More on Metacommunication

Last week I shared the first part in a series on metacommunication: non-verbal cues we send and receive that makes communicating with others messy.

Today I’d like you to meet Cara and Kelly, roommates that communicate with far more than words.  Little things like Kelly’s set jaw and Cara forgetting to turn down the loud music communicate things.  Is this intentional or unintentional?  Are these friends correctly or incorrectly understanding one another?  How will they ever know?

Read more here.



Going Through Tough Times…Together

In recent months I’ve become aware of numerous marriages going through hard times. Perhaps my eyes and ears have been more attentive because Benny and I have been walking through some challenges ourselves. If you or someone you know is feeling alone in their marital struggles I pray this honest and gripping song by Steven Curtis Chapman, a man whose songs have ministered to me for many years, will bring comfort and hope.



30 Days of Blogging?

What was I thinking? I decided to accept the Ultimate Blog Challenge, at the invitation of my dear friend, Debi, over at her and Tom’s wonderful marriage blog, The Romantic Vineyard.  If you’ve never visited there, please do. Tom and Debi don’t just write about marriage, they have a wonderful marriage that is inspiring many.

it’s appropriate that Debi should challenge me to write more consistently. She’s been my encourager for over ten years. There was one time in particular when I was discouraged and feeling hopeless that the darkness would ever lift. She prayed for me and shared some edifying words that gave me strength to believe God was with me and would help me through that dark time.

She was right.

I’m in the middle of a blog series on Desperate Motherhood. If you’re just visiting you may want to take a look at last week’s posts — two were written by my daughter, Jaime. Her honesty about challenging seasons with sick newborns resulted in some heartfelt feedback. Over the next two weeks three other guests will share their experiences of God’s help through desperate times.

One woman told me last week that she finds comfort here at Faith Rising because the posts make her realize she’s not alone. Her struggles are common. Her temptations are shared. And God, though seemingly distant at times, is near.

She’s right, too.


Day One of Thirty

A Message That Could Change Your Marriage

Yesterday’s post (you can find it below) resulted in a more than typical response from my readers. One of the blessings of blogging is that you can always change your plans at the last minute. So today I want to share just one more post on the gossip verses honesty thread.

Several years ago I was meeting with a group of wives of small group leaders at our former church. The topic that morning was on fulfilling our helper design as wives. When God said it wasn’t good for man to be alone He was talking about mankind in general, not just men. But any married woman or mother of sons can certainly see why it’s definitely not good for MEN to be alone!

As our conversation continued that morning, I mentioned that one of the way a godly wife is a “suitable helper” to her husband is by lovingly confronting his sin and involving others if he is unresponsive. It was one of the more vibrant meetings we had together. I was somewhat surprised by how intrigued most of the wives were by my comments. Two of them playfully asked if Benny planned to talk with their husbands about this topic at their next men’s meeting.

“If I go home and tell my husband that Sheree said I need to start confronting his sin…well…I just think it would be better for him to hear that from Benny!” (It wasn’t about what I was saying but about God’s instructions to believers to speak the truth — both positive and negative — in love to one another.)

“Seriously? Do you mean Benny invites and values your correction? Doesn’t he think you’re being disrespectful? And how do you do that without being critical and snooty?” (Benny doesn’t always eagerly welcome my correction or solicit my thoughts. But even when he doesn’t, am I off the hook from loving him enough to share them?)

The questions continued long past the ending time of our meeting — and spilled out into the parking lot afterwards.

The Bible commands the godly wife to respect and submit to her husband, as the church does to Christ. But when did “respect” equal leaving it to guy friends, co-workers or bosses to point out our husband’s flaws, sins or weaknesses? Who knows our husbands better than we do? And who loves them most?

Wifely respect and submission isn’t in competition with honesty. We all need people in our lives who know and love us enough to courageously call us out when we mess up. Sadly, too many marriages lack the depth, grace and mutual trust to do so.

But that can change, with God’s help!

What does loving rebuke or correction look look like in a Christian marriage? When do we overlook sin in our husband’s life; leave the discussion just between the two of us; or bring it up to a wise and trusted friend or pastor? How does the godly wife provide respectful biblical correction to her husband? What can happen when we wrongly interpret God’s word and either refuse to correct our husbands…or do so with self-righteous disrespect?

Author and speaker Carolyn Mahaney provides wise counsel and practical application for us in her excellent message Watch Your Man. This message may change your life and your marriage. You can download it for free here.

When I mentioned to Benny after that meeting that the wives hoped he would discuss this topic with the small group leaders, he actually encouraged the guys to listen to this, too. In fact, it may have been the first time my husband sent a message by a pastor’s wife out to other men as a listening assignment!

Please listen all the way through the message to the personal testimonies at the end. You won’t want to miss the humility, candor and practical insights you will hear from two godly wives who share their weaknesses in watching their men.

I promise we’ll move on to the Desperate Motherhood series.  Thanks for your patience!  And please consider reading the comments on yesterday’s post — and make your own! I honestly value your feedback either here on the blog or on the Faith Rising facebook page.

No Chickens For Me

I’m continuing the series When Obedience to God is Costly this week. Thanks for joining in!

When Benny and I had kids we knew we wanted to bring both the blessings and lessons of growing up into our new family. All four of our parents were believers who did their best to raise good kids. Benny’s parents may have felt like failures when their adolescent son ended up with a rap sheet that landed him on three years probation. My parents, however, didn’t know that their outwardly compliant and obedient daughter’s heart was just as motivationally compromising as kids like Benny who did “bad” things.

Benny and I wrongly and immaturely thought our worldly ways might be directly traced back to parenting. Both sets of our parents admitted mistakes on their part and parenting does matter. But the main reason why we were compromisers is because we weren’t governing our own sinful desires and decisions, which can’t be blamed on Dad and Mom.

When our kids started entering the teen years and we saw some of the same scary temptations and choices we experienced at their age, we were confused. We thought a closer adherence to biblical parenting practices, including helping our kids deal with things at a heart level rather than focusing on mere outward behavior, would protect them from the foolish and selfish choices of their parents.

We were wrong. Gratefully, our teens who did some of the same things as we did are now grown ups who love God and are attempting to raise their children to love Him, too. Of course, we still have a stray “Mom and Dad, did I ever tell you about the time I…” conversations, but unless a big one is still coming no one broke into houses or stole cars like their dad. Yet some of what they walked through was heartbreaking and forced us to admit our wrong “if we do this, God will do that” thinking.

Even after decades of detecting the danger of too-closely relating what we do to what only God can do (like soften, monitor and change a child’s heart!) I still subtly expect that obeying God should result in tangible blessings.

Take the sale of our house. Those of you who have visited this blog over the past year know that Benny starting a new church (which would require the second move in two years) at our age wasn’t on my bucket list. The area where Redeemer Church is now located isn’t where I would prefer to live. Over the past year, though, God has faithfully moved my heart to not just accept that we will have to move, but to actually look forward to it!

As we started researching affordable housing there, my heart was tested. One of the wonderful things about Lake Nona, Florida is that for years it was nothing but farmland. I hoped we would be able to have a roomy piece of property on a country road where I could have a nice garden, room for the grandchildren to run and (shhhh, don’t tell Benny) maybe another dog and some chickens. Oh, and a house of some kind. The rest of the area, however, is so new that most of the communities are filled with cookie cutter houses close enough to see your neighbors brushing their teeth — and where the cops would be called if you have chickens.

My silent whining started bothering me. Why did I think that my willingness to obey the Lord; to bless my husband by willingly doing the hard thing of starting all over in a new church; to leave a home I’ve come to love in the two years since we bought it; and to all this “at my age” would result in a garden and running room for little ones?

Obeying God led Jesus down a road of astounding joys (imagine the thrill of seeing Lazarus walk out of the tomb that day!) and agonizing suffering as He took our place on the cross. As those for whom He died to make us like Him, what makes us think the life He purchased would not include similarly sacrificial obedience to the Father?

Elizabeth Elliot said, “God is God. Because He is God, He is worthy of my trust and obedience. I will find rest nowhere but in His holy will, a will that is unspeakably beyond my largest notions of what He is up to.”

I’m asking myself if my change of heart had more to do with thinking another dog and a treehouse for the grandchildren was in my future rather than the pure joy of obeying God?

It’s looking more like I’ll be keeping the blinds closed to avoid watching my neighbor brush their teeth. Until His will is clear, I’m asking Him to help me to find fresh pleasure in the comparitively small sacrifices of following the One who laid down His very life for me.

P.S.  On Friday we learned our home of choice had a contract accepted that very morning. The road to a new home continues — and the test is revealing some not-so-good things in my heart. I’ll keep you posted.

What To Do When Greet By Hugging Marries Wave From Across the Room?

Today and tomorrow I’m going to share some personal lessons I’ve learned in my fifteen years as a mother-in-law and early next week I’ll communicate some thoughts for children-in-law, but before I do, some opening comments….

I’ve learned from your comments and messages that some of you are in painful relationships with your in-laws. Please know my intent in blogging about this issue is not to address the unique concerns of every reader. Few things stab at a mother or father’s heart than awkward or adversarial challenges involving our children.  My heart goes out to those of you whose in-law relationships are plagued by suspicion, accusation or tension. Others of you have healthy and warm in-law relationships. I pray these posts have made you freshly grateful! Still others have little relationship with your in-laws. You have rare or no contact with them. Perhaps you would like to — or maybe you’re glad they are a non-factor in your life.

The things I share are simply ideas and lessons from my own life and experience to be considered or tossed as irrelevant or unhelpful. While I certainly pray they are helpful, I also know that your best source of counsel is the scriptures and those who know you best. But for what it’s worth, I want to share six lessons I am learning that have helped my relationships with my New Kids. Some of these lessons have been learned the hard way through mistakes on my part while others have been gleaned from others, including my mother and mother-in-law.

One more thing: please understand that I am speaking to a generally Christian audience of people who are encountering normal and common issues. If you are experiencing serious issues of any kind and are not already receiving counseling from a qualified source, I urge you to do so. I am not a professional counselor; I’m simply a wife, mother, friend and homemaker just like many of you.

The first lesson I’d like to share is please remind yourself that your child’s relationship with their spouse must be valued as the most important one in his/her life. Marriage was the first human relationship God created. This was for good reason. He chose this union to demonstrate the covenant love and devotion between Christ and His bride, the church. Even before the first couple had children, God taught mankind that once God brings a man and woman together in marriage they must “leave” their father and mother and “cleave to” (“hold fast” or “be glued to”) one another (Gen 2:24).

After our children are married, we cannot and should not do or say anything to separate or jeopardize this prized relationship. While all of us are instructed by God to “honor [our] father and mother” we must allow the Bible to interpret itself in what this should look like. We may feel that honoring us means our married children should continue to seek our counsel about decisions; tightly protect our family’s holiday traditions and continue to faithfully attend family gatherings; realize how much we miss them and call us regularly to see how we’re doing; and elevate our preferences as the “elders” of the family.

Do I wish the Bible defined honor as requiring my adult children to live nearby and spend Christmas morning with Benny and me every single year until we die? Absolutely! But it doesn’t and couldn’t, unless our child’s in-laws also live nearby and we shared Christmas morning together so our child-in-law can “honor” his/her parents, too! As parents, we can certainly make honest, reasonable requests. But when our children marry they are beginning a new family that is separate from our own. This doesn’t mean they are given a pass to be selfish, insensitive and uncaring. However, just as our own relationship with our parents changed when we married and left home, so does our children’s relationship with us.

I have come to see the wisdom of God in doing everything I can to prize my married children’s relationship with their spouse over their relationship with me. This hasn’t been easy. At times I have wrestled, cried, battled self-pity and fought resentment. Then I remember that God called them to leave me and cleave to each other. The best thing I can do for my married son or daughter is release and encourage them to cherish their mate. This is especially important in the early years of the new marriage when in-law children understandably wonder how their new parent(s)-in-law are dealing with the changes.

One of the most endearing things that happens in my relationship with my sons-in-law, PJ and Eric, is when they send their wives to Mom for counsel. This is so meaningful because it demonstrates their trust that I (hopefully!) won’t say anything to my daughter that will put a wedge between her and her husband. This hasn’t always been easy. There have been times when I have been tempted to take up an offense for my girls; after all, I’m their mom! But in cases of martial strife or difficulty, the best thing any friend or advisor can do is compassionately point the person to the One who has all the help that is needed for whatever is happening rather than quickly share our mom-tainted advice. When our children marry we want their spouses to come to trust that we will not do anything to sentimentally draw their spouse — our child — away from them and toward us.

Second, resist any temptation to make critical or unkind comments to your child about his/her spouse. Again, as Christians the scriptures should be our guide in every relationship. Sinful speech in the form of gossip, fault-finding, sarcastic or critical words are not forbidden in the Bible except when in-laws are involved. As parents, we will certainly observe and perhaps hear struggles our children are having with their spouses. Our children are imperfect sinners who married imperfect sinners! But then something usually happens: they kiss and make up. In the aftermath of a conflict or when our children are hurt or hopeless, they may actually want us to agree with them that their spouse is a louse! But later they and we are left with the sarcastic, judgmental or accusing words that were spoken in the heat of the turmoil. As parents, it is our responsibility to wisely choose our words when talking to our child about his or her spouse, especially when they and/or we are upset or concerned.

I have heard in-laws on both sides of the relationship who have had to take a hard stand. Married kids have had to say, “Please don’t criticize my spouse anymore. If you have any concerns or criticisms to share, you will need to speak with them and not me.” Parents-in-law who speak negatively about their child’s spouse may let off some steam now but will likely pay later. Additionally, when married kids develop a pattern of sinfully bashing their spouse to Mom and Dad they, too, blow off steam that tempts parents to resent a child-in-law. In both of these cases, the damage can be serious.

Third, and last for today, recognize you are building a lifelong relationship. There have been things about each of my in-law children that have bothered me — and certainly things about me that have bothered them! All relationships are flawed. Even the best of friendships are tested through conflict, misunderstanding and hurt feelings. It’s no surprise that people-in-law confuse, disappoint and sin against one another. And on top of that, there is a common weirdness to in-law relationships because two families are being united to some degree. Even in-laws who have little interaction are affected by the upbringing, traditions, values and family “culture” of the person to whom their child is married.

Loud marries boistrous. Tidy marries sloppy. Tradition marries “whatever we’d like to do this holiday.” Resolve it now marries this can wait. Greet by hugging marries wave from across the room. Make sure you see Mom on her birthday marries give her a call that day-ish.

Throw some sin in the mix and of course there will be challenges! Now that I’ve had married kids for nearly fifteen years I am learning that I need to be as patient with my New Kids as God is with me. God doesn’t point out all my faults and areas of needed growth at once. Wow. If He did I would be completely overwhelmed. I’ve tried to imagine how hard it is on a new husband or wife to wonder if the in-laws approve of them. Who wants to live under that kind of pressure and concern, even if it’s unspoken? Being married is hard enough without the added pressure of wondering if a parent-in-law is pleased with who you are.

Most of what has bothered me about my New Kids centers on personal preference. Yes, they sin just like I do. But most of the weirdness has been lessened by the realization that I’m tempted to elevate my preferences over our relationship. That’s why I decided to give my relationship with our New Kids two years before I bring up any uninvited concerns. (If they’re reading this post they probably learned this for the first time.) Certainly if there was something serious that needed immediate attention, Benny and I would speak up. But most of the things that worried me were no longer a concern in two years. Any weighty issues that became a pattern were more easily discussed when they were secure in our love and commitment to not meddle.

The fact is this: if you’re a parent of married children like me, our children made a choice. We may or may not agree with the person or timing of their choice. But once the choice is made we are wise to build a culture of love and trust. Alienating our children and their spouse is no way to build a bridge over which the joys and challenges to come can be carried.

P.S. I know this post is long. But if you made it to the end you now know that I’ll post the other three lessons I’m learning tomorrow. I would love to hear any helpful lessons you are learning. Please share them in the comment section for my and others benefit!

Is Alice a Monster-in-Law?

Prior to Carrie and Adam’s wedding, at the photographer’s request, she made a list of the must-have pictures she wanted from her special day. She was careful to keep the list at the number he requested since they had limited photo time before everyone involved in the wedding needed to get to the reception.

Toward the end of the photo session Alice, Carrie’s new mother-in-law, started calling her husband and children together for a photo with Adam. Hmmf. Carrie hadn’t even bothered to ask her if there were any special pictures she wanted. Carrie mentally ran through her list and realized this wasn’t one she had given to the photographer. Time was running out but she quickly remembered the photographer had agreed to deal with any requests for not-listed pictures. However, he seemed oblivious to Adam’s mother.

Suddenly, Alice started encouraging her hubby and kids toward the front.

“Carrie, I’d like a picture of Ralph and I with our kids if that’s okay,” she said as she gently took Carrie’s arm to move her aside.

Carrie’s eyes stole to Adam.

“Ummm, Mom, we don’t have much time,” he said, awkwardly. “We need to finish up the rest of the pictures in time for the recep…..”

“Oh, silly!” she chided. “Of course you want a picture with your family on your wedding day!” she concluded as she started placing family members around the new groom.

Carrie was hurt. Why would Alice want a picture on Adam’s wedding day that didn’t include his bride? And now this meant she needed to allot time for a similar picture with her parents and siblings so Dad and Mom wouldn’t feel slighted. Then when Alice decided after several shots were taken that her children needed to be placed differently for a few more, Carrie inwardly fumed. Precious minutes were being lost…

Alice was having a great time celebrating Adam’s wedding day with a picture of his family, one that would probably hang on the wall with…oh my!…Carrie realized now that there were two other family pictures at weddings with only one of the happy couple. Great. Now she would have to be reminded of Alice’s insensitivity and selfishness every time they went over to the house!

Alice and Carrie were off to a rocky start. Over the coming years their outwardly affectionate interactions were masking underlying issues. Alice was being insensitive to her new daughter-in-law on her wedding day and a thoughtful bride would have likely asked Alice for a couple of requests when she was making her photo list. Both women were likely judging one another’s heart and motives that day — and by doing so they were adding to an already growing list of normal and common misunderstanding between gals who love the same guy.

Why are in-law relationships so challenging, particularly between women?

Our culture certainly doesn’t help. I did some online research and found the following:

  • A site that says: “Next time you are fuming about your mother-in-law, visit us and find a sympathetic ear.”
  • Did you see the popular 2005 romantic comedy Monster-in-Law that depicts how the guy’s mother (Jane Fonda) tries to destroy his relationship with Charlie (Jennifer Lopez)?
  • In 2001 A&E did a series of “real-life” situations, also called Monster-in-Law. Families sit down with a relationship “expert” to talk through their problems. The site says it’s for all in-law relationships, but the name of the series puts the emphasis on the meddling, overbearing MIL.
  • Cartoons, picture and jokes abound that negatively depict an assumed inherent tension and rivalry between a man’s mother and his wife. (You see some of those here.)
  • Books including How to SURVIVE Your In-Laws; Toxic In-Laws; A Wife’s Guide to In-Laws: How to Gain Your Husband’s Loyalty Without Killing His Parents.

Wow. The assumption seems to be that in-law relationships stink and all we can hope for is survival, lessening the toxicity and trying not to kill one another!

A new book written by a Cambridge University psychologist who has researched this issue for years indicates that words including “strained,” “infuriating” and “simply awful” are used by 60% of women to describe their relationship with their mother or daughter-in-law. I wonder what adjectives the other 40% would use. Perhaps tolerable? Okay? Bearable? Decent? Would anyone say caring? Helpful? Affectionate? Or (dare say) warm?

The Bible doesn’t specifically communicate what healthy in-law relationships should look like.  And just as with any area in our lives, we don’t want to look to others as the standard of how of in-law relationships should work in our family.  Yet the Bible is clear on how Christians should treat one another  even when they are all-out enemies.

Benny and I have children-in-law (“New Kids”) with whom we share a close relationship: two sons-in-law and three daughters-in-law. Frankly, it hasn’t been easy to marry off our kids. We wrestled, cried, worried, wondered and did the whole “where in the world have the years gone????”  thing each time. (I admit it; I did more of all that than he did.) As the kids were growing up we told ourselves we would prepare ourselves for being replaced by young guys and girls who won the hearts of our sons and daughters. But no parent can fully prepare themselves for seeing the child they birthed, loved, nurtured, protected and cherished fall in love and start a new independent family. It’s exciting but sad, wonderful yet heart wrenching.

One day they’re in fifth grade talking about someone cute they want to invite to an upcoming birthday party and then…whoosh!…they’re a young adult falling in love for real and wanting to get married! It’s doubly hard when your child’s choice is someone you don’t like or don’t think has the character and maturity to make your child happy for a lifetime.

I’m obviously writing as the old person-in-law. While I want to identify with and share the perspective of the younger generation, my burden is that of one who has been on both sides of the in-law relationship for fifteen+ years. I have struggled on both sides. Yet, with God’s help three generations of Phillips women actually like each other and enjoy being together.

I want to both identify with Carrie and Alice as well as help to unravel some of the common heart issues behind their unspoken struggles. In the process,  I will share some of my own temptations and joys as Jewel’s DIL and the MIL of five beloved new kids.

Today I want to end by thanking PJ, Rachel, Rebekah, Lauren and Eric. Thank you for being patient with me in the learning curve of figuring out how be a mother-in-law to five uniquely wired but commonly terrific people. Thank you for answering my “what am I doing right and wrong” questions; extending me grace and forgiveness when I’ve failed; allowing me to be weak and flawed; never making monster-in-law jokes (at least in my hearing…smile); and spending lots of time at the house eating my food. A few of you and I have been through some pretty rough times together but God has been faithful, hasn’t He? More challenges will undoubtedly come because of the crazy family He put you into, but I wouldn’t trade any one of you for another new kid.

More tomorrow….


Love this picture that shows how different Alex and Ariel are!

Tonight we are having our next pre-marriage counseling time with Alex and Ariel, who are making the final plans for their October wedding. It’s got me thinking about my own marriage….

Life has seasons. There are supposed to be four, but in Florida we have only two. In fact, we’re about to enter into the season why so many people live to Florida. Sunny days in the mid 70’s with the windows open is my kind of winter!

Contrary to myth, Florida does get cold sometimes. There have been winters that remind me a little of living in Virginia. One time I even had to scrape frost off my windows and there were snow flurries not far from our home!

I admit it — those cold days use to surprise me. After all, who expects to need coats and scarves in Florida? But now I enjoy chilly days that require sweatshirts and allow a warm fire in the fireplace.

Is your marriage a two or four-season relationship? Do you find yourself regularly having to adjust to a new season just when you got comfortable with the former one? Do cold months surprise and discourage you?

  • Just when it seems you figure your spouse out, does it seem like a switch flipped and suddenly you don’t know him/her anymore?
  • Is job, family or financial stress exposing weaknesses in your relationship that you thought had been “fixed” in an earlier season?
  • Are you realizing that you and your spouse are struggling to communicate…and you don’t understand what happened?
  • Is the warmth and romance between you waning after a nice season of playfulness and oneness between you?
  • Does it feel like your relationship jumps around from tender to tense? Gentle to harsh? Patient to irritable?

I would answer yes to most of the above questions. My marriage is like yours and everyone else’s: it changes. The warmth of spring and summer leads to fall and winter coolness. Rain and snow fall. Days spent on the beach give way to crisp, drizzly reminders that the sun won’t always shine.

That’s us 39 1/2 years ago. I still love looking at him.

In six months Benny and I will celebrate 4 decades since the day two 18-year-olds got married. Our relationship, like our locale for 2/3 of those years, use to have four seasons. Honestly, most of that was due to me. Benny is a one-season kind of guy. He is steady; even-tempered (well…unless he’s watching sports); patient; flexible. I’m definitely a multi-season girl with changing moods, preferences and emotions; and I love a plan that doesn’t get changed (well…unless I want it to). But our marriage as pretty much leveled into 2 seasons, just like the Sunshine State where we now live. Benny’s steadiness and my feistiness have meshed into a comfortable spot where high winds have become more gentle breezes. We can also see ahead to storms brewing on the horizon — giving us the opportunity to batten down the communication hatches and do the hard work of preparing our marriage for what’s to come. This is the kind of stuff experience and many years together can produce with God’s help and two people who know they’re flawed and need His empowering grace.

Yes, we’re been married for nearly forty years. And by God’s grace we’ve made progress in becoming more a of two-season couple. But we’re not much different than Alex and Ariel, who are just starting out. People are different. Relationships change. But in the midst of it all God is unchanging.  Whether you experience confusing upheavals in your relationship or you’ve settled into less fluctuating marriage environment — every marriage is hard work and seasons, by definition, change.

Like Alex and Ariel’s, most marriages start with springlike love that is budding with beauty. But like every couple, they will soon discover that springtime doesn’t last all year. Gentle showers will be replaced by pelting rains. Blossoms will fall to the ground, leaving them wondering if new life will come from what appears to be dead.

Hopefully we will be there to remind them that every season has it’s beauty; even the cold ones that surprise us. While I’m much happier with Florida winters than with the ice storms and the stay-in-the-house-for-months lifestyle of Virginia winters, I do miss falling snow and sledding on Shiplett Boulevard with the kids.

God has always been faithful to us.

It true — even the harsh seasons in our marriage have value because God sees to it that the seeds of beauty survive. Whether you’re just starting out like Alex and Ariel or have weathered the seasons for decades like Benny and me, God is faithful. And you and I need Him.

After all, seasons were His idea. He could have made both the world and marriages thrive in steady sameness. But He chose change to be the conduit of growth and beauty.

Looking back on nearly 40 years of marriage I can say that even the worst seasons were worth weathering. We wouldn’t be where we are today without them.

Kristin’s Story

On Friday I mentioned I had a story for you. It’s a story about what “speaking [gospel] truth in love” (Eph 4:15-16) can look like in real life.

Last Thursday we had Community Group (our church’s small group ministry) in our home. This is not the group we typically attend. In fact, it was our first time with them since our new church started them two months ago. Benny opened the meeting by reviewing the purpose of our groups: to grow in biblical fellowship by learning how to incarnate the love and hope of Christ to one another. After some brief comments he asked if anyone in the group had anything happening in their lives for which they wanted help.

After a brief pause, Kristin (not her real name) spoke up. Because she is new to both Christianity and to the group, I was impressed by her humility and the obvious grace she had witnessed in the group the prior time she had attended. Who would so easily open up their life to a group of people she doesn’t know well — unless she had witnessed the compassionate care she now desired to personally experience?

Kristin humbly shared concerns and disappointments about her marriage to Scott (who wasn’t present) but did so without putting him in a bad light. She started by communicating her eagerness to focus on her own weaknesses because she understands the only person she has any control over changing is herself. I didn’t know this young woman, but I was already inspired.

As she described weaknesses in how she and Scott communicate, my heart was warmed when Benny and other men in the room identified with Scott. This prevented Scott from being “the bad guy” as several husbands empathized with his responses and thinking, and wives admitted they struggled similarly to Kristin. What grace.

Group members also asked helpful, compassionate questions about her struggles. She responded to each with gut-level honesty. As a young woman expecting her second child in less than two years, it became apparent that she is in a tough season. Martial strife and anger, pregnancy nausea, fatigue, and financial stress are taking their toll on this new Christian.

“Sometimes I get so upset I just have to leave. So I go outside, sit in my car and read my Bible. And God leads me to something that helps me to know what needs to be fixed in me. I can’t fix my husband but I know God can fix me.”

How inspiring that such a young Christian facing weighty challenges could be so open and have such a healthy dose of self-suspicion! She is also running to God, rather than becoming bitter that becoming a Christian didn’t solve all her problems. Amazing. Individuals in the room communicated how inspired they were by her humility. Even her honesty wasn’t without an understanding disposition toward a husband toward whom she regularly struggles with disappointment and anger.

Then someone asked Kristin if she felt God’s biggest priority was to “fix” her.

You see, Kristin grew up in a religious system where doing or praying the “right” thing was a focus. That night she wanted to know what she needed to do to change. Her desire to focus on herself rather than her husband is impressive, but the fact is their marriage is hard. They are both suffering from patterns of sin in themselves and their spouse. They’re weary. Frustrated. Angry. Disappointed. Financially strapped. Young and inexperienced. And another baby is coming soon.

When someone asked Kristen what one thing she most wanted to see change in her marriage she said, “Our communication. Even when we’re sitting together on the couch watching TV I feel alone. I just want him to listen to me. To care about what I’m saying. To understand what I’m going through. But my overreactions and anger aren’t helping. I understand why he doesn’t want to talk to me sometimes because our conversations start with me being angry.”

A woman in the room went back to Kristin saying she needed to be “fixed” by God.

“Kristin,” she began, “You obviously see that your angry outbursts and over reactions to situations are hurting yourself and your marriage. And you’re right. But God is helping you to see this and it’s an evidence of His grace that you have eyes to see the affects your sin patterns are having. Yet I’m not sure God’s priority right now is to fix you. I think what might be most important to Him is for you to know He loves you.”

Kristin needed to hear that what she is looking for — attention, affection, a listening ear, comfort, companionship — will never ultimately come from Scott. Yes, Scott needs to grow. By God’s grace, he will learn how to more tenderly care for his wife. But chances are that’s not going to happen anytime soon. Two of the ladies (representing me, too!) were able to share how common her and Scott’s struggles are by admitting similar temptations to anger and criticalness.

And even if Scott changes, God is the only One who will always love her; always be available to listen to her; always care about what she says; always accept her. Because of His death on the cross, she is forever loved and cherished, even though she gets angry and has become bitter toward her husband.

As these thoughts were shared, Kristin began to cry.

“I came tonight hoping I could get help. I thought that people would tell me I need to stop nagging and being so angry at Scott, which is true. But God is saying He loves me even though I’m sinning so much? That just makes me love Him more.”

Oh, the hope that gospel truth brings.

Speaking the truth in love to Kristin means telling her the whole truth. The gospel truth. It’s true that her pattern of sinful anger and bitterness is eating away at her love for Scott (like his sins are equally hurting their marriage). It’s true that she needs to change. But it’s also true that God loves her. He looks on her with favor, acceptance and tender care. He is never angry or frustrated or wearied by her talking or impatient or selfish. And His power is at work in her to help her to go from seeing her sin to experiencing real and lasting change.

Scott will never be God to her. There is only One who is capable of loving her endlessly and perfectly.

As peace settled onto Kristin, one of the guys spoke up. He shared that unlike Scott (and other husbands in the room…smile) God always wants to hear her talk and that she didn’t need special prayers to communicate with Him. “Just talk to Him like you did to us. Pour out your heart to Him and He will always listen. Don’t feel you have to say it the ‘right’ way.”

“How did you know what I was thinking?!?!?” she exclaimed. “I was just going to ask for prayers I can pray to have this kind of relationship with God.”

Oh, how I love the active presence of the Spirit of God when His people gather.

I know this post has been long. Thank you for your patience. But it’s not enough to read about “speaking the truth in love.” Kristin’s story shows us what speaking gospel truth to one another can look like in a real person’s real life circumstances.

As Tim Keller says, “The gospel is that you are more sinful and flawed than you ever dared believe, yet more accepted and loved than you ever dared hope.”

Yes. That’s the gospel. And I saw it in action last Thursday night.

Is Kristin’s story your story?