Chris and I have been married for five and a half years.
Recently (the past few weeks) I’ve had this feeling that we are under attack. There is a FrankPeretti-style spiritual battle raging for our marriage and my eyes are being opened to it. And as they are, I’m getting pissed. The dumbass devil thinks I’m going to sit back and let him have my marriage. He’s WRONG.
The older I get, the more I realize how timing is never a coincidence. Take yesterday, for example. Yesterday the battle got real. See, we were scheduled to meet with our Marriage Coaches that night. (Yes … that’s a thing.) We were scheduled to do something proactive to invest in our marriage. Apparently someone didn’t want this to happen. And so this is how yesterday went down.
Chris and I had a rough day. (Sadly not uncommon.) Started out the day with a fight. Neither of us felt well, physically, mentally or emotionally. Couldn’t get on the same page about, well, anything really. All day I felt frustrated that we hadn’t connected. Chris had a particularly bad day at work. He sent me a text on his way home to warn me that he was not in a good place. So when he came through the door, I knew what I should do. But instead, I was quick to go to self-focus and self-pity. Definitely not what he needed.
After a few tense exchanges, I left for the gym in tears. When I finished my class, I didn’t want to go home, so I stopped by the grocery store.
There I was standing in the checkout line at Sprouts. Staring me in the face, right at eye level, was the latest issue of Men’s Fitness. On the cover was a black and white photo of a well-known celebrity (one I’m kind of partial to), doing what I can only describe as “the sexy pose.” Thumbs hooked in worn jeans. Black tank top, accentuating tattooed-covered arms. A few days worth of stubble. Smoldering eyes. A “come hither” look.
And for the first time in my married life, I was tempted to let my thoughts linger on a man other than my husband. (Okay let’s just call it like it is … lust.) The realization simultaneously shocked me and intrigued me.
But here’s the part that woke me up.
As I was looking at the magazine, I (so clearly it could have been audible) heard this voice whispering to me “You should buy that magazine. Chris doesn’t have to know – you have your own fun money. He doesn’t check that debit card. You deserve this, especially after the day you’ve had. Just splurge this once.”
You guys, that voice did NOT come from me.
And I almost did. But then the checker asked if I was all set and I said yes and completed my purchase. No magazine.
But the enemy wasn’t done with me.
As I walked out of the store, I saw another man about my age standing at the deli counter. Tall. Very good looking. We made eye contact. We smiled. And I heard the voice again. “What do you think he’s like to be married to? I bet he wouldn’t treat you the way your husband does. Maybe you need some deli meat.”
I am not making this up.
If only I heard God’s voice as clearly as I heard the devil’s voice.
Married people, we have an enemy who wants desperately to destroy our marriages.
Look around. Marriages are falling apart all over the place.
The arsenal of the enemy is incredibly diverse: fear, rage, depression, anxiety, lust, selfishness, control, insecurity, jealousy, comparison, apathy, laziness.
We have to fight.
We cannot sit back and just hope our marriages survive. We have to actually engage in battle. In fact, I am convinced that one of his most effective tactics is to make people forget about the battle.
BUT IT’S REAL. Here’s how I know it’s real.
Because the more “stuff” that Chris and I do to fight for our marriage – counseling, small groups, mentors, prayer, conferences, books – the more blatantly the enemy attacks us. (I mean, seriously? Deli meat?)
It’s like we step up our game, and so does the destroyer of all good things. He is feeling threatened and so he fights harder and more desperately.
I will keep fighting for my marriage. No matter how bloody the battle gets.
Who’s with me?
I wrote this post not to share our junk. No one wants to read our junk. I wrote it because I thought someone could relate and that maybe my experience – my pain and struggles – can help someone else in the midst of their junk.
In Christian circles (where I’ve lived almost exclusively) the term “spiritual gifts” and “gifts of the spirit” are used frequently. The idea, I think, is that after God was no longer around physically in the person of Jesus, he sent us his Spirit and would give people abilities to connect with this Spirit through certain gifts.
The Bible has a few lists of these spiritual gifts including words like healing, prayer, prophecy, and speaking in tongues. Frankly, whenever I read these lists I feel forgotten – like God passed over me when he was doling out gifts.
I’ve never fit into one of those lists.
When I think about what I’m good at, it’s not really the “spiritual” stuff. Like I’m pretty good at word games like Taboo and Outburst. I also seem to do pretty well at exaggeration and hyperbole. When I tell stories, details don’t matter to me nearly as much as conveying the overall point and feeling of the story. (This particular “gift” happens to drive my literal-minded husband crazy.) I also am good at forgetting things. Of course this is both a blessing and a curse.
But these things seem silly and unimportant, spiritually speaking.
A new thought crossed my mind this morning, though, that perhaps in all my years of wondering whether I have a gift, I’ve overlooked something. It’s something that comes quite naturally to me and I’ve never considered until this morning that it might actually be a gift. And the thought is blowing my mind.
Is it possible I have the gift of transparency? Really, the idea of transparency being a gift seems preposterous. And it is so counter cultural to the world I was raised in.
Church – and the Christian life in general – has this tendency to present a front. And as I recently realized, I have gotten very, very good at faking it. Throughout my life, I have learned to fit into this Christian culture of false authenticity. I can outwardly portray brokenness and vulnerability with the best of them while inwardly feeling disconnected and disappointed and forgotten. I’ve tried for years to fit the mold of what I thought a Christian was supposed to look like.
But when I think about the things I’ve shared that have resonated most with people, they are the ones where I share my junk. My questions. My doubts. My fears. The most “unspiritual” posts, if you will. When I’m open about my struggles, people get that. They connect with it.
And I seem to have the weird ability to put this mess into words.
We go to a church which is unique in its wholehearted embracing of the messiness of Christianity. Our leaders always speak from a place of vulnerability, which makes it easy to listen to them them, trust them and learn from them. I’ve been in my job at that church for a year now, and I can’t help but think that maybe this job and this church at this time in my life has a specific role to play in my journey to discovering my life’s purpose.
Because the fact is, I’m not just contemplating a gift, but a purpose. In my discovering a gift, I can’t help but wonder at the idea that my life has a purpose – an unavoidable calling to use this gift. Why else would I have it? I wasn’t created with a gift to have it mean nothing. It’s there for a purpose.
I’m created for this.
So, you, my blog readers, are a crucial part of this journey. For it is here on this blog that I am beginning to explore the idea of a gift of transparency and how that might play out in my life’s purpose.
You are my sounding board. Your feedback is invaluable. Your encouragement gives me the courage to keep exploring the unknown.
So thank you for your part in my journey.
I love January 1st. There’s something so hopeful and encouraging about a new year. A fresh start. A clean slate. Every year I think Maybe this year will be the year I can actually make the changes I’ve been trying to make. I had that thought this morning.
Stasi Eldredge has been very influential to me over the past few months. Her books, her Facebook posts, her ministry. I respect her. A lot.
Today she posted a list of seven questions to reflect on for the upcoming year. I thought they were quite thought provoking, so here are my thoughts.
1. What is a destination I would like to visit?
Italy, with my Italian husband. This has been a dream of mine since I met him and heard him talk about his many trips there. I want to fall in love with the country and culture he loves. I want to know the heritage of our kids. (At least 50% of them.) Amazingly, this trip is actually on the calendar! We have some good friends who moved to Aviano a couple years ago and we’ve been talking about this trip since they moved. October = Italy 2015, baby!
2.What is something new I would like to try?
Sewing. On a machine. I’m not sure yet what I’ll make or who’s machine I’ll borrow, but in the vein of all my interest in DIY stuff, this is a really handy skill to have and I want to learn. I suspect in order to be successful at sewing, I’ll have to learn to be a perfectionist. Uh oh.
3. What do I want to spend more time doing?
Playing the piano. We have a beautiful piano purchased a few years ago and only played a few times since. I love playing and I want to do it more this year.
4. What is a habit I am going to break?
Second guessing people when they tell me something. I know this is kind of vague, but I am obsessive about what other people truly think. My husband reminds me all the time that I should take people at their word. I think he’s right.
5. What do I want to do/be better at?
Listening. To God. To my husband. To my kids. To my mom. To my siblings. To my friends. To my coworkers. I’m honestly pretty bad at this and it’s something I know God wants me to focus on this year. So I’ll try.
6. What would I like to work harder at?
Keeping a tidy house. This is a big area of weakness for me. I struggle to put things away when I’m done with them, and things tend to pile up. I don’t clean the bathrooms or floors as much as I should. And I’m teaching my bad habits to my kids. I want this to change.
7. What is a skill I’d like to learn or improve upon?
I want to learn Italian. I know just a few words, but we own the Rosetta Stone, so I really I have no excuse. And now I have a deadline. (See #1.) Andiamo!
So now I’ve put my year’s goals in writing. They’re official. Maybe at the end of the year I can write a follow up post to see how I’ve done. Wish me luck!
What are your goals for 2015?
So about this time one year ago I wrote a post summing up my year. It was a look at the Giovagnoni family, raw and unfiltered. That unconventional approach to a Christmas letter seemed to resonate with some people, so here we go again.
First things first. Big things in 2014 …
Cara started ballet.
We went to DC for the 4th of July.
We celebrated Mom’s 65th birthday reunion-style.
Chris and I took a 5th anniversary trip to Kauai.
Tyce started pre-preschool.
There you go. If you want the pretty stuff, you should stop reading now.
Because here’s the stuff that never makes it in the Christmas letter.
Both dogs are dying – one has a brain tumor and one has a tumor on her liver. So we’ve basically become a hospice for our dogs. I spend my time bouncing back and forth between wishing it would end quickly and dreading the end.
I started seeing a counselor which has been simultaneously helpful, incredibly eye-opening and really, really difficult. The more I learn about myself, the more I see how much I need to grow.
We are still dealing on a daily basis with depression, rage, stress, anxiety, fear, grief and lots of hurt and pain.
If I were writing the Christmas letter, I’d end it with something like “Through everything, God has been faithful and He’s the reason we celebrate this Christmas.” But to be honest, God’s presence hasn’t really been very real to me this year. And this year I’ve come to realize that one of my biggest problems with God is that He never shows up when I think he’s “supposed” to.
Like when I was 8 and said “THE” prayer and then waited for God to show up and change my life. And nothing changed. And I felt wholly ignored by God.
And when I was 15, at our youth group Fall Retreat at Frontier Ranch, and everyone seemed to be having this super spiritual moment, crying at the altar on their knees, surrendering the entirety of their decade and a half of life, and I felt distant and detached. So I mastered the art of faking it. Fake tears. Fake surrender. Fake intimacy with God.
And then there was college, where I continued to grow in my fake spiritual walk. But all the time inside I felt a deep and abiding disappointment with God. I felt let down that those four years weren’t the “best time of my life.” That I hadn’t met the man I’d marry as I’d always assumed I would. (Why else choose a Christian college, right?)
After college I moved home, got a job, moved out on my own, became an accomplished single woman with a good career and a busy social life. And I was happy. Mostly. But deep down I was still disappointed by God.
It wasn’t until 2008 and a man named Chris walked into my life, turned my world upside down, and started deconstructing this happy little fake life I’d created for myself, that I began to realize something big was missing. I saw in Chris a man walking with God that was nothing like I’d ever seen before. He wasn’t the typical Christian I’d always known, saying Christian-y things like “Yes, life is hard, but God is good.” He said stuff like “I’m furiously angry with God. I feel like He’s left me to figure this life out on my own. But He’s strong enough to handle my anger and I know He loves me anyway.”
That’s the thing about Chris. He never, ever fakes it. So different than me. I’m not surprised that God chose to use a man like this to open my eyes to the cardboard faith I’d constructed. To help me see that all along I’ve been faking this heart connection with God because it’s what I thought I was supposed to do.
That takes me to today, December 23, 2014.
35 years of thinking faith in God was one thing. A year of having that false front dismantled and revealed for what it actually is – me pretending to know God.
Well I have an announcement to make. I’m done pretending.
I don’t have any idea what’s going to be built in it’s place, but it will be real. It will be solid. It will be strong. I’m sick of pretending. I want to know what actually knowing God is like.
So bring it on, 2015. They say growth comes from pain, so if that’s true, then this next year is bound to be one for the books.
There’s no way I could write a post that better shares the true meaning of Christmas. Better you should watch the video below.
Pay special attention to 3:55 to 4:20.
I’ve heard about this baby boy
Who’s come to earth to bring us joy
And I just want to sing this song to you
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
With every breath I’m singing Hallelujah
A couple came to Bethlehem
Expecting child, they searched the inn
To find a place for You were coming soon
There was no room for them to stay
So in a manger filled with hay
God’s only Son was born, oh Hallelujah
The shepherds left their flocks by night
To see this baby wrapped in light
A host of angels led them all to You
It was just as the angels said
You’ll find Him in a manger bed
Immanuel and Savior, Hallelujah
A star shown bright up in the east
To Bethlehem, the wisemen three
Came many miles and journeyed long for You
And to the place at which You were
Their frankincense and gold and myrrh
They gave to You and cried out Hallelujah
I know You came to rescue me
This baby boy would grow to be
A man and one day die for me and you
My sins would drive the nails in You
That rugged cross was my cross, too
Still every breath You drew was Hallelujah
Did you get that? Four months old. Brain tumor.
Those things shouldn’t even be together in a sentence.
I’m sharing my struggle with prayer and helplessness on the Ladies First blog.
I was supposed to have foot surgery today.
And it’s not my first rodeo, so you’d think I’d know the routine…
- Make plans for help taking care of the kids for the first few days my recovery. Check.
- Make a lot of big meals so the fridge is stuffed with leftovers. Check.
- Get super nervous the night before. Check.
- Shave my legs since I’ll be in a boot for a month. Check.
- Take out my nose ring and take off my rings. Check.
- Don’t eat or drink anything for 12 hours before. Oh shit.
Thirty minutes before we were going to walk out the door for my 1:45 PM surgery, I looked at the pamphlet that they’d given me. (Which, incidentally, I had stuffed in my purse and carried around for weeks.) I totally panicked when I read “Do NOT eat any solid foods on the day of your surgery.” I realized that not only had I grabbed a few bites of the kids’ oatmeal as I was getting them breakfast that morning, but in what can only be described as The Dumbest Thought I’ve Ever Had In My Life, I thought I’ll probably be hungry so I should probably eat a little something before I go and proceeded to eat some leftover meatloaf and mashed potatoes. An hour before surgery.
So. Now I have to wait until tomorrow to see if it can be rescheduled. And here I sit, beating myself up for how incredibly stupid I was. When my judgment, which is usually aimed at others, is suddenly reflected in a mirror, it’s pretty horrible.
The lady at my doctor’s office voiced what I assume most people might think when I called to tell her and she said incredulously, “Why would you do that?” Lady, you have no idea.
So, in an effort to salvage something from this experience, I’ve thought of a few lessons learned.
1. Stop judging other people. Just stop it. I AM one of those people.
2. Read pamphlets. ALWAYS. Even ones I’ve seen twice before.
3. Slow down in life. Take more deep breaths. Focus. The world is not going to leave me behind.
4. Appreciate my husband’s unbelievable grace and understanding. Every single day. That man is a gift.
There you have it. Quite possibly the dumbest thing I’ve ever done in my life.
Now, don’t you feel pretty smart?
Every time I see the news that a celebrity took his own life, it is a sad reminder to me that depression is a cruel and indiscriminate enemy. It can – and often does – take us by total surprise, destroying the ones we think are least susceptible to it.
Until a few years ago (six, to be exact) I had never had any real experience with depression.
You can read my post about our journey with depression on the Ladies First blog today.
Afterwards I came home, sent the kids to their room for rest time and sat down and scrolled through my Facebook feed. And my happy little world crashed down around me.
It’s been a long time since I’ve sobbed because of something I read in the news. Today it was a report about what is happening in Iraq. It is indescribably atrocious.
At first I read it as I read most things on Facebook, a bit distracted and disconnected. I shared it and continued with what I was doing. Then when my husband got home and I tried to tell him about it, I was suddenly crushed with the weight of what I was saying, and I fell apart.
I cried because of the injustice of it all – my kids enjoying a pool while someone else’s kids are dying of thirst.
I cried because of the mamas just like me whose babies are being beheaded just to make a point.
I cried because of the picture of a small boy who had died in the mountains – a boy the same size as my son.
I cried because I couldn’t stop picturing my own children out there on the mountain, too young to fully understand what is happening, scared and alone. And dying.
I cried because of the overwhelming darkness and weight of such pure evil.
I cried because of the complete and total helplessness I feel about what is happening in this world.
I cried because it was the only thing I could do in that moment.
I can’t protect those innocent children from being killed. I can’t hold them and rock them and tell them it’s going to be okay. I can’t sing to them or tickle them and make them laugh. So today I held my own babies. I thanked God that it wasn’t them. I prayed for the mamas and daddies of the dying children. I begged God to intervene … to do something … anything to stop it. Or if not, to hurry up and come back and redeem this mess we’ve created.
The helplessness I feel tonight is similar to what I felt when my dad was dying. I am overwhelmed with grief. I remember another post I wrote just because I felt helpless and didn’t know what else to do. I can’t do anything but somehow writing helps just a little bit. It doesn’t change anything, but it gives me a place to express my rage and frustration and sadness and grief over the state of this world.
I know this genocide isn’t the first and that there are children dying every day all over the world.
But for some reason, this one broke me.