Those Everyday Days

photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

From the monumental day we say our wedding vows in front of God and all the people in our lives, our journeys together are generally marked by the big things – anniversaries, births, vacation trips, and even the tragic events that inevitably come our way. If each marriage had a road map of its own, they are the towns that lay along the road from the beginning to the time that death do us part.

But, in between all those, between those landmark events, the ‘towns’ along our marriage path, lie all the grassy fields, houses, fences, and bridges along the way, the everyday days, the routines, and even the ruts, all the little things that don’t so much stick out by themselves but nevertheless make up the bulk of our lives together.

From the wedding that takes so much planning and preparation, a long-awaited day that has to be ‘just so’ down to the last detail (at least insofar as the bride is concerned!), to our well planned vacations and beyond, we generally put extraordinary effort into and remember every detail about the big things. I’ll never forget the days each of my children were born. I’ll never forget our wedding day, or my grandmother’s funeral, or the time our oldest daughter spent three weeks in the hospital with potentially-deadly meningitis nine days after she was born.

Of course, it’s certainly important to ‘do’ the big things right. We all want our wedding to be a day to remember, and even the funerals we attend to be sweet times of fellowship with family we would otherwise never see.

But, what of the little things, those everyday days? There are far more of those than there are monumental days, far more than we think we can count, except that we can. Just as the hairs on our head are numbered, so are the days of our lives together. The best marriages are maintained, not once every so often, but every single day. Each and every day, the question we should be asking our spouse, but often forget, is, “Do you feel loved today?”

In reality, the bulk of our marriage stories are written in between the towns, in the long talks, the back rubs, the intimate times, the tender touches, the date nights, and even those countless, crazy, seemingly endless days of laboring together in that toughest of tough jobs, parenting.

It’s so easy to take those days for granted, to fall into what we might view as a ‘rut.’ Kim and I have four children. There were times when we thought the diapers would never end. Last summer, when our youngest turned three, we sold our changing table on Craigslist and said goodbye to diapers forever. It’s not so much that we miss the diaper changing (does anyone?), but we do miss having little babies around the house. At the time, in the middle of it all, I didn’t think I would, but I do.

There have been times when, traipsing through some public place with our four young ones in tow, an elderly person will smile at us and, with moist eyes, tell us with a voice laden with experience to cherish these days, because after we blink they’ll be gone. I think we’re finally starting to understand what they mean.

They say time flies when you’re having fun, and we’re definitely having fun. Maybe we might just slow time down, just a little, by remembering that those everyday days go by so much faster than we think.

“Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.” Psalms 90:10 NIV

The Long Wait

waiting

We started prepping, really prepping, in 2008. Although that was doubtless late in the game for those who ‘saw it coming’ in the 90’s and proved it even more by not getting rid of their preps after Y2K fizzeled into nothing, the economic situation in 2008 made it more than just a hypothetical for us. It made it real, and whereas before we had just occasionally talked about someday doing a little prepping, it was then that we finally got serious about it.

Back in 2008, when the sky was the limit for gold and gas prices and truckers were threatening to strike, when the government was printing money right and left to bail out giant corporations while middle America paid the price, it was clear that government policy, despite lip service to the contrary, was aimed at doing what we had always feared, destroying the middle class and turning us into Brazil.

Has this changed? No, not really. They still want to turn us into a second world, if not third world country. They still want to destroy the middle class (all communists do, right?). Their policies still reflect this. But, back in 2008, didn’t we all think it would happen just a little bit faster than it has? Back then, and a few years thereafter, we had Alex Jones and Gerald Celente, among others, along with the gold and silver brokers suddenly purchasing half the commercial slots on FoxNews, predicting economic apocalypse with more passion and certainty than John Hagee predicts Biblical ones. Heck, even Glenn Beck was getting on the bandwagon. Now, I like and enjoy listening to Alex Jones and Glenn Beck both (though they don’t seem to like each other very much!), but I think they would both agree that, although the train is still moving in the same direction, it’s moving a lot slower than any of us thought it would. Despite the fact that we certainly aren’t in the bull market we were in prior to 2008, overall the country seems to be humming along quite nicely and looks to continue this at least for the near future.

Do I think that will continue indefinitely? No, I do not. If nothing else does, the staggering, impossible-to-pay national debt WILL eventually catch up with us. Do I WISH it would continue indefinitely? Yes, I do. I wish brave politicians with character would go to Washington, put the Federal Reserve out of business, stop the illegal (and most of the legal, for that matter) immigration, clean up the mess, reestablish liberty, and put us on the right track toward financial stability. I don’t wish what’s coming on anybody, anywhere, at any time. When it does come, to be completely honest, I hope my wife and I are dead and gone after long, happy lives together. Did you get that? I HOPE WE ARE WRONG. Period… or at least in this lifetime.

But wouldn’t that make our prepping in vain, you ask? Of course, my answer would be no, and here are three key reasons why:

More time to prepare – The longer the wait, the more time we have to get ready, because we’re FAR from anything close to that (although, as we know, being truly ‘ready’ is impossible!). I’d love to have the resources to buy a doomsday bunker in Montana somewhere with enough stored food to feed our family for a decade, but sadly, we don’t. We do with what we have, and add to our preps as we can afford it. As far as we’re concerned, the more time God gives us, the better!

More time to make our lives better – In the past, I’ve written extensively on how prepping makes our lives better, and none of those reasons have to do with the apocalypse. Of course, it always helps to save money, buy things we need, and improve our lives as much as we can, but there is also nothing we regret about grinding our own wheat and baking our own bread, cooking from scratch, eating healthier, growing some of our own food, saving money by buying on sale and in bulk, always having a full pantry, and learning basic, oft-forgotten skills like how to can, dehydrate, and sew. All of those things have made our lives richer and healthier, and we are all the better for having journeyed down this road, wherever it may lead.

More time to enjoy life – I think we can all agree that when the economy does crash, or a pandemic comes, or an EMP drops (please, neoCONS, stop baiting Russia – just STOP it already!), or GMOs finally make growing food impossible, even if it’s 100 years from now it’s going to be tough for everybody, even the best prepared among us. I don’t know about you, but I enjoy my electricity and running water!

As Jack Spirko of The Survival Podcast says over and over, real prepping will makes our lives better, even if nothing ever goes wrong. Amen! Let’s stay vigilant and keep prepping, but enjoy and cherish this long wait for as long as it will last, because Winter IS coming, eventually, and probably sooner than we want or think.

Five Things Kids Should See From Every Marriage

Image courtesy of Ohmega1982 at freedigitalphotos.com

Image courtesy of Ohmega1982 at freedigitalphotos.com

From the time our children leave their mother’s womb and take their very first breath, they need stuff from us. It starts with the most basic needs – sustenance, warmth, shelter – and, at least according to friends of ours with older children, apparently never really ends (although I’m hoping that isn’t true – when my wife and I eventually retire to the Caymans we aren’t taking ANY of them with us!).

It all happens in stages, of course. They need basic sustenance for a while, then they need discipline, teaching on various subjects (how to tie a shoe and all that, unless we get lucky and they learn it in Kindergarten!), clothes that cost more and more the older and more fashion conscious they get, toys that likewise get more and more expensive, advice that gets tougher and tougher the older they get, refereeing (if you have more than one), taxi services (you know, to take them back and forth to activities and such), and countless other ‘parenting stuff.’

We provide these goods and services willingly, routinely, and even happily (sometimes, er… most of the time…) because we love our children and want them to be happy, healthy, successful adults who will hopefully not put us in a run-down nursing home when we’re too old to care for ourselves.

In the day to day hustle and bustle, we often become so busy providing all the physical things our children need and want that we sometimes forget to address what they need above all else – an example to follow. Of course, this would apply to every aspect of character, but in a day and age where the institution of marriage is constantly being attacked, disparaged, and seemingly relegated to the dung heap of history, our children need to see marriages that exhibit the kind of character they not only admire and respect, but want to follow.

Here are five character traits our children need to see in our marriage, so that someday they can exemplify them in their own!

1.)    They need to see us put our spouse before ourselves – Selflessness doesn’t come naturally. We’ve already established the fact that we all come out of the womb squalling and wanting stuff. The problem is, most children who never come to understand the world isn’t about them grow into adults who think the world is about them. Then, sadly, they get married to someone who thinks, nay, the world is about THEM, and hilarity ensues… except this is real life, not a sitcom. Children need to see their parents putting each other first, even above the kids, so they will understand that, counterintuitive as it may seem, selflessness, not selfishness, is what will sustain the lasting relationships with those we love.

2.)    They need to see us respectfully disagree – Disagree? Respectfully? Why, how can those two words possibly go together, you ask!? Isn’t marriage conflict supposed to be about throwing dishes at each other and making your TV debut on COPS? The thing is, two different people sharing their lives together will never agree on everything, but if you handle conflict with class, you can teach your children far more than whatever point you’re trying to make. And for goodness sakes, if you must throw dishes, please do it out of sight of the children!!

3.)    They need to see us love each other – Some of the sweetest moments in our married and parenting lives have been when we’re standing in the kitchen or some other room hugging each other and one or more of the kids wander over and hug our legs, trying to wrestle themselves between us while they giggle with delight. There’s something peaceful and comforting about living in a home where your parents love each other and aren’t afraid to show it. I’m convinced the ripple effect goes far beyond the childhood years.

4.)    They need to see us put God first – Exhibiting and fostering a reverent worship of God and adherence to Biblical principles will keep our families on a firm foundation and give our children a model for when they start their own families. If both parents are putting God first and doing their best to obey His commands, how can anything come between them?

5.)    They need to see us be good stewards – In an age of instant gratification, living within your means is, as Dave Ramsey says, pretty ‘weird.’ After all, a $10,000 credit limit is just like having $10,000 in the bank, right? Wrong! Kids need to know that money doesn’t grow on trees. They need to understand that the only sure-fire way to get through this life without having living out retirement in a cardboard box on the East end of town is to work hard and be an intelligent steward of the resources God blesses us with.

Whether we are modeling these attributes to our own children or to other children who might not be so fortunate as to have such cool parents :), we’ll not only help them in their future marriages, but in every other aspect of their lives as well!

Four ways to control your attitude in marriage

4-Ways-to-Control-Your-Attitude-in-Marriage

In marriage, as in every other area of our lives that involves interacting with others, there is great importance in not just the words we say, but the way we say them. This is nothing new, of course. It literally goes back to the beginning of time!

“…but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and hiscountenance fell. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”Genesis 4:5-7 NASB

It’s pretty evident that God wasn’t just upset at getting some lame veggies from Cain’s garden instead of a juicy animal sacrifice (as an aside, while I fully understand the deep theological implications of this passage, a small part of me – OK, a big part – would like to think the Creator of the Universe is also lending His support to us meat eaters!), He was also upset at Cain’s countenance, at his attitude toward the whole thing. In fact, God directly relates Cain’s countenance with his sin, and instructs him to master both.

In the end, Cain didn’t master his sin. Instead, he chose to let his foul mood master him, resulting in dire consequences for both him and his family. We, thankfully, being still alive and kicking on planet Earth, have the opportunity to make different choices!

Our countenance, our moods and attitudes, all play a critical role in how we are perceived by others. No matter what we choose to say, they are the aroma that permeates our words as they leave our lips. While our choice of words is certainly important, if they are said with venom, sarcasm, or disengagement, the stench that surrounds them will sabotage even our well-intended words, and make those we might mean to be constructive-criticism far from constructive. And when we do say things we shouldn’t say, a bad countenance can do damage that is difficult or impossible to undo.

For example, it’s so easy to let completely unrelated factors affect my relationship with my wife. When I come through the door after a particularly bad day at the office, often my countenance can still be downcast from that. Maybe my wife is looking forward to seeing me (hopefully!), to telling me about something special that happened with the kids or with her students (she’s a teacher). She hasn’t seen me all day. She doesn’t know I’ve had a bad day, that is, until I forget to kiss her hello, until I toss a dismissive glance in the direction of the stove and callously ask, “What’s that?”

-What’s that?? What’s THAT?!?!-

I’m not thinking about my wife or her feelings at that point, just about my bad day. And at this point, my wife, who hasn’t even heard anything about my bad day yet, is contemplating the bad evening I’m ABOUT to have! :) My negative countenance has dripped from the office into my marital relationship, causing me to act like a complete cad, and starting our evening off on not just the wrong foot, but the wrong universe.

There are so many different ways a negative countenance can affect our relationships with our spouse, our children, and everyone else in our lives. Consequently, controlling our countenance is vitally important. I’m by no means an expert in this, here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way.

1) Compartmentalize

Compartmentalization is the ability to mentally separate the various aspects of our lives, to not let what happens in one bleed into how we perceive another. It’s said that guys (OK, especially serial killers) are better at compartmentalization than the rest of us (you know, the whole double-life thing and all that…), but in my opinion it gets a bad rap.

We should all work on letting our work stay at work, our home at home, and so on. Given that Jesus promised trouble in this world, the likelihood that something bad is happening in some aspect of our lives is pretty high, so the ability to not let that affect the other areas is critical.

2) Prioritize

With the overarching view that God is first, family second, work third, and so on, place priority on, and give your full attention to, where you are at the time.

3) Realize

Simply realizing and understanding how our countenance affects others will go a long way toward helping us to control it, regardless of how we are feeling inside. This affects literally everything and everyone. After all, who wants to get rung up by a rude cashier having a bad day at home?

4) Intentionalize

(OK, this isn’t really a word, technically, but hey, can you blame me for trying?) – Be intentionally aware, deliberate, choosing not only your words, but the WAY you deliver those words carefully.

Remember, God doesn’t like a bad countenance, and neither do the people in your life. Be the master of it – don’t let it master you!

This article first appeared on A Biblical Marriage.

Helping Kids be Responsible!

chart1

As parents, one of our most important jobs is training our children to become responsible adults someday. Besides the obvious societal implications of this (you know, stuff like self-sufficiency, good citizens who pay their taxes, staying out of prison and all that jazz), there are plenty of selfish ones as well. Although we love having them around while they’re small and cute, the last thing we want is some 35 year-old living in our basement playing video games and mooching all our food. (Now when we’re old and living in THEIR basement, that’s just payback!)

Although we’re still at the beginning of this wild and crazy adventure called parenthood, we’ve already encountered more than a few roadblocks along the way. We figured we were all set when we read James Dobson’s ‘Bringing up Boys’ and a few other parenting books. Turns out, teaching children to be responsible is harder than we ever thought it would be when our kids were in diapers and all this was just theoretical. In reality, putting that stuff into practice and being consistent at it every day is one of the toughest things we will ever do in life.

We’re learning the hard way with our oldest, third-grader Nathaniel. Oh, he’s a great kid – has a good attitude, makes good grades, is a good older brother to his sisters – but, as we try to give him more and more responsibility he has a hard time keeping up with all the things expected of him. We constantly had to remind him to do his chores, do his homework, feed his dog, practice his piano, etc. When he was supposed to be getting ready for school or doing his chores, we’d find him doing something completely unrelated to what he was supposed to be doing – arranging his football cards, standing with his hands in his pockets, aggravating his sisters, you name it.

Getting four kids ready for school is hard enough when everyone pulls their weight!

Getting four kids ready for school is hard enough when everyone pulls their weight!

Apparently, this is a common thing for boys his age. Nevertheless, we decided long ago that letting our children be irresponsible isn’t doing them any favors in the long run, so we put our heads together to think of a way to help Nathaniel (and our other children as they grow older) keep up with all the things he’s supposed to remember to do on his own without our constant reminding, prodding, and nagging.

We came up with the ‘Responsibility Chart.’ Far from a simple ‘chore chart,’ the Responsibility Chart helps our older children keep up with all of the things they are expected to do during their busy days, and do so without overburdening them, stifling creativity, or micro-managing every minute of their day.

Here’s how it works:

1.) The row headers are the individual responsibilities, divided into subcategories of when those responsibilities are expected to be accomplished. In Nathaniel’s case, his chores for the ‘morning’ are: get dressed, wash hands & face (hey, he forgets!), brush teeth & hair, pack backpack with books, lunchbox, and drink. His ‘after school’ responsibilities include: get agenda signed (from school), unpack backpack, at least 15 minutes of devotions and studying his AWANA Bible verses, feed the dog, play outside (weather permitting – yes, we believe it’s important for our kids to play outside! :)), practice piano (number of minutes defined depending on grade and level), complete all homework, clean his room, and sweep the kitchen. After dinner and before bed his responsibilities are: shower, brush & dental floss teeth, and get his clothes ready for the next day. On weekends there are special chores like dusting and vacuuming the living room, cleaning windows, etc. Piece of cake!

2.) The column headers list each day of the week. On weekends, certain chores are ‘blacked out.’ For example, there’s no need to unpack backpacks on non-school days.

3.) Each box gets checked by the child when the responsibility is completed. If a responsibility isn’t completed for a legitimate reason (vacation, school out, out to dinner, etc.), the child writes a brief explanation in the square (out to eat, no homework, etc).

4.) If a responsibility isn’t completed, the child marks the box with an X.

5.) A completed chore chart at the end of the week is worth 1 week’s ‘allowance.’ A percentage of that allowance is deducted for each X. One exception – if Nathaniel forgets to feed the dog (don’t worry, our dog doesn’t have to fast – I take care of feeding the pooch on those days! :)) he loses his entire allowance for the week (but still has to do his chart!). We think it’s important to teach that some responsibilities are more important than others. Hey, can you blame us for not wanting him to forget to someday feed our grandchildren?!

The Responsibility Chart is meant to be a bridge between early childhood and the responsibilities that come with being an all-day student. We recently made one for our first-grader too, with a few of the same and a few responsibilities. It is positive reinforcement that motivates our children to complete their responsibilities without having to be constantly reminded. It isn’t perfect, but it’s worked well for us so far. If you have younger kids, maybe it will for you!

Some chores don't need a chart because they are just FUN - Abby helps Mommy string beans!

Some chores don’t need a chart because they are just FUN – Abby loves helping Mommy string beans!

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