Precious times, these years…

The other day, I left Alberton with four belligerent children and three others (people who were, incidentally, astonished by the commotion going on in our van). I departed the area absolutely stunned by the severity with which we battle it out over here in the Gard Household: it matters not where we find ourselves. Mill River, Florida, Dominican Republic- you name it. We fought there. Actually, we no sooner hover a toe over the threshold of the van and it is like a switch is turned on inside our brains that releases our inner warrior/dark side. Darth Vader has nothing on this family. We fight about seat positions. Fight about farting. Fight about burping. Fight about whether or not the sun sets in the west and rises in the east (maybe it does/maybe it doesn’t). Fight about music, about books, about universities that ten year olds wish to attend when they are 20.

We fight- and we do so incessantly. And because of this marvelous fun family fact, I can attest to our permanent membership in the infamous FightClub as members in good standing, with our family having the most experience tearing one another’s heads off/emotional collateral.

When I arrived home that particular day of which I write, I literally fell out if the van, a dazed expression on my face and asked my Husband, above the cacophony of noise, if he had missed us all that morning. His reply:

“Like the plague.”

He was not joking. Not even a little bit.

As I was a Kid Vid Cinema leader at DVBS all week, I had the extreme pleasure of waking my children up at what appeared to be twelve hours before daylight (hard to tell as we had no sun at all this week), coaxing them out of their warm, cozy beds (where in sleeping, they could not make any sound of retaliation/noise) and then driving my children plus three to programming at eight (or whenever) every morning- programming which I must admit that I personally enjoyed almost more than the children as I was able to exercise/hone my dance skills each and every day (to the absolute horror/disgust of my two oldest).

The best part of this experience was that this four hour stretch was a glorious time of no fighting. For four hours, my four children were not clawing each other’s eyes out, were not tearing one another apart. And even better, for most of that time, they were someone elses’ responsibility (so even if they did happen to fight, I could feign ignorance and complete unawareness of what was happening). You cannot even imagine what this opportunity meant to a mother like me who has permanent damage in her ear drums from shrill, ear-splitting screams.

DVBS, while similar to real school, is a wonderful opportunity for mothers such as myself to release their precious offspring into the wild, I mean world, for a few brief and precious hours; handing off the responsibility of breaking up their fights, following them around like a hawk, rescuing them from imminent danger, feeding them snacks, protecting them from injury and in general, basking in their presence. They also get to learn, discover and grow spiritually while there. Bonus! And in doing such (that is, releasing them/freeing yourself), they come to find themselves in the extremely competent and capable hands of other adults who do this kind of stuff for free. For any mother, it is a no-brainer.

Next summer, if our numbers haven’t quadrupled by word-of-mouth advertising I will personally sign on for therapy due to stress incurred from shock and surprise.

The fighting unfortunately does resume once the troops have landed back on home soil. I am sorry to say. We have taken to playing a particular hymn called “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love” at meal time. Thankfully there are different versions of the song because for quite a while (until we found an electronic version), Brian just sang it himself. He also has been working on “You Picked A Fine Time To Leave Me Lucille” for those days when even the hymn won’t work.

He is learning extra lines of that one.

Interestingly, at bedtime- at the very last possible moment before the kiddos lay their heads on their pillows, there is a brief interlude of peace in which my mind goes blank and I forget any and all bad things that might have happened during the previous fourteen hours. This glorious experience is known as parental amnesia and it is vital to the proper functioning of any mother/father wishing to hang tight for twenty-five or so years of steady parenting and live to talk about it. (Relax: this extended time frame only applies if you have as many kids as me!) Parental amnesia has saved my sanity. It is the reason I poke my head into their rooms each night and say to myself:

“It really wasn’t all that bad of a day”…

…before waking up again the next morning to the precious sounds of kids yelling for their brother/sister to “get out of the bathroom- you’re taking too long!!!!”

Precious times, these years

People, I need you to hear this…

It is disheartening, to say the very least, to realize yet again that the public’s perception of your work as a professional is characterized as being whiny, over-paid, indulged, lazy, self-centered and existent so as to be servile.

I have spent the past number of years in deep contemplation of my teaching practice- writing, thinking, reading and reflecting almost daily. And I am coming to comprehend that the overall public perception of teachers who run in North American circles, anyway, is extremely negative and it probably will stay that way until we as teachers re-invent ourselves.

Interestingly, I am conducting thesis research on the ethic of care and its relevancy to classroom experience. In this endeavor, I am coming to realize more and more that care is the absolute primary concern of teachers. We teachers are there in our classrooms because we care about what we are doing and the people we are doing it all for. However, unlike caregivers such as doctors (who at least have the potential of making sick people well), teachers do not always seem to serve the immediate betterment of the children they work with. While a doctor has the immediate function of providing relief (through medication and treatment), a teacher’s impact often is never realized until well after the children they have taught are moved on to another classroom and grade level. Furthermore, unlike doctors, people do not come to us of their own free will. There is compulsory attendance in school. Generally, no one is going to force you go to the doctor’s office.

But if doctors can be perceived in a positive light as care-givers, well so then can teachers. It just might take a little blood, sweat and tears to get there.

In writing about teaching as a profession (and in turn, trying to debunk the myths that teachers are money-hungry, union slaves that think solely of how to raid public coffers), I am also realizing the need for teachers to present another alternative image to the world than the one currently being upheld. I think what is needed in our profession is for teachers to show those that are unclear about what teachers really care about- that is, the public at large, the truth of our identity. As young people fresh out of high school, we were not drawn to the teaching profession because we couldn’t wait to one day be part of a union that would help us get rich. Hardly.  We were drawn to teach because we cared about the ideals of the profession and because we cared about connecting kids to those ideals. Then, as we became employed, we realized something even more important (if we hadn’t come to the conclusion already): we realized how incredibly important the kids in our classrooms were to us.

They in fact were everything.

As such, we started to care for them personally- and deeply care. Care about what they were eating both in school and without. Care about who they were friends with. About how much sleep they were getting on school nights. About what they were watching on television/social media. We started to care about their personal history and their present situations. We began to notice when they looked sad. Started to tune into their moods and feelings.

We noticed when things began to change from their typical interactions. Started to notice so much more than even this. In short, we were not really expecting this part of our calling to occur. It wasn’t exactly what we trained for in university; but somehow, in conjunction with the first day of our teaching contract, we realized that teaching content would sometimes take a backseat to caring for kids as people. Actually, we learned rather quickly this would happen A LOT of the time. Because our job as a teacher was profoundly about the students- their concerns, feelings, beliefs and identities. Our calling was wrapped up in the whole student- not just concerned with their brain. Wrapped up in the health and well-being of their body, heart and mind.

When I read comments like this one: “whine , whine , whine , move on and get a different job”; and this “what teachers want is more money”; and this one “get back to work, public servant! If you don’t like your job, get another one. Got that , public servant?”, I am extremely saddened. I think what bothers me the most is that we as teachers have not been enabled to truly represent ourselves in the media so that people can understand what we truly care for- after collective bargaining time is over and done with. I think the public MUST know about the absolute and incredible gift it is for us to be a teacher all those other days of the year. They must hear directly from us and often about what exactly our job entails. The highs and the lows. We need to share with the public about our well-founded concerns as well as our ample ‘gratitudes’. Need to tell what it is like to struggle with meeting the needs inside our classroom and what it is like to triumph in spite of the shortcomings. And we need to continuously share the importance that a teacher can make in the life of a child.

In my blogging, I have made this my goal: to raise awareness about teaching. To be a voice in the wilderness, if need be. To be a rally cry for teachers to unite and care about our profession enough to invest in it. To be a clear and concise storyteller so as to draw people into the world of education. I want people to care about what we do because we are teaching the children that people care about. What we do inside classrooms is incredibly significant, particularly when it gets personal. I have written before the following words:

Until we as people are impacted personally by this care-giving aspect role that describes a true educator, we really don’t understand how important it is.
And what I mean by this is the following:
Until your child has been bullied, you don’t realize what it means to have a teacher calling you to see what they can personally do to rectify the situation.
Until your child has been without a lunch, you don’t realize how much it means to have a teacher offer half of hers to your child.
Until your child has been excluded, you don’t realize how much it means to have a teacher notice your child and seek them out.
Until your child has been owing money for an event, you don’t realize what it means to have a teacher notice and make up the difference in the amount.
Until your child has lost a loved one, you don’t realize how much it means to have a teacher take the time to make a homemade card for your son or daughter.
Until your child has been scared, anxious, worried, fearful, hurt, overwhelmed or endangered, you don’t realize what it means to have a teacher in their corner- rooting for them, whatever it takes.

Because until it hits you personally, it is really hard sometimes to remember what a monumental role care-giving plays in the day-to-day life of a school.

Care-giving is the heart of teaching.  And it is absolutely crucial that the outside world- the one not caught up in education- become aware exactly what this adage means.

What Teachers Really Want

It is becoming very difficult for teachers across North America to convince the public of the need to fight for education, to support the deeply felt emotions and beliefs directed toward ideals and professional standards that we teachers have come to espouse. Why is this? When the issue at hand for everyone in the ‘real world’ is about money and teacher salaries, the educational profession is suddenly reduced to something smaller than a calling.

It becomes a job.

Money is certainly a separating line between groupings in society. Whenever money comes into play, there are going to be divisions. It is just par for the course. On the continuum of how well people are compensated and valued for their lifework, teachers could surely be said to have been given a fair shake, at least in comparison to most other employment found in communities where schools are located. Retail work, customer service, industry and manual labor positions are all found to be less compensated. And in other caring professions concerned with people, we are again found to be better off. For instance, we as teachers get more compensation for our work than certainly parents are paid for their efforts/commitments (as evidenced in the governments pithy attempts to provide tax relief and the child tax benefits- compensation that could never be called a salary for a SAHM); we make more than foster parents, more than human services workers, youth workers, probation officers, community liaisons, coaches and non-profit supports; and depending on who you talk to (and in what province) teachers make more than social workers and quite possibly even more than some nurses, who require similar educational standards and rigorous training (side-note: a quick Google search showed salaries to be comparable across most provinces).

When teachers sit down at the collective bargaining table, it appears to the public that all we are talking about are salaries. This is just not the case. Bargaining is conducted first concerning the student’s educational experience, and this is of utmost importance. How many teachers will a school have? What sizes should classes be? How much money is allocated to supports (both internal and external)? Who is in charge of curriculum delivery? What role will specialists have? How many EAs will be provided? These, among other concerns, are dealt with first. It is therefore unfortunate that teachers are only given ‘air play’ when it appears we are whining about wanting more money; I believe that teachers have more ‘at stake’ than merely our salaries.

As teachers, we came into this profession because we deeply care: care about teaching, care about student welfare, care about ideas, care about the future of our current generation, care about subject matter we believe is relevant, care about critical thinking, care about social justice, care about tolerance. And certainly we care about so much more.

We care.

Since teachers are essentially people who care, the care we invest takes teaching from just being a job and elevates it to something more worthwhile. Teachers should ideally be called into this profession- a calling of the heart. One that serves to inspire, motivate, encourage and arouse within young people the seed for greatness.

Teachers talk about choosing this profession because we want to make a difference in someone’s life. We want to be known as the catalyst for someone elses’ greatness. We believe that we truly are the wind beneath our students’ wings. We even desire to see our students surpass our wildest expectations.

Therefore, teachers want the general public to understand that there are different components to being a teacher. Unfortunately, what the public sees is the negative side: the side that is presented in the media when it is contract time and negotiations are underway. But what our students see is something entirely different. They see us as advocates. As role models. As mentors and guides. They see us as a listening ear. As caring yet effective examples. As supportive coaches. Sometimes even like a family member. This side rarely makes the news, but it is the authentic side of who were are. It’s the side that our students know and appreciate.

I wish that the public could understand that the negotiating that is done behind closed doors in provinces across Canada and then held up for public scrutiny is not the true reflection of what a teacher is at heart. We are not money hungry. We are not selfish individuals thinking only of ourselves. We care deeply about our students and that is where 95% of our thinking is invested while we are on the job. Of course, there are always going to be reasons why teachers feel they should be monetarily compensated for the work they do. This is only fair to expect when people invest their lives, education and extra time into providing the best possible service and practice they know how.

But money isn’t everything.

Even more than money, I think what teachers truly crave is to be valued. We want to be appreciated for our lifework. Maybe not every day, and not with loud broadcasting voices. Just quietly offered a word of appreciation. Not because we are entitled, but because we are human. We all appreciate praise. And it is my belief that gratitude can sometimes mean more to people than money ever would.

It is like anything: when we are appreciated, we as people want to do so much more to please, above and beyond our job description, because of that little motivation we’ve received. Everybody does better with thanks. Perhaps if all our life-work, employment and professions were more appreciated- from SAHM to retail workers to farmers to nurses… to the girl that just gave you your coffee at Tim’s: it would not be quite so difficult for us to understand each other. If we all valued one another more, thanked each other more often, and showed one another gratitude more regularly, we would see less of this negativity in the media that drags us all down.

It’s certainly worth considering.

Wonderings

I wonder—what the world would be like if we were only able to see the best in the people around us. If we could just see through to the good that lies within.

Wonder what it would be like if we were truly able to forgive. Truly able to let go. Able to release and then move on.

I would love to understand what it means to really love someone— love done flawlessly. Perfectly and whole.

I wonder— what it feels like to live life free of resentment. Free of offense and insult.

Wonder what it would be like to have no enemies, no rivals, opponents or adversaries.

What would my life be like if I was able to deeply understand other people and their story? Able to know why they are the way they are, know what makes them tick. Would it make me a more caring, compassionate person?

I wonder what it feels like to desire nothing. To feel secure, content and grateful for exactly what I have been given.

I wonder what it feels like to be free from pride, arrogance, anger, rage, disappointment, fear.

I wonder.
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Recently, I witnessed a breakdown in a relationship that brought pain to those involved. Someone had been emotionally hurt and wounded within a circle of connection due to an offense instigated by another individual, a transgression which occurred many years previous. That one injury, when spoken of, led to confession of many more offenses felt by those involved, all serving to complicate things by bringing extraneous issues and ‘wrongs done’ into the story not connected to the original problem.

Things quickly became very messy, and the ripple effect of this experience was quite troubling. Not only were the individuals directly involved affronted; many others not even connected to the original problem quickly began to take sides. This sadly is so typical of the human experience—in our fragility, we are so easily wounded. So easily are we divided.

Vanier (1998) suggests another way, a path journeyed with consciousness, if you will. He maintains that we have freedom to orientate our lives in one direction or another. He states that “this freedom can lead us into anguish and a fear of becoming, or it can lead us into growth and new life” (Vanier , 1998, p. 3). For me, the new life Vanier speaks of has been a way of seeing differently. A way of understanding differently. Of knowing differently. Of experiencing differently. It is thus a spiritual awareness of who I am in relation to God and the various others that come across my path. For in becoming human, and recognizing both my weaknesses as well as my strengths, I am coming to see that I am not the only one entitled to care. There are people with whom I share this human experience, for whom I must care; further, these fellow beings I exist and grow alongside in this process of becoming are deserving of my care by virtue of their own humanness. Understanding this enables me to consciously see that this way of living is the only way for me, in which to grow and become all I was meant to be.

Vanier (1998) puts it another way, stating that becoming human implies that we must both “be someone, to have cultivated our gifts, and also (to) be open to others, to look at them not with a feeling of superiority but with eyes of respect” (p. 3). Becoming human, for Vanier (1998), is a process of becoming wise with love. I too desire this form of compassionate wisdom.

Personally, I have come to this juncture in my life with great difficulty, traveling paths both tenderly and (at times) abrasively cultivated by the many supports which lift and hold me. A steadfast faith in God, the good parents given to me, my loving husband, dearly cherished family, those wise mentors who have nurtured me, good literature, steady, caring relationships, my professional work, an education founded in the liberal arts—all these have been among the guiding lights in my life leading me forward on a path of understanding, pointing me to an understanding knowledge of why care is essential to the human experience. Include with this, the unique set of circumstances, preferences, traits and beliefs that make me uniquely who I am: this is why I care. I care because I am human. And I am coming to care more even as I become who I was humanly meant to be, a process realized through living out each of life’s little and monumental moments. I now comprehend: becoming human is all I have ever wanted to be.

I am becoming human in my interactions with my own person-hood, making gains at understanding myself better and caring for myself in more intentional ways. I am becoming human in my interactions with my family, seeing the value in each person I have always loved, whom I love a little more deeply each day I am given breath and life to experience. I am coming to see the joy in sacrifice, the value in surrender. This is part of my calling, part of loving another human being. I am becoming human in my interactions with my students—seeing the meaning in instilling an ethic of care in both my classroom and places of influence. I am becoming human in the ways in which I perceive the world. In the ways in which I understand the human beings with whom I share this planet. I am becoming human in the ways in which I care about both the material and non-material world of which I inhabit.

I am becoming human through my understanding and appreciation of difference, of ideas, of values, of morality, of spirituality. Becoming human through cultivating an appreciation of all that contributes to my human experience.

I am becoming human. And this aspiration is what I believe I have always hoped to be. A person who is living her life to the fullest. A person caring for those around her with joy and passion, maintaining an inner peace and fulfillment from a life of service that defies finite understanding. A person at peace with who she was, who she is and who she eventually will be. A person anticipating her future becoming—even while she appreciates the person she is today.

Vanier’s (1998) words provide a closing thought: “peace will come through dialogue, through trust and respect for others who are different, through inner strength and a spirituality of love, patience, humility, and forgiveness” (p. 4). This kind of peace surrounds those who know what it is they desire to become in this life. It is the very air they breathe.

In this great adventure of becoming human, I am finding peace through caring. In the process, I am becoming all I was ever meant to be.

Because She Cared

“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world; for indeed, that’s all who ever have.”- Margaret Mead

The writing I do is largely about my vision of how attentive care impacts within the school system. Yet in my awareness of care that I ascribe to, I truly believe care is fundamental to everything I do. If I care as a teacher, I will care as a human being in all the capacities in which I serve. I write so as to give example to a more innovative way of perceiving care as the foundation to living and learning. It has been my utmost desire to live my life according to these principles.

I wish to share with you a story, and it is a tender one for me to tell. It is a story about my grandmother and her selfless life of service. Her gift of caring for others is the legacy she leaves to me, her granddaughter. She was once a student herself, a young scholar sitting daily in a one-room schoolhouse. Perhaps there was a teacher at some point in her life who was the guiding light leading her forward. Whether this is the situation or not (I cannot ask, as she has already passed from this life to the next), she has been for me a beacon of hope. She has lived out her faith based on the following biblical principle: “Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being” (NIV, 1Cor. 10: 24). Here is her story.

Born on October 3, 1920, in Cody’s New Brunswick, she was one of fourteen children. But rather than fade into the background, a face amidst the throng, she made a name for herself as being a favorite sister. A confidant, friend and caregiver. A kind soul. That care-giving would come in handy later on as she went on to be a nanny, most famously for the movie star Donald Sutherland. This experience (along with a photograph of her famous client) was her sole claim to fame. But certainly her most meaningful care-giving was saved for her own three children, one of whom—a son, was born with Down Syndrome. Little did she realize, her widespread commitment to care-giving had only just begun with tiny Eldon Berry’s birth in 1956.

For on a cold December day, thirty-six years into her vibrant life, my eight-months pregnant Aunt Jeannie— my grandmother’s oldest daughter, was driving home from her day job as a civil servant with the Government of Canada where she worked with Indian Affairs. It was a clear evening, but snow lay on the ground. She had a little economy car and visibility was quite possibly low. The doctor said later if she had have moved her head an inch to the right she would have avoided that truck’s plow which smashed through her windshield, slicing cleanly through her skull and brain. That inch— it wasn’t meant to be. Neither for her, nor for her baby. And from that moment thirty two and a half years ago, (a time when Jeannie was just about the age I am now), until she finally left this life, my aunt lived the life of an invalid. Unmoving, un-speaking, unable. She was robbed of everything save the compassionate care she would live to receive throughout the remaining days of her life.

Her primary caregiver, my grandmother, gave her life in service to my aunt’s care. She spent thirty-one years daily making trips to the various establishments (hospitals, manors, long-term care facilities) where my aunt was located over the duration of her illness. My Grammie spent thirty-one years holding her daughter’s hand, stroking her hair, wiping the crumbs from her face. Spent thirty-one years advocating for her—both within the various medical establishments and beyond. Spent thirty-one years acting as her accountant, conducting her financial business up until the age of eighty-nine years old. She spent thirty-one years of her life solely dedicated to her daughter’s well-being. My aunt received the best care of anyone in the province of New Brunswick, I am sure of it, and there are several experts to vouch for this fact. After thirty-one years of living her life shut up inside a building—living life shut up inside her head, my aunt’s body released her spirit and let it sail home. Less than one year later, my grandmother said her own farewells to this life and she flew away to join her.

My grandmother is an inspiration to me. She is one of many, but she is certainly among those I consider most influential. She wasn’t perfect- far from that ideal. But she was admirable in her own way. I hold her in the highest esteem in terms of her ability to care for those needful ones in her life. I have watched her carry out her life’s work and calling from the time I was eight years old. We spent many a day as her grandchildren walking the sterile halls of silent manors, the reverie broken by a moan or a cry from one of the residents. We spent many hours bedside, watching our grandmother hover and fuss. And in watching this unfaltering champion of her own beloved child—an unsung hero during her time here on earth, I was given an example from one of the best after which to model my own life and practice.

The life of my grandmother is a shining example of Jean Vanier’s (1998) concept of ‘becoming human’, with regards to being a care-giver; perhaps she is one of the best I might ever find. For I believe in paying tribute to those who have gone on before, we are reminded anew of why we must continue to carry the torch onwards, until at last we ourselves reach the fading light of day. We care so as to carry on the legacy. We care because the future depends on this decision. We care because we must. We care. And this care is part of what it means to become human: to compassionately extend ourselves both for the benefit of our own personal growth as well as for the betterment of others. To care both for ourselves as well as for the world and its inhabitants therein is the mandate of our heart.

19 Ideas for a Thriving Marriage

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picture retrieved from wikimedia.com

We spent our 19th wedding anniversary very much like we do every other day. Organizing belongings for four kids going in a few different directions. Getting breakfast. Making beds. Cleaning up. Working. Coming home to four hungry children who wanted more food (again). Cleaning up. You got the picture…

Which is to say: we spent our recent wedding anniversary in much the very same ways as we spend every other day of our married life- and that is the way we would have things in our relationship at present.

(I should add that we did do something out of the ordinary that day- we went to Husband’s staff party at 6, which is certainly not the usual way to spend an anniversary. But I digress…)

This is not to say that there is a deficit of time for romance within the mundane of living. I woke at dawn to the fragrant scent of cinnamon and coffee, compliments of the Chef (who showed up at my door bearing a plate of goodies): a beautiful breakfast delivered to me in bed (complete with cherries, nectarines and a hot cup of coffee, two cream and two sugars). It was- I will not lie- extremely lovely and thoughtful. I even took a picture.

Since that day and for almost two weeks, I have been contemplating the idea of a list. A list of 19 characteristics essential to a flourishing marriage. Without further ado, here are those nearly twenty. Because 19 is actually enough.

1. Laugh at something every day. While I wish my Husband was on Facebook (for the hilarious one-liners that could be written)…thankfully, I am: and I am not afraid to record his quips for the certain infamy they are sure to receive. I begrudgingly admit that he is the funniest guy I know and as I am often very angry with him for one thing or the other, it frustrates me to NO END that he will make me laugh in spite of myself. It is very hard to stay seriously mad at a comedian.

2. A co-operative spirit. When we co-operate, things just work out better. He makes jokes, I laugh hysterically.

3. A can-do attitude. If I am my usual ‘half-glass empty’ self, often a stalemate will occur. But when I adopt Husband’s ‘glass-half-full’ perspective, I find that we are usually able to achieve our goals.

4. The ability to apologize. Husband is WAAAAAAAY better at this than me. Thank goodness for that.

5. A forgiving spirit. I think that this one cannot be over-emphasized. While we might never forget- and that is okay- we need to release the burden that an unforgiving spirit places upon us. When we forgive, we free ourselves to truly live.

6. A compassionate heart. How beautiful a caring heart is- it melts anger instantaneously.

7. Something shared in common. While we have quite a bit in common as a couple, one thing we both love to do is read good books. Something we find particularly enjoyable is reading the same book so we can talk about it. Which actually nails two numerical points on this marriage list with one stone. Boom.

8. Friendship with one another. I would far rather have a life-long friend than a short-term lover.

9. Listening heart. We listen with our ears, but when we open our hearts for listening as well, the result is intensified.

10. Willingness to be open-minded. I have had to really work on this one over the years. I came into the marriage with a lot of ideas about what was RIGHT and what was WRONG. I have really been able to grow in this area with the encouragement of Husband and the help of a few of my close friends.

11. Adaptability. Life is not always what you think it is going to be. The ability to adapt to whatever situations, circumstances and unpredictable events life may hand you will hold you up in good stead for a long-lasting relationship.

12. Respect for one another. This is so important. Respect each other enough to invest in the relationship. It matters. A lot.

13. Loyalty. I love a loyal friend- one that stands by you to the very end. That’s the kind of friendship we’ve committed to, Husband and I. And while it is not always easy, it’s always worth it.

14. Time. This one is tricky. We don’t have a lot of time in our lives, as I referred to already. But you really don’t need to have a lot of time- you just need to have priorities. Husband and I walk almost every night together. This is our time to talk. It is one of my favorite times of the day, and I might even go so far as saying it has saved our marriage from a downward spiral on more than a few occasions. No word of a lie.

15. Communication. This doesn’t always mean talk, Guys! It just means making an effort to speak one another’s language. My language is words and so when my Guy writes me a letter as a means of communicating to me, I am over the moon.

16. Being present in the moment: not watching T.V. while your significant other is talking to you. Not doing any number of other important and necessary things that might be demanding your attention. But rather, truly being alert and attentive to the One right in front of you. This is called living in the moment.

17. Showing an interest. That might mean (from time to time) feigning interest until you truly are (surprisingly) interested. It is actually delightful how we can develop our interests over time.

18. Silliness. This one is for the fun, people. For the love! Do something once in a while that even makes your own little self think you’ve lost your marbles and landed in the loonie bin. It might make your partner in life think you are either the most exciting person in the world or the craziest. The jury’s out on that one.

19. Prayer. In our relationship, prayer is an essential. We have built our marriage on a foundation that is secured through our faith in Christ. We pray together as a family each and every day. This is not something taxing and tedious for us- it is a privilege. And what a comfort to know that we have given both our joys and our sorrows over to One whose hands are big enough to hold the whole world.

And there you have it. 19 suggestions for how to keep a marriage thriving.

So then, how do you keep your marriage thriving and healthy? Tell me how in the comments below and I will write a response.  Thanks!

Marriage is Work

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We labour, side by side, in the fading light of day. It is pitch black night when we finally find ourselves putting back together that which was torn apart. Fixing that which was broken. Restoring all to a temporary semblance of normalcy. At 19 years of marriage (Husband told everyone that “we’ve had 10 years of blissful happiness” leaving the rest of those years up to anyone’s imagination): this was the year that a few of our appliances decided to call it quits. And so today was the day that it was “out with the old, and in with the new”. Not really what we had in mind for a beautiful summer day- to spend it holed up inside a kitchen chiseling off counter top that stubbornly resists accepting a new stove. Never mind the fact that there is now about an inch of counter-top that no longer covers the gap between the sawed-off counter and nearby sparkling new stove-top. And add to all this, the fact that we’ve spent the day forcing two fridges and two stoves through a door frame that inevitably cracked underneath the pressure. But then again, if things are going to change, a little bit of work, exertion and effort is necessarily involved.

Isn’t this the way.

To say that it has been a long day- with a few unexpected, unanticipated surprises that served to try more than a little of our patience- is an understatement. And now, with the added discovery at 11:00 at night, of what appears to be a thousand (I kid you not) little tiny skeletal and translucent flying beings over top our heads- hovering around the recessed lighting in our kitchen, I come undone. I will also refrain from going into gruesome detail about the tiny silver-fish I had earlier found squirming beneath the covers of our bed which had started me off mid-morning on an emotional train-wreck.

“I am leaving tomorrow… for Charlottetown,” I sputter. “I can’t handle this house anymore!” I slop the mop back inside the bucket and furiously resume mopping an area of the floor that I had just covered, while Husband takes this as his cue to exit the room. We know each other so well.

After a restless night’s sleep (in which I find myself gritting my already brittle teeth), I wake up the next morning and in discovering the piles of dead bugs/creatures all over my counter-tops, floors and table, I resist the urge to flee and instead choose to re-vacuum and re-mop the floors. And also scour any other surface where more of the same were discovered.

This is my life. Your welcome for all the additional details you’d rather not have read.

In between all the toil and drudgery, I take a moment to check my news-feed and find an interesting article on marriage that I curiously stop to read. Within the article, the author expounds upon the fact that there is too much emphasis on marriage being work. Marriage should not be WORK, the author contends- it should just be a flow. It is about compassion, compromise, and partnership, yes- but it is not- or should not- be about work.

I hesitate to accept this notion.

While I have not been married as long as the author of this article (that marriage is on its 31st year), in the 19 years that Husband and I HAVE been married, there certainly has been a fair bit of work involved. Building a relationship requires work, building a family requires work, managing a home requires work, understanding one another requires work, managing employment and home schedules, complete with extracurricular activities for our four children is almost a full-time job in itself: all things that I would define as demanding and at times, laborious. Replacing appliances also requires work, but I think I have covered/expounded upon that topic enough already.

Work is always part of moving forward. Putting one foot in front of the other is an act of effort, so why shouldn’t marriage be characterized as an act/ labour of love?

In my opinion, work has gotten a bad-rap these days. For while it is true that work can mean toil, drudgery, a slogging away at something difficult, work can also mean something far more beautiful. For someone to become a concert pianist, they must work at the technique, skills, theory and compositional aspects of piano mastery. This is not something that happens without considerable effort. For someone to become a writer, there must be hours and hours of time invested in formation of ideas, development of word choice, organizational structure, conventions, fine-tuning of sentence fluency. Of course, this listing of examples is inexhaustible. Marriage certainly could be described as work when one holds it up to any other example one could offer.

But here is the thing: whether we call a rose by any other name, it is still a rose. Whether we admit that marriage is work or something else, it is still a commitment that requires dedication, loyalty, faithfulness, obligation, service and a degree of devotion. The degree to which this work is deemed strenuous and arduous drudgery or beautiful and valued production is in the eye of the beholder.

The thing is, marriage is something. And anything worth having is worth actively doing something about. Something is required of marriage: it is just our perceptions about that ‘elusive something’ that might differ.

In 19 years of marriage, I have come to discover the following about marriage:

While marriage is an act of compassion, it takes great effort at times to see that compassion woven into the fibre of a marriage.
While marriage is an act of compromise, it takes wherewithal to make the decision to even get to the point of compromise. Sometimes this never happens at all. And then marriage becomes an act of sacrifice.
While marriage is partnership, there is no duo known to man that haven’t had to, at times, find ways of fine-tuning the relationship so that it will “work” for both parties involved.

Marriage is going to take work. But that work of love, commitment and sacrifice can end up being the creation of the most beautiful tour de force your life will ever showcase.

Marriage is effort. Hard work at times and an easy endeavor at others. But it is always going to entail some exertion at some point along the way. It is a true work of love which makes it both beautiful and worthwhile.

Marriage is, above all- both ‘love at work’ as well as a ‘work of love’: a composition of two souls blending hearts together.