Confessions of a Housewife

Clint once asked me if I felt like I lost some of myself when I married him.  I told him no.  I have never felt like being his wife cost me a piece of myself.  I did, however, feel like I lost part of myself when we had kids.  Maybe ‘lost’ is the wrong word.  I guess I still have this part of myself—I just don’t know what to do with it.  I’ve polled many mothers about this, usually beginning the conversation by casually asking if they have any passions outside of their family.  What I found surprised me.  Some women truly do not have ambitions or dreams that wage war with homemaking.  There is no balancing act necessary in their lives because there’s only one side to their scale: family.  Do I think there’s anything wrong with this?  Not at all.  In some ways, I envy them.  But I cannot relate.

I have many dreams that have absolutely nothing to do with my children, or my husband for that matter.  Mostly they are dreams that awoke in my childhood when I first discovered I had one life and I could do absolutely anything with it.  Let me give you an example.  I have always wanted to be a writer…not a blogger, but a novelist.  As soon as I could string sentences together, I created worlds with my words—some of them ridiculous, some of them sacred, all of them amateur.

So, this Christmas I asked for a book—On Writing by Stephen King.  Like any aspiring author, I have lost myself in it, inadvertently peppering my husband with more Stephen King trivia than he ever cared to know.  The book is the Holy Grail of writing, with all the secrets your English teacher never told you.  But there is just one problem—I can’t do it.  The regimen King advises to become a truly successful author is impossible to uphold with my lot in life.  I would have to sacrifice my family, a sacrifice I’m not willing to make.  And so I sit here, on the eve of the New Year, trying to put it all together in my mind.  As a busy wife and mom, how do you maintain godly priorities and not lose personal ambitions?

In the end, I think it comes down to choices.  Nobody lies on her death bed regretting all the choices someone else made.  The choices that impact our lives the most are the ones we make for ourselves.  They are a direct reflection of our values.  So I have to ask myself, what do I truly value?  I love it when I’m writing and I start to smile because it usually means I’m arriving at a conclusion.  I know what I value.  And honestly, I value it more than all the accolades of the finest author in America.

Now is not the time to become the next Stephen King.  Now is the time to raise my kids.  Now is the time to snuggle on the sofa and laugh with my husband.  And when I have some free moments, I’ll probably spend them writing.  Maybe I’ll squirrel away a novel, although I’ll never do it in three months as King suggests, and my characters will likely grow stale as they sit forgotten in my laptop.  But I know this—I won’t be lying on my death bed regretting the characters I neglected.

Do I think it’s wrong to have ambitions outside of your family?  No!  I think it’s wonderful.  I think it reminds you that God made you a unique individual.  I think having passions and thoughts and feelings of your own helps you bring a lot to the table for your family.  Do I think these independent ambitions should be central?  No.  I think they should be surrendered, sometimes even sacrificed when push comes to shove.  Why?  Because none of us is superwoman.  We can’t have it all in every season of life.  We have to make choices.  And the more intentional you are when it comes to making choices, the better they’ll be.

So that woman inside of you that longs to grab an espresso, lock the door, and write til your eyeballs burn…or run a marathon, or become a doctor, or create your own line of homemade doggie treats–be at peace with her.  Don’t pack her up and kick her to the curb.  Pray about her.  Find ways to explore her.  But don’t let her run the show.  And when necessary, remind her how richly God has blessed you.  Then tell her to be quiet so you can do the dishes.

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Mama’s Jingle Bells

Christmas BellsDashing through the days,
In a Civic with two kids,
O’er the shopping craze,
Cramming in what fits!
Cranky children moan,
Piling stress on me,
Oh how much I wish we owned,
A Honda Odyssey!
Oh, Christmas time, Christmas time,
Every single year,
Traffic jams and mile-long lines,
Spreading Christmas cheer, hey!
Christmas time, Christmas time,
Crafts and laughs and love,
Sticky smiles and saved Gentiles,
When Hope came from above.

A day or two ago,
I thought we’d bake some treats,
And in two hours lo,
I wished I’d skipped this feat!
And then I saw my girl,
Eight cookies in her grin,
I laughed and tossed her in the air,
For a jolly Christmas spin!
Oh, Christmas time, Christmas time,
Every single year,
Flour-y cheeks and pajama feet,
And all that I hold dear, hey!
Christmas time, Christmas time,
Three mistletoe lips to kiss,
Oh how much I’ll always love,
The moments just like this!

MERRY CHRISTMAS to my faithful followers–thanks for stopping by!

(Photo not original)

De-Clutter in a Day

Nothing is more fun than leaving a house with 86,000 disorganized toys only to return with 86,000 new Christmas toys.  With this in mind, I set out to de-clutter our house before the Christmas aftermath re-cluttered it up.  Along the way I discovered that it’s possible to take a giant leap toward a more organized home in a single day.  If you’re brave, here’s how to do it.

Plan ahead–gather a variety of storage containers (I mostly use empty household containers).  Then start bright and early–immediately after breakfast, gather all your cluttered toy boxes and dump them into one giant pile.  The kids love this!  They will find toys they forgot even existed.  While they’re occupied reuniting, get busy sorting. The goal is simple: categorize as many toys as possible into the various containers, particularly small toys.  At the end, there will always be a collection of rather large, miscellaneous toys that can go in a big, open container.  But put the smaller containers up high and only let kids play with one or two at a time.  This will keep the toys fresh and the play room organized.


Because kids grow so rapidly, if you’re like me, every six months you need to sort through their clothes.  So once the toys were tidy downstairs, I tackled the dressers in the very same fashion–dump and sort.  The goal is to have a tidy, up-to-date dresser for each child, as well as a few organized storage containers of clothes in off-sizes.  In our house there are four places you will find kids’ clothing: the largest clothes are in Aubrey’s dresser.  When she outgrows something, it goes into a storage container for Heidi.  When Heidi is able to wear it, it goes into Heidi’s dresser.  When Heidi outgrows it, it’s relegated to the final storage container, either to give away or save for baby #3.  It would be worthwhile to note that if you don’t sort your own clothes seasonally, now might be a good time to start.  Get rid of the clothes you never wear, and put off-season clothes in storage (unless you’re blessed with a massive closet!)


For me, this was as far as I went with the kids.  By the time steps one and two were complete, they were ready for a nap.  And so was I.  But I tucked them into bed, put on my big-girl panties, and kept on trucking!

P1050854Close your eyes, Mom.  Every time she visits, my mother sorts out my pantry, and for some reason, about ten minutes after she leaves, it always looks like this again.  When I absolutely cannot stand it a second longer, I know it’s time to organize.    So, a couple tips I learned from my mom:
1.  Consolidate!  Get rid of all the gigantic boxes with 2 granola bars left in them.  Delegate a large tupperware to be the “snack spot” and throw all those bulky boxes away.
2.  Strategize: if you have small kids who will likely disobey you and sneak into the pantry, which items would you most HATE to see sprinkled all over the floor?  Put these up high!  Also, think logically about how often you use various items, and as my mother would say, “Make it functional.”
3.  Don’t be a pack rat in the name of frugality–nobody likes crusty hot chocolate mix.  If in doubt–throw it away!
4.  Have a wet rag handy, and wipe down surfaces as you go.  Trust me, they need it.  The same goes for a broom when you can finally see the floor again.

Once your pantry is organized, (ahhhhh…), it’s time to take on the fridge–my least favorite duty.  A true deep clean would necessitate throwing out all the junk, organizing what’s left, and wiping everything down.  P1050862When you’re done, if you have any gumption left, consider what else may be a problem area in your kitchen–overflowing tupperware drawer with no matching lids?  Mile deep junk drawer?  Stuffed-to-the-gills recipe box disaster?  Choose the worst area, and get busy.  For me it was the junk drawer, and let me just tell you, it was truly mortifying.  If the very thought of undertaking such a task depresses you (as it did me), try popping in a movie while you work–if the kids are still napping it’ll feel like a treat!

I know you’re losing stamina, so am I.  Here is the final step–take stock of the possible improvements you could make in the rest of your home.  If you’re really gutsy, make a list.  Disarrayed Christmas decorations in the attic?  Disheveled laundry room?  Engorged filing cabinet?  Now before you burst into tears, consider which one project would bless your family the most.  Does the study desk, piled to the ceiling with papers, discourage your husband every single day?  Is there a particular room your family spends significant time in?  Choose the one task that will give you the most bang for your buck…or joy for your labor, and get to it.  (You will likely find yourself more excited about completing this task as you envision the way it will bless your family!)  Save the other items on your list for another day.  You can complete one project each week for the next month, and find yourself in a thoroughly organized home in the new year.

Growing up, whenever spring-cleaning-day rolled around, my mom would promise us ice-cream when everything was done.  Now that I’m an adult, I realize the sheer joy of having an organized home is more rewarding than all the Haagen-Daz in the world!  But go ahead and treat your kids.  Go to the park (if it’s still light out!), bake some brownies, pop in a special movie…do something fun.  It’s a great message to send them: as a family we work together and we enjoy the benefits together.


  1. Be ready to troubleshoot.  At some point or another you will discover that as you have been neatly packing storage containers of clothes, the baby has been unpacking them behind you.  Wince, grimace, squeeze your eyes shut, and then release the big breath you’ve been holding. Everything is going to be okay. Put the clothes back in their categories and this time stash them up high.
  2. Be realistic.  Guaranteed your kids will wake up from their nap bright-eyed and bushy-tailed around the time you’re ready to fall into a coma.  At this juncture, edit your ambitions.  Aim to arrive at step five as quickly as possible, and consider making the “reward” going out for dinner when Daddy gets home.
  3. Be prepared for it to get worse before it gets better.  Inevitably, at some point you will glance around your kitchen, and it will look something like this:


Resist the urge to cry.  Instead, fuel your overwhelming disillusionment into staunch resolve to throw away as much as possible.  Then, when your kitchen looks like this…


…snap a picture and blog about it  😉

Home for the Holidays


For years home was a painful subject for me.

Although my mother is Singaporean and my father is American, I was born and raised a missionary kid in the Philippines for the first fifteen years of my life.  In our home there were always three different cultures alive and at play.  We spoke English, ate Chinese food, and constantly had a house full of Filipinos.  The cultural influences overlapped so seamlessly that to this day I still sometimes pause and wonder whether certain sayings, traditions, or stores are American, Filipino, or Chinese.

In the 1960s Dr. Ruth Hill Useem coined a term to describe kids like me.  She called us “third culture kids,” suggesting that the act of being raised in a foreign culture causes a child to create a “third culture,” which is a blend of the parent culture and the host culture.  While the child embraces attributes of both cultures, he or she never fully identifies with any culture.  Dr. Useem asserts that the only culture a TCK truly “owns” is the third culture—the hybrid culture.  Therefore they only feel truly at home with other TCK’s.

But the painful truth in all of Useem’s research is that this “third culture” exists within such a narrow framework that if you ever leave it, it’s likely gone forever.  For instance, my husband can travel the world, and always return “home” to Georgia.  He can talk about the Braves and the Bulldogs and instantly re-connect with the thousands of people who share his culture.  But when I left the Philippines at the age of fifteen, I left forever the small community of fellow missionary kids who shared my third culture.  Come graduation, all those MKs dispersed.  Sure, I still keep in touch with some of them, but we have no “place.”  There is no “Georgia” to return to.  There is no home to return to.

When it comes to home, I don’t know what your journey has been like—whether you’re going home for Christmas this year with excitement or dread.  Whether your home is joyful or broken, full or empty, celebrating new life or mourning lost life.  Whether you have a home at all.  But since thoughts of home always seem most poignant at Christmas, I’d like to share two powerful truths that helped me process my own feelings regarding home.

Jesus knows what it’s like to be without a home.
From His very birth, there was no place in this world for Jesus.  He wasn’t nestled into a cozy nursery with Pottery Barn bedding.  He was born like an outcast.  Like a child nobody esteemed.  Born with the animals.  As a man, Jesus would go on to tell those eager to follow him: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20).  For thirty-three years, Jesus lived and breathed as a stranger of this world.  Certainly, he can relate to the homeless, the rejected, and the lonely.

Jesus has prepared a true home for all who belong to Him.
But the hope of Jesus is not merely in His human ability to relate with you.  It’s in His divine ability to save you.  To justify you, sanctify you, and one day to glorify you.  If you’ve ever felt a restless stirring, like you weren’t made for this place and nothing here can quite satisfy, it’s because you weren’t.  In John 14:3, as Jesus prepares the disciples for His coming departure, He promises them, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”  In his book, In Light of Eternity, Randy Alcorn describes heaven as “home” in the truest sense.  That feeling you get when you’re home—when you kick your shoes off, flop onto the sofa, and finally breathe easy—that is the feeling we will have in heaven, only magnified to its purest, deepest, most satisfying form.  Until that day, part of us will always be dissatisfied with this earthly shadow of home.  In college I wrote a sonnet about this familiar ache in my own life.  It is an ache that reminds us we were never made for this world.

I don’t know what the year has brought your way, but this Christmas, if you are a true follower of Christ, you have great cause to celebrate!  Be grateful for the joys of the year—they are a taste not only of God’s grace, but of greater joys to come.  And in the sorrows, take heart.  Earth is not your final destination.

(Photo credit)

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The Sojourner


When I from distant lands do think abroad,
Of all that lies unknown and hid from me,
I feel a chill of darkness blot the laud,
That else would rise in joyous praise to Thee.
For how can one as tiny as the sand,
Behold the sea a-brew with storm and wave?
And how can one but hope to understand,
The secrets of a God who holds our days?
And when such thoughts do burrow in my soul,
I feel again the deadened throb awake,
Though naught on earth is found that can console,
Still it beats the old eternal ache.
For though my ship on earth is made to roam,
My heart is ever beating for my home.

(Photo not original.)

Murder in Newtown


“My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen upon me.  Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me… “  (Psalm 55:4-5)

Like the Psalmist, our nation reels with horror in the wake of merciless evil.  If you are wondering where God is in the midst of it all—how to fit such atrocity into your theology—I have linked some articles below from giants of the faith.  I hope they will strengthen you, as they have me in the face of devastation.

Rachel Weeping for Her Children—The Massacre in Connecticut: Al Mohler answers the question, “How should Christians think and pray in the aftermath of such a colossal crime?”  He gives a four-point answer before concluding with the painful and timely reminder that the Christmas story also includes the mass murder of children, an event that prompted Matthew to cite Jeremiah 31:15, an achingly powerful verse: “Thus says the LORD: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping.  Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.’”  Among the articles I am posting, Mohler’s is the longest and most comprehensive article about how believers should process this tragedy.

School Shootings and Spiritual Warfare—Russell Moore focuses on the satanic evil that thirsts for the blood of children, writing: “throughout the history of the universe, evil has manifested a dark form of violence specifically toward children.”  He cites Jewish commentator John Podhoretz, who pointed out that the Hebrew god Moloch demanded the blood of children, sacrificed in the valley of Ghenna—the very valley Jesus pointed to when teaching about hell.  Dr. Moore demonstrates the unique ways that children point to Christ, and therefore, the damnable truth that “Satan hates children because he hates Jesus.”

A Lesson for All from Newtown—John Piper asserts that murdering an image-bearer of God is nothing short of “treason against the creator of the world.”  He points the finger at all of us, worthy of God’s righteous judgment.  In this way, Newtown is a warning to us: “Not a warning to see our schools as defenseless, but to see our souls as depraved.  To see our need for a Savior.”

“But I call to God, and the Lord will save me.”  (Psalm 55:16)

Making Family Gatherings Meaningful

the-ultimate-christmas-hot-chocolateFor as long as I can remember, my family has practiced one simple Christmas tradition.  Every year, on Christmas morning, we each take a turn sharing hopes, goals, and desires for the coming year.  Sometime soon after I learned how to write legibly, I became the official scribe.  On Christmas day my mother would hand me “the journal.”  Someone, usually my sister, would volunteer to go first.  I’d crack open the worn notebook, find Johanna’s name, and re-read her goals from the previous year.  Then she’d reflect—how did the year turn out?  Did she accomplish her goals?  Did God fulfill her hopes?  When she started sharing her hopes for the coming year, I’d quickly scrawl as fast as I could.  Finally, when it was my turn, I’d pass the journal to someone else and do my own share of talking.

As kids we use to squirm through this tradition.  It was an exercise in great restraint to gaze longingly at the presents under the tree and fidget impatiently through all the talking.  But over the years something amazing took place.  As we grew up, so did our goals.  Aspirations to conquer computer games turned into desires to trust God in school, to share our faith with confidence, to spend more time in the Word.  God was molding our hearts.  He was growing a family, and all of it is recorded in stacks of worn journals safely stored somewhere in my mother’s room.  We could flip to any year and see exactly what God was doing in the lives of each member of our family.  Somewhere along the way someone—I can’t even remember who—suggested we give Jesus a symbolic “gift” each year, along with a year verse.  So that was added to the sharing time—our belief, our jobs, our loved ones, our failures…all of these have been gifts we laid at Jesus’ feet over the years.

In many ways this special time on Christmas morning was the glue that brought us closer together as a family unit.  I can still remember us all coming to the living room on the year that one member of our family endured a devastating tragedy.  What would this person say about the year that had transpired?  What hopes would this person have for the coming year?  How was God at work?  That morning, as we sat together listening to all God was doing, passing along tissues to dry our eyes, I realized that these were sacred moments.  We were all still here.  In it together.  Despite it all, God had brought us through.  God would always bring us through.

As we got married, spouses were invited into our tradition, and this forged new intimacy in our ever-expanding family.  This year, we will likely have to share on Christmas Eve night because my two little girls are still too young to sit through the tradition, although I smile in anticipation of the day they’re ready to start sharing their own hopes of conquering computer games…hopes that I know will grow up as they do.

It’s funny—I use to wiggle through our tradition, anxious for it to be over, and this year the single thing I look forward to the most is tucking my kids into bed, grabbing a mug of something hot, snuggling up on the couch, and listening to my family share while I take notes as fast as my fingers will let me.

(Photo Credit)


When Life Disappoints


(Photo courtesy of Matteo Mazzoni)

I wanted security, and You gave me chaos,
Wanted esteem, and You let me know shame.
I wanted success, and You handed me failure,
Wanted Your pleasure, and experienced Your pain.

I wanted simplicity, and You gave me troubles,
Wanted grandeur, and was reduced to nothing.
I wanted approval, and You handed me rejection,
Wanted Your blessing, and tasted Your suffering.

So I packed my frustration, and all my complaints
Into two giant burlap sacks,
And one I named “Bitterness” and the other “Disappointment,”
And heaved them upon my back.

Thus I began my journey to You,
Because I needed an answer, You see,
For all of the things You’d promised me once,
And failed to deliver to me.

But the loads, they grew heavy with each passing day,
Til I fumed with fury and hate;
And I moaned and I wept and I stumbled at last
Beneath their unbearable weight.

I looked at these bags, laden with trials,
And deep in my soul I knew,
That I could not carry, nor change, nor fight them;
There was but one thing left to do.

I reached both arms, fierce as I dared,
And I hugged them to my breast,
Then I heaved and hauled and wrenched until,
I’d wrestled them into my chest.

I cried to the heavens, “I embrace these trials!
I welcome them full unto me,
Let them now work Your will in my life
So that I may be more like Thee!”

The trials spilled over, into my lap
Each of them laid before me,
And as I sat and stared anew,
Suddenly I saw them most clearly.

I wanted comfort, and You gave me character,
Wanted completion, and You gave me patience.
I wanted glory, and You gave me humility,
Wanted Your promise, and You gave me Your presence.

I wanted ease, and You gave me strength,
Wanted cheap idols, and You offered me wealth,
I wanted garbage, and You gave me riches,
Wanted your gifts, and You gave me Yourself. 

I laughed and I danced and I started to sing,
For the treasures I held in my lap!
Then I looked back and forth and finally found
My two giant burlap sacks.

And the names on the bags were re-written,
For God had seen fit to destroy
Both “Bitterness” and “Disappointment,”
And to name them “Steadfastness” and “Joy.”

I fell to my knees and worshiped and cried,
“Oh God, all along You knew–
That deep in my heart from the very beginning,
All I really wanted was You.”

Teaching Your Children the Meaning of Christmas

Nativity_tree2011[1]Let me be the first to admit, so far I’ve done nothing overtly “spiritual” to prepare my kids for Christmas.  They’ve watched me wrap gifts, helped me break ornaments—I mean decorate the tree, and endured multiple trips to multiple stores.  All the while the thought lingers—what am I teaching my kids about the meaning of Christmas?  It’s a heavy thought, drooping from my heart like a ten pound ornament on a spindly branch.  Why so weighty?  Because teaching our children the meaning behind Christmas is eternally significant, yet radically counter-cultural.

Think about it—amid glitter and sequins, parties and stuff we are suppose to teach them that Christmas is about a baby so destitute He was born in a barn.  A baby who would one day grow into a Man who preached radical self-denial.  A Man declaring that all who follow Him must give up everything.

Somehow toy laptops and princess Lego towers just don’t seem to drive that message home.  Is there anything inherently sinful about giving your kids toy laptops and princess Lego towers?  Of course not!  But along with the gifts this Christmas, I want to give my children a gospel-centered worldview.  The approach we’ve chosen to take is very simple, mostly because our children are so young (1 and 3).  We have 2 goals: to drive home the meaning of Christmas with words and with actions.

  1. WORDS—I know I said I haven’t done anything overtly “spiritual” in preparing my kids for Christmas, but I suppose the one thing we have begun to do is talk.  (I realized just how much talking we’ve been doing when Aubrey proudly announced that her Mae Mae is a sinner.  Granddaddy was tickled.)  So far we’ve been having many passing conversations about the fact that everyone is sinful and in need of Jesus, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.  But as a family we want to become more intentional in our talk, having sit-down moments to read through picture books, and re-tell the Christmas story using nativity figurines.
  2. ACTIONS—Our second goal is to complete one family service project.  Again, because our kids are so young, this will be fairly simple.  Our favorite idea so far is to let Aubrey draw pictures of the Christmas story (Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus).  I will write a simple sentence or two above the pictures.  Then we will make cookies together and pass them out around the neighborhood, letting Aubrey hand out one of her picture cards (along with a track).  We want to teach her not only that we give to others because Jesus has given so much to us, but also that it’s important to tell others about the special gift of Jesus.  (Heidi’s role in the project will be to hold down the wagon 🙂 )

Depending on the age of your kids, here are some other ideas for having a gospel-centered Christmas:

The Grateful Christmas Project—Ann Voskamp shares her family’s practice of forgoing personal gifts in order to buy gifts for Jesus from various outreach catalogues.  She also includes 7 practical ideas for cultivating gratitude in your children.

Practical Ways to Reach Out to Others During the Holidays—Lindsay shares 6 simple ideas for extending generosity toward others as a family.

Truth in the Tinsel: An Advent Experience for Little Hands—This popular new ebook includes daily activities, crafts, and devotionals to teach young children the meaning of Christmas.

What about you?  How does your family celebrate the birth of Christ?  As always, I welcome new ideas and fresh inspiration!

Real Marriage vs. The Meaning of Marriage


In 2011 Tim and Kathy Keller came out with the book The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God.  In 2012 Mark and Grace Driscoll released Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship, and Life Together.  The two books are arguably the most popular recently-released books on Christian marriage, and this year, I was blessed to read both.  If you’re considering either one, the following are some personal reflections that may guide you as you decide which book to cozy up with this Christmas.

Despite being authored by two very different men, the books possess some basic similarities.  Both books have an accompanying sermon series.  (One was birthed out of a sermon series while the other inspired a sermon series.  Either way, if you’ve got a long drive to make this holiday, keep them in mind.)  Although predominantly written in the husband’s voice, both books were written by a husband and wife team.  In addition, both husbands are widely respected pastors, and the opportunity to peek behind the curtain of their private lives is powerfully impacting, not to mention interesting.

The most significant difference between the books is the style in which they are written, and the angle from which they approach the topic of biblical marriage.  Driscoll’s book is written conversationally and more firmly rooted in his personal life and journey.  In the very first chapter of his book, he and Grace plunge into the story of their marriage with brutal honesty.  I think my jaw was somewhere near my knees throughout the entire chapter.  Not only was I shocked that they endured such rocky waters in their marriage, I was amazed at their vulnerability in sharing it.  And I was deeply encouraged.  I kept thinking to myself, “Mark Driscoll went through this??”  Without meaning to, I can often listen to speakers like him and assume they’ve had a peaches-and-cream life—been the perfect husband, with the perfect wife, leading the perfect family.  Chapter one of Real Marriage dashed that illusion, and in so doing, it gave me the courage to look at my own marriage with the same frank honesty.  In this way, by humbly stripping away all pretenses, the Driscolls build an immediate trust with their readers, making the rest of their message more easily received.

However, their highly personal approach can also serve as a weakness in that much of the content of the book appears to stem from their own personal journey.  For instance, one of the greatest criticisms concerning Real Marriage is its significant focus on sex; the second half of the book is dedicated solely to the issue, which some have believed to be a disproportionate emphasis.  I personally believe the Driscolls were influenced by their own journey, and because sex was a significant issue in their marriage, they give it significant attention in their book.  They also overcame past traumas including sexual abuse and pornography—each of which is given a chapter in their book.  This manner of writing makes Real Marriage personal and impacting, but also limited in its scope.

The Meaning of Marriage takes an entirely different approach.  From the get-go, Keller looks to research and statistics to examine our culture’s view of marriage.  At face value, it is more difficult to “get into” Keller’s book simply because he is methodical.  Where Driscoll dives in with a jaw-dropping story, Keller carefully builds his case.  But in the end, the case that he builds is powerfully substantial, and in my experience, more lasting than that of Real Marriage.   While I remember interesting anecdotes from Driscoll’s book, The Meaning of Marriage changed my entire worldview regarding marriage.  By building a gospel-centered framework within which to view marriage, Keller’s book systematically re-trained my heart and mind to think biblically about marriage.  To offer a visual analogy, reading Real Marriage was a little like sitting in front of a bulletin board pinned with an array of different marriage principals.  A lot of good stuff, but unrelated and hard to remember.  Reading The Meaning of Marriage was like watching a diagram come together piece by piece.  In the end everything’s related, and the concepts hold together because they are rooted together.  In this way, while Real Marriage immediately pulls readers in, attention can just as quickly be lost because the concepts feel isolated and disconnected.  However, the more one reads Keller’s book, the more fascinating it becomes as the gospel-perspective of marriage unfolds with practical implications.

A Synopsis of The Meaning of Marriage
Keller opens his book by examining our culture’s current pessimism toward marriage, a pessimism that ironically stems from unrealistic idealism about marriage.  Because we as a society have a flawed view of marriage, our expectations of marriage are not only selfish, they are sky high.  The realization that one person cannot satisfy us completely (not to mention pick up after himself!) is frustratingly disappointing.  But, as Keller points out, “This is the secret—that the gospel of Jesus and marriage explain one another.”  Marriage was always intended to be a reflection of the self-giving, saving love of Jesus Christ—a far cry from our cultural demand that marriage better bring me personal happiness, or else!  This then is the key:  “If God had the gospel of Jesus’s salvation in mind when he established marriage, then marriage only ‘works’ to the degree that approximates the pattern of God’s self-giving love in Christ” (p46).

Chapter two unearths the “cancer” of self-centeredness and the vital necessity of the Holy Spirit to daily overcome it.  Chapter three (perhaps my favorite in the whole book) tackles the age-old question—where have all the butterflies gone?  As a woman who’s foolishly let pop culture tutor me on love and romance, this chapter was hugely freeing and empowering.  In defining the difference between a “covenant” and “consumer” relationship, Keller convincingly illustrates that God’s covenantal prescription for marriage truly brings the greatest and most lasting love—love that is not rooted in the flighty whims of feeling.  Chapter four examines the purpose and subsequent priority of marriage, honing in on the joy and power of spiritual friendship.  In my own copy, this chapter has a few sections that simply say, “Wow” in the margin because I was too convicted to think of anything else to write.  Take this quote for instance:

“What keeps the marriage going is your commitment to your spouse’s holiness.  You’re committed to his or her beauty.  You’re committed to his greatness and perfection.  You’re committed to her honesty and passion for the things of God.  That’s your job as a spouse.  Any lesser goal than that, any smaller purpose, and you’re just playing at being married” (p123). 

Having established a gospel-centered perspective of marriage, the remaining chapters become more focused on how to practically apply this perspective to daily living.  Chapter five delves into the incredible power each spouse has for building up or destroying based on how a spouse chooses to wield “truth” and “love.”  Keller also discusses “love currencies” (similar to “love languages”).  Chapter six, written in Kathy’s voice, ventures into the controversial subject of male female differences and gender roles.  Chapter seven is written specifically for singles (finally, a marriage book that addresses singleness with more than two sentences!)  And lastly chapter eight addresses sex, its biblical basis, and why it’s most celebrated within marriage.

A Synopsis of Real Marriage
Real Marriage is broken into three parts.  As mentioned earlier, chapter one is mostly a re-telling of the Driscolls’ own marriage story.  Chapter two asserts one of the fundamental premises of the book—that “marriage is about friendship” (p23).  Driscoll creates an acrostic using the word “FRIENDS” to teach seven biblical principles for marital friendship.  Chapter three is written directly to men (yes, I read it…I was so curious—wouldn’t you be?) One of my favorite things about this chapter is Pastor Mark’s frank, practical, “cut-through-the-malarkey” tone of voice toward men.  You could easily ask any guy, Christian or not, to read this chapter, and I guarantee he would find it amusing, convicting, and helpful all at the same time.  In the most impacting section of the chapter, Driscoll speaks to the balance between being tough and tender.  He uses characters like “Give ‘em Hell Hank” and “Little Boy Larry” (and lots more) to demonstrate how skewed masculinity manifests itself.  I had to marvel in this section at Driscoll’s ability to be hilarious and sobering at the very same time.  Chapter four, written in Grace’s voice, teaches women how to have “heads, hearts, and hands” of respect, while chapter five addresses the necessity of repentance and forgiveness in marriage.

Part two of Real Marriage looks to the sexual relationship, beginning with chapter six which describes the three ways people tend to view sex—as “God” as “gross,” or as a “gift.”  Chapter seven, written in Grace’s voice, deals with how to recognize and respond to a person who’s been sexually abused.  Chapter eight conveys the far-reaching effects of pornography both spiritually and neurologically.  Chapter nine outlines the difference between being a “selfish” lover and a “servant” lover.  Chapter ten, entitled “Can We __?”, is the book’s most controversial chapter, employing I Corinthians 6:12 to assess what is sexually permissible within marriage.  Again, I think the Driscolls are writing from experience.  As a highly influential pastor, Mark has heard hundreds of people ask the same questions—questions they’re embarrassed to ask, but questions for which they want biblical answers.  Personally, I admire the Driscolls for tackling real and relevant issues that many other authors avoid.  Nevertheless, critics have argued that his I Corinthians 6:12 grid for assessing these issues is faulty because it is rooted in what is “lawful and beneficial” rather than the finished work of Christ.  Finally, part three of Real Marriage is comprised of a single chapter with practical advice for how to “reverse-engineer” your life and marriage.

A Word to Singles
While I was reading Real Marriage, a close single friend asked me whether I thought it would be a beneficial read for singles.  I thought about it for a while before telling her, no.  While I think the accompanying sermon series would probably be helpful for singles, in my opinion, the book simply delves too deeply into sexual issues to be beneficial for singles.  I would, however, highly recommend The Meaning of Marriage to singles.  Ironically, Keller shares that it was the vast number of singles in his church that actually compelled him to write this book on marriage.  He saw warped mentalities alive within the singles of his church, from idealistic beliefs that marriage is an “end-all” to the Seinfeld approach for dating that disqualifies anyone with big hands or strange moles.  It’s no surprise his chapter on singleness is outstanding.  Keller addresses the “goodness” of singleness as well as the difficulty of it, and how to live with a healthy balance of desire and contentment.  He teaches the history of dating, and spends substantial time sharing “practical counsel for marriage seekers.”

Final Thoughts
What are you looking for in a book about marriage?  I suppose, the better question would be, what are you looking for in your marriage?  What are the issues you face?  If you have a past with sexual sin, abuse, or pornography, and are experiencing the ramifications in your marriage, Real Marriage could be a hopeful and edifying read.  If you are waning under the weight of disillusionment, disappointment, or confusion then step into the Kellers’ classroom for a couple of weeks.

Although both books have great attributes, in the end, I must agree with Tim Challies.  When asked to recommend a marriage book, The Meaning of Marriage will be my very first choice.  It is thorough, comprehensive, and cohesive.  In short, if you’re looking to slap a band-aid on your marriage, you can keep on walking past this one.  Tim Keller is not interested in the six simple steps to a happier marriage, or the five key strategies for clearer communication.  He is interested in examining the ideology behind marriage, the original intent of marriage, the meaning of marriage as defined by the Author of marriage. And if you’re willing to follow him on this journey, you’ll discover something far more lasting than the five strategies for clearer communication.  You’ll discover that the true secret to marriage is rooted in one place only—the gospel of Jesus Christ.