4 Secrets to a Happy Marriage

Saturday my husband and I renewed the wedding vows we made a little more than 25 years ago. The service was scheduled to be outdoors at 4 p.m.

But then life happened. My hubby was still getting gussied up in his cute new outfit at the time I had hoped to arrive, so we skidded in on two wheels at 3:55 p.m. My daughter forgot her scripture reading at home, and my son thought it started at 4:30. When he finally showed up, about 4:20, he brought the rain with him.

I’d like to tell you this was an aberration, but it is so much a part of the fabric of our family life that it even has a name: “Getting Kirsched.”

In the midst of our messes, however, God is always faithful…He showed up even as we were getting our collective act together, and we gave Him the glory for creating our marriage and carrying us this far, and sought His guidance for the road ahead.

As part of the service my husband and I each offered reflections for our children and the handful of others who stood with and for our marriage. Mine is excerpted below for posterity and in hopes that what we have learned may help others seeking to “do marriage God’s way.”

Kirsch Fam 0422 2017

During our wedding, our friend and officiant, Father John Skirtich, delivered a message that “Love is a decision.” Somewhere inside I might have known it to be true, but it was in the same way I knew dessert or a favorite glass of wine was a decision…it didn’t come at a cost.

We were young and in love, and we believed our marriage would be a great example to our community of friends and fellow believers, and to our children.

But then Life Happened.

My husband always tells young couples that you never know what God will call you to walk through together or how much you will have to lean on one another. That certainly has been our experience.

Last fall, as our silver milestone approached the bumps in the road had all but obscured the path we had traveled together, and the love and joy that had kept us growing and changing together. Throughout this season the Lord kept bringing this verse to my mind:

See, I am doing a new thing!

Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?

I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

Isaiah 43:19

I did not perceive it…

at least not right away. But looking back now I can see God’s faithfulness as He began to clear out the death and decay that had crept into the dark corners of our marriage and restored new life.

I want to share the four secrets that breathed new life into our marriage; the ones we are working to live out together each day.

1. Change Yourself.

To change your marriage you must change yourself…because that is the only person you can change. Once I stopped looking at what I wanted my husband to do differently and focused only on what I needed to change — and then he began to do the same — our marriage got healthier quickly. (Wives, accept that you will likely be called to make the first move here, but as you see how your husband responds you’ll know it is well worth it.)

Marriage is the only place where you reveal your true (bad) self, so God uses that space to refine us and teach us how to love more like Jesus—unconditionally.

2. Love is indeed a decision.

Sure, it begins with googly eyes and butterflies, but as Scripture teaches:

  • The heart is deceitful above all things. (Jeremiah 17:9)
  • Out of the abundance of the heart our mouthes speak. (Luke 6:45)
  • For as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. (Proverbs 23:7)

What I am about to share is true in all relationships, but it’s most visible and important thoughts-1in marriage: It is our thoughts that create our feelings, which lead to our actions.

Changing how I feel about my husband begins by examining my thoughts about him. As I replace any negative thoughts with what I love most about him– and how God sees him–my feelings warm and I act out of love. (Read Love is a Decision)

Once I understood this cycle, Paul’s instruction took on new relevance and importance:

Take every thought captive to Christ

2 Corinthians 10:5

3. The Power of Neutrality

There is no excuse for an angry outburst. While we inevitably experience anger, it is possible to diffuse it without hurting your spouse or relationship by following two simple rules:

  1. If you can’t say it neutrally you can’t say it. (That has created a lot more quiet in our marriage to be sure!) We are learning to voice our complaints, after the anger subsides, in ways that build up our marriage. It sounds corny at first, but it works:

State the complaint neutrally: Honey, when you don’t call me when you’re running late…

Name your feelings: I feel worried for your safety and disrespected regarding the value of my time.

Make a simple, forward-looking change request: In the future I’d like to ask that you call me if you are going to be more than 15 minutes late. Can you do this?

If your spouse consents, great; if he/she declines you can calmly discuss alternatives or drop the topic and try again later.

2. Our need as human beings is to be heard; it far exceeds our need to be right. That seemed shocking at first, but it is an incredible truth in practice. As we learn to listen to each other well, even if the issue doesn’t get resolved right away, we are learning how to love one another even in our differences.

4. The Healing Power of Forgiveness

Perhaps the most valuable secret of all is the tremendous, healing power of forgiveness. (Unforgiven) The turning point in the marriage retreat we attended last winter came when we were asked to write apologies that would speak to our spouse’s heart. It was a powerful, healing experience. James 1:19-21 (MSG) says:

Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger.

So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage.

In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.

Now I Perceive It!

I wish I had learned these secrets sooner and put them into practice in my life and marriage. But as my husband and I strive to “do marriage God’s way” in our imperfect humanity, we hope to become a better example of Christian marriage and a testament to how awesome and faithful our Father is.

Baptism of the Stars.jpg

This beautiful painting was created by our friend and artist, Corey Mason. He calls it “Baptism of the Stars.” It is a gift of remembrance of the journey we have shared. The light and promise that dominate the darkness are from God, who is ever faithful to make a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

Woman’s Work

Today is Mother’s Day; it’s the day we celebrate, remember, thank and love our mothers, mother-in-laws, aunts, grandmothers and the other women who helped shape who we are and who we are becoming.

From Biblical times through today God consistently uses women to lead His children home. So today’s post is offered in gratitude for the gifts given to me by the women in my life, and by their Biblical sisters who modeled it first.

Praying on your knees. From as early as I can remember my mother knelt with us by our bedsides each night to recite a prayer she created, a prayer of thankfulness for our families, our country (she’s always been deeply patriotic) and for the blessings of each day.

At the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)

Spiritual discipline. My mother took us to church every single week of our lives. I don’t remember ever missing a Sunday, whether away on vacation or out on Lake Erie, our weekend itineraries were structured around it. Sometimes all of us, including my dad, would resist and cajole her to bend “just this once.” She never did. And today it’s a habit we’re instilling in our own children.

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

The Word. I didn’t grow up reading or studying scripture outside of church. So when my sister-in-law brought her Bible on vacation I watched, wondering what she was reading and why. Her daily habit and out-loud thinking about Biblical principles seeded an interest in me that grew over time.

So love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength. Memorize his laws and tell them to your children over and over again. Talk about them all the time, whether you’re at home or walking along the road or going to bed at night, or getting up in the morning. Write down copies and tie them to your wrists and foreheads to help you obey them. Write these laws on the door frames of your homes and on your town gates. (Deuteronomy 6:5-9)

Pray without ceasing. My mother-in-law prays all day long. She “has fun with God” as she likes to say, engaging Him in every aspect of her daily life. She seeks Him and finds Him in everything. (Learn more about mothers-in-law here.)

Miriam, Hannah and Mary all have prayers of praise recorded in the Bible.

Commend your children to the Lord. One of my dearest friends walked a long, lonely road with her child through nearly a decade of rebellion and struggle. Her faithfulness and selfless love were an inspiration and are now a well of wisdom for my own times of struggle with my kids.

Hannah prayed fervently for a child and when she conceived Samuel she commended him to the Lord before he was even born, giving him to Eli to become a priest and serve the Lord. (1 Samuel 1-2)

Steadfastness. Another friend of mine was recently called “steadfast” by her son, who as a young adult is beginning to see the many ways she built and sustained a wall of protection around him and his siblings through the tumult in her life.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the women I know who live Proverbs 31 with courage, beauty and grace:

She takes good care
of her family
and is never lazy.
Her children praise her,
and with great pride
her husband says,
“There are many good women,
but you are the best!”
Charm can be deceiving,
and beauty fades away,
but a woman
who honors the Lord
deserves to be praised.
Show her respect—
praise her in public
for what she has done.

Time for a Little Soul Cleaning?

Did you ever notice how clutter has a way of sneaking into your house, crouching in corners, hoping you won’t notice (or muster the energy to do anything about it if you do)?

Last week I declared war on clutter. I was doing my best to straighten up when I suddenly felt overwhelmed:  There wasn’t a room in our house where I could enjoy a peaceable sense of order anymore. All I could see was clutter. How had I let this go for so long?!

Saturday morning I lay in bed delaying the inevitable grind ahead of me. As I procrastinated, planning and dreading my day, God gave me this blog post; grace sprinkled over my mess.

Your Heart is My Home

Junk has a way of piling up in your heart just like it does in your home…especially if you’re not vigilant. For awhile you can keep your eyes on the clean spaces. But eventually there is nowhere else to look; that’s when it’s time for a little soul cleaning.

And there’s no better catalyst to such an awakening than having a friend or neighbor over — one you know keeps a beautiful home — to make you see your house through their eyes.

Isaiah had just such an experience when confronted with the clean, pure presence of a holy God in Isaiah 6: “…I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim…calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the

Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of His glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

In another example Peter encounters Jesus for the first time after a frustratingly unproductive night of fishing. Jesus instructs Peter to cast his nets one more time, and they immediately fill to the point of breaking.

 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said,

“Go away from me, Lord;

I am a sinful man!”

Luke 5:8

It’s no coincidence that God exposed the junk in Isaiah’s and Peter’s lives just before sending them out into the world to draw others to Himself.

Rewarding Work

Clean garageThe good news is this:

  1. While soul cleaning can be laborious — especially if you haven’t done it in awhile — God doesn’t ask us to work alone. My daughter helped me clean up our outdoor space. As we worked side by side we remarked on how the work can be almost fun when you’re doing it with someone else. God is happy to come alongside us, we need only to ask.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Psalm 51:10

2. He focuses our energy. Cleaning frenzies can be exhausting. If we try to do too much at once we become discouraged, and when the effort is too great we are reluctant to tackle it the next time. God makes sure that the tasks He gives us do not overwhelm us.

For my yoke is easy

and my burden light.

Matthew 11:30

3. God never shames us for making a mess in the first place; He is happy to remove the junk for us. My last task of the day was to drive my truckload of junk to the dump. When we confront the messes we’ve made in our spiritual lives, Jesus takes the wheel and removes it for us.

As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.

Psalm 103:12

Becoming More Tidy

Cleaning house has a spiritual term, it’s called repentance. Yet repentance comes with its own junk. As modern Christians we prefer to focus on spirituality and growing our relationship with God. But just as weeds choke healthy plants, our junk clutters our ability to experience God fully, and certainly makes us hesitant to invite him into the messy inner sanctums of our hearts.

In his book, “The Secret Life of a Fool,” Andrew Palau (@AndrewPalau) shares his Isaiah 6 moment, when he prayed for the Lord to reveal whatever junk was standing in the way of a closer relationship. God laid open to him his sinfulness in the same devastating, life-changing way that He did for Isaiah.

I modeled that prayer after reading Andrew’s story, not believing I had any blindspots; God likewise opened my eyes. I invite you to consider praying a similar prayer, but first, put on your apron and get out your dustpan, because cleanup will ensue.

Another tool for shining God’s light on the cobwebs of your heart is One Word. This great little book encourages you to prayerfully ask God for one word to guide your year, ideal timing as New Year’s approaches. This process allows God to expose your blindspots while also redirecting your focus. (Read about my first experience with one word here.)

While the labor of this past weekend lingers in my bones, this morning it is accompanied by a lightness and peace that make it all worthwhile. I am pleased that I did the hard work to restore order and simplicity in my life. I look forward to having friends over this holiday without needing to push them past the trouble spots or apologize for my neglect. And I enjoyed rest, a good, deep satisfying rest, when I finished my work.

Come to me all you who are weary and burdened

and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28

Lessons from the Fall

good wife

Eve 2In the classic movie, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” Toula Portokalos says to her mother, “Ma, Dad is so stubborn. What he says goes. Ah, the man is the head of the house.”

Her mother responds,”Let me tell you something, Toula. The man is the head, but the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head any way she wants.”

Like it or not we wives hold tremendous power to influence over our husbands. It has been that way from the start, part of God’s vision in creating woman:

The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.

I believe that role of helper is significant, not a diminishment of our role as women, and it is one we are challenged to fulfill as daughters of Eve. Eve believed that she and her family deserved the best life had to offer, at any price. She did not want her husband to miss out on an opportunity for advancement, even if it required a few shortcuts:

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Genesis 3: 6

Sarah wanted a family, badly. Her biological clock was ticking. Did Abraham think the divinely promised descendants as numerous as the stars were simply going to fall from the sky? She took matters into her own hands:

So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband

to be his wife. 

He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.

Genesis 16:3

When Sarah’s daughter-in-law Rebekah was pregnant with twins, God told her that the wrestling of her twins in-utero would continue throughout their lives, and ultimately “the older would serve the younger.” When Rebekah saw her husband prepare to bless his elder son, she decided to help God along with His promise, and enlisted her beloved baby boy in the deception.

Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “Now, my son, listen carefully and do what I tell you: Go out to the flock and bring me two choice young goats, so I can prepare some tasty food for your father, just the way he likes it.  Then take it to your father to eat, so that he may give you his blessing before he dies.  Jacob said to Rebekah his mother…I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself rather than a blessing.  His mother said to him,

My son, let the curse fall on me. 

Just do what I say; 

go and get them for me.

Genesis 27: 6, 12-13

Our sisters throughout the Bible offer great reminders of how easily our strong passion and belief in the men we love can turn into overzealousness and pride, leading us and them into sin. I wish I could claim not to relate to the motives of any one of these women, but in honesty I have experienced all of their impulses at some level. Let us be mindful then, of our opportunity and responsibility to be a good and faithful helper to the men in our lives, and support one another in this call.

A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.

Proverbs 31: 10-31

Secrets of a Domestic Goddess

domestic goddess

Banana BreadI am from a generation of women called to careers outside the home. While this movement creates valuable advancements in the form of economic independence, personal achievement and financial reward, it sometimes devalues the role of a woman in defining and sustaining her family’s experience of home.

As a result, we now refer to cooking, cleaning and laundry as chores, and they certainly can be. But, I must confess that I experience a sort of guilty pleasure when I make a fabulous dinner, get all the laundry done (a short-lived milestone) or beat back dirty socks and dog hair to create a spotless living space (even shorter-lived).

Fortunately, the Lord has put in my path a few Godly women who, while they all work outside the home, possess an unabashed passion and prowess for home work. They are among the ranks of those I fondly refer to as domestic goddesses. Here is a brief glimpse of these women at work:

  • Meg starts her day by rising before her husband to make fresh brewed coffee and a breakfast sammie for his commute. She cuts fresh fruit for her boys, and makes sure their lunches have something homemade.
  • In between conference calls, Lynne packs snacks for her son (and his friends) to enjoy after soccer practice. She always has freshly made salsa in the fridge and pumpkin bread in the oven.
  • Tricia makes flashcards to help her daughter study, and has been known to crank out an extra set for her friends. She made 80-plus fleece scarves for her daughter’s band fund-raiser. And she sews her own curtains.

Why do they do it? They have come to know and treasure the secrets of a domestic goddess:

1. Providing nourishment is one of our first and primary roles as women.

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? (Isaiah 49:15)

2. As mothers, we are the embodiment of Christ’s love to our families.

As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem. (Isaiah 66:13)

3. We are called to serve one another, a calling that begins at home, is modeled for our children and then ripples into the world around us.

Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord. (Ephesians 6:7)

Serve one another humbly in love. (Galatians 5:13)

This is not to say that every woman is obliged to do such things and love them. And it is not to say that men can’t find similar satisfaction in them.

I simply seek to lift up and celebrate these women who quietly reign over their domains with benevolence and good cheer, providing comfort and wonderful memories for their families.

So friends, no more sweeping your domesticity under the rug. Stand proud of who you are and what you do, and know that other women see, admire and seek to share in your secrets. (I can hear those pans rattling in your honor!)