All These Things I Believe

 

God calls us Home,
Each in His own time,
And that is why life is precious.
Do not fill your days with worry and fear,
But rather, be grateful for the life given you.
Mourn lost loved ones,
But rest safely in the comfort of knowing they are with their Lord.
Do not bemoan getting older;
Each year is another gift from God.
It’s true that life is short,
So don’t waste time on anger, bitterness, and all forms of negativity.
Blessings surround you more than you know;
Embrace them.
The pain and suffering of this world cannot compare to the One who has overcome the world.
You are God’s precious child,
Deserving of love like everyone.
All these things I believe.

Facing Loss and Embracing New Possibilities

Loss.  It’s a word we don’t want to hear, let alone experience.  Yet we all experience it.  We all know loss, not just of it.  Some of us have known it on a first name basis for too many years.  If we’re lucky, some of us know it only as an acquaintance for brief periods throughout life.

When I say “loss,” what comes to mind?  Losing a loved one to death?  Divorce or a tough breakup?  Loss of a job, a friendship, a dream?  Or maybe just all the socks that lost their mates in the laundry?  Sorry, I had to throw a random joke in.  This is a tough subject matter.

Chances are, if you’re lived long enough like me, you know loss intimately enough to define it, to know the emptiness it leaves in its wake, to know healing is hard, to know that moving forward after a great loss can seem insurmountable in the moment of grieving.

I was in a Bible study once where the question was asked: What do you think the saddest word in the English language is?

My answer?  Hopelessness.

Whoever wrote that study agreed with me.  Now maybe you have another word, but I’d suspect that hopelessness would be in your top ten most depressing words.  Hopelessness and loss are often intertwined like a tight braid, held in place by an elastic of grief, anger, sadness, and denial.

Then where is acceptance, which can lead to hope?

My earliest memories of loss aren’t deep: a goldfish being flushed down the toilet, our outdoor pet bunny escaping and running away, attending wakes and funerals of people I didn’t really know.

For me, the loss of my innocence at an early age, something precious ripped from me, was the type of loss that affected me the most at the time.  When I was eight years old, two boys in my neighborhood, barely older than me, sexually molested me.  They had access to pornography.  It wasn’t sex, but it was bad enough.  I knew enough to know that “stuff down there” could cause pregnancy and AIDS, which had just come out as the latest big disease scare.  For months, I thought I was going to die of AIDS and prayed several times a day to God: “Please don’t let me have AIDS.”  Luckily, I told my parents what happened, and they went to the police.  I stayed away from those boys, but it never went to court.  No one was held accountable.  Maybe worse than thinking I had AIDS was that it seemed like everyone at school knew my secret.  Those boys told other kids.  I remember feeling dirty and violated for years after the incident as I walked the halls, sometimes being asked, “Were you raped?”  As a child, I couldn’t pinpoint terms like “dirty” and “violated” to describe the uncomfortable feeling of a slimy snake creeping inside me when people stared and asked rude questions, but I know now that was what I was feeling.

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But I survived because of the kids who were my friends and because of my family.  I had parents who loved me.  I had a few good friends who stuck by my side, and as the years passed, the news of it died.  Understanding more about “stuff down there,” I knew I wouldn’t die of AIDS.  I stayed away from those boys as much as possible.

My next experience with a huge loss came when I was 15 and lost both of my grandmas within two weeks of each other.  My dad’s mom had been battling cancer for over a year, and she lived in Kentucky, so I rarely saw her and wasn’t that close to her.  While my dad and brother attended her funeral, my mom and I stayed home to be with her mom, who was in the hospital.  We received the news no one wants to hear–the cancer had metastasized to her lungs (from a sarcoma on her leg the previous year), and there was nothing to be done.  Even chemo would only give her a small chance.  She was already 81 years old and didn’t want to go through that.  Despite being given two to six months, she passed a mere two weeks later.  She was at our house, so she died surrounded by family and didn’t suffer for long.

I had always known my life with my dear grandma.  We visited her every Sunday after church.  She had that warm voice that greeted us and those rosy cheeks and that beautiful smile.  She always had candy in her purse and cookies on top of her fridge.  She had her quirks from living through the Great Depression of watering down her shampoo, of saving a hundred plastic bags, and of using the smallest amount of batter left to make a quarter-sized pancake an eighth inch thick.  She burned her pizza that tasted like cardboard, but her pork chops were marvelous.  She spent every Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter with us.  She went on numerous vacations with my family.  She was special.

pablo (2)So how could I, at 15, understand what it meant to face life without one of the most important people?  While she was still in the hospital, I wrote a letter to her, where I told her brave she was, how much I loved and admired her, and asked her to send me a sign upon reaching Heaven.  She passed on a dreary early April day.  The rain continued until the day of her funeral four days later.  After we came home from an emotionally draining day, my mom called me to look out the window with her.  Stretched across the clearing sky was a beautiful rainbow!  I knew this was her sign to me!  Just as soon as my mom and I saw Grandma’s rainbow, it faded.  I had no doubts.  I found comfort in that rainbow.  Even though I would miss her dearly, time had helped heal the immediate stabbing loss.  A scar remains on my heart, but my grandma and her rainbow would go on to create something miraculous.

I wrote her life story in a fictionalized account and published it a year ago.  She has been my inspiration to write more books, to embrace what I call my heart’s song, my raison d’etre.  Not only died my grandma give me hope and the possibility to write, but my daughter is named after her.  Emma was a surprise child, not planned but welcomed and blessed!

Out of loss came immense possibility that became reality.

As the years went on, I would know the loss of a relationship with a boy who I once was in love with, but I would then meet the wonderful man who would become my husband and the father to my children, who I’ve been married to for 14 years.

We enjoyed several years of marriage where it was just the two of us.  We got to know each other more intimately.  We travelled to Italy, Hawaii, the Caribbean.  We focused on our careers.  We got a house together and made it our own.

The next step seemed obvious: children.  I was in my late twenties.  Everyone around me seemed to be getting pregnant, so I knew I was at that life stage when it was time.  My husband, Erik, and I were ready…as ready as we could be.

pablo (3)Little did I know how hard our journey to conceive would become.  Every month would come and go the same: hope that this would be the month we got lucky, only to flee with more tears and heartache at an empty womb.  This trend would continue for the next two and a half years.  My husband and I went through testing.  They could find nothing wrong.  We tried artificial insemination three times…nothing.  We were told fertility drugs would only increase the chances slightly, so we held off.  As 2008 drew to a close, we were on the verge of trying in vitro.  Drained beyond panic and exhaustion at this point, I suggested we held off for six months and just tried to relax and enjoy life again.  We had put so much pressure on ourselves to conceive that I was just done.  With it being Christmas, my favorite time of year, I didn’t want to deny myself drinking some wine and the general fun of the festivities.  

That Christmas was great.  Pictures from the time show a true smile on my face, surrounded by coworkers, friends, and family.  I stopped thinking so much about conceiving.

The New Year came.  I was late.  Of course, there had been a few months when I had been tricked before by this very thing.  Why did early pregnancy symptoms have to mirror the ones I got when it was that time of the month?  I knew the stabbing pain of loss from too many months of not conceiving, and I didn’t want to be tricked again.  Why get my hopes up?

But I couldn’t wait.  It was now five days past.  In the bathroom at work, I took a pregnancy test.  When two lines appeared instead of one, I thought for sure this was a dream.  You can imagine my elation!  Finally!

All those months of loss died upon receiving this amazing news.  My pregnancy would continue as healthy, and I gave birth to a 7 pound boy right on his due date of September 10, 2009.  Luke was a miracle baby, a baby so many friends and family, and my husband and I, had been praying for for years.  

As Luke grew, we knew we wanted to grow our family more.  The stresses of trying to conceive were no longer a problem because we knew we could do it.  Luke was now a toddler, a happy kid who was walking and beginning to talk.  A younger brother or sister would be great for him.  As we wanted our kids close in age (2-3 years apart), we decided the time was ripe.  On New Year’s Eve of 2010, I had a hunch I was pregnant and took a test.  It was positive!  The exciting thing was that this second baby would be due the same date as Luke’s birthday!  We attended a friend’s party that evening, and I declined the wine.  The other girls gave me knowing looks, two of whom were pregnant.  We all squealed quietly.  

On January 12, 2011, I miscarried.  Sure, it was early…only six weeks in, but the loss of my baby hit me like a train.  Loss of life is tragic, no matter how old.  A mother carries her child in her for the first nine months.  She and the child are literally a part of each other during that time.  I think I cried more that day than I ever had.  My prayers to save the child went unfulfilled.  I was devastated.  How could I possibly move on from this?

One thing I knew: I didn’t want to keep my loss to myself.  Having a miscarriage is understandably a very private thing for many people, but suffering alone is daunting.  I shared my experience with those around me, mostly other women from church and my friends.  What did I immediately notice?  How common miscarriages were.  How many people related and understood what I’d been through.  If it weren’t for these brave, strong women supporting me through this tough time, I wouldn’t have been able to heal.  Of course, a woman never can forget her lost child, but with the support of friends and the passage of time, healing can occur.

My doctor encouraged me to try to have another baby after allowing my body (and mind) to heal for a month.  Would you believe I got pregnant that first month?  After the hardship of trying to conceive with our first child, there was no pressure.  I had another healthy boy that November: Josh.

As my boys grew, life seemed to fall into a comfortable routine.  I continued to stay home with Luke and Josh.  The boys played together and were both generally happy kids.  As Luke got older, however, we noticed that he wasn’t developing socially and verbally like other kids his age.  We had already enrolled him in speech therapy soon after turning two, as he didn’t have many words.  Seeing little progress over several months with therapy and Help Me Grow intervening in our home, it was suggested that I take him to a developmental pediatrician.

Luke wasn’t even three years old when we got the diagnosis: moderate autism with a speech delay.  My husband and I sat there as the developmental pediatrician, a speech therapist, and a psychiatrist gave us the news.  We were inundated with information in the form of tons of papers of what we should be doing as far as intervention, plans to move forward, what the diagnosis meant, and so much more that I couldn’t process it all.  

I went home, determined to be proactive.  I enrolled Luke in occupational therapy (OT) for his fine motor delays.  Help Me Grow got us set up with the preschool in our city, and he would be receiving services there.  We would continue private speech.  I read through the information and tried to arm myself with knowledge, hoping that early intervention would make a difference.  My son was still so young, after all.  He had time to catch up with his peers.

Luke made progress, but it was slow.  He, to this day, speaks in single words or short phrases to express his wants and needs.  We paid a lady to come into our home to potty train him over a weekend, and it was successful…only to have that work undone a couple of years later when he regressed with no understandable reason why.  We haven’t been able to completely get back to where we were with toileting.

While usually a happy kid, Luke has been prone to meltdowns, especially when overloaded due to sensory processing issues.  Loud noises, crowded rooms, hunger, cold, heat, tiredness, and more can trigger a meltdown.  When he was smaller, it was easy enough to pick him up and put him in his room until he calmed down.  

As he’s grown, his meltdowns have gotten harder to control and more violent.  He kicks, hits, pulls hair, throws thing, and pulls pictures off walls.  We’ve had to remove the lamps and anything breakable from his bedroom.  He is on a medication to help with the meltdowns, and while they are less frequent, they can happen without provocation.  His mood can change like someone has flipped a switch.  As his mother, it breaks my heart to see him like this, to know he cannot express himself like he wants to.

pablo (4)My biggest struggle is facing the loss of the son who I thought I would have.  I will be honest.  I hate autism most days.  Look what it does to my son.  As moms, we have these too-perfect dreams of what our kids are going to be like.  Sure, we expect them to have some struggles and quirks, but a diagnosis like autism… Who expects that?  I often rant and rail at God at the unfairness of it all.  I have cried bitter, angry, dejected tears in the middle of the night or locked away in my closet because–let’s be honest–it’s not fair.  Even yelling at God is prayer, however.  Any communication with God is prayer.  Knowing that helps.  God can handle my anger.

Soon after the diagnosis, after a few weeks of trying to hold it together and be proactive, depression grabbed hold of me and pulled me down.  I took out my anger and hurt on those closest to me.  Sadly, from time to time, I have turned to this dark place because sometimes I just cannot take it.  I feel unqualified, underprepared, unable to raise a special needs child.  Did God really think I could handle this?  

I have been through plenty of times of loss in my life, but those losses have either resolved themselves or have found a way of healing.  This time, this loss is ongoing.  There’s no end in sight.  This is lifelong.

So what do I do?  How do I choose to face this epic loss and embrace a new possibility?  Hard truth: I embrace the loss of my picture-perfect dream and truly embrace the boy who is my son.  Because he is my son.  He is a person worthy of love and deserving of understanding.   No diagnosis changes a mother’s love for her child.

If it weren’t for Luke’s autism, I would not have met many other precious people in my life.  I have cried with other moms “who get it.”  I have hugged and been their source of encouragement, and they have returned the favor.  Other people have been strong for me when I couldn’t be.  My parents, my church, my friends…they are the true heroes here, not me.

And God.  I cannot understand why Luke has autism, but I believe God works good from the bad.  My heart and mind have been opened by raising a special needs child.  I believe I am more compassionate and understanding of others who have various diagnoses.  I believe we all will go through some sort of diagnosis at some point in life.  It’s all part of living.  God holds us and sustains us through, often by using other people in our lives to carry us when we cannot walk.

Whatever loss you’re facing in your life, I ask you to take some time to try to see a new possibility in it.  Every experience is a chance to grow, to learn something, to continue in hope.

That is a much better place to be than alone and suffering in your loss.  Loss is just as much a part of life as gain.  I believe there is much to be gained in loss–hope for tomorrow.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday, including book reviews.

My new novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for only $2.99 here.

My first novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful,  is available for $3.99 here.

 

Small Group Friendships

If the title of this blog reminds you of cliques from when you were in school, stop right there.  While I can feel that vibe, this is about the opposite.  This, my friends, is a blog not just about friendship but about small group friendships.

What do I mean by that?  My definition of small group friendship is based on a cluster of people who come together regularly because they have a common purpose, goal, or interest, and they continue to meet often over the course of several weeks, months, or years, getting to know each other more deeply than just by the initial thing that brought them together.  In time, these people become true friends, and while members of the group may get together one-on-one, the group as a whole gets along so well that they love spending time all together.  These groups can become accountability groups, groups that hold you up through hard times, groups that pray for or with you, groups that go out for a drink with you or a good time.  

I have a few of these groups, and I’m going to write about my experiences with them and how these groups of amazing individuals have enriched my life.  I hope you have at least one group like this in your life, and if you don’t, I encourage you to find or create one.

The first of such groups I am a part of is a group of women from church who have been meeting regularly since early 2011.  We get together most Mondays (with summers off) in a room at church and do different faith-based book or video studies together.  The discussion these studies generate often leads to pondering some deep life questions, to pulling at a few heartstrings, and to exploring our connection with God and each other.  These ladies have become like sisters to me.  While people have come and gone over the years, there is a core group.  We have hosted luncheons at our houses.  We have done outreach and small missions.  We have shared laughter and tears.  It’s the place that feels like coming home, you know?  It’s definitely a heart group more than a mind group, and that’s what we love about it.  We can be authentic, vulnerable, and open without feeling judged. Sometimes these ladies are like therapists to me! When we haven’t met in a while, I feel that gaping hole in my life. Going to this group feeds my soul.pablo (9)

The next group that comes to mind is also connected to church, although the dynamic has changed over the years. Back in 2008, a few other young married couples joined our church. (We are not so young now–haha!) Only one of the couples had a kid. Since then, we have all had kids. (The kids now outnumber us!) We began meeting for adult Sunday school, having formed a group for people our age. At the time, there was a need for a group like that. Circumstances have made it next to impossible to meet for Sunday school any longer, but we still do things socially about every other month. It’s often the case that the guys do their own thing and the girls theirs. As couples, we try to do something annually, but getting sitters is a challenge. The girls always go out for our birthdays, even if it’s just for ice cream. (And who needs an excuse to eat ice cream?) As moms of young kids, we often talk about our woes, worries, and joys of motherhood. We get it. I am grateful to have this group of other moms who are at the same life stage as me, and that despite the craziness of our lives, we have stayed friends.

While there are other groups in my life that are important (MOPs–Mothers of Preschoolers, a Thursday morning Bible study, a special needs parents group, etc.), I won’t go into all of them.  Some groups are still fairly new to me, so I don’t feel I’ve developed a deep connection with them yet, even though those groups serve their purposes and are wonderful in their own ways.  Some groups don’t meet often enough for me to really feel a huge connection.  Other groups have come and gone (another moms group I was in at church for years, a short-term special needs Bible study, a Saturday evening church group, etc.).  While I am a stay-at-home mom, I am still quite busy with running the house, cleaning, cooking, shopping, taking care of three kids, managing expenses, and more.  I am not just a weekly blogger, but I am an author and a writer.

Which brings me to the final group I would like to mention: my writers group.  Of my groups, this is the newest.  I’ve been attending a writers group at the local library for just a little over a year.  We meet every other Saturday afternoon for a few hours.  We read and critique each other’s stuff, chapter by chapter.  This might not sound like a lot of fun to some of you, especially if you don’t enjoy reading.  But writers are also readers.  We are like-minded people, and I have developed friendships with most of the people from the group.  Like my other groups, people have come and gone, but there is definitely a core.  The ladies from the group have recently started meeting for lunch.  I’m getting to know one of the girls who’s my age on a one-on-one basis as well.  This group is awesome, and as a writer, this group is immensely important to me.  These people who “get it” in terms of writing have helped me become a better writer.  It’s thanks to them that my whole second book was edited and able to be recently published in the fixed up format it’s in.  More than their writing and editing abilities, however, is the value of their friendship.  I love this group and wrote about the benefits of joining a writers group here.

So, there you have it.  I’ve shared examples of my small group friendships with you and why they are vital to enriching my life.  Are you part of at least one small group?  If not, I encourage you to find one.  Churches can provide a great source of support groups.  Libraries often have book clubs and other groups.  There are national groups like MOPs for moms.  

If you don’t have the time, ask yourself why and try to make the time.  I believe we make time for what matters.  Maybe you aren’t comfortable walking into a group of strangers.  Get a few of your good friends together and form a group.  Make it about something you share in common and make it a point to meet regularly.  Hold each other accountable to that.  We all have busy schedules and can come up with a million excuses for why we haven’t gotten together with our friends.  At the end of your life, you won’t be regretting that you didn’t work enough, keep your house clean enough, or make enough money.  But you might regret not spending enough quality time with people.  People matter.  Small group friendships are just one way to keep that bond going.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday and a book review the second Friday.

My new novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for only $2.99 here.

My first novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful,  is available for $3.99 here.

 

Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude

Ugh, do I have to wake up?

Waking up is vastly overrated.  The pillows, the blankets, the soft curve of the mattress against my body, these are calling my name, beckoning me like a lullaby.

But if I’m honest with myself, I’m lucky today.  I actually didn’t wake before my alarm on my phone.  My kids didn’t wake me up.

Hey, I can get dressed, wash my face, and brush my hair in five minutes of silence!

Small blessings…

If I sound sarcastic, I don’t mean to be.  There are those sunny people who would tell me to be happy for another sunrise, and while part of me wants to show them where they can shove their bright remarks, the better part of me knows they’re right.

Besides, you can’t hold too much against me right now.  I haven’t had my coffee yet.

So, it’s the start of another day.  In the hour or so before getting out of the house, I need to feed three young kids breakfast and get them dressed and ready for school (with the exception of my daughter, who is only one).  Oh, and I also need to feed myself somewhere in there.  You’d think this wouldn’t be so hard, but that’s a lie many young moms tell themselves to feel better.  Kids are disagreeable by nature, little people designed to push Mommy’s buttons.  I admit I am not the most patient person on the planet, but after several mishaps in less than an hour, sometimes I’m ready for the clock to read 8:00 PM and not 8:00 AM.

But I push through my little aggravations…usually.  I get the boys off to school, and it’s to the Y to work out.  Working out is a great stress-reliever, but you know what comes to mind about the Y for me?  There is an older gentleman who works at the Y I go to.  He’s a custodian.  It’s his job to clean toilets, to scrub floors, and to unclog drains.  Yet he always, always smiles at me (and everyone he passes) and says, “Hello, how you doing?”  He’s the type of guy you can’t help but smile back at and say hello, even on the tough days.

So, what’s he got that a lot of us don’t?  Can I have your seeds of happiness and plant them inside of me, sir?  I don’t like being miserable…and yet, I do it to myself.  I choose to complain many, many times throughout every day about mostly trivial things: red lights, running late, being behind a slow driver, my son arguing with me, having to turn around and change a poopy diaper after just doing so…

Yet there are bigger things that lie just under the surface.  Am I a good mom?  Am I doing enough for my kids?  I don’t feel equipped to be the mom of an autistic son.  Who thought I could handle this?  What about my dreams, my ambitions, my identity?  I’m a writer.  Is my stuff any good?  Are people just humoring me by being nice?  Do people really want to be my friends?  Who could possibly love me?

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Wow.

Tough questions that stab at the heart.  Those are seeds of discontent, of lies, of hatred, of fear.  Plant those and they will choke out anything good, honest, loving, and hopeful.

I’m throwing out this obvious disclaimer before I go any further: I am not an expert on the topic I’m going to attempt to write about here–gratitude.  My guess is you probably struggle with feeling grateful most days as well.  It seems to be human nature to focus on the negatives.  So, let’s take this journey together.  Let’s foray into the muck of lies we tell ourselves (that we’re no good) and try to come out on the other end into something better (that we’re worthy).

I have done some book studies in a small group I’m in at church on this topic–gratitude.  Some people call it counting your blessings.  It’s not always easy, especially when emotions take hold and force us to take an ugly turn.  As I’ve gotten older (and maybe a bit wiser), I have heard that little voice in the back of my head more–yes, even when I’m super-hormonal and slightly crazy!

When things are spiraling out of control, I can often see it unraveling.  I know I am only going to make things worse for me and everyone else who has the unfortunate habit of crossing my path miserable.  Often, I am focusing on one bad thing and ignoring many good things.  There’s that one person who has let me down (or so I think), has pissed me off, or is just seeming to not live up to my expectations.  Ah, expectations.  Those nasty, petty things we want others to do, because, you know, we (read: I) know best.  Um, right…

Stop right there.  This is where we (yes, you and I) take a deep breath and think.  Yes, think.  Not react.  Think about what’s going right in life.  There are plenty of people who love me, who support me, who are there for me.  I am breathing, aren’t I?  I am alive.  Sometimes it’s raining, and I long for sunshine.  Sometimes it’s sunny, and I want a rainy day to cuddle inside and read a good book.  But every day is truly a blessing when you think about it.

If you’re like most Americans, you have a roof over your head, food on the table, and clothes on your back.  You don’t even have to think about these things, these bare necessities, but they are blessings.  Often, I find that when I am taking my blessings for granted, when I stop and think about it, I know I have been blessed to be a blessing to others.

That’s gratitude–being thankful for what you do have without expecting more.  A wise woman I know who has been through hell and back has a mantra: What are you doing with what you already got?

So, plant those seeds of the good stuff and water them often.  That’s how you start cultivating an attitude of gratitude.  You make the conscious effort (a choice, yes) to be grateful every day and count those blessings.  I started writing my blessings down, with the goal of reaching 1000.  I think I stopped somewhere in the 800s, but I got pretty far!  I didn’t write them all in one day…a few a day, sometimes with several weeks in between writing them down.  When you see those blessings written down, it can make them more concrete.

It takes a lot of practice and a constant, conscious effort to cultivate an attitude of gratitude.  Do it enough, and that little voice starts to speak with more authority.  You are more than the sum of your fears and little hates.  You are someone whose life has a purpose.  For me, I believe God sees the beauty in us even when we don’t see it in ourselves.

Those seeds can grow into something beautiful, something life-sustaining and worth sharing with others.  So, I invite you to think about it.  Plant some good seeds with me, make a choice, and watch them grow.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday and a book review the second Friday.

My new novel, Lorna versus Laura, is being released on Sept. 2 and is available for pre-order (only $2.99) here.

My first novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful,  is available for $3.99 here.

Staying in Love Long-term

I have been married for thirteen and a half years.  That may not seem like long to someone who’s been married many more years, but it’s not uncommon for someone to tell me that I’ve already stayed married longer than a lot of couples.  Reaching the ten year mark is quite the accomplishment, I guess!

Believe it or not, 2016 marked a low in divorce rates since the early 1980s, when it peaked.  While some 40-50% of marriages still result in divorce, there are still plenty of couples who have stayed together long term.  My own parents will be married 47 years in May.

Back to my own marriage for a minute… On my wedding day, I was only 23.  Part of the reception involved the wedding dance where couples who have been married the longest stay on the dance floor the longest.  My husband, Erik’s, great uncle and aunt had just celebrated 50 years in 2003.  I remember watching them as they held each other on that dance floor, the way they looked into each other’s eyes after so many years and were still as much in love as they were when they first met.  After the dance ended, we hugged them, and I told them that I hoped my marriage would be as blessed as theirs and would last as long as theirs.  They smiled and thanked us, saying that it wasn’t too roses and butterflies in those 50 years, but that yes, they were still in love.  Since that time, they have celebrated their 60th anniversary and are still alive at 63 years of marriage.

Wow.

Can you imagine?

So, how do couples like my husband’s great aunt and uncle do it?

It’s not easy, but nothing worthwhile is easy.

We just celebrated Valentine’s Day this month.  It’s sort of funny that we have to have a holiday to celebrate love or being in love, as if this weren’t something we should be celebrating every day.  I realize that Valentine’s Day isn’t just about romantic love, but this blog’s focus will be on that sort of love.

hearts

When I asked others how they stayed in love long-term, I received many answers.  There is not magical, one-size-fits-all solution.  Different strategies work for different couples.

Also, let me be clear that I am not limiting staying together as a couple to just marriages.  Whatever your opinion on marriage, on cohabitation, or on gay or straight couples, the purpose of this blog is to cover all couples and how they remain in love for the long haul.  At the end of the day, it is commitment that matters.  Plenty of people are married and unfaithful.  Commitment, I believe, is the cornerstone upon which you build your love and marriage.  Without a full “yes, I do” to the other person, how can anything else grow upon what would be an unstable foundation?

Falling in love is easy.  Staying in love is hard.  That requires a choice to be made on a daily, almost moment-by-moment, basis.  Sometimes words of affirmation can help remind us of our commitment.  By saying “I love you” often and meaning it, we are reminded of our love.  Saying what you love about the other person and being grateful for all that they do and who they are also goes a long way.  But words only go so far.

Physical touch is also important.  For all you might hear that physical intimacy isn’t as important as the emotional piece, this just isn’t true.  Holding hands, hugging, and kissing are great ways to express your love, but having sex regularly is vital to any committed relationship.  It shouldn’t be a chore.  It is one of the ways people experience love, so sex is crucial to staying in love.  A relationship that’s run dry will likely not have much sex in it.  Of course, I am not saying that sex alone is enough!  Sex between two people who love each other is love, not lust.

Also go on regular dates, at least once a season, but try for once a month!  It doesn’t have to cost a lot.  An hour away from the kids (if you have them) to walk on the beach is free.  Paying a sitter for a few hours is worth keeping your marriage or relationship healthy.  Dating isn’t just for people when they first meet.

Staying in love requires perseverance.  Life is full of ups and downs.  You’ve probably heard something akin to a marriage or a long-term relationship being like a marathon and not a sprint.  You are in this for the long haul, so there are going to be times when you will have to buckle in and hunker down, knowing that through good times and bad, your relationship is worth keeping alive.  This may mean giving space when it’s needed.  This could be appreciating the little things and remembering to express gratitude for them.  Most of all, being a constant support, your spouse’s or significant other’s best friend, is going to be an essential building block for your foundation as a couple.

Seeing things through together, no matter what the crisis, can make a marriage or relationship stronger.  Bad things are bound to happen.  How do we deal with them?  Alone and cowering in a corner?  Blaming the other person, holding a grudge, being angry and bitter?  Or standing as a united front?  The marriage or relationship as a whole is bigger than the parts.  Stronger together than apart.  You know the old saying: United we stand, divided we fall.

Communication, communication, communication.  Talk about it.  Don’t keep things to yourself or expect your mate to read your mind and/or know what you’re thinking.  Be honest but fair.  Know when to compromise, but don’t compromise your love.  Ask yourself if what’s bothering you is really worth potentially ending a marriage or long-term relationship.  If it’s because your man or woman doesn’t put their socks in the laundry and it annoys you, it’s not worth blowing up about.  While true that little things can add up to big things, be mindful for what the big things really are.  Abuse of any sort, infidelity, or addiction are not okay.  These are the big roadblocks to any marriage.

Nothing should ultimately come between two people who are in love.  There will always be new challenges just around the bend in the road of life, but together, you drive the bumps and turns.

I am sure most of the things I’ve said are common sense or things you have heard before.  There is nothing new about this list, but it’s good to be reminded sometimes.  The stress of life can lead a person to feeling alone, like no one understands what they’re going through, and they may start to pull away from their partner.  To the partner who needs to be the strong one during times like this, push through it.

It will hurt.  It won’t be easy.  But I guarantee you, it will be worth it.  Stay in love.

Like what you’ve read?  Want to read more?  Consider downloading the e-book or ordering a paper copy of my original book, Hannah’s Rainbow, available on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful

This blog will be updated at the end of every month.  Stay tuned for March’s blog: having an attitude of gratitude!

04/07/17 update: My apologies for no blog in the month of March.  Life happens, but in the month of April, I will be reblogging two previous autism-related posts due to April being Autism Awareness Month, and I will also be writing a new blog post by the end of April related to autism.  Stay tuned for a future blog post on the topic of having an attitude of gratitude!