10 Key Things I’ve learned About Marriage

Saturday marked 10 years since the day I vowed to walk through life committed to Brian. I was 32 years old that day and after 5 years of dating him, I assumed that I was as prepared as anyone could be. But you can never know then what you know now. I have learned countless things, but these 10 stand out as nuggets- the gold when it comes to a healthy marriage.

1. Remember that you’re on the same team

Don’t make important decisions without the other, don’t be fooled into thinking you are better, don’t compete with each other. Keeping score never works. Remember that you are meant to be companions, helpers and partners. Brian and I tend to do the team thing well, but life is still full of unexpected, hard, crappy stuff and is always trying to make us fail. At least that’s how the past few years have felt. So whether the challenges are in your relationship itself or hardship just keeps banging on your door, you must work together or you will fall apart. You were made to be better together than you could be alone. (Insert 100 different quotes and books written on what it means to be a team and that will just scratch the surface of how important that is in marriage.)

2. Try really hard not to “parent” your spouse (even if they want you to)

All of us come into marriage with deficits. Things we suck at, things we never learned, broken and hurting places that we use childish coping mechanisms to cover. But treating your spouse like a child will not strengthen your marriage (or help them as an individual.) Straight forward and loving conversations, championing them and supporting their growth, professional counseling; these things will go so much further than the condescending, nagging or co-dependent things we might want to do or say.

3. Stop trying to prove that your way of relaxing is superior to theirs

Early on I realized that I am a “do-er” and my husband is a “be-er” when it comes to down time. I spent a good while being convinced that I was somehow more productive, less lazy and generally superior to him when it came to “resting.” Over these 10 years we have rubbed off on each other and are both more balanced as a result. But it required me to stop trying to make him just like me. People are different (light bulb) and need different things to rejuvenate. There are plenty of instances when bad or unhealthy behaviors need addressing, but more often we just need to focus on embracing who our spouse is and let them be themselves.

4. Celebrate milestones

Life flies by and if we don’t plan special experiences and mark milestones along our way, we will miss out. Both Brian and I wanted a glamorous, relaxing and romantic trip for our 10th anniversary but with no extra money and a nursing baby, this just isn’t the year. Instead, we drove our little family up to the place we got married to share with them and be reminded ourselves of the sheer gravity of that day. As another wedding was about to be underway, we snuck up under that pomegranate tree and spoke again the vows that we live by. For better and worse, richer and poorer- those words carry even more weight these days. Our 7-year-old videotaped and took pictures, I hadn’t showered and was wearing an old maternity shirt, we left our sleeping baby in her stroller on a path below, delivery trucks drove by…glamorous maybe not, but life-giving and powerful for sure.img_2448

5. Take vacations

Even if you are on a tight budget. Even if your kids are small and it takes more days to get ready/ recover than the whole vacation itself. Even if getting out of town feels like it takes an act of God. Go. We all need a change of scenery, a different pace and concentrated time together. The shared adventure will draw you together and help build your history. If you don’t value get-aways now, check back with me after you’ve taken one and I’ll bet you’ve changed your mind.

6. Commit to reconciliation

If you have an argument, get your feelings hurt or feel misunderstood- DON’T PRETEND IT WILL GO AWAY. Revisit the interaction and set an expectation in your marriage that those things will not be stuffed under the rug. Take responsibility, apologize, ask for things to be different next time- whatever you need to do. Keep talking until there is understanding and reconciliation for both of you. Again, you are on the same team and no one should be trying to win against the other.

7. Know & love Jesus

The reason we even know love, commitment and sacrifice (and everything else really) is because God did it all first. He IS love, He sacrificed himself to the fullest extent and He will never leave us or forsake us no matter what we do. Being in relationship with Him and relying on the strength, wisdom, self-control, forgiveness and example he provides is exactly what we need in our marriages. And the reported divorce rate among couples that pray together daily is less than 1%. Not kidding.

8. Don’t look to your spouse to make you complete

Marriage can bring about happiness and healing. Marriage can be really fulfilling. But marriage isn’t magic and it is not capable of meeting all of our needs. When we expect our spouse to fill all the void, replace all our friends and make everything right, we are setting everyone up for disappointment. When we recognize that we are lovely because God loves us and that it is Him alone that is capable of making us complete, we can offer our whole selves to our spouse and love deeply.

9. Keep the important things important

Success in marriage is not measured in paid off houses and retirement plans. Good things of course, but rather empty if the marriage relationship isn’t rich. With so many important things to put our efforts toward, it’s easy to lose sight of which matter most. Our culture celebrates and often demands hard work to the detriment of family, child-centeredness to the detriment of marriage and chasing dreams to the detriment of being present. In order to keep marriage central we need to be prepared to fight the current.

10. Invest in your friendship

My dad’s advice on my sister’s wedding day video was to “be best friends and find things you love to do together.” For my parents that included playing tennis, going on trips and working in the yard. Shared activity helps create a closeness that eventually lends itself to confiding in, depending on and trusting each other. And if you play together and enjoy casual time, the deep and serious times feel less draining and more natural. It might be easier to call your sister, your dad or your best buddy to first share your triumphs and heart breaks, but try choosing your spouse first. They are your person. Marriage gives you a built-in confidante and when trust is in place, it can be the best friendship of your life.

I have learned that there is so much more to learn. Marriage proves to be stunningly beautiful, excruciatingly difficult and surprisingly powerful. Here’s to the next 10 years!

 

Baby Spica Cast Adventures {part four}

Poppy is 6 months old now and we have officially been living with a spica cast for 12 weeks. She gets her final cast off in just 2 weeks. I can hardly believe it. I can’t wait to snuggle her little body, give her a bath, take her for a swim, not stress about the weather, let her play in the sand…and the list goes on. She will have to wear a brace for some months afterward, but that’s a walk in the park compared to what we have been doing.

I got sad the other day thinking about how she is already 6 months old. Her “firsts” feel like “lasts” to me, knowing that my baby making years are over. And although I have held her obsessively and played with her constantly, I still feel as if the whole thing is flying by. The saying, “the days are long but the years are short” is really resonating with me lately.

Rather than just enjoy every moment, I (like all the rest of you) have to do life too. I have to feed people and clean stuff, answer hundreds of questions and break up hourly fights. I have to work on 50 million things and in the midst of it all, there’s this hip dysplasia junk. Some days I feel like it has slowed me down in a good way. It causes me to look into Poppy’s eyes and sing her songs longer than I might have if nothing was “wrong.” And other days it feels like it’s eating up my precious time. Worrying about it, driving to children’s hospital, replacing the moleskin on the cast edges.

I have been feeling nudged these past couple of weeks to stop waiting for this to be over before______ (fill in the blank.) Before we go to the beach, before we do fun things as a family, before we settle into a good routine, before I take a deep breath, etc. With so many things in life, it’s really tempting to wait until.

I hear it all the time. “I will travel after I get married.” “We will start a budget when our life calms down.”  “I will have that hard conversation after that event.” “We will buckle down with our discipline really soon.” “We will go to counseling when I’m ready.” “I will start taking care of myself eventually.”

The practical work of setting priorities, managing time and pacing ourselves can be overwhelming, especially with loud children and so much mail. But somehow it’s already 2016, I am 42 years old and my 10th wedding anniversary is in a couple months. My kids legs look so long and 2/3 of them are babies no more. Believe Steve Miller when he says, “Time keeps on slippin, slippin, slippin, into the future.”

So my word for the day is deliberate. Life done consciously and intentionally. Plenty of us side on the extremes- either hyper controlling our calendars and our every move OR living so reactionary that nothing we hope to do ever gets started. I think in both extremes, we look back and wish we had cultivated more special moments.

What are you waiting until?

Invited In

Our little Poppy gets a lot of attention these days. We get plenty of stares and strangers asking questions- because it’s not often you see a baby in a cast. People are curious (and mostly kind) and I’ve found that if I engage them, they do their best to encourage. And sometimes they say dumb things. But most people just end up ooo-ing and ahh-ing over Poppy’s sweet round face, her clear blue eyes and her smile that just won’t quit.

And I’m glad to engage. I am generally at ease with others and I don’t have deep wounds of betrayal, so letting people in comes pretty naturally to me. I have obviously welcomed people in by sharing and blogging so it’s my own fault that it takes a half hour to walk across the courtyard at church lately. It’s like having a new puppy.

I recognize that it is not always a simple choice to open up. It isn’t always safe. It isn’t always productive. It can come with unsolicited opinions, input and even criticism. And once someone has been brought into your stuff, they feel invested and want to have a say in what happens next. It can be complicated to invite others in, but it is often better than choosing not to.

You know the friend you have that never tells you what is hard until it’s already solved? “That WAS a rough time, but now I’m better.” They might think it makes them appear strong, but mostly it just exposes their fear. Like my roommate who wouldn’t tell me before she was interviewing for a job or going on a first date. She didn’t realize at first why she was hiding things (or even THAT she was hiding things) but after talking through it she admitted she was protecting herself. If she didn’t get chosen, then people wouldn’t even have to know she tried. Or if she told us after the fact, she could play like she didn’t really want it anyway. It killed her to put herself out there because it felt vulnerable.

True vulnerability is exposing my current self. Sharing my unsure, speaking what I think and feel now, showing my ugly and being in the midst of the thing and inviting someone in. The “I have already conquered this” stance creates a wall of protection and keeps others from really meeting me in the depths.

Stories of my past can help others understand me and give context, but they are no substitute for vulnerability. The practice of sharing before I feel good about it, before I’ve overcome it and before it’s solved is crucial.

But then who? Who do I choose to hold my things carefully? I don’t want them dropped and I don’t want them used against me later. I don’t want to feel ashamed or to appear silly and weak. Of course these are the very reasons we use to talk ourselves out of being vulnerable. And all those things could happen- this is risky business. Your people aren’t always going to do all the things you need. I have failed people who have shared deeply with me, I know I have. But the more chances I get to be that sort of friend, the better I get.

So if you don’t like where I am going with this and your “run for the hills” response is welling up, here are 3 good, golden, bright, WORTH IT reasons to invite others in (and a kick in the pants from Brené.)

It’s brave. Bravery opens up chances that guarded people don’t get. Like Bear Grylls, unprotected and open to experience whatever comes. Brave people experience thrill and rawness and all the feels.

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

It connects us. Receiving acceptance from someone that knows the real you is powerful. The sort of connection that is rooted in intimacy can bring joy, healing and can create pathways for other kinds of depth.

“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

“Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.”
― Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

It allows support. The reason that I blog is because I am convinced that there are golden threads woven into all of our experiences. Good, valuable and meaningful things that need to be drawn to the surface. For me and for you. But the unexpected benefit of sharing this way has been the personal support and encouragement I have received (and have been able to give.) When we are deeply connected as people, support overflows.

When Poppy first started using the pavlik harness, we learned that all she could wear were onesies and baby leg warmers. After my first post about the hip dysplasia and the crazy harness, leg warmers came out the woodwork. Every pair were given to us. This might seem small, but it is tangible and represents the thoughtful ways others contribute to lightening my load.FullSizeRender (2)

It is fair to say that if you are dealing with deep wounds of betrayal or if shame has a hold on you, all of this sounds flowery and unrealistic. Even just plain not worth it. You’re saying to yourself, “I can buy my own dumb leg warmers if I need them.”

But living fearfully, disconnected and alone is not really life at all. Give yourself time, but not too long. Eventually you must pursue healing and take steps toward healthy people. “If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” ― Brené Brown

God created us to live abundantly, to be deeply known and to hold each other’s hands while we do it. And His ways always win out in the end.

 

 

The One Thing Every Good Dad Needs

I grew up with a dedicated father and I know what a gift that is. He miraculously figured out how to “dad” well, even though he only met his own father once and had no example to follow. And of course he isn’t a perfect father (as no man is) but he is a great one.Steph6

I know how he coached almost every team I played on and how he was present at each important event in my life. I know he thinks I’m smart and that I should probably run the country (or at least whatever place I work at) and how he thinks I never hustled enough on the field. I know he protected me, made sure I wasn’t lazy and made me laugh with dumb songs he made up. And I know that he taught me what he knew about God and how to live life well.

I don’t know about all the things he sacrificed, all the ways he hurt or how many hard decisions he made. I don’t know every challenge he had to overcome or each dream he set aside for us. As kids looking up to our dad, we don’t see all the pieces to the puzzle.

It’s a different experience to watch fatherhood from the seat of motherhood. My husband and I are working out our parenthood side by side and so I get a front row seat. I get to share in his thoughts and fears, defeats and delights and I see what goes into each day of being a dad.

brian&kids

photo by the fabulous Paloma at http://www.palomalisaphotography.com

Watching Brian work through the stunningly big job of being a dad has taught me more about fatherhood than I’ve ever known. As we talk through the struggles, I have discovered that the single biggest challenge of fatherhood is to find balance.

How much does he work to provide well and contribute to the world with his career, yet be home to support and enjoy me and our kids? How can he have high expectations but also make home a safe place to fail? How much time is okay to take away from us to nurture his own health and hobbies? How much does he teach vs. how much should they discover? How does he give our kids both firm discipline and tender understanding? How much protection? How much freedom? How does he give them both roots and wings?

Balance means to “keep or put something in a steady position so that it does not fall” or to “offset the value of one thing with another.” There are plenty of dads out there that just can’t figure out how to do that in life and the effects on kids can be rough. Finding balance everyday as a dad is a huge challenge. For every thing/person that gets his attention, another one is not. And dad’s attention is a very valuable commodity.

But for every dad that is showing up, being teachable, expressing love, establishing priorities, trying again when he fails, asking God for wisdom and finding ways to achieve some balance- I salute you.

As you honor the fathers in your life today, tell them that you see it. That you recognize there are 30 million things a great father should do- and that how they manage to figure out how much of this and how much of that is a beautiful thing.

 

Baby Spica Cast Adventures {part three}

This whole “baby wearing a cast” thing requires a lot of trial and error no matter how much research I do. This week includes trying yet another sleeping position, introducing solid food a bit early in an attempt to avoid diaper blow outs and looking for a stroller that she’ll fit into. But so far, we are surviving and folding it all into our daily lives. Dare I say that it’s starting to feel kind of normal?

Almost every day Brian says to Poppy, “Sorry you have to wear your hard pants today baby.” Of course she just smiles because daddy is talking to her, but it’s still hard to see her all stiff and restricted. Our sweet little one has to wear her hard pants all summer long and I’m pretty sure it’s more difficult on us than it is on her.

She will have a total of 3 casts if all goes according to plan. Her first cast change was this past Monday. It was like surgery day (they even called it surgery) but without as much worry or pain. Our babe went under anesthesia again, lost the smelly cast, got x-rayed, got bathed and came out with a new cast. It was a long day, but as usual she was a little baby champ.


Right after the procedure we met with our doctor and the report is that both of Poppy’s hips are progressing well. The one that was fixed surgically is holding and should continue to grow together properly. The “good” hip that was responding well to the non-surgical treatment (pavlik harness) showed that the socket is deepening as it should be and looks great. Phew.

He said that Poppy will be in this cast for 4 weeks. We were expecting 5-6 weeks so I got excited. Then he said that her final cast will likely be for 6 weeks but that hopefully it will be a “bermuda shorts” style cast. That would be like wearing hard shorts instead of hard pants. Woo Hoo! The “May Gray” and “June Gloom” we have here in coastal southern California has been a welcome sight so far, but having a smaller cast when the hot days come would be such a relief.

So I walked out of that consult room feeling good. Anytime things are better than we expect it boosts our spirits. Each new challenge requires digging up some gumption and asking God for the grace to accept the reality. So when something is better than we thought it would be, it’s like a treat. A little reprieve, a lightening of the load.

But just as easily, something worse than we expected can take the wind out of our sails. We went back to see her in recovery and after kissing her sweet face, I pulled back the blankets and realized that her new cast (although clean and fresh) is not better than the last. It seems huge. It goes up higher on her torso and comes down closer to her ankles. Her legs are even further apart. My heart sank. Big deal right? It’s just a couple more inches. But it felt like a big deal. The cast covers more of her body than it did before and that makes me sad.

But then the recovery room nurse asks me, “Is she always this happy?” Yes. Yes she is. People ask me how I get her to smile for every picture and my big trick is this- I say “Hi Poppy” and she smiles. Her cheerfulness is regularly pulling me away from my pouting and replacing it with big doses of perspective.

Up and down, up and down. These things can feel so discouraging at first. But then this strange work of peace happens and I feel myself adjusting. Again. Adjusting to the harness, adjusting to the idea of surgery, adjusting to the cast, adjusting to a different cast…and before I know it, things don’t feel impossible anymore. There’s no question that having my 4 month old living in a spica cast is wearing on me and I am counting the days until it comes off, but we’re doing it.

It’s amazing what we can get used to. The human capacity to adjust is incredible. Something about having this bulky cast now will make the final stretch with the “shorts” cast feel like a breeze. From where I stand now, the months we thought she’d be in the harness doesn’t sound so hard at all. Call it survival or perspective or resilience but I am thankful that God placed it in the hearts of the humans he created. He sure knew we would need it.

Baby Spica Cast Adventures {part poo}

It happened. The dreaded diaper blow-out in the spica cast. I have had multiple dreams about it and it was as bad-even worse- than I imagined. It got all over the inside of her cast and even came out one leg opening. I used 100 wipes, a few swear words, a rubber spatula from the kitchen wrapped in wipes, a blow dryer, a flashlight and a lot of help from my 4 & 6 year olds since Brian was at work. I will spare you the pictures, but I took some to send to Brian so he could “live through it” with me. I have reached a new level of parenthood today.

It sort of feels like the first time your new car gets scratched. It hurts, but you are kind of glad that it happened and it’s over. The worrying about it happening is almost worse. The bummer in this case is that it will just happen again, no matter how careful we are.

On a good day, the spica cast looks like this (to give you a reference point) and the diapering is complicated. Our current regimen is to tuck a newborn diaper into the opening and then wrap a size 5 diaper over the cast. Some people also recommended putting a poise pad or something in-between the two diapers. She would normally wear a size 2 diaper. Hoping my Costco sized box of 2’s still fit her when this party is over. cast

Thankfully, Poppy will get a new cast in two weeks. Since she is so young and growing so fast, each cast will only last 4-6 weeks. Two weeks is a long time to have traces of poop in her cast, but we don’t really have a choice. The first two weeks the cast smelled weird and medicine-y and now it smells like baby poop. Lovely times over here at the Day house.

Each time she gets a cast change (most likely 2 more) she has to go under anesthesia so she can be completely still. They will put her under, give her a bath, x-ray her hips to check progress and then apply a new cast. So needless to say, we aren’t doing that more often than necessary. Here is a video that shows the crazy process.

Back when Poppy was in the pavlik harness, people would say, “at least she doesn’t have to be in that terrible cast some kids have to have.” Now we are in that terrible cast and I feel like I’ve been inducted into some club that I never wanted to be in.

But I was reminded the other day what a gift this wretched cast is. A friend mentioned that her nephew who has Cerebral Palsy just went into a Spica cast in hopes that he will have a chance to walk someday. The world of Orthopedics, including the pavlik harness and the spica cast, can do incredible things.

This frustrating chunk of fiberglass is doing good and I will keep trying to make peace with it. Even when it gets smelly. It is holding Poppy’s hips in place while they heal and grow healthy. Sometimes it’s the things we dislike most that are doing the most good.

BRIGHT SPOT 

I should probably leave you with this…

Keeping it because…next week.  Labeling it to ensure it doesn’t get used to scrape cake batter off the mixer bowl.

poopIt has been one of my favorite kitchen tools for 10 years (got it at my bridal shower- thank you Lori) and I use it almost everyday. Time to buy a new one for the kitchen.

 

 

Baby Spica Cast Adventures {part one}

Two weeks ago, our 3 month old baby had hip surgery. The day went really smoothly-we were perfectly on time and organized-which isn’t always the case. But as is always the case, we were incredibly well taken care of. Our big kids went overnight to their “cuzzies” house, our dog went to “Camp Barry” (my dad’s house) and one of our closest friends brought lunch from our favorite local deli and drinks from our favorite local coffee shop. Set up for a good day.

But of course I was still anxious about a few parts of surgery day- not being able to feed her for 4 hours before, the risks of anesthesia, seeing her in recovery and ultimately not being able to make her comfortable. The day came and went and although there were really hard moments, I felt grace & mercy pour over us.

In the half hour before surgery, Poppy was hungry and getting sad that I wasn’t feeding her so Brian took her. A few minutes before the OR nurse came to get her, she fell asleep on his arm. The nurse gently took her, trying not to wake her up, and headed down the long hall to the operating room. We watched the nurse (through some tears) bobbing and swaying the whole way. She kept her asleep until the mask took over so she wouldn’t be afraid.asleep

Poppy was swollen and in pain when we got her to her room and the night ahead was rough. The doctor said that her hip socket was covered with a layer of tissue pulled tight like a drum and he had to cut an ‘X’ in it, slide the ball joint in and then suture the tendon to keep it in. Surgery was necessary and even though it’s hard to see her tiny baby self going through this, we are grateful that she got it done early.IMG_7779

Since she isn’t really used to being mobile, the adjustment to being in a spica cast has been easier than it could be. Plenty of kids (and adults) have to endure this long after they have learned to crawl and walk and are not content to lie on the floor and bat at things that make noise. But she’s still frustrated. She has had some good days, some bad days and in general is sleeping like crap. 😩

But she is the best baby. Mostly happy and smiling all the day long. Harper has been making up songs to sing to her and my favorite (and the one she sings most often) goes, “You’re the queen of all the babies. Poppy, you’re the queen of all the babies.”

But I’m so tired and in need of some strength. Every morning I’ve been listening to this collection of hymns sung by Chris Rice. I’ve been hanging on to the promises in these songs and willing my sleepy self to face the day with the strength of Jesus. The thing about music is that it dances through my mind hours and hours after I’m done listening. “Great is thy faithfulness. Morning by morning new mercies I see. All I hath needed, thy hand hath provided…”

We decided to write out some of these promises on Poppy’s cast. Brian chose a verse from Lamentations 3 (where great is thy faithfulness comes from). “For the Lord will not cast off forever, but though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love.” I chose the truth from Jeremiah 29 that “His plans are to give our Poppy girl a hope and a future.” And the kids wrote that they loved her and decorated it pretty. 

One day at a time. That’s all we can ever do.

cast signing

Rocking her new tattoos