5 Valentines Tips for Imperfect Marriages, like mine!

So its valentines eve and I just got out of a bubble bath where I shaved my legs and painted my toenails fire engine red.  Before you get too jealous know this:  There was a 2 year old and rubber duckies also in this tub and my bath lasted 6 minutes before my little man woke up from his morning nap.  But as least I will have red toes and mostly smooth legs for whatever tomorrow brings me.

This Valentines Day I am trying something completely 100% different and totally out of the box for our culture these days.  I’m not giving a thought to what my husband Kel will do or what I feel I deserve.  Instead I am focusing on giving love and loving others, in particular, my husband Kel.

We’ve been fighting a bit this weekend.. honest this whole month.  We went to bed last night not snuggling in red silk sheets and champagne, but back to back, with exhausted souls and fresh apologies on our lips.  There are a millions reasons for me to say: “Screw Valentines Day, I’m just not in the mood.  However, something in me feels that creating a special space for love and romance is vitally needed in our imperfect marriage.  So here are my 5 tips for imperfect marriages to creating a valentines day that might feel perfect to you.

1) Put it behind you and forgive:  Are you irritated and discouraged from a fight or a disappointment?  Are you struggling to communicate?  I’ll be honest, that’s where we find ourselves on Feb 13, but I’m endeavoring to leave that behind and pour romance all over the next 36 hours.  What we were doing isn’t working, so I am doing something new, something better.

2) Ready for this one?  Because it’s important:  Do something.  Yup, you won’t have a memorable valentines day if you write it off as stupid and irrelevant.  A lot of people will say: “we don’t need valentines day, we should be romantic and loving all year long.”  True concept, but are you doing that?  If your marriage is like mine, then you believe it but don’t act on it.  So do something: stay in, order a heart shaped pizza, write each notes, drink champagne and play boggle in bed- do something out of the ordinary for you.  Simple is good, Nothing is bad.

3)  Throw the concept of perfection, the high expectations and the expensive fancy notions out the window.  I have ruined at least 30 different holidays by setting my standards and expectations unreachably high and then focusing only on my disappointment.  I have cried when carnations weren’t roses, or the gift was too practical and not whimsical enough. Endeavor to see joy, love and romance in your day, come what may, and you will have a Valentines Day that is miles better than you’ve experienced in the past.

4) Get a little Lacy:  If you’re like me than you have a drawer of lingerie you got when you were first married, but never  EVER wear anymore.  I used to think that once I had revealed a sexy outfit that it was old hat and boring to my husband.  Turns out that’s FALSE.  Lacy and silky efforts = super sexy to husbands.  Red toes and smooth legs don’t hurt either.  And if you’re reading this and you’re a husband, most ladies love a new pair of heart boxers on valentines day.  It would make me giggle and move closer.

5) Speak another language:  And I’m not talking French, although that would certainly do it for me.  If you ever learned about your spouse’s love languages via this book or website (take the test here!) , then you know what I’m talking about.  Go back and implement that knowledge tomorrow, for example Kel’s love languages are encouragement and physical touch, mine are gifts and acts of service.  We are polar opposites.  When I think of how to love him, I tend to speak my own languages and get him gifts or do something nice for him.  I forget that a kind word or embrace would fill him up even more than a new iPad case or gourmet meal.  So as you plot your romantic plan of attack, speak their language and not yours.

Important:  Fathers do you want your sons to grow up without learning how to romance their wives?  Then don’t show her any romance tomorrow.  Mothers:  Do you want your daughters to grow up without an example of romance in a marriage?  Then don’t dance in the kitchen or kiss your husband over the kitchen sink.  Our romance, or lack there of, will speak to the next generations.

If your marriage is composed of two imperfect people, then it’s hopeless and beautifully flawed, as ours is.  We need valentines day tomorrow, and next week, and in April, we need it because we put romance next to last.

Bear with each other and forgive one another… Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful- Colossians 3:15

May your Valentines Day bring you simple, romantic and much needed space to connect and rekindle feelings left too far behind you on your marriage journey.

Weekends are for remembering why

We have had a rough week in the Penny house, there’s been a small argument around every corner, marker on the walls and goldfish crackers dotting every square foot of the house.  So here we are at the weekend, with a chance to renew, refresh and restore our weary hearts.  I feel like we should capitalize on this time, use it to get ourselves into a healthier so next week goes smoother.  But what sounds good to us, works with our kids schedules, fits into the budget and would be fun for everyone?

Honestly, I have no idea if there is one perfect solution, but I think that the heart of our healing weekend lies in simplicity, truth and contentment.  When you find yourself exhausted and weary it’s typically because you took on too much, believed something untrue about your life, or failed to enjoy what you have already been given.

We forget why we do all the things we set out to do at the beginning.  We fail to let things drop and take life back to simple basics.  You know, like Dad making pancakes or cartoons on the couch, snuggled with kids in footie pajamas.  A conversation that reminds you who you are, and maybe jotting a few post its carrying quotes that will keep you grounded.

We have so much and we run so hard that we forget how healing it can be to quiet our hearts and search for beauty, to sit with no agenda and just “be there.”  How often, do we rest and simply enjoy the house and community we work so hard to develop and sustain?  I do this rarely, which causes me to forget the heart of it all.

I am going to look my family in the eyes when they talk to me, look for the flecks of color in their beautifully unique eyes, ranging from chocolate brown to sea glass blue.  I am going to turn off the TV more, reach for the iPhone less and gaze off and let God bring me things he’s been needing to say.

Right now my daughter is doing my hair with a silicone tongs and putting stickers on my back.  So I am going to stop writing and see where this leads.  Prediction?  I’ll get a tongs stuck in my hair.

Put down the dust cloth, the iPhone, the to do list and seek shalom, give God space to use your days of rest to remind you why you do what you do in the first place.

It’s tongs time. . . ow.

My Valentines Team

can you say Happy Valentines Day without glitter, doilies and googley eyes? You can, but I don't recommend it.

I love Holidays because they mean a break from the everyday, a reason to celebrate some specific portion of life.  I’m a sucker for birthdays and think each one is worth celebrating.  I recently had dinner with my Great Aunts, my Grandmas sisters, beautiful every one of them.  My Great Aunt Arloa was talking about how much she loved celebrating her 80th birthday.  When she walked into the surprise party her children put on for her, she immediately asked her daughter: “Well, it’s my party, where’s my tiara?”  And her daughter, who knows her mother, immediately produced one for her and she wore it with pride.  She made it 80 years, that’s tiara worthy my friends.  How awesome is that perspective?  I think we should all aim to enter our 80s loving a reason to celebrate and have a party.

In case you missed it, next week is Valentines Day, and my little Casa reflects that.  A lot of people have mixed views on Valentines Day, you will hear it called “A greeting card holiday” or “singles awareness day”.  For many years I put huge expectations on Kel, or whatever boyfriend I had, to romance me to the nines.  When this didn’t happen, when the roses were carnations or the dinner was at Applebees I  typically sulked and whined.  I now approach celebration with a more laid back attitude and a determination to soak in the day rather than look for errors and disappointments.

My Dad always bought the three of us kids Valentines day presents, which he snuck onto our dinner plates before our evening meal of tater tots and fish sticks.  It made me feel loved and special, even though I was only 8, I was Daddy’s Valentine.  I’m certainly going to team up with Kel in being our kids Valentines until, gulp, someone else fills our spot.  And then, lets be honest, son in laws and grandkids will just give me more valentines presents to buy.

And then theres my obvious Valentine Kel.  I will definitely love on my big daddy valentine and look for ways to romance and surprise him next Tuesday.  Even though he has to work crazy late that night I am still determined to create space for celebration. I’ll just have a few afternoon cups of coffee and pray I make it until 11:00.  My plans in this area are not yet solidified and may be potentially a bit PG-13.

This year I’m adding another component to my Valentines Day and I’m thrilled about it.  I’m sending love notes to my home team.  In case you don’t know who your home team is, they are your inner circle of people.  The ones who would be there in a heartbeat if you called sobbing, the ones on the other end of the ranting text messages, the ones who you share prayers and glasses of wine with.  Your home team is your people, the ones you do life with in real and transparent ways.  This year I’m sending the home team each valentines as well.   I want them to know that in their own beautiful and unique ways, they are my valentines.  I even braved a solo trip with both kids to the scrapbook store to buy cute paper and a heart punch, and that’s love baby, a two year old in a scrapbook store is a gourmet paper tornado waiting to happen.

My opinion is that when it comes to celebrating the annual day of love, we tend to keep our focus too small.  So I am going non traditional, which is forever an option nowadays, and celebrating all of my valentines.  Who wouldn’t love to get a card from a friend, aunt or cousin letting them know that they are cherished and noticed?  Everyone wants that, even if they put on a prickly front.

So, if you’re going into Feb 14 with a lonely mindset, perhaps adopting this new take on Valentines Day will put some life back into your holiday.  Its always an option to focus on what you don’t have, and I know that many of us have voids that are bigger on special occasions.  However, I choose the way of polka dot hearts and glittery doilies, because it fills my heart and brings joy to those around me.

What are your Valentines Plans?  Conversation heart binge?  Steak Dinner?  Are you sending a singing candy gram to anyone special?  If so, when and where and can I bring the kids to watch?

Lets take this day to show extra measures of love, it can only bring light to our world.

Becoming our own Mothers

Sarah Bessey is asking her readers to share a bit about their parenting practices.  I’ve spent the morning thinking through what I have to contribute to the practices of parenting.  Lately, I have been doing a lot of soul searching on the self care and sacrifice needed to be a mom,  so I considered writing about that.  However,  I think the most helpful piece I can contribute from my own practices of parenting comes straight from my own story.

One of the essential practices that has seen me through my almost three years of parenting is the practice of convincing myself that I am not destined to follow in my Mother’s footsteps.  As women, we all have things about our Moms that drive us nuts, and many of us have pieces of our childhoods that we don’t want to repeat.  I hope that most of you reading this had childhoods that equipped you with most of the tools that you need to parent.  I know from experiences however that some of us grew up in less than ideal families, and now carry stones that we are learning to untie so we can run this race unfettered.

I am the blessed Mom of a 2 year old girl and a 1 year old son.  Shortly before the birth of our son, as I was in the midst of chasing a toddler in my third trimester, my Mom took her life.  She had been struggling with depression, anxiety and mental illness for more than 25 years.  Even though her illness was a huge monster that had been around most of my life, 16 months after her death I’m still shocked that she left like that.

With my main mothering role model gone via suicide I realized that part of my journey would be finding the faith ti believe that I had the strength to parent well at all.  I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety in my own life, growing up around my Mom it was truly a learned behavior, so as I prepared to welcome our second born I was terrified that postpartum depression might send me over the edge forever.  That I was destined to teach my daughter some of the hard lessons my mom taught me.

By the grace of God I sit here today at a dining room table smeared with chili and scattered with sippy cups, a whole and (usually) happy Mom.

I still grieve and mourn the death of my own Mom, but rarely do I fear a steep decline into mental illness.  These days I’m busy tackling some latent adolescent self esteem issues, but that is a blog for another day.

I am my own Mother, so are you.  I don’t mean that you are the woman that raised you, I mean you are the author of your own Motherhood, you are not destined to repeat negative behaviors.  God is a gracious guide and will grant us strength, wisdom and women who can help us learn better and healthier ways.  Affirming my own unique and healthy Motherhood is a practice that I perform regularly.  Here’s a few tips… and yes they all start with P, isn’t that lovely?

1) Prevention: Anyone who has lost a parent to disease of any kind (and depression is just that) fears contracting their parent’s illness.  So do what you need to do to be aware of how you can be proactive against the disease you fear.  For me it’s an active lifestyle, a healthy diet and time to write, reflect and meander through my own mind.  Also I am all for scheduling a counseling appointment or talking to my doctor about medication options if I feel things may be slipping down a dangerous slope.  Don’t be afraid to take the steps necessary to be proactive.

2) Prayer:  I talk to God about my fears when I start to freak out.  Why, just this morning I turned my ceiling fan on high and burrowed under my covers in order to drown out my kids so that I could get a grip on my own head before my Husband left for work.  Burrow if you have to but find a zen place to get it all out and upward to God.

3) Person-hood:  You are your own bundle of DNA with different genes and circumstances.  You are not your family of origin, you are doing your own God-led thing.  Your little family is a whole new ball game.  So play it out, don’t assume you’ve already lost, that’s folly folks.

4) Peers:  You’re not on an island, and if you are on an island chances are that A) I’m jealous and B) you still have neighbors.  What I’m saying is that we are in this together.  Whatever you are struggling with I bet God will show you someone who has been there, walked through it and can support you in your own journey.  Involve others in an honest conversation about your story, and enter into theirs!

Many of us have beautiful stories behind us, some of us don’t, yet we all hold the potential to write beautiful stories and give our kids the foundation and tools they need to add chapter after chapter to theirs.

I’m in football for the food (and giveaway winner announced)

Today is Super Bowl Sunday all across America and that makes me love today all the more. Is it because I am an avid football enthusiast? No, and I mean heck no, I cannot follow the plays and calls to save my life. Still, I love football game parties because they mean delicious sustenance for both the tongue and the heart.

Tonight our little family of four with gather with two other families to watch the Super Bowl. There will be a six year old, three two year olds and our newly one year old son all doing laps around the house, having spats over toys and begging for more dessert. It will be loud and adult conversations will get interrupted time and time again, yet still I love family football parties because they nourish me and they boldly define my life stage. Gone are the days of nodding off in front of the game because of boredom and a few too many beers and guacamole. Yet these new and slightly chaotic family gatherings don’t stress me out, but they nourish me deeply.

Tonight, three mothers and three fathers will connect with each other over chili dogs and children. Our opportunities to savor time together are fewer and farther between now, and so gatherings such as these sustain our need to chat, chase and be reminded that we are in this race together. I’m looking forward to my friend Hannah’s sinful onion dip and Abby’s decadent peanut butter brownies, but more than that I’m just looking forward to laughing and sharing an evening with the women who brought the food and bring themselves into my life time and time again.

I am assuming the men will do some sort of side by side manly bonding that I can’t pretend to grasp onto, and that’s okay because I’m not, nor do I really want to be a man. Too much hair and testosterone for me. So I love football parties because, yes I love anything enjoyed on a chip, but mostly because I love the way that football parties leave me feeling full. The sort of sustaining full that will make this week of days spent with babies less lonely.

So today I’m thankful for the Super Bowl and for all the potential it holds for connection and chaos.

Now for the lucky winner of Ann Voskamp’s book 1000 gifts:

Congrats! I’ll be contacting you soon to figure out how to get this amazing read into your hands.

Banana Time

Object Lesson: A video of my son Caedmon’s excitement about a banana

Now before I go on, A) Yes I know he has a huge chunk of parsley on his lip, it’s not a booger and B) if you watch that video again in slo-mo, I ninja landed that last slice of banana right on to the existing pile of bananas in his moving hand. Seriously, I couldn’t do that again if I tried.

“I wish I loved anything as much as my kids love bubbles” ~ said Paul Rudd, in Knocked up.

If you spend much time around kids you will know right away that the joy they exude about their daily lives is contagious and intense. What did you love as a kid? I loved cheerios and ice cream, I still do, but with far less joy and enthusiasm. What if we all outwardly expressed childlike joy over the little things? I’ve given this some thought and realized that we would all behave like buddy the elf, which would be interesting but would result in low productivity and diabetes. As you recall, Buddy eats sugar like a fiend.

Even though I’m not converting to elf behavior, I think that we grown up types could stand to amp up the joy. I could go a whole week without getting half excited as my son does when I snap a banana off the bunch. That’s sad and its something I want to change.

After reading through the scriptures I have found that hope and joy are linked to each other.

For the hope of the righteous brings joy- Proverbs 10:28

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the holy spirit you may abound in hope. Romans 15:13

When we lose hope, we lose joy and peace. It makes perfect sense, the hopeless certainly aren’t joyful. The beauty in the innocence of children is that they see the world as a hopeful place, bursting with wonder. The bible calls us to have childlike faith, to believe firmly even after we’ve seen more of the world’s ugly bits than we care to recount. For the most part children believe that even when the going gets tough, that Mom and Dad have things covered. At some point in our coming of age we leave that feeling behind and replace it for skepticism and doubt. If we don’t have a lot of hope and joy I think it’s because we don’t feel like God “has us.”

This world dishes out some shocking and dark experiences, and the battle of our souls is largely wrapped up in we can emerge with our faith, hope and joy in tact, or at least if we are willing to fight to bring it back.

So every morning that I slice up another banana to my son’s excited squealing I am reminded that I want more joy. In order to gain the joy my soul needs I need to have concrete faith and hope so unshakeable that they remain a strong foundation even when my world quakes apart.

My kids have joy in the small and simple because they have faith and hope that their lives will be blessed and beautiful. They have no reason to believe otherwise. I lost that somewhere along the way, but I think it’s still there, under a few layers of crud that I’m still peeling away. My hope and joy are worth digging for and yours are too. Lets put down the cyclical and skeptical and instead go on a childlike treasure hunt or a game of hide and seek. Lets find the joy, renew the hope and live deeper than we are today.

It’s banana time people, get excited.

And remember that there is still time to enter the giveaway, you have until midnight CST on Saturday Feb 4.