Last week, I emailed out our family newsletter and was pleasantly surprised with all the responses we got. Not only did we hear back from a lot more people than usual, but they actually responded with personal updates of their own! I was delighted to have “real conversations” with old friends and connect with them in a meaningful way despite the miles and years between us.
In my newsletter I broke from my usual goal of keeping everything short and concise, and decided to share real stories about real things that happened this year. One of the stories was a marriage story, and gave a glimpse at my efforts to love Ben better this year:
About halfway through 2017, I (JoEllen) had a realization: Ben did not seem very happy. He was loving and self-sacrificial and as much a family guy as anyone could hope for, but the spark of laughter and happiness seemed far off and hard to find. He always insisted he was fine- just tired- whenever I asked and probed again and again… yet the bits and pieces of extra sleep I gave him did not seem to do the trick. So I decided to start my own personal mission, which I called The Ben Happiness Project.
In the end, the solution was simple. The problem was me, and I had to exercise more self-control, hold my tongue, vent at him less, and be generally less selfish. It was not easy to admit or fight against, but I was determined. A few weeks later, the happy man I knew was inside began to peer out from behind the distancing walls of safety and the sun began to shine on our marriage again. It’s been a game changer. Still a work in progress, but there has been progress!! Feel free to ask me for the long version haha.
It wasn’t easy to pull back on all the selfishness and self-centeredness I had grown accustomed to throwing his way, but it was a good exercise in putting someone else’s interests before my own, and praying for and receiving the strength from God to be a better wife to Ben. And, of course, this has made me immeasurably happier, too.
I guess this resonated with people, because several people asked me for the long version and now I have several coffee and Skype dates in my future.
It’s not Valentine’s Day. We’re almost half a year away from our anniversary, and birthdays have passed. But it’s ALWAYS a good time to send little love notes to the special people in my life! I actually think about sending notes of encouragement to others pretty frequently, but I usually think of it when I’m in the middle of doing something else like driving or showering. By the time I get to my desk, I’ve forgotten all about it. One of the best ways to make it happen is to just buy a nice set of greeting cards to send! It not only sits there on your desk as a reminder to write up the cards, but also compels you to write something very meaningful and thoughtful, since you actually spent good money on the adorable cards.
When I bought a bunch of these gorgeous cards from my friend Dakota Midnyght a few years ago, I started writing down all these thoughtful notes to people with affirmations and encouragement that I had been meaning to say for years. After only thinking kind words for a long time, they finally all got written down and sent out. And it was GREAT! I’ve been meaning to do it again ever since, but again… it’s hard to remember and carve out that time.
So when Julissa sent me these adorable food pun cards, I felt like we were a matcha made in heaven. HEHE.
Ok, ok, that was their line, not mine. My artwork is never that good. But it’s so cute, isn’t it??
We threw a bridal shower for my friend this past weekend, and one of the activities I was excited to set up was this tower of blocks:
It was pretty easy to put together, and offered a nice twist from the usual pen and paper version of this station I usually see at bridal showers. I searched for some blocks (that didn’t have “Jenga” written all over them), lettered some instructions, and that was all it took to put this station together. It was a fun opportunity to practice my lettering, bust out some watercolors, and put my collection of Sharpies to use.
I especially liked this idea because it would not only serve as an activity for guests to participate in during the shower, but would make a nice, personalized keepsake for the bride afterward, too! I can just imagine her playing this game with her kids someday, smiling at the ideas and words written on the blocks and remembering this special day when we showered her with love! If you’ve got a bridal shower to plan in the future, keep this idea bookmarked!
I’ve shared some thoughts on submitting to husbands before, but today, I want to share an image of what it can look like for husbands to love their wives in a Christlike way:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
This passage is talking about how Jesus Christ loved the church (all the believers of the world) and gave himself up for her (to the point of dying on the cross) to make her holy and blameless so we could have a relationship with God.
On first glance, there is one key idea that stands out to me: husbands love wives the way Jesus loves the church. And what did Jesus do for the church? He did everything he could to make it possible for the church to be one with God, even to the point of dying. So, husbands, you’re supposed to do everything you possibly can to bring your wife closer to God, even to the point of dying. It’s a big job.
But what does it really look like today? There are very few instances where men have to sacrifice their lives to save their wives, and even if they did, that doesn’t necessarily make her holy and blameless. So what does it mean for a husband to give himself up for his wife, for the sake of allowing her to be more holy and blameless before God? What does that kind of love even look like in today’s world?
I like that he knows which fork I like to eat dessert with.
I like that he knows how I like the blankets to be arranged when I nap.
I like that he urges me to shower earlier so I have time to let my hair air dry. Because he knows that’s a thing, and that sleeping with wet hair is annoying.
I don’t just like it. I love it. And I feel loved by it.
When we were dating in college, it was a delight to study my new boyfriend Ben and learn his likes and dislikes. When I found out he liked brownies with ice cream, I took the bus to Safeway and got ingredients and made it the first chance I could.
When I learned that he didn’t like corn, I decided I didn’t care much for it, either.
It was easy. It was fun. He brought me chocolate and I cooked him meat. It was bliss.
Our first year of marriage was a similar school of learning and joy, finding ways to delight one another and show love with our study of one another’s habits and preferences. Somehow, though, over the last decade, the novelty of studying my husband has become less thrilling. I figure we’ve been together for over ten years… I probably know him better than he knows himself, right?
Ten years ago, Ben and I attended a marriage conference as newlyweds, and there was one piece of advice that has stuck with us both after all these years: Don’t go 50/50. It’s marriage advice we’ve revisited again and again- for ourselves, with our small group for newlyweds, and with anybody else who wants to hear anything we have to say about our marriage relationship.
Going 50/50 is just what it sounds like: you do your half, I do mine. Let’s keep it fair, right? I cooked dinner, so you do the dishes. I do the laundry, you take out the trash. But there are a couple problems with the 50/50 mentality. For one, it gives you a reason to hold back. You cleaned the shower last time- now it’s his turn, right? Or, it’s his job to take out the trash, so I’ll leave it, even though it’s overflowing with garbage. There are things you could do to pitch in, but well, it wouldn’t feel even. And no one likes that feeling.
Another problem with this 50/50 mentality is that it encourages you to keep tabs. And we all know that whenever you’re keeping track of stuff like this, it’s going to feel unbalanced. I think this is because we are mostly only aware of what we’re doing. I am aware of it each time I change the toilet paper roll, put away the dishes, or vacuum the floor. When Ben does those things, I rarely take note, and it doesn’t really get accounted for in my mental balance sheet of Let’s Keep Things Even.
So what’s the alternative? Instead of a 50/50 mentality, we should have a 100/100 mentality: I will always give my 100%! Sounds a little cheesy, but the perspective change makes a huge difference! Instead of keeping track or feeling disgruntled at how he’s not pulling his weight, you take the opportunities to do what you can to take care of things. Sure, it’s still fine (and probably wise) to have some sort of division of labor. We do, too. But the difference is that when I cook, I make an extra effort to clean up as I go in the kitchen because I know it will result in less work for Ben after dinner. When Ben sees the basket of unfolded laundry sitting in the corner, he puts it away because he knows it will make me happy! We help each other out because we’re not busy thinking about how the other person isn’t doing their part or pulling their weight- we’re thinking about how we can give 100% of ourselves to love them. And it doesn’t have to be even. That’s not the point. We just keep giving.
It might sound a little crazy or radical, but the best example of love that I know is one of crazy, radical, self-sacrificial love. And Jesus definitely isn’t keeping tabs or trying to make sure things are even between us- if He did, then there is no hope for us. He just gave all of himself for us, and marriage is a great place to practice mirroring that kind of self-giving, self-sacrificial, unconditional love.
This mentality has made a lot of difference for me, as someone who has a tendency to keep tabs and try to keep things even in a relationship. I can imagine a version of myself that would get annoyed about mundane things like filling up on gas, changing the baby’s diaper, or even bringing in the mail. But after years of seeing Ben give and give and give 100% of himself to make our marriage thrive and keep our household running well, it only seems natural to try to do the same.
I’m definitely not perfect, and I still get huffy about things sometimes, but I am often humbled by his humble and servant-hearted response to me that reflects a 100% attitude. It reminds me that it’s not about proving that I do more or work harder- it’s about how we’re both going in 100/100 in our home and marriage! It’s an attitude I really hope to adopt in every relationship, but marriage is a great place to start!
I’ve heard myself talking about this book so much in the last two months that it’s time I talked about it with you. It’s called You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity by Francis Chan:
There are plenty of great reviews of the book online, so I’ll let you peruse those here. A major theme in the reviews is that this is not a typical book full of advice to improve your marriage. It’s a book about getting your perspective on life and focus on God straight. A byproduct of that is an improved marriage. For example, if you really lived life with eternity in mind, you probably wouldn’t get as caught up in the petty, selfish details that can run rampant in a marriage.
Really, he says it A LOT better. Because he’s Francis. It’s in the intro. I recommend reading at least that much!
Instead of a general review, I want to talk about one point in particular that stuck with me: humility. As a Christian, I try to be like Jesus. I try to think and do and love like He does. I fail all the time. I mean, Jesus was everything good (and nothing bad). The expectation isn’t that I’ll ever be 100% like Jesus, but that I keep trying. Still, it’s overwhelming. Where do you even start in an effort to love perfectly? In chapter 3, Francis says:
Both Lisa and I believe that more than any other attribute of Jesus, His humility is the key to a healthy marriage. If two people make it their goal to imitate the humility of Christ, everything else will take care of itself. It really is that simple. Arguments escalate when we want to be right more than we want to be Christ. It is easy to get blinded in the heat of disagreements. Soon, all we want is to win, even if victory requires sin. The one who wins the argument is usually the one who acts less like Christ.
“Can we talk about this tomorrow?” he’d say, not even lifting his head off his pillow to face me.
“…Sure,” I’d say, dejected as I flopped my face away from him.
“You really want to talk about this now?”
“It’s fine. Let’s talk.”
I hear him turn his head slightly.
“No. I don’t want to. Night.”
“Are you sure?”
OF COURSE NOT! But I’m not going to be all needy now. Humph.
“Yes. Good night.”
He snores. I simmer and sigh and feel my “love tank” approaching empty.
Well, it’s not like he cares. He’s sleeping.
It’s a lie, I know, but when it’s late at night, those are easy for me to dwell on. This is probably because late at night is not really the best time for anything except sleeping, even for night owls like me.
A couple months after our youngest was born, my mom offered to watch the kids so we could have a date night.
…COOL! DATE NIGHT!
It seemed like a nice idea, so we decided to do it.
Wednesday night found us in the car: baby in the backseat, baggy-eyed parents in the front.
“So I thought we could go on a dessert tour,” Ben began, as he took off his glasses to rub his tired eyes.
That was nice of him. Because I like desserts. He thought of me. Sweet. But I could read his body language loud and clear.
“We don’t have to do this. You should sleep,” I said.
“No, no, it’s okay… it’s DATE NIGHT!” he said, forcing a smile. He had caught a cold and was still recovering, yet was determined to make this happen.
“Really, it’s okay,” I yawned.
“No, let’s go!” he said, squeezing excitement into his voice. So we went.
“How did you know that he was The One?”
I was 20 when I got engaged, and got this question from my college peers on a regular basis. Few people my age had marriage on the mind, and yet here I was, finishing up my senior year with a ring on it, a thesis to write, and a wedding to plan by the end of the school year.
I was never planning or hoping to be one of those ultra conservative, marry-young types. But when the right guy came along and asked the right question at the right time, it just made complete sense. It was one of the best decisions of my life.
When he first asked me to date him, I didn’t see it coming. Friends who knew us well didn’t see it coming. I don’t think he even saw it coming until it was there. Sometimes, that’s just how it is when you walk by faith. But when it was here, it was right, and we were both certain of it.
I’m not sure how he knew I was the one. He’s a man of faith and prayer, and I know the Lord just revealed it to him and made it clear in a way that only Ben could really understand. My journey was a little more complicated, but it came down to one thing in the end: respect.
Our friendship had started long before our romance ever did. He was my brother’s friend from camp; a senior I had often heard other girls giggling about in the cabins, memorably referred to as “eye candy.” So when my older brother introduced me to his cabin mate- this cute, older guy who exuded kpop coolness, it was all I could do to act like I had never heard of him before. That was when I was 13.