Monthly Archives: December 2014

Dec 22

The Gift of Hope: A Message of Possibility for Marriages

By E.J. Smith | Help

ID-10040285_zps2ca9762dDear Reader,

Last night I found myself strolling the familiar aisles of my local Barnes & Noble.  The Christmas season is my absolute favorite time to peruse the shelves, as so many of the items on display offer beautiful snow-scape covers, and themes of warmth, of miracles and of togetherness. I was thinking— half meditation and half prayer— of what I would say to all of you this month. 

I recalled my article from last December which, as per usual with this column, dealt with some pretty hefty doses of reality. 

This year, I would like to do something different.

This year, I want to bring you a message of Hope.

The truth is that I have no idea what the unique challenges are that you and your spouse are facing in this moment, have faced in the past or will face down the road.  I have no idea if your biggest marital concern this holiday season is the size of your gift-giving budget, or how to keep the lights on.  I don’t even know if you or your spouse have been faithful to each other in thought, word or deed. 

What I do know is that Christmas is a time of miracles, and miracles are manifested out of hope. 

Hope.  Isn’t that what this season is all about? 

Now “hope” might sound like a really fluffy term… And yet I will argue it is not.  Hope is so important, in fact, that I will say that the absence of hope isn’t merely hopelessness— but death. 

Day in and day out, I work with people who have been at the edges of their sanity— often contemplating ending their own lives.  I’ve working with individuals coping with physical death and loss of loved ones.  And I’ve worked with people who thought their marriage and life as they knew it were coming to a close. 

All of these cases shared a common theme:  Hope was no where to be found.

The Miracle of Hope

In my work, I have found this to be true:

If you want to save your marriage, your faith, your livelihood and even your life— you must— MUST have Hope. 

Hope is the acknowledgement of possibility

Christmas is a time of Hope because Christians believe that Jesus came to bring salvation to God’s people.  His birth, His life, and eventually His death all served to open up for us the possibility of Heaven. 

The possibility of something beyond death.

Of course the choice remains largely our own to make use of the possibilities that lay before us: 

To believe, or not. 

To accept, or not. 

To be faithful, or not. 

To fight for things you think are worth fighting for… or not.

Back when I first started writing for, I shared the story of a couple who asked if they were beyond help.  I think today, if someone asked me that question, my response would be, “Well, you tell me— Are you beyond Hope?”

I Said Possibility, Not a Guarantee

“But EJ—“ I can already hear someone saying, “I can have all the hope in the world and things might not work out!”

Yes.  That is true.  Hope is the gateway of possibility.  It is not a guarantee of any outcome. 

Hopelessness, however, almost assuredly is a guarantee. 

Because if you’re truly hopeless, you’ve already given up.  You’ve already resigned yourself to the death of whatever.

Having hope means that despite the possibility that things might not work out, it might be worth it to another try.  It acknowledges that, even in some pretty troublesome times there remains an alternative possibility. 

It Takes Two

Of course the complicated part with marriages is that both parties need to get on board— and that might not happen right away, or ever.

Even the best marriages are tough from time to time. 

But being in a healthy marriage with someone who truly does not want to be married to you?  Well, I don’t even know if that’s possible! 

As my mother, who is currently visiting, so aptly stated, “There’s more to marriage than not getting divorced.”  (Isn’t she great?

At the same time, sometimes one person needs to hold that hope for a while, until the other person can see.  Even better if you’re in the kind of relationship where you’re still able to communicate and show the other person why there’s still Hope to be had! 

Christmas Wish

So wherever you are this Christmas and Holiday Season, my wish for you is that you and your spouse will rediscover the will to consider endless possibilities for your relationship, and not just focus on the possible end.

Have Hope.  Do the work. And remember that the love that is supposed to exist between couples is supposed to be a reflection of God’s love for us, and at work within us. 

Dec 16

Does Sex Increase or Decrease Your Stress?

By Julie Sibert | Sex & Family Planning


sex-and-stressWhen “benefits” of sex are listed, “stress reduction” is usually somewhere in the mix.

It may be phrased a number of different ways, alluding to both physical and emotional side benefits.  No matter how we label it, the people who study this sort of thing often hold up “feeling less stressed” as a big plus of nurtured sexual intimacy in marriage.

And certainly scientists and doctors could explain this reality physiologically. From a scientific standpoint, they would confirm that something good indeed does physically happen within a husband’s body and wife’s body when they enjoy making love.

And I’m not just talking about orgasm.  There’s a lot more going on than just that powerful response, right?  If ever there was a masterpiece of tremendous complexity, it is the human body.

BUT, I imagine it comes as no surprise that for quite a few married people, sex is a source of stress, not a pathway toward relieving it.

And I’m not just referring to stress in the actual act of intercourse, but also stress in discussing it, navigating difficulties with it and so forth.

What is your experience? Does sex increase or decrease your stress?

I’m personally in the camp of loving — even craving — sex for all the positive things it does to my body and my marriage.  But I’m sensitive to the reality that for some people, sex is a source of tremendous discord in their heart and home.

Whatever camp we are in regarding sex — loving it or dreading it or discouraged about it — I think we owe it to our spouse and marriage to unpack that camp a bit.

Sure, if you love it, seems like there’s nothing to unpack, right?  But I’m a firm believer that good areas of our marriage can continually be made better.  Nothing really is as compartmentalized as we would like to believe.

If sex is a mutually valued part of your marriage, pay close attention to building upon the positive impact it has on your relationship beyond the lovemaking.  Don’t become complacent in showing each other affection out of bed as much as you do in bed.  Don’t assume your spouse knows what sexual intimacy means to you.  Tell them. Affirm them.

If you are in the camp of dreading sex, have you gotten to the root of the reason?

I make it sound so easy, don’t I?  Well, trust me — I’ve written, spoken and read about sex for long enough to know that the reasons can be profoundly difficult, complex and painful. Rarely do I ever think it’s easy to dig into those.

But if sex causes you stress and you know the issues are yours to own, what will it take for you to seek healing for those sexual struggles?  Baby steps count.  Do something, because doing nothing may feel like it’s keeping stress at bay, but it’s more likely just masking the stress.

And if you are in the camp of feeling discouraged about sex in your marriage and tired of feeling rejected sexually by your spouse, I am sensitive to your pain as well.

If you haven’t already, get real with your spouse about what the lack of sexual intimacy is doing to you and to the marriage.  Express to your spouse that you want the two of you to do whatever it takes to work together toward better intimacy (sexual and otherwise).

If they have no interest in your request, then at least you know you did your part in trying to address and heal the matter.  And if they do show interest? Well praise God for wake up calls that help us make our marriages stronger!

All things considered, does sex increase or decrease your stress?

I’m humbly asking you to give that question more than a mere passing glance.  Sit down with it for awhile.  Let it comfort you — or make you uncomfortable.  Marriage begs us to unpack that question with our whole heart.

Will you?

Dec 08

How’s the (Romantic) Temperature In Your Home?

By Debi Walter | Romance

imagesIf marriage is like a house, then romance is the central air and heat.

Think about it. A marriage can make it without romance–many couples have proven this fact, just as you can live in a house without central air and heat. It may be do-able, but it certainly won’t be as enjoyable.

When things get difficult in your life–trouble with work, children, schooling, relationships–it’s nice to know your spouse is there to let you vent about the struggle. It’s even better if your spouse plans something special, romantic even, to help you get your mind off the trouble at hand.

Romance is NOT foreplay, but it can be.

Any husband or wife, who is using romance as a way to get what they want in the bedroom, is abusing this very special gift.

Romance is like a comfortable chair in your favorite room of the house. It feels right.

Romance has the ability to cool a heated situation or heat up your relationship when the air has chilled.

Romance is something you share with your spouse alone. No one else has the privilege of romancing you, and vice versa.

Do you see romance as more of a privilege or an obligation?

How you answer this question is key to how successful showing romance to your spouse will be.

It’s Christmas, the time of year our children anticipate the other eleven months of the year. It’s our job to make it special for them. But it’s also a great time to romance the one who will be there when your children are grown and gone.

Following are some easy ways to incorporate romance this Christmas season:

  1. Go for a walk after dark to see the Christmas lights in your neighborhood.
  2. Order dinner at your favorite restaurant for pick-up after the kids are in bed. Set the table with your favorite candles and play Christmas music softly in the background.
  3. Plan your own surprise of the 12 Days After Christmas, where your spouse gets to open one special box a day beginning December 26th. Fill it with coupons, candies or treats you know they’ll appreciate.
  4. Put lights up in your bedroom. This is the one time of year you can get away with having special romantic lighting in your room and no one will bat an eye, but maybe your spouse. 😉
  5. Make a personal Christmas tree in your bedroom. Decorate it with pictures and souvenirs from special places you’ve been together.
  6. Mail your spouse a romantic Christmas card and spend time expressing your love to them with carefully composed words.
  7. Have a photo book made of all the Christmases you’ve enjoyed together. Give it to them on Christmas Eve after the kids are in bed.
  8. Make it a tradition of opening your gifts to each other on Christmas Eve, so you can take your time and enjoy each gift without interruptions.
  9. Watch your favorite Christmas movie together.
  10. Give your spouse a foot massage–or treat them to an unexpected pedicure after a long day of shopping.

What’s the temperature in your marriage? Maybe a little romance is in order–give it a try and see if it doesn’t make things much more enjoyable. 🙂

Merry Christmas and a very Happy and Blessed New Year!


(photo source)

Dec 01

3 essential keys to furnish your home on a budget

By Kim Hall | Finances & Careers

3 essential keys to furnish your home on a budgetYou’ve been watching those shows about how to buy and makeover a house, and visions of your very own HGTV style home are now dancing in your head.

You’ve pinned hundreds of images of cheery kitchens, welcoming living rooms, and restful bedrooms on Pinterest.

Furniture and home decor catalogs litter your apartment, and you can’t wait to be on a first name basis with the folks at Target, Ikea, and Pottery Barn.

While this may lead to impromptu happy dances in the store aisles, it will most likely lead you down a path to more debt and deep regret.

There is a way to furnish your home on a budget, though, and to make it a space you love and can live with.

You just need to know the three essential keys: contentment, patience and gratitude.

The Key of Contentment

Contentment, as described by Dale Carnagie, “isn’t what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it.”

That means understanding your worth as a person is not measured by your home or any of your possessions.

You stop comparing where you are and what you have with others, because as Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Contentment frees you from envy and pride, two emotions that can easily push you to break your budget in an effort to keep up with the proverbial Joneses.

Being content allows you to be comfortable and at peace with where you are, while charting a course for goals that uniquely suit you and your circumstances.

What might contentment look like in your home furnishing budget?

Depending on where you are in your financial journey, perhaps it’s about making do with the dated and worn living room furniture you’ve been given because there’s space for everyone to spend time together, or finding a deal on Craigslist on a kitchen table and chairs, so there’s room for hosting family and friends.

For my husband and I, it meant being content with our well-used, thirteen year old, oversized sofa and loveseat while we searched for a new living room set.

The Key of Patience

Adding patience to contentment makes for a powerful combination to maintain your budget while furnishing your home.

Being content means it’s much easier to bide your time while you search for a piece or pieces that meet your needs and desires and costs no more than what you’ve set aside.

Nonetheless, I know firsthand how difficult it can be to be patient. It just seems so much easier to spend lots more to have what you want right now!

Patience was a struggle for my husband and I as we searched for living room furniture to fit our recently purchased, smaller home. We had budgeted $500, and our goal was to find a well-built, real leather set. We found lots that we loved, cost at least twice our budget, and that we were sorely tempted to buy. But, we held fast. Finally, five months into the search, we hit the jackpot: a four piece, relatively new, charming and comfortable real leather set, and it was $500.

Being patient has multiple benefits. Not only do you stay within budget, but you can enjoy the thrill of the chase, the additional sense of satisfaction of sticking to your goals, and the deeper appreciation for that rare gem when you finally locate it. Plus, as my parents would often say to me, and I said to my children, “Patience builds character.” 🙂

The Key of Gratitude

 Counting your blessings is not only is a critical component of eliminating your debt, but is a tremendously steadying force, especially when you become a homeowner. 

It’s very easy to become discontented with what you don’t have or can’t afford, and the solution is to create a firewall of gratitude.

When you develop a firewall of gratitude, you erect a barrier of thankfulness which effectively blocks pride and envy, as well as negative, cultural messages to buy and have more.

The good news is that being grateful becomes easier with practice, just like contentment and patience.

Still, it can be too easy to go from feeling grateful for being able to purchase a home you can afford, to being annoyed as you struggle against your budgetary restrictions on how to furnish the house. Refer back to contentment if you find yourself here.

I could choose to be embarrassed or annoyed that our house is filled with furniture and decor gathered over time from thrift stores, yard sales, Craigslist, and the like

Occasionally, I start to feel that way, but in the end, I always circle back to gratitude.

Because, at the core, it’s about being at peace with and finding joy in the choices we make.

Comment: How have you used these keys to furnish your home on a budget?

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