One of the things that I became really convicted about in 2014 was my lack of being present. Present to my own life. Present to friends. Present to my kids. Present to my wife. And by present, I mean emotionally engaged and available to people in my life.
Instead I found myself distracted by all kinds of things, especially my social media feed. Whether it was Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, it was easier to be engaged there because they so quickly provided the affirmation that I desired. But over the course of the year I found that technological engagement draining and I sought to really begin to unplug from things. I began by taking Facebook and Twitter off my phone in June as well as all my news apps. And it culminated in removing Instagram and most other apps from my phone in December.
That may not seem like a big deal to most people, but to me it was. I became aware of just how often I sacrifice doing the hard work of cultivating healthy relationships with those people I share life with, for the easy work of seeking quick fix affirmation from the world around me. Maybe you don’t seek out affirmation through technology like I often struggle with, but maybe you seek it out through your work, fitness, or other relationships that pull you away from your most primary and important ones.
When I began to set boundaries around these things what I found over the course of the last six months was a deeper engagement in the lives of people around me, especially my most important relationships with my family. This deeper engagement with my wife particularly led me to think about all of the couples I work with and what makes for a “successful” marriage.
The more I thought about this topic a few themes emerged. One, “successful” couples are very intentional about their marriage. Their marriage just doesn’t happen to them, rather they dream, think and communicate about what they want for their marriage and work on that. Two, there is a level of adventure together. And by adventure I don’t mean they have to climb Mount Everest, though they could. But rather that they try new things and take risks and work as a team on accomplishing things bigger than just one of them could accomplish on their own. Three, they affirm each other’s truths and bring out the best in one another.
With these things in mind I decided to create a Christmas gift for my wife that I felt would help me be more intentional, encouraging and adventurous in our marriage.The act of creating the gift itself required me to be present to our marriage.
I want to share this gift with you and how I made it, and to encourage you to maybe do the same, or something very similar for your spouse. Though I created this gift to coincide with the beginning of the New Year, you can give this gift at any time. And often, the best gifts are ones that we least expect and at times we least expect them.
So work on being intentional, encouraging and adventurous in your marriage. You can start today.
I came up with the idea of wanting to create a gift for my wife Heather that she could access every day for 2015. Essentially, 366 messages that she could read over the course of the year…one per day (there are 365 days in 2015, but I’m an overachiever so 366 for good measure). I wanted the messages to communicate to her various things from an affirming message, inspiring quote, truth about who she is, memory from our past, challenge to her day, or deep question to think about.
Once I had that idea then I went about visualizing what the gift might look like. I know that my wife has spent a lot of time this last year creating and looking at vintage type crafts made of wood, glass and other cool textures. So I came up with the idea of having some vintage jars — one jar that would contain all the daily messages, and the other jar where she could deposit the message she just read. And then I wanted to look for a container that could hold the jars, such as a wood box. With these things in mind I set off looking for these items at the Frisco Mercantile since I knew they would probably have some great items.
I encourage you to employ your own creativity and use whatever supplies that you think would best communicate your intention to your spouse. But here is what I gathered. 1) I bought two vintage mason jars. 2) I bought a painted wood box to hold the mason jars. 3) I bought some river rocks to place at the bottom of the wood box (at Target) 4) I bought a battery powered/scented candle (at Target). 5) I bought some tags with tweed string (at Target) 6) And then I just used white printer paper.
First, the most difficult and longest part of the process is writing out a daily message for an entire year. You could choose to do one a week, or one a day. It’s up to you. But this is the longest part of the process as I focused on not duplicating any messages over the course of the year. I broke up my daily messages into several categories as I mentioned above. I typed some daily quotes from authors that I thought were inspiring. The quotes talked about marriage, or love or adventure. I typed some excerpts from some songs that are meaningful to Heather and I. I typed some Bible verses that communicated truths about love and marriage. I typed questions that posed questions about her life and who she desired to be. I typed memories from our past…some funny…some romantic. I typed questions that challenged her to dream about goals she had for her life. And then a large part of what I typed were daily reminders of who she was. Essentially, these were words or phrases that reminded her of her truth…about who God created her to be…truths about the qualities I and others see in her. These truths were written to remind her of her core values and who she is. These are the things that I typed up, but you can type up whatever you want. Ultimately, I ended up with 7,000 plus words on 44 pages, so I found it easier to type than to write these out. (Time Involved: This took me about 5 hours over a week long period. How much thought you put into each message will determine the length of time it takes).
Second, after you type these things up, now comes another tedious part. You have to cut all the messages up, and roll them up into little pieces so they can all fit into a jar. I used a specific type of scissors that created a jagged edge, which I found more time consuming. But I think it looked more creative. After cutting all the messages out I rolled each one up and then stuffed into a cup for the time being so they didn’t unravel while I finished up the process. (Time Involved: This took me about 3 hours to complete. Different types of scissors I would imagine take different lengths of time).
Third, place all of the messages into one jar. On this jar I attached little tags with tweed that basically communicated what that jar represented. “Merry Christmas 2014” and “366 Days of Truth, Inspiration, Memories and Questions to Encourage Growth and Reflection.” On the other jar I attached tags that said, “I Love You!..Handmade from Rhett” and “Read One Paper a Day and Dispose Into this Jar.” (Time Involved: This took me about 20 minutes).
Fourth, place rocks in the bottom of the box, the candle in the middle, and the jars on each side of the candle. I thought about putting sand, pebbles, or some other item in the bottom of the box, but ultimately liked the look of the river rock. The river rock makes the jars and candle uneven at times, but I felt it made the gift have more of an “earthy” feel to it. But the box can go without any items in the bottom as well and come out great. (Time Involved: 10 minutes).
The whole process took me about 8.5 hours to complete from beginning to end. I found myself thinking about what I would write for a lot longer period of time and gathering some material, but from writing to end product, you can finish in probably under 10 hours.
In reality I would want Heather to think I spent 366 days working on the gift, but I didn’t. But what I learned in the process is that it takes very little time to create intentional acts of engagement (gifts, thoughtful gestures, etc.) to communicate and demonstrate how much you care about someone. But it takes daily intentional acts to live out with my spouse what I tried to communicate in my gift. Heather was super excited about the gift, but I know that my goal for 2015 is to continue to do the fun and hard work of being present in my marriage, rather than seeking out affirmation from the social media world around me which I found myself so attracted to in 2014.
Hopefully you found this idea helpful for your own relationship. Please share with me any thoughts or insight that you have. And please let me know if you used this idea for your relationship and how it (the gift) turned out.