THE MOMENT YOU MET
Do you remember the day you met your spouse for the first time? Was it just like the movies, a magical moment where two people encounter each other in a divinely orchestrated Hollywood style meet-cute? Was it love at first sight or first chat? Did you know in that precise microcosm of time that this was in fact “your person” and exactly who God meant for you to be with? Did the heavens open up and you actually heard a choir of angels singing “hallelujah?” And from that moment forward, life has been total bliss. Nothing has changed. Everything has gone smoothly. You’re still just as lovestruck as you were in that initial encounter. Your spouse is absolutely perfect.
Well… if that scenario actually rings true for you, congratulations, that’s amazing. You two are clearly a living example of one of God’s greatest miracles! But if you’re like me and the majority of the rest of the world, your love story with your spouse probably has a different spin.
OUR FUNNY BEGINNING
My husband Bill and I have been married for almost 15 years. We met in New Orleans in 2007 on a mission trip with our church serving the people who had lost everything in Hurricane Katrina. He was the foreman on our job site and I was a dedicated worker bee willing to get dirty and sweat buckets for Jesus! Our first real encounter wasn’t some perfect Hallmark moment. It was a harrowing ride in an old beat-up pick-up truck where he insisted on driving and navigating an unknown city and he was too “proud” to accept any direction or tips from me. For the record, I had previously been to New Orleans but this was his first time there. (Probably no surprise but 15 years later this dynamic still exists in our relationship. Can I get an “amen” from all the wives reading this?) Let’s just say…my first thought was “who is this guy?” and truthfully I was a little annoyed and put off by him at that moment. But over the next few days, I couldn’t deny there was something about him I felt drawn to, like an affinity I couldn’t put into words. However, I had vowed to Jesus that I would not let anything distract me from the mission He sent me to NOLA for…so I suppressed those thoughts and redirected my energy on helping those in need.
WHO IS THIS GUY?
On the plane ride home, I felt a tap-tap on my shoulder and it was Bill. He wanted to know if I’d like to “get coffee” when we get back to San Francisco. (Now you have to realize at this exact moment, I was actually writing in my journal, sobbing while I was humbly recounting all that God did in me and through me during this trip.) So when he tapped my shoulder, I looked up with tears in my eyes and snot running down my nose, and said…”sure” while internally debating whether or not I actually wanted to go out with him. When we returned, he attended every church service that weekend and waited out front until he “ran into” me. At that point, I figured if he was willing to extend that much effort to spend time with me, I absolutely wanted to “get coffee” with him (which I knew was Christian man code for a “date”). Our first official date was on December 7, 2007 when I accompanied him to the church staff Christmas party. While we were there, we were separately chatting with various people we knew but there was a point in the evening when I started scanning the room for him. At that moment I heard a sweet kind voice say “Gina, I’m right here behind you.” And at that moment, I knew. He was a keeper. 15 years later he’s still “behind” me in everything I do. He supports and loves me unconditionally.
WE ARE PERFECTLY IMPERFECT
So that’s the beginning of our love story. But the last 15 years have not been perfect. We’ve had peaks and valleys, triumphs and trials. We frequently have “intense fellowship” (that’s what we call bickering or arguing). Through every moment of every day though, there’s one thing that remains…Jesus is our foundation and the Rock on which we stand. Our marriage verse, Isaiah 54:10, says “Though the mountains may move and the hills disappear still my faithful love for you will remain.” We truly believe God brought us together and we vowed to let nothing separate us.
Our marriage isn’t perfect unless you count being perfectly imperfect. We are just two broken humans desperately in need of the daily love and grace of Jesus and we do our best to love and serve each other each day. Early in our marriage we started the weekly practice of “date night”. Now for some of you, you’re picturing Tina Fey and Steve Carell trying to reconnect but instead facing a very unexpected night of adversity. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m referring to uninterrupted quality time together. It doesn’t have to be at night. It can be a morning or afternoon date, or even an entire weekend together! The time of day you connect isn’t what matters. Making time and prioritizing each other on a regular basis is what’s truly important.
WHY IS “DATING” MY SPOUSE SO VITAL TO A HEALTHY THRIVING MARRIAGE?
You’ve heard this said in different ways from the pulpit…”show me your checkbook and your calendar, and I’ll tell you what your priorities are.” While this might be hard to internalize, it’s true. Most of us spend way more time shopping on Amazon and answering work emails than we do intentionally investing in our marriage. That’s why spending time with our spouse is so important. In God’s economy, He asks us to love Him with all our heart, soul, strength and mind and then to love others as we love ourselves. (Luke 10:27). Our spouse is supposed to be second in line for our love and attention; the only one higher on our list should be Jesus. Even kids are meant to come next in the pecking order of our time and attention. But the truth is we live in a world, especially in fast-paced America, where time feels like a vortex and it’s too easy to lose ourselves in work or Netflix, and sadly before we know it, we find ourselves drifting apart or feeling disconnected from our spouse even though we share a home, family and bed together.
YOUR MISSION SHOULD YOU CHOOSE TO ACCEPT IT
Prioritize time with your spouse. Period the end. No more excuses. Literally right now, put it in your calendars. I know you’re busy but do it. No one ever says on their deathbed “I wish I had spent less time with my loved ones.” Do it now. Life on this side of heaven is short. Your spouse and your marriage deserve your devotion and attention. And remember, the goal of having regular dates with your spouse is connection and closeness which is cultivated through quality time.
DATING DOS: HOW TO CULTIVATE CLOSENESS
Mark your calendars: get your date days/nights locked in advance.
Quality not quantity: if you’re in a phase of life where all you can devote is one hour a week then start there. Remember this is about spending uninterrupted quality time together.
Switch off making plans: either switch off making plans or decide together what you’re going to do so one person isn’t always responsible for planning/reservations.
Put it in the budget: set aside whatever you can afford each month for your dates.
Mix it up: vary your activity each week and do stuff that’s out of your comfort zone (or try something your spouse wants to do).
Unplug: Turn off your phone (or put on DND) so that you are giving your spouse your undivided attention.
DATING DON'TS: HOW TO SABOTAGE YOUR TIME
Make excuses: “We don’t have time. We can’t afford it.” In your head that feels true but it’s not. You can find the time and there are lots of ways to spend time together that don’t cost a lot.
Let the world define dating: A date can be any amount of quality time together and while leaving the house is recommended, you don’t have to go “out” to make it a date!
Use technology: Seriously, unless you’re using the GPS or taking a cute selfie of yourselves, don’t be on your phone during your date.
Turn your date into a therapy session: “Date Night” and “Business Night” are not the same. Weekly relationship/partner check-ins with your spouse are super important but don’t mix business with pleasure! There’s a time and place for digging deep into your issues and date night is not for that.
Talk about the kids: It’s natural to focus your attention on the kids but resist this urge/habit and focus on each other.
DATING IDEAS: 15 ACTIVITIES YOU CAN DO THAT WON’T BREAK THE BANK
Dinner theme night: Either go out or make cuisine that’s specific to a place you’ve visited together and reminisce about your adventures. Tip: add some cultural music to liven up the vibe!
Stroll down memory lane: Go through your wedding album, re-read your vows, remember back to your honeymoon and share your fond memories.
Go for a walk: find some green space or a park and walk hand in hand. You don’t even need to talk while you walk, just adore God’s beauty and each other’s presence.
Go for a drive: put on your favorite music (I recommend worship music) and go for a drive, sing together like you’re on American Idol doing a duet.
Try new eateries: Rather than revisit an old favorite, try somewhere new that neither of you have been.
Go to the movies: There’s just something magical about sitting side by side in those plush recliners with your (smuggled in) candy and popcorn.
Fantasy remodel: Decide on an area of your home you would love to renovate if you had the time and money. Go to Home Depot or Lowe’s and fantasize about what you would do. You might even create a wishlist for a future DIY project.
Make a bucket list: Literally co-create a bucket list of all the things you want to do before you die. Include some solo goals with your “things to do as a couple”.
Backyard camping: If you have a fire pit, this works wonders. Get the makings for s’mores and sit around the fire, roasting marshmallows under the stars. Tell each other stories about times when you had outdoor adventures as a kid.
Attend church events: Besides going to church together every weekend, check out Big Wednesdays, Married Life Groups, Thrive and concerts at Bayside.
Affirmation swap: Make a game out of sharing what you love about each other. Go back and forth sharing what you love and appreciate about your spouse. Only one “ditto” is allowed otherwise no repeats! See how long you can sustain this chain of affirmations.
Volunteer together: There are so many opportunities at church and in the community to serve others. It’s amazing how good it feels to partner in this process.
Make a picnic: Whether you pack your own or stop at your favorite restaurant for take out, sitting outside on a blanket or bench is always a fun way to spend time together.
Be a kid again: Go mini-golfing, bowling or to a carnival and nurture your inner child.
Pray together: If you haven’t started this beautiful process, there’s no time like now. Start praying together out loud every night before bed or every morning when you arise. Switch off each day leading the prayer.