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.

Guard Your Heart

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Dear Daughter,
I watch you, bare feet running. Long hair swinging. Bright smile shining. Those slender legs that keep you chasing after baseballs, basketballs, volleyballs and bouncy balls. Those hands that touch the keys on our beautiful piano. Hands that swiftly know how to plait a braid of gold or twist a strand of chestnut brown into a bun. You are such a beauty. And I often think how precious you are to me. Right now. Right this moment.
But of course you always have been.
That beautiful baby girl I held in my arms the day after Mother’s Day, thirteen short years past. Tiny bundle of love. Little dark head, which I tucked inside a crocheted pink bonnet no bigger than my palm, two ribbons of pink gently tied beneath your elfin chin. Petite frame- so small that the health nurse wondered if you were starving. Your mama worried she wasn’t feeding you enough, so we supplemented and prayed it would be enough. So much to take in with a fragile baby girl cradled carefully in my arms.
I loved you then. I love you still. I love you even more.
That little toddler who waddled around our house, two fingers firmly fixed inside her little rosebud lips. White blankie trailing close behind. Always ready with an impish smile. That little princess, wearing tutus and fancy dresses and all things frilly and extravagant. The little diva, a girl who always had time for a show, but never wanted to get her own hair brushed. Singing, dancing, performing, entertaining- it was your business many an evening after supper dishes were cleaned and things settled down a notch. Her daddy’s heart wrapped around her baby finger.
That little girl. Where did those tender years go?
After all the gymnastic lessons, figure skating, swimming and soccer days have ended, the elementary school years passed, we are now left staring wide-eyed into the next phase of your life: the teen-aged years.
You are so loved- you always have been. And sweetheart, you always will be. You are ours.
You’ve always been so precious.
Darling Daughter, you are just too precious not to caution and advise. I want you to know that a mama always thinks of what lies just around the corner. And what I see is this:
All things shiny and appealing, but which are not always revealed exactly as they seem.
All things fascinating and interesting, but which are not so exciting as they might offer to be.
All things promising and thrilling, but which are not always as stirring as might have first been pledged.
All things previously prohibited and forbidden, but which now beckon to you with enticement and allure.
All these things- they are not always what they claim to be. There will be lies, false claims and misrepresentations. There will be promises made that might not endure the test of time. Words spoken that will prove to be short-lived and disappointing. Arrangements agreed upon that will not necessarily be followed through. This is the reality of the passage of time and growing up. It is part of the world we belong to: broken promises, shattered dreams and ruined opportunities.
Sometimes in the growing process the floor falls beneath us and our world seems to be caving in around us. This is part and parcel of growing older. There is always the good. But there is the bad as well.
In all of these growing pains, there is one thing of which I must insist. That is, you must work to always keep your heart from damage and harm. And darling, there is only one way to protect your heart. If you can covenant to yourself and to our God that this heart of yours is worth protecting, that it is truly as precious and valued as your daddy and I say it is- that God Himself has said: then you will learn the secret. The secret to nurturing a heart is to safeguard it against anything you know that could intentionally harm it. Guard your heart as if it were fashioned from the most valuable material known to humankind. For in truth- it is. It is the most important part of you. It is where your soul meets before God Himself. It is sacred and holy and precious.
It is the most precious place that lies within you.
Sweetheart, guard your heart as if your life depended on this very act of purposeful intention.
You are getting taller. You are stretching and blossoming into a beautiful young woman. You are no longer my little girl- now my teenager; and we are entering through passageways to different rooms that serve to welcome and greet us both. We are learning how to take this journey together, and I pray we will always walk side-by-side in this excursion. Pray that you will always walk by His side in this journey.
While I learn to let go of your hand little by little, you are coming to find ways in which to hold on to His hand more and more. A Hand so much greater than my own.
I love you now. I will love you still.
Guard your precious heart.
Love ,
Your mama

Why Parents Need To Care About Teacher Cuts in Education

I am getting ready to finish my preparatory period at school when I decide to quickly check my email account for any new correspondence. There are a couple of junk mail items, but the one with my son’s name as the heading catches my eye. It is an email from his teacher.

I open the email and almost immediately, a wave of emotion sweeps over me. Without getting into particulars, it is apparent that this intermediate teacher cares a great deal about my son- for she has taken the time to express such to me personally, by way of a short note. Within the letter, she indicates the depth to which she understands my son’s unique character and personality. She shows me in her choice of words that my son is to her, not just another body that sits in front of her each day. A face or a name. To her, he’s a person. And she cares about him as an individual.

She really cares.

I am both touched and humbled by her decision to take an interest in my son. Because quite honestly, according to an educator’s job terms, care-giving is not the expected duty or function of a teacher. Teachers are associated more with the academic aspect of their job description: the facet of their employment terms that requires they implement curriculum and assess for learning with regards to their students- and all so as to affect academic growth.  A very worthy endeavor. Yet, it all seems very cut and dry: teachers show up each day, plan lessons, teach lessons, assess for learning, plan more lessons and then go home. While this is a very definite reality and necessary aspect of a teacher’s job, it isn’t everything. Another aspect that encompasses even more of a teacher’s real job description than merely this (i.e. a part of the job that many teachers do without urging, incentive or prompting) is care-giving.

Teachers are not just teachers. Teachers are so much more.

But 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.

What I mean by this is…

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.

When we cut teaching positions, we are truly hurting our children. Because we are impacting our classroom teachers ability to not only deliver curriculum effectively and efficiently, we are affecting their ability to be caregivers for our children. It has already been shown that the student-teacher ratio that has been mathematically formulated to provide the best opportunity for our children is flawed. This, because it doesn’t take into account the actual reality of our classroom composition. It doesn’t take into account the hundreds of little decisions and factors that inhibit teachers from reaching all their students. And it often impacts and perhaps even hinders teachers in effectively doing their job. This student-teacher ratio is based on theoretical possibility, not reality.

But even more than this, when we cut teaching positions, we are hurting everyone. When children come to school with hungry bellies, broken-hearts, fears and anxieties, worries and concerns, teachers are there to pick up where Mom or Dad left off. We are the next in line. We are caregivers. When teacher positions are eliminated, our children’s trusted advocates are disposed of. And children are left, becoming another face in the crowd inside a bigger classroom with more children with exceptional circumstances and needs: just like them. This is not to say that teachers cannot meet these extreme and complicated demands on their profession. But it is to say that I wonder how much longer the children can handle them.

There are few people in a child’s life who can truly meet their needs- both academic and personal. One source for this type of assistance are parents, guardians and family members. Another is our teachers.

Parents need to care about teacher cuts because it impacts their children. Maybe not today. Maybe not even tomorrow. But there will come a time when even one teacher might be the exactly right person to impact a child for the better. And when that time comes, it will make all the difference that the teacher involved was given the rare and beautiful opportunity to be there, influencing the life of a child.

And all because they were given the gift of being a teacher.

On Your Graduation…

I sit back, watching them interact in the dramatic play center, mixing up imaginary food and having fun with the farm set and dinosaur bin. Role-playing. Make-believing. Pretending. Watch them piece together chain links with number pendants to make dog leashes for the play puppies and creating Lego masterpieces in the Math and Science center. I observe their little hands fashioning airplanes and hearts and all manner of interesting creations from our well-used set of classroom Wiki-Stix. Watch them as they chatter and converse over lunch. Listen to their banter.

This thought does not escape me: how quickly these tender years fly by.

Just yesterday you too were an innocent five year old boy. Tractors and Gators and trucks and cars your preferred toy. Lego came next, followed by bikes with training wheels and soccer balls. Anything John Deere for quite some time. And oh the books. Loads and loads of books. Dog-eared copies of a few.

Where did the time fly off to?

Blink my eyes, and you are five years old. Blink again and now you’re a fine young man waiting to start the final chapter of your last three years at home.

Do you know how proud we are of who you are? Proud of who you have been and proud of who you are becoming?

Right now, you are exactly who you were meant to be, and we couldn’t love you anymore today than we already do.

The older I get, the more I am appreciating the little moments I am given. Tonight, I borrowed your coat that I had given you for Christmas, wearing it for my walk. It still strikes me strange that you are now taller than I. I will never lose the picture in my mind of you- that tiny baby boy I held in my arms nearly fifteen years ago. I remember clutching you fiercely to my chest, wanting to shelter and protect you. A mother’s shielding embrace. And now your strong arms wrap around my shoulders when I lean in for a hug. I cannot quickly adjust to this change in roles; I am now the one who looks up to you.

As you and your classmates move into this next phase of your youth, remember who you are. You all belong to someone. And you, Son, are ours: a boy born to two parents who have loved you even before you were born. When someone is loved, as are you, that someone might not realize what this privilege entails. Our love for you encompasses the following:

It promises to always provide as we are able.
Covenants to continually be involved, available and present.
Commits to see you through the tough times as well as the best.
Gives its word that it will stand by you, whatever it takes.

Just yesterday, it seems, I was a young mama waiting by the gate for a little boy to come bounding up the walkway from his first day of school.

Blink and there you were.
Blink again and here we are.

My Father’s Daughter

When I'm at my best, I am my father's daughter.

I have been blessed to know some amazing dads in my lifetime- some whose families I was born into and others to whose families I was invited.

I am forever grateful for my dad, Mark Bredin, whose love and loyal support and constant prayer means so much to me each and every day. I love you, Dad. I am glad I live close enough to visit you often. Thank you for being my dad.

Forever grateful as well for two amazing grandfather’s who were also dads themselves. Grampies have the amazing gift of loving on their grandkids like no other adult figure can. Theirs’ is the role of just pure joyful affection, minus all the hard work of child-rearing, disciplining, care-giving, chauffeuring and all the other mundane things parents have to do that complicates life so much. Grandparents are such special people, and I am so grateful for my two wonderful grampies, Mark Bredin Senior and Charles MacLean. While they now live in Heaven, I take comfort in knowing that I will someday see them both again.

I am so honored as well to have been invited to be part of a family filled with wonderful dads. When Brian Gard asked me to marry him nineteen years ago, little did I know how much I would come to admire and appreciate his relationship with his dad, Harold Gard. Brian’s relationship with his dad was so close and connected all through the years. Harold was Brian’s mentor and best friend. And so, I learned a lot about a father’s love for his son by watching Brian and his dad interact over the years. We have missed Harold’s presence tremendously this Father’s Day 2015. Someday soon, we will meet again, Grampie Gard…someday soon.

And then there’s my Husband Brian. Dad to four beautiful children. The man for whom we celebrate every Father’s Day with a full-course breakfast meal… just because he deserves it. How do I begin talking about the best father for her children a woman could ever dream of asking for? Brian is patient and kind and thoughtful and involved. I cannot thank him enough for being so perfect for the role God gave him in our lives: our Daddy.

But when I think about fathers and Father’s Day and that constant One to whom I know will never cease to abide with me. Who will always fight for me. Stay by me. Holding me, eternally: I can’t help but say thank you from a grateful heart to the Father I know who is above all. For my Father is this:

Always faithful.
Always true.
Always kind.
Always loving.
Always patient.
Always available.
Always just.
Always there.

Perfect.

And it is my desire in this life to be just like my Father- as close as a girl could come. Walking in His shadow so as to reflect the image I see. Emulating the One who loves me best. Loving others in some of the very same ways that He loves me.

Because truly when I am at my best, I am my Father’s daughter.

I always will be His daughter.

On Father’s Day: For Those With Hearts Breaking

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We pound pavement in the fading light of day. I struggle to keep step with his manly gait, his earnest stride. This is the time of evening when my fatigue catches up with me. Softly, the wind blows unruly tendrils of hair across my cheeks, and I stop to wrap my jacket around my waist- I over dressed this evening in case a chill came without warning. But instead of shivers, balmy summer sun penetrates through to my skin, warming me. I watch the road intently for cars that might not be watching as carefully as I.
While we walk, I wrack my brain to come up with something of import to say.
“What will we do for Father’s Day this year?” I ask rather suddenly.
It is valid question for those finding themselves within the week of this significant holiday. A question that begs to be asked. But when your heart is still tender from breaking, and there have merely been two weeks passed since you said last goodbyes to your own Dad, this question can leave one feeling startled by fresh tears.
There will never be a Father’s Day the same again for us. Not ever. Quite honestly, the world is now forever changed. How do you do things when the one you formerly did them for/with/to is forever gone? Can a holiday still be commemorated even when the one for whom it was meant is no longer present?
We walk and talk. Shed some tears.
And I wonder and imagine while he walks quietly.
All the while, I still hold out hope. There is always hope.
Hope for another day. Another moment. Another slice of life.
And there is still room to celebrate even in the midst of sorrow. Still room for joy expressed over a life lived with grace and love and courage and faithfulness and tenderness and loyalty and gentleness, even when the remembering brings tears. There is still room to honour a father’s influence even in his physical absence. There is still room in which to cry and laugh.
There is still room in our hearts and there always will be.
There is not a day goes by that our hearts are not moved by his memory.
We sit down by the river for a spell. We are motionless, save for the occasional slapping of a mosquito here and there. Below my feet, there are schools of tiny fish curiously weaving their way around a wooded slat. They know naught of what the worlds above them experience with loss and pain and sorrow. Farther down the river, two ducks paddle off while a heron takes flight. The natural world around us has a rhythm all its own. Everywhere is peace and quiet.
I am reminded to be still. And so I am.
Later, as we make our ascent back to the road, I am further reminded that life too must resume. But our memories of what really matters are never far from our hearts. We return to these places and spaces often so as to remember. To recall and evoke the images in our minds of those we love.
We never forget.
This Sunday is Father’s Day. And while it will be different this year, there will still be a celebration- a commemoration of all that we have been given by way of legacy, heritage, history and connection. A calling to remembrance of and for our fathers. Our cherished memories are ours to keep and treasure for a lifetime.
Our loved ones might be physically gone: but they will never be forgotten.
May all those whose hearts are breaking this Father’s Day find comfort in the knowledge that their Dad is always present in their memory.

Our fathers will forever live on- in and through- our remembrances of them.