Saturday, September 10, 2016

Embracing "Scruffy Hospitality"

Confession time: I have never been the cleanest person. As a teenager, I always had a cluttered bedroom. As an adult, my car is never completely clean, and I'm totally okay going to bed if I have dishes in the sink. I bring other skills to my marriage (financial planning, working, cooking), but cleanliness is not one of them.

In college, it was okay if I had cluttered counters. My friends who came over were more interested in eating snacks, watching a movie and talking until all hours of the night. I didn't think twice about inviting others over to spend time with us.

And then, two things happened:

I became a mom and Pinterest became popular.

embracing messiness
And suddenly, everything shifted. I felt like the moms I was around were in this intense race to prove who was the best wife/mom by how clean their houses were. I remember sitting in a Bible study where the other moms were talking about cleaning and one mom talked about how she frantically cleaned the fingerprints off the glass entertainment center every. single. day. and that if she didn't, she didn't feel like she was doing a good job as a stay-at-home mom.

At that time, I had two pets, a baby and a part-time job. I was lucky if I cleaned the bathroom more than once a month.

For that mom who cleaned the fingerprints, her desire to clean was not what made me sad. Some people are just naturally cleaner than others! My mom is an excellent housekeeper. She has a beautifully decorated, clean house and she loves hosting events. She very much values the spiritual gift of hospitality and loves creating a clean, safe, welcoming home. I have several friends who are also very skilled in hospitality, and they enjoy creating a safe, welcoming space.

What made me sad for that mom was the pressure and anxiety she felt. That if she didn't have the perfect house, she would not want others to come over. That somehow those fingerprints meant she wasn't valuable or a "good" stay-at-home mom.

And I wondered if a few fingerprints meant you weren't doing your job as a mom, what did that mean for me? As the moms all nodded knowingly, talking about a single dish in the sink stressing them out, I envisioned my own house, sink full of dishes, kid toys everywhere and cringed. I must be a terrible mom and housewife since I knew my house was way messier than hers. How could I ever invite these other moms over? They would judge me. I would be viewed as the "messy friend."

I felt so insecure until just recently when I had an epiphany. I realized that my friends come over not because my house is perfect, but because they want to spend time with me! The close friends I have enjoy chatting over coffee and if they have to sit in my kitchen with some dishes in the sink, they are okay with that! Because they value time with me more than a half-eaten bowl of cereal sitting on my table. They don't come over because my house sparkles. They come over because we can laugh together.

I consciously made a decision that I wasn't going to hide or be embarrassed anymore. I decided that my worth is not determined by the cleanliness of my house.

One of the biggest compliments I received recently was after a friend invited me over. She confided that she was stressing out and about to frantically scrub her house clean. However, when she realized I was coming over, she said, "I realized you wouldn't care, so I didn't run around cleaning my house!"

I loved that! We didn't start our visit with her frazzled from cleaning. Instead, we were able to sit together and laugh and drink coffee. 

Because honestly, I could have cared less about the status of the couch pillows or some dishes in her sink. I wanted to spend time with her.

There is so much pressure for women to be the perfect hostesses. To race around the kitchen preparing food, making sure the counters stay perfectly clean, and that everyone's drink glasses are full. We begin to base our worth and value on how good things looked and how good our house smelled, not who we are. It can be exhausting, especially if that is not a natural gift of yours. And ultimately, we spend so much time running around, we miss out on time with those we love.

After my dad almost died two years ago, I realized that I wanted to spend every moment with my family and friends. Not racing around cleaning while they sat in my living room. I wanted to sit with my loved ones, laugh with them, and ask about their day. And if that meant I had to buy pre-made coleslaw and a Mrs. Smith's apple pie so I have more time to do those things, I would do it. 

Recently, I found two incredible articles that were exactly in line with my thinking. One by the Rev. Jack King called Why Scruffy Hospitality Creates Space for Friendships (I love this title!) and one by Robin Shreeves called In Praise of "Scruffy Hospitality". One of my favorite quotes from Robin Shreeves' article is:

But for anyone whose home is not naturally company-ready, I encourage you to embrace this concept of scruffy hospitality. Open up your home, big or small, as-is. Value community over tidiness. Invite people over and say, "I don't know what I'm serving. I may have to order pizza. I would just love your company."

For those of you who have the gift of hospitality, that is wonderful! Embrace it! Your friends will value your special touch in hosting events. But if your house isn't perfect or your hospitality skills are a little "scruffy," don't be afraid to host a spontaneous coffee date or invite another mom over for a play date. And if things get crazy, don't feel like a failure because your house isn't perfect. 

Do not let your worth be determined by the dishes in your sink, and don't judge others based on that as well. We all have different skills and priorities. You may have a mom whose house isn't the cleanest, but they do amazing craft projects with their children. You may have a mom who doesn't prioritize dishes, but spends endless hours serving and loving others. And you may have a mom who does prioritize cleaning and decorating, has a beautiful house and is a wonderful hostess!

We are all valuable women of God. Let us love one another based on that, instead of how clean our homes are. 

1 John 4:7 tells us: "Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God." We can't love each other fully and deeply if we let our own insecurities or judgments of each other impact our relationships.

So let go of your insecurities and embrace every God-given moment with your friends and family, regardless of the clutter on the counter or the shoes by the back door.

1 John 4:21 ends with this: "And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister." Clutter and all.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Caught in the “Happiness Trap”: The Ultimate Goal of Marriage

Last Friday, two things happened that radically impacted my view of marriage.

The first was a quote that a DJ was discussing on the radio. He talked about a tweet someone posted that basically said that the goal of marriage was not happiness, that happiness was simply one of the benefits.

Intellectually, I understand this. Marriage is difficult, often full of mountains and valleys, and anyone married for a long period of time will tell you it is not always happy.

However, it is so easy to get sucked into the “happiness trap” when we talk about marriage. Think about the way people talk about couples:

“Oh, they look so happy.”

Or when the tabloids see two married celebrities walking together, looking serious, they immediately jump to conclusions. “Celebrities looked unhappy together shopping last week. On their way to a divorce?”

We look at couples on social media and if they look “happy” in their photos together, we assume their marriage is a good one (and yet, I’ve known couples who post happy pictures, then announce their divorce soon after because those pictures don’t represent the day-to-day fighting and disintegration of their marriage).

Even movies and books are always searching for happy. I love Christian romance books, but you are always reading for the “happy” ending, when they suddenly decide they love each other and want to be together forever. Of course, those books stop at the happy ending. They don’t illustrate the craziness of life after you throw in a few kids, pets and a mortgage payment.

As someone who does a lot of marriage counseling and teaches marriage classes, I should know better than to become fixated on happiness as the barometer of marital success.

And yet, I’ve been guilty of this over the past year. We’ve had a busy year – we are helping to start a church plant, we both work, we have a four-year-old who is the most stubborn child of all time, and a lot of travel. It has been easy to shift from “soul mate” mode to “roommate” mode.

You know that mode, right? The one where your conversations at night are focused more on leftovers, credit card bills and your children’s homework than loving affirmations.

And instead of focusing on the positives, the stability, our spouse’s good traits, it is easy to focus on the lack of affirmations. We begin to view our marriages as “unhappy” since we’ve been running around and not having tons and tons of happy moments.

So when that quote came on the radio, it was a stark reminder that my perspective has been flawed.

And then, as I was thinking over what the ultimate goal of marriage is, a few hours later, our dog started acting very weird. Like she was dying.

The dog we’ve had for 12 years, the one we got a few months after we got married.

We took the dog and our two children to the vet. As my husband was wrangling the kids in the waiting room, I met with the vet. As she started telling me what was wrong with our dog (she was dying of cancer), I literally couldn’t handle it. I stopped the vet, and told her that I wasn’t capable of handling this kind of thing, and that my husband was better at it.

I ran out of the room, and sent my husband in. As I waited with the kids, he stepped out and told us the vet recommended putting our dog to sleep. As the kids and I started crying hysterically, my husband hugged and comforted us.

We all said goodbye to the dog, and then me and the kids went to a separate room while my husband stayed with the dog as they put her to sleep.

Afterwards, as my husband (who obviously was also distraught) still drove us to ice cream and comforted me and the kids, I had an epiphany.

This is what marriage is about.

Not happiness.

Not endless kisses and affirmations.

It is the acknowledgement that in the hardest moments of our lives, I can completely depend on my spouse when I am unable to handle things.

We know that the Bible talks about unity as a goal of marriage: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Ephesians 5:31 ESV).

It doesn’t say a man shall leave his parents and shower his wife with happy moments.

It doesn’t say that a man shall leave his parents and say loving things every single day.

It doesn’t tell us the end goal of marriage is happiness. Or endless attention and validation.

The goal is that we will hold fast to each other and become one flesh. We will find unity.

That when we hurt, our spouse hurts. When I’m weeping, my spouse’s heart breaks and vice versa.

I’m sure if you asked fifty people on the street what the goal of marriage is, they would have wildly different ideas.

Stability. Support. Unconditional love. Someone to talk to. Happiness. A travel partner.

I think a great marriage includes all of those things, but ultimately we are obediently following God’s call to create unity – two people working towards the goal of having a stable marriage full of love for God, support and unconditional love for each other.

My husband said that just as the goal of our relationship with God is not happiness (“if God blesses me enough and I feel happy, I’ll keep following him”), but a dependence on the blessed assurance that God has promised us unconditional love, support and eternal life; our goal for marriage should be the blessed assurance that we can depend on our spouses for unconditional love, support, and a fulfilling life.

For me, it is the knowledge that I can depend on my spouse is the dark moments. When we are putting a dog to sleep, struggling financially or when my dad had health issues two years ago.

Because let’s be honest, happiness is an awesome benefit of marriage. But as we are married for longer and longer, things get harder and harder. You lose pets, grandparents, and then parents. We deal with health issues, back pain, cancer or diabetes.

My husband shared about an elderly couple that he knows. They’ve been married forever and as her health is failing, her husband helps her into the bathtub and gets her dressed every morning.

Do you think she would trade that unconditional love and support for a few fleeting happy moments?

No. Because as we get older, we value consistency, support and love in the face of the ugly or weak moments.

And yet, I often work with couples who say, “Well, we’re unhappy, so obviously we shouldn’t be together” or “this can’t be God’s plan for our marriage, we are so unhappy.”

If we focus on happiness as the end goal, we will be disappointed. Even the best, strongest marriages have less than happy moments. But remember, just because there are tough, less-than-happy moments, doesn’t mean you have an “unhappy” marriage.

And if you are truly struggling and are having so many unhappy moments that your marriage is falling apart, seek help.

Find a marriage counselor. Meet with your pastor. Pray fervently. Find an older couple to mentor you.

For me, it was simply changing my focus from wanting “happiness” to finding joy in the stability of my husband. Putting our dog to sleep was one of the hardest moments of our marriage (so far), and yet I knew I could depend on him fully to make decisions when I was an emotional wreck.

So for those of you, who like me, have gotten stuck in the “happiness trap,” shift your focus. You might be surprised how much it helps you.

And ultimately, I love you Jesse, my wonderful husband. Thank you for being my rock, my support and loving me unconditionally. I can’t imagine walking this winding, difficult road with anybody but you.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Learning How to Disappoint People

Over the years, regardless of what setting it's been (groups, individual counseling, etc.), one of the number one issues people have struggled with is boundary setting. Even this week, I've had several conversations with clients and friends about how to assert themselves.

How to say no lovingly, but mean it.

How to stand up for yourself, but in a way that's kind and Godly and respectful.

There are several fantastic books that address this (Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Drs. Cloud & Townsend comes to mind), but recently, I found an article by the amazing Shauna Niequist called:

She breaks down the different categories of people in our lives and how to prioritize both our needs and those of others. I cannot tell you how helpful and true this article is!

I love sharing my heart, but sometimes, others say it even better than I can. So check out her article and let me know! I'm actually super excited because she has a new book coming out (Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living) that this is article is pulled from, and I can't wait to read it.*

So for all of you out there, is saying no and the fear of letting people down something you struggle with?

*I'm not being paid or anything to promote her stuff, I just really love her perspective! Although, if you do click on the links through Amazon, I get a teeny little kickback! :)
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