Make It A December To Remember

This year make the Christmas season truly memorable. Turn this holiday season into the year you look back on 20 years from now and say, “2016 is the year it all started!” Here are some simple steps to get headed in the right direction.

Start Christmas Traditions

Some traditions involve food. For example, in our house Laura makes fudge on the day after Thanksgiving, then she stingily doles it out over the next month. Another food tradition is Christmas brunch. After we have opened the presents, we dine on Jay’s mom’s sausage-and-rice casserole and Laura’s world-famous cheese grits.

Maybe your tradition is something you do, such as spending Christmas Eve at Grandma’s or driving around after the Christmas Eve service to look at the lights in your town. We make hot chocolate, turn off all the lights in the house except for the tree lights, and talk about the meaning of Christmas and our favorite memories.

Make Time for Your Marriage

Christmas is a busy season, and it can make us forget about the important relationships in our life – especially our marriages. Christmas concerts and parties can have us running around like a chicken with its head cut off.

Socrates once said, “Beware the barreness of a busy life.” Do not let this season become so busy that your marriage relationship feels barren. Put a date night or two on the calendar, and then defend them to the hilt. You will not regret it. Those moments will give you a breather from the chaos and make the season shine.

Pick the Right Gift

My (Jay) love language is not gifts. I do not particularly need to get gifts, and I have never seen how they make people feel loved – until I married a woman whose primary love language is gifts. What Laura helped me see is that giving a gift is not about the size or the cost; it is about how much thought went into picking out the gift. The more thought I put into the gift I choose, the more she feels loved.

For me, gift giving is just about getting the next new toy. Whether gifts are important to your spouse or not, do not forget that gifts will always say “I love you!” So get your spouse one that will make their day.

Take these three steps and begin your journey to make this a December to remember!

Go Hunting For Your Wife

I (Jay) did not grow up a hunter. However, a few years ago some buddies of mine from Compassion International asked me to go on a pheasant hunt in South Dakota. At first I declined, admitting I did not know the least bit about pheasant hunting. But my friend Steve insisted it was no big deal and I was going to have the time of my life. “Besides,” he said, “we eat like kings!” I was in!

I got a hunting license, hauled my grandfather’s 1952 Browning Light 12 out of storage, and bought the proper attire. I was nervous as all get-out. But Steve was right. My buddies knew I was a rookie, and they coached me the entire week. We shot skeet to warm up and get used to shooting. We had lessons from the guides to learn about being a “walker or a blocker” and, most importantly, to not shoot the other hunters.

I had a blast. We hit our limit every day, then sat around the campfire at night telling stories and laughing hard. I have been an avid pheasant hunter ever since, rarely passing up an opportunity if it presents itself. A stuffed pheasant that I shot hangs on the wall of our family room. His name is Phrank … Phrank the Pheasant!

So guys, what if we pursued our wives with the same passion we pursue wild game? Here’s what it would look like.

First, stalk her habitat. Where does she like to go? Where is she most comfortable? Figure it out without her knowledge so you can sneak up on her unsuspected.

Second, what’s the best “bait” to attract her? Dinner at her favorite restaurant? That chick flick she’s been talking about? How about a couple’s massage?

Finally, buy the right equipment. While women are not as “visual” as men, they do like it and take notice when their man grooms himself nicely. So shave the nose hairs, buy a new shirt and put on a little after-shave before you go out.

Taking the time to pursue your wife with the passion of a hunter will make her feel loved and appreciated. It is instinctive for a woman to want to be pursued. It is hardwired in her DNA. And just think, the more you pursue, the more she just might let you “catch” her!

Take The Just-Because Challenge

Every May and October, we host a marriage conference at Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan. The 130-year-old wood-frame hotel, with over 380 uniquely decorated rooms and a front porch that is more than two football fields in length, looks out over the straits of Mackinac. It is the perfect romantic setting for couples to get away and to get ahead in their marriage.

This year our final challenge to the couples was to do something for their spouse “just because.” We gave every couple a challenge coin. Inscribed on the coin were these words: just because.

The idea came to us a few years back when I (Jay) bought Laura a large bouquet of flowers and on the card I wrote: “To Laura, Love Jay, Just Because.” We have told that story countless times, and we thought it was time to challenge the couples to put what we have learned into practice.

The challenge starts with the men having the coin. Each man must do something for his wife – just because. When he does, he gives the coin to his wife. Then it is her turn to do something for him, just because. It does not need to be something elaborate. For example, a husband can wash his wife’s car, just because. A wife can make her husband’s favorite meal, just because. Write a love note, just because. You get the idea.

When we got home from our May event this year, I (Jay) was looking to practice what we preach. We were running some errands in Mt. Pleasant, and I knew exactly what to do. One of Laura’s favorite treats is a Dairy Queen chocolate ice cream cone dipped in chocolate. I whipped our little red VW convertible bug into the drive-thru, placed the order, and gave Laura the coin.

A week later we had planned a golf date one afternoon after work. While I was finishing up emails, Laura loaded the golf clubs into the car (normally my job) and handed me the coin.

In the months since our May conference, we have received countless email and Facebook notifications of couples doing something for each other, just because. One of our favorites came from Sabrina who mowed the lawn on her day off so her husband, Michael, would not have to do it on his day off. Simple gestures mean a lot.

So why not start your own challenge and do something for your spouse – just because?

For information on our challenge coin, contact us.

A Simple Way To Build Intimacy In Marriage

We live in Michigan, and in Michigan, Labor Day marks the “official” end of summer. School starts the day after Labor Day, and it feels like a fresh start for us all. We would like to challenge you to a fresh start by adding a new habit to your marriage – dating!

The following is an excerpt from our book The Spark! Igniting Passion, Mystery and Romance in Your Marriage .

A simple way to build intimacy into your marriage is to spend time together. It seems obvious, but for some reason, when we get married, we can forget to date. It can be a struggle to find time to spend together and nurture intimacy.

So here is a simple yet practical idea.

What happens with us is that Jay likes to do different things than I (Laura) like to do, so when date night comes, we want to do something different. To overcome this struggle, we each wrote down our five best dates (keeping within our budget, mind you). Jay wrote down his five, and I wrote down my five. Then we meshed them to create a series of great dates.

Laura’s five great dates are shopping, going for a walk, shopping, joining a book group, and shopping. Jay’s five great dates are dining out, golfing, dancing lessons, golfing and cooking lessons.

To combine shopping and dining out, we meshed dinner out with a shopping trip to the mall. On a golfing date, while Jay hits range ball and practices putting, I browse the pro shop looking for deals on shirts, shorts and accessories. When we signed up for dancing lessons, we had to go shopping for tap shoes. One of the benefits of combining these dates is that we decided walking was a great form of exercise that we could add to our golf dates.

Now it is your turn. Take your five great dates individually and then mesh them together. They will become your great date arsenal. We are not asking you to be joined at the hip. We are not saying to totally disregard your personal interests, hobbies and friends.

What we are saying can be best summarized with this quote from our in-depth survey: Movies, plays, dinner, walks – it does not matter. The important what-we-do is to spend time together focusing on each other and not the rest of the world.

September is the perfect time to start fresh and begin to date again. Try it!

Beat the Dog Days of Summer as a Couple

We know, we know, we know … when will these kids go back to school! August can be a rough time in the life of a family. In June we cannot wait for the drudgery of the school routine to be done, but by the Fourth of July, we start wondering when these kids are gonna go back to school. When August hits, parents can literally be pulling our hair out.

Here are three great tips for beating the dog days of summer.

First, remember these words from our friend Peter Brooks: “Please … hold your loved ones close. Don’t argue about stupid stuff that doesn’t matter. Live in this moment, make memories, ‘redeem the time’ … please. There are no guarantees.”

James 4:14 echoes Peter’s remarks. “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (NIV). The reality is we do not know what tomorrow will bring, so cherish even the tough days. Use the summer to make memories you cannot make during the school year. Ice cream cones and Slurpee runs were always a break our kids looked forward to.

Second, remember that raising the little ones is a 24/7/365 role you play. Children see how you behave in the tough times, and they will learn from observing your behavior. When times get irritating, do not blow a gasket. Instead use it as teaching moment with your kids. Let them know that mommy or daddy or both are a little frustrated and explain why.

Remember the words of our Lord when dealing with your kids: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:10).

Finally, focus on your marriage. The best thing you can do for your children is to be madly in love with your spouse. Study after study shows that the healthiest, highest achieving, socially connected kids come from a family where mom and dad intentionally work on growing their love.

Too often kids can become a distraction from the marriage relationship and ultimately drift a couple apart. Bottom line is that kids thrive in a stable home life, and nothing will insure that more than keeping your marriage your #1 earthly relationship.

Masquerading as the ordinary is exhausting

I (Laura) love collecting all the catalogs that come in over the week and taking time on Saturday to look through them all very diligently to make sure I am not missing anything I might need! Perusing the catalog is cheaper than going to the actual store. I mark the items I love and must have, but never really purchase!

On this particular perusing excursion I was looking through a Macy’s catalog filled with all kinds of trinkets and gift items. Slowly turning each page, being careful not to miss any lovely gift for someone I might know, I stopped and there it was! My life changed forever at that moment!

One Saturday afternoon snuggled under my plush cheetah print blanket with coffee in hand, I found myself perusing I did not see the color of the plate, the cost of the plate, nor did I check whether a 50% discount was available to acquire the plate. All I saw were the words imprinted on the plate!


Finally a store had captured my heart’s motto! My husband, Jay, would tell you that many stores capture my heart! But this was different. I knew in my soul that this is how I would forever live my life.

Now before you call me melodramatic or a little over the top (because if you knew me you would know that neither of those words are commonly associated with me), you should know that one of my highest values in life is uniqueness. These words captured that value precisely!

Since that Saturday, I have lived life striving to be extraordinary and no longer masquerading as ordinary – not always easy. Ordinary is easy and accepted. A desire to want to be extraordinary, can, at times, be seen by others as an oddity, nonconforming, atypical and or incredulous! It means walking away from life as others see it and striving for something more. I don’t want to be like everyone else! I want to be the woman, wife, mom, and friend, God created me to be. I was created by an extraordinary God, to be an extraordinary woman, and live an extraordinary life, for Him.

Declare A State Of Interdependence!

This month we celebrate Independence Day. We can all be thankful for the courage and foresight of our country’s founding fathers. What a privilege to live free.

In marriage, however, independence can be a destructive force that pulls a couple apart rather than brings them closer together. A better word for marriage would be interdependence. defines interdependence as “the quality or condition of being interdependent, or mutually reliant on each other.” What a great word for marriage!

Every couple can enjoy the spiritual blessings of being interdependent by acknowledging the following blessings outlined in Ecclesiastes 4.

Blessing One: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor” (v. 9 NIV).

Laura and I constantly say we have one brain between the two of us. It may not be true for you and your spouse, but after 31 years of marriage, we find that we do our best work when we work together. We see things from different perspectives, and that allows us to see the entire picture when facing a challenge. Working together on your marriage will bring a “good return for your labor.”

Blessing Two: “If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up” (v. 10).

Last winter, I (Jay) contracted pneumonia. I slept all week to gain the strength needed to travel the next weekend for our Ultimate Date Night shows. As a result, Laura took care of everything around the house. She handled both her weekly duties and mine. There is no doubt in my mind that without her help, I would not have been able to perform each weekend.

Blessing Three: “Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?” (v. 11).

While this passage certainly applies to cold winter nights, we also think it suggests the importance of having someone alongside you through the “cold days” life can throw at us, which have nothing to do with the weather. A spouse can speak encouraging words during tough times. And sometimes just being there, being “alongside,” is enough—no words necessary.

Blessing Four: “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (v. 12).

When we stand together, whether the issue relates to the kids or a life decision, we can stand strong. When Christ is at the center of our relationship, it makes us even stronger. He is the third strand. Keeping Christ as the focal point of any marriage does not mean hardship will not come, but it does mean you and your spouse will have the strength to fight the battle together.

Independence was certainly a good idea for our country over 200 years ago. But interdependence is what will help your marriage thrive and grow. Take time to ask your spouse how each of you can become even more “mutually reliant on each other.”

You were created for more

As women we unnecessarily spend countless hours trying to be something or someone we are not.

Let’s be honest! We pay to have our hair color of choice. We run, walk, lift weights, practice yoga, and heft a kettle ball to keep up with the latest trending movie star. We spread hot wax all over our face and then rip it off, in order to have the smooth skin we had when we were born!

Some magazine articles describe women who have had their foot bone shaved in order to accommodate their stylish shoes!

Yet, we do not spend time reflecting on the gifts and abilities that our extraordinary God packaged within us. The competition to be seen as fabulous starts early in our lives.

One of my early childhood dreams was to become a fashion model. Though I also wanted to be a writer or a journalist being a model was the crème de la crème!

In high school, our youth pastor at the time, Chris Halverson, challenged me by asking me what I wanted to do with my life. My response, “I would love to go to New York and be a model!”

His unforgettable words touched my soul, “Laura, you have been made for something so much more than that.”

Now, please don’t be offended if you are a model reading this post.

The realization Chris brought to light was I had been chosen to receive unique gifts and abilities by a God who needed me to do something much different than modeling. In my heart’s eye, I knew I did not have the body or the wherewithal to eliminate junk food from my diet. I simply loved shopping and clothes!

What about you?

Take some time to acknowledge the gifts God has given you … then, give all the glory to him as you use those gifts!

Encouraging The Boy Inside Your Man

I am an eight-year-old who shaves.

I bet that got your attention! But it is true. I (Jay) can admit it. I remind Laura all the time that I am just an eight-year-old who shaves.

I (Laura) know that we women think that when we get married, our husband will change. He will grow up, right? We think we can change our husband for the better. So, unfortunately, we spend a lot of time and energy making a list of the ways he should change. I mean, seriously, we only have his best interest in mind, right? Wrong.

I married Jay for his goofiness, his fun-loving ways, and his ability to make me laugh both with him and at him. Early in our marriage, I thought all that was kinda cute. But as the years passed, I thought, will he ever grow up? The answer is, thank God, no!

Because Jay and I earn a living by making people laugh, many people think that we are never serious. Nothing could be further from the truth. What I have learned over 31 years of marriage is that Jay is a very serious man; he just does not take himself too seriously.

What we need to remember, ladies, is that we married our man for many good reasons.

And then remember this:

“Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse” (Philippians 4:8 MSG).

Let’s make this verse very practical. Write down a list of traits in your husband that fall under the following categories:

  • The Best
  • The Beautiful
  • Things to Praise

Now take that list to your eight-year-old who shaves and tell him how much you appreciate all that he means to you. You see, the little eight-year-old inside your husband wants nothing more than your approval and praise.

This is particularly hard for me because my “spiritual gift” is sarcasm. The first time I told Jay I was proud of him was eight years into our marriage. I thought it all the time and there was no doubt I believed it in my heart and mind, but I had never verbalized it. When I did, he broke down and cried.

Yes, deep down all men are eight-year-olds who shave, but let’s never forget that when we encourage our husbands, we turn those little boys into men who can slay dragons. So whether your husband slays dragons in a factory or behind a desk or on stage making others laugh, we ladies are blessed by the gift God has given us.

The Comparison Game: A Destructive Pastime

My mom is an amazing cook. Her mom was a good cook, and she carried on the legacy – biscuits and sausage gravy, goulash, morel mushroom bisque, and homemade bread.

I will never forget the Saturday mornings of my childhood. Mom baked bread – loaves and loaves of bread. When she took it out of the oven, we cut up a loaf of warm bread, slathered on the butter and strawberry freezer jam, and then our family of four devoured the entire loaf.

When I entered marriage, I immediately started comparing my wife Laura’s cooking to my mom’s. It was unfair. I compared my mom and Laura in many ways. I tried to get Laura to change the way she did things because I liked the way my mom did them. Then one day Laura “gently” reminded me that I was not married to my mother.

Women are genetically disposed to compare themselves to other women. They do it in their head and no one else knows about it: Am I as pretty as she is? Do I seem as smart as she is? Am I as good of a mother as my friend is? This is how a woman processes whether or not she is “stacking up.” Again, she plays this comparison game in her mind for her own consumption.

However, when a woman’s husband compares her to other women, in any scenario, he does serious damage to her self-worth and subsequently to their marriage.

We live in Alma, Michigan. It is a quintessential small mid-western town with a private liberal arts college. At one time, every day when we drove to work, we had to drive right through the middle of the campus, and every day co-eds were everywhere. I was in my thirties, and I admit that as I drove into town, my head was on a swivel. I was trying to catch a glimpse of some young female.

I will never forget one particularly warm day in June. Many coeds were sunbathing on the lawn of the school’s chapel. The hurt in Laura’s voice cut me to my core when she said, “You know, I’ve given birth to two children, and I’ll never look like that again, so will you please stop gawking!”

What we have to learn is that the spouse God gave us is all we will ever need in our marriage. Satan will try to get us to believe that there is someone better out there. But do not be fooled. We are all fallen creatures who have scars and baggage.

When you grasp the idea that your spouse, given to you by God, is all you ever need, you start looking at that person in an entirely different light. Look for the good and not the bad, the helpful not the hurtful, and your marriage will grow strong.

Remember, Eve never had to hear about Adam’s mom’s cooking. Instead of complaining, celebrate your wife and all the blessings she has brought to your marriage.