Who Is “That Girl?”
- Monday, February 27, 2012
Do you remember “That Girl?” You know the girl I’m talking about: her spirit is unfettered, her hopes are high, her schedule is uncluttered. That Girl is a dreamer. She still flirts with her husband. She looks in the mirror and is filled with awe at the body that God has given her. She does not see stretch marks; she sees the unmistakable signs of motherhood. She does not lament over impending physical changes in her body, because she does not know that they are coming.
Sometimes I wonder whatever happened to that spontaneous, flirtatious girl that Jay wrote love songs to. Even though Jay and I have a wonderful, strong marriage, it is still easy for me to think of myself in the light of the grocery store checkout line magazine covers. You know, those magazine covers that tell me how I should see myself. The trouble is, magazines lie. The culture that we live in has its priorities all wrong. You need new thinking if you are going to be the woman God created you to be.
A few years ago, I began to pray specifically that God would help me be the girl that Jay married. I am not saying that I was asking to be nineteen again—goodness knows I don’t want to go back and re-learn some of the lessons of my twenties—but I needed to see myself with new eyes. As much as I longed to be, I knew that I was not That Girl any more. Between pastoring, pregnancies, newborns, homeschooling and home making, I had somehow lost sight of the girl that I was when we were first married. My husband noticed, too. Time and stress had created a certain distance between us. Most people wouldn’t have noticed it because from the outside, we had it all together.
In our case, the distance showed up in many areas of our marriage. Jay was at work too much, and I found myself caring less and less. We stopped leaving little notes for each other on the bathroom mirror. We kept right on going as if nothing was different. You see, that “distance” I am talking about didn’t happen overnight. It took me a few years of being too busy and Jay being too absorbed in his work before we started to notice.
For my husband and me, our marriage has never reached a crisis point. But like many couples, we had taken our marriage for granted. Slowly, we had become so involved with other people and with raising our kids, that we had little time left over at the end of the day for each other. We had stopped dreaming together. With a full-time ministry position at a growing church and young children to raise, LIFE was in full swing.
One morning, my husband’s parents offered to take our children out for breakfast, so Jay and I took the rare opportunity for uninterrupted conversation and headed to our favorite coffee shop. After a few minutes of sipping lattes and enjoying pumpkin scones, I sensed that Jay had something on his mind.
What he said surprised me.
“I miss you, Heidi. Are you in there somewhere?” he asked.
“You miss me?” I did not understand what he meant, until he began to talk about things I had not thought about in what felt like forever: date night, weekend getaways, long drives for no reason. He missed the woman that lit candles in the bedroom and who wasn’t embarrassed by the sight of her own body. He too sensed the distance between us, and it was troubling him.
Please understand, Jay is my closest friend. He was not criticizing me: He really did miss me. He missed That Girl. Frankly, I knew exactly what he was talking about.
It’s funny how certain conversations stand out as unforgettable. I remember that conversation in the coffee shop as clearly as I remember our first kiss and the day Jay proposed to me.
I think it’s because that conversation forever changed the way I viewed my role in our marriage. Jay didn’t miss me literally—I was there all the time (at least physically). He missed That Girl. When I finally stopped to think about it, I missed her too!
The next few weeks provided many opportunities for me to think about the girl I was versus the girl I had become. I also had time to think about how quickly time was passing. Had we already been married for ten years? If the first ten went by fast, I could only imagine how fast the next ten would fly. As I write this book, it occurs to me that the next ten years are already gone; we recently celebrated our 20th anniversary.
The Homeschool Vortex
Somehow, I had been sucked into the homeschool vortex. Do you know what I mean? It’s a place where time doesn’t just stand still, you actually forget that time is going by! My days were all about the children, curriculum, and crock pots. From the moment my feet hit the floor, I was “all homeschool mom all the time.” As I struggled to figure out how this homeschool thing looked (and I think I made every mistake a busy homeschool mom can make), I forgot to nurture That Girl! I now understand why the famous “denim jumper” became the required uniform for so many homeschool moms: that’s what they’re wearing in the vortex!
Now, I’ve met a few busy homeschool moms over the years who claim that there is no such vortex, but I have been inside it. Trust me, it’s there. And if you think it’s not there, you are setting yourself up to fall right in. In fact, you may be inside it and not even know it!
The homeschool vortex is tricky because most of the time, you’re in it before you can say “Classical Education!” There is no time for romance inside the vortex because in the vortex, Latin is more important than lingerie. Legalism is the official language and laughter is lost as homeschooling becomes more and more wearisome. Believe me, it’s possible to be inside the vortex and not even know it.
I am forever grateful that my husband threw me a line and pulled me up out of that place. At the time, I was too exhausted to appreciate what my life would have looked like if I had stayed there even one more minute, but I am sure that I would never have found That Girl without the patient, loving pursuit of my husband.
In the months that followed, I did some soul searching. I realized that if I wanted to be That Girl again, I needed to recognize that my husband—not our homeschool—needed to be my priority. It was time to revisit our romance.
The longer I’ve been married, the more my idea of romance has changed. When we were dating, my idea of romance was an “I love you, baby!” phone call before a test or an impromptu meeting under the streetlights that lit up our college campus. My beloved would leave love notes for me and I would find them in the funniest places: in my car, inside of textbooks, under my plate in the cafeteria. He went all out and I loved it!
Twenty years and six kids later, my idea of romance has changed. Jay’s has too. My husband is as attractive to me with dish soap on his hands or a grinning little girl on his lap as he was when he sang the lead in his rock-n-roll band, Saint John, probably even more so because we now have years of shared experiences that serve to strengthen our romance.
I don’t know about you, but when my husband sees a need and goes out of his way to meet it, I can barely contain my love for him! His love, lived out in practical ways, is romantic. Why? Because true romance is love lived out. And real life includes dirty dishes and piles of laundry.
When I stop and think about it, the reality is that it was not the notes, the flowers, the moonlight, or the poetry that I really loved; it was the thrill of the being pursued. That was the way we lived out our love: Before dishes and diapers, there was date night.
Now, as a busy homeschool mom, the thrill of the pursuit includes ordinary things. Here’s the tricky part: the homeschool vortex is a no-romance zone. If you want to be That Girl again, you’ve got to start back at the beginning. You’ve got to start romancing your husband.
Yes, the homeschool years may redefine how that romance is lived out, and yes, it will require more effort on your part. But trust me, busy homeschool mom, the blessing you will receive as you pursue your husband will be worth it!
Don’t Scare the Mama
Every home has its quirky little rules. In our house, quirky rule #246 is: Don’t scare the mama. For some reason, I am one of those individuals who does not recover gracefully from a child jumping out at me in the dark. I can think of a thousand scenarios over the past twenty years that have ended up under the “Don’t scare the mama” clause in our marriage. For the sake and sanity of the mama, any practical jokes involving plastic spiders, pretend injuries, or other potentially scary scenarios get left at the door.
That rule really is all about me. In the interest of allowing me to live to see my grandchildren get married, I’ve asked my kids to help me keep my adrenaline at what might be considered normal levels. Sometimes they forget and I wind up the unwitting victim of a practical joke, but for the most part, we have come to an agreement.
My point is that there are some things you need to do just for you. Take care of yourself. Busy homeschool moms who are burned out, stressed out, and tired are not very romantic. If you want to find That Girl again, you might need to take a look at some things about you that need to be addressed.
Only you can determine how much rest you need and how much stress you can take. Only you can decide how many activities you can take on before other people around you start to suffer the consequences of an “over-done” busy homeschool mom. If you feel better about yourself as a person, and more confident in the way you look and feel, That Girl will be easier to track down.
Everything I Needed to Know About Romance I Learned in Third Grade
It started in grade school. I will always remember recess at the little private school that I attended in Portland, Oregon. Like all school children, we had a recess routine. If it wasn’t raining, we played our favorite recess game, “boys chase the girls.” The rules were pretty simple: the girls ran around screaming, the boys captured them and carried them back to the big wooden fort in the middle of the playground. Several boys stood watch over the fort to make sure some sneaky little third-grader didn’t get in and release the captives.
Even at such a young age, the thrill of the chase was on our minds. We loved it. Once the girls were captured, they made “soup” out of water mixed with mud and basically called for help until the recess bell rang. It was third-grade bliss.
This grade school game went on for at least two years, but one incident still stands out to me: At some point, the boys quit. Yep, that’s right. They quit. The girls were horrified. The boys sent a representative to inform us that they had decided they were tired of chasing the girls. They wanted the girls to chase them for a change.
We did, but it wasn’t as much fun for either the boys or the girls. After a day or two, the boys decided they would rather chase the girls, but that occasionally, they would like for us to chase them. I didn’t know it then, of course, but this is exactly how God made us to be. At the end of the day, romance is about pursuit. I like to use the word pursue as a verb when I think of romancing my husband. When I pursue him or when he pursues me, it is love in action. That pursuit says, “I love you!”
Most women yearn to be pursued by their husbands. I believe that this is because God has created us uniquely to be responders. Yet pursuing my husband felt foreign to me, which brings me back to those instinctive feelings I noticed as a grade schooler. The only difference between then and now is that I had forgotten that determined look that flashed across little Johnny’s eyes when the boys had decided that they finally had enough! One-sided relationships are wearisome. When I put my grown-up self back in the playground for just a moment, it made perfect sense. Why wouldn’t I pursue my husband?
In fact, when I stopped to think of what that would actually look like in practice, I felt like a little wire in my brain short-circuited. What did that look like, anyway?
If I was going to be That Girl, I needed to find what made my husband tick. I had to actually ask Jay what he needed from me (besides sex, and we’ll get to that in just a bit) in order to feel loved—no—cherished. I wanted him to feel how much I love him by everyday actions. We all need to feel appreciated. Husbands included.
Turns out, men are not nearly as complicated as busy homeschool moms. (Can’t you just hear the angels singing?) A busy homeschool dad, on even his worst day, does not come close to having the same estrogen-enriched needs of a busy homeschool mom. We are women; we like to talk it out at the end of a hard day. More often than not, though, by the time we’re done mixing our commentaries with the unique joys and stresses of homeschooling, we’ve forgotten to pursue, or even include, our husbands!
I think on some level, we expect our husbands to be just like us. We assume they want us to show love to them in exactly the way we want them to show love to us. Praise God for His amazing design in making men and women so different!
Simply put, most husbands, at their core, are pretty easy to please. For the past twenty years, I have been a student of my husband. Here are a few things that made it to the top of the list of ways to romance your husband—from the perspective of a busy homeschool mom:
Prefer your husband in all things. Jay is the phone call I take when I think I can’t take another call. He is the dinner date I make before I put anything else on the calendar. He is the reason we have white space on our calendar. Our marriage is the priority in our home, and our children know it.
Actively communicate that you respect your husband. (Respect means a high or special regard.) I fear many women do not grasp the importance of this crucial aspect of the marriage relationship. We communicate respect to our husbands when we trust them to meet our needs; from asking for directions when lost (or not) to providing for our families.
Men tend to have a great need to be respected and the Scriptures are very clear that wives must respect their husbands. The way we behave from day to day with our husbands says a lot about our love for them. When was the last time you told your husband how much you respected him? Here are a few ways you can show him your respect:
- Verbally: Try to minimize complaining. Compliment him instead.
- Physically: Find out what his top three needs are. Ask your husband what he needs from you in those three areas, and then make a conscious effort to meet those needs. Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions—that’s how you get to the truth of the matter!
- Spiritually: Encourage your husband when you see him leading your family. If he is not the spiritual leader in your family, pray for him. Talk to him about it in a way that helps him see the importance of his God-given role as the leader in your home.
- Emotionally: I’ve learned that I can respect Jay by recognizing that we are totally different creatures, especially emotionally. Men don’t give a lot of weight to feelings. They are more likely to respond to facts. For example, let’s say your husband wants to buy a new car. Rather than get upset and become emotional and irrational, write out a budget that clearly explains how much money is needed to meet your expenses each month. Let the facts speak for you, and then respect your husband by allowing him to make that final decision.
- Make time. Remember, your calendar will reflect your priorities. Most busy homeschool moms don’t choose curriculum with their husbands in mind. But I’m here to tell you that if your curriculum leaves you cold and exhausted at the end of the day, it’s time to find a curriculum that is more suited to helping you put the priority on your marriage.
- Be That Girl. You can do it. Be the girl your husband fell in love with. Were you spontaneous, funny, sexy, and giving towards your husband when he chose you? You still are those things. And even though now you’re a busy homeschool mom, he still needs you to be That Girl!
- Revisit your romance. In other words, get back to basics. What is it that makes your husband’s eyes light up? Is it a post-it note on the bathroom mirror? Is it an invitation to an intimate rendezvous? Every busy homeschool mom was once a girl who worked to gain the affections of the man she married.
Do you have a vision for bringing romance back into your marriage? If you don’t, you should! Ask the Lord to help you be the girl your husband married, and commit yourself to being a student of your husband. If he likes M&M’s, put them in his lunch box. If he enjoys basketball, find out what time the game starts.
And be there. You’ll be amazed at what a difference your efforts to keep the home fires burning will have on your on your husband.
Reprinted with permission from Home Educating Family Magazine 2011 Issue 1
Heidi St. John and her husband Jay have seven children ages 1 to 20 and have homeschooled all the way through high school. Heidi has written three books for busy homeschool moms.
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