Looking Back to Move Forward

lookingback

As the famous line from the movie tune says, “The past is in the past”. How then, can looking back help us move forward?

When I first met my husband, many years ago in our parish youth group we were asked to look up and share our favourite Bible passage. He found a passage on marriage and shared how he believed that during tough times in marriage couples should look back at what brought them together instead of looking at what is tearing them apart in the present moment.

At the time I didn’t appreciate the wisdom in his statement. Looking back to move forward is actually a great first step in working out those tough marital issues that will inevitably come up.

I don’t think I am sharing any earth shattering wisdom here. It’s pretty simple really. Every marriage goes through a dry patch or a few dry patches. We get caught up the in busyness of everyday life and our relationship with our spouse takes a back seat. For some marriages this is a minor and temporary occurrence, yet for others this time can be harmful to the married couple. Neglecting our spouse leads to feelings of loneliness and temptation to seek fulfillment in other things or other people. This opens the door to anything from addiction to infidelity.

Regardless of the type of damage or hurts we are dealing with in marriage, a good starting point in re-committing to working through those issues is to look back and rekindle the euphoric love shared during the early days of dating and marriage.

Here are 5 ways to look back:

  1. Talk to each other or to others about how you first met. Ask another couple how they met. They will most likely ask you to share your story, as well. Share this story in front of your spouse and make sure to make eye contact. You may be surprised to find that old familiar spark in his eye as those memories come to mind.
  2. Dust off your wedding photo album or play your wedding video if you have one. Leave the wedding photo album accessible. Let him find you looking through the pictures. Invite him to look at them with you. Show them to your children or guests who come to visit and share memorable stories you recall of some specific photos.
  3. Play your wedding song or other meaningful music from the time you were dating or first married. Play these songs in his presence. If you are so inclined sing or dance along together.
  4. Did you keep old cards, letters or love notes he wrote you? Make them accessible, read them, reminisce and share this with him.
  5. Recreate your first date or engage in the activities you did together in your first months or years together. You may have to refresh your memory by talking to him about how you used to pass the time together at the beginning of your relationship, which is also helpful.

Looking back will rekindle those old familiar feelings, helping us to see our spouse differently. Through the same positive lens we used during the euphoric days of our relationship. This along with the grace of God will help us to take the next step. These are only 5 ways, I am sure there are more ways to be nostalgic together. Share them in the comments. I look forward to reading them.

Advertisements

Emptying the Marriage Fridge

marriagefridge

 

The other day, while cleaning the inside of my fridge, I deliberately chose to stay focussed on one thing. I turned it into a prayer. “Lord, show me how cleaning out my fridge could actually be a metaphor for a life lesson.”

Now my fridge isn’t all that dirty. I usually keep it clean, wiping it down now and then, especially after spill, doing a monthly purge of expired items. As I emptied the freezer, to my surprise I realized I didn’t purge it often enough, there were items in the back of the freezer I had completely forgotten about. I worked my way through the fridge, emptying shelf by shelf, removing the glass shelves to give them a good wipe. I realized there was some spillage I had missed in my routine wipe downs. This clean up took a lot more time than I had anticipated, a little more elbow grease and more hot water to get all the pieces looking shiny and clean again.

Life Lesson

Having been married for 18 years to a devoted, faithful man, I can easily take him for granted. Over the years we have made our efforts to stay connected as a couple. We arrange care for our children and schedule in some couple time. We work in ministry together and we are a prayerful couple. Once in a while we butt heads and have a disagreement, but they don’t usually last long. On the surface this marriage appears to be healthy and stable.

There comes a time in every marriage, when some purging is necessary. As Christians we understand that we are called to actively pursue God in our daily lives. To respond to his call to grow in relationship with him, this growth is constant and it’s flowing. At some point, to move closer to God we need to detach ourselves from certain habits or baggage. Matthew Kelly, a Catholic evangelist once said, “Every journey towards something is a journey away from something else.”

A marriage, certainly a Christian marriage that looks secure on the surface may have some underlying problems that need to be dealt with before this couple can move forward in their relationship with God and with each other.

Emptying the Marriage Fridge

Sometimes the couple will not be aware of what is impeding their growth. They have become so comfortable and accustomed to the stain, they don’t see it anymore. A praying couple will hopefully allow room for the Holy Spirit to inspire them to start emptying their shelves. Giving them the grace to discard what needs to go and give what remains a good cleaning. It doesn’t mean this couple is living a façade, by putting on a show for others. In many cases they believe they have a firm marriage. A faithful couple could be oblivious, believing their monthly date night and making up quickly after a disagreement means they are doing well. Perhaps this is so. Maintenance is a big part of building a strong marriage, but is it enough?

 

Supernatural Grace

Cleaning out my fridge is done within an hour or so. The type of work required to complete the purging cycle in a marriage is likely to be much harder. I am not talking about the bad habit he has of forgetting to put the lid back on the toothpaste, or the toilet seat down. Obviously there are deeper issues directly affecting the physical and emotional intimacy, trust and communication within the couple.

To look deeply within ourselves, through the eyes of faith, and to do it together with our spouse, requires a great amount of humility. It also requires a huge dose of supernatural grace. Supernatural strength is necessary to take the time, to be sincere with ourselves, with God and with our spouse. To put in the consistent and constant effort to work at what needs to be worked at, to forgive the failings we see in our spouse and to seek forgiveness for the failings we see in ourselves. None of this is easy, but it is necessary. Routine maintenance is not enough, because it doesn’t allow for growth.

Blessings Abound

When I finished cleaning the fridge, my shelves were shiny and the fridge did look a little empty, but it had all the essentials. The expired items wouldn’t be missed, and stains were gone. Now this could also have been a lesson on how we waste too much. This is the usual thought I have in mind when I clean out my fridge, freezer, pantry, etc., since we obviously spent money on items we didn’t have much use for. However, God used this time to show me how blessed I am. That even after discarding, cleaning and scrubbing, I have a good working fridge that still has the essentials I need to feed my family.

When we are willing to do the work, God blesses us in abundance. He doesn’t just give what we need, he provides in abundance. Couples get a new, clean, fresh start, with enough grace, love, forgiveness, empowerment, protection, prayer, and intimacy to keep moving forward. Certainly, the opportunity for a major clean will come again at different stages in their married life. The pain will be different, the habits will vary each time, or maybe some old habit will have managed to creep in again.

Sometimes the couples need help from their community to get over some major stumbling blocks. A spiritual leader or a marriage counsellor who can see the situation objectively, this is not a sign of a bad marriage or of weakness. It takes great strength and humility to admit you need help from a third-party. It is precisely in our weakest, most humbling moments that God’s grace and blessing abounds.

Today I pray for all married couples, that they may seek the courage to clean out their marriage fridge and benefit from the supernatural grace and blessing that comes with the opportunity for a fresh start.

 

From My Womb to God’s Arms

8 weeks

I thought I had shed all the tears there were to shed over my miscarriage last May. Yet, there I was on a cold December afternoon, after marveling at putting up our Christmas tree and a few other Christmas decorations.

All of a sudden, I was hit with a wave of sadness, grief and tears that I could not stop. A thought crossed my mind, “It’s that time of year to prepare for Christmas, if I hadn’t miscarried this time of year we’d also be preparing to meet a new baby.”

Last May, while attending a women’s silent retreat I was 8 weeks pregnant. During the weekend I was a bit worried about some spotting, but it wasn’t until Sunday afternoon that the spotting became a regular flow that would not stop. My husband met up with me and we spent a few hours in the emergency department of the hospital.

Throughout those first few hours I still had hope. Hope that the bleeding would stop. Hope that the baby was still alright. It wasn’t until the familiar painful contractions set in that I accepted the reality of the situation. I had my prayer journal with me, and I pulled it out of my purse and wrote one line, it would be my only entry that day.

“From my womb to God’s arms.”

Even now as I write the details of this day. I am not resentful, or angry with God. However, I am sad that I did not get to meet this little soul.  The pain is so very real. When I remember that day it’s not just the physical and emotional pain I experienced with the miscarriage, that comes to mind. I was hit with another difficult reality that day. It was in the way I was treated at the hospital. I am certain that a woman who goes into the hospital to have an abortion is treated with more dignity than I was that day.

My husband and I were left to go through this experience in the waiting room, in front of everyone else who was waiting. We were not given a private room to mourn the loss of our baby, we were not given and special means, to collect the remains of our baby.

No special means to collect the remains of my baby. I received her in my hands. I knew I was holding her. I didn’t want to let her go, but what else could I do? My baby’s remains were flushed away, and it was as if someone had ripped my heart out of my chest. My sobs were heard in the waiting area, in that moment it didn’t matter to me.

I went home from the hospital that day, without even being looked at by a doctor. My dignity as a woman, as a mom degraded. I never felt so alone. My husband and I vowed that should we ever experience a miscarriage again we will just stay home, go through it together, praying and crying in the privacy of our own home.

The pain associated with a miscarriage is not validated in today’s society. Children are seen as commodities. To be attained or disposed of as a matter of convenience. When a child dies, no matter if it was 8 weeks or 8 months, the pain experienced is deep. The sadness comes in waves. It is a lonely sadness, a lonely pain because we women are left to endure, to overcome it on our own. We are left alone in our grief and mourning.

I know this child is a gift. I know that Mother Mary has my baby in her arms. I know that I will meet my baby one day. All of this gives me hope. One day I will understand why God allowed that child to be conceived and to be a part of our lives for only a few short weeks.

If you are experiencing a similar sadness and grief over a miscarriage, know that you are not alone. I came across these books the other day and thought I’d share it with you though I haven’t read them yet myself.

Empty Arms

Losing You Too Soon

I Never Held You

I Will Carry You …and a few more titles

 

Be assured of my prayers.

How Miley’s ‘Wrecking Ball’ Ruined Intimacy

 

Intimacy

Some songs, I have no interest in giving a second listen too. Up until a few days ago, Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” was one of those songs. I agree with whoever said it first, her video certainly did ruin a perfectly good song. However, I should mention I have not and do not ever intend to watch this video. Hearing about it from others is enough for me.

After a brief discussion with my family I decided to give this song a good listen. I have to say I was surprised by what “Wrecking Ball” can teach us about physical and emotional intimacy in relationships.

I was reminded of what Christopher West has named some popular artists “Twisted Mystics” I agree with his point, that many artists speak truth in their work. Their longing for deeper meaning, love and truth about their own human dignity and their sexuality shows in their work. They may go about it all wrong.  I dare say, Miley Cyrus is a ‘twisted mystic’.

Without breaking down the song line by line, here is my take on the lessons we can draw from this song. You can read the lyrics here.

It’s a song about a girl who fell in love hard and fast. Which implies that she gave herself physically very early in the relationship and obviously outside of marriage, as the relationship developed she desperately and forcefully sought emotional intimacy. Her force only resulted in pushing him away and she is left burned and wrecked.

It’s a natural defence mechanism to build an invisible wall around ourselves. If someone attempts to break down that wall by force, we will frantically work to reinforce it. Hence begins a war of sorts.

The only situation in which another person will let us inside the wall is when they feel safe enough. The best way for another person to feel safe, is when we open up. By letting the other inside my wall, I am saying that I trust them. This will usually be reciprocated in time.  In any relationship, where there is to be intimacy, parents and children, siblings, friends, and husbands and wives, we have to show that our heart is a safe place for theirs. If we are forcing our way in, they will feel threatened.

Is that all that went wrong for the girl in the song? This is a tragic break up song. Not only do we see how we cannot force the other into emotional intimacy. We also see the damaging effect of starting the relationship with physical intimacy. There is a reason God’s plan for marriage includes physical intimacy once the emotional barriers have been removed. The emotional intimacy provides that safe place for physical intimacy to occur. Even those who are married today, who did give themselves to each other physically before marriage, face consequences for having gone about attaining intimacy contrary to God’s plan. After years of marriage, they are still trying to attain emotional intimacy that was not established concretely from the start. When we have already invested so much of ourselves into the other person, it is difficult to accept that they are not letting us into their side of the wall.

Contrary to the message in Lady Gaga’s song, when we attempt to give our bodies, without giving our heart we will end up wrecked. We cannot separate our physical body from our spirit, our emotions or our soul. I could write a separate post on how what we do with our bodies affects every aspect of our human being.

There is a powerful lesson in Miley’s song, not only about providing a safe place for our spouse, children, parents and friends to be emotionally intimate, but also for our youth to understand the benefits of practicing chastity.

Chastity is a virtue that strengthens every vocation. Giving yourself physically to another outside of marriage does nothing to strengthen marriage. Chastity isn’t about saying “no” to sex, it’s about saying “yes” to authentic love, truth and beauty.

There are many resources for those who do want to say “Yes” to authentic love. There are apostles who have dedicated their lives to spreading the message and beauty of chastity.

Here are a few resources:

Chastity.com

If You Really Loved Me

Fill These Hearts

Theology of the Body for Teens

Real Life Catholic

Building a Strong Marriage: PRAYER

couple prayingWe have come to final letter in our acronym which is for Prayer. When we address this subject with engaged couples we usually share a bit of our own prayer journey.

My husband and I met through our parish youth group. Many people hear this and believe this means we were always a faithfully devout couple. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. In the first few years of our marriage we were living like “cafeteria” Catholics. Picking and choosing what to believe and what to follow. We thought we knew our faith, and what we didn’t know, we just made up as we went along. Justifying our action and inaction by taking God’s love and mercy for granted. We created God in our image, instead of accepting that He is the creator.

We turned to prayer individually in times of struggle. We did not pray together. We attended Mass together most Sundays, because it was a nice thing to do together. We had no appreciation for the Eucharist, the graces of the sacrament of marriage, nor did we have a personal relationship with Christ.

Only when our first son was born, through the preparation for Baptism did we realize the importance and value of attending Mass. Only then did we shoulder the responsibility that came with being parents who wanted to give our son the same opportunities we had to believe in a loving, forgiving, heavenly Father. The first time we prayed together was a few days after our son was born. You can read the story of his birth here.

We have found that taking the time to pray together is a major source of strength.  Through prayer we face our fears; doubts and worries together. There have been times when we did not know what else to do, but pray. Praying together didn’t always come easy. We started by just saying, “Grace Before Meals” and attending Mass together.

We compare our relationship to a triangle. The further away we are from each other, the further away we are from God. The work it takes to climb and get closer to God adds to spiritual intimacy in the marriage. The line across the bottom could be seen as a shortcut, meeting each other half way across the bottom and eliminating God, you will still have a physical and emotional connection. But we are also spiritual beings. We need to nurture that element of our being and our relationship as well.

Marriage triangle

We have found it so beneficial in our marriage to maintain openness to Church teachings on marriage and family. There is are a lot of resources from Blessed John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, or other encyclicals written through the years by other popes. We also have ministries available specifically for couples. Various books written by well-formed Christians that helps to strengthen marriage.

Recommended Reading

We are all on different stages of our spiritual journey, but acknowledging that we are on a journey means that we should be moving forward in that journey. For us our journey started with a simple prayer, attending mass, learning about the sacraments, especially through our children’s sacraments, Baptism, Reconciliation, First Communion. The most beneficial help in our spiritual journey is being involved in our parish community. We have built friendships with other couples who share the same values. They have been a great source of support and encouragement for us.

Perhaps the most important message we try to relay to the engaged couples, and to all married couples we work with is that being happily married is not something that just happens. Being happily married is a choice we make through the work we put into our marriage every day. We want them to be assured that the church community cares about their marriage. That we as a couple care about their marriages, and we know difficult times lie ahead, but support is available.

Marriage is a sacrament, and there are supernatural graces available to us if we tap into them. Prayer really helps us build a strong marriage by helping maintain Primacy, Empowerment and Protection.

Building a Strong Marriage: PROTECTION

Protection

What are we really protecting our marriages from?

Marriage is sacred, and there are many things than can work against those of us who are trying to stay faithful and committed to our vows. We learned in primacy that we have to focus on our unity as a couple. The idea that we have to guard our marriages, protect it, may seem abstract at first, but now we’ll look at it more closely.

St. Paul in Ephesians 6: 10 – 17 calls us to be on guard.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Our Catholic faith helps us to recognize that we must protect our marriage from sin. Sin can manifest itself in many ways. This doesn’t mean we have to be perfect and sinless to have a strong marriage. What it does mean is that we have to recognize what can damage our relationship and how we can avoid the major pitfalls. We focus on three major areas: abuse, addiction and infidelity.

Addiction can happen to anyone. It’s a myth that addiction only involves alcohol.  One can get addicted to any media, pornography; video gaming, on-line gaming, social networking, or substance like food,  and gambling. Once an addiction has developed it rarely gets solved on its own and professional help should be sought out.

Not all addicts are easy to identify. In most cases there are warning signs. Behaviour changes, such as depression, the need of alcohol or drugs, unusual amount of time spent on computer, or excess time with video games. Being anxious about being away from the computer, alcohol, or video games are all warning signs.

We also need to protect ourselves from abuse. Abuse is not always physical. Physical abuse entails physical harm being done to another person, property or animal. Verbal and emotional abuse is more difficult to identify. Examples are, name calling, withholding, blaming, criticizing, minimizing, ordering, and threatening, extreme jealousy or obsessiveness. In any case, abuse is about power and control.

We are also to protect our marriages from infidelity. There are two types of infidelity, sexual and emotional infidelity. Sexual infidelity involves the crossing of a physical boundary, obviously occurs when one of the spouses engages in physical act with someone other than their spouse. However, it also includes all the physical touch that occurs leading up to that actual act, and even includes sexting and pornography. Even if the two don’t actually meet or touch, the nature of the infidelity is still sexual.

Emotional infidelity can be more damaging than sexual infidelity.  Acting on a momentary temptation takes less thought and points to a momentary weakness. However, emotional infidelity is more devious, and involves a connection, motive and conscious effort. This also takes on different forms, which include engaging in intimate conversations with someone of the opposite sex, or someone you are attracted to, could occur on-line via social media, chat rooms, cell phones, texting, or a ‘friendship’ with someone where an emotional connection is being built, or any relationship you are keeping secret from your spouse.

It is a common myth to believe that you can have a ‘friendship’ with someone of the opposite sex and keep it appropriate. Once ‘familiarity’ is apparent, you feel comfortable enough to share personal and intimate details of your life with this ‘friend. ’ The lines are blurred and boundaries are easily crossed. This leads to flirting and sexual advances, and eventually a full affair. Emotional infidelity is harmful to trust, intimacy, future dreams, security for children, and the marital relationship. This type of infidelity is more difficult to detect. It can be a long standing friendship, or occur with a co-worker, and it may have developed naturally and under the radar of the spouse. Many times you are relying on an instinct, communication and trust. Trust your spouse when they share their discomfort with a relationship you have with someone else. That relationship needs to be cut off, the sooner the better.

Infidelity, whether it be sexual or emotional, often begins with a person who has unmet needs.  This is not meant to justify or condone infidelity, but rather to understand some dynamics which predispose people to giving in to the temptation.

Couples need to talk about the boundaries they are comfortable with before problems arise. Be honest with your partner at all times. If you have a friendship you keep from your spouse, instead of justifying your reasons, remember, Christ brings all things to light. He does not allow things to remain in the dark. The good news is couples have been able to heal, forgive and reconcile even after infidelity occurs.

Some individuals don’t understand the effects of pornography on the marriage relationship.  Pornography treats a person as an object for pleasure. It’s degrading and causes feelings of betrayal and loneliness. Pornography robs the relationship of intimacy and sets unrealistic expectations on the spouse.

Our faith provides an opportunity for us to start anew when we battle sin. Frequent reconciliation is certainly recommended. Anything kept in secret will only fester and become worse. Talking to someone about it and having an accountability partner will be helpful in getting a handle on it, since it can be become an addiction. Other suggestions are to move the computer to a location that everyone can see, identify your triggers and set limits, and exercise if tempted.

If you or your spouse is struggling with any type of addiction or issues of infidelity below are some resources that can be helpful.

Next we will see how Prayer can help us protect our marriages.

Building A Strong Marriage: EMPOWERMENT

Empowerment

The next word in our acronym, PEPP is Empowerment. In today’s fast paced world, it is easy for a day to go by where couples barely spend more than a few minutes talking to each other.  How can we continue to Empower our relationship?

In the early stages of Sophie and Larry’s marriage, doing kind actions for each other came easy. They worked on most of the chores together. They enjoyed quiet and calm conversations over dinner, where they caught up on their day. They might even take in a show or a movie on some evenings. On Monday nights, when Larry wanted to watch football, Sophie would give him this time. Doing the dinner clean up on her own and even make him a healthy snack he could enjoy while watching the game.

A few years later, after 3 children, dinners are no longer a quiet affair. Evenings are packed with homework, extracurricular activities and bedtime routines. By the time the kids are in bed, Sophie is exhausted. The dinner dishes are piled up in the sink and she still has to pack everyone’s lunches for tomorrow. Larry usually has some unfinished work he has brought home. There is no longer sanctioned couple time. Sophie is well aware of this and is saddened by it. As she recalls how things used to be, she is determined to make a change. One night, she places a note in Larry’s lunch bag that reads: I love you Larry and I respect your decision to bring work home, instead of staying late at the office and missing out on family dinner and the children’s activities.

Larry is moved by this little note and responds by calling their neighborhood florist and having flowers delivered to her work. There is no special occasion, just an opportunity to remind Sophie that he loves and appreciates all the work she does for him and the children. From that day on, he resolves to call her during his lunch hour so they can reconnect. During their lunch break conversations they plan a monthly date night. Sophie schedules it in and arranges for childcare. Larry arranges the evening, making reservations or buying tickets to a movie or show, as needed.

Marriage is sacred, and there are many things that can work against those of us who are trying to remain faithful and committed to our vows. We learned in primacy that we have to focus on our unity as a couple.

When we give this talk to engaged couples we ask them to create a short list of everyday things couples can do to Empower their relationship. Here are the top 10 suggestions we usually receive:

  1.       Fifteen minutes before turning in for the night, share the events of your day.
  2.       Send a text, e-mail or call your spouse just to say “I love you” or “I am thinking of you”
  3.       Wake up at the same time, and go to bed together, even if you don’t have to wake up as early as your spouse.
  4.       Always kiss each before leaving or as soon as you return from work or other outings.
  5.      Do something fun or try something new together.
  6.      Plan a dream vacation, even if you never actually make it a reality. Share your hopes and dreams with each other.
  7.      Write love notes to each other. Find creative ways to hide them, in lunch bag or wallet.
  8.      Meet your spouse at work and take them out for lunch.
  9.     Attend Mass together, and if you have children, try to sit next to each other.
  10.     Pray together.

What do you and your spouse do every day to empower your relationship? Share your ideas in the comments.

Next topic in our acronym is Protection.