same time.

Marriage is praying with and for each other.

Marriage is appearing as a team when disciplining your kids, even if you do not agree how the other handled it.

Marriage is getting mad that he doesn’t see the things to be done that women see and just giving him a list because that is what he understands.

Marriage is respecting your husband and allowing him to lead your family.  And your husband loving his wife so much, she knows he would lay down his life for her.

Marriage is showing grace everyday even if you do not feel like it.

Marriage is doing whatever is necessary for your family when the economy tanks.

Marriage is staying awake, listening to your husband breathe, hoping your husband wakes up, when doctors do not know what is wrong with him.IMG_0103

Marriage is celebrating the little growth in each other that only the two of you can see.

Marriage is sneaking off into a closet to get away from your kids to get some alone time and laughing when you get caught.

Marriage is listening to the doctor tell you that his abrupt personality change from his illness could be permanent and he may never be the same.  And you choose to find a new normal with your husband no matter what that might be.

Marriage is growing as individuals, but never leaving the other one behind in that growth.

Marriage is arguing your point, but not always having the last word. (Even though you have one more point.)

Marriage is forgiving and really letting it go.

Marriage is hard.  Marriage can end when one person does not hold up their end, become selfish, holds on to wrongs, and grows leaving their partner behind.    Marriage takes more work than the fairy tales tell you.  Because at the end, it should say, “They worked their butts off to stay very married together.”

 

 

 

 

Saying No…Without An Explanation

 

“Hello, my name is Nikki and I am a recovering people pleaser.  I have been in recovery for 1.5 years.”

This is how an AA, NA, or any addiction meeting goes and how I assume People Pleasers Anonymous would go, too.

When John became sick last year, I was forced to say no.  I didn’t hesitate because there was no way I could do anything extra other than taking care of my family.  Between doctor’s appointments, the girls’ schedules, and work, I was consumed by family.  People would ask me to do things and I couldn’t.  I did not have time to explain.  The answer was no.  However, I got used to saying no and I am glad I realized how easy it is to say no without an explanation.

My name is no.  My sign is no.  My number is no.”  (a pop song by Meghan Trainor) The girls say this is my song and I have to agree.  It speaks to me on a different level than the writer intended, but at my age, I can make it say what I want it to say….no.

  1. People pleasers that learn to say no, will find freedom.

I was raised in a home where your performance was rated and earned you love.  Did you do well in school?  Did you do well in dance class?  Did you win?  This earned you a pat on the back, a right for your parent to say, “Look at Nikki, she did great…”  Also, you had nothing to ever be sad about.  “Pick up your lip before you step on it.” Or “You are crying?  I will give you something to cry about.”  Feelings were not good and they were not necessary, put on your happy face and smile, smile, smile…

I became addicted to pleasing people.  This is how I knew love and if people didn’t like me, I needed to do more.  If I was thinner.  If I was better.  If I was nicer.  If I worked harder.  If I could earn their respect, I would be okay.  But it never ends.  People pleasing is based on purely outside motivation to comfort the inner need of love and acceptance.

To overcome the people pleasing addict in myself, the verse I repeat constantly in my head is “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God?  Or am I trying to please people?  If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Galatians 1:10  I use a variety of questions to help myself say no and when I say no, I do not explain myself.  I simply say, “No, I can’t.”

  1. What are your priorities?

There are only 24 hours in the day and I need at least 8 hours of sleep to be a nice person.  That leaves me with 16 hours to get a lot done.  My first priority is to be a wife and a mom. Then there is work and working out, which I plan for everyday.  That doesn’t leave a lot of time to do anything else, but I ask these questions to discern if I will do something extra.

  • What is my motive? If it isn’t pure and I truly can not serve with a servant’s heart, I do not do it.
  • Can my family be involved? This is huge. If we can serve together, then yes, I will consider it.
  • Will this truly benefit people or just myself? If I am serving out of a “look what I did” motive, no. If I serve from a life on life influence mentality, then I will consider it.  I have found that my gift is one on one with people and I make time for that.  Serving for large fundraisers gives me great anxiety.  I want to please God by spending time and loving people on a smaller scale.

 

  1. Just because you are busy, does not make you important.

When John was lying in bed, unable to get out, we learned that life goes on with or without us.  I learned that life goes on when I tell others no.  People do not get distraught when I say no, I am not that important.  The people that asked simply find someone else.

If you have toddlers, your days are physically busy because their dependence is solely on you.  If you have adolescence or teenagers, you are busy because their lives are busy.  You spend most of your time in the car.  When parents get together, we talk about how busy we are and many times it is in a spirit of complaining.

Now that John is capable of doing more and is healing, we are very aware of the blessing and the privilege it is to have a life, but now, we discern how we spend it.  Most people will not learn this unless they have been through a life changing event, however I encourage everyone to learn to say no without explaining yourself.

  1. What am I modeling to our children?

Everyone and everything in life tells us that their thing is the most important.  Everywhere you turn, we are bombarded with advice that says, if you want to succeed, you must do this and this and this….How do we as parents teach our children to discern these claims?  As a parent, when I find myself saying “If I can get through this busy week, then I will be okay.”  Or “If I can just get to this, then I will be better.”, I have to stop myself and say, “No.  This is not how this is going to go.”  My children see a wild woman living from event to event, not having time to give to anyone, and usually yelling because I am stressed. (True story.)

I have a child that is a pleaser.  She hates to make anyone upset or mad.  We are diligently working on this so that as she grows, she can say no and will understand when and how to do it.  Her first step is to be able to say no to me in a respectful way.  This is not about chores or helping around the house, but in small things.  For example, the movies we want to see, or an outfit I think looks great, but she hates, or when she is asked to perform at an event, but does not have adequate time to prepare.  She is learning to find her voice.  It is okay to say, “no”.

The word “no” sets boundaries with toxic people. The word “no” protects your family time.  The word “no” gives us more freedom to find our purpose and time to love others with a pure motivation.  The word “no” sets us free from a bondage that ensnares us to please.  The word “no” gives us more time to say “yes” to the people and things that matter the most.  As I learned this last year, tomorrows are not promised, so living today well is the only choice I have.  The weight of “yes” can be a yoke around our necks and the heaviness can be lifted with just one small thoughtful “no”.

 

 

 

 

 

We All Have More Homework To Do

I remember sitting for hours at the table doing my Math homework.   I would look up the even answers in the back of the book, thinking my teachers wouldn’t notice that I didn’t show my work or I had no idea how to do the problem.  I just had the answer and that should be good enough, right?

Working through math problems (especially when math is your weakness) takes a lot of time, effort, erasing, and trying again.  Isn’t that the same process that we use in life?  Don’t we need to take a risk, work hard, mess up, and try again?  It is not only about knowing the right answer, but the process it takes to get to the answer…that is where the real learning takes place.  And that is what we need to remember when we are raising our children…especially middle school children.

I spent the last week in several schools, but mainly, I was in a variety of 6, 7, and 8th grade classes in a variety of middle schools.  Our kids are really working hard learning the processes of life and we, as adults, need to understand what that looks like: Work, erase, and try again.

In middle school, especially around 12/13, the process of change from childhood to adulthood begins a new phase and the dramatic changes that are happening internally are like a tsunami.  A HUGE TSUNAMI!!!  And although we see external changes, the internal changes are ones that we must be aware: physical, cognitive, emotional, social, and spiritual.  Here is a great chart to remind us about what happens:

Birth -2 Years Old= Sampling (the world opens up to them and everything is new)

3-7 Years Old= Testing (they try new things, pulling things apart, testing boundaries)

8-10 Years Old=  Concluding (confidence in what they believe, make statements, and insightful)

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This happens all at once or sometimes gradually, but it happens and sometimes you feel like another person invaded or stole your child and replaced them with a stranger.  This is normal.  This is puberty and the process begins all over again…

11-14 Years Old= Sampling (the world re-opens to them and everything is new)

15-19 Years Old= Testing (independence, trying new things, testing boundaries)

20+ Years Old= Concluding (confidence in what they believe, make statements, the abstract makes sense)

Most of the stress we have as parents is because we are expecting our kids to have the answers and the processes NOW.  No work.  No failing.  No erasing.  No trying again.  Just get it right because I told you so.

I see this in the day to day life in our house.  And yes, the process gets old.  The process get tiring.  The process means discipline.  The process means time.  The process means failure.  The process means communication.  The process gets emotional.  The process means forgiveness.  The process means risk.  The process means prayer.  The process means learning.  The process means surrendering our pride.

Here is a conversation we have often at our house:

“Here is the deal.  When you were little, you had a limited amount of emotions and learning.  There was a certain capacity to understand those emotions and learning.  We had much structure for you to learn the things you needed to learn and you did great!  Now, your body, mind, and relational skills are going through another metamorphosis and your emotions are bigger, your learning is more difficult, and the risks are larger with bigger consequences.  This prepares you to be an independent adult.  Your father and I are going to coach you through this.  Just like a new pair of shoes or a new lacrosse stick, all of this is going to be uncomfortable at times until you get used to it.  We are going to be with you through the entire process.  The good, the bad, and the ugly.”“

Our kids can not skip to the back of the book to get to the answers.  And adults just telling the answers does not work.   They need opportunity to practice in all of the areas.  We need to allow that process.  It will get messy.  They need to mess up and fail.   The best lessons are learned that way.  But, settle in.  We all have a little more homework to do.

 

 

My Mouth Is a Volcano

There is a fine line that we constantly walk as parents.  There is a fine line between being too strict and too permissive.  There is a fine line between holding unrealistic expectations and too low of expectations.  There is a fine line between giving them room to fail and making sure they do not do something that they regret.  There is a fine line between speaking words that lift up and ones that tear down.  The fine line is a delicate line to walk and sometimes we come down on one side more than the other.

There is a book that I read out loud to students called, “My Mouth Is a Volcano!” by Julia Cook.  The character’s words are very important to him.  So important, that his words begin to wiggle, and then they do the jiggle, then his tongue pushes all of his important words up against his teeth and he erupts… yeah…join the club.  My mouth is a volcano.

Daughter A comes down and is in tears.  I ask, “What is wrong?”  She shrugs her shoulders and says, “Nothin’”. I stare at her knowing the nothin’ is something and I just wait.  After the stare down, she begins to talk about how jealous she is of her sister.  This is an ongoing conversation that has been going on for over a year and a half and IT. MUST. STOP.  I tell her this.  There are more tears, a motivational moment, a hug, and I send her to bed.  I am in my parenting groove.

Then there is daughter B.  She is crying after a tough loss.  As she processes the game and her feelings, I ask, “Where are these negative thoughts coming from?”, thinking this isn’t how she normally responds.  And she says, “Last week you said….”  And in an instant I know.  In an instant I see that my 5-10 words from last week had taken root in her mind and began playing a tape of negativity and doubt.  5-10 words.  The hurt and pain on her face was caused by me speaking death instead of life.  That sounds dramatic, but that is exactly what happened.

I was instantly taken back to being an 8 year old child, hearing words that were said to me over and over.  I became those words.  Those words were what I believed about myself and were the inner scars that I fought against for decades.  And in that moment, not only did I see her hurt, I felt that hurt.

I took her by the shoulders and looked her in the eyes.

“I am sorry.  I am sorry MY words hurt you.  I thought they would motivate you, but they did not.  They crushed your spirit.  They made you doubt yourself.  I was wrong.  I say I am wrong.  I am so so sorry. Will you forgive me?”

And in that moment her expression changed.  The heaviness lifted and I saw an expression of relief.   In the words, “I am wrong.  I am so so sorry. Will you forgive  me?”, I told her that she mattered.  I also said that her feelings mattered.  She mattered.   She will always matter.

I never heard those words.  Not from the people that said them.   But, I say them often to my daughters and husband.  Those words, when expressed with humility and remorse can heal and change the course of relationships.   “I am wrong.  I am sorry.  Will you forgive me?” can uproot the words we plant with pride and maliciousness, whether intentional or not.

We have a saying in our house.

Do Better.”

Once I ask for forgiveness, I need to make it better.  And that is what I plan to do.  Yes, my mouth can be a volcano.  It is one of my many flaws.  My words need to speak more love than hate and once I ask for forgiveness, I am always on a mission to “do better.”