Because He Loves You…

March 16, 2010

I thought that this week I would depart my normal blog of the written word and instead share a wonderful video to help uplift and encourage all of you.  I want to thank my stepson, Seth Kester, who is currently on a three month  missions assignment in Ludwigslust, Germany.  He posted this video on his Facebook page, and thus gave me the opportunity to share this wonderful gift with you.

Being loved outrageously, and loving outrageously forms the makings of a wonderful marriage. The video is by Graham Cooke, and is called Inheritance.  Please enjoy and be encouraged!


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The Power In What We Say…

February 28, 2010

Hi Everybody!  Although I have written before on the importance of positive communication, it definitely bears repeating.  Whenever we speak, the words we use do not just evaporate!  Words are containers of power and great influence—either for the good or the bad—depending on the words we choose to use.  What we say and the words that we use can lead to serious trouble.

I’m reminded of an anecdote about a hotheaded woman who once approached the great evangelist John Wesley and said, “My talent is to speak my mind.” Rev. Wesley simply replied, “Woman, God wouldn’t care a bit if you would bury that talent.”

Throughout the Bible God warns us about our tongues for good reason!

Proverbs 10:19:  When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.

Proverbs 12:18:  Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

Proverbs 17:27:  A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered.

Proverbs 17:28:  Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise.

Proverbs 18:21:  Live and death are in the power of the tongue…And those who love it will eat its fruit.

The power of words is such that if we’re not careful, words can destroy our marriage, family, relationships in general, and our reputation.  When consumed in the emotional heat of an argument with your spouse, how often have you spewed caustic, negative words to them?  How often have you torn down your spouse by being sarcastic (aka an insult wrapped in humor), critical, judgmental, or demeaning?  How often do you speak loving, appreciative, or encouraging words to them?  What kind of response do you get when you speak in negative or positive words?  Words are powerful! Choose your words carefully!  Wisdom is the ability to make Godly choices.  Make Godly choices in how you speak to others—build others up, be an encourager, and learn to confront issues and problem-solve in ways in which everyone involved feels good about the interaction.  Make it a point to notice the good in others and tell them.   Be appreciative and loving toward others, especially your spouse.

Proverbs 15:4:  A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.

Proverbs 16:24:  Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones.

It seems to be human nature to gravitate toward the negative, and being negative can be a hard habit to break.  Starting right now, make a commitment to be mindful and intentional about speaking positive things into the lives of your loved ones and watch what happens!  Trust me, over time you will get back more than you give from those around you!  As you daily practice being a positive person, eventually you won’t even have to think about it, it will be so natural that it will just be who you are!

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Help! Stress Is Killing My Marriage…

February 17, 2010

I’ve chosen to write about stress this week because it’s such an unbelievably common issue that I’m seeing within my marriage counseling practice.  In fact, stress is one of the biggest factors negatively impacting marriage relationships today.  The demands of modern life have resulted in many a couple putting their relationship at the bottom of the proverbial priority list.  That is if their marriage even makes that priority list anymore

I’ve heard it said that If Satan can’t find a way to get us to be inactive; he will get behind us and push us to the extreme.  Did you know that two-thirds of patients seen by doctors are seen for stress-related illnesses?  Stress, especially chronic stress, has devastating effects on our physical and mental well being, and thus our marriages.

With full workweeks, running kids around to school and various activities, chores, church and community commitments, there is precious little time for kindling connectedness and romance.  Without a continuous infusion of quality time, a relationship will languish and eventually end up on life support gasping for air.   Slowly and steadily over the course of time as we allow the stresses of life to steal our joy of a happy marriage, that which we should cherish most begins to die. The tragedy I see all to often are couples, once the kids have left the nest, looking at each other like strangers they barely know. Worse yet, strangers they don’t even like.  How does one look forward to their golden years with a person with whom they have absolutely no connection?

Though I can’t cover the complete gamut of stress reduction in this short blog, please let me give you a very important tip here. Just say “NO”.  In her book, We Never Seem To Have Enough Time, author Catherine Pulsifer says, “We need to maintain a proper balance in our life by allocating the time we have. There are occasions where saying no is the best time management practice there is.” Say no to being involved with too many programs, too many commitments, too many must haves, too many keeping up with the Jones’.

Another stress reducing tip that seems so simple yet is so hard for many to grasp is getting and keeping your priorities straight.  If you want a great marriage make God priority one.  Make your husband or wife priority two, and be totally sold out to your marriage.  Do this every single day and every other relationship and commitment you have will have far greater purpose, meaning, and joy.

Do we really have to have our schedules so jammed packed with activity?  Do we have to work those really long hours?  Do the kids have to be in every activity under the sun?  Have we succumb to a “Crackberry” addiction?  God wants us to enjoy our lives and our relationships.  I doubt that Jesus was ever “stressed out!”  He had a great ministry, but he also knew how to relax, get away, and just enjoy his family and friends

Jesus warned us not to let the “cares of this world” rob us of the abundant life that He promised.  Remember, we create our own schedules – no one else – and we have the responsibility to take care that we carve out time to invest in those people most important to us. Learn to say “NO” to so many activities that have absolutely no eternal benefit.  Don’t allow “good” to take the place of  “best”! Keep your priorities straight.  Be sure to give your spouse some special time and attention today and everyday.  You’ll be happy you did, and so will they!

Luke 21:34  “But take heed to yourselves and be on your guard, lest your hearts be overburdened and depressed with the giddiness and headache and nausea of self-indulgence and drunkenness, and worldly worries and cares pertaining to the business of this life, and lest that day come upon you suddenly like a trap or a noose.”

Five Things Every Marriage Needs!

  • Altruism: Couples who put each other’s happiness first are much more satisfied with their marriages than ones who don’t.
  • Friends: One-on-one time is nice and necessary, but you both also need the social outlet, companionship, and support of others.
  • Commitment: Total dedication to the relationship means you’re more likely to work at keeping it strong.
  • In-Jokes: They may sound like something out of junior high, but those pet names and silly secrets help keep you connected.
  • Rituals: Things like texting “I love you,” traditions such as going to the same restaurant on every anniversary, and nightly kisses energize and enrich you both.

Janet’s Recommended Reading For This Post:

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Keeping The Romance Alive

February 10, 2010

“I would have rummaged, ransacked at the word; those old corners of an empty heart; for remnants of dim love the long disused, and dusty crumbling of romance!”

Robert Browning


As Valentine’s Day quickly approaches I think it’s a good time for a quick romance checkup.  Ask yourself; are you eagerly anticipating the romantic celebration of your love, or are you once again dreading your all too regular disappointment with the lack of passion in your relationship?

It’s an all-too-common scenario.  In the beginning it’s flowers, intimate dinners for two, breakfast in bed, and sexy lingerie.  But as the passion of courtship cools, it’s more like ESPN, takeout, sleeping in with our backs to one-another, and sweatpants.  But listen carefully, your love life doesn’t have to be humdrum, and it certainly doesn’t take mammoth effort to rekindle the flames of romance all over again.

Romance starts by getting our priorities straight. The busyness and routine of daily life can be romance killers if you allow them to be, but only if you allow them to be. While the tasks of everyday life are important, e.g. the kids, jobs, and chores, it is crucial to make time for your relationship!  It’s too easy to put our marriages on the bottom of our priority list, on the proverbial “back burner.”  For some reason we allow ourselves to take our spouses for granted by believing they will be the ones that will always be there, the ones we can cherish last, when everything else is done. Unfortunately you may wake one day, like so many others, to discover your marriage is done, long before you got around to making your spouse your priority!  It takes more effort and mindfulness to keep our priorities straight—God first, our marriage second, children third, then work, others, etc.—but so very worth it!

If you want to put romance back in your relationship spoil your spouse and not your children.  Find some way to make your husband or wife to feel special every single day. Romantic gestures are a great way to nurture your relationship.  Take a few minutes to let your spouse know how much you care and appreciate them.  Leaving little love notes around for your spouse to find or texting/emailing romantic messages can really brighten their day.  Helping out with little things like doing the dishes, making the bed, or running the vacuum—especially when it’s not your responsibility—go a long way in demonstrating your love.  Of course, don’t forget to speak the words “I love you.”

It’s been said that you should always give those you love something to look forward to.  Take the effort to make that happen.  It doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming, just give of yourself.  Having daily devotional time together, setting date nights for just the two of you, giving yourselves a weekend to get away by yourselves, and even just taking the time to enjoy sit-down meals together at home can provide the quality time necessary to grow your relationship and in turn kindle romance.  Be sure to share hugs, kisses, and affectionate touches.  Recall the early days of your relationship and make plans to do those things that were fun and brought the two of you together in the first place.

Taking pride in your appearance also shows that you care about yourself and your spouse.  Keeping your body in shape and staying current with hairstyle and fashion trends demonstrates that you still care about the relationship and staying attractive to your spouse.  Look for ways to pamper your beloved like letting them sleep in while you care for the kids, giving them a massage, cleaning up after dinner while they relax, or bringing them a special treat or gift that you know they’ll love “just because.”

Keep the lines of communication open in your relationship.  If you feel you’ve dropped to the bottom of your partner’s priority list, speak up. If you feel like your love life has gone from “hot” to “not,” share your feelings with your spouse.  Don’t blame or criticize, but rather focus on creating the relationship you both want.  Talking in front of your spouse to someone else about your partner’s good points is romantic, too.  Bragging on your spouse within their earshot will certainly bring a smile to their face!

Every marriage needs healthy doses of romance to add spice, delight, and fun to the relationship.  You have to find ways to keep the sizzle going as the months and years go by.  If you don’t, you can quickly go from being lovers to relating only as friends, siblings, or “business partners.”

Romance stays alive by keeping our figurative “crock pot of love” simmering everyday.  When it’s time for a special romantic occasion like Valentine’s Day, just add a little heat, just add a little spice, and look out world…

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Failure To Communicate…

February 1, 2010

“What we got here is…failure to communicate!”

Many of you from my generation will remember the wonderful 1967 movie classic, “Cool Hand Luke”. Those from younger generations perhaps have been fortunate enough to see it on DVD. The movie follows the struggle of a petty criminal, Luke Jackson, played by Paul Newman, and his inability to adjust to the cruel dealings of a southern prison. The sadistic Prison Road Captain, played by Strother Martin, has the avowed ambition of forcing every prisoner under his care to, “Get his mind right”.  Well, as you can imagine, that philosophy just didn’t sit too well with Luke.

That leads me to a memorable quote from the movie, and the basis for the topic of this post, and that is communication. At one point in the movie, The Prison Road Captain takes a club to Luke and proclaims, “What we got here is…failure to communicate!”  Obviously, there are many ways to communicate in life and in marriage. Some forms of communication are productive, and some are incredibly destructive.

I can trace almost every problem couples present in my office back to a failure to communicate effectively.  First and foremost, effective communication is positive communication; it is the key to an emotionally healthy relationship. Positive communication always includes such things as assuming positive intent on the part of one another. Meaning that we do not assume that our spouse is out to intentionally hurt us but rather quite the opposite, to help us.  Positive communication is the ability to address any issue in such a way that the ensuing dialogue is productive and leaves everyone involved feeling good about the exchange of thoughts, feelings, ideas and solutions.  Positive communication never includes verbal abuse, name-calling, yelling, bullying, sarcasm, criticism or defensiveness. Let me quickly add a caveat by saying this does not mean that we can never complain about anything or that we have to sweep all perceived problems under the rug.  That is not healthy either. What I am saying is that there is a right way, and a wrong way, to deal with your complaints.

Let’s talk about the difference between complaining and criticizing. Herein lies the crucial distinction to understanding each other when trying to work through our marital difficulties.  Let me again emphasize that, the vast majority of problems couples bring into my office have their root in communication difficulties. All of us need the freedom to complain to our spouse. We also need to make sure our spouse knows they have the right to complain to us. In a healthy marriage, there is a freedom of expression that allows us to talk openly without fear of retribution or shame.  Each spouse must be a safe person with whom to share any thoughts and feelings.  When we complain, it’s important to remember that it isn’t about our spouse, it’s about us.  It’s about the way we feel about something they did or said that bothered us.  For example, if my husband has done something that bothers me and I confront him about it, I would say something like, “Honey, you seem distant from me this morning and I’m troubled by it.  I don’t know if anything is wrong, you may be upset with me or it might be something else, but I don’t like it when I feel like you’re keeping me at a distance.  If I’ve done something to upset you, then I want you to tell me.”  See how I didn’t start out by accusing or attacking him.  I began by sharing how I felt and my need to understand what was happening.  I also stated that I wanted to know if I had done something wrong so I could take responsibility for it.  This method of communication gets everything out on the table but leaves our spouse emotionally intact without feeling hurt and a need go on the defensive.

Criticizing is different than complaining.  Very different.  In fact, Dr. John Gottman says he can predict with 96% accuracy within the first three minutes of a couple having a conversation whether the relationship he is watching will survive over the long-haul or not.  John Gottman, Ph.D. is world-renowned for his work on marital stability and divorce prediction, including the study of emotions, physiology, and communication. He was recently voted as one of the Top 10 Most Influential Therapists of the past quarter-century by the Psychotherapy Networker magazine.

Gottman bases his predictions on four potentially destructive communication styles and coping mechanisms. In his 1994 book, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, Dr. Gottman uses the biblical metaphor of the Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse to describe communication styles that can predict the end of a relationship. It’s interesting to note that he calls his very first apocalyptic horseman of destructive communication, criticism.

Criticizing our partner is different than offering a critique or having a complaint. Criticism attacks our partner at their very core. In effect, we are dismantling his or her whole being when we criticize.  An example of a complaint would be: “I was scared when you were running late and didn’t call me. I thought we had agreed that we would do that for each other.” Criticism, on the other hand would be, “You never think about how your behavior is affecting other people. I don’t believe you are that forgetful; you just don’t think about me.”  I hope you can see the difference, and how important that difference is in the way we communicate and feel about our relationships.

Criticizing just doesn’t work.  Not in marriages, not as parents, not in the work place, not in any relationship under heaven. Why? Because it destroys self: self worth, self-esteem and self-confidence. Instead, in their place lies a wake of brokenness, hurt, shame, loneliness and resentfulness. The list of negative and confusing emotions that criticizing inflicts just goes on and on. Proverbs 12:18 says, “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” I want you to ask yourself today, are your words to your spouse more like a sword being thrust in their side, or more like a gentle, loving, healing, touch?

In order to keep your communication positive, you must be very careful to position your confrontations first with love, affirmation and respect for your spouse. Keep your emotions and mouth under control.  Focus on how you feel and allow your spouse the right to complain back to you and explain what is going on inside of them.  Listen, reflect back, and validate each other’s feelings.  If you do this, you will open up the lines of communication and be able to talk more freely with each other, without the risk of hurting each other.  The fruit of positive and affirming communication is successful conflict resolution, as well as greater intimacy, greater friendship and a much more enjoyable relationship.

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Forgiveness Without Limit…

January 25, 2010

My pastor’s message this weekend was based on Jesus’ parable of The Unforgiving Servant. Don’t you just love Jesus’ parables? This one was taken from Matthew 18: 23-35, (just in case you would like to read up on it yourself). I’ve included the passage at the end of this post.

Anyhow, to refresh your memory, this parable was about the servant who owed his king what would be the equivalent today to many, many millions of dollars. The servant could not repay the debt and begged his king for mercy. With profound compassion the king forgave him the entirety of the debt owed and sent him on his way. This very same servant who had just been forgiven such a huge debt was owed just a little money by a fellow servant. The amount this fellow owed was about a day’s wage, or maybe $100 to $200 in today’s money. The fellow servant could not repay the debt and got down on his knees and begged for mercy of his own. Unwilling to show any compassion or forgiveness whatsoever, the servant had his fellow servant thrown into prison until such a time he could repay the debt!  Obviously, Jesus was pointing out, that when compared to what the first servant had been forgiven, this debt was very, very, tiny indeed.

The quintessential principle here is, the one who is forgiven much not only should forgive much, but must forgive much. The role of forgiveness in marriage is that grace and mercy shown to our spouse goes way beyond a mere system of quid pro quo, but must be absolutely without limit. Marriage is not a place for counting offenses and the number of times we forgive in some sort of game of tit for tat. Rather, as the parable teaches, we are to forgive much because God has already forgiven us of so much.

God expects us to extend mercy and forgiveness to one another, end of discussion.  If we don’t, we as the one who refuses to forgive, ends up in an emotional prison of our own making.  If you read the end of Jesus’ parable of the Unforgiving Servant, you will see that the king finds out about the servants lack of mercy for his fellow servant and “turned him over to the jailers to be tortured”.

In marriage as well as any relationship, our unwillingness to forgive keeps us in our own prison of hurt, anger, resentment, and even revenge.  Being unforgiving is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.  In the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, Jesus is presenting a principle similar to the forgiveness command for believers found in Ephesians 4:32, “And be ye kind to one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” If we refuse to forgive, we miss out on so much joy, happiness and love that exists in the fresh air just outside the walls of our self-made torturing, unforgiving prison.

Robert Quillen, the famed journalist of the 1930’s Saturday Evening Post wrote, “A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.” No matter how much a couple has in common, or how polished their communication skills, or how loving, caring and thoughtful they may be to one another, offenses still happen.  It’s part of the human condition.  If spouses can assume positive intent on the part of the other, seek understanding, be quick to apologize and quick to forgive, they add vital ingredients to the recipe of a great marriage. Therefore, because we have received much grace, “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8), we are commanded to give that same grace to others.  Why not try that on your spouse today.

When a couple’s life is changed by God’s love, they are able, out of the overflow of His love, to attach high value to one another and love each other.  Instead of riding each other about various problems, they will find ways to build up and encourage each other.  When thoughts and feelings can be expressed without anger and hate, but rather with understanding and validation, miraculous changes can take place in the couple and their marriage.

No two marriages are exactly alike, but know that God’s call to forgiveness can free you and your spouse to take the next step towards a fulfilling and God-honoring marriage.

The Parable Of The Unforgiving Servant

Matthew 18:23-35 (New International Version)

23”Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. 26The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. 28But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. 29His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ 30But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. 32Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

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How Our Past Affects Our Present…

January 18, 2010

God created us for relationship, relationship with Him foremost, and then with other human beings.  The most emotionally, intellectually, and physically intimate relationship we can ever have with another human is with our spouse.  Within the context of marriage we should find safe harbor and refuge, yet, so often and so unfortunate is the fact that this turns out not to be the case. If it is the desire of those who enter into the sacred covenant of marriage to have a safe place to fall, why is it we often times find it so difficult?

In order to have healthy, positive interaction within a marriage, it is essential for each spouse to understand his or her emotional past going back to childhood.  You may not realize or believe it, but it’s true.  We all have tender places in our hearts left by past hurts, fears, and sensitivities.  Experiences we have had over the course of our lives, especially in childhood, create and shape our tender spots and vulnerabilities of today.

All the experiences and interactions from our early relationships are internalized and become the lens through which we view ourselves, view others, and view the world around us.  This lens shapes our perspective, beliefs, and expectations regarding how to love and react when we feel disconnected. Marriage can either confirm our internal lens and old patterns of relating or create opportunities for new and healthier experiences and patterns.  God can use marriage as a place where we are not only refined, but also healed. When we are able to connect to our spouse emotionally, they become part of the healing process of our old childhood wounds. When experiences in your marriage today are similar to the hurtful experiences you have had in the past, they trigger the same hurts, fears, and responses.  When a current situation touches old wounds, it sets in motion an automatic reaction, which is exactly the way we responded when we first experienced that hurt.

For example, if while growing up you felt that no one was there for you and you had to take care of yourself, you will probably feel the same way when your spouse fails to do something that is important to you.  If you reacted by a sense of “I can’t count on anyone” by becoming disconnected and more self-reliant, you will probably also seek a more separate, self-reliant life apart from your spouse.  By withdrawing and doing things without your spouse, you will find less conflict and less pain.  It is a self-protective behavior that does nothing to enhance the marital relationship, but only creates more emotional distance.  It becomes an empty and vicious cycle.

If you are, however, able to analyze the situation and separate out what is “now” and what is “past” or “childhood,” then you are empowered to make proactive, intentional choices about the way you think and behave within the context of your marriage. You can choose to learn healthy communication skills, choose to assume positive intent on the part of your spouse, seek understanding and clarification rather than go on the defense, attack or withdraw.  It is about becoming conscious and intentional about your relationship rather than unconscious and reactive.

The Word of God says, “We should love people not only with words and talk, but by our actions and true caring.”  1 John 3:18

“When you talk, do not say harmful things, but say what people need—words that will help others become stronger.  Then what you say will do well to those who listen to you.  Do not be bitter or angry or mad.  Never shout angrily or say things to hurt others.  Never do anything evil.  Be kind and loving to each other, and forgive each other just as God forgave you in Christ.”  Ephesians 4:29, 31-32

Be empowered, not a victim.  You can do this by choosing to be a safe place for your spouse. Choose to listen more, give your best effort to view the situation through the lens of your spouse, and seek understanding.  Be willing to apologize and forgive.  Focus on the good in your spouse.  Nurture both of your inner children by choosing to be more playful, fun, adventurous, and loving.  Make time for a caring, loving and a fun sex life.  Go to God in prayer and look to Him as your Source for courage and peace.

If you’ve found this information helpful please stop back next week when I’ll be sharing more insight into discovering your optimal marriage.  By all means, please feel free to share this blog with others who may find it useful!

Your Friend, Janet Kester, The Christian Marriage Counselor.

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