Me and my little lightbulbs in the bluebonnets!

Me and my little lightbulbs in the bluebonnets!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Into the Valley: Loving Your Spouse Through a Layoff

It took my husband and I a couple of years to fully recover from the near year he was out of work. We were wrecked emotionally and financially. When it happened we had two tiny kids at home and I was a work-at-home mom with my own small business, which wasn't nearly enough to keep us afloat.

My husband felt kicked in the teeth. A big, tough manly man, even he was reduced to tears on occasion as we groped through this new territory. The worst part for me was I didn't know how to support him.

No one I knew had been through this, especially with little kids to consider. And, as our checking account dwindled so did my husband's morale. He worked odd jobs, pulled weeds, handed out fliers throughout the neighborhood advertising handy man work, anything to keep even a little money coming in.

And in my lowest moments, when it didn't seem that God was hearing my prayers, it seemed life would sink even lower. A bill would come in we couldn't pay or a job that Dan had interviewed for would fall through. It was a maddening push and pull of hope and fear.

Eventually we were blessed with an opportunity for Dan to work with a nearby company. He wasn't just employed, but he was close enough to pick kids up from school or attend recitals. In the years since, we've had the chance to mentor people through this same difficulty, knowing how hard it is to find someone - anyone - to lean on in such times.

Here are five tips we usually give couples struggling through this daunting situation. I hope they help you or others you know.

1. Don't blame each other. 

Emotions are going to run high. There will be moments of desolation and weariness. That is no one's fault. Know that your husband or wife was a victim of circumstance, and they couldn't have changed the outcome. Instead of fueling a tense situation with blame, consider how you might serve your spouse. Take them out for a drive. Speak kind words into their soul. Make their favorite meal. Oftentimes, we fight with those we love as a way of combating our own feelings of inadequacy. A loving gesture is often the greatest salve for a wounded spirit.

2. Don't have the same bad day. 

This was actually my husband's idea. He being the more even-keeled of the two of us, knew this would be an emotional struggle for me. He looked across from the table at me in the beginning and said simply,"We are both going to have bad days. But we just can't have the same bad day." So, the decision was made: whoever got their first could claim the bad day. The other person's job was to build up, encourage and lighten the mood a little. I believe this strategy saved our marriage.

3. Distract yourself. 

Thankfully, my husband's layoff occurred in the spring and summer when there were plenty of free activities in the area. If we had been mired down in the job hunt for too long, one of us would pick a place to visit and go. Sometimes it was just to a park, sometimes to a Farmer's Market. We made it a little mini staycay, visiting places we didn't get to see that were nearby. Not only did this break up the monotony of our situation, but it also helped us enjoy the opportunity we had to be together as a family after years of Dan's commuting hours away. And on the cheap, too, I might add!

4. Avoid social media. 

Aside from anything related to job searching, you should avoid social media content. As awful as it may sound, it's just really hard to be happy for others when you are going through a tough financial situation. Seeing posts of vacation pictures or new car purchases will only feed your depression. And it could possibly feed feelings of frustration toward your spouse that he or she doesn't deserve. Instead, pick up the phone or visit someone in person. That way you are getting one-on-one interaction, which is important, but avoiding the onslaught of hundreds of people's triumphs.

5. Don't bail on church. 

It's tough to drag yourself into the pew when you are struggling. They pass the offering plate, and you wonder if you can afford to place that $20 bill in there. What will that do to your grocery budget for the week? But, as most pastors will attest, church is not about the offering plate. It's about connecting with your community of believers. It's about praising and praying to God, even in the midst of despair. True, He will meet you anywhere, but only in church can you feel the prayers of hundreds of others swirling around you.

Don't be afraid to be honest with your pastor about your situation. Not only can he be a source of counsel and comfort, but he may know someone in the congregation with a job opening or connection to one. Never underestimate the power of community or prayer.

When Dan finally was hired on at his current company, it was a welcome relief. But it took a long time for both of us to trust our new situation. However, we never doubted our commitment to one another. And, in the end, I know it made our relationship ever stronger. We now know that we will walk with each other through the valleys without quaking. In the end, that is what God's divine marriage plan is for. If just one of these tips helps you toward that end, I'm thankful we endured it so we could be a blessing to you.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Day My Son Stopped Believing

I knew it was going to happen. Like most red-blooded American parents, we perpetuated the Santa Claus myth knowing full well that our bright boy would one day wise up to our plot. He'd figure out the "truth," and deep down I'd prepared for him to be bitterly disappointed; maybe even fight feelings of betrayal. But what he did instead sort of stunned me.

Just the other day we were talking about Santa when my 10-year-old looked at me with a smirk. "Mom," he said. "C'mon. I know how it works."

"Whatever do you mean?" I asked in mock innocence. "How does it work?"

He proceeded to whisper, so as not to give away our little secret to his 7-year-old brother, that he knew we bought the presents. At first I was not sure how to respond to this conversation between us. Should I fain shock? Should I stand by our contention that a man in a big red suit ho-ho-hoed his way down our chimney and sprinkled goodies around our tree? Do I deflect?

That's when he really stunned me. "Thank you," he said, wrapping his arms around my neck in a hug. 

This was not the result I was anticipating. He was fine. Pleased, even, it seemed, to be in on the secret. But inside I was shattered. Here it was, the first of many layers of innocence falling away from my once-little boy.

I'm not going to pretend that this didn't sting. In fact, I cried myself to sleep that night, praying to God that He could stretch these years just a little further. But I know the truth. Growing up is inevitable.

Today it's Santa Claus. Tomorrow it's the Easter Bunny (not that he still believes in the Easter Bunny, but oh, the day when he decides he's too old to hunt eggs!)

I often feel that I'm standing at the top of a snow cap, holding desperately to a sled threatening to plunge down the hill at full force. I know my grip is slipping and any minute the sled of childhood will be out of my grasp heading toward maturity. This is the part that hurts, that I can't stop it no matter how much I tighten my hold.

So, now we stand in the light of truth. I realize I can't have a stranglehold on my children. They will grow up. And Santa, unfortunately, is one of the first of childish things my son is leaving behind him. Still, I think with a smile at his reaction. Instead of bitterness, his was an attitude of thanksgiving. Instead of ruining his brother's illusions, he showed tremendous graciousness and joy in participating with us.

He's eager to talk up Santa to his brother, and even, if begrudgingly, smiled for a photo with the big jolly man this year. My son is participating in the fun, and that, it seems, is making Christmas even more special for him this year. 

When I think of it in this new light, I realize it's not so bad, this growing up business. Eventually, there will be no more serious Santa talk in our home, but it doesn't have to mean the magic is gone. It just means the magic is maturing.

With that in mind, I think I'll loosen my grip a little on that sled. Instead, I've decided to jump on and enjoy the ride with my kids as long as they will let me. And, who knows? Maybe the scenery gets even better from here.