Category Archives: Marriage and Family Counsel

Rise Up, My Love (226): Some Keys for Living in Harmony with Your Spouse

toby-mac-practice-the-pauseSong of Solomon 7:3 Two last thoughts before leaving this very sensitive, but critical subject. First, what if you are trying your hardest to do everything right, but your spouse is unresponsive or adversarial? The first and last step—as in all things—is to prayerfully look to the Lord for help and guidance. Some relationships are so damaged…some individuals are so emotionally disabled…that the marriage may need serious help from the outside—from trusted and respected counsel. But, sometimes the problems can be remedied by prayerfully studying some of the many marriage resources available.

One such book is Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages, which identifies some important ways of communicating love that people most appreciate. Whether it’s by kind words or deeds, the book guides you in finding out how to speak your spouse’s “love language” so that he/she will recognize and respond to your attempts to truly love in tangible ways. Learning to love in the ways your mate wants to be loved does not usually come naturally.

My husband likened marriage to inheriting a 747 jet without having taken pilot’s training. In the light of the 911 tragedy, we now also recognize that we need complete training…not just in how to take off and fly, but how to land without disaster. Believe me, today is better than never to try getting that training!

Love is a lifetime quest. A very wise and elderly pastor once said that he thought learning to love was like learning to paint, and that his life of loving his wife was like a long mural. At the beginning the strokes were clumsy and awkward, and it was hard to recognize what he was even trying to portray, but the more he practiced, the better the painting became. Isn’t that beautiful? And, isn’t that true?

Second, what if both partners are doing everything right to the best of their ability but there is still deep, unresolved tension? That may be the time to employ the advice Paul gave in I Corinthians 7:5, “Defraud ye not one another, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.” There may be rare times when your difficulties are so great that rather than joining physically, you should temporarily set aside normal physical needs (including eating!) and give yourselves wholly to prayer and fasting until God gives you the wisdom and peace you both need for the problem resolution process. Think of how quickly people would focus on solving their problems if they stopped eating food until they came to an agreement!

By the way, this is never an excuse for one partner to start sleeping on the couch, because they are supposed to be engaged together in fervent prayer. Also, the resolution never includes the option of permanent separation. Notice the last portion of the verse: “and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.” If you are going to deprive your spouse of sex, consider depriving yourself of food (or at least some food you love, like desserts or salty snacks) at the same time. That will give both partners a small reminder of how serious a matter sex is!

Do you have seemingly insurmountable disagreements? Just a few years ago, my husband and I did. We spent the first almost two decades of our marriage with my husband generally making decisions that I often sharply disagreed with and deeply resented. Instead of resolving problems, we just tried to bury them and “get over” it. As the wife, I was somehow expected to always cheerfully submit to and approve of his plans…but I didn’t! He ended up with a volcano on his hands…so touchy that every time the simplest problem arose, I blew up, because it reminded me of not only the insignificant conflict at hand, but of twenty or more past conflicts where I felt I had been treated unfairly. My trust and confidence in his leadership was down to just about “0.”

Because we didn’t really pray together over problems until we both felt peaceful that we had found God’s solution, I constantly felt that my husband was basing decisions on his own judgment and will, not God’s, and I became bitter over what I believed was intense selfishness on his part. I became so unhappy that I gladly would have left the marriage did I not have the firm conviction that God commands us to remain married…happy or miserable.

Somewhere during that time, the Lord opened my husband’s eyes to my misery and softened his heart, so that he truly did have a deep desire to try to make the marriage work. When we began trying to sort through all the problems that we’d buried, it looked like…not just a mountain…but a volcano. Some nights we stayed awake all night talking. We talked for hours…days…over a year. In fact, it took about two years to work through all the past hurts and find forgiveness and healing. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t quick, but it was worth all the pain. Of course, that wasn’t the end of our struggles. We’ve gone through deep valleys since that time too. At one point our problems were so severe we needed outside help for resolution and employed Christian counseling. Today, we have a very positive relationship, and instead of longing to be free, I feel like we must be some of the world’s “luckiest” (most blessed) people!

That doesn’t mean there aren’t any trials. Alan says we’re living in the “suburbs” of heaven…the closest thing to heaven on earth. Sometimes it seems almost like heaven, and sometimes a new problem will set us back to struggling again, but now at least we know that true problem resolution comes only through praying together until God brings both partners to peace. There is great strength in unity and harmony. “A threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12). In such a state, the wife’s body will be open to her husband’s touch…as long as he remembers to treat her with the same gentleness he would accord a newborn fawn!  🙂

Rise Up, My Love (225): Learning to Love by Relieving Stress

fawn-in-alaskaSong of Solomon 7:3 Besides just “plain old tiredness,” the other major cause for rebuffing a husband is tension, either outside or inside the marriage. If a husband truly loves his wife and wants to express that affection through physical intimacy, he needs to help her deal with the tensions in her life so that she can relax and focus on him without distraction.

Isn’t this what the Lord does for us? Isn’t this the blessed release that comes through pouring out our hearts to God in prayer? The husband can also love the wife just as Christ loves the church through a similar ministry. At the end of each day, my husband and I usually ask each other, “Is there anything on your heart tonight?” This is an invitation to think back over the day and summarize what burdens us.

This isn’t the only time we talk…we talk often! Our first opportunity is during our morning devotional time, then over breakfast, and on rare occasions a brief “check up call” after lunch before my husband begins his afternoon’s work. It is surprising how loved and cared for I always feel after this five minute bit of therapeutic thoughtfulness! Our next time to check bases usually comes after dinner and the younger children have skipped off to play. (This was written a long time ago, and there’s nobody skipping off anywhere now!) We linger over our dessert and tea,  sharing ideas with any of the more adult children who have time for a chat. (Of course, I rarely allow myself dessert anymore, although we are blessed to still have our youngest with us! It is really fun to share adult life with our grown son!) When our evening chores are done, we sometimes go for a walk—an “evening constitutional” as my father used to say—with or without children, and continue mulling over the events of the day…future plans…ideas…problems. If there’s a pressing problem to solve, Alan and I may go alone, but generally any family members who’ve had dinner with us and want to come are invited, although the constellation of walkers varies greatly. However, there are definite “group therapy” benefits that extend to all who take advantage of this bonding, relaxing time of getting some fresh air and exercise.

Alan and I also wait for each other in the evening and get ready for bed at the same time. You may find this hard to believe in today’s fast-paced society…or you may think what we do sounds totally unappealing…but it works well for us. So, by the time we get around to asking, “Is there anything on your heart?” that is not the cue for a volcanic eruption to start, it is more like sweeping the last of the crumbs away before we sit rocking in front of a cozy fire. Better yet, we virtually never fail to couch our discussion (unless it is more difficult than it should be that late at night) in a very soothing exchange of back scratches and back rubs. After we verbalize what’s left that troubles us, we take turns praying together over all the issues, leaving our burdens at the foot of the cross and in the loving, all-wise hands of our Savior. Sound idyllic? Truly, it is!

Sound impossible? During crunch times it is impossible, but as a general pattern, it works for us. Also, we’ve been trying to develop a sustainable lifestyle for forty-five years and our “baby” is now twenty-five. (He was nine when I originally wrote this.) Your idea of ideal may be worlds apart from ours. This isn’t meant as a formula; it’s meant as one example of how one husband has learned to love his wife and minister to her needs in a way that leaves her generally able to relax at night. (However,  I think any couple with children in the home are going to wrestle with chronic tiredness and need lots of grace.) I also think a quiet lifestyle requires giving up a lot of possibilities for extra activities in order to maintain some level of equanimity and peace. For each couple, the formula will be unique and require constant adjustments and re-evaluation, but working toward the goal of living in harmony is worthy of  great sacrifice and effort, and having a happy wife has definite benefits for the husband!

Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another. Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil.
(Ephesians 4:25-27)

Rise Up, My Love (224): Twin Fawns in Fields of Lilies

112-newborn-fawn  Song of Solomon 7:3 The praise given in this verse is a beautiful metaphor repeated from the husband’s earlier description of his bride, where he speaks of twin fawns feeding among a field of lilies. Can’t you just imagine such a wonderful scene from nature as if you were a hiker who had the privilege of being at just the right place at just the right moment? You are out walking in the woods on a sunny spring day. You’ve been following a gurgling stream lined with azure-blue forget-me-nots and wild purple irises, and suddenly you come out into a meadow where an open, breezy hill rises in front of you. The hill is covered—not with “a host, a crowd of golden daffodils”— but with the breathtaking splendor of huge, white-throated lilies, and high on the crest of the hill you see a fawn, up to its neck in flowers, with only its head peeking out as it grazes silently.

Double that image, and you have the sense of wonder the husband feels when he sees his beloved’s body. It is as if her breasts were hills covered by vast fields of snow white lilies dappled with two young deer—perfectly symmetrical twins, soft and rounded—quietly grazing among the flowers. And, for the wayfaring pilgrim who lingers to meditate thoughtfully on the picture, a message on gentleness appears.

twin-fawns-09-14-04What would be your first reaction to seeing a young fawn? Oh, how soft and lovely! Wouldn’t you love to be able to touch and pet it? to befriend it? to be gentle enough to win its trust? But, what would happen if you rushed up the side of the hill in an attempt to capture the fawn? It would disappear instantly! The analogy is obvious and instructive. Just as a man couldn’t win the trust of a fawn by rushing at it, so he will not be able to win the privilege of “petting” his wife without the long process of building and maintaining trust through love and gentleness…the way one might win the friendship of a fawn.

113-spring-twin-fawnsFor any husband who feels the frustration of not being given enough liberty with his wife’s body…try a new approach. Try thinking of your wife as if she were a fawn…easily startled…reactive to perceived aggression even if no harm is meant…slow to trust if trust has been broken…saddled with an inborn sense of vulnerability and insecurity…quick to flee rather than fight.

No matter how hardened women may appear on the outside, this delicate emotional nature is their almost universal heritage, and—except when they are driven by lust—women will react instinctively to advances not couched in genuine, gentle love! Does your wife brush off your advances? If so, ask yourself, “Do I truly love her…with the sacrificial love of Christ?” Are you thinking about what she needs more than what you need? Perhaps the most common cause of a woman’s rejection is just plain tiredness. Ask yourself, “Is my wife exhausted and in need of my help instead of my indulging my own desire to have my physical needs met?”

I never cease to marvel at how much more energy my husband has than I. He sleeps about an hour or two less most days. At that rate (if we live to 70), I’d have to live eight years longer than he lives just to be awake as many hours. (I wonder if that has anything to do with why women typically live longer!) Did you know the average man’s hemoglobin count is about fourteen…two points higher than the average woman’s? Unfortunately, a woman can’t just take iron pills to put more “iron” in her blood, because her blood won’t assimilate it beyond her genetically determined point.

Men, by the biological giftedness of God, tend to be stronger and have more energy. I have no trouble believing that women are indeed weaker than men, and I am glad for I Peter 3:7 which teaches, “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them (wives) according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.” If a man sees that his wife is exhausted, the loving thing to do is help her with her work, not add to her load!

Wives, on the other hand, need to understand that their husbands have tremendous physical needs that are the wife’s responsibility and privilege to meet. Yes, of course you’re tired at the end of the day. And yes, you probably aren’t as driven for sex as your husband is (if you’re more in the middle of the bell-shaped curve). Wives generally are more driven emotionally and experience the lion’s share of appetite for emotional intimacy, but husbands typically possess the lion’s share of physical drive. Just as women normally don’t need as much food as their husbands require, neither do they crave as much physical intimacy and release.

If I ate as much as my husband did, I’d be fat in no time, and yet there are plenty of times that I’ll fix him a snack and sip a cup of tea while he eats just to keep him company. As women, we need to be willing to be do the same thing for our husbands sexually. Even if we aren’t “hungry” for love, can’t we at least minister to our husbands’ needs by accepting their love?

My theory is that if “I ain’t dead yet” then I can be a conduit of God’s love by accepting my husband’s love. Sound right? This, I believe, is the sensitively worded meaning of I Corinthians 7:2-5. “…The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other…”

Rise Up, My Love (221): A Heap of Wheat and Sweet Communion

monet-haystacks-dorsay-museumSong of Solomon 7:2 “Thy belly is like an heap of wheat set about with lilies.” We can’t leave this beautiful text yet, because there’s still a lot left to glean! During the fall harvest festival, piles of wheat decorated with flowers were often placed in parallel rows on the eastern threshing floors. At this time of harvest, the wheat was fully ripe and glowed with a golden sheen, and to these middle-easterners, a body the color of wheat was believed to be the most beautiful.* (Lloyd Carr. The Song of Solomon: An Introduction and Commentary, p. 554).sheaf-of-wheat-holland-miIt is easy to imagine Solomon thinking back to the beauty of an abundant harvest festival…noticing in his wife’s belly the same golden sheen and soft roundness that reminded him of “a heap of wheat set about by lilies.” Lilies—trumpets fragranced with an almost intoxicating scent— but the snow-white symbol of purity. “Set about with lilies” can mean “to be decorated with,” but it can also mean “to be guarded by.” white-lily-chateau-de-chenonceau-05-15-16Her belly, the overlay of her womb, was enhanced by an almost irresistible aroma but also guarded by her purity. The secret passageway to her womb was “set about with lilies”— wondrous, but kept only for him. And here, we are brought once again to the tabernacle door where we sense the glow of the Shekinah glory within. bread-and-wine-juiceHer navel like wine…her belly like wheat…wine and bread…the two staples of a feast…the two elements of communion. How often in marriage I have sensed the holiness of the marital sex and recognized it as the physical counterpart to spiritual communion. Truly the marriage bed is holy (Hebrews 13:4), and marriage is intended as the physical testimony in this world to the spiritual realities that exist in the marriage between Christ and his bride, the Church (Ephesians 5:21-32).  Is anything blocking your fellowship, or are you celebrating communion with joy these days?

Rise Up, My Love (220): Being Well Rounded

la-venus-de-milo-at-the-louvre-parisSong of Solomon 7:2 “Thy navel is like a round goblet, which wanteth not liquor: thy belly is like a heap of wheat set about with lilies.” The imagery of the navel being like a full wine goblet didn’t make a lot of sense to me when I tried to imagine it in physical terms. Navels normally neither look like— nor are thy filled with—any type of liquid! The word for navel is sarr and is used only two other times in the Old Testament. In Ezekiel 16:4 it is without a doubt used to mean the place where the umbilical cord is cut…what we call the “belly button” today. But, sarr is also rendered “navel” in Proverbs 3:8, with a much more figurative meaning. field-of-yellow-rapeseed-in-franceThe entire context from verses seven to ten adds light to its use in the Song: “Be not wise in thine own eyes; fear the Lord, and depart from evil. It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones. Honour the Lord with thy substance, and with the first fruits of all thine increase; so shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine.” Verses 7 and 8 admonish us to humble ourselves, fear the Lord, and depart from evil with the promise of (if I understand correctly) a fruitful womb (“health to thy navel”), good health and strength (“marrow to thy bones”).

Verses 9 and 10 admonish us to honor the Lord with the first fruits of our labor, and in return we are promised an abundance of good food (wheat in the barn) and drink (wine). There is also another verse in Proverbs that sheds light on the imagery of “a round goblet that wanteth not liquor”: “The righteous eateth to the satisfying of his soul, but the belly of the wicked shall want” (Proverbs 13:25). In this verse, we are taught that those who a righteous before God will have fully satisfied souls, but that the wicked shall go hungry. Seen in the light of these verses, a beautiful spiritual image appears. field-of-rapeseed-near-mont-saint-michel-france-05-14-16The navel—source of life and birth— like a full wine goblet represents a spiritually fruitful womb overflowing with grace…”bursting out with new wine”…a spirit that is filled with the wine of joy and abundance of spiritual fruit…the promise fulfilled from Psalm 126:5-6, “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” The bride had walked through the veil of tears to find her Lord and gather fruit for him. Here she is—again in his presence—her sheaves with her and exuberant in the delight of his praise. The belly—center of her being, receptor of his love, womb for their children— like a “heap of wheat”… is like a barn “filled with plenty.” The bride, having learned to live out the admonitions in the Proverbs, has become fully fruitful. Hers is not the belly of the wicked that “shall want,” but her belly is “a round goblet that wanteth not liquor!”

(PS—As a comfort to all of us, the “wife” is the Church universal—men and women—and the “fruitful womb” is also spiritual, referring not to the birth of many physical children, but to the birth and nurturing of spiritual children. If you have never had nor will ever have physical children, remember that what our Lord really values is our spiritual fruitfulness. Do you love the Lord? Proclaim the joyous news of redemption through Christ. Feed His lambs. Love like He loves. Care for the widows and orphans. Help the poor and needy. Reach out to the lonely foreigners looking for refuge. You will be one whose “navel is like a round goblet, which wanteth not liquor: thy belly is like a heap of wheat set about with lilies.”

High Teas and Birthday Parties: Killing Three Birds with One Party

high-tea               Well, hopefully we didn’t really kill any birds, bees, or bodies, quichebut we really did have fun last week with our annual high tea, and I wanted to share recipes for a couple of high tea staples: cucumber sandwiches and scones. lettuce-wraps      But first, the story, since if there’s anything I love, it’s to repeat a good tale! candle-in-a-tea-cupAfter meeting for several years to spoil each other on our birthdays, Cindi, Susan, and I started feeling a bit guilty for not including our spouses somehow,birthday-cake-flourless-chocolate-torte since they were always working hard to make it possible for us to be “at home” moms who could celebrate birthdays together (now that our kids are grown up).birthday-cakeSo, we started the tradition of a winter high tea (given that the way to a husband’s heart is half through his stomach). birthday-partyRex and Steve’s birthdays are exactly one week apart, so it’s pretty easy to celebrate both their birthdays by scheduling the tea on the weekend in between! korean-beef-kabobsWe each bring two savory and two sweet offerings, drink many cups of tea, savor the sweetness of a leisurely evening together, and go home feeling quite happy. sesame-seedWhen I was a young bride, one of my mentors said her theory on marital contentment was, “Keep him jolly from a little too much eating and groggy from a little too much lovin’.” sharing-a-high-tea-together     In forty-three years, I haven’t found a reason to dispute her wisdom!  🙂

Here’s my recipe for cucumber sandwiches, which I’ve eaten at every high tea from the great Northwest’s Empress Hotel in Victoria, BC, to the Southeast’s Garden View Tea Room at the Grand Floridian in Disney…to London’s Harrod and on many a Princess cruise sailing in the deep blue seas of the world. If you’re going to have an authentic high tea, you really need cucumber sandwiches, and they’re about the easiest thing in the world to make!

cucumber-finger-sandwichesCucumber Finger Sandwiches

1 cucumber sliced very (key word) thin, preferably in a processor. I learned this secret from someone married to an Englishman: Press the cucumber slices gently between paper towels to remove the excess juice.

8  oz. well softened creamed cheese. Stir together gently (not in a food processor).

truffle-saltFlavor with a pinch each of truffle salt (okay, sea salt or table salt works too), pepper, garlic and onion powder (powder, not salt; be careful not to oversalt), basil, dill weed, and chives. Chill.

To serve, slice the crusts off plain white bread and prepare them, but don’t fill the sandwiches until the very last minute, because they’ll get soggy in no time if they sit around. Make up your sandwiches and cut them in half  just when you’re ready to serve them.

gluten-free-blueberry-sconesGluten-free Blueberry Scones

Scones with clotted cream and jams are another classic staple of high teas. Susan needs gluten-free options, so I made these with gluten-free flour, but you can make them exactly the same way using regular flour:

gluten-free-bisquick2 cups Bisquick (gluten-free or regular)
1/2 c. (1 stick) softened butter
3 eggs
1 T. milk

Blend in a mixer only until all the ingredients are mixed. Don’t overblend, or it will make them tough. Add 1 pint blueberries, stirring them in very gently by hand with a spoon. The mix will hardly stick to the blueberries, but it needs to be coarse or the scones will be too wet when they bake. Form into 12 balls (flour your hands if you need to) on a cookie sheet. Bake in an oven pre-heated to 350° for 20 minutes. Turn up the heat to 400° for 5 minutes or until just starting to turn a golden brown.  Serve warm with whipped cream and jams. (The classic term is “clotted” cream, but I make mine “clotted” by whipping it until it’s almost stiff…but not yet butter, and I add 1 T. sugar per cup of cream, but I’m a sugar hawk. You don’t have to do that.)

plate-of-finger-foods-at-high-teaThere is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labor. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.” (Ecclesiastes 2:24)salami-and-pepper-roll-ups

 

Rise Up, My Love (219): The Beauty of a Full Wine Goblet

vase-of-lilies-chateau-de-chenonceau-loire-valley-franceSong of Solomon 7:2 “Thy navel is like a round goblet, which wanteth not liquor: thy belly is like a heap of wheat set about with lilies.” Verses 1 and 2 of chapter 7 begin a beautiful love song which offers very intimate, explicit details about the bride’s body…and it has been said that “God does not stutter” when He describes the sensual delights of marriage (Craig Glickman, A Song for Lovers, p. 83). louvre-mademoiselle-caroline-riviere-by-jena-auguste-dominiqueIn chapter 4, the bridegroom detailed seven features that He especially loved about his bride: her eyes, hair, teeth, lips, temples, neck, and breasts. If Solomon had been a sculptor, this would have been called a “bust” carving…just the head and chest. marble-statue-at-louvreNow, three chapters and many experiences later, he repeats (with some expansions) his original praises, but adds several more descriptions that were not mentioned in the previous sonnet, carving out an exquisite “marble statue” of her complete form, toe to head: her feet, thighs, navel, belly, breasts, neck, eyes, nose, head, and hair. Some commentators suggest that this fuller description would seem to indicate a greater knowledge…and a deeper love.

And yet, no one contests that the praises recorded in chapter 4 follow the wedding. Certainly the groom would have been able to behold his “Eve” in her entirety at that point. Why did he praise only the “top half” of her body at first, and now praise everything? It almost seems as if King Solomon delighted in “what worked”…in those aspects of her body that were actually functioning… fulfilling their purpose.

In a marriage, I believe this happens. A man is often attracted first to a face and figure, but what he grows to appreciate more deeply as the marriage progresses is all his wife does: her busy feet, the wonder of mothering their children…and then all the things he loved at first. Notice the model wife in Proverbs 31; it isn’t her great beauty that is praised, but her diligence and good works.

This seems consistent with the spiritual model as well. In the early season of our “marriage” (first years of salvation), the king delights to find us watching, submitting, learning, speaking, thinking, standing, and nurturing…and he praises us for these beautiful qualities. Later—after the anguish of learning how to treasure Him more than we do ourselves…to love him more than our own life…and learning to be fruitful for him— we find that he delights in our busy feet which carry the gospel of peace… our “jeweled thighs” that move to do his will with the precision of a master clock maker’s own, prized “seventeen-jewel” watch…and our navel and belly, from whence come spiritual offspring.

No, I do not think King Solomon was praising her more completely because he now had some greater knowledge of her physical body and its visual delights. I believe he praised her more fully because she had learned to delight him with her whole body, and he took pleasure in that.