Footprints in the Sand: A Parallel

footprintstop

The other day I was thinking about the old poem Footprints in the Sand.  If you aren’t familiar with it, here it is:

Footprints in the Sand

One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.

After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.

This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”

He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”

I have always enjoyed this poem.  It is a very inspiring thought that when I am at my weakest, Jesus loves me so much that he would carry me through the trial.

According to scripture (Eph. 5:31-32), marriage is an illustration of the relationship that Christ has with His church.

When your spouse is going through something and the normal burdens of life become too much for them, how do you respond?

  • Do you step in and help bear the burden?
  • Do you take on some of their daily chores so that they can focus on the issue?
  • Do you just avoid them and wait for them to get passed it on their own?

How should you respond to these times and stand in the gap for your spouse?

Six Reasons Our Marriage Has Worked

We have the privilege of having a guest blog this week from Travis and Samantha Stephens. Travis is a husband, father, and executive pastor of a small town church that went big. He has a passion for helping pastors grow themselves and the churches they serve. If you would like to know more about Travis, please visit him at http://travisstephens.me

 

Six Reasons Our Marriage Has Worked
By Travis & Samantha Stephens

This past December my wife and I celebrated ten years of marriage. I take that back. Our anniversary is on December 16th, and I’m pretty sure we hung out at home that night. We actually celebrated a couple months earlier with an all-inclusive trip to Cancun without the kids.

Now, I realize ten years isn’t really that long, but statistics show couples are more likely to get divorced within the first ten years of their marriage than at any other time.

Marriage statistics vary and are constantly changing, but from what I have found, it looks like around 35% of first marriages fail to make it at least ten years. I say first marriages because statistics get worse with each subsequent marriage.

So, what do I know that 35% of couples don’t?

Probably not much, that’s why I asked my wife to weigh in on the subject.

Here are the six things she believes has contributed to our success.

1. Open Communication

Being able to tell your spouse exactly how you feel and why is vital to the success of your marriage. We weren’t great at this the first year or two of our marriage. We both had a tendency to hold things in until it created a much bigger problem. Over time we built up trust with one another and have become comfortable sharing exactly how we feel without becoming angry at each other.

2. Realistic Expectations

Tim and Heather did a great series of posts on this very topic. Do yourself a favor and go back and read them here. As much as my wife would love for me to be more romantic and affectionate, she realizes it’s not how I’m wired. This doesn’t mean I should never try. It just means that she’s not holding me to a standard that I’ll never achieve. Putting unrealistic expectations on your spouse always sets you up for disappointment.

3. Putting Your Spouse First

There’s a verse in the book of Philippians that my wife lives out. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourself. She’s incredible at this. A lot of couples that have kids make the mistake of putting the kids first instead of their spouse. This can seem to make sense at the moment, but it’s a terrible idea and can lead to a lot of problems in the marriage.

4. Have Fun

This seems so simple, right? But most marriages fail because the couple stopped having fun together. I don’t like spending money, and fun often comes at a cost. I’ve learned the importance of putting the fun in the budget. We enjoy going to the movies. We’ll see a couple of concerts this summer, and we try to take a mini vacation by ourselves every year. Those things add up, but it’s a lot cheaper than a divorce.

5. Take Divorce Off the Table

From our initial engagement, my wife and I have been adamant that divorce would never be an option for us. I know most couples say that we meant it. When you take divorce off the table, you have no choice but to work things out. So, we’ve never allowed ourselves to even bring up the word divorce in arguments. We’ve also tried to always sleep in the same bed even when we’re angry at one another. This hasn’t always worked, but we try.

6. Umm…Lots of “Alone Time”

This is a bit awkward to bring up, but my wife insists. And she’s right, sex is really important in a marriage. We have confirmed it through every couple and small group we’ve even been a part of. Husbands almost always want more sex than they are currently getting, and wives almost always want more romance than they are currently getting. When you don’t get this part of your relationship right, it can have devastating effects as people start looking for that intimacy somewhere else.

This is in no way a complete list of why our marriage has worked. There are a lot of other factors that go into it, most importantly our relationship with God. But, hopefully, this will give you a few ideas you can use to improve your marriage.

If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below.

Stop Hitting the Snooze Button in Your Life!

I'm a snooze button fan. Every morning, my alarm goes off and I hit snooze every 5 minutes. Sometimes I do that up to 45 minutes. It's crazy but it's what I do. Why even bother setting an alarm if you're just going to ignore it? One might ask, "why not just set the alarm for the time you are going to get up?" Good question. I don't know the answer to that one.

A few weeks ago, at church, we started a new series at church called "The Walking Dead".  One of the key points from the message talked about how we just go through life hitting the snooze button instead of living life to it's fullest.

I began to think about all the times in my marriage and life that the alarm was going off and I just kept hitting the snooze button.  "I'll deal with that later" or "I just can't deal with this right now" and keep snoozing.  Maybe it's just a false alarm and I'll "monitor" the situation for a while, right?

Wake up, sleeper!

How differently would life be if we RESPONDED to the alarms in our life rather than IGNORING them?

I've heard story after story from men whose wife had left them.  They admit that they had been completely oblivious to the alarms that had been going off in their life.  Reflecting back, they begin to piece together where they missed the alarm or were hitting the snooze button.

I saw a post on Facebook the other day from a person that thought the oil dipstick was broken in their car and needed to be replaced.  They stated that it wasn't long enough to reach the oil anymore.  It didn't take a few minutes for someone to enlighten them that there was nothing wrong with the dipstick, they just needed to add more oil to the car.

You would think that the check oil light (alarm) would have given this person a clue.  However, some people just don't pay attention and keep snoozing until there is a problem that cannot be resolved.

Rarely ever, in marriage, do disasters happen to you where there was absolutely no warning that the impending doom was upon you.  We just keep ignoring the signs.  Our doctors tell us that we need to adjust our eating habits and exercise or we're going to have health issues and then we'll stop for pizza after we leave the doctor's office.  Some years later, we end up on medication or worse and wonder "How did this happen to me?".

We really just need to WAKE UP and PAY ATTENTION!

Resolve within yourself to make a Change

Stephen Covey said, "You can't talk your way out of something that you behave your way into".

We have to alter the behavior that keeps us from dealing with the alarms in our life.  We ignore the areas that we need to address in our lives and then attempt to talk our way out of them.  It just doesn't work.

I'm entering a new journey in my life.  I have some minor health issues.  High blood pressure and high cholesterol have crept into my life because I have ignored the signs.  In the coming weeks, I'll be working diligently to alter the behaviors that have brought me to this place.  I have to retrain myself to stop hitting the snooze button at 5:00 A.M. so that I can get to the gym before work.  That also means that I have to go to bed at a decent hour and say no to some things.

I have to accept the fact that fast-food needs to be replaced with healthier options.  I have to ensure that I prepare my lunch in advance.  It's a behavior problem.  All behavior problems are learned and therefore can be unlearned with faithful commitment to change.

Ephesians 5:14 “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

This scripture has a new meaning in my life.  I've been sleeping too long and it's time to wake up and allow Christ to shine on my life.

Be blessed,

Tim

10 Low-cost Dating Ideas

Dancing

When a couple meets and agrees to begin a relationship, they usually conduct the relationship meetings through dating.  This is a form of relationship building that is common throughout most of the modern world.  Scheduling a pickup time or a meeting location and then share a meal, watch a movie, have a cup of coffee, or any number of activities and events.  The point of the dating relationship is to get to know each other better.  There is usually a lot of talking that takes place as each person seeks to know and understand the other better and how they operate.

It is common advice from marriage counselors and authors that couples should continue the dating ritual throughout their married life.  We thought that we would offer up some low-cost ideas on dating for after you've been married a while.

1) Long Walk

Perhaps the cheapest things that most any couple can do together. A walk around the neighborhood, a stroll in a local park, or along a beach front. Holding her hand and dreaming about your life's adventure together can engage both of you on an emotional level while strengthening your relationship. We get so busy trying to deal with the daily challenges of life that we can forget to connect with our mate. Men, she needs you to hear what she has to say. She has deep feelings and emotions that may even be difficult for you to comprehend. You may not understand at all and that's okay. She's usually not looking for you to solve problems for her. She really just wants to be heard. We, as men, want to swoop in with the solution and fix it for her. That is a perfect way to get her to stop talking to you about what she is feeling inside. This casual time of walking, talking, and holding hands can allow you both the opportunity to relax and share your thoughts and ideas about life. Go ahead and get out there. Give it a shot and see if you can find a rhythm in walking together. You will probably find it is more gratifying than a more elaborate date night. You could have a daily date night with this one or several times a week free of charge.

2) Couch Cuddling and a Movie

Put the kiddos to bed early, pop some of your favorite popcorn, put in her favorite movie, and cuddle away.  You read that right, I said "her" favorite movie.  Sorry guys, unless she is wanting to do this especially for you, let her choose.  My wife would hate just about any movie that I consider great and the time would not result in building our relationship.  If by chance your movie favorites overlap then feel very blessed.

3) Candlelight Dinner at Home

Perhaps one of the nicest meals that I have ever prepared for Heather was a simple chicken salad, a glass of wine, and a single candle between us.  After a few hours of great conversation, the evening ended exceptionally well for both of us.  Simple yet very effective.  Sometimes you just have to do things out of the ordinary and create a special moment.  Maybe next time, I'll add a little dancing...  (hmm, new topic)

4) Share a Meal at a Nice Restaurant

We do this quite often.  By a nice restaurant, I'm referring to one in which tipping would be appropriate.  I know people who have never been to a restaurant like that and that is okay.  Just whatever your favorite place to eat will do.  Our favorite place for date night is LongHorn Steakhouse.  We have been eating there so long and so frequently that we no longer have to tell the waitresses what we want.  We walk to our usual spot, they call us by name, and ask if we want our usual.  Perhaps we should buy stock in LongHorn.

The point is to do something on occasion that you both enjoy and can relax quickly.  You might be wondering, "How is this a budget date idea?".  Well, I'm glad that you asked.  We share a meal.  We can typically keep this meal in the $30-35 range.  We have done it for less than $30 on several occasions.  Drinks and desserts seem to be the deciding factor in controlling the cost.  Don't forget to tip your waitress.

5) Community Events

Most communities have some type of events where you can get out together for a relatively inexpensive adventure.  County fairs, festivals, and fundraisers are usually going on somewhere.  In our area, they have Hillbilly Day and Strawberry Festivals.  If you live in a little bigger city, there are cultural events, live music venues, plays, sporting events, and etc....  National sporting events are usually quite expensive but local sporting events are free or very inexpensive.  We used to spend a lot of time going to watch our church's softball team play.  Completely free and nice to get out of the house for a few hours.

6) Project Idea Shopping

Heather and I have spent countless hours walking around Lowe's or Home Depot getting project ideas we could do around the house.  We normally bundle this adventure with our LongHorn Steakhouse trip.  When I was building our wood shop, it seemed like date night came all the time because I needed to make runs to Lowe's for supplies.  Win-Win

It's not always manly wood shop projects.  Heather loves to make crafts and we often go to JoAnn's or Hobby Lobby and find things that she needs for those projects.

It's not really so much about what we do, as long as we are doing it together.  I can look at bolts of material with her for hours.  I don't know much about sewing and such things but I can certainly tell her if I like something or not.  I'm also very good at carrying things for her and reaching things on the upper shelves.  She's notorious for being very flirty with me while were shopping and that makes the whole trip worthwhile for me.

7) Birthday candle in a Hot Apple Pie from McDonald's

I don't recall exactly where I came up with this idea but many years ago, her birthday was coming up and we just didn't have the resources to do anything nice for her birthday.  So, on her birthday, I took her to McDonald's and put a birthday candle in a hot apple pie and sang to her.  She loved it!

Sometimes you just need to be creative and a bit less formal but sincere love will be appreciated above gifts no matter their value.

8) Dancing

A few years ago, Heather wanted me to take formal dancing lessons with her and go dancing for Valentine's Day that year.  I'm no John Travolta by anyone's stretch of the imagination.  God never gifted my feet and body with a dancing rhythm but off we went.  We had 6 weeks of lessons in preparation for the big day.  We fumbled through it like you would expect non-dancing people to do.  We both realized that we just were not cut out for it and gave it up after Valentine's Day.

We still love to slow dance in each other's arms and it doesn't take a lot of specialized skill to hold each other and sway to the music in a circle.  Now, this we could do all night long and it's easy enough to grab her up in the kitchen at home and dance around the house with her.

If you are a dancer and you are gifted in that area, then this can be a wonderful escape for couples to do together.  Our town does not offer any opportunities for dancing but some of the neighboring larger cities usually have musical venues for such purposes.  Dancing is usually free but even if you have to pay a cover charge at the door for the band, it's still relatively inexpensive for date nights.

9) Free Live Music Event

If you enjoy listening to live music, you can often find these venues or events close to home.  There are usually restaurants, coffee shops, and such places that bring in small bands or solo artists to entertain.  Heather and I love going on winery tours.  These places will sometimes have a festival type event with live music and can be a lot of fun to attend.

10) Sightseeing

Last but certainly not least, you can pack a picnic lunch, hop in the car, and, for the price of a tank of gas, go sightseeing.  We have gotten up really early on a Saturday morning, driven to the Smokey Mountains, taken some photos and drove home before bedtime.  We would stop at a park or rest area and eat from our picnic basket we prepared.  These are wonderful adventures to get out and see God's creation at a low cost.

At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter what you do.  Do something intentional and together.  Make memories and strengthen your bond of intimacy.  No time invested in your relationship is wasted.  Try to find joy in being together rather than on what you are doing.  All you really need is time!

Share with us your ideas for low-cost date night.  I'm sure there are plenty more and others would love to hear your ideas.

See Also: Marriage, Ministry, & Valentine's Day a guest post that we did for a friend in which we gave practical tips for dating when you have young children.

Unforgiveness, The Silent Thief

forgiveA friend of mine posted a provocative commentary on Facebook today that was intended to elicit a thoughtful and philosophical response.  He and I have been making these types of posts lately and engaging in some very interesting discussions.  His post today had to do with forgiveness for your own sake and not for the sake of the one that committed the offense.  I have been thinking about this discussion all afternoon today and I felt like I would expand my thoughts on the subject here.

Unforgiveness has no boundaries.  It does not respect race, color, religion, sex, or disability.  No one is immune to being offended, hurt, mistreated, humiliated, disrespected, or any other hurtful actions from someone else.  We are humans, after all, and we often do things that cause emotional or physical harm to others.

When I was 12 years old, a person whom I loved and trusted very much did something to me.  The specific offense is irrelevant but I carried that offense in unforgiveness until I was 35 years old.  It hit me one day that this person isn't even aware that they have left this lasting pain in my life.  They moved beyond it, forgot about it, and went on to live their life.  I relived it and gave it power in my life to control me and my emotional state.  When I was 35, I let it go.  Just like that.  I forgave them for me and not for them.

Today's conversation with my friend reminded me of this memory from my past.  Forgiveness isn't for the offender, it's for the offended.  Too often times in our lives, we feel like that if we forgive someone, that means that we are agreeing with that person or somehow validating them and what they did to us.  The truth is, we forgive so that we can move on in life and let go of the pain.

We know a couple that, in the first few months of their marriage, the husband said something very hurtful to the wife, in a sexual context.  The husband passed away 20 years later and the wife had never moved beyond that offense.  They never recovered!

In marriage, forgiveness is crucially important to a healthy relationship.  You will offend and/or hurt each other from time to time.  Most of the time, it will be out of complete and total ignorance.  The offending spouse may not even know the extent to which they have hurt the one that they love.  This is why it is so important for couples to have good communication and trust in their relationship.  The saddest things that I can imagine is leaving this world and my loved ones still be harboring unforgiveness in their life that I caused.

Make the decision today to forgive.  I don't care what has happened to you.  Forgive for your own sake and get about this business of living a better life.  Unforgiveness is like an anchor in your life that drags you down.  Forgive and break the chains that it has over your life.  I know that it will be hard.  It will be painful.  What I do know beyond a shadow of a doubt is that it will free you from the weight and burden of something that you could not control and did not chose for yourself.  Let it go and live!

God Bless,

Tim

 

The Unexpected Realities in Marriage: Part 7 – Sharing Finances

This week we will be discussing sharing finances.  Financial problems are among the top 3 reasons that couples end their marriage in divorce.  According to 2013 research conducted by the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts (IDFA), the top 3 reasons for divorce in the United States were:

1) Basic Incompatibility - 43%
2) Infidelity - 28%
3) Financial Issues - 22%

To put that into perspective, 1.2 million marriages end in divorce annually in the U.S.  As a percentage of that figure, here are the results:

1) Basic Incompatibility = 516,000 couples
2) Infidelity = 336,000 couples
3) Financial Issues = 264,000 couples

Financial conflict is a big topic and can have numerous areas that a couple can find themselves struggling.  A few months ago, we wrote an article on this topic called Becoming One With Our Money.  That post was telling our personal struggles with finances.  This post will be more generalized helpful tips for avoiding the pitfalls of finances that lead to divorce.

Marriage and money

As we become one, in our marriage, we should become one in our finances. This is the time to come clean as to what each other owes. This may be embarrassing for some who have not managed their finances well.  When you say I do, realize that what your spouse owes, you now owe as well. This is no time for judgment. This is time to put a plan together, commonly known as a budget or, as my youngest daughter calls it, "parameters". Whatever term you deem necessary, this is a good place to start. If you are in a hotel, the fire escape route is clearly defined on how to get out of the building, in the case of a fire.  A budget defines a way to manage your money and a plan to get out of debt. My definition of a budget is, admitting how you spend your money on paper.  It is a confession of how your handle what God gave you. If you are spending it wisely or if there is room for improvement. Be aware, where there is confession expect change to come.

Where to start?

I would recommend you to agree on a budget. Put a list together of the things that you owe examples: electric, water, cable, car payment, mortgage, rent, and etc.... Look at your items on the list, are there items on the list that you do not agree on? Is there a way to cut expenses or to get out of debt faster?  These are hard questions. Tim and I took about three months to agree on a realistic budget. It took that long because we forgot to add gas for the cars to the budget and other items that you do not realize you need to function. Try not to get discouraged, most things in life are difficult until you master the concept or learn the lesson. It is similar to learning to ride a bicycle for the first time. If you were like me, I have several sets of stitches from riding my bike. You fall down, cry a little, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and do it again. You find that as you try, you will start to succeed.

Who implements the budget?

As a married couple, each of you has different strengths and weakness. Embrace the strengths that God has given you. In our relationship, I implement the budget. I absolutely love working with money. I am currently working on a degree in accounting and finance. This is one of my strengths that I add to our marriage. Tim does not have the passion that I do, as far as money is concerned. One of Tim's strengths is that he can make the hard calls in our budgeting process. He has no problem in saying no or deciding between alternatives.  It does not bother him in the least.  He is stronger in that area than I am. Learn to celebrate each other's gifts and not condemn them because they do not understand how to do what you can do or as well as you can do it. Consider yourselves a team, the variation, in different strengths, enables you to win.

Pit falls to avoid

If you love to spend money, as Tim does, maybe considering letting your spouse implement the overall budget but allow the free spender some room to have some options. Tim needs to have pocket money so he can realize when the money runs out, he needs to stop spending.  Some people need this type of control in their life.  It establishes parameters for when the free spender needs to have a conversation with the saver about larger expenditures so that the overall budget can remain intact.

If you are an extreme saver, as I am, realize that there is more to life than hoarding money. Here is an illustration for the extreme savers. My aunt saved all of her life so that one day when she retired, she could do all that she had planned to do.  She built a wood shop, bought a bunch of premium lumber, and set herself up to do what she loved.  Little did she know that she would fall out of bed and crack her vertebrae. She had to have surgery and she can no longer work in her shop. She gave away all the lumber, the equipment, never really got to do what she wanted to do.  Realize that you need to enjoy life but you need to balance saving with fun.

The blame game. Realize that you are one. If your spouse falls, pick them up. Understand that they are not God and they are not perfect. If they forget to pay the electric bill, set a reminder on your phone to help them out. If one week they spend too much money on groceries, adjust your budget. When something happens chose wisely on how to react to your spouse. You can build them up or crush them. Either way, you will live with the choices that you make. Choose wisely.

Don't be a control freak. Try to work toward a common goal. Set realistic expectations. Do not be the budget police. Use it as a guide not as a weapon to beat up your spouse. God may prepare one of you for the storm that is coming and the other spouse may not realize it. I started listening to Dave Ramsey on budgeting and how to change your future. This prepared us for the crisis that happened later that year. I want you to realize that I did not beat Tim up with what I had learned. When we almost went bankrupt, he started listening. God prepared me to help carry Tim through this. Just realize that, through your life, you may need someone to carry you through the storm, let them. God sent you a life ring, hold on so you do not drown.

Pay your tithing. By definition, a tithe is a tenth. If you make 100 dollars, your tithes are 10 dollars. And offerings is on top of your tithes. The scripture said tithes "and" offerings, it does not have an "or" in there. You may be thinking that I can not afford to pay my tithes. That is simply not true. We find that, if we pay our tithes first, money stretches farther than we expected. When going through a financial struggle like Tim and I had in 2004, you don't want to be found having robbed God. When you are faithful with what God gave you, he will take care of you. Please do not get upset, start with tithing.  Take a leap of faith and trust God. Offerings come from either surplus or sacrifice.  Tim and I plan for our offerings throughout the year.  Sometimes we can do more and sometimes we do less or none at all.  It's just a matter of prayer and leadership from God and the Holy Spirit.

Malachi 3; 8-11.  Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithing into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the Windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes and he shall not destroy the fruits or your ground.

Closing Thoughts

Finances and budgeting are as challenging as learning to communicate with each other. Please be patient. Extend to them the grace that God has extended to you. Realize this is a plan in motion and subject to change at any moment, especially if you have children. My budget over the years has resembled a roller coaster ride. I find that if you pray over your budget and pay your tithes, your money will go farther than you expected it to go. When God is in the mist, expect miracles to happen.

Good luck and God bless you on your journey.

Tim & Heather

The Unexpected Realities in Marriage: Part 6 – Raising Children

This week we're going to discuss the raising of children.  We consider them to be part of the unexpected realities, in marriage. Most parents are not prepared for the changes that children add to their life.  In our experience, the girls shocked and surprised us more than they ever created any real heartache.  They came up with twists and turns that we are not sure any parent could prepare for in advance.  As a couple, we had to learn how to unify our front in dealing with them.

Our Story

Heather and I were 18 years old when we got married.  We had a really short engagement as well.  Some may be thinking that perhaps she was pregnant when we got married but that was not the case either.  Our entire dating and engagement period was barely over 6 months.  Heather became pregnant just 6 weeks into our marriage.  Neither of us was prepared for that on any level (e.g. emotionally, financially, or otherwise...).

When Heather was in her 5th month of pregnancy, she was involved in a car accident. She had been wearing her seatbelt, which protected her from slamming into the steering wheel. The impact bruised her bladder but didn't hurt the baby. Then, 2 days later, we were both involved in a car accident.  A teen driver ran a stop sign and we t-boned his car with my dad's truck.  I never even hit the brakes, as he ran right out into traffic.  The thought of Heather screaming "MY BABY, MY BABY" haunts me to this day.  We thought that we had lost Mindy.  After a few days in the hospital and all the test were completed, we were very pleased to find out that Mindy was unharmed.  We were so thankful the day that she was born to visibly verify for ourselves that she was really okay.

We were not prepared for the endless sleepless nights, in the beginning.  It did not take me very long to realize that Mindy needed to stay up more during the day and I worked hard to make that happen so she would sleep at night.  As she began to grow and we began to settle into the roles of mommy and daddy, we learned more about how to adjust our lives.  As I stated in Part 5 of this series, Heather was mainly the one who made most of the adjustments and I just found more things to work at and keep me busy.  I don't know if I ever did get used to being puked on, peed on, and crapped on.  Mindy was a projectile vomiter.  Just point and shoot! At one point, I thought we had spawned a demon and was just waiting for her head to spin all the way around (Exorcist reference, LOL). Nothing in my life had prepared me for that concept but mothers seem to accept it more quickly and just deal with it.

Our second baby would come to us about 2 1/2 years later.  Thankfully, we didn't have to deal with multiple car accidents with Kassondra.  The last few months of the pregnancy, Heather was dealing with a lot of stress and was put on bed rest.  I would imagine that our marital struggles had a lot to do with that.  She also had a troubled delivery and issues with low blood pressure.  It was very stressful for me because I felt so helpless.

It did not help my situation that the night Heather was in labor, a mother lost her life and both babies (twins). She had snuck into the bathroom to smoke.  A blood clot moved from her leg to her brain.  That was the most heart-wrenching scene I have ever witnessed in my life.  Particularly when the husband came back to the hospital and they told him what had happened.  My whole family sat in the waiting room weeping that night.  Fortunately, Heather was unaware of this even happening and we didn't tell her for some time after she was out of the hospital.

Through all of the labor struggles and incidents, somehow we managed to bring two beautiful little girls into the world both strong and healthy.  After our "almost divorce" in 1995, I became fully engaged in raising the girls and learned just how messy children can be.  No more babysitters when Heather went to work.  I gave them baths and learned how to feed them properly so that they would quit crying all the time.

Through the coming years, we would grow a deep family bond that is unbroken to this day. The quality time that we spent with them as they grew and explored their world was priceless.  We took them everywhere with us.  They grew to know us as the real people we are and not false representations of perfect people. This blog is not big enough to hold all of the memories that we have created with our children.  Though times were tough in different periods of our life through financial burdens, sickness, broken hearts, and many other emotional tragedies, we would not trade a single moment because those were the events that shaped us into the people that we are today.

Final Thoughts

You may be struggling right now with your own children. They are challenging the last bit of sanity you have left in you.  Take it from a couple who has already climbed that mountain and reached the top. You will miss the journey when it is gone.  Cherish those memories. Relish in the noise and messes that your children make.  Reminisce in the sounds of childhood and laughter.  Lean into God when they reject you through their teen years and tell you that they don't need you anymore. They will stretch their wings for flight and want to see what they can do without your help.  They will return to you again if you just hold on and pray through the struggling times.

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6

The day they walk out the door for the last time and walk into their own home will be a tearful day of gladness and sorrow. However, it will be filled with the joy of the Lord for having finished the race and brought them to adulthood without killing them (LOL, kidding).

Parenting can be challenging.  It can also be very rewarding.  We suggest that parents find more reasons to smile with their kids.  Find reasons to laugh and play with them.  Focus more on the good qualities that they have and less on any bad ones.  Create so many memories with them that they can never forget the love that you had for them.

Tim & Heather Key
Life Travelers

The Unexpected Realities in Marriage: Part 5 – The Big “D”

This week we will take on the subject of divorce.  It is a big nasty topic that affects 1.2 million marriages annually in the United States alone.  No one is immune to its sting and a large percentage of people have been through a divorce or have family members who have been divorced.  Divorce is like a war. Though both parties involved may survive, nobody wins and everyone loses.

Our Story

In 1991, we committed our lives to Christ.  I (Tim) began working in the ministry, within a year, as I had felt the calling from God.  In 1994, I became an ordained minister.  I served the church through music ministry and youth ministry.

We were part of a new church plant in 1992.  I also worked full-time at a regular 40hrs/week job to support the family and all of my ministry work was solely voluntary.  Being the passionate person that I am, I put more effort into ministry than I did the paying job that I had.  We traveled around the middle Tennessee and southern Kentucky area on a regular basis holding revivals.  When there weren't revivals going on, there were meetings, music practice, and planning sessions that were going on several times a week. When we weren't working on church business, we were just hanging out together as friends. I was living a dream life; serving the Lord and helping the hurting and the lost find Christ.  What could possibly go wrong in a person's life who was serving the Almighty God?

Well, the reality is that there was a lot that went wrong.  I just wasn't aware it, at the time.  The truth is that I spent all of my time working and serving others while leaving my wife at home alone to raise our two children.  Heather worked full-time as well.  She was lonely and overwhelmed, while I was living a carefree life.  That is until April 22, 1995, when reality came to collect on the lie I was living.

Setting the stage for a disaster  Tweet This!

This was day 3 of a men's conference I had been attending.  It was called Riding for the Brand and hosted by Steve Farrar. That morning started off bad.  I had stayed up really late the night before and overslept.  Heather worked 3rd shift and had been trying to call me but I never aroused from my slumber.  Eventually, I did wake up and rushed to meet the guys I was riding with to the conference.  I knew that I needed to call Heather back but I guess that I didn't feel it was as important as getting to this conference on time.  That will prove to be one phone call that I wished I had made.  This was before cell phones were affordable.

I went on to the conference and it was the best day of the event.  Steve's message drove right to my heart about being engaged with the family.  He spoke about husbands taking the time and care to really listen to what your wife has to say.  How God speaks wisdom into your life through your wife concerning your family.  How she can be a real blessing to you because you don't have all the answers yourself.  He talked about how taking responsibility and an active role in your home was God's calling to husbands and fathers. We represent the brand.  I was inspired!  I couldn't wait to get home and share what I had learned, with Heather, at the conference.  We had not discussed any of it since the conference had begun.  I remember how excited I was on the ride home.  I wasn't talking to anyone in the car on the way home that day.  I was just going over the new things that I had learned and how Heather would be as excited as I was.  I couldn't have been more wrong!

The day divorce knocked on our door.  Tweet This!

I pulled into the driveway and literally ran toward the house and rushed through the door.  I found Heather sitting in the middle of the living room floor with our youngest daughter cradled in her arms and Heather was crying.  Shocked, I said, "What's wrong!"

She looked up at me with tears streaming down her face and said, "I don't love you anymore and I want you to leave!"

Nothing could have shocked me more.  I was totally blindsided and just stood there with my jaw hanging down. It seemed like an eternity but I knew, by the look in her eyes, that she was serious and I had a big problem on my hands.  The thought came back to me from the conference, "Listen to what your wife has to say".  It was not something that I was accustomed to doing.  Normally, I would lash out and argue my defense.  This was different.  I had new information about my responsibility as a husband and she was not trying to pick a fight with me.  There was no love in her eyes or voice and it burned my soul when she spoke to me.  I had done something that had killed our relationship and I honestly had no idea what it was.  All I knew, at this moment, was that she had something to say and I needed to hear it.  However, she had been trying to say it for so long that it had killed her love for me because I wasn't able to hear her.  Now that I was in a place to hear it, she had nothing left to give. We were at an impasse and I began praying to God in my spirit for direction.  "Listen" is all that kept coming back in my mind.

It took some coaxing to convince her to talk to me about what was going on and that I was willing to listen.  After some time had passed, she really opened up and unloaded her burden.  It was a lot!  She was upset and her anger took 5 years to reach this pinnacle. She was at the end of her road with me and the sad part about all of this, she was right.  I had been a bad husband and father.  I may have been a great worship leader and minister to the church community but I had failed at home.

Several hours would pass as she told me everything that she had been wanting to say for so long.  I just listened intently and accepted the full responsibility for it all.  This was probably the first time in our marriage that I actually heard her.  I had been so selfish and self-seeking that I had abandoned my wife and children.  I was an absentee father who lived in the same house.  I didn't take any part in their care.  I rarely ever changed a diaper or even watched them by myself.  I insisted that they go to a babysitter when she was working because I was too busy to watch them.  I am ashamed of the decisions that I made in this part of my life.  I have spent over 20 years trying to make up for that.  I vowed to myself and God that day that I would solely bear the burden of this disaster that I had created in our marriage.

I did not want a divorce.  I still loved Heather as much as I knew how and I loved our children.  I did not want them to grow up in a broken home.  I had to do whatever it took to repair our relationship and I convinced Heather that day that I would change.  Eventually that evening, she decided that I could stay but her feelings had not changed at all.  She had built a wall to protect her heart from further damage.  I was faced with an impossible task but I knew a God who could overcome the impossible and was determined to do whatever it would take from me to reconcile with her.

Let the healing begin  Tweet This!

I abandoned it all the next day.  I informed my pastor that I would be pulling back completely from any and all duties at church.  I knew that I could not lead in God's house while my own house was in chaos.  I abandoned all friendships and extended family. Heather and the girls would have my full and undivided attention going forward.  I started watching and caring for the girls.  I helped cook and clean.  I poured myself into God's word looking for answers that would change my heart and understanding of a Godly marriage.  I had no example to follow.  I had been living my married life just the same way I had observed other marriages I was exposed to growing up.  I had no one to call on for advice other than God.  I became an avid reader of books on relationships to try and find answers.  A few months later, I addressed this entire confession to our congregation one Sunday evening and I accepted the full responsibility for allowing it to happen.  I never allowed anyone to put any burden on Heather.

I persisted in this mode of trying to be a good husband and father relentlessly.  I exhausted myself attempting to prove to Heather that I was serious about changing my life and being the husband that she wanted and needed.  Two years later, almost to the date, I was burned out and Heather still didn't love me or trust me.  Her heart was cold toward me and she felt like I was only doing this to manipulate her.  She believed that if she opened herself up to me again that I would revert back to the man that she despised.  I was out of answers and I was tired.  One day, I sat down with her and shared with her my heart and said...

I have done everything that I could do that would convince you that I loved you and I have changed.  There is no more to me than this and I can do nothing else to prove it to you.  If you don't love me then I am ready to let you go. From today forward, if you stay with me, it is because you want to stay.  I release you to be free to live your life with or without me.  I can no longer live this way.

Heather said that this was the first time in two years that she believed what I was saying and that I had changed.

A new beginning  Tweet This!

That was over 19 years ago.  Something changed in both of us that day.  We each came to a new understanding of our relationship and how we could move forward.  I realized that I could not force her to love me and freed her from the bondage to be free to choose her own path, even if I was not going to be a part of it.  She realized that I was willing to lay down everything for her to be happy.

To this day, we walk in the freedom of being together because it is what we both want in life.  There are no rules or obligations to stay.  It's a choice that we make each day to live in peaceful harmony as a husband and wife.  This does not mean that we are without disagreement but, over the years, we have learned to communicate with each other and understand each other's strengths and weaknesses.  We vowed that day in the 7th year that going forward, we would keep all other influences (family and friends) out of our marriage.  Outside of what we have confessed, in the marriage ministry and our children, no one knows our personal business.  We don't talk to our parents about any relationship issues.  We don't talk to friends about our problems.  We seek only God to speak into our lives and keep our hearts pure and we talk to each other openly.

We have found a deeper, richer love in marriage that neither of us anticipated was even possible.  Heather is the joy of my life.  From our love, we have raised two wonderful daughters in whom we are very proud.  We have raised them with all of the knowledge of our shortcomings in life.  They saw us walk out of the depths of a broken marriage into a Godly marriage that is alive with compassion and love.

If you are struggling in your marriage, how far are you willing to go in order to save it?  Perhaps being prepared for that situations can help you avoid it all together.  We suggest that you prayerfully discuss this post with your spouse and if you find that you are headed down the wrong path, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Our testimony is a great story of God's undeserving grace and mercy toward us but the greater testimony would be to never face these problems at all.

God Bless,
Tim & Heather
Life Travelers

The Unexpected Realities in Marriage: Part 4 – Intimacy in Marriage

This week we are going to expand on Great Sexpectations, and talk about Intimacy in Marriage. We want to keep our conversation focused on progressing forward in your relationships and not getting bogged down in guilt and shame.  Guilt and shame are not of God but are used by the enemy to keep you from reaching your full Godly potential in your marriage.  The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin in order to lead us closer to God; not to bury us under the weight of our sin.

Everything God created, He did for a specific purpose and called it good.  Tweet This!

God created sex!  It is not dirty or taboo.  It is not some forbidden act that God allows us to do, while He turns His back.  It is also not intended for the exclusive use of reproduction. Reproduction can be a result of intimacy in marriage but it is not the sole purpose of it.  God looked at all that He created and said that it was good. He created man and woman with the physical ability and desire to be sexual and still called it good.  Sex is good! God said so and He cannot lie.  Tweet This!

Now the man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame. Genesis 2:25

God did not intend for us to have shame in our marriage; when it comes to our sexuality and intimacy.  He didn't create it that way, according to scripture.  So, why does shame exist in our marriages?  Sin is the reason that we have shame in our marriage.  If you think about it, what would be the angle of satan concerning sexual relationships?  Wouldn't he work against the purpose of God?

God's design for sex was for the benefit of a husband and wife; to create a bond of between them.  He created our bodies to release chemicals in our brain during intimacy that strengthens and bonds us emotionally.  Satan has been successful in undermining the design throughout time.  All he needed to do was convince people that it was okay to give in to their lust and become vocal about how wonderful sex is outside of marriage.  Today, Hollywood and the porn industry are the leaders of sexual promiscuity outside of marriage. Our children are being taught, through television and liberal school systems, that there is no God and it's okay to be sexually active outside of marriage.  They are watching all kinds of sexual alternatives to God's plan played out in front of them and told that it is good.

As parents, our voices have been silenced.We also may have participated in premarital sex and adultery.  We remain silent out of shame. There are still people who have not given into these temptations.  However, those numbers are diminishing rapidly.  We must break the silence and speak God's word about the grace and forgiveness found in Christ.  We must talk about the destructive effects that sexual fornication, pornography, and adultery have on a person's life and their marriage.  How marriages are destroyed and plagued with disease, unrest, violence, and unrealistic expectations because of it.  We must find a way to communicate this truth to everyone. God's people can no longer be silent.

Imagine this.  What if our children and grandchildren could preserve themselves for marriage because you were open and honest with them?  What if they never exposed themselves to pornography because they understood how dangerous it was for them long term?  What if we raise them with a full understanding that sexuality in marriage is holy and an act of worship, if kept within God's design?  What would that marriage look like compared to our own?

  Tweet This!There is hope, forgiveness, and healing for your marriage.  Tweet This!

You may be reading this and thinking that you've gone too far and can never experience true intimacy in your marriage.  We are here to tell you that there is hope and healing in Christ and you can move beyond it.  The Bible tells us that we are ALL sinners and have fallen short of the glory of God.  Jesus Christ came and died for our sins.  He suffered for us so that we could live free from the bondage of sin.  All we need to do it repent of our sins and accept His salvation.

Make the decision today.  You can walk away from sexual sin and begin a new life in Christ.  Some things won't be easy to let go of and can have lasting effects on our mind and body.  However, you don't have to walk through it alone.  We serve a God who will never leave or forsake us.  You may find that you need to work through some issues in marital counseling.  If you are committed to a life in Christ, He can redeem your life from your past.

Be bless and live free in Christ,
Tim & Heather
Life Travelers

The Unexpected Realities of Marriage: Part 3 – "Great Sexpectations"

We continue our discussion this week on expectations vs reality.  We are going to branch off into the area of sexual expectations that we will call "Great Sexpectations".  I know all too well that this is a taboo subject in our culture (Christian America).  The varying opinions concerning the sexual topic are as numerous as the stars in the sky.  Though we do our best to not be offensive, we will not apologize for speaking the truth.  We will be speaking very openly to ensure that we are clear in our message.  Let's get started.

How do we develop our sexual expectations before we get married?    Tweet This!

There is no doubt that everyone has some kind of expectation, as they enter marriage, about what the sex life should be like.  There seems to be some natural phenomenon built into human nature to attract to a partner sexually that begins with puberty.  Certain body parts begin developing in a new way and our hormones start driving themselves.  Obviously, the experience differs between males and females and also varies within the same gender role. But, something is certainly changing in our bodies in this period of our life.

Perhaps you grew up in a home with parents who talked openly about our sexuality. Maybe you even had meaningful conversations about what a marital sex life should look like. It could possibly be that they even told you about God's expectations concerning healthy relationships and respect for your own body.  If that is your situation, consider yourself blessed beyond measure because it is NOT the normal situation.  In fact, what we are mostly told by our parents is "do not have sex outside of marriage because it's a sin".  If you got much beyond that information, you are very fortunate.

Let me (Tim) walk you through growing up in my house and perhaps it will bring clarity to what we are talking about.  My parents had an active sexual relationship when I was a child.  We never talked about it but the "sounds of love" were in the house, after bedtime, on a regular basis.  (I'm smiling as I write)  I wondered, for a long time, what all the noise was about but never quite had the nerve to ask about it. Then, out of nowhere one evening, at the dinner table, I blurted out

"What are y'all doing in bed at night making all that noise?"

I was probably 10-11 years old, at the time.  Well, that didn't go over well and I didn't get an answer either.  My mother ran out of the room and into her bedroom, closing the door.  My older sister chuckles while not wanting to look up from her plate and my dad is smiling from ear to ear but saying nothing.  I then said, "Well, I want to know".  Dad calmly told me to hush, while still grinning and red-faced, and that was the end of my questioning.

Reflecting now, I think my timing was a little off for getting answers and the situation wasn't optimal for the conversation.  However, the answer never came from my parents.  That was the last question about sex that came from me to them.  I got my information, after that, from friends, Playboy, and Hustler.  I didn't feel like I needed anything more from them on the subject.  In fact, I knew way too much after the introduction to porn magazines.

That being said, I developed my sexual expectations about marriage from locker room chats, pre-marital relationships, and pornography. I was set up for a huge reality check after we got married.

My (Heather) situation was very different.  My mother was a nurse, there was no topic she would not discuss. At times,she became very embarrassing. My dad, on the other hand, did not talk about it. My mom told me about sex, what she thought about it, what God thought about it, and the choice was mine.  We all knew they did it; I walked in on it a few times but learned when the door was shut, walk away.  It wasn't a big taboo at our house.  It was just a part of life.  Perhaps, if she had told me that I couldn't do it, things might have been very different for me.  When Tim and I began dating, before we left the driveway on our first date, I told him that if he expected more than a hug and kiss while we were dating, he would have to go somewhere else.  He was okay with this, so we went out that night.

Heather set the stage for our relationship.  

I remember her telling me that and I also remember that being a quality in which I liked about her.  I had never had anyone tell me that so bluntly and be so established in their values.  I wanted to get to know this lady because she had tapped into something that I had never seen before.

I don't recall us ever bringing up the subject again, while we were dating.  She never had to remind me. That boundary was established and I honored her for it.  Needless to say, it did not prepare me for the variance that we would find in our "sexpectations" after we were married.  No, I wish there had been someone in my life, at the time, that was willing to expose themselves and tell me the honest truth like we are doing here now.

There is a rhythm to marriage and sexual fulfillment.  Tweet This!

Heather and I were unequally yoked in our sexual expectations when we got married. I will admit it, I was ignorant about sexual reality.  I falsely believed that she was immediately available to every sexual desire I could imagine and on-demand.  Boy, was I introduced to an alternate reality real quick.  Listen, we are not here to describe our sexuality in minute detail.  We are trying to show you a distinction between expectations and reality.  The honeymoon was a great experience for me and not so great for Heather (I found out years later).  It was several years before we found a true rhythm in our marriage and an understanding that has lead us to have a great intimate marital relationship.  But we are not alone in our venture.

It has been our experience, in talking with couples and conducting research, that most couples usually have one partner that is way more aggressive sexually than is the other. Meaning, one partner prefers 4 or more intimate encounters per week while the other partner would be okay with 1 encounter per week or less.  There are extremes in the frequency on both ends of the spectrum where one partner wants daily or multiple times per day and another person, prefers no sexual relationship at all or only for procreation.

Let's wade out a little further, into the deeper waters.

Our cultural taboos and silence about real sexual intimacy have left the doors open for every form of perversion and depravity to grow secretly.  Each person is left to figure things out for themselves.  The internet brought us pornography on-demand and freely available to anyone seeking to spice up their sex life or falsely seek to educate themselves about sexuality.  People enter marriage with wildly unrealistic expectations about intimacy and how things will be.  It often leads to unhappiness, isolation, violence, shame, brutality, divorce, or some other horrible and unhealthy marital situation. Some people, usually women, get trapped in horrible marital relationships that they were totally unprepared for and have no idea on how to get out of. And they can't talk about it because it's taboo and God hates divorce.

It is time that we break the silence and talk about sexuality in a godly manner.  Everyone knows, or most know, that God expects us to remain sexually pure until marriage.  What they don't know is why.  It is an abstract concept in our culture today.  Regardless, we need to speak the truth and share the reality for others to follow. The good, the bad, and the ugly.  If our story can save even one marriage, it's worth sharing.

Next week, we will explore this topic even further.  God bless and pray for marriages around the world.

Tim & Heather
Life Travelers