Marriage is a Cross-Cultural Experience

passport-1544134-1279x1701In the fall of 2007, I prepared for my first trip to India as part of my seminary studies. Part of the preparation entailed a class to study about Indian culture, customs, faith traditions, etc…Although our professor attempted to help us dig deeper in our preparation, often our conversation veered in the direction of what would our housing arrangements be like and what would happen if we fell prey to “Deli Belly”? With anxiety about the unknown, truly exploring all the cacophony of social, political, religious, and even dialectical voices we would engage was not always possible. Like so many journeys, the readings only seemed to make more sense in hindsight. Once we’d had our feet on the ground and our bodies amid a population of people.

In many ways I find premarital coaching and counseling like preparing for a cross-cultural experience. Even when you’ve lived together and known each other’s families, there are elements of “making family” that do not fully appear until after the I Do.   It might not be until you’re knee deep in planning to host your first Thanksgiving feast, that you realize that perhaps you and your beloved truly do not think, feel, see, and understand the world the same.   Suddenly, a favorite holiday becomes a window into the cross-cultural divide between your two worlds. Even couples who grow up in similar ethnic, socio-economic, and geographic regions speak different familial dialects. One of the joys and challenges of long-term relationships is learning each other’s dialects and in many sense creating a new, unique dialect that is all your own.

Drs. John and Julie Gottman, who believe that we have our own unique love maps, emphasize this idea. These maps are a metaphor for your partner’s world—their inner and outer terrain. The Gottmans discovered that knowing the in’s and out’s of what makes your beloved tick is one of the keys to successful marriages and long-term relationships. Recognizing that relationships are like a cross-cultural experience and seeing this as a time to learn and explore rather than fight or retreat is the challenge.

So in many respects, premarital coaching is an intentional time to get to know your future spouse’s love map in more depth. It is a time to affirm the ways and places your maps complement and resonate with each other and to lift up places that might have more rugged terrain. It’s a time recognize that your beloved is a deep, complex, and multifaceted person that you will continue to know more fully.

Premarital counseling and coaching can transform the focus from one day to the dreaming about the rest of your lives.

All Couples Give Birth at the Wedding

“You’re about to have your first baby!”nexus-1315248-1278x854

This is one of the little sayings I sometimes suggest to couples in the homily at their wedding. Sure, the sentence gets everyone to perk up a little bit. Sure, it can make for a little surprise. It both builds suspense and takes the edge of anxiety.  Beyond those reasons, I say this because I want to help all of us recognize that what’s about to happen is truly the creation of a new life—the marital relationship.

There are numerous unity rituals to mark this creation…whether water, sand, or fire…we have visual symbols to represent this “third thing” between the couple.   But like so many parts of life, that which is invisible, the actual relationship itself, can easily be forgotten, neglected, and taken for granted.

When an infant enters your family, there is no denying her presence. When an infant graces your home, there is no way to ignore the need for food, changing, attention and love. There are a myriad of cries to get your attention.  Overtime, you learn to disinguish their sounds.

A marriage may not be so obvious in its needs, but it, too, cries out for attention. When couples find themselves engaging the vicious cycle of blame and withdraw, a marriage cries out. When days go by without an honest connection, a marriage cries out. When time and energy are continually taken by both and not replaced, a marriage cries out. Also, like an infant, a marital relationship does not have a voice to articulate that it’s hungry, thirsty, or in need of a little TLC. And, like with parents, the couple needs to listen and look for the cries and attend to them.

Imagine if we all entered our marriages honoring the relationship as if it were a newborn. Imagine if we recognized that our marriage, like growing humans, go through stages of growth and change.

For These Things I Give Thanks

God only knows I haven’t been the easiest person to be around of late.

The to do list is long.

The lament list is lengthy.

The fire in my belly doesn’t want to be tamed.

I’m told that fire can either destroy or cleanse.

I’m praying for the later.

And then

in a most unexpected turn of events

I arrive home from a church meeting.

Soul weary

I enter our sleeping home…

I’m too late to even say good night…

but instead of bitterness

grace and gratitude arrive like the snow that is about to fall.

The cat’s nestled up agains Joe’sbody as they both snore.

Not even my presence stirs them.

My head to toe tension dissolves to the rhythm of that sound.

I tip-toe down the hall to glance at the girls while they slumber.

For this moment all is at peace.

For the first time  in weeks

it is well with my soul.


From Resolutions to Rituals

to-release-1-1245884-1279x1924It’s that time of year.  The time when we get busy writing our list of resolutions and checking them twice.  If you are at all interested in personal growth or self-help, you can find books, journals, and art projects to inspire you to live your best year yet.  Recently, there has been an emphasis on letting go of the list of to do’s and instead picking an image or a word for the year.  These New Year’s traditions can certainly help motivate you to self-actualize.  However, if you want to deepen your relationship with yourself, your partner, and your family, a ritual to release the previous year can help make space to manifest your hopes for the new year.

What sets a ritual apart from a tradition or a resolution?

Rituals are like living poetry.  They make a change come alive by honoring that change–real change–affects more than just what we do.  A real change takes body, mind, and spirit. Rituals also allow for the paradoxes and polarities to be seen, felt, named, and honored rather than resolved or reconciled.  Think about the many rituals that surround weddings…from the exchange of rings to the sand ceremony to the parent-child dance, these rituals honor the joy and grief of creating a new family.

What do I do to create a ritual?

  • Think over the last year and make a list of highs and lows.
  • Write the blessings and challenges that have come from both your highs and lows.
  • Thank the year for all you’ve received.
  • Look over your list and see if any themes or ideas emerge.
  • Think of what you want to release from the previous year.  How can you lovingly let those pieces go?
  • Think of what you want to grow more.  How can you invite those elements to flourish?
  • Think about how you want to mark this transition.  Do you want to do it privately?  Should you have a small gathering of friends?

For example, if you’re an engaged couple getting married in 2017–whether or not you live together, you are saying goodbye to single life.  What parts of single life will you miss? What aspects of singlehood are you ready to send packing?  Individually, take time to look back over your last year, and write a letter to your Single-Self.  Honor both the joy and the grief your Single-Self feels.  Does your Single-Self need a ritual with your friends?  Just thinking this way could transform the bachelor/bachelorette party from a to-do list item to a time of really celebrating your friendships.

Once you’ve written your letter and have an idea for a ritual your single-Self would like, you have an opportunity to deepen your relationship with your fiancee.  Create a date night where the two of you share your letters with each other.  Honor the fact that there might be some mixed emotions about saying “I do.”  Creating time and space for your Single-Selves to share with one another decreases stress and wedding jitters.  Better yet, you’ve started to navigate the tricky waters of self-care and relationship care.  This practice will not only sustain your engagement–it will help grow your marriage.

Running on Empty

Can I just say this little light is not what you want to see go on when you’re stuck on the highway.img_1366

Sitting in bumper to bumper traffic, several miles from the exit, facing the quickly setting sun, the E-Light illumined my drive.  How could I be running on empty?  When I left, I had plenty of gas to get home.  Nearly 2/3’s a tank.  That’s more than enough.  After I stopped bargaining, I quickly shifted into Girl Scout mode.  I have my just-in-case tools in the trunk.  I have gloves, scarf, hat, and even an extra pair of clothes.  My cell phone was fully charged.  If needed, I could pull over as the car ran out of gas.  Now, I know that the E-Light means you actually have 1-2 gallons of gas left.  I knew I had approximately 7 miles to go until I could get to the easiest Turkey Hill.  I was pretty certain I could make it.

But still–how could this happen?  I am such a good planner….

In the moments of standstill, I mediated on the dashboard light.  Yes.  I am indeed a good planner.  I had everything I needed for this journey when I started.  And yet still, it was not enough.  Even with the best plans and best preparations, the E-Light goes on.  Even with the hardiest self-care and the most robust meditation practice, the E-Light goes on.  I was running on empty. That’s just how some (most) journeys are.

I’ve intellectually known this reality for a long time.  After all one of my mantras is the Louisa May Alcott quotation: I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.

And yet when I’m sailing through a storm or sitting in traffic and the E-Light appears, I feel fear.  Fear that usually gives my mind a multiple choice brain game:

a.  What did I do wrong? b.Why can’t I prevent these things from happening?  c.  What can I do differently next time to prevent this from happening?  d.  All of the above.

These questions do not help me sail my own ship.  These questions do not remind me that running on empty is part of the journey.  If it were a matter of developing a more strategic traveling plan, practicing more meditation, or a  committing to self-care more deeply, the E-Light would never go on.  Sure I get depleted.  But I’ve learned how not to run myself that low.  No–this little light of mine was not a lesson in try harder; do better; think harder.

As I continued to meditate on the dashboard lights, I breathed deeply.  In.  Out.  In.  Out.  During an exhalation, I realized if worst came to worst, someone could bring me some spare gas.  All I needed to do was call.  Deep breath in.  Thank you God…today I have people to call.  A litany of names ran through my head.  That is why I do not need to fear the storms.  Not only can I sail my own ship, but I am not alone in my boat.  Sometimes it takes the E-Light to surrender and remember, we were never meant to have enough gas to make our journey totally on our own.


I have fallen on my knees before you

head bent…

the very breath knocked out of me.

I’m again that little girl

whose sweaty palms

slipped from the handle bars.

I crashed on the hard

playground floor.

I tried to speak–

no sound escaped.

It was a


and a crash

not some gentle glide on Your wings

not a cushioned landing on Your downy feathers.


It was a crash.

A whoosh.

A loss of breath.

Words piled high in my head

but could not escape my lips.

Oh the terror of that moment.

How can I feel that same way again?

The wind knocked out of me

seeming as if my breath


Make way in the autumn of my emptiness.

Fill me with life-giving air.


Surely the days are coming…

Practicing Barefoot

This is almost too hard to put into words.

Too hard to capture .

This sense that the space between therapist and client is

holy ground.

I forever feel as though I should be sitting barefoot.

There is no more sacred space than when someone trusts you enough to

unpack the contents of her soul.