14 DAYS TO A HAPPIER MARRIAGE

By Tracie Miles
Speaker & Author, Proverbs 31 Ministries

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Hi friend! I am so glad that you have signed up as a subscriber to my blog and that we will be walking together in this adventurous journey of faith from this day forward (no pun intended!). I am thrilled to be sending you my Ebook, 14 Days To A Happier Marriage, and pray that it will have an impact on your heart, how you see and treat your husband or husband to be, and your marriage overall. Every girl fantasizes about the perfect wedding, but I dare saw that most everyone falls short in the category of fantasizing about the perfect marriage. Planning a wedding is much easier than planning for a successful marriage. But that is the most important thing of all! There is simply no doubt about it – marriage is hard. In fact, if someone told us the realities of how hard marriage would be, I doubt that anyone would ever get married at all! Although marriage is a joy and a privilege which can bring great blessing, it can also bring heartache at times. Unfortunately, statistics show that nearly 50% of all marriages will end up in divorce. Even sadder, is that Christian marriages suffer the same percentage. There are a lot of proposed reasons that have contributed to the rise of marriage problems and divorce, and we could probably spend all day reviewing all those varied reasons…... ….money troubles, dual career households, stress, child rearing, women’s liberation, gender role differences, same sex marriage tolerance, infidelity, pornography, more lenient divorce laws which make it easier and cheaper to sever relationships…. and the societal acceptance of divorce. But in my opinion, this rise in divorce rates is mainly due to the fact that our society no longer views marriage the way God meant for it meant to be. Between a man and a woman. For better or for worse. As a sacred covenant between two people who pledged their love before Him. But no matter how the world tries to destroy God’s covenant of marriage, we have the power to fight against the enemy that works the tear marriages and families apart, by making the Christ the center of our heart, and ultimately, the center of our marriage. My prayer is that this Ebook will give you encouragement to enjoy your marriage, face the hard times when they come, and get excited about relying on Christ when things get tough. There is no full proof plan for any relationship, but as we rely on God’s guidelines and truths as the foundation of our marriage, we have the power within us to build a strong and fulfilling marriage.

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14 DAYS TO A HAPPIER MARRIAGE
Daily Challenges Preface Introduction: Love, Respect, Admiration Day One Challenge: Day Two Challenge: Day Three Challenge: Day Four Challenge: Day Five Challenge: Day Six Challenge: Day Seven Challenge: Day Eight Challenge: Day Nine Challenge: Day Ten Challenge: Day Eleven Challenge: Day Twelve Challenge: Day Thirteen Challenge: Day Fourteen Challenge: A Final Word Prayer Promote
DAY ONE: INTRODUCTION

Page 3 Page 6 Page 8 Page 12 Page 15 Page 19 Page 23 Page 27 Page 30 Page 33 Page 37 Page 41 Page 46 Page 50 Page 54 Page 59 Page 62

Perspective Provide Protect Play Practice Pursue Pardon Peace Partner Plant Paradigm Shift Persevere
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PREFACE
A couple years ago, I wrote a devotion for the Proverbs Encouragement For Today online devotions which focused on marriage. I was blow away at the response I received. What became crystal clear, through the hundreds of blog comments, Facebook messages, and emails that I received, is that every married woman struggles with marriage in some way. Regardless of age, or how many years one has been married, our relationships with our husbands are a priority in our lives. When things are not going smoothly, or hurts have run deep, it becomes harder and harder to maintain that joy that we have in Christ, much less in our men. So many times, women keep their marriage problems hidden inside their hearts, fearing what other people will think if they found out. Although the stigma of divorce is not near what it was in past generations, it is still not something that anyone wants to have to go through. What a tragedy it is, when so many women are hurting, desperately needing a shoulder to lean on and someone to pray for them, but feeling they have nobody to turn to. This fourteen day challenge will hopefully give you some thoughts to ponder, some feelings to pray about, and some actions to take to help your marriage become stronger than ever before. Before you begin this challenge, I want you to think back about the time when you first met your husband. Try to recall the feelings that you held in your heart, and the tingles that spread through your body whenever he called you, kissed you, or did something super sweet. Then, reflect on your wedding day, and consider all of the thoughts, dreams and plans that were running through your mind on that very special day. I bet you would agree, that as you stood in your beautiful, flowing wedding gown, staring into the eyes of your dream-guy-soon-to-be-husband, saying vows meant to last a lifetime, that you were not thinking about things such as: boxers on the floor in the bathroom every day, razor stubble, nights out with the guys, secrets, dirty dishes, dirty floors, diapers, snotty noses, long hours at the office, splitting up of household chores, arguments and disagreements, and anger-filled nights while trying to keep pillows strategically placed in the center of the bed so that your man cannot get anywhere near you - am I right?! Several years ago I was sitting in a hair salon getting my hair cut, and a young girl in the chair beside me, who looked to be in her early twenties, spent thirty minutes excitedly talking about her wedding. Oh yes, she had everything planned. She explained to her hairdresser, in great detail I might add, what her wedding dress looked like and the intricate details that made it so beautiful. She discussed the color and style of the bridesmaids dresses that she had selected, what the groomsmen were wearing, the flowers, the cake, the music, etc. None of this seemed out of the ordinary for a bride-to-be, filled with excitement and anticipation about the most special day of her life. Until I heard her exclaim as she was leaving the salon, that as soon as she could find a man to marry her, everything would be perfect. What?! 4

You see, she had spent months, maybe years, planning for the wedding, but had given little, if any, thought to the reality of actually being married. She had made plans for a day that would be captured in photographs, rather than a marriage that would capture a lifetime. This young girl was oblivious to the fact that marriage is a life time commitment, not one fairy tale day, and unfortunately, many brides step into their new marriages with the same misconception. As a glowing bride, we are in love, we have overlooked our fiancés faults, we envision a life of bliss and mutual happiness, and look forward to our spouse meeting all of our needs while we willingly pour our love upon him every day....only soon to discover that marriage is nothing like we expected. Not to say that there are not wonderful, happy and fulfilling days in marriage, but when we expect all of our needs to be met by our husbands, assume that he is capable of filling us emotionally, physically and spiritually, and fail to acknowledge that problems will arise, we are setting ourselves up for failure. Trust me friend, I speak from experience. I spent a lot of years expecting my husband to live up to a fairy tale prince, until I finally realized that only God could meet all of my needs. God is the only one who can fill that spot in our hearts that feels empty, needy and alone, especially when we are not getting the affection or love from our husbands that we so desire. God is the only One who can help us find peace, in the middle of a storm. God is the only Way to persevere, when we feel like quitting. In fact, His instruction and guidelines for marriage are so priceless, that without them, we would be surely lost from day one. Sisters, whether your marriage is going great, feeling a little stale, or you are on the brink of divorce; my prayer is that God will work miracles in your heart if you take this fourteen day challenge seriously. I am not a marriage expert. I am not a marriage counselor. I am not Christian advisor. I am not a perfect wife. I do not have a perfect husband, or a perfect marriage – we have had our share of issues and problems just like everyone else. But - I do love the Lord, and my husband, and I believe with all my heart that God desires to see each one of us enjoy the joy and love and fulfillment that marriage is intended to bring, and that no matter what the problems are, our God is bigger and ALL things are possible with Him. This journey must begin with the understanding that God has to come first in our lives, and then, when we turn things over to Him and do things His way, our marriages will flourish. As you begin this challenge, I encourage you to pray about how God will speak to your spirit in the coming weeks, and to prepare your heart to hear His voice. Pray that your spiritual eyes will be keenly aware so you can see Him at work in you, your husband, and your marriage. Pray for humility if God steps on your toes, courage to walk in love, and grace for when you try and stumble. Pray for God to do all the things that you never thought were possible, and be ready to praise Him you see Him at work. 5

INTRODUCTION LOVE, RESPECT AND ADMIRATION
"However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband." Ephesians 5:33 (NIV) When I married my wonderful husband over twenty one years ago, I fully intended to unconditionally love, respect and admire him. I had great intentions of being the perfect wife, with sweet words, a romantic kiss and dinner on the table every evening. But then careers took off, bills increased, children were born, laundry piles grew, and life got chaotic. Along the way I subconsciously created a measuring stick of expectations for whether my husband actually deserved my love and respect. When marriage doesn't meet the unrealistic expectations we imagine before the wedding, and real life kicks in, women can inadvertently get lured into tearing down their husband’s, and their marriages as well. In fact, the longer couples are together, the easier it becomes to not only see each other's flaws, but to mercilessly criticize them. This eventually leads to low tolerances, short tempers, minimal patience, and a woeful lack of marital bliss. As a result, those gifts of unconditional love, respect and admiration that were once offered so freely become gifts that we are not so willing to offer at all. A few months ago I picked up The Man Whisperer, written by my friend and author Rick Johnson. The title intrigued me, as I was anxious to rekindle some passion in my own marriage Little did I know that God would use the truths shared in this book to step on my toes and cause me to take an inward look. Many relationship topics are covered, but as I read, God convicted my heart about things I had said to my husband just days earlier. As I recalled some of the critical comments that had rolled off my tongue so easily, I became overwhelmed with regret and disappointment. I had fallen into a bad habit of tearing down my man with my words, not fully realizing the toll it was taking on him. Most importantly, I began to realize the powerful influence I have on my husband and marriage by simply choosing words that encourage, instead of discourage. As women, we have the power to build up or tear down our husbands every day, merely by the respect we give and the amount of faith we let him know we have in him. Respect and admiration are two of the most powerful tools a woman has to influence her husband. I realized I had fallen short lately in giving those two precious gifts to my man. I prayed, asking God to help me control my tongue and fill my heart and mouth with words that would make my husband feel appreciated, admired, respected and loved, regardless of whether I felt he deserved it. I prayed that God would convict my heart when critical thoughts crept into my mind, and help me avoid the temptation to say them out loud. Within just a few weeks, I saw a change - in me, in my husband's demeanor, and in our relationship: a change that rekindled that unconditional love, respect and admiration that I set out to give him all along, and that I also wanted in return.

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Through a wife's gifts of unconditional love, respect, and admiration, we can help our husbands become the great men that God created them to be, and in turn, create the marriages we always dreamed of. Dear Lord, help me to tame my tongue and focus on building up my man. Help me break free of the habit to criticize, even when warranted. Open my eyes to the positive, not the negative. Draw us closer, and help us both nurture a strong and loving marriage. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

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MARRIAGE CHALLENGE DAY 1 PRAYER
About ten years ago, God sent me a present. No, it did not come in the mail or fall out of the sky, but I have no doubt that it was a gift straight from heaven. Let me explain. Back when my children were much younger, my husband and I were going through a really rough time. I mean a really, really, really rough time. In fact, it was ugly. The stress of dual jobs, babies, toddlers, sleepless nights, finances, immaturity and relationship problems had become overwhelming and emotionally taxing. On one particular day, after yet another heated argument with my husband, I found myself feeling so disheartened, that I hardly knew what to do with myself. I fretted and paced, wandering aimlessly through my home, feeling confused as to what my next step should be. As strange as it may sound, I decided to get in the car and drive, and decided to go to the car wash (which I did not do very often, maybe twice a year - so the fact that God nudged me to get the car washed was the first miracle of the day!). As I drove towards the Auto Bell, with my mind racing and my emotions swirling, I could no longer hold back the tears. I was convinced that I had tried everything possible to improve our marriage and I felt emotionally worn out from worrying about our relationship and what the future would hold. I arrived to my destination, handed over my car keys to the attendant, paid my bill, and proceeded to take a seat in the empty waiting room. There I was, all alone, in a dirty old car wash waiting room, filled with the aroma of old water and tires. I felt lower in spirit that I had ever felt. I was clueless how to make change happen, and incapable of being a better wife, or knowing what I needed to do to 'fix' my marriage. Out of pure desperation and hopelessness, I began pleading with God to show me a sign, any sign. A sign to give me an answer to my concerns; to tell me what I needed to do to make things better between me and my husband; to fix my husband; to fix me; to fix “us”. A sign. Any sign. No matter how small. As I sat there trying not to cry, consumed with my thoughts of inferiority and worry, I happened to glance down at the dirty, beaten up old table beside me......and my eyes bulged. You see, lying on the table was the book called "The Power Of A Praying Wife", by Stormie Omartian. My heart not only skipped a beat, I think it skipped a few beats. In fact, I almost fainted. I immediately thought "Wow! God not only sent me a sign, He sent me a book!"

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I burst into tears in gratitude and thankfulness, praising God for sending me the "sign" that I had asked for. I believe with all my heart that God had divinely ordained for someone to leave that exact book, in that exact car wash waiting room, on the exact day that I would choose to get my car washed for the first time in many, many months. He arranged for me to find that book, just moments after I had surrendered to Him, and pleaded for His intervention. I eagerly drove home in my unusually clean car, plopped myself onto the couch, and opened the pages of the book, only to have my breath taken away again. To my surprise, Stormie's husband's name was Michael - my husband's name was Michael! With each story she told, and each mention of her husband, I felt like I was reading my own story, calling my husband by name. Almost seems a bit creepy, huh? But in a wonderful supernatural-surprise-which-gives-you-chill-bumps kind of creepy! God had sent me a tangible answer to prayer with the gift of that book. It was an answered prayer that I could hold in my hand and gain wisdom and strength from. An answer that I knew only He could have ordained. An answer that I could tuck safely away, and pull out to hold each time I needed a physical reminder of His love and concern for me. Most importantly, through the receipt of this small gift from the heavens, God made it crystal clear, that the one vital thing my marriage had been missing, was prayer FOR my husband, not about him. As I read through the first few pages of the book, I was acutely aware that the words on the pages could have easily been written by me. The raw feelings the author expressed were so close to my own thoughts and feelings, that I hardly knew how to process it all, and with each page, God spoke truth and healing into my wounded heart. From that day forward, I made a commitment to pray for my husband, even when I did not feel like it, even when I did not want to, even if I did not think he deserved those prayers. I made a commitment to pray for him when things were going great between us, and to pray for him when things were not so great. To pray for his work, financial decisions, sexuality, affection, temptations, fears, purpose, choices, health, protection, trials, integrity, reputation, priorities, relationships, fatherhood, attitude, emotions, deliverance, and faith (many of the chapters reviewed in the book). I also made a commitment to stop asking God to fix my husband's flaws, and start asking Him to open my eyes to what I could fix about myself that would improve our relationship. Yes, that was hard, and at first I felt like arguing with God about that little aspect of this arrangement. It took a lot of humility to admit that I was not without fault too, and to be honest, it is a prayer I find myself continually praying even to this day. Looking inward, instead of laying blame, can be hard, especially when one truly believes they are not the one in the wrong. However, even though that may be a fact, sometimes the things that bring the most blessings can be the some of the hardest things that God calls us to do.

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Stormie Omartian says this on page 14 of her book: "A husband can hurt your feelings, be inconsiderate, uncaring, abusive, irritating and negligent. He can say or do things that pierce your heart like a sliver. And every time you start to pray for him, you find the sliver festering. It’s obvious you can’t give yourself to praying the way God wants you to until you are rid of it." Stormie goes on to say that sometimes our marriages get to such an extreme point of hurt and despair that we feel emotionally paralyzed and therefore incapable of making good decisions - which is what ultimately leads to divorce. She also states that when we are in the middle of an unfulfilling relationship, divorce seems almost like a "promise of pleasant relief". That is a powerful statement, and one that I think will resonate with many women, considering the countless comments I have received on my blog about marriage, which have spoken of utter despair, frustration, hopelessness, loneliness, and the absolute exhaustion of trying to make your marriage relationship better. I understand those feelings, because I have been there.... but there is hope. On this particular day that I told you about t, in a damp, smelly car wash, that hope was dropped in my lap, through the gift of a precious book that God divinely gave arranged for me to have. After that day, I began to pray for my marriage like I had never done before. And just like Stormie states she had to do, I also had to confess my own hardness of heart each time, and ask God for the strength to put aside my feelings, and focus on Him. I had to learn to forgive. Not with my lips, but with my heart, spirit and mind. I had to learn to pray for my husband, and admit that not praying for him, was not getting us anywhere. I had to lay my marriage at His feet, and let go. Slowly, but surely, I began to see changes. I began to see God work in our relationship, and although there were other rough roads to travel, we celebrated our 21st anniversary this year. We still have bumps in the roads, and problems that call for deeper prayer and dependence on God at times, but I truly believe that it was my commitment to begin praying for my husband that has made all the difference in the world. That prayer commitment did not lay out the perfect marriage, but it laid out a path to follow, with God leading the way. I would love to say that our life now is a peaceful harmonic melody all the time, but that would not be true. We are definitely not perfect. We argue and squabble over silly and unimportant things. We sometimes disagree about how to spend money, how to raise the kids, and who has not done enough around the house lately. Yet, no matter what we are going through, or what I am feeling, I know I can take it to the Lord. I know He will hear my prayers. I know I can trust Him to help us work through any issue, big or small. You see, what I learned, from that infamous day in the car wash, was that a wife's prayers are powerful.

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John 15:7 says, "If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you." If you desire a loving and committed marriage, God can help you and your husband reach that goal. _____________________________________________________ DAY 1 CHALLENGE: To begin this fourteen day challenge, I want to challenge you to pray for your husband, today, and every day for the next thirteen days. Hopefully, regardless of how hard or awkward it may feel at first, you will begin a new habit which you can continue to do every day for years to come. If your marriage is going great right now, then pray for your husband. If your marriage is on the rocks, then pray for your husband. If your marriage is all but over, then pray for your husband. If you are getting married soon, then pray for your husband-to-be. Even if the problems you are experiencing in your marriage are not your fault at all, praying is still the first step towards positive change. And while you are praying, BELIEVE that God hears your prayers, and that your prayers are powerful. I feel confident that as you begin that habit of praying for your man, you will soon begin to see God pour blessings into your marriage. They may start small, or it may blow you away – but God will be at work nonetheless. "It's your responsibility to pray. It's Gods job to answer. Leave it (your marriage) in His hands." Stormie Omartian

PRAYER: Lord, you know the deepest longings of my heart, and that despite the circumstances or emotions that I am currently dealing with, that I want my marriage to be the best it can be. I want to honor the covenant I made in front of You, to my husband. However, You know the hurdles I will experience as I take on this challenge, and I ask for your grace, mercy, courage and strength throughout this journey. Amen. VERSES FOR THE DAY: Philippians 4:6-7 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Matthew 6:6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Psalm 86:3 ….have mercy on me, Lord, for I call to you all day long. 11

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus

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MARRIAGE CHALLENGE DAY 2 PROMOTE
I once read that marriage is not 50/50 like that old saying goes. Instead it is really 100/100! Regardless of what we are trying to work at, whether it be our job, parenting, sports or creating a piece of artwork, if we only offer 50% of our efforts, the outcome is not going to be what we had hoped for. It will be lacking in quality and will fall short of being all it was meant to be. If we only give half of our efforts, how can we expect a complete result? In the book I mentioned in the prior section, The Man Whisperer, the author talks t a great deal about this subject of the influence our words have on our husbands. I think that most of us girls would admit that if there are changes that we desire in our husbands, it is probably because we genuinely want them to be the best they can be. But regardless of the reason we may want them to change, the truth remains that there is really no way for us to change them - only God can do that. However - we can give our man a reason to change himself, by focusing on what is good, instead of just trying to fix all that is wrong. When we fail to encourage our man to want to be the best he can be, the door is opened for Satan to creep in and begin taking his toll on the relationship. I know have fallen prey to satan’s trap, and maybe you have as well. The goal, through prayer and selfless intention, should be to subtly guide and build up a husband so that he can become the man God intended for him to be, and in turn, the husband that we long for. A goal that will help a man recognize his own self worth, by seeing himself through the adoration of his wife. The truth is that men have to desire to change, before they will work towards changing....but the good news, is that women can motivate their men to want to change, through using tools of love, respect and admiration. The key to instilling this desire for change, is remembering to say those words of admiration when we feel them. My husband is a General Contractor by trade, and with the economy the way it is, there are barely any buildings out there to contract to build. This lack of work has nothing to do with my husband’s ability as a contractor or a business professional, but when business is bad, he takes the blame on himself, which is what most men do, since they are built with an innate desire to be good providers. I have told Michael several times in the past few months that he has always been a great contractor, and always will be, regardless of how business is going. I want him to know that I respect his career, his ability, his talents, his skills, and his provision for our family. I want him to know that I still admire him and what God has gifted him to do, even when things are looking grim. This is just one small example, and I could list many things to compliment my husband about... the key to success is whether or not I actually do it. 13

There have been many days when I have been away from Michael, such as when he was at work, and I found myself thinking such fond thoughts of him, like how much I love him and how glad I am to be his wife and how I appreciate all his hard work for our family. However, by the time he got home from work, I was tied up with the kids and dinner and dirty clothes thrown all over the den, and failed to mention those sweet thought s- instead, I fussed about something not done to my liking or a topic that caused friction between he and I. Why didn't I just share all those loving thoughts with him, instead of voicing the negative or neutral thoughts? The culprit is simply this: habit - a habit that needs breaking. I have heard it takes 21 days for a new habit to form - for it to become second nature - instead of something we have to focus on doing. Maybe you are in a habit with your words – as I was. But we do have control over our own habits, and we can choose whether we form a habit of tearing down, or a habit of building up, our man. Shortly after publishing the marriage devotion with Proverbs 31 that I told you about earlier, a sweet lady sent me a private email thanking me for the devotion, but also sharing a personal story about her experience with trying to begin building up her husband through words. She stated that her husband was not an emotional or affectionate man, and that their relationship was strained. She was hesitant to try to compliment him, because she did not think he would be responsive or appreciative. But she stated that as soon as she spoke those words of encouragement to him, he "melted like a marshmallow". I just loved that analogy! I am not saying that all men are like marshmallows, but all men do need encouragement, and need to believe that they are respected and admired. Men are born with the need to be admired, just as women are born with the need to be touched and loved. We might be surprised at the response a few sweet words can elicit, even in the manliest of men, and just maybe, we see a side of our husbands that we have not seen before. Maybe even the marshmallow side. Smiles. _____________________________________________________

DAY 2 CHALLENGE: The challenge for today is to let your husband know how worthy of your love he really is. Say all those things that have been in your heard, but not on your lips. There is no time like the present to make your husband feel important and loved. For some of you, this might be an easy task, but for others it might take some long, hard, reflective thinking to come up with reasons for why he deserves your love. If after much thought, you simply cannot come up with any reason for why your husband deserves your love, and you are struggling with finding feelings of admiration for him, and then pray about it. I know

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that sounds cliché’, but God is in the business of changing hearts, and He can start with yours, and equip you to change your husband’s through Him. Ask God to prick your memory or bring something to mind that you do admire about your husband, especially if lots of ugly things are coming to mind first. Ask God for fresh eyesight, to see your husband through His eyes, instead of your own. Consider making a list of positive things about your husband, and then pick one or two of those things to compliment him about today. Pray for God to give you an opportunity to compliment your husband, and then if you have not done so in a long time and complimenting him seems awkward, ask God to put the words on your lips, and to soften your husband’s heart to be receptive. Hebrews 10:24 says "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds". This verse fits perfectly for today’s challenge. Tuck it in your heart and retrieve it when needed. PRAYER: Lord, I am struggling with finding kind words to speak to my husband. I do have positive thoughts about him, but find my words stifled because of my own self-centeredness. Forgive me for refraining from building him up, because I do not think he is worthy of my compliments. Forgive me for always pointing the finger, instead of looking within myself to see the things that may be building a wedge between me and my husband. Jesus, open my heart to hear the words You want me to speak. Give me opportunities to speak words of encouragement and love, and the strength to say them even when I don’t feel like it. I trust that You are holding my marriage in Your hands, and that You know best. In Your Name, Amen.

VERSES FOR TODAY: Hebrews 10:24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds 1 Corinthians 14:26 What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. Romans 14:19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

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MARRIAGE CHALLENGE DAY 3 PERSPECTIVE
In the first few years of our marriage, my husband and I had completely different ideas of what marriage was supposed to be like. When those two worlds of thinking collided, conflict resulted. Although we had both accepted Christ as children, and grew up in Christian homes, neither of us had a very strong faith. In fact, for the first years of our marriage, we went to church pretty irregularly, if at all. But when our first child was born, we sought out a church home, both of us knowing the importance of raising our children to love the Lord, even though we were not doing a very good job of doing it ourselves. Even though we were not actively walking in faith each day, I still longed for a 'spiritual leader' in my home, and for years, I had a skewed vision in my heart of what that was. I was sure that my husband did not meet the criteria required which would enable him to wear the invisible “spiritual leader” nametag. Many women carry the wrong image of what a spiritual leader looks like, because we look to our pastors and elders of the church as our role models. We see deacons or other male leaders in the church and wish that our husbands were more like them, without admitting to ourselves that they are not perfect either. I had that picture in my head of what a spiritual leader was, and my husband was not fitting the bill. I envisioned a man on his knees every morning, maybe even wearing a nice blue suit, with an open Bible, pouring over scriptures and treating everyone in his life with extreme compassion. A man who could quote verses at a moment’s notice, fed the hungry, and prayed with the children every night before they went to bed. I had a mental picture of the perfect Godly husband, who never hurt his wife's feelings, never betrayed her trust, never made her feel neglected, and met each and every one of her expectations and deepest desires. But one day, I heard something that shattered that mental picture completely. Thank goodness. I was listening to a speaker talk about marriage and faith. I listened intently about what God expected of men and women, and how we should fulfill our roles as spouses and parents. Then she began talking about the spiritual leader of the household and my ears perked up. I was ready to have my opinions fully validated by this woman, whom I was sure shared my mental picture of Mister Perfect. I was fully prepared for her to even express some sympathy for those of us who did not have a spiritual leader in their homes, and pray that our husbands would one day measure up to our spiritual leader measuring stick. However, what this speaker said was not what I expected to hear. She did not describe a spiritual leader of the home with the description that matched my mental picture. She did not describe any prince charmings on white horses. And she did not describe deacons in blue suits, pastors or Bible-toting elders. 16

She simply said, that a husband who is the spiritual leader of his home is one who loves God, loves his wife, loves his family, and provides for their needs. Hmmmm. Waaaiiiittt just a pretty little minute now. What about all that other stuff? What about what I want him to do? What about what I think makes a man a spiritual leader? What about how I want him to be? What about my need for a Godly husband? What about praying, and knee bending, and bible toting? Friends, God really stepped on my toes big time with this one. Ouch. You see, until then, I had only been looking at the churchy-spiritual things that my husband was not doing. I had been focused on the 'Godly-man mold' that I had formed in my head, which, my husband was definitely not fitting into. I had been taking for granted the things that he did do that found favor in Gods eyes, because I was consumed with frustration about the things he was doing or was not doing, that God did not look favorably upon. Certainly, he needed to strengthen his walk with the Lord, as did I. Certainly he needed to make some changes in his lifestyle, as did I. And certainly he was not living a life that was fully devoted to Christ, and nor was I. But he was a good man. He loved me. He loved our children. He helped keep the nursery at church. He donated his time and money to people in need. He was a hard, dependable worker. He came home from work every night. He provided food, shelter, necessities, and more. Not perfect, not without fault, not without mistakes, not without room for improvement in some areas of his life- but nonetheless, a leader in our home. God impressed upon my heart to try to see my husband through His eyes, instead of my own. He called me to see him for who God created him to be, not who I wanted him to be. I will confess that I was not able to change my perspectives overnight. It took a while for me to embrace that new mentality, while throwing away my self-created measuring stick. There are still days when God has to remind me to leave the work on my husband up to Him, but once God placed that new mental picture into my head of what a spiritual leader was, I have never forgotten it and it improved my marriage. It is probably safe to say that it is the deepest desire of every Christian woman's heart, to have a husband who loves and serves the Lord, and who lives each day as a portrayal of a Godly man, basing all of his decisions on whether or not God would approve. I know that has always been my heart’s desire, and it is probably yours too. I still pray daily for the Lord to draw my husband closer to Him, and to orchestrate things in his life and in his heart that will continue to make him love the Lord more and more. I pray for his faith and his courage to live out his faith, especially in the face of temptation and important decisions. I pray for him to have the confidence and willingness and desire to pray with me, and our children, and for our faith to grow as a family unit. I pray that we can one day he will feel more comfortable praying with me and for me, praying together, praying for each other, and praying for and with our children. 17

I pray for prayer. Although not all of my prayers have been answered to the fullest, and I still pray for God to bring them into fruition as He works on my husband’s heart, and my own, there are many prayers that He has already answered. God has helped me to see realize that there is no mold that sculpts out a Godly man, but that every man is different, and made in His likeness. He has called me to see the blessings before me, even when I do not feel my husband is fitting the mold. For example, I feel overwhelmingly blessed to have a husband who believes in Jesus Christ, and that is something that I will never take for granted. But the reality is that not every woman has that. In fact, I have some close friends whose husbands are not believers, and as I watch them struggle in their desperation for the one they love, it breaks my heart to see the turmoil in their hearts of knowing that their spouses do not know Jesus. However, spiritual leadership has to begin somewhere, and if your non-believing husband is providing for your physical and financial needs, and loves you and your family, then he is halfway there when it comes to meeting Gods expectations of him. He is one step closer to accepting the Savior that is waiting for him. Sweet friend, if your husband is not a believer, or simply not walking with God as closely as you would like, never give up hope that God can open his eyes and orchestrate events in his life that will help him build a thirst for a relationship with the Lord. The Bible says in 1 Peter 3:1b, "...if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives." Maybe you have spent years praying for your husband’s heart, with no signs of him coming around yet. Do not lose faith that God can reach him, and believe that through your continued prayers, God will help him have an unquenchable desire for faith, because of your own. Maybe your husband is saved, but does not outwardly express his faith or do the churchy-spiritual things you would like, but if he is a believer, and he provides and loves, he is the spiritual leader of your home. Never underestimate the power that a praying wife can have on her husband’s heart. _____________________________________________________

DAY 3 CHALLENGE: Your challenge today is to ask God to help you see your husband through HIS eyes. To look at him with the expectations of what God expects of a spiritual leader, and not the mental picture we may have in our head.

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To not compare him to other husbands who we think are more spiritual, but to pray for God to move in our husbands heart in unique ways so that he can begin to embrace his role as spiritual leader, as well as physical leader of the home. To keep praying for his heart if he is not a believer, and trusting that God is working on his heart in subtle and gently ways that you cannot see yet. Lastly, seek out the Holy Spirit's intervention in helping you see some of those little ways that God is changing your husband’s heart, instead of only focusing on the outward, more noticeable changes in behavior or actions. Little things can eventually turn into big things, and it will be well worth the wait. When a wife prays, God listens, a man’s heart can change, and great things can happen. Let’s change our perspectives today about the most important men in our life, and "see" what happens. PRAYER: Sweet Jesus, thank you for caring enough about my marriage to be willing to intervene, and I beseech you to do that now. Reach down deep into my husband’s heart and plant a seed of longing in his heart, a seed of faith that will desperately long for you one day. Help me to continue believing that You are at work, even when I cannot see it, and to trust that You are in charge, even when I feel hopeless. In Your most precious and holy Name, Jesus. Amen.

VERSES FOR TODAY: Philippians 4:19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. Psalm 55:22 Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken. Isaiah 26:3 You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.

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MARRIAGE CHALLENGE DAY 4 PROVIDE
Today’s challenge is about providing... but wait....isn’t the man typically supposed to be the primary provider? Yes, of course, although there are times when the wife is the primary provider or makes more money than her husband, which is perfectly fine as well. However, today I am not talking about financial or physical provision, but about providing the intangible and heartfelt things that make our husbands feel loved and appreciated. The word 'provide' for today’s purposes refers to providing for the heart, not for the home. Let’s take a brief interlude here, though, and say what you are all probably thinking right about now, on this fourth day of focusing on our husbands.... "But what about me? What about my needs? What about my feelings? What about my desires? Why is it all about me changing, and nothing about him changing? What about his faults? What about the problems that he has brought into our relationship, or the hurt he has caused me? Why should I do all the work, while he just remains the same? He doesn’t even deserve my respect and honor because of the mistakes he has made! It’s not fair!" I know! I have to push those feelings aside too sometimes. Our human minds are prone to drifting back to negative thoughts, reviewing our mental lists of our husband’s faults and mistakes, and thinking of ways that he needs to change. In fact, we would be abnormal if we did not do that – but that does not mean we have to be a slave to those thoughts. We can make every effort to allow God replace those negative thoughts, with positive ones, if we choose. But it is important to acknowledge that we all have negative thoughts, no matter how much we want to think differently, or how much we pray for God to replace them. Just as change will not take place in our husbands overnight, change will not take place overnight in our hearts either. So let’s not to be too hard on ourselves, or expect sudden miracles in either situation, and instead commit to praying for God to intervene and transform us by starting with our thought life. That transformation requires prayer, but also requires a foundation of treasuring God’s Word. God’s Word commands us to love and respect unconditionally. If we do not do that, it will be near to impossible to come up with our own motivation to do so, especially when heartache and bad memories seem to outweigh the desire to pamper and dote on our husbands. But ladies, let’s be real - we know that God calls us to treat others the way we want to be treated, not the way we may actually be treated. But frankly, that can be a real challenge in any relationship - especially in a marriage relationship.

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Day after day of the same old annoying, aggravating habits can take a toll on a relationship. Day after day of someone doing something that they know upsets you, but they continue to do, can take a toll on relationship. Day and after day of harboring extreme feelings of betrayal and hurt can take a toll on a relationship. Day after day of festering unforgiveness and anger can take a toll on a relationship. So if we are not careful, we can become so consumed with those “day after day” issues, and focused solely on what our husbands should be doing better or the things they have done to hurt us or neglect us. The end result is that bitterness and resentment will grow and eventually turn into a mountain that we see as impossible to climb. As I began writing about this section, which is about providing for our husband's every day needs, I recalled a blog post written by my sweet friend Renee Swope, Vice President of Proverbs 31 Ministries, a few years ago. Her post was called "Faith In The Little Things". Below is an excerpt: “Sometimes I saw my role as a wife and mother as "average" responsibilities - one-talent kind of assignments. Plenty of people have the same assignments, I thought. Without realizing it, I believed it wouldn't matter much if I were a little selfish, inconsiderate or impatient here and there. But God wanted my willingness in every area of my life - here and now. Why would God require absolute obedience? Because He wants us to trust Him. He knows that when we're obedient with ordinary assignments we can be trusted with extraordinary assignments. He says when we are faithful with the little things, He'll "put us in charge of many things" and give us a deeper joy than we have ever known. (Matthew 25:21) Author Beth Moore reminds us that "the answers God gives us in our tomorrows often flow from our faithful todays." Renee's comments are so relevant for this topic of faithfully being obedient in the smallest ways that God calls us to treat our spouses, because so often, it is not the big things that prevent us from providing for our husband’s needs, it is all the little things. Honestly, sometimes I get just plain tired of picking up socks and underwear off the floor, looking at the pile of clothes in the chair beside the bed, and wondering why I am apparently the only person in the entire family who knows how to load the dishwasher, operate the washing machine, or take out the trash. But I know I can change my attitude and my heart anytime, if I choose to do so, by focusing on the fact that God has placed me in the position of being provider for my husband’s needs, and my children’s. This is truly a position of honor and blessing, and one that God has called me to do in this season of my life, but sometimes it does get hard to focus on that, when we are feeling underappreciated. When I begin to feel resentful, which is more often than I would probably want to admit, I sometimes have to quickly remind myself to be thankful for all these little things that I have to be faithful in doing. Even if these little things so noticed or appreciated, I believe with all my heart that God has appointed wives to be the heart of their homes, and a major part of that divine appointment is to meet needs, big and small, of those she loves. If you are still having trouble conjuring up a heart filled with pure joy for sacrificial servant-hood, try to look at these inconveniences from a different perspective. 21

A perspective of positive gratitude, instead of negative attitude. For example, instead of getting my tail feathers ruffled every time I see my husband’s work clothes piled in the chair beside our bed where he took them off after work – I can focus on what a hard worker he is, and how well he provides for our family. Instead of getting irritated about the fact that I am the only who unloads the dishwasher, and realizes that dirty dishes will not clean themselves while laying in the sink – I can focus on how happy I am to have little mouths to feed in my house, who dirty up dishes while getting the nourishment and hydration that we are blessed to be able to purchase. Instead of complaining about the mountain of laundry that seems to morph itself into a monster every few days in my laundry room, I can focus on the fact that we all have clothes to wear, and shoes for our feet. Instead of whining about the twenty-two times I had to make the 30 minute round trip to my children’s school last week for their sports camps and practices, I can focus on the fact that God allows me to have a dependable vehicle, funds to fuel that vehicle, and the physical health and capabilities to drive said vehicle. I once heard an old saying that said, “I used to complain about having no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.” Makes you think. I would definitely not trade in my husband or family for an easier, less-stressful or less clutter-filled day. These are the little things that God has called me to be faithful in, and I am eternally thankful. Renee's post inspired me years ago to be faithful in meeting the every-day needs of the husband whom God has placed in my life, and to consider him a blessing instead of a commitment. Yet trust me when I say that I still do have those hormonal days just like every other woman, (just ask my husband!), but on the whole, I am generally so much better at keeping this positive mindset than I used to be, because of my commitment to maintain focus on the little things. _____________________________________________________

DAY 4 CHALLENGE: Friends, your challenge today is to think of some little ways that you can show love for your husband, and provide for his need of wanting to be taken care of and doted on. I think one of the favorite ways my husband likes to be 'provided' for (no, it’s not what you are thinking, but we'll get to that later!) is making him breakfast on Saturday morning. I’m not just talking about a warmed up chocolate pop-tart which is what he gets during the week - but a big, fluffy ham and cheese omelet, grits (yes, I’m a southern girl, no doubt about it), country ham, and anything else that would fall into the category of a down home southern breakfast. It always makes him smile, and in turn, it makes me smile too. One little thing, making a big difference.

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So try to think of some ways to bring a smile to your husband’s face when he gets up on Saturday morning, or when he walks in the door after a long day at work. Think of a few things that you know are important to him, and make an effort to do some of those things today and in the coming weeks. Consider ways that you can bless him, without feeling the need to be thanked for it, or blessed in return. God will bless our faithfulness as we allow Him to work through us, to meet the needs of the most important person in our life. PRAYER: Dear God, help me to be aware of the little things that my husband needs from me. Help me to pick up on his subtle hints, which could come in the form of the most basic comments, or repetitive complaints. Lord, You know if my husband is one that does not open up easily, and is hesitant to share his needs and feelings with me. Lord, help me to notice what his unspoken needs are, by prompting my heart with an acute awareness and compassion for him. VERSES FOR TODAY: Matthew 7:12 Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God's Law and Prophets and this is what you get. (The Message) Ephesians 4:32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. (NLT) Galatians 5:13 You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. (NIV)

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MARRIAGE CHALLENGE DAY 5 PROTECT
Yes, the man is supposed to be the protector of his wife. I do believe that God made men to be protectors of us women, with their strong hands, charm and overall manliness. However, today, I want to talk about how we can protect our husband and our marriage at the same time, through protecting his honor. 1 Corinthians 13:7 says "It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres", which simply means to love with a love that protects. To give a “protecting" type of love means to be very careful about who we share “personal” details of our married life with, especially when it comes to the sharing of those areas of our relationships that need extra help and Godly counsel. A man's reputation is a very important aspect of his being. It is what fuels his self esteem, giving him the confidence to be the big, strong protector that God called him to be, and that we want him to be. But what about those times when our men are not acting honorably? When their choices bring heartbreak, consequences, or strife in the marriage? When their habits endanger their own well being, and possibly that of others? When decisions they make negatively affect them, the marriage, and the rest of the family? In times like those just mentioned, it is hard to think of honor, as opposed to criticism, condemnation and maybe even revenge. And it is very hard to honor someone whom you are on the verge of losing, or have completely lost, respect for. However, it can be done, IF we seek Gods strength, and rely on Him to help us do what we do not feel like doing at all. It goes back to choosing to commit to doing the right thing, rather than doing what we actually feel like doing. There have been countless times over the past twenty years where I desperately wished that I had a group of friends that I could tell all of my woes too. I have friends, of course, but I have just never felt comfortable spilling all of my problems and feelings onto the table for everyone to see and experience and judge. But I have to admit, that in the heat of the moment, when my husband and I get into an argument, or when he does something that hurts me, I instinctively begin to have those familiar 'tell-it-all' desires bubble up in my heart again every time. In the midst of those times of intense emotion and desires to spill my guts, I would immediately begin thinking about who I could call to vent and express my anger to. I kind of just wanted to talk to someone who can make me feel better, validate my feelings, take my side and tell me that things will be okay. Know what I mean? Then those feelings were usually followed up feeling sorry for myself when I acknowledged that I didn’t feel as if I had anyone that I really wanted to share my most private feelings with, for fear of embarrassing my husband or myself. Even though my mother and sister are my best friends, I would 24

refrain from telling them all the big issues either, for fear that it would stain their opinion of my husband. But as always, after each situation, arguments would end, time would pass, wounds would heal, and in most cases, the issue that caused the situation to begin with, appeared much smaller, sometimes even silly, in retrospect. Eventually my husband and I make up, hurt and anger subside or at least decreases, restoration occurs and life gets back to normal. It is in that moment of restoration, that I am so thankful that I did not act on my desire to tell other people negative things about my husband, words that were said, mistakes that were made, secrets that were exposed, or harsh feelings that I was holding in my heart. Had I given in to my desires to share my anger and hurt with others as a way of dealing with my feelings or getting back at him, I would have dishonored him as a man, a husband, a provider, and a friend. I would have skewed the opinion that my friends or relatives have of him, and most likely, not remember to go back and tell them that we made up, and how we fixed things. I would forget about the situation, and move on with life, while leaving those I vented to with a negative picture, and resentful feelings, about my man. I think that “spilling it” is the first inclination for most women, when we are hurt or disappointed in our husbands. Our gut immediately tells us to call someone and vent; to tell someone about the negative thing that happened; to hurt them back; to cause them harm and embarrassment; to dishonor them; to have someone validate our feelings and be on our side; and to have someone help mend our heartbreak. The sting of emotional hurt can easily transform from a pity party, into a husband bashing party, as we find ourselves wanting to invite as many guests as possible. But in Proverbs 31:11-12, we read "Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life." This verse is such a stark reminder of how important it is that we not only build up our husbands for their good traits, but remember to protect and honor them, even when their bad traits come blaring out. I believe that we can view this verse as Gods promise that a wife's efforts of forgiveness and self restraint will not go unrewarded, because a husband who has a wife who honors him, will eventually have full confidence in her love. He will quietly build a high respect for her as a person, because he cannot help but recognize that she does not bring him harm with her words, even when he deserves it. Most women look to the Proverbs 31 woman as a role model that they could never live up to, myself included. This P31 woman represents the type of woman that we all want to be, but fall short of being every day, making that type of virtuousness seem like an impossibility in our own lives. But one of the things that the Bible states is an important trait of a virtuous wife, is to have a husband that is respected by her, and others. Proverbs 31:23 says he is "known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land".

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Respect must be earned, whether it be man or woman, but honor is something we can give because of the position that God has placed us in. We are called to honor our husbands, because they are our husbands, not because we feel like it or even because they deserve it. We can show respect to our husband through our commitment to pray him, and through our commitment to honor him in front of others, and in front of our children. I think the most applicable verse for this topic is Ephesians 4:29, which says "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." (NIV) This could be so easy for some of you, but the hardest thing in the world for others. We women want to talk, talk, talk - it is how God made us! But talking to third parties is not always the best thing for our marriages. Our ability to honor our husbands may hinge on the relationships we had with our own fathers, how much damage has occurred in the marriage, and many other extenuating circumstances. But regardless of how hard it may be, and how much prayer it make take, I do believe that God calls a wife to honor and respect her husband. Protecting our husband's reputation is one of the most valuable blessings that we can give to them. And consider this - God will give a man grace and forgiveness if he messes up, but the people whom we have spread negativity to about our husband, may not be so gracious and forgiving, and unlike God, they will never forget. A wife has the power to help other people respect her husband, by the respect she gives him herself. Today is a great day for spreading some honor. And consider this - when a husband feels honored, he will begin to act honorably as well.

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DAY 5 CHALLENGE: Our challenge today is two-fold: 1. Each time the opportunity arises to say something negative about your husband to someone else pause, pray, and ask God to help you say something positive, or nothing at all. Ask God for strength to refrain from venting your anger, if that is what you normally do. Try to break the habit of dishonoring your husband to others, so that he will be well respected at the gate. 2. Each time the opportunity arises to criticize your husband to his face, ask God to help you think of something positive instead, or, to simply bite your tongue. Even if he deserves the criticism or a sarcastic response, it really only causes hurt and conflict to say it aloud. Sometimes, silence can be golden. We cannot control our husband’s reputation, his free will, or his decisions, but we can control our own 26

tongues and thoughts. We can control the things that leave our mouths and whether or not we are honoring him with our words, in his presence, and when he is not around to defend himself. ** If you are up for a bonus challenge: Pray and challenge yourself not to say anything negative about your husband for 30 days. PRAYER: Jesus, this may be one of the hardest challenges for me yet. I like to talk. I like to air out my feelings. I like to be reassured by others that my feelings are valid. But I never realized the damage that I was doing to my husband’s self esteem, and to my marriage. Please forgive me for words spoken against him, for tainting the opinions of others about him, and for poisoning my own relationship with him as a result of the daggers I have inflicted on his heart and his self esteem through my words and actions. Please help me to be convicted in spirit before harsh words and criticisms leave my mouth, when I am talking to him, or about him. Mend my heart that has been hurt, help me to rid of bitterness and anger, and transform my words into ones that will encourage my husband, instead of discourage. Amen. VERSES FOR TODAY: 1 Corinthians 13:4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. Ephesians 4:29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. James 1:19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, Colossians 4:6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone

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MARRIAGE CHALLENGE DAY 6 PLAY
I bet you are thinking that today’s challenge looks pretty easy, huh? Well don’t jump to conclusions, because, in all seriousness, finding time to play can be hard. After all, life is busy; life is chaotic; and life is stressful.... and as a result, couples do not put their relationships at the top of their priority lists because everything else that screams for their attention seems more important or urgent. But eventually that lack of closeness and time together, results in awkwardness, tension, distance, and waning feelings of love. Over time, the lack of time for each other, takes its toll on the marriage. All work and no play can make a marriage feel like a job instead of a joy. So many of us get caught up in the busyness of life that we forget to stay caught up in our marriage. In fact, a lack of spending time together is probably a huge factor that leads to the astronomical divorce rate that exists today. Even for couples who deeply love each other, if there is a lack of focus on togetherness, the friendship part of the relationship may begin to fade, and it fades long enough, it might just disappear altogether. When thinking about how distance damages relationships, several close friends I had in high school, college, and former jobs came to mind. These were all friends that I loved and adored and had everything in common with. Friends who had been through thick and thin with me. Friends who were precious and important. But due to living in different cities or states, changing jobs, having kids, and living increasingly busy lives, we grew apart. The phone calls became less and less. When they did happen, they became increasingly impersonal. The emails got shorter, until they stopped altogether. And eventually, communication ended. Relationship over. Even in living in the same house cannot save a relationship, if there is emotional distance between a couple. There were no problems in these friendships, I treasured each person and was thankful for their presence in my life during that season. But the lack of focus on both ends, and the pull to more important things in life, resulted in some wonderful friendships simply fading away. In my opinion, "play" is not something to take for granted at all, especially in marriage. I tend to think that women care more about spending time together as a couple than men do - or at least that is my unofficial opinion. But it just seems that women, with the nurturing spirits God placed in us, do seem to be more inclined to think about quality time with the ones we love, than men do. There are some rare gems out there that take 28

their wives out on weekly date nights and believe that closeness and unmanly-like mushiness is imperative for their marriage – but I would venture to say that those ideal men are few and far between! However, regardless of which person in the marriage prioritizes togetherness, or whose fault it is that togetherness is not a priority, it is never too late to begin making it a priority. If you were to ask my husband to name one thing that I consistently "whine" about, it would be that we don’t seem to have any alone time together. I admit, that I have been known to make comments that sound something like " I have hardly seen you all week/month", followed by a few sniffles, and head hung low as I meander out of the room looking like a lost puppy. My hubby is a wonderful man who is very involved in my life and our kid’s lives. He does so much for me and for our family - but, as a result of work, and having three social, busy, and very active children we are always busy, which makes time alone as a couple a rare thing around here.....and for a girl whose love language is time, I can’t help but whimper and whine a little when I am feeling neglected and in need of some of attention! I truly believe that time is the most priceless commodity that we have in a marriage, and once it is spent, we can never get it back. How we spend that commodity, can impact our lives, and our marriage, in big and life changing ways – good, or bad. It is our choice. _____________________________________________________ DAY 6 CHALLENGE: Your challenge for today is to think of ways that you and your husband can find some dedicated alone time to spend together. Make a list of things you used to do together, and check out opportunities to do some of those activities again. If your husband has been unreceptive to your former attempts for 'date-nights' , suggested activities or romantic getaways, pray for God to soften his heart, and help your husband see how important his time and attention is to you. Just as we take respect for our husbands for granted sometimes, husbands take for granted that we need to feel their physical touch, and spend time with them, so praying for our husband’s hearts about this subject is always worthwhile. PRAYER: Lord, there are days when I feel neglected. I know You are always here for me, but some days I just long for my husband’s full attention, his warm embrace, and a long conversation about anything under the sun. Help me to know when the best time is to plan some togetherness, and soften his heart so that he will be receptive to my suggestions. Bring us together again Lord, and reignite that spark that we once felt, which made us crave time together. Foster an unshakable friendship among us. In Your name, Amen.

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VERSES FOR TODAY: Genesis 2:18 The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Psalm 31:24 Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD.

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MARRIAGE CHALLENGE DAY 7 PRACTICE
If there is anyone who despises having to practice at something, it is my thirteen year old daughter, Kaitlyn. Kaitlyn is talented at many things, but the things that she has to really work at, or new things she is trying to learn how to do, become huge sources of frustration for her. Then her outbursts of tears and frustration normally prompt yet another discussion about how 'practice makes perfect', 'you can’t give up when it seems hard', and that 'Rome was not built in a day'. I call them life lessons, she calls them lectures, but let’s not go there. Anyway, Kaitlyn’s favorite love of life is cheerleading. That is her sport of choice (and do not even think about saying that cheerleading is not a sport, because you might get hurt.) Recently, she has taken up tumbling again, trying to master all of the normal cheerleading tumbling moves. But even though she loves to envision the days when she will go flipping through the air with the greatest of ease, her heart just does not want to have to work at it! She wants the results, but not the hard work and potential frustration that it takes to get there. And let’s face it, not everyone is a gymnast. But the biggest hurdle is that as her frustration builds, her hope dissipates; she gets discouraged and down on herself when she can’t meet her goal as quickly as she wants to, and soon, she is overcome with the urge to quit. We could just mark that up to her being a teenager and at an insecure stage in life... but aren’t we all like that in some ways? I can only speak for myself of course, but I can get easily discouraged when I keep working at something, or praying about something, or longing for something to happen - only to continue to see things staying the same. The urge to quit at something which seems impossible is normal. Over this past week, our Marriage Challenge has focused on challenging us to work at our marriages, in the hopes that through the power of God, and trust in Him, that He will guide our hearts, and our husband’s hearts, into a place of renewal, rekindled love, and recommitment. We have talked about praying for our husbands, promoting them with encouraging words, seeing them through Gods eyes, providing for their needs, protecting their reputations, and spending time with them. These are all such important things to do, but in all honesty, they are also time consuming, emotionally consuming, and take great commitment. These challenges require us to put all our faith in God and surrender our own will, believing that He will reward our efforts to be a Godly wife. When I pray about a problem in my marriage, or a situation that is concerning me, I want God to answer it - overnight. Immediately. In my timeline. Don’t you?! Who doesnt?! 31

Patience is no longer a virtue, it is a rarity. Our culture today has programmed us all for immediate gratification. We can instant message our friends, get immediate news updates on Twitter, drive through for fast food, and watch our favorite DVR movies with the click of one button. That need for immediate gratification holds true in our marriages too. We all want our marriages to be perfect and happy, and we want it now! We don’t want to practice living out God’s will and His ways, we just want the outcome to be to our satisfaction, without all the hard work. How easy it is to give up on a marriage because we get so frustrated when things are not happening as quickly as we would like. Another possible way to look at it – is we get tired of practicing marriage. How reasonable it seems to give up hope that God can change our husband’s heart, mend addictions, create intimacy, restore friendship, and heal a relationship, when we do not see change happening overnight. How easy it is to give up, throw in the towel, and call it quits , because we are just plain ‘ol tired. Tired of the problems, tired of the challenges, and tired of trying. Tired of practicing and hoping for the day when our marriage will take off with leaps and bounds. It takes practice to keep going when the going gets tough, and it takes practice to take God’s Word to heart when He promises to hear our prayers and act on them, according to His will. It takes practice to overlook faults and continually forgive. It takes practice to love someone who is hard t love. It takes practice to try to fulfill someone, when you are not fulfilled yourself. Living in God’s will, and His ways, takes practice, and sometimes it is not easy at all. Philippians 4:9 says "Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you". The better we understand God's truth and promises, the more we can apply these principles to our lives. The more we practice them and apply them to our lives, the better we will become at living a life, and having a marriage, that pleases God, and fulfills our hearts. A few weeks after Kaitlyn’s frustrating day at tumbling practice, she met one of her goals. She learned she could do something that she had not been able to do before, and she was so excited about her accomplishment! It was just one little baby step towards the goal that she was trying to reach, but it was as if a light bulb went off in her head, and she suddenly realized that maybe, just maybe, there is something to be said for practicing after all. _____________________________________________________

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DAY 7 CHALLENGE: Your heart may need a rest today, my friend. So today, I encourage you to reflect. Think back on all the challenges from the past 7 days, and spend some time prayer with God about what you have experienced, how you have felt, and any changes that you have seen take place, in you and/or your husband. Secondly, I challenge you to practice the challenges from the past week, and never give up. After all, practice makes perfect. Right?

PRAYER: God, please fill me with motivation, energy and enthusiasm about taking these challenges seriously. Help me not to get burned out in my attempts to improve my marriage, and to trust that you see my efforts and know my desires. I look forward with great anticipation to see how You will bless our marriage. Amen.

VERSES FOR TODAY: Psalm 119:55-57 In the night, LORD, I remember your name, that I may keep your law. This has been my practice: I obey your precepts. Matthew 7:24 Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. Deuteronomy 28:9 The LORD will establish you as his holy people, as he promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of the LORD your God and walk in obedience to him.

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MARRIAGE CHALLENGE DAY 8 PURSUE
I was full of emotions as my husband and I drove to pick up my dad for surgery, and felt a knot forming in the pit of my stomach. I was worried about the extensive surgery that he would face later that morning. I was anxious, knowing that the possibility existed to receive very bad news from the surgeon. I was fretting over various circumstances, and as I prayed for God to intervene, I began to feel hot tears stinging my eyes. But then, through those tears, I saw him in the fog. Due to the dense, heavy fog, my husband was driving slowly when I noticed the figure in the distance, walking straight towards us. I thought it was quite odd for anyone to be walking outside so early, especially on such a cool and foggy morning, but as we got closer, my eyes widened, and my heart began to pound. This figure began to resemble a silhouette of someone I recognized - someone who should not be standing in the middle of the road on a misty, foggy morning. As we approached this person, almost in front of my dad’s house, I noticed that he had on baggy tan pants, a soft white shirt, and was wearing no shoes. He appeared to be in his mid-thirties, with brown wavy hair and a full beard, although he had a neatly kept appearance. He looked peaceful and kind. He looked exactly like Jesus. I mean exactly. My heart skipped a beat. My thoughts were racing. My intellectual mind knew that Jesus would not be standing in the middle of a road on a foggy day in a small beach town in North Carolina, but my heart told me that He was there. I could not take my eyes off of this person, as chill bumps flushed my body from head to toe. As we drove slowly past him, this man in the fog made direct eye contact with me, and a sweet, gentle smile washed over his face. For those brief moments, it felt as if I was looking into the eyes of Jesus, and a feeling of peace flooded through me. It was as if His holy peace penetrated my heart, and assured me that, regardless of the outcome, everything would be okay. Throughout that day at the hospital, I could not get the man in the fog out of my head, and I truly felt as if I had experienced a Jesus encounter. Now I am not saying that I actually saw Jesus, of course, but I do believe that He divinely designed that meeting in the road, and that He used a sign that I would recognize as Him, to saturate my heart with the reminder that He really does walk among us. God knew I needed to know that He saw my daddy that day, He understood my fears, and that He cared. He also knew I really needed to “see” Him that day. 34

Throughout life, we are all faced with fears of the unknown and personal problems that seem hopeless or scary, and it is so easy to get caught up in our emotions, and forget to look for God. In some situations, we may even find ourselves wondering if God is really aware of our problems, and doubt if He really cares, but 1 Peter 5:7 is a sweet reminder that He is aware, He does care, and He is with us. 1 Peter 5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. At times, life can make us feel like we are in a fog - a fog that is so dense and heavy that it seems nearly impossible to feel, or see, God at all. Sometimes our marriages seem to be in a fog too and we feel like we are drowning, desperate for help, but unsure where to find out – or Who can offer the help we need. If you are living in a marriage fog right now – unable to see through the clouds, lost, not sure which way to turn, squinting your eyes in the hopes of seeing a solution – rest in knowing that God sees, and He cares. His desire is for you to know He is there, and cast that fog onto Him. Even if we can’t “see” God, and feel that He is not hearing our prayers, we can still have peace if we believe that He has promised to be with us, while surrendering our hearts as we sincerely seek out His face. Then as we walk with Him, and sincerely believe He is walking with us, through the fog, we enter into a place to receive His provisions, His blessings, His comfort and His peace. When we prepare our hearts to feel Him, He will prepare our eyes to see Him. On that particular foggy morning, when I felt as if I had looked into the eyes of my King, I remember feeling nearly overwhelmed at the thought of actually being in the Lords presence. I also remember the feeling of peace that came over me of which I could hardly comprehend in the face of fear of the unknown. As my dad was wheeled out of the room for surgery later that morning, tears filled my eyes and I felt a lump of fear creeping into my throat, but then I felt God speak to my spirit, and say "it will be okay, trust Me. You “saw” Me. I am here.” My dad’s surgery went well, and the biopsy showed that all the cancerous cells were contained in the tumor, thus negating the need for any further treatments. The outcome had been unpredictable, so I cannot help but believe that God healed Him. Before that foggy encounter, I had been so burdened with worry. You see, I was not only worried about my dad’s health condition, but was also fretting over the fact that he was the primary caregiver for my step-mother (his wife of 16 years), who had been fighting terminal lung cancer for over two years. I simply could not fathom that God would allow my dad to get cancer, when he had devoted every ounce of his energies for countless months to caring for his wife and her cancer. As a result, I had thrown myself into a tizzy worrying about the unknown, trying to calculate the logistics of how my family could possibly help care for two people who had cancer, especially since they lived three hours away. But during the weeks prior to his surgery, I had been actively pursuing God. I had been pursuing His presence, and His guidance. I had been pursuing a stronger relationship, a stronger prayer life, and a stronger awareness that He was with me, even when I could not see Him or feel Him. I had already felt God moving in my heart, and this situation just affirmed that God had drawn closer to me, because I had drawn closer to Him. He was close, even in the fog. 35

All of those worries about my dad had not prompted my God pursuit, but simply increased it, as I was forced to spend more time on my knees interceding for my daddy. I pursued God. God had heard, and God had answered. This is a great example of how God is still at work and how He hears our prayers, but how does it relate to today’s marriage challenge? The answer lies in the word "pursue", because if we pursue God, we find Him - in everything. I believe that our willingness to desperately pursue God and His intervention in our problems, whether it is a marriage problem or the health of a loved one, prepares our hearts to depend on God, trust Him, and give Him the credit for anything that happens. The pursuit of Christ is what gives us the strength to keep striving for something that seems impossible to reach from a human mind perspective. The pursuit of Christ is what gives us peace in our hearts, when there seems to be no peace in our home. The pursuit of Christ is what helps us to keep believing that God can work miracles in us, our husbands, and our marriages even when it seems like the problems are too big, the hurts are too deep, and the challenges are too great. 1 Peter 3:11 says “He (she) must turn from evil and do good; he (she) must seek peace and pursue it.” As I was searching Gods Word about this topic of pursuit, I landed on the verse above. I found it especially applicable for today’s topic of pursuit, because it comes on the skirt tails of the passages about how wives and husbands are supposed to treat each other (1 Peter 3:1-7). In 1 Peter 3:8-10, Peter tells us live in harmony, by sympathetic, love, hold our tongues, and be compassionate and humble - all of the things that we have been talking about over the past week that are important in our marriages. Peter expresses the absolute necessity for us to practice those Godly traits in our marriages, but then he points out that the only way to achieve those things is through the pursuit of righteousness. We could wake up every single morning and commit to having a better attitude towards our husbands, treating them differently, and working towards improving our relationships - but if we are not pursuing a strong and grounded relationship with Christ, and building the presence of faith and unshakable joy in our hearts, then all of our efforts will be in vain. It will result in empty words, full of empty promises. It is Gods strength within us that allows us to pursue a better marriage, and rise above the hurdles in out path, not our own willpower or motivation. As we pursue Christ, He will make His presence known in our lives. We will feel Him dwelling within us. We will see Him doing miracles, and although it may not be through a cloud of God, we will begin to understand that He truly is walking among us.

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DAY 8 CHALLENGE: For the past week, we have focused on many things we could do to soften our husband’s hearts and improve our relationship with them, and these things are crucial. So today’s challenge is to shift our focus to our relationship with Christ, allowing the truth to sink in that only through Him can we can have the power within us to do all those things we want to do, but do not have the desire or the willpower to do. Your challenge for today, is simply to ask God to give you an unquenchable thirst for a relationship with Him. Ask Him to give you a hunger for His Word. And spend some time in your knees with Him, pursuing Him, and seeking guidance and blessing on your marriage. I challenge you to purse Him like never before.

VERSES FOR TODAY: 1 Peter 3:12a For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayers... John 14:6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. Ephesians 2:8-9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. Romans 10:10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. Romans 10:13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”

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MARRIAGE CHALLENGE DAY 9 PARDON
A few years ago I went through a situation like no other, which I hope I never have to go through again. I was involved in a leadership role capacity for a particular organization, and although I had planned on the time and energy commitment, I was not at all prepared for the negativity, backlash, vindictiveness, and just plain meanness that ensued from a former leader. Months went by, with each day bringing new challenges, new shock over things that were taking place, and new frustrations over how my co-worker and I were being treated. The issue got to such an escalated level, which was completely out of my hands to control, that I began losing sleep, becoming anxious and upset, and waking up every day with a feeling of dread about what was going to happen next. One day I was at the end of my rope, when some seriously harsh words were yelled right in my face, and I lost it. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back you might say. The moment I turned to walk away from this hurtful individual, and my face was out of her sight, I burst into tears. I could no longer hold back the emotion, and I cried …. for three hours! Obviously that was not a day when I woke up and put on my girl big panties, but even a big girl can get beaten down after a while. That day came and went, and the tears turned to anger. The more it appeared that the situation would not improve, and the worse things got, the angrier I began to get. That anger and resentment and frustration took root in my heart, and with each passing day, my outlook and my spirit waned. I had to admit this, but I became consumed with the situation. The situation, and these hurtful people, monopolized my thoughts, and it was getting harder and harder by the day to walk in God’s ways. Then one day as I was in prayer, complaining and whining to God, yet again, about this trying situation, my heart became aware that God was speaking, saying, “Tracie, I have called you to forgive; the unforgiveness and bitterness you are holding in your heart, even though you were treated wrongly, is robbing you of the joy that is available through me. Lay it down, forget about it, just love me and I will take care of the rest.” Then the nudging of the Holy Spirit, my mind quickly wandered to the verses Roman 8:28 and Jeremiah 29:11. Both verses had held great meaning in my life, as I tried to pursue God’s will for my life, and an intimate relationship with Christ. During that sweet time with God, He prompted me to remember that He had a purpose for my situation, even though I could not see it, did not understand it, and certainly did not like going through it; and secondly, that He also had plans for me that were good, in fact, better than good.

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He was calling me to look past the mean people, and into the eyes of my loving Savior. The real problem was that while I was drowning in my hurt and self pity and anger and frustration, I had lost sight of both of these promises from God. It wasn’t until I laid the problem at His feet and washed my hands, and my heart, of unforgiveness, that I began to make strides toward healing and forgiveness. Looking back, I am surprised at myself for not seeing what that resentment and unforgiveness was doing to my heart. I now realize that I was not willing to pardon the sins of others because I felt so hurt and abused. This refusal to do as God calls us to do had prevented me from seeing God working in the situation, or teaching me a valuable lesson. It was then that I realized I had allowed this situation to drain every ounce of joy right out of me. I had allowed a few hurtful people and some trying times to steal away my precious God-given gift of joy – and I wanted it back. I got on my knees in that very moment, and chose to forgive. I did not want to – they did not forgive it – and they would not appreciate it if I told them – but God expected it, and I needed to release my anger. I am not exaggerating when I say, that immediately upon praying that pray, it was as if the weight was lifted, and the chains that Satan had wrapped around my heart, fell to the floor. You see, I had to pardon the sins of others, so that I could focus on the One who pardoned my own. Eventually, the situation improved, or at least it became more manageable, I should say. Not because the problems went away or because the parties involved experienced a change of heart or a personality implant which compelled them to be kind, but because my heart was better equipped to handle it – through Christ. My faith became my strength, when forgiveness became my goal. My heart gradually healed from this painful situation, and eventually I was able to push aside my hurt feelings and emotions, and my joy gradually returned – it did not happen overnight, but it happened. I soon realized that I was no longer being held captive by emotion and anger and hopelessness. I was no longer spending my days whining about why God was allowing me to be treated that way, or wishing that God would inflict His wrath on these hurtful women (I know, that is not a Godly girl way to feel, but I’m just being real). Forgiveness, and obedience, had literally set me free. This experience taught me a great lesson about forgiveness. I cannot begin to tell you how hard it was to forgive that person and a few others who were involved, not just with my mouth, but with my heart. It was only through God that I was able to do that, because nothing in my soul wanted to. Micah 7:18 says “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.” The meaning of that verse is simply this: God is God, and we are not. 39

We are not capable of forgiving, without His power indwelling within us. We cannot show mercy, without His compassion in our hearts. And we can never have the desire or the ability to truly forgive, without His help and intervention in our hearts. It is hard to offer forgiveness to anyone who hurts us, but it seems especially hard to forgive a husband. Why? Because we love them. We married them. We committed to them. We may have bore their children. We had dreams that included them. We honored them. We trusted them. We have given them years of our life that we cannot get back. We want to be happy with them. So when a husband hurts our feelings or betrays our trust, it cuts deeper than any other - but through forgiveness, the blow does not have to be fatal. Understanding how hard it is to forgive, but also how necessary it is in order to have a strong marriage relationship, is all the more reason to desperately pursue Christ, as I mentioned yesterday. The pursuit of Jesus Christ equips up to do things that we are not humanly capable of – and things that we would never do it on our own, if it were left up to our discretion. Forgiveness is not for wimps. It takes great strength.... strength that we cannot muster up on own, but strength that is there when we hold up our hands to the One with the strength, and simply ask for it. God did use my difficult situation to His glory (as always!), and through it He changed my heart. He strengthened my ability to forgive. He helped me to see the toll that unforgiveness can take on our spirits, and our relationships with others and with Christ, not just with the one who hurt us. Through that situation, He prepared me to know how to forgive, so that when I needed to forgive someone else, like my husband, I would be better prepared. He prepared my heart and spirit to be able to forgive my husband when needed, and to recognize the importance that forgiveness would hold for our future as a couple and as friends. Harboring unforgiveness is like ingesting poison, and then expecting the other person to die. Truth is, our hearts are the ones being poisoned, but God has the holy prescription you need for purity of heart. _____________________________________________________

DAY 9 CHALLENGE: Your challenge today is consider those things your husband has done that may have hurt you, and then ask yourself if you have truly forgiven him for those things. Maybe your husband has deeply wounded your heart. Maybe he has betrayed you. Maybe he has an addiction that seems hopeless to overcome. You may have several things come to mind in an instant, or it might take some deep praying to figure out where your bitterness is really coming from.

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Maybe you just need to forgive your husband for little things, or recent words which were spoken in anger. Maybe you have a great relationship with your husband, but there is one little thing that he does that drives you crazy, constantly makes you mad, and becomes a thorn in your entire relationship. Regardless of whether the thorn is big or small, forgiveness is the first step towards reconciliation, restoration, and rekindled love. Whatever God brings to mind – GET ON YOUR KNEES, PRAY. AND FORGIVE. Ask God for the strength to forgive him, and then, do it. Not because he deserves it, or even because God tells us to do it, but because of the deadly toll that it will have on our own hearts, and marriages, in the long run. Regardless of how big or small the problem is, our God is bigger. Our God is capable. Our God is more powerful than any strongholds. And true, healing forgiveness is only possible, through Him. I believe that forgiveness brings amazing healing, but not always overnight. It may take days, weeks, even months, of seeking Gods strength to forgive, but eventually, God will heal, hearts will mend, painful memories will fade, and the door will be opened for Jesus to get to work.

VERSES FOR TODAY: Matthew 6:14-15 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Hebrews 4:16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Ephesians 4:32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Colossians 3:13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

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MARRIAGE CHALLENGE DAY 10 PEACE
Peace. It is something we all want, but is often very hard to come by. We want peace in the mornings, when the house is loud and chaotic because none of the children are ready for school on time and the bus is at the end of the street. We want peace in the evenings, when sibling rivalry seems to be at its peak. We want peace at work, when the deadlines and stress are running rampant. We want peace in our finances, when the bills outweigh what is left in the account. We want peace on the highway, when traffic is crazy and we are running late for an appointment. We want peace in our hearts when the storms of life seem to be pouring down. We want peace in our marriage, during times when disagreements and conflict seem to be at the core of every interaction. Peace. Is it realistic to think we can ever have it? Can we really have peace while living in a fallen world, filled with sin, conflict, betrayal, temptations, chaos and busyness? Can we really have peace in our marriages when the sanctity of wedding vows has become distorted and devalued as a result of the self-centered, me-focused, culture that we live in? Can we really have peace in our marital relationships with the pressures of finances, child rearing, housework, and dual career households? I think the answer to that question depends on what kind of peace we are really looking for, and most importantly, where we are searching for it. Just out of curiosity, I searched the word 'peace' under Google images. I found infinite pages of pictures of peace - but not one picture of anything of God. There were lots of hippy-type peace signs, such as two fingers held up in a V formation, groups holding hands in a circle, people hugging, and even a picture of guns with an 'x' through them. What I did not find, were pictures of Jesus, Bibles, bible verse references, crosses, heavenly clouds, praying hands or even a beautiful sunset over the ocean. The closest thing I found to resembling peace found through faith, were some pictures of doves, but even that can be interpreted as worldly without the accompanying bible references. 42

Strangely enough, all of the images that fell under the category of “peace”, were of worldly perceptions of what peace is. A peace found in other people, symbols, and tangible things. This spoke volumes to me about why so many people are stressed beyond belief, living in daily conflict in their homes, struggling in their marriages, drowning in a life full of disappointment and unmet needs, and unable to find any real peace. The real reason that peace has gone missing is because people are looking for peace in all the wrong places. Peace cannot be found people, places and things. True peace cannot come from anything that we can touch or see. It cannot be portrayed through any silly, creative symbols or made up depictions of what someone thought would signify peace or serenity. Peace cannot be found in a day at the spa, a Caribbean vacation or a one thousand dollar shopping spree. Peace also cannot be found through simply having better marriages, better children, better jobs, better finances, less problems, or better traffic. We often think that if those “things” got better, that we will feel some sense of peace, but anything found outside of Christ, is nothing but temporary. Several years ago, I was right in the middle of dealing with an extremely difficult time in when I wrote a Proverbs 31 devotion, titled The Day I Sat In God’s Lap. Below is that devotion for you to read before we continue talking about peace. It was one of those times when I thought the worst was yet to come. A couple months ago, I found myself in a pit of despair. I had been deeply hurt, and felt betrayed by a friend. I wasn’t sure how to handle, or fix, the issues I was suddenly faced with, and my heart and my mind were overwhelmed with the storm that had unexpectedly raged into my life with great strength. One Sunday afternoon, I was feeling especially sad and worried. In an effort to hide my tears from my family, I wandered quietly into the solace of my bedroom. It was a rainy afternoon, and the room was dim, so I clicked on the lamp beside my bed. As the warm glow bathed the room in light, my eyes fell upon the little glass box that a sweet Christian friend had given me as a gift just a few weeks earlier. This beautiful engraved box, wrapped in a soft yellow bow, was filled with little slips of carefully folded papers, and on each slip of paper was written an encouraging bible verse. This would have been a wonderful gift in itself, but to make it even more special, my friend had inserted my name into each of the verses, so that when I read the verse, it was as if God was speaking directly to me. As if He was calling out to Tracie, by name. Sitting quietly alone in my bedroom, tears streamed down my face, and I slowly began to unfold each little slip of paper, reading each verse silently, and asking God to hear my prayers, comfort me, take away my hurt, and show me the way. After a few minutes of intense prayer and focus, God entered the room. I felt Him wrapping His holy comforting arms around me, and pulling me into His presence. Suddenly an idea popped into my mind that could have only come from God - instead of putting the papers back in the glass box after reading them, I began to spread them out all around me. Most of them were in front of me so I could focus on them and read them over and over, but I placed several to my right, several to my left, and then even put a few behind my back, propped up on my pillow. 43

As I sat on my bed, fully surrounded on every side by Holy Words, God impressed upon my heart that I was virtually nestled into His lap; the lap of my heavenly Father. The thought nearly took my breath away. What an awesome privilege to be positioned right smack in the middle of God’s Word. To be sitting in the lap of the One who created me. To be entirely physically surrounded by His truths. To see His written promises, specifically for me. I realized that I wasn’t merely surrounded by slips of paper, I was surrounded by countless reassurances that He heard my prayers. I was gently reminded that I needed to put my trust in Him, and that I really could find rest in Him. I thanked God for reminding me that when I seek Him, I will find Him, and for helping me see just how alive His Word really is. God transformed my heart that, as I sat in my bedroom filled with despair. Looking back, I think it was the very first time that I truly understood what peace in Christ really meant. My spiritual eyes were opened to see that “peace” does not have to be a dream, it can be a reality. On that memorable day, while sitting in God’s lap, I discovered peace. Real peace. Not a fake symbol or an empty fictitious picture of peace. Not temporary peace. Not a peace found through a hug or even a phone call from a precious friend - but real peace - peace that was found in the holy lap of my heavenly Daddy. Just recently, my husband and I found ourselves with another seemingly hopeless situation. The consequences of what had occurred were sure to be life changing, and it was a hard reality to swallow. My immediate thoughts were ones filled with fear and concern, and an onslaught of “what-ifs”….. yet…. I was able to remain calm, and felt a feeling of peace come over me that I could not explain. It was as if God whispered to my heart and said, “Tracie, I have prepared you for such a time as this. A time when you would need My peace above all else.” Once again, God opened my eyes to see that the lessons He had been teaching me about His peace, would be the one thing that would get me through this current challenge. In John 14:27, Jesus is trying to comfort His disciples, when he says, "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (NIV) There is a key word in that sentence that sticks out to me - and that is the word "my". Jesus said, I give you "my" peace. Not just peace, but His peace. Not human peace, but holy peace. He gives a peace that is completely His, and only His to give, because it was bought with His blood and purchased by His sacrifice. It is His legacy to His people, and we are the recipients of that legacy. This legacy of peace is a gift from Jesus that can be opened, unwrapped and enjoyed time and time again - but if we do not ask, we will not receive. It is a gift that can help us see beyond our most pressing and heavy problems, and instead see the problem-solver, while trusting with our full heart and mind that nothing is impossible with Christ. 44

_____________________________________________________ DAY 10 CHALLENGE: If you feel like peace has been missing from your life, your heart, your mind, and maybe even in your marriage - or if you have been desperately searching for peace and happiness in places other than Gods Word - then take some time to sit in Gods lap today. Trust me friend, I know, that there is great power in the lap of a Holy God. Now for some of you, I realize that this whole 'lap-sitting' idea may sound a little too "religious", "out there" or "over the top" - and I want to share with you that just a few years ago, I would have felt the same way. I was not very comfortable with outward worship, and did not have the faith level to really understand how important fervent prayer was in my relationship with God. In fact, I could not even comprehend that level of prayer and worship - but oh, how I wish I had known. How I wish I had let down those barriers, and surrendered it all, years earlier. I cannot help but wonder about the blessings I missed out on, the heavenly intervention that I prevented from happening, the problems that could have been avoided, and the peace that I could have embraced, had I focused on my faith, stepped out of my comfort zone, and surrendered to worship above all else. I have come to realize over the past few years that when we toss out our personal inhibitions, and allow God to take over, we begin to see Gods power working through every aspect of our lives, including our marriages. If you are interested, you can copy and paste the treasure verses from the treasure box that I provided in a follow up blog post to that devotion, then simply insert your name into the verses, print them out, and spread them out all around you. If your heart is ready to experience God in that moment, you will. Note: If you would like to make your own box of treasure box verses, visit this link to obtain an list of all the verses, where you can insert your name into the verse before printing. http://tinyurl.com/3rnun3x Whatever you do, just sit down with God’s Word. Get on your knees, literally. Pray. Ask Him to guide your hands to verses that will speak to your heart, and guide your thoughts to passages that will remind you of the peace that is available through Him. Ask God to help you release those feelings of hurt, hopelessness, and confusion, and replace them with a peace that surpasses all understanding. Peace has to be in your heart, before it can be in your marriage. God can help you face and deal with the challenges in your marriage, and help to strengthen our marriages every day. But just like any other blessing that we desire from our Lord, we have to ask to receive. Upon the asking, God begins the giving and we will find a freeing peace like we have never known before - not because of an absence of problems, but because of the presence of a King.

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PRAYER: Sweet Jesus, you know how desperately I am longing for peace. Not only peace within my marriage, but peace about my marriage, and peace in knowing that you are in control. Lord sometimes I feel like my worry is eating me alive, I cannot focus on other things during my day because I am so caught up with dread and worry over what is to come in my marriage, and how the outcome will affect my family, my children, my financial stability, my happiness. Lord I turn these worries over to you today. I surrender them to you. Thank you for carrying those burdens so that I do have not.

VERSES FOR TODAY: Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Philippians 4:6-7 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

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MARRIAGE CHALLENGE DAY 11 PARTNER
Partner: "a person who shares or is associated with another in some action or endeavor; sharer; associate; a person associated with another in a joint venture, usually sharing its risks and benefits; a player on the same side or team as another." Companion: "a person who is frequently in the company of another; a person employed to accompany, assist, or live with another in the capacity of a helpful friend; a mate or match for something." Helper: "a person or thing that helps or gives assistance, support, etc.; aid, assistant; supporter, backer, auxiliary, ally." The day we profess our commitment to our husbands on our wedding day, is the day we become his partner, helper, and companion in Gods eyes. The definitions above exemplify what God calls a wife to be - but sometimes filling these shoes is much easier said, than done. In Genesis 2:20b-22 says, "But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man." In this passage, the word “helper” is used to describe Eve, and means “to surround, to protect or aid, help.” Eve was created to live and walk alongside Adam. She was to be his "other half," his aid and his helper. They were to so complement each other that they would actually become "one flesh." God created Eve so that she could be Adams companion, helper and partner in life. But considering the fact that we live in an entirely different world than Adam and Eve lived in, with an entirely different set of issues and problems to face and overcome - and considering the women’s liberation movement of today’s society - does God still call us to be our mans helper? In fact, is it even still relevant for us to consider ourselves a "helper" to our husbands, in the 21st century, when women are considered equal to men, and many women make as much, if not more, money from their jobs and careers? You may not want to hear this answer - but the answer is : absolutely! God’s Word Was, and Is, and Is to come. His instructions are timeless. If He proclaimed it then, it still matters now. His Word never changes in meaning, implications or applications for our lives, regardless of how much time passes, or how much society would like us to believe that His Word is irrelevant or outdated. But let’s make it crystal clear that being a man’s helper does not mean being subservient, less than, or 47

controlled. It does not mean surrendering to or accepting any form of abuse, whether it be verbal, emotional or physical. It does not mean that women should consider themselves inferior to your husband as a child of God, or as a person. Being a helper means giving your husband your very best and making him a priority in every area of your life, so that your marriage can thrive. It means being partners in life. One day in my bible study reading, I was reading the passages in Leviticus about the many sacrifices and holy practices that the Israelites were required to do in order to stay in Gods favor. These Old Testament passages can be very hard to get through, due to all the information about bloody sacrifices and exhausting details about everything. I also think they are hard for us to understand today since we no longer have to engage in those practices due to the sacrifice of Jesus, and it is sometimes hard to wrap our minds around some of the things that took place then, which were common practice and accepted by all. But in Leviticus 23:9, the Lord said to Moses, "..... When you enter the land I am giving you and you harvest its first crops, bring the priest a bundle of grain from the first cutting of your grain harvest." This particular verse stuck out in my mind when I was reading it, but it wasn’t until after visiting my friend Wendy’s blog, where she does a Walk Through The Word study and discusses her interpretation of the daily readings from the chronological Bible, that I understood why. Wendy’s discussion of the "first fruits" made it clear why God had highlighted this passage in my heart. The reason that God asked for the "first" fruits of the harvest, is because He wants the best, not the leftovers. We are called to put God first in all that we do, in our faith, our marriages, and our commitments to our husbands. Wendy encouraged us to consider whether or not we bring the Lord our first fruits - our very best. Unfortunately, I would have to honestly answer no to that question. There are days when I give Him my very best and my full attention, but there are plenty of days when I do not do that. Her second question posed for us to think about, was whether or not we give our first fruits to our family? Once again, I found myself, with a heavy sigh, being honest and admitting that no, I do not always give my first fruits to my family. I read a story in my friend Melanie Chitwood’s book "What A Husband Needs From His Wife", that went like this: "What are we having for dinner?" When I said that we were having macaroni and cheese with hot dogs (again!), I was sharply convicted of my wrong priorities. I had put someone else... ahead of my own family. I had gone many extra miles to make the meal I was taking to someone I had never met, but I was throwing together something quick and easy for my own husband and children. In short, I was giving something to someone else that I had not first given to the people closest to me!" I could certainly relate to this story. There have been times when I have put others needs above those of my own family. I have given my sweetest attitude and patience to others outside of my family, while 48

exhibiting a lack of patience and tolerance to my own husband and family. I have been willing to go out of my way to help someone else, but then felt resentful when I had to go out of my way to help my husband do something. As a helper, companion and partner to our husbands, God calls us to give our first fruits to Him first, but then also to give our first fruits to our husbands. God instructs wives put helping our husbands at the top of our priority lists; to be someone he can share life with and enjoy the blessings that come from that togetherness; to be a helpful friend; to be their mate; to be someone who gives assistance, support and acts as their ally. To be someone who protects their reputation and honors their position within the family. I am the first to say that the busyness of life, attitudes, hurts, resentment, frustrations - often prevent me from being the partner/helper/companion that God called me to be for my husband. To be the type of helper that helps him achieve his emotional, mental, physical and spiritual needs. The verses in Genesis 2 reminded me of the importance of God’s command when he says that we must put Him first, and then our husband second. We are called to give them both our first fruits – nothing but our very best. _____________________________________________________

DAY 11 CHALLENGE: First, consider whether or not you are you giving God your "first fruits". Are you giving God your very best? Do you greet Him in the morning before you do anything else? Do you tell Him good morning, and commit to partner with Him throughout the day? When you serve Him, do you offer all that you have, and give 100% with a positive, self-less attitude? Secondly, are you giving your husband your “first fruits”? Do you greet him in the mornings with a hug and a kiss before you wake up the children? Do you give him your best attitude, despite emotions, feelings, circumstances and things that have happened in the past? Do you partner with him during the day, being willing to help him out as needed? If you answered no to either of these questions, consider what might be in your heart that is preventing you from being able to offer those first fruits. A man only has one wife. That wife is the only one who can be a husband’s helper, companion and partner. These are roles that only a wife can fill. Sometimes it is hard to give selflessly, especially if that help/companionship/partnership is not being given in return. But I do believe that if someone takes the first step, other steps will follow by both people involved. Pray about taking a first step today if needed, and ask God to help you remember to give Him, and your husband, your very best.

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PRAYER: Lord Jesus, impart upon my spirit the desire to be a wonderful partner and friend and helper to the husband that you have given me. Help us to learn how to work together better, communicate more openly, and be more considerate and helpful when it comes to each other needs. Forgive me for putting other people and other obligations before the needs and desires of my husband and family. You know my heart was in the right place Lord, yet I was unaware that I was possibly not giving my ‘first fruits’ to You nor to my family. Convict my heart when I fail to focus on my husband and look for ways to be a better partner in life with him. Help me to push aside any self-centered feelings and to take the steps necessary to improve my marriage relationship, through my own actions and inner change, if needed. Lastly Lord, please touch my husband’s heart. Give him a receptive heart in times when I am trying to be a better partner, or when I am focused on giving him my very, very best. Allow me the privilege of seeing joy in his face, when giving my best makes a difference in our relationship. In Jesus name, Amen. VERSES FOR TODAY: Titus 2:5 to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God Proverbs 12:4 A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown, but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones Proverbs 14:1 The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down. 1 Corinthians 7:33-34 But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband.

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MARRIAGE CHALLENGE DAY 12 PLANT
My three children have been taught to love each other, however, I would be lying if I said they always treated each other with kindness. On more than one occasion in the middle of a heated case of sibling rivalry, I have tried to help them understand that their actions, and reactions, towards their brother or sister are the seeds they are planting in their relationship. Kindness begets kindness, and hatefulness begets hatefulness, and so on. I recently asked my daughter a question. I said, “If I planted a rose bush seed in the ground, what do you think would grow?” “Roses, of course”, she replied. Then I asked, “If I planted a weed seed, what would grow?” She looked at me with a perplexed expression, and simply said “weeds”. So I asked her to consider whether or not she would prefer to be given a bouquet of roses, or a wad of weeds, which of course, she replied roses. I went on to explain that if she wants roses (or a good relationship with her siblings), she must plant rose seeds (kindness and patience). This is not the first time she had heard the "you reap what you sow" life lesson. And it was not the first time that the predicted eye rolling and under-breath sighs took place, but this little reminder helps them understand that the seeds they plant in the hearts of each other are what they can expect to get in return. Funny how easy it is to teach our children these important life truths, but then forget to apply those same truths to our own life - especially with consideration of what we are planting in our marriage relationships. "Reaping and sowing" is a pretty easy concept to understand really......so why we do find it so hard to apply its importance in our marriages? Why do we neglect or even refuse to plant seeds that will build up our man and our marriage, but still expect good things to grow? Why do we plant weeds, and then be disappointed when we get weeds in return?! God has given wives an important job of being a faithful gardener in our marriages. We can choose whether or not we have a beautiful garden full of color and sweet smelling flowers, or a garden choked by weeds. An attentive and hopeful gardener (aka, wife) knows that what is planted in the marriage will determine what is harvested in the future. An attentive and hopeful gardener (aka, wife) knows that the decisions she makes about what to plant, will affect the outcome of what grows in the field eventually. An attentive and hopeful gardener (aka, wife) also knows that the planting does not fully guarantee the harvest, because the seeds that were planted will also need proper care and attention. Genesis 8:22 says "As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and 51

winter, day and night, will never cease." What this verse teaches us is that there is always a time for planting, and a time for harvest, so it is never too late to start sowing good seed. Galatians 6:7 and 9 say, "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.; Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." This verse explains how sowing seed and taking proper care of those seeds, will always produce a harvest, eventually. It is a fact. The first question to honestly ask ourselves today is, what type of seeds are we sowing in our marriages? The second question is, what seeds does God call us to sow in our marriages? The third question is, are the seeds that we are sowing, and the seeds that God calls us to sow, the same? Let’s take a look today at those seeds God desires that we sow, that will result in us harvesting the gifts of a healthy marriage that He wants each of us to have. #1 Seeds of Love: Unfortunately in many marriages, a woman may feel as if she simply does not love her husband anymore. Maybe she doesnt think he is the same man she married. Maybe he has hurt her and betrayed her trust. Maybe he has not met her expectations. Maybe they have just spent so little time together over the years that they feel as if they do not know each other anymore. In any case, it is never too late to sow love, and it is never beyond our capabilities to find that love to sow, because Gods love comes from God, not from feelings. God can pour those seeds of love into our hearts, to reinvest into our marriages, even if we cannot find that love anywhere in our hearts - the love that 1 Corinthians 4 talks about, that is patient, kind and selfless. But if we don’t feel it, how we can give it? Upon reading 2 Corinthians 9:8-11, we discover how to embrace this 'loving-him-when-we-really-don’t-feel-like-it' concept: "God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you're ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done. As one psalmist puts it, He throws caution to the winds, giving to the needy in reckless abandon. His right-living, right-giving ways never run out, never wear out. This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you. He gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way, producing with us great praise to God." (The Message Bible) The part I like best about that verse is where it says "...He gives you something you can then give away", which means if we ask God for seeds of love to sow, He will provide them. Then we can plant them. For any of you who are finding it hard to sow love into your marriages, even if for very valid and justified reasons, this is the perfect verse to tuck away in your heart, while asking God to give you the seeds to sow that you cannot find within yourself. For women who are still in love with their husbands, it might just be a matter of examining our actions to see if we are indeed sowing the love that we feel, or do we allow daily pressures and busyness to prevent us from outwardly showing, I mean sowing, those seeds of love. 52

#2 Seeds of Actions: Over the past 11 days, we have talked about many ways to sow seeds into our marriages through encouraging words, protecting his reputation, praying for him, changing our perspectives, spending time with him, etc. Each time we sow love through our actions and encouraging words, we are planting seeds that will bear fruit in our marriages. Luke 6:31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. (NIV) #3 Seeds of Blessings: If you are like me, I treasure every gift from my husband. Even the tiniest gift given for no other reason but love, means more to me than the biggest, most expensive gift given on a birthday or holiday. That gift is a symbol of a heartfelt blessing, one given out of love, just because. God gave the life of His son, just because. Not because we deserved it, or because we had a birthday, but just because of His infinite love for us. In the same way, God calls us to bless others, especially our husbands, just because, by lovingly planting seeds of blessing. Proverbs 11:15 The one who blesses others is abundantly blessed; those who help others are helped. (MSG) #4 Seeds of Intimacy: This is a topic that most women want to avoid, especially since it is typically more important to the hubby, than to the wife. But the fact of the matter is that if a wife doesn’t plant seeds of intimacy in the marriage, then seeds of discord and distance will be planted instead. Sexual intimacy in a marriage is crucial, and without it, weeds are guaranteed to grow. 1 Corinthians 7:4 The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. (NIV) I realize this is a very touchy subject, and certainly one that I am not an expert about by any wild stretch of the imagination. However, I do understand the emotional distance that is created when a husband and wife do not make time for intimacy. I do understand the feeling of awkwardness and hesitation to bridge that distance after a while. I do understand the feelings of sadness and neglect when intimacy is missing from a relationship. And I do understand, through my own experiences, that I do not like those feelings at all! If a wife it not planting seeds of intimacy, and if it has been weeks, months, even years without intimacy in a marriage - IT IS NEVER TOO LATE TO START PLANTING. The time is always right to begin sowing those seeds of intimacy, even if it requires the supernatural strength and courage of God to overcome those feelings of distance, resentment, awkwardness, hesitation, neglect, loneliness and sadness. ALL things are possible with God. Not some, but all. As seeds are planted, even those seeds that we did not want to plant, the harvest will eventually begin to grow, and flourish. Over time, those seeds that we were most reluctant to plant, but did so anyway through the sheer strength and grace of God alone, may turn out to be the exact seeds that save a marriage from being choked out by an over abundance of weeds that had been planted for years.

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Planting seeds & pulling weeds will always pay off, if a beautiful marriage garden is your goal. 2 Corinthians 9:6 says, "Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop." (NLT) _____________________________________________________

DAY 12 CHALLENGE: Take a long, hard look at your marriage garden today. Consider whether or not you have been planting seeds of love, sweet actions, blessings and intimacy, or have you been primarily focused on planting and fertilizing the weeds? If it turns out that you recognize a need to start sowing seeds from God into your marriage garden, your challenge is to start a fresh harvest, beginning today, and get excited about reaping the fruits of a new harvest. Whether your marriage is thriving, or hanging on by a thread, it is always a time for planting good seeds, and the sooner you begin to sow, the sooner your harvest will begin to grow. 2 Corinthians 9:6 says this, "Remember: A stingy planter gets a stingy crop; a lavish planter gets a lavish crop. I want each of you to take plenty of time to think it over, and make up your own mind what you will give. That will protect you against sob stories and arm-twisting. God loves it when the giver delights in the giving." (The Message) So many times we pray for miracles in our marriages, but aren’t willing to do what it takes to make the soil fertile for a great harvest to grow. I challenge you today to be willing get on your knees, get your hands dirty, and start doing some planting that will reap a bountiful harvest. VERSES FOR TODAY: Galatians 6:7-10 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. 2 Corinthians 9:10-11 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. Proverbs 11:24 One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.

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MARRIAGE CHALLENGE DAY 13 PARADIGM SHIFT
A paradigm shift is a fundamental change in approach or assumptions about a certain subject. It is a complete change from one way of thinking to another, and is often exactly the type of change needed in our marriages, jobs, relationships, home life, parenting, health, etc. In most cases, the circumstances or factors involved in a situation in our life are not going to change, but what can change, is how we look at those circumstances, our attitudes towards those them and how our perspectives about those circumstances is shaping and maintaining it. When it comes to marriage, one of the main things that keep us discouraged is the feeling that nothing is going to ever change. Deep in our hearts, we struggle with accepting the painful truth that our man will never change in ways we feel are necessary for our happiness and the success of the marriage. We are unable to believe that our difficult situations or daily challenges and problems will change or go away. Maybe they will, and maybe they will not. Only God knows the future. The bad news is that we have to acknowledge and accept that we cannot control certain circumstances, and we cannot control the behavior of other people, nor their actions or their choices. As much as we would love to have the power to change others, we simply cannot! So continually trying to force change only leads to intense feelings of frustration, defeat and hopelessness. There is an old saying that I love, which says “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different outcome.” I wonder how many women reach the point of desperation for change in their marriages, but continue to do the same thing they have always done; planting the same seeds they have always planted; never pulling the weeds up, but longing for flowers to grow. Change has to occur in our hearts, before it can begin to flourish anywhere else. The good news is that we always have control over our own minds, our own thoughts, our own actions and reactions, and our own choices. We always have control over the attitudes that we carry around in our hearts and minds every day. And we always have control over how we allow those attitudes to affect our life, and our marriages. A paradigm shift refers to striving for a total transformation of the mind, like a metamorphosis of sorts. Metamorphosis is an even more powerful word regarding change than transformation is, because it means a radical change, from the inside out. A great example of metamorphosis is the cycle of the butterfly - it starts out as a yucky larvae, then turns into a squirmy caterpillar, then a pupa in a cocoon, and eventually into an adult butterfly. Once the butterfly emerges from the cocoon, there is no sign of the old ugly caterpillar anymore, just the beautiful butterfly spreading its colorful wings. It completely changes, inside and out. It morphed into 55

something wonderful and beautiful, from something not wonderful, and not beautiful. In marriage, it is so easy to get stuck in a mindset that we have developed over time. Whether that mindset is positive or negative, is up to us. Positive attitudes don’t just happen, they are purposely created. In the familiar verse found in Romans 12:2, we read "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." The "pattern" of this world, with respect to marriages, is not good. Divorce is at an all time high, even among Christian marriages. Pornography use in marriages is an epidemic. Infidelity plagues our TV screens as an accepted practice, in politics, reality shows, comedies, and movies. True love is equated to mushy romance scenes with satin sheets and candles that are unrealistic and uncommon in most relationships (and let’s be honest - non-existent for most long term married couples!). The media touts marriage as a disposable commodity – if you do not like your spouse, just toss them out for another one. Deception, lies, mistrust, revenge, bitterness, self-centeredness, and instant gratification have become the norm for our world, and all of these thing are lethal to a marriage relationship. God calls each of us to be set apart from the world. To live in the world, but not of the world. To live in a world that does not value the sanctity and covenant of marriage, but not of the same belief as that world. The only way to achieve this mental and spiritual separation is to experience a paradigm shift, a transformation, and metamorphosis in our own hearts and minds - so that we can set patterns in our lives and marriages that are pleasing to God, and only God. Patterns that this broken world have tried to break, but that we can put back into place through faith. A true paradigm shift requires making the choice every day to live God-focused instead of world-focused. To stay focused on what God can do, instead of what it appears He is not doing. To transform not merely our minds, but our hearts, our speech, our actions, our choices, our pursuits, our dreams, and our marital relationships as well. So how do we transform our attitudes to stop focusing on what is not right in the marriage, and start focusing on what is? How can we shift our perceptions about our husbands, and allow God to change us from the inside out, and in turn, our marriages? There is no easy answer, but a great place to start is to realize that your husband will never meet all of your needs. That sounds disappointing, but it is true, and having that expectation only sets us up for disappointment and failure. 56

Philippians 4:19 says "And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus." Do we see the word "husband" in this verse? Nope. God did not intend for our husbands, or any other person or thing in our life, to be able to meet our needs and make us fulfilled and content and joyful. Only HE can do that. I spent a lot of years feeling like my needs were not being met in my marriage, and I have to admit that there are days when I find myself getting caught up in those feelings. In fact, just recently my husband jokingly said "You are so needy!", because I was telling him that he hadn’t hugged me enough lately or spent enough time with me. I laughed, but in my heart, I knew it was true. As women, we are needy. We all long for that physical touch, romance, friendship, honesty, intimacy, provision and closeness, from the men that we have committed our life to. But the reality is, that sometimes our husbands just cannot meet all of those needs, and when that happens, our attitudes shift in the wrong direction. And Satan smiles. The day I truly accepted that my husband could not meet all of my emotional needs or expectations, I found that my faith grew, my walk with God got more exciting, and my marriage improved. When I released him from being responsible for filling every space in my heart, he was not only freed, but I was too. The day that my heart latched onto that concept, was my first step towards a better marriage, and a changed, transformed heart. I blossomed from larvae, to a butterfly, you might say. What a relief it was for me to discover that Jesus was the only person who could fill every empty space in my heart. What a gift to my husband it was to release him from the expectation that it was his responsibility and obligation to try to make me happy every day. A few years ago, I discovered that no matter what my husband was or was not doing; no matter what situations we were going through; no matter how many expectations were not met; no matter how many arguments we might have.... that I could still have joy. Our lives are by-products of our choices, not our circumstances. How we "see" things in our life, will determine what we are able to "see". We can choose to be positive and God focused, or we can choose to be negative and world focused. Whichever choice we make will determine the level of joy we can expect to have in marriage, in life, and in our faith. _____________________________________________________

DAY 13 CHALLENGE: Will you embrace the opportunity for a paradigm shift in your way of thinking? Have you been expecting your husband to meet all of your needs, inside and out?

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Make a list of the things that you "expect" of your husband. The needs that you want him to meet, and the tangible and intangible things that you think he should give or fulfill. Then, make a list of the needs that you "expected" your husband to fill when you got married. Notice the differences. Ask God to begin helping you see what expectations you may have placed on your husband that in fact, only God can really meet. Release your husband from being your sole provider, and invite God to be your soul provider instead. This is a tough challenge, because any normal person would be thinking "why should I change? He is the one who needs to change? He is the one who did this/that/this and that. What good does it do for me to change, if he refuses to change?" I’m with you sister. Just remember, we only have control over our own thoughts and actions, but when we change our mindset, we might not only see things in a different light, but we also might become a role model that will inspire others to embrace change as well. The pattern of this world would be to point fingers, but the pattern of God would be to point to Him for guidance. With God’s help, our life, and our marriages, can emerge from the cocoon, and become a beautiful butterfly. The old will be gone, and the new will take its place. All things are possible with God, and He is the King of transformation. PRAYER: Dear Jesus, please melt my heart towards my husband. Help me release him from the obligation of meeting all of my needs. But Lord, would you soften his heart so that he will understand my needs, and long to meet the ones that he can meet? You have brought us together for a reason, and I trust that You can get us through hard times, heal addictions, restore our relationship, and rekindle our love. Fill my heart with so much of You, that I do not need anything else, however You know and understand that the blessing of a happy and wonderful marriage is my heart’s desire. Help me to experience personal victory in you, so that I can truly change my mindset and transform my way of thinking. Help me to be set apart. Guide my thoughts to good things about my husband, and not just the bad. Help me to forgive, and if needed, help me to forget. Give me the strength to love my husband unconditionally, just as You love me. Fill my mind and mouth with words that will help me achieve a metamorphosis in my soul, from the inside out. Help me to get rid of old thoughts and patterns, and embrace the opportunity to become a more positive person about my marriage. Most of all Lord, please make your Presence known to me. Let me see a glimpse of You at work in my marriage so that I can continue to be hopeful and excited about the changes that are to come. I trust in You Lord, forgive me for doubting that you are bigger than all my problems. Help me to always remember that it Your desire for me to happy and fulfilled in all things."

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VERSES FOR TODAY: Ephesians 5:21 Out of respect for Christ, be courteously reverent to one another. (MSG) Philippians 2:3-4 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. John 13:34-35 A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

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MARRIAGE CHALLENGE DAY 14 PERSEVERE
Marriage can be the biggest blessing in our lives, bring the biggest heartache we have ever known, and be the greatest adventure we have ever been on, all at the same time. It is a breeding ground of emotions from one end of the spectrum to the other, but we can take heart in knowing that God knew marriage was not easy. He knew we would need guidance and support, encouragement and strength. Even the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 7:28 that "...But those who marry will face many troubles in this life..." As a result of the importance of marriage, and the fact that He knew it would not be easy, God chose to make more than 500 Old and New Testament references to the words "marriage", "married", "husband", and "wife". Marriage was a challenge in biblical times, as it is today, because it is a union of two different, imperfect people coming together in a world that is full of sin. It is the joining of two people who each have good and bad traits, good and bad habits, sins, and selfish desires, while trying to become one, coexist, stay in love, and deal with life. If we only look at marriage by that description though, we will remain discouraged, instead of encouraged; frustrated, instead of hopeful; and disheartened, instead of joyful. Even Adam and Even had to co-exist, and put up with each other’s idiosyncrasies. Eve fell prey to listening to satan, but Adam did not strong in his position as head of the household/garden. They each played role in the act of sinning against God, and disobeying His orders to not eat from the tree of life. At the moment they were cast out of the Garden of Eden, the two of them had to make a choice. They could blame each other. Point fingers. Have a shouting match. Bring up all the things that the other had done to them, of which they had never noticed before because they were without sin until then. They could separate and go their opposite ways. They could call it quits completely. Or, they could choose to work together and rebuild their lives, embracing the circumstances that they were in, and trusting in God to walk them through the situation. Fortunately, they chose to stick together. They recognized that they had each played a role in the hardships their relationship was now dealing with. They realized that their needs for protection, love and security could only be met if they stuck together, through thick and thin.

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They recognized the importance of perseverance and their need for one another, despite the problems that they were now facing. The fate of every marriage depends on our own decisions. Our society does not value marriage as it was meant to be, and we all know that. But God’s Word is still the authority. We will never know the blessings and miracles that God has planned for our marriages unless we choose to stay together, trust God, and persevere. Marriage is meant to be a blessing, when two become one and share every precious moment together. Yet it is one of the important parts of life where God knew we would need His strength, courage, ability to forgive, grace, mercy and hope. Marriage is one of the many areas of life where God encourages us to persevere if we want to see our dreams come true, our faith come to life, and our relationships be a blessing in our lives. To persevere means to persist in anything undertaken; to maintain a purpose in spite of difficulty, obstacles, or discouragement; and to continue steadfastly. Here are a few verses that reiterate Gods take on perseverance: Hebrews 10:36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. Hebrews 11:27 By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king's anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. James 1:12 Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. Romans 5:3-4 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. Perseverance is not always fun, but in Christ, we can do it, and reap the rewards of His love, protection, and blessing as a result. Only God knows the problems or blessings in each of our marriages, and only He knows the future of each relationship. Yet our role as spouses, is to continue to trust Him in whatever we are facing, and to persevere through His strength and not our own. All things are possible with God. ___________________________________________________________

DAY 14 CHALLENGE: Over the past thirteen days, we have focused on a lot of different things, all sharing the same desired goal of improving and strengthening our marriages. Let’s do a quick little review just for discussion sake: 61

- the importance of praying for our husbands, their hearts, their decisions, their work, their choices, their minds, and their faith. - promoting our husbands self esteem by offering words of encouragement, instead of words of discouragement - changing our perspectives, and trying to see our husbands through Gods eyes - providing for their emotional, physical and spiritual needs - protecting their reputations and giving them honor - remembering to spend quality time and 'play' with our husbands - putting what we know into practice - pursuing a close with with Christ ourselves which benefits our marriages - forgiveness - seeking peace through Christ when times are tough - being our husbands helper - planting seeds of love, blessing, intimacy, and actions into our marriage gardens - and focus on the transforming of our minds. When I look at the list above in its entirety, all on one page, I have to admit, it seems very overwhelming! In fact, it almost seems impossible to think that we can really implement these practices into our marriages, remember to do them daily and/or weekly, and stay motivated to keep trying even when the road seems hard, long, unchanging, and unrewarding. But with God, all things are possible. So today, your challenge is to simply embrace perseverance. Marriage is hard work, but when we work hard at something, blessings always follow.

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A FINAL WORD
Sweet friends, writing this marriage challenge has been a blessing for me, in addition to being a challenge. I want to share with you what a “God-thing” this really was. You see, the day before my Love, Respect and Admiration devotion (that I shared with you at the beginning of this book) was scheduled to be emailed to our five hundred thousand Proverbs 31 Encouragement For Today subscribers, God pricked my heart with the idea for a 14 day marriage assignment. Until that moment, I had no intentions or plans for developing a marriage challenge. Yet, I felt an overwhelming nudge from God to do just that. As I wrote the accompanying blog post for the devotion, I decided to mention the fourteen day challenge, just to see if maybe a few women might be interested enough to commit to the challenge. I expected a handful at most, so I was blown away by the response of hundreds and hundreds of women, desperate for any words of wisdom or loving advice that might help their hurting marriages. After seeing the response, I knew I had God right, but nonetheless, I became extremely anxious about the reality of actually doing it! That same afternoon, my husband came home from work, and having read my blog post that day, asked me if I had everything prepared for the fourteen day challenge. I hesitantly, and anxiously, admitted that I had not written a single, solitary word, and to be honest, I had no idea what I was going to write about for fourteen consecutive days. And the challenge was set to begin the very next day? What I was thinking!? Aside from being consumed with doubt about whether or not I could come up with fourteen ways to challenge women in their marriages, aside from the fact that I had to the first challenge ready on my blog in less than twenty four hours – I also became overwhelmed and consumed with doubt about my own worth. I know that I am not the perfect wife; I do not have a perfect husband; and our marriage is not perfect. We have had our share of ups and downs, good times and bad. So when I felt God calling me to write about marriage, I got a little anxious. No, a lot anxious. Okay, panicked. But despite the fears and insecurities that seemed to be flooding my mind, I knew in the depths of my soul, that this was a God-assignment. I just had to fully trust that He would come through - and He did. God provided every thought, every word, every bible verse, every idea, and every memory of experiences that I have gone through. It wasn’t until the second day of the challenge, that He planted the idea in my heart to consider using "p" words for each challenge. I would have never come up with that clever idea on my own! God is so cool. I only tell you all this, because I want to give God all the credit for this marriage challenge, and take none for myself. I want to thank God for the hard trials, that drew me closer to Him, and praise Him for all the good times that I have been allowed to share with the man He destined for me. Most of all, my prayer is that God will use this marriage challenge as a tiny vessel that may plant seeds of hope into a the heart of a woman who desperately longs for change and fulfillment in her marriage. 63

I pray that God blesses you and your husband, and that you will soon see visible signs of His mighty hand at work in your marriage, as you honor and treasure the covenant of two becoming one.

Tracie

All referenced verses are from the NIV Bible unless otherwise noted. Copyright. 2011 Tracie W. Miles, Proverbs 31 Ministries. All Rights Reserved.

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