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My Top 10 Posts of 2009

Happy New Year!

Hope you all had a great night last night! My favourite new year's were actually when the kids were little and my husband was on call. Because he could be called in, we didn't go to any parties. We just sat at home, after the kids were in bed, and talked and watched movies. It was peaceful.

Last night wasn't bad, either. My kids are now at the age when they want to have friends over, so we had a whole pile of girls playing and giggling. It was good.

But now that 2010 is upon us, I thought I'd take a look back at 2009. And so I looked through the blog, and pulled out my 10 favourite posts. I tried to pick ones that showed different aspects of my philosophy on life, and I hope you enjoy them!

Here they are:

10. Really, Really Crappy Parenting Advice. This post sums up well my philosophy on parenting!
9. A Sign of Good Parenting. Having trouble thinking up good consequences to discipline your teen? Look no further!

8. Do You Struggle with Your Calling? Finding peace in the middle of daily life.

7. Sheltering is Not a Bad Word. A response to other posts I wrote on television. The beginning may focus a lot on homeschooling, but read to the end!

6. Wifey Wednesday: What Lens Do You See Your Husband Through? I love Wifey Wednesdays, and I'm so glad that many of you are writing your own Wifey Wednesday posts, too! This particular one I really liked. Hope you will, too!

5. Stay at Home Moms are Busy, Too. Sometimes I just have to rant.

4. Wifey Wednesday: How to Awaken Love. A short post that explains what to do if sex is not that appealing, awfully problematic, and full of tension for you!

3. My Thread on Extracurricular Activities. It was an interesting debate, that started here, and then had follow up posts here and here, building on what I wrote and the great conversation in the comments!

2. Remembering...This was a tough call. This was definitely my favourite post of the year, but the one I ranked #1 I think meant more to the "To Love, Honor and Vacuum" community (meaning you guys). But in this post I tell the story of my son's brief life. There's details in there I haven't shared publicly before, even stuff I didn't remember until I started typing it, on the thirteenth anniversary of his death. If you want to know my heart, you have to read this one.

1. And here it is: My favourite post from 2009! It was a recent Wifey Wednesday: Doormats or Wives? What a great discussion in the comments, and in the follow-up post here. This best encapsulates my philosophy from my book, To Love, Honor and Vacuum, too, which is probably why I like it so much!

Honorable Mention:

I didn't say much in this post, but I asked readers "what do you feel guilty about?". Some of the comments are pretty funny!

Thanks for reading with me in 2009! I hope 2010 is going to be even better! It's interesting looking at the stats for the last few months. A bunch of you are starting to comment so much more, and I feel like I'm getting to know many of you. That's great. I hope that we can grow this into a real community this year!

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It's the Little Things That Wear You Down
Interesting discussion on Wifey Wednesday yesterday! And great links in the Mcklinky! I hope you all clicked through.

One thing struck me while I was reading the comments, though. So often in life we get caught up in the big things: Do we have enough money? Do we communicate well? Do I feel happy in this relationship? Are my kids heading in the right direction?

And yet the things that often determine our state of mind are often not those big things. It's often little things.

When we have clutter and disorganization, it makes us feel antsy. It's like an undercurrent to everything you do. It's not always there, easily evident, but it's quaking under the surface. And when we're feeling antsy about our home, it tends to lead to us also feeling antsy about other things in our lives. On the other hand, when we feel peaceful about our homes, we tend to approach the other elements in our lives with a more peaceful attitude. And that matters. Do we start off seeing things in a positive way, or in a negative way? It's often these little things, and not the big things, that determine how we see the rest of life.

For instance, when we're bothered by little things, especially these little things our husbands do, we tend to see our marriage in a more negative light, even if the rest of the relationship is great. It's those things that we deal with constantly that can wear us down, which is why I think it's important to do something about the little things.

Do you remember Rudy Giuliani and the broken windows theory? Here's the essence of it:

When Giuliani became mayor of New York, the city was in shambles. Nobody was scared of the police or even respected the police. The populace didn't feel safe. People stayed off the subways because they were dirty and dangerous. Graffiti was everywhere. And crime was rampant.

Instead of telling the cops to concentrate on the big crimes, which is what they had been doing, Giuliani had them focus on the small crimes. They began by cleaning the graffiti off the subways. Then they started arresting all the "subway jumpers"--those people who jumped over the turnstiles to ride the subways without paying. If there was a broken window, he fixed it.

People made fun of him, saying that he was focusing on the wrong thing. But he felt that these small things were symptomatic. When you let people get away with small things, they try bigger things. And having these small things wrong leads the populace to feel unsafe. Focus on the small things, and criminals are deterred and the population feels safer. Besides, as you pick up people for graffiti, you tend to also pick up the same people who are involved in armed robbery.

And Giuliani was proven right. The crime rate dropped, and New York became a very safe city.

So what are the broken windows in your life? What are you just letting go, that can lead to bigger problems?

Let me suggest a few:

1. Clutter, as we already talked about. When we feel like the house is disorganized, soon everything else becomes disorganized.

Can I give a few suggestions, based on comments? If your husband is keeping things for sentimental reasons (grandma gave these to me), then value that sentiment, but try to direct it to something more positive. For instance, if he has 15 knickknacks that remind him of Grandma that are scattered all over the house, have him pick one that is especially meaningful, and then give it a prized possession over the fireplace or in the middle of a bookshelf. Then get rid of the rest. Ask him to share with you what memories that piece has. What memories does he have of Grandma? And then when others are over, tell them about it. Keep that memory alive (he is, after all, entitled to feel kindly towards Grandma), but do it in such a way that he really does honour her, rather than simply scattering her stuff around).

2. Silly to-do piles. One of the comments mentioned that her husband had piles and piles of trade magazines, that he hated to throw out because there may be an article in there somewhere he might want to clip and save. We women do similar things. We save magazines for the same reason. We save photos because "one day I'll scrapbook those". We save all kinds of stuff because we honestly want to do something with them. We save all our receipts because we mean to keep track of every penny we spend.

But we don't. No one has that much time. And by keeping the piles, it's a constant reminder that you're lazy and that you have a ton of stuff to do. You can never truly relax in a house that has piles and piles of to do stuff.

This woman who commented took her husband's magazines and threw them out. I think that's liberating! Be honest with yourself: what is necessary to do? In this online world, so much is at the tip of your fingers you really don't need to save papers and magazines anymore. With your finances, is keeping track of bills enough, or do you want to track every penny? Are you really going to scrapbook that? If you truly don't need it, junk it. Nothing is worth making you feel that overwhelmed.

3. Television. Another thing that can sap our energy and our mood is television. Watching too many dark shows, or too many movies with a ton of swearing, just wears you down without you really knowing it. It's another small thing that can distort your attitude towards the rest of your life.

4. Sleep. When you don't get enough sleep, everything seems more hopeless. I know it's hard when you have little kids, but really try to prioritize getting to bed early. Carve out time during the day when you can snatch moments to yourself, so you don't have to do it at night. Put a video on for an hour. It won't kill the kids (don't do more than that, but I think that's okay). Find a craft you can do while they play in the same room. Whatever! But do get enough sleep.

So that's my advice: tend to the small things in your life. Don't let your home get too disorganized. Don't have massive piles of to do stuff you'll never actually do. Don't watch bad stuff on TV. And sleep. Do those four things, and you'll be amazed at how your outlook on life (and your marriage) will change!

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Wifey Wednesday: Taming the Packrat

It's Wednesday, the day when this blog talks marriage! I introduce a topic, and then the rest of you comment, or better still write your own Wifey Wednesday post on your blog and come and link it up in the Mcklinky!

So, to go along with our New Year's Challenge theme, I thought we'd talk clutter.

It seems to me that there are two types of husbands: those who are inclined to come home at night, look at the house, and say "what did you do all day?" because it's a mess, and those who wouldn't see a dust bunny until it impeded their view of the television.

I know that's a vast oversimplification, but for blogging purposes I'd like to talk about husband #2 today.

I am quite aware that it is not always the man who is the messy one in a relationship. I think my husband, for instance, is less inclined towards clutter than I am. But picking up on some of the comments over the last few days as we've tried to tackle our clutter, one common theme is women who want to throw things out, and men who can't part with them.

When we moved a few years ago, I swore that I was not going to pack up junk. So I condensed my entire life prior to our marriage to a box slightly larger than a shoe box. It held important papers, pictures, cards, etc. My husband just couldn't throw anything out, so we have three large boxes for him.

I have a friend whose husband will not throw anything out. He's just attached to all kinds of things that have no other name except "junk". And he refuses to clean up his office. It's scary to go in there. One year, in a fit of cleaning frenzy, I offered to help her clean it for him as a surprise. Our church was having a huge yard sale, and we thought it was the perfect opportunity.

So we took that old deer hoof that had been mounted, the mixer that was missing a cord, the hair dryer that was 35 years old, etc. etc., and packed them up and sent them over. You could actually see inside their storage room again (though we hadn't tackled the office).

He found out, and early Saturday morning, before the yard sale opened, he went and reclaimed all his stuff.

So we made a big mistake. We did it without telling him, and he was sore at us for quite a while. I definitely do not recommend just throwing things out that aren't yours. But what do you do?

I'm in favour of dedicating a particular part of the house that is "just his" that he can keep the way he wants. He is an adult, after all, and if he wants to hold on to stuff, I do think that's his prerogative. If you're extremely tight for space, then you may have to really talk to him about this, but I don't think it's fair for a wife to completely take over the house.

At the same time, there may be mess that you just can't live with. So here's our question of the day: what do you do with a packrat husband? Has anyone dealt with this before? Or what do you do if he's way messier than you are? How do you find a compromise?

I'd love to hear your thoughts! Just leave a comment, or write your own post and link up below.

And don't forget, my book, To Love, Honor and Vacuum, has tons of space dedicated to just this problem: how to divide up household responsibilities and come to agreement on how the house should be kept!

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New Year's Challenge: What to Do With Clutter
UPDATE: Hello Org Junkie readers! This was a New Year's Challenge I had, but read down for some great pointers on what to do with clutter! Plus I like showing off my before and after pictures :).

Have you taken me up on my challenge yesterday yet? If not, I'm going to give you a chance to do so again today!

The challenge was to take some of these slow days between Christmas and New Year's and actually tidy and declutter the one area of your house you're scared to go in. I have two such areas, but I tackled one yesterday, and it looks awesome!

Here's a before:

And here's an after:

A few more:

And here's younger daughter vacuuming the TV with older daughter being silly:

Here's the challenge when you're decluttering, though. What do you do with all the stuff you want to get rid of? You don't want to contribute to landfill, so what do you do? Here are a few thoughts:

1. Give to thrift stores (if it works and if it's sellable). Don't just dump stuff that you would normally put in the trash. But if it's usable, give it.

2. Find families with younger children than yours and pass it on! We recently passed on about 30 Groovy Girls complete with clothing and furniture. What a great present for those little girls, now that our girls have grown out of them!

3. If you have old clothing, bedding, or linens, but they're too worn to be reused, ask at your local Salvation Army if they still need them. Someone at our Salvation Army, for instance, collects such stuff and sells it by the ton to a company who shreds it up and turns it into mattresses. Chances are there are such opportunities around. Just keep these donations separate from the wearable clothing, and be sure to let the Salvation Army know what you're giving them.

4. Do you have a Green Building Store in your area? We have a store where you can purchase salvaged household building supplies. If you're ripping out cupboards, getting rid of carpet, changing faucets, or anything like that, you may be able to drop it off at such a store. You never know who may find it useful!

5. Ask around about what people involved in missions would like. We're collecting yarn and towels, for instance, for a trip we're taking in March to Africa. We've started a knitting microbusiness program with some graduated girls from a children's home, and we're bringing a lot of that old acrylic yarn everyone buys from WalMart and then never does anything with. We're taking a ton of knitting needles and crochet hooks, too. If you have old craft supplies, see if someone on short term missions projects can use them.

Often schools have knitting programs, and they may be able to use craft supplies. You can also try churches with clubs groups during the week, or Boys and Girls after school clubs that are always looking for things for the kids to do. Some of them would surely love old construction paper, or markers, or yarn, or whatever.

Senior citizens homes and retirement homes often are eager for craft supplies (and sometimes even more eager for people to come in and start a knitting project with them). So if you have knitting/crocheting things you don't use, you may be able to get rid of them that way.

6. Have furniture you're willing to get rid of for free? Try putting a notice in your church bulletin, or putting up a notice in your local grocery store or local community college. Someone's sure to want it!

7. Finally, don't forget about ways to reuse things you already have. I've taken old flannel pyjamas and fleece sweatshirts and sewn them into sanitary pads to take to Africa. I know it sounds gross, but take a look at these pictures:

You can read instructions in this post on how to make them.

And I've also taken old sweaters that are out of fashion or that I don't like anymore and reclaimed the yarn.

Here's a sweater that was too small:

I'll write a separate post, with pictures, on how I got the yarn, but suffice it to say that I have seven pink skeins of wool that I'm excited to turn into something new!

I've even covered pillows that were ugly with a new cover that I've knit. Hey, it uses up yarn and an old pillow!

8. Don't forget about regifting. But I don't just mean giving away gifts you've been given. Lots of things can be transformed into gifts. Old mugs can be stuffed with homemade chocolate truffles. Wicker baskets, napkins, or tea towels make great gifts, too. Just stuff them with homemade cookies or buns, and you have a housewarming gift! So just because your mugs don't work for you anymore, or you have too many teacups, don't get rid of them! Keep them and use them as gifts.

9. Remember consignment stores or second hand stores. Many places will pay you $1 for a DVD or a CD. Great way to purge some of those collections. Others will pay you 20% of the cover price on paperbacks. So don't just throw out your old books. See if you can turn them into money.

I think that's it! But if you have any other great ideas on what to do with older things if you don't want to fill landfill, do leave them in the comments! And if you feel inspired now to clean up one of your cluttered spaces, why not take before and after photos and leave the link in this post? Then we all can congratulate you!

Hello Org Junkie readers! Great to see you here! Why not stay and look around a bit? I've got lots of posts on marriage, parenting, and more!

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Does Disorganization Bring Depression, or the Other Way Around?
How was your Christmas? I had a lovely time, more or less. The girls enjoyed their presents, I to some things I really enjoyed, but best of all we had a quiet few days with family and friends, playing games, reading, and just taking it easy.

On Boxing Day I swore to myself I wouldn't even get dressed. It was my day to relax and read. Unfortunately I only made it until 11:30 when I succumbed to the need for shower and normal clothes, but my youngest daughter made it through the whole day in her jammies!

This week coming up we're having several parties for teenagers. I'm starting to notice that once you have teens, they take over your social calendar. Instead of having people over for what I want to do, I'm having all my kids' friends over. But I enjoy their friends, and I do appreciate the fact that they're hanging out at my house rather than somewhere else!

In the meantime, though, I do have a week off before real life begins, and even though we're going to have a few parties in there, I plan to do some major organization (and relatively little "real" work). I have a hard time functioning when I feel like I can't find certain things, or there are some rooms in my house I'm scared to go in because they're so overwhelming.

I tackled our storage room before Christmas, and it's great now. This week I want to tackle our family room and my study. The family room is just a mass of craft supplies and knitting, and it needs to be sorted out, not least so that I can do my exercises down there with the Wii. I got a new Wii game for Christmas--the EA sports--and I'm looking forward to using it. Or at least I'm trying to look forward to using it. If I could get away with not exercising at all, that, naturally, would be better. But since I have to do something, that sounds infinitely more attractive than jogging in the snow.

Anyway, the family room just needs to be upended, and today the girls and I are going to attack. We're actually quite excited about it. Here are some pictures of what it looks like now:

Doesn't that seriously need some work?

But I do wonder sometimes if disorganization causes depression rather than the other way around. I think I mentioned this in an earlier post, after watching some TV shows in a hotel about people who just have too much stuff and are overwhelmed about how to clean it all. It struck me that perhaps at one point they were functioning, but then things got so bad that their brains couldn't handle it. How do you tackle such a mess? And living in a mess is not healthy. Our brains don't tend to handle chaos well.

We often believe that people with mental illness don't clean, but I wonder if it's the chaos that sometimes exacerbates and causes mental illness. And even if it's not as bad as an actual psychiatric disorder, I bet a lot of women are more depressed and lethargic than they should be simply because their homes are so out of control. Get the home in control, and suddenly you'd feel like you had a ton more energy.

The "housewifely" arts have fallen by the wayside in the last few decades, but they're still important. Having a clean, organized home (not a perfect home, but an organized one) goes so far in helping us maintain schedules, deal with crises, and relax. You can find things when you need them. Your home is a fun place to be.

I know that's hard with little kids, but I think it's still worth the effort. And if, like me, you have a week off before any real life begins again, why not tackle the worst place in your house? Do it in 15 minute blocks if you have to. And if it feels overwhelming, and you don't know where to start, go into the room and look at the first thing you see. Pick it up. And decide what to do with it. Just start with the first thing you can touch.

Bring in a garbage bag, a few boxes for transporting things to other rooms, and a big glass of water. And stick to the one room. If you find things that belong in another room, don't put them there yet. Just put them in a box to deal with later. Most of all, try to throw as much stuff out as possible. The vast majority of us have way too much stuff anyway.

So how about it? Are you with me? Let's clean something that really needs it, and start the new year off with a burst of energy. I'll post some after pictures later in the day, and I'll put up a MckLinky if you want to post yours from the week.

If you don't want to go the picture route, just leave a note in the comments about what you need to clean! Or if you're a perfectly organized person and nothing needs cleaning, leave a note and tell us how you've managed to attain such a glorious position in life!

Thanks for joining me, and I'd love to hear your thoughts!

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Wifey Wednesday: The Turning Point
It's Wednesday, the day when I introduce a marriage topic, and then the rest of you either comment or write your own Wifey Wednesday post!

This will be my last post until after Christmas, too. I'm going to cocoon a little bit away from the computer with my family. But I may still check in to comment on some comments or something!

We've had some interesting discussions about marriage lately. It all started last week with the post "Doormats or Wives", which started a great comment thread, that's worth reading on its own.

In that thread, and the follow-up post on the Saturday, some of you talked about how your marriage had done a 180 degree turn. At one point your marriage looked pretty pathetic, but then something happened. Today I want to talk about that something.

Yesterday we also had some marriage talk in the comments about a local church. Some of you were (or are) in conflict with your husbands about where to attend church, and I know such decisions are really difficult. So for those who have already weathered the storm, what happened? What made the storm pass?

In some of your stories, it seemed simply to be a matter of maturity. Sometimes we're just young when we get married, and as we mature, marriage becomes stronger. In others, outside counseling helped us see each other's point of view. And in still others, it was just prayer.

Let me tell you a bit of my story. When we were first married, I had major trust issues. I had been rejected repeatedly as a child, and then my husband had also broken off our engagement before we reconciled and eventually married. So I was paranoid that he was going to leave me, and opening up was not easy for me. I had been so desperate to get him down the aisle and actually commit that I hadn't given much thought to what came afterwards. I guess I thought marriage would be easy.

Because I had trust issues, though, I also had sex issues. I won't go into all the details, but needless to say that I could not figure out what all the fuss was about. My husband, who was in his early twenties, definitely wanted the fuss. I did not. So we had major conflict for the first part of our marriage.

The turning point came when I decided not to be hurt. I was focusing so much on my own issues--"he only wants me for one thing, he doesn't really care about me, he won't show me love"--that I didn't really look at the other side--"am I showing him love?". And once I made the emotional commitment to love him (and really throw myself into sex, too, but that was only a part of it), things started working much better. I really did love him. I started thinking about the things that I was grateful for about him. I stopped being so sensitive.

But it was difficult, and it took a few years to get to that point. When you're in the middle of a quite serious hurt, it's hard to see the other person's perspective. But when you decide to love regardless, amazing things can happen.

God was also doing a work in Keith's heart, and he came to basically the same decision around the same time I did. Never ever discount what God can do in your spouse's heart. But that's the key, I think: God does it, not you.

For me, then, the key was a shift in my own attitude, and a submission to God, which also led to the same thing in my husband. I can honestly say that we're so grateful for each other and we're ridiculously lovey-dovey all the time now. But it wasn't always like that.

I believe that it is a spiritual principle that God tends to start working when we are in submission to Him. Even if you are not the principle problem in your marriage (ie. your husband is doing something wrong/sinful/selfish), the more you hold on to the hurt, the less God works. I was reading in my devotions today about how God "pleads the case of the orphan". God likes pleading the case of the person who is wronged. He does stand up for the wronged person.

But He tends to do it once we have stopped pleading our case. When we hand our case over to God, He works. When we try to fix it, He can't. And I find that when I have handed things over to God, then He has started working in the other person's heart (I think my husband would tell a similar story. It was when He surrendered that God worked on me, too, because it really was quite simultaneous).

That doesn't mean that we don't confront, or use consequences, as we talked about over the weekend in the Doormats or Wives post. I'm not saying that we need to hold up the white flag to let God work. I'm saying we need to hand our emotional needs over to God; our need to be right; our need to have our husbands admit they were wrong; our need to have them love us completely and utterly. These are all needs, but it is to God that we must turn, not our husbands. When we are expecting these things from our husbands, then God can't work in the same way because we've set up a very negative dynamic, both emotionally and spiritually. When we turn to God, things change.

So let me know your story. What flipped the switch in your marriage? Leave it in the comments, or better still, write your own Wifey Wednesday post, and then come and link it back here!

My book, To Love, Honor, and Vacuum: When You Feel More Like a Maid Than a Wife and Mother, has several chapters on how to change the dynamic in your marriage. If you're stuck, and want to move ahead, it makes a great Christmas gift to yourself!

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Thoughts on a Local Church
The tension is rising is my house!

Not among my daughters, but in me. I've got baking to do, and knitting to finish, and a bit of shopping to do. I've got to plan a cooking schedule for Christmas Day. But, all in all, I'm rather excited by it!

I think I'll take a break from blogging for a few days after Wifey Wednesday tomorrow, but before I do, I have another subject for discussion, because I'd honestly like people's thoughts on it (and I know those thoughts will not always agree! That's okay!).

First, a bit of background. I don't really have a place to call "home" except for where I live now. As a child, we moved every few years. My mother, as a child, moved frequently, too, so she didn't have a place to call home, either. Belleville, where I live now, has been my home for 11 years, the longest of anywhere I've ever lived. So this is my home.

My husband, on the other hand, always felt that "home" was in the Maritimes, where he grew up until he was 10 and where my in-law's huge families still lived. Every holiday they'd take the 14 hour drive to New Brunswick and spend it "down home".

My children also have a sense of home, because this is the only place they remember living.

Because of my background, perhaps, I have less of a sense of loyalty to any particular town or organization than many, because I have never had a home. I have made a home out of wherever I happened to be, and never felt that it had to be a lifetime commitment. And I have translated that feeling into churches.

When we moved here, we tried about a dozen churches before we settled on one. It was a good fit, and we attended for nine years. But after that a whole bunch of things started happening, including problems with how my then 12-year-old daughter was fitting in to the youth group, and we decided it was time to make the switch. It was one of the hardest things I had ever done because I felt that the church was my home--really the only one I had ever had.

But I wasn't growing there. I had been seriously hurt there, as had my husband, when he served in leadership. So there we were, in a church where Keith felt it difficult to serve, where I had been hurt, and where Rebecca felt that isolated in the youth group.

We made a switch. We still love many people from my former church, and still consider them family (I'm frantically knitting a baby sweater right now for one of them). I love the pastor and his wife at that church. But in the end, what a blessing the move was. Even though it was wrenching, God was in it. My girls were both baptized within a year of going to our new church. The moment they stepped into the door other youth embraced them, and within three weeks they weren't sitting with us anymore. They were sitting with the youth. I've been helping with one of the youth programs, and I just love it. My kids are thriving. Keith ALMOST became an elder this year (he turned it down because his work schedule is so intense right now, but I never thought I'd see the day when he would willingly agree to serve in church leadership again.)

So here's my question: When do you think it's okay to leave a local fellowship? And what do you do if your family doesn't agree?

For instance, I think that it's okay to leave if you aren't being fed, you are being discouraged from using gifts, and your kids are suffering. I don't think it's okay to leave if you're simply in conflict with people, because I think it's biblical to work through conflict. I also don't agree with people who switch churches every two years, because then what you do is create a situation where you have no close relationships with other Christians and thus no accountability, which is, after all, the main purpose of a local church.

I don't, however, see a biblical injunction that once we attend a certain church, we have to be there for the rest of our lives. However, some at my former church feel that way--that somehow you are betraying God if you leave. I believe the biblical injunction is that we be part of a fellowship of accountability where there is teaching and where you contribute. We aren't to be lone rangers. But that's not the same thing as saying that one is "married" to a particular church building or particular church members.

But here's another problem: what do you do if you just can't worship in a church anymore, and you want to leave, but your husband doesn't? Or maybe your kids don't? But you just feel like you can't worship there anymore? I know it's important to worship together, but what if you've given it an honest effort, and the church is smothering you (which does happen). Then what?

So what are your thoughts? When do you leave? Or do you leave? And what if your spouse or your kids don't agree? Let me know!

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So Much Noise
According to my email this morning, I have won the European lottery (6,700,000 euros); I am the sole heir of a man who died last year in Sussex, U.K., and they want to give me millions of pounds; and someone from Sri Lanka has millions in a bank account they want to split with me. I am a lucky person indeed.

Last night I was sitting in a wonderful Vietnamese restaurant waiting for our take-out order with nothing to do but read the Sports section of a newspaper. It was all Tiger, all girlfriends, all the time. To tell you the truth, I really don't care. I don't.

Today, on the news, there's talk of health care, and scandals, and debt.

There is so much noise. So much noise that brings us down and overwhelms us, until we almost become immune to it. But we don't completely become immune, because I don't think we know how to live without the noise anymore.

We had our nephew over for dinner last week. He's an only child to divorced parents (just like I was), and we like including him in things, especially since he's the same age as my oldest. He had a great time. We ate a good meal, which lasted about half an hour because we were talking and joking the whole time. Then we read a particularly gross part of the Bible (we're reading through Judges with the kids after dinner, so since we had a 14-year-old boy as a guest we decided to read about Ehud, who plunged the sword into the fat king Eglon and "he was so fat the his fat closed around the sword." ). Then we played a game, and everyone helped clean up. It was a riot.

But it was also "quiet". There was no talk of movies, or Tiger, or scandals, or contention. It was just sharing relationship.

I find so often that when you get together with people it isn't much better than the noise we hear on the internet. We all talk about all the same stuff. We discuss Tiger, or we discuss movies or TV shows, or the latest diet craze, or video games. We talk about all the noise. Why don't we just talk about REAL things, like relationships, or life, or jobs, or school, or fun?

I was at another family event recently where the conversation did revolve around noise-items. I came away not really feeling like I knew anyone better, except for one sister-in-law that I always get along with and always talk to. I guess noise-subjects are safe, because few fights break out over them, unlike, say, politics or religion or something. But they're also impersonal. It's as if a wall has been built around so many people's hearts, and you can't ever get any deeper.

My kids see it, too. Sometimes they meet new kids that they just can't talk to, because they only things they want to talk about our pop culture. Katie will say to me, "I tried to change the subject, and asked about her siblings, or school, or her dreams, or whatever, but I really don't think she thinks about anything other than movies."

And undoubtedly, for many people, that's true. There is just too much noise.

I find sometimes that when I'm one on one with people I can break through it and talk about something meaningful, but in a group it's just so hard. And then I wonder why I'm there at all.

I suppose I'm just cynical after too many Christmas outings that seem to have little to do with Christmas, but do you ever feel that way? And do you have a solution?

As for me, I'm simply going to keep inviting my nephew over for dinner more. We had a great time, he had a great time, and there was no noise. Sounds good to me.

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Wrap-Up: Doormats or Wives?

Thanks so much for sharing all your advice on this week's Wifey Wednesday! I wrote about a woman who is married to a man who has basically withdrawn from all areas of their life together. He doesn't go to church with her. He doesn't do things with her. He doesn't believe it's his responsibility to do any housework or cooking. He asks her to work full-time. He spends most of his time with his best friend and the best friend's wife, with whom he seems to have more in common, in their business on the side.

What should she do?

It's going to be hard to summarize all the advice, because it was really insightful, but let me focus on three main areas, and then we'll break it down into individual points.

1. Whatever she does, she has to focus on her own relationship with God first. Her sense of worth, her joy and peace in life, her contentment needs to come from God. So go to church. Pray for yourself (and not only that God will change him). Cling to Jesus, because He is the rock no matter what your marriage does. And the stronger you are in Christ, the stronger you will be in your marriage.

2. Focus on your own issues first. Again, always important. Take anger and bitterness to God and work through that anger and bitterness before you talk to your husband. Don't talk to him out of anger; talk to him out of a sincere desire to make the relationship better. If you're hurt, take it to God. Going to your husband out of neediness or anger when the relationship is already strained doesn't help; it often comes across as nagging, whining, or controlling. Focus on the good things in your husband and reinforce those. Don't talk about the bad things about your husband to anyone except maybe one mature mentor. Pray with gratitude for the good things in him.

3. Here's the controversial one, where not everyone agreed. In any marriage, I think #1 and #2 are key. Often when we change our attitudes towards our husbands, and ask God to equip us to be the best wives we can be, our marriage does change already. For many, all you need is #1 and #2. But there are times when we need a #3. And here's what it is:

When your action (or inaction) contributes to narcissism or unChristlike behaviour in another person, then it is time to change your action.

In other words, by simply being a loving wife and not confronting him on issues, and continuing to do everything in the relationship, you can actually be hurting the relationship.

That's one of the central focuses of my book, To Love, Honor, and Vacuum: When You Feel More Like a Maid Than a Wife and Mother. James Dobson also talks about this in his book Love Must Be Tough: New Hope for Marriages in Crisis. Though it's written specifically for those who have had affairs, his thesis is still true: sometimes what people need is a good dose of reality if they are going to make the right choices. By catering to their every whim and need, we prevent them from having to make those choices, and we can further damage the relationship by being TOO loving.

I do not believe that God calls us to enable selfish behaviour. At the same time, I'm not saying that we should treat our husbands like children, or that with every small infraction we should come down hard. But in a relationship like this woman's where he has given up any responsibility for the marriage, and has consistently pulled away, I do think some action on her part is necessary.

What that action is, however, is up for debate. Let's go over some of the things that were suggested:

A. Seek counselling, either for yourself or for both of you together. Good idea. If you're going together, try for a male counselor. He may listen better.

B. Confront him, not in anger, about the things that he is doing. Insist that you have a date night or frequent time together.

C. Implement consequences. If he does absolutely nothing around the house, while you both still work full-time, then you stop doing his laundry. Do only what is necessary for you, and he can deal with the rest.

(My instinctive problem with this one, though many mentioned it, is that he may honestly not care. Many men, especially young men, don't. All you do, then, is create a bit of chaos for yourself to live in, which can further damage your own mental state. I may agree with not doing his laundry, but I'm really not sure the rest will work).

D. Insist that he stop spending time alone with this woman or communicating with her frequently on email. This business that they're involved in is not worth their marriage, and if the business is taking him away from the marriage, it's time to start again or do it differently.

E. Invest in yourself. Develop your own hobbies, your own interests, your own skills. Do not just wait around for him to suddenly decide to be your husband. Grow as a person. Show him that you are worth pursuing, and stop pursuing him so much. Show kindness and love to him, but that is different from pursuing him. Personally, I would stop asking all the time if he wanted to spend time with me. I would stop asking if we could do things (other than insisting that we have one night together, or one ritual we do together). I would instead focus on building myself. Right now he knows that anytime he feels like being with you, you are there. That's not exciting. And no wonder he takes you for granted! You become, then, not really an equal partner, but instead some sort of lap dog that is there to be kicked around, but comes running back if ever you offer to pet it.

Don't separate emotionally from the marriage, but you have to change the dynamic.

Think of it like this:

Your marriage is like a teeter totter. Your actions and his actions together have caused it to be balanced in a certain way. You want him to change. But you can't make him change. But as you put more, or less, weight on the teeter totter, he changes, too. It just happens.

So you need to start doing things differently.

4. Stay in the marriage.

Here's the hardest one. While not everyone agrees with me on #3, I'm sure not everyone will agree on #4 either. But I believe that marriage is for life. Except for cases of adultery where vows are broken, or for cases of danger, like addiction or abuse, marriage is for life.

He may not be loving towards you. He may be a jerk. But God does not give a "Jerk-Free" Get out Card. It's not fair. It's not nice. It's not the way the world works. But it's the way God works.

But at the same time, let me offer some hope. Many of the commenters said that their husbands used to be like that, too. It was an issue of maturity. But as their husbands were older, and as they did see a counselor, things changed.

Many men act very differently at 40 than they did at 25. It hasn't sunk in yet that they are responsible for a family. I look in my own extended family at a man who spent no time with his kids and never lifted a finger around the house. Today he's a very involved grandpa who does all the grocery shopping and all the vacuuming. You never would have believed that's what he'd become, but he did, and they're very happy together. If she had bailed on that marriage earlier, she never would have reaped these rewards, and seeing her kids and grandkids at holidays would have been so much more complicated.

(Note to parents: I am still in favour of early marriages. Just make sure your girls marry someone who is mature! And for pity's sake, raise your boys to clean toilets.)

Sometimes the best growth happens in these crisis times, when we are forced to rely on God. For many women, those times stretched into years. It isn't easy. But during those times, focus on the good things in your husband. Run to God for your peace. Invest in yourself, and stay an interesting person. Love him, but do not smother him. Act in such a way that you command respect. And you just may find that God brings him back.

I hope that helps. Leave any other comments you want here. Maybe we'll come up with some more good thoughts! But thanks for writing, sarahe, and I hope that this blesses you!

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Life is Good
Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a variety of newspapers. Here's this week's, right in time for my anniversary!

Keith and I are getting away for a night tonight, and I'm so excited! Tomorrow's our family Christmas dinner, but at least we get to escape for a little bit of time. Anyway, here's the column:

When most people picture late December days they envision lights, and parties and presents. Those things dance through my mind, too, but they’re intermingled with wedding dresses, for I was married just four days before Christmas eighteen years ago.

Thus, not only do I have to come up with a Christmas gift for my husband, I have to come up with an anniversary gift, too. And buying for him is infinitely harder than for anyone else, because all of his hobbies are so obscure.

Nevertheless, it’s a rather minor challenge, and one I’m sure that with enough panic and some desperate phone calls to friends, as well as some strategic snooping by my daughters, I’ll be able to rise above.

The greater challenge to me is that annual reminder that my marriage is not something that automatically grows better; it is something that I need to cultivate. And this year, how do I intend to do that?

I must start, I think, with a realistic picture of my life. And part of wisdom is recognizing when you’ve got it good. Unfortunately, humans aren’t very good at admitting we’ve got it good. There’s always something more that would make us just a little bit happier. I need a bigger house. I want a better job. My wife could be a little more affectionate. My husband is a good guy, but I wish he’d communicate more. We always see what we don’t have.

What happens, though, when we focus on those things that we think we’re missing? We believe that life would be better if only we changed some of the variables. That’s why people have affairs! They think that someone else will make them feel more powerful, more desirable, more loved, instead of realizing that the problem is not always with our spouse; more often than not it’s because we can’t see what’s in front of our faces because we’re scanning the horizon to try to nab something better.

Some of us do have difficult lives, and if you have the power to improve things, then go for it. But let me issue a bit of warning: change for the better usually involves work. Change for the worse seems fun at first, but it soon bowls you over. Getting out of an abusive situation is emotionally agonizing, but necessary. Going back to school is difficult, but it often leads to a much better life. Working on your marriage means acknowledging things about yourself you may not want to see, but it usually results in a stronger family. Chucking your values just to have fun, though, usually lands you in a world of hurt.

I’ve gone through periods of hard work, slogging through university degrees, picking up the pieces after my son’s death, working on major trust issues I had when we first were married. Those weren’t easy days, and yet I am grateful for them because they brought me where I am now. I can now happily proclaim that I have a husband I adore who loves me back. He never notices if I’ve gained an extra ten pounds. He never bugs me about snoring (though I sure bug him). He kisses me as soon as he steps into the house, before he hugs the girls or checks his email or raids the fridge.

I’ve got it good.

Sometimes I yearn to hold my breath and bottle up this moment, because it almost seems too happy. And so my prayer this anniversary is both one of gratitude and supplication. “God, I’ve got so much. Please don’t ever let me mess it up.” And if all goes according to plan, I hope to keep praying that prayer for at least another fifty years.

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BUMPED: FREE Webinar: To Love, Honor and Vacuum
(I've put this post at the top again so you won't miss it!)

Hi ladies!

I so appreciate your comments and thoughts on the Wifey Wednesday post below! Keep them coming! I'll try to write a summary post tomorrow with all the great ideas you've given.

But I have a really cool announcement! Today (Thursday) at 3 pm. EST I'm doing a FREE webinar on To Love, Honor and Vacuum!

It's my signature talk that I often give to women's groups. If you've never been able to hear me in person, here's your chance to watch me over the web!

Christmas is when we moms feel so frazzled! We're running around making life perfect for everyone else, but who takes care of us? If you're feeling taken for granted, join us on this webinar as we learn how to make our relationships in our families characterized by respect and generosity, not by disprespect and laziness. Learn why the best gift you can give your future daughter-in-law is a son who cleans toilets! And learn the tools to make that gift a reality!

You don't need any special software. It's all there for you. Simply go here, and scroll down until you see my webinar listed. Then click the link, and you're in!

If you can't listen live, you can always watch later. But it's great to be there live because you can ask questions and chat, too.

So I hope you can join me!

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On Finding One's Place in the Online World
I have mentioned before on this blog that I am hopelessly addicted to political blogs. I tend to read conservative political/economic blogs, and find them very interesting. I've learned a lot. It buoys me to know that there are others that feel the same way that I do about so many things.

And then something remarkable happened to me on Tuesday night of this week. A Canadian blog, a big one, that I've been reading constantly for eight years, posted a tongue in cheek comment on an article saying that the rate of obesity in African urban areas is increasing.

Not really a big deal, except that the comments quickly devolved into what I thought was racist.

I feel very strongly about Africa. I've been to Kenya twice to work at an orphanage, and we're heading out again this year leading a medical team. I'm passionate about micro-finance and the potential for helping lift people out of poverty. I don't believe in government aid, since it tends to enable corruption and keep the population oppressed, but I believe providing clean water in conjunction with NGOs, and using micro-finance, can work wonders, along with providing a culture that is more in line with what God wants.

My heart breaks when I think of the small children on their own in the world, searching for food in garbage bins, having nowhere to sleep, and being raped. I have met some, and it pierces your soul.

So I commented on that post and told the people that they were being heartless. Conservatives should be compassionate, and stand for real-life, common sense solutions to problems. Instead I was told by many other commenters that by working in Africa I was part of the problem. It was a hopeless mess there, the IQ is low anyway, if you rescue orphans, they'll grow up to have too many babies and likely start wars, and we should leave it to its own devices.

I fought on valiantly through several more comments, but then gave up. A few others defended me, but most said that by helping I was prolonging the problem. Better to let the whole place sink into a hellhole.

Honestly, there are few times in my life where I have felt more shame. I didn't feel shame for being attacked; I honestly don't care about that.

What I felt shame for was that for 8 years I had identified with these people. I had agreed with them on almost every issue. But when it came down to it, our values our fundamentally different.

For almost a decade, especially since 9/11, I have thought of myself as a conservative. That really hasn't changed. But what I've realized is that the big gulf in values is not necessarily between conservative and liberal; it is really between Christian and non-Christian. It is a compassion gulf.

Without compassion, we are nothing. Even if helping Africa did no objective good, I would rather spend my dying breath helping some girl who is in danger of being raped than valiantly ignoring her pleas because "what good is it anyway?" I don't want to be a person who ever turns my back on people in need, or who dismisses people as "not worthy" of our compassion. That, to me, is evil.

And so, after a nine year battle of trying to break my addiction to blogs, I think I have just done it. I don't want to be associated with that, even if we agree on so many policy issues. We may agree on politics, but we don't agree on heart issues. And it is those heart issues that matter most.

I realized then that my real community online is not my political one. It is this one. I get such encouragement from you, my readers, as I look through my comments and emails and Tweets and Facebook. I love having debates in the comments! I thought yesterday was particularly productive, as we wrestled through a difficult issue to try to help a reader, and we did so with gentleness and grace and compassion, rather than blaming each other or calling names. We didn't agree on every issue, but it was a time when people could at least make their thoughts known.

I'd like to get to know more of you, but I think we agree far more fundamentally on the important stuff than all these other blogs I've been reading! So leave me some comments. I'm going to try to make it a point to visit more of your blogs. Ask me questions, and give me some ideas for posts. Let's make this a place where we can come for "real" answers to problems, and not only platitudes. Let's let this be a thinking and encouraging place.

I'm glad you're along for the journey, and I'm glad I finally figured out my place in the world.

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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