Claudia: We tell the couples it is a privilege for us to be able to present, not only because we feel like we are giving them something really, really close to our hearts that we want them to have, but because we’re reminded of all the… other couples that are with us on the journey.
Jeff: It’s the gift that keeps giving. It’s like the more you give, the more you receive. It’s a blessing.
Claudia: We just would like for the couples we present to realize that [even if] there may not be mentors around them or examples of happy marriages, there are many, many happy marriages. We want them to see that and experience that and to have hope [and not] worry about the statistics around them. There is the grace of God, and when you bring him into the relationship, you live it out in a completely different way than if you did it on your own. That’s what we want for them to take away, that His way is better than our way.
Jeff: I think if we didn’t say yes to God, we would be completely different. I also believe that when you do invite God into your life, there will be times when He asks you to step outside of your comfort zone, but when you do, you grow so much from that. We’ve done a lot; we were invited to step out of our comfort zone, and when we did, we [were] afraid, but then we realized this is amazing, this is great, it’s so fulfilling. I believe we found our purpose, and that is the marriage ministry.
Building may sound like an unusual word to use when referring to family, however, there is no way to overstate the fact that the family unit is the solid foundation on which an entire society is built and without it no civilization has ever survived! The family is where individuals learn the basic building blocks of how to love, trust and bond with others in order to become productive members of society. It is in the family that we are formed in the habits, behaviors, expectations, values, and choices that we carry with us into our adult relationships.
Therefore, it is essential to put in place STRUCTURES and framework that promote a sense of belonging, safety, hope, forgiveness and unity in the lifegiving BASECAMP of the Marriage and Family institution. As husbands and wives, this is our FIRST and most important ministry and priority above all others. In this busy world it is easy to lose that perspective. Especially in a culture that supports HYPER individualism and independence versus the value of healthy interdependent, complimentary relationships. However, it is in the core premise of the Christian faith that we were created for relationship, to love and be loved by God and one another. This is the meaning of life and the true source of joy. It turns out that many important studies, including a 75-year long Harvard study, have concluded that true happiness and health are dependent upon meaningful connections and relationships in our lives. Therefore, building a healthy, happy family MUST first begin by building a family culture of unconditional trust, love and dialogue between family members. This is the cement foundation of family.
Culture is the shared characteristics and practices shared by people in a place and time. Every institution, including government, corporate businesses, sports teams, the music, art and fashion industries all have a culture in and of themselves; an identity, if you will. For example, during a television interview this past Winter, snowboard Olympian Shaun White spoke about the “snowboard culture” being all about “what you wear” and “what music you listen to”. Similarly, in a family environment, there is food, faith, values, traditions and customs that are practiced which make up a part of their identity. Sharing RITUALS together as a family such as dinner time, watching certain shows or movies, attending mass or church services regularly, enjoying outdoor activities or anything that involves laughing, learning, playing, praying, serving or just being together are all lifegiving ways of belonging to and building family relationships. Finding common ground, especially at an early age, is an integral part of the formation that helps family members overcome fear, doubt, confusion and loneliness. This is where we find joy! How would you describe your family culture? Is it one seeping with toxic habits like sarcasm, cynicism, deceit, and criticism OR do you strive for a spirit of unity, kindness, forgiveness and relentlessly trying to love one another despite your imperfections? These are the bricks the build on top of the foundation.
Your family environment can either syphon the joy out of everyone or be a sanctuary of hope and support from the world we live in. This definitely does NOT mean being a perfect family, but rather building an atmosphere of real intimacy, moral values and security that begins with the parents and trickles down to the children. The family is the training ground for life and love. As parents we must never underestimate its’ value or whether the sacrifices are worth the effort. There will always be good days and bad days, as well as times for asking for forgiveness and healing but in the end every member must know they are loved and a valuable part of something much greater than themselves. These structures, to name a few, are what holds everything together when the storms come.
One of the most amazing lessons we learn as toddlers is the universal law of cause and effect. If you put your hand on the stove, you get burned and it hurts. In contrast, if you keep getting on your bike when you fall off, you eventually learn how to ride on your own and it feels great. Every child feels proud when they learn that their positive actions can create great outcomes. They cheer, “I did it!” They can also quickly feel the sting of a selfish decision and its’ effect on others. As we grow we learn that every action has a reaction, that decisions have consequences and that after we plant comes the harvest.
You would think by the time we are adults we would realize the power behind our intentions, the critical connection between our habits and behaviors, and the effects they cause in every aspect of our lives and relationships. I suppose it is easier to believe in chance, luck, or fate but living with intention means proactively taking responsibility for our choices and the results they produce. It means being strategic about what we choose to do, where we choose to go and whom we chose to go with because every choice matters! In fact, every choice we make (and have made) leads us closer, or further, to the love and life we long for. That means we have the ability to make new choices and get different results. Living intentionally means being able to figure out what stepping stones will get you closer to your goal and having the determination to take each step, avoiding distractions along the way! The gaps you experience from where you are in life to that future you desire are only a cause and effect away from happening. It is, and always has been, our decisions that drive our lives.
Loving intentionally is the same thing. It means YOU decide the type of relationship you want to have. Love is a choice, a choice to be fully committed or not. Change is a choice, a choice to go through the hard work and sacrifice that is necessary, or not. If we look back on our lives and create stepping stones from where we were before to where we are now, it would be pretty easy to figure out which choices we made that got us here. What is standing between you and your vision of a fulfilled life? Do you fear, doubt, regret or blame? You can choose not to anymore. What limitation, what obstacle, what excuse is keeping you from that yearning, aching, pressing nudge that tells you, you were meant for more? Your choices can set you free. Do you dream about your career being more fulfilling, your marriage being more joy filled, your health being stronger or your life or finances being more stable? What changes would you have to make, hurdles would you have to climb, faith would you have to muster up to fulfill those dreams that you value?
Make the decision today to lead yourself to a better place! You can do it, you were created to do it! Whether it is learning something new, changing a habit, finding a resource, or gaining a new perspective, it will be the choices you make that get you there or not, and you owe it to yourself to try!
What a genius invention marriage is! Ok, hold on, before you jump ( like water on a hot pan of oil) let me explain… If you were the creator of the universe and wanted to develop a plan in which individuals could learn to love each other selflessly and unconditionally, to practice virtues like forgiveness, and to carry one another’s burden’s (all while allowing for free will) this would truly be a monumental invention. Notice I emphasized the word “learn”, this is because, of course, we never really do all of these things perfectly but it really is a brilliant idea that two people are able to walk this journey of life refining each other’s character to become better people and being an actual living witness to each other’s lives.
Now, even though we do a lot to get in the way of that plan, imagine if we just embraced this mindset that marriage is really bigger than just the two of us. How different our attitude would be towards our spouse and how we could better control our negative behaviors. If we try to see the institution of marriage as greater than just the two of us, we set the bar higher to create a purpose and vision for our relationship.