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Spring Cleaning for the Musty Marriage

Maybe your marriage is in need of some spring cleaning of its own.

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Spring cleaning and me, we have a love-hate relationship.

You see, I love that this yearly ritual spawns a clean, organized, and clutter-free house. Well, as clutter-free as the lived-in home of four kids ages 10 and under can be.

What I don’t so much like is that whatever space I’m tackling always looks worse before it looks better.

Always. And I’m talking without fail.

My current project is our unfinished basement. The one that’s littered with rows of storage bins and cardboard boxes, mounds of clothes our daughters have either outgrown or are waiting to grow into, and a sea of tools, screws, and thingamajigs that my husband Ted emptied all over the floor almost 36 months ago with the intention of organizing. Yeah, you could say it’s a project indefinitely on his to-do list. It’s located right next to the IKEA spice rack turned child’s bookshelf I started to paint about the same time. Another effort still pending.

Why tackle this out-of-sight, out-of-mind location? The one we only venture to when we need a light bulb or stuffed animal gone MIA two moves ago?

Well, long term, we hope to finish it. Short term, we decided it would be nice to have a cozy underground room to retreat to during tornado watches. One with throw rugs and bean bags chairs and old school board games. To accomplish this, though, I have to figure out what to do with all the “treasures” that currently inhabit these living quarters. And, unfortunately, simply stuffing them into a jumbled mess won’t do.

Several weeks ago, I spent three hours in the bowels of our house. Sorting, consolidating, purging. At the end of that 180 minutes, rather than looking tidier, it looked like tornado season had come early. It wasn’t pretty. Or encouraging.

Frankly, it was downright discouraging.

Do you know what I was tempted to do? One, throw everything back into the boxes, walk up those basement stairs, shut the door, and hope we don’t face any twister warnings anytime soon. Forget the cozy space. Forget the bean bag chairs and board games. We could make cold concrete work for an hour here and there if need be. After all, my kids could do with more “roughing it.”

Or, two, simply get rid of everything. Pack it all up, load the lot into our mini-van, and drive with determination to our local Goodwill. No sorting. No consolidating. Only purging. And unlike Lot’s wife, I wouldn’t look back. Okay, so maybe I would when I realized I thoughtlessly gave away something with sentimental value. Oops.

As I’ve reflected on my basement woes, I’ve realized that sometimes marriage can feel like spring cleaning.

For Ted and me, it’s happened in those moments when we’ve decided to stop ignoring an issue in our relationship that needed to be addressed. When we’ve determined to sort through and purge things that we’ve tucked away in a box in that metaphorical basement of our marriage.

In the process we’ve discovered that unpacking the junk, emptying it all over the relational floor, and methodically working through it is messy. It makes our relationship look worse before it looks better.

Always. And I’m talking without fail.

But you know what? As messy as it’s gotten and as hard as it’s been at times, we’ve never once regretted devoting our time and energy to marital clean-up.

Spring Cleaning for the Musty MarriageMaybe your marriage is in need of some spring cleaning of its own.

Perhaps for you it’s a series of hurtful words whose wounds you’ve left undressed and unhealed. Or cutting actions you’ve felt the sting of, but never actually talked through with your spouse. Perhaps it’s bigger. Some seemingly unsurmountable foe like pornography that needs to be rooted out, or infidelity you thought you’d forgiven, but you’re having a hard time moving past.

Whatever it is that needs addressing, maybe just the thought of it makes you want to give up. To continue to ignore things, rather than work through them. It could even be that getting out seems like your best course of action. Literally walking away from your relationship and cutting your losses.

If that’s you, I encourage you not to let the mess deter you. Don’t let it discourage you. Don’t give up and get out. (And please note that I’m not referring to abuse here. That is a different issue for which you should seek outside help.)

Why? Because there’s a truth that trumps all the emotions you may be feeling. All the mess you may be wading through. It’s this…

God is bigger than the mess. Always. And I’m talking without fail.

He is stronger than the sin and the pain that separates you and your spouse. He wants to see your marriage succeed. You are not in this alone.

And, even though it may seem too difficult for you to clean up, I believe He asks the same question of us that He asked of Israel when He spoke through the prophet Jeremiah: “Is there anything too hard for Me?”

The answer is the same now as it was then. No, there’s not.

What should you expect? Expect things to get messier than they are now. As you unpack issues tightly tucked away or brushed under the rug, you may find yourself overwhelmed by the clutter. You may feel discouraged. You may even wish you’d never started in the first place. But know this: Just as a good spring cleaning of your home is worth it, the same can be said when it comes to our marriages. The reward is a cleaner, more organized, more clutter-free relationship. And that reward’s worth all the hassle.

So, this spring, if you are facing the daunting task of clean-up in your marriage, take heart that when things get messier, it’s a sign that you’re probably making progress. Stick with it and trust that God is big enough and strong enough to help you.

As for me, all this talk of spring cleaning has me freshly inspired to get back to that subterranean space of ours. I hope it’s inspired you to take up a bit of spring cleaning as well.

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Ashleigh Slater is the author of Team Us: Marriage Together and the editor of Ungrind. As a regular contributor at several blogs and websites, she loves to unite the power of a good story with biblical truth and practical application to encourage others. She has 20 years of writing experience and a master’s degree in communication. Ashleigh lives in Atlanta with her husband Ted and four daughters. You can follow her on Instagram here.

2 Comments
  • LeAnne

    Thank you! I needed to hear these words tonight.

    “It could even be that getting out seems like your best course of action. Literally walking away from your relationship and cutting your losses.”

    For me, this is like packing all of the clutter and the boxes up and getting rid of them. There is no unpacking and sorting. This short-sighted option seems like the easier path, however I know that is not the case long term. I needed that reminder.
    I am thankful God is using your clutter to speak to other women!

    • ashslater

      LeAnne, I’m glad my words were timely for you. Praying for your marriage this morning.

Articles

When Doing Justly, Loving Mercy, and Walking Humbly Stand at Odds

If your compassion far exceeds your capacity, here’s one way you can be sure to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.

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One of my life verses is Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

It is one of my favorite verses because my heart has been so moved by the love Jesus has for me and the sacrifice He made for me that I am grateful to have a way to express my gratitude through acts of justice and mercy while walking humbly with God.

I have found at times, however, the call to do justice and love mercy come in conflict with the call to walk humbly with God. For me, one of the ways to walk humbly with God is to recognize my limitations. I have to put skin to the fact that I am not God which means saying, “no” to ministry requests. It means going to sleep when I could be spending time advocating for the harrowed and helpless in the world. It means limited seats at my table, limited funds in my bank account, and limited energy in my body cannot be ignored but respected and adhered to.

This is hard for me at times, especially when I scroll my Facebook feed and see friends who are caring for their really sick children, spouse, or other family member all while millions of refugees flee war torn countries and babies are slaughtered by the hundreds each day in our country through the abortion industry.

As I scroll, I receive texts about one family member’s surgery gone wrong and another family member announcing a new baby is on the way. I have in mind my neighbor who has inpatient surgery scheduled this week and another neighbor who is trying to hold down a full-time job, care for twins all while battling profound “morning” sickness.

Folks at church are fighting for their lives in physical and spiritual ways, and strangers who pass me on the road are clearly battling something as demonstrated by their impatient honking because I won’t take a right turn on red. I want to meet the needs of all; I want to do justice and love mercy, but I’m daily confronted by the fact that I am so limited.

What am I to do when doing justly and/or loving mercy seem to come in conflict with walking humbly with my God?

God keeps bringing me to this answer: prayer.

God invites us to cast our cares before Him because He cares for us.
God tells us to be anxious for nothing BUT WITH PRAYER present our requests before Him.
God commands us to pray without ceasing.

And, when I walk humbly with God, I see the immense kindness in His command.
He gives us a way to do justly, love mercy WHILE walking humbly with Him.
It is by praying without ceasing.

I cannot take a meal or give money to every sick person or family I know. I cannot extend kindness to all my neighbors all at the same time they’re in need nor conjure up sustainable solutions for the refugee crisis and contact all the necessary world powers to make it happen.

I cannot heal all, but I know the Healer.

I cannot provide for all the needs, but I know the Provider.

I cannot rescue everyone in need, but I know the Rescuer.

I cannot comfort all the broken, but I know the Comforter.

I cannot speak peace over every situation, but I know the Prince of Peace.

I cannot be all to all, but I can go to the Great I Am through prayer, lay all the people, problems and pleas for help before the Omniscient and Omnipresent God of all Creation.

I can do this through prayer.

Recently, via an Instagram contest of all things, I came upon A–Z prayer cards designed by blogger/author/speaker, Amelia Rhodes. It is a simple concept packed with a powerful prayer punch. It has served me personally in this tension of wanting to do far more than I practically can do. It provides prayer prompts starting with each letter of the alphabet along with a scripture that coincides with the prayer focus. It ranges from Adoption to a creative “Zero Prejudice” for the letter “Z.”

The cards are well thought out, color printed on sturdy cardstock with blank lines for the user to write in the names of people and/or organizations that are personal to them.

If, like me, your compassion far exceeds your capacity, pick up a set of these prayer cards and unload your burdens onto a God whose competence matches His kindness, both boundless.

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Articles

Facing Our Fears in Motherhood

Do you have fears tied to motherhood? If so, here’s encouragement for you.

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“Are you scared?”

I was taken aback by his question. Scared? Of what?

“Of anything,” he answered.

I had just shared my due date with a new class of trainees.

“He has three boys,” another new hire volunteered. So fear is to be expected, I reasoned. I’m just about to face the most frightening experience in my life.

Of course I was scared.

I was scared…

  • I’ll lose my temper.
  • I’ll whine about sleepless nights.
  • I’ll breastfeed too often or not often enough.
  • I’ll leave piles of unfolded onesies in the middle of the nursery floor because I’m too tired (or lazy?) to fold teeny-tiny baby clothes for the upteenth time.
  • I’ll go with disposable diapers when the better choice would be cloth.
  • I’ll work too many long hours at the office and miss precious moments with her.
  • I’ll sign her up for too many activities and push her to become Miss Achieve-It-All.
  • I’ll pass on to her my ugly pride, self-righteousness, and perfectionism like a dreadful contagious disease.
  • I’ll miss countless little joys in life while pursuing worthless dreams.

Facing Our Fears in MotherhoodIn short… I was afraid I was going to fail miserably as a parent.

And now, holding my second-born daughter in my arms, thinking back on that brief exchange just a few years ago, I realize those fears were well-founded. I’ve failed many times. I’ve lost my temper. I’ve raised my voice. I’ve worked too much and played too little. I’ve seen my own sinfulness reflected in my daughter.

Yes, I’ve failed, but over and above it all, God’s grace has covered my parenting imperfections and made me run to the cross day after day. The writer of Proverbs puts it this way:

Whoever fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge.
Proverbs 14:26

When it comes to fears, we have two choices: Will we fear the unknown or will we fear the Lord? Will we allow the uncertain to grip us in its clutch or will we turn to God’s Truth to set us free?

Scared? Oh yeah. There was so much to be scared of that day. And even now, if I’m completely honest, there are still fears nibbling at the edges of my consciousness. Fear that we won’t outgrow the temper tantrums. Fear that the two girls won’t get along. Fear that I’ll mess them up and cause them interminable hours on a psychologist’s couch.

I’m sure you have fears, too.

But rather than allow those fears to consume and paralyze us, we can take them to the Lord, acknowledging His sovereignty over our parenting, pleading His grace over our mistakes, and entrusting His provision over their futures. He is not only able to handle it all — He is far more capable to be trusted with it all.

If I say one thing to that frightened 9-month-pregnant me standing in that room years ago, I would say this: Don’t let fear rob today’s joy with tomorrow’s unknowns. Each day has enough worries of its own (Matthew 6:34).

Instead, let us keep seeking God, running to Him as our secure fortress and resting in the knowledge that He will care for us and our children one day at a time.

What are you scared of today? Name your fears and bring them to the Lord, allowing Him to replace them with His peace that passes all understanding.

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He Gives Shade To The Weary

If anxiety is a struggle for you right now, remember that He gives shade to the weary.

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Do you ever have those moments of fear because you don’t know what lies ahead? When do those thoughts tend to happen to you?

For me, most of those thoughts happen when I lay my head down to sleep at night. The vulnerability comes forth every time. That’s what happened the other night to me. I shut my eyes and immediately anxiety welled up inside me.

What if we don’t succeed in this new venture? What if we have to move? What if we can’t pay our bills?

I laid there with the covers drawn tight over my head (I still think that I am safer if the covers are over my head), praying scripture over my anxious heart. Assuring myself that God sees me and that He cares.

In the morning, I turned to Isaiah 41, specifically verses 10-20.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, NASB)

Yesterday, the “what if’s” piled up as I anxiously looked about me. My daughter needs tutoring, however at this point in life, tutoring feels like a luxury we can’t afford. So I listed some items online to sell hoping to make just enough to cover the tutoring. I’m buying groceries on a Visa reward card. I’m holding my breath until the next paycheck comes. But what did God speak over me: Do not fear. Do not look anxiously about you.

“For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand, Who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’ Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel; I will help you,” declares the Lord, “and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:13-14 NASB)

Why shouldn’t I be anxious? Because God will hold me up. God will help me. When I first read the word “worm” as a description, I took it as a slam against Israel. Like, gesh, God. What animal does He relate me to? But through further study, He calls them a worm because worms are helpless. They are viewed as insignificant, despised and weak. God will help me — seemingly insignificant, helpless me — because He is my Redeemer. He is my go’el — my next of kin. The Redeemer is the one who provides for all my needs. Rent. Car payment. Credit card bill. Gas. Food. Clothes. Debt. God will redeem.

He Gives Shade to the Weary

“Behold, I have made you a new, sharp threshing sledge with double edges; You will thresh the mountains and pulverize them, And will make the hills like chaff. You will winnow them, and the wind will carry them away, And the storm will scatter them; But you will rejoice in the Lord, You will glory in the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:15-16 NASB).

God is transforming me from a helpless one to a powerful one. The description of that type of threshing sledge is like a modern day earth mover. Powerful. Strong. Immovable.

“The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none, And their tongue is parched with thirst; I, the Lord, will answer them Myself, As the God of Israel I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 41:17, NASB)

He will come to our rescue. God, Himself, will answer you and me. Can you hear how personal that sounds? Have you ever pleaded with someone important whether your boss, public figure, or even a parent, and they responded to the need themselves? You expected for them to send their assistant, but instead they — the most important one — responded to you.

“I will open rivers on the bare heights And springs in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water And the dry land fountains of water. I will put the cedar in the wilderness, The acacia and the myrtle and the olive tree; I will place the juniper in the desert Together with the box tree and the cypress.” (Isaiah 41:18-19, NASB)

This passage describes the wilderness-like times in life. You are barren. You are thirsty. You are hot. You are in need. God will provide what you need. God will quench your thirst. He will provide shade when you are weary. During those times, God can provide in creative, innovative ways. He can provide something out of nothing. Doesn’t that give you great hope? Even when you can’t answer how He will do it, He is creative enough to figure it out even when the odds are stacked against you.

“That they may see and recognize, And consider and gain insight as well, That the hand of the Lord has done this, And the Holy One of Israel has created it.” (Isaiah 41:20 NASB).

God will do all of this so that His glory will be put on display. People — including yourself — will see that He is powerful.

So you can see how after a night of wrestling with fear and anxiety, reading this was like shade and water for my soul. God is a god who sees. And God is a god who acts on your behalf.

What do you need His help with today? What are you fearful about today? What keeps you awake at night? Where do you need some shade?

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Hi, I'm Ashleigh Slater, founder and editor of Ungrind. Here at Ungrind, it’s our goal to churn out biblically-based encouragement for women. We strive to be honest and transparent about our struggles in a way that inspires hope, faith, and perseverance.

As you read, we hope you consider us friends, the kind you feel comfortable sitting across the table with at the local coffee shop. You can read more about me HERE and our team of writers HERE.

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Spring Cleaning for the Musty Marriage

by Ashleigh Slater time to read: 4 min
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